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Off the Beaten Path

General Poetry - post, comment, review, critique
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Tim J Brennan
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Off the Beaten Path

Post by Tim J Brennan » Tue Jun 16, 2020 7:13 pm

There are friends who have dropped off
into the forest. I miss them

thank them for their livelihood—
Frank, and Richard,
and now Marv.

Each man’s favorite later became only mine;
hell, they didn’t even know each other
but through me.

They all listened with their eyes, Richard,
especially. His silence was huge, even
his incessant humming had meaning.

~ ~ ~

It’s the madness of the trees, ringed,
roots marking intervals.

Water collects in individual crooks,
seeped into their wakes.

I guess it’s the creeping grace of not seeing
these people anymore, yet knowing
they are out there somewhere
in the underbrush.

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Re: Off the Beaten Path

Post by Mark » Wed Jun 17, 2020 11:42 pm

Tim - I’m a little hesitant to offer commentary on a piece that seems authentically autobiographical – for one thing, such writing is not polished exercise – it’s writ with rawer, deeper tones, but in any event I’ll try and respect the memories.

The forest offers an excellent metaphor for the subject matter of life and death and is largely consistent in this regard throughout the composition, including the good title.

In S2, we have the names of real people who have disappeared into the (primeval?) forest. Livelihood is an interesting usage because it does not appear to refer to occupations but rather liveliness, the sense of what they made of their lives.
A little further into the piece we get the sense these were just ordinary good guys, mutually disconnected except via the narrator, just listening with their eyes, humming along, not shaking the world with their footsteps or words.
The memory of their favourites (music-women-food-drink etc) is now nursed only by the narrator and when the narrator is also gone, that information will also disappear into the leaf mulch of the forest.

In part 2, the emphasis of the narrative tone shifts, becomes more reflective and philosophical, perhaps the wisdom- insights are the legacy of the fallen friends. 

S5 depicts the relentless pointlessness of life when confronted with implacable time and a bleak anger comes through. 

S6 feels like the weakest stanza, concerning itself with time and its effects, but the imagery chosen is imprecise - I had to slow and think it through – the crooks are perhaps the bends in tree limbs with hollows where rainwater can collect. Seeped into their wakes is perhaps ambivalent phraseology with its post-funeral gathering aspect but I saw more of a water-track stain on the tree limb below the cup or hollow in the bend of the limb but this stanza remains somewhat out of focus for me. 

In the final S, creeping grace is original phrasing. The message is clear, spiritual life after physical death, presence in the undergrowth. I really liked the pacing and balance in this stanza.
Whether intended or not, the stepped lines that shape the stanza
are effective in this regard, and demonstrate the poetry in general to be sometimes found in slant-shaped lines, where the pattern imposes word choices which in turn opens unintended nuances which are perhaps the revealed meaning after all.

Every loss is like another stone added to the bag we carry on backs that get weaker every year. 


Tim J Brennan
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Joined: Mon Jan 22, 2018 7:59 pm

Re: Off the Beaten Path

Post by Tim J Brennan » Thu Jun 18, 2020 2:30 am

Hi, Mark:

I guess the key word in your intense "interpretation" is "perhaps"....

Thanks for the extended critique (is that what this was?)....I mean, you say you are hesitant to do so and then write a lengthy recap. I appreciate that very much.

It appears I should focus any revision on the S6. And, yes, the "crook" refers to the crook in the tree. Perhaps that's a midwestern type of colloquialism? Not sure....

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Re: Off the Beaten Path

Post by Dave » Thu Jun 18, 2020 12:30 pm

'perhaps' is indeed a fitting word here for the poem.
There are number of word choices that open up options and questions such 'dropped off' in line 1. It could refer to any number of things - dropped off the beaten track though dropped suggests from a height, dropped off this life, dropped off the edge of the world, dropped off to sleep/death, dropped their figurative perch or suggests being dropped off as in left their or dropped off the radar.
Missing them and thanking them hint at an emotional bond but are such distant words, nothing really specific or close.
'each man's favourite later became only mine' - I took to mean each had a favourite friend among the group but that remains guesswork as it is not specified. 'Became only mine' is an awkward phrase and at the every least close to ungrammatical because the extension would normally be 'my favourite'.

There are a couple of discordant elements too in the use of 'hell' and 'incessant', which suggests the harmony was not always perfect but again this is in the realm of conjecture.

The two other words that stand out for me are 'madness', which gives the trees a threatening element and 'creeping' before grace, which is again something below the surface, something less than positive. It provides a strong contrast with grace, which itself is an interesting word to use in relation to the fact that they are not there. There absence a good merciful thing?


Tim J Brennan
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Joined: Mon Jan 22, 2018 7:59 pm

Re: Off the Beaten Path

Post by Tim J Brennan » Thu Jun 18, 2020 1:32 pm


Thanks for the nod toward "dropped off"....appreciated you taking the time to explore this. I think in order to proceed in the poem, a reader needs to make a decision as to meaning.

Would disagree about the distancing in the use of "Thank them"....thanking someone is one of the finest bits of respect one can nod to another, especially after death.

Your mention of mercy toward them by not being here is well noted by this writer.

Again, appreciate your time here. Thank you.

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