Archive for March, 2010

Poem Doctor

March 24, 2010

A friend of mine sent me a poem a while ago. He told me that a friend had asked him to write a love poem, and didn’t think the result was very good, but wanted me to look at it. I did. Here’s what he sent:

There is a science of cold
that struggles to some unattainable limit
where the world breaks down
and things blend together
moving in and out of existence
flirting with solidity and substance.
Like the speed of light
Beyond reach of mortals hands
Like any sense of your love for me
Always just beyond reach
Always a fraction of a degree away.
Nothing should be able to be so frigid,
Its a law and the world would shatter
If it were broken.
Yet my heart is unruly
and even now has grown so cold
that it defies science
and rests in that dead space
of absolute zero where no thing
can ever be.

What did I think? Well first I thought it was a little talky. I felt there were some conscious poeticisms and some archaisms that weren’t doing it any good, such as “flirting with solidity and substance” and “Yet my heart is unruly.” I thought the line breaks were unpredictable, and while that’s fine, I didn’t really feel like there was a lot of attention paid to them. I think there has not yet been a poem that can use these three lines

Like the speed of light
Beyond reach of mortals hands
Like any sense of your love for me

So why am I posting this except, perhaps, to demonstrate that I’m a real jerk of a friend, and you shouldn’t send me your poems?

The fact that I thought there were really some standout lines that were worthy of saving. Keep in mind that said friend didn’t ASK me to do this (I’ll let you guess whether he even gave me permission to post the thing). So what did I think should be saved?

There is a science of cold
struggling to unattainable limits
Nothing should be so frigid but
it is a law and would shatter
if it were broken

Is this a finished poem? Is it still a love poem (I’m actually brewing up a ‘what is a love poem and should we bother with them’ post for the future, but it’s in very early stages)? Is it still a poem? I think, no, no, maybe. What do you think? Has my editing saved, destroyed, mutilated, or been utterly worthless?


The Randomized Exquisite Corpse

March 19, 2010

I know in at least one class in graduate school, we played a randomized version of “The Exquisite Corpse,” the famous collective poetry and/or image-making game invented by the Surrealists. I decided to recreate it this week, as I am currently teaching a creative writing unit to 12th graders (perhaps surprisingly, they are taking to it well).

The Rules

I divided them up into groups of 5, and assigned the line pattern of “Adjective Noun Verb Adjective Noun,” with articles or prepositions to be filled in only on a basis of strict necessity. Each member of the group was assigned one of the words by the rolling of a ten-sided die; 1-2 was first adjective, 3-4 first noun, and so forth. Each was to compile a list of 4 of each of the words. Then, we started making lines, once again using dice as a randomizer. The student who had rolled ‘first adjective’ rolled a 4-sided die; a roll of 1, take the first word from your list, 2, the second word, so on. This would result in 3 lines produced randomly, and a 4th line made up of the leftovers. The 4-sided dice were passed around the group until a line was made, then articles, or occasionally prepositions, were inserted. I tried to add that there should be no proper nouns, but a few slipped into the final product (I have chosen not to list any of those results that used proper nouns).

The Results

Posted with the permission of all students involved


The sleep-deprived portmanteau slurred a large apple.

The legless millstone smoked a colorful textbook.

The flexible miter box hallucinated a bushy watch.

The starstruck falchion sundered a powerful collar.


Pink sunlight whispers to a rubbery heart

Stuffy archways panic thick ships

Gorgeous blackbirds tenderized slippery dogs

In watery dungeons exists curvaceous fire


A sharp thicket subjugates the subtle rudder

While the hellish follicle defecates in the flamboyant staircase

The smoky peaks imbue the smooth river

And vivacious aglets smoke, unimpressed, a filament


The intimidating vodka coagulated many sorry bananas

As a fortuitous manicure trusted the dessicated hangar

The enigmatic swingset stabbed the virginal mother

And an isolated incubus deep-fried a torn apple

I particularly like the last lines of numbers 3 and 4, especially an incubus deep-frying an apple, because it carries with it a whiff of Prelapsarian Demonology (the latter of which is something that sneaks into my own poems here and there).

The Purpose

Why did I make my students do this? To many of my students, “poetry” means “feelings.” I try to teach them that yes, poetry may convey emotion but if we’re writing it, it’s probably a better idea to start with words. This game makes them work with nothing but words, and it helps move us along in thinking about poetry as word-play.

A gesture

March 13, 2010

I’m a poet, but I don’t write enough poems. I don’t spend enough time with it. I could say I don’t have enough time…I work three jobs, I have a home life and a social one.

But that would be faint excuse. I once told my friends that if I couldn’t succeed as a poet, it didn’t matter what else I did with my life; I’d be a failure. Smarter friends would say that it would probably be wise to define ‘success’ in terms of something I control, but, at least if we follow Dr. Johnson’s old maxim*, I sure as hell didn’t want to become a poet because I was smart.

Is this blog, this little contribution to the background hum of the internet, going to make me succeed? Certainly not. But it will, I hope, force me to confront more honestly the work I ought to be doing more of.

Your feedback is welcome and appreciated, even if it’s to tell me to give up, move on, find something practical to do with my life. I’ll ignore it, but it’s welcome. You, by the way, means anyone. Old classmates, former students, colleagues, friends, or internet strangers.

One important rule; you’ll never offend me by telling me a poem sucks. There may be others, but I deal with rules all day so I’ll stop at that.

*”No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money.” – Samuel Johnson