Posts Tagged ‘Gunslinger


Poetry Assignments: The Book (Online): Miscellany; or Trying to Relate the Unrelated; or These Gotta Go Some Place . . . So Here


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


  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


Miscellany; or Trying to Relate the Unrelated; or These Gotta Go Some Place . . . So Here

Bridge Building, or Setting up House

I’m sure all of us have many strong, individual poems. And I’m sure many of these poems have relationships with each other, and I imagine many have no relation one another. And I imagine these unrelated poems would like to be collected & find a home in a book or a chapbook, but their inability to relate with each other keeps them in their own little poetic studio apartments.

Ok. Here’s the assignment: Get those poems out of their apartments. Gather those unrelated poems & make bridges between the poems by writing poems that can find/make relationships. Do this for as many of the poems as you can. Let your poems make friends with each other. Let them share their talents & let them split the mortgage.


The Overlooked

I guess this would be considered a personae piece.

You will take on the voice of a character in a story who is one of the following: someone we are told is there but not talked about (a scenery character), someone who is mentioned in passing, or someone who is known to be there but not mentioned. Then give that person a voice. For instance, I did the voice of one of the crew members that was sailing with Odysseus when they encountered the Sirens. There are plenty of others. For instance, one of the spear-carrying warriors fighting with Lucifer in Paradise Lost.


Dream Poems

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

Write a poem about a dream a famous person (real or fictional) may have had.

It can even be done without allusions!

a: First Things First . . . Second, Third, Fourth, . . .; Indices Are So Useful; or Amateurs Borrow. The Great Ones Steal, Part Two

This idea came from reading the index of first lines in the Norton Anthology of American Poetry and realizing the string of first lines sounded like a long poem.

Then, when I was at AWP, I stopped at the Nightboat Books table, & picked up one of their recent releases The Truant Lover, which is a fine book by the way – it has an Emersonian structure about it.

Within The Truant Lover there is the poetry assignment that I am assigning, but that Juliet Patterson got to first. Here’s the poem, which is used with Nightboat Books’ permission:

   Index of First Lines 

   A slash of blue
   Again the cry that
   But she is/a stranger yet
   By the time you read this
   Coming late, as always
   Dear/I could/send you
   Dear/I would/have liked
   Dear friend/I regret to inform you
   For love we all go
   I’ll send my/own two answers
   Many times loneliness
   No words/ripple like
   The things of which we want
   The proof of those we knew before
   There is another loneliness
   We meet no stranger, but our self
   We had not expected it
   When I hoped/I feared/When I feared/I dared –
   where we/owe but/a little
   You must let me/go first

(What’s good about Patterson’s poem is that it actually works within the context of the book, as you will discover when you read it.)

Here’s the assignment: go find a poetry book with an index of first lines, like a Norton Anthology, or the new Migration by Merwin, or The Collected Works of W.B. Yeats (Volume 1), or whatever. Then string together the first lines to make a poem. Or, as it seems Patterson did, use the second line to push the poem forward a bit. You can even make a series of poems. And remember, you can also just use this as a “trigger” to begin a poem. When you’re done with the first lines, you can stare & revise until something else arises.

b: Making New Use of Your Bookcase

Your bookcases are lined with books, & for the most part, the spines of the books face out so you can read the titles.

Here’s the assignment. Use the title of the books, as you did with the index of first lines, to string together a poem.

Ok, go forth line by line, or title by title.



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

You need to be in a coffee shop or bar or diner or restaurant & be writing a poem. The moment you get stuck or pause in your writing is the moment you listen in on a conversation. The first phrase you hear will then have to be worked into the poem within a few lines.

Should you get stuck or pause again, repeat the process.

A variant of this can be done at home & with no one around. Instead of listening when you pause, you can flip through a dictionary, randomly stop on a word, & then bring that word into the poem within a few lines.


The Boring & the Mundane

This is your assignment: watch a pot of water boil, or coffee brew, or a bathtub fill with water. Look at a crack in the sidewalk. Put your ear on your front lawn & listen. Put your ear to a tree. Put your nose over a clean drinking glass & smell. Lick the back of a book you hate or your favorite book. Touch an iron rail.

Observe something ordinary – but observe. Later, reflect.

Maybe even watch your computer reboot.

That is all. Except maybe do it when you are completely bored out of your skull, or when you have far too much energy.

Go forth!

a: For the Slackers; or Pound, Merwin, Hemingway, & You; or the Art of Discipline

Some of you are already performing this assignment, & you are therefore excused from it. The rest of you, including myself, must do this. It is imperative to get yourself writing consistently.

In the recent issue of Poets & Writers [I think it’s the July/August 2005 issue] there is an article about & an interview with W.S. Merwin. We learn that Merwin once visited Ezra Pound at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital. One piece of advice Pound gave to Merwin: write seventy-five lines of poetry every day. That’s your assignment – write seventy-five lines per day for at least one month.

If that seems too many lines per day, or not enough, then adjust to your personality. (I will be writing one page per day – approximately forty lines per day). But you must write enough to form a sustained amount of time for mediation.

b: No Cop Outs

Already some of you are finding excuses out of this assignment. “Oh, I’m going away this weekend. I won’t have time to write.” In that case, I refer you to Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway, as I have read, wrote 250 words per day. If he was to go fishing on Saturday, he wouldn’t wimp out on writing. On Friday, he’d write 500 words to compensate for his lost day of writing – thus keeping up his 250-words-per-day average. So, if you are going away for the weekend, on Friday write 225 lines – seventy-five for Friday, seventy-five for Saturday, & seventy-five for Sunday.

c: The Cop Out to the Cop Out

Someone, probably me, is already planning this one: “Oh, I managed to write one hundred lines of poetry yesterday, so I only have to write fifty lines today, & then my average will still be seventy-five lines per day.” No. No back-ended compensation. Future compensation is ok because you are planning & anticipating. You are making up for a period of time when you know you cannot write. With backwards compensation, you are just slacking. There will be no slacking. If you have time to write, write your seventy-five lines.


OK Pardner

This one came from Renée Roehl’s kid, Dario, & his writing class.

Start a poem with “Ok Pardner, this is it.” Partner can be used in place of pardner should you choose. This seems to provide for a strong, exciting opening.

One might also want to refer themselves to Ed Dorn’s book-long poem Gunslinger. One might also want to refer themselves to Chris Howell’s poem “The Holdup” as it first appeared in Third Coast Spring 2003 (quoted in full below).

   The Holdup

   Give me your money, he said.

   We don’t have money, they replied,
   we have eggs.

   Oh, very well, he sighed, give me your eggs.

   We don’t have complete eggs, they said, only
   the shells.

   Well, then, give me your shells, quickly
   before I become tense.

   The shells we have are broken, they said,
   we will give you the pieces.

   (“The Holdup” is used with the permission of Christopher Howell and Third Coast.)


Overcoming Scriptophobia

ScriptophobiaThis one comes to us by way of Aimee Nezhukumatathil. As I understand it, she looks up information about a phobia, & then she takes on the voice of the phobia or the voice of someone with the phobia & writes a poem with that voice. The poem she read at AWP 2004 was about the fear of poetry (metrophobia). The poem appears in her book Miracle Fruit (Tupelo Press, 2003). But make sure to not make of the fun of the person with the phobia and try to create a three-dimensional character, a character who has the phobia but is not defined by or limited to just the phobia. You can be playful and have fun, just don’t make fun of the character, because there is at least one person out there suffering with the phobia you choose.

A place where one can start to look for theses phobias is:


The Rainbow Connection

Compose a poem with the phrase “choking on a rainbow.” This is a phrase that comes from a satire article in The Onion about a young poet. Variants can include “eating a rainbow” or “cooking a rainbow” or whatever. You know?!


The Reader’s Digest Experiment

Write a poem titled “An Abridged Version for the Modern Reader.” I found this sentence on the title page of a Stendhal book published by Reader’s Digest that I found in an antique mall in the-middle-of-nowhere, Washington.



Notes Towards Investigative Poetry (Part One)

Notes Toward an Investigative Poetics

These are my initial notes towards an Investigative Poetics. I am trying to negotiate what this means to me. In this writing, I am drawing exclusively from Ed Sanders Investigative Poetry (San Francisco: City Lights, 1976) (yes, I found and purchased a first edition on for a very fair price), and I am trying to interpret it or make it mean to me. In the end, I think I will usurp the term, Investigate Poetry, for my own means, but pay high tribute to Mr. Sanders. There is absolutely nothing wrong with his version of Investigative Poetics. It is highly commendable. I just wish to go someplace else with it. Below are the notes.


On page 11 of Ed Sanders Investigative Poetry, Sanders writes two important things in regards to defining Investigative Poetry:

History-poesy, or investigative poetry, can thrive in our era because of the implications of a certain poetic insight, that is, in the implications of the line, “Now is the time for prophecy without death as a consequence,” from Death to Van Gogh’s Ear, a Ginsberg poem from 1958.


For this is the era of description of the All.

I’ll get to the first quote in a moment, but the last one, man, is that ever true today with the internet and its Google with so much information at hand. All the information we have today is not only overly readily available and abundant, but it has lent the way to very, very detailed people. In the States, we over analyze everything, in part, because of all the data we have. All this data provides us with the information we need to describe the All, or as I would say, “connect the All.”

With our imagination and its ability to leap and associate and with all this information, a copulation is at hand. Information inseminates the imagination to make more connections. It’s now possible to study, for instance, the history of the crabcake and soon find connections to Baltimore, the Baltimore Ravens, Edgar Allen Poe,  the history of the macabre, the history of literature, an episode of the sit-com Cheers or The Simpsons, and a stunning investigation into American culture, all the way to how our Paleolithic and Neanderthal ancestors hunted and ate food, and how the crab evolved, how through the course of history crab was served, hunted, and was a component of economics, how it affected astrology and the universe, how it affects cancer when improperly connected to on an etymological level as Skeats did in the first few editions of his An Etymological Dictionary of the English Language, and how that improperly connected etymology affected James Joyce when he wrote Ulysess, which was banned in America like Ginsberg’s Howl, who is the ancestor of Whitman and who is the contemporary of Edgar Allen Poe, who is from Baltimore where they make delicious crabcakes.

The study of one thing can connect the universe, though I’m not sure this is what Sanders has in mind, but it’s what I have in mind.

As for the first quote, I’m concerned with the “History-poesy” part. I had never though that would be synonymous with Investigative Poetics, but now that I think about, it has to be. How can an investigation occur without a study of history. All investigations will have to go into the past. The past is what defines us. There’s a long tether in humanity and it stretches back to the Neanderthals and to the first amoebas to cosmic background radiation to quantum foam to the big bang and into the future where it will end in fire or ice . . . or Frost.

Example Investigative Poetry texts:

  • Charles Olson’s The Maximus Poems
  • Hart Crane’s The Bridge
  • William Carlos Williams Paterson
  • Ezra Pound’s Cantos
  • Sanders says Allen Ginsberg’s Howl, but I’m not quite sure why at this point
  • T. S. Eliot’s The Wasteland
  • Jerome Rothenberg’s Poland 1931
  • Ed Dorn’s Gunslinger
  • Many of William Heyen‘s collection of poems
  • Any of my collections of poems (I mention not for ego, but because I was doing this before I knew of Investigative Poetry and now I want to study what I’ve been doing.)

Could any of these books have been written without an historical perspective? The Maximus Poems must study the history of Gloucester, The Bridge without a long study into the creation of the Brooklyn Bridge and the events that happened on it during the construction and after couldn’t come to be, nor Paterson without a study of Paterson or even the Genesee River in Rochester, NY, nor the Cantos, which is almost all history, nor The Wasteland, which meanders through history and Eliot’s present, nor Gunslinger without an historical study of the Wild West and philosophy. History, does in fact, seem to be the key. (Joyce’s Ulysess, if it were a poem, would fall into Investigative Poetry, too, and on a number of levels, as he charts Dublin precisely and then writes in each of the main styles of writing through the history of writing, and the whole early Celtic alphabet thing.)


Our minds naturally associate, so why does Investigative Poetry seem so foreign to the contemporary poet?


In a moment of Olsonian possession and Ginsbergian yawp, Sanders announces:

     The verse of the investigative poet of
     genius will discharge data as if scanning
     eye-brains were passing across a high-energy grid,
     the vectors of verse-froth leaping up from
     the verse-grids at every points. High Energy
     Verse History Grids!

High Energy Verse History Grids. The investigative poem must be a high-energy discharge. The poet must gather the energy of the original source and put it into the poem. The poem is a capacitor. It contains the energy of the investigation. No wonder Sanders says to channel the voice and rhythms of Ginsberg as the means of transferring that energy.

The investigative poem is an extension of Olson’s “Projective Verse.” Investigative Poetry needs the mandates of Olson, which Sanders shares with us:

A poem is energy transferred from where the poet got it, by way of the poem itself to, all the way over to, the reader.


Then the poem must, at all points, be a high energy construct and, at all points, an energy-discharge.

(p 21, quoting Olson from “Projective Verse”).

Let me tell you of Investigative Poetry. When you, the Investigative Poet, are doing the research, and you are always doing research as commanded by the muse and demanded by the imagination, you read a lot. Even in the most mundane of research writings you will find moments of passion from the author. Here is where you know something is happening. Here is where you know the author knows something more than the facts are saying. Here is where you, the investigative poet, must be at high alert. Here is your inspiration. Muse be ready. Imagination raise your eyebrows. The investigation is about to begin. But it’s not the passion we study. It’s what precedes the passion. Preceding the passion are the facts. It’s the running start to the passionate leap that the author makes. Where the author transcends the facts. We, the investigative poet, must go back and start running on our own and then make our leap. The author has left us a trail. Can we get to the same place? Will our landing be different? No matter as long as we make a perfect three-point landing like a sky diver landing on solid ground. The muse and imagination will do with the facts as they please, and they will create a great truth as great as the author’s truth but more musical and more readily available to the novice or uneducated in the field. We, the Investigative Poet, break it down. We make it accessible. We make the jump obvious for the reader. We give the reader a bridge, though the reader won’t realize the bridge is there. The Investigative Poet is the interpreter of the universe. And we, as Investigative Poet translators, must follow Pound’s logopoeia, melopoeia, and phanopoeia. At bare minimum we translate verbatim and insert line breaks and tidy up the language – logopoeia. At our best, we find the best rhythms and music to give the reader’s legs the energy to run and jump from fact to truth – melopoeia. More often, we lay down a bridge for the reader, though kinda shaky like a rope bridge across a great divide – phanopoeia – but it gets us, the Investigative Poet, the facts, and the reader to the truth.

Indiana Jones and a Rope Bridge

Indiana Jones is the Investigative Poet of the Big Screen

The Investigative Poet, in the end, is the medium between fact and truth.

Indiana Jones is what Sanders wants the investigative poet to be. Delving into the research. Keeping careful notes. Cross checking. Making leaps from the limited information he has has into the truth. And killing the right-wing Nazis.


Just so it is known, Ed Sanders back in 1976 invented emoticons, though he called it them emotion-glyphs.

It seems obvious that the language of poetry may well evolve into 1000 color hieroglyphics utilizing a near infinity of typographies. The availability of colors & photographic images and the 100’s of type faces, even in a good art supply store, foretell the birth of an international hieroglyphics. The upcoming laser hologram revolution – that is, poetry and collage and perspective join to thrill the eye-brain with glowing, animated (“poetry in motion,” the rock-and-roll song so prophetically sang), multi-color, 3-d “memory gardens” or verse-grids. This new hieroglyphic language may well use letterless symbols, emotion-glyphs say, 3-d soundless glyphs or tiny photographs depicting complex emotional states, inserted in the hieroglyphic grids, to augment the poet’s inherited word-horde. (p 33. My bold.)


Sanders’ Investigative Poetry is about real investigation, however. Investigating as to expose those right-wing, oppressive cops who spied on Wordsworth and Coleridge and who caused Wordsworth to lose his home, who spied on Shelley until he left the country, that made Dostoevsky complacent, to expose the “FBI-CIA Surrealistic-Complex” (p 23), or:

Victor Jara With Children Supporters

Victor Jara With Children Supporters

Nor shall we forget how the Chilean poet-singer Victor Jara was leading a group of singers while imprisoned in the soccer stadium following the 1973 CIA-coup in Chile, and the killers chopped off his fingers to silence his guitar, and still he led the singing – till they killed him, another bard butchered because of the U. S. secret police (p 12).


Nor shall we forget how the Czar’s secret police hounded Alexandr Pushkin with a nightmare of surveillance and exile. In fact, a brief look at certain aspects of Pushkin’s life is here appropriate, in order to gauge some of the pressures that can force a poet “to become more objective,” or, as the English professor who writes for the CIA-funded magazine might giggle, “to come to terms with the harsh facts of life.” Or to escape into the forgetful symbols (p 12).

Sander’s investigations are more political than mine. Good for him. There should be more political poetry and exposing. An Investigative Poetry that leads to “a genre of Indictment Verse” (p 38). Sanders then expands on how Indictment Verse can sound:

Once again we can reiterate how Howl, with its long-line iambo-anapestic, bacchic and beat dactylic structure, could easily serve as model for blistering indictments and descriptions of your investigations. Read it a few times and see how it fits: invent melodies for sections of it. Chant it with percussion, say, of a tambourine as background; practice singing your investigation grids with its long-breath rhythms. If Sappho’s unique metre could serve as the basis for a whole school of endeavor, why cannot certain modern poems serve in the same way? (p 38)

Man, conviction by poetry. I love it.

Frank Sinatra

"Such meditation would certainly help to center the poet, who, say just last night had gotten roughed up trying to walk past Frank Sinatra's body-guards in Las Vegas to try and ask him a few questions about his buddy Sam Giancana and CIA assassination squads" (p 32).

I can do the political poetry thing, but the way Sanders goes about it is not my way. I’m too shy for that, and he has a whole section explaining why this isn’t for they shy. He gives you tips on what you should do when you go deep the oppressors realm or confront Frank Sinatra.


Do not hesitate to write investigative songs (as in Ginsberg’s smash CIA-Calypso song detailing CIA dope-dealing in SE Asia). No one owns the modes. Ahh the modes. Do not hesitate to use every mode that anyone ever devised. The modes of poetry are more powerful than any so-called magic, for they are a proven input. Do not hesitate (p 38).

Some of his investigative styles, however, are useful even to us shy folks. Dig deep in your research and keep good notes and cross references and document.


More notes will come. This is just the first round. //


Investigative Poetics

I had never heard of the phrase Investigative Poetry until about two weeks ago when Sean Thomas Dougherty used it to describe my poetry. When I read those words, it was immediately obvious that he was right. He didn’t define Investigative Poetry, but I knew what he meant, and he was right.

Ed Dorn

Ed Dorn


Investigative Poetry is, to me, studying and staring at one thing for a long time and writing poems about that thing. I learned this from Charles Olson and Edward Dorn. Olson once said to Dorn something like, “Ed, if you study something long enough and think about it long enough and write about it often enough, you will understand everything. Associations will be made through that one something that connects everything in the universe.” Ed Dorn responded by writing Gunslinger. An epic poem about the wild west. Dorn study the wild west and connected the universe. So that’s what I do.

The Hieratic Head of Ezra Pound

The Hieratic Head of Ezra Pound

I first did this with an unpublishable book of poems called The Cosmology and Particle Physics of Love. That book certainly connected things in the universe. Then I wrote After Malagueña, which is really the study of one poem which leaps outward. But there are others, Negative Time (where I studied a universe that is similar to ours but where time moves in a contrary direction to ours), The Oldest Stone in the World (which was a long stare at the oldest stone in the world), Pre-Dew Poems (which is a long, never ending stare of my girlfriend), Henri, Sophie, & the Hieratic Head of Ezra Pound: Poems Blasted from the Vortex (which looked into the lives of Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, Sophie Brzeska, Ezra Pound, a statue, and Vorticism and Vorticists). And now I’m investigating Paleolithic parietal (cave) art.

Each time I do this, I gain clarity.

But it’s this latter book, the book on Paleolithic parietal art, that is making Investigative Poetry make more sense to me.

The Man, The Bison, and the Bird of the Shaft (The Shaft of the Dead Man)

The Man, The Bison, and the Bird of the Shaft (aka The Shaft of the Dead Man)

With this book, I stare back to understand today. I also understand our origins better. I study and imaginatively think and write. I’m making more connections with the universe than ever before. I’m discovering humanity. It happens because I’m investigating. I’m investigating humanity, and so far it’s not guilty.

My description of Investigative Poetry is not all the good.

A better description is in the review that just came out today on Gently Read Literature, “Khurshid Alam’s Investigative Poetry—An Interpretation on Subject, Treatment, and Technique.” This essay is wonderful. I love it. I love it because it describes very well what I am doing with my poetry. It’s got me nailed.

I never thought my poetry could be nailed down, because, until recently, I’m all over the place. But this, this Investigative Poetry nails me, and I like it.

Read this essay on Investigative Poetry and you will read me.

(I apologize if this post seems self-serving, but, damn, the review so excited me.)//

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

The Cave

Material Matters

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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August 2022


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