Home > poetry > After September: Mark D Ransom

After September: Mark D Ransom

February 10, 2011

Mark David Ransom—comes from a long line of craftsmen. His Italian immigrant great-grandfather worked on the world famous Brooklyn Bridge. His German/Irish father practiced his trade at the 1964 World’s Fair and on the State Capital in Albany, NY. He spent many years himself restoring masonry buildings in the five boroughs, including the Brooklyn Museum and the Empire State Building. The son of a slate roof and a bookkeeper, and educated by the public school system of New York City, Mark’s chosen crafts have been making song and theater. He has done poetry slams at the Nuyorican Poet’s Cafe and readings at Reckless in Hell’s Kitchen. He is a member the White Horse Theatre Company where he played the title role of Half in a workshop production of the original play. A lifelong resident of New York City, he is a poet, an actor, and a singer/songwriter. As a building inspector and civil servant, living in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, Mark witnessed the events of September 11, 2001, from a unique perspective, one that provided him with the inspiration for this, his first volume of published poetry. In his official capacity as an inspector, he documents the physical damage of city buildings. As a poet, he investigates the emotional and psychological topography of a new era in emerging from the old. His chronicle in verse, dedicated to the city of his birth, is written with words of healing, admiration, respect, and love.

First off, I applaud Mr. Ransom’s courage in publishing After September: it’s an intensely personal account of a very traumatic time and in exposing the emotion and horror of those days he has also exposed his own vulnerabilities. This is not to be done lightly: his courage is apparent, in his words and his decision to self publish them, and I admire him for it.

Sadly, I cannot admire this book. The poetry in it is confusing, clichéd and overwritten, and often contradicts itself within a line or two. As a result Mr. Ransom’s meaning is often obscured or completely misdirected. Which is a shame because lurking below these problems there is real potential.

Mr. Ransom has a good eye for poetic detail, and for those moments which represent our times. He has a natural inclination towards sparsity and has a lyrical tone which is lacking entirely from the work of most aspiring poets.

If I were Mr. Ransom, then, how would I proceed? I’d read the greats. I’d read anthologies of prize-winning poetry, I’d read books of poetry from the classics to the avant-garde and I’d read them all repeatedly until I breathed them. And then I’d look to my own work and make sure that not a single word was wasted, and that my meaning was always clear and strong.

So: a disappointing effort from a writer with potential, who is going to have to get really tough with himself in order to improve as a poet. I read nineteen pages out of seventy-five, and really hope that he improves.

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  1. February 10, 2011 at 10:23 am

    It’s fascinating reading this review (in part because I’ll be sending you my own debut poetry collection in a few weeks). May I ask, Jane, how reading a poetry book for a review like this differs from reading a novel? Typos I get as errors, but how easy is it to assess grammar and syntax of a more fluid medium? I’ve read a lot of poetry of very mixed standards, and judged poetry competitions, and I can sometimes say “that line doesn’t work” but more often I find myself feeling that a section just doesn’t hang together.
    On the other hand, when editing myself I can usually tell when a particular word or comma is wrong – but I’m not sure whether the *mistakes* are as clear cut as they are in early drafts of fiction. I’d love to hear your thoughts.
    The subject matter of this book sounds very promising – I see Mark is a performer and the Nuyorican is a legendary venue so I’m guessing he’s a pretty good one. So a further question, Jane, would be how you think performance poetry translates to the page – is the overwriting you see maybe a result of the performative nature of the poems thatdoesn’t work so well in print?

  2. February 22, 2011 at 9:53 pm

    The comments you’ve written regarding how to clean up his poetry were the very same ones I received in grad school. That said, a poet I am not. I am fully cognizant of the fact, and my instructors were appropriately underwhelmed by my material.

    It’s a shame to see someone with so much potential put out an underdeveloped product.

  3. J. Scott
    August 23, 2012 at 2:24 am

    I’m wondering how you can evaluate a work after only having read 19 pages of it. As a reader myself, that strikes me as unethical. And I am wondering how your determine that Ransom hasn’t read the greats or been influenced by them. Indeed, wouldn’t reading “the greats” possibly influence his work to be more cliche than you suggest that it is? You say his work is contradictory but in the review above you claim it is overwritten yet inclined to sparsity; I find that to be contradictory feedback. I agree with the above reader that poetry is a medium that defies punctuation to some degree and that innovation often arise from the format on the page or playfulness with standard rules of grammar. If the goal of the blog is to help writers get their work into the world, I am not sure how negative feedback with little practical advice achieves that goal.

  4. Jane Smith
    August 24, 2012 at 10:58 am

    I’m wondering how you can evaluate a work after only having read 19 pages of it. As a reader myself, that strikes me as unethical.

    When you choose which books to read do you read them in their entirety, or do you only read the back cover copy or a couple of pages? If the latter, doesn’t that strike you as unethical?

    And I am wondering how your determine that Ransom hasn’t read the greats or been influenced by them. Indeed, wouldn’t reading “the greats” possibly influence his work to be more cliche than you suggest that it is?

    I didn’t state that Mr Ransom hasn’t “read the greats”: I just suggested he should do so. And reading the work of others isn’t likely to induce an abundance of clichés in one’s own work. Quite the opposite, I’d say.

    You say his work is contradictory but in the review above you claim it is overwritten yet inclined to sparsity; I find that to be contradictory feedback.

    It could be read as contradictory feedback but having read his poems, I don’t think it is. You’re welcome to buy his book and reach your own conclusions.

    I agree with the above reader that poetry is a medium that defies punctuation to some degree and that innovation often arise from the format on the page or playfulness with standard rules of grammar.

    I don’t think poetry “defies punctuation” because poetry isn’t sentient and can’t “defy” anything, and I’m not sure that punctuation can be defied either: but I think I understand what you meant. Writers can challenge conventions no matter what form or genre they’re writing in, don’t you think?

    If the goal of the blog is to help writers get their work into the world, I am not sure how negative feedback with little practical advice achieves that goal.

    I don’t set out to help or hinder writers, I just review self published books. I give feedback, both negative and positive, as appropriate for the book and my review; but I don’t provide a free editorial service for two reasons: I only provide editorial assistance to those who pay me to do so; and these books have already been published. It’s too late to edit them now.

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