Archive for the 'poetry assignments' Category



24
Oct
16

Poetry Assignments: The Book (Online): Science, the Universe, Time, & Other Evolutions

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

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Science, the Universe, Time, & Other Evolutions

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

Recently, some physicists have provided a mathematical model that suggests there was a time before the Big Bang, which seems contrary to reason, as how could time exist in a state of no space or motion? Hmm. But by staring through the lenses of Loop Quantum Gravity (what’s that? Quantum Gravity is a model physicists use to try & combine the predictions & theories of General Relativity (gravity) with the predictions & theories quantum physics (the sub-atomic world where gravity doesn’t seem to apply), & Loop Quantum Gravity, as far as can tell, is similar to Quantum Gravity but with more subtleties, or specifics).

According to the calculations of Tomasz Pawlowski & Parmpreet Singh, there is another universe on a timeline preceding the Big Bang, & this universe is similar to ours.

But what is before the Big Bang? Is a god gathering her paints, paint brushes, a canvas, & a palette? Is that universe a mirror image of ours, but maybe where the laws of thermodynamics are in reverse – things move towards order (the broken coffee mug on the floor flies up on to the table & becomes a solid mug holding coffee, which gets hotter as time progresses, or regresses as the case may be)? Or is it just part of the flux/breathing of the universe – expand, contract, expand, contract, Brahma-Vishnu-Shiva? Is there a white rabbit running around, singing “I’m early, I’m early, I’m early, for an unimportant date”? What, I ask, is on the other side?

Go explore. Go down the hole. Take Morpheus’s red pill & see how far the rabbit hole goes, I mean, how far the other universe goes.

For more information, google: Probing Question: What Happened Before the Big Bang?

“Remember . . . all I am offering is the truth, nothing more.”

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Before the Beginning of Years; or Ylem – the Cointreau of a Cosmospolitan

We are going to write a poem about the beginning of it all, or shortly thereafter. This assignment is inspired by the cover picture of the wonderful book: Genesis of the Big Bang (Oxford University Press, 2001) by Ralph Alpher & Robert Herman.

Photomantage of R. A. Alpher, G. Gamow, and R. Herman, 1949

In the picture: Robert Herman (holding a “wired programming plugboard for an IBM CPC computer at IBM’s Watson Laboratory)” is left, Ralph Alpher is right, and George Gamow is in the middle (he’s not the bottle of Cointreau). Alpher took the photo of Herman holding a wired programming plugboard for an IBM CPC computer at IBM’s Watson Laboratory. The photo of Alpher was taken by Newsweek, but never used. Gamow’s photo came froma security badge at the Applied Physics Laboratory, Johns Hopkins University. “Photomantage of R. A. Alpher, G. Gamow, and R. Herman, 1949” from Genesis of the Big Bang, copyright 2001. Used by permission of Oxford University Press.

The poem you will compose will thus incorporate Ylem & Cointreau. (“Ylem” is pronounced: ī ’ lum). Its definition is below:

Ylem: [n] (cosmology) the original matter that (according to the big bang theory) existed before the formation of the chemical elements.

  • The word used by George Gamow & his collaborators for the primordial material of the Big Bang. In most of his work, Gamow assumed that the ylem consisted entirely of neutrons. In inflationary cosmology, the role of the ylem is played by the false vacuum.
  • Primordial state of matter – neutrons & their decay products (protons & electrons) – before the Big Bang. The term was taken from Aristotle & used for the α-β-γ (Alpher-Bethe-Gamow) theory.
  • This view of an expanding universe seemed to fit beautifully with the concepts envisaged by the Russian physicist Alexander Friedman & G. Lemaitre (a Belgian Jesuit priest) around 1920 & later by George Gamow, where at the beginning of time, the Universe began its existence as an extremely hot & dense concentration of matter. Gamow named the substance ylem from Aristotle’s basic stuff from which all matter was derived. It would later become known as the primordial nuclear soup.
  • Etymology: Middle English, universal matter, from Old French ilem, from Medieval Latin hylem [where the y is long], accusative of hylē [where the y is long], matter from Greek hulē.

There will also be a structure to this poem. The first line of the poem will be one syllable. Each line thereafter will slowly grow in length but not exceed twelve syllables. If you take a liking to Alan Guth’s “inflationary model” of the standard Big Bang model, then your second or third line should have a big jump in its number of syllables, but should not exceed nine syllables.

The last line of the poem has three possible endings.

  1. Should you think the universe will grow to a certain size & then shrink into the Big Crunch, then the last line of the poem must be one syllable.
  2. Should you think the universe will grow indefinitely & without end, then the last line of the poem must be the longest line of the poem.
  3. Should you think the universe will grow to a certain size & not grow anymore, then the last line should be as long as the longest line in the poem, but the last line cannot by itself be the longest.

Also, if you can get a keyboard into the poem, or Aristotle, or alpha, beta, & gamma, then kick ass!

By the way, the first title of this assignment was taken from the first line of a “Chorus” in Algernon Charles Swinburne’s “Atalanta in Calydon,” which can be found in this new & best edition of selected Swinburne poems: Swinburne: The Major Poems and Selected Prose, eds. Jerome McGann & Charles L. Sligh. (Yale University Press, 2004).

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Irony & the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, or the Cat’s Revenge

Erwin Schrödinger tried to help his students & us understand the uncertainty principle through a model of a cat in a box, a vial of poison, a hammer, & a random element that may or may not trigger the hammer to break the vial & kill the cat in the box. As observers who cannot see into the box, the observers can never know if the element has triggered the hammer & thus led to the cat’s demise. As a result, & in relation to the uncertainty principle, the cat is either dead or alive, or both . . . or not even in the box!

With that in mind, let us envision Erwin Schrödinger’s funeral. Let us envision him inside the casket & whether his casket was left open or closed at the viewings & such.

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Quarks & Sestinas

For Greg Glazner

It’s actually kinda silly, but to me it seems natural, though I imagine quite difficult.

There are six types of quarks: up, down, top, bottom, strange, & charm. Those quarks, especially, two of them, help to make up a lot of matter in this universe (& some others, I suppose). As these quarks are constructs, & because sestinas are constructed upon six words, the connection seems obvious to me & a worthy challenge. “Up,” “down,” “top,” “bottom,” “strange,” & “charm” will be the end words for a sestina.

The idea comes from this sentence: “Well, now there are six quarks, and they bear the names up, down, top, bottom, strange, and charm, end words to some quantum sestina” (M. L. Williams, “Knowers and Makers,” The Measured Word: On Poetry and Science.  ed. Kurt Brown. University of Georgia P, 2001. P 17). It is a wonderful book, & I highly recommended it.

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The Other Evolution; or The Man with Two Hearts: The Continuing Adventures of Dr. Michael Hfuhruhurr – a New Movie for Steve Martin; or Lub Lub Dub Dub

It occurred to me evolution should have given us an extra heart, a back up heart, a just-in-case-one-heart-stops-working heart. Then it occurred to me to wonder what it would be like to have two hearts. How would symbolism, especially toward love, change? How would love change? How would humanity change? How would music change?

Your assignment is to create a new world of humans, where each human has two hearts. You are to explore love, music, humanity, & everything else the imagination can discover in regards to that world. This should surely produce many poems, or an epic poem.

Explore form, too. Should you use quatrains? Should you use couplets? If rhyming, how would rhyme schemes change with two hearts? How would metrics change? Should your lines have two iambs each? Will the new heart beats affect the way the line breathes? etc. etc. etc.

Go forth! Love twice as much!!

Me & My Clone, or How to Raise Myself My Way

This one was inspired by D.A. Feinfeld’s poem “Cloning,” which appears in Rodin’s Eyes (Fithian Press, 2004).

The idea of this assignment is to pretend that you have cloned yourself, that you or your wife give birth to the clone, & that you have to raise your clone from its birth into childhood & beyond.

The Hands of Time; Like Grains of Sand in an Hour Glass; or Redefining Time

So you have just created new constellations (which a few people still use to measure time). Now our assignment is to make new metaphors of how we measure time, or define the movement of time.

That is, hourglasses are hardly used anymore, clocks with minute hands & hour hands & second hands are starting to become extinct. The “tick tock tick tock” of a clock is becoming an echo of previous centuries. And the “tick tick tick” of a stop watch or a time-bomb is also disappearing. (After the time units wind down to 0:00.00, only the bomb’s ka-boom remains as affirmation that time did indeed move & was heard.)

The clocks that are starting to gain dominance are silent in their LED & digital displays. Thus, we need new metaphors of how we measure & see time in our new clock era.

One idea for this – how will the heart beat be heard? How will it be measured without a ticking clock? Or rather, to what will the heart beat be compared to? Has the heart, as a result of silenced clocks, also grown silent?

Is the precision of a Swiss watch now in the silence & invisibility of an atomic clock? . . .

Oh, the metaphors seem as endless as my monthly bills!

Make haste. Go make time!

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Getting to Know Our Solar System

I am currently (3-28-04 at 10:24 p.m. PST) listening to Gustav Holst’s The Planets (as done by John Eliot Gardiner & the Philharmonia Orchestra), & it is comprised of seven pieces/movements. Each piece is like the personality of each planet, & with their mythic undertones. (There are no movements for Earth nor for Pluto.)

And now that we recently discovered a tenth planet in our solar system (the discovery was made by Dr. Michael Brown, associate professor of planetary astronomy at the California Institute of Technology, in Pasadena), or rather the “discovery of the most distant object ever detected orbiting the Sun,” it seems appropriate that we try to write a poem for each planet. (A neat little chap book could be had). Oh, the new object has been named Sedna after the Inuit goddess of the ocean.

Some more information to help you with the new planet: The body is believed to be about 1,250 miles across, but may even be larger than the furthest known planet, Pluto, which is 1,406 miles across & was discovered in 1930.

Scientists believe it is 6.2 billion miles from Earth in a region of space known as the Kuiper Belt, which contains hundreds of other known bodies.

Whether the new discovery can actually be called a planet is likely to be debated by astro-physicists for months or even years to come.

(9-1-06 addendum): Well, the debate is over. Neither Sedna nor Pluto are considered planets, but don’t let that stop you from doing this assignment. Also, Holst must have been a visionary genius to realize Pluto is not a planet.

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21
Oct
16

Poetry Assignments: The Book (Online): Imaginary Worlds

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

//

Imaginary Worlds

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.

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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!

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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!)

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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.

John Isles has a great one, “Elegy for the Present Moment,” in his new book Ark (Kuhl House Poets, 2003). His, however, is about the moment the sun stopped shining.

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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!)

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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! 

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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.

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Imitations; or Because Poems Are to Speak to All Times; or Make It New (Number 3)

But first a history lesson.

In 1570, in Roger Ascham’s The Schoolmaster, between pages 99 and 133, he has six ideas on how to translate.

There are six ways appointed by the best learned men, for the learning of tongues and increase of eloquence, as

1) Translatio linguarum.
2) Paraphrasis.
3) Metaphrasis.
4) Epitome.
5) Imitatio.
6) Declamatio.

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.]

Then 110 years later, John Dryden comes along with three very similar terms for translation, which appear in his “Preface” to Ovid’s Epistles in 1680:

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.

Robert Lowell picks up Dryden’s third in Imitations (New York: Farrar, Straus and Cudahy, 1961). In Lowell’s introduction to this collection, he writes of his translations, imitations:

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.

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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!!)

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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.

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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.

//

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!

//

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

//

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!

//

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!

//




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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