T H E A G E O F K I N G S
The Minstral’s Tale
Hello there! It’s been a very long time since I owed you these reviews but I hope you’ll forgive me for my lateness and that despite the delay they may be of some use to you.
To begin with, the first poem I have chosen to review is ‘Damaged Goods’ so here I am, ready to see if I can give you advice. I chose it because when I was about 13 I was told that my strange mood swings were to do with cyclothymic disorder which is expected to develop and worsen as I get older. I found your poem incredibly poignant and emotional and I am really glad that I’ve had the chance to read it.
What I'm first going to say is please please please don’t take offence to anything I say, I'm going to try and give you constructive criticism so that you can develop this poem of yours. And let me just add that what I think is great about what you've written is that
a) it’s a very emotional poem
b) the narrative voice is very involved
So what shall I talk about first? And just remember these are only my suggestions; you may use them at your own discretion or throw them out entirely.
Thank you for this opportunity to give you my suggestions. Please enjoy!
General Points for Consideration
As I said above, one of the things which is so great about this poem is that the narrative voice is genuine and emotive and involved in the writing. This makes it personal and the appeal is undeniable. On the one hand you’re talking about defending your son, keeping him safe, making sure that the world isn’t going to destroy the rest of him – on the other you’re being highly emotional and personal... Yet it seems as if the emotions themselves are slightly distracted, distanced from the actual words you’ve put to paper. It seems that you’re trying to appeal to a sense of positive desperation: a distressed hope which leaves you, as a mother, fearful and distraught and yet clinging onto the rational, less emotional part of yourself.
For me, it felt that through out ‘Damaged Goods’ you were not quite fulfilling what you’d set out to do. This is because whilst you’re trying to convey the fear, concern and trust that you feel towards your son, you’re not reflecting the extremity of the emotions. I feel that at times you need to show a little more ‘passion in extremis’, after all bipolar is a disease of extremes and it makes sense that your writing might also reflect that. I think that by considering the structure, lexis and dramatic placing of your words this poem can become considerably more powerful, perhaps even crushingly so.
Thus I am going to try and show you how I feel that you can truly make this poem into the poignant and expressive piece of writing that we all know that you are capable of.
What a lot of writers find difficult and of course what can really make a poem striking is often the structure of the poem, the syntax and metre of the phrasing.
What I like about the way that you’ve constructed your poem is the fact that your use of free verse reflects many of the nuances you might have if you were saying it aloud. This is particularly effective in the final stanza where you dedicate a whole line to phrases such as ‘I love you’ and ‘broken or not’ which, when emphasised in this way, draws out the way that the narrator is trying to encompass her subject in the positive by removing it from the negative, setting it apart as it were. It also reflects on some of the key themes of this poem, particularly those of unconditional love and inevitable struggle; thus the fact that many of your lines are of similar lengths and your sentences are never particularly long means that each phrase seems lined with tension and desperation, as if the narrator is struggling to keep things in perspective, to remain in control and thus contain the strength of the emotions at work.
However, I did find that structurally there was something slightly lacking. To me, it seems that the ‘control’ that I mentioned above is disproportionate to the emotion. This is because so much of the structure of your poem is the same: it has become stilted and staccato and never diverges.
It feels very rigid. Each sentence is very short and very simple. Whilst simplicity is often used by writers to make a particular point especially poignant and can draw emphasis to an image or idea should you wish to, by using it so often, by having such stiff sentences, the whole scene feels clinical and rather than becoming more emotionally charged, the similarity between phrases becomes dull and the ‘broken mirror’ and ‘love’ and ‘will’ becomes boringly mundane.
Your poem is not only about the ‘work to be done’, it's also about love and anguish from what I see. The shortness of lines could be well used if you perhaps used more florid sentences in places to emphasise the difference between the rational woman seeing the need to ‘work’ to protect a child and a mothers desire to defend her son.
Consider poets such as TS Eliot. In various poems, including ‘Preludes’ and ‘Rhapsody on a Windy Night’ he relates passionate and yet disparate scenes. Particularly in these two poems he uses end-stopped lines and clipped sentences to emphasise the world’s desperate need to uphold a façade of calm despite their true inner turmoil. Likewise poets such as classical love poets such as Catullus or Horace would show the intensity of their love by having juxtaposing lines of intensity and stilted which makes their writing relevant even today. I think you could similarly ‘let go’ a little more with your structure, perhaps use enjambment to connect two stanzas or have a stanza of longer lines to show how the emotions are more powerful than can really be expressed.
You frequently start your lines with either the first person ‘I’ or the second person ‘you’. Varying your first words in both sentences and lines makes poetry, and indeed most writing, more interesting. Unless it’s anaphora or deliberate repetition then it simply makes the writing feel rather insipid. Try using verbs at the beginning of lines or adjectives just to spice things up a little. I will pick up on this when we come to diction later.
Overall I thought that for the most part the structure was highly effective albeit stilted which, to a limited extent, I think is very effective. Your second and third stanzas feel staccato and unemotional and ineffective when I feel that actually these should be the most poignant with the exception of the last lines. Why? Because it feels like you’ve too many lines of similar length. Whereas in several instances you’ve used your structure to emphasise important words or phrases, these stanzas have whole lines where there seems to be no point of interest. I think you should try and revise this area.
As I said before: I love the idea that your narrative is very personal and I feel that you have two key images within this poem. The first is that of the ‘soul’, the religious connotation of this image are particularly poignant as they deliberately draw out ideas such as devotion as well as eternal, immortal love. The second is that of ‘damaged goods’, your poem’s namesake. You talk of how your son may be considered ‘broken’, ‘damaged’, incomplete and I felt that it was this contrast between the soul, a metaphysical perfection, and this interpretation of bipolar, an imperfection, that really makes the poem evocative.
You start off with the line ‘You came from my soul’ and repeat this idea with the phrase ‘You are a part of my soul’. These lines are particularly moving due to the fact that in the first instance you are reflecting a sense of separation through your use of the word ‘came’ – your son is a separate piece of you. Your clever manipulation of this image by using the verb ‘are’ in the repeated phrase in the fourth stanza shows that though he is different you still recognise him as an indelible aspect within you; the immortal and immutable part which sees past any imperfections. I really like this image and the repetition is highly effective. I think you could definitely build more on it.
Damaged Goods. Interesting title. Interesting imagery. I think my main criticism is the use of the word ‘goods’. It doesn’t work for me; for the most part this is because it makes me think of china plates that come in the post with cracks or chairs which have been nibbled by mice in storage or food that’s gone rotten before the sell-by date. It makes him sound like a product. It also detracts from the emotional impact.
Many of your images are incredibly clichéd and whilst I will most likely mention this again when considering your diction, I think it’s important to discuss here. There’s a reason why every writer states that the most important thing to avoid is excessive use of clichés. And that’s because it feels used, it feels clumsy and unoriginal and false. You use ‘damaged goods’ a stock phrase, ‘so much work to be done’ – a stock phrase, ‘light the way’ – a stock phrase, ‘dark and dirty road’ – a stock phrase. Your imagery in your second stanza especially, is trite and hackneyed. And the reference to a ‘mirror’ being ‘broken’ seems obscurely passé. Try thinking of original phrases to really explore these ideas and draw forth the emotion you desire.
Similarly in your third stanza you appeal directly to the religious imagery which you also evoke with the word ‘soul’. It sort of sounds like the missing verse from ‘Shine Jesus Shine’ or a cliché.
Your language is very blunt. If you’re trying to be emotive I think you really need to try and develop images to be less simple and less clichéd. More on this below.
I think you either need to reconsider your imagery or edit this poem and play with the language more. If you want to truly show the deep and unbreakable care that is so obviously close to the centre of this piece then you need to develop your diction, remove clichés, build up a more applicable lexis which is what I will now go on to discuss.
I have to say I loved the first few lines and the way that your language is so intensely personal in terms of the narrator’s emotion. It made everything seem much more poignant as it emphasised the idea that the narrator is trying to convince the audience of her recognition of this ‘damaged’ figure as something innocent and salvageable. Your use of language is simple but effective. The lack of imagery means that the maternal idealism we associate with this kind of love is very much the focus and on top of this it exaggerates the way that the narrator herself is involved.
My main criticism in this area isn't so much about your choice in language because this poem is deliberately not explicit in order, perhaps, to reflect your own strength, but in the fact that your words, like your structure, remains bland throughout.
Phrases such as ‘I will not let you walk that dark and dirty road’ are meant to be poignant but because it’s a fairly clichéd phrase it feels worn. Either, this could be deliberate and therefore conveying the apparent lack of effort of the narrator in speaking thus, which I don’t think you intended or you it may be better if you used different phrasing.
Your use of the future tense is very passionate but the cliché detracts from the intensity.
Remember V E R B S are our friends. Why do you think politicians avoid them so keenly? It’s because verbs add meaning and your verbs are boring. You use the future tense brilliantly but your ultimate choice in verb lacks the same fervour. Try using more sensitive verbs such as ‘fail’ or ‘disappoint’, instead of ‘let down’ or ‘shattered’ instead of ‘broken’. Try using more verbs. Put them in dramatic places.
For example your third stanza reads: I will cover you with light./ I will shine my love/ on you. / God will help us!
Embracing you within the light,
I will love you,
I will shine for you.
God will help us.
What I’ve tried to do, with your words here, is create an anaphoric repetition of the future ‘I will…I will… God will...’ in order to emphasise the determination you feel towards protecting your son. On top of this I used a more descriptive verb ‘embracing’ to further accentuate the maternal love as well as evoking the sense of security that is commonly associated with the word ‘embrace’. Plus it sounds more present, as if you’re embracing him as we read which makes it seem more active.
Although I think what your primary focus is relies upon simple but passionate language not the stilted, opaque language that comes across here. I also think that, as with the structure, there is so much which you could expand upon with your diction. Play around with the words more, let go with the emotions a little at some point, even if it’s only enough to show the true passion which is driving them. In terms of imagery I think you could use some to illustrate a more personal side to these words, a touch of the mother who is battling rather than just this worn-out woman that we are shown here.
I can't see any major spelling mistakes. Congrats on that.
There are a few punctuation points to mention.
You don’t need the comma after ‘So much work to be done’. By adding this comma you’re separating ‘to light the way’ from the rest of the sentence unnecessarily. This is the same on ‘You are so much more, than damaged goods’ – you don’t need the comma it’s all one phrase. What you’ve done, placing ‘than damaged goods’ means that the pause you’re aiming for is already in the structure which is much more effective anyway.
Exclamation points are a massive NO in my book. If your words don’t but the exclamation there for you and it’s not speech then this lauded piece of punctuation simply looks clumsy, not to mention ugly. Let your words do the talking.
I do love this poem. I think it’s passionate and has so much potential because it addresses such a uniquely personal response to an equally unique disease. I think it needs a lot of work to really fulfil its potential but I know that you’re completely capable of doing so.
WELL DONE and keep writing and let me know if you write any more or edit and want another opinion.
THANK YOU FOR GIVING ME THIS CHANCE TO REVIEW YOUR WORK.