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
- Finding the First, Discovering the Middle, & Chasing the End
- Imaginary Worlds
- Science, the Universe, Time, & Other Evolutions
- Fun with Letters, Words, Language, & Languages
- Forms: Obscure, Updated, & Invented
- New School; or Double Vision; or WWI (Writing While Intoxicated) & Its Repercussions
- Miscellany; Trying to Relate the Unrelated; or These Gotta Go Some Place . . . So Here
- Stupid Money, Dumb Politicians, & Celebrating America
- Responses; or Calling All Poets (Dead & Alive); or Talking to Eternity
- It’s All About You
It’s All About You
a: What a Baby You Are; or The Medium of Time Travel; or The Poetry of Casey Kasem
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?
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:
- Clarity. Trying to create poems with visual, syntactic, & thinking clarity.
- Music. Well, it don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing. Doo wop doo wop doo waa.
- 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:
- Imagination – or longer starings.
- Pivots – unique turns or shifts, wonderful seamless leaps.
- Tone – to see how tone affects meaning.
- Voice – to see if it is necessary for voice to match content.
- Image – is this connecting? Is there a better way to present it?
- Square look on page – to see how shape & poem interact.
- 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.
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.
[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
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!”