Posted in Teaching, Writing

ENG 126: Poetry Workshop, Session 2

Reading your recommendations for revisions last week reminded me of poet Marianne Moore’s relentless revisions, including changes to one poem titled “Poetry,” which she tinkered with for five decades. Many of her readers were puzzled and frustrated when they opened The Complete Poems of Marianne Moore (1967) to find “Poetry” radically reduced to three lines. Gone from the poem were thirty-five lines, including this metaphor that speaks to many forms of art: “imaginary gardens with real toads in them” (line 32).

Our imaginary gardens thrive, with toads springing to life, when language transforms the artificial landscape. But there are so many choices. What words do we plant, and where do we plant them, and when do we uproot and start over?

Welcome to our final workshop session, and thank you for your thoughtful feedback on the “He is the Man,” “Change,” “Dependent,” and “Self-Preservation.” Before we turn to the last poems, “The Concessions of the Conscious Collective” and “Disappearing People,” I offer these follow-up notes:

“He is the Man” 

  • Mia and Brandy noted the stark contrast between the connotation of “he is the man” and the voice of the poem, and Mia recommended ending the first line with “man” to intensify the discrepancy between between readers’ expectations and the meaning that unfolds on the page.
  • Zane recommended developing “He is the Man” into a poem with multiple stanzas.
  • Brennan remarked on the poem’s assonance (no, known, tomorrow) and its internal rhyme (man, plans). His recommended revision for the poem created a slant or half rhyme with “doubts” and “thoughts.”
  • Brandy observed that the final line of the poem is the only one that ends without an s sound.
  • Consider how that change Brandy noted affects the last line and the impact of the last word. As Janet Burroway observes in Imaginative Writing, “the end of just about anything—line, paragraph, stanza, story—is the strongest position, and the beginning is the second strongest” (306).
  • It’s also worth noting that poem’s final word, “die,” drops the s sound but continues the internal rhyme of “crying” and “silence.”

“Change”

  • BrennanZane, and Brandy recommended developing “Change” into a longer poem.
  • Mia remarked on the double meaning of change in the poem and recommended incorporating more imagery.
  • Trevor suggested additional lines to address freedom apart from financial independence.
  • Brandy noted the effectiveness of repeating “no change” in the last line to emphasize the inevitability of repetition in the absence of change.

“Dependent”

  • Brennan addressed the ambiguity of the title and noted how the poem conveys a sense of the complexity of dependency. Brennan also questioned the choice of presenting “Everyday” as a one-word line at the beginning of the second stanza.
  • Mia remarked on the poems’s ambiguity.
  • Zane and Mia both recommended additional figurative language.
  • Trevor remarked that “Dependent” addresses the human condition with “nuance and skill.”
  • Brandy observed that the final stanza seemed out of place. Consider whether the last stanza would seem integral to the poem if were the first stanza or the third. Does the last stanza seem out of place because the third stanza, the one that immediately precedes it, conveys a strong sense of finality?

Self-Preservation

  • Zane remarked on the appeal of speaker‘s perspective on happiness and the aptness of “slivers” and “chunks.”
  • Brennan and Mia addressed how effectively the first stanza evokes the hidden cost of casual exchanges. They also both noted the shift from the first stanza to the second, which made the second stanza seem out of place. Consider the distancing effect of a shift from first person to third.
  • Trevor noted that the poem addresses the universal human condition with “tact and grace.”
  • Brandy remarked on the appeal of the poem as one whose speaker aims to describe self-preservation and connect with others. Her recommended revision reverses the order of the first four clauses in the third stanza. Notice how those changes result in end words that are more concrete (“rises” replaces “this” and “face” replaces “reach”).

As you read the poems for this week’s workshop, again consider where the writers indicate pauses with punctuation and line breaks. In Imaginative Writing, Janet Burroway notes that “[t]he line directs the breath; the rhythm of the line is played against the rhythm of the sense, and this is one of the ways that poets alter, stress, and redirect their meaning” (305-06). As an additional example, consider Marianne Moore’s final revision of “Poetry”:

I, too, dislike it / Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one discovers in / it, after all, a place for the genuine. (36)

Look carefully at any caesuras, or pauses within the line (such as the ones in all three lines of Moore’s poem above). Do the poems include any enjambment, the running of a thought from one line to the next (“one discovers in  / it, after all . . .”)? Are the lines of the poems end-stopped? In other words, does the end of each line coincide with the end of each thought?

In addition to the pauses and line breaks, here are some points to consider. As always, these are not ones that you’re required to address in your comments. I offer them as suggestions only.

The Concessions of the Conscious Collective

  • Consider the definitions of concession. It’s a special allowance, or something granted, and it’s also a device used in written arguments to acknowledge an opponent’s point. How does the sequence of poems convey one or both of those meanings of the word?
  • Is the alliteration in the title of the poetry sequence repeated in any of the poems? If so, where?
  • The verses that follow the title “The Concessions of the Conscious Collective” are presented as individual poems. Might they serve as stanzas in a single poem, or are they more effective as individual voices that contribute to the collective? Why?

Disappearing People

  • Consider the poet’s use of assonance, slant rhyme, and repetition. What do they achieve?
  • Note that the word appear appears within disappear. How might the poet play on that through enjambment?
  • How might the form or content of the final stanza amplify disappearance? For example: What would be the impact of tapering lines or the absence of “I”?

Remember to check your CVCC email and Blackboard regularly for updates.

Works Cited

Burroway, Janet. Imaginative Writing. 4th ed. Pearson, 2014.

Moore, Marianne. “Poetry.” The Complete Poems of Marianne Moore. MacMillan/Viking, 1967. p. 36, n. 266-67.

10 thoughts on “ENG 126: Poetry Workshop, Session 2

  1. I found “The Concessions of the Conscious Collective” to be one of the most intriguing works on this list. I liked that it was a series of poems working together under one message. These were also the poems I spent the most time on dissecting and interpreting. With that being said, I would suggest adding more variation to the series of poems. To me, it felt like they were all very similar and told stories that were too much like the rest. This can be done well or can be done in a way that makes it boring. When writing a series like this, it’s good to have them all have a reoccurring theme, but still tell their own stories.

  2. “Disappearing People” hit close to home for me because as someone who is moving across the country in a few months, it can be easy to feel restless and wanting to recreate yourself. This poem carries a sense of urgency to shed your former self and to create a better version. The first stanza seems to have a more positive tone while holding the message that our past does not define us, and that we can move forward from events or characteristics we aren’t always proud of. However, in the final stanza, the ending line is, “Which means I cannot go back,” referring to the person they once were and the place they were once at. This brings the tone of the poem down, and the message starts to feel less like the narrator is excited about the future and more that they are desperate to get away from the past, feeling perhaps that they need to prove they aren’t the person they used to be out of shame or fear.

  3. “The Concessions of the Conscious Collective” was an interesting collection of poems. While I think the themes explored within the collection are universally applicable to any audience that may happen to read it but could be improved in organization and presentation to better portray the merit of contemplating the presented topic. Word choice and syntax could be altered to allow for additional levels of engagement for the audience to better allow for a connection to the pieces within the work.

    Thank you for your time and consideration,
    Trevor White

    I hope everyone has a safe summer,
    I appreciate everyone’s insight for the improvement of my craft.

  4. “Disappearing People” was quite a good poem in my opinion.Everything in the universe that is alive seeks to improve itself in relation to its environment via a drive to power. Sentient beings are shackled by an illusion of the self created by a belief in a certain guiding printable they may have previously adhered to. I like that the poem highlights that as an individual with agency it is your choice to continue along the previous path or to choose to forge a new one. I think it is an inspiring for anyone to know that they can be better than what they where before.

    Thank you for your time and consideration,
    Trevor White

  5. I agree with Mia that “Concessions of the Conscious Collective” is a fascinating piece full of interest ideas to dig into to. I really enjoy having the separate poems tie together into a similar style and tone.

    Trevor made a good point mentioning the syntax could be improved. There currently aren’t any periods so it’s easy to get lost in the stream of words.

    It’s not a particularly engaging piece to read. This sort of abstract thoughts on the nature of life, time, and identity require more effort to read and understand than other forms of writing.

  6. I really liked “Disappearing People.” The poem does a good job of repeating sound. Such as the sound “appear” in both disappear and reappear. The repetition of past, and repeated use of “what” in the second stanza.

    The final line is the weakest part of the poem for me. I don’t think it’s bad, I just think with some rephrasing and revising there’s potential for significantly more emotional impact there.

  7. I agree with Mia and Brennan that “Concessions of a Conscious Collective” is a very interesting piece and I think that it works well as a series of poems. I also agree with Mia that the poems feel a bit too similar. In their current state the poems seem to be in a sort of purgatory where they are very similar so they seem like they should be one poem but they are just a little too different from each other to work as a single poem. I really like this piece and the topic that it is addressing.

  8. “The Concessions of the Conscious Collective”
    I am in agreement with Mia when it comes to liking how the series of poems worked together to display one message. Though, it may vary from person to person how one may define the definition.
    I am also in agreement with Mia about how all the poems are written on a similar subject, but fail in telling it in different variations of the subject. As a continuation of the same thing over and over, with not much change, may get boring to the reader.

    I agree with Trevor and Brennan about the Syntax. Along with there being no punctuations, making it rather difficult to keep track of where I was in the poems.

  9. I really enjoyed “Disappearing People”. I love the theme presented and the way it contradicts the way most people view death. I think that removing the word “I” from the last line would really help complete the theme of the poem. This is because at that point the speaker has decided to change, therefore becoming a new person separate from the one who was previously speaking and so should not be addressed the same way.

  10. “Disappearing People”
    I like how the mentioning of the word past is only mentioned in the first stanza and with the word defining what is being told. Also how the word disappear is mentioned in both the first and last stanza, while reappear is only mentioned in the first. Which, if taking the definition of the words into account, is quite contradicting.

    I am in agreement with Brennan about the final line being the weakest part and that with some revising the line can become more impactful. As of right now, to me, as the ending line, it leaves me with a feeling that the poem feels incomplete. As though the decision was not final.

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