Spelling Bee and poetry

During the past year (and a half), time has grown slipperier. Not in a good poetry way, but in a “feels like forever” and “blinked and two months went by” way. I thought I would refresh this blog in September–that annual new school year ritual that has stayed with me. And I blinked, and it’s October.

Also during the past year, I’ve started some new–and good habits, including playing Spelling Bee. If you aren’t familiar with the game, six letters are arranged in a circle, with a seventh in the center. The idea is to find words that include the center letter. Words must be at least four letters long, and you get extra points when the word is a pangram, using all seven letters. Some days, I start strong. Other times, I’m flummoxed from the beginning. Either way, I’ll reach a point where I’m grasping for answers. So I’ll experiment–choose the letters and see whether the game accept the words. Sometimes, these attempts are ridiculous. Sometimes, it seems it should be a word. In Spelling Bee, there is no penalty for wrong answers, so experimentation is easy–an adventure!

Why not in poetry? How can you play in your writing, in your poem? Imagine there are no penalties (what are the penalties?). What can you try? What fantastical image or sounds can you slide in to a stanza just to see what will happen?

For much of the year, I’ve been breaking poems–trying different forms, writing into and out of different tensions. Not just deleting my darlings, but investigating them. Trying to play, knowing that I can always go back.

And then this past week, I read Tony Hoagland’s essay “Tis Backed Like a Weasel”: The Slipperiness of Metaphor, and the part about some people just not having the gift of metaphor made me sad, because I suspect that I might be one of those people. So I decided to pair play with the idea of deliberate practice. Maybe, despite what Aristotle says, I could become stronger at writing metaphors. I can play at what I’m trying to improve. And it was fun. To really practice, I should probably have written a full page of them, every day. But I don’t like the word should, and it doesn’t sound like play.

What else I’ve been reading:

Forty-One Objects, by Carsten Rene Nielsen, translated by David Keplinger

Olio, by Tyehimba Jess