18
Oct
16

Poetry Assignments: The Book (Online): Finding the First, Discovering the Middle, & Chasing the End

POETRY ASSIGNMENTS

Brian Warner's The Cave

“The Cave” by Brian Warner. Used with the permission of Brain Warner.

or 100 Jackhammers for the Poet with Writer’s Block;

or 100 Ways to Jumpstart the Engine;

or 100 Pencil Exercises;

or 100 Ways to Stimulate Your Next Wine, Cheese, & Poetry Night

//

Between 2002 and 2006, or so, I composed, borrowed with permission, or modified 100 poetry writing prompts. A publisher approached me to publish this collection of poetry prompts in book format. All the credits and permissions were gathered (and at times paid for) from writers, publishers, artists, and museums, but, alas, the book did not come to be.  Anyway, I will reproduce the book here at the rate of one or two chapters each week, along with credits and permission statements.

//

Author’s Note

Poetry Assignments first appeared around 2002 as an email to a few friends to inspire us to write and to have something to share at our wine, cheese, & poetry nights. The first one was “The Reader’s Digest Experiment.” Eventually, the assignments went online at the Redactions: Poetry & Poetics complemental website, www.redactions.com. Each time a new assignment was posted it got a number, with the first one being #1 and the last one #100. As I posted the assignments, almost one per week, there was rarely a connection between the assignment posted, the one preceding, and the one that would follow. In this book collection, however, I have grouped the assignments by theme.

These assignments were also written in a similar manner to writing a journal. There has been little rewriting, other than correcting typos and the such. As a result, there will be inconsistent idiosyncrasies that change based on how I changed through the book’s composition. In addition, I have kept time references in their original state. I hope the reader can realize the book was new at the time of the writing and will continue to understand the nature of this journal.

I hope these assignments provide inspiration for writing and new ways of thinking about writing, especially fun ways. I hope the aesthetic responses in part two provide you with new ways to think about poetry and to help you see how other poets view poetry.

Okay. Enough said.

Go Forth!

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With special thanks to contributors, Laura Hinschberger, and Thom Caraway.

//

Table of Contents

Introduction

  1. Finding the First, Discovering the Middle, & Chasing the End
  2. Imaginary Worlds
  3. Science, the Universe, Time, & Other Evolutions
  4. Fun with Letters, Words, Language, & Languages
  5. Forms: Obscure, Updated, & Invented
  6. New School; or Double Vision; or WWI (Writing While Intoxicated) & Its Repercussions
  7. Miscellany; Trying to Relate the Unrelated; or These Gotta Go Some Place . . . So Here
  8. Stupid Money, Dumb Politicians, & Celebrating America
  9. Responses; or Calling All Poets (Dead & Alive); or Talking to Eternity
  10. It’s All About You

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Finding the First, Discovering the Middle, & Chasing the End

a: First Words Are So Hard

[This assignment arose from a Michelle Bonczek idea, and is used with permission.]

Take a poem . . . any poem. Ok.

Now get rid of every word in the poem except the word that starts each line. With the word that starts the first line of the old poem, start a new first line of a new poem. With the first word in the second line of the old poem, start the new second line of the new poem, etc.

For example, take the poem by Frank O’Hara “On Rachmaninoff’s Birthday,” from Lunch Poems (City Lights, 1964), & use only the first word of each line to start the lines of the new poem.

   Quick! [insert rest of new line]
   off [insert rest of new line]
   Onset, [insert rest of new line]
   playing [insert rest of new line]
   of [insert rest of new line]
   into [insert rest of new line]
   junk [insert rest of new line]
   I’m [insert rest of new line]
   miserable [insert rest of new line]
   of [insert rest of new line]
   amethyst [insert rest of new line]
   is [insert rest of new line]
   on [insert rest of new line]
   You’ll [insert rest of new line]

b: End Words Are So Difficult

With the same idea in mind . . . erase all the words in the poem except the last word of each line & then fill in the line with your new words.

For instance, take Charles Wright’s “Silence Journal” from The World of the Ten Thousand Things: Poems 1980-1990 (Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 1991).

   [insert rest of new line] vowel
   [insert rest of new line] fall
   [insert rest of new line] us
   [insert rest of new line] moon
   [insert rest of new line] snow
   [insert rest of new line] holds
   [insert rest of new line] text
   [insert rest of new line] true

Note: this poem has no punctuation.

//

Bed Time

This poem will be about the first sleep of humans.

This idea came to me after seeing Pierre Puvis de Chavannes’ painting “Sleep” at The Met in NYC (www.metmuseum.org).

Pierre Puvis de Chavannes’

Pierre Puvis de Chavannes’ “Sleep.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Theodore M. Davis Collection, Bequest of Theodore M. Davis, 1915 (30.95.253). Pierre Puvis de Chavannes’ “Sleep”. Image © The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Used with permission.

It might also be useful to recall the following lines in Virgil’s Aeneid: “It was the time of first rest for tired mortals” (ll 268-69).

Of course, you might want to sleep on this assignment first.

//

Do You Hear That?

[This assignment arose from a Michelle Bonczek idea, and is used with permission.]

You are to imagine you are the first person who discovers Niagara Falls.

You are to imagine what you were doing to lead you to the falls in the first place – the experience of approaching & seeing the falls – & maybe even to tell of the after effects of finding the falls, such as trying to tell your friends about your discovery.

Ok. Go Forth!

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The Book of Firsts

This assignment was inspired by “a 35,000-year-old flute made from a woolly mammoth’s ivory tusk [that] has been unearthed in a German cave by archaeologists.”

Part I of this assignment: write a poem about that flute, the people who made it, & the people who played it.

Part II of this assignment: continue writing about firsts, such as the first sleep (See “Assignment: Bed Time”), the first one to discover Niagara Falls (See “Assignment: Do You Hear That”), the first one to discover fire, socks, wine, beer, pizza, or whatever. When you are done, you could have a wonderful manuscript you could call “The Book of Firsts.”

Here’s the article on the flute:

Ice Age ivory flute found in German cave

(BERLIN) – A 35,000-year-old flute made from a woolly mammoth’s ivory tusk has been unearthed in a German cave by archaeologists. The flute, one of the oldest musical instruments discovered, was pieced together from 31 fragments found in a cave in the Swabian mountains in southwestern Germany.

The mountains have yielded rich pickings in recent years, including ivory figurines, ornaments and other musical instruments. Archaeologists believe humans camped in the area in winter and spring. The University of Tübingen said it planned to put the instrument on display in a museum in Stuttgart.

Source: Reuters (10 December 2004)

//

Invention of the March Hare; or April is the Cruellest Month Marinating Hasenpfeffer; or Invention of May’s Dinner

Ralph Black came up with the idea of invention poems . . . or so he thought. Seems Cole Swenson beat him to it in Goest (Alice James Books, 2004). But alas, a poetry assignment can be had, plus options. So here we go.

When Swenson does her invention poems (with titles like “The Invention of the Weathervane” or “The Invention of the Mirror” or “The Invention of the Pencil” or “The Invention of the Night-Watch”), she seems to go at the invention in a somewhat direct manner, but imaginatively.

When Black does his invention poems (with titles like “The Invention of Cathedrals” or “The Invention of Angels”), he tries to create a scene for the need of something, or how something might have arisen. With the angels, he is writing a poem in present times, though obviously angels have already come to be. But he gives rise to their need.

As Black said in an email, “Seems to me that such poems are a big part of a current crop of ‘Myth poems’ – which has as much to do with tone as anything else (witness Merwin’s poems in The Carrier of Ladders or The Lice).”

So we will write invention poems using either, or both, strategies. The first assignment, though, will be to write about the invention of the poem – my knee jerk reaction is that you would have to incorporate both strategies into that poem. Yeah, & let’s give it a mythy tone. Oh, the possibilities are endless, & thus a book of inventions is possible.

Go Forth. Be Thomas Edison with the poem.

//

A Timely List of Firsts

Ok. So you just wrote a poem about the invention of the poem. Excellent. Now you are to pretend you are that first person writing the first poem & write the first poem that has ever been written.

Now you will pretend you are the person writing the first poem in the year 0 & write the first poem of the year 0. (Yea, I know there is no 0 year. It goes 1 BCE then 1 AD. But this will make it more fun.)

When that is done, you will do the same for the year 1000.

When done with that, you will do the same for the year 10,000.

And when you are done with that, you will imagine everything is done. Yes, you will write the first poem that is written after the universe freezes, contracts, explodes, or gets recalled for maintenance by some higher entity.

//

a: Bottoms Up

[This assignment & its sub-assignments were inspired by Melissa Rhoades’ idea, and is used with permission., and is used with permission.]

Write a poem from the last line to the first line.

b: The Greek Twist

The Greeks used to write their plays by writing the ending first & then writing from the beginning & wrote to get to the already made end (that is, as far as I have understood how they write).

Let’s try that with a poem. Write the last line first, & then start on the first line & write to the end.

c: Amateurs Borrow. The Great Ones Steal

Steal the last line from someone’s poem & then write your own poem to the stolen end.

I suspect it’s best not to use the last line from too famous a poem. I suspect you don’t want your last line to be:

   And miles to go before I sleep.

But maybe:

   Between a sleep and a sleep.

                                 (from a Swinburne chorus in “Atalanta in Calydon.”)

Ok. Good Luck!

//

. . . But who will be my audience?

Imagine the world is going to end soon. Perhaps an asteroid is about to crash into the earth. Perhaps a big plague is killing everyone. Perhaps global warming has burnt the planet dry. Or perhaps it’s not the end of the world. Perhaps everyone has stopped reading & writing.

Now imagine you are writing the last ever poem. The last poem on Earth is yours to be had. What could possibly be said at that point? Of importance? Who would care? Why would you care to write the last poem? Who would publish it? Nonetheless, you are motivated to do so.

So go write the last poem on Earth. You can pretend you are the last person or creature on Earth if you wish, but it isn’t necessary.

For example, consider “Notes Toward the Last Poem on Earth” by Mike Dockins.

   NOTES TOWARD THE LAST POEM ON EARTH

   The air-raid sirens are silent.
   No thin layer of ash covers the town.

   The corners are not speckled with metal-band bullies.

   The townsfolk only wish they’d glimpse
   a mugging, pass a squashed frog,
   catch a raccoon tumbling into a garbage can.

   Gaggles of frat boys read Nietzsche,
   stare reverently into abysses.

   Even the coffins lack menace.

   There’s nothing sinister about the idling schoolbuses,
   nothing risky in the melodies seeping from Jeeps.

   The last Italian sonnet, in shreds, has fallen into a trash can.

   Every sock is saved from the dryer,
   & car keys hang on their hooks in plain sight.

   All the ferries arrive on time.

   Cellular phones idle on hum,
   & the whining of mosquitoes barely ripples the swamp.

   The barbershop teeters between open & closed.
 
   No one’s heart has burst on the 14th hole.

   The final haiku is adrift on the Sea of Japan.

   Mars is not even in its retrograde.

   That Jupiter’s Great Red Spot is a storm
   twice the size of Earth impresses no one –
   not mail carriers, cosmonauts, pool sharks,
   bartenders, hippies, cheerleaders,
   hockey stars, Arctic explorers, blackjack dealers . . . 
   not even astronomers, & certainly not the girl next door,
   who can’t even complain about acne
   or a strained relationship with her mother.

   Every crossword box has been penciled.

   No lovestruck bachelors repent
   atop the dilapidated water tower.

   The villanelle has failed.

   The libraries, though deserted,
   have been flame-proof for centuries.

   Postcards fall through mail slots into neat piles.

   Beehives are silent,
   & crickets strum a predictable hum.

   Nobody fumbles the quadratic equation,
   & the Laws of Thermodynamics are intact.

   The pantoums have crumbled to crumbs.

   Outcrops are barren of dinosaur skeletons –
   not a glimmer of quartz to inspire a geologist.

   The eons have blended
   into a single monotony of style.

   Glacial ice recedes at a sensible rate.

   No one has stamina for a sestina.

   The sunset has never been so ordinary.
   Same with birch trees, river ice, & the Moon
   which at dusk might as well be a high cirrus wisp.

   Jet contrails spell out nothing in particular,
   rip across shapeless clouds – no tricycles or crocodiles.

   On the evening news, no terrorizing snow drifts,
   mushroom clouds, local scurvy scares,
   or celebrities dead of brain cancer.

   Compost heaps are heaped with ghazals.

   No monsoons, patches of quicksand, vagrant icebergs, tsunamis . . . .
   Storm chasers stare blankly at blank radar.

   Gas stations are free of sniper fire.

   Beefed-up cars glide through town, noiseless & patient.

   Rubberneckers, bored, have collapsed into hibernation.

   The abecedarians are a jumble of foreign alphabets.

   Neon signs are dusted with a prescribed number of moths,
   & the wafting of fireflies lacks a muse.

   Tavern jukeboxes no longer eat quarters,
   & ponytails swing perfect orbits.

   The ideal lime swims in the ideal gin & tonic.

   Even the hangovers are tolerable.

   No more quatrains about autumn or digger wasps.

   Kindergarten classrooms are hiccup-free.

   Dodge balls scattered across sandlots
   are properly inflated, & the open baseball mitts
   catch the usual stream of neutrinos
   from an uncomplicated universe.

   Physicists crawl inside their telescopes,
   undisturbed by the swallowing nothingness.

   The sky tonight will be cometless,
   not one meteor ooohed upon.
   The handful of visible stars will twinkle
   the same old twinkle, constellationless.

   The galaxy’s spiral arms have an eerie regularity.

   And even the subatomic world
   makes a kind of sense: quarks reveal themselves
   in cohesive narratives, all chaos washed away
   in a quarky tide.

(“Notes Toward the Last Poem on Earth” first appeared in Quarterly West #58 (Summer 2004). It is used with the permission of Mike Dockins.)

//

The After Life of Objects

[This assignment arose from a Michelle Bonczek idea, and is used with permission.]

You are to write a poem with the title: “The Afterlife of _______.”

You get to fill in the blank. For instance, Michelle’s poem is “The Afterlife of Pennies,” but you can choose whatever, such as pizza boxes, socks, school notebooks, etc.

Ok. Go after it!

//


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The Cave (Winner of The Bitter Oleander Press Library of Poetry Book Award for 2013.)

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