Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Poetry Thursday 5/3/07

Ten-Minute Spill (full explanation of this apparent "nonsense" exercise follows; if curious before reading the poems, scroll to the text in red below.)


Discretion is the better part of dolor:
Dribbling words of black pitch
down one's chin
a flapping,
doubly unstable cliff
is as wise as licking a needle
that's strung an acre
of blackberry thorn.
Better not to rend
the tender edge of voice.

A foolish consistency
is the panacea of little minds
who'd rather jump off a cliff
than whir through the examined life
spinning under pins and needles.

a cloud of pitch in water,
inks up their days,
their mother of misinvention
scolds with muffled, murky voice.

the night comes brambling
to catch evasions, like blackberry vines.

I really love the book The Practice of Poetry: Writing Exercises from Poets Who Teach (Robin Behn and Chase Twichell, Harper-Collins, 1992). It's broken up into sections that help suggest ideas as well as hone skills: the unconscious as a source of ideas; image and metaphor; aspects of voice; accidents, chance, and the non-rational; structure and organizing principles; sound, rhythm, and the line; and revision and writer's block. Not only do the poets explain what they are unleashing and what you are accomplishing, but examples are also included.

If you use this book as a resource, you will NEVER have "writer's block," and so the final section will not be necessary. You might say the book is like, uh, to be indelicate--a laxative for writer's block. When I want a change or just some good fun, this is my absolute go-to pal.

The "Ladders to the Dark" section (tapping the unconscious) is probably my favorite. You can get some startling and fascinating results. And nonsense. And odd sense.

Today's poem was generated under the influence of Rita Dove's exercise "Ten Minute Spill" (p. 13). A couple of years ago I had the great honor of attending a reading where I got to meet Ms. Dove and thank her personally for the exercise while she signed my copy of American Smooth.

I think it would be really fun to do this in a classroom or with several friends and then read the differences of all your individual results. I haven't done that yet, but wish I had.

It goes like this:
  1. Ten lines.
  2. Include a proverb, adage, or familiar phrase (such as "robbing Peter to pay Paul," or "you can lead a horse to water . . ."). But you have to change the phrase or adage somehow. Mine were "Discretion is the better part of valor" and "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds."
  3. Use five of the following ten words (this is Rita Dove's list as published in Behn and Twichell's book, but I would suggest making up a list of your own and using at least five of them): cliff, needle, voice, whir, blackberry, cloud, mother, lick.
  4. Do it in ten minutes (that's all that's allowed! Set a timer and quit when it rings, but you'll probably be done before then) and see what you get.

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At 5/03/2007 9:41 AM, Blogger Rob Kistner said...

"the night comes brambling
to catch evasions, like blackberry vines."

I am fascinated by that image Sputnik.

Very nice!

--and so it goes--

At 5/03/2007 1:27 PM, Blogger gautami tripathy said...

I suppose I should give it a try too. I must say it's very good work in ten minutes

At 5/03/2007 1:38 PM, Blogger sputnik said...

Gautami, it's such an interesting thing to do--since it is "only an exercise" and it is over before you know it, the lack of risk involved frees your mind to let loose odd things that might never come out otherwise.

At 5/03/2007 3:28 PM, Blogger Crafty Green Poet said...

The first one there is excellent, i can really feel those prickles!

At 5/04/2007 9:30 PM, Blogger jim said...

Time well spent, indeed!

I love the triggering off of a cliche, and then viciously and playfully violating it and landing at such an unexpected closing.

At 5/04/2007 11:09 PM, Blogger ...deb said...

I liked both poems. Amazing what a "spill" will produce.

Thanks for sharing the book and exercise and your work. I look forward to giving both a try.

At 5/05/2007 10:19 AM, Blogger Jessica said...

Love the poem and love the exercise! The poem is deep in imagery and surprising!

At 5/14/2007 2:48 PM, Blogger chicklegirl said...

Thanks for the tip about The Practice of Poetry. I've been needing just such a remedy to, shall we say, get things moving again (after years of blockage).


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