If you could ask for a special power, what would it be? Why would you ask for that one? How does your current life (or your speaker’s life) differ from what it would be like if you could, say, fly? Read this beautiful poem by Nickole Brown, A Prayer to Talk to Animals, and observe the way she envisions this transformation. Write a poem of your own where the speaker either wishes for or actually gains a special power.
In Marie Howe’s new poetry book Magdalene, she envisions Mary Magdalene living in contemporary times. In her poem “Magdalene on Surrender”, how does the child resist change? How does the speaker of the poem resist change? When does each figure (the mother and the daughter) surrender in the poem? Who surrenders first? Write a poem that depicts an interaction between two individuals who initially conflict with each other, but as the poem progresses, allow at least one of them to surrender, either to the situation, or to the other person. If you don’t have access to the full text of the poem, you can alternatively read these three lines from another part of the same book:
“How many times did he say it
Change doesn’t hurt he’d say,
as much as the resistance to change”
Study how Kathleen Kilcup ends her poem on an open note, with an incomplete thought at the end of her poem. How does this affect your experience of the poem? What do you expect the tomb to say? Can you write a poem of your own ending with an incomplete thought (without frustrating the reader)?
This week I want you to retell a classic tale with a twist. Think of a fairy tale or myth that is close to your heart. Can you tell the story in a new way? Maybe it’s not Cinderella but the prince who leaves his shoe behind. Maybe Hansel and Gretel are so hungry and greedy they try to eat the old woman in addition to her gingerbread house. When working on your poem, try using visceral language to describe a moment that is central to the story. If it helps, you may think of what fairy tale might describe your life, or instead, write a persona poem about a character you’ve encountered who reminds you of an archetype.
For an example of this, read Edna St. Vincent Millay’s sonnet Bluebeard. How does she twist this classic tale?
Start off your poem with the statement “there are two kinds of people in the world.” Dog people and cat people? People who can cook and people who can bake? Can you find an acceptable binary to work with in the poem? Remember that the speaker of the poem does not have to have the same worldview as yourself. Check out Maya Jewell Zeller’s poem from Radar for an example.
Write a poem about love without using the word love (or any derivations of it, like loving, lovely…). Instead, use as many words as you can that have “love” hidden inside of them: slovenly, glove, clover, cloven, foxglove, etc. If you choose, you could even include words like evolve and revolution, which contain the word love in them backwards.
Subhra Bhattacharya is providing a blog post this week on William Carlos Williams and his definition of variable foot. Come join us on Saturday March 4 2017 at 11am for an exciting workshop on this topic in Jersey City.
William Carlos Williams elevates the notion of poetic measure to the status of philosophical category. “… what is reality? How do we know reality? The only reality we know is MEASURE” he writes in his essay The poem as a field of action. Though an ardent proponent of free-verse, he disagrees with contemporary wisdom and the false connotation of ‘free’ in free verse, arguing that since measure is an intrinsic feature of poetry, no verse can be truly free, that would indicate lack of measure. Free verse, he says, is synonymous to verse with variable measure, as contrasted with traditional verse having a fixed measure.
This week I learned of a tradition of self love through poetry, after the likes of Frank O’Hara and Ocean Vuong. For this week’s prompt, I must give credit to my wonderful mentor, Elaine Sexton, who granted me permission to share this idea with you. Title your poem “Someday I will love __your name here__.” This is a great exercise to do in the wake of Valentine’s Day in particular. How would you write a Valentine to yourself? For ideas, see Ocean Vuong’s poem Someday I’ll love Ocean Vuong, and also Frank O’Hara’s poem Katy. This poetic exercise, I think you’ll find, has the potential to change your life. If you enjoy this prompt and live in the NYC area, also consider signing up for Elaine Sexton’s Poets House workshop, Finding the Art in the Line, which starts on Tuesday, Feb 21, 2017.