Pins & Needles No. 23: Grace Bauer

Pins & Needles

bad wolf
© A.T. Velazco

No. 23: Grace Bauer

Q. The craft aficionado in me adores your poem’s stanza construction, particularly the transition between stanzas two and three. What, in your opinion, makes the perfect stanza?

Thanks for the kind words about “The Rhetoric of Oz” and its structure. There is, of course, no single one size fits all “perfect” stanza. If a stanza is a “room,” then the poem, I suppose, can be seen as a house. Some houses need open floor plans; some need smaller rooms with doors you can close to contain the heat; some might need rooms of relatively equal size, and others one great room surrounded by tiny cubbyholes. In traditionally rhymed and metered stanzas—like rhymed quatrains, for example, a listener can hear the stanzas. In free verse, it’s more a matter of how they perform on the page, which influences the reader’s sense of pacing. In my Oz poem, I used mostly self-contained rooms, with that one run-on in the middle—a turning point, where I ponder which is witch.

Q. “Language is the wizard/ and the curtain that he hides behind…” could serve as the lead-in to a class on the rhetoric of poetry. At what point does obfuscation become a bad thing?

Isn’t obfuscation (defined as “to confuse, to make unclear”) always a bad thing? Ambiguity might be desirable, even necessary, in a poem, certainly a bit of mystery often is—but willful obfuscation, not so much. I wouldn’t argue that all poems need to be immediately or easily “accessible” to all readers; most readers are up to a challenge now and then. But I think willfully obscure poems are often a way for the writer to pretend they’re more profound than they actually are—like, if I confuse the hell out of people, maybe they’ll think I’m brilliant. It’s a Professor Marvel tactic. Flim flam. Better, I think, to just take the reader on a balloon ride. Even if the destination is unknown, they can enjoy the journey across a sky that is as clear as it can be.

Q. Glenda, Dorothy or Margaret Hamilton—who’d offer the best lessons on elocution? Take first prize in the All-Oz Spelling Bee?

Interesting to think of Glenda, Dorothy and the Wicked Witch of the West as a kind of ménage à trois balanced by the male trio of Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion—with the Wizard linking them together. (Don’t ask me what to do with those two triangles. Geometry was like my worst subject ever). But for elocution lessons—I think we’ve got to head over to Ms. Glenda’s. That witch can enunciate with the best of them! As for the All-Oz Spelling Bee, it might depend on what kind of spell we’re talking about. If it’s the spell attached to a sparkly pair of red shoes (and aren’t all red shoes mesmerizing?), Dorothy would take the prize. Otherwise, I’d have to root for the Scarecrow, who doesn’t appear in my poem, but does get to rhyme thinkin’ and Lincoln in his big song and dance number, even before he gets his MFA from the wizard.

Interview conducted by Fairy Tale Review Poetry Editor Jon Riccio.

Grace Bauer’s poem “The Rhetoric of Oz” appears in The Emerald Issue of Fairy Tale Review.

The Rhetoric of Oz

At least part of what made Glenda good
was the spell she cast in speaking—
the alliterative tap dance of Toto too that touched
Dorothy’s sentimental heart and sent her
packing back to black and white Kansas.

Not that her evil nemesis
didn’t have her moments.
My little pretty tinkled sweetly
in the ear—even if the witch
was talking vengeance. And speaking

of which—when Dorothy got hers—
the beautiful wickedness Margaret Hamilton
bemoaned as she melted to a putrid puddle
wasn’t half bad as oxymorons go.

Words weave their magic even
in the land of the little and the lost,
where monkeys fly and
a horse of a different color
canters beyond mere trope.

Language is the wizard
and the curtain that he hides behind,
conjuring names for all our longings
and helping us spell our way home.