The Boy in the Picture (new ending)

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Perry
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The Boy in the Picture (new ending)

Post by Perry » Sat Oct 13, 2018 8:22 pm

Lost Grace

In the photo is an adolescent boy,
naked, his slender body full of grace,
and a German soldier directing him
to a pile of nude corpses, whereupon
he will collapse after he has been shot.

Today, tomorrow, yesterday — eighty
years ago — the tragedy of mankind
continues to unfold. Now in late life,
you would think I’d be resigned, but I am not —
the boy looks just like I did at that age:

cautious, confused, groping his way to manhood —
but he never had a chance to arrive.
I feel a helpless rage, knowing that his
story could have well been mine, and wondering
why the human race is so depraved.

Old ending:

cautious, confused, groping his way to manhood —
but he never had a chance to arrive.
For him, for me, I am consumed with rage.
We all must die, but why can’t people let
each other alone to die in their own time?

-end-

Feeling as I do that the group may be sick of my poetry, I hadn’t intended to post again so soon. But I just wrote this poem, which is a little different.

This is the second draft of the poem below, which I wrote about five months ago. They ripped that draft apart on Eratosphere (where I am no longer participating), so the new poem is a rewrite.

To add a little drama to the ending, I was thinking of ending it like this:

We all die, but why oh why won’t people let
each other alone to die in their own time?

... but I worry that "why oh why" might sound silly or amateurish.


The Soldier and the Boy

In the photograph is a teen boy, Jewish,
naked, his slender body full of grace,
and a German soldier directing him
to a pile of nude corpses, whereupon
he will collapse after he has been shot.

Who is this soldier who can’t see himself
in a boy not more than five years younger?
Doesn’t he remember when the gun he holds
was a toy? Doesn’t he remember being
called by his mother to come to supper?

Two boys alike, both pale and dark-haired,
speaking similar tongues — where is the difference
that allows one to hate and kill the other?
The naked boy’s body bears no tattooed star.
You are the same as he, soldier, don’t you see?

-end-
Last edited by Perry on Tue Oct 16, 2018 9:54 am, edited 13 times in total.
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Re: The Boy in the Picture

Post by Macavity » Sun Oct 14, 2018 8:47 am

I think both poems are effective Perry. I can't say which I prefer, which is not very helpful. It is a subject that carries an emotional weight, but I like the fact both poems convey a gut honesty that conveys immediacy rather than history - they are not poetry fabrications. The questions in the original poem confront the irrationality of the dehumanising evil. The number of questions reinforce the incomprehensible nature of the actions. The revision builds to the key question, and here the understanding is framed at a personal level. The lessons of history have not been learnt.

best

mac

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Re: The Boy in the Picture

Post by Perry » Sun Oct 14, 2018 9:11 am

Wow, a positive critique! Thank you so much, Mac.

I know that I can be reactive to criticism, but please don't hesitate to indicate if there is any part of either poem that strikes you as awkward.

The photo in question was shown on a public television show about the Holocaust. The boy, being naked, looked so vulnerable -- yet he was dutifully obeying the directions of the solder to walk over to the pile of nude bodies. And, of course, it was obvious what was going to happen next -- he was going to become the next body on the pile. The boy must have known, and he must have been bewildered. How does a child process his own death at such an early age? The photo has haunted me ever since I saw it.

Thank you!
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Re: The Boy in the Picture

Post by Macavity » Sun Oct 14, 2018 10:26 am

I feel a moment of rage.
Probably just me, and for that reason I didn't remark, but there is an implied transience in the word moment. Of course, blind rage does come in moments. However, the emphasis in the poem is not on a world weary cynicism, but a sensitivity that is very much alive.

best

mac

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Re: The Boy in the Picture

Post by Firebird » Sun Oct 14, 2018 10:37 am

Hi Perry,

I went on Eratosphere and had a look at what happened with this poem and even though I do tend to agree with some of what was said there I think it’s mostly a matter of personal taste and that neither of your poems are bad poems. There are too many people in Poetry who want to impose there own aesthetics on others. People could just say ‘it’s not my cup of tea, but it’s nicely done’, and that’s what I think about your poems.

Just to let you know, when I gave my first few comments on Eratosphere about others poems, I was criticised/chastised publicly on the forum and in a private email from a moderator for lowering the standards of the site. As I remember it, I was told that they had been falling for a while but I was the limit. It’s terrible how elitist/cliquey some Poetry circles can become.

Back to your poem Perry, I also tend not to like poems about the holocaust unless they are from people who experienced it. Sorry that is just my opinion. I wouldn’t say this about most other subjects.

All my best,

Tristan

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Re: The Boy in the Picture

Post by ray miller » Sun Oct 14, 2018 10:45 am

I'd steer well clear of those final two lines, they are too obvious, platitudinous. I like the first verse, though I'd omit "boy" at the end of line 1. After that I had the impression I was being told what you think and feel, and what I should think and feel, rather too much.
I'm out of faith and in my cups
I contemplate such bitter stuff.

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Re: The Boy in the Picture

Post by Perry » Sun Oct 14, 2018 11:30 am

Macavity wrote:
Sun Oct 14, 2018 10:26 am
I feel a moment of rage.
Probably just me, and for that reason I didn't remark, but there is an implied transience in the word moment. Of course, blind rage does come in moments. However, the emphasis in the poem is not on a world weary cynicism, but a sensitivity that is very much alive.
I'm glad you picked up on that, Mac. I have written that line in two ways, one more earnest than the other. I kept the line which is more detached because it is less awkward. The truth is, so many things about the world horrify me that I find myself feeling "moments" of rage and then moving on. That picture, however, stayed with me, so I think I'll replace that line with something more earnest. The alternate line is this, though it's not very good:

I can only weep inside or feel rage.

I'll work on it.

You know, there are times when I am so consumed with worry about the world, it affects my functioning and happiness.

Tristan, Ray, thanks for your comments.

Ray, I understand how you feel about the last two lines of the poem. They are either hackneyed or profound (I can't decide which). They fall into the class of "Why can't people just get along" sentiments.

An adolescent can be a girl, so I had better keep "boy".

I don't think I'm telling the reader what to think and feel, just what I think and feel.

Tristan, my experience on Eratosphere was bizarre. They make new members give fifteen substantial critiques before the new member can post his own poem. As you know, I am pretty opinionated. Although I tried to fit in, a lot of people had decided they didn't like me by the time I had posted fifteen critiques. When I posted my own poem, they all piled on to tell me how awful it was.

Eratosphere was a more relaxed place a decade ago. Alex Pepper has a stick up his ass, and he chooses moderators who have sticks up their asses.

Although I think there are people who don't care for me much on this forum, this group has been more accepting of me than most forums. My occasional tendencies to be opinionated and touchy are just left-over defense mechanisms from my childhood.
If I forget to come back to critique your revised poem, don't hesitate to send me a note.

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Re: The Boy in the Picture

Post by Firebird » Sun Oct 14, 2018 12:08 pm

Yes, Perry that’s what I like about it here, we are a broad church. You can have robust exchanges and we still all cobble along. Don’t worry about the defensiveness. I have that complaint sometimes too. It’s to be understood, not banished for. Generally, given some time, most people settle down here and make it home.

Cheers,

Tristan

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Re: The Boy in the Picture

Post by David » Sun Oct 14, 2018 3:36 pm

Hi Perry,

Interesting Catholic echo in "full of grace". Is that intentional? Just wondering whether, if it is, it works or not. I think it might, but it's a high risk strategy.

Anyway, I like this, although I think - like others? - that you could easily (and better) end on L12. That's all you need.

The "whereupon" seems more than a little awkward, and unduly formal, in this context.

I think the revision is better than the original.

I can't remember whether I saw this at the Eratosphere or not. I'll go and have a look. (Interesting Eratospherical digression here too.)

Cheers

David

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Re: The Boy in the Picture

Post by David » Sun Oct 14, 2018 4:07 pm

Firebird wrote:
Sun Oct 14, 2018 10:37 am
Just to let you know, when I gave my first few comments on Eratosphere about others poems, I was criticised/chastised publicly on the forum and in a private email from a moderator for lowering the standards of the site. As I remember it, I was told that they had been falling for a while but I was the limit. It’s terrible how elitist/cliquey some Poetry circles can become.
Wow! I commiserate, Tristan. That's pretty poor behaviour, isn't it? Harsh too!

Perry wrote:
Sun Oct 14, 2018 11:30 am
Although I think there are people who don't care for me much on this forum, this group has been more accepting of me than most forums. My occasional tendencies to be opinionated and touchy are just left-over defense mechanisms from my childhood.
Firebird wrote:
Sun Oct 14, 2018 12:08 pm
Yes, Perry that’s what I like about it here, we are a broad church. You can have robust exchanges and we still all cobble along. Don’t worry about the defensiveness. I have that complaint sometimes too. It’s to be understood, not banished for. Generally, given some time, most people settle down here and make it home.
Yes. That's how it's supposed to work.

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Re: The Boy in the Picture

Post by Mirrorball » Sun Oct 14, 2018 7:18 pm

Perry, I very much prefer the second version too. The original is an idea that's been done before. Rolf Harris with 'two little boys' springs to mind.

Your new title is truer to the inspiration behind the poem. You describe the photo vividly to the point I can see it clearly, which is not easy to achieve. Very well done.

The last two lines are too simplistic and, given the gravity of the subject matter, it would be very challenging to sum it up in two lines. You could end the poem on the image at the start so it loops around. I've seen you do that on one of your other poems and I think it would be an effective device for emphasising a cycle here.

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Re: The Boy in the Picture

Post by Perry » Sun Oct 14, 2018 9:11 pm

Thank you, Tristan, David and Mirrorball.

Regarding the final two lines, the question for me is whether it is okay for any poet to restate a truism (in this case, that mankind should "live and let live") in his own words. My tendency is to believe yes, especially since so many people in the world still don't understand it. I can't just cut off those final two lines. If I can't come up with something equally profound, I'll have to leave the lines as they are.

To me, the concept of grace goes beyond the Catholic religion. Even so, when I wrote that line, I was just thinking "graceful", not "loved by God". My personal religious belief is that God loves all of us by default, even Hitler, who killed this boy. I also believe that this physical universe is a kind of boot camp, and that most of the other environments within the multiverse are more pleasant than this.

I'm glad that this group is more mature than Eratosphere is. Regarding my final thread there, some of my posts were censored.
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Re: The Boy in the Picture (possible new ending)

Post by ton321 » Mon Oct 15, 2018 12:05 am

Hi Perry,

I enjoyed this piece, it seems an honest response to something that too few people write about nowadays. I recently saw a photo showing a member of ISIS holding a knife to a hostages neck, supposedly taken recently, and that in itself was terrifying to me. Poetry has a responsibility to say the un-sayable, and that includes subject-matter that doesn't align with current trends.
My only gripe with this this piece, is that we are being channeled to think/feel too much, instead of just letting the subject matter speak for itself,
Tony
Counting the beats,
Counting the slow heart beats,
The bleeding to death of time in slow heart beats,
Wakeful they lie.

Robert Graves

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Re: The Boy in the Picture (possible new ending)

Post by Perry » Mon Oct 15, 2018 12:25 am

ton321 wrote:
Mon Oct 15, 2018 12:05 am
Hi Perry,

I enjoyed this piece, it seems an honest response to something that too few people write about nowadays. I recently saw a photo showing a member of ISIS holding a knife to a hostages neck, supposedly taken recently, and that in itself was terrifying to me. Poetry has a responsibility to say the un-sayable, and that includes subject-matter that doesn't align with current trends.
My only gripe with this this piece, is that we are being channeled to think/feel too much, instead of just letting the subject matter speak for itself,
Tony
I very much appreciate your comment, Tony.

I guess I don't know how to make the subject speak for itself. I wrote one poem which the other forum didn't like, so I wrote a poem about the narrator's feelings. I don't know what else to do. Can you give me some examples of the kind of language you would put in the poem if you were writing it?
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Re: The Boy in the Picture (possible new ending)

Post by Macavity » Mon Oct 15, 2018 9:56 am

I feel a helpless rage, knowing that his
story could have well been mine, and wondering
why the human race can be so depraved.
I think you've nailed the rage line, but perhaps edit the quantifying element in the concluding line?

best

mac

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Re: The Boy in the Picture (possible new ending)

Post by Perry » Mon Oct 15, 2018 11:30 am

Macavity wrote:
Mon Oct 15, 2018 9:56 am
I think you've nailed the rage line, but perhaps edit the quantifying element in the concluding line?
You're talking above my head, Mac! What is the "quantifying element"?

==========

Oh, I get it: You removed "half". You're right -- why count in a poem?

Gee, I think you've helped me nail the new ending. I like the way it sounds, and it isn't hackneyed. (My version has nine syllables instead of ten, but that's okay.)

Thank you! This is the third or fourth time that the group has helped me fix a poem.
If I forget to come back to critique your revised poem, don't hesitate to send me a note.

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Re: The Boy in the Picture (possible new ending)

Post by Macavity » Mon Oct 15, 2018 11:51 am

I feel a helpless rage, knowing that his
story could have well been mine, and wondering
why the human race is so depraved.
hi Perry,
My thoughts are, and they are only a viewpoint, is that the human race has the potential for good as well as evil. Not all the human race is depraved. Therefore I suggested can be (a thread to the meaning/sonics of could...it is the potential outcome...our potential for good/evil..to be victims/perpetrators. By referencing your self reinforces the empathy felt in the poem. So the revised ending works for me other than my belief in potential.

Ever the optimist :)

mac

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Re: The Boy in the Picture (new ending)

Post by Perry » Mon Oct 15, 2018 8:19 pm

Thank you, Mac. It has been nice of you to stick with the poem.

I know that human beings have potential. However, I removed the "can be" from your suggested line because it created a hiccup in the rhythm (two unstressed syllables in a row), and I want the ending to be smooth. My logic is that the narrator is being emotional, and if, in his momentary rage, he paints all of humanity as depraved, the reader will understand why he is doing that.

You never said how you feel about the first ending. I guess you agreed with the others that the sentiment was too banal.

Thank you again!
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Re: The Boy in the Picture (new ending)

Post by Mirrorball » Tue Oct 16, 2018 8:18 am

Hi Perry,

I prefer your new ending. It it were my poem I'd be very happy with it and might consider ending it like this:

cautious, confused, groping his way to manhood —
but he never had a chance to arrive.
I feel a helpless rage, knowing that his
history could be someone else's future
resting on a pile of naked corpses.

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Re: The Boy in the Picture (new ending)

Post by Perry » Tue Oct 16, 2018 9:41 am

Hi, Mirrorball.

That is very interesting language, but the syntax doesn't sound natural to me. The way the poem has evolved, the narrator becomes angry at the end of the poem, so much so that he ends up damning all of mankind. What you wrote doesn't sound like something someone would say when he is angry.

I'm saying all this just to give you an idea of how my mind works. In this poem, at least, I am trying to keep the language conversational.

You know, there have been three poems now that the group has helped me to refine, and that is very valuable to me. If I weren't participating here, I would have stayed with the original ending.

I want to change the title, which I think will be "Lost Grace".
If I forget to come back to critique your revised poem, don't hesitate to send me a note.

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