1) Try the Seven Poems in Seven Days poetry challenge, with the constraint that each poem must be written in a half hour, as follows: 5 minutes free-writing, 5 minutes focused free-writing (on a topic you’ve been mulling), 5 minutes rereading the free-writes and identifying lines you’d like to use, 15 minutes assembling your poem, using, editing and reshaping those lines. Don’t forget to title it!
An ALTERNATIVE to the Seven Poems in Seven Days challenge is for two or more of you to try a piece of collaborative writing. See Bernadette Mayer’s Writing Experiments for some suggestions:
“Create a collaborative journal: musical notation and poetry; two writers alternating days; two writing about the same subject each day, etc.”
“Experiment with writing in a group, collaborative work: a group writing individually off of each other’s work over a long period of time in the same room; a group contributing to the same work, sentence by sentence or line by line; one writer being fed information and ideas while the other writes; writing, leaving instructions for another writer to fill in what you can’t describe; compiling a book or work structured by your own language around the writings of others; or a group working and writing off of each other’s dream writing.”
“Get someone to write for you, pretending they are you.”
2) Write an open letter (1-2 pages) to the workshop about poetics, focusing on a poem or poems we have read that, as Emily Dickinson might say, “take the top of your head off.” Or write about how a poem or poems illuminate an aspect of poetry that matters deeply to you. Be bold, provocative, thoughtful, specific, willing to be wrong, focused on details. Quote actual poetry in your letter. You can make it a manifesto, if you want. Dare to write beautifully, or with humor, or clinical precision, or with sloppy enthusiasm. Get yourself in a communicative mood. You also can imagine you are writing to a close friend or lover, if that helps inspire you. What is it that matters most to you in poetry? If you can, try to write the letter before the end of the weekend. Post it to the blog. Thus we can read one another’s letters and take inspiration, umbrage, have a conversation, or even an argument. Feel free to respond to others’ letters in your own.
I’d like you to begin working on a research-based poem, OR, alternatively, to write an ekphrastic poem (a poem based on a work of art, or on an aesthetic work in another medium). Start by opening Ed Sanders’s essay on “Creativity and the Fully-Developed Bard,” reread it for inspiration, and, getting out the material I had asked you to bring for working into poetry, consider his advice for “singing into” the data, organizing it into “data clusters” (literal scissors and glue can be liberating), perhaps tuning the material with some patterns from classic meter, using the space of the page to make “shaped poesy zones.” Here is Ed Sanders introducing and performing his poem for Henri Matisse, with fingersynths.
In “Linguistics and Poetics,” Roman Jakobsen writes: “What is the empirical linguistic criterion of the poetic function? In particular, what is the indispensable feature inherent in any piece of poetry? To answer this question we must recall the two basic modes of arrangement used in verbal behavior, selection and combination. If ‘child’ is the topic of the message, the speaker selects one among the extant, more or less similar nouns like child, kid, youngster, tot, all of them equivalent in a certain respect, and then, to comment on this topic, he may select one of the semantically cognate verbs–sleeps, dozes, nods, naps. Both chosen words combine in the speech chain. The selection is produced on the basis of equivalence, similarity and dissimilarity, synonymy and antonymy, while the combination, the build-up of the sequence, is based on contiguity. The poetic function projects the principle of equivalence from the axis of selection into the axis of combination. Equivalence is promoted to the constitutive device of the sequence.”
In his essay, “Hamlet and His Problems,” T.S. Eliot calls the “objective correlative . . . a set of objects, a situation, a chain of events which shall be the formula of that particular emotion; such that when the external facts, which must terminate in sensory experience, are given, the emotion is immediately evoked.”
Consider “twisting” (troping) in terms of metaphor and image (after Jakobsen’s “the poetic function projects the principle of equivalence from the axis of selection into the axis of combination,” Crane’s “logic of metaphor,” and the opposition between Eliot’s “objective correlative” and Ponge’s call to bring the “semantic thickness of words” to bear on the “infinite resources of the thickness of things”). Does metaphor carry inward or outward (or both directions)? Is poetry metaphoric and prose metonymic? Can there be a poetry without images? Note the opposition between Breton’s surrealism and Ponge’s objectism.
1) Write a poem addressing an intense experience with an individual, or a dream–something that has marked you with a strong feeling. Do not name the feeling: use only “objective correlatives.”
2) Revise a poem you have written for this workshop, replacing abstractions with “objective correlatives.”
3) Write a prose poem about an ordinary object in your room: begin by making a “precise inventory” about the thing (do some research and study the object carefully, making notes), then write the poem as a “progressive nomination of all the qualities that you discover” (after Ponge).
4) Read Lewis Turco’s overview on metaphor (TurcoMetaphorSm) from New Book of Forms. Looking over the poetry you have written for this workshop, consider your use of metaphor. Is it exclusive (limiting meanings) or inclusive (amplifying the poem through overtone and symbology)? Identify some of the following uses:
symbol (concretion that represents an abstraction)
emblem (a conventional symbol)
synesthesia (talking about one of the senses in terms of the other)
diminishing metaphor (a deliberately overintense or overstated tenor in relation to the vehicle)
organic metaphor (rises organically from the context)
gratuitous metaphor (does not logically arise from the context)
dyfalu (Welsh term for a tenor that bursts into a profusion of vehicles)
paradox (an antithetical metaphor or statement that combines terms that seem mutually exclusive)
prosopopoeia (personification, speaking of nonhuman things in human terms)
catachresis (misuse of tropes, e.g. where the context does not block out enough connotations, causing confusion)
mixed metaphor (vehicle inappropriate to the tenor)
You could also try to identify any of these uses of metaphor in some of the assigned readings for last week or this week. Now, try to write a poem that includes all of the above uses of metaphor (including the “misuses”). You may combine this part of the assignment with any of the first three parts.
I set you free in Hollander, to choose some verse and metrical patterns to practice (pp. 4-11, 34-36) and one or more stanza patterns (grouping lines) to practice (11-21, 33-34, 36-41 and beyond). You can do these separately (meter, stanza) or together; perhaps easier to try things separately. Topics are up to you, but feel free to rework anything you’ve done for the workshop so far.
If you want to take on the sestina challenge, don’t spend all week on it! Villanelles are fun too. Some of my favorites are among the stanza forms listed on pp. 16-18: you might try writing a few different single stanzas, just to experiment. See what you come up with–I’d rather you try a range of forms and bring in a bunch of fragments than attempt one majestic failed ode. Though if the ode (or sestina or sonnet sequence) calls–resistance is futile!–then I understand. Note that the sonnet is deceptively “compact”: it’s one of the trickier forms, one you can spend hours and days puzzling your way out of. See Ted Berrigan’s The Sonnets and Bernadette Mayer’s Sonnets (under READING) for examples of collage aesthetic (Berrigan) and myriad experimental approaches (Mayer) that make this “form of brief conclusive thought” new, often forgoing one traditional constraint (rhyme and/or line length) for other kinds of invention.
Check out Laynie Browne’s list of experimental sonnet prompts:
Try some Hendecasyllabics. See the Bernadette Mayer examples under READING and Hollander’s example (on p. 36 of his Rhyme’s Reason):
“One more version of “classical” stressed meter
Called hendecasyllabics (which is Greek for
Having syllables numbering eleven)
Starts right out with a downbeat, always ending
Feminine, with a kind of hesitation
Heard just after the pair of syllables (the
Fourth and fifth ones) which give the line its pattern.”
The hendecasyllabic line starts and ends with trochees and contains at its heart a choriamb (- u u -, or stressed unstressed unstressed stressed).
Next try Sapphics: a Sapphic is two hendecasyllabic verses, and a third verse beginning the same way and continuing with five additional syllables, given as the stanza’s fourth verse and known as the Adonic, with a distinctive heartbeat rhythm. Here is Australian poet John Tranter’s illustration:
“Writing Sapphics well is a tricky business,
Lines begin and end with a pair of trochees;
in between them dozes a dactyl, rhythm
rising and falling,
like a drunk asleep at a party. Ancient
Greek –the language seemed to be made for Sapphics,
not a worry; anyone used to English
finds it a bastard.”
Post 3-4 pages of practice in verse forms. Also bring 6 hard copies of the page you are happiest with.
Focus your poetry writing energies this weekend on writing a poem of place. It could be the place where you are writing the poem, it could be the place where you come from, it could be the place of this workshop. It could be a place in which a significant portion of your life is entangled, so that writing the poem becomes a kind of autobiography—“a complex of occasions,/ themselves a geometry/ of spatial nature” (keep the poem, at every line, focused on the place; the “I” can be present but don’t let it take over). Where (and how) does your writing take place? Do some research: “come back to the geography of it” (Olson). You could do worse than to literally begin with the geology, with the very bedrock of the place. Research the history that is most intimately connected with your place, outside the circle of your immediate (or even family) history. Think about and play with how form might draw the reader in to the place of the writing–beyond just referring to it and making metaphors of it–how writing is literally placed on the page. Niedecker’s loose engagement with the renga (haiku + couplet form, linking and shifting) might be worth trying. Or Olson’s use of the page, as a projective space of “composition by field.” Or try one of CAConrad’s (Somat)tic poetry rituals (I suggest number 29 available via the link below). Think of your poem as an act of “pushing back”—an engagement with your place that just might be effective enough to compel it “to yield, to/ change.” In other words, you are not just describing your place, you’re making a poetic intervention. Make the poem as long as you want, but try to write at least three pages.
Here’s a quotation from my friend Taylor Brady, apropos of Thelonius Monk:
“Monk never really seemed to come up in conversations I can remember with Creeley or in much of what I’ve read of the prose, interviews, etc. Which of course makes sense, given that Monk was without a cabaret license and neither performing nor recording much as the links between bebop and Creeley’s prosody were getting worked out. And yet I hear so much of Creeley’s enjambments and constant minor surprises of tone spelled out in Monk’s behind-the-beat phrasing, say, or practice of closing a cadence with a diminished second or augmented seventh thrown in alongside the tonic, just to keep anything from settling down all too much. So yeah, the suggestion of Epistrophy is probably as good a place to start with that as any. Or any recording of Misterioso. Etc.”
Professor Dan Katz refers to Monk’s “radical syncopation.” Not only rhythms and metrical measures but images and ideas get syncopated in Creeley. His poems can be accessible. True. But they also are charged with less accessible, strange or “off” images and lines, like the “wicker basket” in the poem of that title, or the “sad, sad, un-/ goatlike” head of “The Disappointment.”
Here are some ideas for writing through (thanks to poet Hoa Nguyen for many of these ideas):
1) Perhaps thinking of these “minor suprises of tone,” poet and critic Dale Smith notes that “Rhetorically, Creeley stresses force in language over clarity.” (http://jacketmagazine.com/31/rc-dale-smith.html)
Spend 20-30 minutes writing with the following suggestions in mind:
• Have hovering over the writing piece the sense that force is more primary than clarity
• Include some form of repetition such as anaphora or polyptoton
• Include an exclamation
• Include a self-deprecating moment
• Write a Love poem
2) from William Carlos Williams, Paterson:
“—Say it, no ideas but in things—
nothing but the blank faces of the houses
and cylindrical trees
bent, forked by preconception and accident—
split furrowed, creased, mottled, stained—
secret—into the body of light!”
Note Creeley’s insistent use of repetition: anaphora (repetition of the same word at the beginning of successive clauses or verses), diacope (repetition of a word with one or a few words in between), epizeuxis (emphatic repetition of a word with no other words between), polyptoton (repetition of words from the same root but with different endings).
Note the listing of the poem “In a Boat Shed” (on the first page of your handout): “the boxes of oranges,/ rat poisons, barns, a sled with no runners,/ snow; refreshments, pineapples;/ the odor of burnt wood, cigarettes.”
Note the references to money (“The Invoice,” “Damon & Pythias”).
Spend 20-30 minutes writing with the following suggestions in mind:
• As a guiding principle, keep in mind WCW’s “No idea but in things”
• Include some form of repetition such as diacope or epizeuxis
• Include a list
• Include a reference to or the word “money”
3) Creeley’s poetry tends toward “plain” speech. I think he might call this the “speech of the common place.” It gravitates toward the monosyllabic which perhaps lends itself to what Creeley has called “percussive or contrapuntal agencies.”
Note Creeley’s use of strange similes or metaphors (cf. “hands like a walrus,/ and a face like a barndoor’s,” in “A Wicker Basket”).
Note the use of dream material (“The Dishonest Mailman,” “The Death of Venus”), the repetition of “etc.” (“The Dishonest Mailman”), the alternation between direct address and statement (“The Crisis”), and instances of referring to the poem (“Please”). We might take pleasure, as readers, in encountering these kinds of “breaking through the 4th wall” moments (to use a term from theatre). Such strategies can point to the construction of and the artificiality of the writing of the poems in a way that lets us in on it—the “wink wink” of hey, here I am writing a poem so we all know this in a forthcoming way.
Spend 20-30 minutes writing with the following suggestions in mind:
• Consider writing towards the definition of “the poem supreme” that the “The Dishonest Mailman” gives us, as a courageous address to “emptiness”: “The poem supreme, addressed to / emptiness—this is the courage/ necessary.”
• Repeat a word or words whenever you get stuck
• Before the poem gets too lost in statement, suddenly and directly address the reader
• Refer to the writing of the poem
• Include dream material
• Include a “strange” simile or metaphor
• Keep the language plain, the diction (as much as possible) monosyllabic
4) In his first letter to Creeley (that I gave you a copy of) Olson writes, “a man / god damn well has to come up with his own language, a syntax and song both.” (Creeley was a man of his time: we might now translate this to read, “a [poet] / god damn well has to come up with [her] own language, a syntax and song both.”) Charles Olson later includes a quote from Creeley, in his seminal essay “Projective Verse” (published in 1950): “Form is never more than an extension of content.” (I hope that by the end of this workshop you all will have read “Projective Verse.” It’s available online:
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/learning/essay/237880 ) In “Letter 15,” from Olson’s Maximus Poems (which I also gave you a copy of), the poem breaks from its narrative to include the following meta-commentary, which might read as a development of Creeley’s statement:
“He sd, ‘You go all around the subject.’ And I sd, ‘I didn’t know it was a sub-
ject.’ He sd, ‘You twist’ and I sd, ‘I do.’ He said other things. And I didn’t
In the composition of the poem, Olson seems to be saying, both form and content find their way to the page in non-linear ways, in the twisting.
Note how often Creeley’s poems are shaped by sound. Echoes, rhymes and half rhymes are frequent signatures. Just a few examples:
“Oh No”: “chair/there,” “faces/places”
“The Interview”: “Spokane/spoke,” “low/told”
“The Rain”: “tiredness/fatuousness/indifference/happiness,” “lust/wet/decent”
In the last example (“The Rain”), Creeley manages to use many large abstractions, which can be difficult to get away with in poems, since such abstractions can feel inexact or “floaty” and ungrounded. In this poem, the sound patterns between the words help to organise the sense for a reader and give shape. Note also the sonic subtlety of the slant rhymes “lust, wet, decent”—words all ending in the same consonant.
Spend 20-30 minutes writing with the following suggestions in mind:
• As general guiding principles, the following assertions: “Form is never more than an extension of content”; that poetry doesn’t have a subject but instead “twists”; that your poetry is finding your “own language, a syntax and song both.”
• List 10 verbs at random and then perform two rhyme operations on them. These could be full rhyme; however, I encourage you to try slant rhyme echoes using assonance, alliteration, syllabic similarity (the way the words “window” and “finger” share the syllable “in”). You now have 30 sound shaped words at your disposal. Use as many as you care to include as you go along.
• Include a reference to pets, food, or cigarettes.
• Write a “song” or name your poem “Song” or “Song of . . .”
Do as many of these as you have time and inspiration for, at least three of them. Please type up the results of your experiments and bring them to our next workshop.
Please do a “homolingual” (English to English) translation of Jack Spicer’s Book of. Try to translate the whole sequence, but allowing yourself lots of latitude (one poem might be translated by just a few words, another might become half a page). Or you can also concentrate your resources on translating just a few of the poems, intensively. I recommend working with the words you wrote down as we were “writing through” the poems (listening to them read aloud and writing down words, images and sounds that stuck out for us–taking “dictation” in the Spicerian sense), as well as with the “alluvials” that washed out the ends of the poems for us.* You could even put the originals to one side and just set yourself the challenge of constructing small poems with those words and alluvials you wrote down. You could also pursue one of Jen Hofer’s “English-to-English translation techniques.”
*Here is Jack Kerouac on “alluvials” (a technique Michael McClure passed on to his Naropa students):
“Add alluvials to the end of your line when all is exhausted but something has to be said for some specified irrational reason, since reason can never win out, because poetry is NOT a science. The rhythm of how you ‘rush’ yr statement determines the rhythm of the poem, whether it is a poem in verse-separated lines, or an endless one-line poem called prose . . .”
(“Statement on Poetics” for The New American Poetry)
In the title poem of his sequence, Spicer writes, “Poetry ends like a rope.” Washing “alluvials” out of Spicer’s endings is one way to attend to how his poems, which often end so emphatically, also emphatically lead into one another, in serial fashion. (Spicer spoke of single poems as “one night stands.” In his later work, he strove to write “books” of poetry.) So we begin with endings . . .