Greenwood Encyclopedia of African American Literature

Friday, April 17, 2009

Friday's Prompt



We were working on love-poems--broadly defined--today in the poetry class: love poems each student had selected from an anthology and drafts of love poems students had written. About half-way through the class, I had students (who were working in pairs) select one word they especially liked in their partner's love poem, and the resulting list was as follows:

solace, marshmallows, drool, poot, bleeds, hug, appetite, adoration, theater, Yuppie, Shiva, resonates, wishies, emerged, phenylethylamine, [and] packaged.

Then I had everyone, including me, quickly draft a poem that had to use all these words. The "rules" allowed for changing the tense of a verb (hug, hugged--if indeed one was using this word in a verbal form) and for bringing in other words, as needed. This kind of quick drafting often produces remarkable results, as does starting with language and moving toward a subject, as opposed to having a subject/topic/theme/scene in mind and going in search of the language.

Obviously, some intriguing problems and opportunities arose. Who was Shiva? God/Goddess of Destruction in Hindu spirituality. We didn't have time to discuss the topic extensively, but we concluded that a) the deity may be, for lack of a better term, androgynous, although s/he is ofte represented visually in feminine terms, and that b) referring to the deity solely as one of destruction may be reductive. We acknowledged a considerable lack of knowledge, that is.

"Wishies," we discovered, was more or less a word a poet in class had invented. Phenylethylamine is a pheromone.

And we noted that the level of diction ranged from the lofty "adoration" to the colloquial, and what some might consider vulgar, "poot." In other words, we got lucky, poetically speaking.

After writing, we had the choice of sharing all or part (one line) of what we'd written aloud with the whole group. Here is, alas, what I wrote, product of my own medicine, so to speak (and feel free to take the "challenge" yourself). I could be mistaken, and often am, but I think I managed to use all the words.

[Draft-poem from Friday's Prompt]

Following the solace of a hug,

phenylethylamine bleeds into

the theater of my Yuppie brain.

Is adoration anything more than

a packaged poot of wishies? Does

Shiva drool after devouring

marshmallows? Appetite has

emerged and resonates. That's

all I know for sure.

What does one do with such a quick draft? Well, the immediate choice is to "toss" or "keep," although I advise poets never actually to toss anything. I still like Richard Hugo's idea of "stripping a poem for parts," so that you may certainly keep a draft "out back" with other "parts," but you need not actually destroy it. If you "keep," then most likely you have a lot of revising to do.

Also, the poem may simply be a marker on the path to another poem. Maybe you'll get interested in the subject of Shiva, of marshmallows, or of pheromones. Maybe one one line or phrase will stand out, and you can remove that and build a draft of another poem around that. Often, however, quick-drafting produces energetic, surprising results, some of which can lead, eventually, to good poems.

Copyright 2009 Hans Ostrom

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