Posts Tagged ‘Thom Caraway

28
Oct
16

Poetry Assignments: The Book (Online): Fun with Letters, Words, Language, & Languages

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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Fun with Letters, Words, Language, & Languages

New Meanings

Take a poem you have written (preferably a dead poem, a poem you have given up on), find a word within the poem (a pivot word/an important word), change its meaning, & make that the title. For example, in the following Emily Dickinson poem:

   Faith is a fine invention
   when gentlemen can see,
   but microscopes are prudent
   in an emergency.

I will choose “microscopes” & make it mean “love.” The title of the poem will be something like – “If Microscopes Meant Love” or “Read Love for Microscopes.”

It’s a bit of a language thing, but hopefully it will bring to life a dead poem, at which point you should chase that life & play with the poem until it sings anew!

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The “Dialouges” Experiment

This one is a result of Thom Caraway’s fine eyes & ears. “Dialouges” is pronounced (die ya loogz). The word doesn’t exist. The poem is to make this word exist. If you can work Plato into the poem, then even better.

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The Bernadette Mayer Experiment

I am stealing this from Bernadette Mayer’s essay “Experiments” [here’s a version of the essay: http://www.writing.upenn.edu/library/Mayer-Bernadette_Experiments.html] in The L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E Book (Southern Illinois University Press, 1984. pp 80-83.).

“Using phrases relating to one subject or idea, write about another (this is pushing metaphor and simile as far as you can), for example, steal science terms or philosophical language & write about snow or boredom.”

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The Tod Marshall Project

I’m stealing this from Tod Marshall, or making a variant of a Tod Marshall experiment.

In this assignment: describe an abstraction to a noun.

For instance, Marshall has a poem called, “Describe Custody to an Omelet,” which I think is in his new book, Dare Say (University of Georgia Press, 2002).

(9-2-06 addendum): I heard Tod Marshall read some of these poems at a reading with Nance Van Winckel in Sandpoint, ID. It was a late-afternoon reading that was done by candlelight, after the town lost electricity. I wrote the assignment before reading Dare Say. The poems do not appear in Dare Say, but appear in a forthcoming manuscript of Tod Marshall. Nonetheless, Dare Say is a kick ass book, & the assignment is still a good one.

(11-16-06 addendum): Here are some examples. With permission of Tod Marshall.

   Describe Entertainment Tonight to HDT

   I went to the woods because I wished to live celebrities,
   to suck the Mia Farrow out of life, to know Katie and Tom,
   Bennifer and Brangelina, to chat with Hugh Jackman and Jessica Simpson,
   to feel the inner turmoil of Mariah Carey and the desperate plight of Bobby Brown,
   to corner life and find its meanness, to eat woodchucks and wildness,
   to plant beans and catch pickerel, to read and walk and deliberate,
   but mainly to live celebrities.
   How soon arguing with Tom Cruise becomes tedious,
   how awful in my small cabin to listen to the musings
   of Kid Rock, to bump my head continually
   against Pamela Anderson’s boobs.
   How tiresome Ben and Jennifer and their brat.
   The deep pathos I feel for Lindsay Lohan’s emaciated frame
   fades when she leaves prescription bottles in my bean rows,
   when she and Paris drunkenly drive a Range Rover through the garden
   and let that fish-bait nipper of a dog
   yip at the stoic deer. Can I say it again? Arguing with Tom Cruise
   is like chewing bricks, listening to another speech on the merits of slavery,
   on the necessity of this or that war,
   taking ice picks, slamming them into your temples,
   and wiggling them around until you hear the metal clicking.
   Next time I walk to Concord I’ll have a few things to say about quiet desperation,
   and I think that I’ll bring Ralph Waldo
   a copy of Glitter, the unrated version of Dukes of Hazzard,
   dvd season three of American Idol,
   a year’s subscription to People, and Ashton Kuchar arm in arm with Demi Moore
   to prove my case about the stars
   and how hard people work not to see them.
 
 
 
 
 

   Describe Haiku to the Labyrinth

   Autumn,
   a woman loves
   a great white bull.

                               (old stone pond)

   Winter, nothing blooms.
   But in the maze
   mushrooms erupt on rotting bodies.

                               (frog jumps)

   Spring means forgive.
   The string wound
   in a ball,  the gate.

                               (sound of water)

   Summer.
   Lupine  and pearly everlasting:
   be lost.

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a: Crackbrains, Cranberry Trees, & Everything in Between; or a Slice of the Lexicon

You will need a dictionary for this. (My favorite, without exception, is The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language. (Third & fourth editions, especially [or http://The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language Fifth Edition].))

In most dictionaries, a header on each page contains two words: one word indicates the first word alphabetically listed on the page that will be defined, & the other word indicates the last word alphabetically listed on the page that will be defined.

Your assignment: randomly flip to a page in a dictionary & use the two words in the header as starting points & ending points of your poem. Between those words, use all the words listed on the randomly-turned-to page. I suspect a few interesting things will occur as a result: the poem will have harmony, the poem most likely will have meaningful connections on an etymological level, not to mention the imagination that will be riding those two elements, & a few other surprises.

This poem, however, does not have to begin & end with the header words, but they should be near the beginning & end. For instance, with “crackbrain” & “cranberry tree”:

   Fernando Pessoa was not a crackbrain
   for not obeying his mother’s crack downs
   . . .
   he ate too many raw cranberries
   from the cranberry tree in back
   & the savory sourness
   puckered his mind
   til it split into two –
   the poet & his critic.

Ok. Get cracking.

The Criticb: The critic, or “It stinks!”

Thinking of Pessoa – who actually did write poems under one name, & then criticized them under another name, but who had multiple personalities. . . . After completing your poem, you are to write at least a one-page literary criticism of the poem. And to make it fun, pretend you are someone else. Perhaps write in the voice of Marjorie Perloff, or I.A. Richards, or Derrida, or Robert Bly, or Jay Sherman, or even John Lovitz (ug). Ok.

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A rose is a rose is a symbol is a something Moses supposes erroneously; or putting the BIG back in ambiguous; or no more hijacking/taming the language

In the last three or so years of my writing poems, my main focus has been clarity: Make certain the poem is understandable, at least on the surface level. Well, I think I have basically achieved that clarity . . . but along the away sacrifices were made. I became a reductionist with the language. That is, I ended up reducing words: One word has one meaning & can be in only one syntactical position.

(Saussure says something like: Language is like a game of chess & each word is like a chess piece – each word has certain roles, can only do certain things, & can only move in certain directions. And the rules of chess are like the grammar/syntax of language.)

That type of thinking, which on the other hand deconstructionists rightly or wrongly will say is fine thinking/presentation, limits the magic/power of the word. Almost all words have either more than one meaning or associations or innuendos or homonyms, etc, & the metaphor relies on the magic of the word: however deconstructionists don’t trust the metaphor:

“Derrida equates metaphor with usury, saying in effect, that it ‘promises more than it delivers’ while exacting a terrible, hidden, bankrupting interest on the ability of language to pay off, to signify without succumbing to ‘epistemological ambivalence.’ This is metaphor as loan shark.” (From Peter Sharpe’s new book The Ground of Our Beseeching (Susquehanna University Press, 2005). A great study on metaphor in contemporary American poetry.)

I’m not picking on the deconstructionists or those who use the language as I have, but it is in thinking about the subtleties of the word/metaphor, in part, where poetry can be fun.

So despite what Gertrude “Gerty, Gert, Gewürztraminer” Stein thinks, we are going to loosen up the language. We are going to make poetry fun again. We are going to purposely write as ambiguously as we can. And by ambiguous, I mean multi-meaning – plurisignative. I mean a phrase/sentence/metaphor suggesting more than one idea/thing/moment at the same time, & as a result, we are going to make so many associations & suggestions & hints with our ambiguities that we are going to connect everything in the universe, or as much as we can, into one poem.

“A diminishment of reality takes place when our experience is negotiated without ambiguity. . . . This ambiguity [in poetry] permits the spectator to insert details of his or her own, niches of perception left undetermined or open by the artist” (Tess Gallagher, quoted from William Heyen’s essay “Ambiguity” in Pig Notes & Dumb Music.) Heyen continues, “(Hemingway and others, of course, have spoken of the writer’s need to have a feeling for what to leave out.)” [Quote from “Ambiguity” by William Heyen published in Pigs Notes & Dumb Music by BOA Editions, Ltd., in 1998 © and used with permission.]

“The poet, no less than the scientist, works on the assumption that inert and live things and relations hold enough interest to keep him alive as part of nature.” – Louis Zukofsky

We are going to make metaphors that breach time – that connect the past, present, & future. We are going to create time!

You can even be fragmentary if you want to suspend time, like Franz Wright does in Walking to Martha’s Vineyard.

So what do I mean by all of this? Here’s a good example of what I mean by ambiguity, in part. We will continue with Franz Wright & move to a poem of his from Ill Lit: New and Selected Poems (Oberlin College Press, 1998).

   The Forties

   and in the desert cold men invented the star

What could this poem be about. With the title, I’m led right away to the 1940s & quickly after to the nuclear bomb. “the star” is the nuclear bomb. It was created & detonated for the first time in the desert in the 1940s. So we got that going.

But let’s consider more. Since there is no punctuation in the poem, we kind of have to figure out where some punctuation could be. So let’s put a comma after “desert”. How does the poem read now? Well, according to history, the a-bomb was exploded in the early morning, so the men who dropped the bomb could have been physically cold. But also, & here is where the ambiguity & metaphor works, the men could have been cold in another manner – as in cold, heartless men, since so much destruction, death, & a “cold war” will be created after WWII concludes with the dropping of the bombs on Japan.

Now let’s remove that comma & reposition it after “cold”. In this case we get more of a creation myth story – men invent the star, but most important to this poem, & this assignment, it still ties back to the nuclear bomb. The star is a star is a nuclear bomb.

With the underlying creation myth, & with the desert & with the star, & with the men, there are some religious undertones to the poem, too, perhaps. And with the title, “The Forties,” & religion & forty days & forty nights, how far off from another creation story are we? It echoes of the birth of Jesus a bit. Perhaps that it is stitch. But if you read the poem in low, deep-toned voice, like the voice of god, then it comes across better, maybe.

Also with the creation myth in our minds or not, by starting the poem “and” we are instantly put into epic mode – in media res. (Think of Pound’s The Cantos, Homer’s Odyssey, H.G. Wells The Outline of History, etc.). Then with no period at the end of the poem, we are lead to think of a continuing story. This poem is a pivotal moment between what was & what will be – it divides history in to what was before the cold war & the cold war that follows. (Does “cold” act as foreshadowing, also?)

Also note the power of these nine words. Four words are small & almost inconsequential. And there are only five big words that our minds can grab on to.

So, what I’m suggesting is: Be vague, be subtle, be suggestive, be inclusive & exclusive. Be a metaphor.

I think this assignment can also be done on an ambiguous tonal level, too. Can it be done on a melodic level, too? Let’s try & find that out, also!

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Etymological Rotisserie

This idea came to me from reading Gerard Manley Hopkins, Wallace Stevens, & most recently Natasha Sajé. First go back in time & find an Indo-European root word. (They are all in the back of the American Heritage Dictionary). List all its derivative words, & then try to get all those words into one poem.

For instance, kailo-, which means “whole, uninjured, of good omen.” Its derivatives (words that came from it) are: whole, hale (as in “free from infirmity or illness”), wholesome, hail (as in “to salute or greet”), wassail, health, heal, holy, halibut, halidom, holiday, hollyhock, hallow, Allhallowmass, & Halloween.

Those are the words to try & work into the poem. Not all have to be in, but give it a go.

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Leaping

This one comes to my attention from Laura Stott. We do not know the original creator.

Use the words below to write a poem that makes leaps (kinda like Deep Image poetry). You do not have to move straight across from the first Noun to first Verb to the first Other, but use the nouns in the order as they come & fill in the spaces. When you are inclined to use a verb, pick the first verb & do likewise with the “Other” words. Force yourself to make jolting connections in a similar fashion as a deep image poem. Think “emotive imagination” & make what leaps you have to create an experience through your intuitive self. The following words come from W.S. Merwin’s poem “For the Anniversary of My Death” in The Lice (Atheneum, 1971), which can be found in The Second Four Books of Poems (Copper Canyon Press, 1993).

Nouns Verbs Other
Year Knowing Without
Day Passed Last
Fires Wave Tireless
Silence Will Lightless
Traveler Surprised Strange
Beam Love Shamelessness
Star Writing Three
Garment Hearing Cease
Earth Sing
Woman Falling
Men Bowing
Today
Rain
Wren

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Vowels & Consonants; or Vowel Movements

I suddenly just awoke from a really deep, deep sleep after several days of very light sleep. It was so deep that it took my mind a second or two to figure out where it was, & it took my body, especially my limbs, at least seven seconds to make the journey back to this more physical/conscious world.

After a few more moments, I said to my self “I am so tired.” (As I look at that phrase now, it seems so short compared to how it sounded.) But what I realized, or was reminded of, was my hypothesis I’ve been carrying around for some time now. My probably, improvable hypothesis which states:

In the poetry of the English Language, vowels carry the emotion & the consonants carry the meaning. (And it’s usually the long vowels that provide the emotional content & schwa’s act more as consonants.)

Using the above example, “I am so tired,” I can elaborate. Each word has a long vowel, & because I was so tired, the “a” in “am” was dragged out quite some way to make it sound & act long, & the “o” in “so” was the longest vowel & “so” the longest syllable. (Yes, sometimes & usually, the content dictates how to read syllables.) Each syllable in that phrase was dragged out to emphasize my tiredness. But what made the sentence move forward was the turn of the consonants. Those consonants provided the meaning to the emotion. The consonants framed, or gave the vowels a context in which to work – in which the emotions could gather/find meanings.

Ok. Here’s the assignment. Write two poems about the same thing. In one, be heavy handed with vowels. In the other, be heavy handed with consonants. Then compare & contrast to see if any of what I said above may be true. You could also translate, or replace, an English poem’s words by substituting more vowel induced words in one case or more consonant induced words in another.

Poets to read that might be helpful in this assignment: maybe Campion for vowels, & an Old English alliterative poet for consonants.

If anyone discovers anything fascinating, or has their own ideas, please share.

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Tonal Dialectic

This one invaded me last night/this early morning (Thursday, December 18, 2003, around 4:30 a.m.) as I couldn’t sleep, & I started thinking about my recent poems & what I may try to do with my new poems to better reflect my thought/emotional processes. Also, I’m doing it because I came up with a cool phrase/coined a cool phrase in those wee hours, & now, I want to give the phrase some context.

I’ll start like this, I guess. In metrical poetry, a poem moves forward in part because of the stressed & unstressed syllables, or the long & short syllables, or both. (It also moves forward by tone, images, rhythm, line breaks, narrative momentum, etc., but mainly the syllables.) There’s an interplay and a tension between the stressed and unstressed syllables.

Ok. Here’s the assignment: do that with tone!

I thought of the term “tonal dialectic,” & I think it works in a similar manner as metrical movement. Shifts in tone. A tension can be made there. Meanings can surface!

So perhaps stanza one is in tone A, & stanza two is in tone B, & stanza three resolves them with tone C. Perhaps even more stanzas & tones. Or tone changes with lines, or whatever you see/hear fit.

So the assignment is to write a poem with different tones rubbing against each other to create something! But hopefully the tones will work in a progressive nature, not an arbitrary one.

It’s a bit abstract, I suppose, & I have no advice except to read Donald Hall. His poems ride on tones, as I hear them. Or listen to Schoenberg.

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Tonal Dialectic, part two – Using a Separate Language

I just finished reading David Budbill’s wonderful new collection of poems While We’ve Still Got Feet (Copper Canyon Press, 2005).

In this book, Budbill is basically reflecting on life/living. In part this is how he does it: because he’s an American but seemingly deeply influenced by ancient Asian poets, Budbill writes poems that have an ancient Asian tone about them but with a contemporary American linear language.

So what I mean is that the tone of the poems is similar to the tone you would expect to find, for instance, in a Muso Soseki poem or a Li Po poem or in The Kokinshu. And then he uses American language, because that is probably what he grew up with & how he thinks, to push the poems forward. For example:

   Gama Sennin

   Gut hangin’ out
   Stick on shoulder.
   Toad up on me
   head.

   Singin’ me songs
   on Red Dust Road,
   headed toward
   dead.

You can see the American language in “hangin’,” “Singin’,” & in the use of “me” instead of “my.” And the tone comes through, in part, I think, from the images & the last three lines & the title.

There is also this:

   Ryōkan Says

   With what can I
   compare this life?
                Weeds floating on water. 

   And there you are with your
   dreams of immortality         
                through poetry. 

   Pretty pompous – 
   don’t you think? – for a
                weed floating on water?


   (Quoted poems are by David Budbill as they appear in While We’ve Still Got Feet (Copper Canyon P, 
   2005)©, and they are used with permission of Copper Canyon Press.)

There he begins with a one of Ryōkan’s poem then responds to it.

So here’s the general dialectic of the poems. He rubs the tone (thesis, if you will) up with the language (antithesis) to synthesize a resulting poem, or understanding of life, love, ego, politics, poetry, etc. (Please note my reductionary “dialectic” description of these poems is very insulting to the poems, & I’m only using it to generate a poetry assignment. However, the tone/language is genuine & impressive.)

Your assignment is to write a poem with a very certain tone but in a language that is quite different than the tone. So perhaps you may want to write a poem in an Allen Ginsberg tone but while writing with the language (words/grammar) of Alexander Pope. Or this might be fun: write a poem with scientific language but in a religious tone. Or whatever you can come up with. And the poem should be a reflective poem, though not necessarily meditative or lyrical.

a: Tonal Dialectic, part three – Is the tone; or Tone the Is; or Is “Is” the Tone or Does Tone Tone the Is?

So I was watching the news – zoning in & out of it – and a commercial came on. Now I’m mostly zoned out until the end with its written, printed slogan on the screen:

   ACE
   The Helpful Place

(I dig how John Madden’s voice balances the helpful tone, but I didn’t realize until just now.) What I did realize when watching the ad was the line break, or what the line break has inside of it. It has the verb of the sentence. It has “is”. I thought that odd because if I remember my commercials well, they tend to have a subject & predicate, the objects, subjects, & verbs are not implied, & the verbs tend to be emphasized – but I could be remembering wrong. But nonetheless.

I then drifted to this thought. Can’t we, as writers of poems, do the same? Use the line break to carry the implied. I mean we do, but how often? How does it affect the tone?

Consider these lines from Margaret Atwood’s “Manet’s Olympia”:

   Above the head of the (clothed) maid
   is an invisible voice balloon: Slut.

Couldn’t it have read:

   Above the head of the (clothed) maid
   an invisible voice balloon: Slut.

And some us may even have put an em dash after maid.

But the poem could have done the line break with no “is” or em dash. But, really, it couldn’t. Not in these poems from Morning in the Burned House (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1995 (first Canadian edition, which precedes the first English Edition (London: Virago, 1995) & the first American edition (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1995))). Not at this point in the book. No, at this point, these poems are too sassy, up front, blunt. And I’m not sure if it is because of the poem’s tone or because of the uses of “is” within the poem.

In later sections, the use of “is” becomes less frequent, but the sassiness & bluntness are still there, but not as up front as later poems. And in those poems the tense changes & wavers between future & past tenses (or future perfect & past perfect, or whatever those terms are that I can’t remember but intuit).

So I wonder: Is the verb responsible for the tone, or the tone responsible for the verb? Is it that age old question: which came first: the tone or the verb? Ug.

So what we will do to find out is:

  1. Write a poem that uses “is” a lot. Make sure “is” happens at a line’s end or a line’s beginning.
  2. Rewrite that same poem, but replace each “is” with an empty space, unless the “is” happens to not be at the line’s end or the line’s beginning.
  3. Rewrite the same poem with different verbs. Replace each “is” with “would have” or “would be” or “had been” or “was” or “could be” or “could have been,” etc.

Now as I look back at those lines, that colon is doing a lot of work, too. The colon replaces something like “that reads” or “containing the word,” or something like that. So now:

b: Colonial Imperialism of Words; or Colonizing Ellipticism

Let’s explore how we can use the colon to replace words in a manner similar to the previous assignment, part a. But instead of finding a relationship with tone, we will find a relationship with ellipticism.

How far can we push that colon before we lose/distance our reader? How much information can be stored in a colon? Find the brevity inclusive/exclusive breaking point of the colon.

Is this what Alice Fulton & others are trying to do when they use “::”?

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Call & Response; or The Line of In-Between; or Silent Echo; or I Always Forget the Title of a Poem by Line Three, Except in this Poem

I have just had my first encounter with Ray Gonzalez. Oh, man! This guy is good. There is one poem, “Emerge,” I find myself returning to for two reasons: one, it’s a kick ass poem (& there are other kick ass poems, too – & by kick ass, I mean, they kick you so hard in amazement, you fall on your ass, even when you’re sitting down, Oi!); two, he does something unique. I’ll explain after you read the poem, which is from Consideration of the Guitar: New and Selected Poems (BOA Editions, 2005).

   Emerge

   As if the sacred is the only way
   and desire is fortune spilled across the desert
   where no one has stepped in years.

   As if the fever lifted from rage could change
   the world and stir the holy water
   tinged with blood.

   As if the fallen song was a great mystery
   and its rhyme came from the unfed mouths
   of those who promised they would not weep.

   As if the willow tree was a warning of green
   and falling things resisting the broken ground.

   As if listing the very heart of truth was outlawed
   by a summer afternoon impossible to breathe.

   As if each thing accomplished was taken away
   by those who don’t speak, but rearrange
   the candle to ward off the starving spirit.

   As if music in the fingers was played in time
   to hear the heron rise, its flapping wings
   changing the river into a pond.

   As if a thousand rocks left one stone to emerge
   through the decaying monument where no
   one said anything as the mountain arrived.

   As if the one thing we believe was finally
   played on a guitar carved from the wood
   of our father’s crib.

   As if the darkness is the beloved teacher
   and its tool the mightiest reason
   to go there together, unafraid.

   As if the sacred is the only way
   and the difficulties are lined up on the shelf
   decorating the hallway into the interior

   where the names we are called
   are the names of those who emerge.


   (“Emerge” by Ray Gonzalez published in Consideration of the Guitar: New and Selected Poems by BOA 
   Editions, Ltd., in 2005 © and used with permission.)

So this is how I hear the poem when I read it in my head. I hear “Emerge” between each stanza, except before the last stanza. It’s like in between each stanza is a brief meditation on “Emerge” – emerge is like what . . . . It’s a calling in the empty space between the stanzas. The next stanza is the response. There’s no real silence in this poem, that is, when you read it in your head.

But Gonzalez was smart enough to not put “Emerge” between each stanza, for to read the poem aloud with “Emerge” between each stanza, doesn’t seem to work. “Emerge” would steal too much energy. “Emerge” would dominate the poem. The poem would be overly dramatic. No, “Emerge” needs to be silent, but understood – understood to be there between the stanzas. And I think this poem succeeds in doing that.

Now, your assignment is to succeed. Create a call-&-response poem with the title intuitively understood to be heard between the stanzas. If you can manage to pull it off, actually put the title word, or words, between the stanza so they are read aloud, then, please, do so.

And then, or prior to writing the poem, wonder what type of poem this would be successful in. A contemplative poem, meditative poem. Could a narrative poem work with this? – I think it could. Maybe even lyrical.

But alas, go forth. Talk to yourself. Talk to the poem. Let the poem talk . . . & respond.

NB: The first section of this book: Consideration of the Guitar: New Poems reads as its own book. So really, you are getting a book & then a book of selected poems. How often do you get that?

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The Miguel de Cervantes Experiment

“The Prologue” begins Don Quixote, & it offers some good advice on writing, especially on the use of allusions.

The next section is called “To the Book of Don Quixote of La Mancha,” which is filled with poems to & about Don Quixote, Rocinante, & Pedro Panza. The first poem, “Urganda the Unrecognized,” is in a form called versos de cabo rato. The footnote explains the form as follows:

This comical form is called versos de cabo rato (translated: “lines with unfinished endings”). The dropped syllable is the one after the line’s last word’s stressed syllable.

I will quote the beginning:

   ON SANCHO

   I am the esquire Sancho Pan--
   Who served Don Quixote of La Man--;
   But from his service I retreat--,
   Resolved to pass my life discreet--;
   For Villadiego, called the Si--,
   Maintained that only in reti--
   Was found the secret of well-be--,
   According to the “Celesti--:”
   A book divine, except for sin--
   By speech too plain, in my opin--


   Translated by John Ormsby. Quoted from Project GutenbergTM License. 
   http://www.gutenberg.org/catalog/world/readfile?pageno=33&fk_files=84486

Have fun!

a: Linear Palindrome

This one is for Dan Morris.

This assignment is based on Natasha Trethewey’s poem, “Myth”, which appeared on the Poetry Daily website on Saturday, January 22, 2005. I have given a name to this form as I do not know what else to call it. Since Poetry Daily’s archive doesn’t go back far enough [I shake my fist at them and ask why not?], you can read it here: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poems/detail/55930You can also read it in Pushcart Prize XXXI: Best of the Small Presses, 2007. [It also appears in Native Guard (Mariner, 2006).]

As you can see, this poem reads as a palindrome but on a line basis, not a character basis. That is, line one & line eighteen (the last line) are the same, lines two & seventeen are the same . . . & lines nine & ten (the middle lines) are the same. The poem thus reads the same backwards as forwards, not to mention it travels the same ground, but in reverse direction – thus, a new perspective on the same event.

Your assignment then is to write a linear palindrome. To be fair, I think the poem should be at least eight lines long. I think fourteen is a good length. If you go fourteen lines, then why not try to make it a rhyming sonnet, & if you can, write it in iambic pentameter & try to get a volta in there. If you do that, then you will be a linguistic genius.

Thinking of linguistic geniuses. . . . The longest palindrome I know is by Georges Perec. (To read it, go here: http://home.arcor.de/jean_luc/Deutsch/Palindrome/perec.htm.) Georges Perec, who likes to make crossword puzzles for fun, is the author of Life: A User’s Manual, which is a brilliant & wonderful novel whose structure is based on how a knight moves on a chess board. This novel was translated from the French to the English by David Bellos. Perec also wrote A Void, a novel in which the letter “e” is not used. It was amazingly translated by Gilbert Adair from the French to the English without using the letter “e”. Perec has a sequel novel, W, or the Memory of Childhood. This novel only uses one vowel, the letter “e”. And this too was amazingly translated from the English to the French by Bellos. It’s a crazy novel to read because you can just see how much struggle goes into saying the simplest thing, & how new events must arise & intercede between the beginning of a simple action & its conclusion, such as getting a book off a shelf.

I am thus inspired to have three sub-assignments:

b: “A Dan acts Niagara war against Canada”, or
“A Dan, a clan, a canal – Canada!” or “Poor Dan is in a droop”

Still tippin’ my hat to D.Mo.

You are to write a palindrome, but on a character level.

c: A, I, O, U, & always Y

You are to dust off an old, failing poem, & revise it so it no longer contains the letter “e”.

d: E, E, E, E, E, & E

Using the same poem from the first sub-assignment, revise it but use only the letter “e” as the poem’s only vowel.

//

Lost in Translation, or Perdu dans la traduction, or For Shits & Giggles, or Pour des merdes et rit nerveusement

It’s spring break for many of us, so this one is for fun. So please have fun!

Type in a poem into a translator (like world.altavista.com/ or babblefish.com/babblefish/language.htm or  https://translate.google.com/), & choose, for instance, the “English to Spanish.” Then, take what it has translated & translate it BACK to English, & watch the hilarity ensue.

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Translation

I heard about this one somewhere. Translate an English poem from English to English. I imagine this can done on a word-to-word basis or a line-to-line basis, or the music/melody could just be carried over, or the syntax could be carried over. Whatever you think translation means.

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21
Oct
16

Poetry Assignments: The Book (Online): Imaginary Worlds

POETRY ASSIGNMENTS

Brian Warner's The Cave

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

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

or 100 Ways to Jumpstart the Engine;

or 100 Pencil Exercises;

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

//

Table of Contents

Introduction

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

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Imaginary Worlds

Connect the Dots; Star Gazing into Creation; or Neck Exercises

We’ve recently entered a new millennium, yet we still use our night sky’s old constellations & their stories. Your assignment is to create new images & new stories for the existing constellations, or to find your own constellations & create stories for them.

For those who choose to create more than one constellation, or for those who want this assignment to endure – create an epic story for all the constellations you have made or found. Try to weave the stories together.

Be careful not to stare too long into the night sky or else you might find yourself with a neck ache. If that happens, you will have to write a bunch of poems so your neck can bend down &, hopefully, offset the pain from bending your neck backwards.

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Hey, Where’s Everybody Going?

Something strange is happening in my town. Perhaps it’s happening in your town, too. Quick! Look out the window. Are all the statues leaving as they are here? What do you think is going on? Where do you think they are going? Quickly, write it down. Follow them. Take notes. But don’t get caught. This could be monumental!

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Til Death Do Us Part

This assignment is inspired by the first line in Stan Rubin’s poem “Emily Was Right,” which is in his new book Five Colors (Wordtech Communications, 2004). The first line is: “The perfect date would be with death.”

The assignment is to write about that perfect date, or just a general date with death, or even just a first date with death.

Ok. Get busy!

And if you want, you can get busy with death, too! (Read that as if Groucho Marx said it with a cigar in his mouth!)

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The Sea of Galilee, or the Apocalypse

Apparently the water level in the Sea of Galilee keeps rising 0.5 cm per day. As of March 16th, it was 15 cm from capacity. I’m not exactly sure of the reasons for this. But, here’s the assignment: compose a poem of the flooding of the Sea of Galilee, or some ocean. A poem of the apocalypse.

John Isles has a great one, “Elegy for the Present Moment,” in his new book Ark (Kuhl House Poets, 2003). His, however, is about the moment the sun stopped shining.

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Hey, Who Turned Out the Lights?

This assignment has a two-fold inspiration.

Last week, August 10th, 2004, or so, my wife [at the time] & I were on the west coast of the Olympic Peninsula & we went to watch the sun set. When we arrived, the sun was blocked by clouds. The sun looked liked a full moon, & the feeling was eerie & apocalyptic.

Yesterday, August 19, 2004, in Hong Kong there was so much smog that the sun was blocked out. In the absence of sunlight, there were many boat accidents, & the government warned people with heart & respiratory conditions to stay indoors.

Here’s the poetry assignment. Write a poem about the day the sun disappeared. Or if you wish the day the moon disappeared. (In the moon poem, for a real challenge, make an allusion to the old tv show, Space 1999, if anyone remembers that!)

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Fluorescent Lights as Thieves; or Me & My Bones; or In the Event of Light, the Only Safe Place is Under the Desk

Where I work is good place. Good, creative people making a fine product. But I noticed something most odd the other day when I was turning the corner. You see, when I turn corners, I listen to hear if anyone is coming, I try to look through the corners (which can be done if you know how) to see if anyone is coming, & I look to the floor for shadows to see if anyone is approaching, for I don’t want to have a collision at the corner. And then I realized, after never seeing a shadow approach a corner despite hearing a person & seeing a person through corner walls that people at work don’t cast shadows. It’s strange. Some of the cubicle walls cast shadows, & there is always a shadow under my desk (or is it just dark?). But people here have no shadows. To which my friend responded, “We are the shadows.” I think it’s just the fluorescent lights . . . not the people. I mean, I’ve seen their shadows on the sidewalk outside. I’ve seen the shadows get into their owner’s (or does the shadow own the person) car. But anyhow.

Here is the assignment. Imagine a world where only inanimate objects cast shadows. Imagine how your unconscious would be symbolized. Where would your psychological baggage be carried? What of dreams? . . . Jung & Freud? What of murder mysteries & horror movies? What of fear itself? What of the song “Me and My Shadow”? Oh my.

You may also imagine a world where only organic, living things cast shadows. What then of the moon & its phases? What then of sundials? What then of a mountain’s presence looming large over a small town, or are mountains organic & living? (surely living). Or imagine a place of no shadows.

Now. Go forth. Write. Imagine. Imagine your pencil not throwing a shadow on your words! 

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If Dante Were Here Today

Oh boy, he’d find a lot of sinners, & he’d probably find some sinners of new sins, too. What would he do with these sinners of the new sins? He’d have to create a new circle in hell, a new circle in the Inferno, for them. Thus, it is up to you to pretend you are Dante today & create a new circle in hell for the sinners of the new sins.

Or even, perhaps, to find a secret door in one of the circles that opens into another circle, where the sinners of the new sin are. For example, I thought today, there are a lot of people destroying the environment – performing acts contrary to nature – thus, you might want a secret passage in the contrary to nature circle (the one that has the usurers) & put those people destroying nature into that secret room.

If you can do this assignment in terza rima, then all the better.

If you can create a new Inferno filled with circles for all the new sins & sinners of the new sins, then kick ass! And if you do that, then I imagine you’d have to find a new Virgil, too!

Alright, go forth & put the sinners in their place!

(9-2-06 addendum) Here’s a new sin: advertisers who use Beatles songs. I’m thinking specifically of the Chase Credit Card (usury) company that recently used “All You Need Is Love” to advertise their damn credit card. That is contrary to nature, The Beatles, and all that is beautiful in the world. The advertisers & those at Chase Credit Card who approved the commercial should be in a new circle. Or the dog-food company that used Shakespeare to pimp its product and the myriad of other advertisers and ad approvers who belittle great art and humanity.

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Imitations; or Because Poems Are to Speak to All Times; or Make It New (Number 3)

But first a history lesson.

In 1570, in Roger Ascham’s The Schoolmaster, between pages 99 and 133, he has six ideas on how to translate.

There are six ways appointed by the best learned men, for the learning of tongues and increase of eloquence, as

1) Translatio linguarum.
2) Paraphrasis.
3) Metaphrasis.
4) Epitome.
5) Imitatio.
6) Declamatio.

1) Translatio linguarum. “Translation is easy in the beginning for the scholar, and brings also much learning and great judgment to the master. It is most common, and most commendable of all other exercises for youth: most common, for all your constructions in Grammar schools be nothing else but translations [. . .] they bring forth but simple and single commodity.”

2) Paraphrasis. “Paraphrasis is to take some eloquent Oration, or some notable common place in Latin, and express it with other words. [. . .] Paraphrasis, the second point, is not only to express at large with more words, but to strive and contend (as Quintilian said) to translate the best Latin authors into other Latin words, as many or thereabouts.”

3) Metaphrasis. “Metaphrasis is to take some notable place out of a good Poet, and turn the same sense into meter, or into other words in Prose.      [. . .] This kind of exercise is all one with Paraphrasis, save it is out of verse either into prose or into some other kind of meter: or else, out of prose into verse, which was Socrates’ exercise and pastime (as Plato reported) when he was in prison, to translate Æsop’s Fables into verse.”

4) Epitome. “This is a way of study belonging rather to matter, than to words: to memory, than to utterance: to those that be learned already, and has small place at all amongst young scholars in Grammar schools. [. . .] Epitome is good privately for himself that does work it.”

5) Imitatio. “Imitation is a faculty to express lively and perfectly that example: which you go about to follow. And of itself, it is large and wide: for all the works of nature in a manner be examples for art to follow. But to our purpose, all languages, both learned and mother tongues, be gotten, and gotten only by Imitation.”

6) Declamatio. [Um, he seems to have forgotten to expand on that. Um, little help please. I’m gonna fail my final. Hey, Mr. Ascham. Hey, Roger. Rog. All right then. I guess class is over.]

Then 110 years later, John Dryden comes along with three very similar terms for translation, which appear in his “Preface” to Ovid’s Epistles in 1680:

All translation I suppose may be reduced to these three heads.

First that of, metaphrase, or turning an author word for word, and line by line, from one language into another. Thus, or near this manner, was Horace’s Art of Poetry translated by Ben Jonson. The second way is that of paraphrase, or translation with latitude, where the author is kept in view by the translator, so as never to be lost, but his words are not so strictly followed as his sense, and that too is admitted to be amplified, but not altered. Such is Mr. Waller’s translation of Virgil’s fourth Aeneid. The third way is that of imitation, where the translator (if now he has not lost that name) assumes the liberty, not only to vary from the words and sense, but to forsake them both as he sees occasion: and taking only some general hints from the original, to run division on the groundwork, as he pleases. Such is Mr. Cowley’s practice in turning two odes of Pindar, and one of Horace into English.

Robert Lowell picks up Dryden’s third in Imitations (New York: Farrar, Straus and Cudahy, 1961). In Lowell’s introduction to this collection, he writes of his translations, imitations:

I have been reckless with literal meaning, and labored hard to get the tone. Most often this has been a tone, for the tone is something that will always more or less escape transference to another language and cultural moment. I have tried to write alive in English and to do what my authors might have done if they were writing their poems now and in America.

So we are going to do this. We are going to take a long-ago dead poet (& they can be English speaking like Anne Bradstreet, William Blake, Alexander Pope, Shakespeare, or foreign like Dante, Sappho, or the author of Gilgamesh), & have that poet write as if he or she lived today in America. Plus, we will work on tone, a tone.

And if you want to be like Lowell, do one or a few poems from one poet, & a few more from another & another until you have a book length manuscript. Or just do one poet.

Feel free to ignore Ascham. I will, as he reminds me of a teacher from Pink Floyd’s The Wall. Hey, Rog, I’m still waiting. Rog. Rog. Oi.

//

Today’s Fertilizer, or You Make the Call

Baudelaire once had a wonderful image/symbol of a rose growing from a pile of manure. And Ezra Pound once said, “Humanity is the rich effluvium, it is the waste and the manure and the soil, and from it grows the tree of the arts.”

Today (12-6-04) they announced the invention of a cell phone that when thrown away will grow into a sunflower.

AMSTERDAM (Reuters)—Scientists said on Monday they have come up with a cell phone cover that will grow into a sunflower when thrown away.

Materials company Pvaxx Research & Development [. . .] has come up with a polymer that looks like any other plastic, but which degrades into soil when discarded.

Researchers at the University of Warwick in Britain then helped to develop a phone cover that contains a sunflower seed, which will feed on the nitrates that are formed when the polyvinylalcohol polymer cover turns to waste.

Your assignment: pretend you’re a French Symbolist & use the cell phone as a new symbol.

Here is Gérard de Nerval’s “Golden Verses” to help you a bit. (It is translated by C.F. MacIntyre.)


           Eh, what! everything is sentient!
                             Pythagoras

   You, free thinker, imagine only man
   thinks in this world where life bursts from all things?
   The powers within prescribe your freedom’s wings,
   but you leave the universe your plans.

   Respect the mind that stirs in every creature:
   love’s mystery is known by metals too;
   every flower opens its soul to Nature;
   “Everything’s sentient!” and works on you.

   Beware! from the blind wall one watches you:
   even matter has a logos all its own . . .
   do not put it to some impious use.

   Often in humble life a god works, hidden;
   and like a new-born eye veiled by its lids,
   pure spirit grows beneath the surface of stones.


          “Golden Verses” from French Symbolist Poetry. 
          Used with permission by University of California Press. 

(9-16-06 addendum) You should also read Walt Whitman’s “This Compost.” Thanks for the tip, William Heyen.

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Pessoa as a Time Traveler; or Variations on Rexroth as Marichiko; or Man, You Are So Far Behind the Times

What is your favorite time period of poetry that occurs before 1901? And what country provides your favorite poetry, besides America? Now with that time & place in mind, what poet should have existed that did not? That is, when you read the Romantics, for example, you may have thought, “If I were writing then, I think I would have had this voice, these ideas, these types of visions, inventions, criticisms, insights, & understandings that would epitomize, in full, Wordsworth, Coleridge, & the rest.” Or something like that.

With that in mind, you need to become an uber-Romantic poet, or an uber-poet from whatever time period & country you like best. You need to pretend you have discovered a poet from a distant time & land, but you need to write poems for that discovered poet & maybe some literary criticism, or some manifestoes, or some takes on how that poet sees poetry & its purpose.

If you wish, you can bring that poet into our times & have him/her speak to & in our times.

And while you are it . . . the next time you get a book published, use that poet to write a back cover blurb for you, or maybe even a review of your book.

My dude is: Semlohsa Moht. Poet Laureate of Gegôré. (Yeah, the country is fictional, too, which makes for more fun!!)

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Jazzy Uncle Walt; or WW, he’s so smoooooth

This assignment was inspired by a CD review in the Feb. 17-23, 2005 edition of the Inlander (Spokane, WA).

The Fred Hersch Ensemble has set some of Walt Whitman’s poems to jazz music in the album: Leaves of Grass.

Your assignments then:

a: Pretend you are Walt Whitman living in the jazz age (for this assignment, anywhere from 1920-1965). What will Walt be doing? Will he be wearing dark sunglasses, blowing on a sax, & smoking unfiltered Camels?

b: Still in the jazz age, pretend you are Walt Whitman writing poems. Would his poems be the same or would they be more like:

   Out of the cradle
   endlessly bopping
   Out of the Plugged Nickel’s sway
   the jazzy shuffle
   Out of the nine-hour jam
   [. . . ]

Or would he write even more different?

c: Now pretend you are Walt Whitman & you meet Allen Ginsberg in a smoky jazz bar.

Ok, that’s it for this assignment.

By the way, the Inlander’s reviewer, Michael Bowen, gave the album five stars. But I have not heard it, so I can not offer an opinion on it.

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This Poet’s Got Game . . . Do You?; or The World Cup of Poetry; or Fantasy Sports for Poets; or How Can I Get Season Tickets for This?

For Kat Smith, Thom Caraway, Jeff Dodd is God, Mike Dockins, & William Heyen.

This just occurred to me & keeps unfolding, so we will be discovering together.

I just now had the thought (& I’m sure this has been done before) that we need a baseball team of poets. And to create this team, you will have to find the poet who best corresponds to a specific baseball position. Who will be your pitcher (who’s got a striking fast poem, but with the ability to throw a three-foot breaking curve & hurl a knuckle-ball poem that you don’t know where it will end up), who will be the genius catcher to be able to handle all these pitches & tell the pitcher what to throw, who’s got the confidence, dexterity, & arm to play shortstop, etc. Yes, metaphorically pick a poet who possesses the talents of each position on the ball field. Oh, & we’re using American League rules – there will be a DH! (Which reminds me, you’ll need a pinch hitter, a middle reliever, & a closer.) I won’t tell you my team, but I will tell you the manager is Ezra Pound – who knows more, who can get poets to do more than they can, who could better yell at an umpire than Ol’ Ez?

Wait, there’s more.

With the World Cup going on, we now need a separate team for each of 32 different countries (or, as many countries as you can do). And still using World Cup rules, a poet can play for a country that he/she was born in, gained citizenship in, or where his/her parents were born. So, T. S. Eliot, for instance, could play for England or America. (I’ve got him playing for England, that is, if he can make the team. Maybe he will be a substitute. I’m thinking Chaucer would be manager for this team.)

More. When making this team, you must write a poem about each poet playing his/her position. Then after the team is assembled, you must imagine them actually playing a game, which is why it is good to have teams from other countries. And like baseball, there will be NO ties. Extra innings into eternity if you must.

You, of course, may use other sports. You may have basketball teams, soccer/futbol teams, football teams, hockey teams (but Bly must play goalie, ha), water polo, etc. But still, NO ties are allowed – sudden death, shootouts, if you must.

Oh, yea. Let’s not forget poet umpires, poet referees, & poet sideline judges. We need one poem where an umpire & manager (or player) stand face to face yelling at each other. (Yes, a Stevens-Frost allusion is allowed here, & maybe even required.)

Please be sure to keep track of each country’s win-loss record. Keep track of hitting trends & tendencies. Keep track of ERAs (or EMAs – Earned Metaphors Achieved). Hell, I may post results . . . if you’re game.

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29
Jan
13

Interview with Rock & Sling Editor – Thom Caraway

One of my favorite literary journals is Rock & Sling. I remember the women who founded the journal asking me questions about how to start a journal. They asked me circa 2003 when I had only published one or two issues of Redactions: Poetry & Poetics. My advice was very limited. I can’t imagine what I could have told them. Now, it is being run out of Whitworth University by Thom Caraway. Under his editorial management, Rock & Sling have been creating journals that are beautiful to hold and putting together journals with the conscientiousness that goes into making a well-designed book. Inside each issue there are also good stories and poems.

On Wednesday, May 16, 2013, during my Publishing class at The University of Southern Mississippi and taught by Angela Ball, I learned that one of my assignments would be to give a presentation about a literary journal of our choice. Rock & Sling was the first journal that came to my mind. I then went home, and asked Caraway if he wanted to participate. He agreed. I quickly typed up questions for him to answer. While these answers came quick, they had lots of thought behind them. Since I now have about 11 years experience in publishing (instead of just one or two), I knew what types of questions to ask. Because I knew Caraway’s love of journals and books and putting them together, I knew what questions to ask him, and I also knew what questions I would want asked of me. So the questions arrived with ease. In addition, I asked questions that would be of more direct concern to the other students in the class and to those who are considering submitting their work to Rock & Sling. I emailed Caraway the questions the same night. One week later, he sent me his responses, which appear below.

//

As I recall, Rock & Sling was started by two ladies in Spokane, WA, around 2003. Who were those ladies, how long did they run the journal, and did it have the same focus as the journal currently does?

Susan Cowger, Kris Christenson, and Lori Klein. The journal came to us through Susan, whose daughter had attended Whitworth University. They were “a journal of faith, art, and literature.” Or “literature, art, and faith.” Some combination of those words. It seemed like all of the faithy journals had some combination of those. We simplified to “a journal of witness.” It captured the essence of what we wanted, and I think we’ve stayed true to the original mission, though we probably define “faith” more broadly than Susan did.

What prompted them to turn it over to Whitworth University and when did that happen and were you there when it occurred?

We got it in 2009. It had gone on hiatus in 2008, looking for a stable funding source. It was totally independent, but Susan and the other original group couldn’t subsidize it any more. I came in on the second or third meeting. Our department was generally in favor of it, but they didn’t really know how to make it go. I was the faculty advisor for the school’s undergrad journal, and that fall, I had also pitched a class in editing and book design. So it at least looked like I knew what I was doing. I spent the next couple months convincing various administrators that it was good for the university. That’s an on-going battle.

How did you get involved in becoming the Editor-in-Chief, especially considering that you teach full time and run Sage Hill Press?

It wasn’t going to go if they couldn’t get an editor. None of the other faculty had any experience in running a magazine, and I didn’t either, but I’d done Willow Springs and North Dakota Quarterly during my grad programs, so I kind of convinced them I knew what I was doing. My experience with Sage Hill Press certainly helped. I knew some design, and enough of the marketing and business side to sound reasonably confident. It turned out there was plenty I didn’t know. Teaching the editing and design class really helped, since I could make the business/marketing end of things part of the curriculum and sort of teach myself as I went.

What knowledge did you bring from running a press to running a journal?

It helped to know how a book gets put together (how to pick economical paper and an efficient trim-size, etc.), the printing side of things, and knowing the indie publishing biz. I knew where to go to find things, and had contacts at other presses and journals I could go to for help.

Does the journal help you run the press in any manner? Do you learn things from it that makes your press more effective?

The great thing about a journal is how many authors you can publish at a time. I was used to working with one author at a time, usually for 6-12 months, refining the manuscript, and putting it all together. The journal gave me access to a bigger base of authors. So I’ve solicited some authors we worked with on the journal to submit a book for Sage Hill. It’s also given me a better understanding of marketing and distribution.

On the other hand, the journal takes up much of my non-teaching time, so the press hasn’t maintained the kind of production schedule I’d like.

One of my favorite things about Rock & Sling is the colophon. Not many journals do that. What prompted you to include colophon? And how often do you change the typeface?

TrajanFor me, I can’t really design a book until I know what the type will be. I’ll experiment with type for hours, sometimes days, until I find the right one. It has to fit the book, speak to the personality of the book, become a vessel for the text. But for books, it’s different, because the personality of the text is more unified. It all came from the same author. With the journal, the personality comes from the journal itself, as much as it does from the text. And the text varies wildly, so the type needs to be adaptive and versatile. It needs to speak in a variety of languages. Once I found the right one, and I knew it the minute I’d set any text in it, I wanted to know everything I could about it. The type was Perpetua, the designer Eric Gill. Eric Gill was an interesting dude, and designed a number of persistent types. The colophon itself probably goes back to a design class (which you were in) during my MFA days at Eastern Washington University. Christopher Howell taught that class, and talked at length about type, and the importance of choosing just the right one for books. Or maybe it’s just something I got obsessed about as a designer later. I had the standard palette, I think. Garamond, Palatino, Caslon. I started exploring. I also started to notice colophons, often in Copper Canyon books. It added a depth of meaning to the book. Not only did the writer put a lot of time and life and love into the creation of the manuscript, but the designer was also intentional about how the book was set, which was explained in the colophon. That fascinated me. And like any amateur, I imitated until I understood. For me, Perpetua is the personality of  the journal. It’s beautiful, versatile, and engaging. It creates its own kind of interest, but doesn’t overwhelm the text. The colophon was a way of conveying that, the debt we owed not only to the authors, but to the type designer.

I’m not sure the type will ever change for the body of the journal. I just love Perpetua. Everything I submit is set in it. Poems. All of my syllabi. Letters of recommendation. Many of my students now use it, and our poetry editor has adopted it as well. For our first four issues, the titles were set in Perpetua Titling, which is an all-caps type. I wasn’t wild about it, but it was consistent with the body. Before laying out 8.1 (our fifth issue), I lost the template from those first four issues on a crashed hard-drive. We reconsidered everything (save the body type), from trim size to title types, page-styles, titles, layout, etc. We’re actually going with a new title type, and a new master-page style (in the footer), as well as a different rule style. When you are in the rhythm of journal production, it seems impossible to consider changing things. I don’t know why that is. Probably because there is so much other stuff going on; it’s too overwhelming to consider a redesign of the whole thing. I also want a consistency in our shelf presentation. If people have several years of our journal on their shelves, I want it to look good. So after all of that reconsideration, we kept the same trim size and spine text. But I’ve changed some of the more extraneous elements. But it took months to arrive at the right balance. We’ve gone with a slab sans-serif title type, League Gothic (from the excellent League of Moveable Type), which works well with Perpetua, set in a half-tone black. I’m pretty happy with it. We’ve also messed with the master-page, the size of it, and what’s in it. For me, the design of the book, being the most consistent personality element given the ever-changing nature of the work we accept, has to be precise, so people know they are reading something good, even before they get to the content. 

Why isn’t there a colophon in the current issue?

It’s expensive to print on the inside of the cover. Also, for that issue, we had space. In coming issues, I’d like to move it to the interior, maybe as the last page of the journal.

What typeface is your favorite and what typeface do you think works best for text pages? for covers? and for online?

Perpetua. It’s just beautiful. The Roman and the italic. I use it for almost everything now. I also like Californian for text. Garamond is a classic, and very versatile. Caslon is elegant, but not suited for all purposes.

TrajanFor covers, I love Trajan, but it’s become very popular. I don’t think you can ruin Trajan through overexposure, but I haven’t used it much lately. It’s one thing if it’s the title type for The West Wing, another entirely if I’m seeing it in terrible flyers posted around campus or in elevators. Perpetua Titling is what we used for the first four issues, and it’s a big, wide-based, solid title type, but it feels a little heavy sometimes, heavy-handed. We used it for titles as well, and have moved away from it for both with the new issue. I used Perpetua lower-case this time around, though we kept the ampersand in Poor Richard. That creates some problems. In the same size as what’s around it, it’s too big, so every time I use it, I have to isolate it and manually change the size and kerning to get it spaced just right. I like doing that kind of stuff though, the kind of stuff only I really notice, like shrinking the kerning, or the font-size of blank spaces.

I’ve been playing around with some gothic sans serif type for covers. I like League Gothic, and Gear, and pretty much anything at Lost Type or the League of Moveable Type. The internet is such a great resource for designers now. You can find pretty much anything, between Dafont and the other warehouse sites, and most of it is free. Still, lots of stuff doesn’t always mean lots of good stuff, so I stick with what I know for the most part. Nothing too showy or flashy. I never want to overwhelm the actual text with the typography.

Online, I appreciate tall, slender sans serif type. I like Gill Sans, and though it’s maybe a little basic, Franklin Gothic is nice, too. And boring old Calibri is a very readable screen type, though I am not a fan of it in print.

Another thing I like about the journal is the covers. They are always so beautiful. Where do you find the artwork and who does the cover design?

I handle cover design, which I love doing, despite my limitations as a designer. I’ve never taken a class in design or anything, so I always feel like I’m missing out on some cool stuff I could be doing. But, I can place art on a page, and move text around, and so far that’s been working.

When we first got started, I couldn’t get any of our overworked art faculty to sign on as art editor. I said I’d do it in the interim, but as it turned out, I didn’t really know any artists. One of my colleagues in the English department, Fred Johnson, kept asking me if I knew such and such artist. After a few of these, I started making a list and checking them out. Turns out he was connected to a lot of artists through his time at Ball State, and they were all fantastic. So I just started emailing them. Some have been hesitant to commit to covers for an ostensibly faith-based journal. Some have said no, for that reason. After the Gala Bent and dan Baltzer covers (6.1 and 6.2), I thought I’d make it look like I was at least trying, so I started asking the artists themselves for recommendations. So dan led me to Jeffrey Youngblood for 7.1, and he recommended Emelie Anskog for 7.2. I’ve been pretty happy with the results.

For this particular issue (volume 7, issue 2), there’s a lot of risk in the design. The logo is right up against the edge of the cover. That’s risk because the exactness of trim is not perfect. Many publishers would have pulled the logo in a bit. And the same for the art work. A lot of risk is taken in putting the picture into the bleed and also in cutting off part of the picture, but I like how the art exceeds the cover? Did you feel you were taking risks when designing this cover? How did you feel about those risks? Do you often take those risks when developing covers? (I also ask because in a previous version of this cover, which is on Facebook, the logo was on the left with a safe distance from the spine and the volume/issue/year information was on the right and vertical and a safe distance from the edge of the cover.)

Rock & Sling 7.2 Final Cover

Rock & Sling Volume Seven Issue Two 2012 Final Cover

Rock & Sling 7.2 Draft

Rock & Sling Volume Seven Issue Two 2012 Draft Cover

I was so scared for 6.1, I did stuff fairly straightforward. I wanted it to look great, and not piss anyone off. After that one came out, a designer friend and I got to talking over beers, and he suggested I start messing with placement. He said, “Try turning the title text box vertical. Move it around.” I’d never thought of that, and I loved it, so tried it for 6.2. Our name isn’t even all the way on the front cover for that issue. I placed it so it’s half on the front and half on the spine. My theory is just to get out of the way of the art. I love the art. I want people to see the art.

So then I started moving the logo and other elements around. I really like the logo bleeding off the page a little, like who we are is incidental to the work we are publishing. It freaks our printers out. They always want me to move it in or up a ¼ inch. The only cover where we lost a bit of the content was 6.2. dan’s work has so much going on in it, and I cut an inch or so off one side to get it to fit vertically on the page. If I’m going to bleed it, I make sure that what is cut is still implied by what remains. And the artists have all been pretty happy (as far as I know) with their covers. I could shrink the art down to fit the cover, and frame it with a solid-color bar or something, but that’s just boring to me. The only reason I can see for that is to make sure people get a good look at the name of the journal. That’s much less important to me.

I think some journals might get a little used to themselves. I worked for North Dakota Quarterly, which has looked the same for forty years. Same size, same gothic type, same white cover and spine, same kind of cover image. That’s great, to have traditions like that, but one thing I love about journals is how responsive they can be, so I’ve been hesitant to make the issues look the same, at least on the outside. If I have to move our issue info to the back to feature the art more effectively, then that’s what I’ll do. If anyone is going to pick up the journal, it will be for the art, not for what issue number it is. So that stuff can go on the back if it needs to. Each issue has its own personality, which starts with the art. I like to think that we are conforming to what we get, rather than conforming or choosing material based on who we are.

As for the text page design. The title of the poem/story is all in caps, below that is a line that extends most of the width of the page, below that is the author’s name in gray, then there is some white space between the author’s name and poem or story. Also in the footers, the page number is black and Rock & Sling is gray. What overall effect do you think that creates?

Similar to my design aesthetic with art and the cover (get out of the way), I think the work is more important than the author. We went back and forth before the first issue. Some designs had the author info on top and bigger than the title info. I just didn’t like it. For me, the shape of the page is big title (“ooooh”), author, in a half-tone (“who’s that, oh, there’s the poem . . .”), and then to the work (“aaaah”). The author’s name is off set, and the title and text align with each other, so a straight line connects them. I wouldn’t mind moving the author’s name elsewhere, but I don’t think authors would like that (as an author, I wouldn’t like that).

With 8.1, I moved to a different type for the titles. Perpetua Titling is an all-caps type, and it just felt too big. So there is more distinction now between title and text, and I changed the rule from a heavy line of left-slashes to a lighter double thin line. The authors are in a small-caps Perpetua, and solid (the titles are half-tone now). We switched from an offset printer to a digital printer, and smaller half-tones (<10 pt) looked like crap (you can tell in 7.2). So the half-tone is on a larger slab sans serif type, and should print better. [For a good article about the difference between offset and digital printing, go here: http://www.printlocal.com/offset-digital-printing.htm.]

As for the footer elements, those are different now, too. I love the design of Versal, and they have massive page numbers in the footer, so I beefed up ours a little (18 pt League Gothic), and switched out “Rock & Sling” for just the Poor Richard ampersand. It looks maybe too contemporary, and probably will only last a few issues before I start to feel self-conscious about it.

CLMPI see you are member of CLMP. What does this do for the journal?

CLMP is a good resource for marketing and administrative information, plus it gets us on their lists and makes us look like a legitimate journal. It doesn’t cost much, and the resources are really useful, as are the list-servs. There’s lots of experience to draw from, which, given my lack of knowledge at the outset, was really important.

On the copyright page, it reads:

The editors of Rock & Sling believe that the act of writing and of reading literature is a way of witnessing to the truth of experience, drilling down to the core of language’s vitality, and accepting an understanding of artistic language as a kind of testimony. The word “Witness” means to testify: to tell the truth. The demands of the word are bracing in its charge to the writer to understand that his and her work matters not just as expressions of experiences and responses but as an active language engaged morally as well as aesthetically. To tell the truth is an act of responsibility as well as an expression of hope. To testify is an act of responsibility as well as an expression of faith.

Why do you have this theme? How is it different than, say, Image.

That definition was written by our poetry editor, Laurie Lamon, when we took over the journal. We use it as a framework for understanding our mission as a “Christian” journal. We publish a lot of work that isn’t overtly faith-based, at least in Christian terms. (I think specifically of your Paleolithic poems). But that work engages ideas of faith, or of something bigger than itself. Whatever you call it, that’s faith, which means it involves God, or god, or divinity.

As far as how we are different than a journal like Image, I’d say that on the surface, we really aren’t  We’re probably the AAA ball-club for Image, and that’s fine. But I think we are also perhaps more responsive to what Christian or faith-based literature could be or is headed toward. Image has a tradition. Every issue looks the same, and generally, every issue sounds the same. It’s a good sound, don’t get me wrong. I’d love to be publishing Pattianne Rogers, Gregory Orr, and B. H. Fairchild. They get great writers. But I think we are better able to take risks, because we don’t have much of a reputation at stake. And things are going on, especially in the evangelical church, that art will need to respond to, that won’t look or sound like traditional mainline Christian art. And that’s kind of where I want us to live.

With such a religious theme, what type of submissions do you receive and how do you decide what to publish?

Laurie and I agreed at the outset that our final consideration for taking a piece of any kind was “Does it demand to be published.” We get a lot of poems called “Psalm.” Lots of retellings or rehashings of familiar Bible stories. Poems or stories from Judas’ POV, or Lazarus’. Lots of annunciation poems. A lot of what you’d expect for a Christian journal. But the best pieces are those that are comfortable with ambiguity, those that acknowledge that doubt is a facet of faith, that in fact, one is meaningless without the other. That’s the central tension of most of the work we publish, I think, though it takes many forms. In that way, I don’t think we’re that different than any lit journal. Is it beautiful? Does it move me in some way? Beauty, even terrible beauty, is an expression of faith. I guess that seems apologetic of sorts. For me, beauty implies aesthetics, and aesthetics requires a big, pure, perfect Something. We call that God, but you don’t have to, and we like work that inhabits some space in between.

Part of my mission as the editor of a Christian literary journal is to show people what Christian lit can be. It isn’t all easy answers, Scripture, and parables. Lived faith is never easy, and the art that comes from it shouldn’t be either.

I’m an atheist with hope, and you’ve published me. Do you think you’ve published other atheists? Do you recognize a difference in poetry between atheists and those who believe in something other?

God, I hope we’ve published other atheists. I was an atheist when I took over the journal, or at least a hopeful agnostic. We don’t have a Shibboleth or anything. The work speaks for itself, and using your poems (or Jeff Dodd’s “Dear Russel Nakagawa” poems in 8.1) as an example, the work demonstrates a kind of faith, regardless of the writer’s beliefs. My favorite pieces we’ve published aren’t explicitly Christian. But as Jonathan Johnson always said, “You’re subconscious is smarter than you are.”

How do you generate submissions?

I have no idea. People knew us from before we took over, and we still get submissions from them, though we probably publish fewer of those folks now. So there is some previous name recognition. Mainly, I think it’s having a good-looking book and taking it to AWP. Our submissions always spike after AWP. We typically get 250-300 submissions a month. Ad swaps with other journals help, I think. We swap with folks like Sugar House Review and Weave Magazine, and some bigger journals, like Prairie Schooner, Ploughshares, and Willow Springs. That gets our name out there. Probably half of our website hits come off of searches for “Christian literary journal.” So being a kind of niche helps. We get somewhat higher submissions from places where I know we are selling the journal in stores, or have it in libraries. But we get stuff from all over the world, which is awesome. I really wish I understood how people knew about us, or why they submit work. I hope it’s because the journal looks great, and the work is awesome, and people want to be a part of that.

What do you look for in a submission? That is, do you want a cover letter? What do you want in the cover letter? What’s a perfect submission for you, aside from quality poems and stories?

Ah, cover letters. I train my interns not to read them. I always read them. I like parsing the bullshit. I remember one author, when I was poetry editor at Willow Springs, with a full page of publishing credits. I had never heard of 10% of them. So I started looking them up. Maybe they were so local or small that they had no web presence or even Google hits. But most of them were made up. I kind of loved that. So I have a pretty cavalier attitude about cover letters. I’d rather a cover letter told me a good joke then tried to convince me that I should publish something because The Kenyon Review or Tin House published them. At the same time, I’ll probably read something a little closer if they’ve been published in The Kenyon Review or Tin House.

A perfect submission follows the guidelines (upload each poem separately, not as one doc with five pages), has a three-sentence cover letter (“You guys are awesome. Love the design. Hope you like these poems/this piece.”), and blows me away from the first sentence or line of the submission.

Are you pro or con Submittable.com? If you use it, what benefits does it have over email?

I admit to some nostalgia for the days of snail mail submissions, and writing comments on the envelopes, the arguments for various sizes of envelope. But I love Submittable. We got on board when we started up (after having met Michael FitzGerald at AWP), when they were still Submishmash and cheeky. It has built-in organization, which I lack entirely. It catalogs and archives efficiently, it tracks information I’d be too lazy to input, and it makes it easy to get work out to lots of readers, and to comment on that work. I’ve never used Submission Manager, but I don’t see any reason I would switch. And beyond that, it’s still free. That’s amazing, considering the service.

Do you take postal submissions? Why or why not?

No. I lose them, or forget to respond.

The journal has an Editor-in-Chief, which is you, and a poetry editor, prose editor, web editor, managing editor, assistant editor, and assistant prose editors. What do these roles do? How many are students, professors, and contractors?

The poetry editor is faculty. The nonfiction editor is staff, a senior editor in University Communications. (She has an MFA, and serves as the craft essay editor for Brevity, a terrific online creative nonfiction journal, probably the best there is.) Our prose editor is currently an alum, and three-year assistant, a terrific writer and editor. The managing editor is the English department program assistant (Annie Stillar, the daughter of my middle school shop teacher, and she is amazing. The journal wouldn’t happen without her), and she manages the budget, invoices, mailings, booking travel, and all of the many detail things that would kill me. The assistant editors are students who have been around a while, or who have taken my editing and design class. They manage their genre’s submissions, recommend stuff for editorial meetings or for rejection. I do that, too, to help clear out backlogs, but they handle a lot of it. The editorial assistants are all students. They read the work the assistant editors cull from Submittable. If it gets approved in the meeting, it goes up to the genre editors for final approval. I’m kind of in each of those steps, nudging. I’ve bypassed the readers on occasion, and passed stuff up that they didn’t like. It’s all a learning process for them. They are really sophisticated readers, but still not always paying enough attention.

How do you raise money?

Badly.

How many subscribers do you have? How many are people, libraries, swaps with other journals?

Around 100 subscribers. Another dozen libraries, and a half-dozen journal swaps.

What is your print run?

Now, it’s 400. We started at 1000, hoping to get picked up by Ingram (which demands 400 copies just for them). That hasn’t happened, alas. 1000 is enough to get onto an offset printer, and the quality is so much better. So that’s my aim, to get the subscriber base high enough to justify the expense. (Though it really is more cost effective on an offset printer, 2.05/copy vs. 3.25+/copy with a digital printer.)

What is the best form(s) of publicity? Do advertisements in other journals work?

The journal itself is our best publicity, followed by the authors. I try to design the book so that when people see it, they must pick it up. And I like it when our authors get excited about it, and start telling their friends about it. A great table at AWP doesn’t hurt.

Ads with other journals do work. I’ve seen it in cover letters. “I saw your ad in Redactions, and was intrigued …”. (I’ve really seen that.)

What’s the most enjoyable part of the journal for you?

I’m happy that I still get to do the design. If I had to choose between being the editor or being the designer, I’d probably pick designer.

Also, putting the journal together, once all the work is accepted. The interns have a big hand in that, and I just love watching them reason through an order. We place a big emphasis on the opening and closing sections, and they do a good job of helping see the entire arc of the issue.

Do you ever get lost in doing layout as you would when writing?

Absolutely.

How many times do you proofread the journal before sending it out?

Probably five times. After that, I have to stop. It could go on forever.

Do you proofread the proofs or do you just thumb through to make sure there are no glaring errors?

The latter. Widows and orphans, typos, and that’s it.

When you get the final product, do you look through it or are you too scared and already involved with this next issue?

The latter, again.

By the time the final copies arrive, are you bored with that issue already?

I wouldn’t say bored, but I’m already thinking about the shape of the next issue. But when it arrives, I’ve never sat down and read it. I know the work. I know it’s good.

What does your journal provide that other journals don’t or what do you do that other journals don’t?

I think one thing we do that not many other journals do is focusing so much on aesthetics. I want the entire experience of the journal to be beautiful, down to how it looks when we mail it out, where the shipping labels go. I can think of a number of journals who publish really great stuff, but just look like crap. Nobody has paid any attention to what the thing looks like, from the paper to the type to the margins. So I think we build a beautiful container.

I think our specifically faith-focused mission is also somewhat rare. There’s less than a dozen journals with our kind of mission. And of those, I think we are putting out some of the best work, and certainly the most aesthetically appealing journal. My goal with the journal is to reach a wider audience, to get into the hands of the “regular” lit journal audience. The work holds up. I want to teach people that Christian art, or art made by Christians and non-Christians doesn’t have to trite or cliché or boring.

The UPC is on the back cover. Typically, journals put that on the front cover. (I think it’s a law or something.) Why did you put it on the back cover? Why do you even have an UPC?

I put it on the back because it’s ugly, and mucks up the front. I’ve worked in bookstores, and it’s just as easy to scan a bar code on the front as it is on the back. We have the UPC to make it easier to sell to bookstores, which are reluctant to sell anything without a bar code of some sort. It helps them track inventory.

Do you have distribution? Who distributes for you? Where does the journal get sold?

We have distribution through Ubiquity, who specializes in selling journals to indie bookstores, which are more likely to carry a selection of literary journals. Ingram has turned us down twice for distribution, and I think that is largely a function of our longevity (they want to make sure we’ll be around for a while) and the decline of the big-box bookstore.

We’ve also started handling some of our own distribution, which is a bit labor and time intensive, but allows us to track copies more effectively. Ubiquity doesn’t provide any reporting on where the copies are going, which sucks. But I’ll get emails or texts from friends saying, “Hey, I saw the new issue at a store in Houston, looks great!” So I know they are out there. We also see occasional spikes in submissions and subscriptions from particular regions or towns, so I suspect that stores have copies thereabouts.

What part of working on the journal do you like least?

Budget stuff. At least once a year, I have to defend, usually in written form, the journal as a printed thing. “Why not just have it online? That’s free.” Administrators, trustees. People concerned with the bottom line, which I understand. My first response (which I have to restrain) is, “We cost under ten thousand dollars a year. How much to baseball uniforms cost? How much do these ridiculous university-emblazoned water bottles cost?” But there’s a significant value to the students who help staff the journal, and it’s hard for some folks to see past the economic argument, which isn’t even true.

Do you pay authors? What do you pay them?

Two copies. Someday, I’d like to pay money, but that will take some doing. If we can get some big donations and establish an endowment . . .

Do you think it is unethical to not pay authors in money or contributor copies?

Yes. All journals should at least be able to afford to pay in copies. The work is valuable; it’s what makes the journal what it is. Copies are at least a nod in that direction.

Thank you so much.

//

For the downloadable Rock & Sling Tip Sheet I made for the presentation, click Rock & Sling Tip Sheet.

29
Nov
11

The Line Breaks in Nathan E. White’s “From Sense Each Inheritance Is Named”

By the time you read this, I will have briefly gone over the line break in my Introduction to Creative Class at SUNY Brockport. For the class, I had the students read Lineation: An Introduction to the Poetic Line, which I wrote for a lecture some time ago. Most of that essay/lecture is about the line and the line break. At the end are two exercises, where I give the reader/student two chunks of non-lineated text and ask them to insert line breaks. That is I give them the text of the poem with the line breaks removed so it reads like a paragraph of prose. And then I ask them to put in line breaks where they think they should occur. And then they compare to the original, or we work on it as a group and compare it to the original.

Rock & SlingI want to do the same thing in the class, as well. But I can’t use the same poems, so I am going to use Nathan E. White’s “From Sense Each Inheritance Is Named.” This poem first appeared in Rock & Sling (Issue Six, Number Two. Summer 2011). It’s a fine journal out of Whitworth University in Spokane, WA, and edited by Thom Caraway.

In class, the line breaks will be made as a group effort. The students will decide where to put the line breaks, and I’ll insert them in a Word doc that is projected onto the wall. After they are done, we will compare their breaks to the poem’s breaks. As a result, I have to explain why the breaks are where they are in the poem. So here are the notes I wrote. I want to share them here because I think there are interesting things going on that I want to share with more than 22 students.

But first the poem.

     From Sense Each Inheritance is Named

     Whispering tsk, tsk the straw swishes:
     the boy watching the dust drift studies
     the absence of shadow in the fields.
     Before him, without a sound, dark shapes
     of men in their lines breaks off from ground.

     At the table, he studies faces
     held above each plate. He wonders why
     they must ask for a blessing. At night
     they talk of harvest, frost, how they need
     to rest, cold crossing the lower fields.

     While they sleep he fixes the distance
     between stars, imagining angels
     whose work here is the movement of air
     through bodies at rest: each one dreaming
     of cold fields, dust waltzing before light.

So that’s the poem. Here’s what I have to briefly say about it to my students. That is, here are my notes.

The first line seems pretty straight forward. It ends on punctuation and with straw swishing. It’s an image/thought all to itself. And it’s end-stopped, which means it ends on punctuation.

Sir Philip Sidney

Sir Philip Sidney

The next line, while a bit awkward in its delivery, also delivers an image/thought for the line, but this new clause unit, runs on to the next line. This is called enjambment. When a sentence or clause is completed on the following line or lines, then the line is enjambed. It’s also known as a run-on line. This device was widely used by the Elizabethans, such as Shakespeare, Marlowe, Sir Phillip Sidney, Sir Walter Raleigh, and Thomas Campion, and it was also used by Milton. Then the use kinda vanished for a while until the Romantics in the 1800s, who resurrected it. They saw enjambment as a symbol of liberation from neo-classic rules. And it’s been all the rage for the last hundred or so years.

So what happens on an enjambed line is magic. There is an amount of time it takes the reader’s eye to go from the end of the line to the beginning of the next line. A lot can happen in this small time. This is where the reader’s imagination really interacts with the poem. This is where magic happens. In this case, on this line, it’s some minor magic, as we are left with a boy studying, but we wonder what he is studying. As we read this poem for the first time, which is kinda how a poem should always be read. The first reading is the experience, and each re-reading is to relive that same experience with new knowledge and meaning. This is why it’s so important to create an experience that is understandable on the first reading. We don’t want to confuse the reader or mislead the reader or trick the reader. All of those things kick the reader out of the poem. They make the poem an exclusive territory when it should be an all-inclusive territory. Just like when you talk to your friends, you try to speak clearly so they can be included in your experiences. Unless of course, you don’t want them as your friend, then you talk in an exclusive manner.

Dust DriftsBut here we are on the line turn. A boy is studying a dust drift or his work in front of him. We have the image of studying. But when we get to the next line we see what he is studying. He is studying “the absence of shadows in the fields.” Wow, that’s a pretty terrific image. He’s not only studying the absence of something, but the absence of shadows. It must be night. But what happens is that this poem creates two instances – the boy is studying a dust drift or something and the absence of shadows. Okay, so why not say

he studies a dust drift and the absence of shadows.

Isn’t that the same experience? Yes and no. It says the same thing, kinda, but the experience is much different. In the one line he is only studying a dust drift or something else that we imagine. Perhaps he is studying books. But this moment of studying is one experience. Then we get another experience on the next line, he’s “studying the absence of shadows in the field.” The statement I wrote, “he studies a dust drift and the absence of shadows” means he is studying both things at once. This poem creates two different instances for the reader. And this line is also end stopped.

Let’s look at another spot to make this more clear. Let’s look at the second stanza, which is filled with enjambed lines. Note how each line could be like its own story:

At the table, he studies faces

There’s an image that stands on its own, and it also recalls the “studies” from stanza one. Because he was studying the absence of shadows before, I get the feeling that he must be studying really intently. I mean, who studies the absence of anything, let alone shadows, without studying intently. That feeling now carries down here with the second use of “studies.” So he’s really studying faces.

held above each plate. He wonders why

Daily Bread Man Praying At Dinner TableHere the image is completed. People are praying and he’s studying them praying. Praying is an intense activity, too. So now we have two intensities. This line, too, kinda stands on its own as a mini-story – “held above each plate. He wonders why.” Eh, kinda. Anyway. Now he adds another intensity because “He wonders why.” At the end of this line, however, he doesn’t leave the reader with an image to hang on to. Similar to the second line in the first stanza, this second line has the reader start imagining on the line break. Here the reader is trying to figure out what he is wondering? Is he wondering about the faces the he is studying? Yes and no. And this is the beauty of the line break. He can create two instances, each one an experience that you can experience. It’s an accretion of experiences like the “studies.” The accretion here is that he is wondering about the faces in the intensity of prayer and he is wondering about why they ask for a blessing. You get to move with the author. He’s not saying “I’m wondering how they pray and why.” No. He’s delivering each experience to us as he experiences it. You, the reader, get to move with him.

This line also kinda reads like a mini-story – “they must ask for a blessing. At night.” So you have that effect. It’s like a weird, double enjambment in experience and meaning. For one sense is “He wonders why they must ask for a blessing” and the other sense/experience is “they must ask for a blessing at night.” It’s like one experience blends into another, as often happens in life. The fluidity of moving and living is occurring in this line. Also, it’s interesting how there is a slant rhyme occurring in stanza two’s second and third lines with the long I. “Why” and “night” are both magical and mysterious, so they are yoked together through a subtle harmony of the long I. We’ll hear this long I at the end of the poem, too. How do those long Is connect?

Anyway, to stanza two’s third line. So we’ve got that fluid experience going and another enjambed line. Here the reader is doing one of two things, they are either in the fluid experience asking for a blessing at night, or they have started a new thought with the new sentence, and most likely the latter. Here the reader holds on to their image of “night” on the line turn. You have to give the reader something to hold on to here. You have to give them hope. They are taking a big leap of faith to get from this line to the next. So they need something to hold to comfort them and transition them to the next line. Here they have the “night” to hold on to. We also expect some action to occur to on the following line. So maybe our minds are trying to figure out what happens “at night.” All sorts of things happen, and all those things that we can imagine happening are crucial and become part of the poem and the experience. What’s the first thing you think of when you read “at night.” Is it something scary or comforting? Either way, it will deliver you into the next line.

Harvest FrostOn the next line we learn what happens at night. They talk of the crucial things. That’s what happens at night. So if you imagined scary, you are still in that zone, because “harvest, frost” and “needs” are kinda scary when your life depends on these things. And if you were in the comfort zone of night, then you are abruptly taken out of that and get to experience something of dire importance. You get to feel the shift in mood.

Again, this line is enjambed. Like the second lines in the preceding stanzas, this line ends on an abstraction. The reader gets to imagine something on the line turn. At this point, the reader is probably thinking about the need of food because we were just at the dinner table and talking of harvest and frost, which we know can destroy a harvest and, thus, food. This is a real concern. So on this line turn, the reader is probably still thinking about the need for food and all the anxieties that come with the need for food, especially those who grow it themselves.

But on the line turn we get a surprise. We get “to rest.” That must feel good to read, especially after the studying and the intensities and anxieties we just felt. But then we get the comma and the rest of the sentence – “cold crossing the fields.” How do we read that? Is it like “to rest, as the cold crosses the lower fields.” Is it like a subjunctive?

Isn’t it interesting how he uses “crossing” with “a blessing” so close to each other?

Again, this line and the previous line rhyme. They rhyme with “need” and “fields.” They need the fields alright, and that connection is yoked together by the subtle long E sound. These are good ways to rhyme. When they connect things and they don’t get in the way of the poem.

Then we get this big line break or stanza break. Here we are left with the image of cold wind blowing across the fields and we still carry some of those worries, maybe.

Then we get to the next stanza, and everyone except the narrator is asleep. And we get the line “While they sleep he fixes the distance.” Again. Another mini-story. A line can often be a mini-story. But what the heck is he talking about? “He fixes the distance.” (Part of me is thinking this is weird like “I’m fixing a hole where the rain gets in / and stops my mind from wandering / where it will go.” Which has its own unique conversation with the poem. But back to the poem.) I’m not sure what this line means on its own, but I’m compelled forward on the enjambed line. That’s another thing an enjambed line can do, it can propel you forward. It’s a place to gain momentum. It’s like centripetal force. You get whipped around. So we get whipped to the next line to answer the question in our heads, and it’s to fix “the distance / between stars.” Oh my god. What an image. And what does it even mean? What is wrong with the distance between stars? Nonetheless, he is going to fix them. He’s going to draw them close, I imagine. Perhaps to make warmth to save the crops.

So here we are on a new line, again, a mini-story. “between stars, imagining angels.” There’s nice balance on that line. The comma acts as a pivot. There are two words on each side. Two actions on each side. And the poem moves forward defining and redefining before it comes full circle with “dust” and the long I sound.

So what am I trying to say about the line break? Let me quote what I wrote in response to one of your fellow student’s poem:

On the line break, there is a brief but long pause as the reader’s eye moves from the end of the line to the beginning of the next. In that moment, all this magic happens. The reader is left on their own based on the image you give them there. They carry that image with them on the line turn and briefly ponder it and imagine it and feel it, and then the movement picks up again. It almost like being on the swings . . . . The line is like the moment the person is pushing you. The whole time that person’s hands are on your back, from the moment their hands receive you, cushion you, and push you off again, that’s like the line in poetry. The line break is all the free momentum that occurs the instant the fingertips and back depart from each other and you fly through the air. The line break is a propellant. It’s magical and freeing and thrilling.

The Swing as Line Break

The Swing as Line Break

//

04
Mar
11

in pursuit of the juiciest wine: day eighty-seven (Silver Palm Cabernet Sauvignon 2007)

Thom Caraway, poet and poetry publisher, has announced that today is Beastie Boy’s Day. It was a good decision. And so tonight I will celebrate this occasion with a drink. However, I won’t be  drinking Night Train or drinkin’ OE with Johnny Ryall since I can’t make it to Brooklyn. I’m in Upstate where you ” get your head together” and “Thunderbird is the word and you’re light as a feather.”

Except today the word is Silver Palm Cabernet Sauvignon 2007. It will make me “charming and dashing,” I hope, as I get as drunk as “the drunk called Otis with his five o’ clock shadow.”

Man, there are so many good songs on Paul’s Boutique. It’s one of the all-time great albums. Everyone should own it.

To the wine, yo.

When I’m embarrassed, my “face turns red as your glass of wine”, and this glass of wine is the same but a darker shade.

It smells of the ocean to me. Ocean and wind. But not the funky, dead-fish wind. The cool breeze smell. A juicy breeze. A wind with mist so I can see “the wind in my eyes.”

This cab’s got strawberries and blackberries and something green. It’s got earth and a coffee bean.

Oh, what an interesting taste. It’s like melon and something grape. It’s silky, it’s smooth, it has bit of cassis.  It has linger on the finish of a jellybean. It tastes like Easter without the ham. It’s like a chocolate egg with just a hint of cream.

Cadbury Eggs

But don’t be deceived. It’s ain’t that sweet. It’s as dry as the street after a windstorm and a day of heat.

I’m actually liking this wine. It’s a little thin for a cab, but I’m liking it. It’s making me happy. I’m happy because I got wine, my girlfriend, and the Beastie Boys. “I mean wine and women and song and such.”

By now, “I’m just chillin’ like Bob Dylan.”

I'm just chillin' like Bob Dylan

It’s a good wine. I give it a thumb’s up. And for $14 I’ll give it two. Get a block of sharp cheddar cheese, and you’ll agree.

I’m done. I’m out.  “I’m a writer a poet a genius I know it.” “My mind is kinda rhymin’ and I think I oughta think. I’m rockin all the rhymes and I’ll have another drink.”

//




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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