Login   Sign Up 


A letter to my peers.

by williamburton 

Posted: 05 January 2016
Word Count: 327
Summary: Just an introduction - I'm still working on my own formatting as you may be able to tell - all feedback welcome!

Font Size

Printable Version
Print Double spaced

Today I lost my two front teeth,
and tomorrow my molars might crunch like sucking sweets in to chalk,
pastalised in granite gravestones so wild roses might grow tall against them,
framed white amongst dead men who utter out whispers of forgotten tales,
no more rotten then any living tornement thrown after the torment of a Great War.

And so I’ll watch mindful in song,
as they play xylophone tones that pluck hollow on their bones,
majestically sewn through tumbleweeds of good, no.. great conversation;
Because this is my Ego now;
a form grown out of isolation to the social construction that your peers handle so dear to their chest,
while my heart speaks in wild footsteps,
dotted periodically against firefly sentences that hum in swarms towards an unlit dawn,
so captivatingly drawn out that it almost seems to tear the sky blind in to bubble gum clouds, above hum drum crowds, so terrifyingly loud and screaming – “You are not welcome here!“.
Well I am, I’ll whisper back – just remember that,
and if your voice hangs silent as mine did for so many years,
or the crippling sigh of release muffles the greatness in your throat that my hands have trembled for, for so long in solidarity fear,
I shall be your voice.
But please know that the sweet honey that rolls from your lips,
will forever be the clipped wing fortitude to my song,
and that it will linger on and on, long after you and I have gone quietly astray,
only to be born back in to one last love song that couples will lay flat on top of towels by picnic benches as a pitch black sea sings aloud in its shallow breath,
and the ripples in her dress will fall silently in complex methods of accordion construction,
only conspired more with each inhalation of wave upon wave,
until we all know heavy in our heart,
that we ALL are welcome here.

Favourite this work Favourite This Author

Comments by other Members

James Graham at 20:42 on 06 January 2016  Report this post
Hello William – From this poem, and the one in the group forum, I can see right away that your are very adventurous, audacious even, in your use of language. As a brief example, in ‘my heart speaks in wild footsteps’ the phrase ‘wild footsteps’ is strikingly unexpected. Who or what ever speaks in footsteps? But it makes very good sense, imaginatively conveying an idea of bold, original creativity. ‘Firefly sentences that hum in swarms towards an unlit dawn’ is very impressive too – a demonstration of what it means to ‘speak in wild footsteps’! However, I’m sorry to say that although some sections of the poem are clear (and very striking) there’s much in it that I haven’t yet understood. I need your help, and we need to have some dialogue.

First, a few puzzling words. By ‘pastalised’ do you mean ‘pastellised’? Pastels used for art work contain chalk, which is referred to in the previous line. ‘Tornement’ – is that meant to be ‘tournament’ as in a knightly contest? If so, it would suggest a contrast between ‘the torment of a Great War’ and an event which is merely playing at war, held (‘thrown’ like throwing a party) just after the end of that war. Finally, ‘solidarity’ in ‘for so long in solidarity fear’ – should this be ‘solitary’?

In the first half of the poem, I feel I understand everything from ‘[my Ego is] a form grown out of isolation’ to ‘You are not welcome here!’ To me it says: ‘My creative self has grown autonomously, independently of society’s institutions and conventions, and so is able to speak freely (“in wild footsteps”). I am an outsider, rejected by my contemporaries’. Of course, the poem expresses it much more inventively than this prose. If you feel this is not what you meant, let me know.

But the first 9 lines are difficult. In lines 1-5 it’s a long mental journey from two lost front teeth to the ‘torment of a Great War’. The molars (or the sweets?) turn into chalk, and the chalk becomes granite; the granite forms into gravestones against which wild roses grow; we are in a war cemetery and hear the voices of the dead. I think I can follow this as an association of ideas – a very free association – roughly like ‘stream of consciousness’ in which you let one thought freely suggest another and allow thoughts to go where they will.

Then, in lines 6-9, you seem to say: I’ll watch this (all that I’ve spoken about so far, presumably)  while “they” play xylophone-like music mixed with ‘great conversation’. I’m not very coherent about lines 6-9 because I don’t understand them, and so I need to ask: 1. Who are ‘they’? Who is the poem’s narrator watching and listening to? 2. What’s the significance of the xylophone music? 3. What do you mean by ‘Because this is my Ego now’? Do you mean you are asserting yourself now, asserting your creativity in a way you never did before?

This covers just the first half of the poem. Tell me if I’m getting half-way towards understanding it, and then we can continue. I’m sure it’s worth getting to grips with.


williamburton at 21:45 on 06 January 2016  Report this post

Firstly a huge thanks for taking time out to read and comment on my poem - You are spot on so far in your understanding of what I was trying to portray, and my grammar and proof reading is clearly not up to speed with my mind!

I should start off by saying, when I write poetry I tend to write is spurts - usually with the start of a brief spark and that grows in to whatever it may be at the time;

For example the first line of the above poem was jotted down at work, and then I spent a few hours that evening stringing it together in an almost continuous stream of thought (which I guess comes across from your comments) - that first line was based on a recurring dream I had where I loose my teeth, and I was attempting to understand what it may mean to me - where I have been told (and read previously) that this dream is a fear of loosing a loved one etc hence why the teeth turned to chalk, then granite and ended in a gravestone (not that I’m a huge believer in the significance in dreams, but I must have found it interesting non the less!) That then lead me in to where I speak about the dead; and the music being played on their bones was attempting to portray how I perceive ‘war’ and how it can be portrayed in movies/media etc where it has the potential to be glamorised usually accompanied by music which is written in its wake, and tends to distracts us from the real ‘torment’ of what war means (at least for me anyway) and it is because of this (the way I feel about war) that my ‘ego’ has been formulated the way it is today and I spend a lot of my life trying my hardest not to be distracted by things such as the media in an attempt to form my own opinions of the world around me - which can make me feel pretty isolated from my peers, especially with the line of work I am in, (I’m a development engineer for a large German rail systems company) and I kind of regard an individuals ego as a tool which guides us all through the dark which many of us seem to be sleepwalking through, which my comment of “you are not welcome here!” is attempting to portray the ego as the fireflies flying overhead a sleep walking crowd where the fireflies are lighting up the unlit dawn/sky and the sleepwalkers below are not wanting to be disturbed.. The George Carlin quote of “its called the American dream, because you have to be asleep to believe it” I guess has a large influence on that idea. Which then leads me on to the next half..

I hope that clears up partially the first half of the poem at least, and I really appreciate the comments, if theres anything more you feel unclear of please ask, as this is the first time I’ve actually analysed or had some of my writing analysed and I’m finding it very useful and interesting. I look forward to any question you may have about the next half.


James Graham at 19:38 on 09 January 2016  Report this post
Hello again, Will – I’m going to suggest some changes to the first part, and I’ll explain why. The second part succeeds much better, I think, and there won’t be so much to say about it. A point to make first, which may seem obvious but I feel it’s a necessary preamble.

The art of poetry includes making reasonably sure the reader can take from your poem an approximation to the idea you have yourself. I say ‘approximation’ because a poem isn’t like, say, instructions for operating a machine. Your reader need not know precisely what you meant – exactly what you were thinking when you wrote it. It will be understood by readers in individual ways. Given 100 readers there will be 100 different perspectives on what they have read; but you want all or most of these to approximate to the meaning you wanted to communicate, not to diverge so much as to be complete misunderstandings. And you don’t want most readers to shake their heads and think they just can’t make sense of it.*

Now, it’s the first 9 lines that I think might lead to too much head-shaking. You tell me it begins with a recurring dream – but I didn’t see that in the poem. You need to tell readers it was a dream, in some such way as this:
Last night in a dream I lost my two front teeth,
and tomorrow night my molars might crunch into chalk,
and petrify to granite gravestones so wild roses might grow tall against them

‘Last night in a dream’ is very explicit, spelling it out to the reader. But I think it gives readers a way into the poem: if they are allowed to think in terms of dreams, they will much more easily grasp – and appreciate – your ‘stream of thought’ from lost teeth through chalk, granite, graves, soldiers, war. This sequence won’t seem strange to them any more; this is how it is in dreams.

There are other changes. It now says you’re afraid that next night’s dream might feature the molars turning to chalk and then to gravestones. I’ve left out ‘like sucking sweets’ – I know you mean the teeth might crumble the way hard sweets crumble, but the comparison doesn’t seem necessary. Lastly I changed ‘pastellised’ to ‘petrify’ which of course means ‘turn to stone’ whereas I don’t think ‘pastellise’ does.

In lines 6-9 you need to be more explicit about ‘they’. The line is:
they play xylophone tones that pluck hollow on their bones

You’ve explained that ‘they’ are those, such as film-makers, who glamorise war and distract from the real torment of it. Again, I couldn’t get that just from the poem, and needed your explanation. You need to be explicit again here and tell readers who you mean by ‘they’. The following are just formulations that occur to me, and you may have different ways of putting it.
the portrayers of war play xylophone tones
those who conjure war images play xylophone tones
movie-makers play xylophone tones

This last one is the most explicit, but in this case I think you don’t have to go that far; to speak of makers of images should be enough.

A more fanciful line:
those who conjure war images add colour and sugar and play xylophone tones

At the end of the line, ‘on the bones of the dead’ might be clearer than ‘on their bones’.

In line 10, it should read ‘isolation from  the social construction’.

With these changes, or something similar, I would say the whole of the first half – indeed, pretty much the second half too – would be more accessible to readers. There will always be somebody who doesn’t get it, or gets it wrong, or doesn’t take to the poem; but if you give readers enough clues most of them will understand – and appreciate. They will think this poem contains a subtle, interesting, quite profound idea – which is the response you hope for.

I’ll cover the second half soon, but as I say there shouldn’t be many issues there.


*There have been experiments in various American universities, in which groups of creative writing/ literature students were given a poem and asked to write down, without any guidance from the tutor, their responses to it. Their responses were then given to the author, who found a few he thought were ‘spot on’ – very close to his own thoughts; some which were not quite what he would have said himself, but acceptable and valid; some students’ ideas, and associations they had made, which he had never thought of but found interesting; and a handful who had just ‘got it wrong’, failed to grasp any coherent meaning at all. All this was taken to mean that the poem had succeeded.

PS. Are you influenced in any way by Walt Whitman? ‘I celebrate myself, and sing myself’ (Opening line of ‘Song of Myself’.) It could be said that Whitman’s ‘ego’ is, in a somewhat different way,  a ‘tool which guides us all through the dark’. And you use Whitmanesque long lines.

nickb at 16:51 on 10 January 2016  Report this post
Hi William,

I have to say I struggled a bit to get my head around this as well, but having read your explanation of the thought processes behind it I can make out the gist of it.  Stream of consciousness was the first thing that sprang to my mind as I was reading, and as James has pointed out, some of the language is very inventive.  It certainly brought up some vivid images, but the trick I guess is to bring some more coherence to it.  There are passages where I feel like I'm on firm ground and thenan individual word will throw me, e.g. the word "accordion" in:

as a pitch black sea sings aloud in its shallow breath,
and the ripples in her dress will fall silently in complex methods of accordion construction

Does it mean the dress falls in folds like an accordion?  If so are the "complex methods" of construction required? I love the pitch black sea bit by the way.  Your poem also has a real momentum to it for example in:

But please know that the sweet honey that rolls from your lips,
will forever be the clipped wing fortitude to my song,
and that it will linger on and on, long after you and I have gone quietly astray,

The ending also sems to get to the heart of the piece, but along the way I felt I needed a little more help in understanding....but that may be just me missing the point!!  A challenging but very intriguing poem.


James Graham at 15:53 on 13 January 2016  Report this post
Second half of the poem: as expected, there aren’t many issues for me. You can tell me whether or not my interpretation matches the thoughts you have yourself, always remembering that – especially when it comes to poetry – readers’ perspectives can vary.

You are addressing not so much other poets as people with poetry in them, those who reflect deeply on the human condition but have not been able to formulate their thoughts in the way a poet does. You are saying that you too have been a ‘silent poet’ – but no longer. Now you can be their voice.

One of the best examples of what you mean is, I think, the work of Wilfred Owen. When he wrote so memorably that it is a lie to say that dying for one’s country is sweet and honourable, and supported his assertion with so much experience, he was the voice of many who knew this to be true but had not been able to articulate it so eloquently. (His work wasn’t well known until some years after the war, but veterans saw the truth in it.) Owen too had been pretty much a silent poet before the war.

There’s very little that’s obscure in this half, except perhaps these lines:
only to be born back in to one last love song that couples will lay flat on top of towels by picnic benches as a pitch black sea sings aloud in its shallow breath,
and the ripples in her dress will fall silently in complex methods of accordion construction

The first line here is saying that the ‘love song’ (for humanity as well as for one beloved?) will become familiar – become part of people’s lives. They will remember it as they lie on  a beach (or do their housework, or play with their children). The ‘pitch-black sea’ seems to represent the bad stuff in the world in the midst of which we try to lead rewarding lives. But I don’t see the point of the dress with accordion pleats: hard to say why it seems out of place, it just seems tacked on. One bit of flow-of-consciousness you could do without.

'Born' should be 'borne'.

So that’s all I have to say about the poem for the time being, unless you have other points to raise. It was hard work, but as I said at the beginning, very inventive and adventurous in the use of language.



'Born back' - on second thoughts I can see that you probably mean 'born' not 'borne' after all. In the sense of 'reborn'.

To post comments you need to become a member. If you are already a member, please log in .