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Poem for the End of the Century

Mark Clement

The Written Page

With no consideration
of their collective actions
I watched my parents work the world,
unconscious stewards that hid
from those three dark days
that follow every thinning moon.

They did not see the leaf's fall
reveal the certain root
or that green sun in the soil
that fires the flower.

They did not see the next page
left for me to live, left for me
to divine out of failed faith,
out of ancient apocalyptic signs.

I play out their dark desires,
the anguished fires of creation,
as the page curls, as the apocalypse
unfurls right before my eyes.

I and they have written cold
black ink that cannot fade
fast enough so that my children
are left with only the mystery
of that certain root.

November, 1998

Mark Clement's questions:

1. Is the issue of 'inheritance' clear?

2. Do the metaphors appropriately reflect 'spiritual poverty'?

3. Is this poem reflective of our time?

I was immediately struck by the tight writin. The voice in this poem is strong and intriguing - the best thing. Along with the first stanza, I also like "green sun" that "fires the flower". Like other commentators I am not sure about the words "apocoplypse" "failed faith" and I also wonder if a better adjective than "certain" might be found to describe this seemingly important root. I have little clarity about what that root is. Also "anguished" fires of creation might be overdoing it. A more toned-down and particular adjective could be better here. I agree with a commentator, too, that the style becomes less difficult/demanding and consequently less interesting as the poem progresses. As to the question of inheritance I might not have seen that if it wasn't in the question, but I am not good at intellectualizing poetry - I respond more at an emotional an aesthetic level. On these levels I found the poem striking and stimulating, but maybe not quite perfect yet. In terms of reflective of our time - on second and third readings I thought it was about using up the environment without consideration of future generations, which is certainly reflective of our times. And yet - somehow, IF that is what this poem is about I find the tone off. I think I know what it is. The tone has something of a religious prophecy/apocolyptic writing about it - and this style is not condusive to conveying spiritual poverty, nor is it reflective (the style) of our times. Rather, it is more like a warning coming to us from another time, past or future. But the "I" of the poem seems to be grounded in these times...a possible discrepency here. HOpe this unorganized, stream-of-consciousness reactions are helpful.
Jennifer Hohensteiner
Bad Vilbel, Germany - Fri Jul 12 08:25:46 2002
I didn't find much wrong with the poem, but that, of course, is merely my humble opinion. I especially liked 'worked the world'. I kind of thought the reference to 'the root' might have something to do with drink or drugs - forgive me if I'm way off track on that one. WILD CITY TIMES Magazine & Writers' Workshop - scroll through the index PEDESTAL MAGAZINE - A Writer's Forum
I didn't think the poem needed all that much really. I took the 'root' to mean (perhaps) something to do with alcohol or a drug. Excuse me if I'm way off track on that one. I especially liked the line 'worked the world'. Carly
Toronto, On Canada - Tue Apr 30 22:03:04 2002
So large a view, so minimally said!.For full effect I had to read it twice. And then I came to realize its simplicity. Of course, the inheritance inference was clear. The poverty was deafening. No, I do not believe the poem is reflective of our time. (The hollow man reference is true but from a very restrictive point of view). It was on the third reading that I realized that this was something of a teaser. One who writes so well made me think that I would like to revisit, but this time to a larger canvas. Perhaps, it had to start with a minimalism. But, generally, minimalisms leave we hungry, wanting more, once the curiosity was up. The boy, with time I am sure, began to realize that his "parants (who) work(ed) the world" were an entirety of much more than that. They, in fact, did(!) see the leaf fall. And they did(!) recognize that you were the "next page". "Failed faith" was failed faith midst the fires, and still there was time. "Cold black ink" is part and parcel of "the mystery". Mysteries come and go; long live mystery. Memorable phrases: "work the world", "unconscious stewards", "they did not see the leaf's fall", "that certain root", "they did not see the next page", "divine out of failed faith", " I and they have written cold black ink". There is something about apocalyptic/apocalypse that grates. Reading previous comments, there are those who have been overwhelmed by poetry's Romantic Period and its passions, and then succeeded by the Ego Period and its passions, that they seem to think that it isn't poetry if it is not that. They accuse such poetry of being abstract, and not poetry at all. I think they miss the state of mental realization as it evokes a richness of temperament, emanating as a mature glow, as a profound glow that needs a time-depth.
Jerome Zeitlin
Maplewood, NJ USA - Sat Apr 20 12:39:24 2002
I tripped right out of the gate - couldn't follow the signs. And then found myself in a forest of discontent. Word "stewards" works against the tone ?? "apocalyptic" is a stubborn word, too heavy and long, plus it belabors the mind and tongue; "unfurls right before" - could reduce to one strong word - last stanza incorporates another generation (ie your children) yet appears to be an afterthought - needs more power.
CA USA - Sat Mar 30 05:26:45 2002
Thxs!! Your poem is really awzum!! I am only 13 but i am doing my validictorian speech, well im working on it anyways and if i get chosen to be validictorian, then i will definetly put you poem inside of my speech. This poem is really nice and sweet and gets to the point very fast! The moral is stated quite clearly. And even though I do not know much about peotry, this is a very unique poem!! thnxs! YoUrS TrUlY, JeNnA ChIaReLlA

Sault Ste MArie, ON Canada - Tue Mar 5 07:08:20 2002
I also submitted three poems, but one question: "I write by instinct. What do I need to know that will allow me not to feel self-conscious about presenting my work before more schooled poets?" I just read your poem. I think I see. Thank you. Eric L. Wattree

Covina, Ca USA - Mon Jan 21 08:11:03 2002
Well, first off, I'd like to say that your questions are a bit "deep" for me, but I'll try and address them as I have ability. First I'd like to say that the whole "tree" metaphore is rooted in a long history connected with inheritance and works in its mode here, but with the baggage of all that history do you want to say something about today or about yesterday? Also your syntax greatly declines in complexity by the end, where you are trying to weave the image. Don't worry about being cohesive, go where the poem takes you, I think it is out of the woods. Speaking of craft, the rhyming couplet at the beginning is too much, maybe lengthen your lines and have internal rhyme, it is much more in style with postmodern poetry which occured to take focus away from form and into meaning, the rhyme will still exist, but won't jar someone out of the flow. The third line, and I agree with some others, is great, and actually the first stanza is the strongest with the original image of a "thinning moon." As to whether the poem hits a cord of "spiritual povery," I'd have to say no. First, if you read some Eliot, youd see a differnt generation doing what I think you want to do, but while your images imply a hopelessness, I'd say they are not strong enough to hit below the poverty level. Think about the lines "shall I measure my life in coffe spoons" or "we are the hollow men, we are the stuffed men," both are so rich in complextity that one can get caught up in the fitility of whats going on, we all know the beginning and end of a page of text, and the life cycle of a tree, they are familiar to us, thus I'd stick tosomething more in touch with your family situation. The emotional content is rich and the desire to evoke emotion is solid, and this leads to the last question, I feel that the emotional content does coinside with our world today, but in its execution it fails to reflect our vernacular. I feel our hopelessness come from our certain way of speaking and using language and that people are nolonger using high folutent (my spelling is atrocious) phases and imagery. This is not to say one should be confind to writing about computers, but if you want to ground your audience in a current location of your grief, instead of keeping to a universal, then I might add more concrete detail or use metaphore to weave in particulars. I also am biased and don't like word like "apocolypse," they chage a short line with too much weight and out ballance the other more simplerly stated lines. Anyway, I enjoyed the read, and look forward to the next, your have a tone thats urging me to hear more.
Michael Andrews
London, United Kingdom - Wed Sep 26 05:47:26 2001
The short: Excellent poem. Its message is clear, and what else could one want in a poem? I read recently that a poem should evoke feelings of love and or terror. I think yours does both. It is powerful langugage and imagery -- great use of metaophor -- that only a true poet (and poetry) can use to his/her benefit. Look forward to more. This is my first time here and I would like to participate more. Although, I am not sure that poetry or poets are respected in American culture. Keep the faith -- however, dark and isolated one becomes, it is worth it.
Tim Nelson
Bal-mer, MD USA - Thu Jul 19 12:52:58 2001
simply put, GREAT peom!
USA - Mon Jan 15 10:31:23 2001
Mark - When I read your poem I was immediately overtaken with the feeling of frustration I had for my parents. I sensed the meaning of your words more than read it, which to me makes it a very good piece of writing. Some of your lines are a bit abstract but then so is the subject - it is hard to put a finger on exactly what your differences with your parents were - I am 70 and still haven't figured it out - I just know that I in turn screwed up my childrens' lives and that they in turn are following the path - the "roots" were planted many eons ago and we have all "written cold black ink that cannot fade fast enough" - Good poem!
Barb Lundeen
Redding, CA USA - Tue Dec 7 14:20:26 1999
Dear Mark. Thanks for the poetry. The "inheritance" is clear. You seem to blame your parents for your present state. I need to know more of the "apocalypse". I need to understand the last stanza.
m. k. kraus
Aston, Pa USA - Sun Oct 17 12:36:38 1999
Mark, I liked your poem. What had impact for me were the images of, "They did not see," and "dark world," and "dark desires," and "green sun." Also, the image of a flower, with roots, soil and leaf caught me. I'd like to see another poem, taken from this one that explores these. Thank you for your poem.
John Rebstock
Carmel, CA USA - Tue Aug 31 22:27:24 1999
Mark, This poem does not suffer for lack of content, does not need more, in my estimation. What it lacks is flow from stanza to stanza. When I read a stanza at random each one stands mostly on its own, when I try to read them as a unit, especially aloud, I find the thought trail doesn't move, even though I have wrought meaning already from each stanza. This gives the poem the feeling of having been constructed, brick by brick. I think that may be why some felt you didn't have emotional investment in the poem.
Joyce Heon
USA - Sat Jun 19 17:12:33 1999
I thought you had some very good lines in your poem Mark. It opened up well, with "I watched my parents work the world" then I thought it went on to imply dark secrets. I sensed the inheritence was "bad memories" Perhaps their lack of nurturing ""fires the flower". The references to "apocalypse" reinforces this thought in my mind. Spiritual poverty? It's sort of assumed maybe. "Left for me to divive out of failed faith" I found the inheritence suggestions stronger.

I also believe it's indicative of our times. There are lots of families like the one you describe. I like the last verse which implies a desired amnesia so your children are left with mystery only. Root I take to mean "your family roots". Anyway Mark, I enjoyed the poem very much.
Pt Roberts, WA USA - Wed Jun 9 17:57:42 1999
Yes, the issue of 'inheritance' is clear. You seem to blame your parents for this inheritance, perhaps not yet understanding all the pain of the times they went through before you, a generational hierarchy; I think our parents suffered more than we, and their parents before them. The 'spiritual poverty' seems to be your own; seek not to blame your parents, but look inside yourself. The poem has to be reflective of our time, as it is written of our time. I wonder why your last stanza starts with "I and they" instead of simply "We."
Patty Mooney
San Diego, CA USA - Thu Feb 18 21:53:53 1999
Dear Mark, Thank you for giving me the opportunity to read your poem. I was slightly miffed by some of the previous comments I read on this page, which suggested their authors' have failed to grasp the fairly simple difference between analysis and opinion (or 'Criticism' and criticism). Oh well... For myself, I feel this work captures the spirit of the age within a set of archaetypal (though originally employed), powerful images which aim to haunt, and succeed. Vicissitude is the spirit of our age. No one can deny that. Post-postmodern (Millenium?) culture forces us to call into question our very foundations - indeed our 'roots' - which has lead to a kind of gnawing uncertainty in our very souls. As you say, faith has failed: how can there be faith and rational puzzlement? What you perceive as the unconscious (unquestioning) certainty of parents, bequeathed automatically to the child, now grows without meaning in the shadow of a paradoxical apocalypse. We inherit a disquieting puzzle of identity and an apparently barren wasteland for a future, instead of the 'Kingdom of Heaven' and of presupposed material success on earth. Also we inherit an enigma we can't solve - '...only the mystery/of that certain root.' So, yes, the theme of inheritance is clear and the metaphorical constructs you invent suggest spiritual poverty in the sense intended. Indeed this corruption and then absence of unquestionable faith is locked into the fabric of the poem, strengthening and reinforcing its most powerful aspect, its tone. This latter is both bleak and quietly humane: the poem concerns hope I think, and hope concerns us all. Read as a whole work, 'The Written Page' stands up and should be counted. Regards, Jon
Jon Lishman
Chesham, England - Wed Feb 10 18:16:43 1999
There's no uncalculated feeling. Your message is forced and it misses how the present state of society and people affect you. You seem detatched from the poem and there's a weak voice from the character that you haven't quite created. This is all really subjective anyway. Maybe I'm wrong
Whitby, On Canada - Mon Feb 8 07:14:08 1999
The issue of "inheritance" is vaguely clear. I feel the abstract qualities of the "inheritance" make it difficult to understand. "Spiritual poverty" is an interesting concept, however, it is not a feeling I am in tune with. I think this poem is reflective of your time. I do not feel the way you do about the current time frame. Other than that, it was an interesting poem.
Renaisse MacGregor
USA - Fri Dec 18 09:33:17 1998
I think the concept of "inheritance" is quite clear, as well as the one of "spiritual poverty". What is left for the future generations is scaring and the shadows of an apocalypse are so "dark" at times. What I don't find utterly convincing are the abstract images you insert. I would like to read and visualize some more " apocalyptic signs". For sure the reader perceives the anguish of the present period; why not make him/her be grasped by it? Thank you for the good read. Paula Grenside
Paula Grenside
ODERZO (tv), ITALY - Tue Dec 8 00:15:30 1998
The questions you ask seem like study questions for a literature class rather than getting at whether or not this poem is working. Your questions also are revealing in that you appear to have a design that you overlay on this poem, rather than letting the thematics well-up on their own. I think there's some fine writing in a couple of places, but I wonder if the brevity of the lyric simply doesn't do the range of the subject justice, that is, you're trying to cover too much ground with too little.

Your first lines are flat, and the multi-syllabics set up a diction that is not reflected elsewhere in the piece. It's a false signal. To be proscriptive, the line, "I watched my parents work the world" is the start of this poem. It has real force and effect. But then rest of the st. moves off into abstraction and generalized description, disappointing. I like the move to nature in st.2, a st. that has the greatest specificity of the whole piece. But, like a speaker on a mission -- and Richard Hugo's notion of the triggering town is a good one to remember -- you move to the abstraction of the page, of "failed faith" and "ancient apocalyptic signs" whatever any of that is.

Abstraction continues in st.4 and the abstract prepositional phrase in line 2 is one that springs out at me as editorial, artificially loaded, and cliched. Again, no where near the promise of a speaker who could begin with watching the parents work the world. Then we get the apocalypse once more. Sorry, but this is not strong writing.

The final stanza makes a rather large leap to try and tie up the generational thing. Too much with too little. Cold black ink is not a strong image, and it's a tough move to try and connect the fading of the ink to a suggestion of mystery. Literally, are we to imagine that only a trace of ink is left suggesting the mystery but its legibility is questionable? Can only a little of the ink be read so what isn't there creates a mystery? I think to be thinking of all these possibilities at the end of the piece is not a good sign. And that certain root, which is interesting when first placed, doesn't work at the finish. You try to load it up with meaning and metaphor and it can't carry the weight. As written, the mystery could be anything. The image just doesn't carry.
Ian Wilson
Los Angels, CA USA - Thu Dec 3 15:30:26 1998
I definitely get a feeling of an inheritance being passed down, from your parents to you and now to your children. But it is an inheritance of doubt, of non-belief, without much hope. Which leaves the next generation with nothing to work towards. I like the reference to the cold black ink --our prophesies ? And that these prophesies /doubts can't fade fast enough -- so our children can go back to rediscover the mystery of life and find again some hope/ some promises from the "root." Enjoyed this very much.
Sheila Ferguson
Winter Haven, fl USA - Sat Nov 28 06:12:23 1998
you have an interesting poem on a theme that i am interested in. I would answer yes to your questions. My comments are that the "spirit" theme is obvious from the last three lines of the first stanza. It seems to me that the root metaphor doubles as a meaning for the family tree and for connection to the earth. Perhaps? But i am not sure of your meaning of failed faith in the third stanza. Also unclear is the reference to apocalyptic signs: do you mean assumed environmental damage of our current life style? In the final stanza the "root" reference seems to refer to a lack of knowledge handed down, or lost knowledge as to our relationship to nature or our place in nature that now is left as a mystery. If i read it wrong, then you need to make the root reference more clear. A suggestion might be to use a reference to beech as a method for carrying the written word as was done in the ancient past to strengthen (my presumed) reading of the poem. Thanks. Bill
Bill Killen
USA - Wed Nov 25 15:07:36 1998
This poem definitely conveys to me the idea of spiritual poverty". Your metaphors are about dark and sad things. You start out with the"three dark days" after the full moon. Then you talk about "failed faith" and "dark desires", "anguished fires of creation", "the apocalypse", and you finish with the idea that everything they left for you was written in "cold black ink" that is fading.

I am not sure what the root is, but I think it is a kind of hopefulness. You talk about it in terms of sun, so it must be the root of life. Whatever it is I like the repitition of the idea of the root in the last stanza. That your children can still search for the mystery of that root leaves this poem very open ended.

I think this poem is very reflective of our time. You are talking about legacy here, and many people are now worried about how we are guiding our children to be prepared for the coming millenium. Will they be searching for the mystery of life, or will they have the legacy of faded ink?

I enjoyed seeing yet another way to discuss the millenium.
Barbara Ehrentreu
Bedford Hills, NY USA - Mon Nov 23 00:56:33 1998