Saturday, June 30, 2012

Poetry Prompt #107 – Invective Poems

There’s much to be said about writing an invective – telling someone or something off using written rather than vocal language. In literature, an invective is an angry, critical or abusive tirade directed at someone or something. For example, here’s an invective by Shakespeare: “A knave, a rascal, an eater of broken meats; a base, proud, shallow, beggarly, three-suited, hundred-pound, filthy worsted-stocking knave; a lily-livered, action-taking, whoreson, glass-gazing, super-serviceable, finical rogue; one-trunk-inheriting slave; one that wouldst be a bawd in way of good service, and art nothing but the composition of a knave, beggar, coward, pander, and the son and heir to a mongrel bitch: one whom I will beat into clamorous whining if thou deni'st the least syllable of thy addition.” (from The Tragedy of King Lear, II.2)

Invective poetry is rooted in ancient Greece, but the genre gained its greatest popularity in ancient Rome. Originally, invective poems included denunciatory or abusive language that attacked political and public figures with a somewhat sardonic or satirical tone. Most early invectives were written anonymously; however, Catullus, Cicero, and Juvenal publicly “owned” the invectives they wrote (some of which, especially by Catullus, are quite explicit). Of course, early invectives had a rhetorical context and a hermeneutic that have been lost, and today’s invective poems are usually presented in the spirit of lampoons (poetic burlesque).

One well-known invective poem is "Invective Against Swans" by Wallace Stevens.

Another is the moralistic "An Invective Against Gold" by Anne Kelligrew, written during the 1600s.

My absolute favorite invective poem is “Invective Against the Bumblebee” written by New Jersey poet Diane Lockward (from her prize-winning book “What Feeds Us”).  Click here to order What Feeds Us.

The poem (reprinted by permission of the author) follows.

By Diane Lockward

Escapee from a tight cell, yellow-streaked, 
sex-deprived sycophant to a queen,
you have dug divots in my yard
and like a squatter trespassed in my garage.

I despise you for you have swooped down
on my baby boy, harmless on a blanket of lawn,
his belly plumping through his orange stretch suit,
yellow hat over the fuzz of his head.
Though you mistook him for a sunflower, 
I do not exonerate you,
for he weeps in my arms, trembles, and drools,
finger swollen like a breakfast sausage.
Now my son knows pain.
Now he fears the grass.

Fat-assed insect! Perverse pedagogue! 
Henceforth, may flowers refuse to open for you.
May cats chase you in the garden.
I want you shellacked by rain, pecked by shrikes,
mauled by skunks, paralyzed by early frost.
May farmers douse your wings with pesticide.
May you never again taste the nectar 
of purple clover or honeysuckle.
May you pass by an oak tree just in time 
to be pissed on by a dog.

And tomorrow may you rest on my table 
as I peruse the paper. May you shake 
beneath the scarred face of a serial killer.
May you be crushed by the morning news.

Now … who or what has made you angry? Has there been a memorable anger-inducing person or event in your life? Write an invective poem in which you give someone or something the proverbial “hell.” Consider both humor and fury. Stamp your metaphorical feet, shout in written language, and write your rage.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Poetry Prompt #106 – Listen to the Silence

Danish philosopher Kierkegaard once wrote, "The present state of the world and the whole of life is diseased. If I were a doctor and I were asked for my advice, I should reply: 'Create silence! Bring people to silence.'"Mother Teresa of Calcutta wrote, “See how nature – trees, flowers, grass – grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence ... we need silence to be able to touch souls.” And Chinese Taoist philosopher Lao Tzu, wrote, “Silence is a source of great strength.”

Amidst the hustle and bustle of our noisy world, why is silence important to you and how do you create or find it? Where do you find peaceful places where there is little or no noise to distract you (at the seashore, in the forest, in a place of worship)? What is the power of silent places? Why is a measure of silence important? Is silence important in your personal creative process?

This week, let’s look at silence and what it means to us and, then, let’s write a poem that in some way, “speaks” of silence.


Questions to Consider before Writing:

How do you define “silence?”
What does the term “perfect silence” mean to you?
How are silence and stillness related?
Can you list several places in which you have found (or continue to find) a special kind of silence?
What’s the difference between actual silence and spiritual silence?
How may silence be more powerful than a scream?
How is silence the space between two thoughts?
How does silence between the notes give music its meaning? (Does this suggest any metaphors for your poem?)

"If you are a writer you locate yourself behind a wall of silence
and no matter what you are doing, driving a car or walking or doing housework
you can still be writing, because you have that space."

– Joyce Carol Oates

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Prompt #105 – Fabulous Fruit

It’s mid-June, almost summer, and that means fresh fruit not available in winter is now abundant in the markets. This week, let’s write about what’s cool and fresh, juicy, ripe, and sweet – let’s “pick” a fruit and write a poem about it.

You might use fruit as a metaphor or symbol, or you might write an extended description of whichever fruit you “pick.” You might even use a particular fruit as the “trigger” for a memory poem – create a fruit pie or a fruit salad of memories. Another option is to write an ode to a type of fruit, or write a list poem in which you catalog a particular fruit’s qualities and associations. Write a history of your favorite fruit (see Dorianne Laux’s poem “A Short History of the Apple” linked below). Begin with a general description of a fruit and then move the poem into more personal focus through a special association (see Diane Lockward’s “Blueberry” linked below). Turn a bunch of grapes into a heady wine of imagery and metaphor. Have fun with this or be serious! (My advice is to nibble on a piece of fruit while you’re writing.)


Saturday, June 9, 2012

Prompt #104 – Music As Muse

Back in 2010 (Prompt #21), we worked with music and poetry. Because music and poetry have been called “fraternal twins,” I thought this week might be a good time to revisit music as our “muse” – this time with a slightly different slant and a focus on lyric poetry.

Music and poetry are known to have been combined since ancient times in Greece where dramatists and poets composed music to complement their works. The form of poetry best associated with music is lyric poetry, defined by Britannica online as, “a verse or poem that is, or supposedly is, susceptible of being sung to the accompaniment of a musical instrument  (in ancient times, usually a lyre) or that expresses intense personal emotion in a manner suggestive of a song. Lyric poetry expresses the thoughts and feelings of the poet and is sometimes contrasted with narrative poetry and verse drama, which relate events in the form of a story. Elegies, odes, and sonnets are all important kinds of lyric poetry.”

William Shakespeare wrote 160 songs for use in his plays (intended for drum, flute, and lute accompaniment). Later, lyric poetry was popularized by the romantic poets (Byron, Shelley, Keats, Wordsworth, and others). By the 20th century, lyric poetry was predominantly rhymed and based in emotional and personal feelings. Lyricism was challenged by modernist poets (including Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, and William Carlos Williams) who promoted complex thought over melodic language. After World War II, a renaissance of interest in lyric poetry was felt – this adopted traditional lyricism with a personal component. Later in the century, the confessional poets (including Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton) introduced a form of “tell-all” lyric poetry that dealt with relationships, intimacy, and both domestic and personal life. Today contemporary poets embrace lyricism in a range of individual styles.

Suggestions for Writing:

1. Write a poem based on the music in this YouTube musical selection Hans Zimmer – Light. Close your eyes or view the pictures, sit back, and let the music “speak” to you. Then, listen again, and this time jot down ideas, words, phrases, and images that occur to you while listening. Use these to compose your poem.

2. Write a poem in which you reference music, a particular style of music, musical instruments, specific musicians, or the love of sound.

3. You might want to try taking a different piece of music (not the sample above) and writing your own words to it. Alternatively, you might write a lyric poem first and then set it to music. In either case, choose a musical work that you especially like or are drawn to and match your words to its rhythms. Be flexible and let the music and words work together.

4. Song lyrics are a kind of poetry, and ballads have long been associated with music, often being sung. When words are added to music, a story emerges. Although ballads are considered narrative poems,  they have a strong musical quality. Try writing a ballad. (Be aware of the poem’s “music” and the ballad refrain). 

5. Write an elegy, an ode or a sonnet.

6. The language of music is understood by all cultures. Write a poem about the music of your national heritage. How is the music of this country different from others?

Note: Whichever suggestion works for you this week, be sure to pay particular attention to the sound quality in your poem (alliteration, assonance, internal or external rhyme).

Poems About Music

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Prompt #103 – Choice & Chance

I recently came across an old collection of Robert Frost’s poems that I haven’t looked at in many years. The weather was hot and humid (too hot and humid for this time of year), so instead of sitting outdoors in the gazebo, I sat inside with the AC on full blast and re-read the Frost poems. I’ve always loved “The Road Not Taken” for its symbolisms and universal appeal. This one of American literature's best known and most often quoted poems. There is, of course, much more to this poem than a surface understanding reveals.

For this week’s prompt, “The Road Not Taken” will be our inspiration poem. Before beginning, please give it a read. Click Here to Read "The Road Not Taken." As you read, note that one of the poem’s fascinations is its archetypal dilemma.  Be sure to note that the narrator looks back, reflects upon the meaning of choice and chance, and marks this decision as a defining moment in his life.

Ideas for writing:

Frost’s poem is about actual and figurative roads, and the fork in the path is an extended metaphor for making choices.

1. Write a poem about a metaphorical road that you didn’t take. Not the choice you made, but the one you didn’t. “Forks in the road” and “roads” seemed clichéd today, so be sure to create other symbolisms  and metaphors for making choices that are fresh and new.

2.  Write a poem about a “road not taken” in your life? Have you ever had to make a decision and then wondered much later how making the other choice might have impacted your life? Do you have any regrets?

3. Some analyses claim that Frost’s poem is about lost opportunities.  Write a poem about a lost opportunity in your life.

4. Write a poem about the complexities of choice making. How do you feel about choice and chance?

5. Write a poem about a time that you had no choice.