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3/1/2019 2:49:42 PM

Thomas Kourkoulis
Posts: 1
I'm looking for a critique of this poem. It's a lyric poem, religious in nature, that narrates the demise of a stylite monk during the Byzantine Era. The Stylites were ascetic monks who would sit atop of poles and columns that they erected, sometimes for decades.




the Stylite




On the spire stands the Stylite
Who -for thirty years alone-
Has in his ascetic fervor,
Severed joint from bone.

One legged he stands, and arms held high,
Deaf to the world beneath.
The Stylite clenches closed his mind
And grasps it in his teeth.

Held bound by cords of Providence
That have grown into his soul,
The Stylite voids himself of thoughts
That circumspect his role.

His role is humble, straight and true,
Though ravaged he may be.
As wind and rain break down his flesh
And strip him by degree.

In long past time, men near and far
Sought out his wise decrees.
Below him now, so few remain
To tender to his needs.

For one last time, he clears his mind,
And purges lust and sin.
He shores the wall that guards the light
And purity within.

The cords have snapped! Old limbs give way
Through desperate, chilling calls.
He sought to separate himself,
But to the earth he falls.
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3/2/2019 6:44:55 PM

Jack Webster
Posts: 132
yes, yes, yes. really very good. The journalistic quality of presenting the scene without manipulating the reader or speaking at the reader with opinions or judgements is very good. You create a scene for the reader to experience, one the reader is free to enter. You understand that poetry is a form of storytelling.


the scene has the spice of something unusual, an invitation to discover something new. the subject is appealing, and we witness what he loves, the intensity of his yearning, and the tragic reality of mortality. good, good, good. Life, Love/ Yerning-passion, and Death are the Holy Trinity of all poems. Shakespeare's hero/ines and villains were all so compelling because there was no doubt that they loved life passionately, but each knew exactly what they were willing to die for.

Your end rhymes are softened nicely by using them in the middle of phrases or using slant rhyme.

Something to consider is whether or not the image and situation is clear without the preface. The preface has a stage in "casual" settings such as at readings or blogging, but were the poem to appear in print without the preface, the reader is left to its own literary honor to look up what a stylite is exactly. The casual reader won't; the devoted reader would. There are enough clues in the poem, I think to piece together a general idea, but I would share it would those who don't understand what a stylite is to get a better feel for if there us enough there. I think either way the emotional impact will stand on it's own, unless the reader is truly confused about the subject.

I think the word circumspect is being misused here. Maybe you intended circumscribe?

Line 5 maybe experiment with the following change:
On one leg he stands, arms held high...
legged just has the weird issue of the d sound at the end. On one leg sounds cleaner, though on isn't a very impactful first word for the line.

Clenched closed is a bit of a knot to unravel. It's redundant. It seems you were attracted by the consonance of the "cl" cluster, and possibly the assonance between deaf and clench. The word play between clenches and the next line about holding his mind with his teeth is very good. it implies the image of him clenching his teeth without literally saying so, and unifies that image with the description of the abstract action of taking hold of his mind. Deconstructing an image by separating its verb and related noun is definitely an advanced technique. (another fun one is deconstructing sensation by separating an adjective and a kinesthetic verb, like cool and melting.) If you decide to choose one, chose clenches.

Now... Held bound... is an even bigger knot. It tiptoes towards redundancy, but I think it is attempting to illustrate an ambivalence about his spiritual pursuit, that it lifts him up and sustains him, but he also bound by it because without it he wouldn't survive the feat. He's set on a course he can't turn back from. I think this ambivalence is best explored by adding stanzas to show the pursuit from different angles, to show the complexity. If at the end, you still like Held bound better, at least hyphenate it, using the kenning convention.

Going a bit deeper, there is a subtle issue regarding him being deaf to the world but still needing to steel himself against temptation. I bet someone up on such a lofty pedastle sees and hears quite a bit, sees and hears EVERYTHING he's chosen to renounce for his faith. The vast banquet of temptation is spread before him, all of his opportunities to satisfy himself with a worldly life literally passing him by as he moves closer and closer to salvation/death. I think describing him as being deaf to the world is cheating you out of opportunities as the author to explore the deepest levels of the human experience of solitary confinement on a sacred pillar. the poetic question arises, is it saintly to be deaf to the world, or to be burdened with all the temptations and remain resolute. sort of like is it courage to never be afraid or to be afraid and persevere. I'm reminded of Mother Teresa's letters that were discovered in which she doubted the existence of God and salvation. Yet she did her work.

What must it be like to live on a pillar and see your soulmate walk by everyday, and everyday to have to make the choice to be devote or to go live a mortal life of love? To see children run by and to know he'll never be a father. Or to see a dear friend be robbed and to only be able to call for help and pray. Or to see the church catch fire and to know you cannot help.

There is a whole world in this poem waiting for you to explore. Open it. Open it. Open it. Let it spread its own wings.

(You state it is a lyric poem. it's my understanding that lyric poems are written in first person, so I'm not entirely sure in what way you're using this description.)
edited by superlativedeleted on 3/2/2019
edited by superlativedeleted on 3/2/2019
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