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14/30: Parameters & Process // All Hail The King

imageToday’s exercise: emphasizing process itself, and/or generating exciting new material, using parameters. Parameters are part of any conceptual art, as well.

This works really well if you can go outside and be in the world, moving about a bit from one setting to another. Give yourself a particular parameter, one such that when you encounter it you will immediately stop what you are doing and start writing, influenced by your surroundings and observations, or even in mid-thought. Try to avoid the use of cliches and canned phrases, and don’t be afraid of spontaneous new directions and weirdness. One example that worked well for me when I was in an international space (Lisbon, last summer) was to write every time I heard an unfamiliar language. Your parameters could be interpreted loosely, or more strictly, this is your exercise for you to design. You might do it by time, things you encounter, the point is to have some organizing factor to when you start writing (and when you write, finish out thoughts to your liking and then move on to the next time that parameter happens). You might generate some interesting material to be edited away from the exercise, OR, the exercise, the parameter itself, might become part of the piece in terms of conceptual work. One of my responses to “when I heard a foreign language” was a bunch of lyrical lines, and the next one was just a long list of every color I saw, and the next was trying to describe a conversation I was witnessing. It’s up to you to name the parameters of your world and then navigate them. This can also be yet another way to get at the idea of an “organizing principle” or a “mode of inquiry” for the piece.

Works equally for poetry and prose.

Part of 30/30 and my own Prompt A Day for National Poetry Month. Image: Kenzie Allen (Lisbon graffiti)

14/30: All Hail The King

"… I couldn’t have
gotten there without all the
IRS rigamarole but once
I got there I could export it
as an excel file and work on it
from my computer. This is
the first good payoff. Tea-infused
Titos vodka, mango puree, fresh
O.J., agave nectar. All along
they’ve said we want
to know the real answer,
not what the higher ups
want to hear, but this data
has nothing but science
to back it up and we’re


(A bar-poem about Elvis’ impending arrival. ;D )

@greenman and I went to the opera the other night! A View From the Bridge and it was fantastic. #latergram

I sincerely believe snoods/cauls are the next big thing. Good thing I went to the renfaire ahead of the rush. #operanights #opera #hair

13/30: Overheard Conversations // Sometimes the Dreams Make Me Angry


Today’s exercise / process suggestion: chronic over-listening. Find a coffee shop, public place, etc, any space wherein you might overhear a nearby conversation. Take notes. This is a good technique for honing dialogue (becoming attuned to the natural turns in conversation), attaining a particular / specific voice or diction, subject matter for stories, or just verbatim, mouth-blurted poetry. 

As with any found poetry or found element, consider the ethics and your position within the work. Anonymize or change names, combine several observations into one, change some details, actually introduce yourself to the person and explain your project, depending on the situation and your own position within it, you might have to make some caveats, at your own discretion. With my recent Sorority Girl piece, I ended up deciding it was vague enough to leave everything intact, but I did consider the ramification and the ethics of what I was writing. You might be creepin’ a little, so don’t make anyone uncomfortable, and be generous toward your subjects and subject matter.

Becoming a keen observer of your surroundings is really the key to any artistic material based on human life. So take this exercise as an excuse to open those ears and that peripheral vision, for some elements of found poetry (/prose).

Part of 30/30 and my own Prompt A Day for National Poetry Month. Image: Rttmsdag


13/30: Sometimes the Dreams Make Me Angry

"so that I wake up hating the lump of you
snoring and the covers you’ve thrown off.
Sometimes a new man comes to me, says
Can I kiss you now like if I said don’t 
he would anyway, and I let him, and he


12/30: Dead Poet’s Society // Vienna

imageToday’s exercise: Dead Poet’s Society, or, a walk in the footsteps of a dead poet. Choose a work by a dead poet, and push yourself toward people you wouldn’t normally try to emulate, perhaps. Write exactly in the manner (grammar, syntax, meter, rhyme scheme, as much or little as you choose) they did. Keep your first draft, and then, revise this into a new poem, away from the exercise. :) The idea here is that you are learning some new available choices, what is possible in the language. (Memorizing poems is another good way to understand their sound.)

So here’s an old one of mine, in response to this assignment, after Thomas Hardy’s “Neutral Tones”

Mother Jones

Everything’s shit—so the anarchists say.
With our sunspots, and hotshops, we pave the road
toward Square Times, where the human statues stay
                  stock still, waiting for a flashbulb.

Cut print, a woman in Tokyo wakes
and smears on ganguro, and bakes her skin
bright orange. Classic yamamba mistake,
                  as though painting a tailspin.

Everything’s a billboard, a poster, an ad,
childhood illness, housewives undaunted,
and what’s your angle, Leningrad?
                  Nothing is like I wanted.

The end is really fucking nigh!,
sprayed red across the subway innards.
That things keep moving betrays the lie,
                  and the two-way mirror.

This one might work better for poetry, but, I think you could also make it work for prose, especially if you unlineate the poem first, or try to mimic the effect of line breaks within the prose. Another one from David Mason and others.

Part of 30/30 and my own Prompt A Day for National Poetry Month. Image: Kenzie Allen (Fredricksburg, TX)


12/30: Vienna

"Skip the dinner plans.
Find the old man with no less
than fourteen vodkas already in
his belly, one hundred and seventy five
horsepower in his motored steed,
a witchwoman’s twinkle and directions
to what you seek. You won’t believe him—
twelve steps too many and the elements
of lunacy, but there you are, right place,
right schnitzel—…”

11/30: Dire & Mundane // Of What Was Important To Me In My Life

imageToday’s Exercise: Dire & Mundane. Another one from the fabulous David Mason, given to me during my fellowship at the Aspen Summer Words Festival last June. I asked my students to try this one recently and the results were pretty great!

  1. Write something mundane in extreme language. (Example: brushing one’s teeth, written in the language of a shipwreck or “shipwrecky language”)
  2. Write something dire in “mundane” language.

Part of 30/30 and my own Prompt A Day for National Poetry Month. Image: Kenzie Allen (McCamey, TX)


Of What Was Important To Me In My Life

For Dylan

"Out one morning,
it was stormy, the squalls
kicked up. They sent some back.

We thought we could tow
the canoe behind us, in our
big boat, through the storm.

The vision gets hazy here.
The fallout, problematic.
This canoe, the family called
“Tana flies short”

and Santana had died,
drunk driving, the canoe,
which was also him. 


#life #hair Today. :)

Channelling Kahlo today. #vscocam #pictapgo_app #life #hair

Hopwood Awards

Really thrilled to be updating my bio tonight. We heard back about the Winter Term Hopwood Contests, and I won a Hopwood Award in Graduate Poetry, another in Graduate Nonfiction, and a Helen S. and John Wagner Prize as well, all from turning in two manuscripts last February.

The poetry manuscript was “Draw Girls Around The World,” which is now being called “Firewater” for the moment, and my non-fiction memoir, “How To Be A Real Indian.” I can’t decide if I’m happier about the poetry or the non-fiction, or the comments from the national judges I’ll get to pick up tomorrow from the Hopwood room. Or having my picture taken, haha.

I’ve actually been writing more than a poem a day, especially if I count the travel pieces I’ve been transcribing and editing, or all the overheard conversations I’ve been turning into poems (dear Sorority Girls: you might want to keep your voices down in the coffee shop :D ). It’s a strangely fruitful month, the weather has turned pretty again, I teach my last week of classes next week and I attend my last week of classes and I do all the weird pre-graduation stuff. This program was too, too short, even with next year’s fellowship, I just want to take two more years of classes and teaching. :)

Very grateful to the University of Michigan, Helen Zell Writers’ Program, Hopwood Committee and national judges, Laura Kasischke, Khaled Mattawa, Van Jordan, Linda Gregerson, Megan Levad, Keith Taylor, Evan Chambers, Kerri Webster, Kellie Wells, Kenneth E. Harrison, Norman Dubie, Dorianne Laux, Heid E. Erdrich, and Stephen Dunn, and, my fantastic cohort, and my writer-friends.

10/30: Landscapes You Have Loved // Because You ARE A Sister

imageToday’s exercise: Landscapes You Have Loved. This one comes from the fabulous David Mason, whom I had the pleasure of working with during my fellowship at the Aspen Summer Words Festival last June. It requires you to read and complete the instructions one at a time, refrain from reading any further until you’ve completed each previous instruction.

Step 1: Write down a list of five landscapes or places (or spaces) you have loved.

Step 2: Cross out two of the places.

Step 3: Add five more places to the list. (So in total you’ll have 10 places, with two of them crossed out so far.)

Step 4: Cross out two more of the places.

Step 5: Cross out four more of the places. So now you should be left with two places.

Step 6: Cross out one more place. Ohmigosh, you are left with just one place!

Step 7: Now go back to the first place you crossed out, and write your poem/prose piece about that. :) Ohohoho sneaky.

Part of 30/30 and my own Prompt A Day for National Poetry Month. Image: Kenzie Allen (Crane, TX).

10/30: Because You ARE A Sister

"Now you’re over-sensitizing. It’s your chance to learn! I’ve told her that she’s crazy with this whole drinking thing! She’s a risk manager. And when you are, you have to deal with alcohol. That means if some girl felt like she had a problem, she should feel comfortable coming to me. But I would never do that because if I told Dani that she would take it negatively. As a sister, as a friend, no, I would never.


9/30: Civic Poetry // Ann Arbor

Today’s exercise: Civic Poetry. Less of a prompt than a direction or genre. Civic Poetry (/prose) is poetry written for the public, to commemorate a public occasion. “Praise Song For The Day” written by Elizabeth Alexander and read aloud for Obama(ba)’s inauguration would be a civic poem. But they don’t always have to be quite so sweet. :D

My favourite example of a civic poem would be Brooks Haxton’s “Prospectus: In Lieu of the Mall Expansion,” in response to a Syracuse, NY initiative to expand an already “palatial mall.” He proposes a shrimp ramp.

Write your own civic poem commemorating a public occasion, event, region or announcement. Try to make your poem persuasive, either persuading toward a plan of action or simply persuading of the world’s beauty (ala “Praise Song”). Civic poetry (or prose) is a great way to put in your own two cents about what’s going on around you, maybe a way to get some kind of control of it, influence change, or simply attempt (with or without success) to make sense of a thing. Poetry or prose.


9/30: Ann Arbor

"Should I escape a settle-down dream?
College town my father misted after, pinko
commie safe haven, bewildered suburb, 
freeway sidled blue city, hippie dippy
infested with microbrews. Dropped articles
enough to make you shiver. …

… No one misses us
as much as we do. There’s only rain
to heal the last dry wells, the horses loosed
their own wills, all of us waiting for floods
and the rescue parties after. I just need
to rest a little longer in my body.”

Ann Arbor Festifools 2014. Such a creative city!

8/30: The God-slodge // Midland (Rockin’ Rodeo)

Today’s exercise: “The God-slodge” — Poems of faith or anti-faith or an ambiguous relationship to fate.

Write a poem to God. Make it a tirade, a complaint, a request.
Write a poem as God. Let God explain, refute, deny, defend.
Write a poem in which God is a traffic cop, a new anchor, a porn star, a grocery clerk.

Alright, the prompt is a little cheesy, a little trite, but, remember to avoid sentimentality, canned phrases, and show over telling—use congrete imagery to paint the edges of what is intangible, rather than abstractions. :) Poetry or prose.

Part of 30/30 and my own Prompt A Day for National Poetry Month. Image: gilad


8/30: Midland (Rockin’ Rodeo)

could use more light and someone
to buy my next round or set me up
real nice, ranchhouse out in
gentrified Marfa.

triple turn and arm over arm loop,
all the things I’ve gotten good at
contained in one bar. My dad’s
an alcoholic, so. He just got
arrested for an accident near
the train tracks where he left
the scene.
Great way to pick up
any girl, I thought, and then
they’re dancing. 

Ann Arbor Festifools 2014.

7/30: Oh no you didn’t! // Status II

Today’s (yesterday’s!) exercise: Poetic Rebuttal. Similar but iterating along the lines of "The Poet Thief," this is a response poem. A poetic rebuttal. Find a favourite poem (it must be a published, contemporary poet for this) or one you feel incensed by. Respond to it, and then take it three steps further into your own agenda. Try to avoid sentimentality, and don’t be afraid to put fire to things, or perhaps, things to the fire. 

An example: Charles Harper Webb’s ”Prayer to Tear the Sperm-Dam Down” (in response to Suzanne Paola’s “Prayer to Seal Up the Wombdoor”) from Best American Poetry 2006. (I’ll post it and update with link after this posts). Of “Prayer,” Webb writes:

"I read Suzanne Paola’s ‘Prayer to Seal Up the Wombdoor’ soon after the birth of my son. Being a natural contrarian, I began my own Prayer in simple opposition: You want to seal the wombdoor? Fine! I want to open it up. But the poem quickly grew into a celebration of the selfish human drive to reproduce and live on our unconscious, hence indifferent, Earth. As a new parent, I felt a deepened connection with my own parents—who couldn’t easily have sealed up Mom’s womb door even if they’d wanted to—and of their parents, and theirs, and theirs… I found myself saying things that I, while childless by choice, never thought I’d ever say. If the sense of fun, excitement and energy I felt giving birth to this poem comes through to the reader, it may become another argument for the worthiness-to-live of humankind." 

Poetry or prose.

Part of 30/30 and my own Prompt A Day for National Poetry Month. Image: ArtOfTheAnkh


7/30: Status II 

"Teen Girls, I need you to wear your flippy skirt 
with some attitude before I pin you. 
If you autocorrect flippy to floppy 
one more time, I will cut you. That’s right, 
I AM INSANE TONIGHT. — but trust me,
your outfit will look better 
if you wear it like a bitch.

Why don’t you do this thing
you’re so good at? You could
totally do porn. Isn’t he your
boyfriend? Why do you get so
worked up?

… “

I’m writing a Facebook opera? Or something. And so there are these little status bits and pieces, maybe soliloquies, that just kinda keep popping up.