Thursday, October 29, 2009

Assignments up to 11/4

1. Poem for Monday 11/2: any poem, but use "deep" or unreal images. Here's an exercise to get to them. Do some automatic writing - writing for five minutes without stopping and without editing or worrying if it makes sense. Then dig through what you've written to find images. Put them in a poem.

2. Tough assignment for Wednesday: start early. Carefully read the "prosody reading" posted under "resources" on blackboard. Expect this to be confusing: write at least two questions about prosody in your response. Read the sonnets posted in resources. Pick two sonnets and do a prosodic analysis of each one. That means: trace all the heavily stressed, lightly stressed, and unstressed syllables. It's most important to look for irregularities in the rhythm and think about how they emphasize or contrast with the words of each line. That's how metrics works - more about breaking the rules than following them.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Assignments for 10/26 and 10/28

10/26 Read interviews with Robert Bly. This is fairly extensive, but I think interviews are a good source, since they reveal a host of attitudes about writing poetry and the point of view of poets. Also, read a short selection of his poems. In addition, on Blackboard under resources, there are some European surrealist poems. Read this as well. In your response, consider Bly's attitudes about the source of poetry and the use of unusual (surrealist) images. What significance or purpose do these images have in art and literature? What do you think of the belief that unusual images come from a hidden, but universal, part of the mind? This, you will notice, is very close to the "mythic" perspective we discussed earlier.

For this day, also, write a projective poem.

10/28: Group three presents poetry.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Mid-term meetings postponed

Until after advising. I don't think we've gathered enough poems to look at revision yet.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Notes on revising poetry

1. Try to find a unifying principle for the poem. Meaning something that makes it feel like it holds together. See the post below on structure for ideas about how poets do this. Many different ways.

2. There are many ways to use the lines and rhythm in relation to the meaning. You can have flat line breaks, and this will work for some poems. However, when you do, there should be a strong sense of suspense or surprise in the words. In most cases, your rhythmic structure will end up to be either regular or a more jagged, deliberate (conscious) structure. It rarely works to have it switch from one to the other.

3. So, about this sense of surprise... When we write a first draft, we are basically using the words that occur to us at the time. However, the language of poetry should always be striking... and every line should hold its own weight in terms of intensity. Increasing this intensity is basically the purpose of revision.

4. How do you do this? I can't tell you, because it's a poem-by-poem thing, but you might try replacing bland language with sensory language. Replace "I walk through a vague forest" with "I swagger into soft-focus trunks, needles, peat..." Dig through the resources of language for striking combinations of words. When you do, you'll lose control of the poem a little; it's meaning will begin to change. That's a good thing.

5. Try to take it to the next level. Poetry is not an art of description of telling little anecdotes. That's why we have Blackberries. Your poem talks about something local as a way of touching on something of universal importance. This is the goal of the revision process: to come up with a focused, continuously intense, poem that digs a deep hole and throws us in it.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Assignments 10/19-10/21

Aleatory operations have been used by many poets. They are a way, like many poets' techniques, of trying to short circuit the conscious mind. For your new poem, due Monday the 19th, use the words generated by the random word generator in class on the 14th. (If you weren't there, get them from someone.) Use one of the words per line, use all the words, and do not reuse any words.

On 10/19, group two will present poems. For 10/21, read the assigned poems and essay by Charles Olson - all in the Hoover anthology. This is an important moment in the "controversy," because Olson's style, and the style of the "Black Mountain" poets who followed him, remains uniquely inspiring to younger poets. Feel free to write your response to the poems in a projective style! Even if you don't, be ready to comment on the poetry. We will probably spend the most time on Olson's essay and the poems of Robert Creeley in class.

Monday, October 12, 2009


As an antidote to the heteronormativity of some Greek myths, here is a telling of the story of Ganymede. Of course, Zeus is still not much of a respecter of civil rights.

The Controversy part one

Type of poem: New York Style
Set up: Frank O'Hara talks in a confidential tone as if to a friend
What holds it together? The poem is a chain of associations around a theme or question.

Type of poem: 17th century poem of seduction
Set-up: John Donne argues to an imaginary woman that they should sleep together.
What holds it together? The poem riffs on a central conceit, usually a bizarre image, connecting it to politics, art, religion, and sex.

Type of poem: Postmodern mythic style
Set up: Robert Duncan "receives" a series of images and ideas.
What holds it together? The poem is a chain of associations and allusions relating to a theme.

Type of poem:
1950s-style confessional poem
Set up: Lowell, Plath, or Sexton describe a life emotion, maybe tied up with a recognizable event of life, such as aging or divorce.
What holds it together: Generally the poem is centered around a single image or cluster of related images.

Type of poem: Romantic ode
Set up: The poet recalls a past memory, usually involving nature, thinks of his/her present self, and tries to resolve it with the past.
What holds it together? The poem is centered around a central philosophical question.

Type of poem: Yeatsian reflective poem
Set up: The poet ponders a question, often having to do with an image of eternity juxtaposed against an image of mortal life.
What holds it together? Like an essay, the poem mentions a lot of things, but it is all in the attempt to answer the basic question.

Type of poem: Beat
Set up: The beat poet, writing in the immediate present to a metronome-like beat, says whatever comes to mind, often of a provocative character.
What holds it together? The poem is a stream of associations but is usually built around a topic of sorts: for example, Kenneth Koch's "Underpants," Gregory Corso's "Marriage," Diane di Prima's "I Get My Period."

Type of poem:
High Modernist
Set up: Poets such as Eliot often depict scenes of modern life and juxtapose traditional mythic, folkloric, and literary elements.
What holds it together? Readers of "The Waste Land," a vast collage, may say nothing!, but the modernist poem has a consistent theme of the loss of social structure.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

In which I start a "mythic" poem

Joseph Campbell defined myth as "That which is beyond even the concept of reality, that which transcends all thought. The myth puts you there all the time, gives you a line to connect with that mystery which you are. Shakespeare said that art is a mirror held up to nature. And that’s what it is. The nature is your nature, and all of these wonderful poetic images of mythology are referring to something in you. When your mind is simply trapped by the image out there so that you never make the reference to yourself, you have misread the image."

Flashy, attention-getting imagery, Campbell says, is not mythic. It's those images that give us the "shock of recognition."

1. Mythic images echo something in nature and in our nature.
2. Mythic poetry often takes place in an unspecifiable time and place. You could call it "mythic time." Coleridge was great at doing this:
In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree :
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.
3. Let's invent a mythic poem:

Carpeted groves of corpulent oranges
Where the sun no longer sets;
The valley is bright the heroes gone.

Children with flowers step into the woods
Each by each, engulfed by the vernal mouth.
Blinding eyes, total darkness, eclipse of their return.

What makes it mythic? Timeless, placeless, and yet a specific place. Unreal imagery that evokes fertility and the loss of fertility. A sense of ritualistic behavior. It twists usual natural cycles, but that doesn't matter. The sense of natural cycles is still there. The sense of a journey is mythic.

4. Mythic poetry is not old-fashioned.

No, actually most politically progressive thought uses mythic ideas. Nearly all political speech uses it. You can't fight the power of the mythic; it's hardwired in us. It gives writing impact. You have to have an instinct for it, though - so that it doesn't sound contrived.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Assignment for 10/12 - 10/14

Please read this article by the poet Robert Duncan by the poet Michael Palmer. It relates Mr. Duncan's poetry to the idea of "fission" or synthesis from Shelley's "Defence." I am assigning two poets who were teachers of mine - Robert Duncan and Robert Kelly. Please read all works by both in the Hoover anthology. Also, I want to add the earlier "imagist" poet, Hilda Doolittle, better known as H.D. I have posted her poems on blackboard under resources. All of these poets use myth. Write some general thoughts about each poet. Then pick out passages you find striking or which give you hints for poetry - from each poet. Comment on the passages in whatever way you like - you can comment by writing prose or a response in verse. Be ready to share at least one passage in class.

For your poem due 10/12 (or 10/14 for group one), please try to incorporate a mythic element. You can do this in numerous ways. It doesn't have to be a specific reference to Hercules or something like that. It can merely be a sense of the order of nature (however you interpret this).

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Assignments for 10/5 - 10/7

Poem due 10/5. Group 4 will present; everyone else bring two copies. No special writing assignment.

10/7: Challenging assignment - start early.
During this reading period we will focus on the use of myth in poetry. Poets have used myth in all periods but more self-consciously after 1800 or so. Please carefully read the excerpt from Percy Bysshe Shelley's "Defence of Poetry." It is a magnificent - but somewhat dense to modern readers - piece of prose. Also carefully read the three poems: one by John Milton (early 17th); one by William Butler Yeats (Irish, 19th - 20th C); and one by T.S. Eliot. Write a bit of literary analysis: how do these poets attempt to fulfill Shelley's hopes for poetry? How, in each case, does the poet use myths to achieve the effects of the poem. These poems are challenging, and you might well have to do a bit of research - at least to look up the references. I would encourage you to look for materials on university sites, avoiding online encyclopedias. Please cite anything you use. The readings are on Blackboard, under resources.

How to Write a Beat Poem - take two

1. Most importantly, the Beat poem is written to a rhythm that exists outside the poem. To illustrate, you can read this to a metronome-like beat:
I think I'm going somewhere
mountainous or scaly

that's right
a mountainous or scaly place

that's where I think I'll go.

When I find the time: when I find the time.

But this version contains the beat within the language. It needs no external beat.

I think that I will go
somewhere where there's mountains
roaming the distance and sweeping the land
where time no longer threatens
lost outside revolving hands

You get the idea.

2. Beat poetry has the sense of being spoken in the moment.
3. True to its philosophy of being-in-the-moment, Beat poetry never stops to make sense, explain or think twice - but just speaks in the moment. This speech is seen as action.

It is only one philosophy in the vast controversy of poetic styles.