Sneak off and have an affair with your most creative self.
Update on poetry book, The Uneaten Carrots of Atonement
: first set of galleys edited and sent back to the publisher. I'm now awaiting the corrected galleys.
I've also been busy—all summer—writing the sequel to The Crafty Poet
. I have the bulk of the work done, but much remains to be done. It won't be too much longer before I put out a Call for Submissions for poems written to the prompts. So get working on those poems! The first call will go to the subscribers of this newsletter.
Poem and Prompt
This month's poem is by James Galvin. It first appeared in The Iowa Review and from there was selected for Best American Poetry 2015.
On the Sadness of Wedding Dresses
On starless, windless nights like this
I can hear the wedding dresses
Weeping in their closets,
Luminescent with hopeless longing,
Like hollow angels.
They know they will never be worn again.
Who wants them now,
After their one heroic day in the limelight?
Yet they glow with desire
In the darkness of closets.
A few lucky wedding dresses
Get worn by daughters—just once more,
Then back to the closet.
Most turn yellow over time,
Yellow from praying
For the moths to come
And carry them into the sky.
Where is your mother’s wedding dress,
Where is your grandmother’s wedding dress?
Eventually they all disappear,
Who knows where.
Imagine a dump with a wedding dress on it.
I saw one wedding dress, hopeful at Goodwill.
But what sad story brought it there,
And what sad story will take it away?
Somewhere a closet is waiting for it.
The luckiest wedding dresses
Are those of wives
Betrayed by their husbands
A week after the wedding.
They are flung outside the double-wide,
Or the condo in Telluride,
And doused with gasoline.
They ride the candolescent flames,
Just smoke now,
Into a sky full of congratulations.
Galvin’s poem is reminiscent of Pablo Neruda’s “Ode to My Socks.” The form is similar as is the use of first person point of view. But while Neruda’s poem praises the socks, Galvin’s poem bemoans the sorrow of wedding dresses. Thus his poem is a kind of reverse ode, one rich with irony as he attaches sadness to what is ordinarily associated with joy. He even refers to the dresses of brides betrayed by their husbands within a week of marriage as the “luckiest dresses.”
Notice the poet’s use of personification. The dresses weep, long, know, and pray. Galvin also uses metonymy, that is, the dresses represent the brides. Consider how the use of these two figures evokes an emotional response from the reader.
Questions play a significant role in the poem, coming to a total of five. These questions make us feel spoken to. They command our attention and compel us to think.
Galvin also makes ample use of imagery. He effectively contrasts light and dark images. For example, it’s on dark nights that the speaker can hear the dresses weeping, “Luminescent with hopeless longing.” Our pity is evoked as we are asked to imagine the one dress thrown ignominiously onto the top of a dump, another one left at Goodwill, and the ones that get tossed outside, doused in gasoline, and sent out in “candolescent flames…Into a sky full of congratulations.”
Notice, as you read the poem aloud, how prevalent the long o sound is in such words as hopeless, hollow, know, heroic, glow, yellow, over, those, condo, smoke. This use of assonance adds a mournful sound to the poem.
For your own ironic ode, think of a group of items that might be praised, e.g., shoes, sweaters, hats, cookies, chocolates. Choose one. Then instead of praising the items in your category, express a different emotion such as anger, regret, disgust, jealousy, pity.
Alternatively, you might want to select a single item as your subject.
Use first person point of view and be conscious of a reader/auditor, occasionally speaking directly to that person or persons.
Try your hand at the techniques Galvin employs:
1. A setting that ignites the speaker’s thoughts
2. Personification and/or metonymy
4. Images, especially at the end of your poem.
5. Assonance—choose a single vowel sound to echo throughout your poem. Work on this during revision.
Dawn Potter is the Director of the Frost Place Conference on Poetry and Teaching. She is also a fine poet and a fiddle player. Her latest book, The Conversation: Learning to Be a Poet, is a craft book unlike any others I’ve seen. I think it’s an excellent addition to the genre. In the Introduction, Potter explains her approach to the study of poetry.
Potter advocates Baron Wormser’s method of dictating and copying poems—the teacher dictates while the student writes down the poem—which she feels compels careful attention to every detail of a poem. She also advocates the writing of poetry, but steers away from “detached” prompts, that is, ones that do not evolve out of some kind of study of poems. Readers of this newsletter will know that that is an approach I also strongly advocate and practice. Such an approach, Potter believes, encourages new poets to become part of the conversation about poetry.
The organization of the book suggests Potter’s affection for Renaissance symmetry. The book is divided into three sections. Section I, Watching a Poet Make a Poem, includes eight chapters, each devoted to a single poet and one poem by that poet. Each chapter begins with a brief essay entitled “About the Poet and the Poem.” This is followed by the poem, a single question raised about the poem, three sample responses to the question, ideas for writing focused on the single question, and then a mini anthology of five poems which might be read and considered in light of the chapter’s single focus approach to the earlier poem.
The poets included in the first section are Shakespeare, Emily Dickinson, Shelley, Hopkins, Lowell, Robert Hayden, Joe Bolton, and Donne. The questions force our attention to such elements as the Most Important Word, the Most Important Line, and the Most Important Stanza. I think this is a very fruitful approach to poetry, one that teachers and aspiring poets should find useful and stimulating. Also, over the course of the first section, a surprising amount of craft ground is covered, e.g., revision, syntax, diction.
The second section is Writing about Poets and Poetry. Again, each of the three chapters zeroes in on a single poet: Blake, Milton, Brigit Pegeen Kelly. Each chapter includes one or two poems, discussion, and ideas for writing. The final section of the book zeroes in on ten poems by a single poet, Gray Jacobik. It includes an interview with Jacobik about the book from which the poems are taken and ends with ideas for writing.
I very much enjoyed this book and learned a good deal from it. It’s a good one to add to your shelf.
Nin Andrews’ poems have appeared in many literary journals and anthologies including Ploughshares, Agni, The Paris Review, and four editions of Best American Poetry. The author of six chapbooks and six full-length poetry collections, she has won two Ohio individual artist grants, the Pearl Chapbook Contest, the Kent State University chapbook contest, and the Gerald Cable Poetry Award. She is also the editor of a book of translations of the Belgian poet, Henri Michaux, called Someone Wants to Steal My Name. Her book, Why God Is a Woman, was published by BOA Editions in 2015.
An Invitation to the Prose Poetry Party
I have been writing prose poems for thirty years now, and in the earlier years of my career, certain editors would not even consider publishing a prose poem. Now, although prose poetry has gained considerable acceptance, I still run across editors and poets who are suspicious of the form. I continue to be asked, Why prose poems? A question that is usually followed by the question: How do you define prose poetry? I want to answer that I don’t, though Russel Edson’s comparison of a prose poem to an airplane always comes to mind. A prose poem, Edson wrote, is like a cast iron aeroplane that can fly, mainly because its pilot does not care if it does or not.
I absolutely believe that prose poems can fly, or at least they can give me the sensation of lifting off, defying gravity, the very weight of form, logic, tradition, definitions. Sometimes I think that it is the wish to escape form and logic that inspires many prose poets. Because many make a game of playing with these very definitions, and it is this game I would like to invite you to play. And I mean literally and literarily to play.
So much of the pleasure of prose poetry can be derived from its ability not only to incorporate but also to mock and/or mimic other forms of writing. Max Jacob, for example, wrote a prose poem, which resembled a tiny novella. Carol Maldow’s novel, The Widening, is actually a series of prose poems. Russell Edson, Greg Boyd, and Julio Cortazar have written prose poems that are parables, myths and fairy tales or perhaps anti-parables, anti-fairy tales and anti-myths.
Stacey Harwood wrote a prose poem based on contributors’ notes. Robert Miltner has a prose poem that mimics a word problem. Amy Gerstler has one prose poem that looks like a page of singles ads, another which looks like a page from a name your baby book. And another, “Dear Boy George,” which is a parody of a fan letter. In my Book of Orgasms, one poem is an interview with an orgasm, another an ad, and another a glossary of selected terms. In Supernatural Overtones, the book of prose poems by Ron Padgett and Clark Coolidge, it appears that Coolidge wrote language poems, and Padgett interpreted them as if they were old sci-fi movies. Ron Padget’s prose poem, “Falling in Love in Spain,” is structured like a short play in which the main character’s lines are borrowed from a Spanish-language phrase book. And I could go on. The possibilities seem limitless. So why not try one?
As I write this, I am thinking of ideas. Why not write a prose poem that is a recipe? I am reminded of Simic’s line: Margaret was copying a recipe for Saints Roasted with Onions from an old cookbook, but what would the recipe be? What about a recipe for summer? For silence? For surviving tuna noodle casserole? Or maybe write a poem that is an obituary. An obituary for silence or tuna noodle casserole or summer or a love affair or poetry (alas). Or a poem that is a chain letter. A poem that is a list of New Year’s resolutions. A poem that is a personals ad. A poem that is a self-help column. A poem that is a love letter. A poem that is a horoscope, a grocery list, a table of contents, an invitation, a dictionary entry, an apology, a revelation, a confession to a priest. Choose one and see what happens. Or choose two or three. Why not?
Whatever you choose, decide what is the most compelling aspect of the form. Just for the fun of it, you might decide to add food to every poem. (I have this theory that food is a nice addition to almost any poem.) If you are writing a self-help poem, for example, you might want to suck in your reader by creating a sense of intimacy with his or her suffering. Maybe begin with something like: Are you, too, suffering from a loss of appetite? Lusterless lunches? Are your peaches bruised? Your eggs cold? Are there no noodles in your broth? If you are writing a poem that is a horoscope, maybe offer something exciting or a little threatening to your reader. Your life will be upended on the 9th of July at precisely 3 PM. But don’t let that hinder your ambitious nature or your appetite for bliss and pasta marinara. If you are writing a dictionary entry, you might mimic the form closely but let your imagination run free. For example, you could define a word like lust:
Lust: noun 1. a fire that begins in the gut and travels to the fingers and toes.
2. an unsung song 3. the last time you saw her sipping a Starbucks latté but
could not bring yourself to say her name aloud.
Then you might want to add synonyms and antonyms and examples. This might become a prose poem about the unnamed girl. Or about a fire that began in the girl's fingers and took over the neighborhood. Or of the song sung by the fire and the girl that no one heard. (Okay, maybe this one would be better without the Starbucks latté.)
Of course, you can make any of these examples or games more personal by using the first person, free-associating and including details of your own life, real or imagined. In other words, you could define a word like grapefruit and have a definition be something like: 1. the fruit my mother once said was imported from the moon. 2. the only food my first girl friend, Cecelia Jones, would eat. She sat at the lunch table, strands of her long black hair falling across her face, spooning grapefruit between her pink lips.
But whatever you decide, have fun, play, go wild. As you can see, even thinking of the possibilities that prose poetry offers inspires me. Makes me happy. And makes me want to write. If nothing else, prose poetry is fun. It can be a springboard into the imagination, memory, magic. It is the one dance floor where all literary and not-so-literary forms can come together to meet, mingle, and share moves. Everyone is invited to the party.
Booker Prize winner Marlon James reveals he was rejected by publishers 70 times
Journals That Publish Poetry Book Reviews
Review of The Crafty Poet by Linda Simone in Writer's Relief
Review of The Crafty Poet by Philip Chase in the Journal of New Jersey Poets
Review of The Crafty Poet by Christine Swint at Balanced on the Edge.
Review of The Crafty Poet by Christina Veladota at Maybesopoetry.
Lynn Domina reviews The Crafty Poet at Lynn Domina, Poet.
"Hands down, best poetry craft and prompt book. Ever. Nine of the ten poems I’ve written so far this month were inspired by the book." —CD
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