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You Cannot Force a Willing Mind · Poetry Minific ·
Organised by Anon Y Mous
Word limit 15–1000
Show rules for this event
#1 ·
· on The Now Matters
This one's a bit of a headscratcher.

First, what is it? There's a consistent rhyme scheme in each stanza, so I don't think it's intended to be free verse. On the other hand, rhyming poetry pretty much always goes with some kind of meter, but I struggle to see any rhythmic unity at all here -- neither within a stanza between the two rhyming lines, nor between lines in different stanzas. If there's any pattern to the number of stresses in each line, or the number of syllables in each line, or the distribution of syllables between stresses, I've been unable to notice it. Perhaps I'm just deaf to poetry.

Second, how does this relate to the prompt? With the other entries one can at least imagine a possible train of thought leading from the prompt to the end result. This one seems to come from nowhere.

The author's message sounds heartfelt, that much can be said for it. Readers who already agree with the sentiment might appreciate the violent metaphors in the second stanza, but from a poetry point of view they don't go anywhere. All they do is to hammer home how strongly the author feels what he/she is saying; they don't inform or enlighten any of what follows. Stanza 3 pulls out and away and attempts some cool, abstract philosophical reasoning, but immediately stanza 4 gives up on that and descends to end with an angry scream of defiance.

On the other hand, other readers who don't already agree that something "has surely gone too far" can easily take one glance at the poem and dismiss the whole as a plea for the right to publish all sorts of reactionary drivel and not even face disagreement. That's the cost of being so nonspecific that each reader is left to fill in the blanks with their own preconceptions. Nobody ends up learning anything they didn't already believe.
#2 ·
· on Corridor · >>Corinna
Good stable meter here. Perhaps too stable, though -- the entire long first stanza becomes a small wall of text with identical rhythms, similar rhyme sounds in most of them, and not even a full stop along the way for the reader to breathe and take stock of where we've been and which way we're going. There isn't much help from the rhyme scheme to break the sentence into natural smaller units either.

It reminds me of John Updike's Cosmic Gall, where a similar steamroller of lines in haphazard alternation between just two rhyme endings conveys a feeling of exasperation, almost out of breath.

Somehow it doesn't work as well for me here. I'm left out of breath all right, but also without a clear impression in my head of what the first stanza was actually trying to tell me. That makes it very hard for the final couplet to provide a clear contrast.

(Even reading it very slowly for this review, I'm finding it difficult to unravel the sentence structure. The relative clause "that's kind, benign, tenacious" comes after a deeply nested stack of noun phrases -- but which of them is it that has those qualities? The decent pace? The loads of time? The blinding shine? Neither of the possibilities really scream "this is it" to me.)
#3 ·
· on Will · >>Troposphere
This is the only poem here that fills me with glee
Trying to take apart this prompt's contradiction sucks
Amiss all these attempts this very work to me succeeds

It's a poem that flows out the mouth well, easily, and has nice little narration that stick with a focus enough theme of:
Can't make someone lose the chains and ties that them together. It's a sentiment I can argue against when it comes to real life, because we can't have nice things in this world. The counter here is if that a person's will is high enough fight the sabotage, it'll stand against such attacks. Guessing "will" being time and effort put into a relationship for good or ill.

See constant clear communication.
#4 ·
· on A Parting of the Ways
I like the sound and feel of this. It feels very, um, poetic.

Alternating between tetrameter and trimeter gives some life to the rhythm. This saves the repetitions of "you cannot ..." from overwhelming with their monotony -- which they could easily have if everything was in tetrameter, like some of the other entries.

I'm less sure I understand what it all means. The songbird and the sailor are the clearest images here. They seem to imply that "you cannot force a willing mind" means that if something is likely to happen anyway by its own nature, then it would be ridiculous to say you somehow "forced" it. By following that parallel, the first eight lines together seem to say that the willing mind will fill the day; the soul will approach eternity. Even if it's a bit unclear to me what that means in practice, those sound like good things. So far so good.

But then what happens in the final stanza? I suppose that's where ways are going to be parted. But the metaphors in this part don't "click" for me at all. The tone gives me an impression that the "you cannot ..." is now something to be sad about. I would be sadder if I understood more concretely what it is I cannot do, though.

Anyway, kudos for grappling honestly with how to make sense of the prompt.
#5 ·
· on Will · >>Troposphere
Ah, a villanelle! I love this form. Well executed, except that the stress pattern is way off for the first lines of the 4th and 6th stanzas. That said, villanelles don't require a meter, only a rhyme/repetition scheme, though since every single other line in the poem is perfect iambic tetrameter, you set up the expectation that those should be as well.

As to subject matter, I'm a little foggier. it seems to be saying that it's easier to go through life if you have a partner, but it can be rare to find one who will be devoted to you? Not quite sure. To me, at least, it's stronger for its construction than its message.
#6 ·
· on The Now Matters
I guess the prompt tie is that an artist can't force a consumer to see their vision? I don't know. I can get behind the message that censorship hurts art, and that it's fine for art to exist for art's sake, though this seems to go beyond that and say it's the consumer's responsibility to appreciate art, which is a pretty extremist attitude. Yes, art that panders to public tastes will be more successful, and it's somewhat of a shame that a talented artist who doesn't may never be successful, but it's not like they're owed something just by the fact they're producers of art, either. It could almost be seen as parody by someone who doesn't feel that way, so it strikes me as one of those pieces that both sides of an issue can claim as supportive of their position.

Structurally, there's no meter, and the simple rhyme scheme works fine. I'd caution that the middle lines of the first two stanzas rhyme, so it initially seems to set up an additional piece of the rhyme pattern that it doesn't follow through on.
#7 ·
· on Corridor · >>Corinna
Maybe this is a real form I'm unfamiliar with, but it seems an odd rhyme scheme: ABACABAACB DD. It had me thinking at first the A lines are the only intended rhymes, but then they ended up not being regularly placed toward the end. Meter is good.

I like when poetry doesn't feel obligated to end lines at natural pauses in the speech, and this is more a personal taste issue, but I prefer when they still do more often than not. Here, it often does end lines at natural pauses, but not really at the ends of complete thoughts, so it still feels disjoint across line boundaries most of the time. Nothing technically wrong with that, but it can make a poem harder to digest.

To wit, the overall message seems muddled, though were I to hazard a guess, it's along the lines of "my life has had its share of tough times, but they've led me to where I am today, and I like the end result, so I wouldn't change anything."
#8 ·
· on A Parting of the Ways
I'm trying to figure out how the poem illustrates the title, but I'm not getting anywhere.

Structurally, the rhythm is good, except the fourth line is short one syllable and is off in the stress pattern. With the rhyme pattern you've set up everywhere else, it seems like the lines ending "bough" and "shore" should have rhymed, but they're not even slant rhymes, so it feels off.

As to message, I'm struggling with that too. The way the final four lines are set apart, even though there's not some fundamental change in what's going on there, still may have been a good move, as they seem to sum up what the rest was trying to say, but even then, I'm not sure. The imagery of the bird and sailor are talking about things they're likely to do anyway, but the opening lines and the final stanza are more about things you do have to force, so I'm not seeing the thread of the argument it's making.
#9 · 1
· on A Dreary, Harrowing Dilemma · >>Troposphere
The first line doesn't fit the rhythm. The rhyme scheme works fine.

This is another one that could be taken to argue either side of the issue. The speaker has trouble staying focused and easily follows distractions, but it's ambiguous whether he finds those distractions worthwhile to follow or obstacles to his progress. I would guess the former. It's one of the more concrete entries this round, where I can easily understand what it's talking about.
#10 · 1
· on A Dreary, Harrowing Dilemma
This is really the only one of the bunch where it's plain and clear what it's saying. It doesn't quite have the lyrical force I felt from "A Parting of the Ways" (interestingly, it has almost exactly the same form), but being understandable can excuse worse flaws than that.

The approach to the prompt is ever so slightly subversive: What I get from the poem is that even if the mind is in principle willing to stay focused, it still can't be made to. Thus, you cannot force a mind period, no matter if it's willing or not.

The title needs to chill, though.

Hmm, I can't hear anything wrong with the first line. Perhaps it's a dialect difference? Various online dictionaries suggest that pronouncing "towards" with two syllables is less common in American English than in British.
#11 ·
· on Corridor
I gaze around with blazing eyes,
How nice to see the theme is tied
In tricky knots that all comprise
A panoply of verse, supplied

In time to meet a fine deadline.
This interest, a hopeful sign!
#12 · 1
· on The Now Matters
As people rise and fall away
And newer fashions seize the day
We cannot see what ages past
Had picked or shunned, to rot or last.

In seeking veins not overtapped,
Life is too short. But art adapts.
#13 · 1
· on Will · >>GroaningGreyAgony

I was alerted to this prompt by a friend in a kink forum, and with that context I immediately understood it as being about the BDSM paradox of wanting to be forced. So the grand plan was to use the villanelle form to inject a negation between the refrains in the first stanza. This gives a progression that starts at normalcy: A mind will try to escape whichever bonds that limits it. At the end we've arrived at the kinky condition: A mind that's willing to be bound cannot be made to give up its chains.

Perhaps it was expressed a bit subtler than ideal, but I had to keep it SFW. :-)

Thanks for the comments!

The slight rhythmic hiccup in the middle line is sort of deliberate. I did consider a few smoother alternatives to it, but I felt they would make the whole thing too monotone with baDUM baDUM, baDUM baDUM throughout. The location also underscores that this is the point where the poem changes gears and veers from fauxlosophical musings about love and minds, into BDSM propaganda.

In the final stanza, though, I must plead guilty. I read to myself, "if WHEN you SEARCH your HEART you FIND," and thought it scanned cromulently. In retrospect, that was just tunnel vision after thinking in iambic tetrameter for hours ...
#14 ·
· on A Parting of the Ways
You cannot force the sea of thought
Into a cup of verse,
But in the tea one mayhap see
A glint of universe.
#15 ·
· on Will
There's still some juice left in the rind
And so one may attempt to wrest
Just one more stanza than designed.

Although the paper seems unlined,
We hold the means of fond protest,
To savor how we are confined.
#16 ·
· on Will

I much enjoyed seeing where people took the prompt for this round. For the record, here's where I got it:

“And there is little to be done with a thoroughly unwilling crew.”
“No,” said Jack. “There is no forcing a willing mind.” He was reminded of his conversation with Stephen Maturin, and he added, “It is a contradiction in terms.” He might have gone on to say that a crew thoroughly upset in its ways, cut short in the article of sleep, and deprived of its trollops, was not the best of weapons either; but he knew that any remark passed on the deck of a vessel seventy-eight feet three inches long was in the nature of a public statement.
― Patrick O'Brian, Master and Commander
#17 ·
· on A Dreary, Harrowing Dilemma
I adore this.
It feels so cozy, resigned but not disheartened.
Technically proficient. Not especially complex or impressive because it doesn't try to be.
Just enough to catch my whim for a moment, then fade into the sky.
At least that's my impression.
#18 ·
· on Corridor · >>Troposphere
This started as playful impro and turned self-exploratory. I love dense rhyme schemes, so I collected a bunch of phrases and impressions with loads of internal rhymes, looked for a common thread, expanded on it, and tried to stitch everything together into one interwoven mess.

The plan was to build a window into a mind that tries to know and mold itself, where understanding is a best-effort-kinda deal, and the "right" interpretation a matter of choice. In my head, I pictured a journey through a dark corridor towards the light at the end. A journey of growth, that's almost complete.

Sounds like the vibe somewhat came through, and details didn't. I'll take it.
I had a good time and learned a lot - thank you so much for your feedback and comments!

I'm glad to read you found it difficult to make out how the pieces fit together - I think at some point I even removed a bit of punctuation to put more combinations on a more equal footing - but I see I hadn't even considered that there's really no reason for the reader to pick an interpretation and roll with it. Nothing else would make more or a different kind of sense if they did. The number one thing I could've done better is spend more effort on making everything make sense to others. I knew this was an issue since I usually write for myself, if at all, but I wasn't aware of just how much I'd expected others to think like me.

When I first put my poem into the submission form I had it as ABACABABAC DD. Stared at it for a good while and thought about cutting it down to 2xABAC DD or swapping sections around to have an alternating rhyme in the first half of each line as well. But I didn't find an arrangement I liked, and also couldn't think of any benefit of keeping to any consistent rhyme scheme (not that I'd know any.)
#19 ·
· on The Now Matters
Out of all the submissions this one's speaker seemed to feel the most strongly about their opinions. But they also seemed more interested in being loud than in being convincing.

To me this felt like a "censorship sucks" graffiti - for some reason in poem form.

Which is surprising, now that I'm writing this. Because it's really not. It does have arguments like "censorship makes valuable works disappear" and "limiting our expressions today limits what kind of people we will grow into", I just didn't realize it had them. They're not particularly convincing arguments since they're so unspecific, but they are there. My attention just slipped right over them.

Maybe I was too busy wondering about why this was presented as a poem. I half expected it to get meta and talk about how people usually expect some kind of rhythm in poetry.
#20 ·
· on Corridor
Ah, with that explanation I think I can see what you were going for.

What prevented it from causing anything but irritation for me, I think, was that the overall grammatical shape of the poem is that of a whole, integral thought, so I assumed the speaker intended to say something clearly.

Perhaps it would have been more effective if you had chosen a sequence of sentence fragments. With full stops between them. Implicitly inviting the reader to start guessing at their relation. Syntax that doesn't pretend there is one correct solution.

That could be argued to be a bit of a conventional solution -- but with a single poem of this length you don't really have time to negotiate a completely fresh contract with the reader from scratch. You need to rely on conventions to establish expectations.
#21 ·
· on Will
After thinking more of it, I'm now not quite convinced "if, when you search you mind ..." was actually a metric flub. Sure it sounds atrocious if read with "schoolboy scansion", but English verse is not really supposed to be as rigid as that. For example, Wikipedia says:

However, marking stress is not the same as marking meter. A perfectly regular line of iambic pentameter may have anywhere from 2 to 9 stresses, but it is still felt to exhibit 5 pulses or beats. This can most easily be understood through the principle of relative stress: an unstressed syllable between 2 even slightly weaker syllables may be perceived as a beat; and the reverse is true of a stressed syllable between 2 even slightly stronger syllables. These phenomena are called "promotion" and "demotion".

"Unstressed syllable between 2 slightly weaker syllables" sounds like a fair description of how the "when" behaves in a natural prose reading of the sentence.

So I think I'll stand by my initial gut feeling that even though this isn't quite a thumping ba-DUM at the beginning, it still sounds like a rhythm that would have been good enough for Shakespeare.