Author Archive for

03
Apr
17

“Love Waves” and Doors: Associative Pattern Making in Laura McCullough’s The Wild Night Dress

A version of this review (and a better edited version) may appear in a future issue of Redactions: Poetry & Poetics.

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Laura McCullough -- The Wild Night DressIn the “Series Editor’s Preface,” Billy Collins notes, “One requirement for poets is the ability to write about two different things at the same time. Seamus Heaney turns writing into a kind of digging. John Ciardi intertwines marriage and the structure of an arch” (ix). In the 2017 Finalist Miller Williams Poetry Prize book The Wild Night Dress (The University of Arkansas Press, 2017) , Laura McCullough does this, too, and she informs the reader up front in the Prologue’s poem, “The Love Particle,” “Love Waves is the name given to shocks / across the planet’s surface after an earthquake, what we / who are not at the epicenter actually feel” (3). She’s aware she’s going to share some intense personal experiences from her epicenter of grief and pain and her reader’s will experience her emotions in those Love Waves.

The two opening poems of “Part I: Passage with Hardboiled Egg” – “Feed” and “Toward Something Larger” – inform the reader what is at the epicenter of McCullough’s grief: her dying mother and her departing husband. Both create voids in her life, but more of the book revolves around her mother than her ex-husband. Perhaps this is because the bond with a mother is stronger than with a lover, which as a “long marriage / cycles predictably” (7), whereas with her mother, there appears to be a deeper intimacy of unspoken understandings, such as when her mother had “thrown up / in the water, perhaps a first sign.    Signs // in language are made of signifiers and the signified. / Mother and daughter are a kind of language” (19). McCullough will also build signs and symbols for the reader, which I’ll get to obliquely.

The poems in this collection are interconnected in the immediacy of one poem moving into the next and across the breadth of the whole collection. (In fact, this book of poems would be a good one to use in an advanced poetry writing workshop where students are trying to organize their own poems into a manuscript.) In the poem-to-poem movement, an image, word, or idea appears in one poem and the following poem, such as the appearance of “residue” and “bees” in “Soliloquy with Honey: Time to Die” (14-15) and “Across Which the World” (16), language in “I Am Calling You” (17), “What He Said the Russians Say” (18), and “Hunger Always Returns” (19), and “door” in “Ceremony of a Commonplace and Unremarkable Moment” (25), “Passage, Revolving with Boots” (26), and “Revolving Door” (27). Additionally, some words and images appear in poems far apart, such as “water,” “salt,” and “ocean,” but with the distantly echoed images, or conceptual harmonies, associations are being created within the self-contained universe of the book. For Instance, in “Water : Waterfall :: Equation : Proportion,” McCullough creates relationships between “soul” and “water,” “ocean” and “human,” and “salt” and blood,” so that later on when we read “water,” for instance, we have a built-in associative memory to “soul.” Certain words and images, like “Water” and “soul,” then carry a relationship throughout the book.

With the image of “door,” which appears at least 12 times in the collection, it accumulates multiple associations, so much so that it behaves like a symbol. “Door” first appears in “What He Said the Russians Say” (18):

I was just a girl
who hadn’t lost enough to understand
            language
as a door we stand at pondering,
 

trying to get it open, say what we mean,
and how we are afraid that no one
is even on the other side. (16-22)

Here, “door” is an obstacle to expression, as well as a place of meditation, mystery, and fear. Later, in “Revolving Door” (27), she is able to see what’s on the other side of a door –a gardener “cutting leaves” (11). Still, there is a sense of being afraid, as she can barely see him, “his eyes meet no one’s” (8), and because “his sneakers were once red” (9). The once-red sneakers when coupled with the “weapon” he “wields” creates on ominous moment, because it feels like those shoes are covered in blood, but in fact, the blood-colored shoes have been soiled by his cultivation of plants and keeping them alive. The “door” here then begins to set up the feeling of a liminal place between one living world and another living world, so when we get to “Body a Doorway” (35), where McCullough wants “to make” her “body a door though which she [her dying mother] might pass” (9), we understand she wants to mediate her mother’s death and make it pleasant for her. However, the door still carries a fearful emotion, because “in these last seconds my [McCullough’s] mind rebels, / and I barely hold back the small selfish voice: No, don’t go. // Then it is done” (10-11). She couldn’t mediate for her mother. The moment was too overwhelming, too scary. She instead watched her mother pass away to “the other side.” Much later in the collection in “Lake of Sky: Refrain” (71), we see how McCullough “prepared” herself “for being / a doorway” by bringing her mother’s favorite books to her, as well as “myrrh,” “a battery operated candle,” a “scarf,” and other intimate items. But here the “door” works in reverse. While McCullough can’t crossover, her mother from the other side can, as she now has her mother’s “face inside of” her face (19). The image/symbol of the door gains new layers of meaning and associations as we move through the collection, as do other images. In essence, in developing self-contained associations and image/concept harmonies, she creates the “Love Waves” as well as she can through language so we can feel the ripples emanating from the epicenter of her experience.

Throughout The Wild Night Dress, McCullough is in the crosshairs of two griefs while attempting to stay whole, and her writing of this book, so it seems, is an attempt of making a new wholeness for herself amid the absence of her mother and ex-husband. As you move through the poems and the wake of “Love Waves” in The Wild Night Dress, be sure to have a box of tissues and leave your doors open.//

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McCullough, Laura. The Wild Night Dress. Fayetteville, AR: The University of Arkansas Press, 2017. Print.

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29
Mar
17

Notes on Meter and Rhythm: They Aren’t the Same

Sunrise-Sunset Trochee

Each day the sun rises and sets. You can count it, but you can’t set your watch to it, or your metronome. This is my analogy for meter and rhythm. The meter is the sun rising and setting like a trochee.  The trochee repeats each foot, or in the case of the sun, repeats each day. The rhythm is how the sun moves through day. Each day between approximately December 21 through June 21, the sun rises earlier and sets later each day. Its height in the sky changes, too, as well as its angle. On some days, you might not even the sun, such as when it’s raining, or it might appear brighter than the previous day if there is a clear blue sky today and yesterday it was cloudy. On rarer occasions, the moon blocks the sun. The experience of the sun’s movement changes each day, but it still rises and sets each day. And if you want to consider the week as analogy to the line, then the trochaic heptameter will also have changing rhythms from line to line or week to week.

The meter is a way to measure the bounciness of a poem, and the rhythm is how we move through the poem. This might seem obvious, but The New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics (1993) says, “rhythm is the vaguest term in criticism” (1068), and often I hear or read of meter and rhythm as being the same thing. As a result, I’m trying to make rhythm less vague and to distinguish it from meter.

Meter is a way to pattern stressed and unstressed syllables and to create expectations in the ear, and the poet will rely on those expectations to occasionally alter or delay them to as to create surprise and meaning. This is part of the reason why no two sonnets, for instance, are heard or experienced the same way. Even if both sonnets are in 14 lines of exact iambic pentameter, their rhythms vary. We know this. We feel the difference in the sonnets, and, in part, it’s because of rhythm.

Rhythm is affected by long vowels, short vowels, and consonants, as well as meter. It’s affected by adverbial and prepositional phrases and other grammatical items, such as punctuation. Notice how the rhythm of a sentence changes if there is a question mark at the end. The voice goes through a convoluted rising sound to indicate a question is asked and not a statement made. The pacing changes. Rhythm interacts with tone, pitch, tempo, inflections, pausing, and other auditory and bodily experiences. Rhythm is the experience of moving through metered lines or non-metered/free verse lines.

Compare these two lines:

O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo? (Romeo and Juliet II, ii, 36)

Hey Reginald, Reginald! wherefore art thou Reginald?

Both lines have the same meter (or patterns of unstressed and stressed syllables), but the rhythm is different. In the beginning of Shakespeare’s line, the long vowels  – o, o, e, o, o, e, o – create dramatic emotion. The reader/speaker is almost forced to emote these lines to express longing, and I feel like I have to raise my right hand above my head when I speak them. In my line that wonders where Reginald is, the emotion is different and the opening moves quicker, despite the similar meter, and instead of wanting to raise my right hand above my head, I want to move both my arms out a bit with my palms facing the audience to suggest confusion. My experience of moving through the same metered lines is different, in part, because the rhythm is different.

In short, meter can be scored and affects rhythm. Rhythm is the experience of moving through the score.

However, meter and rhythm both affect and are effected by the content.//

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This might be too simplistic, but it’s a starting place. Please add to the discussion in the comments if you wish.//

 

19
Mar
17

On Knowing Knott: Essays on an American Poet

A version of this review (and a better edited version) may appear in a future issue of Redactions: Poetry & Poetics.

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Knowing Knott: Essays on an American PoetMy first encounter with Bill Knott was reading a review copy of The Unsubscriber (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2004) in a yurt in or nearby Newport, OR. I was dazzled and amazed at his wildness and technique. Next to the collection’s third poem, “Neckognition,” I wrote:

He has mystical line breaks. They do what we try to make them do. Give them a split-end quality. One line is appearance A, the next line changes appearance A into B and into C, until you’re left with A+B+C=an action or event of fluidity. He’s stopped time into discrete parts, but by the stanza’s end, the fluidity of the act is realized. See stanza one. Harmonies in the last stanza.

Here’s the poem:

     In love the head turns
     the face until it’s gone
     into another’s where
     it is further torn

     from its own mirror
     and grows even more
     erased and lost and though
     the former still yearns

     to be his/be hers
     it sees these lovers
     over your shoulder show

     whatever disappears
     can also go as verse
     whose shape’s nape-known now.

This is also a sonnet-variant. I feel in love instantly with this master of forms, language, style, Surrealism, and freedom to explore unlike any other poet, at least any poet I’m aware of, since Gerard Manley Hopkins.

In Knowing Knott: Essays on an American Poet (Tiger Bark Press, 2017), there are essays from 16 other poets and friends of Knott, who also write about their love for him. The essays are short, and vary in length from three pages to 35 pages, most of which tend to be around five to six pages. The essays are mostly filled with anecdotes that portray the complexities of Knott’s personality, his generosity, and self-sabotage at success. There is also some analysis of his poetry in Michael Waters’ essay “What Had Made Us So Whole: ‘The Sculpture’ by Bill Knott” and in Stuart Dischell’s “On Human Stilts,” but mostly the essays are sketches of Knott as complicated human being. The book also includes six color images of his art, as Knott “was as serious about his painting as his poetry” (113), as Robert Fanning notes in “May Eagles Guard Your Grave.”

In Thomas Lux essay “Bill Knott: Can My Voice Save My Throat,” Lux asks, “do you think Knott’s self-deprecation, his self-denigration, his self-abnegation, might have anything to do with his childhood?” (84). In the 83 pages prior to this, I was realizing much of Knott’s actions are the classic traits of someone who suffers from abandonment trauma. According to some of authors with varying degrees of detail, when Knott was young, his mother died giving birth (though Knott “always suspected she might have died during an (then illegal) abortion” (91), then a few years later, his father sent his sister and him to an orphanage because he couldn’t take care of them, and then the father committed suicide. I believe this contributes to what Jonathan Galassi in “(Not) Publishing Bill Knott” identifies as Knott’s “serious self-esteem issues.” For instance, as Star Black in her essay “Loving Bill” points out, Knott:

[s]omehow felt betrayed by his own accomplishments and connections, as if to be a self-published outside was not quite satisfying, yet to be an insider was fraudulent. Making a decision and then reversing the same decision after he made it was one of his traits. (44)

There are consistent stories throughout the anthology about him pushing away his success (and sometimes pushing away others before they could push him away) as if he wasn’t worthy of it or them, a classic defense move by someone who suffers from the trauma of abandonment.

Perhaps this is why he started to self-publish numerous chapbooks in small print runs, sometimes even only one copy. Knott published at least 11 books of poems with publishers such as “Random House, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, the University of Pittsburg Press, Sun Press, and the American Poets Continuum Series at BOA Editions” (Dischell 71), but he was so prolific and printed so many self-published chapbooks that probably no one knows how many books he really released, maybe not even Timothy Liu or John Skoyles who tried to collect everything Knott published.

Knott was a poet’s poet. He was a master of the craft and was always revising, and was even known to put “errata slips into books of his in bookstores” (Lux 85). Despite his constant revisions, Knott’s poems arrive to the reader with the energies and wildness of a first or second draft, which to me is a major accomplishment.

Knowing Knott is a pleasure to read, and can be read in one sitting because it is so engaging and only 114 pages of essays (126 total pages), and it’s very inspirational, too. Prior to reading this collection of essays, I thought Bill Knott was a semi-obscure poet, as not many poets I have met who are my age or younger know of him. After reading this book, I realize how important he was to the generation of poets before me and the generation before them. According to Robert Fanning in Knowing Knott’s last essay, Thomas Lux declared “Bill Knott our greatest living poet. ‘Bill Knott has more talent in his pinky finger [. . .] than Any Poet of his Generation” (115). I believe this book, in some degree, is a calling to future generations of poets to not overlook this poet whose “art lies, in part, in living inside the language, and lies, in part, in viewing it from the perspective of enduring outsider” (Waters 13), and whose poetry is so “hard-core surrealist” that, according to Lux, “If Bill were French and born a few years generations earlier, he would have kicked André Breton out of the [Surrealists] group for being counterrevolutionary” (80). I believe after reading Knowing Knott: Essays on an American Poet that Knott can teach poets how to be unique, wild, energy driven, as he fully embraced and triumphed in the many forms of poetry, and perhaps more importantly, Knott’s actions will inspire us to be generous members in the poetry community, as he was consistently helping poets with their poetry or helping them financially. In the words of Skoyles, “When we lost Bill, we lost a person with an uncompromising integrity and an enormous compassion for the underdog. [. . .] When we lost Bill, we lost what could be called the conscience of poetry” (97). Knowing Knott will keep reminding us of this and Bill Knott.

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Huff, Steven, ed. Knowing Knott: Essays on an American Poet. Rochester, NY: Tiger Bark Press, 2017. Print.

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27
Jan
17

On Bonnie Bolling’s The Red Hijab

A version of this review (and a better edited version) may appear in a future issue of Redactions: Poetry & Poetics.

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bonnie-bolling-the-red-hijabBonnie Bolling’s The Red Hijab (BkMk Press, 2016, and winner of the John Ciardi Prize for Poetry) is set in Bahrain, a kingdom of more than 30 islands in the Persian Gulf between Saudi Arabia and Qatar. According to H. L. Hix’s “Foreword,” “Of what happens in the Middle East, most North Americans receive little word except from what news media present. Consequently, the readily available image of the Middle East is biased toward conflict and violence” (7). Bolling who lived there for several years provides a unique view of Bahraini culture, an insider’s view, a journalistic view but with empathy.

The first image of empathy occurs in the opening poem, “The Red Hijab.” After describing an ancient area in the Persian Gulf (perhaps Diraz) with an “abandoned double-wide” trailer, a “tangle of razor wire,” stray cats, dirty windows, and a man “wrapped in a potato sack” picking through the trash, a woman appears walking in the rain with a laundry basket and an umbrella. Images like this of people trying to go about their daily business and tasks occurs throughout the book, but here, in the poem “The Red Hijab,” a housemaid wears a “red hijab.” It immediately, at least for me, conjures images of the girl in the red coat from Schindler’s List. In that movie, the girl in the red coat who enables Schindler to fully understand that the holocaust is happening around him, and she inspires him to do everything he can to stop it and to save as many Jews as possible. Bolling, who I assume is the speaker in these poems, however, does not act as a savior. She also does not try to simplify or generalize the Bahraini culture, as western news media might. Bolling’s observation of this housemaid allows us to see a side of life we may not hear about in North American media. In effect, Bolling becomes something like a journalistic embed, who “stand[s] on the corner, leaning next to the sign / that says in three languages: no uncovered women allowed / adjusting and re-adjusting my black hijab, me [a white, female, United States citizen] / on this narrow, broken footpath keeping my silence and distance” (“In Diraz” 7). The woman wearing the red hijab is the reader’s entrance point into the book and Bahrain.

As part of her journalistic acclimation, Bolling uses cultural signifiers, such as Bahraini foods and words like hijab, azan (a call to prayer five times a day by the muezzin), muezzin (the crier who calls for azan from a high part of a mosque at stated hours), Shahada (the Islamic profession of faith), Shamaal (a northwesterly wind blowing over Iraq and the Persian Gulf, which is often strong during the day but weaker in the night), among others, as points of cultural exchange, or at least points of cultural encounter. The encounter for the reader is the disorientation he/she feels when experiencing the unfamiliar and looking for a translation (as I did above with Dictionary.com). This defamiliarization helps the reader shake off the stereotypes of those who live in the Middle East. The speaker must have experienced something like this, too, but now these signifiers are familiar to her. With all this said, one may wonder if Bolling is just wearing a comfortable mask – trying to act like Bahraini while holding on to the security of her white, American privilege. In part I, this may seem the case, but later we realize, part I was just a tour inside the walls of Diraz, and an intimate tour as we sometimes feel the “Oh, we want it all, don’t we?” (“Above the Azan” 28) judgmental disdain some Bahraini have of American tourists.

Perhaps the thematic thesis of part II is best stated in “Gathering Plumeria,” the last poem of section I, when the speaker says, “I am taking / it all in, every side because stories / from the heart don’t lie” (32). By taking the reader behind the walls, deeper into the community where she lives, Bolling introduces us to a few of its citizens and tries to get inside their hearts, such as a woman at home, a young man who will suicide-bomb a coffee shop, “young boys wearing black” harassing an older man because they are bored, and a family whose father’s tongue was cut our and the people who cut it, among others. In “Stars, Moon Rooster” (37), one of the poems I return to most, Bolling, referring to herself in the third person, walks at night and looks into a “house with linoleum,” where she sees a woman and imagines what the woman is feeling and thinking. Using the same third-person “she” to describe herself, Bolling shifts into the woman thinking about hope and how a new born baby is “the embodiment of hope,” until the baby is “thrust / into the arms of another,” and how over the years of life hope “doesn’t matter so much.” Eventually, the wind wakes her from trance, and she returns to her own night journey.

One might consider this presumptuous to assume what someone else is thinking. Perhaps, they would be correct. However, she lived in the community for quite some time and observed and listened to the people. She was a poetic embed, unlike the disembodied “they” providing commentary and generalizations. Frequent phrases in section II are “they say,” “they are saying,” “someone says,” and other variations, and this “they” often makes statements about the Bahraini. Because we don’t know who the “they” is, the statements become almost Orwellian. For instance, in “A Silencing” (49-50), the poem opens with an active voice describing the speaker cooking a meal, then there is the volta “Deep in the village / the blind rooster’s / crowing.” This volta hinges on the apostrophe in “rooster’s.” Do we read “rooster’s” as subject and verb, “rooster is,” or as possessive, “the crowing of the rooster”? Perhaps both as the poem then segues into “This village / is said to be ancient.” This sentence is in the passive voice, as we don’t know the subject, or who is doing the saying. It’s just stated, and the reader wonders if that voice is the same as the next sentence’s voice, “Been the same for centuries, / they say, except for air conditioning.” The community’s character, personality, and culture are anonymously inscribed. This unknown speaks for its citizens. Even the local news realizes that “Someone from outside is fooling them / into going up against each other,” where the “someone” is the unknown voice and the “other”s are at times the young and the old. That “someone” is so strong, it can command young people to cut out the tongues of old people:

     Then, they were on him.
     Do it, someone said, do it now.
     So they did it with scissors.
     They cut-out his tongue –

In essence, the unknown “they” and “someone” are performing a type of erasure on its citizens by telling them what they are and not allowing the citizens to have an ability speak back, while at the same time also erasing their religion, as evidenced by cutting out the tongue of a man who memorized the Qu’ran.

What Bolling does in section II’s other poems and throughout the book’s poems is to give voice to the people who have been erased or overwritten. Through her journalistic end-paused and end-stopped lines (there is very little enjambment in these poems), and her movements between physical and psychological realism, she allows us to read below this anonymously created palimpsest to reveal more than “conflict and violence” and to show how

                       so many stories separate us.
     So many nations.
                       We search our tongues,
     desperate for a phrase, some scrap
                       of language or utterance
     that will allow our worlds
                       to come together for a moment (“Only Bread, Only Water” 51-3),

Perhaps this is why we hear a rooster announcing morning so often in The Red Hijab. It’s a language we all understand, as well as the food and love that persist throughout this collection of poems.//

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Bolling, Bonnie. The Red Hijab. Kansas City, MO: BkMk Press, 2016.

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18
Nov
16

Redactions: Poetry & Poetics 2016 Pushcart Nominations

Redactions: Poetry & Poetics has made its nominations for the 2016 Pushcart Prize. In the order of appearance in issue 20 are:

  1. Angie Macri’s “Young Seahorse Viewed as a Transparency Object.” Page 6.
  2. Randy Gonzales’ “Becoming.” Page 18-19.
  3. Rob Cook’s “The Empty Dress.” Pages 22-23.
  4. Amorak Huey’s “The Observer Effect Is Not the Same as the Uncertainty Principle.” Page 26.
  5. Steve Mueske’s “The Crossing.” Pages 32-33.
  6. Kristina Marie Darling’s “Jane Dark Addresses the Husband (II).” Page 41.

To read these poems, stories, and more, order a copy of issue 20 from here: http://www.etsy.com/shop/redactionspoetry.

You can also read the Pushcart Prize nominated poems here: http://www.redactions.com/pushcart-poems.asp.

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11
Nov
16

Poetry Assignments: The Book (Online): It’s All About You

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

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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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It’s All About You

a: What a Baby You Are; or The Medium of Time Travel; or The Poetry of Casey Kasem

This idea comes from Karen Head, author of Shadow Boxes (All Nations Press, 2003), though I don’t know if this idea appears in her book, but . . .

This is what Karen did, if I have it correct, or some part of it. She went back to the year of her birth & used songs from that year as starting points for poems. For instance, she has a poem titled “Light My Fire,” in which she weaves in certain events from the time period of her birth & the song. She then talks to those events & to the song & wraps them all together in a poem that talks back to her existence & to the reader.

So we are going to try something similar. You will use song titles from songs that were on the top 40 chart during the week of your birth (well, for those of you born in 1970 or after). Or you can use titles of songs that came out in the year of your birth, or the titles of albums, or the titles of books, or whatever else you can think of.

The point is to discover the immediate effects of your surroundings when you were born, by using the title of something as the lense through which you will perceive those surroundings.

I’d been interested in hearing from someone born in 1973 & who has used Springsteen’s “Blinded by the Light” as their song title. Man, I want to know how that got woven into your life.

b: Conceptual Music; or How the Solipsist Applied Loop Quantum Gravity to His Existence

Ok. We will be doing a similar thing in this assignment, but now we will do it using the time period of when you were conceived.

If you don’t understand the second title to this assignment, it will be explained, in part, in an upcoming poetry assignment, “Break on Through to the Other Side; or T+3, T+2, T+1, T=0, T-1, T-2, T-3, T-2006 AD; or The Big Crunch as Big Bang in Reverse; or Neo Takes the Red Pill of Negative Eternity.” Look for it soon. [See Science, the Universe, Time, & Other Evolutions.]

Happy New Year! A Time to Reflect. A Prose Assignment!

This was inspired by Christopher Howell, who at the end of one of his semester-long creative writing classes would have students write a paper on what they have achieved with their poetry in the semester. This assignment will be similar.

You are to respond to the following questions. The response can be in journal entry form, essay, or however you want. The questions are:

What are you doing with your poetry?
In what ways has the poetry you have written this year been successful/unsuccessful?
Where would you like to go with your poetry? or what would you like to see/hear happen to your poetry?

Optional:
What’s going on in contemporary poetry?
What do you like &/or dislike about the current happenings in poetry?
What would you like to see happen to contemporary poetry?

Oh, be honest with yourself!

(9-16-06 addendum) Below is an example in verse, instead of prose. It’s from William Heyen’s book The Confessions of Doc Williams & Other Poems (Etruscan Press, 2006.) After reading it, read Pound’s “A Pact,” which you can find in Personæ: The Shorter Poems. A revised edition prepared by Lea Baechler & A. Walton Litz (New Directions, 1990).

   The New American Poetry

   It is the poetry of the privileged class.

   It inherits portfolios.

   It was born in the Ivy League, & inbred there.

   Its parents filled its homes with bubbling Bach,
           silver & crystal brightnesses
                       for its surfaces.

   It does not hear the cheap & natural music of the cow.
           Its vases hold gold-stemmed roses, not ponds with logs
                       from which turtles descend at our approach,

   neckfold leeches shining like black droplets of blood.

   It swallows Paris & Athens, tracks its genes to the Armory Show.

   It waits by parlor coffins, applies rouge to Poe & Beau Brummell.

   Its father is Gertrude Stein, not Whitman, who despises it,
        though it will not admit it.

   Old women with children do live in it.

   It does not harvest thought, or associate with farmers.

   It does not serve in the army, or follow a story.

   Inviolate, buttressed by its own skyhook aesthetics,
           it revels in skewed cubes,
                       elliptical appositions.

   Ultramarine critics praise it, wash their hands of subject matter.

   It is tar-baby minus the baby, minus the tar.

   Its city is not the city of pavement or taxis, business or bums.

   It dwells on absence & illusion, mirrors refulgent flames.

   Deer that browse beneath its branches starve.

   Its emotions do not arise from sensible objects.

   It passes rocks as though they were clouds.

   It does not flood out is muskrats.

   It sustains itself on paperweight petals.

   It does not define, catalog, testify, or witness.

   It holds models before the young of skillful evasion,
           withering heartlessness.

   It lifts only its own weight for exercise, does not body-block,
           or break up double plays,
                       or countenance scar tissue.

   It flails in the foam, but has no body & cannot drown, or swim.

   In his afterlife, Rimbaud smuggles it along infected rivers.


                                                  (1984)


   “The New American Poetry” from The Confessions of Doc Williams & Other Poems. 
   Used by permission of Etruscan Press.

a: Won’t You Give Me Three Steps / Gimme Three Steps, Mister, / Gimme Three Steps Towards My Core? / Gimme Three Steps / Gimme Three Steps, Mister, / So My Poems Won’t be a Bore

   With the end of the year near,
   it’s time to reflect on your poetry, dear.
   So here are some questions you can ask
   yourself about your poetic tasks.
   What are the three most important things
   you do to make your poems sing.

Bustin’ the rhyme here. Reflect on what are the three most important aspects of your poetry right now?

For instance, for me:

  1. Clarity. Trying to create poems with visual, syntactic, & thinking clarity.
  2. Music. Well, it don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing. Doo wop doo wop doo waa.
  3. Gleaming the other. Creating the poem that extends beyond itself. (For instance, in a poem about a compass that is about how the compass works & how it gets me home, is it also on another level about, for example, love, politics, justice, or is it an ars poetica. Can the poem convert lead to gold, etc? And why or why not?)

b: Three is a Gesture, Ten is Gaining Depth; or Three . . . That Ain’t No List, Now, Ten, Well, There’s a List for You; or Rounding Out the Top Ten – the Next Seven

What will complete the top ten list of what you are doing with your poems? And why? What will you try to improve or make more significant?

You will probably have to meditate on these aspects, & you will probably have to explain to yourself & your poems why.

For example, waiting to make my list:

  1. Imagination – or longer starings.
  2. Pivots – unique turns or shifts, wonderful seamless leaps.
  3. Tone – to see how tone affects meaning.
  4. Voice – to see if it is necessary for voice to match content.
  5. Image – is this connecting? Is there a better way to present it?
  6. Square look on page – to see how shape & poem interact.
  7. Ambiguity – as an experiment to encourage gleaming.

The David Lehman Experiment; or The Best Poetry According to You

That’s right. Each year you will compile your own anthology of the best poems you read that year, but the poems could have first appeared in a year other than the one you are reading. So for instance, if you happen to read Sir Thomas Wyatt the Elder’s poem “Whoso List to Hunt” (ca. 1526) and you think it is one of the best poems you read during the year, then include it in your anthology.

This activity is continual. But you will start a new anthology at the beginning of each year.

The Ed Hirsch Experiment; or Keeping Track So You Don’t Forget; or The Reading Journal

Ed Hirsch has a fine new book out: Poet’s Choice (Harcourt, 2006). This book, basically, is filled with two- or three-page essays about a poet and the poet’s poetry. The first part is about individual non-American poets (and it’s quite impressive the number of poets he mentions that I’ve never heard of, but after reading Hirsch’s essay, they become poets I want to read – there are, of course, poets I have heard of and read). And the second part is about American poets.

Each essay talks about something wonderful the poet did or how wonderful a poet is/was. Each essay is filled with enthusiasm and love and a deep understanding of the poet and the poet’s poetry. Hirsch has been able to turn his head enough to find something in each of the poets he writes about.

So this is what we are going to do. We are going to keep a reading journal. We are going to write about every book of poetry we read. We are going to put into written words why we like, or dislike, a certain book, or poet. You will be able to record your early responses to each book. Later, you can add to the responses. Or later, way later, you can see where you were at this point in your poetry life. I think, in part, it will help us understand how a book of poems works, or will help us understand a particular poet with more depth and clarity – and probably our own poetry.

You can also couple this poetry assignment with the previous assignment. You can write about each poem in your anthology.

Yeah, we are going to learn why we really like something. And through the writing of it, we will aid our memory about a poet. You can even rewrite poems in your journal. That’s always a good idea.

The next assignment or two will get us back to writing poetry, but in the meantime, it’s good to reflect through prose.

Go forth!

Making Closure; or Getting to Know You / Getting to Know Every Word About You [use a high, squeaky, out-of-key voice to sing that]; or Damn, Is My Vocabulary that Small? And After All of that Highfalutin Schoolin’, too, Sheesh; or I’m Gonna Make You Smoke All Them Ceegars Until You Learn to Hate Them; or The Old Possum’s Book of Practical Remedies; or How to Avoid the T. S. Eliot (Old Possum) Syndrome; or Shaking Off the Funk; or Getting Rid of Your Wouby (Mr. Mom anyone?); or Keeping it Fresh; or How Boring Am I?; or Mama Needs a New Pair of Words (and how to avoid making your point)

You are gonna need all of your poems for this one. Go through all of your poems and find the most frequent word(s), image(s), idea(s) that appear in your poems. Well, maybe not all of your poems, but over the last year or two or three.

Now use those words, images, ideas, in at least every other line of the next poem you write. And then do it again with the next poem. And the next. Keep doing it until those words, images, and ideas are out of your system. Or until you at least understand how to use them with significance, and not as an easy fall back.

For instance, my common words and images are: shadows, the moon, and mountains. And I need to purify myself of them so I can grow and move on. Right now they are so easy to use. I know they are inexhaustible material, but, dude, I need to break free for awhile, ya know? I need to learn how to use them with power, again, as I did when I first discovered/used them. Maybe this doesn’t happen to you, but if it does, you will find out and cure yourself.

Go refresh!

[11-11-16 Note: To make this easy, copy and paste your poems into a Word Cloud generator.]

Self Parody; or She Who Laughs Bests, Laughs at Herself; or Popping the Ego; or How to Make Nelson Muntz “Ha Ha” at You

Nelson MuntzNow that you’ve been examining your poetry, it’s time to make fun of it. Hyperbolize yourself. Generalize yourself. Write a self parody of your poems’ tendencies. Shake it up.

Ask yourself, “Am I still being original? Am I still being fresh? Am I making it new?”

You should do this assignment every couple of years. Starting now. Then every two or three or five years (five might be too long), consider where you’re. If, for example, your voice tends to be the same, make fun of it, so you can explore other voices. If it’s your tone that tends to be the same, bust it up. Check your syntax: are you following the same techniques because they create a cool effect? If so, make it laugh for you, and then go explore other syntactical arrangements.

Stay fresh my friends. Make it New!

I tend to say “Go forth!” at this point, as if you are a noble knight on a gallant steed, and you are about to go on an exciting journey or heading for battle. But this time I will put on a fool’s cap with a little bell dangling from the top, spin once, twice, thrice, and with a giggling cackle, a “Ha Ha,” and a jocoserious tone announce to you, . . . “Go Jest!”

//

Go Forth!

//

09
Nov
16

Poetry Assignments: The Book (Online): Responses; or Calling All Poets (Dead & Alive); or Talking to Eternity

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

//

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

//

Responses; or Calling All Poets (Dead & Alive); or Talking to Eternity

The Dr. Carlos Response Poem

Write a response to William Carlos Williams‘ “The Red Wheelbarrow.” There is enough information in this poem to piece together a story, i.e. the wheel barrow is glazed with rain water suggests it has recently rained. You may even want to fill in the spaces between the words or lines in the “The Red Wheelbarrow.”

(9-16-06 addendum) Notice how each stanza in the poem looks like the profile of a wheelbarrow. Thanks for sharing that observation, William Heyen.

//

The Dr. Carlos Response Poem II: The Wrath of Flossie

Pretend you are Flossie Williams (Dr. Carlos’ wife) after having read the following note on the refrigerator door:

   This is just to say

   I have eaten
   the plums
   that were in
   the icebox

   and which
   you were probably
   saving
   for breakfast

   Forgive me
   they were delicious
   so sweet
   and so cold

a: The Dr. Carlos Response Poem III: City Talk

Yes, another response poem idea, but . . . Ok.

In Dr. Carlos’ Paterson, at times it seems the city of Paterson is trying to talk or is being talked for, though sometimes it is Dr. Paterson. So here’s the assignment: pretend you are a city writing a poem.

Other alternatives are to be a mountain or a lake, but something with a history & a story or stories to tell. I guess this means you are limited to narrative, but if you can break free of that, then most cool!

b: The Beatific Beatrice Response, or Dante? Who’s He?

From what I’ve learned, Dante & Beatrice met only four brief times, but Dante was horribly in love with Beatrice. And I think Beatrice didn’t pay him much mind after their visits.

With that in mind, we should explore how Beatrice felt after The Divine Comedy was finished & published. How would she have responded?

c: Beatrice Takes A Journey With Sappho, or Hell Hath No Fury Like a Beatrice with a Pen

Write a new Divine Comedy but from the point of view of Beatrice & using Sappho as her guide. Or maybe just write a canto for the Inferno, a canto for Purgatorio, & a canto for Paradisio.

//

Sapphic Love

Bust of SapphoAs we know, we only have one complete & full poem/song of Sappho. The rest are all in fragments. Sometimes translators leave those blanks in their translation. This assignment, which I imagine has been done before, attempts to fill in those blanks – not all blanks to all her poems, but for just the blanks of one poem. For instance, consider fragment 24C:

   ]
   ]we live
   ]
   the opposite
   ]
   daring
   ]
   ]
   ]

or 24D

   ]
   ]
   ]
   ]
   ]
   ]in a thin voice
   ]


   Quoted lines from If Not, Winter by Anne Carson, copyright © 2002 by Anne Carson. 
   Used by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc.

So put words, lines, stanzas where the brackets are.

One may also just take a fragment like “I would not think to touch the sky with two arms” (fragment 52) & wrap a poem around it.

I imagine in your final draft, to tip your hat, you should italicize Sappho’s words.

Other poems with only fragments from poets like Anakeron or the iamb inventor Archilocos, etc. can be used in place of Sappho.

Good Sappho books are 7 Greeks by Guy Davenport (NY: New Directions, 1980), or If Not, Winter by Anne Carson (NY: Vintage, 2002). The former is awesome, & the latter is equally as impressive. Mary Barnard’s book, while also impressive & awesome, doesn’t leave the blanks.

//

This One’s for the Ladies; or “Oh, Please. Enough With the Worms, Already. If That’s What You Want to Call It”; or “Andy, Andy, Andy. Will It Ever End With You?”

Andrew Marvell wrote a wonderful poem, among many others. But the one we are concerned with is “To His Coy Mistress,” which is quoted below.

Alas, then. You are to be the Coy Mistress & respond to Andy’s pleas. Using meter & rhyme might be nice, or you can contemporize the whole situation if you wish. That’s it.

   To His Coy Mistress

      Had we but World enough, and Time,
   This coyness Lady were no crime.
   We would sit down, and think which way
   To walk, and pass our long Loves Day.
   Thou by the Indian Ganges side
   Should’st Rubies find: I by the Tide
   Of Humber would complain. I would
   Love you ten years before the Flood:
   And you should if you please refuse
   Till the Conversion of the Jews.
   My vegetable Love should grow
   Vaster then Empires, and more slow.
   An hundred years should go to praise
   Thine Eyes, and on thy Forehead Gaze.
   Two hundred to adore each Breast:
   But thirty thousand to the rest.
   An Age at least to every part,
   And the last Age should show your Heart.
   For Lady you deserve this State;
   Nor would I love at lower rate.
      But at my back I alwaies hear
   Times winged Charriot hurrying near:
   And yonder all before us lye
   Desarts of vast Eternity.
   Thy Beauty shall no more be found;
   Nor, in thy marble Vault, shall sound
   My ecchoing Song: then Worms shall try
   That long preserv’d Virginity:
   And your quaint Honour turn to dust;
   And into ashes all my Lust.
   The Grave’s a fine and private place,
   But none I think do there embrace.
   Now therefore, while the youthful hew
   Sits on thy skin like morning dew
   And while thy willing Soul transpires
   At every pore with instant Fires,
   Now let us sport us while we may;
   And now, like am’rous birds of prey,
   Rather at once our Time devour,
   Than languish in his slow-chapt pow’r.
   Let us roll all our Strength, and all
   Our sweetness, up into one Ball:
   And tear our Pleasures with rough strife,
   Thorough the Iron gates of Life.
   Thus, though we cannot make our Sun
   Stand still, yet we will make him run.

//

Dealing with Rejection

With my 99th literary-rejection letter just received, & number one hundred at hand [as of November 7, 2016, I am at 1085 rejection letters], I was reminded of Mike Dockins’ poem “Monsoon” about his one hundredth rejection letter, which then sparked this assignment.

Your assignment is to write a poem dealing with rejection, & if it deals with rejection letters from literary journals, all the better, & perhaps even more preferred.

Here’s Dockins’ poem, which first appeared in 5 AM & also appeared on Verse Daily on February 18, 2004:

   MONSOON

   Dear 100th rejection slip, I am learning to spell
   monsoon. I look forward to your square blue ocean:
   starfish and whales of polite sentences wriggling
   on harpoons, black tide awash with monsoon,
   my lamp a fiery moon rising on krilly semi-colons,
   maybe a sleek marine scribble. Soon, soon.
   I see the in the Arabian Sea, approach Panaji
   from the southwest. How kindergarten, how 1978,
   how monsoon. I am in love with your maps
   and hieroglyphs – how jejune. When you cry
   à la loon from my blustery mailbox I’m going
   to order a fat drink speckled with plankton,
   festooned with a paper umbrella bending in
   monsoon, tiny tsunamis crashing the salted rim.
   I might even kiss the postal clerk, Irishman
   that I am, monsoon I long to be. I’m a candle-boat
   on the anniversary of something terrible
   and beautiful, some atom balloon, adrift on
   a waveless lagoon, wailing monsoon monsoon.


   Used by permission of 5 A.M.

//

On Second Thought

This one has a long tradition, & now it’s your turn. You are to write a response poem to one of your friend’s poems. You can pick up on a theme & say “Yes, & in addition to that . . .” or “No. It’s more like this . . .” or “What about this?” Etc. (Of course, phrase those utterances with a more poetic sensibility.) Most important, it’s gotta be a response to your buddy’s poem!

//

Here, Let Me Try

This is in line with the above assignment, “On Second Thought.” This time, however, you will take one of your buddy’s poems & revise it for him/her.

Whether you keep the revisions for yourself (& be a kinda cool literary thief who won’t go to jail, but who may have to buy their buddy a bottle of wine if the poem comes out good – you know, a fine) or whether you return it (like Ez did with The Waste Land to Tom) is up to you.

//

Laundry Time

This idea comes to me from Kat Smith after she heard W.S. Merwin read a poem at Whitman College in Walla Walla, WA. It is also something that Lorca has done, & should provide for a good summer long exercise.

The assignment is a celebration of our clothes.

You are to write a poem about a particular piece of clothing you wear or someone else wears.

I plan on writing every time I go to the laundromat, so by the end of summer, & after all the laundry, I hope to have a series of clothing poems.

Ok. Go Sing, celebrate, & clean your clothes.

//

The Wally Stevens Anecdote

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

It is simple. Here it is.

Write a poem with the title “Anecdote of Me Reading a Wallace Stevens Poem.” You can insert your name in place of “Me.” I imagine you can do it with any poet, but I imagine it is funnier with a Wally Stevens poem.

//

Art Response Poem

Find a painting or a sculpture, one that isn’t too famous or popular, & write a poem about it, or a response to it, or let it evoke something. Perhaps even create a narrative about the scene. The Pre-Raphaelites might be most helpful for the latter.

//




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

The Cave

Poems for an Empty Church

Poems for an Empty Church

The Oldest Stone in the World

The Oldest Stone in the Wolrd

Henri, Sophie, & The Hieratic Head of Ezra Pound: Poems Blasted from the Vortex

Henri, Sophie, & The Hieratic Head of Ezra Pound: Poems Blasted from the Vortex

Pre-Dew Poems

Pre-Dew Poems

Negative Time

Negative Time

After Malagueña

After Malagueña

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