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Poetry: Blinkers

I wrote another constraint poem. A friend at a workshop provided the limitations. Must use a child’s POV, describe

the night sky, and never use an explicit color word. Describing the sky without using a color challenged me, but it taught me that good imagery relies on my readers’ imaginations, less on  me telling them what to imagine. The Show not Tell rule strikes again. 

Blinkers

Dad told me where stars
come from. When little boys free
fireflies from mayonnaise jars to make
embers beneath maple trees,
blinkers watch the stars through sleeping leaves.

What no one knows is
Stars ain’t stars. They’re fireflies that followed dreams.

The blinkers we watch,
while chickens rustle in their coops,
build courage to climb moonlight.

When two get ready, they blink goodbyes then light
rises, compass points in a blind sky.

When dawn balloons behind the quarry ridge,
when morning swells to noon,
after day deflates to night, search twilight,
Dad says. You’ll
know if two dreamers made it.

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Poetry: Eye of the Watchman

Eye of the Watchman
By Emile DeWeaver

This city is gray
in the sky and on the asphalt.
It’s acid air eats
whores and antelopes, leaving bones in desert slums
where the thirsty drink each other
and the hungry eat the drunk.

We made this city from sand and sound.
Beyond your eyes, children’s laughter
swims with splashes in the surf
and the waves warm the sun before it

rises. Before our eyes
this city is steel and stone,
where worse men rule the wrong
and war drums beat a black-flame song.

Light years distant, cities crackle
with tires chewed bare
by fault-lined pavements.
A bridge that breaks pathways casts
No shadow on the sea.

An addict plays needles that prickle his arms, and pulls his last breath, and plunges to dark.
An addict squalls emerging
from a crackhead’s womb,
and blows his first breath,
and ascends through the bright. 

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Alphabet Poems: Workshop 2

image

Last week I showed you my worse alphabet poem (strictly speaking, these aren’t alphabet poems, but my friend and I have christened them so). We talked about why it sucked, and I promised that this week I’d speak about what’s good about the poem.

I should warn you that lines 11 through 19 are gobbledygook. By the time I reached line 11, I glanced at the previous lines and felt the need to do anything different, as long as it was better. So I went surreal, wrote what came, and demanded images from myself.

M is for Bad Poetry
By Emile DeWeaver

1   Members of Congress dismember
2   merry lambs and sing
3   melodies to bleating sheep
4   massed around the reflecting pond. The
5   message: lamb-parts
6   made this nation great.
7   Mistakes we
8   make, but if
9   memories cannot be trusted, how can you not
10  misconceive our sins.
11  Mops in a closet damp with
12  mold spores that climb the dust
13  motes settling in the once-dark room
14  mucus on linoleum
15  maggots in wood grain
16  moco-colored moccasins hissing on a squaw’s
17  mumbling feet.
18  Milk spilling strings through a cheese grater, dripping curdled
19  murals on the floor.

What works is concrete imagery gives the poem immediacy. Immediacy precedes reader involvement, so it’s at least a step in the right direction.

Examples: In lines 11-13, mops, closet, dampness, allusions to moldy smells, dust motes: all are readily identifiable images, all readily appeal to the senses. Earlier in lines 1-2 we have what I’ve called a false image (because it betrays the poet with its ineffectiveness): “Congress dismember merry lambs.” The difference between these images is when I say “dust” or “mop,” one million readers will see more or less the same picture (no need to point out that I have less than 40 followers). These images unite readers to each other and the artist. But when I say “dismember merry lambs,” this could produce a thousand vastly different images, if it produces any at all. In that way it divides readers and artist. Worse, the artist has lost control of the effects she or he is trying to produce. Because we can rely on the images produced by concrete words, we can predict their effect. If we can forecast words’ effects, then we can create in a reader love, joy, fear, suspicion, or admiration for our great talent by carefully choosing our images.

Let’s examine more images. I used “linoleum” in line 14 because it’s more specific (and thus more readily identifiable) than “floor.” In line 15 “wood grain” isn’t necessarily more detailed than “wood,” but by calling attention to the grain, I hope to achieve a zooming-in effect, a close-up in the reader’s mind. My decision may or may not produce my intended effect (only you can tell me), but that’s part of the risk in pushing the boundaries of our craft. We have to try things.

Lines 16 and 17 provide an example of what I call a double image (because it’s working double time). “moco-colored moccasins hissing on a squaw’s/ mumbling feet. At its best the double image adds depth. At its worse, it distracts. Here we have moccasins that can be shoes or a snakes.  There’s an irrationality here, the dream-quality that poetry allows. Snakes don’t belong on feet nor do shoes hiss, but lines in poetry can impose their own logic. For example, shoes don’t hiss, but if feet can mumble, we’ve entered a world where shoes can hiss.

My favorite images are in the last two lines: “Milk spilling strings through a cheese grater, dripping curdled / murals on the floor.” There’s kinetic power in these lines that the other images lack because the subject, milk, moves through a grater and creates something, a mural, on the floor. The image also contains a lot of texture: white milk, smooth strings of milk, metallic grater, “dripping” introduces sound, “curdled” hints at odor, and “murals on the floor” transforms the texture of white milk to something marble-like.

What do all these images mean, what did I aim to make readers feel? Well, as I said, it’s gobbledygook. The worst poem I’ve written. But even a bad poem can teach us something if we can bear to look at it long enough.

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Alphabet Poems: A Workshop

Presenting the worst alphabet poem I’ve written!

I’ve numbered the lines because I’d like to workshop the poem in case my process has something to offer other writers. Commentary follows the poem (it makes me cringe to call it “my poem.”)

M is for Bad Poetry
By Emile DeWeaver

1   Members of Congress dismember
2   merry lambs and sing
3   melodies to bleating sheep
4   massed around the reflecting pond. The
5   message: lamb-parts
6   made this nation great.
7   Mistakes we
8   make, but if
9   memories cannot be trusted, how can you not
10  misconceive our sins.
11  Mops in a closet damp with
12  mold spores that climb the dust
13  motes settling in the once-dark room
14  mucus on linoleum
15  maggots in wood grain
16  moco-colored moccasins hissing on a squaw’s
17  mumbling feet.
18  Milk spilling strings through a cheese grater, dripping curdled
19  murals on the floor.

Okay. Bad writing is always hard on my ego, but I’ve learned that bad writing has this fantastic quality. It makes clear what you want to express. This holds for poetry and prose; more often than not, it’s not the content that sucks, it’s the delivery. The good news is a bad delivery is fixable in revision. So let’s start that revision process.

The first 10 lines share three big problems. One, I’m talking at the reader, beating them to death with what I think about something. This is not an essay; it’s a poem, so if I want to climb up on my soap box, I need to find a more subtle way to do it. In other words, if you find yourself standing on a soap box, break out your smoke and mirrors and make sure your box looks like a magician’s stage to the audience.

The second problem in first 10 lines is the lack of imagery. (For the purpose of this workshop, I include smells and sounds in my idea of imagery.) 10 lines of pure ideas in poetry is sacrilege. To add insult to gunshot, several ideas parade through my lines disguised as images. This is how I find them.

I select a culprit, put myself in my readers’ minds, and ask “What does that look like?” If I have to construct the image, I might be looking at an idea in disguise. At the very least, I’m looking at a shitty image.

Examples: (1) “Congress dismember merry lambs.” What does that look like? Compare it to “Mops in a closet.” How quickly did the image of mops spring to mind? Did that happen with the first image. (2) “sing melodies to bleating sheep. ” Who the hell sings to sheep in Congress? Nobody. So I’m clearly trying to convey an idea (a cliched idea, to boot). It’s fine to convey ideas in poetry, but ideas in poetry benefit from being grounded in concrete imagery, not floating among 10 other ideas.

One reason why we root out images (and metaphors) that make the reader work to imagine is because we have a contract to uphold. The reader didn’t come to the page to construct images — that’s our job, to step inside their heads and do it for them. Poetry is the art of speaking through the reader’s mouth (not my quote but wish it was). Ideally, the process should be that seamless.

The third problem is in line 10. “Misconceive.” Please never use the word “misconceive.”

What works about my poem begins with line 11. I’d like to interact with my readers, so please leave comments about why the last half of my poem does or doesn’t work more effectively than the first half. I’ll get on my glory-of-good-poetry soapbox and talk about why I like them more in my next Alphabet Poem post.

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Alphabet Poems

For those of you following my alphabet poems adventure, I’m on the letter M. In this post I’d like to share my F and H  poems. I promised some I like and some that suck. The first poem is about unrequited love, and I like it for the lines about night flowers. The second poem has a moment or two but it’s mostly corny to me. It’s not my worse one, though, because corny at least has its own charm. Next time, I’ll post my worst alphabet poem.

Death is a Feather
By Emile DeWeaver

Feathers and white winter bits caught in invisible drains,
faking graceful spirals from windy lips, my same tropes
flying. Next time use my own wings. Or does her
father stand at the window hearing our laughter

flow through labyrinthine gardens where night
flowers open petals to the soft light of
fools’ love. Would that we were more like Nocturne’s
flowers, but nightmares keep our petals
folded. Still, eyes speak to the Alaskan sunsets that
flavor your breath and plant thoughts of tongues
filling mouths, fingers
finding indecent spaces to unfold —
flowers behold the blind song of
fog-covered bodies rocking in the pale light.

If You’re Going to Hell in a Handbasket, You’re Probably in Aspin.
By Emile DeWeaver

Hell has no fury like three furies in a
hail storm. Once you go black,
hurry to the doctor because that’s frostbite.
Home is where the
heartbeat fears banks — they can’t all be winners, folks. If you
have nothing nice to say,
Hallmark’s a billion dollar corporation. Don’t kiss a gift
horse in the mouth — it’s presumptuous. A bird in the
hand eventually shits. Can’t
help, now, but think of bushes as
handy banks for my bluebirds. You must’ve fallen from
heaven because your face looks like you fell on it from a great
height.

If either poem looks like fun, consider writing one and entering my contest (see Poetry Contest post ).

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