Sunday, February 15, 2015

War and Easy Mac

I got another challenge from the unparalleled challenger Brennan Marks.  Someday Brennan will form an artists' colony for very quirky people with very ordinary day jobs, and I will join.  In the meantime, I write incredibly specific poems devised by him.  Now, what follows is very long, but if I do say so myself, there are some rather nice moments in the poem (and of course, in Brennan's review). 

Here is his challenge:

Your parents are going out of town for the weekend. However, unlike a typical young person, instead of throwing a party, Sam throws a feudal court. And instead of becoming the man of the house, Sam becomes the Lord of Mount Olive. Yes, despite the modern society we live in, Sam is still practicing feudal law and a portion of the poem should be dedicated to juxtaposing the feudal system of Mt. Olive against the actual modern nature of Mt. Olive. You (Ivy) are Sam's most trusted advisor and the 1st person narrator of this poem  and you must convey a sense of worry, or Sam's worry, about an impending war. The cause/nature of this war is at your discretion. It must be mentioned that Sam is one of the wealthiest Lords of Jefferson County, as he sits on a treasure trove of Alabama's favorite crop, olives. Adam Witcher Greene is the Divine Monarch of Jefferson County and Sam is his most trusted advisor and ally. Ben Grimes is considered the Chosen One and must be protected from the war. The Chosen One of what is also at your discretion. All of the above must be mentioned or alluded to somehow, but the gist of the prompt is, I want you to tell a story using the limited information I gave you above. 
Further parameters:
  • This is the fun part. The poem must be written in the format of Haiku-Shakespearean Sonnet (format only – doesn't have to be a love poem)-Haiku-Shakespearean Sonnet for as many times as you need in order to sufficiently tell the story. Since this is in 1st person, if there are any rules that the poem formats above can't be in 1st person that I don't know about, you can break them.
  • The story must begin with your parents leaving for the weekend and must end with them returning. Immediately after they leave, Sam throws a huge feast with mutton and ale. Mutton and ale must be mentioned. Then you can get to the more serious stuff about the war and all. When your parents are at the house, actually manor/mansion, (beginning and end of the poem), it's everything back to status quo and modern non-feudal society.
  • At least once, Sam must be referred to as the Lord of Mount Olive and Lord Grimes
  • As part of protecting Ben, Sam must cook dinner for Ben one night, and breaking character for a minute, Sam has to make him Easy Mac. 
So here it is -- my very long poem:

The Kingdom that Almost Fell
In the present state
when our parents leave their guard,
we reach quite far back
until we are alone with time and chance,
are left to choose our homes and governments.
Constrained by foolish hope, our hearts advance
to madness, that merry court of cinnamon and mint,
a merry court with a new throne in the midst.
We reach into our bag of lies and feast
on mutton and ale until all hearts are sick
with knowledge that our woods have enemies.
Oh I am not the man of the house, that task
falls to my brother, while I, a girl, am just
a trusted advisor, and my other mask
is teller of this tale, so I simply must
remind you guys that life is rich and quick
and the war for our hearts longer than a limerick.
My brother Sam rules
the land my parents left, crops
of sweetest olives.
My brother Ben is the Chosen One, his true name
hidden with the ancient crop of olives
the serfs keep harvesting in the rain
unseen by the modern state, untouched by love.
I stand and call to the ghost serfs weeping,
the only cure for madness is this crop of berries.
Since life goes on outside the invisible kingdom,
I call to man on the scooter – please tarry!
But his ears are full of the new world, new ways
of pressing olives, oil that comes so cheap
no one knows they need it, and workdays
invariably, on either side of the deep
expanse of insanity are full of soldiers
who want to turn your olives into mold.
Only my brother
and his friends rule this city,
cold Mount of Olives.
My cousin Adam was the first man,
and woman offered him this throne of sour
berries, and of course he wanted land,
became the monarch of our broken county.
The story wasn’t supposed to be sad,
but the bridges between our tales and circumstances
are paved with radishes that rot so fast
they remind us of our hopes and old dances.
Brother Sam, Lord Grimes they call him,
or Lord of Mount Olive, but truly my father said
that days like these would come when the dim
moon would fall, bleed like a broken head,
and the serfs would get out their pots, their brooms,
try vainly to make our kingdom a clean room.
(Sam looks away, makes
Easy Mac to feed the dreams
of a younger man.)
The war was us, and we were the war,
and all the men in the land were also serfs,
and no one wanted to live without guitars.
When the new kingdom begins, no one will work
and the olives will fall into our mouths like words.
Friends, we’ll know each other’s secret names
hidden like the olive’s pit or apple’s worm.
War’s end, our closest advisor is rain.
But meanwhile, our parents return and bring a world
of invisibility to the old way
we had in our madness, the ways of kings and serfs.
All history will cough in the final days
and blood will spurt from the ground in agony
as ice hides the heart of hierarchy.

Here is Brennan's review:

Overall, I'm very pleased with this poem – the tone gives me a solid sense of sadness and foreboding for the impending war, which was part of the prompt, and you handled the haiku-sonnet stylistic prompt like someone who writes poems on blogs – very impressive (although I didn't do a syllable check on the haikus or a rhyme scheme/otherwise check the sonnets, so far all I know, you could've gotten away with cheating the rules. Still, it looks kosher, and even if not, you made it look like you did, which is still impressive). Now, stanza by stanza:
Stanza 1 – good table-setting stanza use of haiku – I'm expecting the crux of the action to take place the lengthier sonnet stanzas.
Stanza 2 – "the merry court of cinnamon and mint" - take me there! Love this imagery. But why is it madness? Could there be a war afoot?
Stanza 3 – indeed, "our woods have enemies." Curious about the use of "bag of lies" though? Does this refer to the lordships lying to the masses, or perhaps that the overall notion that war is all predicated on lies to some people? Or does it mean something I haven't even thought of? My good friend Sam Grimes' favorite medieval food is mutton and ale, so I wonder if he'll play a role in this poem.
Stanza 4&5 – it sounds like Sam might be involved as "the man of the house," considering he is your brother. You sound disappointed in being the trusted advisor though. Is the phrase "just a girl" symbolic of how in both middle-ages and modern-times, girls don't have the same advantages boys do – so a symbol of how time goes on, yet things remain the same? Something along those lines.   I really, really like the two stanza 5 lines – very poetic and poignant! Indeed, life is too quick for war and fighting, and it's worth more than a "limerick" - the crudest poetic style, I'd argue. Perhaps it's at least worth haikus and sonnets. That might be my favorite couple of lines in the poem.
Stanza 6 – our 2nd haiku! I like this one better than the first, but we are deeper into the poem now. The official reveal of Sam as the ruler of the land of olives. There is a bitter irony with the description of sweetest olives. Are these "sweet" olives worth fighting for?
Stanza 7 – I like the repetition of this verse and last verse's first line. "My one-syllable brother" - solid rhythm and the emphasis on the brother lets the reader know how much you could be affected yourself by the events of the poem, perhaps making it more personal. I also really like how the olives are first brought up in the last verse and are continued in this verse. The olives go from "sweet" to "ancient" - interesting. I guess the Chosen One kind of invokes ancient civilization. Now we start to get sad though – the serfs continue to harvest in the rain (classic Sam, making his serfs harvest in the rain) - but a very good call to have some raining imagery in a tale about war. The rain makes the poem's atmosphere sad, and perhaps they can be representative of the tears of the narrator, as her brother insists on going to some war which still has no reason? "Untouched by love" - to me, further corroborates this notion. The idea that the serfs are untouched by love could indicate the narrator's fear that this war will wipe them out, and they won't really lead rewarding or love-filled lives, or maybe it's a slip by the narrator for the love she feels for her brothers, particularly Ben, who she might never see again. A lot going on in this stanza, and I'm not sure if my simple-minded self can wrap my head around everything going on here, which is actually why this is a brilliant stanza!
Stanzas 8,9, & 10 – I'm putting these together because they really complement each other well. Calling to the ghost serfs and calling to the man on the scooter (though I have no idea who that is??? I'm not even going to try to add my own interpretation on that) - trying to stop the war in any which way you can. But the modern world neglects the serfs in the next war and mocks the old world, which is perhaps why they're going to war: modern world vs. medieval world? So I guess this war (and all wars????) is about resistance to change? The olives into mold – symbolizes the decay that war brings about, as it appears your last ditch efforts to stop the war might not have worked. 
Stanza 11 – this haiku serves kind of like a heading for the rest of the poem and maybe foreshadowing - will your brother and his friends always rule the city or will that change? The description of the Mount of Olives as "cold" is another example of weather-based imagery to set the tone as foreboding and dangerous. I'm picturing everything as gray and winter–y. 
Stanza 12 – finally the mention of the Divine Monarch of Jefferson County, Adam Witcher Greene. He indeed was the first man, and women have offered him a great many things. And it makes sense that the county was "broken," and hopefully, King Adam repaired it – at least for a time. Also, I really like the contrast between "sweetest olives" to "sour berries," which I assume are also olives. It shows us the change in state of mind of the narrator from trying to prevent the war to forcing herself to accept it.
Stanza 13 – "this story wasn't supposed to be sad." That's an incredibly poignant line in my opinion. War is always sad, but you were supposed to prevent the war. It's your sadness that's palpable here. Are radishes bitter? Radishes that rot must be extra bitter. The tale is becoming sadder and sadder.
Stanza 14 – Lord Grimes or Lord of Mount Olive – indeed. Bleeding like a broken head – the imagery's gone from just sad to sad and violent, perhaps symbolizing the violence and cost of war???
Stanza 15 – I think these couplets at the end of the sonnets are my favorite lines in the whole poem. "to vainly make our kingdom a clean room" - the idea of reversing the war is hopeless – we can't just wipe the slate clean, and it's interesting that the least powerful people in the kingdom are the only ones trying to avoid the war. 
Stanza 16 – the last haiku – adds some comic relief to this depressing story, I appreciate that it's in parenthesis, to indicate it's kind of separate from the rest of the events of the poem. Also, it provides some hope that someone as powerful as The Great Lord Grimes, could find some simple joy in the making of Easy Mac. But it's a parenthetical a joy, a joy that won't last.
The last sonnet (stanzas 17 –20)  - I figure I should talk about all of these stanzas at once because they kind of together bring our poem to an end (also I'm running out of time before I need to finish this review).  We are the war… The war is made of human beings, real people – it's not just some abstract concept or noun – fighting this war cost us to lose lives. With war, we are truly all serfs, indeed.  No man cares about who's the lord of what area or king of the county once the fighting begins. And we won't have the simple joys of guitars, the favorite instrument of our beloved Divine Monarch, ironic that this war could cause him to love what he holds most dear. The next stanza turns the poem from simple sadness to nightmarish nightmare. The imagery for the rest of the poem is gruesome: "olive's pit", "apple's worm" "our closest advisor is rain", "all history will cough in the final days" - we're getting apocalyptic now? "blood will spurt from the ground in agony""ice hides the heart of hierarchy" - this is incredible imagery! But it's also incredibly depressing. I guess war will do that though, and not even the return of your parents can change that. 

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