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Last walk (2nd draft)

by Starve

Broken-in shoes resist the urge to sit

as they hurry past the ghosts of known faces,

dragging out an end that my time here knit.

I leave un-whole from this town, I’ll admit

only people can fill others’ empty spaces.

Broken-in shoes resist the urge to sit.

An intense urge to mend a needless rift

made years ago ends in imagined embraces,

dragging out an end that my time here knit.

The wind blows in jagged parts of me that don’t quite fit

but I must look for sandpaper in the next town’s graces.

Broken-in shoes resist the urge to sit.

The old dog’s tail says something we won’t admit,

like moribund patients smiling with life’s last traces,

dragging out an end that my time here knit.

Standing next to my seat on the train, I can’t quit—

trembling arms won’t let go of memory-suitcases .

Broken-in shoes resist the urge to sit,

dragging out an end that my time here knit.

This is about leaving your hometown for the last time. First draft ->

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Wed Jun 03, 2020 4:51 am
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Mea wrote a review...

Hey Traves! Always a pleasure to see a review request from you. Consider this my customary warning that I am extremely rusty at reviewing and only somewhat of a poetry reviewer anyway (and most definitely cannot compete with @alliyah), and let's dive right in. (One extra caveat - I've never written a villanelle but know the form.)

My first thought is that both of your refrains are really strong and central to the theme. They tie the poem together well and I always felt re-focused whenever the poem returned to them. This was a big bonus. The image of broken-in shoes is easily my favorite in the poem because it captures a wanderer so well. My only quibble is that I would strongly prefer "the" to "an" in "dragging out an end that my time here knit," because something about "an" just feels ambiguous to me. It seems to suggest that the narrator has a lot of these endings in their life, which I don't think is what you intended. "The" also adds alliteration, which makes the line read more smoothly out loud.

I'm not quite sure how to feel about the flow of this poem. Line-by-line, it does not flow very smoothly, but because of the repetition of the villanelle form it still creates a rather unique cadence. In some ways, the disjointed flow creates a more disconnected feeling similar to what the narrator is experiencing. I enjoyed that.

As a note, although this poem is clearly about leaving, I would not have guessed that the narrator was leaving specifically their hometown. Although I look back and see lots of indicators that this town is one the narrator has lived in a long time and that leaving will leave a huge hole in their life, I couldn't make sense of many those clues on my first read, and wound up focusing more on images like the "next town's graces," which feel more transitional.

Okay, let's talk about what I couldn't make sense of at first, which was mostly these two lines:

An intense urge to mend a needless rift

made years ago ends in imagined embraces,

I think the narrator here, wishing he could make up with someone before leaving, is imagining that mending and the embraces that follow, but it's not actually happening. It took me until copy/pasting this quote and trying to summarize it that I figured that out; I think it's an artifact of the awkward sentence structure and lack of punctuation to guide the eye. "Ends" is also a verb that could apply to either the urge or the rift and I'm not sure which.

The old dog’s tail says something we won’t admit,

like moribund patients smiling with life’s last traces,

I really like this image, but it also threw me for a loop because you don't actually say what the dog's tail is doing or what that motion says that they won't admit. With the absence of one or the other, I could infer, but with the absence of both I have no idea. That being said, from the next line I'm getting the idea of inevitable end and fake politeness, and imagining family/friends keeping up an appearance of friendliness as they wish the narrator goodbye. This informs my reading of the two previous lines, but I'm still unsure if that implies the dog's tail is wagging, staying still, or doing something else entirely.

Similarly, suitcases full of memory is a great metaphor, but "memory-suitcases" is distractingly awkward.

I suppose my main takeaway is that I'm finding a lot of evocative images here to dig into upon re-read, many of which I missed or didn't appreciate on the first read through because of awkward sentence structure burying the subtleties. However, the structure and content of the poem is solid - each stanza presents a new concept/experience in conjunction with this theme of leaving, and they build on each other to create a compelling picture. Some lines of this poem - like "Broken-in shoes resist the urge to sit" and "I'll leave un-whole from this town, I'll admit," are honestly haunting, and have stayed in my brain long after I first read this piece two days ago. The rest just isn't there yet, and though I think focusing more on clarity and less on implication will help add enough information to those lines for the reader to understand them better, mostly it's going to be the effort of making lines rhyme while preserving clear sentence structure as much as possible.

All right, hopefully this is at least useful and not a "do it magically this way" review. I mostly wanted to break down my thought processes as I was reading this and where my barriers to understanding were. I didn't read any of the other reviews, so as to give you a fresh take. Let me know if you have any questions or want to discuss any of this further; it's late and I can feel my brain rapidly slipping, so I think I'll leave this here. Good luck with your redrafting!

Starve says...

Thanks a lot for this comprehensive review @Mea ! It is helpful in more than one way, because it helps me decide what to keep in and what not to, and what to work towards as much out more than any of the previous reviews, as you very accurately capture the ideas around particular pieces of the imagery that I myself wasn't distanced enough from the work to see. I'll definitely use this information for the next draft(s).
As for the dogs tail part, I'm glad that you read that much into it, because I did mean all that. But since even you were unsure, then i have to work on clarity more than anything else as the other reviewers have pointed out.

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Sun May 31, 2020 11:46 pm
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EditorAndPerks wrote a review...

Hello! Thank you for requesting a review, and I'm looking forward to going over this villanelle. I hope to make this review not super long but long enough to give some main pointers for a future edit.

To start with, I want to go over what I interpret the poem to be about, at least from the refrains and the overall word use.

From the first line, the reader is greeted with someone leaving their town - describing different aspects of what they are leaving and what they are taking with them, the people they are leaving behind, the tales and history that they carry to the next place, and of course, a whole deal of memories that eventually had to lead to them saying farewell. There's definitely a nostalgic feeling here, whether it's wanted by the speaker or not, and an interesting attitude towards this town - mixed with good, bad, and images more hinted at than completely explained.

For this to be about someone leaving a town, I think the refrains of "Broken-in shoes resist the urge to sit / dragging out an end that my time here knit" does a nice job at keeping with that theme. I also would like to point out that these two lines have a nice rhythm and have the same syllable count (10!) so having either as the beginning/concluding line to each stanza was a nice read.

I must admit to not knowing exactly how villanelles are meant to be formatted, but I would recommend perhaps cutting how many stanzas are here -

I leave un-whole from this town, I’ll admit

I feel like this line is a neat image, of imagining someone losing parts of themselves to a town, to a place they had called their own. I actually think mixing this image with this later line would add more to this picture:
The wind blows in jagged parts of me that don’t quite fit
would be an interesting link in my opinion, to show how the speaker is "un-whole" by contrasting "jagged" portions. I would suggest maybe taking 1-2 words out of this second line so that the beats/syllables match up nicely.

In addition, I think the middle sections of this poem fall a bit short in terms of a story and image - "I must look for sandpaper" is an interesting thing to consider, but I want more of a metaphor-tie-in with the overall message - even like debating on whether the sandpaper is to smooth away the imperfections left by the speaker losing pieces, or perhaps, to erase their memories/impressions inside themselves. That's probably going too philosophical in a short line, but I like the potential! The "dog's tail" line has been discussed previously, so I can only say that this doesn't work well in this current form - reading over your comments, it could represent something interesting though, so I'd like to see some kind of edit go towards that.

I also definitely liked the ending - I like the lines tying in well with each other, although I must agree with previous reviewers to say that the refrain almost seems a little disconnected from the rest of the poem's metaphors and imagery - working on shifting around figurative language to make the "important" symbols stand out would do good in making this more precise.

I realize that this turned out to be way longer than I meant it to be, but I did like this poem a lot and I think there are some very good lines that might need a bit of tweaking. I hope this helped!

Starve says...

Thanks for the detailed review @EditorAndPerks !
The format of the villanelle is fixed at 19 lines (though not the syllable count), I do realize the ugliness that highly uneven syllable counts across lines can cause. All of the rest of your criticism and suggestions are duly noted, it'll help with writing the next draft a lot!

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Sun May 31, 2020 2:29 am
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alliyah wrote a review...

Hey Traves! Here as requested~! (remember that one time you requested a review and it literally took me like 4 months to review it! I'm redeeming myself today!) :)


So first I want to start out with an interpretation, in case that gives you any fruitful thoughts for other places the poem could delve into. With a villanelle the theme really becomes centered around how the progression of the refrains change or have their meaning added to by the end of the poem.The refrain of "broken in shoes resist the urge to sit" - felt like the speaker was being moved not by their own will; but by the forces around them (ie. "shoes" = their environment/ other people / maybe the economy etc) the statement in that refrain is intriguing and reminded me of one of the laws of physics that an object once in motion won't stop unless another object acts upon it. Once a person is used to moving or has been "broken-in" they will keep on moving.

And yet the contrasting theme is that the person feels knitted within the group or place that they're leaving. So this "tug" of movement and "pull" of their home were at odds continuously. The poem sort of hedges back and forth on whether they'll leave or stay and then in the end they do leave, but they stay in terms of keeping their memories (side note: I love the image of "memory-suitcases).

I think these two refrains are nice tension pieces - because they start as points conflicting, but in the last stanza feel like they resolve to exist together.

A Few Thoughts and Suggestions

Stanza 1
Good set-up, doesn't necessarally show that the subject is leaving but we get the idea there's some conflict between them and the people they're passing.

Stanza 2
I don't think the second line gives us enough, I think the idea of "empty spaces" is a good one; but it seems like the poem needs to get into the subject a little quicker that they're leaving/moving away.

Stanza 3
I actually really liked the third stanza - because of the knitting motif you used.

"An intense urge to mend a needless rift

made years ago ends in imagined embraces,"

"mend" and "rift" both can be sewing/knitting language and dig deeper into the conflict, and I actually read "needless" as "needles" at first. I wonder if you could fit in something about "loose ends" or anymore sewing/knitting imagery throughout the whole thing.

*Actually that's a little critique I had of the whole piece, is that you have two really good refrains - clear images, but you don't use the imagery from them elsewhere. I would love a bit more shoes/walking imagery or knitting imagery throughout the whole thing - or even a way to connect those two images more. You do linger on emptiness versus wholeness a bit, but that also doesn't get connected imagery-wise to the shoes or imagery.

The idea of "imagined embraces" is really heart-aching and striking.

Stanza 4
This stanza felt like it struggled the most with sound/flow, it felt a bit off. There's really no-need to go full on iambic pentameter in a modern villanelle, but if you can keep it near the same line-length and/or close to ten syllables I think it does help with flow.

That being said, I like the image you've got here of a person who doesn't feel like they fit, and are hoping the next town they'll feel like they belong. That gives us more insight into the conflict they have with the people of the town (although I still wish we had more details!).

Stanza 5
The dog line did not feel like it belonged to me, and felt odd that you switched from "I' to "we" in that stanza. I can't figure out the connection of the moribund patients either. This stanza felt like it was trying to dive more into the conflict or reason the speaker is moving, but it left me with more questions than answers.

Stanza 6
This stanza was strong and gave a sense of closure to the piece. I like the imagery, I like the idea of carrying the memories with.

My main critique is that you kind of have to tell a story in 10 lines here, and I think stanza 1 & 2 just gave you an introduction but didn't further the point or plot along, I wanted the poem to get more specific about what was happening sooner. I think that the reason the person was leaving and whether the conflict was between them not fitting or the people and them needs to be a bit more clear so that the reader feels attached to the speaker by the end. Ideally a villanelle should also have some sense of growth with how the refrains are understood by the end too; so if you can start with the speaker thinking one thing about leaving (like maybe "good riddance" or to take it a different direction "I'll never survive without them") and then build that arc so that in the end the refrains mean something different - makes the piece all the more powerful.

You've got a good basis, and your vocab-use / flow / imagery / metaphors are right on track, I think you just need to work on making your language really clearly communicate meaning - and maybe decide what you want that arc of the conflict to be.

Hopefully that made some sense! Let me know if you had any questions, or wanted feedback on something else specific!

- alliyah


Starve says...

Thanks @alliyah for the amazing and lightening fast review !
I think the majority of your criticism is caused by my inability to leave the first draft behind, in thought and words. The explanation you provide for the growth/progression and the refrain, although I read a little bit about it in the wikihow villanelle article, make a lot more sense to me when you applied it directly to my work.
The "we" in stanza 5 is also a victim of the same cause. I copy pasted it from the first draft. There it alluded to how the familiar dog is about to leave this world, similar to how i'm about to leave this town forever, and how we both silently acknowledge that fact without saying anything.

If possible, could you tell me whether the clarity of meaning (and story progression) is clearer in second draft or the first draft (since I saw that you read it)?

I think this is sufficient to get started on the next draft, thanks again!

alliyah says...

You're welcome, glad that helped!

I think the clarity of meaning between the two is about the same, though I do think the ordering of stanzas made a little more sense in the first draft specifically the second stanza (in this version's) placement (in the 1st version) because without the context of moving it doesn't mean much. I also really liked the phrase "moon - laces" that you used as that connected the shoe and knitting imagery together - so it'd be neat if you could work that into a final version.

Starve says...

I placed this draft's 2nd stanza there to state clearly that the narrator is leaving his town. I'll have to re-word that thought better instead of just pasting from the first draft I guess. As for the moon laces part, that's a great idea I didn't see that myself !

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Fri May 22, 2020 10:53 am
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ayushinav wrote a review...

Hey @Traves
This is more of an interpretation than a review, I guess.

The first stanza talks about you hurrying past the 'ghost' of know faces, which gives a negative impression, a temptation to run away from the know faces. Also the phrase 'dragging out' gives an impression that you had a hard time here.

Then, you say that you leave incomplete from the town. Now what I could gather was that (also because of the reference to the 'ghost of know faces') you have been short of what you wanted to be when you leave, and that was because of the voids created by the people that you feel will be filled by others.

In the third stanza, you again mention that you didn't get along with the people well, and you wished the time with them had ended in imaginary embraces. Here, I feel the last line puts in an extra effect, and you have subtly placed the emotions here.

The fourth stanza is a bit of deviation from the earlier chain in the aspect that you admit your own mistakes and faults. The 'jagged parts', I guess, are the pointed and rough ends of your character that you will try to mend with the 'sandstone'. Here, your expectations with the next town come into the light, again, as also had come in the second one. I could not totally grasp 'the wind' here, but it did add to the melancholic tone of the poem. I guess it's the memories? I could not really say, because you did not mention it anywhere else.

The fifth one is again a bit vague for me. I sense it says something like we are adamant in our beliefs but still the end forces a smile out of us, perhaps a brave and sadistic one. Maybe you were adamant in admitting your mistakes, and now you smile at the end, bravely (as you drag yourself out of the place?)

The last one takes a tinge of fear, fear of losing the people and friends you made there. You sense that though you want to move on, holding on to your memories makes it difficult. And it is here, that I like the line 'Broken-in shoes resist the urge to sit' more than anywhere.

Reading my first villanelle could not have been a better experience. You have very subtly linked the past to the future throughout your poem, and it draws admiration from me. The task of writing a villanelle is itself quite intimidating and you carried it out beautifully, editing one is even more. As I read your first draft, I feel you have made considerable improvements in this one, though we miss caesura here. :p

Nice work! Looking forward to reading more of your works.
If you feel I misinterpreted some part/s, do tell me so.

Starve says...

Thanks for the detailed review @ayushinav !

Some of your interpretations vary from what I had in mind but they are valid all the same. This interpretation also helps me in preparing for the next draft because the parts you feel confused by are because I changed the ordering while keeping some of the lines exactly the same from the first draft so I'll have to decide whether 3rd draft should be more like 2nd draft or 1st draft, a synthesis of the 2 might be out of my abilities

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Thu May 21, 2020 9:18 pm
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quitecontrary wrote a review...

Wow! This is really amazing! I’ve tried my hand at villanelles before, but they never end up quite right. I love your last stanza, and I feel like it really brings all the imagery in this piece together.
1. First off, I think you can drop the I’ll in exchange for just an I.
“I leave un-whole from this town, I’ll admit,”
You start off the stanza in present tense, and I think you should keep it that way.
2. Villanelles don’t always have to follow a syllable count, but usually the lines stay close around a set number. In the beginning the lines hover around 10 syllables, but towards the end they get longer. I suggest trying to cut down some of the lines(especially 10, 11, 13, and 14). For some reason the last stanza works well with two longer lines at the beginning, and you can decide whether or not they should be cut down a little.
3. In your second stanza the word “others’” seems arbitrary and only acts as a space-filler. I would suggest changing the line to something like this:
“Only people can fill life’s empty spaces”
4. This is only a tiny criticism, but your fifth stanza seems a little out of place. All of your other stanzas talk about YOU leaving, but this stanza talks about it in the sense of other people leaving. I think this could be a really powerful statement, especially with the new inclusion of “we” in the poem. I would just take another look at the syllable count in that stanza.
Overall, I think this is a really deep and well thought out poem. Great job!

Starve says...

Thanks for the great review @quitecontrary !

About the syllable count, I did not know about consistency being a requirement because I wrote this using the wiki how page on villanelle (highly recommend it).
I'll try to make them more consistent .they might become another poem altogether with the difference in lengths lel
As for others' I meant other people's empty spaces, it's not a filler. I'll think about the word choice in the next draft.

Starve says...

Thanks for the great review @quitecontrary !

About the syllable count, I did not know about consistency being a requirement because I wrote this using the wiki how page on villanelle (highly recommend it).
I'll try to make them more consistent .they might become another poem altogether with the difference in lengths lel
As for others' I meant other people's empty spaces, it's not a filler. I'll think about the word choice in the next draft.

I always like to look on the optimistic side of life, but I am realistic enough to know that life is a complex matter.
— Walt Disney