"I am trying to check my habits of seeing, to counter them for the sake of greater freshness. I am trying to be unfamiliar with what I'm doing." - John Cage

Friday, November 30, 2012

30 Poems in 30 Days: Day Thirty Prompt

Poetry Pairings is a blog on New York Times that combines a poem with a piece from The Times that in some way echoes, extends or challenges the words and themes of the poem.
Kelle Groom’s poem Swerve is featured on the blog paired with a news article about the first Native American Saint canonized by the Catholic Church.  Read her poem and the article, and consider what is created by the pairing:
What does this pairing say about life today? What do the two pieces have in common? Do you think someone looking at it 25 years from now would “get” the same meaning? What about 100 years from now?
Now, write your own poem in response to an article you find today. You could write in your own voice or a character in the article.

Swerve By Kelle Groom
I think of the man who sat
behind my grandmother’s sister
in church and told her
the percentage of Indian
in her blood, calling it out
over the white pews.
I wonder what made
him want to count it
like coins or a grade.
I wish I could hear him
now when I think of her
saying that all
the Wampanoag blood
in her body would
fit in one finger,
discounting the percentage
it seemed, but why was she
such a historian, tracing
the genealogy of the last
Wampanoag up to her own
children, typing it all on see-through
paper? Maybe like me
she felt a little self-conscious
caring about what
we’re made of
instead of simply being
satisfied dressing
our bodies and driving
them around.
Maybe she felt shy
for loving someone
she’d never met, I mean
I do. I think of the knife
cutting into flesh
and the fork carrying it
to your mouth.
I always think
of that, the scythe-
like movement,
single motion, a swerve.
I think of my relative, the last
Wampanoag in the town,
walking the streets
with a dollar
the town gave him.
Even then what would
a dollar buy, a finger
of land? If an Indian
could have bought land.
I think of walking
into the almshouse. The alms
falling like figs from trees,
something to gnaw on.
I think of the first time
of thanks
before it had a name,
when it was just some
relatives of mine keeping
some relatives of yours
alive through a cold winter,
people stupid enough
to take food from a graveyard,
food meant for the dead.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

30 Poems in 30 Days: Prompts Twenty Six - Twenty Nine

Writing Games
ChanceOperations are methods of generating poetry independent of the author’s will. A chance operation can be almost anything from throwing darts and rolling dice, to the ancient Chinese divination method, I-Ching, and even sophisticated computer programs. Most poems created by chance operations use some original text as their source, be it the newspaper, an encyclopedia, or a famous work of literature. The purpose of such a practice is to play against the poet's intentions and ego, while creating unusual syntax and images. The resulting poems allow the reader to take part in producing meaning from the work.  

Juxtaposition in composition is the placing of verbal elements side by side, leaving it up to the reader to establish connections and impose a meaning. These verbal elements (words, clauses, sentences) may be drawn from different sources and juxtaposed to form a literary collage

1. Choose a source for your text – newspaper, cookbook, text messages, novel, travel guide, textbook. Find one phrase or sentence from your source as your prompt and begin writing.  
2. General Cut up – Choose your source (one source could create a theme for your writing), or many sources (instructions, dictionaries, books, magazines, cookbooks, etc).  Lift phrases/sentences/words from the sources and write something using just the phrases you have lifted or add your own words as well. If adding your own text, think about weaving the lifted phrases throughout what you are writing, or simply using them as an epigraph at the beginning.  
3. Cento –Take one line each from several poems until you have 30-40 lines.  The original Cento had 100 lines, each one taken from a different poet.  Maintain the punctuation and exact wording of the line of the poem.  Now play with the order of lines to create your own poem, a kind of patchwork or quilt.  I always find it fascinating how the created Cento will reflect themes and a certain voice of the writer even if each line is not their own.

4. Serial sentence (alternate Cento): Once you have the lines arranged as you like them, make changes and add lines/words/punctuation of your own.  You can also make a Cento with sentences from prose. Combine into prose or poem, reordering to make it interesting.  Again, you can create a theme by how you choose your source materials.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

30 Poems in 30 Days: Day Twenty Five Prompt

Prompt: Write in first person, speaking familiarly to a best friend, about a choice that you made - what action or consequence did it cause?  In your first few lines, describe the place, before getting into the details of what you did.  Use this poem as a model:

Fredonia, NY 
by Aimee Nezhukumatathil

Of course I regret it. I mean there I was under umbrellas of fruit so red they had to be borne of Summer, and no other season.Flip-flops and fishhooks. Ice cubes made of lemonade and sprigs of mint to slip in blue glasses of tea. I was dusty, my ponytail all askew and the tips of my fingers ran, of course, red from the fruitwounds of cherries I plunked into my bucket and still — he must have seen some small bit of loveliness in walking his orchard with me. He pointed out which trees were sweetest, which ones bore double seeds — puffing out the flesh and oh the surprise on your tongue with two tiny stones (a twin spit), making a small gun of your mouth. Did I mention my favorite color is red? His jeans were worn and twisty around the tops of his boot; his hands thick but careful,nimble enough to pull fruit from his trees without tearing the thin skin; the cherry dust and fingerprints on his eyeglasses. I just know when he stuffed his hands in his pockets, said Okay. Couldn't hurt to try? and shuffled back to his roadside stand to arrange his jelly jars and stacks of buckets, I had made a terrible mistake. I just know my summer would've been full of pies, tartlets, turnovers — so much jubilee.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

30 Poems in 30 Days: Day Twenty Four Prompt

Poetry of Engagement
I'll be reading, along with several other local authors and the editors, from a new anthology The New American Poetry of Engagement this Thursday night, 6:30 pm, at Sundance Books in Reno. This anthology gathers a unique blend of voices that struggle with how to speak and what to say.  As I read, I think, yes, I wanted to say that.  Someone needs to say that.  Here is the refreshing language, finally, while mainstream, especially during the election years, framed everything with "camouflage language" as Ray March of Modoc Forum and Surprise Valley Writer's Conference calls it. Most of the poets who have contributed to the collection have also written statements towards their process, an added bonus for writers!  Read this book.

The Prompt: Let's use this excerpt from the poem Background Check by Forrest Gander as a model for our own found poetry. After reading the excerpt and the interview, find your own fragment of text or current issue and play with ways of reshaping it.  How can your form, maybe through fragment, maybe through repetition and juxtaposition, support your content?
The UN diplomat draws it is not it is not war
behind the ambassador to speak draws
a curtain it is not Guernica to speak united
the curtain across the diplomat a reproduction
United States with curtain across the not war
appropriate scene right behind him it is not the
ambassador of Guernica to speak with right states
of reproduction the diplomat draws a curtain
across the scene it is not appropriate for the
ambassador of the United State to speak of war
with a reproduction of Guernica
right behind behind right behind him

In an interview, Forrest Gander discusses his process: 
Mario Hibert: In one of your poems, you write, “Guernica not appropriate the ambassador of the US to speak of war…” and it probably alludes to the tapestry copy of Picasso’s Guernica displayed on the wall of the United Nations building in New York City, at the entrance to the Security Council room.  That poem “Background Check” seemed to me like your favorite during readings at the Sarajevo Poetry Days. How do you comment on it?
Forrest Gander: In the poem, I try to encourage language to take on that cubist, interrelated violence of Picasso’s painting.  The fact that the Bush administration considered it inappropriate for the U.S. ambassador to drum up support for war with an image of women and children and animals suffering behind him—well, the irony is hideous enough. 

Friday, November 23, 2012

30 Poems in 30 Days: Day Twenty Three Prompt

Wander and return – This writing may end up being about relationship and connections that have never been made previously.  Your goal is to use these items to help you move away from the “triggering subject” by associating and connecting a number of diverse elements.  This originally came from the poet Richard Jackson and was given to me by poet and teacher Pam Uschuk in workshop at the Prague Summer Program a few years ago.  Don’t let the assignment limit the place you discover.

Begin with writing about a personal situation.  Not necessarily in this order, include all ten items in your free write.  No two items can be related in ways they usually might be:

1.     Choose a natural setting – name it
2.     Write about a remembrance of a time in childhood when weather frightened you or caused you to notice your mortality
3.     Include a discomfort or a pleasure of your body
4.     Include an insect you’ve encountered in your life
5.     Include real news that has moved or disturbed you in the past two months
6.     Write about your body in relation to what you hear in the moment in that place you are in – a noise
7.     Include a street sound
8.     Include one historical fact or mythological detail
9.     Include one memory of your mother or your father in nature
10.  Include one broad philosophical image or comment, for example, something about the nature of god, or gravity, or evolution, or psychology, etc.