Sorry for the delay with posting; I went home for Mother’s Day, and just returned to the city, bearing a full-fledged sinus infection. Which I combating with every weapon at my disposal: blackberry tea, Vitamin C, nasal spray, Mucinex syrup, boxes of Kleenex… I want this congestion gone. ASAP. But as these things never seem to go as you want them to, I’ll just have to battle through it, I guess. And we had intended to put together Curio today, as we have gotten the first batch of the backlog done with; for everyone else, you are the shape of our nightmares next week. But for now…
This week: “quantum entanglement”
You guys are going to love this one. :D
I used to be really into the idea of writing “quantum poetry“, pieces that masquerade as one poem but are really two (or more) at once. But ultimately, they’re really time-consuming and require a lot of thought and planning; so what better place to practice those than with a Reverie? I’ll first drop three links to ones I’ve written which were, I think, more or less successful to the concept: “The Red Line is Experiencing Temporary Delays“, “Speed Dating“, and “Schrödinger’s Boyfriend“. Check them out, but don’t say “ugh, I’m not going to try this”… give it a chance. We’ll go slow! These are in the kind of form we’re going to approach, weaving together two sets of lines that can stand independently or together; there are other ones I’ve done (like “Triptych“) that use color and direction too, but we’ll keep it simple.
So the two most important things to remember are enjambment and ambiguity. Enjambment hides the seams of the poem quite well (otherwise, you just have whole sentences; which is fine, if you want to do that), but can be very tricky to do properly: if you’re alternating every line, you need to be careful that every line’s ending could feed into two possible beginnings. For example, say I wanted to do these two lines:
green was a deadly color, a ragged sheet of moss
dipping one dusty finger down the ground
And then these two:
curtains suspended from the birdless sky, the wind
dragging circles like a spoon through afternoon coffee
I suppose it’s sort of an alternation between extreme weather (tornado) and a beautiful day. When you splice them together, going back and forth, you get:
Green was a deadly color, a ragged sheet of moss
curtains suspended from the birdless sky, the wind
dipping one dusty finger down to the ground,
dragging circles like a spoon through afternoon coffee.
I suppose the sudden-ness of such storms cropping up would be a nice motif for that terrifying aspect of nature, which would join those two sets of images and lines together. But pay attention: you could read only the non-italic lines (which has a threatening feel), or only the italic lines (which has a lazy-afternoon feel), or all of them (which has a very threatening, detailed feel). Because of the way the phrases are worded, ended, and begun, it becomes possible to move between these three options fairly seamlessly. It could have been a series of sentences:
Green was a deadly color, a ragged sheet of moss.
Curtains were suspended from the birdless sky.
They dipped one dusty finger down to the ground.
It dragged circles like a spoon through afternoon coffee.
Doesn’t work nearly as well, and there are more grammatical considerations to take into account when you have isolated sentences (if you’re into grammar). The poem feels much more natural the other way. I’ll give you three tricks where the notion of ambiguity comes in, all of which I used in the example above. First, end a line with a word that could be a noun or adjective (or noun usable as an adjective), like “moss”: then use it both ways in the two following lines, as a way of “splitting” its definition and use in the poem. Second, end a line with the subject of a sentence or clause, like “wind” above: that way, the next two lines can be two completely different verbs, but still branching the wind into two possible futures. And third, use gerunds/participles wherever you can. They’re amazingly versatile, both because they have the same form (-ing), and because they can functions for nouns, verbs, and adjectives without much trouble.
I want to draw attention to the whole idea of the quantum physics sense: the notion that for every action, there are a certain number of set outcomes. All of them exist at once, until time moves forward and one of them becomes apparent (in this dimension/universe/experience/whatever you want to call it). Quantum computing has been getting a lot of talk in the news lately. If you’re unfamiliar with it, think of it like this. Computers operate in binary, meaning all the bits of information are sorted into “0” and “1”, no and yes. But quantum computing allows the superposition of data, allowing the option “0/1”. Schrödinger’s cat is the other famous example: a cat occupies a box that is completely sealed except for a small aperture, through which a laser/bullet/whatever is fired. In the thought experiment, the cat has an exact 50% chance of occupying the path of the projectile. According to Schrödinger’s logic, until the box is opened and a choice (alive/dead) is selected by the information we are made aware of (through senses/medical confirmation), the cat is “alive/dead”: both at once.
(I suppose another way to think of it is, when you flip a coin and call it in the air, until the moment it lands, it will land on “heads/tails”. As soon as it hits the ground, that quantum possibility is eliminated, along with either heads or tails, and you’re left with the result. I suppose another way is to watch the Gwyneth Paltrow movie “Sliding Doors”.)
I’m sure a physicist could explain this all better than I can, but you don’t need a thorough grasp to get the idea for poem-writing. What’s important, thematically, are the ideas of duality and multiple possibilities. Rather than thinking about the future of the path is unknown, think about all possibilities coexisting at once until they’re shut down, leaving one (the “actual” future) is left. It’s very Star Trek. So, if I’m writing a poem about tornadoes, I want to juxtapose images, lines, and metaphors that suggest their severity with images, lines, and metaphors of calmness. It’s not so hard to write those two sets of lines; it’s much tougher to get them to coexist.
When the rain came beating on the windows,
we froze stock-still. But only for a moment,
before we thundered down to the empty cellar
full of anticipation of what could happen next.
That’s your challenge for this week: find some kind of duality to explore both sides of, at the same time, and weave strips of those sides into one poem. If you want additional challenges, try doing it so that the lines reflect each other in structure (as in the “Speed Dating” poem), or so that instead of reading the italicized lines from the top-down, you can read them from the bottom-up. Messing around with this is really fun and brain-teasery, but eventually things like grammar and punctuation start going out the window for the sake of the exercise, so be forewarned.
I’m going to have another quantum-ish prompt next week, but not as heavy as this one. Until then, show us what you’ve got!