There’s Just a Lot of “Paradise Lost” References in My Poem

There’s a thing about Helicon West: you can read people’s poetry and you can read their stories and that’s great, but to see actual people holding their work out in their mouths and showing it as they want it to be seen–there’s something special about that.

Also, it allows for a lot of funny one liners.

This fortnight’s edition of Who-Wants-To-Have-A-Blog-Post goes to Teresa Dyer for her poem “On the Noises in the Office, Late Nights,” assuming I’ve punctuated that title correctly. You can hear her and her funny spiel about Milton starting at 21:30 of the video (which is just a lovely video; go ahead and watch the whole thing and get yourself some culture).

This’ll learn you some history about the English Building at USU, which, by rights, is old enough to be haunted. Here’s our story: Once, the Ray B West building was a military training barracks. It housed soldiers who would fight in World War One, killing and dying and perhaps…returning to the training ground to watch the students writing in the dark.

The more I think about it, the more I think this poem is true. It just…makes…sense.

Teresa has some neat tricks up her sleeves. First, all this assonance! You know, the repetition of vowel sounds. We’ve got fright/ nights/ wise and vets/ reject–both of these in the first segment of poem–and throughout the piece, a repetition of the O sound: intoned/ you know/ alone, alone, alone/ home, which is particularly clever because O sounds like ghosts without saying ghosts. The poem never says ghosts. They are implied (good gravy, subtext is just the best). I don’t know how well subliminal messaging works…but hey, even if it doesn’t, the repeated O adds a nice cohesion.

In any case, all these assonant words string together because they are very close. Spoken out loud, you can hear the emphasis Teresa gives her vowels. Similarly, the past of the English building and its present and strung together by ghosts (maybe). I love how tight Teresa’s poem is. Everything contributes.

Another cool trick: we’ve got some crazy wordplay from Part Two. “…neither yet named so nor yet part of…” Say it out loud. It’s not a tongue twister. It’s a mind-bender. This is good because the piece is about mind-bending. Is Ray B West haunted? Maybe. Also see this trick in the line “I heard someone call down the upstairs hall.” Down the upstairs hall. It’s just disorienting enough that you want to check it twice, just like you might if perhaps you saw something out of the corner of your eye.

Now, internet, muse on some of my favorite lines.

“They meant to quake our hearts and prick our necks.” Oh, I am a sucker for excellent backwards active voice. Teresa could’ve written “Our hearts quaked and our necks pricked because of them” but thank goodness, she didn’t, and the line she’s got absolutely gushes power for “them.”

“We ate gummy worms under florescent lights, graded papers, and wrote them, in a cycle that made our eyes see things we dared not report to each other.” That ambiance. Could there be a more perfect setup for a ghost story? It’s got the right people, the right lightning, the right sense of things not being quite as they seem…

So. Who’s excited to go to class tomorrow?

-Jessica, your friendly neighborhood Helicon Blogger


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