Posts Tagged ‘Michelle Bonczek

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

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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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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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04
Nov
16

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

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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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.

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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.

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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
   Asphalt/colorless
   Again the cry that
   But she is/a stranger yet
   By the time you read this
   Coming late, as always
   Darling,
   Dear
   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
   Oh,
   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.

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Eavesdropping

[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.

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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.

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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.)

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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: http://www.phobialist.com/.

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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?!

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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.

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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.

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Author’s Note

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

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

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

Okay. Enough said.

Go Forth!

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

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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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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.

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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.

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Do You Hear That?

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

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

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

Ok. Go Forth!

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The Book of Firsts

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

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

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

Here’s the article on the flute:

Ice Age ivory flute found in German cave

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

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

Source: Reuters (10 December 2004)

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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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