I’d like to write a little about my instructor at The Writer’s Hotel earlier this month: Tim Seibles. He teaches literature at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia. He is a poet who truly believes that poetry can change the world, and after hearing him read from his upcoming book due out in January 2017, I believe it, too. There were so many lyrical lines I wanted to write down and post by my mirror, or on the wall. Tim writes: “Poetry does not have the power of an army or of a rich nation’s economy, but poems can keep a certain set of whispers alive in a culture until they become loud enough to engage more than the community of poets…” In one of Tim’s poems, Delores Epps, he writes about a schoolboy crush. “Even / the gloss on her lips sighed / Kiss me and you’ll never / do homework again.” Tim was a supportive instructor, giving equal time for all, and he was able to help steer us toward naming exactly what was missing in the poems we workshopped. I’m very thankful to have been in his workshop, and I hope you’ll consider checking out some of his work, either online, or by ordering his latest book, Fast Animal.
This week, we are studying line breaks and how they can affect the reading of a poem. Two terms you must know are enjambed lines and end-stopped lines. End-stopped lines are where the author ends the line at the end of a phrase, or where punctuation would be. Enjambment happens when a line is broken in the middle of a phrase, often offering a bit of a surprise to the reader on the next line. Take a look at William Carlos Williams’ To a Poor Old Woman. In the second stanza, he repeats a sentence three times, breaking the line in a different place each time. What sort of affect does it have? Also take a look at Amy Gerstler’s In Perpetual Spring. Pay attention to the first line break after “Gardens are also good places” and also the line break after “queen of the weeds, revives.” What do you expect to be on the next line? Does it add to the surprise to have a pause in those places? After studying what line breaks can do, we will try to guess where the line breaks go in a few poems that have been stripped of line breaks. Can’t wait to try these exercises with you! Also note, this lesson was developed after I learned about line breaks from Wes McNair at The Writer’s Hotel. For further reading check out The Art of the Poetic Line by James Longenbach.
This week, I offer up to you two examples of poems about fathers with mixed emotions in them, Those Winter Sundays by Robert Hayden and My Papa’s Waltz by Theodore Roethke. I would like to challenge you to write a poem about a father or father figure with complicated emotions in the poem. One way to start doing this is to list images of the father figure taking some action. Perhaps the father is mowing the lawn with sweat on his brow. Perhaps he is cooking a meal, nudging the stir fry until it is just right. Try to indicate the speaker’s feelings about these actions by using visceral descriptions of the reactions. Avoid saying “I feel sad” or “I feel happy” but instead describe the physical reactions the speaker has in the poem, like how the small boy is dizzy in My Papa’s Waltz. Try to choose at least one “positive” image and at least one “negative” image in order to capture the complexity of the emotions.
I got back from a wonderful writer’s conference this week- The Writer’s Hotel. I’ll write more about the experience in some follow-up posts. So this week, the prompt is inspired by a poem I was introduced to by my workshop mentor, Tim Seibles. The poem is When A Man Hasn’t Been Kissed, by Jeffrey McDaniel. In it, the speaker starts with an action stemming from a strong emotion that seems odd but still within reason. By the end of the poem, the actions that the speaker has taken are dangerous, almost absurd. I’d like you to start with an emotion or motivation, and escalate a string of actions that the speaker takes in the poem to absurd heights.
Play with patterns and repetition by structuring your poem as anaphora. Draw out the emotion and imagery in a piece by repeating the first words in each line of the poem as Joe Brainard doesin his book-length poem,I Rememberor begin and end with the same line as Angelina Weld Grimké does in, El Beso. As an added extra or alternative, using Grimké’s example, repeat the same word twice in one line at various intervals within the poem. Consider other ways to begin such as repeating; I’m sorry, I lost, or in the mornings we…