Notes: Cheltenham Elegies and WYB Sonnets

In examining prosodic structures in my body of work, it is noticeable that discrepancies present themselves in how prosody in general is approached. One interesting dichotomy subsists between the When You Bit sonnets and the Cheltenham Elegies. Where melopoeia is concerned, the WYB sonnets are lavish leaning towards overripe: they cluster end-rhymes with internal rhymes, assonances, and the rest to heighten the carnival frisson of overwhelming romance, sexuality, intrigue, and transgression:

I ache: dull, sharp,
in a heap of paper.
All paper: picture,
bright, bold, dark.
I have nailed you
to a piece: black.
I darken touched
things: I’m used.
I write you, you,
you, as if kissed
by a fresh body,
rose-petal bliss.
I drowse: numb
as cocaine gums.

The nods to Shelley (“I pant, I tremble, I expire…”) and to Romanticism and the lyric “I” in general are right on the surface, and the whole game is the consummation of total aesthetic richness. It is a sense of wanting something, and getting it. The consolidation of end-rhymes with internal rhymes heightens this process. This is 2007 (the book was published in ’08, but much of it was written in the autumn of ’07). Four years later, and with the added encumbrance of a deepening national (and global) recession, I was ready to write the Cheltenham Elegies, and the note of lacrimae rerum was placed into them by impersonal circumstances becoming personalized. The melopoeiac dimension of the Cheltenham Elegies, next to the When You Bit sonnets, is hollowed out, emptied, reflecting a state of impoverishment; internal rhymes must suffice to color the poems, while end-rhymes are left out to preclude the rosy sense of ravishment in the earlier poems:

And out of this nexus, O sacred
scribe, came absolutely no one.
I don’t know what you expected
to find here. This warm, safe,
comforting suburb has a smother
button by which souls are unraveled.
Who would know better than you?
Even if you’re only in the back of
your mind asphyxiating. He looked
out the window— cars dashed by
on Limekiln Pike. What is it, he said,
are you dead or do you think you’re Shakespeare?

Different audiences over a long period of time will find mete to embrace different kinds of prosody. For myself, I would tend to value the hollowed out starkness of the Elegies, their implicit vow against the traditional ripeness of end-rhymes, against the twisted, torqued half-lyricism of the sonnets (if I call them half-lyrical, it is because they are welded to a narrative structure which is book-length and involves other characters, rather than the traditional lyric, which sticks to a first person perspective.)