poetry critical

online poetry workshop

the psalms of wasps and other stinging insects

audio available at
done with edits, thanks to hobby, DianaTrees, and all, this is ready to shop out to journals.

I offer you nothing
save this poverty,
this idleness,
this listless pressing into sticky sheets,
these faint thrusts made
to drive away
the frustrating hours
of broken things
and antique happinesses.
Come shed your skin,
leave your humid darkness on the door frame;
we will watch wasps walk south across
chipped-paint windowsills
on breezeless, unemployed August mornings,
our pulsing necks still strained,
our thirsts unchanged.

3 Jul 06

Rated 8.9 (8.4) by 22 users.
Active (22): 1, 1, 8, 9, 9, 9, 9, 9, 9, 9, 9, 9, 9, 10, 10, 10, 10, 10, 10, 10, 10, 10
Inactive (9): 1, 2, 5, 9, 9, 9, 9, 10, 10

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makes me hot, sticky and sour. Brilliant writing.
 — unknown

i remember nights and days  like that
 — unknown


I’m not sure Psalms is an appropriate choice for the title, as the poem’s construction is not lyrical, nor does it refer to the acoustics of a wasp in its content. Perhaps Lament would better suit?

‘but’ on L2 could be replaced with a stronger word. You mentioned the enjambment in your notes L3 & 4 offer a good opportunity to employ this technique, consider:

this idleness, listless
pressing into sticky sheets,

where ‘listless’ can be used to develop and reinforce ‘idleness’ on L3 or be read with L4 as you had originally intended.

L8, ‘things’ is not the strongest word selection, perhaps something such as ‘articles’?

‘tack’ is an excellent choice, ‘paint’, to me, would have been the easy, soft choice.

L9-10 work well, I’d leave them as is.

I stumbled a little with lines 13-15, I think it’s the use of ‘on’ in L13 and again on L15, in the first instance perhaps ‘across’, ‘along’ or something similar?

I think your suggestion of replacing ‘Mondays’ with ‘mornings’ is spot on, Mondays is too specific. The poem losses some credibility as the reference to ‘breezeless Mondays in August’ is such a concrete image, but one which the reader knows the author cannot govern. However mornings allows for opportunity and is much less dictating.

The last two lines are the crux of my critique, I do not see where pulsing necks come from, the rest of the poem has been quite submissive, even down to the walking wasp – pulsing seems overly forceful and does not seem to relate to any of the proceeding images. The last line is, to me, is (and I hate to say it) weak and clichéd, I know there is a far stronger close which this rest of this poem deserves.

Overall some good strong writing and an enjoyable read,
 — hobby

    Hobby -- thanks bunches.  Good call re: "walk south 'on'," changed it to read "across" as suggested, and I think I was just hoping someone would slap me on "Mondays" and remind me not to bind up the reader too much.  
   Line 2 now reads "save this poverty" instead of "but."
   I'll look again at the enjambment suggestion for lines 3-4 when I'm alert enough to wrap my head around your comment.
   I have to admit the last two lines were a stretch.  I was writing this out in front of Strong Hall on campus, and it was hot and muggy and my attitude was for s***; what I really wanted to hint at was (and this is probably TMI) the aggravation of sweat soaking into one's underthings (so as to leave the reader with that grungy eroticism), but my brain seized up & "our thirsts unquenched" just came out.  I'll reconsider soon.
   Thanks for the read, and the suggestions.
 — mikkirat

Given the prelude to this, I expected much less. I am delighted to find much more.

tack does not work. Humid darkness suggests a shadow, an insubstantial thing: nothing that could be held by tacking. You've wisely discarded paint. Consider -- for both sonics and visual -- leave and replace on with at.

Come shed your skin,
leave your humid darkness at the door frame;

The shifting meaning of leave -- enjambed as it is -- takes this poem easily into the following lines.

August mornings is a good choice.
 — DianaTrees

    DianaTrees, thanks; while I liked "tack your humid darkness on the door frame," you're right in the nature of "humid darkness," and "leave" is a much softer segue.
   hobby, just so you know, I'm still contemplating "things" in line 8; what I hoped to get at was the feeling and observation that all disintegrates, falls apart, and how each day seems like an Herculean effort at patching things together, and "articles" seems a bit impersonal.  Maybe it's just a Kansas thing, who knows, but for now, "things" seems more natural to me than "articles," even though those lines (8-10) are pretty abstract anyway.
   Thank you both, I hope you'll revisit.
 — mikkirat

My two cents: combine lines 9 and 10.  

Beautiful and breathtaking, as usual.  

Oh---and you're hot.  ;)
 — Machsee

wonderful writing Mikki
 — youngone

    Thanks, youngone.  You're a gem.
   Machsee, you're making me blush, and that ruins my tan (and my poetic abilities).  You'd prefer it read, "and antique/incomplete happinesses.", or is that too clunky?  I'm considering a simple "and antique happinesses" as well.
 — mikkirat


Thanks for considering my comments.

I like the revisions so far - antique happiness does read better and works just as well.

While I agree entirely with Diana on her observation that humid suggests the intangible and can not therefore literally be tacked to the doorframe, I read this as a follow-on from L11 (as the comma instructs us to do) where you shed your skin, the humid darkness being the metaphorical (and literal) hollow left inside the skin sleeve, in this sense tack works fine. Diana is correct on the sonics, ‘tack’ is a hard word and does sit against the submissive feel of the poem, to keep the feel and add consonance to the line perhaps ‘hang your humid darkness on the door frame’? - just a thought.

 — hobby

    hobby -- thanks again.  I merged lines 9/10 and dropped "incomplete."  I'll still consider "'hang' your humid darkness" for line 11, but for now "leave" seems best.  While I know "pulsing necks" in line 15 might still seem to come out of the blue, I hope substituting "unchanged" for "unquenched" defuses the cliche aspect of the final line.
   Thanks again for your revisit.
 — mikkirat

Amazingly sensual.  I enjoyed every aspect of this and can offer no advice.
Great job.
 — MEB

Thanks for the read and the kind words, MEB.  Have a lovely summer, and many quiet mornings.
 — mikkirat

right here with you. nice poem mikki.

 — unknown

Nice observations, especially like lines 14 to 16.
 — Meep

    Thanks, Meep.  Although I hadn't revisited this, I did still wonder over the last few lines, and your approval is reassuring.  They're an odd sensation I don't expect everyone to identify, but I am happy you find it satisfying.  
 — mikkirat

dark, chilling, real. Where did this come from? great poem.
 — bleach

sense pain for certain, i hope that was the aim. was intrigued by the title. nice.
 — listen

    listen -- thanks, there is pain and longing as well here.  I used "psalm" in the title with the meaning of "sacred song," as wasps signify for me a an existence oppressed by heat, poverty and hopelessness, a place of rusty taps, water-stained ceilings, and broken windowscreens, such that there is little point in killing one wasp when another will take its place soon enough...

    bleach, thanks; this just rumbles up from the gut on scorching hot mornings, maybe wishing for a companion, a lover, but instead just laying in a headachey pool of sweat awash in memories and worrying that rent is due.  As someone famous once said, "happiness writes white: it doesn't show up on the page," and this is one in black and white.  Thanks again for your read, and your comment.
 — mikkirat

great poem and comments, can feeeel it.  
 — oracle

"we will watch wasps walk south across
chipped-paint windowsills
on breezeless, unemployed August mornings"

That's pure gorgeous, right there.
 — WindingRhyme

oh my fucking god.
 — OKcomputer

Will elaborate.
 — OKcomputer

Sooner than sooner's opposite.
 — OKcomputer

I absolutely love the juxtaposition of the first 3 lines. The way they are all embodied in the way of life of the wasp and that in turn parallels the human condition is superlatively well drawn in a set of well chosen images and poignant sentiment. My only gripe about the first stanza is the necessity for line 9. I'm not sure it's needed. The way the power of the metaphor is hammered home in stanza two and the the way the  parellels are made more profound is almost too good - the protagonists felt almost monstrous by the end, but that is the anthropormorphism of the human condition is it not|? Fantastic poetry.
 — opal

The opening line is a promise of coming contradiction.  You don’t disappoint in the second strophe.

“listless pressing” works very well.  It bothers me that I can so well relate to that.

“frustrating” falls a bit flat for me.  Would none of its synonyms work?  I like the thought of “provoking hours”.

In 11, “on” to me, does not reinforce the image (dimesion) of the door frame; consider “in”.

A strong ending for a strong poem.
 — housepoppy

This is a miserable and arrogant piece of writing.  Bleah.
 — unknown

someones a lil suisidle!
 — unknown

This is such a great poem.

 — unknown

 — unknown

This and these seem to be used for effect, they give an impression of apathy that one might consider to be terminal, but it isn't.  
 — unknown

    Thanks, oracle; WindingRhyme, glad you liked 12-14, that is the part I like most.

    opal -- you're right, line 9 is probably the weakest line in the poem, and while "things" in line 8 might suffice to rhyme "sheets" (4), I tend toward keeping "antique" (9).  Plus housepoppy is right on "frustrating" being a bit flat in line 7, and if I ditched line 9, the first stanza would end "to drive away/the frustrating hours/of broken things" and I think that would accentuate both.  I will try to find a way to work around that, but don't hold a lot of hope.

    housepoppy, thanks for the suggestion, but I think "provoking" takes the poem in a different direction.  Would "aggravating" work for you?  I'm considering it.  

    Oh, and yes, line 4; I wish I didn't know so well what lifeless "sex-because-there's-nothing-better-to-do" felt like.
 — mikkirat

     Oh, and OKcomputer -- I'm still waiting, LOL.
 — mikkirat

 — unknown

Well in a S and M versus come watch wasps with me world I'd have to chose a home made flower, sorry.  
 — unknown

suddenly it became a competition - it had all been one big chappy trick.  Amelia laughed and stabbed Dave through the heart with a Rolex...
 — unknown

really didn't like the repetition os "this" on lines 2, 3 and 4, but i do like this poem. the second stanza is amazing.
 — inutile


and also, is the alliteration on line 12 intentional? it just seems out of place. maybe change "watch" and "walk" to words that don't start with "w"? i don't know.
 — inutile

I'm impressed by the
striking descriptions in this poem.
To me, 15&16's wording seem awkward-
but I do like the sentiment
of what I think is said there.
All in all, beautiful writing.
 — Krttika

I'm perplexed, what wasps?
 — unknown

Just finished an audio recording of this, available at

http://sunflowe r.com/~mikkirat/wasps.mp3

 — mikkirat

I just got home from an awkward sexual experience.

I hardly ever elaborate outwardly on other people's poetry. Nor do I ever read it. In a completely self-aggrandizing way, consistently, I find my own artworks to be of a higher importance altogether. I usually visit my own poetry and literary works to lavish over and over again in my own mind's abilities. Indeed, this is the only reason I continue to visit this site. I admit this outwardly.

That being said (in order to emphasize the importance of your work in comparison) I came across this poem on accident. And it is of such a high caliber and literal expertise that I found it to be nothing less than vital that I let you know.

Upon my first reading, I found this work to be, in all honesty, a sincere reflection of my own heart, of my own experience in living; not exclusive this particular type of interaction encounter, but a derivation of all small divinities and petty achings of the human soul. Living as a specimen observing his own science.

Upon my second reading, which was today - which was right now - I began sobbing, because of the above-detailed thoughtful and accurate character of your writing, but also because my second reading was either well-timed or the opposite, I cannot tell.  

As for the dissection of the words and the groupings thereof. Line 14: Yesterday was August 14th.

Line 3 describes itself and does it well, quietly and without moving.

When one reminds the pair of lines who are Fifteen and Sixteen of the very first, they stand up straight and confident having proven it wrong.

It is beautiful.
 — OKcomputer

OK, I'm done; done with edits and done: I adore you.  I'll paste your comments to my bedroom wall with paste made from tap water and flour that the sugar-ants ruined, and frame it with tiling caulk.  Hop a train to Kansas, come take everything I have, and leave without saying goodbye.  It will make for a brighter decade.
 — mikkirat

For you are a poet at heart, this is far from done. Accomplished, maybe. Polishes yes. Done, not in the leas, on a dreary day in December this will recall memories of July, warmer times - inspiration will envelop you and without conscious decision revision will ensue.

Great poem, I've loved watching it develop
 — hobby

 — unknown

Kinked neck 3 days and nights *ouch*
Human serpentine, the 2nd stanza is art.
the 1st would better remain private--
it seems like you can't contain it
have to share it but it's gross and lacking
riches worth reading. 2nd though, an un-
conscious glimpse of your totem and how
it manifests in human changes!
 — C

Oh, excuse me, or maybe you're insects shedding?
I forgot they do that. We used to collect cicada
shells in Okinawa...
 — C

I like the poem. But I'm not happy with the word antique. It's original but somehow doesn't work with the word happinesses. How about old, past?
 — unknown

break my heart, why don't you?  
 — Isabelle5

Yeah, "psalms" is slightly misleading.  But the diction of this piece is such that I felt the atmosphere in my body.  Very little art these days tends to induce my sense memory, so for that reason, I am highly impressed.

L4 -- a linebrteak after "pressing" here could compress the stanza into a tighter form, but that's not really your style from what I've seen.  Just a suggestion.
L9 -- "antique happinesses" is thick on the tongue, which is good, it tumbles the rhythm into rubble, and carries with it the frustration and awkwardness of inarticulate romance (in my mind).  But to couple that with "things" in L8?  I don't know.  I can't think of anything better myself, but maybe you'd like to experiment with it.
L11 is perhaps one of my favorite lines of poetry ever.
L16 "thirsts unchanged" is, like the ending line on S1, rhythmically difficult.

All told, this is definitely a 10 and a favorite of mine.
 — aurelius

very nicely done.
All the previous comments on the feelings this evokes etc...are my words to you too.
 — jenakajoffer

The title does not appear to make any sense especially in relation to wasps.

The buzz of an angry or agitated wasp bears little relation to the lyrical compositions of religious significance normally present in psalms.

The sibilant hiss in lines two three and four was, to say the least, annoying,
Further more the inclusion in lines two and four of “this” was unnecessary, its inclusion adds nothing by way of information and is therefore superfluous.

The speaker in line two offers penury by virtue of “save this poverty” which poverty does the speaker refer too.?

In order for any article or item to be considered antique, it has to be least one hundred years old, can happiness be a hundred years old, or is it being suggested that collectively happiness’s live longer the singular happiness.

Line eleven is nonsense, however why not make it total nonsense –Leave your humid darkness in its doorway.

There must be a reason for wasps to walk south on several windowsills, (More than one) maybe the answer is contained in the next line.

“Chipped paint windowsills” seem to provide the clue. It would appear the windowsills were in fact made of paint, albeit of a chipped nature.

Maybe the wasps were dying, it was after all August, and most wasps live only for one season, though some types can live for more than a year in favourable conditions.

Line fifteen and sixteen, obviously the strain of watching wasps walking south has caused a neck strain to the poverty stricken, and idle onlookers, whilst their thirsting continues unabated...

For a prose exercise about wasps, there was surprisingly, very little forthcoming that one could term as being of interest.  

 — Mor

The sibilant hiss stimulates me, it doesn't annoy me.
"save this poverty" seems a personal anecdote on the empty nature of the speaker's relationship with his lover, since it is grouped with "idleness" and "listless".
Line 11 is not total nonsense -- it's sexual, and beckoning.
Everything else...agreed.  Although I still find it interesting.
 — aurelius

It really does leave a stickiness on your tongue, very yummy, I guess. The sexual referances are obvious, but subtle and elegant. Very much enjoyed, 10.
 — dreamergirl

Bravissimo!  I wish I could write like THIS!!!! Wahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!
 — starr

Did you get this published yet?

love it

 — unknown

I read a way better poem on poverty. I think this was a good topic it seems like not really absurbed by you or like you ever experienced it. So I don't think your heart is there for this subject matter. Infact I think you should be homeless for a week then rewrite this poem. It wasn't bad for a spoiled kid thoguht so here is an 8.
 — Jillian

This is the best poem I have read here in a very long time. Kudos.
 — madderhatter

this makes me shiver...i love it. amazing words, my friend...
 — GreenDreams

  ~ ' That's really pretty,
even though it sends a horrid, yet true, message . . . '
 — unknown

Very good poem I love your choice of words like antique happinesses. Man thats good I think this poem is great.  
 — vida

enjoyable, relaxing syntax and flow. impressively done.
 — unknown