Friday, October 31, 2008


We've done the postcard poem--one friend of mine even had a postcard poem exchange for her middle school students and ASU graduate poetry students for National Poetry Month one year. This is a whole different "art" exchange:

The idea is that people post postcard sized images with a secret on them. They range from the cliche and self-absorbed, to the political, to the funny, to the incredibly sad.

While I normally wouldn't suggest stealing people's stories (well, maybe I would) the nature of this project is that the contributors are offering up these secrets to be art, to be a part of collaborative art. I think some of them would make great poetry or fiction premises.

Thanks to PostSecret for creating a forum where people can share these things about themselves.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

John Asberry's Autumnal Polyvore Work Outfit

I'm tired of coming up with poem ideas, so this week I read a book: April Galleons by John Asberry. I'm not usually a big fan of Ashberry, (just don't get it) but I did enjoy the book a lot more than I thought I would. Interesting thing: anyone who remembers the Roethke exercise that involves a bank of words and a lot of rules--every one of these poems has one of those words in it. Gotcha Ashberry! And you thought you could just sneak 'tarmac' in there and no one would think anything of it.

I went through the poems and pulled out some words I like, which I plan on using in a few poems this week. I was like, ruffle!! I love ruffle.

Then I typed a bunch of them into polyvore to make a collage. Here are the words I used:

plum, ruffle, spot, sleek, proper, ribbon, and clean.

April Galleons by parrotflower
a huge list of Ashberry words follows:
vetiver smudges fishhook sleek mood sawdust hat bank plum taste thin floor sharp stick scrub door shave shake tactics ship ruffle fit cloak tilt tag crunch fatal bottom strive ask spot sink lost ribbon rust proper plug fresh quiet rich bound wander nourish kind riot wrist find tease canvas jug wisp honey forget fragile burnt pave balloon burst fetching cabbage shut slow moist calm mode lock cash claw simple fakes settle faint judge thistle clean tip lavish stir blind step shy stack stalk whisper

Note: Yes, in the original post I said Rilke instead of Roethke. Oops. To make up for it, the exercise, pulled from The Triggering Town by Richard Hugo, is as follows.

Use five nouns, verbs, and adjectives from the above lists and write a poem as follows:

1. Four beats to the line
2. six lines to the stanza
4. At least two internal and one external slant rhyme per stanza
5. maximum two end stops per stanza
6. clear English grammatical sentences, must make sense.

Nouns: tamarack throat belief rock frog dog slag eye cloud mud
Verbs: to kiss to curve to swing to ruin to bite to cut to surprise to bruise to hug to say
Adjectives: blue hot soft tough important wavering sharp cool red leather

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Crab Orchard Review: The Personal Lyric and Culture of Change

I probably wouldn't be blogging about what is, when you think about it, sort of a confusing call for submissions if it weren't for this color wheel. Doesn't it sort of look like the Wheel of Fortune, or that wheel on the Price is Right?

Anyway, I love the idea of taking a tack and sticking it in this wheel a couple times, making each color block it lands on a stanza, and the title of the poem an agent of change.

I think the key, as it always is when dealing with huge abstractions, is to find something small and personal.

Here's what each of these things would be for me the first time I stuck a tack in them:
Identity: waiting for my Georgia voter registration card two weeks before a presidential election
Work: watching the soda pumps from the back room of the theater concession stand
The Arts: ceramics summer camp where I learned how to play poker and a kid threatened me with an exacto knife
Tradition: baptism photos of my husband
Beliefs: the Augustus Caesar statue my husband got in Italy, sitting on our fireplace
Family: my little sister getting rolled out of the nursery in her terrarium
Change: my baby bump
Knowledge:I have an encyclopedia of trivia
Home: digging through the azalea hedge for a frisbee

Any of these sections of the wheel could be a pretty personal lyric fairly quickly if you just try to conjure up very specific episodes. If you have trouble keeping the agent of change in the title personal and concrete, list all the years you've been alive and stick a tack in the list. The episodes you picked will lie before or after this date and there's bound to be something that happened between the two.

I just did this and its sort of depressing to see how long the list of numbers is. I got 1999, my Sophmore year in high school, the year I went to Spain, a year before my cousin died. So depending on how morbid I wanted to be, there's my poem. Of course, if I didn't have anything important happen that year I could just see if any relatively obscure thing happened in the headlines. That could be even more interesting. W2K was pretty big, but maybe a Spice Girls tour stop in a small town would be good. I'm getting nostalgic already.

Thanks Crab Orchard Review for their beautiful publication and for offering a call to submissions vague enough to be interesting. To see the call go to:

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Visit-- Poetry, Revenge, and Revelation

Maybe it is just that I am nostalgic for Prague, three years later, and just got an email that Arnost Lustig will be in Kalamazoo soon, but this movie I just watched on TV has got me thinking. The movie is The Visit (1964) starring Ingrid Bergman, and although it isn’t as artsy as the Czech films we watched in Prague, it has that same dark flavor to it. I suggest that anyone who hasn’t watched it Netflix it immediately.

The gist of the movie is that Bergman was run out of town as a pregnant teen after filing a paternity suit against her lover. He bribes two witnesses for a bottle of brandy each to say that she is promiscuous. The authorities take her child, who quickly dies in an institution, label her a fallen woman, and she becomes a big city prostitute. Years later, she returns, a wealthy woman, with a proposition for the town that turned its back on her. They are struggling…the local mines, the factory, the riverside...all their business has mysteriously dried up and she offers them 2 million to kill the man who ruined her instead of taking responsibility for his child.

I’m not suggesting that people write a poem where they make an “indecent proposal.” What’s interesting to me about this movie is that by making this offer to the town, she puts her ex-lover in the exact position he put her in, a position where those in power, the people he’s trusted and grown up with, his own friends, actively set him up, ruin and finally move to take his life. This is the interesting moment to me, when he moves from disbelief, thinking of course that he was right in what he did, to struggling with the same forces he set in motion before.

I’m also not suggesting this be some epic poem about a life and death struggle, but that this kind of revenge, this very profound shift in position, is ripe for a lyric. Take a situation which you might still be harboring some grudge over, (unless you’re some profoundly well-developed person who doesn’t carry grudges) and put that person in a reversed position. The truly startling thing is the amount of sympathy you end up having with the character as they share, and realize they share, your same experience.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Formal Mechanics, the Rotary Lawnmower, and the Movement of Stanzas

I've decided to create a form that mimics the movement of the rotary lawnmower.
The purpose of the form is, I think, like the purpose of mowing, to create order out of unorderliness through the means of repetitive violence, to create motion in form through repetition at the beginning and end of a stanza.
The first decision is, is the lawnmower a mulching or bag type? The second is, which words will be repeated? I've decided on two verbs, but I think nouns could maybe work too.
As for the lawn, I've toyed with the idea of making a list of messiness and then just mowing through it with the twin blades of my chosen verbs. But I think narrative situations offer messiness as well, so it wouldn't have to be lyrical.
I like the idea of quatrains, because they're nice and rectangular, like rooms and like lawns and I think that has a lot to do with the idea of maintenance, that there is a shape you are trying to trim things into. Line length should be even, but long or short might depend on the size of the lot.
The first verb should start the stanza, the second should end the second line, the first come back in the third line, and the second repeat in the last line, maybe at the end of the line, a full rotation.
If you have chosen the organically friendly and less expensive mulching type of lawn mower, you should pick a word in each stanza, that is particularly messy to you, like a tall weed, for the action of each blade to mow down and leave a piece of it in the next line. My husband volunteered "disheveled," which is a great example because you would never use it in a poem, and I think the remains of this word would show up as "dish" or maybe even "shovel," or "hell."
If you've decided to be the ultimate neat-freak, to bag and maybe (greenies) to compost, then instead of falling behind in clumps after the movement of the blades, these little clippings would collect at have to be dumped at the end.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Innocuous Weapons

Ok, so it may be a gimic, but I love this thing I found while shopping for Xmas presents for my cousin. Why this was on a gift list for men ages 30-40, I'll never know, but who cares:

"Unleash potassium-rich projectile warfare with the insidious potato pellet gun! Punch the barrel into a standard-issue potato, break off a pellet and bring it! Mostly harmless, the potato gun can shoot pellets up to 50 feet. Potato not included." $5.95
This poem is a poem about people behaving strangely. Why they are compelled to do it, who they are, what the results of the attack are, that's up to you, but I love the idea of an adult picking something totally innocuous and making a weapon out of it. Of course, by itself, a thrown potato could be pretty dangerous. It's like, potato cannon, light. So maybe I would think of something actually dangerous and then the weapon would be something related to it. My little sister once hit me in the eye with a dirty shoe, so maybe I would attack her at her wedding with a rolled up tube sock.
It's a nice little narrative to break up a tense scenario, like serving divorce papers, or finding your sister in the sack with your husband. Something like that.

Friday, October 3, 2008

The Negative Superman

The Negative Superman

The Obscene Jester is a pretty interesting performance art blog I read from time to time. While I was catching up on my blog readership yesterday, I came across an intriguing idea in the blog describing a musical art performance.

The blog was talking about Peter Lorre, who inspired the album performed. The blog suggested that the character actor who had been typecast as a villain was an example of a “negative superman,” sharing such ranks with Vincent Prince, Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff—the famous somewhat tragic villains of early horror.
The term "negative superman" has the ringing tone of film theory about it, but I haven’t been very successful tracking it down.

Still, it’s a compelling idea—the negative superman. The ubermensch evil one? The archvillain? I think what is perhaps most interesting about the character is the idea that these actors—aging, fallible typecast actors—play these larger than life mustache/cape twirlers.

I suppose for me this idea presents as a duality, a diptych. On one hand, the superhuman, the epic villain—and I suppose I would depart from a Milton-esque Satanic monologue here and maybe list or catalogue actions/narrative. (Maybe I think that’s what makes a villain.) A suggestion for this part: I just began reading an article from Comparative Literature entitled "Negative Comparison in the Literary Narrative Epic" and I see the negative simile, which poets will be familiar with as "describe what is by what it is not" or "what it does by what it does not" as being very potentially helpful here in describing the negative superhero. The formula sets up like this, x is not a, nor b, nor c, x is d.
And then in the second section, you pull back the Wizard of Oz's curtain. No longer a giant floating head, smoke, and thunder, a small, ordinary person is revealed. A person struggling, in the way that Mary Shelley understood: “No man chooses evil because it is evil; he only mistakes it for the happiness, the good he seeks.”
For me, I see this second section something like the movie Ed Wood, where Bela Lugosi becomes a figure of pathos.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The Imaginary Poet

Often in lyric poetry we get wrapped up in ourselves--what is true to us. I think it is much more interesting to lie outrageously.

Check out this issue of Blackbird online. It has a feature, "Tracking the Muse," with commentary by various poets about their process. Here's a link to Jehanne Dubrow's "Notes Toward a Nonexistent Poet."

It is great. She starts off suggesting you lie a little bit about yourself, making up an experience you never had, like a childhood overseas. But she progresses toward creating a whole fictional poet and writing poems for her. While the amount of research needed for a whole book of works by a fictional poet might be a little more than a Wednesday afternoon will permit, you could pick a person you know and write a poem as them, or as a famous person, or as a made-up person.

My poet is Sara Johnston. She's from North Carolina, daughter of an Airforce captain, and her family lived in Germany from when she was eight to eleven. She recently was diagnosed with Hodgkins lymphoma.