oulipost 30: libertine composer

So, the final count is in…

– 30 poems for Oulipost
– 29 poems for NaPoWriMo (one was shared with Oulipost)
– 37 poems for Poetic Asides (bonus ones are thanks to Two-for-Tuesday prompts, but I’m also counting one of them as three because it was three sections of fourteen sonnet-ish lines each; if that doesn’t suffice, there were at least two drafts I threw out without showing them to the world)
– 2 poems for Monday workshop
– 2 poems for Thursday workshop

Which means that, holy shit, this post contains the one hundredth new draft I have done for the month of April. Which means additionally that I am going to just not write anything new for the month of May, I think…

This is not a feat I’m eager to repeat, but as it had been a while since I was in any kind of generative mode, it’s nice to be back in one. I’ll spend the next several weeks going through what I’ve written, and my hope is to pull out ten poems that I can edit and develop and turn into something worthwhile. It’s been a wild ride.

Today’s Oulipost is to use pieces of all the other Oulipost poems one wrote during the month… and so this is what I’ve got. Enjoy!

Libertine Composer Premieres Manifesto for Flute and Bodies, in F Major

My rhythms are European imports:
Broadway fades through observation of
erotic society. I include particular
attention to inhalation:
the denied modesties and the Deeds
Not Mentioned. When the brothel
turns to jungle, my bedroom mechanism
knows which glory to shoot.
A flair for the dramatic and a new,
reckless grace: this hedonist wants
semen to twist into sea ice.
The sex-party runs coronas over memory
and men’s room fantasies.
My alphabet of interplay arcs from artist
to zouave, and every motherfucker
one could covet in between.
Mortality is an architecture
I’m burning out of by kissing like wild birds.
I prepare my pure philosophy:
great people know what regular people
want. A liberation miracle. A vision
in emptiness. A man in motion who purrs
specifics, beautiful poets, a honey-water
woman with a wonderful wish.
I crave and murmur and make it all
into the music of desire.

oulipost 1: his lordship

So, I’m in DC right now after an interminable bus trip and a very, very long day… just now getting to post some poetry. Luckily, I was able to do a bit of writing on the interminable bus trip, and thus I’m going to post my first Oulipost offering, followed by my first Poem-a-Thon offering. Very little fanfare today, as I’m quite tired.

But! The first Oulipost prompt was to do a quote cento, using direct quotations from the newspaper of record that I’m using to make a poem. All quotes in this are taken from the cover feature in this week’s Village Voice, “99 Essential Restaurants in Lower Manhattan”. I’m also doing the conceit of having the title of each poem be in a mock headline style, the content of which I’m coming up with upon seeing what splatters onto the page after I slice up the text in the Oulipo machine. Still finding the rhythm for this…

His Lordship Explains How He Got Here

We never set out to become the king and queen.
Our vision was: no rules,
no boring people telling me
what I can and can’t do, both what’s good
and what’s bad.
A house should be of the hill, not on it,
while introducing a distinct, refreshing look.
It was a fairly remote location–
primitive American furnishings and
a growing collection of European imports–
a very small fish, but
a very special fish. We’ll never be
all things to everyone, so we just ‘do us’,
in the best way we know how.
I am the neighborhood.
We will live to become who we are.
On this block for 24 years, in this neighborhood
for 29– the ability to change and grow is
important. It’s limitless. But it’s
not us.

The quotes are taken (and spliced, and mixed) from the following restauranteurs, with the names of their restaurants following: Maury Rubin (City Bakery), DeDe Lahman (Clinton Street Baking Company & Restaurant), Dennis Turcinovic (Delmonico’s), Amanda Cohen (Dirt Candy), Brett Csencsitz (Gotham Bar and Grill), Eiji Ichimura (Ichimura at Brushstroke), Donna Lennard (Il Buco Alimentari Evineria), Jake Dell (Katz’s Delicatessen), Joey Campanaro (The Little Owl), and Gabrielle Hamilton (Prune).

A Kiss from Far-off Eden

Today’s Miz Quickly prompt is to do sort of a cento of eavesdropped conversation, but since I find it hard to break text out of the conversations themselves (plus the fact that brunch with my family is the narrative equivalent of two freight trains loaded with chemical fertilizer colliding), I decided to just do one of my random-wandering Poets.org centi, as I am sometimes wont to do. The path just kind of unfolded delicately, and I’m not sure I have any deeper reading, but eh, it kept me occupied.

A Kiss from Far-off Eden

I know that David’s with me here again,
with our shame and bitterness. Skies ever-blue,
our right shoulders red, our wavering hips indigo–
but what does he know about inside and outside?
(I come up to him
in the land of missing pronouns,
and when it starts to get dark,
we hardly speak.)
I’d ask how such wretchedness came to cumber
all mistake. One world that shuts air into
our words. We may have strolled in silence. But
whoever you are, holding me now in hand,
without you here, I’m viciously lonely.
Of all sweet passions, shame is the loveliest:
you are not me, and I am never you,
you with me, on me, in me, and you’re not.

Sources: Vachel Lindsay, “My Lady is Compared to a Young Tree”; Robert Graves, “Not Dead”; Denise Levertov, “In California During the Gulf War”; Traci Brimhall, “Our Bodies Break Light”; Li-Young Lee, “Immigrant Blues”; Galway Kinnell, “The Bear”; Marilyn Chin, “Quiet the Dog, Tether the Pony”; Alberto Blanco (trans. W.S. Merwin), “The Parakeets”; John Logan, “Three Moves”; Trumbull Stickney, “Mnemosyne”; Reginald Shepard, “Drawing from Life”; Li-Young Lee, “Eating Alone”; Walt Whitman, “Whoever You Are, Holding Me Now in Hand”; Aaron Smith, “Boston”; Alfred, Lord Tennyson, “In Praise of Shame”; Philip Lopate, “The Ecstasy”; Marilyn Hacker, “Coda”

Recursion Three: panning for gold

“The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”
~ Marcel Proust, French novelist

In a stunning repeat of yesterday’s post, I am once again on a bus (headed back north) with an awful Internet connection. It took ten minutes just to get this page open, and checking my work email like I should be doing is practically out of the question at this point. So for now, I will just carry on with the promptmaking, since that’s something I can mostly do without needing to load webpages every few seconds. (How spoiled we are in the days of broadband!) Yesterday was caught up in a whirlwind of seeing friends and doing work-related business, so I didn’t get as much writing time as I hoped… I’ll make efforts to catch up and post a thing or two later this evening, so as not to lag behind with NaPoWriMo.

Hopefully, the last two days have been fruitful for your gathering of images and themes to use in some kind of poem-writing; today we’re going to take a different tack. T.S. Eliot famously remarked, “Good writers borrow; great writers steal.” or something to that effect. So, let’s practice being great writers by seeing what’s on offer in the hallowed halls of poetry and building a cento out of it. A cento, if you’re unfamiliar, is named after an old Roman patchwork cloak, and is a poem made up of lines taken from elsewhere: prose, poems, newspaper articles, spam email, wherever. Sometimes they’re built from the works of a single author, sometimes by the works of several. You can treat them as found poetry, or you can go hunting through particular works in search of material (as Margo is doing with her Pulitzer Remix challenge). Previous visitors to my blog may be familiar with the somewhat more random process of cento-building that I’m fond of, which we are going to use today…

First of all, head over to poets.org for the initial mill-grist. (I think you can use the Poetry Foundation website for this technique as well, but Poets.org tends to work better, I find.) You can either browse until you find a poem you like, or just nab the first Poem of the Day that you see. Today’s is “Yours” by Daniel Hoffman. Find a line that you like, one that sings out to you (which tends to be easier with a longer poem and/or poem with longer lines, but whatever you will). I’m going to stick with the last line of Hoffman’s: “What is an island without the sea?” Great rhetorical, there. Then, you go to the sidebar where it has similar/related poems by both the same author and by other ones. From Daniel Hoffman, I go to Muriel Rukeyser’s “Elegy of Joy”, and then to Kenneth Koch’s “One Train May Hide Another”, ending up with:

What is an island without the sea?
Not all things are blest, but the
one small complaint may hide a great one.

This is going somewhere interesting, although I’m not myself sure where. It’s best to follow poems that have lots of sidebar options, so that you can backtrack a bit if you need to. I called this prompt “panning for gold” because I think of it like standing knee-deep in a stream, knowing there’s plenty of treasure dust floating by, but hoping for a great big nugget of it. You must allow yourself to be receptive to what comes along, and build what you can out of it, because of course the trick after the fact is to see what thoughts the conglomerate poem summons in you. The cento can be a good poem itself, or it may be an oddity; this method usually leans towards the latter. But like a dream, sometimes the disorganized images can lead to great insight, and in the meantime, you gain practice with putting pieces together. (The best ones find new and inventive ways to completely transform the lines they borrow: look for ones that connect at words that could be either nouns or verbs, for example.)

As much as you should be observing the world around you for ideas, and going deep into the interesting ones, you also ought to pay attention to what you write as you write it. Poems transform in our hands like lumps of gallium. Be ready for it, and resist only as much as you think you need to. Try the exercise, and of course, you’re welcome to share if you like. Happy panning!

What Should Be Hidden

So first of all, thanks to those of you who sent poems for The Refinery: we have a few on deck that I can sort through now, and I shall try to get one out there this week. (Of course, more people are welcome to send stuff in; I’d rather have a list to work through than a stopgap every week.) And again, Curio has a new issue out, so you should go take a peek at it. Meanwhile, NaPoWriMo is coming, the book swap is happening again (post to follow), workshop phase II starts next week, and I am starting to feel like maybe, maybe, we can shake off this winter malaise and inject some raw life into the world soon. I hope so, at least. I’m thinking I might make a habit of going to Central Park and lying in sunny fields, writing; if this winter has taught me anything, it’s to cherish the warm outdoors whenever possible.

We Write Poems is looking for poems inspired by other poems, which led me to a cento mood, which led to one of my occasional scourings of poets.org to build one out of lines stolen from a chain of poems. (The process: find a poem and borrow a line for the title. Click on one of the “related poems” on the sidebar. Borrow a line. Repeat until complete.) It kind of veered off the prompt completely, and it’s just a clunky little beast of a poem, but I’ll adopt it. Like an ugly dog with three legs and a cute whimper.

What Should Be Hidden

The heart has no sense of humor.
That’s why I never smile, except when
I go out back of the greenhouse
to turn a midnight corner & never come back.
Autumnal evening chill, knife-edges of the avenues,
but I keep loving it
grazing my knee
as if we could be other people under the skin.
I have spent years tugging
this strange city, frozen to the back of the sky,
in search of something
for pleasure or pain like a bell.
No one can tell you how to be alone.
Revel in the squat luck of that unhappy tree,
and a constellation anyone could read,
lying on its back like a wounded soldier
pushing back into the dust.

Title and lines from: Marianne Boruch, “Human Atlas”; Monica Ferrell, “Anatomy”; Christopher Kennedy, “Ghost in the Land of Skeletons”; Garrett Hongo, “Something Whispered in the Shakuhachi”; Yusef Komunyakaa, “Blue Dementia”; Stanley Plumly, “Spirit Birds”; Claribel Algería, “Rain” (trans. Margaret S. Peden); Maureen N. McLane, “Passage I”; Naomi Shihab Nye, “Snow”; Carl Phillips, “Passing”; Joy Harjo, “Deer Dancer”; Tom Hansen, “Fallen Apples”; Pablo Medina, “At the Blue Note”; Michael Ryan, “Poem at Thirty”; D.A. Powell, “Abandonment Under the Walnut Tree”; William Meredith, “Starlight”; Anzhelina Polonskaya, “Sky” (trans. Andrew Wachtel); Roberta J. Hill, “Star Quilt”

Salad Days

All right, I’m going to put my money where my mouth is: if no one submits to the Refinery in the next few days, I’m going to do one of my own poems. I’d really rather not, for several reasons: I think it’s really tough to workshop (not just edit) your own work, I rarely enjoy going back to my drafts unless it’s to prepare them for submission/workshops, and it’s difficult to separate myself from my knowledge enough to determine anything that’s confusing/odd to someone who’s not me. (May rely on commented poems so I have an idea.) I’d really like to keep the exercise going, but there is a dearth of grist for the mill. Send stuff! I am happy to give you my email if you don’t have it, and/or you can link to a poem that I will critique.

Meanwhile: NaPoWriMo is coming. I hope that Kelli Russell Agodon does the book giveaway again this year, because I enjoy participating in that; I’ll be at the Rainbow Book Fair on April 13 in New York; I plan to do prompts at NaPoWriMo.net; and I am officially continuing the poetry workshop til Memorial Day. What I want to know from you all is, if I did daily prompts in April, is that something you’d dig? I have a few lying around, and I’ll use the next two weeks to come up with more. This will be my fifth year doing April poem a day, so I think maybe I should try it from the other side this time… feedback is most welcome. (If I don’t shake myself out of this funk by April 1, I am going to desperately need every electric jolt to the muse I can get, so I hope it will be helpful for both of us.)

A little something for We Write Poems here, based on a line by Irene Toh, since we were asked to borrow the lines of others for the prompt. The line really stood out to me for some reason, and became the first line of this one, and for some reason turned into a poem about… vegetables, I guess? And maybe it’s a metaphor of some kind? I’m not entirely sure, but it was a relaxation to write.

Salad Days

A poem isn’t the body of a green leek
that splits neatly when you press the knife;
you can’t trim off a word at a time
into green loops lit up with an early spring,
scattered carefully over a bowl of rice.
A poem does not grow in bunches.
And you won’t find it assigned to gardens,
bobbing its head in rank with tomato leaves
and basil. You can go to the Friday market
looking for poems through winnowing,
knowing only what it is not: toss aside
the first deformed potatoes and waxed lettuce
refusing to peel. Check behind the fennel bulbs;
rummage in the mushroom bin. Try honey
from the honey-man in a fingernail spoon,
a gentle orange sting laid on the tongue.
Look for the signs that say “FREE RANGE”.
The poems have crisp cores and many seeds
but no one seems to have them for sale.
They fall into your bag for you to find
when you get home; you consider, first,
how to cook them. Then, you may peel one
and eat it raw.

Reverie Forty-Five: finder, keeper

There is a great injustice to being sick on a weekend. I feel that it just shouldn’t be allowed; but on the other hand, I suppose I feel there’s a great injustice to having to come to work when I’m sick. I demand some kind of arrangement to remedy both kinds of injustice… in the meantime, at least I don’t have any crazy plan today aside from sitting here at the cafe writing away for hours on end. Still working at the old NaNoWriMo (almost caught up from my delayed start!), and still so much other stuff to do; thus does sickness make lazybones of us all, I guess.

This week: “finder, keeper

This isn’t a particularly unique prompt, and I’m sure that every prompt site has covered it at one time or another, but I don’t think I’ve ever focused on it as the entire scope of a Reverie. Let’s talk about found poetry. There are some truly clever found poems out there, that manage to turn the most inane segments of text into something beautiful: my favorite (when they actually work) might be the ones made out of spam emails. On the other end of the spectrum are centos (or more properly, centi, I suppose), where whole lines of other beautiful poems are specifically stitched together. We’re going to appropriate a few different ideas for the construction of our found poem, which will only be kind of a found poem: a Frankenpoem, if you’ll pardon the belated Halloween reference.

You must begin with observation. Many writers already carry around a Moleskine, scraps of paper, iPhone or whatever, to record the snippets of dialogue they overhear, the inspired slips of text around a city, or random thoughts that occur while waiting for the bus. Play that up! But try to focus on being extra-receptive to language, images, and happenings around you for a couple of days. There is a semi-Taoist principle that I always keep coming back to when I’m having a shitty day: to live in the world fully, one must love the world, and to love the world fully, one must love all the pieces of it. And to do that, try and spend some time being mutable, allowing the world to speak through you rather than trying to define it in your own poetic terms.

Try to gather words from the most unlikely places: fast food menus, advertisements for sales, crazy old men ranting on the street corner, greeting cards, the publishing information in the frontispiece of a book, photo captions in a magazine, news website headlines, blog comments, etc. (Barbara had a blog comment recently which I insisted was a poem in turn.) Glancing around the cafe, I can see start with a banana and scoop of tuna on the menu (not in the same dish; ew), Col de Vence as the name of a photo on the wall, documentary moviemaking on someone’s textbook, and first aid for at the top of a Heimlich maneuver poster. None of these are particularly elegant, and they aren’t that interesting in context, but the trick with good found poetry is to transform the meaning and use of the phrases, rather than try to find a prettier way to say them. So what if I used scoop of tuna as the taking of a killer whale’s mouth, rather than an ingredient in a salad? What if first aid for was followed by a breaking heart? And can Col de Vence be interpreted as the proper name of a wine, a house, a memory, rather than just a (photograph of a) hill? Using scraps of found text doesn’t mean you can’t let your imagination play with them a bit.

When you have a nice little heap of interesting pieces (maybe thirty bits of language?), expand the field a bit. You may wish to use the cento trick to actively go hunting for a line or phrase or two from a poem. As the classic proverb goes, good writers borrow, great writers steal outright; my process for a cento is usually to go to poets.org and click through randomly until I find something. Another option is, if you have lines lying around from drafts that haven’t become full poems yet, you can try clipping them and splicing them into this piece. Again, believe in the transformative power of a desperate poem: you might have a draft that uses the phrase smiling coffee flower in its botanical sense, but use it now as a metaphor for a person, or the scent of a cafe. At this point, we are moving the pendulum back from allowing the world to speak through us wholesale to actively choosing which parts we want to come through.

And finally, fill in the gaps. Arrange all those lines and words however you want, and use (as little as possible) of your own individual voice to give the bones some flesh. If I took Col de Vence and smiling coffee flower and first aid for and — to grab one more as I’m looking out the window — “this is the best place to start” and — to grab two more unused, unusual lines from poems I have lying around — kiln-fired body and white wine evening, I might end up with:

This is the best place to start
first aid for a kiln-fired body
in pieces: a white wine evening on
Col de Vence, a smiling coffee flower
evening, breathing in relief.

The blue text is really the only part that was created for this poem, though “evening” was borrowed and re-applied twice. Your poem doesn’t have to be very long, and indeed found poetry can be difficult to keep up, which is why I recommend getting such a hefty list of phrases first. Beauty and interest comes from how the words are used unexpectedly, rather than the amount of them.

To go in further directions: in a sense, all poetry is found poetry when it’s observational. People that you pass in the street become found characters, and images that you see in the world around you become found images. The difference is that you have freedom to put these abstract things into your own words, while being forced to use the words of others works a different muscle of adaptation and re-appropriatation. Try to work in reverse; instead of coming up with ways to describe the things you come across, come up with images and people to fit the words you’ve gathered. And the last step I want to suggest is an inversion to the prompt: leave your poem somewhere for another person to find. (There were some really cool ideas when we tried this before, and I suggest presenting the poem in a distinctive way. Maybe you want to sew it onto fabric, or tramp it out on a beach, or typeset each borrowed line differently before printing it out and stapling it to a telephone pole.)

Keep your eyes and ears open, and your recording device of choice handy! Then put the pieces together and show us the mosaic you’ve made.