slice of life ballad by ellie ann soderstrom fantasy novel

My Commentary on the Slice of Life Ballad

 

The following comes from the original email in which I delivered my manuscript to Ellie for the Slice of Life ballad. I knew that my work can be kind of dense at times, so I used the postscript of the document to write her an explanation.
It explains the major thrust of the poem ::

 

 

Hey sister,

Though I consider it bad form to completely explain my work, I figure since we’re working together, it would be good for you to know what’s going on here. Obviously this ballad retells the entire story of Slice of Life (as most ballads do) and mythologizes Aura (as many narrative poems do). But, as you’ve asked, it also works as a plot device, beckoning her toward the chandelier.

Beyond all of that, it serves as a cultural marker of transmedia—a poem of transmedia, for transmedia, by transmedia. I’m calling it a polyform poem – a poem that uses multiple forms. It marks a transition out of the dissonant present where poetry (and subsequently art) must survive on very little and into a robust future where she might thrive again in her various forms.

What I wanted to do was to make mixed media inside mixed media, but the found poetry thing wouldn’t work. Found poetry generally depends on either (1) an abundance of source documents or (2) personal experience. In retrospect, I may have easily borrowed from the original Peter Pan and Illiad documents, but that didn’t cross my mind at the time. As for personal experience, there’s no way for me to travel to this particular world. I had to rethink my idea about a poem of, to, for transmedia.

Instead, I chose to mix the media by blending genres of poetry. This, by itself, would create a sort of dissonance—dissonance that the current age values so highly. However, I find dissonance useless without euphony to temper it. So I took some of the most highbrow of poetic forms and bound them together inside the most banal of poetic forms—the pop song. There are four main verses, a bridge, a chorus and a series of secondary bridges or pre-choruses (depending on who you ask). Each verse takes us back to a different era of ballad, nodding my head toward those writers who came before me and paving a road for future generations. All responsible art should do this—what Kyle Welch calls “In Memoriam, In Transit.” Life in the present lives in the tension between a memorial of tradition and a transition into the time to come. In memoriam, in transit. I hope to achieve that here.

 

We start the poem with a lyrical ballad nodding first to the work by the same name written by Coleridge and (as you mentioned) Wordsworth, but more importantly to their later progeny—G.K. Chesterton. This verse took the meter and rhyme scheme straight from The Ballad of the White Horse, even borrowing some of his grammar about “like children of some afterbirth/born long after judgment day” concerning wars and the like. The verse is iambic with alternating lines of tetrameter and triameter. This shifts for the five-line stanza, of course, but in general, that’s the rhythm.

slice of life ballad by ellie ann soderstrom fantasy novel

We then use Tennyson’s combination of alternating pyrrhic and spondaic feet, a pyrrhic/spondaic tetrameter (or ionic), for the bridge. The bridge acts as a sort of lead-in like in any shift during any musical composition—it’s a transition from dissonance to euphony, and (in two lines) states the thesis and plots the purpose of the poem.

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That leads us into the chorus—a short lyric poem of troachic tetrameter/triameter. This chorus works as a refrain, pulling us through the plot into the present where Aura sits, needing to get that chandelier off of the ceiling and into her purse.

 

For the second verse, we move into anapestic tetrameter and summon the likes of one of the earliest rhymes young American children learn—Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house… Only now, like the rest of the story, something terrible has happened in Faeland. “Night” becomes “knife,” the liberation of “Christmas” has become the imprisonment “pinned her,” and the instead of the domestic “house” we meet this tome that is anything but hospitable. I mix up this anapestic meter at a couple of points to shift from “twas the night” and then to invoke the spirit of Dr. Suess—the modern master of anapestic hexameter. Most people that try to imitate Suess fail miserably because their meter’s terribly terribly off. I hope I represented him, and that issue, well in the latter half of this verse.

We refrain the chorus…

Then, since we’re entering something like hell, all hell breaks loose. Forms start colliding in this verse, creating a stark dissonance. First we meet dactylic tetrameter, the form gloried in Robert Browning’s writing. Because of this, I start like his poem The Lost Leader begins. I move out of that to state the current three options (death, flight, victory) in the broken cretic diameter a la Shakespeare. After that, I sum up the scene and the shift into battle by the king of all imagery shifters—the haiku. Most famous of haiku is the poem old pond and so I start with the word “old.”

Then, since so much happens in the battle, I chose crambo—a poetic form that you would love if we reboot Writer’s Creed this fall because it was invented by wordsmiths as a party game. However, the type I used here crams a rhyme scheme inside the rhyme scheme (aabccb) which gives it a bumpity nursery-feel, but also emphasizes how much is happening in so little time, to render all right in the face of the blight and so forth. Instead of letting the word “rustic” lead me into the idyll, I shift by the second line into an aphoristic Grook based on the poem The Road to Wisdom.

slice of life ballad by ellie ann soderstrom fantasy novel

Refrain.

 

By this point, we’ve arrived at the present where Aura, exhausted and without George, feels unbounded and disheveled (or something like that). She needs something more to see her goal. The poem becomes free verse, having torn asunder all other meters and forms by dethroning the kings of the various genres verse-by-verse and yet binding them together in the pop cultural assonance of a lyrical chorus. She, like the poem, feels shattered and the poem becomes a cosmic version of the Irish aisling—a poem where the very spirit of the land appears to the hero to tell both of tragedies gone by and of future hope. After all, that’s exactly what the apocalyptic genre is, and the Semites and early Christians weren’t the only ones to do it. In Chesterton’s words:

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Well the old great Gaels of Ireland
Are the men that God made mad
For all their wars are merry
And all their songs are sad

 

Sadness of things passed, joy for the world to come—joy worth fighting for. That’s how I understand the Irish aislings. The spirit of The World To Come appears to her in her mind’s eye, tells her to get up, to keep going and then asks her to listen to the song—the chorus we’ve refrained the entire time. The World To Come then calls us, as readers, to be true to what we are, to our own spirit—The Spirit Of The World To Come—and to encourage Aura toward her goal by joining in the song. She does this and, since the reader is just now learning to sing, they start small like all children—Poor Old Michael Vinnegan. To which the spirit of the world to come joins in and asks Aura to, “begin again.” The method of new beginning? To make a new world by creating new artistic forms “the unborn can express.” In mentioning this, I invoke C.D. Wright and transform the free verse into modern narrative verse (which works something like memoir) and thus go full circle to the beginning, a lyrical ballad. We complete with the following refrain:

 

When the foot heals and the light shines,
Then the saint hails and the star sheens!

Aura fly east to the starburst,
place it in your pack.
Aura find the constellation
hanging, bring it back.

Aura flew east to the starburst,
placed it in her pack.
Aura found the constellation
hanging, brought it back.

As we cheer Aura up to grab the chandelier, we find the bridge transformed. Now all lameness is healed, light no longer dims but shines, saints no longer blood themselves for a martyr’s cause but rather hail around the throne, the star (and by extention all constellations) no longer portends omens of doom but rather doubles the brightness of the world to come.

 

The only problem with all of this is it includes less action in the present than your former poem. In order to compensate (if you want to keep what I have), you’ll have to add a couple of lines of Aura getting up and grabbing the chandelier or what have you. That would make this poem one part inner monologue, four parts myth, one part reader participation like an introverted adult’s version of a sing along song. You’d only have to add like an extra two sentences. Unless, of course, you think this is clear enough. I have my doubts as far as the clarity of that specific action goes. Were it me, I’d add a line saying “she saw the glass chandelier, the constellation of life force inside it and yanked it from the ceiling to put it in her purse. The lifeforce was trapped…” or whatever as long as it’s clear, but not redundant.

 

Make sense? I hope it makes sense…

 

There are other things at work in this poem, especially concerning the metaphors themselves, but I can’t show all of my cards. If I did, I wouldn’t really be playing the game, would I?

  • Lancelot
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