Poetry portfolio.

To be truthful, I have a difficult time revising my poetry; often, I develop a piece to a certain point that I feel comfortable with and confident in, and I cannot seem to part with its words or structure. While I understand cutting and modifying portions of my work are necessary, I see no need to change something simply for the sake of change. All of my revisions, minor or drastic, have been carefully considered and greatly debated internally. Though other authors might still see potential edits to be made, trying to please each and every reader would be impossible. Over the course of this class and the many peer workshops we have done, I have built up each poem in this collection to the level I had envisioned. Ultimately, the work is mine, and I am completely satisfied with its outcome.

In writing the included poems, I meant for each to stand alone. However, in choosing which pieces to exhibit in my portfolio, I realized they could loosely fit together if presented in a particular order. If thought of chronologically: The Box occurs first, with Pandora releasing evil on earth; Doppelgängers of Glass follows, with its narrator noticing the first sign that something is amiss and dark in the world; Frozen Ponderings tells of an isolated narrator contemplating the meaning of her life – this could be the same narrator from the previous poem, having these thoughts due to the shock of what she witnessed; and finally in Le Cadaeu de Mort, the narrator’s life is taken by an unearthly creature – perhaps she accepted her end due to a loss of faith in humanity or hope in the world. While I did not originally intend for these poems to work together as a story and the narrator of each piece is not necessarily the same person, similar themes in each poem allow this possibility. The Box has an omniscient narrator who seems to be watching the events unfold; this could be the introductory event that causes the later events of the other poems, which have a clear first-person speaker. The narrator of these poems can be thought of as the same person or as three different people. Ultimately, the reader can interpret this portfolio however he or she likes. Of course, my brief explanations of each poem provide some insight on what I was thinking as I wrote and ideas about how I intended them to be read.

The first poem of this collection, The Box, is my formal-verse interpretation of the mythological story of Pandora’s box. In the earlier draft of this sonnet, the final two lines read, “Cautiously twisting her key with brows creased / Pandora gasped at the horrors released.” My intention was to allude to the myth but save revealing Pandora’s identity for the end. I wanted to keep that element of surprise (or confirmation if the reader already it was Pandora), but my ending was not strong enough. I had difficulty during the revision process but ended up finding a way to make the ending more powerful by changing the last two lines. I think using “Pandora” as the very last word is even more effective than saving it for the last line, and “savage mayhem” is a much better description than “horrors.” The use of “horrors released” was too trite in general; in editing, I steered away from this common way of describing Pandora’s box. Additionally, I added punctuation to give the poem more of a story-like feel. I did not want this poem to tell a new story; rather, I wanted to tell a familiar story in my own way.

The Box

A cool summer night she lay down to rest,
But was unable to drift off to sleep.
Her eyes fell upon the sacred gold chest
That had been trustingly placed in her keep.
A silver lock kept its secrets sealed tight;
The box whispered of its hidden contents.
Its polished surface reflected the light,
Promised an illustrious quintessence.
Thoughts dancing around what must be inside,
She contemplated the risk she would take.
Her curiosity would not subside;
She did not know what was truly at stake.
Her twisting key freed a ghastly aura:
Savage mayhem triggered by Pandora.

Click to see the original draft.

Doppelgängers of Glass is essentially about the narrator riding a bus with very attractive and seemingly “perfect” people but momentarily seeing their ugliness – their true nature – in their reflections in the windows. I meant for the core of this poem to reside in the non-indented stanzas; the lush descriptions in the indented stanzas are meant to trip the reader up and distract from the sentence meanings, similar to the way the beautiful appearance of the people distracts the narrator from their inner darkness. Thus, when revising this poem, I intentionally kept these offset stanzas very detailed and vivid. Also these two sets of descriptions are meant to be parallel but opposites; I successively describe their mouths, teeth, hair, faces, eyes, and fingers, but the descriptions go from very pretty and positive to quite ugly, monstrous, and dark. Originally, my final line was “I saw the dreadful truth.” This was sort of a bland ending, with “truth” being a vague but loaded word. I decided to create a more interesting conclusion and leave the reader with “Unveiled secrets, both theirs and mine.” This ending provides a glimpse at the narrator’s nature, while still delivering a sense of wonder – the narrator’s involvement is not mentioned until the very last word. Even though the narrator’s reflection is not directly described, the reader gets a sense that what the narrator discovers about herself is surprisingly unpleasant.

Doppelgängers of Glass

I had only wanted a way home –
Simple transportation,
Movement from one location to the next –
When I noticed

A sly deception of nature:
A bus brimming with beautiful beings –

Lips, dewy and pink, creeping back flirtatiously
To reveal impeccably iridescent smiles,
Golden cascades of silk framing
Symmetrical palettes of ivory or peach,
Cobalt eyes dancing
Mischievously behind a fringe of dark lashes,
Slender fingers culminating
In flawless windows with
Tiny crescent moons at their sills –

Whose splendor was a facade.

For when I glanced outside to check our course,
Light bounced off the tinted egress,
Darkening my view of the road and evening sky
And exposing an unnatural horror:

My perception changed as the creatures transformed;
Their aberrant reflections –

Foul snarls baring contaminated openings
Of jagged decaying fangs,
Ethereal curtains of black hanging
Lifeless about pallid sneers,
Liquid black chasms
Amidst rotting, wilting flesh,
Manus, encrusted in crimson,
Tapering into
Stained and infected claws –

Unveiled shadowy secrets, both theirs and mine.

Click to see the original draft.

I was hesitant to include a poem I hadn’t worked with in a peer-editing session, but I really like Frozen Ponderings. This piece is the product of the three-sentence poem assignment, and although I did not receive much constructive feedback or make many new revisions, I put a lot of effort into the little details initially. I used careful word choice throughout, including the pairs “creep” and “deep,” “frost” and “lost,” “air” and “hair,” “misted” and “crystals,” “breath” and “death,” and “château” and “flow.” This seems like quite a bit, but I think the line breaks make these moments less obvious; when reading the poem aloud, these rhymes are noticeable but not “in your face” unless pauses are made after them (which isn’t how I intended the poem to be read anyway). I enjoyed forcing my ideas to fit a template – a sentence about the scene, a question, and another detail – and think this structure allowed me to create something I probably wouldn’t have otherwise.

Frozen Ponderings

Smoky grey tendrils of warmth creep from
deep within my lungs and escape
into the surrounding frost until
they are lost, swirling away into the icy air
as my hair is misted with crystals.

Is this breath the only distinction
between the biting cold death that awaits
in nature’s frozen château
and the flow of hot blood indubitably
indicating my life?

Naked silhouetted tree limbs sway
in the moon’s silvery light, and as the wind dances
the cold fingers on their branches reach out
imploringly, to touch my cheek
with whispered queries of their own.

Finally, I’ve included Le Cadaeu de Mort, or “The Gift of Death” in French, a poem about a vampire that’s broken into three sections: the prologue, climax, and epilogue. This is the poem to which I made the most changes; my peer group gave me feedback on two different drafts. Originally, the love the “he” of the story and the narrator have for each other was not very believable. To fix this, I added the details about the narrator’s thoughts and dreams in the first stanza. I also added dialogue; the “angel of darkness” says to the narrator in French, “My love, I am sorry” as he ends her life. This also addressed another issue: the seemingly random French title (originally it was the only part in French). Another fix for that was changing “Prologue,” “Climax,” and “Epilogue” to their French counterparts – though two of the three are quite similar to the English versions. One of the original draft’s other issues was the death scene: it seemed like it had been said before. So rather than saying “A grey haze conceals the moon / As the throb of my heart fades, / And I sink into nothingness” as it originally did, the poem now depicts the last things the narrator sees and hears as she dies. I used “I watch the moon slip behind a grey haze” as a sort of parallel to the “And I sink into nothingness” line I had before, “slip” being synonymous to “sink” and “grey haze” being synonymous to “nothingness.” I think projecting this onto the moon works a lot better than flat out explaining what the narrator is feeling. The last stanza seemed to be pretty spot-on from the first draft, and I did not have to make any major alterations to it. I am very happy with the way this poem turned out, thanks to my many revisions and the suggestions of my peer group.

Le Cadeau de Mort

Prologue:
An angel of darkness,
A knight of the night itself,
A beautiful fiend of silence and shadows,
He haunted me after dusk,
His presence pervading my dreams
And consuming my thoughts,
Endlessly.

Apogée:
Curtains of translucent ivory billowing from the open window
Struggle in vain to chase after me,
To disencumber me from this inescapable fate,
But I am beyond restoration:
He drinks my life from the deepest channel;
Neck arched and face upturned,
I watch the moon slip behind a grey haze.
“Mon amour, je suis désolé.”

Épilogue:
I hear the patter of soil on my temporary roof.
Enveloped by darkness and crimson silk,
Imprisoned by walls of mahogany,
But it won’t be long now:
He will come for me; I will resurface,
And we will take flight.

Click to see the original draft.

My poetry – at least what is included in this portfolio – tends to involve the moon, nighttime, mystery, and darkness or some sort of horror. Thus, it happened to work out that these poems could tie together. I had other poems I would have liked to include, but ultimately I think this portfolio is stronger with these four somewhat related pieces that I worked on intensely. I am quite excited to share the finished products. There is plenty more I could say about each poem; so please, if there is anything you want to know, just ask.

Rachel.

One response to “Poetry portfolio.

  1. Really thoughtful introduction and commentary. It’s kind of like doing the special features on a DVD, right? Anyway, in your blurb on “Doppelgangers,” you mention how you recognized your reliance on loaded words to convey meaning–which is one reason some of your earlier drafts felt somewhat familiar. That’s a keen insight, and one that you were wise to address. You made some excellent choices during the revision process to avoid taking these easier paths. You’re giving your readers more credit this time around, and I, for one, appreciate the trust you’ve placed in me to be able to figure out whatever it is you want me to discover. Your guidance is more subtle in these versions, and that’s a sign of progress and sophistication as a writer. Well done. The most obvious place where this is visible seems to be in your conclusions. All four of these endings are satisfying and create a feeling that one of my poet friends describes as a “dropping sensation.” [That’s a good thing.] I’d love to hear some of these read aloud, especially “Frozen Ponderings.” The care that went into your diction in that poem is noticeable, and–in my head anyway–the verses (especially the first stanza) sound beautiful. Thanks for sharing such quality work.

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