How I “Found Poetry” This NaPoMo

Yeah, yeah, yeah. April is National Poetry Month. Who cares?

Ooh! Ooh! We do! There are so many National Poetry Month challenges, it’s not even funny. But this year, I participated in The Found Poetry Review‘s challenge titled PoMoSco, and it was, as a colleague of mine so eloquently puts it, amaze-balls.

What worked? The people. “202 participating poets published 3,861 poems.” Yes, indeed. And…the prompts. All “found poetry” prompts. Think found poetry is just taking a source and picking out some words? Think again. Think “White Out” where you, you guessed it, take white out to a source to create something new. Think “Picture It” where you take a source and make art all over that shit to create…wait for it…even more art…but poetry. Think “Order’s Up” where you take a menu and poem the crap out of it. Yes indeed.

This was such a blast. I won’t even mention the super-fantastic #AWP15 off-site reading at House of Balls (bowling balls, carved). Oops!

Look. You want to write something good? Something new? Something amaze-balls? Yeah? Then you’ve got to write. Sit down and write. That’s it.

Check out some of the thousands of poems that the scouts created this April here. Try some found poetry…if you dare. And share that experience. Share your inspiration, share your writing, share the love. And, while you’re at it, check out my personal favorite from this past month, Gary Glauber’s “Yes It Is.” Here’s an excerpt:

“All the love despite
silent rages and vague stares
came pouring through
with starts and stops,
desperate efforts.

I want to go to bed, be in my head, just wear red.
Red is the color that my baby wore
and once more, it’s true. Yes it is,
it’s true.

A lullaby: woods and river
calling child to go to sleep.
She sang it every night.” 

Source Text: Bloom, Amy. “Silver Water.” Come to Me. New York: HarperCollins Books, 1993. Print.

I love the way the poem flows around the italicized stanza. This poem is one result of the “Pick and Mix” prompt where participants chose stand-out words and phrases from a text and then put them together in any order. 146 people wrote poems based on this found poetry prompt. Fantastic!

 

And now for some shameless self-promotion. My favorite of the poems I completed (not as many as I would have liked, but what’re ya gonna do?) is a “Picture It” sourced from Marlin Barton’s short story “Short Days, Dog Days” from his new collection Pasture Art. It’s titled “Sleep is a Lock-blade Knife.” Enjoy!

What did I find this past NaPoMo? I found Found Poetry. I hope you’ll try some, too. It works.

An Imposition of Joy: poetry, art, and inspiration–by Gabrielle

One of our own bloggers–Gabrielle Brant Freeman–has started a kickstarter project titled: An Imposition of Joy: Poetry, art and inspiration.
From her kickstarter site:
Challenge met! Almost. Help me turn my 100 poem social media poetry experiment into a book complete with art, prompts, & writing tips.

Five Reasons Poetry Is Just Like CrossFit

  1. It makes you feel powerful.
    “and he said: you pretty full of yourself ain’t chu //
    so she replied: show me someone not full of herself
    and i’ll show you a hungry person” (Giovanni 19-21).
    Knowing you’ve captured an image or a moment in words is just like a PR — you know you’ve just done something special, difficult, and new, and you want to tell everybody about that surge of power that just ran through you. Hence all the social media posts about achieving writing mileposts and CrossFit goals. Just so you know, not only did I finish a poem I’ve been working on for a few weeks today, but I also actually jumped on all my box jumps. No step-ups. 
  2. You hope other people will notice, but you’re doing it for yourself first.
    “To gain your own voice, forget about having it heard. Become a saint of your own province and your own consciousness” (Ginsberg).
    So it’s been six months since your last acceptance. So what? You will either sit down and write more and write better, or you won’t. You’ll either grab that jumprope and try to master double-unders or you won’t. I’m betting you will. 
  3. It’s a challenge, and you’re up for it.
    “I once told somebody that writing a sestina was rather like riding downhill on a bicycle and having the pedals push your feet. I wanted my feet to be pushed into places they wouldn’t normally have taken” (Ashbery qtd. in Guthrie).
    Sestinas are a challenge. Six end words. Six stanzas. An envoi. A complicated rotating pattern. Sounds like the “Bear Complex” WOD to me.
  4. You don’t have to be good at it to be a part of the club.
    “Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
    the world offers itself to your imagination,
    calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
    over and over announcing your place
    in the family of things” (Oliver 14-18).
    Go to an open mic or a poetry reading or a poetry workshop. You’ll see. It’s just like being in a CrossFit box. Whether you’re Rx or scaled, let’s get it!
  5. It lays you bare. (You look better naked.)
    “We live so often in a damped-down condition, obscured from ourselves and others. The sequesters are social—convention, politeness—and personal: timidity, self-fear or self-blindness, fatigue. To step into a poem is to agree to risk. Writing takes down all protections, to see what steps forward” (Hirshfield).
    Ok, ok. Poetry might not make you look better naked (although a well-chosen, well-timed recitation probably wouldn’t hurt), but it does strip you down. Writing and reading poetry gets at the core, at the human center. CrossFit will eventually help you look and feel better, and, let me tell you, after a WOD involving wall-balls, calorie rows, sit-ups, and burpees, you’ll feel closer to every single athlete in that box. There are no societal masks when you’re writing your heart out or when you’re on your back on the chalk-spattered floor gasping for air.

Giovanni, Nikki. “Poem For A Lady Whose Voice I Like.” Poetry Foundation. 2015. Web. 12 March 2015.

Guthrie, Camille. “Why Write Sestinas?” Poetry Foundation. 16 April 2013. Web. 12 March 2015.

Hirshfield, Jane. “Why Write Poetry?” Psychology Today. 6 Jan. 2014. Web. 12 March 2015.

Oliver, Mary. “Wild Geese.” Poemhunter.com 2015. Web. 12 March 2015.

 

Forget the card. Give a poem.

by Gabrielle Freeman

It’s that time of year again. Three full aisles of inflated red mylar, plastic wrapped heart-shaped boxes, and stuffies everywhere from teeny-tiny to I-could-use-it-for-a-bed. An entire section of folded cardstock replete with card-sized words about love. Pffffttt I say.

All of the writing I’ve sampled in the following poem works. All. Of. It. Ditch the card. Send your lover a poem.

Valentine’s Anaphora

I want to say something about love.
I want to say something about
standing at the edge of the sea, about
sleeping next to “her sepulchre there by the sea” (Poe).

I want to say I’ve felt the sand against my cheek.
I’ve felt the spray, wet and cold, against my cheek.

I want to say “In the madness and soil
of that sad earthly scene / only then I am human
/ only then I am clean” (Hozier-Byrne).

I want to say I’ve felt the dirt clenched
in my palms. I’ve felt the earth grit and stick
against my splayed palms.

I want to say “You know what / you know with your hands,
wish the night blacker since / blackest
is forever” and “You cannot now comfort me.
/ So disown me. The soil is free.
Within it lives all that matters.
/ One day, I’ll see you down there” (Marvin).

I want to say the sand and the soil, the dirt and the earth, scream
want and desire and, oh god, love.

I want to say “grab my fingers gently,
/ slam them in a doorway, put my face
into the ground” (White).

I want to say something sweet and subtle about love
like that.

Hozier-Byrne, Andrew. “Take Me To Church.” Hozier. Rubyworks, 2014. CD.
Marvin, Cate. “Plastic Cookie.” poets.org. 2015. Web. 12 Feb. 2015.
Poe, Edgar Allan. “Annabel Lee.” Poetry Foundation. 2015. Web. 12 Feb. 2015.
White, Jack. “Love Interruption.” Blunderbuss. Third Man Records, 2012. CD.

When is a Polka Like a Ship Deck? On Suzanne Cleary’s Poem “Polka”

by Gabrielle Freeman

I’ll admit it. I’m biased. I love Suzanne Cleary’s poetry. I first heard her read in my second semester in the Converse College Low-residency MFA back in June of 2011. Although it probably didn’t happen exactly this way, in my mind, Suzanne walked up to the miked podium at the front of the crowd in the high ceilinged, many windowed Zimmerli Common Room, smiled, and said, “Sausage Candle.” I just about fell out of my very uncomfortable folding chair. It was the first time I realized that poetry could be damn funny and damn good at the same time. So it was with great anticipation that I went a few weeks ago to hear Suzanne read from her new book Beauty Mark, the winner of the John Ciardi Prize for Poetry published by BkMk Press.

While there is plenty of Suzanne’s distinctive, subtle brand of humor in this collection, it was the poem “Polka” that caught my ear that rainy January night. “Dancing the polka is like walking / on a ship’s deck / during a storm, water flying into the air, / sliding in sheets across the gray / wood” (43). Now, you don’t have to be a polka aficionado to get this. If you’ve heard even one polka played or seen one performed, you understand the image: “Each time the ship / tilts, you take two hop-like / steps in one direction” (43). The poem is accessible, a quality which I admire and for which Suzanne makes no apologies. But this poem also takes risks, something Suzanne encourages in her craft lectures and her critiques of her students’ work, and something that she practices in each and every poem.

The humorous image of people dancing as though trying to regain their balance on the deck of a listing ship becomes something more when “There is someone in your arms, and this is what / makes it a polka, although she or he / does not look into your eyes, and you / do not look either, at your partner,” (43). And more when “to dance the polka is definitely / to think of death, your partner’s shoulder / surprisingly small in your hand” (43). Then there really are two people, not simply dancing, but barely hanging on to some small human contact; two people with a tenuous hold on life but still moving, still keeping in step.

The risk is taken here in “hop-skips.” Once the reader accepts the idea of the polka as keeping balance on a deck at sea, the poem skips to the idea of one’s fleeting connection with other human beings, and the reader must balance. The next skip is to a part of US immigrant history, to learning the polka “from grandparents, whose grandparents / learned it from their grandparents, who left / Petrovavest for Bratislava, Bratislava / for Prague, for ships that took six days / and five nights to cross the ocean. / They never spoke of the crossing, / not even to each other” (43). The reader must again catch her balance.

There is another risk, another hop-skip and rebalance when Suzanne describes the polka this way: “You might as well call the dance / Walking the Ship Deck During a Storm / that Partly –Holy Mother, Forgive Me –/ I Did Not Want to Survive” and then “this dance / that could more succinctly be known as / Long Marriage” (44). This poem that starts off so simply, this poem that hop-skips across the page with its lines alternating between left-justified and tabbed over, maintains its own balance though the “deck” leans more and more until the final line which stops the poem, the reader, and the dance.

“God. You’re beautiful when your hair is wet” (44).

Cleary, Suzanne. Beauty Mark. Kansas-City, MO: BkMk Press, 2013.

A Manuscript Critique Sale to Benefit Caregivers – And A Little Personal History, Too

I stumbled across this post this morning and wish I had found it sooner, but here it is. The sale date is tomorrow. Read on:

 

By Robin Black   Any interest in having your prose or poetry manuscript reviewed by the likes of Philip Levine, Elizabeth McCracken, Ron Carlson, Tony Hoagland, or perhaps some other equally amazing author?? There’s an app for that. . .or anyway, there’s a website. And you’ll be …

via A Manuscript Critique Sale to Benefit Caregivers – And A Little Personal History, Too.

“A Disorienting Place”: On Robert Browning’s “Porphyria’s Lover”

During my internet ramblings this morning, I came across three things that have stuck together like the lint, hair, and tobacco shake that inevitably find that random piece of restaurant candy deep in the bowels of one’s purse: an article in The Atlantic titled “The Joy of the Memorized Poem” wherein Billy Collins discusses how Yeats’ “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” got him through an MRI, Robert Browning’s “Porphyria’s Lover,” and an article in Vice by James Franco on Richard Ramirez aka the Night Stalker.

Ok. Go with me on this.

I’m cruising Facebook, click on the Collins article, read it. Collins says that he discovered the Yeats’ poem in college and, after many years of reading and teaching the poem, he made himself memorize it. Of memorization of a poem, Collins writes: “This process—going from deep familiarity to complete mastery—is a challenge and a great pleasure. In repeating different lines, your reading becomes more focused than you’ve ever had before. You become more sensitive to every consonant and vowel.” And I remembered reading “Porphyria’s Lover” in college.

This was the first poem that really stuck with me, and I read it over and over, memorizing the first person dramatic monologue from the point of view of a jealous lover who kills his lady-love by strangling her with her own hair so that she would remain “mine, mine, fair / Perfectly pure and good” (Browning lines 36, 37). Naturally, I then Googled “poems about serial killers.” Which brings me to James Franco.

On September 25, 2014, Vice published Franco’s piece on serial killer Richard Ramirez complete with five blood-and-gore pictures of Franco(?) as Ramirez and four poems by Franco about Ramirez. Without discussing whether or not Franco’s poems work (see this great article in Paper by Gabby Bess for that), I want to say that the whole piece disturbed me, and not just because I was a thirteen-year-old female resident of the Los Angeles area when the fear of the Night Stalker took hold.

In the article, Franco says that he doesn’t want to humanize Ramirez; he wants to understand Ramirez from an actor’s perspective. What would it take to get into that character? (In 2011, Franco was supposedly slated to play the part of Richard Ramirez in a film that, apparently, was never made.) Franco goes so far as to write that he “can relate a little to Ramirez’s feelings” because he, too has felt the “need for power — especially sexual power.”

I recoiled at this. I wanted to dismiss the idea that taking bloodied pictures, that writing poetry was a way to get into a character’s head, and that getting into a character’s head does not humanize him or serve to “celebrate a killer” (Franco). But then there was “Porphyria’s Lover” sitting there in the back of my mind, all dead woman posed so that she would remain “perfect” for the speaker forever. Browning put himself into the speaker’s character, someone who saw nothing wrong with murder, someone who, in fact, believed he was answering his love’s “one wish” (line 57).

About his own writing, Collins says, “I want the poem to be an imaginative thrill. To take the reader to an odd place, or a challenging place, or a disorienting place, but to do that with fairly simple language. I don’t want the language itself to be the trip. I want the imaginative spaces that we’re moving through to be the trip.” The imaginative space in Browning’s poem is a disorienting place, and it is a challenging place. The reader is placed squarely into the mind of a killer in plain language. The reader feels Porphyria’s hair pull tight in the speaker’s hands. The reader sits on a bed, the dead Porphyria’s head on his or her shoulder. It is disturbing at the same time that it feels genuine, and that is what makes this poem work.

I’m not quite sure why “Porphyria’s Lover” was the poem that first stuck. Perhaps Gabby Bess comes close to explaining it in her article on James Franco’s Vice piece, “Now more than ever, there seems to finally be a sense of what can happen when men feel entitled (and that entitlement is culturally reinforced) to something that was never theirs.” Perhaps my college self needed to be disoriented, to be challenged to understand that no one owned me but me.

Bess, Gabby. “Some Observations on James Franco’s Serial Killer Poems.” Paper. Web.        14 Nov. 2014.
Browning, Robert. “Porphyria’s Lover.” Poetry Foundation. 2014. Web. 14 Nov. 2014.
Collins, Billy. “The Joy of the Memorized Poem.” The Atlantic. 22 Oct. 2014. Web. 14 Nov.      2014.
Franco, James. “Four Poems Inspired by Serial Killer Richard Ramirez.” Vice. 25 Sept.            2014. Web. 14 Nov. 2014.

Out from the Swamp: Al Maginnes’ “The World of Whiskey”

by Gabrielle Freeman

Last week while on a five-mile walk on our town’s Greenway, a path that alternates between asphalt and wooden bridge, a path of light filtered through oak and walnut leaves, a path bordered in morning glories and Carolina jasmine, a friend and I tried to figure out just where we had acquired our obsession with dark fantasy, black comedy, and the macabre. Like you do.

After much talk of books, movies, and television shows; of Lecter, Dexter, and Pennywise, we decided it was most likely TV series we had watched as kids that sparked our interest in (and natural bent toward) these genres of the shadows. Darkroom, One Step Beyond, Tales from the Crypt; these are a few of the titles that came up. But my epiphany of the afternoon was that my tastes in literature, tv, and film were directly influenced by the Twilight Zone. This really shouldn’t have been a surprise. Every 4th of July of my childhood was spent watching the Twilight Zone Marathon on LA’s channel 13. Wishing people away into the cornfield, “It’s a cookbook!”, and “My name is Talking Tina, and I don’t like you,” became a part of my vocabulary. It’s just that, for whatever reason, I had never consciously thought of the “dimension of sight and sound” as dark fantasy/ black comedy/ macabre before.

Anyway, it’s safe to say that if a poem offers alternate methods of thinking, if it straddles accepted lines or rips them apart; murky lines of smoke lazing up in a a shadowy bar, lines of light and dark through half-closed slats of window blinds, lines between realms of existence; I’m probably going to want to read it. I was excited to read the latest issue of Shenandoah when it came out last week — the noir issue. A whole issue of intrigue, morality plays, silk stockings, off-screen sex and murder? Sign me up. The poems did not disappoint, but one in particular stood out: Al Maginnes’ “The World of Whiskey.”

At first, I wasn’t sure how this poem fit the theme. It takes its inspiration from the blues lyrics “If the river was whiskey and I was a duck / Might swim to the bottom, never come up.” The imagery in the poem evokes a primordial swamp butted up against an ancient forest, of a creature early on the evolutionary timeline crawling out of the murk on to land: “And as we slipped into / the first fringes of tree-shade, / we found ourselves wanting / to sing for the first time / in a long while” (lines 19-23). 

After reading editor RT Smith’s comments on the issue, I realized that not all of the selections in the issue deal in noir. But after reading the poem several times, I came to understand that part of what I love about this poem, part of what works in this poem, is the juxtaposition of dark fantasy, black comedy, and the macabre; all of which are arguably part of the noir feel. The blues lyrics are humorous. Imagine a drunk duck diving to the bottom over and over again. It’s funny, but literally, the speaker would love to be drowned in whiskey forever. The speaker contemplates escaping his world through alcohol, permanently.

In the poem, the speaker includes the reader in a collective “we” who descend into an underworld, into a world of whiskey “Mired in sand and duckweed” (line 7). This is Lethe,  the limbo where alcohol makes us forget, where we stare “up through ambered layers […] searching the ice-melted memory of the sun” (lines 8-12). We are only pulled from the liquid prison by disembodied voices drifting through the trees and a desire to join them.

Maginnes writes a fantasy world complete with real world horrors. There is a membrane between the worlds of whiskey and, presumably, sobriety that is not easily broken. There is a world beneath where we float (“Down here, we all float,” with all apologies) aimlessly and forget, and there is a world above where we may emerge, dripping, and add our voices to the song of the world.

Read “The World of Whiskey” here, and check out the rest of the Shenandoah noir issue here.

Maginnes, Al. “The World of Whiskey.” Shenandoah. 64.1 (2014). Web. 12 Oct. 2014.

Jab, Cross, Uppercut! Humor in Bruce Covey’s Poetry

What would you expect from a poem titled “I’m a Bitty Cupcake”? Some lines about the virtues of buttercream? Maybe a study of sprinkles? Ganache, perhaps? Whatever you might have going on in your head about tiny bits of fluffy wonderful, I bet it wasn’t this: “I’m a Bitty Cupcake But if you fuck with me, I’m gonna kick your fuckin ass, you know what I’m sayin?” (109).

Bruce Covey’s poems are always unexpected, always challenging, and often funny as hell. I know that, from now on, every time I see a cupcake, I’ll snicker inside. Children’s birthday parties will become immensely more entertaining when I envision a dozen cupcakes going off half-cocked. Covey’s humor works. I mean, seriously.

Consider the poem “A True Account of Talking to the Moon in Atlanta, GA.” This is a dialogue between Covey himself and the moon. Like, the moon in the sky at night. He plays with the idea of poets overuse of the moon to hilarious effect. “Look, I don’t know shit about poetry. Fucking poets are always staring at me, talking at / me, writing about me. I’m fucking sick of it. You want inspiration? Use fucking Google, / like the Flarfists do” (83). Covey manages to make poet-readers flinch just a little bit when they think about all the references to la luna that they’ve penned over the years. I started to think about just how many of my own poems involve the moon, and I was a tad embarrassed.

Covey’s Chevy Impala-driving, cigarette-smoking, panhandling moon doesn’t stick to railing against poets and poetry in general, no. She gets personal. “Look, I’ve never heard of you. Bruce, right? Don’t go nuts on me with all of your moon / stereotypes. I don’t give a shit whether you write poems. I just want a fucking cigarette. / Now give me the 5 bucks?” (83). The idea that the moon, something many people dream on, something many people associate with lovers and long moonlit walks on the beach and a way-super-cool light to bathe in, that this moon is indifferent about poetry…well, it makes me laugh. It takes some of the gravity out of the concept of poetry (get it? gravity?).

While not all of Bruce Covey’s poems are this overtly humorous, a good number of them invite the reader to play by playing on words and by playing with concepts. Covey’s sense of joy in language is clear, even while his bitty cupcake throws a mean uppercut to the jaw.

Covey, Bruce. Change Machine. Las Cruces, NM: Noemi Press, 2014.

What writers have on their bedside tables

A fun project from author Shannon Huffman Polson, author of North of Hope. It’s called The Bedside Table Project. Below is the description from Shannon’s site:

Part voyeur, part inspiration, every Monday you get a glimpse into the lives of authors and other thinkers who share a picture of their bedside table, a view into what matters to them right now, the things that inspire them, that occupy their minds.


Connect with Shannon on Twitter, Facebook, and her website.