I like to revise problem poems by picking out five or six postcards from my big box of images and writing from those disparate images, writing in the margins, compiling, sorting, cutting. The idea is to explore what is disjointed and how it can be juxtaposed to create both tension and harmony.
Today, let’s start from a more cohesive perspective. This is inspired by Rebecca Wee’s “On Toehold, on Curious Rocks: The Poem as Collage” in Wingbeats II.
Start with your poem. Choose two or three things in it. Write five statements for thing.
It’s even better if you can include some research. For example, if your thing is a red wheelbarrow, when did the wheelbarrow first appear in history?
Speaking of history, is there a date that connects to one of these things, or to something else in your poem? Look up that date, and write a few facts about that, too.
Add all this to the end of your poem, write it or print it out, and then cut it into strips–one line per strip.
The lines have lost their associations. Play around with them, reorder them. What new associations do they find? When you like the way a group fits, use glue or tape to keep them together. Keep playing. Have fun!
One night in Port Townsend last week, we played charades. I am not good at this, but the other people on my team rocked! (They made it easy for me.)
Today, let’s focus on sounds–sounds that sound the same. Let’s whip out the thesaurus and go for internal rhyme. See whether you can internally rhyme the last word in the first line somewhere in the second line, and so on throughout the poem.
How far can you push it? How much is too much?
Sometimes, I feel that we, as a culture, have gotten really good at talking, but perhaps at the expense of listening–asking and then listening.
Today, let’s listen to our poems. Let’s spend some time on reflection.
This is similar to the expansion exercise on day 2, when we wrote new material from every line. But instead, think of this as call and response.
Print out your poem double-spaced. Read the first line. Sit with it. Ask it what else it’s trying to say, or whether it’s trying to say something in a different way. Ask, listen, write.
This all sounds pretty woo-woo, I know. But at least you’ll have some quiet time. What do you hear?
Today’s exercise, based on Melissa Kwasny’s “The Lyric as Letter” in Wingbeats II, builds on the narrative tasks of the past few days: Write a letter. Write several letters. Turn your problem poems into letters. In a perfect world, or another time-frame, these would be written over a couple of days.
Her examples include Ezra Pound’s “The River Merchant’s Wife: A Letter” and the poems in Richard Hugo’s 31 Letters and 13 Dreams.
Epistolary poems are especially helpful because you know you you’re talking to. And, by association, you know more about who is speaking.
Write the letters in sequence.
Date them. Place them in a specific locale. Include stories–you really know this person, and you share memories.
Don’t worry about ending the poem. You can leave it open, because there will be another.
Today, we take our storytelling a step further, or a step way back. Rewrite your poem as a myth. Use either characters from an existing tradition or create your own. I confess: This sounds more like a prompt than an exercise. But it’s a good chance to go larger than life.