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The Playwrights Forum > The Art & Craft of Writing > Poet's Corner : Critique my Poem > Weekend in Perugia

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 Posted: Wed May 16th, 2007 06:10 am
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Jim
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Any comments?  This was originally written in 1998 and has undergone a number of revisions.  Jim

Weekend in Perugia

Beneath the echoes of the tourists
Crossing by the Piazza,
Resting at the fountain,
Stopping for lunch,
The footfalls and rhythms
Of unheard ancient treads
Step muffled under the sun.

But, when evening draws,
Perugians recapture the square
And the Piazza echoes
To children’s shouts
And parents’ conversations
Animated by domestic news,
Football and Forza Italia.

This plaza once roared
With the bellows of other throngs -
The sweat and spittle of men
Enraged in battle. Afterwards,
With triumphant shouts, the condottieri
Strung up their vanquished
From the Palazzo walls.

When the corpses had fallen still,
And men vomited their guilt away,
The chants of priests
Rose from thirty altars
Atoning for their princes’ sin
With the blood still clotted
In the cobblestones.

In the stillness of the night
A woman's shout beyond the square
Startles the rattle of the city's past
Layered behind medieval walls,
Where families with pedigrees
Older than Perusia and Perusna
Watch Italian television.


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 Posted: Wed May 16th, 2007 03:19 pm
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in media res
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Jim

I like both of your poems very much.

Only question in "Farewell" is the words "Warm and intimate." How does the writer - the observer - in this case know they are warm and intmate?

Is there a suggestion that he also has tasted those warm and intimate lips himself? if that is the case, the poem goes even deeper than what originally appears, which makes it a terrific poem filled with longing and loss. Otherwise how would he know?

Am I reading too much into it?

Or is he merely the observer?

Perugia is most wonderful. It captures thoughts of any traveler when one knows the history of a place. And the sadness of some people who may not even know their own rich and painful history.

best,

in media res

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 Posted: Fri May 18th, 2007 05:49 am
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Jim
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IMR,

Thanks for the incisive comments.

Farewell

Only question in "Farewell" is the words "Warm and intimate." How does the writer - the observer - in this case know they are warm and intmate?
Indeed!  But, how do you know the observer is male?  Of course, these are also colleagues of the observer, so if he or she knows them both well, the observer might be sure that they are having an affair, or even know it; or might know them both well enough to see their affection and desire.

Is there a suggestion that he also has tasted those warm and intimate lips himself? if that is the case, the poem goes even deeper than what originally appears, which makes it a terrific poem filled with longing and loss. Otherwise how would he know?
Ah, yes, there is that possibility. 

What's in the poem is more than I can guess.  But, I did try to portray longing and desire, tempered with discretion.  The observer's closing of the blind is partly the ritual of the end of the day and partly in deference to the intimacy of the moment.

But that is not all: as reader, you might ask whether the woman reciprocates and, if she does not, that would place an entirely different cast on the poem again?

I think you've picked out nicely some of the intircacy that might lurk there.

Perugia

Perugia ... captures thoughts of any traveler when one knows the history of a place. And the sadness of some people who may not even know their own rich and painful history.
Mmm!  I tried to inculcate a number of themes into this poem, which I have been working on over a number of years.

Some of the pertinent memories of my two days and nights in Perugia before attending a conference in Bologna were of the hot square, bright in the midday sun, with tourists resting in the shade.  At night, the piazza was absolutely packed with the locals promenading and the din was incredible.  Later in the night, there were the restaurants skirting the space.  In my pensione, I was awake in the early hours.  The night was quiet and still.  My room was over one of the alleyways that run off the central square.  Down below, close by a woman was bawling out her man.  So, these memories found their way into the poem.

In an ancient city like this tourists, for the most part, barely touch the surface of the ages.  I've seen tourists whisked into a room of Rembrandt and Titian in the Uffizi in Florence and spend 5 minutes before they rush off somewhere else.  That sort of thing.  So, I imagined in the poem, which I started well after the trip, the ghosts of the past, beyond the senses, but there if you strained to hear them (muffled treads).

I tried to link the low echoes from the past to the noisy promenade at dusk.  I knew that the City's rulers were a pretty vicious lot, and from time to time they captured some of the surrounding cities.  I found the story of a particularly bloody battle in the square, where 30 priests did celebrate atonement masses.

So, that was a nice contrast to both the Perugians' takeover of the Piazza in their evening promenade and the daytime flow of tourists.  I was not trying to draw a picture of the locals not knowing their history.  I think they probably would: it was an Etruscan city and there would be families whose lineage went back that far.  The irony is that while this tourist, at least, appreciated the wonder of its age - people have lived there for up to two millenia or more - living in structures that might extend back past the renaissance and the middle ages, people in a town that had a fierce  sense of its place in the world and stamped itself on the surrounding valleys and cities, sat down watching Italian TV.  An earlier version somewhat more clumsily tried to express this:

Yet, while Perugia ruled
Over the Tiber valley
With fear and slaughter,
This bloodythirsty town
Spawned beautiful Raphael,
And Bonfigli painted
Pious frescos for meditation.


Modern Italy veneers
This ancient town of the dodecapoli
But in the middle of the night
Below my pensione window
A woman screams suspicion
Upon her man’s lateness.
Then the silence subsides
Into the murky spirits
Of Umbria and Etruria
Layered behind medieval walls
Where families with pedigrees
Older than Perusna and Perusia
Watch Italian television.
 
Cheers,

Jim

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