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.