oulipost 21: battered artist

On a roll today (three done before sundown yessss), which is good, because it’s going to be a busy day tomorrow. This one is for Oulipost’s “confabulation” prompt, constructing a “he said-she said” poem out of quotes from the paper. I took a bunch of direct quotes from dudes and ladies, but ultimately it ended up being a lady’s story, so I let the poem roll with it. For the sake of demonstration, the italics came from quotes by women, non-italics from quotes by men.

Off to workshop for now!

Battered Artist Narrates Leaving Her Husband

I chose to photograph the space
exactly as it appears — I think, “Look, I’m a novice,
I’m a newbie, I’m stretching my legs,” but because
the shutter is open for so long, it moved to
the corner, and then my office, and then the closet,
attracted to spaces without people.
Architecture does not move; I tell the truth. I cannot
lie before God. Three months ago, I literally did not know
what I was doing. And then because you go away,
for a few months, I do not move or change things.
I’m finally able to think straight.
Pop culture did a good job of getting us
addicted to the airport — I don’t know where you go.
Who was responsible for this bizarre masterpiece?
People don’t even know you, but they say,
‘Oh, I guess she never comes out of the closet?’
The answer was overwhelmingly: “I’m free from
everything now.” I cut my hair. I look a little different
walking in there and kissing the ring and saying,
The good thing is the freedom. But the good thing is
letting you know
you actually leave.

oulipost: the interview

So, as I’ve alluded to in previous posts, I am participating in the Found Poetry Review‘s 2014 National Poetry Month project, Oulipost: this will be a series of daily exercises inspired by the Oulipo “school” of writers/artists. (If you don’t know much about them, please check out the Wikipedia page for a quick intro.) In brief, Oulipo writing is characterized by technical tricks and constrained writing, in this case using such apparatuses to transform found poetry over the course of the month. And as part of the project, I’m answering some brief interview questions…

1. What excites you about Oulipost?

I find that constrained writing can be liberating in unexpected ways, because it allows you to bend the laws of language. You gain a deeper appreciation for the words you are forced to use, and demystify the ones you’re forced to not use. It also challenges you to pay more attention to the sound and structure of your writing; too often, I think poets get caught in the trap of the idea, without considering that half of poetry is about how it strokes the ear. That doesn’t mean that every poem I’m going to generate through the challenge will be beautiful and artful, but I’m expecting my ear to at least get more finely-tuned.

2. What, if anything, scares you about Oulipost?

I haven’t committed to daily poetry challenges in a long time, since last April, in fact. A lot has changed in a year, but while I’ve gotten over the breakdowns of last fall, I do still have a full-time job and other activities going on in my life, and worry that I’ll get too frantic with the writing. But I’m not terribly daunted by the prompts themselves, since it’s a little bit of a relief to have a jumping-off point. (I may eat those words later. I figure as long as I keep the expectations of myself low and stick to the spirit of the exercises, then I won’t disappoint myself too much. ^_^)

3. Have you written experimental or found poetry before? If so, tell us about it.

Indeed! I’ve played around with various forms (what I called the helix sestina was probably the biggest technical headache of that kind; check out the only example I could get cleaned up enough for publication at Autumn Sky Review) and messed around with quantum poetry in different ways, trying to get text to work in several directions at once. As for found poetry, I’ve done fortune cookie poems, centos (centi?), cut-ups of National Geographic advertisements… all good fun. It’s not something that I do often, but I enjoy the amount of headspace required, and find that, abhorring a vacuum, I can usually muster up the energy to fill it.

4. What newspaper will serve as your source text?

Being a New York City denizen, I intend to use that weekly bastion of semi-quirkiness, the Village Voice. It’s not what it used to be, of course, but it sure as hell beats the Wall Street Journal. And it’s free. Bonus points.

5. Who’s your spirit Oulipian?

I have been a longtime fan of Italo Calvino since way before I wrote poetry. Invisible Cities is one of my favorite books of all time (and in college one of my final papers for a Medieval Studies class was writing an additional section to the book). I’m also quite fond of Castle of Crossed Destinies, If On A Winter’s Night A Traveler… and his work with folktales. (I also adore his Serbian spiritual successor, Milorad Pavić). Calvino manages to mask his elegant mechanical processes with language and image so lush that you hardly even know there’s a gimmick under the surface, which is the kind of writing I aspire to for this challenge. I imagine it will be harder to disguise things with found poetry than with prose from the wellspring, but still. He’s a guiding light.

So, there you have it. I’ll be putting all my Ouliposts in the category “Oulipost” on the blog, and Tweeting with the #oulipost tag when the occasion arises. I hope you’ll consider keeping an eye on my progress! Please also check out the other folks doing the challenge and their interviews here as they get added.

A Quantum Prayer

Sometimes you have to just dump some words out and see what happens. This is for one of Donna‘s prompts, to use the following nouns (pilfered from lines she’s been writing in February) in a poem. Deep breath:

snow, sky, day, sun, shadow, mango, summer, shimmer, season; desire, faith, something, hours, knots; map, land, compass, points; dung beetles, starfruit, hijabs, uncle, thumbs

I fiddled with one or two, but managed to get them all in, I think. The other two prompts – to use the verbs, and to use one line as the headwords down the spine of a poem – will follow and be (I hope) easier. This one led to a gumbo poem where everything floats next to everything else in their shared juices. But you have to break a few eggs to make an omelet, yeah?

Last night at the poetry workshop, we talked about poems of ideas, which this definitely is. There’s not a lot of concrete guidance or establishing shots to invite the reader in, and I apologize for that, since (in light of the assortment we read/discussed) I think those are definitely both my strong suit and my reading preference. But I do like to have the expansive thought balanced carefully on top of the lush image; I want my poetry to shoot the reader like an arrow from a well-described bow. And that got me thinking about contrasts and coexistence, which glommed this piece together.

(I hope Donna eventually releases those mysterious poems with all these words, because I suspect they work much better than this one.)

A Quantum Prayer

If I’m going to have faith in something, I want it to be
counterpoints, the idea that each object has its shadow
stitched along its outline. Give me a shimmer of depth
to trace with an outstretched thumb.

But if I’m going to have one desire as well, let it be
to lay down in my negative adverb. “Not”s and “never”s
cover us like hijabs: yet we are still there, underneath.
I’ve spent hours being and unbeing at once.

I believe in the fade of season to season, the sucked
mango in summer giving way to a map of snow.
But I want to blur the days together, compass them
into one simultaneous sky.

Let the living crawl with dung beetles, and let the dead
gnaw on starfruit. Let our aunt and uncle deities descend
to stride the land. Let us know annular eclipse, half-dark
sun pierced like a listening ear.

Reverie Forty: strange loop

Beautiful day for a poetry event, I think! Taking a break from the book fest near my parents’ house to type this up at the local cafe… there wasn’t time to read whole poems, but I did a snippet of a prompted one that we were given, and it seemed to be well-received. And at one point we talked about description and outlining the setting of the poem, which got me thinking about self-reference. It’s one of my favorite brain-breaking topics which is difficult to do in poetry, at least; do you remember the quantum poetry prompts from some weeks ago? I’ve read my share of Douglas Hofstadter’s work, and I’m enchanted by it, but I’ll spare you the really wacky stuff that would be nigh-impossible to get into. We’ll just be mildly self-referential this time.

This week: “strange loop

Part of the charm of writing poetry is the ability to transport yourself to other locations with the swipe of a pen, not to mention slip into some other story of your life, bring in lies as details, etc. And as I’ve said before, I’m a believer in breaking out of the habit to cherish it the more. Bear with me on this one. Before we get started, you may wish to find somewhere to write whose mood you want reflected in your poem. If you want a comfortable poem, choose your usual writing spot; a meditative poem, choose somewhere quietly interesting; an uneasy poem, go somewhere you’ve never been.

Begin by free-writing for five minutes about your space, place, and location. I separate these three because they have three different senses. “Space” is the physical and emotional feel of where you are: bring in the senses and the gut reactions to construct the cafe/bedroom/park bench/wherever. “Place” conveys the social and cultural information summed up by where you are: what does a cafe suggest? What does one do in the bedroom (yeah, yeah, I know you’re thinking it)? And “location” gets historical and geographical: you can think in terms of GPS coordinates or town, state, and country, as long as you’re honest with what weight those things have for you. Let these three levels resonate with you, both from your experience and from your intellect. I could say:

Space: cafe table with whorls in the wood like waves, scent of steamed milk, 4 Non Blondes on the radio, the black plastic chair hard underneath me
Place: local cafe, social zone for the town’s artsy writer community, quaint little building with a lot full of flowers on the corner, somewhere to meet people and create together
Location: South Jersey, homeland, reassuring and familiar, full of the SJ dialect “a”-sound I love

All my memories in this cafe interact with all the other cafes of been to. This cafe’s place in my mental map of South Jersey is heavy with significance. Et cetera.

Once you have fleshed out your location with some free-writing, begin to write about yourself for another five minutes. What are you wearing? How are you feeling, physically and emotionally, today? Are you eating or drinking something? What was the last word you said to someone else? And get more interesting with the inversions of the usual questions you might ask: what are you not wearing, that you always do? Have you just gotten through some physical or emotional feeling that you needed to overcome, or do you feel the threat of one coming on? What are you craving right now? What was the word you didn’t say? Try to stay away from generalities – no zodiac signs, or ages, or unchangeable features like eye color – and live in the moment. Here’s me:

I’m wearing a black shirt and my favorite jeans with the patched knees that my mom gave me for Xmas. Sipping a butterscotch latte, thinking about a sandwich for lunch. There’s a bit of a headache (from caffeine withdrawal), but it’s wearing off. I’m wearing the bracelet the Fellow gave me, mismatched earrings, and a pendant from Greece. But I didn’t bring the MetroCard that’s always in my pocket, as I’m not in NYC.

The final piece of this free-writing puzzle is to write about the action of writing. We’re getting a little bit ars poetica here: if you’re not familiar with the term (which is just Latin for “poetic art”), it’s often used to describe what I like to call meta-poetry, writing poetry about writing poetry. This can be really trite and saccharine stuff (we’re trying to avoid that), or simply a very personal moment that you’re letting us into. Do five more minutes of free-writing about the process itself. Write about how you think I’m a jerk for making this prompt more complicated than it needs to be, write about the keys on your keyboard that don’t work so you’re avoiding those letters, write about the hue of the ink from your pen. Describe those moments of writer’s block; describe equally the moments of inspiration, even if they’re only two words long.

This is where it gets weird. What I want you to do with these three chunks of writing is to create a cycle with them: think rock-paper-scissors, where the chain can just keep going on forever. How do we do this? You don’t have to get super fancy and deep, but simply allow yourself to build up the scene with elements of where/when you are, who you are, and what you’re doing. (The “why” and “how” is what will seep in, with luck.) Do allow yourself to jazz up your metaphors and images a little bit. I might start off with something like this:

I am tapping out a sonata on the laptop,
nearly ready for its first flight. Perhaps it will be
a guiding-bird, stained on its crown with one
butterscotch drop fallen from my unspeaking lips.
Jersey light comes in through the closed window.
Jersey voices tug at me in many different directions.
I am pausing for a moment to stroke the “s” key
and cannot tell why it makes the whole
of gravity feel different.
But the mug still sits on its flat lacquerwood beach,
and the cupbearers pass in and out, unhurried…

So: there is writing, then cafe, then Jersey, then writing again, then cafe again… I tried not to think too much while writing this, so that I could try to pull out some themes and all. The idea of feeling unmoored while in a comfortable place is starting to gel from it, I think.

Which leads me to my final two points, both of which I’m borrowing from the poetry workshop earlier. First, the theme of this poem will be like rock candy. Fill the lines with your freewriting, like it’s sugar-water; then dip the idea of creating an ever-revolving loop with the pieces, like a piece of string or a stick, into those images. The poem will begin to crystallize around it, and the themes will begin to appear as you go, so that you can tweak it by the end. And of course, you’ll want to go back and edit, not the least of which because: this poem can get LONG. Note the capital letters. More than likely, you’ll end up with more than you expected or wanted, and the real challenge here is going to be trimming the fat down to the lean. (Of course, if you like epics, keep it as it is; but be merciless.) You want every word to be worthwhile, something that will add to the cutting-deep of a poem.

Play around with the ideas in here, and the beauty of this exercise is that it can be repeated with infinite variations at almost any time and place. Come back and share some of the fruits of your labors, and maybe you’ll see that while we’re all strange loops, some of us are stranger than we thought.

Reverie Twenty-Eight: les trois mots magiques

Damn, have I really not posted since Tuesday? Apologies for that. I have been in the midst of the huge work-project (79 documents into Southeast Asian languages, this time), and haven’t come up for air since then, it seems. But now that it’s the weekend, I have… well, okay, not that much free time. A bit of free time. Somewhere in all the hubbub I will, someday, find occasion to sleep and have absolutely Nothing To Do one day. (Last Saturday was pretty good for that; I need another of those.)

This week: “les trois mots magiques

I hope Viv appreciates this. :) In honor of Bastille Day/La Fête Nationale, we’re going to have a French-inspired prompt. The title is from historian Mona Ozouf in reference to the French Republic’s three-part motto, liberté, égalité, fraternité. (Or, if you are not Francophone, liberty, equality, fraternity.) These are often considered to be reflected in the French flag: blue for liberté, white for égalité, and red for fraternité. It took time after the Revolution for all of this to be standardized, but any French student who gets past beginner level probably has it ingrained in their heads these days. (I certainly did.) And it helps that there’s an excellent trilogy of films to cement the concept.

So, we’re going to try to reflect these themes in a poem. Or rather, three poems. I think this one is pretty straightforward, though it’s high-volume and might take as much time as a short poem with wiggly requirements. Here’s the battle plan:

– Think about what each of the three concepts means to you. Is liberty more of a political right or a personal quality; does it relate to physical being or the soul; do you consider it more religious or social? What is your experience with (in-)equality; how do you see its place in history and your daily life; what is your reaction to its balance and imbalance? With whom do you experience the most understanding and fraternity; how did you develop those closest relationships; what are the places you do and do not expect to find kinship?
– Come up with a unifying theme across your interpretation of these three concepts. It could be a single situation or character weaving through all three, it might be a single line that is repeated, or maybe just a certain motif that appears to link them together. The idea here is that they should be recognizably part of the same voice and experience.
– But at the same time, allow them to be different. Maybe you want to vary that repeated line slightly, or that motif. (Maybe in each poem you have some kind of bird as a symbol: the eagle, the swan, and the crow; or maybe the bluejay, the dove, and the cardinal.) Let the variations of your poems’ connective tissue take on characteristics of the qualities they symbolize. For example, in the poem about liberty, let your symbolism veer towards freedom, whether expressed or denied. Do you want that eagle in a cage or soaring overhead?

If I roll with this bird imagery, I might end up with snippets like this:

…the eagle rolls its gold eye and clacks its
hooked beak, dragging its broken foot with the air of
a broken king…

…sunset, gold poured on the water, a pair of swans
knowing better than to ask for more of a perfect moment
than they already have…

…and before the storm births itself out of
gold-bellied clouds, a hundred crows lift in time, drawing
graphite omens along the ricepaper sky…

Or something like that. “Gold” is repeated over and over, though it’s a very different gold each time; and the birds show up in each part, but with a variety of meanings. You don’t have to make these poems very long, but make them long enough to show the clear distinctions between the three themes. You also don’t have to write them all at once (maybe tackle one per day for three days), but it might be helpful to do them in one go, since you’ll be able to keep the connecting threads clearer in your mind. If you prefer to think of this as one poem in three parts, you can do that too.

For those who want an additional challenge, you can try to represent the concepts of the three-word motto, and the number three in general, in the forms of the poems. The way you do this is up to you, but for me, I would suggest free verse for liberté, some kind of regimented meter (with perhaps an equal number of syllables in each line?) for égalité, like blank verse, and something with a formal rhyme scheme (lines that are, wait for it, fraternal in how they end) for fraternité. You might also want to represent the number three by doing stanzas in tercets, or even taking on a form like the terza rima or terzanelle to truly dazzle your readership.

You could also, for a truly epic undertaking, try a triptych poem, where the three poems are side-by-side, and can be read one at a time straight down, or across each line. (This similar to the quantum poetry we worked on a little while ago.) This is a difficult undertaking, but can come up with some astonishing results. Samuel Menashe did one of these that you might find inspiring, but for my money (and I hope she doesn’t mind me linking to it), Nicole Nicholson writes the best triptych poems I’ve seen yet out on the Web, like this one here. They’re beautifully crafted, and I hope they’ll be a good kick-off point for you. You can even try using the three words of the motto as the first line. (A formatting note: you may have to do the poem in Word and make an image file of it before uploading, or use tables in your blog post: three columns is a pretty tough format to preserve on the Web.)

And of course, bonus points if you work in something about France and/or its history into your work, for a meta-thematic kind of thing. But I’m easy on this point: I’m probably going to the Upper East Side for a celebration later on with the Fellow, so I’ll have my fill of that. Que vous écriviez bien!

Reverie Twenty: taste the rainbow

So much for the 21st century and technology. Internet wasn’t working on the bus-with-Internet, the Fellow doesn’t have it as his place currently, and it’s down at my favorite cafe in the city. So now I’m back at the university on graduation weekend, cannibalizing the wifi and trying to keep a low profile. So many parents and kids running around, dressed to the nines, and me in shorts and a T-shirt on this beautiful day: not what was expected. After this, I suppose I’ll get out and about again to enjoy the weather.

This week: “taste the rainbow

Last time we talked  about quantum poems and using two (or more, perhaps?) sets of lines interwoven to create an idea of multiple poems happening at once. There are other techniques to get this effect, and we’re going to play around with color, since it’s relatively easy to go absolutely nuts on the Internet in this fashion. I apologize in advance if you’re color blind or have an otherwise-impaired color sense; but I don’t know of anyone reading this who would be, so let’s press on!

You may recall some time ago when we had a bit of synesthesia going on; you may have used colors to represent concepts and ideas that seemed (for instance) particularly blue or green. That’s going to be folded into this prompt as well, but it’s only half of it. The other challenge is to get several of these color threads going at once, and if possible, to branch them out, in a way allowing the reader to determine the path they’ll take through your words. First of all, think about how many colors you want to include (I say go for five or six, it will be good and complicated), and think about how complicated/structured you want your poem to be. For example, you might have it branch out like this:

I walked
full of mourning joy
through greybacked fields greenfaced hills
barefoot and
halfway destroyed with glory.

The blue clearly carries a more sober tone, while the red is happier; note that both contain color words that are perhaps better suited to the tones than blue and red (tricky, eh?) and that barefoot, being purple, could go with either. Play around with mixing colors like this; it will make you more careful about how you arrange things. Another possibility might be to split the lines a bit, like so:

               Whenever a rain begins,
I think of how your face
               appeared beneath the willow
tree in summer: time
               transfixed like an orange
jewel, catching us breathless
               as we huddled under branches
in a gleaming noon.

The reader could go straight down the middle, or read the whole thing. Use the lines of color as a vertical method to create new poems within the lines that go horizontal. Think of it like an acrostic, but using words instead of letters, and buried within the poem rather than at the beginning. And of course, you don’t have to restrict yourself to keeping the colors all in one line either:

We had a firefight: but it was hollow-point choices
we shot at each other. What a pair we are, foolishly
askew, our guns blazing. It was so easy to make war.
What did we own besides this when and this where,
a time and place? Love, there’s nothing left to say
but to throw my love down, which is a gauntlet, a steel-
knuckled challenge. 

Note the cyan period at the end. I’m quite pleased with that little nearly-unnoticeable bit of punctuation. I was trying to do something interesting about crossing paths, having green and blue represent two different attitudes, and showing the whole idea of a relationship nexus through color and word placement, but you know, I am short on time and just spouting this stuff out, so forgive me.

I believe you can go up to six without really starting to lose yourself in the writing; and often it’s a good idea to close each thread, rather than leaving a mish-mash of color open at the end of the piece. The important thing is consistency, because if your reader does start picking up on what’s going on with the colors, they’ll get drawn by it, and you want to make it less confusing for them. A thread of red will stand out beautifully on a black block of verse.

Don’t be afraid to use imagery and metaphor to either support or confound the rainbows you create, too. Maybe you want to use red to highlight a succession of blood imagery dripping down the poem; maybe you want to use blue if you’re trying to make a point about someone who’s noble or lives their life on the sea; or maybe you want to use orange if you’re just trying to be surreal. Maybe blue words winding their way through the poem can suggest a river, or green ones a snake. Maybe you just want to highlight three very specific moments with very specific colors that are meaningful; maybe you want to characterize lines of dialogue by giving each speaker a different color; or maybe you just want to highlight every instance of you with purple or something, to give “you” a very unique feel (which will reflect how you feel about the color).

The possibilities are nearly endless, and this is a tool that is often neglected which you can use to allow your imagination to run wild. Poets are often more concerned with the content of the poem rather than how it’s presented (and usually rightly so, unless they’re writing concrete poetry), but the reader will notice both and try to draw meaning out of both. Come up with an idea or two about how to use colors (and feel free to borrow liberally from above) and share what you have… the cardinal rule is just to make it clear that there are multiple levels of meaning, multiple poems if you will, under the surface. Use that rainbow to bring them out.

(A note on mechanical things: if you’re blogging with WordPress, there’s a little color-selector tool if you’re typing the post in the Visual editor – rather than the HTML editor – when you show the “Kitchen Sink” bar. Press the button all the way to the right, or hit Alt-Shift-Z, to show this second bar; the selector button is the fourth one. You could also write longhand with multicolor pens, or do the typing in your email, or something. For Blogger, I have no idea how it works, but I imagine there is a similar option to change text color.)

Reverie Nineteen: quantum entanglement

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!