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Children of the Reef (Revision; Thanks to Brad, Umar, and Chris)

 

I. Neptune's Theater


A wandering rock spins smooth

as its warm sea calcimines.

And turquoise Neptune in his cloudy blue bath bath

drips epochs of lace from his fingertips


Sculpts a submerged eden of crimson and emerald

where painted parrots chat up cardinals

butterfly and angel fry sway with wave pulse

and foliated coral fingers beckon from arched windows.


Neptune’s children are flat and bright, spined and notched

free yet entangled in lace mesh ecosystem

beneath an array of bioluminescent stars

as a gangly pretender watches and blows bubbles.



II. Sapien Siege


The hot acidic hand of death grasps

the mesh rends and tangles

the ecosystem shattered

reef’s loosed children scream beneath planet’s stars.


Butterflies impaled

cyanide-swooning damsels

mesh-tangled angels hauled heavenward

coral to potash, corpses to coal.


The pretender to the throne blinks

rubs blurry lenses,

kicks plastic fins

and moves on to the next show

 

Unseeing and unaware

of the luminous filament in his wake.

Self-appointed divinity,

deus ex machina.


 

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Ann says: All of the animal and human characters in this poem (except Neptune and The Pretender) are named after coral reef fish. Coral reefs, one of the most diverse ecosystems, are expected to be largely extinct within one human generation.

Copyright 2013 by Ann Marcaida.

Images:1. Andrey Narchuk 2.  Neil Craver Photography

Overall



 

General Impression:

You bring before us two powerful pictures - in the first you establish a fantastic image: the creation and activity of 'Neptune's Theater'. As the planet first cools from primordial chaos, Neptune, a divine embodiment of natural forces quite astounding, forms a grand structure which we easily take as Reef, as per your title, the images, as well as the quite clear imagery in the poem itself. The descriptions you put forth appeal in a way which enchants the senses, and I can see it all quite clearly - the colors, the rhythms, the Reef and its children, as well as their awful destruction. The second section, which is effectively preceded by the last line of the first section, then shatters the images you painted before; the scene collapses into tragedy. All the while, your pretender (and it's clear that this being is no more than the oh-so-arrogant human) sits in wanton indifference to the destruction before them, which appeared to them as a 'show', bringing a somewhat ironic duality to the title of your previous section.  

Initially, I will give you four stars - I find this immediately to be an extremely excellent piece, one which I will enjoy reviewing in more detail. Let's see where we can go -

Originality:

It seems to me that the elegance of nature and its destruction at indifferent human hands is not an absolutely groundbreaking subject to tackle, but I feel that it's one which still merits some further exploration, seeing as it is certainly a topic warranting great concern today. I think that the specificity of your topic, that you deal primarily with reefs, gives your piece a level of independence. Beyond this, I feel that your choices in imagery also lend well to the piece's ability to stand on its own, as they allow layers of subtlety which I'll make to explore in more depth in a moment.

Language Rules:

There were occasional places where commas might have appeared between clauses; however, I feel that you left these out intentionally, so as to direct the reader's breath as they approach the piece. I won't enumerate the places I think commas might go, because I don't know how the poem read in your mind, and I don't think that your choices lend to anything too confusing, though they might not be in line with those I would have made myself.

One thing which might prove useful to reconsider, though, is your use of hyphenation.

"chlorophyll-green", "wave-pulse", "flat-bright", "spine-locked" "Cyanide-swooning" "Mesh-tangled".

On first reading, all of these look like hyphenation, as opposed to dash-punctuation (it seems I have just successfully used hyphenation in discussion hyphenation), so I'll treat them as such. Some of these worked absolutely fine; "spine-locked", "chlorophyll-green" and "mesh-tangled" were good choices and I would leave them as they are. The others, though, might warrant further thought...

"flat-bright" - as hyphenation, I don't feel like this works; flatness and luminosity, I feel, simply do not mesh well enough to warrant the use here, and when I first read the line I was somewhat thrown off by their combination. This, though, might just be personal preference. On the other hand, if you intended to use dash-punctuation as opposed to hyphenation, I feel that this line actually works out alright. That is, if you intended to write "Neptune's children are curiously flat - bright/ at night, jigsaw pieces meekly spine-locked in a labyrinth" things make a little more sense, though it does seem to change the flow of the piece a bit if the dash is used to separate things as opposed to combining them... I would play around with this line some more though, things just feel a bit awry.

"wave-pulse" - I'm not sure the hyphenation here lends anything to the piece. It's not entirely clear to me why you didn't simply write the line without hyphenation.  I feel that "butterfly and angel fry sway with pulsing waves" or "butterfly and angel fry sway with the pulse of the waves" or something else of that ken would read much easier without sacrificing any meaning, and perhaps would also lend something to the flow of the line as it stands in the entire stanza. If you had something particular in mind when you used the hyphen here, I'd be interested in hearing it; I just feel that the use here didn't accomplish anything particularly helpful to the rest of your piece.

 "Cyanide-swooning" - I'm not actually sure if this was meant to be hyphenation or dash-punctuation. If you intended dash-punctuation, then I feel the line stands quite well as it is, but you might need to be careful with leaving the clear space which, I believe, are supposed to denote dash-punctuation. If you did intend hyphenation, I feel that this falls into the same issue as "flat-bright", that is, I don't feel that the words relate enough to warrant combination. This, though, could be a personal prejudice, and I might be missing something if you intended them to be hyphenated. I would be interested in hearing your intentions, if they did align with hyphenation.

Altogether, language-rules don't prove too much of a problem for you, but you might want to reconsider some things. I think three stars should suffice here, simply because I felt the hyphenation was problematic in places.

Flow:

I feel first of all that your sectioning of this piece worked quite well. Each section was sufficiently full to stand on its own, and the first transitioned quite easily into the second, so no problems here with the divisions. In fact, I feel that, had you elected to combine these into one section, the poem would not read as well, so I think the choice was a good one.

You use enjambment a bit here, and one always has to be careful with such a device. I feel, though, that most of your lines are separated quite naturally. I feel there are some places, though, which might benefit from some reconsideration. I'll go into detail a bit -

I feel that the breaks in the first two stanzas of the first section are strong and could remain as is. The third stanza, though, reads a little off to me. As I mentioned above, it's a little unclear if you intended to use hyphenation or dash-punctuation in the first line, and your intentions would change how the line reads, but regardless of the ramifications of that particular choice, I feel that the rhyme between 'night' and 'bright' throws things off-kilter. There's something about the proximity of the rhyme and the particular bite of the sound which I feel doesn't aid your piece's voice at all. Personally, I would remove the 'at night' part of the second line completely, and perhaps reformat the line as such

"Neptune's children are curiously flat -

bright jigsaw pieces meekly spine-locked in a labyrinth"

I'm not sure if removing the 'at night' subtracts too immensely from your piece, however, so this might warrant some other sort of editing.

Otherwise, the rest of the stanza and the entire second section flow quite naturally.

There are some places where punctuation at the ends of the lines might help guide reading a little more, but I don't think there's anything too upsetting about the choices you made. It might help to play around with punctuation as a guiding force for your flow, though.

Four stars for this section - your choices are good, but could perhaps use some refining.  

Imagery:

I think the images you wield are by far your greatest strength. I really have no criticism here, but would like to explore some ideas...

"A spinning sphere sheds heat/ as a warm sea calcimines." This is a great way to begin your piece, from the platonic sphere, our planet, to the deposition of minerals in its waters. Although the use of 'sphere' certainly lends to alliteration and a platonic view of the cosmic entity seem at home in the rest of this piece, I wonder what might happen if you were to call the planet something other than a 'spinning sphere'. I don't dispute your choice, but perhaps it'd be interesting to invoke a more detailed metaphor, which may lend a further level of depth to the imagery. For example, the planet could be a 'spinning marble', or a 'spinning stone'... the 'sphere' to me is just a bit bland, and could perhaps be changed.

"Turquoise Neptune in his tepid bath/ drips epochs of lace from his fingertips" This is a beautiful image, and greatly intriguing. I wouldn't change this - it's fantastic, and I can see Neptune clearly, the god becoming a creator of marvelously ornate structures.

"Sculpts a submerged garden of orange, pink, chlorophyll-green" another great image. I wonder if Neptune would 'sculpt' this garden, or 'grow' it. With your original choice, a certain level of divine creation is maintained, and the image of the sculpting-creator certainly appears commonly in Greco-Roman and other mythologies; however, to me 'sculpting' is more of an imposition of separate will upon that which is natural. This might not pose a problem for you, especially since Neptune is an embodiment of natural forces, but it's interesting to think about.

"Where painted parrots chat up cardinals/ butterfly and angel fry sway with wave-pulse/ and foliate fingers beckon from arched windows." - I love how your language allows the reader to imagine the reef's denizens as birds, insects, or even angels; it's a witty and you do it well. The architectural image is quite nice, certainly invoking grand images of this reef.

"Neptune's children are curiously flat-bright/ at night, jigsaw pieces meekly spine-locked in a labyrinth/ beneath an array of bioluminescent stars" The jigsaw pieces metaphor is an interesting one, with particularly cool implications - everything 'fits together', yes? Now, I am somewhat confused what you mean when you say that Neptune's children are 'spine-locked'. In fact, I can't even speculate without guessing what 'spine-locked' means. Could you clarify what you mean by this? Furthermore, the labyrinth to me is an interesting choice. At first, your appeal to Neptune had me immediately imagining Minos' labyrinth at Crete, which, I don't believe, was a particularly nice place to be. It seems to be that you intended to capture the complexity of reef structures by appealing to some of the most complex human structures, labyrinths, but I wonder about the implications of such an appeal. I think your choice is a good one, though, especially since my favorite type of coral, brain coral, does look exactly like a labyrinth.

"as a gangly pretender watches and blows bubbles." This is a nice line. Calling the (almost definitely human) entity a pretender certainly allows a great number of trains of thought. Certainly, with technology, we humans 'pretend' to be part of the environments we invade, while many of us also 'pretend' to have good intentions, so as to disguise more insidious activities. Just today, I became particular angry when reading Monsanto's claims to advocate 'sustainable farming', just one example of human 'pretending'.

"The hot acidic hand of death grasps" The personification of death is a great one, especially since it 'grasps', something done by those wonderful beings who sport opposable thumbs. Though this line is okay as is, it seems to drop off suddenly, since the hand just 'grasps', as opposed to grasping something in particular. You might have intended this, but it just reads somewhat strangely at first.  

"and bleached spires implode/ shattering the labyrinth/ Reef's children scream beneath planet's stars" A wonderfully awful part - quite a powerful and disastrous image of reef destruction which also encapsulates the particular ways in which Reefs die and are destroyed. The screams of the Reef's children resonate especially well since you put them under the planet's stars, which hang above us all.

"Butterflies impaled/ Cyanide-swooning damsels/ Mesh-tangled angels hauled heavenward/ Spires to potash, corpses to coal." This stanza is particularly stark, expanding the destruction quite masterfully. The irony appearing as the 'Mesh-tangled angels' are 'hauled heavenward' might be more clearly put forth, since this 'heaven' is certainly no paradise, but it's a good line otherwise. The last line is wonderful - no criticism there - it captures an awful reduction of the structures and denizens of the reef to materials readily available for human consumption.

"The pretender to the throne blinks" this line is a great transition into the second section; it portrays the Pretender's indifference well.

"rubs blurry lenses" invokes a level of human 'blindness' while also reminding us of the dependence on scuba-gear which also appears as the pretender "kicks plastic fins".

"and moves on to the next show." this is a great ending line, which reminds us of the illusion of human separation from nature, and the common sentiment that nature is some spectacle which one can watch without being inescapably a part of it.

I give five stars for the imagery - I think the choices you make are great, and they allow a sizeable depth of thought. I think that further consideration could only augment the choices you make here, which stand quite well already.

Message/Theme:

You do well in putting your ideas forward, and certainly as I mentioned above, your imagery allows one to explore the ideas beyond their face-value. I think the realm you do explore is certainly relevant, but I'd like to offer some general criticism before finishing this review.

One has to be careful, I feel, when dealing with Humanity's place in nature

Your piece seems to paint a picture of creation and destruction which reminds me especially of Judeo-Christian dualities in divinity and humanity. Although you appeal to Neptune, who is by no means an infallible deity, and who I believe is an good choice for embodying natural forces, your piece certainly seems to appeal to the idea that what he creates is something beautiful, great, infallible, and the Judeo-Christian duality appears when the 'Pretender' comes and destroys this wonderful Reef structure, reminding me of the Serpent's appearance and corruption of Eden and  Yaweh's 'Children'. Perhaps I'm stretching with this comparison, but it came to mind when reading.

Although at first this doesn't seem like a problem, because certainly the destruction of Reefs is an awful thing, I think your poem falls short in that it perhaps gives the Pretender too much power. That is, although we humans do have the power to destroy natural structures and to bastardize and ruthlessly exploit the planet we live upon, it seems that we are always still ensnared by nature, and in our arrogance we are inevitably defeated. Although we have some degree of power over nature, this power seems overly in vain - our destruction of nature seems that it will result in our own destruction, and it's likely that life will be able to reemerge after we have been defeated - life can emerge in hellish, sulfurous pits; it's unlikely we could ever completely vanquish it without destroying our own planet completely, and even then, it's likely that life has emerged somewhere else in the universe. Even though we may believe that we are separate from nature, we certainly forget that we are almost always subject to it to some degree. It might happen that somehow we manage to overcome its hold upon us, either by further subjugating it ourselves, or else learning to live as a part of it. The former of those possibilities seems unfavorable me, because I am not entirely confident in giving humans so much responsibility over nature, and I think that if we did achieve it to its greatest extent, we would still destroy ourselves, but I am not sure. Although in calling the human 'the Pretender' you do capture human arrogance and the falseness of this arrogance, I think that your poem ends perhaps too quickly, leaving the Pretender with the last laugh, allowing them to escape nature, which I'm not certain we have the actual power to do.
            What I discuss above are merely thoughts on what you discuss in your piece, and I'm sure we could have a very long discussion stemming from it - I'm loathe to even leave what I've written above as is, just because there are many facets to consider.

            What you might take from all of this is that I believe expanding your piece, or at least thinking about expanding it, would be extremely beneficial. At a certain depth, things become quite sticky and complex, but I don't think it can hurt too much to think a little bit more.

            I'll give you four stars for this section - what you discuss is interesting; it makes me think, but I think it could be expanded further, perhaps.

Overall:

I enjoyed this piece immensely. If it's just a start, I would say it's a phenomenal one. I think you have a lot of room to explore, and further thought on this work would only expand its depth and effectiveness.