Posts Tagged ‘Redactions: Poetry & Poetics

31
Jul
17

On Neil Aitken’s Babbage’s Dream

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

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Neil Aitken's Babbage's DreamCharles Babbage was a mathematician, inventor, and even philosopher, but he is mostly known as “the father of the computer,” as he designed the first “analytical engine.” He is also the main focus of Neil Aitken’s Babbage’s Dream (Sundress Publications, 2016). However, this is no biography, and it’s not a string of found poems. For Aitken, Babbage becomes not only a lens through which to examine Babbage’s emotions and an artist’s and scientist’s endeavors with creation, but the 56 pages of poems (two of which first appeared in Redactions: Poetry & Poetics) and nine pages of notes also tend toward ontology and explore what it is to be a struggling human.

The bulk of the book consists of long-lined, unrhymed couplets of lyric poems. But where a lyric poem uses the lyrical I to express a voice going through change, Aitken replaces the I with the Babbage persona and a near omniscient voice observing Babbage. Additionally, almost all the lines are marked with a caesura in the middle, sometimes two or three. For instance, the opening of “Babbage at His Desk, Enumerating the Known World” (23):

   From here, you lay bare the world
   table after table, column after column: 

   each thing known and numbered, counted
   like sparrows in their open graves, 

   the heartbeats of pigs, the staggered breathing
   of cattle in low country fields. Each significant. 

   A sign. A signature. The quality of ink
   spread on the printer’s block. Silk threads,

Those these lines are shorter than most, we can see/hear how the couplets move and also act like binaries. The lines move between velocity and pause, which is helpful in the longer lines. The caesura acts as a breathing fulcrum, as well as an experiential fulcrum. As for the binary action, the opening line presents an emotional abstraction that is countered in line two with the need to mathematically express or capture those emotions. Thus, line 1 –emotion / line 2 – math; and line 1 – abstraction / line 2 – categorization. Then, line three successfully quantifies the known, which is then countered in line four with an image, an emotional image of despair. Thus, line 3 – mathematical representation / line 4 – image representation; and line 3 –quantifiable / line 4 – inexpressible. There’s a back-and-forth movement between opposing experiential realms of perception and expression.

Sometimes the back-and-forth occurs in the same line, such as line six, where the period caesura acts as the fulcrum for the experiential shift. The couplets, the movements, mimetically rendering thoughts, feelings, actions a person moves through during moments of struggle, despair, joy, the ineffable, while allegorically paralleling how “binary numbers are stored in a digital computer as either absence or presence (nothing or something)” (“Notes” 71). Perhaps this can be all simplified as movement between conscious and unconscious. Not all the couplets behave this way, but many do.

In fact, there are five poems that experiment with form and structure, and four of those do so using computer programming language, such as C++. For example, “Comment” (46), which first appeared in Redactions, opens:

   At the company town hall meeting,                           // in the movie theater again
   we see the same slide. The financial gurus                // old plots, new faces

   spin the numbers again, a visual rhetoric                   // fake stars painted on the scene
   of gray bars rising adjacent to red. Someone             // dull plastic, factory-made

Here there are two columns. According to the notes, the poem “uses the // line notation from C++ to indicate that what follows is to be read by the human, but not the computer (i.e., everything after those marks is ignored by the compiler”) (72). The left column uses the first-person plural subjective “we” to attempt to objectively render a scene, while the right column has an unidentified speaker providing a judgmental assessment (or “comments”) of what is actually happening. So again, we have this fulcrum, but this time it hinges on the //. The left side is for the computer and is in a fairly objective and narrative language, while the right side is for the human and is in an unknown snarky, lyrical voice.

I think these binaries, these couplets exist because Babbage lives in two worlds: one of the computer or mechanical and one of the human, who experiences love and suffers great despair at the loss of his wife and daughter within a year’s time. In essence, the poems underscore a human’s conflict between mind and heart and the dialectical movements we encounter within ourselves each moment of the day as we endure what is here and what is gone, what is made and what is destroyed, and between maker and the maker’s creation. The language in Neil Aitken’s Babbage’s Dream is concise and specific as computer code and is rhythmically rigid, with the binary of iambs providing a steady backbeat. //

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Aitken, Neil. Babbage’s Dream. Knoxville, TN: Sundress Publications, 2016. Print.

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26
Jul
17

On Jonathan Culler’s Theory of the Lyric

 

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

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Jonathan Culler – Theory of the LyricIn Theory of the Lyric (Harvard University Press, 2015), Jonathan Culler does not attempt to provide a definition of what the lyric poem is. Instead he gives us new ways to approach the lyric poem, as Culler believed previous methods were ineffective or lacking. For instance, in the past, some scholars and teachers of poetry have tried to reconstruct the poet’s/speaker’s experiences or motives for writing the poem, even though the poem does not benefit from or need those reconstructions, especially since it doesn’t address what the poem and its language are doing; or the New Critics approach – “[Culler] was no longer oriented by the New Critical assumptions that poems exist to be interpreted. It [his chapter on the apostrophe in particular but the book in general] sought, rather, to explore the most unsettling and intriguing aspects of lyric language and the different sorts of seductive effects that lyric may have” (viii). Culler throughout suggests the reader address the lyric poem as an experience, and he provides many ways to do that. Because of this, perhaps, Culler uses accessible language (as opposed to high-academic or obfuscating language that we often encounter when reading literary criticism). Even with the accessible language, my reading was fully engaged and slowed as I wrote plentiful amounts of marginalia and would often to pause longer than normal to contemplate what he wrote or to re-read his poem examples to see how poem worked with his ideas. The book is a concentrated study of the “Western lyric tradition” (3) from the ancient Greeks to Modern poetry, and on one occasion, contemporary hip hop.

One way to approach a lyric poem, according to Culler, is to realize that it is an event, a repeatable speech act. The lyric is performative to a degree and not constative. The lyric poem seeks to make something happen and is not designed to be read for signs of character or plot. The sensual pleasures of the lyric poem – rhythms, harmonies, line breaks, memorable lines, etc. – are often what attract the reader to the poem in first place, as opposed to a hermeneutic reading for meaning. In other words, “The meaning of a poem, he [Amittai Aviram] claims, allegorically represents ‘aspects of the power of the poem’s own rhythm to bring about a physical response, to engage the readers [sic] or listener’s body and thus to disrupt the orderly process of meaning’” (165). This evokes what Robert Frost said, those who read poems with their eyes are barbarians; you must learn to read with your ears.

The articulation or enunciation of the lyric poem creates a timeless present and underlines the poem’s lyric nowness. The lyric exists outside of time, it doesn’t move chronologically, and it exists in the eternal now – the event of its reading. “The fundamental characteristic of the lyric,” claims Culler, “is not the description and interpretation of a past event but the iterative and iterable performance of an event in the lyric present, in the special ‘now,’ of lyric articulation. . . . Fiction is about what happens next; lyric is about what happens now.” (226). The poem is its own event.

This lyrically event, according to Culler, with its sensual pleasures might be especially important in times of prosaic complacency, reasoning, argumentation, and political oppression. As Merleau-Ponty says, the lyric poem resists “the prose of the world” (304). Similar to Surrealism, the lyric poem with its sensual pleasures releases the mind from prose’s abstract thinking and “perception of the world” (304). This becomes important in building a community, especially when coupled with the lyric I. The lyric I or “the subject is constituted as the subject of this sensory experience, which is available to any wanderer” or reader (323). In other words, the lyric I, while a seemingly personal subject and thus in opposition to the masses, becomes a voice for the masses, the powerless, the voiceless and unheard ones overwhelmed by power and ideology. Because of its sensual pleasures, its non-prosaic thinking, the lyric poem can “generate a community that it addresses, to assert social values, to participate in a restructuring of the sensuous and affective domain of life” (330), of which Culler gives plentiful examples. The lyric is communal and political.

While it might seem that Culler is defining what a lyric poem is, I contend he is showing what the lyric poem does, and what it does is usually overlooked in criticism and the teaching of lyric poetry. The lyric poem in its doing uses iterable musical events as an antidote to the blind allegiance to facts and signification. It makes “a new organization of experience presuming the centrality of unrealized amorous passion, which has animated the lyric and popular song” since the time of Petrarch (315). While there are a variety of themes and forms of lyric poems at any given time, it’s the experience of the lyric poem that is missing from the critical discussions of lyric poetry, and this is one Culler’s main concerns.

Jonathan Culler’s Theory of the Lyric is much more exhaustive than exploring the lyric poem as event and social force. It also examines its non-mimetic properties, explores aspects of the genre through history, reflects on theories of the lyric, provides a good study on rhythm and meter and the social meaning of meter, has a fascinating chapter on the apostrophe, delivers a well thought out study of the sonnet through time, and a concluding chapter on “Lyric and Society.” I recommend this book to every teacher of poetry, as it gives a few pedagogical approaches to teaching poetry, especially by way of rhythm:

A greater foregrounding of rhythm as central to lyric might enable the teaching of poetry to regain some of the ground lost in recent years and also might lead to a different set of poetics. One could thus imagine an approach more connected with evaluation, which has not been central to literary studies recently: What works and what doesn’t? What engages our attention, our corps de jouissance – to use Barthes’s term – and what does not? For such a poetics an important part of the teaching of poetry would be accustoming students to hearing and experiencing the rhythms of traditional verse – they have a surprisingly hard time hearing iambic pentameter without the practice of recitation, for instance, though they fare much better with four-beat rhythms. (173)

And I recommend it for every poet, as it’s a cross between a craft book (in a certain way) and a critical approach, but written by someone with a firm understanding of what poets are up to by way of the ear to the heart to the mind. //

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Culler, Jonathan. Theory of the Lyric. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2015. Print.

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19
Mar
17

On Knowing Knott: Essays on an American Poet

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

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

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

Here’s the poem:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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27
Jan
17

On Bonnie Bolling’s The Red Hijab

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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18
Nov
16

Redactions: Poetry & Poetics 2016 Pushcart Nominations

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

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

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

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

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11
Nov
16

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

POETRY ASSIGNMENTS

Brian Warner's The Cave

“The Cave” by Brian Warner. Used with the permission of Brain Warner.

or 100 Jackhammers for the Poet with Writer’s Block;

or 100 Ways to Jumpstart the Engine;

or 100 Pencil Exercises;

or 100 Ways to Stimulate Your Next Wine, Cheese, & Poetry Night

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Table of Contents

Introduction

  1. Finding the First, Discovering the Middle, & Chasing the End
  2. Imaginary Worlds
  3. Science, the Universe, Time, & Other Evolutions
  4. Fun with Letters, Words, Language, & Languages
  5. Forms: Obscure, Updated, & Invented
  6. New School; or Double Vision; or WWI (Writing While Intoxicated) & Its Repercussions
  7. Miscellany; Trying to Relate the Unrelated; or These Gotta Go Some Place . . . So Here
  8. Stupid Money, Dumb Politicians, & Celebrating America
  9. Responses; or Calling All Poets (Dead & Alive); or Talking to Eternity
  10. It’s All About You

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It’s All About You

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, be honest with yourself!

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

   The New American Poetry

   It is the poetry of the privileged class.

   It inherits portfolios.

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

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

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

   neckfold leeches shining like black droplets of blood.

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

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

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

   Old women with children do live in it.

   It does not harvest thought, or associate with farmers.

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

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

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

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

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

   It dwells on absence & illusion, mirrors refulgent flames.

   Deer that browse beneath its branches starve.

   Its emotions do not arise from sensible objects.

   It passes rocks as though they were clouds.

   It does not flood out is muskrats.

   It sustains itself on paperweight petals.

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

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

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

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

   In his afterlife, Rimbaud smuggles it along infected rivers.


                                                  (1984)


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

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

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

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

For instance, for me:

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

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

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

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

For example, waiting to make my list:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Go forth!

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

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

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

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

Go refresh!

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

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

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

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

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

Stay fresh my friends. Make it New!

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

//

Go Forth!

//

09
Nov
16

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

POETRY ASSIGNMENTS

Brian Warner's The Cave

“The Cave” by Brian Warner. Used with the permission of Brain Warner.

or 100 Jackhammers for the Poet with Writer’s Block;

or 100 Ways to Jumpstart the Engine;

or 100 Pencil Exercises;

or 100 Ways to Stimulate Your Next Wine, Cheese, & Poetry Night

//

Table of Contents

Introduction

  1. Finding the First, Discovering the Middle, & Chasing the End
  2. Imaginary Worlds
  3. Science, the Universe, Time, & Other Evolutions
  4. Fun with Letters, Words, Language, & Languages
  5. Forms: Obscure, Updated, & Invented
  6. New School; or Double Vision; or WWI (Writing While Intoxicated) & Its Repercussions
  7. Miscellany; Trying to Relate the Unrelated; or These Gotta Go Some Place . . . So Here
  8. Stupid Money, Dumb Politicians, & Celebrating America
  9. Responses; or Calling All Poets (Dead & Alive); or Talking to Eternity
  10. It’s All About You

//

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

The Dr. Carlos Response Poem

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

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

//

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

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

   This is just to say

   I have eaten
   the plums
   that were in
   the icebox

   and which
   you were probably
   saving
   for breakfast

   Forgive me
   they were delicious
   so sweet
   and so cold

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

//

Sapphic Love

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

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

or 24D

   ]
   ]
   ]
   ]
   ]
   ]in a thin voice
   ]


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

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

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

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

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

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

//

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

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

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

   To His Coy Mistress

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

//

Dealing with Rejection

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

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

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

   MONSOON

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


   Used by permission of 5 A.M.

//

On Second Thought

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

//

Here, Let Me Try

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

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

//

Laundry Time

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

The assignment is a celebration of our clothes.

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

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

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

//

The Wally Stevens Anecdote

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

It is simple. Here it is.

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

//

Art Response Poem

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

//




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

The Cave

Poems for an Empty Church

Poems for an Empty Church

The Oldest Stone in the World

The Oldest Stone in the Wolrd

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

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

Pre-Dew Poems

Pre-Dew Poems

Negative Time

Negative Time

After Malagueña

After Malagueña

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