Burned Offerings: Altars and Plots

I traded critiques with a poet friend: she reviewed my second Abishag novella (Indelible Beats), and I reviewed her chapbook of seventeen Pantoum poems this week. I’ve taken no poetry classes since the early 90s, but I remember three ‘rules of poetry’ vividly. Use words sparingly. Create fresh and compelling imagery. Measure meaning and sound equally.

To review her work, I researched pantoums. The format is: Stanza 1 A B C D (or A C B D) Stanza 2 B E D F (or C E D F) Stanza 3 E G F H Stanza 4 G I (or A or C) H J (or A or C). Also to more fairly review her work, I decided to try writing one myself, using both a Scripture reading and my thoughts about the writing process for content and theme. Hers looked so effortless but in practice, I found it challenging. Try one yourself.

With apologies for the format, I present my result:

Altars and Plots

Then rose up the heads of the fathers’ houses of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and the Levites, everyone whose spirit God had stirred to go up to rebuild the house of the LORD that is in Jerusalem.  Ezra 1:5

Dry winds stirred the Persian king

Who proclaimed a building plan, backed with

Silver and gold and a cardamom spoon,

To restore the house of the Lord.

Silver and gold and a cardamom spoon

For the returning sons of Ai and the sons of Zattu

Who restored the house of the Lord

With burned offerings of meat and bone.

The returning sons of Ai and the sons of Zattu

Sang psalms with cymbals and drums,

Burned offerings of meat and bone

And listened to dry winds stir.

We sing psalms with cymbals and drums,

Careful constructions of altars and plots.

We listen to dry winds stir

Silver and gold and a cardamom spoon.

Poet’s footnote

cardamomIn my silverware drawer, I have a tiny wooden craftsman-style spoon from the Huntington Library gift store that I use only for cardamom. For the last stanza: in my experience, writing is about the spirit stirring and stirring words…with some planning, investment and a burned offering or two.

I wrote the poem in a few hours, then took several days of fine-tuning before declaring it “good enough.” Oscar Wilde’s words played in my head while nit-picking over words and punctuation: “I was working on the proof of one of my poems all the morning, and took out a comma. In the afternoon I put it back again.”

By presenting it here, I did break the rule about storing the work in a drawer for a year before doing a final edit. Mea culpa.

About mlknowlden

In 2011, I left engineering to write full-time. Between the years 1992 and 2011, I’ve published 14 stories with Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine that have featured the hypochondriac detective Micky Cardex and two stories that did not. The 1998 story “No, Thank You, John” was nominated for a Shamus award. Many of these stories have been included in anthologies and translated in multiple languages. With Neal Shusterman, I’ve also published a science fiction story for the More Amazing Stories anthology (Tor) published in 1998 and co-authored with Neal Shusterman an X-Files Young Adult novel (DARK MATTER) for HarperCollins in 1999 under the name Easton Royce. For Simon & Schuster in July 2012, we published an e-novella UNSTRUNG in Neal's UNWIND world. I have graduate degrees in English and Electrical Engineering.
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4 Responses to Burned Offerings: Altars and Plots

  1. LJ Sherlock says:

    Good first try but it is really simpler than you make it out to be. To clarify. The second and fourth lines of the first stanza become the the first and third lines of the next stanza. When you get to the end you wrap it back around. 😉

  2. mlknowlden says:

    That’s what I get for going to Wiki! Thanks.

  3. Rebecca Lang says:

    I don’t think everything needs to sit in a drawer for a year. Sometimes its best to strike while your passion is still hot.

    I think using the Bible for inspiration was ambitious. It’s more difficult to do than, say, using the weather. I liked the repetition of gold and silver and cardamon spoon. I thought the cardamon spoon was the strongest image and it stuck with me though I didn’t know why. Then I read your explanation and I liked it even more. I like how the spoon takes on the meaning of inspiration for you, which all goes back to God.

  4. mlknowlden says:

    Thanks, Becky. Time is a great editor, but then there’s the old engineering adage: There comes a time in every project where you must shoot the engineer and deliver the product. Goes for writers too, although in this case, one must shoot the editor.

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