Friday, July 28, 2006

Ulysses in Burlington, Vermont

Here is a poem I wrote a while back. It's one of my favorite poems. However, nobody else likes it. I have submitted it to several publications and none of them show any interest. In one case, the poem was met with outright hostility. So, either the editors are stunningly poor judges of poetry, or I am.

I am always amazed at how some artists can't recognize their own mediocrity. Alfred Austen (the poet laureate of England after Tennyson's death) being a prime example (The Joy of Bad Verse by Nicholas T. Parsons). Here was a man whose breathtaking mediocrity was only rivaled by his sense of genius. Maybe I fall into that category. You be the judge.

Anyway, one of the reasons I like the poem so much is because it was fun to write. I took Tennyson's Ulysses and tried to "modernize" it. At the same time, I closely followed his grammatical style and used much of his vocabulary. This gives the poem the odd feeling of being in two worlds at once, I know. I came up with the idea a while back when I read that student Edward Elgar (an English late-romantic composer), came up with the idea of re-writing Mozart's (40th or 41rst?) symphony while using all the same note "values". In other words, he changed the melody but kept everything else the same. I wanted to know how that would work in poetry.

It's a pastiche. In the musical sense, this means that we take an old song and put new words in it, giving it a new meaning. For my part, I tried to turn the whole thing upside down.

It little profits that–a girl stopped
By traffic lights in Burlington, Vermont,
Skateboard idle at the curb–I dole
My laws to boys that leer and know not me.
I cannot rest for riding every day
Downhill to Lake Champlain. I have enjoyed
The streets alone, with friends, at times with strangers
But always with an equal love–in sun
And summer or when winter topples snow
From the Adirondacks’ slopes and seals
The roaming lake. I’ve made myself a name
By daily boarding past the populous fronts
Of Church Street. I’ve come to know the people:
Its jugglers, pipers, lovers and its children
As I myself am known by them and am
Become a part of them. Who haven’t I told,
And freely–that experience lessens me
That makes me more; that having had, the heart
Desires more and still forever more
The world that never can be fully traveled,
Whose end is my own ending. Bring to me
Days piled on days. Bring me roads, my board,
Unburnished life. So have I told my lovers
And held them to my breasts to hear my breath,
My ringing blood–there is no hour saved;
Drink now and fully, here where falling’s scraped
My skin, here where the wind has chaffed, drink here,
My lips. So have I stood atop the hill
To see the sunsets and all the city spread
Beneath me to the lake and said to those
Who with me readied for the day’s last free-fall
Down through the arc-lit streets: here is my knowledge,
My utmost–life as in love. Let us go
And meet the glittering boundary of the dark water.
This is my mother, whom I love; the room
I left behind (she keeps the knick-knacks–stones
And seashells I discarded); this her house
Round it the wildflowers she’s subdued,
Finding in them their usefulness and good
(Her work now that I’m gone)–and I’m amazed
By her no less than she by me. She’s said:
‘By what we do we love or fail in love;
‘In life our work’s no different–yours and mine.’
There lies the avenue, the broad downhill
To Union Station, there before the shoreline–
The traffic veers. For me alone to go
Or stay, and there’s a joy in having to
Myself the choice–not asking what comes next;
Life’s for the taking. You and I are young,
Our coiled bodies ready to be sprung,
Our corded backs and shoulders to be stretched
(What is torn will mend). Let our mistakes
Be ours, and our successes; what we are
Be boundaryless. The early morning sun
Is furrowed in the climbing waves, and tops
The further mountains. Come, the day awaits us–
The city wakens–what new byways, who
We’ll meet, what friends or strangers, what new lovers,
Ours to discover; if this day’s the last
Then nothing to regret, if not, what change
Another will have wrought on us may touch
Us with a wonder greater than we dreamt of.
Perhaps we each will have a child someday,
Perhaps she’ll say: ‘I want a skateboard just
‘Like yours. I want to be like you.’ Then I’ll say:
We are the lives that we create. This is
The lake, and this our earth and heaven; my love
Abide in you and yours in all you do.
Live to the last day and let the poets say:
‘To be like her!–in Burlington, Vermont.’

Ulysses in Burlington, Vermont
February 3, 2000


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is excellent, the very spirit of Burlington. Damn the editors who turned it down!

6:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's very, very good, though I prefer the noble form to the modern substance. I'm not surprised poetry editors turned it down - I've never read a poem in a magazine worth reading.

7:25 PM  

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