A Comparative Study (Icy Death by David Bankson and Dreams of Flight by Emerys Watchel)

We have quite the treat today, a guest posting by not one, but two fantastic poets. Both use different style, different technique, and yet achieve the same end. We will break down both pieces and analyze how they differ as well as the strengths or limitations of each choice.  If I may first introduce our poets.  David Bankson, a renowned poet noted for his free verse has today provided us with a wonderful petrarchan sonnet, “Icy Death”.  You may recall our other poet, Emerys Watchel from his thought-provoking featured piece last December, The Height of Decadence.  He provided us with “Dreams of Flight” for usage today.

Icy Death

Trapped under the ice of impending death.
A frosty cold chill that holds like a vice.
You sit and you wait in your prison of ice.
The Grim Reaper’s so close you can smell his breath.

You’re miserable waiting to die like a fool,
And your feelings are numb from losing all care.
It becomes hard to breathe…you struggle for air.
You sense the quick swipe of Death’s sharpened tool.

Once it is over, you feel no more pain.
No more concern for the torturous rain.
The freeze is now gone; you are no longer caught.
You’ve waited and stalled, but no time has been bought.
So smile, you’re dead, and your life is through.
Your suffering is over — Death has released you.
© David Bankson, 2015 All rights reserved.

Dreams of Flight

There are moments
as a grown man now,
I think my way back through
old tenement rooms
to childhood fits
of more fanciful things

If I had but stayed
a few nights longer
staring up at the ceiling
in my grandfathers study
to those model airplanes
and how they spoke of war

I couldn’t know back then
that I would grow so big,
and far from there
or just how long
I would chase the child
that lay captive beneath my skin

Wool-gathering in classrooms
to detention halls in libraries
where old books would lead me
as though from a thread
to hand drawn sketches
of Da Vinci’s ornithopter

A whirligig, it seemed
not unlike the paper-thin
maple seedlings
falling in twirls
light on the air
yet in reverse
lifted up into the sky.

tilting the long impossible flight
to me he seemed
an old man
whose beard
spun yarns of silvered fantasies
from the moonlit tryst
between himself, and his dreams

as for me and mine
chasing dragons up tree trunks
to the weathered tops
where the air blew quicker
if I could but spread my arms
and be daring to try

I might sail on clouds
as a cherubic Icarus
willing wind to lift me
kick my feet or fall to ground
all these years, and I,
have only flown time between.
© Emerys Watchel, 2015 All rights reserved.

Here we have two excellent works that take two different paths.  Let’s start by breaking down exactly what they wrote.
We know within the parameters of the Italian or petrarchan sonnet are 2 sections of varied rhyme pattern broken into an octave of 8 lines (or as David utilized, 2 stanzas of 4 to form the octave) and a sestet of the remaining 6 lines of a varying rhyme to complete your 14 lines.  Note the patterned  a, b, b, a/  a, b, b, a format, then the turning point of the piece, where the rhyme scheme changes to c, c, d, d, e, e.   For example:
A- Death               A- Fool
B- Vice                   B- Care
B- Ice                      B- Air
A- Breath              A- Tool

C- Pain
C- Rain
D- Caught
D- Brought
E- You
E- Through

“Trapped under the ice of impending death.
A frosty cold chill that holds like a vice.
You sit and you wait in your prison of ice.
The Grim Reaper’s so close you can smell his breath.”

Here David alludes that waiting to die is like to being imprisoned within an icy cage.  We often hear of death itself described in such manner, cold as death.  He chose this image to describe the futility of the fear.  Death is coming, it cannot be escaped, it seems to smile at you through rotting teeth as you cringe away and shiver.

“You’re miserable waiting to die like a fool,
And your feelings are numb from losing all care.
It becomes hard to breathe…you struggle for air.
You sense the quick swipe of Death’s sharpened tool.”

Here we get the first actual description of emotional state.  It is inferred from the first 4 lines, but now we see progression as depth is added.  I particularly enjoyed that he was able to add in the sensation of suffocating.  He has given us no sensation, no emotion, no idea that any reader cannot relate to or imagine.

“Once it is over, you feel no more pain.
No more concern for the torturous rain.
The freeze is now gone; you are no longer caught.
You’ve waited and stalled, but no time has been bought.
So smile, you’re dead, and your life is through.
Your suffering is over — Death has released you.”

Ah yes, the turn.  Finally this tormented reader is given release from the mental anguish of being hunted.  David revisits the journey to this new place and then encourages the reader to see the peace at hand.  Note as well, in the last line he does not mention death having claimed you, or taken you, or overcome you, as we know the battle was lost before we began.  Yet in that he reminds us that death has released you, in that, you have won your freedom by trial.

He was able to tell a story, he didn’t feed us extra meaningless bits that we didn’t need to know.  He stuck to his structure, kept the rhymes perfect, and still we felt the emotional, mental and physical through the piece.  We had an image and a sensation, even resolution.  Yet did he limit himself or build a lovely pedestal to rest this story upon by adhering to strict frame?  Let’s examine “Dreams of Flight” for comparison.

Alright, to start out I can see 8 stanzas with counts of 6, 6, 6, 6, 7, 7, 6, 6 lines per stanza descending.  I can tell by glancing this piece over, Emerys was more concerned with the beats falling into place than he was exact syllabic symmetry.  This is often a feature of more loosely structured pieces.  Also I would note that whereas “Icy Death” was written as an observer, this piece is written from the first person.  Immediately this means he has to approach the reader in a different manner, he will likely go for empathy.  I can see a rhyme scheme in there, it’s looser, but still noticeable.  One would think that this should indicate the boundless nature of the piece due to it’s lack of structural confines.  Let’s see what he wrote.

“There are moments
as a grown man now,
I think my way back through
old tenement rooms
to childhood fits
of more fanciful things

If I had but stayed
a few nights longer
staring up at the ceiling
in my grandfathers study
to those model airplanes
and how they spoke of war”

We have an image of a man, we are uncertain his age, only that he is an adult.  He looks back to childhood and to his mental state at the time.  He continues to layer imagery, making the picture fuller and more clear.

“I couldn’t know back then
that I would grow so big,
and far from there
or just how long
I would chase the child
that lay captive beneath my skin

Wool-gathering in classrooms
to detention halls in libraries
where old books would lead me
as though from a thread
to hand drawn sketches
of Da Vinci’s ornithopter”

Now an image of this child trapped in the skin that no longer belongs to him, becoming someone he could not have imagined.  The journey continues as he reflects.

“A whirligig, it seemed
not unlike the paper-thin
maple seedlings
falling in twirls
light on the air
yet in reverse
lifted up into the sky.

tilting the long impossible flight
to me he seemed
an old man
whose beard
spun yarns of silvered fantasies
from the moonlit tryst
between himself, and his dreams”

Here he compares a universally known image associated with genius, to a childish wonder at seedlings on the wind.  He provides his perception of the creator of said image and we see the child’s mind at work.  We see that too, in the next 2 stanzas, there is a beautiful bit of resigned honesty that we know comes from the man, not the child.  He describes desire and where he finds himself along that path to it’s fulfillment.

“as for me and mine
chasing dragons up tree trunks
the weathered tops
where the air blew quicker
if I could but spread my arms
and be daring to try

I might sail on clouds
as a cherubic Icarus
willing wind to lift me
kick my feet or fall to ground
all these years, and I,
have only flown time between.”

I must say that Emerys enjoyed the boundless nature of the style, we had everything from flying near the sun to sitting in a classroom.  Could he have benefited from a more structured approach?

Two wonderful pieces, both are of noteworthy composition.  We know both poets succeeded, that isn’t really the question.  The question is, how could it have been better?

When sitting to write a piece one must consider precisely where you want to take your reader, and how.  Death is a clearly understood, solid idea.  It can be expanded on and viewed from various angles, but it is still a known constant.  A reflection on childhood would be a subjective thought pattern.  Both are constants, perhaps the only two constants we all share in life, yet the point of the piece is key.  David wanted to show us how it felt to feel death breathing down our necks, to feel trapped and helpless before the freedom of release.  Emerys wanted us to see how he saw his own life, as if viewing it from afar whilst amid it.  Emerys’ piece may lose the childlike snowballing of ideas were he to attempt to confine it to stricter form.  His images needed lots of room.  David, too, may lose out if he were to release his piece from it’s formatting.  It’s design is so specific, so neatly drawn and deliberate that to vary from that would likely lose the effect.

Don’t ask which is ‘better’, that’s a pointless question.  Both approaches have merit.  To decide which method is better suited for your needs, consider the idea, the image, and how you wish to show it.  Do you want tighter rhymes, more open images, a visual representation of a dynamic of the piece within it’s viewable form? (example of the third below, can you see the image of a flag in the text?)

I see it ever waving,
a beacon of hope,
this  tattered flag
in
the
dirt
rooted within the stable foundation of unearthly dreams

Remember, in poetry EVERYTHING has purpose and meaning.  Don’t put something in ‘just because’.  The perfect poem gives you everything you need, nothing more and nothing less.  This includes format.  So when you sit to write your next piece, consider what format you wish to present it in.  Never hesitate to try a new form, or to try not using one at all.

On another note, did you enjoy our guest poets?  Want to read more of their work?  Let us know!

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