Community Feedback: torrin a. greathouse reads Rebecca Ruth Gould


Community Feedback is our recurring column that provides an opportunity for our audience to get some quick, free & exceptional feedback on a new poem. Submit your poem here. This month’s guest editor is torrin a greathouse.


This month, we chose “Yerevan in Winter” by Rebecca Ruth Gould. Thank you to all of our submitters.

Yerevan in Winter

As we hewed words from the stone tower,
the planets completed their orbit.
Ice cracked and froze.

Our glass walls gazed on the circus below.
Cars sailed through smog.
Buses creaked their way to work.

As we sat secluded in our icy fortress,
the firmaments lit the horizons
that translated our union into words.

I watched you stare into the abyss.
I watched the passage of
the lives we could have lived.

I watched our fates diverge,
and our shadows merge.
I watched the images

from our quarry twist and turn,
then melt like snowflakes
in the crisp morning snow.


Sound and Tension

One of the struggles of writing pastoral poems is capturing a tangible sense of movement and tension in the piece, avoiding the kind of photographic flatness these poems sometimes fall into. Gould’s piece this month does an excellent job of imbuing its scene with motion, bringing Yerevan alive, but there are a few moments where the tension of the piece could be pushed further.

One of the first things I noticed in reading this poem is the concentration, and intensity, of the verbs Gould employs in the opening stanzas of the poem. Words are “hewed,” ice is “cracked,” cars sail, and buses creak, even the “glass walls gazed.” Every element of the world we are introduced to is somehow in motion. Particularly inanimate objects.

Which makes the poem’s sudden turn toward the speaker and her implied lover particularly stark. Suddenly, when humans enter the poem’s gaze, the active verbs are supplemented by passive ones, “sat,” “lit” and “watched”—the poem’s most common verb, appearing four times in the span of six lines. This projects a fascinating lack of agency over the speaker, leaving the reader with the impression that she is us unable to connect with her lover as the landscape on the other side of the glass.

The poem is also really effective on a sonic level, between the poem’s use of a loose iambic meter and short runs of consonance. The first stanza is a great example of this:

As we hewed words from the stone tower,

the planets completed their orbit.

Ice cracked and froze.

We have the repetition of the W sound in the first line, the T trailing through the first two, and less noticeably a thread of similar C and K sounds in the second and third. The shift in dominant sounds is also accompanied by a change in the meter. The first two lines establish an iambic pattern, which along with the accentuated consonant sounds creates a lilting rhythm reminiscent of a traditional sonnet. When we reach the third line, however, the pattern is broken with two sharp stressed syllables.

This breach of expectation adds a layer of tension to the piece, planting a subconscious expectation that the metrical pattern will be broken again as soon as it returns. Gould holds this until the final stanza, shattering the iambic meter in the first and third lines of the tercet:

…from our quarry twist and turn,

then melt like snowflakes

in the crisp morning snow.

This attention to detail in the meter allows Gould to reinforce the themes of the piece subtly in a way that I found extremely effective.

There were a few places, however, where this poem could use a little bit of an extra push. The line breaks are working but they could be altered to reinforce the tension in the piece, while the current ending feels slightly too tidy.

Right now, ten of the poem’s thirty-six lines are end-stopped, while only two of the lines are enjambed. This means that nearly every line in the poem expresses a complete and uninterrupted though. This seems to run counter to the sense of emotional tension otherwise established in the form and content of the piece. I would suggest that Gould attempt several reconfigurations of the line breaks, maintaining the meter of the piece, while introducing more enjambment.

Consider how the fourth tercet could be altered from

I watched you stare into the abyss.

I watched the passage of

the lives we could have lived,

into something like

I watched you stare

into the abyss. I watched the passage

of the lives we could have lived.

This is one of many possible reconfigurations, but it shifts the pressure of the enjambment from a single preposition to a noun and a verb. This expands the possible interpretations of each line before the reader reaches the line that follows it, introducing more opportunities for surprise and building on the preexisting tone of the poem.

Right now, while the ending has a sense of gentle finality, the image Gould employs is slightly confusing, and feels a little contrived. In the last two lines, she describes images from their “quarry” that “melt like snowflakes / in the crisp morning snow,” a description which I was unable to logically parse. This hinges on the verb “melt,” as well as the ambiguity of “quarry.” New snow does not melt on contact with old snow, but vanish and become integrated into the whole. While quarry here could refer to a person or thing that is chased or sought, or a diamond-shaped pane of glass. Clearing up some of these inconsistencies would sharpen the final stanza, but there is perhaps a larger issue with it.

The bow that this image ties around the poem’s conclusion doesn’t resolve the building tension so much as let it fizzle out. The poem’s lens abandons the relationship that is the focal point of the poem and returns to the landscape in a way that currently feels unsatisfying. I would love to see a draft of this poem that allows the discomfort of its emotional narrative to find its conclusion within the poem.


torrin a. greathouse is a genderqueer trans womxn & cripple-punk haunting the greater Boston area. She is the author of boy/girl/ghost (TAR Chapbook Series, 2018) & winner of the Peseroff Poetry Prize, Palette Poetry Prize, & the Naugatuck River Narrative Poetry Prize. Their work is published/forthcoming in POETRY, The New York Times, Poem-a-Day, & The Kenyon Review. When she is not writing, her hobbies include awkwardly drinking coffee at parties & trying to find some goddamn size 13 heels.
Rebecca Ruth Gould‘s poems and translations have appeared in Nimrod, Kenyon Review, Tin House, The Hudson Review, Salt Hill, and The Atlantic Review. She translates from Persian, Russian, and Georgian, and has translated books such as After Tomorrow the Days Disappear: Ghazals and Other Poems of Hasan Sijzi of Delhi (Northwestern University Press, 2016) and The Death of Bagrat Zakharych and other Stories by Vazha-Pshavela (Paper & Ink, 2019). Her poem “Grocery Shopping” was a finalist for the Luminaire Award for Best Poetry in 2017, and she is a Pushcart Prize nominee.