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Black Swan in Snow


James Albert Barr

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James Albert Barr

 

 

As if, it seems, in order to reverse the sky

With one dark star alone for a constellation

To mock its ancient matter of worn dispersion,

The Black Swan poses with virgin pride not to fly.

 

Encircled, and on, by the bitter frozen blank;

Not a single spark to stir up a husky spume

Before an eye to see a sole ebony plume

Would the bird condescend for the ruffled and rank.

 

Perhaps in the curved space of its long, slender neck,

With an ashen bill, it once strew a noted speck

That sang upon a white leaf to unveil a code.

 

However now, in the never of its reserve,

While in the shiver of the bright cold of the nerve

That preserves its secret sign, lies the flame and lode.

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badger11

That is quite a weave of 14 lines James. The opening image in L1-L2 is fab. I quite like the 'never of its reserve'. Overall, I get a sense of defiance, though, other than pride and stupidity, I don't understand the refusal to fly.

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James Albert Barr

Thanks, badger11, much appreciated. This sonnet is the first of a series of 4 poems I call my "bird sonnets" which I wrote over a decade ago and are included in my recent collection, Such Late Fugitives (2020). You're correct about the sense of defiance, which is symbolised immediately in the first stanza by the Black Swan literally representing the opposite of the accrued myths scattered through the constellations of the night sky. The "rare" Black Swan symbolises the "true poet" and "forbidden knowledge", which it stubbornly withholds from a mostly ignorant, and unwanting, world. 

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badger11
9 hours ago, James Albert Barr said:

 Black Swan literally representing the opposite of the accrued myths scattered through the constellations of the night sky. The "rare" Black Swan symbolises the "true poet" and "forbidden knowledge", which it stubbornly withholds from a mostly ignorant, and unwanting, world. 

That is an interesting narrative James, which I didn't read. I particularly like opposing of 'accrued myths'.  The 'condescend' suggested to me superiority and pride. The not flying, a natural rather than mythical option, felt perverse, a denial of nature. Of course, in the context of your work, the poem's intention is probably more accessible. I'm not sure if this feedback helps because the poem is published and, presumably, is not at a workshop stage. Anyway thank you for the explanation.

Best

Phil

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James Albert Barr

Any feedback, commentary and even constructive criticism on my work is always welcomed and appreciated, badger11. So, thanks again. Your understanding of my use of the word "condescend" is accurate. The willingness, or rather in this particular case, the UNwillingness on the part of the Swan to convey said "forbidden knowledge" comes with an understandable degree of superiority and pride (a word that is directly used in the first stanza), as well as necessary safeguarding. And, yet, in the final stanza there's an intimation of a fervent need to "preserve", like food being refrigerated (hence the Swan being located on wintery tundra), its cache of knowledge (i.e. the "lode", its rich source) for the future purpose and desire to disseminate/share it.     

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  • 5 weeks later...
David W. Parsley

Welcome to the forum, James.  Interesting wordplay here, juxtapositions, and paradox.  I appreciate your patience in talking through the sense and meaning of the piece, but I confess that I am still struggling a bit. 

My difficulties spring up right out of the opening stanza.  While still stroking my chin over "ancient matter of worn dispersion" I am asked to also deal with "virgin pride."  Say what?  What does it mean for a dispersion to be worn - worn like a cloak, or worn like a wearied stone?  And what matter got dispersed in connection with the constellation - stardust from the universe's Great Expansion?  Maybe I'm over-thinking it?  And what provoked this unflappable pride and what is so unspoiled about it?

I admire the rhyme scheme with its adherence to exact rhyme, some pairs quite original, e.g. constellation-dispersion, blank-rank, code-lode.

Again, welcome.  Your work will make a challenging thread in the PMO Conversation.

Thanks,
- David

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James Albert Barr

Thanks for your comments on my sonnet, David. Just to clear up a couple of things, the "ancient matter of worn dispersion" are the night sky constellations themselves and the "ancient" stories they tell via mythological interpretation, which from the perspective of the Swan, are perhaps "worn out" and in need of a fresh, modern perspective. Therefore the Swan's "virgin pride", or even brash, youthful creativity, represents a direct contrast to mythology's "ancient matter/stories" to provide something wholly NEW to the "human story" on this planet. But, admittedly, the Swan is kinda "playing hard to get" in terms of its willingness to share its "lode", its "forbidden knowledge" (i.e. that which contravenes traditional narratives/beliefs) because of humanity's predominant ignorance and fear to expand its collective understanding and relation to existence itself and its intellectual/creative engagement with it.

To give you some historical context regarding my approach to this style of poetry writing/composing, one of my major influences as a poet are the 19th century French Symbolist poets: Charles Baudelaire, Arthur Rimbaud, Paul Verlaine, Jules Laforgue, and especially, Stephane Mallarme. I'm also informed/influenced by T.S. Eliot and his lesson derived from his 1917 essay, "Tradition and the Individual Talent", where he states that when any significant, new work is introduced, it can alter the collective relation of the poetic heritage that came before it, however ambitiously grandiose that implies. Lastly, I'm also mindful, while I write, of Umberto Eco's and Julia Kristeva's concept of "intertextuality", which Eco succinctly explains in his debut 1980 novel, "The Name of the Rose": "Books speak of books. It's as though they spoke among themselves". I apply that interlocutionary notion to poetry as well.

Cheers!   

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