To Jack Across the Sea

We two met in the one Irish
New York pub known and still run
by Eires like you. Our talking it
turned up tragic: tuition, writers from
the thirties rotting. These comic
thoughts, these
ideas interrupted the oral momentum:
translucent roofs true to Spiderman,
blurred and iron // blank and fragile—
clichés are the things clinging life to
life and we make light of phrases
but are aesthetics made for easy friends?
When I say “Oh that’s cliché”
I forget it undergirds life,
How “Don’t Murder” deems being
Beats non-being. Be cliché, Jack,
And mend the maxims. Maximize the facts
For truism acts. Trace the shapes
Of truer beings — tissue and pencil
— Until their manner tunes you right
And let light come to loves you keep
Back in the brackish breezes of Ireland.

:: 58 poems written at 29 years ::

This year, for the 58 @ 29, I plan to focus on alliterative meter. It’s the meter used by Middle English and Old English poets as well as Latin and Greek poets. Basically all epic poets use some form of alliterative meter and it hasn’t been used in English for a thousand years. I will be pulling from the rules offered in Lewis’ article on The Alliterative Meter:

In the general reaction which has set in against the long reign of foreign, syllabic meters in English, it is a little remarkable that few have yet suggested a return to our own ancient system, the alliterative line…. Alliteration is no more the whole secret of this verse than rhyme is the whole secret of syllabic verse. It has, in addition, a metrical structure, which could stand alone, and which would then be to this system as blank verse is the syllabic….

A few successful specimens of alliterative meter would be an excellent answer to the type of critic (by no means extinct) who accuses the moderns of choosing vers libre because they are not men enough for meter. For if syllabic verse is like carving in wood and verse libre like working with a brush, alliterative meter is like carving in granite.

“Vers Libre” for those who don’t know is Latin for “free verse.” Lewis has, ultimately, offered for my poetry just the kind of reaction I prefer in all of my life: a reaction that is, deep down, orthodoxy. A reaction to dead leaves as radical as the radish itself: radical because it is the living root of the thing.

Here is the table of contents for my 58 attempts over the next year. After the monogram, I’m including a quote from Chesterton’s An Apology for Buffoons because it defends proper use of alliteration in English:

58 poems at 29 years old ::

  1. Greenwood
  2. The Brooklyn Film Festival at Windmill Studios
  3. Rio Sunset Park
  4. The Ballad of the Writer’s Morning
  5. To Jack Across the River
  6. To Della Beyond the Veil
  7. Guantanamera
  8. Mother of Exiles

lancelot tobias mearcstapa schaubert monogram

cover image by Barbara Walsh

READ NEXT:  On the Instance of My Wife Sleeping in — from 58 poems written at 29
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