Editing a Famous Poem With Polyphony Guidelines
By Zoha Arif
I ate a popsicle today -- blue raspberry, thank you for asking -- on the school bus because I felt like it even though, in retrospect, it is a preposterous thing to do during a punishingly cold, bitter, blue January in the northern lands of Jersey, a day on which the weatherman said on the 4 o’clock news that it will snow a whole foot tomorrow. I get a glorious, almighty email notification that “billy lombardo has forwarded you the submission "This is Just to Say" by [blind]. Please visit https://www.plitsubmissions.org to log in and check your forwarded submissions.”
So, blue raspberry popsicle in hand, I visit https://www.plitsubmissions.org to log in and check my forwarded submissions and lo, there is a poem on my docket with three ctions. I stare at the .rtf file extension, stunned because I’ve ever actually seen someone use a .rtf file. I download it and consent to open the file. On the top margin, there is a name with three first names William Carlos Williams. I open a fresh google doc, write First Reader’s Comments, Specific Commentary, General Commentary, and leave a note for myself in bold to kindly enlighten the dude that it would be best to leave his name, address, among other details, off the physical submission.
And then I consume the poem:
I have eaten
that were in
you were probably
they were delicious
and so cold
My popsicle pools in a dramatic ocean of peacock blue at my feet. I must have dropped it in my trancing daydream of the epoch of originality and the unsettling degree to which I relate to this poem because, the other day, I rolled into the kitchen and swiped the last piece of holiday fruit cake, a remnant of my granny’s 81st birthday, that my father had purposely tucked away behind the cold chicken breasts and turkey jerky to salvage for himself. An extension of my mind is breathless as it comes to understand the raw guilt of the speaker who must have, like me, snuck into his freezer to swipe a snack, plums in his case, because he was desperate, sad, and hungry, until the first light of the morning came and asked him to consider his crime so much that guilt finally overtook him and prompted him to lie in front of the rightful heir to the plum saying forgive me, sire...the plum...it was just so cold, so… sweet.
I rush to begin my commentary:
S1, L1-2: bro, I really love the way this piece begins. It immediately thrusts the reader into the headspace of the narrator without warning and, from the start, envelops the audience. This is an excellent hook and a great way to captivate the reader from the start.
S1: I love the effect enjambment has here (and throughout the entire piece, really) as it helps seamlessly carry one thought from one line to the next while also stopping the reader from naturally pausing, forcing the idea to read as one whole fluid unit -- it brings a nice rhythm about the piece, kind of like a Billie Eilish song.
S2: yo, I notice that, in this stanza, everything is written in the lowercase, a style that usually indicates an informal, casual tone. First of all, I can’t imagine how annoying it must have been when Word or Google Docs continually autocorrected each line to be uppercase. You are a real trooper, sport, for putting up with the wrath of autocorrect. Personally, I see the lowercase as something chosen to deflate the ego and divorce the narrator of this poem from the standards of society, creating an incredibly intimate experience.
S2, L7: The enjambment here works great, but, personally, when I read this line out loud, I think that the poem has more rhythm to it when “saving for” is on one line and “breakfast” is on its own line. I think that shorter last lines to stanzas add greater momentum and emphasis on the content of the line. I would recommend reading both versions out loud and seeing which you like better.
S3, L9: The choice to uppercase “Forgive me” is expertly done here. The sudden switch back to the uppercase brings emphasis and a harder, more formal tone to this line to the point of sincerity.
S3, L10-12: I love the humor in these lines -- even though the narrator asks for forgiveness, the audacity that he or she has to then proceed to brag about how good the plums he stole and ate were to the person the plums rightfully belonged to is hilarious.
S3, L11: I think that this part of the poem is a great spot for vivid imagery to add to the visual experience of the reader. As I said before, I personally find this scene to be hilarious and I think that some sort of graphic presentation will allow the reader to fully envision the characters and the scene. Though, arguably, it is true that doing so may detract the left-on-the-refrigerator-note effect you may have been aiming for.
S3: Generally, also, I love that the narrator doesn’t explicitly state that he or she ate the plums -- instead they show it by revealing that the plums were “so sweet” and “so cold.” I also love how after the first stanza, the narrator refers to the plums as “they” or by other indirect means such as “which.” Perhaps this piece is meant to be a metaphor for what it feels like to lose someone to death, feeling so guilty that you can’t say their name anymore because the thought of them is so painful?
As I am shifting through the profound lyrics of the piece, a chaotic part of me wonders if there is anything beyond the surface-level narrative of this poem. And why does the speaker choose to steal plums, of all things, when they are sold for mere cents at Costco and there are more desirable things to eat (Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, for example)? Another dramatic part of me points out that a single sentence broken up into four-word lines and three stanzas is a strange way to apologize for stealing someone’s snack, but I quickly explain to my ignorant self that there is true artistic meaning to every intricate detail in this piece -- like perhaps the line breaks and overall lack of upper-case is meant to mimic the relentless fear the narrator felt when he was rolling on the kitchen floor, looking sharply left and right, checking that there are no witnesses to the inevitable future crime, shuffling quietly passed the microwave and pantry of nutella hazelnut cocoa spread to not wake anyone, swiftly reaching into the depths of the freezer for the plums.
Or maybe the fact that the narrator spends 25% of the poem talking about how delicious the stolen plums were is meant to hint to the reader that the poor dude is a broke pre-med college student working part-time as a waiter at iHop and the plums in the freezer are the only things to bring a little happiness into his life. I relate to him and, in the spirit, I go onto Amazon and buy a fresh crate of plums, wiping away a tear as I realize that today is Monday and that means that tomorrow is Tuesday, which means that the day after tomorrow is Wednesday, and on Wednesday I always wear blue socks but my only pair of blue socks have a hole in them now so I can’t do that anymore. The point is: I too need to steal plums to be happy, to enjoy a little bit of hilarity. This is the metaphor (death is not the meaning of this piece, afterall), the hidden, abstract message, the symbolism behind the words of this piece. It is beautiful.
Thank you for submitting “This is Just to Say” to Polyphony Lit! I love how everything down to your choice of when to lowercase and when to uppercase carries meaning and has an effect on the overall aesthetic of the poem. This wacky note-left-on-the-refrigerator feel to it starts off the piece and is carried throughout, bringing a unique flavor. I originally thought that this piece was an elaborate metaphor for sudden, unexpected death but I realized later that this poem is about happiness. I just want you to know that I bought a crate of assorted plums from Amazon after reading your piece and will be throwing a plum party at my house. If you’re in the northern New Jersey region anytime soon, feel free to come over and share a plum with me. I’ve realized that the key to not losing your blue socks in your laundry and having to wear one striped purple sock and one blue sock on Wednesday is to eat plums. That’s why the speaker of this note asked for forgiveness but then explained to the rightful heir to the plums at the end that the plums made him happy. cuz they were so sweet….so cold. I know that stealing is bad and immoral and probably illegal, but I was inspired by this plum stealer and would never turn him into the slammers for a million bucks. Thank you for sharing your work and bringing something so profound and original to the poetry realm. Oh, and thank you again for submitting to Polyphony Lit!
notes: [only for internal records ]:
sup, people. plum, anyone? Party at my house. dm me on google hangouts to attend.
Rationale for Accept:
This piece is da bomb. It’s moved me in inexplicable ways.
What famous poem would you edit with Polyphony guidelines?
Zoha Arif is a Second Reader at Polyphony Lit and the Managing Editor at Voices.