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Featured Guest Poet Carole MacRury

Moment at Mont Blanc

You stand formidable and silent, witness
to centuries of secrets, freeze-framed
in your impassioned glacial flanks.

Gleaming, glazed, your coldness kissed
by the heat of the sun, your icy breath
caresses my cheek, as I stand precipiced --

at once filled with a sense of envious awe
as I look down to where timeless worshippers
once gazed, praised, and wept fertile tears,

in the valley far below, while in your sanctum
sanctorum above the clouds, I am unseasoned;
suddenly reminded than I am mortal, as I sense

the red heat of oxygen depleted blood move
sluggish and thick through my veins,
I am pierced with sudden sharp grief.
June, 1999

Carole MacRury's Questions:

1. Is my point clear?

High on Mount Blanc, I sensed the history the mountain has witnessed at the same time I was acutely aware of my own human fraility (altitude sickness) and how little our life span is.

2. I originally had just one verse. Are the breaks for verses appropriate? I'm always nervous about breaking a verse, when the sentence runs into the next one.

3. Have I kept the 'tense' the same throughout. A weakness of mine.

Thanks for any critique. My site shows my earliest efforts too, but I'm trying to grow in this craft. Will appreciate comments.

Carole, thank you for a beautiful poem. Your musicality of language and vivid images gave me the experience of being on a mountaintop without having to encounter my own fear of heights. You mention in your comments that you were made to feel your human frailty by a similar fear up there, but I didn't get that idea from the poem. Might be something to add in, if you want the reader to understand that there was a moment of vertigo. Other than that, I could think of nothing to change. Made me want to find a mountain with snow on it and catch a whiff of the pure air. Thanks!
Rachel Dacus
USA - Mon Jun 21 20:21:39 1999

Eavan Boland suggests that stanzas should be used for a dramatic progression rather than a narrative progression. Ask yourself if you've done that -- I don't think so. I don't see any reason why this piece can't be stichic. The tensing seems consistent though a bit labored as you try to move from the narrative present through various degrees of the past. Your point is all too clear, I'm sorry to say. Throughout the piece you make frequent use of the pathetic fallacy with phrases that strike me as self-conscious and precious. "Impassioned glacial flanks," "your coldness kissed / by the heat of the sun," "you icy breath / caresses my cheek" are some examples. Every stanza and nearly every line features precious writing. I think you need to be harder on yourself in your choice of imagery. This kind of high rhetorical gesture doesn't do much to bring the reader into the experience of the piece. The poem's inability to engage is compounded by the generalized nature of the description. This is not a scene that is yet vividly rendered. In your attempt to capture the moment you do so in only the broadest of strokes. Moreover, by deleting the phrase "in the valley far below," this poem could be applied to a range of possibilities, the centograph mentioned in last month's guest poem or a host of monuments. That's a problem in its lack of specificity. One of the great ironies here is that your two explanatory lines have more poetry in them then your whole piece: "High on Mount Blanc, I sensed / the history the mountain has witnessed / at the same time I was / aware of my own frailty / (altitude sickness) and how little / our life span is." In those lines you have an honest moment, plainly spoken. I found it quite beautiful. But it seems that when you go to write your poem you suddenly think you have to write in language of a different order. You have to write a "Poem."
Ian Wilson
USA - Tue Jun 22 14:26:02 1999
Thank you both for your comments on my poem. It appears I have failed in imparting my feelings on the mountain. I offer a re-write that I hope has a more honest and natural tone. Yes, I have to agree I think I was trying to be too poetic. The bane of new poets perhaps, of which I am one. The following is much briefer, and I hope much better. A have left only those images that mean the most to me.

High on Mont Blanc

You stand,

to centuries of secrets
freeze-framed within silent slopes.

I sense your icy breath
the red heat of oxygen-depleted blood.

I stand,
mindful --
my mortality

pierced, by a grief
for my lifetime --

so brief.

USA - Wed Jun 23 09:57:54 1999
Carole, I read both drafts of your poem and, though I agree the first version uses a poetic language, sometimes precious, I prefer it to the second one. The latter fragments the lines, isolates words, but do not build up the tension I find in some stanzas of the 1st. I think the contrast between the majesty of the mountain and human smalness is more strongly transferred in in stanza 1-3. I do not agree with Jan about the poem being appliable to any place, or better, is it important if it is Mount Blanc or any other high peak? Your point is clear: you feel frailty, transiance, mortality as you stand on top of a glacier, close to the sky, kissed by the icy breath. The mountain, any mountain has witnessed history, impassible in its magnitude. I love this concept and it is better rendered in the original. My suggestion is to let it sit for a while and go back to it writing down the images that you remember, then compare them with the two drafts and see what happens. Anyway, the poem is a good one; if you have to change it, don't do it so drastically. last suggestion; try to introduce an image a sensory impression to convey vertigo; also smell and taste can be involved. You say you are a beginner; well, you've got a voice and a a good one. Thanks for the read. Paula
Paula Grenside
ITALY - Thu Jun 24 10:51:02 1999
Carole- I read both drafts in succession and I have to agree with Rachel and Paula. The first draft is a good "read," with musical language and pacing appropriate to the subject (quiet awe) . While some of the images are a bit awkward (I agree with Ian on this), the poem in its entirety is not. Your point is clear, and my own feeling is that a poet shouldn't make an attempt to be deliberately UNclear, i.e. to obscure their meaning and, thus, alienate the reader. The second draft appears to be an unsympathetic attempt to get to the "bones" of the poem. It hardly even seems a poem anymore, rather, a string of images that are uneasily tied together. I would suggest that you return to the first draft and focus on the specific areas that Ian pointed out (use of stanzas, precious language). You may be a beginner, but you are indeed a "poet," in that you have a gift for making words move...
Elizabeth Warren
USA - Fri Jul 9 12:19:47 1999
In regard to your question about tense, may I suggest dropping the passive "as I stand/as I look/as I sense" etc. Use the verb form: "I stand/I look/I sense" It places the reader with you in the action. The mountain "stands/carresses" in an active verb. Why shouldn't you have the same presence in the poem?
USA - Fri Jul 9 20:34:51 1999
Carole, I agree with Elizabeth 100%. The revision has drained the blood from the poem and left only the bones. Suggest you go back to the earlier draft and not be so ruthless in your revision. Ian also makes some very good observations and perhaps you could incorporate some of his suggestions in a subsequent draft. Best, -s
Scott Reid
USA - Sat Jul 10 20:47:08 1999
Ellen Bryant Voight, at the recent MFA residency at Warren Wilson College, suggested that an image must have significance and value in order to be meaningful. If we accept her notion, are the things you've left in the poem still "images"? At this point in its reduction, the entire poem -- I think -- is moving toward a haiku which is apparent in the last stanza. That's where all the personal is most affective. All the rest is less than effective window dressing. You're struggling to capture the visual of the mountain but you're coming up short. Interestingly, for me, simply saying the title "High on Mt. Blanc" and then that last stanza is moving. But you'll have to do something about that grief/brief rhyme. This is what happens when you let everyone play with your piece. We all have different ideas, clearly different poetics, differing senses about what is "musical language," what is even "good language".
Ian Wilson
USA - Wed Jul 14 12:41:05 1999
I'm new to writing as well, and after reading the preceding critiques am intimidated. But, here goes: I try to find that economy of words which convey the most sensual, immotional and intellectual quantity all in such a way as to be in hamony. "Precious" lines use $20 words,noun-adjective and verb-adverb blockbusters, which are cheap reproductions of the original encounter...simply,touch us with words as you were touched by the mountain...hope this blah-blah helps..:-)
Marc S. Libidinsky
USA - Wed Jul 14 18:24:30 1999

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