Posts Tagged ‘Poetry’

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.

The presence of double slash marks in one of our workshop poems led me to reflect on the ways we use slashes in writing and how they both connect and separate (and/or). In a passage of prose that quotes lines of poetry, we use slashes, or virgules, to indicate a line break. Some playwrights use a slash mark to indicate the start of the next spoken line when one character talks over another. Since that stylistic convention doesn’t figure in the plays that we read in Imaginative Writing, I’m including an example here. David Lindsay-Abaire uses slash marks repeatedly in Good People to denote Margaret’s, “Margie”‘s habit of talking over Stevie:

STEVIE: Margaret, listen for a / second—

MARGARET: (But she keeps going) I don’t think they did Christmas dinners though. And your grandmother had passed by then, so there was no dinner to go to. So your mother comes into Flanagan’s, and she’s out to here. (Indicates belly) When’s Jimmy’s birthday? (6)

As you read the poems for this week’s workshop, 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 example, she offers the opening lines of John Milton’s Paradise Lost:

Of Man’s First Disobedience, and the Fruit
Of that Forbidden Tree, whose mortal tast*
Brought Death into the World, and all our woe. (qtd. in Burroway 305-06)

Milton gives prominence to the apple, the forbidden fruit, by placing it at the end of the line. As Burroway observes, “the end of just about anything—line, paragraph, stanza, story—is the strongest position, and the beginning is the second strongest” (306). With that in mind, pay close attention to the first and last words of each line. Also look carefully at any caesuras, or pauses within the line (such as after “Disobedience” above). Do the poems include any enjambment, the running of a thought from one line to the next (“and the Fruit / Of that Forbidden Tree . . .”)? Are the lines of the poems end-stopped? In other words, does the end of each line coincide with the end of each thought?

To supplement our study of the poetic line, I have developed a short exercise to accompany your workshop comments this week.

Directions:

  1. Read aloud the poem or stanza beside your name in the list below.
  2. Read the poem again, and consider how caesuras or enjambments would alter its effect.
  3. Revise two or more lines of the poem or stanza without changing any of the words. Change only line breaks and/or punctuation.
  4. At the end of your comment for the poet, include the revised lines and a brief explanation of the changes you made.

This exercise isn’t meant to be prescriptive. It’s not a way of saying, these are changes that the poet should make. Instead, it’s a way of showing how someone else might see and hear the words.

  • Brennan: “He is the Man”
  • Zane: “Change”
  • Mia: “Dependent”
  • Brandy: “Self-Preservation,” stanza 1 or 3
  • Trevor: “Self-Preservation,” stanza 2

As always, the points I have included below are not ones that you’re required to address in your comments. I offer them as suggestions only. I will address some of them in the follow-up remarks that I’ll post at the beginning of our next session.

He is the Man” and “Change

  • Where in the poems does the writer use assonance, internal rhyme, and slant rhyme?
  • How might the writer develop the exploration of one or both notions of change in the second poem?
  • Might these two thematically similar poems evolve into two stanzas of one poem, or alternately evolve into two poems in a longer sequence of poems on the same theme?

Dependent

  • Where in the poem does the writer depict the abstract idea of dependence with concrete images?
  • Where do metaphors or similes appear in the poem?
  • Where might the poet add figurative language?

Self-Preservation

  • What discrepancy does the poet create with “slivers” in line one and “chunks” in line three? How and where might the writer develop that apparent contradiction?
  • Consider the sequence of pronoun shifts (I > we > I > they > I). What does the distancing effect of third person indicate about the poem’s speaker or persona? What change, if any, does the return to first person signify?
  • Why might the writer have chosen to use double slash marks?

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

Works Cited

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

Lindsay-Abaire, David. Good People. TCG, 2011.

*Seventeenth-century spelling of taste.

Eight of the twenty poems selected for the upcoming Art of Poetry event at the Hickory Museum of Art were written by students of mine at Catawba Valley Community College. Congratulations to Jaycey Deal, Jason Dunford, Brianna Friday, Ethan Hoge, Morgan Jenkins, Mikaya Parsons, Abby Rodriguez-Meneses, and Samantha Stephens. Please join us at the museum next Saturday at 2 p.m. for a tour of the exhibits accompanied by readings of the poems inspired by the paintings and sculptures on display.

 

At the book launch for his debut collection of poetry, Impossible Angles, Jordan Makant told the audience that he didn’t like writing poetry when he enrolled in a poetry workshop at Lenoir-Rhyne but found himself drawn to the form after his workshop professor, Scott Owens, told him, “write the way you think.” Those words of Owens’ led Jordan, now an LR senior, to begin drafting stream-of-consciousness verse, including “Late Night with Myself and a Four Cylinder,” one of the poems that he read at the launch.

Later this morning when I talk with my students about Jordan’s work, I will tell them about his initial lack of interest in writing poetry, with the hope that some of the students will consider enrolling in a writing workshop, because they may discover unexpectedly—as Jordan did—that  writing poetry (or fiction, or creative nonfiction) can give them a way of making sense of the world. And as an exercise to encourage them, I will offer one of Jordan’s poems as a model: “Thought Twice; It’s Not Alright,” a response to Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right.”

Jordan’s poem begins with the line, “Bob Dylan was lying, of course . . .” (18). What song in your playlist stays on your brain? I will ask my students. What truth or lie does it tell? Begin there.


Makant, Jordan. “Thought Twice; It’s Not Alright.” Impossible Angles. Main Street Rag, 2017. 18.

"Sailing Alone . . ." (2001) / billycollinspoetry.org

“Sailing Alone . . .” (2001) / billycollinspoetry.org

The speaker in Billy Collins’ poem “Snow Day” meditates on the “revolution of snow” (1) as he listens to the radio announcements of school closings, steeping himself in the pleasure of the sounds of the whimsical names of the preschools and the sights of the little girls playing outside in the “grandiose silence of snow” (37). That’s a summary of the poem, the first part of the assignment that I asked my students to write today in lieu of class. The second part of the assignment asked them to look at the poem with a critical eye—not to write a full-blown analysis but to consider at least one of Collins’ choices, a word or an image. For that, I turn to the porpoise.

In the third stanza, Collins’ persona, the “I” of the poem, speaks of his plan to walk his dog, whom he imagines in the snow—as he probably has seen him many times before–frolicking as a porpoise would in the water: “In a while, I will put on some boots / and step out like someone walking on water / and the dog will porpoise through the drifts” (11-13).

By using porpoise as a verb, Collins merges the movement of the dog and the sea mammal. Collins doesn’t liken the dog in the snow to the porpoise. Instead, he fashions a verb that transforms the dog. It morphs into the porpoise, at least for a moment in the readers’ minds.

The dog-porpoise isn’t the prevailing image in the poem. Children and snow cover far more real estate. But the dog-porpoise conveys the spirit of playfulness that abounds in the poem, the same unbridled joy we may feel in our own lives when the adult institutions that govern our days are shut down–as many are now–by snow.

Work Cited

Collins, Billy. “Snow Day.” The Poetry Foundation. The Poetry Foundation, n.d. Web. 25 Jan. 2016.

Last Thursday, when Jaki Shelton Green appeared at Lenoir-Rhyne as the first featured author in this year’s Visiting Writers Series, she spoke as both a poet and a storyteller, noting that her poems live inside her stories.

Jaki Shelton Green / visitingwriters.lr.edu

Jaki Shelton Green / visitingwriters.lr.edu

I found myself drawn more to her stories than the poems they linked, but my ears welcomed the sound of Green’s own voice reading her poem “i know the grandmother one had hands,” just a day after my students and I studied the poem and read it aloud ourselves in class. As she introduced the poem, Green recounted her stint teaching poetry writing to women on death row, giving them the assignment of writing about hands because of the acts that they had committed with their own hands. She didn’t say that the poem was her answer to the assignment, but it may have been, just as this blog entry and the earlier one on the poem, itself, are my answers to the blog assignment that I have given to my students.

Through her poems and stories, Green spoke of painful subjects on the eve of 9/11: the imminent anniversary, her great-great grandmother’s life in slavery, and the death of her own daughter. But her words offered hope rather than sadness. As I reflect on those words, I hope that the ones that my students and I write this semester will show us what Green’s showed us Thursday night: that writing gives us a way of making sense of the world.

Jaki Shelton Green’s poem “i know the grandmother one had hands” evokes images of a woman whose busy hands remain unseen as they perform a litany of tasks, some literal: “folding, pinching, rolling the dough” (3), others metaphorical: “growing knives” (14).

As my students and I read Green’s poem in class yesterday–in preparation for her presentation tonight as one of the featured writers in Lenoir-Rhyne’s Visiting Writers Series–I expected that the conversation that followed might be markedly poemdifferent from the ones last semester in my Introduction to Creative Writing class. Those students, after all, were reading poems, short stories, plays, and narrative nonfiction as models for their own work. Yet even though my current students in Critical Thinking and Writing will not produce creative writing for class, their responses to Green’s work were similar to those of my creative writing students.

In retrospect, I realize that the similarities should not surprise me since I asked the students in ENG 131 (Critical Thinking and Writing) to begin their exploration of Green’s poem by considering her choices, just as I asked the students in ENG 281 (Intro. to Creative Writing) to begin.

I do not know why Green uses a lower-case “i,” or why she refers to “the grandmother one,” rather than a grandmother or my grandmother, but posing such questions and considering the effects of those choices places us on the path of writing, whether the destination is a poem of one’s own or a study of someone else’s.

"Mov[ing] like a hovercraft . . ."

“mov[ing] like a hovercraft” across one of the granite steps that lead to the front porch

Earlier this afternoon when I spotted a snail on one of the steps to the front porch, I thought of the snail in Paul Muldoon‘s poem “Hedgehog,” the subject of my post from March 4. As I watched the snail glide across the granite, still wet from the rain, I remembered Muldoon’s snail “mov[ing] like a hovercraft, held up by a/Rubber cushion of itself,/Sharing its secret/With the hedgehog.”

And I thought of these lines from my post on March 4:

I cannot say precisely why Muldoon chose to run the simile ‘The snail moves like a/Hovercraft’ from the first line to the second, but I can say—and did say to my students—that it’s an example of enjambment, something to try if we want to achieve a similar run-on effect.

As we begin drafting our own poems, I keep thinking about the pleasure of reading that simile, the surprise followed by recognition. Never before had I thought of a snail moving like a propeller-driven hovercraft. And never before had I thought of the hedgehog and the snail as kindred animals for their ability to retreat into themselves.

The snail, the hovercraft, the hedgehog, the crown of thorns: these are now linked in my mind. That’s what ‘Hedgehog’ has given me.

. . . and the poet who wasn’t here.

New Weather (1973) / timkcbooks.com

Paul Muldoon was supposed to read at Lenoir-Rhyne last Thursday, as one of the featured authors in the university’s Visiting Writers Series, but the snow kept him away. Day classes were cancelled at the university, too, so my students and I didn’t read his poem “Hedgehog” together as planned. But yesterday, as the rain washed away the lingering snow, we returned to the classroom for our postponed study of poetry, beginning with “Hedgehog.” An early poem of Muldoon’s, “Hedgehog” meditates on the animal of the title as well as the snail, likening the snail to a hovercraft and the hedgehog’s quills to a crown of thorns.

The tentative responses that followed our reading showed how reluctant we can be to express our thoughts about poetry. We are so accustomed to reading straightforward prose that a poem’s roundabout way of making meaning can lead us to doubt ourselves, to sense that there’s something we’re not getting from the poem but should be.

I cannot say precisely why Muldoon chose to run the simile “The snail moves like a/Hovercraft” from the first line to the second, but I can say—and did say to my students—that it’s an example of enjambment, something to try if we want to achieve a similar run-on effect.

As we begin drafting our own poems, I keep thinking about the pleasure of reading that simile, the surprise followed by recognition. Never before had I thought of a snail moving like a propeller-driven hovercraft. And never before had I thought of the hedgehog and the snail as kindred animals for their ability to retreat into themselves.

The snail, the hovercraft, the hedgehog, the crown of thorns: these are now linked in my mind. That’s what “Hedgehog” has given me.


 Writing Ideas Torn from “Hedgehog”

  1. A poem that depicts the similarity between two animals and compares each of the two to something else
  2. A poem that features enjambment