Friday, March 4, 2011

Combatwords, March 4, 2011: Randomness

Combatwords, March 4, 2011: Randomness

Some of you probably believe in fate, but it often seems that things in life happen randomly. Someone caught a bullet in Germany, someone else got hit by a car crossing the street and ended up marrying the driver. Elsewhere, an elderly couple wins the lottery jackpot, after playing every week for twenty years, while their neighbours lose yet again. The topic for this week's combat is randomness, chance and how it plays out in life. Were you late and missed the terrorist attack? Or did you get off the bus one stop early and found a tenner? It's all random.

-Anton Gourman wrote this week's Combatwords topic, as is the prerogative of the winner of the prior combat.

Combat Expiration: 12am PST, 3/7/2011

Critique Expiration: 12am PST, 3/9/2011

Bonuses/Penalties: +2 if posted by 6pm PST, 3/4/2011, +1 if posted by 12am PST 3/5/2011, -1 if posted by 6am PST 3/7/2011, -2 if posted by 12pm PST 3/7/2011.

The Rules:

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  1. Fortune Cookie

    "When the time comes, choose
    the top one." Lucky numbers
    six, nine, forty-two.

  2. Alphabetical Order

    Fourth grade, new school, uniform
    colors aqua and pink, a week late and seating
    already assigned. Alphabetical order.
    Uncomfortable musical chairs to accommodate
    one spindly girl, last name starts with T.

    Now behind her, pudgy boy, curly brown hair,
    glasses like Sally Jesse Raphael.
    Last name with a V. Hates change, e.g.
    giving up his seat to new girl. Considers
    pulling hair, opts to ignore instead.

    Except she is not paying attention
    to teacher, has hidden in her lap
    a comic book. X-Men. Cover features
    Sabretooth and Psylocke and Wolverine.
    He hovers over his seat to see the pictures.

    Teacher asks her a question. Spelling.
    He smiles smugly. She wasn't listening
    so when she fails, he can raise his hand.
    But she doesn't. The nerve. Who is she?
    Maybe a shin kick at recess.

    After school, they both stay in daycare
    to wait for working moms. He reads
    Nintendo Power, watches her jump rope.
    She stops and ambles over. "You like
    Mario?" Grunt of assent. "Wanna play?"

    "Play what?" "Mario! I'll be the princess."
    Frown. Grin. "Fine, I'll be King Koopa."
    "I get Yoshi, too." "Well I get fireballs!"
    "Fine, now you have to catch me!" They chase
    each other, dodging flames and dinosaurs respectively.

    Now they share a house, video game consoles,
    too many bookshelves overfilled, four cats,
    and a son kicking in her belly like a tiny
    dinosaur trying to escape its egg. And
    of course, they share a last name with a V.

  3. I am Europa.

    The bull stares at me from the other side of the fence, and I am transfixed. Not transfixed enough to climb on its back and let it carry me off into the sea, but transfixed enough that I can't seem to step back and continue on my way. I'd never seen a bull like this one, snow white in spite of the fact it had been lying in a rain-wet field with plenty of mud.

    I am Europa, and this is my moment. The chance encounter which will change my life. All I have to do is grasp the horns.

    The bull sticks its head over the fence, nostrils flaring as it inhales my scent. It's taller than I am, and the fence between us might as well be toothpicks. He sticks his nose in my face and I raise my hand, slow and easy. One toss of his head, and I won't even know what hit me. He snorts when I touch him, and his nose is velvet.

    I am Europa, and this bull is my god. Zeus, Poseidon, Jehovah, Allah, Odin, Thor, or Amun-Ra. He leans into my touch, and I am blessed. I am alive. I am electric.

    The bull lifts its head and meets my eyes. This is the moment when everything will be made clear. If I climb the fence, I can be his consort, I can be the queen of a foreign land.

    The bull sneezes.

    The fine mist of mucus is nothing to the spray of thick globs of gunk. I am coated in it, and my friend squeals beside me.

    "Gross! Eww! C'mon let's go. It's almost five, and your parents are coming."

    I take my food down off the fence and wipe my face on my sleeve.

    Maybe I'm not Europa after all.

  4. Snake Eyes

    Instructions tumble from your unclenched fist.
    Each word can be interpreted six ways
    Though just a single meaning shows its face.
    Rattle the cup. I hiss your name in Braille.
    I scrimshaw my commands into your bone,
    Etched revelations spell out won or lost.
    If you don’t roll, you will not hear my voice.
    You leave the table and you're on your own.

  5. Lords of Negation [Combatwords Sonnet, 3.5.2011]

    Meteors do it, the novas and seas;
    Why not a metal-smith forging a lathe?
    Why would you think that the lion won't cease,
    Waves would stay constant and cool when one bathes?
    Gather the animals, shackle the wind,
    Torture the acres for bushels of corn;
    Grind up the gristle for dog-food—it's tinned,
    Packed with a laxative: shit out your scorn.
    Awl from a femur and mortar of stone;
    Ballads of alloy to circus the beasts.
    Agony, murder—they're fit for a throne:
    Whip for the fingers; they happily feast.
    Death is negation; it's aimless, precise;
    Master of possible-future device.

  6. Trying to Fit In

    Outside my window there is a trilogy of palm trees that tell the story of LA. Transplanted and slightly out of place, as are most thing here, they sway with the temperate wind oblivious to the homeless woman resting below. Behind her, an endless stream of cars line up to pay four dollars a gallon for gas. There was a traffic jam on the 110 this afternoon because a dog had been hit in the number one lane. We all honked and cursed our misfortune as the cars backed up the freeway. Somewhere not far away I imagined a young boy calling for his pet unaware that it was now a dent is someone’s bumper. They say cobblers are disappearing because the craft is no longer taught in any trade schools. The advent of cheap industrially manufactured shoes has rendered repair obsolete. It is easier and cheaper to throw out old shoes and buy new ones. The only place to learn shoe repair is in prison. I wonder if I am the only one who finds that ironic. I started a new job this week. It is much like the last job and, for that matter, the one before that. This one is in LA where I will spend my days cursing dead dogs and wondering if we should have a pet. It pays enough to buy plenty of shoes, gas and to keep a roof over my head. I might rent a place with palm trees in the yard to remind myself of where I am.

  7. discontinuous surface

    randomness is a problem
    in precision
    how regular
    the world
    from this altitude
    liquid low i squat
    flowing onto pavement
    somewhere left
    of probability
    red fingers finding
    last winter’s cough drops
    are angels crumbling in
    my coat pocket

  8. Lycia meets Ben at campus.
    He is traveling and life is easy, Peru in the spring is full of colours.
    He doesn't dance the salsa, but makes her laugh
    and his paleness contrasts her coffee skin.

    Six months later he goes back to Belgium, to
    continue his studies, he is smart and numbers flow from his fingers.
    Computers obey him. His heart is full of love, and he is only 21.
    Her heart is full of love too, although she is only 19. She wants to study politics.

    A few of months of text messages and Skype calls later, Lycia smells smoke in the air as Cairo burns, and her international internship dissolves through force majeure full of anger and the discontent of a beautiful people who deserve better.

    Lycia's roommate is out in the city as it burns, his camera in his hands freezing the moment again and again, while only angles separate him from both bullets, and the images that make it into the New York Times. Lycia stays in her apartment, and her pictures remain unpublished.

    Lycia's family is in panic, their baby is caught in the kind of life that happens to others. They try to get her a plane ticket, the first one, anywhere, just get out of there baby, be safe. Lycia moves fast, her passport flashes the scanner at Brussels airport as she arrives. To say that Ben is surprised is to say truth, or nothing. She stays with him the first week and then sets out on her own.

    I meet her later, at a party. Her new flatmate has brought her, unprepared, to a masquerade. A German Snow White wearing a red garter dances to Dizzee Rascal in a living room that has seen no war, while Princess Fiona extends a green hand in welcome.

    I am wearing black, and my mask is Venetian. I lean against a door post as she tells me her story. She is twenty, Ben is sick, and here she is, life is exciting, Brussels is exciting, dancing the salsa is exciting, politics is exciting. She asks me if I have a university exam; I tell her i do. She says that she will publish her pictures of Cairo, maybe on Facebook.

    We speak for ten minutes before I disengage and go out to the balcony for a smoke. She is real and I am caught by surprise, surrounded by people who, like me, chat for a living. I hope she goes on to do great things. I hope that Ben gets better soon. I hope.

  9. Amalia's piece is the strongest for me this week. Clean narrative that puts the reader in a familiar setting, structured to take the reader into the direction of cliche and repetition it yanks you into a totally different direction and you're left blinking against the sudden light of a moment in life. +2

    Khakjaan's sonnet I enjoyed, the flow is smooth and well constructed +1. The topic I found a bit too predictably Khakjaan. Combatworders (if that is even a recognizable group) all suffer from what I think of as "the rawness syndrome", and the desire to be raw and dirty and gritty some times overwhelms. -1.

    -1 to rToady for the same reason (the rawness syndrome).

    Steven - The narrative started strong, with a sense of the present, of LA, car jams, the dog being hit as a moment in time consequential only to a small group of people and an annoyance to everyone else. +1 The cobbler tangent threw me way off. I've re-read but can't figure it out. -1

    Valerie,with the deepest of respect for your stuff, this kind of lacked an 'oomph' for me. +-0. Really hated the last sentence of the poem though. -1.

    Me: The last paragraph is pretentious as hell and should had been cut out completely. -2 for not seeing that. The fifth paragraph I think is the strongest one, and the one that provides the narrative axle (I think.)

  10. Valerie: nicely written anecdote, very cute, but the alphabetical aspect of it feels gratuitous.

    Amalia: this is great, by far my favorite piece this week. Very strange and interesting take on mythology.

    KW: solidly written, good rhymes...but I confess, I don't understand the last 3 lines.

    SMG: well, it does have the feel of random thoughts collecting, and maybe because of this, it didn't connect with me.

    Hiki: I think if you cut the first 5 lines, you've got a pretty nice poem here.

    forpuck: the emotional distance keeps me from getting involved with the story, which is nevertheless well-written. Maybe more details to make these seem like people rather than sketches. I would work on (or get rid of) the line breaks.

  11. really, really loved the stuff this time. something to like in everyone's stuff. but it's war, so i have to harden the gears in my heart. whirrr click click

    Valerie 2nd: really liked your use of line breaks in places, like "and seating / already assigned" (pulled me into my seat). so subtle and effective, a lot for me to learn on this. not so excited about some of the descriptions, too easy and obvious, as well as the interactions. +2 for line breaks and rthyhm, but -1 for obvious descriptions. i really want to see more of your stuff, good work. +1 overall

    Amalia: i echo rToady and forPuck, best work this week. i loved this, it's fucking awesome, and it's the last line that really pulls together. economical, like one misplaced sentence, one missing word, and it would all unravel, but you have it there. just wonderful. +3 overall

    rToady: feels kind of forced somehow, a little too artificial even though some of the individual lines have a lot of potential with cool imagery ("I scrimshaw my commands into your bone"). +1 i think it's got a good start, but it needs some more hammering and polishing. -1 +0 overall

    Khakjaan: i'm totally lost here. good rhythm and tight structure (+1), but i don't know what this about. still, i'm having a psychotic thing right now, and i think it's affecting my ability to understand so i won't mark you down for that. +1 overall

    Steven Marty: i liked the discontinuous loopy nature of this (+1), but the cobbler thing seemed to go a little long, and the sentence rhythms need some work. -1 +0 overall

    mine: i cut this down from 32 lines because i liked it (yeah, you read that right) so i thought i should edit the crap out of it. now it seems like two different poems stuck together now. really, really bad. aw hell, mistakes are necessarily for learning, right? really got caught up in all this metaphysical stuff about randomness and probability. might post the original after this just so people can see where i fucked up in the editing process as an object lesson. -3 overall

    forPuck: sorry, this just doesn't work for me. it's sort of amusing, but never seems to go anywhere (it's clear you can write prose well, though, want to see more). like the "I am wearing black and my mask is Venetian" line. +0 overall

  12. this was the original before i butchered it. in hindsight, i think it was better than what i ended up posting (hope it's ok i'm posting this, if not, please delete).

    how regular the world
    from this altitude
    uniformly smooth
    unbroken continuous
    my nose in a chalk circle
    hands pressed on slate
    pulling oil from skin
    lean almost hair’s width
    forward and i see
    unfocused probability
    electrons peeling into
    spirals into waves
    cream into coffee
    delaminating with a
    degree of dimensional
    predictability because
    randomness is a problem
    in precision you see
    the closer we get
    the closer we get the
    closer we see infinity
    rushing by
    her collar turned up
    eyes following
    wear patterns in pavement
    from hurried heel strikes
    red fingers finding
    last winter’s cough drops
    are angels crumbling in
    coat pockets and oh
    how regular the world
    from this altitude

  13. Valerie/Alphabetical Order: I like the alphabetical order stuff at the beginning, but not at the end. -1 for the last line, but +1 for the last stanza minus that line and +1 for the fact that this is really fun in general and it FEELS like two kids playing together and figuring one another out. (+1 overall)

    Me: -1 for the STUPID TYPO of food instead of foot at the end. (-1 overall)

    rToady: +1 for the unique description and imagery for rolling dice. I kind of wish you had left out the use of the verb "roll," though, and used something else instead-- I think it pushes it over into the obvious land. But I am not going to deduct for that either because it took me two readings to figure out it was about dice, so clearly it was not TOO obvious, or else I am a terrible reader. (+1 overall)

    Khakjaan: Took me a second reading to grasp the meaning here, but once I cottoned on I liked the last two lines especially so +1. I feel like third and fourth lines are forced though, for the rhyme scheme -1. (+0 overall)

    Steven: The cobbler portion is indeed random and therefore fitting for the topic, so I can't mark off from that, but I'm not sure it connected well enough with the rest of the piece for me, either. I like the contrast in the end of the narrator wondering if he should get a pet after all the inconvenience of someone else's messing up his day. (+1 overall)

    Hiki: This is the kind of poem that I'm not sure how to crit, it's a little bit too abstract for me, but that's a personal preference so I don't think you should be marked down for it--after all, abstractness can also be perceived as randomness, which is fitting for the topic! I DO like in particular the last three lines of the crumbling cough drops, so (+1 overall)

    Forpuck: My feeling after reading this is kind of "so what?" -1. I would have liked to see how it connected to the narrator a little bit more deeply-- or maybe if the meeting with the narrator changed anything for Lycia, who feels more like the protagonist than the narrator does. You invest me in her relationship with Ben pretty successfully +1. I wonder if you might have had a stronger piece if you'd ended it with her arrival on Ben's doorstep and given us a line about whether it was a good surprise or a bad one for their relationship? The narrator feels superfluous to the heart of this, maybe. That said, the imagery in the last couple of paragraphs with the narrator were great +1. (+1 overall)

    (Hopefully I did all this right.)

  14. Amalia: Good critique, nice and specific.

    Hiki: it's interesting to see the earlier draft. I think your instincts were right in cutting it down though; there are too many abstractions in the 1st version. Not that abstraction is necessarily bad, but I think your strength is in combining very visceral, evocative images. With the edit, you lose the idea of being up in a plane (or something) looking down at the earth, but that has written about too many times already, and you're better off chopping it down, in my opini

  15. Valerie: The sweetness of the 2nd poem is overwhelmed by its corniness. I thought the 1st 1 was funny tho. Gonna give you 0 my dear.

    Amalia: So I liked it (+1), but I thought it was overwritten (-1). A tiny bit of paring should improve it. 0

    Toady: I really enjoyed this one (+1). The ending 2 lines are terrific (+1). But yeah, in the name of harsher critique, you could have added another layer to this. I think I agree w/ Anton's crit in that regard. +1

    SMG: This read flat to me. Half-formed idea. 0

    Hiki: Hmm, I see why Toady sez cut the 1st 5 lines, but I also see why you wanted it there. But yeah, it's an incantation & the poem is too short for that. The last 3 lines are excellent; +1 for that. +1

    Anton: Loved this (+1) until the 1st person switch at the end (-1) which really weakens the pacing you'd established. Excellent use of the arc of life to express randomness (+1). +1

    Excellent combat. Glad everybody is getting more ruthless with the scoring. Remember to itemize your score and be prepared to defend it. I'll announce score this week if you can't do the math for yourself.