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
Table of Contents
- Finding the First, Discovering the Middle, & Chasing the End
- Imaginary Worlds
- Science, the Universe, Time, & Other Evolutions
- Fun with Letters, Words, Language, & Languages
- Forms: Obscure, Updated, & Invented
- New School; or Double Vision; or WWI (Writing While Intoxicated) & Its Repercussions
- Miscellany; Trying to Relate the Unrelated; or These Gotta Go Some Place . . . So Here
- Stupid Money, Dumb Politicians, & Celebrating America
- Responses; or Calling All Poets (Dead & Alive); or Talking to Eternity
- It’s All About You
Connect the Dots; Star Gazing into Creation; or Neck Exercises
We’ve recently entered a new millennium, yet we still use our night sky’s old constellations & their stories. Your assignment is to create new images & new stories for the existing constellations, or to find your own constellations & create stories for them.
For those who choose to create more than one constellation, or for those who want this assignment to endure – create an epic story for all the constellations you have made or found. Try to weave the stories together.
Be careful not to stare too long into the night sky or else you might find yourself with a neck ache. If that happens, you will have to write a bunch of poems so your neck can bend down &, hopefully, offset the pain from bending your neck backwards.
Hey, Where’s Everybody Going?
Something strange is happening in my town. Perhaps it’s happening in your town, too. Quick! Look out the window. Are all the statues leaving as they are here? What do you think is going on? Where do you think they are going? Quickly, write it down. Follow them. Take notes. But don’t get caught. This could be monumental!
Til Death Do Us Part
This assignment is inspired by the first line in Stan Rubin’s poem “Emily Was Right,” which is in his new book Five Colors (Wordtech Communications, 2004). The first line is: “The perfect date would be with death.”
The assignment is to write about that perfect date, or just a general date with death, or even just a first date with death.
Ok. Get busy!
And if you want, you can get busy with death, too! (Read that as if Groucho Marx said it with a cigar in his mouth!)
The Sea of Galilee, or the Apocalypse
Apparently the water level in the Sea of Galilee keeps rising 0.5 cm per day. As of March 16th, it was 15 cm from capacity. I’m not exactly sure of the reasons for this. But, here’s the assignment: compose a poem of the flooding of the Sea of Galilee, or some ocean. A poem of the apocalypse.
Hey, Who Turned Out the Lights?
This assignment has a two-fold inspiration.
Last week, August 10th, 2004, or so, my wife [at the time] & I were on the west coast of the Olympic Peninsula & we went to watch the sun set. When we arrived, the sun was blocked by clouds. The sun looked liked a full moon, & the feeling was eerie & apocalyptic.
Yesterday, August 19, 2004, in Hong Kong there was so much smog that the sun was blocked out. In the absence of sunlight, there were many boat accidents, & the government warned people with heart & respiratory conditions to stay indoors.
Here’s the poetry assignment. Write a poem about the day the sun disappeared. Or if you wish the day the moon disappeared. (In the moon poem, for a real challenge, make an allusion to the old tv show, Space 1999, if anyone remembers that!)
Fluorescent Lights as Thieves; or Me & My Bones; or In the Event of Light, the Only Safe Place is Under the Desk
Where I work is good place. Good, creative people making a fine product. But I noticed something most odd the other day when I was turning the corner. You see, when I turn corners, I listen to hear if anyone is coming, I try to look through the corners (which can be done if you know how) to see if anyone is coming, & I look to the floor for shadows to see if anyone is approaching, for I don’t want to have a collision at the corner. And then I realized, after never seeing a shadow approach a corner despite hearing a person & seeing a person through corner walls that people at work don’t cast shadows. It’s strange. Some of the cubicle walls cast shadows, & there is always a shadow under my desk (or is it just dark?). But people here have no shadows. To which my friend responded, “We are the shadows.” I think it’s just the fluorescent lights . . . not the people. I mean, I’ve seen their shadows on the sidewalk outside. I’ve seen the shadows get into their owner’s (or does the shadow own the person) car. But anyhow.
Here is the assignment. Imagine a world where only inanimate objects cast shadows. Imagine how your unconscious would be symbolized. Where would your psychological baggage be carried? What of dreams? . . . Jung & Freud? What of murder mysteries & horror movies? What of fear itself? What of the song “Me and My Shadow”? Oh my.
You may also imagine a world where only organic, living things cast shadows. What then of the moon & its phases? What then of sundials? What then of a mountain’s presence looming large over a small town, or are mountains organic & living? (surely living). Or imagine a place of no shadows.
Now. Go forth. Write. Imagine. Imagine your pencil not throwing a shadow on your words!
If Dante Were Here Today
Oh boy, he’d find a lot of sinners, & he’d probably find some sinners of new sins, too. What would he do with these sinners of the new sins? He’d have to create a new circle in hell, a new circle in the Inferno, for them. Thus, it is up to you to pretend you are Dante today & create a new circle in hell for the sinners of the new sins.
Or even, perhaps, to find a secret door in one of the circles that opens into another circle, where the sinners of the new sin are. For example, I thought today, there are a lot of people destroying the environment – performing acts contrary to nature – thus, you might want a secret passage in the contrary to nature circle (the one that has the usurers) & put those people destroying nature into that secret room.
If you can do this assignment in terza rima, then all the better.
If you can create a new Inferno filled with circles for all the new sins & sinners of the new sins, then kick ass! And if you do that, then I imagine you’d have to find a new Virgil, too!
Alright, go forth & put the sinners in their place!
(9-2-06 addendum) Here’s a new sin: advertisers who use Beatles songs. I’m thinking specifically of the Chase Credit Card (usury) company that recently used “All You Need Is Love” to advertise their damn credit card. That is contrary to nature, The Beatles, and all that is beautiful in the world. The advertisers & those at Chase Credit Card who approved the commercial should be in a new circle. Or the dog-food company that used Shakespeare to pimp its product and the myriad of other advertisers and ad approvers who belittle great art and humanity.
Imitations; or Because Poems Are to Speak to All Times; or Make It New (Number 3)
But first a history lesson.
There are six ways appointed by the best learned men, for the learning of tongues and increase of eloquence, as
1) Translatio linguarum.
1) Translatio linguarum. “Translation is easy in the beginning for the scholar, and brings also much learning and great judgment to the master. It is most common, and most commendable of all other exercises for youth: most common, for all your constructions in Grammar schools be nothing else but translations [. . .] they bring forth but simple and single commodity.”
2) Paraphrasis. “Paraphrasis is to take some eloquent Oration, or some notable common place in Latin, and express it with other words. [. . .] Paraphrasis, the second point, is not only to express at large with more words, but to strive and contend (as Quintilian said) to translate the best Latin authors into other Latin words, as many or thereabouts.”
3) Metaphrasis. “Metaphrasis is to take some notable place out of a good Poet, and turn the same sense into meter, or into other words in Prose. [. . .] This kind of exercise is all one with Paraphrasis, save it is out of verse either into prose or into some other kind of meter: or else, out of prose into verse, which was Socrates’ exercise and pastime (as Plato reported) when he was in prison, to translate Æsop’s Fables into verse.”
4) Epitome. “This is a way of study belonging rather to matter, than to words: to memory, than to utterance: to those that be learned already, and has small place at all amongst young scholars in Grammar schools. [. . .] Epitome is good privately for himself that does work it.”
5) Imitatio. “Imitation is a faculty to express lively and perfectly that example: which you go about to follow. And of itself, it is large and wide: for all the works of nature in a manner be examples for art to follow. But to our purpose, all languages, both learned and mother tongues, be gotten, and gotten only by Imitation.”
6) Declamatio. [Um, he seems to have forgotten to expand on that. Um, little help please. I’m gonna fail my final. Hey, Mr. Ascham. Hey, Roger. Rog. All right then. I guess class is over.]
All translation I suppose may be reduced to these three heads.
First that of, metaphrase, or turning an author word for word, and line by line, from one language into another. Thus, or near this manner, was Horace’s Art of Poetry translated by Ben Jonson. The second way is that of paraphrase, or translation with latitude, where the author is kept in view by the translator, so as never to be lost, but his words are not so strictly followed as his sense, and that too is admitted to be amplified, but not altered. Such is Mr. Waller’s translation of Virgil’s fourth Aeneid. The third way is that of imitation, where the translator (if now he has not lost that name) assumes the liberty, not only to vary from the words and sense, but to forsake them both as he sees occasion: and taking only some general hints from the original, to run division on the groundwork, as he pleases. Such is Mr. Cowley’s practice in turning two odes of Pindar, and one of Horace into English.
I have been reckless with literal meaning, and labored hard to get the tone. Most often this has been a tone, for the tone is something that will always more or less escape transference to another language and cultural moment. I have tried to write alive in English and to do what my authors might have done if they were writing their poems now and in America.
So we are going to do this. We are going to take a long-ago dead poet (& they can be English speaking like Anne Bradstreet, William Blake, Alexander Pope, Shakespeare, or foreign like Dante, Sappho, or the author of Gilgamesh), & have that poet write as if he or she lived today in America. Plus, we will work on tone, a tone.
And if you want to be like Lowell, do one or a few poems from one poet, & a few more from another & another until you have a book length manuscript. Or just do one poet.
Feel free to ignore Ascham. I will, as he reminds me of a teacher from Pink Floyd’s The Wall. Hey, Rog, I’m still waiting. Rog. Rog. Oi.
Today’s Fertilizer, or You Make the Call
Baudelaire once had a wonderful image/symbol of a rose growing from a pile of manure. And Ezra Pound once said, “Humanity is the rich effluvium, it is the waste and the manure and the soil, and from it grows the tree of the arts.”
Today (12-6-04) they announced the invention of a cell phone that when thrown away will grow into a sunflower.
AMSTERDAM (Reuters)—Scientists said on Monday they have come up with a cell phone cover that will grow into a sunflower when thrown away.
Materials company Pvaxx Research & Development [. . .] has come up with a polymer that looks like any other plastic, but which degrades into soil when discarded.
Researchers at the University of Warwick in Britain then helped to develop a phone cover that contains a sunflower seed, which will feed on the nitrates that are formed when the polyvinylalcohol polymer cover turns to waste.
Your assignment: pretend you’re a French Symbolist & use the cell phone as a new symbol.
Here is Gérard de Nerval’s “Golden Verses” to help you a bit. (It is translated by C.F. MacIntyre.)
Eh, what! everything is sentient! Pythagoras You, free thinker, imagine only man thinks in this world where life bursts from all things? The powers within prescribe your freedom’s wings, but you leave the universe your plans. Respect the mind that stirs in every creature: love’s mystery is known by metals too; every flower opens its soul to Nature; “Everything’s sentient!” and works on you. Beware! from the blind wall one watches you: even matter has a logos all its own . . . do not put it to some impious use. Often in humble life a god works, hidden; and like a new-born eye veiled by its lids, pure spirit grows beneath the surface of stones. “Golden Verses” from French Symbolist Poetry. Used with permission by University of California Press.
(9-16-06 addendum) You should also read Walt Whitman’s “This Compost.” Thanks for the tip, William Heyen.
Pessoa as a Time Traveler; or Variations on Rexroth as Marichiko; or Man, You Are So Far Behind the Times
What is your favorite time period of poetry that occurs before 1901? And what country provides your favorite poetry, besides America? Now with that time & place in mind, what poet should have existed that did not? That is, when you read the Romantics, for example, you may have thought, “If I were writing then, I think I would have had this voice, these ideas, these types of visions, inventions, criticisms, insights, & understandings that would epitomize, in full, Wordsworth, Coleridge, & the rest.” Or something like that.
With that in mind, you need to become an uber-Romantic poet, or an uber-poet from whatever time period & country you like best. You need to pretend you have discovered a poet from a distant time & land, but you need to write poems for that discovered poet & maybe some literary criticism, or some manifestoes, or some takes on how that poet sees poetry & its purpose.
If you wish, you can bring that poet into our times & have him/her speak to & in our times.
And while you are it . . . the next time you get a book published, use that poet to write a back cover blurb for you, or maybe even a review of your book.
My dude is: Semlohsa Moht. Poet Laureate of Gegôré. (Yeah, the country is fictional, too, which makes for more fun!!)
Jazzy Uncle Walt; or WW, he’s so smoooooth
This assignment was inspired by a CD review in the Feb. 17-23, 2005 edition of the Inlander (Spokane, WA).
The Fred Hersch Ensemble has set some of Walt Whitman’s poems to jazz music in the album: Leaves of Grass.
Your assignments then:
a: Pretend you are Walt Whitman living in the jazz age (for this assignment, anywhere from 1920-1965). What will Walt be doing? Will he be wearing dark sunglasses, blowing on a sax, & smoking unfiltered Camels?
b: Still in the jazz age, pretend you are Walt Whitman writing poems. Would his poems be the same or would they be more like:
Out of the cradle endlessly bopping Out of the Plugged Nickel’s sway the jazzy shuffle Out of the nine-hour jam [. . . ]
Or would he write even more different?
c: Now pretend you are Walt Whitman & you meet Allen Ginsberg in a smoky jazz bar.
Ok, that’s it for this assignment.
By the way, the Inlander’s reviewer, Michael Bowen, gave the album five stars. But I have not heard it, so I can not offer an opinion on it.
This Poet’s Got Game . . . Do You?; or The World Cup of Poetry; or Fantasy Sports for Poets; or How Can I Get Season Tickets for This?
For Kat Smith, Thom Caraway, Jeff Dodd is God, Mike Dockins, & William Heyen.
This just occurred to me & keeps unfolding, so we will be discovering together.
I just now had the thought (& I’m sure this has been done before) that we need a baseball team of poets. And to create this team, you will have to find the poet who best corresponds to a specific baseball position. Who will be your pitcher (who’s got a striking fast poem, but with the ability to throw a three-foot breaking curve & hurl a knuckle-ball poem that you don’t know where it will end up), who will be the genius catcher to be able to handle all these pitches & tell the pitcher what to throw, who’s got the confidence, dexterity, & arm to play shortstop, etc. Yes, metaphorically pick a poet who possesses the talents of each position on the ball field. Oh, & we’re using American League rules – there will be a DH! (Which reminds me, you’ll need a pinch hitter, a middle reliever, & a closer.) I won’t tell you my team, but I will tell you the manager is Ezra Pound – who knows more, who can get poets to do more than they can, who could better yell at an umpire than Ol’ Ez?
Wait, there’s more.
With the World Cup going on, we now need a separate team for each of 32 different countries (or, as many countries as you can do). And still using World Cup rules, a poet can play for a country that he/she was born in, gained citizenship in, or where his/her parents were born. So, T. S. Eliot, for instance, could play for England or America. (I’ve got him playing for England, that is, if he can make the team. Maybe he will be a substitute. I’m thinking Chaucer would be manager for this team.)
More. When making this team, you must write a poem about each poet playing his/her position. Then after the team is assembled, you must imagine them actually playing a game, which is why it is good to have teams from other countries. And like baseball, there will be NO ties. Extra innings into eternity if you must.
You, of course, may use other sports. You may have basketball teams, soccer/futbol teams, football teams, hockey teams (but Bly must play goalie, ha), water polo, etc. But still, NO ties are allowed – sudden death, shootouts, if you must.
Oh, yea. Let’s not forget poet umpires, poet referees, & poet sideline judges. We need one poem where an umpire & manager (or player) stand face to face yelling at each other. (Yes, a Stevens-Frost allusion is allowed here, & maybe even required.)
Please be sure to keep track of each country’s win-loss record. Keep track of hitting trends & tendencies. Keep track of ERAs (or EMAs – Earned Metaphors Achieved). Hell, I may post results . . . if you’re game.