Monday, September 28, 2009

Listening to Prevert

La meilleure façon de ne pas avancer est de suivre une idée fixe. The best way not to move forward is to pursue a fixed idea.
Jaques Prévert

I did have a pretty fixed idea to change the way AppleHouse worked and spent quite a lot of time researching online forums, getting as far as setting up three different ones but then deleting them in turn when they weren't as user friendly as this site, or were plagued by adverts.

It seemed that I couldn't find the right format for what I had in mind, so I've decided to drop my 'fixed idea', give the old AppleHouse blog a new look and carry on posting at least one exercise and prompt every month and commenting on as many of your poems as I can.

I hope you'll join me here for another AppleHouse season. And here's the first prompt for Autumn:

I discovered the poetry of Kay Ryan a few years ago, but only recently realised that she's the current US Poet Laureate. Her poems remind me of pressure cookers - tight forms that hold their words under such tension. One of her ways of working is to take a familiar expression, a cliche, or even an abstract concept and 'unpick' it, or explore it, in a poem. I really do recommend her work to you. Here's one example:

The Best of It

However carved up
or pared down we get,
we keep on making
the best of it as though
it doesn’t matter that
our acre’s down to
a square foot. As
though our garden
could be one bean
and we’d rejoice if
it flourishes, as
though one bean
could nourish us.

My challenge to you is to write a poem around one of the following expressions or cliches:

Putting on a brave face
At the end of the day

All's well that ends well (I know Shakespeare wasn't 'cliche' in his time but this one has been done to death!)
One volunteer is better than ten pressed men
Pushing your luck
Under the weather

Try free-writing to get under the skin of the expression you choose. Dig deep. Find out what it's hiding. Go to a place where the words have more resonance than their familiar usage.

Good luck.


martin cordrey said...

Under the weather

Yesterday I laid
in grass beneath
a summers day;
for fun I staid there
until snows came,
made my arms blue.
As your memory fades
I feel like my skin’s
being gently caressed
by a blade of grass
that’s been frozen
by a long, harsh winter.

Lynne Rees said...

I like this poem, Martin. I wonder if the syntax could be stronger between:

I feel like my skin’s
being gently caressed
by a blade of grass
that’s been

'being' seemed a little too passive to me, and the similar sound of 'been' that follows tripped me up too. Maybe the ideas can be expressed without the participles?

But I really do like how you've explored the the phrase.

Keith Wallis said...

Putting on a brave face

Gripped in the marketplace of masks
tortoising the days from bunkered shell
not looking out afraid
of others looking in.
Outside, in the hall of mirrors,
there is laughter,
At the final mirror
they realise that the distortion
was not the silvered projections
but the outside
looking in.
And the brave face
is the face of fear.

Lynne Rees said...

Hello again, Keith.

There's a lot of tension in your poem, right from the first word, that heavy stressed syllable: Gripped... Great opening.

I think you might be able to tighten the syntax here and there, e.g. we can often avoid using 'that' in a poem and avoid the prosiac structure:

At the final mirror
they realise (that) the distortion

And perhaps, instead of - And the brave face/ is the face of fear:

And the brave face
the face of fear.

I wouldn't suggest this for every poem but your poem has this tremendous emotional energy that works well with a more compressed syntax, I think.

Hope that's of some help.

JPK said...

Under the weather

Pressed beneath the weighty sky
we cry together. Sheltered
under black umbrellas, salt drops
mopped on white cotton.

He, protected by silk and oak,
lies topped off with a brass plaque
where water lenses focus upon
random letters of his name.

Random memories of his life.
S is for the sarcasm,
c and a for his cardigans,
k is for kindness.

Clouds break. Sunlight makes diamonds
on our umbrellas, on our cheeks.
Wet earth rains from the sexton's spade
as we rest him in the ground.

Mary Rose said...

Putting on a Brave Face

Standing in front of the mirror
applying my war-paint
like an Indian Brave.
Will it hide the sadness
bring laughter to confront and confound
Banish the visible strain
of living with such a loss?

Putting on a brave face

Already I smile,
laughter not far away.

Lynne Rees said...

Hello, John. Nice to see you here again.

A moving poem. I particularly like your line break at line 2, and the closing couplet.

A few things I wasn't sure/clear about:

The following is so strong:

Pressed beneath the weighty sky
we cry together. Sheltered
under black umbrellas

I felt that the additional description of the tears and handkerchiefs was unnecessary, a little overstated perhaps? If you did decide to cut that then the poem would flow really well from one image of sheltering/protection into another:

He, protected by silk and oak,

I also wondered if there was a way you could combine 'lenses' and 'focus'? Find one strong verb for what's happening there?

And the last thing, and this could be me missing something important - I try and spell something out with the S, and the c and a, and the k. Scak? Sack? Am I supposed to do that? I must be missing something here - sorry about that.

A lovely poem, really well paced too.

Lynne Rees said...

Hello Mary Rose.

I like the dramatic development in this poem. The despair in the questioning and the hope in the closing statement.

Perhaps you don't need the reference to the Indian brave? The war-paint reference could be enough and then 'brave' will appear only once in the poem and, perhaps, be more effective?

Thanks for sharing this.