Saturday, July 23, 2016

Summer Rerun – 10-Line Poems

This week’s summer rerun comes from Prompt #167. The challenge is for you to write a 10-line  poem (not a line less or more) using a prescribed format. For starters, the “rules” are specific, so try to follow them closely for your first draft. 

The “Rules”

1. Don’t use any terminal punctuation, but begin each line with a capital letter.
2. Throw out all prose impulses (no narrative poems).
3. Resist all formal tendencies (no metrical patterns or rhyme schemes).
4. Don’t plan any part of your poem—just write from line to line.
5. As you write, see what relationships develop; discover what’s going on in the poem.
6. When you finish, look through the poem for a word or phrase that you can use as a title.
7. Let the poem “sit” for a day or two and then look at it again. That will be the time to make changes, to break the rules, tweak, refine, and “color outside the margins.”

Now ...

8. Make changes in capitalization and punctuation (add periods, question marks, commas etc).
9. Work on alliteration and other sound qualities in your poem.
10. Decide on line breaks. 


Line 1: Open the poem with an action.
Line 2: Write a specific image related (even if only superficially) to the last word in line 1.
Line 3: Ask an unconnected question and put it in italics.
Line 4: Write an image related to the question in line 3.
Line 5: Answer the question in line 3 and include a color.
Line 6: Write an image related to the answer in line 5 (direct or suggested).
Line 7: Add a detail in which you modify a noun with an unusual or unlikely adjective.
Line 8: Add an image that echoes or relates to the action in line 1.
Line 9: Free line—add whatever you wish.
Line 10: Close with something seemingly unrelated, strange, or surreal. 

Sample Poem (Draft Only)

A Lingering Dream

Line 1:  She lifts the potted plant from its place on the windowsill
Line 2:  Dusk slips in through parted curtains
Line 3:  A lingering dream, and what came after
Line 4:  The evening sky deepens into something darker
Line 5:  A shade of blue she’s never seen before
Line 6:  Ghosts in spaces between the stars
Line 7:  The clattering choices were hers to make
Line 8:  Gently, her fingertip traces the edge of a tiny bloom
Line 9:  Choices, yes, and flowers among the regrets
Line 10: She removes the china doll from her dresser drawer

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Summer Rerun – Memoir Poem

This week, I've gone all the way back to June 27, 2010 and Prompt #11. (You'll notice ow the prompt format has changed over the years).  Memoir poems are perennial favorites with many options for new work.

For this prompt, try writing a memoir poem about an experience that haunts you. This is not to suggest a bad experience but, rather, a memory that continues to inform the present.

Memoir poems are narrative because they tell stories. However, we often see memoir "poems" that "narrate" in what is essentially prose (with a couple of good images, a few similes or metaphors, and stanzaic arrangements). Most of these poems don't succeed because they never reach beyond the poet’s impulse to “tell.” The poem has to be more than the story – it has to be about what happened because of the story.

Watch out for abstractions and generalizations that equal sentimentality – there's a big difference between image and abstraction. A memoir poem needs a strong emotional center that doesn’t smother meaning with sentiment or read like a diary entry.

A poem should contain an element of mystery or surprise – first to the poet and then to the reader or listener. A lot of the poems that are read and published today are so cluttered with superfluous detail (and adjectives) that there are no mysteries or surprises, and the poems become claustrophobic experiences (I call it TMW – too many words). Write short for this one as a discipline against writing too much. Leave a few blanks for the reader to fill in. In other words, tell, but don't "tell it all." Your memoir poem should lead readers to something more than the memory.

A perfect example is John Ashbery's "This Room."

In this poem Ashbery remembers a room, a person, a relationship. He incorporates a few precise details, but not many – he leaves much to the reader and still achieves a startling sense of loss and remembrance.

Other great examples (and these, too, are short poems) are William Stafford's "Once in the 40s" and Gerald Stern's "The Dancing."

William Stafford: "Once in the 40's"
Gerald Stern: "The Dancing"

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Summer Rerun – Fly on the Wall

This week’s rerun dates to January 11, 2011 and the subject of flies (seems appropriate for summertime). Flies in poetry may not be common, but I'm sure you're familiar with Emily Dickinson's famous poem "I Heard a Fly Buzz."

I heard a Fly buzz - when I died - (591) By Emily Dickinson

I heard a Fly buzz - when I died –
The Stillness in the Room
Was like the Stillness in the Air –
Between the Heaves of Storm –

The Eyes around - had wrung them dry –
And Breaths were gathering firm
For that last Onset – when the King
Be witnessed – in the Room –

I willed my Keepsakes – Signed away
What portion of me be
Assignable – and then it was
There interposed a Fly –

With Blue - uncertain – stumbling Buzz –
Between the light – and me –
And then the Windows failed – and then
I could not see to see –

This week we're going to work with a "fly idea," but our treatment will be different from Emily D's. We've all heard the expression "fly on the wall." The meaning of the phrase suggests the ability to observe a situation without being seen or heard.

This isn't a new prompt idea, but it's one with lots of possibilities, and the challenge this week is to take yourself – in the form of a fly – into an unusual or emotionally charged place to tell what you see and hear. The idea is to become virtually invisible but nonetheless present.

1. You may "become" the fly and speak from the fly's point of view (persona/personification).

2. You may go back in time to observe yourself in a particular situation from your past.

3. You may eavesdrop on a conversation you were never intended to hear.

4. You may be anywhere, at any time, observing people and listening to what they say.

5. Your tone may be serious, humorous, or ironic.

To begin, imagine yourself as a fly on a wall. Where are you? What do you see? Who is there with you? What do you hear? What insights into a situation do you have from your unseen/unnoticed perspective? What can you (the fly) explain about human behavior in the situation you observe? Is there a situation in which you (the fly) can offer insights into your own actions or personality? What do you learn when you (the fly) observes you (the person)? How may the fly become a metaphor?

Some places to consider for your wall: a cocktail party, a wedding, a masked ball, a birthday party from your childhood, the midst of an argument, a classroom, a divorce court, a funeral parlor, a room in an altered dimension, an empty house, a cruise ship, a bar or pub, a tent deep in a forest.