See the Tupelo Press 30/30 Project to read the poems for March 23, 2014 by scrolling down to “Day 23/Poems 23” and of course, to read my poem: Of Ducks & Trolleys / by John C. Mannone
Backstory to “Of Ducks & Trolleys”:
I made a list of potentially interesting topics/prompts I intended to use for this month. One of them was “animals” (because I started a literary collection of animal poems this year). I reflected on unusual animals I had met or that I knew about. “Chester” came to mind. That poor mallard duck had been impaled by a hook on a fishing line. My wife and I were camped at Stock Creek Safari Campground in Maryville, TN for a few months. I was anticipating a job move to Texas after our house lease expired at any time. We didn’t want to renew if we were going to have to move within a month. But when that job fell through, we decided to stay camping for a little while longer because we loved it. We pitched our tents by the water and the local ducks took a liking to us. At first, I thought that this poem was going to be about the ducks, but sensed it had to be more than that. I didn’t have a clue where the poem was going until the nuances of home and memories of my father started to filter in. Both Chester and my father had suffered foot injuries that had seriously changed their lives. The poem is in two parts and loosely show some parallels. I think they are clear enough so I won’t spend any time on them here.
The poem opens with a wintry scene. We were there at the campground on April 9, 1983 (if I recall correctly) when there was rare 150-year snow. I forgot what made it so uncommon (I think it had something to do with the size of the flakes and the extent of the snowfall), but it was spectacular. Sadly, it was all gone by late that afternoon. And though the poem is not about the snow, I liked what I first wrote so I kept it. It adds a cold texture, but a surprising warm one, too. (Perhaps that’s what bittersweet is like–a simultaneous contrast in feelings.)
The structure developed spontaneously and had no forethought; there was no intentional special significance attributed to the step structure. I think it developed because of the longer “sound” lines mixing with the shorter ones. So at one point, I was intentional to keep the steps. Perhaps there was a subconscious connection to walking/struggling to walking, step-by-step, I don’t know.
In reproducing the quacking and clacking sounds, I tried to be true to memory. The quacks were definitely a pair of equally stressed sounds—a spondee. However, in writing this poem I took a little license on whether there were three or four. There’s no poetry in the sound of trimeter, but there was hope for tetrameter. As far as the trolley rail sounds go, I imagined them, and I deduced they were dactylic. I wish the word “dactylic” actually had dactylic meter, but it really is amphibrachic. [See metric feet in prosody.] I make no other conscious attempt to regulate the beats in either section of the poem.
The original title was “Chester,” but clearly this poem is about something much greater than about a mallard duck named Chester. I thought about making this two separate poems, but I was fascinated by the “rhyming of images” in the two parts. The title grew out of the key elements in both parts that were tied together in an unusual way.