Sunday, September 28, 2008

Netflix and the Poet's Workbook

Most poets I know keep a notebook, or should, for those moments when an idea comes to them, a phrase occurs, an image strikes and moves them. Often it is only when the poet is stuck trying to write a poem that they will go back to this notebook and do anything with the images and words trapped there.

These images and phrases are like the obscure documentaries, the classic movies, the less popular mid-eighties movies, maybe even the made-for TV miniseries or Christmas specials of the video rental store that is a poet's brain.

Enter Netflix. I urge you to pull out your notebook(s), or if you don't have one, to take a legal pad and jot things down on it over the course of the week. You can, if you wish, arrange or number items on your list in the order you would like to get them first. Then spend a stanza on each one. Each time you finish a stanza, imagine sliding the image back in its dirty paper sleeve, into its previously-used red envelope, mailing it off, and getting the new one in the mail.

Like your Netflix list, I imagine the poem will be pretty cohesive after looking at it for a little while.

Something to complicate this poem: I share my Netflix with my husband. The conflict! If you have a friend who's willing to let you have some of her poetry jottings, write your lists and then mix them up. Argue over whose image gets to come first, then second, et cetera. Something like, "your peeled orange is so lame. I did that in third grade. I want to see my broke-down Ford first." And then you both go home and see what you come up with.

Illustration by Mahendra Singh.

Thanks Poetry Foundation, for keeping it cool. For a feature on poet's notebooks:

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

I Too Have Danced On Blades: Shamanism and Stilettos

Alberto Rios teaches a Magical Realism class at ASU where the capstone of the class is to make a magical realist object. An example one of my classmates made was a bread noose. Tasty. Mine was a lame "Hairbrush," with hair where the brush should be. (For more on magical realism, Tito built a website with neat facts:

What I’ve realized recently is that many objects hold a magical realist text within their name. I was thinking about the stiletto shoe, which compares the traditional, thin steel heel of the shoe with a thin knife of the same name. It made me think how many objects, particularly clothing objects, bear names that keep them only a step away from being absurd: the Peter Pan collar, the bell sleeve, the pencil skirt. The interesting thing about these pieces of clothing is that they get their name from a strong resemblance to the absurd objects their name implies—these are absurd objects realized and normalized in the daily world.

You can take that for face value, but a human mind has already done most of the poetic work for you in creating a dynamic metaphor—a metaphor so dynamic, in fact, that it established a reality for itself in the text of the clothing. For a pretty interesting poem, the only thing a bell sleeve or a stiletto shoe needs is to be estranged from its normalized context so that it becomes obvious how strange it is that women walk around on dull knives with tiny plastic tips glued on the ends. What symbolic paydirt could this relatively pat realization hide? More than the often noted fact that some men tie a noose around their necks every morning.

When I was thinking about the stiletto shoe, it hit me that I have actually seen women dance up on blades (in a video, no, not Beyonce). Korean shamanism is almost exclusively the realm of women, and I had watched a video about a young shamaness going through her (failed) induction ceremony. In this ceremony, an offering of meat on a balancing tripod is made to the gods, who consent to descend into the shamaness. She assumes the particular god’s costume from a box she carries around with her, jumps on top of a pair of blades mounted on a platform, and continues to jump and dance on the blades as she delivers a speech from the divinity. The shamaness in the video is a chicken, however, and no amount of prompting from the woman who is inducting her can get her to jump and dance on the rusty looking blades.

My poem is about my steel-heeled Guess stilettos. What you might find revelatory in pencils, bells, or Peter Pan is yours.

Friday, September 12, 2008

A Girl at My High School Was an Extra on Saved by the Bell

Or could have been. This poem idea comes from my husband Tony, who is apparently very interested in the stories of nameless or less popular characters who live in a world run by and interested only in an elite few. Like the crew from Saved by the Bell.

As for credit for this photo, and to get any other info, it seems like pretty much anything you'd want to know about this sitcom can be found at

So Tony's idea is, what do all these students and nameless teachers who go to or teach at this big high school think about the fact that every major club or event, from glee club to Prom, is dominated by this small group of kids?

He also thinks that a poem about what people do after they go home from a TV show like Law and Order or what undeveloped characters from the Newhart Show do offscreen, or what those guys in the back of the command room in NASA documentaries think.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Sarah Palin, Impregnated by the Spirit of Jack London, Gives Birth to a Strange New Pantheon


Politics, Collage and Poetry

I'd like to thank Aimee of Vint Condition fame for introducing me to Polyvore. I realize this is an ugly collage, so I'll make this post as untechnical as possible.

Politics is like a collage. Poetry is like a collage. Political poetry is often not, but is more like the rantings of insane or crotchety or both older person on a street corner who smells bad. The idea behind this poem prompt is that you would pick something from the headlines that you might like to blog about, but that you think might be a very poor poem. Perhaps you have tried to write this poem, like my attempt at "Felix Pie's Twisted Testicle." Maybe you failed miserably.

Polyvore is a neat little internet photo collecting and editing doo-dad that allows you to trawl the web, pick images revolving around your headline and compile them in a collage. You can add fashionable accessories if you wish.

My suggestion is to add a ridiculous title, then not to talk about the inciting topic. For instance, the poem would have guns, bears, wolves, Alaska, the city of Bristol, a pipe or piper figure, some weeping trees, an Olympic track runner and trigonometry. I would not mention Sarah Palin, yet the entire poem would let you know exactly how I feel about her.

If you're less technically savvy, you could skip the Polyvore feature. But it's fun.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Seagull: Symbolic Objects at Rest

Harnessing the Power of Symbolic Objects for Good

Some things I love about this photo:

1. Color
2. Allegorical Content
3. Center of Focus

Here is a palette of colors: aqua, deep cadet, dove gray, spackle white, matte steel, and yellow. Everything is cool, working toward a cohesive tone. It all belongs to the same landscape, a particular mood.

In this one image we have a seagull, an anchor, a boat, and the sea. All of these are literal things that are found in each other’s company, but they are all also supercharged with meaning when taken out of their ordinary context and say, for example, dropped into a Biblical quote or a Victorian morality story. What I love about this collection of symbols is that they act as themselves rather than the things they stand in for, so the immediate response is to the thing itself.

The center of focus on this photo is interesting—it works in some ways like a triptych. The seagull immediately gets attention, having the most animation, but the anchor is in the center of the photo. Behind the dull-colored anchor, the white muck that covers the boat is scraped away from a bright blue docking post.

My idea from this photo is a triptych, or a poem with three strong central images. I’d like to take a symbol, take it back to its literal object-ness, and surround it with two other objects from a scene that makes sense to its thing-ness. I think I’d put the weightiest symbolic thing in the middle, something alive in the first stanza, and a brilliant piece of landscape behind it. I’d be sure to fill in with details like texture (mud, grain, screen, dirt-spatter, nubble) and color.

Maybe I would suggest movement in the past, or movement about to happen, and name the poem “Still Life of a _____”

My example would be a wedding ring, a kitchen sink, and an insect on the window—maybe a grasshopper, a moth, or right now in Georgia, a pair of love bugs (which look a lot like two stink bugs doing it). Depending on which insect I gravitated toward, it would be a different poem. Right now I'm thinking, "Still Life of a Carpet Moth."

Thanks to Stock Xchange for the photo:

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Creating Simulated Poems Using High Heat

Verneuil Process

A fairly technical procedure for making gems, the verneuil process involves grinding up the raw material, superheating it, and dripping it onto an “earthen support rod.” The end result of the process is a “boule” at the tip of all the accumulated melted matter that crystallizes into the manmade ruby/whatever, which is broken off the support rod and sinter cone to be faceted and sold.

For more information on this process, see

Applying a similar process to create a poem is not new. Many poets suggest taking a favorite line of poetry, writing a poem using the “stolen” line as a first line, and then knocking the line off the finished poem. I was once in a workshop with C.D. Wright where she changed this up a little bit by taking a line at random out of a novel.

My thought is that the “support rod” for a poem doesn’t need to be literary. A line of directions, journalism, one stolen from a sibling’s diary or the letter of a famous person, or for that matter off the back of a cereal box might all work.

My suggestion for today: “The cartoonist beloved by GIs and regular guys”

Transletics: Translational Poetics

It’s not at all a new idea to suggest that poetry takes inspiration from other art forms, the sciences, or the natural world. What I’m interested in here is the shape, the form, the organic theory of poetry and how different models of creation or elements of design from other disciplines: architecture, painting, astronomy, might be useful for creating new poems.
Thanks again Stock Xchange :)