Friday, October 21, 2005

Rule 10: play a game: form: sestina

Chris Stroffolino's "In Memory Of My Rock Band" (Shampoo 24) is a sestina, which requires six stanzas of six lines each, and the last word in each line of the first six-line stanza is repeated as the last word in each of the subsequent stanzas, but resequenced so the last word of the sixth line is now the last word of the first line, the last word of the first line is now the last word of the second line, and so on in a sequence like... oh, crap. I'll let someone else explain the rules of the sestina game.
Rule 10: play a game.
Rule 19: the epigraph is not dead.

In his "Poems" ("cows just stare...") in Shampoo 24, Del Ray Cross uses each word of the epigraph as the title and inspiration for another poem.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Rule 20: sex makes you look.

Even the worst work in the world (a one-handed novel, for instance) will hold a reader's attention for minutes at a time. Sex is an effective trick.

In "To Jacques Pépin" (BAP2005:31), Compton says "I dream of being food in your kitchen" and plays with the sexual connotations: "You are hypnotic as you pat / a chicken's rump with your right hand" and "Slick me with a little clarified gold." and so on.

It doesn't make me laugh and I think it's supposed to. But sex made me look.
Rule 19: the epigraph is not dead.

Byrne (BAP2005:27) starts by quoting Kierkegaard
"In relation to each other men are like irregular verbs in different languages; nearly all verbs are slightly irregular."
and then

Rule 10: play a game.

works with a list of irregular verbs (beaten, drawn, fled, hung, singing, had begun [implied sung], etc.) to derive lines such as:
another who has burst the helium balloon you bore in mind
like a glow-in-the-dark apple the doctor gave away:
The whole poem is online here.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Rule 18: contrary to another common anti-art complaint, it's not true that your kid could do this.

When something is possible, it happens, but there are no younger poets widely published and recognized. The minimum age to get in is 18 (or so) and they need to see some ID.
Rule 17: contrary to one common anti-art complaint, you can't just randomly insert line breaks into a text and get a poem.

Reading strategy: take a poem you don't know well, pull out all the line breaks, then come back to it later and see if you can put them back where they were.

Are the line breaks need where they were? Are they needed at all? Look at the Bukowski piece again to see why he wrote this:
from the sad university
lecterns
these hucksters of the
despoiled word
working the
hand-outs
still talking that
dumb shit.
and why he did not write this:
from the sad
university lecterns
these hucksters
of the despoiled
word working
the hand-outs
still talking
that dumb shit.
So it may not be the greatest poem in the world, but it has been constructed with some care, not just bashed out with random line breaks.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Rule 16: take out the subject that is so exciting to you and see if the piece is still exciting poetry.

Look at BAP2005:25 again, the Bukowski piece, and suppose it's about something else, maybe it's a piece by a carpenter about why he wasn't in the union and how the union stewards were full of shit. Supposing it was interesting to you (a poetry reader and probably a poetry writer and maybe a poetry lecturer) as a poet's opinion of the poetry business, is it still interesting as a carpenter's opinion of the carpentry business?

This is really part of rule 15, but I like it on its own.
Rule 1: you can be kinda old dead...

Charles Bukowski was born in 1920 and died in 1994 and appeared in the Best American Poetry 2005 (p.25) not, I suppose, because guest editor Paul Muldoon thinks the poem particularly good as poetry. I think it was instead because Muldoon likes what Bukowski says about poetry movements:
and all the gatherings
and tenderings of
proclamations toward the
flock
had very little
to do
with anything.
and university poetry lecturers:
from the sad university
lecterns
these hucksters of the
despoiled word
working the
hand-outs
still talking that
dumb shit.
Rule 15: you can get a marginal piece past the editors if you say something they're dying to say. Conversely, imagine just how marvelous a poem you would have had to have written to get a pro-Bush, pro-war piece past Lyn Hejinian for last year's BAP.
Rule 14: humility is good.

It's one of the seven contrary virtues, the opposite of pride.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Rule 13: teach me a word

Stephanie Brown makes me look up "sprezzatura" (studied carelessness, especially in art or literature) when I read her poem (BAP2005:23).

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Rule 12: if everyone's a poet, "poet's poet" (not to mention "poet's poet's poet") means nothing.
Rule 11: all of the rules are simple.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Rule 10: play a game.

It's one of the commoner writing strategies. Rhyming is a word game. So is something like
I want to be your shoebox
I want to be your Fort Knox
I want to be your equinox
which is what Catherine Bowman does in "I Want to Be Your Shoebox."

If you aren't inventive, the games are a waste of time. But if you are inventive and you just need a way to get going, a game can be productive.
Maybe strategies is a better word. Strategies of writers, of editors, and of readers.

But a strategy is a rule, or a set of rules, by which one acts.
Rule 9: borrow stuff.

In the notes, Bloomfield says "My 'Catholic Encyclopedia' is almost a found poem."

Friday, October 07, 2005

Rule 8: the best poems are those that went through magazines

Magazine editors determine the pool from which the best poems are selected.
The Ashbery piece also supports the earlier rules.

Rule 1: you can be kinda old and still write one of the best American poems of the year.

Ashbery is older now than Ammons was when he died. When Ashbery dies, there will be special issues of special issues. They'll retire his number.

Rule 2: whether a poem is good depends a lot on the writer's biography.

See 1. The poem feels autobiographical even if it probably isn't. Go and join him, while he's still there.

Rule 3: to see what sort of a poem you have, try sorting the poem you have

Sorting helped me see the repeated befores and behinds.

Rule 4: the best American poems are poems in English

Rule 5: the best poems are not pictures, they are words
Rule 7: start with the feeling and work backwards to see where it came from

Another way I like to misread Ashbery is start with the feeling (the impression, the vague idea, the half notion, whatever) the poem gives me (if it gives me a feeling, or if I have a feeling that I can, rightly or wrongly, attribute to the poem) and then go back and mark the lines that might have given me that feeling.

After reading Ashbery's "In Dearest, Deepest Winter," which comes second in BAP 2005, right after Ammons's poem, I thought Ashbery's poem could be *"'about'"* getting old and thinking back on being young and the places and times of youth. How we get old and die, so, as the first line says, "Go and join them, while they're still there." Something as common and general as that. Then I went back and marked all the passages I thought might support that idea. I got everything except the last bit ("What calamity on the second floor...").

Which proves nothing, and is meant to prove nothing, and is of course all wrong. But it helps me to think about the poem. Maybe I wouldn't have thought that at all if I hadn't just finished reading the Ammons piece, which certain is about getting old and dying, because Ammons doesn't play the same game Ashnery plays.
Rule 6: genial Uncle John can write anything that comes to mind

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Rule 5: the best poems are not pictures, they are words
Rule 4: the best American poems are poems in English
Rule 3: to see what sort of a poem you have, try sorting the poem you have

Of course, that's not really a rule. But it's my blog. That's the real rule here: it's my blog.

Below is the Ammons poem, sorted. The words "we" or "we'll" occur 16 times, the words "our" or "ourselves" 4 times, in 283 words. I don't know whether that is statistically significant, it just helps me to think. The second poem in the book, Ashbery's "In Dearest, Deepest Winter," has only 2 occurrences of "we" in 200 words, but Ashbery uses "you" (4) and "your" (1) and "us" (4) and "them" (2). Also, "before" (4) and "behind" (2) and "occasion" (2).


(although
60-year-old
a
a
a
a
a
a
a
a
about
address
all
already
and
and
and
and
and
and
and
and
and
and
are
are
are
are
are
are
around,
as
at
away
away:
babies,
baking
be:
birthdays,
books
brain
brighter
brink:
brushed
came
can
cane
cards
care
care:
Christmases,
clean
congestive
decide
deeper
diabetes,
did)
die
died
don't
downstairs
drink
drop
else
empty
end,
every
every
every
failures
fast,
first
for
for
for
for,
forever
funeral,
gaining
getting
getting
giving
gone
grip
grow
halloweens
hanging
have
heart
hired
houses
hullabaloo:
in
in
index
intensive
into
into
is
is
it
it
it
it's
it's
know
know
leave
leaving,
left
left:
leg
like
like
live
long
looks
losing
loss
loss:
lost
lot:
love
love
love,
many
many,
may
men
more
much
must,
my
my
never
nice
nice:
not
now
now
now,
of
of
of
of
old
on
on
on
on
on
once
ones
or
or
or
other
others
our
our
ourselves
ourselves:
palimpsests,
passing
people
person
phone
precious
recall
remember
rings,
Ruth
same
scramble
scratches:
scribbles
shine
single
slow
so
so
so
so
so
so
some
some
some
some
somebody
someday
something
steady,
strength
such
suddenly,
sun
sympathies:
that
that
that
that
The
the
the
the
the
the
the
the
the
the
the
the
the
the
then
then,
they
thick
thing,
think
think
this
thought
till
time
time
tip
to
to
to
to
to
to
to
to
together
touch
travel
tumors,
until
up
us
used
used
very
was
watchful
way....
we
we
we
we
we
we
we
we
we
we
we
we
we
we
weddings
we'll
well,
went
what
what
when
when
who
who
widows
wife
will
will,
wine
with
won't:
word,
would

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Rule 2: whether a poem is good depends a lot on the writer's biography

The Ammons poem ("In View of the Fact") is pretty good, but you've read better Ammons. The part I like is "we have already lost so many, / brushed the loss of ourselves ourselves: our / address books for so long a slow scramble...," partly, I suppose, because it reminds me of Dante through Eliot, but mainly for "the loss of ourselves ourselves: our".

That particular poem was selected, I'll dare to guess, because Ammons was an old man who soon would die and was writing as an old man who soon would die, who was watching his friends drop off the perch and clinging to the few who remained. It's a sentimental poem that was chosen for sentimental reasons.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Rule 1: you can be kinda old and still write one of the best American poems of the year.

A. R. Ammons was born in 1926, according to the dreaded notes at the back of The Best American Poetry 2005, which makes him almost 80. Or it would make him almost 80, except that Archie died in 2001.

So the actual rule is: you can have been dead for some years and still write one of the best American poems of the year.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

These are the rules of poetry.