Gary Young selected my poem “Palm Reader, Fifth Avenue,” (first published at WordRiot, click through to read) for the Littoral Press Poetry Prize this year, so it will be made into a broadside. Many thanks to Lisa Rappoport and Gary Young. Exciting!
Gary Young selected my poem “Palm Reader, Fifth Avenue,” (first published at WordRiot, click through to read) for the Littoral Press Poetry Prize this year, so it will be made into a broadside. Many thanks to Lisa Rappoport and Gary Young. Exciting!
Just hanging in Trondheim with my dude. I’ve been staying up all night because, I guess, the ceaseless-sunlight is getting to me (but, unfortunately, I sleep half the day away while haugedal is at work). I have felt like I haven’t been writing much and yet for some reason poems keep cropping up in my brain around 5-6AM and lately they’ve been getting better (daily practice is always helpful). Makes me miss 30/30 and so I’m making use of my “Daily Poems” folder in my writing cache again.
Carrie Fountain gave us that tip when she visited Michigan: to try to write (or edit) a draft every day, and keep a folder you chuck them all into (to be dealt with later). Later, some of them make it into my “NotThesis” document, some don’t.
Here’s a bit of a draft. I’ll post more photos and some reports of my time in the land of the midnight sun, and my recent travels to Novi Sad and Istanbul, soon. It’s been a beautiful summer!
Whatever Is The Matter (excerpt)
… May polyphore find a flank to climb
shadowed and north-facing. Wrists
undamaged and strong ankles, free
of any hurt. I regret not opening my
mouth, the down-lit cast of my glance
where it studied that quality, sun-
-runner, golden boy, how could I
answer you with all this earth
piled in my throat, your limbs
stripped of anger, how could I say
yes, there is something on my mind,
rushing up as river in a locked car…
About a year ago I decided I wanted to reinvent Tiger Lily, that historically misrepresentative, recently white-washed character, in an empowering (and appropriate) YA novel. By giving her a story of her own, treating her as a protagonist, and providing her a rich culture inspired by my own experience of reservation life, I hoped to enable young people to recognize the vibrant, community-oriented lives of tribal indigenous peoples, and to make an early impact through their reading.
But it’s been done before, though poorly. And even when I imagined my version, I ran into numerous ethical concerns. If my genre were the magical world-building type of Young Adult fiction (as is so popular these days), how could I avoid the mystical shaman Talks-With-Nature trope? If she had a sidekick, would she start to resemble a certain raccoon-and-hummingbird-accompanied princess? Could I even make her the daughter of a chief, as in the original? How much of a story steeped in 1900s racism could I ever hope to reinvent, anyway?
I wrote a piece on cultural appropriation from a writer’s perspective for Atticus Review's Dangerous Ideas column. Check it out to see how I deal with cultural appropriation in my own work, and for some tips on how to approach it yourself.
Phew! That was a rush! Happy National Poetry Month!!
Here’s the final list of all the prompts/exercises I posted for National Poetry Month. Almost all of of them should applicable to both poetry and prose.
1. Newspaper Lines
2. The Poet Thief
3. Three Names
4. The Other Hand
5. Endless Lines
6. Lexical Sets
7. Oh No You Didn’t!
8. Letter(s) to God(s)
9. Civic Poetry
10. Landscapes You Have Loved
11. Dire & Mundane
12. Dead Poet’s Society
13. Overheard Conversations
14. Parameters & Process
15. Proper Nouns
17. An Address
18. Dead Metaphors & Waking Clichés
19. Fantastical Prosetry
20. Visual Metaphor Scavenger Hunt
21. I Ship Brangelina
22. Tip Of The Iceberg, End Of The Thread
23. Spectacular Vernacular
24. Wikipedia Surboart
25. Erasures, Auto-writing & Re-mixes
26. Object Metaphor & Re-upholstering The Chair
27. No Ideas, But In Things
28. Truth & Lies
29. Every Poem An Elegy Every Poem An Ars Poetica
30. Grab Bag of Exercises
And here’s a list of all the poems I generated for 30/30 or poem-a-day (linked in excerpt form). A few of them even made it into my thesis. Omigosh.
1. He Never Did Pay Back What He Owed
3. And I Will Never Tell Anyone What You Tell Me
4. Meine Geliebten Kinder
6. Maybe It Really Is Maybelline
7. Status II
8. Midland (Rockin’ Rodeo)
9. Ann Arbor
10. Because You Are A Sister
11. Of What Was Important To me In My Life
13. Sometimes The Dreams Make Me Angry
14. All Hail The King
16. Highway 285
17. River Rocks
20. When Does That Happen
21. They Named The Boat For The Son Who Died
22. Ann Arbor Wakes On Sunday Morning
23. Margarita Island
26. Everyone Loves A Beautiful Ironing Board
27. Y’all Ain’t From Here
28. Palpitations & Seizures
29. In Which I Recall The Flood As Pink Lightning
30. Cleopatra to the Scribe
I’ll probably try to keep going after this, and there are some subjects related to writing and the teaching of writing that I’m hoping to blog about further, but this was a great exercise (/marathon) and I’m happy to have generated some new work and shared some great exercises with you all. Please feel free to share around (please link back here!), and also let me know how you found the exercises and which ones were the most helpful to you or suggestions for more to feature! :)
Best, - K
Images: god-of-insects. Part of 30/30 and my own Prompt A Day for National Poetry Month.
Today’s exercise (okay fine, a bunch of exercises), in fact, the GRAB BAG OF EXERCISES.
1. Transliteration - Use transliteration to break out of your common language / vocabulary and to let go of / rely more nuanced-ly on grammar. Write a work of transliteration, with or without juxtaposing an overarching tone or concern. Try to let yourself get weird on this one. And try not to use languages you will easily recognize words from (go with Norwegian, hehe).
2. From Sam Milligan / Whittier Strong - Remove Punctuation / Line breaks - remove all punctuation, or remove all line breaks, and re-break/-punctuate. Recognize what is afforded by good line breaks / careful punctuation.
3. From Christi Lisk - Persona/Perspective - “I always try to write from the imagined perspective of someone I know. For me, it’s a lesson in writing and empathy. Jennifer Egan always emphasized the importance of empathy in writing.”
4. 1st memory - (a good CNF / fiction prompt as well as poetry) - Spend two minutes thinking back to your first memory. Freewrite for a few minutes in as much detail as you possibly can, everything you remember, get it down on paper. After this, go back and try to flesh out the details further, and see if a tone emerges. Use what is useful toward generating new material for a piece. Part II or a variation, juxtaposing a recent memory. Having written for a set amount of time about a first memory, next write for five minutes on a recent memory.
5. Exercises in Style - Using Raymond Queneau's “Exercises in Style" as a model, write a piece inspired by a certain "style" word, at will. You might begin this exercise by meditating on a painting, then applying the style word, then moving away from the visually cued subject. The visual cue at the start with help you access more unusual language than going straight to making things up on the fly. :D Sometimes parameters unlock things, in my experience with this exercise. (Examples: “mathematics,” “tangential,” “duality,” “red ripe”) - Thanks to Kerri Webster.
6. Exercise in personality. Write a piece in which every object in the piece has a personality. (further parameters if desired: perhaps the personality of the speaker or protagonist is not revealed except through interactions with these other personalities. Or perhaps not, you do you.)
7. Try writing a piece influenced by dramatic / playwriting.
8. Write a poem of identity. Consider some of these prompts or questions and/or do a little freewriting before you tackle the main poem itself.
9. Artifacts - gather a series of meaningful artifacts or objects you might make narrative out of. Similar to a meditation rock, consider and exist with these objects as you generate material, timed freewriting or what have you. Try to go much further than simply describing the object or the first memories it brings up, try to complicate your language and create spaces of opposition and nuance.
10. Inspired by some of the November PAD Chapbook challenges: Write a piece of birth. Write a villain piece. Write a piece that is the total opposite of a previous piece you have written (on this note, rewrite an older piece completely). Write a how-to piece. Write a stuck piece. Write about a piece of technology that doesn’t exist but should or that does exist but shouldn’t. Write a piece that scares you. Write a poem of protest.
11. What’s Been Untold - from Matthew Pascucci - “Here’s a very particular one I stumbled upon accidentally. Read “A Joke” by Anton Chekhov. After reading, write an interview with Nadya asking her to recall the incident and get her perspective. The exercise is partly about character creation but mostly about exploring what I call the negative spaces in a story. If you do this exercise in a group you end up realizing that there is a tremendous amount of space for Nadya to be almost any kind of person. That space is interesting to discuss. Here’s the story:http://classiclit.about.com/…/achekhov/bl-achek-joke.htm" (I’ve done this same type of thing for an entire chapbook with the character Kamala from Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha. I also ended up indicting the writer a bit, in my case, Hesse, for the lack of her agency, and wondered what her enlightenment would have been.)
12. Write a poem/piece of dreams or from a dream journal (try writing down things as soon as you wake up or right before you drift off, keep the notebook near the bed for a week, etc). Or write a poem of voice.
13. Write down three men or women (pick gender for all three maybe) you’ve had conflicts with. Circle one and write to that person. You might try starting with the line ”You do not have to be good” after Mary Oliver (and as ever, you might remove that inciting line, later). Thanks to Laura Kasischke.
14. Write down three men or women (see above) you’ve lost touch with and still have something to settle. Circle one. Write to it. Thanks to Laura Kasischke.
15. Pick someone you don’t know and make an enemy of them. Write in first person (or don’t).
16. Try this as a daily thing for your notebook for a little while: write down three things in the last 24 hour period which you otherwise would forget about if you did not write them down.
30/30(!!!): Cleopatra to the Scribe
" … Bluebird, we loved you when
you still lead into desert, weren’t highway-
bound trimmed with prim sidewalks.
Our breath came fast as horses’ clouding over
every cold glass by which we measured
and let loose. Please calm down. Please
be my city. I said gritted and you wrote down
guttered. Why did you do that? …
…let me want to be
crushed leaves in your teeth, let me
demand a dowry. I want to hold you so hard
you whimper and purple…”
Today’s exercise: we’re dealing with forms and functions. Elegies and ars poeticas, advertisements and travelogues, etc, etc.
(1.) Examine several different poetic “forms” (outside the “sonnet, villenelle” type, more like, modes or pieces with certain aims or traditions): acrostic, ars poetica, elegy, aphorism, aubade, ballad (see also lullaby and other music-crossover forms), dramatic monologue, epic, epigram, epistle, ode, pastoral, nocturne, carpe diem, etc. Modify these forms or approaches, use your own, current vernacular(!), and use them as jumping off points. Remember to go back and remove the original conceit if it’s getting the the way later.
(2.) Try applying form as a framing element (or another way to juxtapose two ideas and get really dynamite content that works on multiple levels). Try to combine form and content in new and interesting ways, maybe ways that might even clash a little bit. Example exercises: Write an advertisement for the house you grew up in. Write a travelogue to the land of the dead. Write an elegy for Pop Rocks.
(3.) It’s been argued that every poem is an elegy, and/or that every poem is an ars poetica, because the nature of poetry is to commemorate what is already past, and because a poem is the product of the art of poetry and every product somewhat comments on its production, etc etc. What do you think about this? What are you attempting to elegize in any one poem, and how could poems you have written also speak to the act of writing? Double-duty language? In your revision process or when generating some new pieces, reflect on these questions. Challenge what an elegy or an ars poetica should look or sound like, the same way as in the other exercises.
Consider poems like Mary Szybist’s “Invitation” (as a strange kind of elegy, and also as an example of a form from the second exercise here, an ‘invocation’); and the nature of grief.
Alternatively turn the parameters or exercise or rules of your poem into the poem itself.
29/30: In Which I Recall The Floor As Pink Lightning
To the boy who held me
down, said Shh! Shh! It’s okay, and later,
went blind for congenital defect, not
for what he did, I have no complaints.
I’ve looked for alone time, hours, and only
found glib brambles in the mouth
of the off road. I know your apartment
letter but not which floor you live on.
One time I climbed on top of my sweetheart,
scooped in the seat of a white Ford
gritted and worn, and I said Shhhhh
and shit and we have to go get a
backup plan. The sand turned cotton
candy and felt roughly the same
in my teeth. He’s got a Korean wife
he brought back from Korea, these days,
she gets to be in all the pictures.
Every time I ask the elevators
to stop on my floor, I press the buttons
hard, thumbprints in a browned thigh,
skin-memory ghosted in white
like the numbness of my earlobe
once alive. Everything on my body
has been tested.
(This one I had as a title in my notebook for quite some time. Still not sure anything ever lives up to it but I’ve generated quite a bit from this title, and maybe I’ll put together all the little bits I’ve done from it into a better poem that does the title more justice, someday.)
Write a piece in which every line in a lie. Write a piece in which every line is something that could be true for someone. Write a piece which balances lies and truths, or where one bleeds into the other. Trying varying degrees and approaches to this idea of “lies” and “truth.”
Here are some other classic prompty type link things. Hooray.
Really bundling them in now, huh.
28/30: Palpitations & Seizures
"Never with alcohol. Never more
than one. Your heart headbangs
its way out of every paper bag,
your heart such an overzealous
metronome, a mosh-pit shaker
sweaty and bruised, so frantic
they can’t, won’t take your blood.
It’s the nortriptyline, not a bad
organ, but they won’t hear it.
They feed you Teddy Grahams
and send you out the glass doors
with a whoosh of compressed
air. You’re a twisted tin can
that won’t fit in the compactor,
you don’t diagnose easily, that’s why
the cocktail shifts so often. White
film, palpitations, the strobe-light
of oxygen at a shortage.
Today’s exercise: No ideas, but in things. This one comes somewhat by the book “3 A.M. Epiphany” and is inspired by William Carlos Williams. “Write a brief [piece] told only in images—concrete, simple, visually efficient movements and details. This exercise does not ask you to eliminate people from your prose, just to watch what they do and what objects they crave and caress rather than what they say or think about these objects and actions.” No ideas, but in things.
This also plays into the idea of “negative space,” which I used with my creative writing students this semester. This is an approach in art in which the artist draws their lines based on the air around the object rather than trying to draw the outline of the object itself. Interpolate that out into writing, and you might attempt to portray what isn’t said by what is around the thing which isn’t said, the abstract by the concrete, etc, etc. So, for another exercise, attempt this method of negative space to describe both physical objects and conclusions or ideas—it might be a means to practice showing vs telling. :)
27/30: Y’all Ain’t From Here
There was nowhere else to be alone
but ten miles out of town, and even then
you weren’t. Not enough wait staff
at the restaurants, everyone voracious
in their F-150s with their windows
down. Even the sunset isn’t the same.
We don’t go up to the water tower
anymore, we drink better beer
and play pool and live bored and still.
I used to be restless. I didn’t know I’d be
always en route to a reunion or
Today’s exercise(s): Object Metaphors & Juxtaposed-Coloring or extended metaphor/conceit, two exercises which build into one another.
Part one is object metaphor, similar to the visual metaphor exercise, take your notebook with you and catalogue various objects, then below them jot down freewriting or notes about what that object could relate to or become an extended metaphor for. An example: a shelf (something that has things left upon it for use later, which must remain stable…), like a “secret girlfriend.” Etc.
The second is a technique I use frequently in my class and which I got from an exercise by my mentor Laura Kasischke, which is, Juxtaposition of Ideas, or, letting things color or tinge or bleed into each other in terms of influence and subject matter. You can begin to try it like this, for two to four minutes each, freewriting, in order, and don’t go on until you’ve done each: (1) Write a letter to someone you’re angry with or who broke your heart (yadda yadda) or perhaps a how-to not fall in love, and try to use as visceral language as you can. (2) write a how-to about how to upholster a chair (it doesn’t matter if you don’t know how to upholster a chair, in fact, it’s great if you don’t), and let the previous exercise kindof tinge it. (3) Now for a variation, meditate on what might be “your mother’s secret” (or your father’s secret or your family secret or what have you), then, actually freewrite about a house you grew up in with as much visual and architechtural detail as you can (but tinged with the “secret”). Essentually you can juxtapose multiple ideas in this way, letting them bleed into one another, to get at extended metaphors or new conceits for generating work or honing metaphors of existing work. Sometimes I just refer to this as the “reupholstering the chair technique.”
26/30: Everyone Loves A Beautiful Ironing Board
"That night we decided to get real
sloppy. My thumb brushing the thick
nipple of your left breast, fat
and cylindrical and nothing like
my worn nubs.
We went up to the roof
to get humbled, all limbs
and fooling around, aimless
javelins careening, adulthood
as many years away as we
could imagine it. If the 27 club
is the result of grief
or promise, whosoever has been
loving hard for a while and were
famous already has tasted
that Viking bar gin.
Today’s exercise: Erasures, Auto-writing & Re-mixes. So, three exercises for the price of one, and you could also combine these with each other or anything else.
The erasures part of this goes like this: make an erasure poem from some found text, or even from one of your own texts printed out (prose or poetry texts, prose or poetry results, since you’re the one who ends up deciding how it’s represented—either as actual text ”blocked out,” or re-written into prose or poetry lines). Here’s a fun example by my friend Dillon J. Welch.
The pseudo-auto-writing exercise comes from Thomas Lux, from Robin Behn’s Practice of Poetry (which is full of writing exercises). Start writing in the upper left hand corner (or what have you) of you page, and don’t stop writing for exactly five minutes (or a set length of time). "Try to write concretely, sensorially, in images. Do not worry about "sense," do not think, pay no attention, at this point, to grammar, punctuation, etc." But do avoid clichés and canned language, and push yourself to follow through the end of a thought during that time limit. Don’t read it yet. Ideally you’ll do this more than once a day for a prolonged period, until you have roughly 5-10 pages of material. Print that out or look it over and highlight or circle anything that seems interesting or worthwhile, and paste that/type it out into a new document to draw from in generating new material. "Correct spelling, punctuation, etc. The fragments will probably range from single words to word couplings, to images, to passages running three to four lines long. Maybe you’ll have one to two pages of these fragments now, out of the ten with which you began." Then pare down again. (I keep everything in a document I call variations of "Musings.")
The re-mixes idea is great for editing or revision or just jumbling things up a bit, as well as playing with generated material. Take you own poem and jumble the lines (put them in backwards order, shuffle up the order, etc). Take out all the line breaks and put them back in differently. Take material from all over your notebook and juxtapose it together and see what multi-headed chimera emerges (then tame it back to a recognizable poem again, perhaps, in the editing stage). You might also take “found” material out in your pop cultural, observed world, your source material for a re-mix could be anything at all. Think about what re-mixing is meant to accomplish—turning something over again on its head. My favorite examples include Leigh Stein’s Bachelorette poems, as well as Leah Umansky’s Khaleesi Says.
"Bales of wire curled in the grass
and the twisted cottonwood
branches and brambles, and the agave
spiking up through dappled shade, I’m taken
with the prickly pear that’s taken over everything.
We pull aside to let a cadmium yellow truck
blaze past. 34 miles to Junction. Sky opens up
but the low telephone wires are obscured
by treetops. On one side, a barbed wire fence
round thick natural branch posts, on the other
a cage wire stapled to rusted slender steel stakes
with the thinnest branches of mesquite between.
The occasional radio tower. Sometimes a windmill
Today’s exercise: Wikipedia Surfboart. Okay, I find quite a lot of my inspiration from cruising wikipedia like a waveboarder on a wavemachine. There are just too many things that lead from one thing to another. Try to start broad—type of crustaceans, candies, or Mary Queen of Scots, and click through links several times, writing down some little whatever-comes-to-you-in-four-solid-minutes-of-don’t-stop-writing freewrites along the way or in between clicking links. Put these together later in varying ways, generate more on a particular thread that emerges, etc etc. Do try to avoid a poem that gets list-y for the sake of being list-y.
"I’m supposed to talk abut something I’ve
learned from airports, the infrastructure
of a war, some wisdom from our approximate
… Tectonic plates
and human increments, science and myth and the
backyard fence. Houston always peeled us like
mandarins, sunbleached and pigmented,
flecked and sweating. You made me crave
letters which avoid and don’t avoid. I tried
to dip my fat neck into nothingness, I sold
plane tickets for front row seats…”
Today’s exercise: Spectacular Vernacular. Similar to lexical sets, choose a vernacular. It can be things like “nautical terms,” “taxonomic names,” or “super jerky bro-iest of bros,” whatever vernacular you choose, which will come with its own vocabulary/buzzwords, turns of phrase/obsessions, dictions, and tones. Write several short pieces utilizing their own particular vernaculars and choose one to develop further. What are the limits of your chosen vernacular? What are its possibilities? Later, you might color the vernacular with another outside idea or influence, or let your piece drift away from the original inspiration, as always. One of my students did an amazing piece about a total creep / bro / homedude that inspired me to share this exercise with you. :)
23/30: Margarita Island
"We mapped with salt shakers and blood
oranges the best lovers this city ever gave us,
but it was no help. Their lost voices howl
reminders: everything amounts to pan-flashes,
shutterbulbs, what we love is only a
filament. I don’t even like cats, you said,
when we finally found time for formalities.
When I was 13 my mother took me down to Venezuela to see where she was born and grew up, and we spent some time in a little hotel on Margarita Island, at the discotechs at night and in hammocks during the daylight hours.
Today’s exercise: Tip of the Iceberg, End of the Thread. Choose an inciting incident, memory, image, observation, line, dialogue, item, a starting point. Now as you write/freewrite, imagine this as only the starting point, only the very tip of the iceberg, and remember that there is so much more submerged beneath the surface, the end of a long skein of thread all wound up and you are following it along. See how far you get, and try not to end this one in a neatly wrapped up conclusion (a “bow ending”), but do try to find an overall theme which might emerge from the material after you get it on the page and get a good look at it as a whole. What about each of the ends and each building line might encapsulate this whole?
22/30: Ann Arbor Venus Wakes On Sunday Morning
"to the mellifluous song
of a snow plough mower.
purrs and grates and
chews into freshest
powder. How long
can we inhabit
the same room
I don’t like living with
ghosts, (or bumps
Today’s exercise: I Ship Brangelina. Write a poem about—/inspired by/to/loosely colored by— your favorite literary, mythological, or achetypal “pairing,” turning the relationship on its head. Speaker, approach, style, diction, etc, are up to you, but strategize this one a little bit to be the most effective at re-inventing or re-imagining the original relationship.
Yeats’ Leda & the Swan, and John Donne’s The Flea come to mind as extensions of this idea — but remember to write this poem in a more current, modern, (your own) vernacular! (That’s the trouble when we take older poetry and try to write that way—it’s like trying to rock bell-bottom pants, it’s just not gonna happen for 90% of us.) Remember to choose language carefully and avoid clichés or abstractions particularly for this (and any ‘love’ or ‘friendship’ -y prompt).
21/30: They Named The Boat For The Son Who Died
"It doesn’t change the facts, or the ocean
if I kiss you. The sandy spit
the same as that swim-away sea
creature, waved off, waved. If
your tide pulls, if we’d float away,
if the far banks were known,
sun-bathed, we’d hook the boat
which is liable to sink us.
(They aren’t all winners.)
Today’s exercise: Visual Metaphor Scavenger Hunt. All day today, carry your notebook with you. Write down things you see or observe, and then right below that, what that thing you see also looks like/sounds like, etc. This is inspired by Kim Addonizio again, as a means of generating solid visual metaphors. Here are some examples a la Ezra Pound’s “In A Station of the Metro,” from Addonizio’s Ordinary Genius:
"Rows of pans hanging from kitchen hooks:
ducks strung feetfirst in a Chinese market.
The clock keeps clicking,
an obsessive conductor tapping a baton.
Laughter from the house next door:
horses whinnying in the field while I stand in my stall.”
Part of 30/30 and my Prompt A Day for National Poetry Month. Image: the-Px-corporation
20/30: When Does That Happen (excerpt)
"My tumblers have shimmied
from their locks, and this from
the door, so the whole apparatus
fails to open without some
bodily shove. I am smaller
than the man I live with.
I throw my body against its
flatness every morning, all day
twisted knob in my hands,
wrenched right, left,
all china bull, all quick-breathing
prey in the grass, all enlivened