Posts Tagged ‘Rob Carney

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

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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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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).

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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.

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“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.

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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.

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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.

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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.)

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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.”

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.)

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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)

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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!!

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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.

//

 

10
Jan
13

Rob Carney’s This Is One Sexy Planet (2005)

Over the next few weeks or months, I will post all my reviews (“Tom’s Celebrations”) that appeared in Redactions: Poetry, Poetics, & Prose (formerly Redactions: Poetry & Poetics) up to and including issue 12. After that, my reviews appeared here (The Line Break) before appearing in the journal. This review first appeared in issue 6/7, which was published circa mid-2006.

//

Rob Carney's – This Is One Sexy PlanetThe earth is beautiful, or was before war, greed, money, & the homogenous creations of the business world, & the earth still can be beautiful. This is an early premise of Rob Carney’s This Is One Sexy Planet (Frank Cat Press) [out of print], a premise sustained through the collection of poems.

In the opening poem, “Six Verses in Search of a Church,” we see this:

   
   For fingers came first, before grubbing after money,
         and our fingers speak the language of Guitar;

   for our minds weren’t ignited by gunpowder
         or factory assembled
         but remember the ocean,
         think like the wind;

   [...]

   so it was and always will be
         that our lives arrive from music,
         Living in our bodies and loving is our song.

For the speaker of these poems, this is where the sexiness of the earth is. The sexiness is in the ability to present the urge to create through love or sex or artistic creation. But so what? Most of us have come to realize this, right? Yea, we have, but in this book, the poems with the mythic tones of original energy weave through the more conversationally toned poems of a contemporary man who enjoys nature & going to bars. And it is through this man that we understand & come to believe that the original creative energies are still in us & possible. The speaker is the manifestation of the mythic possibilities, & he lives the mythic possibilities through the allegories of the mythic poems. He is our possibility to create.

The weaving begins in the second poem, “If She Read It,”

   she’d like “Last Gods,”
         a poem by Galway Kinnell
                about sex on a rock in a river.

In the next poem, “Late at Night, When I Hear Some Distant Train,” we encounter the man living in the uncertainties of the allegories. In the opening poem, “Six Verses in Search of a Church,” a relationship was established with ocean & memory & with wind & thinking, but in the first five lines of “Late at Night, When I Hear Some Distant Train,” he is not sure whether he is in memory or in returning thought (the difference being that memory is experientially based, while returning thought is intellectually based).

   I half remember how the ocean sounds
   and half remember driftwood, scattered rain.

   Maybe it’s the desert – air so thin
   that things keep echoing and echoing

   up the canyons, out across the dark.

But eventually there is a resolution, an understanding in the second section of the poem:

   It’s like I’m half and looking for the rest.
   Or where there should be ocean, there’s a lake.

   Or maybe what’s past is only gone not lost
   and always washes up again, comes back

   taking the waves’ slow way around. Why not? –

A little later on in “If the Language of the Night Isn’t Sex,” he gets deliberately into the natural urge to create.
After pondering the title’s question for 14 lines & then assuming for argument’s sake that the language of night isn’t sex:

   so much of the night sky is empty
   we have to fill it with something. . . .

   What do you say we go make a constellation?
   What do you say we make two?

And in that ellipsis & stanza break he hears the title of poem & he recalls the previous poem’s (“This Is One Sexy Planet”) penultimate stanza:

   Or that yesterday dances with tomorrow
         and we’re all of us moving
               through the spaces in between. . . .

and realizes in the emptiness, the aloneness, that there is the human need to create, even if it is not sex. (It is a realization an erotic existentialist (if such a person exists) might have — if sex doesn’t exist, you still have to create.)

After a few more poems, we get to one of my favorite poems written in our new millennium — the seven-page poem,
“The Mother of the Mountains.” In this poem, all the weavings of myth & the contemporary, the thinking & the memory
& the ability to create come together. It is in this masterful poem where comparisons between nature & humans are revealed.

   It is here, in this dreaming, that the Mother of the Mountains
   is like us: full of love and aloneness.

It is in this poem that he & we learn that the union between humans & nature is possible, that we can communicate with nature, that memory & thinking can be one, & that creation is of importance. The poem & book ends:

   When people remember what counts most,
   they measure time by their children.

   [...]

   tell the Mother of the Mountains something new.

   Tell her your story if you have to,
   but make it tie the river to the wind

   and lift up the green smell of moss
   and the memory of someone’s body

   you never got to touch
   and the jumping drum of your heart. . . .

   If one day you see a heron – a long blue stillness
   at the water’s edge, or a blue impossible flying –

   then the Mother of the Mountains did listen.
   And her answer is yes.

//

//

//

Carney, Rob. This Is One Sexy Planet. Grand Junction, CO: Frank Cat Press, 2005.//

11
Mar
12

On Richard Swigg’s Quick, Said the Bird: Williams, Eliot, Moore, and the Spoken Word

A version of this review may appear in Redactions: Poetry, Poetics, & Prose issue 16, due out in early 2013.

       Now the music volleys through as in
       a lonely moment I hear it. Now it is all
       about me. The dance! The verb detaches itself
       seeking to become articulate    .

                           And I could not help thinking
                           of the wonders of the brain that
                           hears that music and of our
                           skill sometimes to record it

                                (W. C. Williams, "The Desert Music")

Quick, Said the Bird

The title of Richard Swigg’s book, Quick, Said the Bird: Williams, Eliot, Moore, and the Spoken Word (University of Iowa Press, 2012), is a bit misleading because you might think this book will be about page poets (Williams, Eliot, and Moore) and stage poets (spoken word poets). I mean, don’t we nowadays consider W. C. Williams, T. S. Eliot, and Marianne Moore as page poets – that is poets we read on the page with the quiet voice in our head? And don’t we consider the spoken word poets (the stage poets) as all voice, body, and stage presentation? Isn’t that the dichotomy we find ourselves with in today’s poetry? save a few poets who are simultaneously page and stage poets, like T. S. Ellis, Sean Thomas Dougherty, and Rob Carney, among others. But what the stage poet has is vocalization that infects the body with meaning. Unfortunately, we lose that infection when we only read poems in our heads.

Swigg in Quick, Said the Bird reminds us of the importance of reading Williams, Eliot, and Moore aloud. In fact, Swigg seeks:

to render the speaking voice of the printed text – one that has to be deduced from the marks on the page, is constructed out loud, stays subject to the changing pace and the needs of breath-control, emphases, and enunciation, then possibly ends a verse sequence (an unfolding temporal sequence, not static fragments) in a way that is totally different from the beginning. It is an interpretation of lines by performance – a discovery of meaning’s unexpected contours by lips, tongue, and throat – that can often revise the mind’s interpretation of a poem that has been largely known through silent reading (xiv).

In fact, Swigg will put auditory importance above the text: “I find overall the surest way forward is to remain an independent vocal reader of the verse” (xv). So, while he will listen to the many recordings of Williams, Eliot, and Moore reading their poems and keep a “sympathetic yet critical relationship to the recordings,” he will put more emphasis on how he reads the poem, which I find a good move. I mean, I will at times listen to a poet read a poem of theirs, but I will use their readings more as possible way as to how to read the poem. Often, poets don’t read their own poems well for a variety of reasons. When I read another poet’s poem aloud, I can slow it down and dwell on a specific sound or set of sounds. I can focus on a rhythm or harmony. I can find more clarity in the sonic units and build to a more meaningful reading from those units. I can build a whole auditory experience from researching various voices. I think Swigg is doing something similar, too.

T. S. Eliot

T. S. Eliot

In addition, the poet may change how he or she reads the poem. For instance:

By 1946, when he [Eliot] came to record The Waste Land  [. . .] [h]e had seemingly long forgotten what was once so immediate to him in the poem’s original daring resonances when he first read the poem to friends in June 1922. Then “He sang it & chanted it[,] rhythmed it,” says Virgina Woolf, intimating the vocal variety and energy which characterize (without the singing) Eliot’s virtually unknown and only recently published recording of the poem at Columbia University in 1933 (38-9).

Plus, by Swigg reading it aloud, he can pick up nuances. For instance:

The “garret” clinks out the bones’ fright merely, “Rattled by the rat‘s foot only, year by year”: a line of such resurgent confidence, as one reads it aloud, that this “I” can truly be said, with the poem’s time sense rhymingly redeemed from emptiness, to have outlasted “year to year” what once spread from “ear to ear” as a wintry chuckle (44).

We can’t hear that nuance from silently reading in our head

In Quick, Said the Bird, Swigg focuses on Williams short-lined verse (and at the end he briefly addresses Williams’ longer poems with the “triadic layouts”), Eliot’s The Waste Land and other poems but not The Four Quartets (which I find to be Eliot’s most musical poetry, especially the first page and a half which melt me), and Moore’s poetry from before 1940 to remind us that poetry needs to be read aloud:

So, though the poetic text is not an over-rigid score, and though Moore, Eliot, and Williams can play the voice against “typographic dispositions,” the read-aloud words on the page provide the clue not just to the intonation but to the vital forward movement of the poem, by syntax or sequential impetus: what I describe in this book, together with other acoustic features, by the language of metrics, rhyme, rhythm, assonance, alliteration, aspirates, syllabic emphases, and speech-sounds, as well as by a wider linguistic portrayal that invokes cries, whispers, leaps, thrusts, sinking, resurgences, lingerings, or rapped-out curtness (xvi).

William Carlos Williams

William Carlos Williams

He also spends considerable time revealing harmonies in these poets’ poems, especially of Williams, whose voice we usually consider to be “short-line bursts of breath,” and he explores the subtle harmonies of Moore. I’m grateful for these moments, because harmony is my favorite aspect of poetry because of how it sounds in the ear and how it can yoke together words or images on an unanticipated level to draw together disparate items and find a commonplace for them. Harmonies are another level of discursiveness the poet can use. It’s another way for the poet to leap.

Marianne Moore

Marianne Moore

Swigg makes us hear how Williams has a “brash speech style” (2), how with Eliot’s voice you get the sound of an insecure self who almost wants to hide from the voices of the public, yet whose voice is what holds the fragments together in The Waste Land, and how Moore’s voice becomes almost like a bridge between the two but with the extra dimension:

to what has so far been largely discussed as voices, “personages” or “some good characters” [. . . ] whether in the form of outgoing address, dialogue, or solitary speech, with the effect of syntax, sentences, rhyme or non-rhyme, conventional metrics, or word-blocking balancings. Moore’s example takes us further to governing frame which holds such effects together; for what discussion of William’s short-line poems has only indicated, and what is to become more explicitly important in the treatment of Eliot’s later verse-paragraphs – visual containment cramming acoustic variety inside itself to the point of spillage – is the tension which Moore makes central. If Eliot and Williams are dislocated from their native scene, and seek a way back to newly occupiable ground, Moore, another foreigner in her own country – rejecting those who would reject her style of speech – brings into play the figures and multitudes of a sounded world which now is hers alone, and no others (16-17).

However, Swigg does not compare which poet is better musically, but he does set them “side by side as vocalists to whom we actually listen” (118). As a result, Swigg enables us to hear the effects and how each poet’s use of sounds adds to the meanings and densities of their poems.

While he talks about sounds, Swigg also intermittently explores how each poet is an American poet while estranged to it. For him, Moore “projects outwards the thrust, agilities, and surprises of a unique speaking voice” (28), Williams is the more native, and Eliot:

by going further from a homeland then Williams and Moore in their own necessary distancings, Eliot, for all the emotional cost, is then most intently native – not by harking back to American shores, as in the Boston “nighttown” sequence of the draft, “He Do the Police in Different Voices,” but, as in the first lines of “The Burial of the Dead,” by feeling his way into unspecified ground with the divining care shown by Williams. The latter’s nameless plants “enter the new world naked” but Eliot can name his shoots when, by a participial probing of dormancies –

                                                   breeding
       Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
       Memory and desire, stirring
       Dull roots with spring rain

– he begets a shift of season and pace. Time is on the move, like the seaward river later in the poem. With the pulse of such currents, Eliot sounds out the rhythms and resources, the pluralities and singularities, that now, at risk of overflow – yet vitally so – enter the speech of The Waste Land (36-7).

I find this book significant because I can’t recall such an undertaking in devoting a study to the sounds of poetry. Sometimes you get a brief paragraph or two or maybe a chapter in a book, or maybe you’ll find an essay here and there, but a whole book devoted to the sounds in poetry is rare and delightful.

While reading this I hoped for a longer book that accompanied more poets, but then I thought Swigg was correct in choosing these poets because, as mentioned above, we tend to treat Williams, Eliot, and Moore as textually cerebral and as poets we only read in our heads. In Quick, Said the Bird, Swigg lifts Williams, Eliot, and Moore off the page and makes us hear them, and hear them unlike we’ve heard them before. For this I give high praise and congratulations, and I live in envy for I wish I wrote this book or a similar one.

I think Richard Swigg’s Quick, Said the Bird should be read by anyone writing poetry today, especially page poets (save Linda Beirds because she’s got the most amazing and effective sounds, and Swigg, I’m sure, could write a book about the sounds in her poetry). I suggest that today’s page poets read it because it will help them hear things in a new way or unexpected ways. Mainly, Quick, Said the Bird will give today’s poets auditory effects to steal from. Because of this book, I now have so many great devices I can use to bring out new meanings, enhance meanings, or make meanings more entertaining in the poems I will write.

Swiggs’s auditory investigations should also be read by anyone studying, teaching, or preaching Modernism, and, most important, Quick, Said the Bird: Williams, Eliot, Moore, and the Spoken Word should be read by anyone who is not reading poetry aloud or who thinks it doesn’t need to be read aloud.//

I just thought to add this appropriate image I made the other day, which is a slight variant from Zukofsky’s “A12”:

Poetry IntegralReally, that sums up this book.//

01
Feb
12

Footage from Rob Carney’s Brockport Reading (1-28-12)

On Saturday, January 28 at A Different Path Gallery, Brockport, NY, and really all of New York were introduced to the presence and voice of Rob Carney for the first time. It was a fun reading, and here’s the beginning of the reading.

Rob Carney is the author of number of books, including Story Problems (Somondoco Press, 2011),  Weather Report (Somondoco P, 2006) and Boasts, Toasts, and Ghosts (Pinyon Press, 2003), winner of the Pinyon Press National Poetry Book Award — and two chapbooks, New Fables, Old Songs (Dream Horse Press, 2003) and This Is One Sexy Planet (Frank Cat Press, 2005). His work has appeared in Mid-American Review, Quarterly West, and dozens of other journals, as well as Flash Fiction Forward (W. W. Norton, 2006). He lives in Salt Lake City. To hear an interview with him, the Poet Laureate of Utah, Katharine Coles, and the editor at Sugar House Review, John Kippen, click here. He is also a former guest editor of Redactions: Poetry & Poetics.

10
Jan
12

Rob Carney and Tom Holmes Poetry Reading (1-27-12)

Friday, January 27 at 7:30 p.m. –  Rob Carney (from Utah) and Tom Holmes at RIT Liberal Arts Faculty Commons (06-1251), right across from the Wallace Library.

That’s right I’ll be reading with Rob Carney. One of the three people to whom I dedicated Poems for an Church. So if you like my poetry, you’ll love his poetry even more. Plus, he’s an awesome reader. And if love mythic poems, this is a reading that shouldn’t be missed.

Rob CarneyRob Carney is the author of number of books, including Story Problems (Somondoco Press, 2011),  Weather Report (Somondoco P, 2006) and Boasts, Toasts, and Ghosts (Pinyon Press, 2003), winner of the Pinyon Press National Poetry Book Award — and two chapbooks, New Fables, Old Songs (Dream Horse Press, 2003) and This Is One Sexy Planet (Frank Cat Press, 2005). His work has appeared in Mid-American Review, Quarterly West, and dozens of other journals, as well as Flash Fiction Forward (W. W. Norton, 2006). He lives in Salt Lake City. To hear an interview with him, the Poet Laureate of Utah, Katharine Coles, and the editor at Sugar House Review, John Kippen, click here. He is also a former guest editor of Redactions: Poetry & Poetics.

Tom Holmes – Wine Never BlinksTom Holmes is the editor of Redactions: Poetry & Poetics (www.redactions.com). He is also author of: Poems for an Empty Church (Palettes & Quills Press, 2011), which was nominated for The Pulitzer Prize; The Oldest Stone in the World (Amsterdam Press, 1-1-11, 12:00:00 a.m (the first book released in 2011)); Henri, Sophie, & the Hieratic Head of Ezra Pound: Poems Blasted from the Vortex (BlazeVOX Books, 2009); Pre-Dew Poems (FootHills Publishing, 2008); Negative Time (Pudding House, 2007); After Malagueña (FootHills Publishing, 2005), and Poetry Assignments: The Book (Sage Hill Press, forthcoming). And he has thrice been nominated for the Pushcart Prize.

This event is sponsored by RIT and Palettes & Quills.//

29
Sep
11

Poems for an Empty Church Book Release Reading and Party

Oh yeah. October is just around the corner, and you know what that means, don’t you? Yup. My girlfriend celebrates her birthday. And it’s time to celebrate Ezra Pound’s birthday.

Ezra Pound Yawping

And the Yankees make the playoffs. And it’s Halloween. And Tom Holmes has a book-release reading and party.

Poems for an Empty Church front cover

That’s right. I’ll be reading at A Different Path Gallery on Saturday, October 22 at 7:30 p.m. at the wonderful art gallery in downtown Brockport, A Different Path Gallery, located at 27 Market Street.

Poems for an Empty Church poster

[To download a printable version of the poster, click Poems for an Empty Church PDF.]

Oh yeah. Good times. Poetry, wine, food, and you. Come for the wine. Stay for the poetry.

Here’s what they are saying about the book:

I’ve had a good time with Poems for an Empty Church, which is a big book, capacious, and surprised me with its often free-flowing and associational aesthetics.  As you want (usually) a cubist perspective(s), and as you say you want your poem/accept your poem as smarter than you are, you hit all sorts of interesting effects.  So, friend, way to go. I peered through the rocks into that eye & land of yours ….

– William Heyen, author of Shoah Train (finalist for the National Book Award)

Of course, no church is ever really empty unless people let ritual and myth lapse into repetition and dogma. Even then it isn’t empty, just empty of awe. That’s when origin stories are most necessary, and that’s what Tom Holmes provides in abundance: Moons create amazement, then stones create reflection, then people come along creating words, aggression, fire, flutes, art, physics, and probably our destruction, everything progressing ’til it returns full circle. Along the way, “statues pry themselves from sides of buildings / and exit the city / clutching their plaques.” Along the way, a lot of fine poems unfold, one containing a curse: “you have succeeded / in being only what you thought / you should be.” It’s a curse because we ought to be more. In a century in need of a giant do-over, Poems for an Empty Church reminds us of that. Even better, it makes a good lever or spark.

– Rob Carney, author of Story ProblemsWeather Report, and Boasts, Toasts, and Ghosts

In Poems for an Empty Church, Tom Holmes writes of birth and death and the life we live in between those two events in beautifully sculpted lines carved into the white space that surrounds them. “I dare say I can hear / muddy angels singing /the lines of God,” he writes in “The Calculus of a Tod Marshall Book of Poems.” There are plenty of angels in Tom Holmes’ poems too, but one must be still enough to hear and appreciate the whisk of wings hovering over these powerful meditations.

– Sarah Freligh, author of Sort of Gone

I think of Charles Olsen when I read Tom Holmes’ poems: open, investigative, prophetic, often with mystical implications. These are the elements of our best modernist poems, and Holmes is a modernist – or a pre-modernist, or a post-pre-modernist. And there lies the real interesting part of his poems, they are hard to fit into anyone anywhere. He sits us in an empty church and says listen. He knows “it was the moons talked first.” He knows the dreams we dream even when “we wheeze / asleep in our boxes of shadows.” In these poems and parables is our collective of fire and nightfall, origins and endings, monochromatics, rivers, and stretch marks. Sappho makes a rare presence, but this is a book more stone-carved than page-written and she too is an ancient muse. As this author’s I is an absent eye, scanning the world of caves and shadows to find clouds who feed themselves, ghosts like alphabets, and men who whittle bones into flutes.

– Sean Thomas Dougherty, author of Sasha Sings the Laundry on the Line and Broken Hallelujahs

Poems for an Empty Church was officially released September 2, 2011, from Palettes & Quills. Founded in 2002, Palettes & Quills is devoted to the celebration and expansion of the literary and visual arts and offers both commissioned and consulting services. Palettes & Quills works to support beginning and emerging writers and artists to expand their knowledge, improve their skills, and connect to other resources in the community. Further, Palettes & Quills seeks to increase the public’s awareness and appreciation of these arts through education, advocacy, hands-on assistance, and by functioning as a literary press.//

03
Sep
11

Poems for an Empty Church Has Been Released

If you believe in God or don’t believe in god, if you have a religion or need a religion, if you’re empty or spiritually full, Poems for an Empty Church will speak to you and help you experience the Other.

Poems for an Empty Church front cover

Poems for an Empty Church (from Palettes & Quills) is now on sale at Amazon here. Soon it will be available at other book stores including Lift Bridge Book Shop in the heart of downtown Brockport, NY.

Here’s what people are saying about it:

Of course, no church is ever really empty unless people let ritual and myth lapse into repetition and dogma. Even then it isn’t empty, just empty of awe. That’s when origin stories are most necessary, and that’s what Tom Holmes provides in abundance: Moons create amazement, then stones create reflection, then people come along creating words, aggression, fire, flutes, art, physics, and probably our destruction, everything progressing ’til it returns full circle. Along the way, “statues pry themselves from sides of buildings / and exit the city / clutching their plaques.” Along the way, a lot of fine poems unfold, one containing a curse: “you have succeeded / in being only what you thought / you should be.” It’s a curse because we ought to be more. In a century in need of a giant do-over, Poems for an Empty Church reminds us of that. Even better, it makes a good lever or spark.

– Rob Carney, author of Story Problems, Weather Report, and Boasts, Toasts, and Ghosts

In Poems for an Empty Church, Tom Holmes writes of birth and death and the life we live in between those two events in beautifully sculpted lines carved into the white space that surrounds them. “I dare say I can hear / muddy angels singing /the lines of God,” he writes in “The Calculus of a Tod Marshall Book of Poems.” There are plenty of angels in Tom Holmes’ poems too, but one must be still enough to hear and appreciate the whisk of wings hovering over these powerful meditations.

– Sarah Freligh, author of Sort of Gone

I think of Charles Olsen when I read Tom Holmes’ poems: open, investigative, prophetic, often with mystical implications. These are the elements of our best modernist poems, and Holmes is a modernist – or a pre-modernist, or a post-pre-modernist. And there lies the real interesting part of his poems, they are hard to fit into anyone anywhere. He sits us in an empty church and says listen. He knows “it was the moons talked first.” He knows the dreams we dream even when “we wheeze / asleep in our boxes of shadows.” In these poems and parables is our collective of fire and nightfall, origins and endings, monochromatics, rivers, and stretch marks. Sappho makes a rare presence, but this is a book more stone-carved than page-written and she too is an ancient muse. As this author’s I is an absent eye, scanning the world of caves and shadows to find clouds who feed themselves, ghosts like alphabets, and men who whittle bones into flutes.

– Sean Thomas Dougherty, author of Sasha Sings the Laundry on the Line and Broken Hallelujahs

This book is dedicated to Rob Carney, William Heyen, and W. S. Merwin. Without them, this book could never have come into being. They have affected my poetry profoundly, which is evident in this book.

I began writing Poems for an Empty Church back in 1989 or 1990. I didn’t know that at the time, but the oldest poem in the book, “Three Voices of Creation,” was begun back then.  I then worked on it for 17 more years. Twenty-one or twenty-two years if you count some tiny edits I made before the book went to the printer.

The majority of the book, however, was written around 2005 and 2007 when Merwin’s sans-punctuation imagination and tonalities were in me along with Rob Carney’s mythic imagination and tonalities. This book is built from the mythic imagination, tonalities, long vowel sounds, and, to my surprise when I read it again for the first time in two years just before it went to publication, harmonic tonalities. But mostly, it’s in a simple language. A language of what I call The Language of Last Call. That is the language that people are using shortly before a bar closes. When you use a language that is most close and most honest to you. A language that is void of the pedantic and impressive. It’s a language of communication and images. And it’s clear.

Here’s the opening poem:

     Twelve Years with Heyen’s “The Poem is Smarter Than You”
        For William Heyen

     I know what this poem means
     I know everything about it
     I know why the oak is in the poem
     to evoke sturdiness longevity & tone
     The poem is smarter than you

     I know this poem in part
     is meaning to talk
     about the expensive oak desk
     & how it was made
     a symbol of civilization
     The poem is smarter than you

     I think the oak poem
     I will write will speak
     of a forest being clear cut
     The poem is smarter than you

     Dear Poem what do you need
     I can’t see from staring at you
     my imagination is not
     connecting to you or the oak
     The poem is separate from you

     Dear writer remove time
     from your poem then space
     then see where you stand
     see where the oak walks
     or has walked or if it will move
     The poem is separate from you

     There is nothing here
     but an old movie projector
     with an absent light bulb
     & now a star whose light
     has not yet arrived
     What are you hinting
     The poem is smarter than you

     Poem you’ve turned your back
     to me you’re walking without me
     you’ve stolen my pencil
     The poem is smarter than you

     Dear Poem I’m tired of this
     thinking I’ve lowered my hands
     I’ve stopped my attempt to write
     What do you want

     That surrender & your ego 
     clear cut from the page 
     & a mountain for me to stand on 
     & a sunrise for my shadow 
     which you will trace 
     listening to night’s echoes 
     I am smarter than you 
     Nature is smarter than me

This is like the opening door poem. The book really begins with the first section “Beginnings,” when the other poems become more grounded, more body- and soul-centric, and able to fill, live, and resonate within an empty church. //




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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