James K. Moore, Book of Poetry: Romantic Poems (MooreSuccess, no date listed)
I have to admit that I’m impressed, in a grudging sort of way, by the poem “You and I” in this collection. It is possible to advance the hypothesis that every major error it is possible to make in the crafting of poetry exists in this single piece.
Chased you for so long
Back when we were both so innocent
Maybe not me so much but when you were pure
Now I’m back to following behind
Time is running out
Soon our love will expire
Gotta make a final attempt to right my wrongs
Too many times I’ve done nothing
Is this my fate to be all alone
All of my wrongs have come back to haunt me
Karma is a bitch that doesn’t subdue to my charm
Stuck in this mental purgatory
Only the maker knows my heart is pure
I’ve tried to express it to you with no results
The harder I try the further I push you away
What am I to do
Are the streets on fire
You are my only desire
I just want you back
My life no longer is in tact
Okay, I was wrong. The piece does not contain a single adverb ending in -ly, though given the stunning incompetence of the rest of it, that strikes me more as happy random circumstance rather than any sort of conscious avoidance.
Now, as to the rest, I’ll do something I normally don’t do for free: a critique. Hopefully it’ll help a few folks.
Before going line by line, one of the biggest no-nos of poetry: changing the rhyme scheme in the middle of the poem. The first two stanzas are free verse, no end rhymes to be found. Then the third stanza suddenly adopts an ABCB rhyme scheme. That’s the mark of someone who either doesn’t proofread, doesn’t revise, or doesn’t realize it’s a bad thing to do. I suspect the last of these is the truest, if only because the fifth stanza not only reintroduces a rhyme scheme to the poem, it introduces a different rhyme scheme (ABAB) than the one that was introduced in stanza 3. To say there’s no consistency to be found here is understating the case severely.
Another general criticism, though in Moore’s defense I’ve been doing this poetry thing for forty years and I only recently found out this is considered A Bad Thing(TM): the unevenness of the lines. Not in terms of rhythm, that’s to be expected in free verse, but in visual terms. If a poem doesn’t have even lines, the reasoning says, there should be a specific reason that a given line is either substantially shorter or substantially longer than those surrounding it. Stanza 2 is the most egregious with the errors here; there’s no consistency to be found anywhere in the stanza at all. For what purpose? If Moore has one other than “this is what came out and I wrote it down, then never went back and revised it”, I can’t see it.
Line by line:
11. 2-3: the language here is too loose. There are some cases where this can be fixed with simple substitution/rearrangement; “when we were both so innocent” could lose a few syllables simply by being written “when we both were innocent”. But then we move on to line 3, which directly contradicts line 2. “Maybe not me so much but when you were pure” is a complete waste of a line, since by switching a couple of words in line 2, Moore could get rid of the whole thing.
Chased you for so long
Back when you were innocent
Better yet: steal “pure” from the excised line and save another two syllables.
Chased you for so long
Back when you were pure
“were pure” has a good little internal slant rhyme thing going on there that sounds so much better than that whole lackadaisical two lines we started with.
l. 4: gerund. “Now I’m back to following behind” is passive. It’s worth arguing that Moore intended it that way, since the line is expressing frustration at passivity, so one can make a case for leaving it alone. But for the sake of using it as an example, doesn’t it read stronger/more immediate as “Now, again, I follow”? We’ve switched the verb from passive to active. The narrator is actually doing something instead of being drawn along like a bull with a nose ring. “Again” just plain sounds better than “back to” and does the same job. But, again, for the purposes of this poem, I’ll recommend leaving it as is since the verbiage supports the mental state of the narrator.
ll. 5-6: we’re back to the same needless repetition we saw in ll. 2-3. “Time is running out/Soon our love will expire” is saying the same thing twice. There’s no reason not to ditch the first line entirely since (a) there’s another gerund there, (b) the first line is a cliché anyway, and (c) the first line is speaking in generalities where the second is specific, which automatically makes the second line the keeper.
l. 7: “Gotta”: no use for slang in a poem unless the narrative voice uses it consistently. In this case, it’s the only instance in the poem, and should be changed. “Right my wrongs”: this is a perfect example of tell-don’t-show, which is exactly the opposite of what a poem should do. The one golden, unbreakable rule of poetry is show, don’t tell. Don’t tell us you have wrongs that need righted. Show us one or two. Concrete, specific details.
l. 8: “Too many times I’ve done nothing”. Again, show, don’t tell.
ll. 9-10: Assuming l. 9 is to be kept, it should end with a question mark instead of ending with no punctuation at all. l. 10 suffers from repetition (“my wrongs” have returned from l. 7, which is entirely too close to be repeating oneself) and cliché (“come back to haunt me”), which leads it to redundancy. There’s no reason for it to be here at all.
l. 11: “Karma is a bitch…”. Well, that’s not overused. “…that doesn’t subdue…”: This is simply not grammatically correct. It could probably be fixed by changing “subdue” to a word that fits (“bend”? This looks like a case of consulting a thesaurus and grabbing the first fifty-cent word discovered) “…to my charm”: from a psychological standpoint, it’s possible to make a case that the entire reason the narrator is in the situation that occasioned the writing of this poem is because he expects females, and forces of nature he identifies as female, to “subdue to [his] charm.” I now have a sinking feeling that “subdue” was probably supposed to be “submit”, which adds an entire new level of offensiveness. But since I don’t know for certain that’s the case, I won’t hammer on it too much.
l. 13: we’re suddenly introducing a deity into the mix? And only doing it for a single line? Once again I have to ask the question: why is this here? It doesn’t tie into anything else in the poem, so my belief is that it shouldn’t be. “My heart is pure” is, again, telling, not showing, and after that last stanza, I’ll have to call unreliable-narrator on that statement anyway.
l. 14: “I’ve tried to express it to you with no results”: you should know what I’m going to say here, but just in case: show, don’t tell. Concrete examples are a necessity here.
l. 15: again, show, don’t tell.
l. 16: I think the entire poem is already asking this question, and therefore spelling it out like this is redundant (and talking down to the reader, since by including it, the poet is saying “I don’t trust the reader to understand this is what the poem is asking”). But, on the slim chance the line stays in, it should end with a question mark rather than a complete lack of punctuation.
l. 17-20: After all the loose, almost prose-like writing and no attention whatsoever to rhythm, we suddenly get this stanza. Which might work, rhythmically, in a poem where everything else fits that rhythm. But cropping up so suddenly here, it sounds less like poetry and far more like doggerel. It’s got all the effect, and all the interest, of a generic four-on-the-floor techno filler track in a DJ set.
l. 17: “Are the streets on fire” is another “where the hell did this come from?” line, which in this case leads me to believe the poet was simply looking for something that rhymed with “desire” and grabbed the first thing that popped into his head, whether it fit the poem or not (and obviously, it doesn’t).
l. 20: “intact” should not have a space in it.
I wish I could say this poem is an anomaly and the rest of the book is better. Simply put: it isn’t. Half a star because it’s not egregiously offensive, but avoid this like the plague.