The Search (some improvements)

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Perry
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The Search (some improvements)

Post by Perry » Fri Mar 06, 2020 7:43 am

Subtitle: Her name was Motley

Slight improvements:

From a stray cat’s litter in a courtyard
I adopted a kitten a month too soon;
it was not yet ready to leave its mother.

Every night it would snuggle up and look
for a nipple in my beard; it was cute,
but there was pain in her nocturnal search,

and it made me sad that I didn’t have
a mother's milk to give her. When I shaved,
she moved her futile quest to my pate,

and for years — not every day, but most —
she looked for a nipple she never had
a hope to find, while I pondered my selfish act

of grabbing a baby from its mother
for my own pleasure. She taught me what I
never understood: When we don’t get what

we need when we need it, the need persists
for ever. And at night I look for my own
nipple between the legs of my lovers.

Original:

From a stray cat’s litter in a courtyard
I adopted a kitten a month too soon;
it was not yet ready to leave its mother.

Every night it would snuggle up and look
for a nipple in my beard; it was cute,
but there was pain in her nocturnal search,

and it made me sad that I didn’t have
a real nipple to give her. When I shaved,
she moved her futile quest to my pate,

and for twelve years — all the days of her life —
she looked for a nipple she never had
a hope to find, while I pondered my selfish act

of grabbing a baby from its mother
for my own pleasure. She taught me what I
almost understood: When we don’t get what

we need when we need it, the need persists
for ever ... while at night I look for my own
nipple between the legs of my lovers.

-end-

I suspect that my ending is going to come in a for a lot of criticism.

I apologize for not participating for a while, and then swooping in with a new poem -- but I did critique two poems before posting this, and I'll try to critique more in the coming days.
Last edited by Perry on Sun Mar 08, 2020 9:44 am, edited 16 times in total.
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Re: The Search

Post by Firebird » Fri Mar 06, 2020 11:50 am

Hi Perry,

I think it’s very good. The ending didn’t upset me at all. At first, I didn’t think the ending worked, but the more I think about it, the more I think it does work. Others might disagree though.

My favourite line is: ‘But there was pain in her nocturnal search’.

The poem really travels from its beginning to its end, which I like a lot.

This poem won’t be for everybody, because of its graphic ending or maybe because of readers being slightly homophobic. I suppose it could be read from a heterosexual perspective, too, though. i only read N as being homosexual because you have told us in the past that you are.

One of the unfortunate implications in my view, if N is read as being homosexual, is that homosexuality could result from being painfully severed from ones mother at an early age. I don’t think you were meaning this though, were you? I don’t think this view point represents the main thrust of the poem though, so doesn’t diminish it for me.
and it made me sad that I didn’t have
a real nipple to give her.
Maybe the second line should be ’her mother to offer her’.

The shaving bit (s3) made me smile a little. I’m not sure why, but I don’t think that was your intention. I’ll have a think about why it did this and how it could possibly be avoided.

I’ll be back later. These are just my first thoughts.

Cheers,

Tristan

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Re: The Search

Post by ray miller » Fri Mar 06, 2020 2:12 pm

Very good, especially the ending - and I haven't felt that about many of yours. We got two kittens last year, one of them used to burrow itself in the crook of my elbow, looking for a nipple. It stopped doing this after a few months. Yours really went on for twelve years? Were her searches only nocturnal?
Dunno why you'd use the word pate rather than head.
She taught me what I almost understood - not sure that really makes sense, at least it could be phrased better.
Maybe ...and at night I look.. in the penultimate line.
I'm out of faith and in my cups
I contemplate such bitter stuff.

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Re: The Search

Post by Perry » Fri Mar 06, 2020 9:18 pm

Tristan and Ray, I'm feeling very pleased by your comments. This is the first serious poem I've written in a while. Let me respond to some of the things you said.

Tristan, I was aware that the poem could be interpreted as a negative comment about homosexuality (that it arises from childhood need) but as you figured out, I didn't mean that. As I've gotten older, I have become more aware of how people of all types -- gays and straights, men and women -- tend to bring their unfilled childhood needs into their relationships, and that was what I was trying to say. But there's more to it than that. Like a lot of gay men, I'm very focussed on the penis; sucking is one of our common sexual acts. The similarity between sucking a nipple and sucking a cock is just too obvious, so I decided to acknowledge that in the poem. If a few readers say to themselves, "Homosexuality is just an illness, as I suspected", then so be it. As I get older I find myself caring less about the political correctness of it all. Am I sick? Am I normal? Does it matter? The human animal comes in too many varieties for us to know what "normal" is.

By the way, it's my understanding that there are parts of the female anatomy that can be sucked. I've never had my face down there, so I'm not certain.

I just want to acknowledge that I went from calling the kitten "it" to "she" as the poem progressed. That was partly intentional. It was meant to show that I saw the kitten as an object when I first adopted it, but then it became an individual to me.

These lines ...

and it made me sad that I didn't have
a real nipple to give her.

could become ...

and it made me sad that I couldn't be
a real mother for her.

... but I do like the emphasis on "nipple" throughout the poem. I'll try your suggestion.

I remember the day I shaved. It made me sad to be removing the forest that she had been searching in. But then she moved to my head.

Your comment that the poem "travels" made me feel great. I try to make all my poems travel.

Ray, I used "pate" because the face is part of the head, and I wanted to make it clear that she just shifted upward in her search for a nipple. "Head" includes the jaw and the beard, and "pate" doesn't. Is pate too old-fashioned for you?

I don't remember if Motley looked for a nipple in my hair for her entire life. I know that she did it a very long time. Actually, she might have done it occasionally towards the end. I wrote that she did it her whole life to make the poem more dramatic. I ended up giving her away, so I don't know if she lived 12 years. Perhaps I should say she died at eight or nine. As I've said before, I believe that it is okay to fudge the details of a poem to make it better. I'm very much into writing emotion-tugging drama into my poems.

If her searches for a nipple were only nocturnal, that's only because I was lying down at night.

The ending is interesting. I did what people keep telling me not to do: I clearly stated the moral of the tale (the lines about need), but then I added a twist by relating it back to me. So the poem does have a surprise at the end.

"She taught me what I almost understood" is just my way of saying that I was coming to this understanding of human nature on my own, and the experience with the cat put it over the top. I'll consider other language.

I'll try out your suggested change to the second-to-last line.

Thanks again to both of you!
If I don't critique your poem, it is probably because I don't understand it.

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Re: The Search (some improvements)

Post by TrevorConway » Tue Mar 24, 2020 5:27 pm

Hi Perry,

I enjoyed this a lot. Lots of it felt note-perfect to me, though not so much towards the end, especially the part that repeated "need". I don't object to the last sentiment, though the comparison of sucking for milk with sucking for sexual pleasure somehow rang a bit hollow for me. I'm sure you've considered it a lot already anyway. I love the whole idea and execution of the poem. Some notes added below, and I should reiterate that I thought this was a very, very good poem.


From a stray cat’s litter in a [Maybe add an adjective?] courtyard
I adopted a kitten a month too soon;
it was not [or "wasn't"?] yet ready to leave its mother.

Every night it would snuggle up and look
for a nipple in my beard; it was cute, [maybe delete "it was cute"?]
but there was pain in her nocturnal search, [not mad on "nocturnal search" - I think it sounds a bit stilted compared to most of the language of the poem]

and it made me sad that I didn’t have [I think "mad me sad" could be improved with something more specific or visual]
a mother's milk to give her. When I shaved,
she moved her futile quest to my pate, [I love this progression of the idea, but maybe "head" or something else instead of pate?]

and for years — not every day, but most —
she looked for a nipple she never had
a hope to find, while I pondered my selfish act

of grabbing a baby from its mother
for my own pleasure. She taught me what I [Delete "for my own pleasure"?]
never understood: When we don’t get what [How about simply "...get something / the need persists. / And at night..."?]

we need when we need it, the need persists
for ever. And at night I look for my own
nipple between the legs of my lovers. [Maybe delete "my"?]

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Re: The Search (some improvements)

Post by Perry » Fri Apr 10, 2020 3:00 am

Trevor, I've been away from the board for quite a while, which is why I didn't reply sooner. My apologies.

First, you describe the poem in glowing terms, but then you make changes to every stanza. I'm not quite sure what to think of that. Very specific line-by-line suggestions aren't always useful to a poet, since the likelihood is that the poet has already considered such variations. For example, I knew that I could write "when we don't get what we need, the need persists", but I felt that lacked emphasis, and wasn't as dramatic.

I don't know how old you are, or if you're gay, but the point of the poem is to draw a comparison between the cat looking for mother's milk where she won't find it, and me looking for father's love where I won't find it. We're both on a futile search.

Thanks for looking at the poem and giving me your thoughts. I'll take a look at some of your poems.
If I don't critique your poem, it is probably because I don't understand it.

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Re: The Search (some improvements)

Post by Firebird » Fri Apr 10, 2020 10:17 pm

Hi Perry,

I like the two changes you’ve made to this poem (I’ve highlighted them below). I think they are both improvements. Still liking the poem a lot.

Cheers,

Tristan

Perry wrote:
Fri Mar 06, 2020 7:43 am
Subtitle: Her name was Motley

Slight improvements:

From a stray cat’s litter in a courtyard
I adopted a kitten a month too soon;
it was not yet ready to leave its mother.

Every night it would snuggle up and look
for a nipple in my beard; it was cute,
but there was pain in her nocturnal search,

and it made me sad that I didn’t have
a mother's milk to give her. When I shaved,
she moved her futile quest to my pate,

and for years — not every day, but most —
she looked for a nipple she never had
a hope to find, while I pondered my selfish act

of grabbing a baby from its mother
for my own pleasure. She taught me what I
never understood: When we don’t get what

we need when we need it, the need persists
for ever. And at night I look for my own
nipple between the legs of my lovers.

Original:

From a stray cat’s litter in a courtyard
I adopted a kitten a month too soon;
it was not yet ready to leave its mother.

Every night it would snuggle up and look
for a nipple in my beard; it was cute,
but there was pain in her nocturnal search,

and it made me sad that I didn’t have
a real nipple to give her. When I shaved,
she moved her futile quest to my pate,

and for twelve years — all the days of her life —
she looked for a nipple she never had
a hope to find, while I pondered my selfish act

of grabbing a baby from its mother
for my own pleasure. She taught me what I
almost understood: When we don’t get what

we need when we need it, the need persists
for ever ... while at night I look for my own
nipple between the legs of my lovers.

-end-

I suspect that my ending is going to come in a for a lot of criticism.

I apologize for not participating for a while, and then swooping in with a new poem -- but I did critique two poems before posting this, and I'll try to critique more in the coming days.

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Re: The Search (some improvements)

Post by Perry » Sat Apr 11, 2020 12:07 pm

Thanks so much, Tristan. You offered useful suggestions before. However, the poem is still a little repetitious, but if I cut phrases out, I can't fit it into tercets.

Lately I've been feeling very inadequate, and that's affecting my writing. I had writer's block most of my life, and now I have about ten years before I croak (if that), and I question whether I can write enough to make any kind of impact on the world. Part of the problem is that now, old and living on the dole, I don't seem to have a lot to say, so I keep thinking back to early experiences. (The experience in this poem is now 45 years old.)

My friend, Rhina Espaillat (who is now 87), and Alicia Stallings are both such superb poets that anything I write seems terribly inadequate in comparison. Both of them -- especially Stallings -- have a sharp cleverness which allows them to write everything in rhyme, something which is very hard for me to do -- but I love the sound of rhyme. Within the context of rhyme and meter, both poets manage to be highly original and idiosyncratic, while my language is much more ordinary.
If I don't critique your poem, it is probably because I don't understand it.

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Re: The Search (some improvements)

Post by Firebird » Sat Apr 11, 2020 12:57 pm

Hi Perry,

Rhina Espaillat is setting the bar very high. But there’s no problem in that, I suppose. It’s good to have a target.

Are you saying that you can get this poem into rhyming tercets? If so, you should post it. It would be interesting to see, although I do like it as it is.

I’ve just started my 50s, and have never had writer’s block. In fact, I probably write too much, because most of it is pretty poor stuff, but at least I recognise it. I think good poetry can come from anywhere, and doesn’t necessarily have to be based on your own experiences.

Cheers,

Tristan

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Re: The Search (some improvements)

Post by Perry » Sat Apr 11, 2020 10:10 pm

I've always been ambitious when it comes to poetry, and that was partially responsible for the writer's block. The only pure motivation to write is for the love of poetry, not to become famous, meaning that I had to get my priorities straight. Then, in 2016, I realized that time was running out, and that shook loose some of the writer's block. But I've also been a person who was afraid of the world and kept pretty much to my home, so I don't have a rich variety of life experiences to draw from -- but then, Emily Dickinson did that too. Regarding your writing, I've noticed that writers who are prolific may end up writing many amateurish poems, but then a small percentage will rise to a level of excellence, and it is on those poems that they establish their reputation. Millay was like that -- the bulk of her poems are not very good, but her best are some of the finest in the language. (I don't know if your poetry falls into that pattern -- I'm just thinking out loud.) I know a poet named Robert Lavett Smith who goes through periods when he writes one or two perfectly rhymed sonnets every day. A small percentage of them are fantastically good, though many of them just sound like writing exercises. He has written thousands of poems in his life -- so many that he has forgotten many of them -- while I have written less than a hundred.

I don't shoot for rhyme in all my poems because the rhyme ends up dictating the message, and I don't like "writing to the rhyme".

Sorry for blabbing so much. I've been taking stock of myself recently.
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Re: The Search (some improvements)

Post by Firebird » Sun Apr 12, 2020 8:33 am

Perry wrote:
Sat Apr 11, 2020 10:10 pm
Regarding your writing, I've noticed that writers who are prolific may end up writing many amateurish poems, but then a small percentage will rise to a level of excellence, and it is on those poems that they establish their reputation. Millay was like that -- the bulk of her poems are not very good, but her best are some of the finest in the language. (I don't know if your poetry falls into that pattern -- I'm just thinking out loud.).
I’m certain my poetry doesn’t fall into that pattern, in the sense that ‘my best are some of the finest in the language’ :D. However, some I’m happy with and I’m proud of them being published in reputable magazines.
Perry wrote:
Sat Apr 11, 2020 10:10 pm
Sorry for blabbing so much. I've been taking stock of myself recently.
No need to apologise. It’s interesting stuff. And I think we are all taking stock in one way or another in these times.

Cheers,

Tristan

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