Saturday, June 27, 2009

Poetics 5

I know this is late but I figured I'd right it anyway.

The I Remember poem was my favorite! Joe Brainard's book was an awesome read and definitely helped me develop my poem. I was actually going to write about Catholic School thanks to some of his sections about church and Catholics. I used his book for the structure of my poem and how to separate the different lines. It really helped for the time when he had 3 or 4 lines all pertaining to the same subject. I hope that future students get to read this book as well. I actually think from now on I want to jot down memories of each year. It's so cool to look back on. When I was develping this poem, it was fun to recollect on the past which sometimes becomes jsut the past and we don't revisit it. Everyone's poem was a real joy to read.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Sitting There

The painter paints a vivid portrait
Capturing the essence of you
To her you are full of life
She uses color to express
But the man she creates cannot be you.

Who are you?
His body blends into the surroundings
His eyes don’t reflect what he sees
The sound of his heart no longer exists
As he sits there with a blank stare

Where is the man I once loved?
There is no depth to his voice
There is no warmth to his skin
No response to my touch
As he sits there with a blank stare

How could you be so distant?
No blood runs through his veins
The color of his soul seeps through his pores.
He never leaves that god-forsaken chair
As his sits there with a blank stare.

What could make you this way?
There is a detached chill in his presence
His body takes no form of a being
When the heat rises he’s below zero
As he sits there with a blank stare

When did you become so vague?
He doesn’t care who or where
When the sun glows his body casts no shadow
He is just a figure of who he used to be
As he sits there in his chair with a blank stare

Poetics 5

Brainard’s book was very helpful in writing my I remember poem. I was able to follow a certain structure and the flow of the poem. This poem was different from writing the other poems in the class because it was distinctly about you and your life. You also got to bring out the personal side and put your honest feelings into it. From this poem I learned that a lot of my bad experiences weren’t that bad and when I look back on them I’m able to laugh and smile about them. The most difficult part of this poem was having to only bring out the most important memories because if I were to say everything I remembered I would have a book as long as Brainards.

Poetics 5

After reading Brainard’s book I was almost worried that I wouldn’t be able to compose anything that Brainard had not written. Brainard lists so many memories that are specific, and yet many of his memories are universal. Childhood memories listed by Brainard were especially inspiring to me while writing this poem. One “I remember” by Brainard that stands out to me is “I remember don’t step on the cracks or you’ll break your mothers back.” This line is one of those personal universal lines. I relate to this line because I physically remember trying to avoid stepping on cracks thinking something bad might happen to my mother’s back.
The “I remember” poem was the first poem that really made me look at my self. In the end this poem felt the most like a self-portrait. I chose to focus on childhood memories because I am removed enough from them that I can see them clearly, however I still feel very connected with them. The most difficult part of writing this poem was choosing what was important. I wrote two separate drafts of this poem, and combined my favorite memories in the final draft. While recalling and writing memories I trusted my mind to travel in the right direction. One memory reminded me of the next, and for the most part my memories ordered them selves. I enjoyed this assignment.

The Abduction of Europa

As my life time ticks towards the end,I think to myself that I would never see the world again.The water conquers this once blue and green earth.My family and friends are swimming for their livesNot even the angels above can't save them. My life is flashing before my eyes. Will I be saved?Even the life of the bull is being taken away.Will he see another day?He is barely keeping his head above the water.Can the angels save the fathers, mothers sons and daughters. Please my angel guide us and spare our lives.May I wake up tomorrow visioning that this was a dream while rubbing my eys.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Naked Goddesses

Under the vast open blue sky filled with cotton clouds, tree branches sways softly left and right.
Near a lake, nature so beautifully created for mankind, slightly cool breeze gave cold chills.
Peacefully, calmly, thirteen creamy uncovered skins, long silky brown hairs, and alluring voluptuous bodies, bathed on earth's ground.
Suddenly,a loud crackling sound from a small tree branch made aware the existent of the approaching forms.
Startled, a soft settle voice give warning, "Look! Humans!"
Attempting to hide from mortal eyes, with one quick blink, all thirteen goddesses swiftly vanish into nature's mysterious ground, leaving no evidence of their existence.

Poetics 5

Joe Brainard’s book was helpful because he uses so many examples that I could use that helps me with my “I remember” poem. Brainard’s work was so specific and honest about his life that I think it draws attention. I think his honestly helps me become interested and inspired so I decided to be as honest as possible. There were parts in his book that I would never think anyone would ever write about. No taboo words were off limits and he basically says what he wants to say. I like how he was so honest to himself and to his readers. The “I remember” poem was definitely my favorite poem of them all. I enjoyed listing all the details about different events in my childhood. I had never written any poem that has lists of events that is specifically about me in general. I had never written any poem that made me think back into my past. I learned that in order to make readers read, I had to be honest and specific as possible so it could help readers imagine what I went through in my “Bits and Pieces” poem. The challenging part I think would be trying to remember exactly what was said or what I really remembered.

Poetics 5

The last and final blog is on a poem we were assigned in class. This assignment was the "I remember" poem. Brainard’s book was very helpful. His book was helpful because it gave me a idea on how I wanted to write my poem. This poem was different from the other poems because with this poem, the process that I encountered was to think back and remember certain situations and things that I went through during high school. Some things that I learned about the poem was how to write about things that happened in the past. I also learned that today's world is different from the world it used to be as well. Some difficulties that I came across while writing this poem is trying to remember everything that happened in my senior year and actually making sense.

Poetics 5 Memory Poem

This was a fun yet very emotional poem to write. I began free writing and many memories came to mind. There was a process of trying to define a theme, and then getting more specific by trying to createa focal point. Most of my most lively memories were my teenage years, and although I was close to choosing an entire life poem that would include all sorts of memories, it just was too complex. The thought of writing a childhood poem did strike me but I felt like the span of being a teenager in the 80's was a fun topic and so much of who I am now is defined by that era in time. I felt the Brainard's book helped lay it all out there of depicting an entire life through cultural icons, history, politics, sexuality, and mundane things that came together in a way that told his biography through memory and time and the most phrases starting with "I remember". It was a creative way to write a novel and it allowed me to see how I too can portray myself through events and hopefully tell a story that explains who I was during that time. Many times, I am labelled for looking a certain way and it doesn't take too long for most folks to see that I am probably everything that stereotype is not?! And I felt I did well by the positive feedback because what I essentially wanted is my own story put forth and for the reader to capture my personality, which I think came through very well. The entire week of rehashing these memories gave me an emotional jolt I didn't expect which gave me a week of crazy dreams!-but seeing those vivid memories documented on paper is invaluable!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Poetics 5

When I began to write my "I Remember" poem, I first started to think of things that stood out to me the most. They were not always good memories. Then I decided to think about the more subtle memories of my youth. I started to relive my life in the homes that I had lived in with my family, and to remember some of the little things that made life there special. I bagan to remember childhood friends, siblings, and special occassions. Brainard's book was very helpful to me because it helped me to begin to remember similar things about my own life. I could relate to so much of what he remembered. It really showed how much alike people can be, without having had the exact same experiences, and upbringings. Unlike the other poems, writing this poem was pure pleasure. When I wrote about my childhood, I was actually back there! This poem allowed me to worry less about style and more about substance. I remembered things I hadn't thought about in years! From my poem, I learned that my experiences really did shape who I am, but they do not define me as a human being. From listening to other people's "I Remember" poems, I discovered that I wasn't the only one to have suffered traumas. This was good for me, and made me feel less sorry for some of the upsetting events in my past. I found it difficult sometimes, to word my lines in such a way that sounded pleasant to the ear, and still conveyed what I wanted the words to get across. I would have to say that writing this poem, was more than just an action, but it was actually an experience. A journey back in time, and a very good one.

Ekphrastic Poem

Diana 1892
Augustus Saint-Gaudens


Diana,   is the   revered   Roman   Goddess  of   the  Hunt

Stands on one  foot arched upon a sphere,  as  the other  extends  for  balance

Positions   her earthly  tools by   hoisting  up  her mighty  bow   and   arrow

Grasps the bow with muscular arms  extending a poised, clinched   hand

Clenches her arrow with nimble fingers stretching back the bowstring 

Arches her back (ever so slightly) with the tension from the pull

Tightens her neck  as  she  flexes her  long, bare body

Tilts her head keenly, to secure an optimal view

Targets her prey with sharp, trained eyes.



Tuesday, June 23, 2009


Bernadette Mayer’s Experiments List

Pick a word or phrase at random, let mind play freely around it until a few ideas have come up, then seize on one and begin to write. Try this with a non- connotative word, like "so" etc.

Systematically eliminate the use of certain kinds of words or phrases from a piece of writing: eliminate all adjectives from a poem of your own, or take out all words beginning with 's' in Shakespeare's sonnets.

Rewrite someone else's writing. Experiment with theft and plagiarism.

Systematically derange the language: write a work consisting only of prepositional phrases, or, add a gerund to every line of an already existing work.

Get a group of words, either randomly selected or thought up, then form these words (only) into a piece of writing-whatever the words allow. Let them demand their own form, or, use some words in a predetermined way. Design words.

Eliminate material systematically from a piece of your own writing until it is "ultimately" reduced, or, read or write it backwards, line by line or word by word. Read a novel backwards.

Using phrases relating to one subject or idea, write about another, pushing metaphor and simile as far as you can. For example, use science terms to write about childhood or philosophic language to describe a shirt.

Take an idea, anything that interests you, or an object, then spend a few days looking and noticing, perhaps making notes on what comes up about that idea, or, try to create a situation or surrounding where everything that happens is in relation.

Construct a poem as if the words were three-dimensional objects to be handled in space. Print them on large cards or bricks if necessary.

Write as you think, as close as you can come to this, that is, put pen to paper and don't stop. Experiment writing fast and writing slow.

Attempt tape recorder work, that is, recording without a text, perhaps at specific times.

Make notes on what happens or occurs to you for a limited amount of time, then make something of it in writing.

Get someone to write for you, pretending they are you.

Write in a strict form, or, transform prose into a poetic form.

Write a poem that reflects another poem, as in a mirror.

Read or write a story or myth, then put it aside and, trying to remember it, write it five or ten times at intervals from memory. Or, make a work out of continuously saying, in a column or list, one sentence or line, over and over in different ways, until you get it "right."

Make a pattern of repetitions.

Take an already written work of your own and insert, at random or by choice, a paragraph or section from, for example, a psychology book or a seed catalogue. Then study the possibilities of rearranging this work or rewriting the "source."

Experiment with writing in every person and tense every day.

Explore the possibilities of lists, puzzles, riddles, dictionaries, almanacs, etc. Consult the thesaurus where categories for the word "word" include: word as news, word as message, word as information, word as story, word as order or command, word as vocable, word as instruction, promise, vow, contract.

Write what cannot be written; for example, compose an index.

The possibilities of synesthesia in relation to language and words: the word and the letter as sensations, colors evoked by letters, sensations caused by the sound of a word as apart from its meaning, etc. And the effect of this phenomenon on you; for example, write in the water, on a moving vehicle.

Attempt writing in a state of mind that seems least congenial.

Consider word and letter as forms-the concretistic distortion of a text, a multiplicity of o's or ea's, or a pleasing visual arrangement: "the mill pond of chill doubt."

Do experiments with sensory memory: record all sense images that remain from breakfast, study which senses engage you, escape you.

Write, taking off from visual projections, whether mental or mechanical, without thought to the word in the ordinary sense, no craft.

Make writing experiments over a long period of time. For example, plan how much you will write for a particular work each day, perhaps one word or one page.

Write on a piece of paper where something is already printed or written.

Attempt to eliminate all connotation from a piece of writing and vice versa.

Experiment with writing in a group, collaborative work: a group writing individually off of each other's work over a long period of time in the same room; a group contributing to the same work, sentence by sentence or line by line; one writer being fed information and ideas while the other writes; writing, leaving instructions for another writer to fill in what you can't describe; compiling a book or work structured by your own language around the writings of others; or a group working and writing off of each other's dream writing.

Dream work: record dreams daily, experiment with translation or transcription of dream thought, attempt to approach the tense and incongruity appropriate to the dream, work with the dream until a poem or song emerges from it, use the dream as an alert form of the mind's activity or consciousness, consider the dream a problem-solving device, change dream characters into fictional characters, accept dream's language as a gift.

Structure a poem or prose writing according to city streets, miles, walks, drives. For example: Take a fourteen-block walk, writing one line per block to create a sonnet; choose a city street familiar to you, walk it, make notes and use them to create a work; take a long walk with a group of writers, observe, make notes and create works, then compare them; take a long walk or drive-write one line or sentence per mile. Variations on this.

The uses of journals. Keep a journal that is restricted to one set of ideas, for instance, a food or dream journal, a journal that is only written in when it is raining, a journal of ideas about writing, a weather journal. Remember that journals do not have to involve "good" writing-they are to be made use of. Simple one-line entries like "No snow today" can be inspiring later. Have 3 or 4 journals going at once, each with a different purpose. Create a journal that is meant to be shared and commented on by another writer--leave half of each page blank for the comments of the other.

Type out a Shakespeare sonnet or other poem you would like to learn about/imitate double-spaced on a page. Rewrite it in between the lines.

Find the poems you think are the worst poems ever written, either by your own self or other poets. Study them, then write a bad poem.

Choose a subject you would like to write "about." Then attempt to write a piece that absolutely avoids any relationship to that subject. Get someone to grade you.

Write a series of titles for as yet unwritten poems or proses.

Work with a number of objects, moving them around on a field or surface-describe their shifting relationships, resonances, associations. Or, write a series of poems that have only to do with what you see in the place where you most often write. Or, write a poem in each room of your house or apartment. Experiment with doing this in the home you grew up in, if possible.

Write a bestiary (a poem about real and mythical animals).

Write five short expressions of the most adamant anger; make a work out of them.

Write a work gazing into a mirror without using the pronoun I.

A shocking experiment: Rip pages out of books at random (I guess you could xerox them) and study them as if they were a collection of poetic/literary material. Use this method on your old high school or college notebooks, if possible, then create an epistemological work based on the randomly chosen notebook pages.

Meditate on a word, sound or list of ideas before beginning to write.

Take a book of poetry you love and make a list, going through it poem by poem, of the experiments, innovations, methods, intentions, etc. involved in the creation of the works in the book.

Write what is secret. Then write what is shared. Experiment with writing each in two different ways: veiled language, direct language.

Write a soothing novel in twelve short paragraphs.
Write a work that attempts to include the names of all the physical contents of the terrestrial world that you know.

Take a piece of prose writing and turn it into poetic lines. Then, without remembering that you were planning to do this, make a poem of the first and last words of each line to see what happens. For instance, the lines (from Einstein)

When at the reception
Of sense-impressions, memory pictures
Emerge this is not yet thinking
And when. . .
Would become:
When reception
Of pictures
Emerge thinking
And when

And so on. Form the original prose, poetic lines, and first-and-last word poem into three columns on a page. Study their relationships.

If you have an answering machine, record all messages received for one month, then turn them into a best-selling novella.

Write a macaronic poem (making use of as many languages as you are conversant with).

Attempt to speak for a day only in questions; write only in questions.

Attempt to become in a state where the mind is flooded with ideas; attempt to keep as many thoughts in mind simultaneously as possible. Then write without looking at the page, typescript or computer screen (This is "called" invisible writing).

Choose a period of time, perhaps five or nine months. Every day, write a letter that will never be sent to a person who does or does not exist, or to a number of people who do or do not exist. Create a title for each letter and don't send them. Pile them up as a book.

Etymological work. Experiment with investigating the etymologies of all words that interest you, including your own name(s). Approaches to etymologies: Take a work you've already written, preferably something short, look up the etymological meanings of every word in that work including words like "the" and "a". Study the histories of the words used, then rewrite the work on the basis of the etymological information found out. Another approach: Build poems and writings form the etymological families based on the Indo-European language constructs, for instance, the BHEL family: bulge, bowl, belly, boulder, billow, ball, balloon; or the OINO family: one, alone, lonely, unique, unite, unison, union; not to speak of one of the GEN families: kin, king, kindergarten, genteel, gender, generous, genius, genital, gingerly, pregnant, cognate, renaissance, and innate!

Write a brief bibliography of the science and philosophy texts that interest you. Create a file of newspaper articles that seem to relate to the chances of writing poetry.

Write the poem: Ways of Making Love. List them.

Diagram a sentence in the old-fashioned way. If you don't know how, I'll be happy to show you; if you do know how, try a really long sentence, for instance from Melville.

Turn a list of the objects that have something to do with a person who has died into a poem or poem form, in homage to that person.

Write the same poem over and over again, in different forms, until you are weary. Another experiment: Set yourself the task of writing for four hours at a time, perhaps once, twice or seven times a week. Don't stop until hunger and/or fatigue take over. At the very least, always set aside a four-hour period once a month in which to write. This is always possible and will result in one book of poems or prose writing for each year. Then we begin to know something.

Attempt as a writer to win the Nobel Prize in Science by finding out how thought becomes language, or does not.

Take a traditional text like the pledge of allegiance to the flag. For every noun, replace it with one that is seventh or ninth down from the original one in the dictionary. For instance, the word "honesty" would be replaced by "honey dew melon." Investigate what happens; different dictionaries will produce different results.

Attempt to write a poem or series of poems that will change the world. Does everything written or dreamed of do this?

Write occasional poems for weddings, for rivers, for birthdays, for other poets' beauty, for movie stars maybe, for the anniversaries of all kinds of loving meetings, for births, for moments of knowledge, for deaths. Writing for the "occasion" is part of our purpose as poets in being-this is our work in the community wherein we belong and work as speakers for others.

Experiment with every traditional form, so as to know it.

Write poems and proses in which you set yourself the task of using particular words, chosen at random like the spelling exercises of children: intelligence, amazing, weigh, weight, camel, camel's, foresight, through, threw, never, now, snow, rein, rain. Make a story of that!

Plan, structure, and write a long work. Consider what is the work now needed by the culture to cure and exact even if by accident the great exorcism of its 1998 sort-of- seeming-not-being. What do we need? What is the poem of the future? What is communicable now? What more is communicable?

Compose a list of familiar phrases, or phrases that have stayed in your mind for a long time--from songs, from poems, from conversation:

What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet
(Romeo and Juliet)

A rose is a rose is a rose
(Gertrude Stein)

A raisin in the sun
(Langston Hughes)

The king was in the counting house
Counting out his money. . .
(Nursery rhyme)

I sing the body electric. . .
These United States. . .
(Walt Whitman)

A thing of beauty is a joy forever

(I summon up) remembrance of things past

Ask not for whom the bell tolls
It tolls for thee

Look homeward, Angel

For fools rush in where angels fear to tread

All's well that ends well

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness
(Allen Ginsberg)

I think therefore I am

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,. . .

O brave new world has such people in it
(Shakespeare, The Tempest, later Huxley)

Odi et amo (I hate and I love)

Water water everywhere
Nor any drop to drink

Curiouser and curiouser
(Alice in Wonderland)

Don't worry be happy. Here's a little song I wrote. . .

Write the longest most beautiful sentence you can imagine-make it be a whole page.

Set yourself the task of writing in a way you've never written before, no matter who you are.

What is the value of autobiography?

Attempt to write in a way that's never been written before.

Invent a new form.

Write a perfect poem.

Write a work that intersperses love with landlords.

In a poem, list what you know.

Address the poem to the reader.

Write household poems-about cooking, shopping, eating and sleeping.

Write dream collaborations in the lune form.

Write poems that only make use of the words included in Basic English.

Attempt to write about jobs and how they affect the writing of poetry.

Write while being read to from science texts, or, write while being read to by one's lover from any text.

Trade poems with others and do not consider them your own.

Exercises in style: Write twenty-five or more different versions of one event.

Review the statement: "What is happening to me, allowing for lies and exaggerations which I try to avoid, goes into my poems."

Charles Bernstein's Experiments
1. Homolinguistic translation: Take a poem (someone else's, then your own) and translate it "English to English" by substituting word for word, phrase for phrase, line for line, or "free" translation as response to each phrase or sentence. Or translate the poem into another literary style or a different diction, for example into a slang or vernacular. Do several different types of homolinguistic translation of a single source poem. (Cf.Six Fillious by bp nichol, Steve McCaffery, Robert Fillious, George Brecht, Dick Higgins, Dieter Roth, which also included translation of the poem to French and German.) Chaining: try this with a group, sending the poem on for "translation" from person to another until you get back to the first author. (See David Nemeth's version.). See also, bpNichol, Translating Translating Apollinaire.

2. He Do the Police in Voices: Dialect & Idiolect: Translate or compose a poem or other work into a different dialect or idiolect, your own or other. Dialect can include subculture lingo, slang, text messaging shorthand, etc. For example, Steve McCaffery's translation of the Communist Manifesto in West Riding of Yorkshire dialect (at PennSound): audio, text. See also Nathan Kageyam's translation of Pound's "The Return" into pidgin (Hawaiian Creole English). Use the dialect engine to translate a text into one of several "dialects," then use the results to make a poem.

3. Homophonic translation: Take a poem in a foreign language that you can pronounce but not necessarily understand and translate the sound of the poem into English (e.g., French "blanc" to blank or "toute" to toot). Some examples: Louis and Celia Zukofsky's Catullus., David Melnick's Homer at Eclipse: Men in Aida -- part one and part two; Ron Silliman on homophonic translation (his own, Melnick's, and Chris Tysh's), and two examples by Charles Bernstein -- from Basque and from Portuguese . — Rewrite to suit?

4. Lexical translation: Take a poem in a foreign language that you can pronounce but not necessarily understand and translate it word for word with the help of a bilingual dictionary. (Rewrite to suit?) "Language Is a Virus" provides a translation engine.

5. Try a variant of these four translation exercises using the "Lost in Translation" "Babel" engine, or other web-based translations engines, such as Babelfish, Free and Logopoeia's Shortwave Radio Engine.

6. Do multiple translations of a single poem, working in groups or individually. See Caroline Bergvall's poem setting of multiple translations of the opening of Dante's Divine Comedy, from PennSound.

7. Misheard: Write a poem composed entirely of misheard song lyrics, clichés, overheard conversations, news headlines, menu items, etc. See Kenneth Goldsmith, "Head Citations"

8. Acrostic chance: Pick a book at random and use title as acrostic key phrase. For each letter of key phrase go to page number in book that corresponds (a=1, z=26) and copy as first line of poem from the first word that begins with that letter to end of line or sentence. Continue through all key letters, leaving stanza breaks to mark each new key word. (Cf.: Jackson Mac Low's Stanzas for Iris Lezak.) Variations include using author's name as code for reading through her or his work, using your own or friend's name, picking different kinds of books for this process, devising alternative acrostic procedures. Or use the web Mac Low diastic engine.

9. Tzara's Hat: Everyone in a group writes down a word (alternative: phrase, line) and puts it in a hat. Poem is made according to the order in which it is randomly pulled from hat. (Solo: pick a series of words or lines from books, newspapers, magazines to put in the hat.)

10. Burroughs's fold-in: Take two different pages from a newspaper or magazine article, or a book, and cut the pages in half vertically. Paste the mismatched pages together. (Cf.: William Burroughs’s The Third Mind.) Use the computer cut-up engine to perform a similar task automatically; also engines at "Language Is a Virus:" Cut Up Machine, Slice-n-Dice, Exquisite Cadavulator. And: Ron Starr's travesty engine.

11. General cut-ups: Write a poem composed entirely of phrases lifted from other sources. Use one source for a poem and then many; try different types of sources: literary, historical, magazines, advertisements, manuals, dictionaries, instructions, travelogues, etc. See cut-up engines listed above.

12. Cento: Write a collage made up of full-lines of selected source poems.

13. Serial sentences: Select one sentence each from a variety of different books or other sources. Add sentences of your own composition. Combine into one paragraph, reordering to produce the most interesting results.

14. Substitution (1): "Mad libs." Take a poem (or other source text) and put blanks in place of three or four words in each line, noting the part of speech under each blank. Fill in the blanks being sure not to recall the original context.

15. Substitution (2): "7 up or down." Take a poem or other, possibly well known, text and substitute another word for every noun, adjective, adverb, and verb; determine the substitute word by looking up the index word in the dictionary and going 7 up or down, or one more, until you get a syntactically suitable replacement. (Cf.: Lee Ann Brown's "Pledge" & Michael Magee's "Pledge" (go to p.37 of pdf of Morning Constitutional) or Clark Coolidge and Larry Fagin, On the Pumice of Morons.)

16. Substitution (3): Find and replace. Systematically replace one word in a source text with another word or string of words. Perform this operation serially with the same source text, increasing the number of words in the replace string.

17. Alphabet poems: make up a poem of 26 words so that each word begins with the next letter of the alphabet. Write another alphabet poem but scramble the letter order.

18. Alliteration (assonance): Write a poem in which all the words in each line begin with the same letter.

19. Recombination (1): Write a poem and cut it somewhere in the middle, then recombine with the beginning part following the ending part.

20. Recombination (2) -- Doubling: Starting with one sentence, write a series of paragraphs each doubling the number of sentences in the previous paragraph and including all the words used previously. (Cf. Ron Silliman's Ketjak)

21. Collaboration: Write poems with one or more other people, alternating words, lines, or stanzas (chaining or renga), writing simultaneously and collaging, rewriting, editing, supplementing the previous version. This can be done in person, via e-mail, or via regular mail.

22. Group sonnet: 14 people each write one ten-word line (or alternate measure) on an index card. Order to suit. Alternate: write the poem in sequence, with each person writing the next line having read and considered the previous lines. Modify this to any form or to an open form with any number of participants.

23. Collaborative Surrealist Language Event (I) (for two or more people): One person writes down a question without showing it to anyone else; simultaneously, another person writes down an answer; poem is formed by a series of these questions and answers. Alternate form: One question: multiple answers; vice versa. For example: "When candlelight proves disastrous for performing an appendectomy / Peacocks and crocodiles would dance on the Nile at noon. // If Homer’s brother is cannibalized in the forum by the barbarians / A puppy dog would go to lasco.// If Marx was born in Boise /Then the world would eat nothing but purple-colored ice cream." (Cf: Robert Desnos's ":Language Events.")

24. Collaborative Surrealist Language Event (II) (for two or more people): One person writes a clause beginning "if" or "when"; without seeing this, a second person write a clause in the conditional or future tense. For example: " What is the pink elephant? The reason why it is so cold this week.// Is the door locked? / I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion." (Cf: Robert Desnos's ": Language Events.")

25. Modified Exquisite Corpse: Each person in the group writes down one line, folds paper so the line cannot be seen, and passes to the next.

26. Write a poem in which you try to transcribe as accurately as you can your thoughts while you are writing. Don't edit anything out. Write as fast as you can without planning what you are going to say.

27. Autopilot: Trying as hard as you can not to think or consider what you are writing, write as much as you can as fast you can without any editing or concern for syntax, grammar, narrative, or logic. Try to keep this going for as long as possible: one hour, two hours, three hours: don't look back don't look up.

28. Dream work: Write down your dreams as the first thing you do every morning for 30 days. Apply translation and aleatoric processes to this material. Double the length of each dream. Weave them together into one poem, adding or changing or reordering material. Negate or reverse all statements ("I went down the hill to "I went up the hill," "I didn't" to "I did"). Borrow a friend's dreams and apply these techniques to them.

29. Write a poem made up entirely of neologisms or nonsense words or fragments of words. (Cf.: Lewis Carroll's "Jabberwocky", Khlebnikov's zaum, Schwitters "Ur Sonata." P. Inman's, Ocker, Platin and Uneven Development and David Melnick's Pcoet. (via Eclipse). Use Neil Hennessy's JABBER: The Jabberwocky Engine to generate lexicon. Also see The International Dictionary of Neologisms.

30. Write a poem with each line filling in the blanks of "I used to be _____ but now I am ______." ("I used to write poems, but now I just do experiments"; "I used to make sense, but now I just make poems.")

31. Write a poem consisting entirely of things you'd like to say, but never would, to a parent, lover, sibling, child, teacher, roommate, best friend, mayor, president, corporate CEO, etc.

32. Take same sentence or stanza and cast it as if said to oneself silently, half-whispered, said to an intimate, said to a small group, said to a large group.

33. Write a poem consisting entirely of overheard conversation.

34. Nonliterary forms: Write a poem in the form of an index, a table of contents, a resume, an advertisement for an imaginary or real product, an instruction manual, a travel guide, a quiz or examination, etc.

35. Imitation: Write a poem in the style of each of a dozen poets who you like and dislike. Try to make it as close to a forgery of an "unknown" poem of the author as possible.

36. Write a poem without mentioning any objects.

37. Write a poem focusing on a single object of "thing." See Ponge on an orange.

38. Backwards: Reverse or alter the line sequence of a poem of your own or someone else's. Next, reverse the word order. Rather than reverse, scramble.

39. Write an autobiographical poem without using any pronouns.

40. Attention: Write down everything you hear for one hour.

41. Brainard's Memory: Write a poem all of whose lines start "I remember ..." (Cf.: Joe Brainard's I Remember & audio from UBU ) . ALSO: Brainard's: Imaginary Still Lifes

42. "Pits": Write the worst possible poem you can imagine.

43. Counting: Write poems that conform to various numeric patterns for number of words in a line or sentence, number of lines in a stanza or paragraph, number of stanzas or paragraphs in a work. Alternately, count letters or syllables. Use complex numeric series or simpler fixed-number patterns.

44. Write a poem just when you are on the verge of falling asleep. Write a line a day as you are falling asleep or waking up.

45. [Removed for further study]

46. List poem 1: Write a poem consisting of favorite words or phrases collected over a period of time; pick your favorite words from a particular book.

47. List poem 2: write a poem consisting entirely of a list of "things", either homogenous or heterogeneous (common lists include shopping lists, things to do, lists of flowers or rocks, lists of colors, inventory lists, lists of events, lists of names, ...).

48. Chronology: Make up a list of dates with associated events, real or imagined.

49. Transcription: Tape a phone or live conversation between yourself and a friend. Make a poem composed entirely of transcribed parts.

50. Canceling: Write a series of lines or rhymes such that every other one cancels the one before ("I come before you / to stand behind you").

51. Erasure: Take a poem of your own or someone else's and cross out most of the words on each poem, retype what remains as your poem. (Cf.: Ronald Johnson's RADI OS from Milton.)

52. Write a series of ten poems going from one to ten words in each poem. Reorder.

53. Write a poem composed entirely of questions.

54. Write a poem made up entirely of directions.

55. Write a poem consisting only of opening lines (improvise your own lines, then use source texts).

56. Write a poem consisting only of prepositions, then of prepositions and one other part of speech, then three part of speech.

57. Write a series of eight-word lines consisting of one each of each part of speech.

58. Write a poem consisting of one-word lines; write a poem consisting of two-word lines; write a poem consisting of three-word lines.

59. Pick 20 words, either a word list you generate yourself or from source texts. Write three different poems using only these words.

60. Synchronicity: Write a poem in which all the events occur simultaneously.

61. Diachronicity: Write a poem in which all the events occur in different places and at different times.

62. Visual poetry: write poems with strong visual or "concrete" elements — including a combination of lexical and nonlexical (pictorial) elements. Play with alphabets and typography, placement of words on the page, etc. (See UBUWEB for many examples,)

63. Write a series of stanzas or poems while listening to music; change type of music for each stanza or poem.

64. Elimination: Cut out the second half of sentences.

65. Excuses list: Write a poem made up entirely of excuses.

66. Sprung Diary: Write a diary tracking and intercutting multiple levels of thoughts, experiences, anticipations, expectations, from minute to major. (Cf.. Hannah Weiner's Clairvoyant Journal.)

67. "Walking on Colors": Walk a city block or a country mile paying attention as much as possible to one color; list all the things found in this one color; write about it.

68. Negation/Opposites: Negate every phrase or sentence in the poem or in some way substitute opposite words for selected words in the source text: "I went to the beach" becomes "I went to the office"; "I got up" becomes "She sat down"; "I will" become "I will not", etc. As an alternative, take a poem and change what it says line for line or phrase for phrase; not opposite, just different.

69. Google Poem: construct a poem using Leevi Lehto's engine (use the patterns feature). See also (if it comes back on line) Bill Luomo's Lizardo engine. Alternate Google poem, based on M. Silem Mohammad's Deer Head Nation : use Google search results as the source material for a poem: erase as much as you like, but don't add anything. Many variations possible. See also: The Apostrophe Engine, the source for Apostrophe: The Book by Bill Kennedy and Darren Wershler-Henry.

70. FLARF: A recent extension of this approach, which is developing independent, is called "fluff." Michael Magee explains, in this Experiments List exclusive report, "The Flarf Files."

71. Use the Googlism engine to create a poem based on a name or word.

72. Multilingual poem: write a poem using several languages that are integrated into the single poem. (Cf: Anne Tardos).

73. Pick several images from the internet or a magazine and write an accompanying poem .

74. Graphic design 101.1: Take a poem, first another's then your own, and set it ten different ways, using different fonts and different page sizes. Make a web version of the poem.

75. Take a poem, first another's then your own, and rearrange the line breaks or visual composition, while keeping the same word order. Do this five times, some with freely composed arrangements and some using some form of counting.

76. From Stacy Doris: I. Write a poem (or take a poem you have already written on the topic) about sex. Then rewrite it, substituting words having to do with warfare for the words having to do with sex. II. Write a poem (or take a poem you have already written on the topic) about love. Then rewrite it, substituting words having to do with government for the words of amorousness. III. Write a poem (or take a poem you have already written on the topic) about god and religion. Then rewrite it, substituting words having to do with a political figure whose policy you oppose for the words referring to faith and god.

77. Christian Bök's lipogram Eunoia consists of a five sections each with words containing the same vowel (as in "O": Yoko Ono). This is reminiscent of certain notorious Ouilipian constrains, such as Perec's novel La Disparition , which suppresses the letter "e". Write a poem in the manner of Eunoia..

78. Proliferating styles. In 1947, Raymond Queneau, a founding member of OuLiPo (Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle, or "Workshop of Potential Literature") published Exercises de Style, 99 variations on the "same" story. Each of this 99 approaches could take a place of honor in this list but best to turn to that work for the enumeration and explanation. For present purposes (if purposes doesn't strike an overly teleological chord), suffice it to say that an initial incident, mood, core proposition, description, idea, or indeed, story, might be run through the present list of experiments, though to what end only the Shadow knows, and maybe not even the Shadow.

79. Modular poems. One example: Queneau's One Hundred Thousand Billion Poems

80. Use any of these experiments that involve as source text as a way of reading through already existing poems; that is, as interactive tools for "creative reading." As an extension, study poems via the modes of "Deformative Criticism" (the term is from Jerome McGann and Lisa Samuel). For example, take a poem and erase all but one part of speech, leaving the visual layout intact, or read it backward or otherwise re-order it, or translate it (using any of the translation exercises listed here), Alternately, use these experiments as a way to rewrite or transform your own poems.

81. Use the "Meaning Eater" engine to deform the text of a poem.

82. Use a sound editor to scramble, resound a sound file of a poem. (See PennSound Deformance page, under construction.)

83. Make a poem composed of all the things you don't know (or some of them)

84. Make up more experiments.

Remember: Poems can be in prose format! Rewrite and recombine, collage, splice together the material generated from these experiments into one long ongoing poem! Compiled by Charles Bernstein. (C) 1996-2006 by Poets' Ludicrously Aimless Yearning (PLAY). Dispense only as appropriate and under the supervision of an attending reader. Individual experiments are not liable for injury or failure resulting from improper use of appliance. Any profits accrued as a direct or indirect result of the use of these formulas shall be redistributed to the language at large. Management assumes no responsibility for damages that may result consequent to the use of this material in educational institutions or individual writing project. Revised July 2006. The Finnish translation of the list.

For a version of Bernstein's list with hyperlinks, click here.


They have carried the mahogany chair and the cane rocker
out under the lilac bush,
and my father and mother darkly sit there, in black clothes.
Our clapboard house stands fast on its hill,
my doll lies in her wicker pram
gazing at western Massachusetts.
This was our world.
I could remake each shaft of grass
feeling its rasp on my fingers, draw out the map of every lilac leaf
or the net of vines on my father’s
grief-tranced hand.

Out of my head, half-bursting,
still filling, the dream condenses—
shadows, crystals, ceilings, meadows, globe of dew.
Under the dull green of the lilacs, out in the light
carving each spoke of the pram, the turned porch-pillars,
under high early-summer clouds,
I am Effie, visible and invisible,
remembering and remembered.

They will move from the house,
give the toys and pets away.
Mute and rigid with loss my mother
will ride the train to Baptist Corner,
the silk-spool will run bare.
I tell you, the thread that bound us lies
faint as a web in the dew.
Should I make you, world, again,
could I give back the leaf its skeleton, the air
its early-summer cloud, the house
its noonday presence, shadowless,
and leave this out? I am Effie, you were my dream.

—Adrienne Rich

Sunday, June 21, 2009


Click here and scroll down to bottom for links to older posts on Joe Brainard's life and work.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Poetics 4

This poem was a little harder for me to write because I wasn’t sure about the direction I wanted to talk right away. Unlike other poems it took me a day or two to actually come up with something to write about, around that time I had already taken numerous walks. I tried to think outside the box because I knew typically people would write about walking down a street or something to that nature. Then it came to me, since I was going to seafood festival why not write about that? It was a lot going on there so it made it even harder to write about it or even come up with a structure for it. After I wrote the poem I thought it wouldn’t be a very successful poem because I did a completely different structure. Overall after everything was said and done the poem turned out to be a good one and I wouldn’t mind writing another one again.

Poetics 4

This poem was my absolute favorite to write! I originally was going to write about my experience on the subway and describe all of the people I saw but I figured to walk there would be better. This poem really gave me a chance to express some of my emotions and sarcasm and for the class to see a new side to me. I didn't want it to be serious or some sort of deep poetry. I just wanted it to be straight forward. I wasn't sure if I was getting to much into my head but from the feedback I received it seemed that it was a good balance. This poem was a very easy though process, if any thought process at all really. Everything around my way is really under construction so there wasn't much to see visually other than what was on me or what I was thinking. It was really cool to see my thoughts on paper as well. I think I actually want to start writing all my thoughts down. It makes for a really funny story to look back on. I also really enjoyed reading everyone else's poems and how they all varied so much.

Poetics 4

The "walk poem" was very different for me than any of the others written for class. For starters, it was much more emotional because of the memories I had of taking that walk to reflect on the changes I needed to make in my life. The "walk poem" was an active work. By that, I mean that it involved much more movement and observation than the other poems did. Attention had to be given to what you saw and felt and heard. The process for me, was to walk a very familiar route and to pay attention to what I was feeling at that moment, as opposed to what I'd felt in the past. The journey was emotional as well as physical. Things in this rural, hilly neighborhood tend to be very quiet. It's a good place to walk and reflect. I learned that my body, my legs especially, are stronger than I thought, and that my mind tends to wander. I weave in and out of thoughts, daydreams and distractions, sometimes taking a "break" from heavy emotional subjects. So, I've actually found that the "racing" has a purpose. The "walk poem" was therapeutic for me in many ways. It highlighted my strengths, got me out into the fresh air where I could think more clearly and observe my surroundings, and it gave me a new type of creative outlet. This poem was painful in some ways, but in many others, it was enjoyable. I'd like to do others in various locations, just to see what I come up with.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Poetics 4

The method I used for writing the walk poem was taking a notebook on the walk and writing down everything that I saw, heard, and smelled. I could not write fast enough to capture everything. While writing the poem my eyes were down on the notebook, and I missed some of the visuals surrounding me. I went on the walk not knowing what I was going to write, but I knew I would record the walk focusing on the senses. It was fun writing this poem because anything could happen, I did not have to come up with anything, life came up with ideas for me. I became so involved with capturing my surroundings perhaps I left out too much of what is inside me. There is an in-the-moment quality to this style of writing that is very appealing to me. This poem was like writing the list poem, only not memory based. I learned that while walking my mind is more outside of my body. While walking, my imagination is more consumed by my surroundings than anything else.

Poetics 4

To write my walk poem, I decided not to take a walk that was brand new to me. Instead, I chose a path that was familiar, because I wanted to reflect on and observe everyday sights in new ways. My walk wasn't far; I went around the block in my quiet suburban neighborhood. I noticed that I was primarily surrounded by nature, as opposed to the city where I would have encountered many faces and a bustling street. I tried to convey a sense of nostalgia and boredom with this neighborhood in my piece, because that's exactly how I was feeling on my walk. It made me miss being in south Philly, with so many places to go, so much chaos, and so many people. The lines about the laundrymat and the water ice place being "so nicely paired" was somewhat sarcastic, because everything in this little town seems so planned out; ie. you could get a water ice while waiting for your laundry! Moreover, I tried to focus on very specific words in my piece and allow them to convey meaning without extra langugae. I think I was more successful in some parts of the poem than others, especially where word choice interacted with the meaning/feeling I was trying to convey. I definitely plan on doing some major revisions to try to make it more clear, especially since I feel it needs a structural overhaul most of all. Out of all the work I've done this semester, I think my walk poem (not the assignment, just my work specifically) has been my least favorite so far.


Poetics 4

My walk poem was about the walk me and my girlfriend took down south street. I learned a lot while doing this poem. I never thought of doing a poem while walking. It was rather exciting, the reason it was exciting is because it was something different. The walk poem is different from other poems because it allows you to expand your imagination. The walk poem is different from other poems because it's more to write about, because yoou are outside experiencing first hand what you are writing about. My suggestion when writing a walk poem is to let your mind free. Also, take a walk in a very buisy place or social place. It will make the writing of the poem exciting.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


Thinking more today about Lisa's poem and our discussions of attention to "interior" and "exterior" realities, I thought I'd share with you what I think is one of Robert Lowell's better poems, also a walk poem:

Skunk Hour

(For Elizabeth Bishop)

Nautilus Island's hermit
heiress still lives through winter in her Spartan cottage;
her sheep still graze above the sea.
Her son's a bishop. Her farmer
is first selectman in our village;
she's in her dotage.

Thirsting for
the hierarchic privacy
of Queen Victoria's century,
she buys up all
the eyesores facing her shore,
and lets them fall.

The season's ill—
we've lost our summer millionaire,
who seemed to leap from an L. L. Bean
catalogue. His nine-knot yawl
was auctioned off to lobstermen.
A red fox stain covers Blue Hill.

And now our fairy
decorator brightens his shop for fall;
his fishnet's filled with orange cork,
orange, his cobbler's bench and awl;
there is no money in his work,
he'd rather marry.

One dark night,
my Tudor Ford climbed the hill's skull;
I watched for love-cars. Lights turned down,
they lay together, hull to hull,
where the graveyard shelves on the town. . . .
My mind's not right.

A car radio bleats,
"Love, O careless Love. . . ." I hear
my ill-spirit sob in each blood cell,
as if my hand were at its throat. . . .
I myself am hell;
nobody's here—

only skunks, that search
in the moonlight for a bite to eat.
They march on their soles up Main Street:
white stripes, moonstruck eyes' red fire
under the chalk-dry and spar spire
of the Trinitarian Church.

I stand on top
of our back steps and breathe the rich air—
a mother skunk with her column of kittens swills the garbage pail.
She jabs her wedge-head in a cup
of sour cream, drops her ostrich tail,
and will not scare.

Note how the speaker uses external realities in the landscape to intimate or evoke internal realities; of course, any distinction between interior and exterior is at best provisional (Yeats: "How can we know the dancer from the dance?"), but we may take these to mean, in the context of a walk poem, ideas and images in the speaker's mind (interior) and realities "out there" in the physical landscape (exterior). Note for example how the skunk is used as a vehicle to connote the mental state of the speaker, or a contrary corollary that, unlike the speaker, "will not scare." Likewise, all the images of ruin and disrepair ("winter," "dotage," "eyesores" that "fall," the ill season and auctioned-off yawl, and so on): "exterior" corollaries for the speaker's "interior" (mental) condition. Also note the "love-cars" that "lay together . . . / where the graveyard shelves on the town," so love and death mingle in this metonymic image, which in turn reminds us of the effete shoreside imagery in the preceding stanzas, and then, too, the bodies of lovers who "lay together" inside the cars/"hulls." And then finally, the subjective correlative: "My mind's not right," and again later, "I myself am hell; / nobody's here--" But the focus is simultaneously "outside" and "inside," or the one reality evokes (provokes?) the other.

Another approach to this business of focusing outward versus inward, or outward so to go more carefully inward, here's a paraphrase and explanation of T.S. Eliot's idea of an objective correlative, which you may find valuable as you consider how "inside" and "outside" do and do not interact in the imagination:

A term introduced by T.S Eliot in his essay “Hamlet and His Problems” (1919). Eliot observes that there is something in Hamlet which Shakespeare cannot “drag into the light, contemplate, or manipulate into art,” at least not in the same way that he can with Othello’s jealousy, or Coriolanus’ pride. He goes on to deduce that “the only way of expressing emotion in the form of art is by finding an ‘objective correlative’; in other words, a set of objects, a situation, a chain of events which shall be the formula for that particular emotion; such that when the external facts, which must terminate in a sensory experience, are given, the emotion is immediately evoked” (Selected Essays, [London: Faber and Faber, 1951], pp. 144-5).
Eliot’s brief remark had a history far beyond this initial, occasional, context, offering a tag-phrase for the mysterious way in which art communicates emotion by providing the reader or perceiver with a set of representations in which the emotion may not be actually present but which nevertheless serve to communicate that emotion. He goes on to say “If you examine any of Shakespeare’s more successful tragedies, you will find this exact equivalence; you will find that the state of mind of Lady Macbeth walking in her sleep has been communicated to you by the skillful accumulation of imagined sensory impressions .... The artistic ‘inevitability’ lies in this complete adequacy of the external to the emotion, and this is what is deficient in Hamlet.”
Eliot’s judgement on Hamlet as one of Shakespeare’ lesser plays has struck many critics as odd. Nevertheless his idea, although more impressionistic than rigorous, seemed apt to many critics over the next sixty years, being taught to many students until more sophisticated theories became available in the later 1960s. This was an idea which was of its time, as we can discern in its similarity to the slightly earlier doctrines of the Imagists
(1912), and notably those of Ezra Pound who was close to Eliot at this time, concerning the use of concrete poetic images to communicate emotions to the reader, doctrines which appear to have influenced Eliot’s “The Waste Land" (1922). Similarly, the objective correlative finds echoes in Freud’s understanding of how symbolic representations such as dreams, or indeed such a play as Hamlet itself, speak with great emotional force because addressing repressed thoughts and desires.
For Freud on Hamlet see his essays “Mourning and Melancholia” (1917) and “Psychopathic Characters on the Stage” (written in 1904 but only published posthumously in 1942).

Click here for the complete essay, "Hamlet and His Problems"

For an approach to the subjective contrary to T.S. Eliot's, see Robert Kelly's definition of the precise subjective. The key word here is precise, and I think that both Eliot and Kelly would argue that it's the imprecisions of the subjective in language that lead to bad art.

Viz expression of interior states or conditions of being, check out Elaine Scarry's The Body In Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World. In my opinion, this book should be required reading for all writers. Among other things, it explores the ontology of pain and the place of language in expressing pain.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Poetics 4

This poem was the most challenging by far only because we had learned that we should listen to all the little voices in our heads, incorporate conversations, and written language all the while we are trying to take a walk. I recorded pages of my observations in addition to jogging my mind to produce what I've learned is a 'prose poem'-the much contested form of poetry for it's lengthy narrative style. However,I would argue that the language is still evocative and poetic, and would serve a different purpose had it been flash fiction or prose. In my poem, I tried to focused on making it a vivid piece which sounded just as pleasant to read(excuse the caps I've since removed!).
I was asked about the tone of the poem, and while I infuse humor-it's just the way I see things and my mood becomes more sour as I notice the changes to a local park I enjoyed many fond memories of as a child, before it has changed so dramtically due to gentrification in Northern Liberities where I currently live. This is a family park, with a playground, park benches although everyone knows that it has always turned to the adults a.k.a lovers, drug addicts etc @ nite. I didn't realize it turned into a dog park in early morning, so I was quite disappoined just watching these dogs run wild pooping everywhere, while their owners talked baseball! rather than pick up after their dogs.
I couldn't help but mention the analogy of Palestine, since it is a river that seperates the two countries(Israel and Jordan), and unlike the urban trappings of Philly and Camden, the Middle East is such a beautiful, yet volitle place to be. That's why I thought of Dangerous Beauty because of all the turmoil which does weigh down in my heart, particularly since I will be in that landscape in a matter of days.
After taking into consideration all your comments, I have revised it to a more readable piece which I am happier with.


A Black Lady

She sat on the Lex line #2
pink patent crossed feet
and goodluck fish danglin
from the wrist
Say hello
calmly nod but no more
cause she don't play with kids
Pink patent crossed feet
crust on one knee ash layin
in the thumb
How far down is she goin
Where is she comin from
and how far down is backin up
Stop starin
would if you could
but can't
cause spirits in her eyes say
she goin to the stop where you can
say more
and she don't have to hold
that bag so tight

--Elouise Loftin
(Aldon Lynn Nielsen on Loftin)

Under the Edge of February

Under the edge of February
in hawk of a throat
hidden by ravines of sweet oil
by temples of switch blades
beautiful in its sound of fertility
beautiful in its turban of funeral crepe
beautiful in its camouflage of grief
in its solitude of bruises
in its arson of alert

Who will enter its beautiful calligraphy of blood

Its beautiful mask of fish net
mask of hubcaps mask of ice picks mask
of watermelon rinds mask of umbilical cords
changing into mask of rubber bands
Who will enter this beautiful mask of
punctured bladders moving with a mask of chapsticks

Compound of Hearts Compound of Hearts

Where is the lucky number for this shy love
this top-heavy beauty bathed with charcoal water
self-conscious against a mosaic of broken bottles
broken locks broken pipes broken
bloods of broken spirits broken through like
broken promises

Landlords Junkies Thieves
enthroning themselves in you
they burn up couches they burn down houses
and infuse themselves against memory
every thought
a pavement of old belts
every performance
a ceremonial pick up
how many more orphans how many neglected shrines
how many more stolen feet stolen gums
stolen watchbands of death
in you how many times


hidden by ravines of sweet oil
by temples of switch blades
beautiful in your sound of fertility
beautiful in your turban of funeral crepe
beautiful in your camouflage of grief
in your solitude of bruises in
your arson of alert

--Jayne Cortez

Monday, June 15, 2009

Poetics 4

The process of writing the Walk poem was tough because I wasn’t sure how to begin writing it. I have a bunch of descriptions about “my walk” but I find it hard to put all of them into my poem. I wanted my poem to be descriptive and I tried to get the readers to see what I wanted them to see through my poem. I learned that my mind was just jumping around from one place to another as I was walking. It was thinking about everything I see or hear, randomly. My imagination level was all over the place. I was questioning things left and right in my mind and I didn’t even take notice. It was pretty interesting to write the Walk poem. I have never written anything like a Walk poem before. It was so different from the other poem’s I have written so far. The Walk poem was about what I see, hear, feel, and etc. It was basically about me and “my walk”.


You have tracks inside a city. You build from wherever your center is. Wherever you sit your ass, wherever you put your drink, the place you eat in or a house or an apartment, you build your tracks from here to there. If you’re going shopping, you find your stores: you usually even go to those stores a certain way. You follow certain tracks through the city. You might even work it into a sense of birth. Constantly, you’re moving toward something, but you always return to wherever your womb is, whether it’s McSorely’s bar or you know. Just put me on Second Avenue; I can hang on. I’m driving down this ugly street again and like I know where I am. I know where the parking places are, if there are any, or what streets they’re likely to be on. And it’s get out of the car and get into a subway and go where you’re going––but you immediately move into a whole new set of grooves, your head turned around, and you’re moving places. You have friends here. It’s easier to walk over to Carmine Street or to Van Dam Street than it is to take any kind of transportation whatsoever from the Lower East side. You have a fifteen or twenty-minute walk, but it’s much simpler than taking any transportation. And not only that, you can vary your routes. There are all sorts of channels inside a city, ways of doing things, going places. (But), it’s somebody else’s system. You use this whole complex of systems, somehow to satisfy your own sense of moving from here to there. I don’t build roads, man: I didn’t lay out the city. But I can walk all over Central Park practically in the dark. . . I’m completely located in this wild little park. . .

(“An Interview with PB,” with L.S. Dembo, conducted May 25, 1971; Contemporary Literature, 1972, 141-42)

Paul Blackburn, Visitation I

Friday, June 12, 2009


Too often, it seems that we misread "writing workshop" as "writing worship": the workshop as a place of mutual worship (both silent and spoken), where we avoid critical feedback for a host of complex psychological and social reasons. And part of the difficulty may have to do with cultural notions of criticism as inherently negative and destructive versus positive and constructive.

A workshop is a place of work, a place of work-in-process, and a critical space. The etymology of criticism links an ability to make judgments with a state of separation (Gr. krinein, “to separate, decide”). Contrary to the “fusing-together” of confusion, you may think of the critical space of the workshop as a place where separations occur: the writer separates herself from her work; the writer separates herself from her private sphere and enters the public sphere of a readership; the reader presents herself as separated from the writer’s intentions and the writing itself; the act of writing separates from the act of reading/rereading, and so on. You hear the same idea in the phrase "critical distance," which implies that critical vision cannot take place without stepping away from whatever it is you would criticize: a poem, an experience, and so on.

Any act of separation presents a crisis, and there is the connotation of crisis in the etymology of the word criticism. Among other things, a crisis is “a turning point in a disease.” Indeed, there is much crisis and dis-ease in giving and receiving criticism, but also think of criticism as an occasion in which whatever is diseased in the body of the work begins to separate out and name itself in the critical act of the workshop. As you give and receive criticism at workshop, keep in mind this constructive notion of criticism as a turning point in "right naming" motivated by a desire to cure what is diseased.

Along these lines, the following is a selection I made from a document that a colleague gave to me some years ago. I think these guidelines may be helpful as we continue the workshop process.


Read the work attentively at least once. Follow your workshop guidelines and write a thoughtful response.

Take notes as you read. It's much easier to comment in detail if you have the details in front of you.


Practice professional criticism. Just as writers must learn to respond to criticism in a professional manner, critics must learn to offer it responsibly. Critical responses should be concrete and specific; explain clearly and thoughtfully what you mean. Demonstrate that you've tried to understand the writer's work

Allow the work to stand alone. The writer needs your "cold eye" in order to know whether the work is succeeding. Put aside friendship, competition, annoyances, and all other irrelevant reactions, and focus on the writing itself: does it work?

Respect the writer's process. Writers need your honest criticism, but keep in mind that workshops produce works in progress.

Practice good communication. It is one thing to articulate the flaws in a work; it's quite another to communicate these insights in a way that the writer can understand, accept, and use. Try focusing on your own response to the work-how you felt as you read, rather than harping on its flaws.

Be honest and sensitive. Honesty does not mean a free-for-all, and sensitivity doesn't mean sugar-coating the truth. Try to identify precisely how the work affected you as you read it. Try to communicate this in a way that won't alienate the writer.

Ask questions. Even if the writer can't answer at the moment, a question shows respect, as well as raising legitimate concerns about the writing.

Never skip a workshop unnecessarily; many writers take this personally.

Return your clearly marked draft to the writer. Belonging to a workshop is a kind of mutual promise-others will respond more fully to your work if they receive a generous response from you. (Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.)


Turn in a clean, complete manuscript. Be sure to use a readable, l2-point font, and leave margins wide enough for readers to write comments. Double-space, number, and staple your pages. Remember that respecting deadlines gives others time to read and comment on your work thoughtfully.

Write down your questions. As you work, list places where you're uncertain, technical questions that you may have, and passages you wonder about. Include page numbers, and be specific about the kind of information you want from readers, such as ideas, an emotional response, or a critical judgment.

Prepare emotionally. This rare opportunity for concentrated critical attention will be both helpful and stressful. It may help to remind yourself that you joined the class in order to improve your writing, and that is what the workshop will help you to do. Before your workshop begins, resolve that the draft is finished: it must stand on its own.

Engage. If your workshop allows it, ask some of the questions that you had noted while you were preparing for your workshop. If you can't ask questions during your workshop, keep them in mind anyway; having a clear objective will help as you process the information you receive.

Question purposefully. Use open-ended questions to stimulate discussion; use yes/no questions to redirect it.

Take notes. Keeping a careful record of others' comments will help you to recall the discussion, which may be difficult to remember in detail otherwise. Consult your notes after some time has passed and you're ready to revise; or, use the notes as a reference to remind you of questions you'd like to pursue with individual readers.

Listen. If your workshop emphasizes receptive learning, don't just sit there—pay attention and try to understand others' ideas. If you're allowed to speak, spend this time asking purposeful questions rather than defending the work. It may help to remind yourself that you're under no obligation to accept the criticism you're offered. In any workshop, the last word is the writer's final draft.

Consider. Give yourself some time to think over all the ideas that you've received. If possible, it may help to take a break before starting to revise. Try using this incubation time as a reading period—the voices of other writers will be an added positive influence.

Maintain your integrity. No one has to write by consensus. Over time, you'll learn to recognize the critical voices that are most helpful to you, and not to be shaken by those that are less beneficial.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


We could devote an entire course to walk-writing in Philadelphia, exploring the long relationship between walking and writing as it relates to the city. Some sources that come to mind...

On walking in Philadelphia:
Hollis Alpert, "Philadelphia: Plans and Pigeons"
George Barton, Little Journeys Around Old Philadelphia
Charles Henry White, "Philadelphia"
Christopher Morley, Christopher Morley's Philadelphia

The streets of Philadelphia are generalized in Springsteen's eponymous song, but they're there in this sort of walk lyric:

Streets Of Philadelphia

I was bruised and battered I couldn't tell what I felt
I was unrecognizable to myself
I saw my reflection in a window I didn't know my own face
Oh Brother are you gonna leave me wastin' away
On the streets of Philadelphia

I walked the avenue 'til my legs felt like stone
I heard the voices of friends vanished and gone
At night I could hear the blood in my veins
Black and whispering as the rain
On the streets of Philadelphia

Ain't no angel gonna greet me
It's just you and I, my friend
My clothes don't fit me no more
I walked a thousand miles
Just to slip this skin

The night has fallen, I'm lyin' awake
I can feel myself fading away
So receive me brother with your faithless kiss
Or will we leave each other alone like this
On the streets of Philadelphia

While not a walk lyric, here are the lyrics to Neil Young's "Philadelphia." Also note what we were talking about the other day viz prosopopoiea ["making/giving face"] in the speaker's addressing the city as a person:


Sometimes I think that I know
What love's all about
And when I see the light
I know I'll be all right.

I've got my friends in the world,
I had my friends
When we were boys and girls
And the secrets came unfurled.

City of brotherly love,
Place I call home,
Don't turn your back on me
I don't want to be alone.

Someone is talking to me,
Calling my name,
Tell me I'm not to blame
I won't be ashamed of love.

City of brotherly love.
Brotherly love.

Sometimes I think that I know
What love's all about
And when I see the light
I know I'll be all right.

--Neil Young

Edgar Allen Poe's "The Elk/Morning on the Wissahickon"

Of course, there are many other examples of walk-based writings on Philadelphia, and I'll post more as I think of them.
And feel free to add to the list!


Here are a few additional resources for meditations on walking. You can find most of these online or in Temple's library.

On walking:
Henry David Thoreau, "Walking"

Michel de Certeau, "Walking in the City"
Virginia Woolf, "Street Haunting"

Additional walk poems and variations (ride poems?) off the top of my head:
Homer's Odyssey, Dante's Divine Comedy, Walt Whitman's "Song of the Open Road," Alice Notley's Descent of Alette, Frank O'Hara's "The Day Lady Died," Allen Ginsberg's "Wichita Vortex Sutra"

So many other great walking poets (Wordsworth, Coleridge, Whitman, Baudelaire, Blackburn, Snyder, et al.) And then there are poets who love/loved to walk, but you wouldn't necessarily know it from the poetry. Charles Reznikoff was a great walker, which appears in some of his poetry, but he's just as often "walking" through historical texts.

And where are the walking female poets? There's something bourgeois about the walking poet, even decadent (the flaneur), or at least there's that tradition of walking (walking tour) that requires leisure time, which historically tended to be the property of wealthy white men. Is walking now associated with the poor? Or only walking (not walking-as-art)? We'll talk about these and other issues as we look at walk poems in class.

Feel free to add to these lists.


A.R. Ammons

Nothing that can be said in words is worth saying.

I don't know whether I can sustain myself for thirty minutes of saying I know nothing - or that I need to try, since I might prove no more than you already suspect, or, even worse, persuade you of the fact. Nothingness contains no images to focus and brighten the mind, no contrarieties to build up muscular tension: it has no place for argumentation and persuasion, comparison and contrast, classification, analysis. As nothingness is more perfectly realized, there is increasingly less (if that isn't contradictory) to realize, less to say, less need to say. Only silence perfects silence. Only nothingness contributes to nothingness. The only perfect paper I could give you would be by standing silent before you for thirty minutes. But I am going to try this imperfect, wordy means to suggest why silence is finally the only perfect statement.

I have gone in for the large scope with no intention but to make it larger; so I have had to leave a lot of space "unworked," have had to leave out points the definition of any one of which could occupy a paper longer than this. For though we often need to be restored to the small, concrete, limited, and certain, we as often need to be reminded of the large, vague, unlimited, unknown.

I can't tell you where a poem comes from, what it is, or what it is for: nor can any other man. The reason I can't tell you is that the purpose of a poem is to go past telling, to be recognised by burning.

I don't, though, disparage efforts to say what poetry is and is for. I am grateful for - though I can't keep up with - the flood of articles, theses, and textbooks that mean to share insight concerning the nature of poetry. Probably all the attention to poetry results in some value, though the attention is more often directed to lesser than to greater values.

Once every five hundred years or so, a summary statement about poetry comes along that we can't imagine ourselves living without. The greatest statement in our language is Coleridge's in the Biographia. It serves my purpose to quote only a fragment from the central statement: that the imagination - and, I think, poetry - "reveals itself in the balance or reconciliation of opposite or discordant qualities." This suggests to me that description, logic, and hypothesis, reaching toward higher and higher levels of generality, come finally to an antithesis logic can't bridge. But poetry, the imagination, can create a vehicle, at once concrete and universal, one and many, similar and diverse, that is capable of bridging the duality and of bringing us the experience of a "real" world that is also a reconciled, a unified, real world. And this vehicle is the only expression of language, of words, that I know of that contradicts my quotation from Lao-tse, because a poem becomes, like reality, an existence about which nothing can be said in words worth saying.

Statement can also achieve unity, though without the internal suspension, of variety. For example, All is One, seems to encompass or erase all contradiction. A statement, however, differs from a work of art. The statement, All is One, provides us no experience of manyness, of the concrete world from which the statement is derived. But a work of art creates a world of both and many, a world of definition and indefinition. Why should we be surprised that the work of art, which over-reaches and reconciles logical paradox, is inaccessible to the methods of logical exposition? A world comes into being about which any statement, however revelatory, is a lessening.

Knowledge of poetry, which is gained, as in science or other areas, by induction and deduction, is likely to remain provisional by falling short in one of two ways: either it is too specific, too narrow and definite, to be widely applicable - that is, the principles suggested by a single poem are not likely to apply in the same number or kind in another poem. Each poem in becoming generates the laws by which it is generated: extensions of the laws to other poems never completely take. But a poem generated by its own laws may be unrealized and bad in terms of so-called objective principles of taste, judgement, deduction. We are obliged both to begin internally with a given poem and work toward generalization and to approach the poem externally to test it with a set - and never quite the same set - of a priori generalizations. Whatever we gain in terms of the existence of an individual poem, we lose in terms of a consistent generality, a tradition: and vice versa. It is Scylla and Charybdis again. It is the logically insoluble problem of one and many.

To avoid the uncertainty generated by this logical impasse - and to feel assured of something definite to teach - we are likely to prefer one side or the other - either the individual poem or the set of generalizations - and then to raise mere preference to eternal verity. But finally, nothing is to be gained by dividing the problem. A teacher once told me that every line of verse ought to begin with a capital letter. That is definite, teachable, mistaken knowledge. Only by accepting the uncertainty of the whole can we free ourselves to the reconciliation that is the poem, both at the subconscious level of feeling and the conscious level of art.

One step further before we get to the main business of the paper. Questions structure and, so, to some extent predetermine answers. If we ask a vague question, such as, What is poetry? we expect a vague answer, such as, Poetry is the music of words, or Poetry is the linguistic correction of disorder. If we ask a narrower question, such as, What is a conceit? we are likely to get a host of answers, but narrower answers. Proteus is a good figure for this. You remember that Proteus was a minor sea god, a god of knowledge, an attendant on Poseidon. Poseidon is the ocean, the total view, every structure in the ocean itself. Proteus, the god of knowledge, though, is a minor god. Definite knowledge, knowledge specific and clear enough to be recognizable as knowledge, is, as we have seen, already limited into a minor view. Burke said that a clear idea is another name for a little idea. It was presumed that Proteus knew the answers - and more important The Answer - but he resisted questions by transforming himself from, one creature or substance into another. The more specific, the more binding the question, the more vigorously he wrestled to be free of it. Specific questions about poetry merely turn into other specific questions about poetry. But the vague question is answered by the ocean which provides distinction and nondistinction, something intellect can grasp, compare, and structure, and something it can neither grasp, compare, nor structure.

My predisposition, which I hope shortly to justify, is to prefer confusion to oversimplified clarity, meaninglessness to neat, precise meaning, uselessness, to overdirected usefulness. I do not believe that rationality can exhaust the poem, that any scheme of explanation can adequately reflect the poem, that any invented structure of symbology can exceed and therebye replace the poem.

I must stress here the point that I appreciate clarity, order, meaning, structure, rationality: they are necessary to whatever provisional stability we have, and they can be the agents of gradual and successful change. And the rational critical mind is essential to making poems: it protects the real poem (which is nonrational) from blunders, misconceptions, incompetences; it weeds out the second rate. Definition, rationality, and structure are ways of seeing, but they become prisons when they blank out other ways of seeing. If we remain open minded we will soon find for any easy clarity an equal and opposite, so that the sum of our clarities should return us where we belong, to confusion and, hopefully, to more complicated and better assessments.

Unlike the logical structure, the poem is an existence which can incorporate contradictions, inconsistencies, explanations and counter-explanations and still remain whole, unexhausted and inexhaustible; an existence that comes about by means other than those of description and exposition and, therefore, to be met by means other than or in addition to those of description and exposition.

With the hope of focusing some of these problems, I want to establish a reasonably secure identity between a poem and a walk and to ask how a walk occurs, what it is, and what it is for. I say I want a reasonably secure identity because I expect to have space to explore only four resemblances between poems and walks and no space at all for the differences, taking it for granted that walks and poems are different things. I'm not, of course, interested in walks as such but in clarification or intensification by distraction, seeing one thing better by looking at something else. We want to see the poem.

What justification is there for comparing a poem with a walk rather than with something else? I take the walk to be the externalization of an interior seeking so that the analogy is first of all between the external and the internal. Poets not only do a lot of walking but talk about it in their poems: "I wandered lonely as a cloud," "Now I out walking," and "Out walking in the frozen swamp one grey day." There are countless examples, and many of them suggest that both the real and the fictive walk are externalizations of an inward seeking. The walk magnified is the journey, and probably no figure has been used more often than the journey for both the structure and concern of an interior seeking.

How does a poem resemble a walk? First, each makes use of the whole body, involvement is total, both mind and body. You can't take a walk without feet and legs, without a circulatory system, a guidance and coordinating system, without eyes, ears, desire, will, need: the total person. This observation is important not only for what it includes but for what it rules out: as with a walk, a poem is not simply a mental activity: it has body, rhythm, feeling, sound, and mind, conscious and subconscious. The pace at which a poet walks (and thinks), his natural breath-length, the line he pursues, whether forthright and straight or weaving and meditative, his whole "air," whether of aimlessness or purpose - all these things and many more figure into the "physiology" of the poem he writes.

A second resemblance is that every walk is unreproducible, as is every poem. Even if you walk exactly the same route each time - as with a sonnet - the events along the route cannot be imagined to be the same from day to day, as the poet's health, sight, his anticipations, moods, fears, thoughts cannot be the same. There are no two identical sonnets or villanelles. If there were, we would not know how to keep the extra one: it would have no separate existence. If a poem is each time new, then it is necessarily an act of discovery, a chance taken, a chance that may lead to fulfillment or disaster. The poet exposes himself to the risk. All that has been said about poetry, all that he has learned about poetry, is only a partial assurance.

The third resemblance between a poem and a walk is that each turns, one or more times, and eventually returns. It's conceivable that a poem could rake out and go through incident after incident without ever returning, merely ending in the poet's return to dust. But most poems and most walks return. I have already quoted the first line from Frost's "The Wood-Pile." Now, here are the first three lines:

Out walking in the frozen swamp one gray day,
I paused and said, 'I will turn back from here.
No, I will go on farther - and we shall see.

The poet is moving outward seeking the point from which he will turn back. In "The Wood-Pile" there is no return: return is implied. The poet goes farther and farther into the swamp until he finds by accident the point of illumination with which he closes the poem.

But the turns and returns or implied returns give shape to the walk and to the poem. With the first step, the number of shapes the walk might take is infinite, but then the walk begins to "define" itself as it goes along, though freedom remains total with each step: any tempting side road can be turned into on impulse, or any wild patch of woods can be explored. The pattern of the walk is to come true, is to be recognized, discovered. The pattern, when discovered, may be found to apply to the whole walk, or only a segment of the walk may prove to have contour and therefore suggestion and shape. From previous knowledge of the terrain, inner and outer, the poet may have before the walk an inkling of a possible contour. Taking the walk would then be searching out or confirming, giving actuality to, a previous intuition.

The fourth resemblance has to do with the motion common to poems and walks. The motion may be lumbering, clipped, wavering, tripping, mechanical, dance-like, awkward, staggering, slow, etc. But the motion occurs only in the body of the walker or in the body of the words. It can't be extracted and contemplated. It is nonreproducible and nonlogical. It can't be translated into another body. There is only one way to know it and that is to enter into it.

To summarize, a walk involves the whole person; it is not reproducible: its shape occurs, unfolds: it has a motion characteristic of the walker.

If you were brought into a classroom and asked to teach walks, what would you teach? If you have any idea, I hope the following suggestions will deprive you of it.

The first thought that would occur to you is, What have other people said about walks? You could collect all historical references to walks and all descriptions of walks, find out the average length of walks, through what kind of terrain they have most often proceeded, what kind of people have enjoyed walks and why and how walks have reflected the societies in which they occurred. In short, you could write a history of walks.

Or you could call in specialists. You might find a description of a particularly disturbing or interesting walk and then you might call in a botanist to retrace that walk with you and identify all the leaves and berries for you: or you might take along a sociologist to point out to you that the olive trees mentioned were at the root - forgive me - of feudal society: or you might take along a surveyor to give you a close reading in inches and degrees: or you might take a psychoanalyst along to ask good questions about what is the matter with people who take walks: or you might take a physiologist to provide you with astonishment that people can walk at all. Each specialist would no doubt come up with important facts and insights, but your attention, focused on the cell structure of the olive leaf, would miss the main event, the walk itself.

You could ask what walks are good for. Here you would find plenty: to settle the nerves, to improve the circulation, to break in a new pair of shoes, to exercise the muscles, to aid digestion, to prevent heart attacks, to focus the mind, to distract the mind, to get a loaf of bread, to watch birds, to kick stones, to spy on a neighbours wife, to dream. My point is clear. You could go on indefinitely. Out of desperation and exasperation brought on by the failure to define the central use or to exhaust the list of uses of walks, you would surrender, only to recover into victory by saying, Walks are useless. So are poems.

Or you could find out what walks mean: do they mean a lot of men have unbearable wives, or that we must by outward and inward motions rehearse the expansion, and contraction of the universe; do walks mean that we need structure - or, at an obsessive level, ritual in our lives? The answer is that a walk doesn't mean anything, which is a way of saying that to some extent it means anything you can make it mean - and always more than you can make it mean. Walks are meaningless. So are poems.

There is no ideal walk, then, though I haven't taken the time to prove it out completely, except the useless, meaningless walk. Only uselessness is empty enough for the presence of so many uses, and only through uselessness can the ideal walk come into the sum total of its uses. Only uselessness can allow the walk to be totally itself.

I hope you are now, if you were not before, ready to agree with me that the greatest wrong that can be done a poem is to substitute a known part for an unknown whole and that the choice to be made is the freedom of nothingness: that our experience of poetry is least injured when we accept it as useless, meaningless, and nonrational.

Besides the actual reading in class of many poems, I would suggest you do two things: first, while teaching everything you can and keeping free of it, teach that poetry is a mode of discourse that differs from logical exposition. It is the mode I spoke of earlier, that can reconcile opposites into a "real" world both concrete and universal. Teach that. Teach the distinction.

Second, I would suggest you teach that poetry leads us to the unstructured sources of our beings, to the unknown, and returns us to our rational, structured selves refreshed. Having once experienced the mystery, plenitude, contradiction, and composure of a work of art, we afterward have a built-in resistance to the slogans and propaganda of oversimplification that have often contributed to the destruction of human life. Poetry is a verbal means to a nonverbal source. It is a motion to no-motion, to the still point of contemplation and deep realization. It's knowledges are all negative and, therefore, more positive than any knowledge. Nothing that can be said about it in words is worth saying.

Originally published in Epoch 18 (Fall 1968): 114-19. Delivered to the International Poetry Forum in Pittsburgh in April 1967.