When Poems Don't Make Cents

I really love talking about writing. It's been a great experience to teach creative writing online. You get a chance to put things in a TALKSPEECH that mimics a physical classroom. I will post some of these now and in the future. Feel free to use them in your classrooms if they work for you.

The following was in response to how poetry often doesn't make sense to some readers.

"What do you do when you don't understand a poem?" a student questioned.

Sometimes we understand poems, and sometimes they are completely bewildering. That is completely okay. I remember one time I was sitting with the poet, Peter Quartermain. He wanted me to listen to bird songs, and try to imitate them as poems. I liked the exercise. Then he showed me how there were poets who were often beyond him as far as meaning were concerned. He pulled out a poem by Louis Zukofsky.

"Read this," he said.

With a Valentine*
(the 12 February)

Hear, her
Clear
Mirror,
Care
His error.
In her
Care
Is clear.

With a Valentine
(The 14 February)

Hear her
(Clear mirror)
Care.
His error.
In her care --
Is clear.

Hear, her
Clear
Mirror,
Care
His error.
In her,
Care
Is clear.

Hear her
Clear mirror
Care his error
In her care
Is clear

Hear
Her
Clear
Mirror
Care
His
Error in
Her
Care
Is clear

Hear
Her
Clear,
Mirror,
Care
His
Error in
Her --
Care
Is
Clear.


"What does this mean?" Peter asked me.

"I have no idea," I said.

"Neither do I," Peter smiled. "Don't you love it?"

We don't always have to "know" the answer to a poem to feel emotionally affected by it. Sometimes it's the sonics or visual image that communicate more than the words themselves.

One of my favorite poets is Jean Michel Basquiat. Often cited as a painter, I see a meld between the two art forms. Take for example, this poem:

Jimmy best on
his back to the
suckerpunch
of his childhood
flies

http://www.brooklynmuseum.org/exhibitions/basquiat/street-to-studio/english/explore_visual.php

I don't necessarily understand this poem, but it speaks beyond words themselves. It has an emotional resonance. Sometimes words can carry with them a particular "heartbeat." Take "Coca Cola" for example. If I used this in a poem, it is possible that it would create various feelings for all of us. Some of you might think "corporation". Others might think of "greed". And others will simply think "fizz". There are endless possibilities.

Choosing the words that make our poems can be all that is needed in a poem. What if you just picked words that resonated with you? A listing of your favorite words? What would that look like? What if you let each word bring up a new word?

I will try this exercise. Then you try. Don't think about it. Just go as fast as you can.


Coke
steak
blood
hands
cross
Jesus
crown
Jean Michel
Keith Haring
friends
died
too young
Jesus
crown
friends
Coke
winter
boy in Alaska


Now I have a series of images. I can manipulate the images or leave them as they are. Just imagine the words to be a series of photos on your coffee table. How do you want to arrange them? Right next to each other? On top of each other? In a single line?


Co(steak)ke**
bloodhands
cross Jesus crown
Jean(Keith Haring)Michel

friends
died
too young

Jesus crown friends
Co(winter)ke
boy in Alaska

Childhood flies

Okay. It's your turn. Let's share. Give it a whirl.

* As retrieved on September 27, 2007 from http://epc.buffalo.edu/authors/niedecker/essay1.html

** I just sent this single line as a poem "Co(steak)ke" to a magazine and it was accepted. We'll talk about submitting our work later in the course. : )

4 comments:

frank said...

tight fun
unadulterated
chicken liver

strange
fathom
hallow,
hollow

name
strange
fame
decided

unusual exception
except four
everything
nothing
something
fun.

Pirooz M. Kalayeh said...

tasty

strange except fathom
nothing
hallow everything
tight

chicken fourdecided
hollow fun
name something
unadulterated

fame
unusualiver,
strange exception

Say said...

brains. brains brains brains.

Pirooz M. Kalayeh said...

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