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Friday, 14 August 2009

So, how should it be?


I asked a man with a knife in his hand
what shape should I give to my art?
The answer's not clear, young laddie, I fear.
Now take this sharp knife, it could end a man's life,
but the life it would shape would be mine.

So spake the man with the knife in his hand.

Then I asked a man in a miller's hat,
how fine should I grind down my art?
Should the texture be rough or should it be smooth?
Like dust or large grit, doesn't matter a bit,
but please don't grind it away, dear heart,

said the man in the miller's hat.

Next I asked of a pair in each other's embrace:
are art and love both sent from heaven?
They stopped for a moment... well, would you believe?
Both rule with a rod of iron, said he;
Each is as soft as a flower, said she;
as they each resumed at triple the pace.

So I asked the girl with the JCB
what land art could offer an artist like me.
Should I build mountains or fill in the sea?
Don't move too much, keep the mystery.
The faith to retain the shape of a tree
is what the world needs just now,
said she.

Then I asked a man with balls of brass,
should my art be vague or cut like glass?
Should I worry about how long it will last?
What matters, old cock, is you pick up your fee,
the people will see what they want to see,

said the man with the balls of brass.

I asked a lady with tutti-frutti,
should art be cerebral, very profound?
Or should it retain its taste for beauty?
There's beauty in thought, not to mention in sound.
It's not just the eyes make the world go round,

said the lady eating the tutti-frutti.

Then I asked a man with a bag of tools,
should art be free or bound by rules?
Should it belong to one of the schools?
Total freedom, he said, is one for the fools.
If you do not like them, change the rules!

So said the man with the bag of tools.

Next, I asked a woman painting the fence,
should my language be sparse, or should it be dense?
How many words should define each thought?
As many full stops as will make it taut,
As many smells as make a stench,

she said with a laugh as she painted the fence.

Then I asked a man in a driving glove:
how far should I stray down this crazy way,
this unmade road, with my wobbly load?
To the fifteenth pothole beyond the sun
where a cuckoo sings of a critic's love,

said the man who was missing a glove.

I asked of the couple drinking gin:
What sort of state is my art in?
They looked at each other before they replied:
As good as your smile before it died;
as bereft as any deserted bride.

So said the couple drinking gin!

26 comments:

Carl said...

Dave-
Great theme and great questions. In the end the reader learns that art can't be explained or quantified. It is personal and the best advice is make it personal for you. Some will get it some won't. If it inspires you and moves you. You have done your job.

Carl

Jim Murdoch said...

I have mixed feeling about this one. If I was going to structure a poem like this then I'd have to make sure that my rhythms sang and this one doesn't for me. It's why I stay clear of formal poetic forms like this. Putting that aside, the actual content it quite brilliant and I'm hard pressed to say which stanza I enjoyed the most. I think perhaps the "balls of brass" one, as a complete unit, but some of the individual responses were just marvellous:

      As good as your smile before it died;
      as bereft as any deserted bride.


is probably my favourite but

      Total freedom, he said, belongs to the fools.
      If you do not like them, change the rules!


is excellent too. I just wish you had managed to get that dumpty-dumpty rhythm goings so that it felt like a poetic version of the theme to The Archers because that's what I felt was coming with the opening stanza. The first two lines were great:

      I / asked a / man with a / knife in his / hand
      what / shape should I / give to my / art?

But the second stanza is missing a beat:

      Then I / asked a / man in a / [       ] miller's / hat,
      how / fine should I / grind down my / art?

This could easily be fixed with an adjective like "tall". Do you see where I'm coming from? You can clap along with the first couplet but not the second.

I think this could be quite outstanding with a bit of work. People just don't write poems like this any more.

willow said...

Actually, I love this lyrical piece, Dave. It would be super set to music. Are you musical as well?It's delightful.

Hey, you visited WM and slipped out without commenting on the poem. Yikes. Now I am feeling paranoid. Is it because you didn't want to...lie?

jinksy said...

I can see why Jim wants to play with some of the rhythm, but that's because I'm a rhyme and meter freak! I liked this observation best:-

Should I build mountains or fill in the sea?
Don't move too much, keep the mystery.
The faith to retain the shape of a tree
is what the world lacks, my friend, said she.

The Green Stone Woman said...

You ask and answer interesting questions, proving the point that we know our own answers to these questions the best and if the world at large does not agree, than more's the pity to them. I believe you are allowed literary freedom when you make a very good and resounding point, especially when it is written poetically as well and with a certain amount of care and love in mind. Love for the subject and for the written word. Bend the rules a bit like tall grass bends so lovely in the summer wind, it happens to please us and tickle our fancy. I am not one to lay down the law about what you ought and ought not to do. I say, play with it and that's what you did and so well too.

Linda said...

Your poem is talking about breaking the rules and doing what the artist's trained eye tells our imaginations to do... purposely throwing off the rhythm to keep readers unsure of where the poem is taking us could wisely and intentionally be part of this tale. I like all the advice, or lack of advice collected by the end of the poem. Somehow it is satisfying.
"Like dust or large grit, doesn't matter a bit" and it doesn't! You wield the knife. I think Willow's idea of the poem being set to music is terrific. How lyrical and unique! Wonderful, Dave.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Excellent stuff Dave - mainly because what you are saying overall is so very true. I am not sure whether I agree with Jim about the metre or not. I didn't find that stanza stumbled - I was putting the emphasis on the Mill part of millers - and yet when I put in tall it kind of made sense. Overall I think - like all the work you post - it is good as it stands. I love your poems but there has yet to me one I love as much as that wonderful one about
your old teacher.
Thanks by the say for your comment on my childrens' story - much appreciated. It is not really my forte but someone has to write a bit for children in the booklet so thought I would give it a try.

readingsully2 said...

Yes, a little too formal for me. But, I enjoyed the read anyway. It was full of little pearls of wisdom.:)

Tommaso Gervasutti said...

Really enjoyable, the stanza about the fence in particular is surprising and sparkingly witty with
"as amny smells as make a stench"

ScarletTd1ar1es said...

u absolutely refuse to not amaze. :P
that thought cycle...where does it come from???
as usual engrossing and so well balanced. :)

Titus said...

Liked it very much Dave and the best thing for me is that it's a poem I never expected to read. Your variety surprises me, and that is a very, very good thing as far as I'm concerned.

Eryl Shields said...

I really love the line:
as good as your smile before it died;enjoy the sentiment too: what artist doesn't ask these questions?!

There's a certain nursery rhyme quality to this that, I think, comes from the combination of the metre, rhyme scheme and some of the words/phrases, 'tutti-frutti' and 'old cock', for example, but it's a very adult theme; so a very interesting juxtaposition. Good stuff.

Michelle said...

I liked it.

I like the way it could just continue on forever.....just like the perpetual questioning of self we do, as artists, perpetually perpetuate....*grin*

ahem

xxx

Conda V. Douglas said...

This poem reminded me a great deal of the Victorian (Kipling, others) kind of "rollicking" style. Or so it sounded to my "ear". I always enjoy that sort of poem, as I enjoyed this one.

Tabor said...

I also like the theme. I would have gone in other different directions as this type of theme certainly allows a personality to emerge.

Dave King said...

Carl
Exactly! When I started this I had in mind a very inconsequential jingly thing, but once started it (I?) started to get more serious.

Jim
Many thanks for that Jim, it's something of a Rolls Royce critique. As I've just said to Carl, it started out as a jingle, then got serious (sort of).

I do see what your are saying with regard to the rhythm. Usually I avoid like the plague the dumpty-dumpty rhythm, but in this case I think maybe I shouldn't have. I guess I think you are right. Maybe sometime I'll try another version... Thanks again.

willow
Alas no, I'm no sort of musical at all. I was in the cat's chorus at Primary school.
I did write a comment on WM. Seems I didn't finish it by clicking appropriately somewhere. I will try to remember to pop back and do the necessary. Sorry about that.

jinksy
Yes, I take Jim's point, completely.
I'm glad you like that that observation. I do too.

The Green Stone Woman
Two telling points you make there, I think: the necessity for there to be care and love to justify our actions; and in your very lovely analogy of the bending and flexing of the tall grasses. Thannks for your comment.

Linda
I like the points you make, particularly your espousal of willow's suggestion. I would love it to be set to music - but not by me, that would be dreadful!

The Weaver of Grass
Oddly, when I was typing the poem into blogger I tried a number of one syllable adjectives in there, finally deciding on "white". After I had posted it I changed my mind and took it out again.

I'm sure that writing for children could become your forte - or one of them!

readingsully2
Interesting comment that, and helpful. Thank you for it.

Tommaso
Thanks Tommaso, I enjoyed that one, but I hadn't really expected anyone to pick it out for comment.

Scarlet
To the best of my knowledge, it doesn't come from anywhere - except maybe another poem I posted way back somewhen that began "I asked the man..." but then went on to other things. I can't even recall how it went on. Unlike this one, it was meant to be serious from the off.

Titus
Interesting you should say that, because it is often said as a criticism. There are parallels in painting and the other arts, I think. Useful to know such things about the way others feel. Thanks.

Eryl
I enjoyed the comparison with nursery rhyme. Thanks for an interesting observation.

Michelle
Absolutely! I was trying for a bit to find a finishing-off verse, but decided there wasn't one. That's when I finished off!

Conda
There was a time when I would have been very disappointed to hear myself compared to Kipling, but not now. It hadn't occurred to me, but thanks for the observation. Interesting.

Derrick said...

Hi Dave,

There are so many wonderful bits in this but I think my favourites are the answers in the first and last stanzas. I really enjoyed reading it. It was something I thought immediately I could understand!

When there seems to be an obvious rhythm, I like it to remain throughout but sometimes that's not possible, and nothing jars terribly here.

Shadow said...

now this i truly enjoyed. especially 'as good as your smile before it died'

willow said...

Thanks for coming back for a read, Dave. Being a newby, I'm always very appreciative of your comments. I'll be tweaking around on it. The fat lady is a bit too "Mae West" for the chess match, isn't she? :^)

Friko said...

Dave, I like this so much I would like to 'borrow' it and take it to my poetry group. Would you permit me?

It really bears reading out loud and discussing.

A Cuban In London said...

I half agree with Jim Murdoch ( I was going to write Murdoch and then I realised the connotations) but I like the fact that you hvae subverted a traditional form and in the process created that which your poem addresses. Amazing. Both the content and the form.

Greetings from London.

Dave King said...

Derrick
I am so glad you chose the first first stanza. That is the one I think I am most happy with. I was becoming quite disappointed that no one else had picked it out!! Your comments on the rhythm are also interesting. Thanks.

Shadow
Good. thanks for that.

willow
I didn't seewhat she had to do with the chess match - but I wouldn't make too much of it!

Friko
By all means, be my guest. Let me know how it goes. Good luck.

A Cuban in London
Thanks a lot for that. The subversion was in part accidental, but part of me is pleased with it.

hope said...

I have no critique...I just loved the sound of it. :)

And it made me smile as I pictured each "speaker". I like coming here because I either learn something new or get to see yet another side of you. That is too cool!

Karen said...

Sorry to arrive here so late, Dave, but I want to weigh in on this one. I really do like it as is. Of course, you know I'm a fan of rhyme, and I think this is great! The rhyme and rhythm make this just jazzy enough to contrast with the seriousness of the answers and the contemplation. When I had finished this for the first time, my reaction was simple wonder at your versatility and depth of thought. Truly, I'm impressed by your writing.

Lucas said...

I agree with the Willow - there is definitely scope for music here - perhaps a Dave Von Ronk kind of ballad with sparce guitar and rasping vocals. Having said that I enjoyed reading it immensely, and also can take away from it several treasures on the unknowability of the creative process, including

to the fifteenth pothole beyond the sun/ where a cuckoo sings of a critic's love

I also like the fact that the lover's speed up after giving their answer as if to demonstrate the slimness of time.

joaquin carvel said...

clever and playful, but astute - i like this one a lot. (of corse, if there are technically correct answers to any of these, i don't know what fun it would be to write poems - but one can hardly write poems without at least asking.)