You can tell which poems I started editing on the beach this summer. My mother poked fun at me… saying I want to be a professor so badly I graded my own poems… We all had a good laugh… A for effort I suppose.
This poem is one that comes from a rhythm I felt in me during a tough relationship. The idea of depending on someone so much for a feeling so temporary, as a fish does out of water, was as tangible as any love I had ever known. Daily, it came at a great cost, and I can still feel it in this poem.
I want to talk with you all today about establishing norms in a poem. I am not the best at this, but can make note well enough to make it today’s point. This poem at first did not establish that norm… the last line once read pull instead of yank, there was little mention of bubbles or air, just that pulling motion.
In this piece, I made some small changes to allow for that norm to take place. There is a sense of discomfort, informed by the imagery and evidence of a fish, and set straight with the return to the norm. A norm, in this sense, is a state of being the reader will feel comfortable in. For example, that a fish belongs in water. Once I establish that there is a fish, and that she is in peril, the reader seeks to see that set right.
Here, the snap is that the norm is achieved through so much physical agony. To be released into the water, the norm, the hook must be pulled out with force. That makes this poem memorable.
There are other poets who set up norms that are quite successful, my favorite is Andrea Gibson, who uses the unexpected sense of words to transform meaning. Her poem ‘Blue Blanket’ has a snap at the end where she establishes a norm that was not initially there. Read it, it’s wonderful.
Setting those norms up, allowing the reader to want something outside of the poem’s offered words is a very Modernist concept. Poets like H.D. and her rose garden demonstrated just enough of an image to be seen and felt, but no more. The reader was expected to bring their ideals to the table, or to see only that.
Whether you accept and seek the norm in this poem, or you see only what is offerend in a Modernist sense, the piece offers enough to feel both the relationship and the resolution.
This is a poem about a fish. It wasn’t very good until I established a norm for the reader to favor. Knowing that a reader will understand the broken set of circumstances and prefer for them to be solved is the exact emotion I seek by the last line. Then I can do my shocking with yank and give the reader what they want with a little slice of reality. Once a norm is established, there are 1,000 ways to turn the reader. Lead them with your prefered circumstances and let the poem do the rest.