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Poem: "Where Have All the Heroes Gone?/Different Gifts" - The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
Poem: "Where Have All the Heroes Gone?/Different Gifts"
I am deeply honored by the enthusiasm of everyone who responded to haikujaguar's call for cosponsors. I'll get everyone listed in an update, but I'm still trying to match PayPal donations to LJ handles in some cases. EDIT 3-16-09: So far donations for this poem have come from: oldewolfe, haikujaguar, elusivetiger, dulcinbradbury, akaihyo, arielstarshadow, asakiyume, jasra, morenasangre, mtrose2, and janetmiles. If you are a new sponsor and don't know this yet, I always make a donor-perk-post which is custom-locked to people on my Donors list. Make sure I know your LJ name, I'll put you on my Friends list and that custom group, and then you'll be able to read the perks by clicking the "Donors" tag in the right sidebar of this blog. This month's perk is about epic poetry.

I want to get the poem up right now. The original format was two columns, but I'm not sure that'll fit here, so I'm just going to post this as first half and second half vertically for now. (janetmiles, if your offer to help with formatting is still open, I'll take you up on that.) This poem came out of the April 7, 2009 Poetry Fishbowl and was inspired by prompts from kadiera, haikujaguar, and moosl.

Where Have All the Heroes Gone?

Where have all the heroes gone?
I want a man who’ll fight till dawn,
Full of honor in the chase,
Not one who’ll bid me bear a mace.

I don’t want some knave’s largesse;
I am not held here by duress.
Where’s the hero, bold and hale,
Who’ll always save me, without fail?

I’m not here to rescue him
From all the monsters great and grim.
I’m the princess; he’s the knight –
That way it doesn’t seem quite right.

Something’s wrong; I don’t know why.
Must I live lonely till I die?
No one wants a gentle dame …
The world has changed, but I’m the same.

Where’s the hero I can love,
Who will accept my silken glove?
He must save me from my fate …
But ah, I fear it’s growing late.

My true love will never rest,
And he will recognize this test.
After winning his renown,
He must bear up my father’s crown.

Battle-maids may have their knaves
To weep like willows o’er their graves.
I will keep the knight who’s come
To rescue me, so venturesome.

Let the harpers have their say –
But I am Queen, and have my way –
For a story is no good
That helps not man- nor womanhood.

Different Gifts

Where have all the damsels gone?
I want a princess like a fawn,
Fair of manner as of face,
Not one who’ll fight me for my place.

I don’t want a lioness
Who will not deign to wear a dress.
Where’s the heroine in veil
Of satin, watching for my sail?

I will come to rescue her
From all the threats there ever were.
I’m the hero; she’s the maid –
And this is how our paths were laid.

Something’s wrong with girls these days,
Not satisfied with jewels and praise.
No one wants a manly man …
They want a knave, not what I am.

Where’s my princess; where’s my dove
Within her tower high above?
She must pledge to be my mate
Once I’ve saved her from dire strait.

My true love will make us blessed
When I have won her through a quest.
After wearing her white gown,
She must bear heirs and lay them down.

Knaves may have their battle-maids
All dressed in armor, bells on braids.
I will keep the maid I’ve found
And plucked from tower, spell unbound.

Let the bards sing what we ken –
Let maids be maids, and men be men –
For we all have different gifts
That should make bridges, never rifts.

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Current Mood: grateful grateful

21 comments or Leave a comment
dulcinbradbury From: dulcinbradbury Date: April 16th, 2009 07:14 pm (UTC) (Link)
I donated under amandacbauer :)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: April 16th, 2009 07:52 pm (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

Donation noted and logged; you're currently on the Donors list so you can read the perk-post.
cimeara From: cimeara Date: April 16th, 2009 08:28 pm (UTC) (Link)
I waffled about contributing based on the samples shown in haikujaguar's LJ. This is not quite what I'd expected from her description of it, and I'm now rather relieved I didn't help. It is what it is, which is one point of view that, true, doesn't get shown much these days. But it's not "I want to be gentle/I want to be bold" in any current context, it's strictly retro and needs a Howard Pyle illustration more than any other sort.
asakiyume From: asakiyume Date: April 16th, 2009 09:02 pm (UTC) (Link)
Hello new LJ friend!

I'm glad your maiden and knight found each other--they are a good pair.

I don't quite agree with the sentiment, "Let maids be maids, and men be men," though. I'd like to support the maiden with the embroidery, but I'd like to support maiden with the sword, too.

But I'm happy to have helped make this poem possible--I want to support all sorts of poetic voices, not just mirrors of my own thoughts!

fayanora From: fayanora Date: April 16th, 2009 10:23 pm (UTC) (Link)
The damsels are all born men these days. :-)
haikujaguar From: haikujaguar Date: April 16th, 2009 10:33 pm (UTC) (Link)
Ouch. O_O
fayanora From: fayanora Date: April 18th, 2009 12:49 am (UTC) (Link)
Now that I think of it, I should clarify what I meant: it seems the only women who are the feminine "rescue me" types anymore are some MTF T-girls.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: April 18th, 2009 01:57 am (UTC) (Link)


I see what you mean. High femmes who are heterosexual born-women are uncommon. But t-girls aren't common either. I've encountered both. The weirdest sexual preference I've had thrown at me in a panel wasn't something kinky. It was the idea that someone might actually prefer uncommunicative, you-get-what-he-gives-you, lights-out, missionary sex.
fayanora From: fayanora Date: April 18th, 2009 02:18 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Hmm...

ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: April 20th, 2009 05:01 am (UTC) (Link)


It had not occurred to me, but that would be a bizarre explanation for such a shift, if somebody bent the soul-siphon that puts spirits into bodies.
fayanora From: fayanora Date: April 20th, 2009 05:14 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: 0_o

Oh Gods, I see a story in there somewhere. Mind if I have that plotbunny?
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: April 20th, 2009 05:29 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: 0_o

Sure, go ahead. I think even if we both explore it, the results will differ.
fayanora From: fayanora Date: April 20th, 2009 06:28 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: 0_o

jolantru From: jolantru Date: April 17th, 2009 12:46 am (UTC) (Link)
Hehe. :)
miintikwa From: miintikwa Date: April 18th, 2009 01:00 am (UTC) (Link)
Oh, I am so glad I came to read this. :D I love it.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: April 18th, 2009 01:51 am (UTC) (Link)


I'm glad you're so pleased with this.
miintikwa From: miintikwa Date: April 20th, 2009 02:31 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Yay!

I love the beauty of it, the viewpoint, and it resonates deeply. :)
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ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: April 18th, 2009 07:21 pm (UTC) (Link)


>> Hopefully you won't mind my wandering over and giving my thoughts on the whole of both of them? <<

Feedback is welcome.

>> First off, I gather that the "fishbowl" aspect means that these are written quickly under limited circumstances, so I'll up-front acknowledge that and say that I totally get how that restrains and means that things come out without huge amounts of thought to meet the restrictions of the form, and with that in mind the poetry itself is excellent, and I do understand that the constraints of poetry on word-choice are great. <<

During a Poetry Fishbowl, I devote most of a day to writing poetry. The actual writing goes only a little faster than usual for me. But as soon as I finish one poem, I move on to the next. There's less of my extra attention for each individual poem, so the polishing process can get truncated -- especially when several ideas gang up on me at once and I'm trying to get them all out, one after another. That means that the structure is still solid, but the subtle aspects like word choice sometimes have flaws. Usually in a fishbowl, I'll re-read a poem once right after I finish it; and once more before I print it out. Sometimes I make changes then. Sometimes I see where I've painted myself into a corner and can't think of a way to fix it. I actually published one pantoum where I had to redo several verses, so people could see that process.

>> To begin with, the characters in both poems seem very disdainful of anyone who wants differently - it's not just a lament that their needs are not being fulfilled, but is phrased as there being something wrong with the world that all these people are pursuing different roles. It's not "that way doesn't give me what I want" but rather "that way isn't right". <<

There is some truth in that. These two were reaching adulthood shortly after the big shift in fairy tales; they could see a past that would have appealed to them more, and that did make them feel like something was wrong with the world. So they do what most people do when pushed: they push back. That can be pesky. After decades of reading "can-too" fantasy by pushy feminists, I wanted to explore the other side. Some parts of that were deliberate, others less so.

>> In the terms of "Different Gifts" particularly . . . eh. I've already expressed my distaste for the part where in any list of feminine positive attributes "beauty" always seems to top the list. <<

Your point about order has really stuck in my mind; that's likely to be useful in the long term. It's another subtlety that I can play with, so thank you for that.

If I'd been handling this issue in a novel, or even a short story, I would've had more room and flexibility to lay out the "job description" as a well-rounded paragraph or two. In a poem, everything has to be condensed to its core essence -- and the classic expectation of a princess is that she will be beautiful and elegant. It might be interesting to list out a bunch of qualities, some time, and mix them up to experiment with different ordering.

Out of curiosity, what order would you use for classic (or modern) features of desire?

I have explored the "princesses are beautiful" premise elsewhere. Some years ago, I wrote a poem called "The Horse-Faced Princess," in which the main character was plain and smart, and her test for suitors involved quizzing them. The stick-jock knights failed so bad! But then a more scholarly fellow showed up and recited pi to her, so that worked out.

ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: April 18th, 2009 07:21 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thoughts

>> I'm also very ambivalent about the character's emphasis on "not fight me for my place", stuck as it is in such a prominent line at the end of a stanza in the very first list of qualities desireable in a woman. To me, that first stanza makes him look, rather than heroic and "manly", rather shallow, controlling and insecure - definitely not traits I want in my hero. And he in particular is really unpleasant to any other mode of being - "something's wrong with girls these days", "let men be men and maids be maids" "knaves can have", and in such a context even his acknowledgement of her role as mother comes off . . . skeevy. <<

The problem that he's running into is that his role requires a particular style of partner: he can't be himself without it. He feels crowded out of his own life, because so many of the girls are running around doing the same things he's doing -- so being with them is like trying to push two north magnets together.

Hmm ... that may be the real flaw, where the poem doesn't do a thorough enough job of "selling" the narrators' viewpoints. They are trying to get somebody else to fill a certain role, be a certain way, because that's the only way they can be true to their own identity. It's not a solitary self. They're trying to fill that gap, because until they do, a part of their life is missing. And of course that doesn't work very well, because other people aren't easy to reshape, so that leaves them frustrated and really hunting for someone more compatible. They may not realize that not everybody's identity works that way.

Those aspects are in the poem, but the more I think about it, the more I think this is kind of like a bug-spot problem. There are different concepts mixed together and layered in ways that don't always direct attention as precisely and consistently as possible. If I had distinguished and clarified the various threads better, this poem might have worked for a wider audience. Since it did work for its intended audience, I'm still inclined to account it a success -- in fact, it's spawned the biggest discussion yet, and the most donors for a single poem.

>>Hopefully that's of some use.<<

Oh yes! Digging into things can be interesting, and it usually comes down to "Why does this character feel this way, talk this way, do these things?" Audience feedback can give me an idea where to dig. So now I understand the characters better.

Could I improve this poem? Maybe, maybe not. It's really hard to revise rhymed, metered poetry and this one is even harder because of the horizontal parallels between the two halves. Plus the fact that I hit the need-food-now wall near the end of writing it. But I may revisit this issue in future poetry or fiction, and now I've got more to work with ... more questions, more insights.

The feedback process can be fun, interesting, frustrating, enlightening, confusing, inspiring, mysterious ... but it's usually worthwhile. So thanks again.
(Deleted comment)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: April 20th, 2009 01:13 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thoughts

>> I would have had a bit less of the "baaaackup here" feeling if I had felt that the poem (again, particularly the second one) was more grounded in the specific desires of the specific individual - if I knew more about him, personally, as opposed to just the one poem and the first-person point-of-view, where it felt a bit more like a . . . mmm, a generalized presentation of an Archetype of the role he's describing.<<

As the discussion continues, now spread across several threads, I've learned more about the characters and why they are the way they are. I may wind up writing more, eventually -- a couple other folks have requested a poem that would tie the others together. I like the idea, but I've got more gender-role-in-fantasy poems than just these few, so I wouldn't want to be overly limiting. I'm still mulling over possibilities.

>>I've actually enjoyed this discussion a lot. Mind if I add you to the friendslist?<<

Go ahead! I've added you to my Friends list.
(Deleted comment)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: April 20th, 2009 01:04 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thoughts

Yeah, one of the other threads for the poem discussion has raised the issue that so much of the vocabulary is loaded, it's hard to talk about these things without stepping on a land mine.

>> And I think those emphases would make "fair of manner" less problematic for me - as it stands, the pair is "fair of manner as of face", which links the concept of "fair of manner" (for me) to the shallow concept of physical beauty, reducing it to "looks pretty at the high table and doesn't laugh too loud as that would be unseemly", rather than "gracious and well-mannered under fire." <<

The reason for the line about "fair of manner as of face" was to avoid winding up with a partner who was attractive on the outside but horrible on the inside: a common problem if one's courting parameters are too shallow.

>> If you'll forgive the reflection on my own work (as the many million roles and facets of women is something I work with in a non-direct way all across my novels), Fillipa is one of my archetypical "traditional" woman.<<

This sounds cool. Don't worry about self-referential discussions; my audience has a lot of writers, and there are several of us who do this routinely.

21 comments or Leave a comment