Posts Tagged ‘Projective Verse

31
Oct
16

Poetry Assignments: The Book (Online): Forms: Obscure, Updated, & Invented

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

//

Double Abecedarian

This one is kind of like an acrostic, but cooler.

Here’s how it works: The first letter of each should read A-Z down the left side, & then the last letter of each line should read Z-A down the right side.

Or, in the case of “Dead Critics Society” by Mike Dockins, Z-A down the left side, & A-Z down the right.

The additional challenge is to make it look like a box, i.e. to aim for similar line-lengths.

Also, it will probably be important to pick a subject matter that calls for such a form. In this case, you could say it’s a poem of arts & letters. . . . Because a poet would have to ask herself, “Why use this form? For what purpose?”

Mike says: “This poem was a sarcastic reaction to the notion that all poems are about death, or, worse yet, must be about death. F*** that. Note: the word ‘Zooks!’ is from a poem by Robert Browning. Enjoy!”

   Dead Critics Society

   Zooks! What have I done with my anthologies? I’ll need a
   year of sleep after writing my millionth review (with aplomb).
   XX bottles of moonshine litter my bedside table like arsenic.
   Why no lilting iambics in contemporary poetry? Only dead,
   vermin-ridden prose riddled with autobiographical treacle.
   Under my bed, the skeleton of Browning. I use his broken-off
   tibias as walking sticks. For hundreds of scenic miles I drag
   sensitivity, & marvel. Content must be pounded into a rich
   risotto of form – evident rhyme scheme & equal stanzas. I
   quote Keats: “Gasp! I am dying!” Were he as prosperous as J.
   P. Morgan, he may not have suffered so. These days, a black-
   out of good taste, a dimming of metrical etiquette, a dismal
   nerve of postmodern surrealism, whatever that means. I’m
   mad! I raise one of Browning’s femurs in revolt! I’ve a notion,
   ladies & gentlemen, that our language has crumbled into
   kindling – a few tiny sparks, maybe, but no thick log to keep
   joy in prosody truly alive. Meantime, I’m just about up to Q
   in my encyclopedia of verse: Quixote, etc., but still I gather
   hives hunting hopelessly for my beloved poetry anthologies.
   God knows Browning would have understood – what a saint.
   Five finger bones claw the floor under my bed, searching. You
   entertain such a relic, you pay the price – each knuckle a shiv
   digging for inspiration in the floorboards, scraping shallow
   crosses into my skin as I slumber. I should lock him in a box!
   But then nothing would remind me of my own bones – O my
   awaiting death – the only theme suitable for a poetry buzz.

This first appeared in The Atlanta Review and then on Verse Daily on August 10, 2006.

Look for other ones by Mike Dockins. “The Fun Uncle” in the Indiana Review (Winter 2004), “Zarathustra Paints Town” in jubilat (nine), & “Timbuktu” in New Zoo Poetry Review (January 2007).

//

The Clerihew

According to Jonathan Williams in his newest collection Jubilant Thicket: New & Selected Poems (Copper Canyon Press, 2005):

The clerihew was invented in 1890 by Edmund Clerihew Bentley, who was a schoolboy of sixteen at St. Paul’s in London when the divine numen of Orpheus struck him. His best one seems to me:

   The digestion of Milton
   Was unequal to Stilton

   He was only feeling so-so
   When he wrote Il Penseroso.

Later Williams’ continues:

Frances Stillman’s The Poet’s Manual and Rhyming Dictionary (1965) says this: “The clerihew is a humorous pseudo-biographical quatrain, rhymed as two couplets, with lines of uneven length, & often contains or implies a moral reflection of some kind. The name of the individual who is the subject of the quatrain usually supplies the first line.”

Here’s a couple of Williams’:

   Ezra Loomis Pound
   bought a lb

   of Idaho potatoes
   (the Hailey Comet always ate those).
 


   Hank D. Thoreau
   too seldom used eau

   de cologne,
   and always asked to live at Walden on his own



   Babe Ruth
   in all truth

   weren’t borned like you an’ me –
   he come down out of a tree.


   (Quoted poems by Jonathan Williams as they appear in Jubilant Thicket: New & Selected Poems 
   (Copper Canyon P, 2005)© are used with permission of Copper Canyon Press.)

Ok go have fun. And if you like intelligent fun poets, read Jonathan Williams.

//

“Double Sonnet for the Minimalist”

I think this was first created by Mona Van Duyn. I read about it in Emily Grosholz’s “Poetry and Science in America” in The Measured Word: On Poetry and Science, ed. Kurt Brown (University of Georgia Press, 2001). (The poems first appeared in Van Duyn’s Near Changes (Knopf, 1990).)

This sonnet has fourteen lines. It has the same construct as a sonnet with the meter & the rhymes & the volta & all. But this sonnet has dimeter lines. The lines tend to be iambic, but the base minimum is to have two stresses per line. After the first sonnet is made, a second sonnet is made in response. Hence, “Double Sonnet.” See Below:

   The spiral shell
   apes creamhorns of smog.
   Dalmation, quenelle
   or frosted hedgehog,
   yet is obsessed
   by a single thought
   that its inner guest
   is strictly taught.
   When the self that grew
   to follow its rule
   is gone, and it’s through,
   vacant, fanciful,

   its thought will find
   Fibonacci’s mind.

The response:

   That fragile slug,
   bloodless, unborn,
   till it knows the hug
   of love’s tutoring form,
   whose life, upstart
   in deep, is to learn
   to follow the art
   of turn and return,
   when dead, for the dense
   casts up no clue
   to the infinite sequence
   it submitted to.

   May its bright ghost reach
   the right heart’s beach.

   “The Spiral Shell” and “That Fragile Slug” from Near Changes by Mona Van Duyn, 
   copyright © 1990 by Mona Van Duyn. Used by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, 
   a division of Random House, Inc.

//

Tit for Tat & All That

This makes me think of a sestina, but it is not.

Let’s say we have stanzas with six lines each. The first line ends with a word. The second line ends with the same word but with one letter changed. The third line’s end word has another letter changed. Etc. See Below from the second stanza of John Hollander’s poem “Getting from Here to There” in Figurehead: And Other Poems (Knopf, 2000):

   One hears such stories with one’s eyes unwet:
   She woke up one day and found that the Tet
   Offensive had left her widowed with a tot
   Who broke her heart as if it were a toy.
   Luck, having given her one so-so try,
   Wrung out her life and left her bones to dry.


   Lines from “Getting from Here to There” from Figurehead by John hooander, copyright © 1999 by John 
   Hollander. Used by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc.

Now I imagine one could add a letter, as the title of the assignment suggests, and I don’t believe all stanzas need be six lines either.

Hollander’s poem has six six-line stanzas, a seven-line stanza, an eight-line stanza, a twelve-line stanza, & a thirteen-line stanza.

//

Chain Link Poems

This will involve a series of poems, & the first one you use in the series may already have been written.

The last line of the first poem will become the first line of the second poem. The last line of the second poem will become the first line of the third poem, etc…. until you are done. I imagine the linking will create a continuity & forward momentum. A subtle tension might be created between the poems, as well.

For a real Joycean challenge, make the last line of the last poem be the first line of the first poem; thus creating a cyclical movement.

I got this idea from Beckian Fritz Goldberg’s “Lucifer’s Crown” in Never be the Horse (University of Akron Press, 1999). Hers, however, is a “Crown of Sonnets:” a series of seven sonnets that follow the above rules.

//

The Glosa

I got this idea from Eleanor Rand Wilner’s poem “Αντíο, Cassandra” from The Girl with Bees in Her Hair (Copper Canyon Press, 2004).

The Glosa is comprised of four ten-line stanzas & begins with a four-line epigraph. The first line of the epigraph becomes the last line of the first stanza, the second line of the epigraph becomes the last line of the second stanza, the third line of the epigraph becomes the last line of the third stanza, & the fourth & last line of the epigraph becomes the last line of the fourth stanza, thus the poem. Also lines three, seven, & ten of each stanza are to rhyme. (Some say lines six, nine, & ten of each stanza are to rhyme. I say rhyming is not necessary, but to try anyway.)

Wilner, however, did it her own thing to the form. (Hmm . . . see poetry assignment “Make It New,” below). As she says in her endnote, “Since I can’t write if I know how something ends, I opened each stanza with the quoted lines, and reversed the form.” That is, the first line of the line epigraph became the first line of stanza one, the second line of the epigraph became the first line of stanza two, the third line of the epigraph became the first line of stanza three, & the fourth line of the epigraph became the first line of stanza four.

(Quoted passage by Eleanor Rand Wilner as it appears in the “Notes” of The Girl with Bees in Her Hair (Copper Canyon Press, 2004)© is used with permission of Copper Canyon Press.)

//

Minute by Minute, Syllable by Syllable

I’m sure most of us saw this on Poetry Daily on December 11, 2004 [which is now inaccessible 😦 ].

The form is called the “minute,” & was “formulated by Verna Lee Hinegardner, former poet laureate of Arkansas.” It works like this:

“Poems in this form consist of sixty syllables in rhyming couplets with a syllabic line count of 8,4,4,4– 8,4,4,4– 8,4,4,4,” as explained by the description for Cathy Smith BowersA Book of Minutes (Iris Press, 2004).

More: “A Book of Minutes is structured like a Book of Hours, the medieval prayer book that was its age’s own version of today’s literary best-seller. The Book of Hours was arranged in sections corresponding to with the eight canonical hours of the day, beginning with Matins, moving all the way through to Vespers, and ending with Compline. A Book of Minutes retains the same eight sections, and is illustrated to suggest illumination.”

//

The Gerald Stern Experiment

On February 10, 2005, Gerald Stern was in Spokane, WA, visiting Eastern Washington University’s Creative Writing Program. At the Q&A, he shared with us poems from one of his recently released, but not well-known, books: Not God After All (Autumn House Press, 2004).

Each poem is what Stern called a “petite narrative” or an “aphorism,” & he explained that each aphorism is composed of two lines of seven syllables each. I did not hear a connection between the poems, but I suspect they are connected in his mind associatively. In that regard, to me, from what I heard from what he read, they resemble the Sutras one uses to help remember The Upanishads.

Here a couple examples of Stern’s petite narratives.

   It’s not God after all,
   It’s the Chase Manhattan Bank.


   A fire I understand,
   but how do you make a flood?


   Don’t make God come too fast,
   be a bastard a while longer.


   (The Gerald Stern poems are from Not God After All copyright 2004 by Gerald Stern. 
   Reprinted by permission of the author and Autumn House Press.)

As part of the assignment, I am suggesting you just sit & write a bunch of these without being consciously involved except for the counting. Write & count. Write & count. Write & give me twenty!

//

Addonizio & the Sonnenizio; or Love is Hell for Fucci

In Kim Addonizio’s latest collection of poems What Is this Thing Called Love (Norton, 2004) (which is a solid book, by the way), there is a form poem I have never come across called a sonnenizio, & I would like to share Addonizio’s discovery with everyone as the next poetry assignment.

Addonizio has a footnote explaining the form:

note: The Sonnenizio was invented in Florence in the thirteenth century by Vanni Fucci as an irreverent form whose subject was usually the impossibility of everlasting love. Dante retaliated by putting Fucci into the seventh chasm of the Inferno as a thief. Originally composed of hendecasyllabics, the sonnenizio gradually moved away from metrical constraints and began to tackle a wider variety of subject matter. The sonnenizio is fourteen lines long. It opens with a line from someone else’s sonnet, repeats a word from that line in each succeeding line of the poem, and closes with a rhymed couplet.

It seems this form has the feel, or sensibilities, of a sonnet meets a sestina. And it seems like some cadence or rhythm will or can be built upon this repeated word, too. Also, it seems a slight variation on the word is a good idea so that the reader’s ears aren’t then just wafting to hear the repeated word. Make surprises as Addonizio & her poem do in:

Sonnenizio on a Line from Drayton

Since there’s no help, come let us kiss and part;
or kiss anyway, let’s start with that, with the kissing part,
because it’s better than the parting part, isn’t it –
we’re good at kissing, we like how that part goes:
we part our lips, our mouths get near and nearer,
then we’re close, my breasts, your chest, our bodies partway
to making love, so we might as well, part of me thinks –
the wrong part, I know, the bad part, but still
let’s pretend we’re at that party where we met
and scandalized everyone, remember that part? Hold me
like that again, unbutton my shirt, part of you
wants to I can tell, I’m touching that part and it says
yes, the ardent partisan, let it win you over,
it’s hopeless, come, we’ll kiss and part forever.

   “Sonnenizio On a Line From Drayton” and the “note”, from What is This Thing Called Love: Poems by Kim 
   Addonizio. Copyright© 2004 by Kim Addonizio. Used by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

//

The Helen Humphreys’ Experiment

At Helen Humphreys’ reading on October 5th, 2005, at The Writers Forum at SUNY Brockport, Humphreys read a Sylvia Plath poem. She then read one of her poems, but this poem used all the words in the Plath poem she had just read – she just rearranged the order of the words to make a new poem. Humphreys said she does this because in her own poems she finds she often uses the same words in her poems. This experiment then allows her to break free of her word-choice confines.

The name of the poem she read I can’t recall, but it appears in Anthem (Brick Books, 1999).

Ok. Go & play in this new form; or, go in new & form this play.

//

Erasure Poems

Mary Ruefle has come up with a new way to compose poems & to make a new art form, or at least new to me. In her newest book, A Little White Shadow (Wave Books, 2006), there are a collection of poems arrived at from a larger book with the same name. What Ruefle has done is to use a page of text from the larger book & then white out/paint out words to leave only a few words to make a poem.

What is interesting to me about these poems is that they involve active reading. Your eyes have to move around the page, which creates for extended line breaks, & it affects the breath. Not to mention the spaces between words that are on the same line – it’s a type of projective verse. Plus, if you get the book, you will also see textures from the white out/paint, not to mention how the aged, faded brown pages play with the lively, contemporary bright white paint. Here are two examples that are used with permission from Wave Books.

Mary Ruefle Page 9

Mary Ruefle “the dead” (page 9).

 

Mary Ruefle Page 28

Mary Ruefle “a heart” (page 28).

I’m not sure of the process behind this, but I imagine it is more than just saving words. I imagine you have to consider how it will look when complete, how to breathe & read your way through the final piece, & what the poem will actually be. [Ten years later, I realize/learn the erasure poem needs to have a conversation with the original text. But you can’t just use any text, as some poets do. No, you need a significant text, and then by erasing words, you find something like a secret meaning to the poem or text your are erasing from or “discover something like poetry hidden within [a] book.” John Cage did this with Allen Ginsberg’s Howl, but he added a twist. With the unerased words, he made an anagram: ALLEN GINSBERG. (See Perloff’s essay for the example.) Also see more here: https://thelinebreak.wordpress.com/2012/05/04/on-marjorie-perloffs-reinventing-the-lyric/]

Your assignment is to do this. Your assignment is to go to a used bookstore, buy a book, & try this out. I suggest first starting with Ralph Ellison’s The Invisible Man or H. G. Wells’ The Invisible Man. Until then you can visit this page & practice online: http://erasures.wavepoetry.com/

(The Mary Ruefle poems “the dead” and “a heart” as they appear in A Little White Shadow (Wave Books, 2006. Copyright 2006 by Mary Ruefle.) are used with permission of Wave Books. Please visit their website at: www.wavepoetry.com.)

//

Make It New

I got this idea from Swinburne & Pound & James Wright. Sappho wrote her poems in a quantitative metric now called Sapphics. With ‘-’ representing a long syllable & ‘u’ a short syllable, it went like this:

   -u- -- uu- u --
   -u- -- uu- u --
   -u- -- uu- u --
         -u u--

Or, three hendecasyllabic lines & one adonic line. There also tends to be a caesura after the fifth syllable, and the fourth syllable in lines 1-3 is often free.

Swinburne then came around & realized quantity doesn’t work as good in English as it does in Greek, so in his poem “Sapphics,” he wrote in a qualitative meter, but with the same pattern as Sappho – but using a stressed syllable in place of a long syllable and an unstressed syllable in place of a short syllable.

Pound then came along & dabbled in Sapphics in “Apparuit,” where he tends to use both qualitative & quantitative meters simultaneously. But in the poem “The Return,” the meter is strictly quantitative, however! he hides the form by varying the line & stanza lengths. The meter is there, it is just camouflaged & jumbled.

James Wright then came along & said enough. He Americanized it in “Erinna to Sappho.” He used a qualitative meter more fitting to American rhythms, while keeping the spirit of Sappho’s meter.

Wright’s form is three lines of iambic tetrameter & one line of iambic dimeter. To scan it with “/” as stress & “u” as unstressed:

   u/u/u/u/
   u/u/u/u/
   u/u/u/u/
      u/u/

Ok. Make sense? Now go find a form & contemporize it!

//

Make it New (Number Two); or Make it American; or Repackaging – Making the Same Product Seem New & Improved

This is a variation of “Poetry Assignment: Make it New.” It arose from the following rapid-fire correspondence between Rob Carney & me, using three different email addresses. Here’s how much of the correspondence went:

Tom (from email address #1) [responding to a particular haiku in a series of Haiku and Tanka Rob sent him]: [. . .] “coming” in “coming in the wind” seems the wrong word to me. It sounds way too sexual, for some reason, and it just seems the wrong verb with the movement of snow. [. . .]

Rob (to Tom’s email address #2): yeah, I want a different verb for the snow in the soon-arriving future but arriving has 3! syllables! – fucking Japanese forms . . . the Japanese have one-syllable words for words like cascading or disappear or animal, they gotta, or how can they fit stuff into these shot-glasses?

Tom (from email address #2): Why not put a James Wrightian, Americana spin on the poem. 4-8-4 in iambs?

I say James Wright, not because he Americanized Haiku, but because he Americanized Sapphics. And you could do the same with Haiku.

Tom (from email address #1):

   A New York State of Mind

   The snow cascades
   in spring amid the yawping geese –
   rotate the tires.

4-8-4 in iambs (with an allusion to Whitman).

Aha! A new poetry assignment. Shit. This will be posted in 10 minutes.

Rob (to Tom’s email address #1): Dig it. Funnyclevercool.

[. . .]

Rob (later to Tom’s email address #1): Yes, of course. That’s fine. Oh, and I love that “rotate” doesn’t just command/resign to rotate/rotating the tires and also do an imagery thing BUT ALSO THIS: precedents were all iambs, then this first words actually, by going trochee on stuff, enacts the word “rotate”.

[. . .]

Rob (even later to Tom’s email address #1 and regarding the new poetry assignment):    [. . .] bonus points for ironic tone rather than reverence for Nature? or bonus points for making it funny too, a beautiful joke rather than a Zen koan like so many in Japanese are, meaning humor rather than riddle. Or bonus points for making great use of enjambment or fitting use of syncopation? [. . .]

Ok. There you go. Americanize the Haiku. Four syllables / eight syllables / four syllables in iambs, plus ironic tone &/or humor &/or great enjambments &/or syncopation.

//

Concrete Poetry; or Gaudier-Brzeska with the Line; or Watch Out for that Stinger

The shape of a poem on the page is indeed a worthy consideration when writing a poem. For me, for instance, I will write a poem with pencil & paper, & I will write it over & over with all the revising until I think it is done. Then I type it into Word. I then stare at it. Fix the shape better so it works better with the content. (It’s so nice to have that uniform spacing, unlike my random scrunching & expanding scribblings with my pencil.) Then when I think it is done, I print it. And then revise some, & sculpt the shape some more. Then back to the screen. Then to printed copy, etc. until I think, or the poem tells me, it is done.

The shapes of my poems, good or bad, tend to be rectangular. But there are others who have sculpted lines to represent the shape of the object of the poem. As far as I know, the first person to do this was George Herbert, with poems like “The Altar” (where the shape of the poem looks like an altar) & “Easter Wings” (where the shape of the poem, when turned ninety degrees, looks like a butterfly). The concrete poem then had a resurgence in the 1950s & 1960s. And then recently in William Heyen’s poem “Scorpions,” which appears in The Rope (MAMMOTH Books, 2003). The poem is below.

William Heyen "Scorpions"

(William Heyen’s “Scorpion” is used with permission of the author and MAMMOTH Books.)

 

In this poem, the reading of the poem imitates the viewing of a scorpion. You look upon the scorpion’s body, then curl up his tail, then drop off the stinger, then back to his body & legs. So the poem, has the second line as the body (the first line read), the first line as the stinger (the second line read), & then the third line the feet (the third line read). And the stinger-line dangles with one word, just like the stinger dangles. The poem snaps your head around as a scorpion would snap its tail. Heyen has another concrete poem, “Wishbone Hull Requiem,” that appears in The Rope.

I think this assignment is a good investigation, or reinvestigation, into the study of the line & line breaks. I think it will make us turn our head & ears just enough to reconsider how the line can act, breathe, perform, seduce, & mimic. I think it will also make us consider & re-consider how the sculpted shape of the poem can contribute in new ways.

Ok. Go forth!

//

Ghazals, Gazelles, & Jezebels; or Distracted from Distraction by Distraction

Ok, I’ve been reading a lot of Robert Bly, lately. The Night Abraham Called to the Stars & My Sentence Was a Thousand Years of Joy. He’s writing Ghazals, and I’m staring at them. I’m noticing each stanza stands on its own, yet relates to the preceding stanza & the following stanza. And I notice each poem is complete, whole, despite the discreteness (though not really discrete). I stare again differently, but away from his poems & towards my generation of poets. I think, “This is a good form for my generation of poets. We are so easily distracted yet able to keep it whole. (Keep it real.) The sum of the distracted parts is greater than the whole” (with apologies to Creeley).

So, why not make this our generation’s form of poems. Our generation being 25-40. Born in 1966 (yea, you know the associations of that year & time period) to born in 1981 (when Regan became president). Why not make stanzas that are about one thing, then make the distracted associative leaps. Then at the end of the poem pull that draw string & yoke the poem into wholeness. Let’s call it Garbage Bag Ghazals. A place where we empty our thoughts, pull the draw string to close it up & contain it, haul it over our shoulder, walk it to the dumpster, hurl it into the dumpster, watch it explode on impact, & see what results. Watch the associations scatter & combine.

Let’s connect our distractions. Let’s write Garbage Bag Ghazals.

Oh, & to make it more interesting, let’s focus some of these poems on “grief.” I add this because, Bly says we (Americans) don’t know how to deal with grief, & because I’m not sure if I even know what grief is (other than “Good Grief,” ala Charlie Brown). I know sadness. I know burden. I know heaviness. I know sorrow. But I don’t think I know grief. Do you?

And now for a wonderful response to the assignment.

   Optic Nerve

   So the task swivels: look with your word-eye,
   keep a bright light on, see through the word eye. 

   On the bone planet, night time warps. Spooks morph
   delusional, bobbling a tight, weird eye. 

   At the rim shattered, junk started, speeding
   the labyrinth city – one hot-wired eye. 

   Air here so thin. Your chest wrenched by what
   can or cannot be cranks wide the worried eye. 

   Heed: ropes, riddled grapes, pikes. Drag your feet
   to the crossroads. Stamp out the wayward eye. 

   Afterburn. Blue mortar blast. Dying. Kin
   in the sights. Does it heal, the skewered eye? 

   Guts on hold, it shrinks, gelatinous; alights
   anywhere but here, that coward eye. 

   Ambling, misproportioned, poorly tethered
   from its mate; must we love the awkward eye? 

   Acid wash. A flaying grief. Tears just scratch
   the surface, grate salt on the raw red eye. 

   Hot tempered Damascus. Zealous blood gut-
   ters up the hilt. Quick! Unhorse that sword eye! 

   They give reasons. Justify. Explain. Not
   quell. Is it satisfied, our answered eye? 

   Though well-oiled; galvanized; springy; his stripes
   soft in the breeze; resist the bedward eye. 

   Tabloid: Dear Abby, What have we done? What
   do we do now? Yours, true, The Inward Eye.


   (Used with the permission of Abby Millager.)

By Abby Millager. (5-18-06, or so)

//

The Coop de Gras Experiment

[This one is brought to us by Linda Cooper! and used with her permission.]

Write six ten-line poems with no repeat nouns. Include internal rhymes within lines nine & ten. Do not think about content while writing the little vignettes. Afterward, look for a common theme & bring it to life! (Revise away the form if it doesn’t serve the poem). Go Forth!!

//

The Switchback Poem

This is probably a new poem form!

While hiking in the Olympic National Park near the Heart O’ the Hills on “Switchback Trail,” which leads to the Lake Angeles Trail & the Klahhane Ridge & overlooks Port Angeles & British Columbia at the top, I noticed something on the way down. I noticed that my thoughts, when not diverted by throbbing thighs, were toward one thing – a dorsal-finned mountain, & then on the switchback, my thoughts turned toward another thing – two blackbirds flying, who at certain angles reflected white or red – & as I kept going down my thoughts went back & forth between the fin & the birds depending on the direction I was facing on “The Switchback Trail.”

The assignment is to write a poem which follows the movement of a switchback trail.

Write a poem that starts in one direction & then turns in another. That is, start off in direction A, for instance, & then change to direction B, & then to direction A & back to direction B & on & on. But only two thoughts can be had. Two thoughts that share no associations.

You could combine two unsuccessful poems for this assignment.

Here’s the form: I imagine each direction, switchback, should be a stanza long (as a line would be too abrupt). I imagine each stanza should be about the same length, but of course, variances will be had based on thoughts & because the switchback trail had switchbacks that tended to be of similar length but at times also varied in length. The length between two adjacent stanzas, however, should be of similar lengths (for instance, one stanza could be five lines & the next stanza six lines & the next five & the next four). In addition, the length of stanza one could be completely different than the last stanza if enough subtle movements are achieved. For example, stanza one could be three lines, but by the time the last stanza is reached & some clever writing is had, the last stanza could be ten lines.

Ok. I hope you get the idea.

Also, if your two thoughts come to a conclusion, if associations are finally achieved between the two disparate thoughts, then great. If not, then you had a helluva hike!

a: The Cigarette Cough of the Just Poet; or Joseph K Writes a Poem; or the HEAD, by way of the EAR, to the SYLLABLE / the HEART, by way of the DRAG, to the LINE (with apologies to Charles Olson); or Smoke ‘Em If You Got ‘Em

I was thinking about Creeley (who according to Olson in the essay (“Projective Verse,” which contains “the HEAD, by way of the EAR, to the SYLLABLE / the HEART, by way of the BREATH, to the LINE”) said, “FORM IS NEVER MORE THAN AN EXTENSION OF CONTENT”).

As I was saying, I was thinking about Creeley. I was thinking about his poems – their pace. I was remembering that back in ’93/’94 I was reading Creeley & smoking cigarettes. I was remembering that I would take a drag of a cigarette & read a poem & then exhale. I was remembering what I was thinking while reading Creeley: “Creeley must have been a smoker. That his poems, the length of the poem, coincide with the drag of a cigarette.”

Thus, this assignment. Write a poem that lasts the length of a drag of a cigarette. A poem that commences after the inhale & ends with the exhale.

And then write a series of poems that can be read to one cigarette. I don’t even know how many drags that is. Five, ten, twelve, twenty? Wait. . . . puff . . . puff . . . puff . . . puff . . . puff . . . puff . . . puff . . . puff . . . puff . . . puff . . . puff . . . puff . . . pufff. Ok. I get thirteen. Hm. So now you got to work the moon into the series, too. Thirteen moon phases in a year, right?

b: Unanswerable Questions; or What’s at the Edge of the Universe?; or What’s the Last Digit of Pi?; or How Does Venus de Milo Hitchhike?; or . . .

After writing that, I couldn’t help but think of a lollipop commercial from the late 70s. So, now you gotta write a poem that lasts as long as a Tootsie Pop “How many lick does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop” will be theme to that poem. Work an owl into the poem, too.

//

 

12
Sep
15

Quick Notes on Allen Ginsberg

These are mostly notes and observations I am writing for myself as I prepare for the Contemporary Poetry section of my comps. I will try to do this with each poet I read. Maybe the notes will be useful to others, too. Again, they are notes and observations. They are not thesis-driven arguments.

//

Allen GinsbergAllen Ginsberg (1926 – 1997) is an American poet, who is usually associated with the Beats. His major book is Howl & Other Poems (1956), and when he read the poem “Howl” at The Six Gallery Reading in San Francisco on October 7, 1955, some say the Beat Generation began.

On one of the walls at The University of Southern Mississippi’s English Department is the following quote from Ezra Pound, which I am currently looking at: “Great literature is simply language charged with meaning to the utmost possible degree.” With Ginsberg, in Howl & Other Poems (1955), we don’t get that. We don’t get formal poems of self-contained meanings, meters, rhetorical poetic devices, all of which is designed for close reading. We get a series of images that leap around paratactically. We get images provoking ideas and emotions. We get open form poems, often with long lines. We get long lines filled with a big breath, which seems to recall Olson’s “Projective Verse.” These long lines allow for Ginsberg to more accurately trace his mind in action. Philip Whalen says something like, “Poetry is a graph of the mind moving,” and that is how most of Ginsberg’s poems appear to operate in Howl & Other Poems. In addition, according to David Perkins:

Ginsberg absorbed [W. C.] Williams’ belief that poetry must reflect contemporary social reality, present images rather than ideas, and base its idiom on immediate speech rather than a poetic tradition. (547)

The open form also allows Ginsberg a larger space in which to confess. (I think Ginsberg is a type of Confessional poet, but whereas Lowell, Plath, and Snodgrass confess within the worlds of suburban families, Ginsberg confesses among the drug addicts, hobos, artists, outcasts, patients in mental asylums (like Carl Solomon and his mother).) With the long poetic line, he is able to confess “out the soul to conform to the rhythm of thought in his naked and endless head” (“Howl” 131). He confesses his homosexuality, he confesses to being a Communist, he confesses to being a poet, and he confesses to the value of work.

Some concerns in these poems are work and value and nostalgia. For instance, “America” opens: “America I’ve given you all and now I’m nothing. / America two dollars and twentyseven cents January 17, 1956” (146). Ginsberg is saying he’s given it his all, but despite that, despite capitalism’s promise that working hard will make one rich, Ginsberg feels nearly valueless ($2.27). This poem shows the effects of capitalism on the American worker, who is a hero in many of Ginsberg’s poems. By the end of the poem, he announces, “America I’m putting my queer shoulder to the wheel” (148). In essence, he’s announcing he’s getting back to the old ways of working. The capitalist’s “machinery is too much for” him (146). The capitalist working conditions create homogenized products and make people too serious – “Businessmen are serious. Movie producers are serious. Everybody’s serious but me” (147). So like an independent smith (pre-capitalism), he’s going to put his shoulder to the wheel stone and make his own products his own way. His value will come from his self-worth, his own industry. And he will sell his poems, his “strophes $2500 apiece.” He will be able to buy supermarket food with his own “good looks” (146). He is his own worth. His genius and good looks should be more than enough to survive.

We can even see some of this in the closing poem “In back of the real” (113), where the “hay flower” acts allegorically as the working person. This flower – with a “brittle black stem,” “dirty spikes” (though appearing crown-like and one of three crowns in Howl & Other Poems (one is the skyscrapers in “Howl” and one is in the flower in “Sunflower Sutra”)), and as worn down as an old hair brush “that’s been lying under / the garage for a year” – is the “flower of industry.” It is an “ugly flower” in appearance having grown in the environment of industry by a tank factory and railway station and tracks, but within it is the “great yellow / Rose in your brain! / This is the flower of the World.” This might be the underlying theme of the whole book – no matter who you are, how beaten down you’ve been, how much electroshock therapy you’ve had, there’s beauty in you and your madness.

Ginsberg poems are very accessible and in a simple language, but prompting complicated issues of economics, religion, sexuality, politics, drugs, and war. Some have claimed that Howl was the second most influential poem of the 20th century, with The Waste Land being the most influential.

//

Works Cited

Ginsberg, Allen. Collected Poems: 1947-1980. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1984. Print.

Perkins, David. “Allen Ginsberg.” A History of Modern Poetry: Modernism and After. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1987. Print.

//

Here’s where you can find the poems in Howl & Other Poems as they appear in the Collected Poems: 1947-1980.

Howl, 126-133

Footnote to Howl, 134

A Supermarket in California, 136-37

Transcription of Organ Music, 140-41

Sunflower Sutra, 138-39

America, 146-48

In the Baggage Room at Greyhound, 153-54

An Asphodel, 88

Song, 111-12

Wild Orphan, 78-79

In the back of the real, 113

//

07
Sep
15

Quick Notes on Charles Olson

These are mostly notes and observations I am writing for myself as I prepare for the Contemporary Poetry section of my comps. I will try to do this with each poet I read. Maybe the notes will be useful to others, too. Again, they are notes and observations. They are not thesis-driven arguments.

//

Charles Olson

Charles Olson (1910 – 1970) is an American poet, who is usually associated with the Black Mountain poets. He is influenced by Ezra Pound, whom he spent time with when Pound was in St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, but he was also influenced by W. C. Williams, who was also influenced by Olson enough to include Olson’s essay “Projective Verse” in his The Autobiography of William Carlos Williams. Olson’s first significant text was Call Me Ishmael (1947), his free flowing interpretation of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. His primary texts include the highly influential essay “Projective Verse,” which I will focus on, and The Maximus Poems, a long poem spread across a thick book of 8.5″ x 11″ pages, where he maps Gloucester, Massachusetts, both geographically and temporarily. He uses Gloucester as a focal point from which to understand his universe. Its central character is Maximus, who according to David Perkins “is Olson, but also Olson composing poems” (502). Olson’s poetry explores the use of the page and the use of breath. He has an interest in the “primitive,” by which Olson means “‘primary, as how one finds anything, pick it up as one does new – fresh/first” (“Letter to Elaine Feinstein” 28). He is concerned with getting at the origins of things, before the habits of language interfere with their original uniqueness, that time when the Mayans “cut [hieroglyphs (words)] in stone, they [the hieroglyphs] retain the power of the objects of which they are images” (“Human Universe” 58).

On re-reading “Projective Verse” (1950) for the first time since the mid-90s, I realized I missed quite a bit of what Olson was getting at. He, of course, is concerned with the idea of breath in its relation to poetry, its lines, and its involvement with the body. This time, however, I noticed something more interesting, or at least, different. It begins with his use of scientific terminology (mainly terms from Newtonian physics and electromagnetics), such as “kinetics,” “energy,” “propelled,” “forces,” “principle,” “process,” “speed,” “particles,” “field,” and even in his letter to Elaine Feinstein (1959) he uses “vector” and a mathematical fraction to portray the double nature of the image. This creates the feel of Olson as scientist of poetry, which may be the essence of Projective Verse, which is the removing of the ego.

A scientist, at his/her best, is without ego when interacting with the physical world. The scientist’s prejudices and assumptions (ego) are withdrawn in the act of observation. For Olson, this act of observation is two-fold, and both folds lack ego (though not necessarily the self). Fold one involves poetic form and fold two involves “objectism,” which is different than “objectivism.”

Olson writes in “Projective Verse,” “It would do no harm, as an act of correction to both prose and verse as now written, if both rime and meter [. . .] were less in the forefront of the mind than the syllable” (18). This is similar to what I mentioned about form with Creeley. Form constrains perception and limits content. Here, Olson is saying a little more when he says, “were less in the forefront of the mind,” which I take to mean ego. The ego is bending, manipulating, encouraging in what it wants to see, as well as the clever truth it wants to present in its poem. The ego does this not only with the form but also with the “elements and minims of language [. . . the] logical” (18). So the ego uses all these forms, techniques, rhetorics, and literary devices to shape reality. But as Creeley says, “FORM IS NEVER MORE THAN AN EXTENSION OF CONTENT.” Typically, we understand this to mean that content dictates form, and that is partially correct. However, there is the key word “extension.” Form extends from the content, which is the reality the poet is experiencing. Form is an extension of reality, and this reality has two modes of experience. One side is the ego-less or language-less experience, and the other is the experience of composition, and both find themselves in “objectism,” the second fold of Olson’s observational method, or as he might call it in “Human Universe,” a “threshold of reception” (60).

Olson says, “Objectism is the getting rid of the lyrical interference of the individual as ego [. . .] that peculiar presumption by which western man has interposed himself between what he is as a creature of nature [. . .] and those other creations of nature which we may [. . .] call objects. For man is himself an object” (“Projective Verse” 24). Now here’s the tricky part, Olson then says if man “sprawl”s himself across, he “shall find little to sing but himself” (25). That’s the ego interference, which seems counterintuitive. Also counterintuitive is that “if he stays inside himself, if he is contained within his nature as he is participating in the larger force [nature], he will be able to listen, and his hearing through himself will give him secrets objects share” (25). In other words, he is advising the poet to keep her hands in her pockets, don’t touch anything with her assumptions and prejudices, and just observe. When one observes without ego-interference, nature will present its secrets in ways the poet could not experience or create with language constructs, logic, and preconceptions. This same idea holds true on the field of composition, which I take to mean to mean the page when it is being actively inscribed. Just as there shouldn’t be ego-interference in observing reality, there shouldn’t be ego interference in writing the poem, for “[f]rom the moment he ventures into FIELD COMPOSITION – he put himself in the open – he can go by no track other than the one the poem under hand declares, for itself” (16). Even though the poem seems in the submissive position (“under hand”), the poem provides the track for composition, and the poet must listen to and follow where the poem wants to go. And the:

objects [in the poem . . .] must be treated exactly as they do occur therein and not by any ideas or preconceptions from outside the poem, must be handled as a series of objects in field in such a way that a series of tensions (which they also are) are made to hold, and to hold exactly inside the content and the context of the poem which has forced itself, through the poet and them, into being. (20)

In other words, I think, a tension is created when the poem moves from one object to the next, or as “ONE PERCEPTION MUST IMMEDIATELY AND DIRECTLY LEAD TO A FURTHER PERCEPTION” (17).

I’m not sure Olson achieves his goals. He may, and I may not be keen enough to notice it, but at least in “The Kingfishers” he gives directions on how to do it:

     When the attentions change / the jungle
     leaps in
                even the stones are split
                                                they rive     (169)

The poet needs to keep changing to immerse him/herself into the world different each time in order to experience the universe anew and fresh. In other words:

     What does not change / is the will to change    (167)

//

Works Cited

Olson, Charles. Selected Writings. Ed. Robert Creeley. New York: New Directions, 1966. Print.

Perkins, David. “Charles Olson.” A History of Modern Poetry: Modernism and After. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1987. 497-505. Print.

//

26
Jul
14

Swinburne, Four Syllables, and Learning to Listen to Write

The prompt for this essay was to write a 10-15 page paper about poems, stories, or novels that influenced my writing. Below is my response.

//

Algernon Charles Swinburne

“Algernon Charles Swinburne” by painting George Frederic Watts 1867.

As I thought about what poems changed my work or writing, I had to ask myself in what capacity. In the capacity of expressing myself? in the capacity of using images? being concrete and clear? in the capacity of using the line? in using etymologies? in sounds? etc. Many poems of course came to mind, such as John Donne’s Holy Sonnet #10, Edmund Spenser’s “One day I wrote her name upon the strand,” Gerard Manley Hopkins “The Windhover,” W. S. Merwin’s “The Mountain,” “The Unwritten,” “For the Anniversary of My Death,” and “The Last One.” Two essays also came to mind: Ezra Pound’s “A Retrospect,” which was really the start of everything for me, and Charles Olson’s “Projective Verse.” There were so many choices, but the more I thought about it the more I kept dwelling on Algernon Charles Swinburne and one of his poems. In fact, it was really just four syllables in this poem that I kept turning to for ten years during the 1990s. I believe these four syllables changed my writing more than any other poem. As a result, I will show how this happened and what I learned. In essence, I will show the growth of how my ears learned to listen. As a result, much of what follows will probably be common knowledge to anyone who’s been writing poems for some time, but it is still a sketch of how I learned prosody, or invented my own prosody.

I was introduced to Swinburne by way of Ezra Pound’s “Swinburne and His Biographers.” In this essay, Pound says:

Swinburne recognized poetry as an art, and as an art of verbal music. [. . .] No man who cares for his art can be deaf to the rhythms of Swinburne, deaf to their splendor, deaf also to their bathos. [. . . ] The rhythm-building faculty was in Swinburne, and was perhaps the chief part of his genius. (292-93)

Before I found my way to that essay and to Swinburne, I had been living in and practicing Pound’s advice in “A Retrospect.” You are probably familiar with the three principles (“Direct treatment of the ‘thing’ whether subjective or objective;” “To use no word that does not contribute to the presentation;” and “to compose in the sequence of the musical phrase, not in the sequence of the metronome”) as well as the motto “Go in fear of abstractions.” In the “Rhythm and Rhyme” section of the essay, Pound also points out:

Let him dissect the lyrics of Goethe coldly into their component sound values, syllables long and short, stressed and unstressed, into vowels and consonants.

It is not necessary that a poem should rely on its music, but if it does rely on its music that music must be such as will delight the expert. (5)

As a young writer, I of course wanted to “delight the expert,” as well as everybody else. However, I didn’t know how. Nor did I know what long and short syllables were. I only knew stressed and unstressed syllables, and not very well. And then, as I mentioned, I met Swinburne, and he, and especially one of his poems, drastically informed and changed how I wrote poems during the 1990s.

Swinburne’s poems will force anyone to hear stressed and unstressed syllables. One really can’t “be deaf to the rhythms of Swinburne.” It’s unavoidable. It’s with him my decade-long research into meters (qualitative and quantitative) and forms began. Swinburne wrote in so many meters and forms, I felt required to do the same. I especially loved Sapphic meters, and he has two Sapphic-metered poems, but they are done with qualitative meters instead of quantitative meters. However, I didn’t know this yet. All I knew was to listen.

And so I listened to Swinburne and other poets and my own poems. It was a long training process, but the poem that may have taught me more about meter and rhythm and influenced my own writing is one of the chorus sections from his Greek-like play in verse Atalanta in Calydon. The chorus opens:

Before the Beginning of Years

And it continues for 46 more lines in a bouncy rhythm. The backbeat of the poem is iamb, anapest, and anapest, which Swinburne will play off of throughout the poem. However, there’s much more going on than that. Here’s a typical scansion of the opening line:

Before the Beginning of Years - Simple Scan

In this scansion, I use “u” to indicate an unstressed syllable and “/” to indicate a stressed syllable. That scansion is absolutely correct, or is it? There’s something more complicated going on in that first syllable. I didn’t realize it the first few times I read it, but eventually, sometime later, I heard it different.

I read the opening line over and over again. I read it loud, soft, fast, and slow to try and figure out what was happening with that first syllable. While the “be” in “before” is unstressed, it certainly has more stress than “the.” “How can that be?” I asked myself. I discovered a number of reasons for this.

Edmund SpenserThe first reason was breath. “Be” is the first syllable of the poem, as a result it receives the first exhale from the speaker’s mouth. It receives initial breath, which is more powerful than subsequent breaths in a poem, at least when it pertains to unstressed syllables. When reading a poem aloud, one can’t help but to burst into the poem on the opening syllable, even if it’s just a small burst. The breathing takes time to regulate, usually a syllable or two or three. What I learned from this is that the opening syllable to a poem can’t really be unstressed. Actually, where I first realized that the opening breath adds stress to an unstressed syllable was in the opening line of Edmund Spenser’s “Sonnet 75,” which begins, “One day I wrote her name upon the strand.” The “one,” while correctly scanned as an unstressed syllable, is more of a semi-stressed syllable. I read Spenser’s poem again and again, I compared “One” to “u” in “upon” and to “the,” which are obviously unstressed syllables, I thought about it, and then applied what I learned to Swinburne’s chorus. It held true there. It held true with many other poems, too. It held true with the poems I wrote. What I learned is that the opening syllable will almost always have a little more stress than the same syllable later in the poem, unless there is a deliberate metrical play being facilitated by the poet. This semi-stressed syllable realization while important was still not fully developed, especially in me and my poetry.

The idea that there was the special syllable intrigued me. I had assumed there were either stressed or unstressed syllables and nothing else. This is all I ever read in books or was taught. Even in the dictionary, there are only stressed and unstressed syllables, and the “Be” in “Before” is unstressed. But here’s a third syllable that is neither. “Is it just an aberration? Is it only true of opening syllables?” I asked myself. I eventually found two answers. The first was realizing that stressed and unstressed syllables are not absolute. They are relational, as hinted at before with the “u” in “upon” and the “the” in Spenser’s poem. While “be” in “before” will usually be unstressed, its unstress comes in relation to the other syllables around it. Since the “be” in “before” is always surrounded by the stressed “fore,” it will almost always sound unstressed. Still, it is more stressed than the “the” later in the Swinburne line. In fact, articles are almost always unstressed, especially when it follows the stressed “fore.” The next unstressed syllable that follows the unstressed “the” is also “be,” but this time in the word “beginning.” This “be” is also considered an unstressed syllable because of where it is in relation to the stressed “gin.” But when I listened closely, I heard it being more stressed than the preceding “the.” I didn’t hear the “be” in “beginning” as stressed or unstressed. It was in between. This time, however, it wasn’t because of initial expulsion of air. It was something else.

When I listened to the lines in this chorus, I heard rising rhythms. Of course, the rhythm will rise naturally with iambs and anapests, but there was more nuance in the rising in Swinburne’s chorus, and it occurs in the second syllable of the anapests. It turns out Swinburne wasn’t using a two-scored scansion system of syllables. He was using a three-scored scansion system. Here’s a different scansion of the opening line:

Before the Beginning of Years - Three Tier

In this scansion, I use “u” and “/” as I used them above, but here I use “u/” to indicate a semi-stressed syllable. When I scanned it by hand with a pencil in the 90s, I used a “u” with a slanted line through it. I was inventing my own scansion and scansion markings, and I would invent more. But back to this line. The rising rhythm is nuanced. It’s smooth. It glides up into each foot’s stressed syllable – unstressed to semi-stressed to stressed. But there’s even more to this rising.

Again, after reading this poem many more times, as well as reading other poems and writing my own poems that tried to imitate meters and rhythms, I heard this chorus’s opening line differently. This time I heard how the last syllable “years” is more stressed than the other syllables in the line. Here’s how I scanned it:

Before the Beginning of Years - Four Tier

Here I use “x” to indicate what I call a strong stress. My ear now heard four levels of stress and I had built my scansion system to include one more scansion symbol. My poet’s ears were really coming alive. Hearing the sounds wasn’t enough for me. I wanted to know why it happened and how I could do it. While figuring it out, I reread Swinburne’s poem “Sapphics.” I liked the way the poem moved, but I didn’t know why it was called Sapphics. At the time, I had a little 4 ½” x 3 ¼” inch Collins Gem Latin Dictionary. (I still have it.) In it, in the prefatory materials, there is a seven-page “Metres” section about Latin meters and poetic forms. One of those was called “Sapphics,” after the poetic form Sappho used, which may have been created by Alcaeus of Mytilen (Sappho’s contemporary). But when the dictionary laid out the meter and format of the poem and gave a brief description of it, it didn’t use stressed and unstressed syllables. It used long and short syllables to represent the three hendecasyllabic lines (or “lesser Sapphics”) and the one adonic. I then remembered Pound mentioning “syllables long and short.” I realized some syllables have a longer pronunciation duration than other syllables. For instance, the “e” in the word “he” is longer than the “e” in the word “the.” I listened to that opening line again.

Before the Beginning of Years - Quantitative

The “–” below the line indicates a long syllable and the “u” below the line indicates a short syllable. My scansion system continued to grow as did my scansion markings as did my poet’s ears. The quantitative scansion system, I would later realize, is also relational, but the relationship has a wider scale. It works mainly with the whole line rather than what is nearby, as in qualitative scansion.

At this point you may be asking, “Why is the ‘Be’ in ‘Before’ longer than the ‘be’ in ‘beginning’?” That’s a good question. Outside of this poem, or if “before” and “beginning” are spoken as independent words, both “be”s would be the same length. In this opening line, however, I hear the “e” in “Be” in “Before” as a long “e.” It is as if the poem begins with a running start or as if the speaker is tuning his/her voice with the commencement of the poem. It might also be because of that initial expulsion of air. Nonetheless, pronouncing it as a short “e,” as in “beginning,” just doesn’t sound right. It’s seems out of key and out of tone, especially with the mood of the poem. One could argue that it is in fact a short syllable, and that is fine, as scansions can be debated. However, I heard and still hear it as a long syllable. The more important observation is the long syllable “years.”

I’m sure Swinburne was aware of long and short syllables, but he didn’t seem to consciously implement them. Even in his poem “Sapphics,” he translates the Greek quantitative meter into an Anglo qualitative meter. Pound will later write at least two Sapphic poems (“Apparuit” and “The Return,” though he disguises the form) where he plays quantitative meter against qualitative meter, and even later on, James Wright will Americanize Sapphics in “Erinna to Sappho,” using three iambic tetrameter lines and an iambic dimeter line. That, however, is another lesson. Back to Swinburne. No matter what Swinburne’s intentions were or were not, “years” is long and stressed. I thought this is how he made the syllable have more stress than a typically stressed syllable. I would later learn that a long syllable, and sometimes just a long vowel, can not only make a stressed syllable more stressed, but it can add stress to an unstressed syllable. In the opening to the chorus, the length of the syllable may also contribute to “Be” in “Before” being a semi-stressed word.

So what I had learned so far and practiced in writing by way of Swinburne? While there are stressed and unstressed syllables in poetry and they can be used as a backbeat to build a poem on, there’s more nuance to those syllables. There are at least four levels of stresses and they can be impacted by the length of the syllable. I learned that I can play stress and length off each other to create certain auditory effects. I would later learn that there’s even a fifth stress. It is more stressed than the strong stress I represented with an “x” in the above scansion. I picked this up from Robert Duncan, who somewhere wrote something like, “in each poem, there is one syllable that is more stressed than all the other syllables.” I found and find this to be often true. Though sometimes there are two syllables that are more stressed than all of the other syllables and sometimes there aren’t any outstandingly stressed syllables. I also learned that stresses are relational as well as the length of the syllable being relational. In addition, this chorus from Swinburne also aided me in realizing that rhythms can rise and fall, rhythms have their effects and can be used to create effects to please a listener’s ear and “delight the expert,” and they can also be used to affect meanings.

Writing in quantitative meters in English, however, is more a difficult endeavor and much more complicated than the four levels of stress. In the Romance languages, as I understand it, the lengths are more certain, just like our Anglo-American stresses. In Anglo-American, however, there are so many variable lengths of syllables it’s too difficult to scan effectively, but knowing when to use a long or short syllable is still useful in composing a music that “will delight the expert.” Further complications in quantitative syllables are compounded with schwas and diphthongs. How many syllables are in a diphthong? For instance, is “fire” one or two syllables? Or is it even more syllables as Robert Pinsky once pointed out when he was in the south and saw a woman running from her burning house yelling “fire” as a five-syllable word. This also became a learned lesson: context can dictate how a syllable is pronounced.

Additionally, after figuring out how a long syllable became a long syllable, which often occurs with a long vowel sound, I learned that vowels, especially long vowels, carry emotions. I thought the long vowel’s emotional effect had to do with duration and pitch. I learned some of this from Robert Bly, who I had thought had a tin ear, but would later realize he was using long vowels to create tones, which was his music. In “Educating the Rider and the Horse,” he briefly discusses it effects:

[The third type of sound a poem with a “wild animal” form is] the conscious intensity – not sequence – of pitches. Syllables that rose high, very high, in the Old Norse line the poets called “lifters.” We can hear them in Beowulf. Sometimes the lifters resemble the peak of a roof, sometimes the dragon prow of a Viking ship that rises and falls. Sounds pronounced naturally in the roof of the mouth, such as “ee,” drive the sound up; conviction drives it up; the beat as it arrives helps drive it up. This is mysterious, unquantifiable. (294)

Allen Ginsberg would do something similar as Bly, but his music came from the ups and downs of pitch. His poems, the lines in his poems (at least the ones I liked and read and studied) would often rise and fall in pitch. Bly would rely on a field of pitch (or a small range of pitches) for tonal effect, whereas Ginsberg would rely on mountains and valleys of pitch for movement and for physical effects. I eventually made up a hypothesis that in poetry the vowels in a word carry the emotions and the consonants carry the meaning, which I think is even more true the further back in English poetry history one listens.

During the 1990s, as mentioned, pretty much all I did was to write in as many meters (quantitative and qualitative) and forms as I could find, including free verse and projective verse. Olson’s “Projective Verse” essay was a major influence on how I wrote poetry. It taught me about breath and breathing, and informed, as a result, though indirectly, my understanding of long and short syllables. I would quote some of the poems I wrote, but I burned them all (all two boxes of them) in a bonfire fifteen years ago on July 3, 1999. It might be for the better because I couldn’t master aligning sound and sense, and to quote them would be embarrassing. Nonetheless, I could write meters very easily. And I could write a line or two that were clear, but writing a whole poem, especially with the complications I added (which I will note below), was more difficult than I could expect it to be. The poems I wrote had intricate meters and sounds, but the meaning of the poems were held together only in my head. They wouldn’t make much sense to other readers. Or the poems would be too abstract. Meters, I discovered, lend themselves to polysyllabic abstract words. At least that is true for me and even Swinburne. Swinburne in his later years fell into polysyllabic music, too. Still I kept at writing in meters and forms. I even tried to train myself to speak in sonnets, but I drift off topic.

Swinburne was not only an inspiration, but he also became a testing ground. If I discovered something in another poem, I would test it out in his poems, as I briefly illustrated above. I would also test it out in my own writings. I began with writing syllabics and used Swinburne’s poem “Syllabics” as a guide, as well as other poets. Once I got syllabics down, I moved on to iambs and then trochees and then to forms with those meters. Then I returned to syllabics and tried to incorporate other musically devices into it, like assonance, alliteration, and consonance. Gerard Manley Hopkins, Thomas Campion, Wallace Stevens, and Linda Bierds were vital in this musical development to “delight the expert.” Having figured out how to make those sounds, I then tried laying those sounds on top of iambs, and then atop other meters, and then into forms. This process restarted again with syllabics and then trying to incorporate etymologies into syllabic poems. I learned how to do this from Hopkins and Wallace Stevens. For instance, in one of Hopkins sonnets (I think it is the one that begins “Thou are indeed just, Lord, if I contend”), most of the words in the poem have etymological roots in feudal law, especially concerning lord and vassals, which I learned after half an afternoon with a dictionary in the Paddy Hill Library in Greece, NY. The poem was rooted by way of etymologies. Stevens did something similar, at times, especially with “Crispin” and “clipped” in “The Comedian as the Letter C.” I would even invent a school of poetry called “Skeatsism,” based on Rev. Walter W. Skeat’s An Etymological Dictionary of the English Language and my findings with Hopkins and Stevens. My writing/discovery process continued with the iambs, other meters, forms, and harmonies, etc. Swinburne was then also a motivator to go learn more. While Swinburne can teach a lot, he can’t teach everything, like long and short syllables, the emotions of vowels, and etymological rotisserie. Still there is one last lesson he had for me.

Besides not being able to write successful poems in meter and form, I also couldn’t master what call the ghost syllable. A ghost syllable is a syllable that has no representation in words or sounds. It is a syllable that is felt. It is a syllable that lingers like a ghost lingers after someone passes away. For example, I will return to the Swinburne chorus I’ve been writing about. Here are the opening four lines again, with scansion:

First Four Lines - Simple Scan

You can see and hear how Swinburne varies the rising rhythms in lines 3 and 4. If you listen even closer, you will hear two extra beats at the end of each those four lines. So it can be represented like this:

First Four Lines - Ghost Syllables

Those two extra stresses (“/   /”) at the end of each line are what I refer to as ghost syllables, and they move the poem forward. They create an extra tension between what is heard and unheard. They extend the line. I thought perhaps I might be hearing things. However, once in 2002 or 2003, I gave a poetry reading to a very receptive audience. Not too far into my reading of this chorus by Swinburne, the audience started supplying those ghosts beats at the ends of the lines by stomping their feet and slapping their tables. They picked up on the ghost syllable, and validated my reading. This effect is magical. Later on, I purchased The Fugs: The Fugs First Album. (The Fugs were an avant-garde rock band, and poets Ed Sanders and Tuli Kupferberg are the most known members.) They did a musical rendition of the same chorus and called it the “Swinburne Stomp.” They heard and included the ghost beat, too. (Their rendition of the song has also influenced my reading of the poem, which is now more dramatic, especially at the end.) To this day, I still do not know how the ghost syllables work or how to do it. I wish I did, but I don’t. This among many things is what makes Swinburne a metrical genius from whom I learned so much about the music of poetry. Those two ghost syllables, the “Be” in “Before,” and “years” were the four syllables that affected me the most.

As a result, Swinburne prepared me for listening and listening with intent. He taught me prosody and how to talk about it. He prepared me for Gerard Manley Hopkins, especially “The Windhover,” which was another influential poem to my ears, as well as Edmund Spenser’s “One Day I Wrote Her Name Upon the Stand” (which maybe a perfect sonnet), and it prepared me John Donne’s Holy Sonnet #10, “Death, be not proud, though some have callèd thee.” It prepared me in such a way that I preferred to write musical poems over poems that made sense. That is, I became so obsessed in writing music to “delight the expert” that I forgot about everyone else, which means I forgot about clarity. The reader needs clarity. Writing poems with clarity would take me a whole other decade with W. S. Merwin to accomplish.

//

//

//

Works Cited

Bly, Robert. “Educating the Rider and the Horse.” American Poetry: Wildness and Domesticity. New York: Harper & Row Publishers: 1990. 289-96. Print.

Donne, John. “Holy Sonnet 10.” The Norton Anthology of English Language: Volume 1. 5th ed. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1986. 1099. Print.

Hopkins, Gerard Manley. “Thou are indeed just, Lord, if I contend.” Gerard Manley Hopkins: Poems and Prose. New York: Penguin Books, 1988. 67. Print.

Pound, Ezra. “A Retrospect.” Literary Essays of Ezra Pound. Ed. T. S. Eliot. New York: New Directions: 1968. 3-14. Print.

—. “Swinburne and His Biographers.” Literary Essays of Ezra Pound. Ed. T. S. Eliot. New York: New Directions: 1968. 290-294. Print.

Spenser, Edmund. “Sonnet 75.” The Norton Anthology of English Language: Volume 1. 5th ed. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1986. 770. Print.

Swinburne, Algernon Charles. Atalanta in Calydon. Major Poems and Selected Prose. Eds. Jerome McCann and Charles L. Sligh. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004. 3-67. Print.

//

//

//

Sapphics

– u  – u  – u u  – u  – u

– u  – u  – u u  – u  – u

– u  – u  – u u  – u  – u

– u u  – u

 

u = short syllable. – =long syllable.

The first three lines are the hendecasyllabic lines, or “lesser Sapphics.” The fourth and eleventh syllables are open syllables. Originally they were long, but now are variable.

The adonic is the fourth line.

A Sapphic poem usually consists of a number of these formally structured stanzas.

//

//

//

To download a PDF of this essay, click Four Syllables.

//

14
May
13

On Robert Gibbons Olson/Still: Crossroad

A version of this review (and a better edited version) may appear in a future issue of Redactions: Poetry, Poetics, & Prose issue 17, due out in fall 2013.//

Robert Gibbons Olson/Still: Crossroads

What is art and where does it come from? What is its source? These are questions Charles Olson and Clyfford Still pursued around the same time, in different locations, and unaware of what the other was up to while arriving at similar conclusions. It reminds me of Sir Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz arriving at the development of calculus at the same time, in different locations, unaware of what the other was up to, but Olson and Still have a less dramatic story. This story, though very interesting, is told by way of an adventurous, energetic, and original style of study in Robert Gibbons’ Olson/Still: Crossroad (Nine Point Publishing, 2013).

Clyfford Still, if you don’t know as I didn’t know, “was among the first generation of Abstract Expressionists who developed a new, powerful approach to painting in the years immediately following World War II” (Clyfford Still Museum).  (Some of his artwork that is mentioned in Olson/Still: Crossroad appears in this post.) Charles Olson, as you probably know, was a significant post-World War II poet, who was involved with Black Mountain and Projective Verse and helped bridge the way between the Moderns and Post-Moderns.

Clyfford Still – 1938-N No.1

Clyfford Still – 1938-N No.1

The book consists of 16 bursts of concentrated thinking. Most bursts are a paragraph or two long and read like short essays or charged notes. Each essay while focused is discursive, or perhaps, it would be better stated that the short essays follow the thoughts of Gibbons thinking. A thinking that pulls in obscure and not so obscure sources from Olson and Still and a few other places and people in a fury of entangled associations. For instance, in “Two Men, Two Letters”:

Olson wrote to Elaine Feinstein in May 1959, “The ‘source’ question is damned interesting…” Then begins to “hammer” the “help archaeology” is, as well as languages of North American Indians, including space-time of Hopi & Northern Californian Yani, driving as far down as Hittite & “the prime-abstract…” Eventually, the poet returns, as if drawing a spiral, or drilling cup-holes in language to Landscape (which he spells large as he had “SPACE… from Folsom Cave to now… Large, and without mercy.”) Here he finds Image & Truth equal to narrative. A month afterward, in June 1959, Clyfford Still writes a letter he refrains from sending, until making it public in Artforum four years later, “The truth is usually hard…,” in this context reminding one of stone, adding, “Dig out the truth and one man is a match for all of them.” (Gibbons 4)

I like to think of those cup holes being connected by a string of some sort, like those cup-strung phones or tin can-strung phones many of us played with as children, but here the cups are language and landscape, but one landscape in the thinking of this book is time. One end of this string is attached to those ancient cave painters in Altamira, for instance, that go back 50,000 years, as Olson has it. And Olson can stand in an ancient artist’s literal footprints to see the art. He can sense the source. Or as he would say:

[T]he mind is so ignobled in  our time (or was) exactly as sex has been, the way both these joys have been turned into mechanics, too, when surely, by our own testings, our own deepest knowledges, loves, these two, the brain and the cock, are what we stand on, more than our legs. (Gibbons 8)

Gibbons would stand in this same spot but would look to the back of the cave and see black (see “1957-D No. 1” below). His standing allows him to see the back of the cave “‘was never a color of death or terror’ […] but ‘warm – and generative’ & that from color, texture, image, ‘wanted them all to fuse into a living spirit’” (11). Olson’s standing also called up “THE GENERATIVE as a focus of attention.” It’s this standing around that leads to a Max Raphael conclusion about the cave artists, “signs… stand for abstract concepts derived from concrete events” (11). In other words, the cave artists anticipate the Symbolists (my conclusion), who were the first to suggest ways at creating art that speaks to or is abstracted from the unconscious – drilling cup holes from the conscious to the unconscious, or drilling cup holes from the self to “the cave of yourself” or as Olson says, to “ethos [which] means the cave of yourself… I mean a cave… It means literally a house inside itself” (20).

Clyfford Still – 1957-D No.1

Clyfford Still – 1957-D No.1

Gibbons has acted as a tour guide through a house in this slender volume. A house with many more rooms than the one I’ve examined. There are rooms with generative sources from stones, from the vertical, from the vortex, etc. It’s a house built by Olson and Still using different overlapping blue prints that Gibbons interpreted for us in his very unique and insightful way.

Olson/Still: Crossroad is a thin house or book, but by the end of this vertical (10.25″ inches tall by 6.25″ inches wide) and slender book, I was surprised by how much I experienced. The experience certainly seemed more expansive than 25 pages can allow, especially when four of the pages are end notes, and I’m still listening.//

//

//

//

Gibbons, Robert. Olson/Still: Crossroad. Bridgton: Nine Point Publishing, 2013. Print.//

//

//

//

Clyfford Still – 1950-B

Clyfford Still – 1950-B. (My side note: compare this to Henri Matisse’s “Le Bonheur de Vivre” and then to Wassily Kandinsky’s “Improvisation 27 (Garden of Love)”.)

//

//

//

Clyfford Still – M-No.2 (PH 776)

Clyfford Still – M-No.2 (PH 776)

//

//

//

Clyfford Still – PH-998

Clyfford Still – PH-998

//

//

//

Clyfford Still – PH-1123

Clyfford Still – PH-1123

//




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

Enter your email address to subscribe to The Line Break and receive email notifications of new posts.

Join 2,645 other followers

September 2020
M T W T F S S
 123456
78910111213
14151617181920
21222324252627
282930  

Archives

The Line Break Tweets


%d bloggers like this: