Improbable Tales Poem
The famous recluse hides from friends
And others of that ilk
To let the hours spin their trends
Like hair that's turned to milk
Momma braved him as a lad
Not to fear the road
"It curves and forks before the end
So carry half a load"
But wise men chided only fools
Would keep the magic hid
"Shoot it up and break the rules"
Amazingly he did
He hears that Elvis lives again
A blue-haired lady swore
She saw him as she bought her gin
At the Safeway store
He flicks the chat off with a stick
To turn the safe-house black
And watches shadows play the walls
Like a night attack
The hardened steel lays in his hands
From a well-oiled fence
And once again he sees the stands...
"Thank you, my good friends!"
Josh Hevesy's questions:
In doing this assignment in ballad/rhyme form I find a potential danger in trite expression. It's easy to fall prey to clichés or tired phrases.
--I tried to avoid that pitfall.
The flip side of that coin is going too far the opposite way, making use of images that are too obscure or similes/metaphors that are forced.
-- How well did I succeed?
This is a nice piece with a light beat and light topic but I think that the constraints of the ballad really needed to be respected in order to keep the whole poem in a musical tune. The change in syllables from 5 to 6 in the second and fourth lines of each stanza makes the poem a bit hard to read smoothly. Just a little tinkering should remedy that. Perhaps try in stanza 5, line 4 "A puppet night attack" or less far fetched "Just as a night attack". I love the second stanza especially "It curves and forks before the end/So carry half a load" this is what a true ballad should sound like. Keep up the good work. Natasha.
USA - Tue Dec 21 09:00:32 1999
It sounds like a wannabe Elvis to me; otherwise the "he" POV makes no sense. First it refers to Elvis, then to someone who hears Elvis still lives. That's confusing, even when reread.
I found the ilk /milk lines to sound forced. I suppose you mean that hair "turned to milk" is hair that's gone white, but how that relates to "hours spin their trends" is dubious. Likewise, "others of that ilk." Besides setting up a rhyme, how does that add to the meaning? Friend-like people? What are they?
I dislike the use of "braved." It is not a verb that normally takes an object, so why the innovative usage? It distracts, and any number of other verbs might smoothly and properly portray the same thing.
Also, "hid" would naturally be "hidden" so that makes another forced rhyme.
Night attack is unclear. The hardened steel would "lie" not "lay" in his hands.
I would say it was indeed the form that gave you all the trouble. I'll bet if you were to simply tell this tale, you would have all the charm and none of the forced elements that are throughout this attempt.
USA - Sat Jul 18 19:56:16 1998
Josh: I enjoyed reading this and you don't go "too far the opposite way". The only phrase I was unclear on was "Like a night attack". I'm not sure what a night attack is specifically. But otherwise it is a lively and musical poem...long live the king!
Oakland, CA USA - Wed Apr 22 00:32:46 1998
Dear Josh, Without getting into the technical aspects of what you were trying to accomplish, I really enjoyed your poem. I'd just like to know if you did any research of your own about the King, or is this a product of your imagination. I'm thinking particularly of your line about "the safe house". Do you think Elvis is part of some witness protection program, and his death was staged, or this just musing on your part. Hmmmmm.
Santa Cruz, CA USA - Tue Nov 4 22:34:02 1997
Josh, with the possible exception of the "blue-haired lady," you have certainly managed to keep your poem free from cliches or obvious metaphors. I am curious-- is there a connection between the Safeway in st. 4 and the "safe-house" in st. 5, or are their similar names a coincidence?
Berkeley, CA USA - Wed Jul 30 10:50:18 1997
Hi Red, I thought I'd reply to you here since others may pose similar questions. First, thank you for your reply and your in-depth analysis. It's always important to me to know what works for a reader and what doesn't. The poem is of course intended to be a take on the tabloid headlines that assure us that 'Elvis Lives'. Just like the tabloids, however, the title promises more than the story delivers so that, in the end, the reader is left with more possibilities than he started with. Here are some of the possibilities: Is this Elvis or is it some kind of Elvis wannabe? Is the 'well-oiled fence' a hero-worshipping friend who will do anything for the king or a crooked dealer of stolen goods? Is the 'hardened steel' a guitar or perhaps a gun? Is he sincerely saying 'thank you, my good friends' as he sees the stands, or is he being sarcastic? Is the little blue-haired lady a down-and-out alky who sees pink flying elephants as easily as she saw Elvis, or is she a legitimate senior citizen with a dye job gone sour who's buying gin for her weekly card game with lady friends? (Which is why I can't portray her actually drinking the gin). And did she, in fact, see Elvis? Does carry half a load refer to a mental state, or is Momma just concerned about Sonny's burning himself out, as did Elvis? Anyway, that's as far as the subtlety goes. Oh yeah, the "wise men chided" is an oblique reference to the lyrics in one of Elvis's songs, "Wise men say only fools rush in". The wise men in the poem, in fact, say the opposite. I accept your point on using "Then, once again...". Thank you. I'm not sure about "lay" vs "lays". Which is actually the correct singular? I'll have to look it up. Again, thank you. - Best, Josh.
Kitchener, ON Canada - Tue Jun 24 16:13:27 1997
Josh, you did a pretty good job at keeping it conversational without being trite. In a couple of lines I think the meter/rhyme constraint put you close to being a bit antique: "hours spin", "wise men chided". Did you mean for the second stanza to 'Forest Gumpish" the central reason for his withdrawl? I'd do 'lay' rather than 'lays' and 'then, once again...' rather than 'And...' Was it intentional that the last lines of stanzas 4 and 5 are clipped a little using the short unaccented beats to contribute a beat? Thought maybe 'Blue-hair' could have '...drank her gin/behind the Safeway store' red.
Sacramento, CA USA - Sun Jun 15 10:20:49 1997