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Poetic Rebuttal: Suzanne Paola and Charles Webb

Prayer to Seal Up the Wombdoor  - Suzanne Paola

Because we need to remember
that memory will end, let the womb remain
untouched. Its walls
an image of the earth without us—
No form sharpening, no clutter
of umbilicus,
no fingers diverging from their webs.

Generation is an argument.
It says
my finitude is infinity: I will shape from it
another & another.

& these will go on, like numbers
that through division can continue, if a little less
each time—

But infants press
against two oblivions: the one before,
the one after. And one being
can never outrun two deaths.

Let’s celebrate the emptiness, the other place.
Let’s create, like God, both void & image.
And carry our end
as we’ve carried ourselves, in imagination—in film & theater,
statues & mirrors, the long gaze
at our own face.

Look in. See the earth
greening again: closing around
the long bright scars
of cities. When plastic’s
rare, and honorable fossil. All glass
finally polished in the sea.

When the reign of the nude skin, the opposable thumb’s
over, when the argument runs
whether bones should crouch or stand in the Hall of Humans.

Will it be crows who inherit? With towns
in treetops, winds holy, beauty a pure dull black.
Or beetles, asking themselves
how we ever made love, we all gravity & heavy limbs.

Maybe by then the fumes of the toilet-tissue plant
will have risen past the atmosphere, & whales will be back, 25
thick as cattle, with a dim mythology of bloody ships.

Let’s insist on contingency, on seeing
our earth in our dream, false
& mutable: blacktopped, split
through the geometries of building & plowing, daylight
dragged into nighttime in small glass bowls.

Let my body stay as it is, saying
we have done our damage, all
in the name of imagination: let something else
through its mind, mar
the surfaces of things.

"Prayer to Seal Up the Wombdoor," by Suzanne Paola
(in Bardo. University of Wisconsin Press, 1998)


Prayer to Tear the Sperm-Dam DownCharles Harper Webb

Because we know our lives will end,
Let the vagina host a huge party, and let the penis come.

Let it come nude, without a raincoat.
Let it come rich, and leave with coffers drained.

Throw the prostate’s floodgates open.
Let sperm crowd the womb full as a World Cup stadium.

Let them flip and wriggle like a mackerel shoal.
Let babies leap into being like atoms after the Big Bang.

Let’s celebrate fullness, roundness, gravidity.
Let’s worship generation—this one,

And the next, and next, forever.
Let’s adore the progression: protozoan to guppy

To salamander to slow loris to Shakespeare.
Forget Caligula. Forget Hitler. Mistakes

Were made. Let’s celebrate our own faces
Grinning back at us across ten thousand years.

Let’s get this straight: Earth doesn’t care if it’s overrun—
If it’s green or brown or black, rain forest, desert, or ice pack.

A paper mill is sweet as lavender to Earth,
Which has no sense of smell, and doesn’t care

If roads gouge it, or industries fume into its air.
Beetles don’t care. Or crows.

Or whales, despite their singing and big brains.
Sure, rabbits feel. Spicebush swallowtails

Feel their proboscides slide into flowers’
Honeypots, which may feel too,

But lack the brains to care. Even if beagles
Are as mournful as they look—

Even if great apes grieve, wage war, catch termites
With twigs, and say in sign language,

"Ca-ca on your head," they still don’t care.
Or if the do—well, join the club. 30

We humans care so much, some of us dub life
A vale of tears, and see heaven as oblivion.

Some pray, for Earth’s sake, not to be reborn.
Wake up! Earth will be charred by the exploding sun,

Blasted to dust, reduced to quarks, and still not care.
If some people enjoy their lives too much

To share, let them not share. If some despise themselves
Too much to reproduce, let them disappear.

If some perceive themselves as a disease, let them
Take the cure, and go extinct. It’s immaterial to Earth.

Let people realize this, or not. Earth doesn’t care.
I do, and celebrate my own fecundity.

I celebrate my wife’s ovaries, her fallopian tubes
Down which, like monthly paychecks,

Golden eggs roll. I celebrate the body’s changing.
(Might as well: it changes anyway.)

I celebrate gestation, water breaking,
The dash to the hospital, the staff descending,

Malpractice polices in hand. I celebrate
Dilation of the cervix, doctors in green scrubs,

And even (since I won’t get one) the episiotomy.
I’ll celebrate my bloody, dripping son, head deformed

By trusting against the world’s door.
Let it open wide for him. Let others make room for him.

Let his imagination shine like God’s.
Let his caring change the face of everything.

"Prayer to Tear the Sperm-Dam Down," By Charles Harper Webb, In Billy Collins,
ed., The Best American Poetry 2006, New York: Scribner Poetry, 2006

Ann Arbor Festifools 2014.

6/30: Lexical Sets // Maybe It Really Is Maybelline

Today’s exercise: Lexical Sets — something my students and I make use of constantly. For this prompt you will be generating a list of related words, a ‘lexical set.’ Just a list of words that have something in common. Give yourself a subject, be in a place, activity, or a concept, and spend the next 5-10 minutes writing down every word you can think of (straight out of your head write em down) having to do with that subject.

For example:

Flowers: Chrysanthemum, Persimmon, Rose, Tulip, Dandelion, Petal, Stamen, Freesia, lilium parvum, Narcissus

You could also limit to “types of flowers” instead (which would eliminate the “parts of flowers” in the above example. Steer toward words that are exciting, sound interesting, or are very specific.

After you’ve got your lexical set, write a poem or prose piece incorporating as many words as you can, or focus in on one favorite word and generate a new lexical set and write from that. :) You can also trade lexical sets with a friend (a great in-class exercise) to force yourself to work with unfamiliar concepts and new vocabulary.

Part of my Prompt-A-Day and 30/30 for National Poetry Month. 
Image: pinkparis1233



"Maybe It Really Is Maybelline"

** can’t post any of this one! :( If I post part of it it’s basically the whole thing — it’s a conceptual piece, hooray. But it was definitely inspired by the exercises this time, fortuitously! (Just happened to be similar to a lexical set!)

Ann Arbor Festifools!

5/30: Endless Lines // Cradleboard

Write a prose piece or poem of about 30 lines or one longish paragraph, but using only one sentence. With one sentence use enjambment, clauses, parentheticals, parallel structure, or any kind of syntactical structures to keep the sentence moving forward and grammatically correct (yes it will be overwrought, but the changes in clause, commas, should keep it grammatical). This exercise teaches one how to stay flexible with a line and encourages one to be playful about connecting phrases. Poetry or prose.

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

And my 30/30 excerpt from yesterday: Cradleboard

"…We named it, but owned nothing.
What was left us, we carried
as the Longhouse quarreled

its own inheritance, as Sky-
woman still falls. Hold me,
the way I want to be held

down. We carried the children
with their eyes closed, swaddled,
who knew the homelands

only by smell. In the museum,
the old ways are nailed up
and captioned. The death

is not sinister, the life
waxy and posed, leaning
the invisible wind, hunter

who does not yet know
what is lost. My mother
paid good money for good

beading. She says, buy nothing
that is not signed, authenticity
is wampum, purple and white,

wampum, the way I was raised
wampum, too, and wampum,
the plastic wrapping, …”

Goes really well with the new direction of my manuscript. :)

Thanks for tuning in, and consider sharing/reblogging/etc the prompts with your poetically-inclined friends!

Spent the day at the Ann Arbor Festifools, and was amazed at the creativity and exuberance of this amazing city. Can’t wait to share the photos with you all (especially if I figure out how to keep Tumblr/FB from butchering them on upload), and here’s a little sneak peak. And my missing 30/30 posts are in the queue. :)

Just hanging out with my Norwegian. :)

Made a delicious dinner tonight, mushroom ravioli in a mushroom sage cream sauce and a side of deliciously fresh green beans. Today was beautiful, but the Arbor was pretty crowded between game day, Hash Bash, and other sunny Saturday lures.

Dinner tonight will be wonderful. :)

Trying out öggl again, with the new membership option. :)

From The Produce Station on State, in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

My found conceptual piece for the week. From University of Michigan’s campus, a pair of lonely carrots sat on a stone wall outside the Union, waiting for their directorial debut.

I did not bring the carrots to the site. They were waiting to be discovered.

Fantastic conceptual/digital pieces by my CW students


I took this assignment in a really different direction. I created a second tumblr page to make it work. It’s still very rough, but I thought I’d share the idea. Heavily influenced by the Kenneth Goldsmith piece we looked at in class

the password is stretch

Amazing. SO impressed. 

Sophie is an interarts performance BFA freshman here at the University of Michigan. :) Lindsey, a comparative lit major, worked on a prezi-poem, which utilizes animation and controlled reveal of language. Sarah developed a guide for How To See Your House On Fire.

Our recent assignments have focused on various aspects and processes of conceptual art / visual poetry / digital and new media. So happy the university lets me design my own course so I could cover this material in a Creative Writing class! Can’t believe what amazing work my students have produced thus far.

4/30: The Other Hand // “Meine geliebten Kinder”


Today’s exercise — The Other Hand. This is an exercise to free up the part of your brain that is at its most emotive and strange—your childlike mind, the playful, other half of your brain. It will only work with pen and paper, so get those out. :) To free the playful, creative, childlike part of your brain, you will need to get the dominant part of your brain, that which is predictable and ordered, out of the way. Your careful, analytical brain is engaged at the same time you are writing with your dominant hand, the other half of your brain is activated when using your nondominant hand.

So for this exercise, write one line each, starting with dominant hand then switching to nondominant handed then back, write with a different hand on each line. You might start out freewriting by your dominant hand asking questions of your nondominant hand, and be sure to relax the brain and write the first things that come to mind. Go this way a while until story or poem emerges, and continue alternating hands as long as you like. Then go back and trim what you have, shape it into a piece or poem, change, edit, and don’t restrict the words of the hands to their seperate lines if pieces will work better somewhere else. Give it polish, use the lines and words to create something new out of the makings.

Poetry or prose. Part of my Prompt A Day and 30/30 for National Poetry Month. | Image: bodahe


and for my Words & Music class at the University of Michigan we were asked to write a lullabye. So here are some excerpts from my lullabye, conceived as one that Elisabeth Fritzl might sing to her children. It will be set to music by Daniel Sottile, a masters candidate in music composition.

Meine geliebten Kinder
          - a lullabye, after Elisabeth Fritzl

"Some nights the devil lies in me
as a sunken grave, and he sings:
Hush love, you hear the cries
of the city, each moan a deliveryman,
each weeping a street car, rusted
as many things can be. Someday,
the screen door will lie open,
and I will show you all of these things.


someday, the ocean, some night
your own bed, undisturbed.
Some day, the screen door
will lie open, and I will show you

You will burst from this house
into a forest. I’ll take every
sin for my own. Some day,
the door will lie open


Voicemails from my Commie-Pinko Father, pt I

Oh, this is your dad. I’m just calling you back. I must have had my phone off during class and I forgot to turn it back on. You know. I like it because then I don’t have to get calls.

3/30: Three Names // And I Will Never Tell Anyone What You Tell Me


Write a piece utilizing or incorporating three names. These can be of people or places but must be proper nouns essentially. You can either allude to the names (in this case, try to make the names guess-able for the reader), or you can include the names within your text. Three names, that’s the only requirement, the rest is up to you.

Poetry or prose. To be up for feature, post responses in reply or in disqus comments to this post. Or reblog so others can join the fun.

Part of 30/30 and National Poetry Month | Image: daskull


3/30: And I Will Never Tell Anyone What You Tell Me

"… I bought him cards I never sent, which say things like "_______________" and "_________" and I never wrote on them or sent them and now they’re sitting in a drawer like secrets.

I might use it for a story

The third one says “____________” and I never sent it because I wasn’t sure who I was wanting to _________ after all.

you need to watch broad city
I just want to be important to someone
I’ve never been with someone who loved me.