by Courtney Murphy
In each issue of Rock & Sling that I’ve worked on, it seems there are at least one or two great poems that experiment with form in an interesting way, contain found text, or otherwise differ from most of the accepted poems in their appearance or structure. In Rock & Sling’s issue 12.2, the poem “Applauding Forever” was one of those poems. “Applauding Forever” is structured as a prose poem, with many forward slashes functioning as a type of internal line break to separate certain words, short phrases, and concepts from each other. Each of the long lines break at the end of the page, but the word choices at the end of each line seem not to be incidental. Each word or phrase followed by a forward slash is carefully selected to set up the string of images in the following line.
Throughout “Applauding Forever,” each section relates to both the preceding and succeeding sections. Each phrase usually complicates the meaning of the phrases it is following. From one long line to the next, lines do not always read as a coherent sentence. The first line — “like a symphony/ of bees exiting/ a shotgunned/ piñata/ stick up/ your arms/ ‘cuz I’m here/ to rob” — is especially full of physical action and reaction. This line, especially the first half, juxtaposes sound and motion, creating dynamic images and juxtapositions that shift in meaning depending on where you connect them within the line. The “symphony” gives sound and volume to the image of the bees, the seeming subject of this line. Then, “shotgunned” describes their mode of movement and “piñata” describes how they can be seen in reference to their direction and trajectory. In the second part of the line, the subject is reoriented to an assumed person who is instructed to “stick up” their arms in reaction to a threatening speaker, and the several phrases that seem to be describing the movement of bees are transferred to be a more holistic description of the arms’ movement. These shifts of the perceived subject happen frequently throughout the poem, and cause me as a reader to reread previous lines differently due to the knowledge gained from later lines.
In the next line, a collection of images — a lion jaw, an ancient telephone, even the ocean — are taken and engulfed, but then it seems the ocean is the thing that’s been engulfed. The subject is instructed to follow the speaker, and be engulfed as well. In the following few lines, the speaker and reader are disoriented by a collection of images that do not seem like they should fit together, evoking feelings of loneliness and desperation. The images are difficult to grasp, and seem to move and shift throughout the poem, mimicking the confusion and disorientation the speaker is putting the subject through.
At the end, the subject is supported and encouraged by the blind, those unable to actually see them for what they are, and is then stuck in place despite being “made of rain,” unable to be grasped. The ending of the poem offers little explanation or solace, but the form works in such a way that this intense sense of disorientation is justified. More of an attempt at grammatical accuracy or clarity of imagery in this poem would reduce its meaning and the disorienting movement created by the structure.
Courtney Murphy graduates this month with a bachelor’s in English Writing & Literature from Whitworth University. She’s from Olympia, Washington and is excited to be near the ocean again after graduation.