Poetry, rumination, teaching, Uncategorized

Teaching/Learning in Progress: Getting Started in Creative Writing

It is my habit to start each semester’s (UG sophomore-level) Creative Writing class with a writing exercise/assignment using objects — some common, some strange — distributed at random among students. There’s a multi-step, in-class generative phase, and then at home, students are to draft a piece somehow connected to/inspired by the object. Here are some photos documenting my own brainstorming and drafting — my object was a “T” token.

Step one — the in-class brainstorming part. I keep veering back and forth between just “talking” students through the steps and giving them a handout, which is good for encouraging students to move at their own pace.

I took my “worksheet” home and pounded out this really long, probably needlessly-wordy poem draft (essay draft?). Then, next class, we did a round of feedback, with multiple folks commenting on drafts. My readers were really helpful, and good at describing to me what they noticed and appreciated. And this is only the second day of class!

I’ve already started very minimally tinkering/editing…I’ll probably revisit this draft when we spend a class focusing on “radical” editing and revision skills. We’ll do exercises meant to really “mess up” our drafts, in order to “see them anew.” Until then, I might keep tinkering here and there:

teaching, Uncategorized

List Poems

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This week in the Poetry Workshop, it’s reading and writing list poems.  As you can see, my students did a stellar job of coming up with a huge variety of types of list — so many more than I had thought up on my own.

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I wonder about the list as a structure and a form. A list is certainly a kind of repetition, in the way that rhyme is a repetition, or refrain. As a form a list may set up a clear/particular premise or expectation. Included under the umbrella of “list poem” for me are the techniques of anaphora and epistrophe. One student introduced us to a third — epanalepsis.

It seems to me that writing and reading list poems (or “litanies”) brings to the fore particular poetic concerns, at least for me. List poems make me think more about order and arrangement — does a list escalate? Fork out into tangents? How might juxtaposition of dissimilar items work as a kind of energy in a list poem?

If the list is numbered, what do the numbers bring to the table? When to number, when not?

Also: how do you find a way to END a list poem?

Also: titles seem especially important for list poems, or for certain types of list poems.

Also: how does the nature of a list (different types of lists) affect thinking about lines and stanzas? Line = item on list? Stanza = item on list?

Also: what happens to syntax (verbs, especially) with a list? Some kinds of lists are very noun-y.

Also, how might “listing” and narrative/linearity interplay?

POEM PACKET of examples we read in class:

Christopher Smartt: from Jubilate Agno
Stephanie Lenox, “Rejoice in the Petty Thievery of Office Supplies”
Joy Harjo, “She Had Some Horses”
danez smith, “alternate names for black boys”
Savannah Sipple, “A List of Times I Thought I Was Gay”
“4 Ways of Throwing Something into the Boston Public Gardens Swan Pond,” “the bullshit,” and “non-hierarchial list of love poem ideas,” all by jamie mortara
“Things I Have Failed At” by Baruch Porras-Hernandez
“Things That Appear Ugly Or Troubling But Upon Closer Inspection Are Beautiful” by Gretchen Legler

In different days, those two lists I just wrote — a list of things I’m thinking about with list poems and a list of list poems — would perhaps be combined and expanded into more of a little essay. Alas, these days are filled with so many other lists, which even now are glowering at me as I take time away from to share even these scantest, barely-conceived thoughts.

I’ll end with a VERY OLD list poem I wrote when I was living in Lincoln, Nebraska. It took me a while to remember I had written such a poem — but — here it is.

The Neighbors

The ones you never see.
The ones you always see.

The drunk one who stumbles
up onto your porch
to triangulate his walkie-talkie.

The nosy ones.

The slovenly ones.

The ones who are beautiful.

The muzzled dog that barks
anyway, each time you park
or open your door or sneeze loudly.

The ones who speak no English.
The ones who speak only English.
The ones who don’t speak.

The ones who listen.

The kid, the one who steals
lawn ornaments you never liked anyhow.

The shady one, or the one
with shady friends.

The quiet one.

The hooligan.

The one whose window is always blue
and flickering with TV light.

The ones whose windows
are never open.

The dead ones.

The ones who play guitar.

The yelling guy.

The dancing girls.

The naked one.

The ones who go to church
in the windowless white building
on the corner.

The one who hates you.

The one on public access.

The ones who have
two testy Siamese cats.

The mean one.
The scary ones.

The sweet one.

The one who dreamt
last night of you
but who will never say.

The one you dreamt about.

Those who smoke summer evenings
on porches facing yours.

Those who ride bikes.
Those who fly flags.
Those who do Halloween,
candy, decorations, all of it.

The ones you wonder about.

The ones who know your name
and the ones who don’t,
who have barbecues.

The ones who wonder about you.

 

**

Poetry, Readings/Events, Uncategorized

Settings: On Collaboration, RE-vision, and the Artistic Process

This month, I had the great luck to attend the premier of award-winning composer Jonathan Santore’s choral setting of a group of my poems, collectively entitled, “Smoking, Drinking, Messing Around.” The piece was featured in a larger performance by the New Hampshire Master Chorale, “From Time To Time.”

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This is the second time my colleague and friend has “set” my poems to music for singing, and I consider such setting a gift. Listening to the poems sung by such talented vocalists to music Jonathan composed is a profound gift to me, personally – I get to hear my poems through the artistic ears and imagination of a brilliant composer, which is like hearing them for the first time, or hearing them anew, separate from the composing/revising voice in my own head. When Jonathan “sets” my work, he makes a whole new thing and offers me a new relationship to the poems – to the words, to the emotional colors, to the tone and tempo.

I used to spend more time doing letterpress work (hand-setting lead type to make poetry broadsides), the “setting” of the poems was also an (unintended, but welcome) opportunity to gain new or different access to old/familiar material, especially at the most fundamental level: the letter, the word, and the line. Setting my own poems using this old technology was so inspiring to me that I wrote a poem ABOUT type-setting my poetry! It’s featured HERE.

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These two kinds of experience—hand-setting poems with lead type and having poems set for a chorus— both have me thinking about how a given work is never really finished in the sense of, say, cement “setting.” Even if the author is done with it, a reader will transform the piece in some way. Even if the reader is done with it, she may return years later with experiences or perspectives that transform, again, her (re)reading. Same for the writer. And when another artist enters the conversation, as Jonathan has done with my work, I find that the new work, the un-finishing, the re-liquefying—the work opens new doorways to the poems I thought I was done with, that I thought were done with me.

My collaborations (here’s an EXAMPLE) over twenty years or so with musicians, composers, dancers, and visual artists, as well as with other writers, have taken many different shapes and directions. They have, across the board, been invigorating, educational, and transformative. I’m feeling resolved today to work actively to seek out opportunities to work with and learn from other artists. Just last week, I met with an area songwriter with whom I hope to collaborate/perform in the coming year. I hope that I have afforded and will continue to afford other collaborators the gift (of insight, of RE-vision) that Jonathan and the Master Chorale (and others!) have provided me.

Uncategorized

Scratching, Eating, Sleeping

What is it that feels so good about having written a poem? How to describe that satisfaction, even when the poem itself is just a draft, still needs some obvious work? I brainstorm metaphors to try to pin it down — scratching an itch, eating a good meal, getting a good night’s sleep. It’s like scratching an itch because, after having written, I’ve attended to something that was nagging at me, something that wanted my attention. I have soothed and quieted the nagging thing. It’s like eating a good meal because there was something empty that got filled, but not just with junk. With something delicious. It’s like getting a good night’s sleep because there’s a clarity at the end of it, a sense of being ready for the (rest of the) day, a pair of clear eyes. A vigor. I’ll bet I could come up with another three metaphors, and another, and another. I’ll bet if I really kept track of it, I’d find that the nature of the satisfaction of completing a poem varied from poem to poem, or maybe across the “lifespan” of my poet-life. The “goodness” of poem-writing is dazzling in its variety. Writing a poem is like pruning the lilac. Like taking out all the trash, every scrap of it, even from the basement. Like making love. Like getting drunk. Like getting sober. Writing a poem feels so good.