Monday, May 25, 2009

May Poem Prompt 2

Among the Things He Does Not Deserve

Greek olives in oil, fine beer, the respect of colleagues,
the rapt attention of an audience, pressed white shirts,
just one last-second victory, sympathy, buttons made
to resemble pearls, a pale daughter, living wages, a father
with Italian blood, pity, the miraculous reversal of time,
a benevolent god, good health, another dog, nothing
cruel and unusual, spring, forgiveness, the benefit
of the doubt, the next line, cold fingers against his chest,
rich bass notes from walnut speakers, inebriation, more ink,
a hanging curve, great art, steady rain on Sunday, the purr
of a young cat, the crab cakes at their favorite little place,
the dull pain in his head, the soft gift of her parted lips.

Dan Albergotti
from The Boatloads
BOA Editions, 2008

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I've posted 'list poems' before, so I'm sure the idea won't be new to you, but it's true that they look easier to create successfully than they actually are . We need to find the right rhythm to carry the reader through the poem, the right blend of imagery (precise or general, concrete or abstract), general comment or statement, and, at the end, the reader needs to feel as if they've been exposed to more than just a list. There might be a sense of revelation, or surprise, or an insight into someone's experience that, somehow, informs our own.

I've read Dan Albergotti's poem several times and I'm still not exactly sure of what's behind it, e.g. is the 'he' of the title the narrator speaking about himself? But that doesn't matter to me because there's so much in the poem that speaks so clearly to me.

Here are a just a couple of things that stood out for me, but I could talk about every line:

1. The rhythm in line 2 that's broken into two parts - read it aloud and hear the precision and care contained in those three one syllable wordsthe of the final image: pressed white shirts

2. the miraculous reversal of time: coming after the title, and after the reading the poem to the end, then reading this abstract image again gives me that sense of regret that I've felt now and again in my life... if only I could go back an hour, a week, a year. Has everyone felt that dread at sometime in their lives?

3. How it begins and ends with food: greek olives, crab cakes. But that's probably just me - I love reading and writing about food :)

So onto your poem. Brainstorm for a title first - really brainstorm. Use the phrase - Among the things... and see what emerges when you write freely...

Among the things:
she'd like to forget
they never said
he said he'd never do
you will never miss

That's just off the top of my head... there must be dozens and dozens more.

Choose one and see where it leads you.

And here's a list poem of mine that was published a couple of years ago in the New Welsh Review:


Plump ‘Queens’ glistening in oil,
the size of small eggs, or little

beads of green stuffed with garlic, jalapeno,
or laced with herbs and sun-dried tomato,

or the glossy black ones we ate
in Juan Carlos’ bar on Carrer d’Albet

with white anchovies and litres of sweet cava
then walked home up Via Laietana

through Eixample, up Carrer
St Juan to the apartment we rented that year,

opposite the supermercado where I bought them in tins,
con huesos, or pitted – sin

huesos, the Spanish for olive pits and bones,
as I remember us then – our bodies

slipped free from their bones, the last time
we made love, the last time we made each other come.

Lynne Rees

I hardly ever write with a regular rhyme scheme but the rhyming couplets (mostly slant rhymes) felt right for the subject matter and music of the poem.

Write well. I look forward to reading your work.


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

May Poem Prompt 1

Larson's Holstein Bull

Death waits inside us for a door to open.
Death is patient as a dead cat.
Death is a doorknob made of flesh.
Death is that angelic farm girl
gored by the bull on her way home
from school, crossing the pasture
for a shortcut. In the seventh grade
she couldn't read or write. She wasn't a virgin.
She was "simpleminded," we all said.
It was May, a time of lilacs and shooting stars.
She's lived in my memory for sixty years.
Death steals everything except our stories.

Jim Harrison
from In Search of Small Gods.
© Copper Canyon Press, 2009.

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The above poem arrived in my inbox courtesy of The Writer’s Almanac. Apart from being astonished at the wonderful metaphors in the first three lines, I was surprised at how ‘real’ the story of the young girl killed by the bull felt to me, even though I didn’t grow up in a rural area and have never known, or heard about, anyone who had a similar accident.

But the phrases ‘on her way home from school’ and ‘she couldn’t read or write’ and ‘she was simpleminded’ resonate with me so strongly that the girl becomes someone I feel I might have known. It’s true that simple language is capable of communicating strong emotion.

The first poem prompt for May is to write a poem modelled on Jim Harrison’s poem, i.e. create three fresh metaphors in the first three lines, BUT use the following opening phrase instead:

Life waits inside us…

Write well.

Friday, May 08, 2009

April's Prize Poem

Taking a look back at the prompts I posted in April, they seem to reflect my own emotional state during the month more than I realised.

There's a lot in there about hope and love, explicitly and implicitly, and these have been the two things upmost in my mind since Tony, my husband, cut his hand badly at the end of March, which meant a lot of time spent in French hospitals for micro-surgery and skin-grafts and the subsequent care.

Nearly six weeks later, the worse is over and while there'll be some permanent nerve damage, he'll be able to use the hand fully in time. Given he's an artist and musician, he's relieved to know that. As I am.

So reading your poems this month has been a delight for me, not only to have a break from the reality of life here, but to read the joy and deeply felt emotion in them.

My aplogies for digressing but my contributions felt a little underweight last month and I wanted to explain why.

And now onto April's Prize Poem. The prompt in response to the Merwin poem was a difficult one, I think. Being restrained by someone else's words can feel frustrating, but both Keith Wallis and Fran Hill managed to make another poem from Merwin's words.

It was a close call, but I've chosen Fran's poem because of the astounding way she manipulated the syntax and wove her own words between Merwin's lines and created some wonderfully effective linebreaks at the same time, e.g. the strainings of/ The heart, which, for me, increases the emotional impact with its hesitance after the preposition before reading on to the next line.

There's one suggestion I'd make with regard to the close of the poem though, and that would be to cut the last two words 'to weep'. The image of silk slipping from a hand is a powerful one, and I'd prefer to let that do its work, rather than direct the reader too explicitly.

You might remember that Fran won last month's Prize too, so many congratulations again, Fran. I'll place your prize in the post next week.

Here's Fran's poem for you to enjoy again.

They know so much more now. About
My longings, though, nothing. The strainings of
The heart. We are told: ‘But the world
Is for laughter.’ Yes, but the sullen clouds
Still seem to come, one at a time,
Hanging above my bent head. I think:
One day, one year, one season, and here
Will come floating blossoms for me. After all,
It is spring once more with its birds,
And I see that the tulips stand strong. I, though,
Nesting in the holes in the walls
Of my hiddenness, do not see that
It’s morning. Finding the first time
For joy – ah! – a long, long search for
Its light. Pretending not to move
In case it wants to come silently, as
Always. Beginning, as it goes
Slipping from my touch again, like silk, to weep.

Fran Hill