Sunday, January 4, 2009

What Releases the Poems?

The January / February issue of Poets & Writers came just when I needed it. After the brain-numbing, creativity-killing holidays were over, I was looking for something to stimulate some new poems. This new issue has just what I was looking for, i.e., an article by Kim Addonizio, one of my favorite poets.

The article is entitled "First Thought, Worst Thought: Poetry Exercises That Inspire." The first part of the article lists and discusses the qualities that Kim values in a poem: Surprise, Music, Sufficient Thought, Syntax, The Parts Contribute to the Whole, and Mystery. The rest of the article includes six exercises "to get you writing," ideas to use "when you feel blocked and need to reconnect with your muse, or as a way to begin."

I was immediately drawn into the first exercise, "American Sentences." The term was coined by Allen Ginsberg who created the American Sentence as a response to Japanese haiku. It's one sentence consisting of 17 syllables. Here's Ginsberg's example: "Four skinheads stand in the streetlight rain chatting under an umbrella."

Your task is to simply write your own American Sentences. Kim offers a variety of ways that the task might be approached. I spent one morning on my first sentence. I wrote that one sentence and labored over it. I returned the next morning and wrote another sentence. And another. Then I remembered a poem from many months ago that hadn't amounted to anything, and I thought it might work nicely as part of what seemed to be developing as a new poem. So I imported it, spending a few more hours counting syllables on my fingers.

Of course, at a certain point, I allowed for a few of what ended up as couplets, each one sentence, to be a syllable less or more. But what I liked and found exciting and energizing was the task of sticking to the plan. It made me pay careful attention to diction, to music, to the necessity of what I kept. It let me, or forced me, to surprise myself with the alternatives I explored in order to get the 17 syllables.

I plan to try some of the other exercises as well. And I immediately pre-ordered the book from which the article is taken: Ordinary Genius: A Guide for the Poet Within, forthcoming in February from W.W. Norton. I expect it to be useful to me as both a poet and a poet-in-the-schools.

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  1. I was preoccupied with submitting poems that I can only now begin to settle in the all the rest of the good stuff inside!

  2. Like minds... I read that piece too, and already had a sonnenizio set as the January prompt at and we looked at American sentences too

    January thaw...

  3. Ordinary Genius is going on my book list right now. Thanks, Diane.

  4. It is genius to let diction drive the direction of the poem.

    I like to think I've always been all about the music. I'll be looking into that article and book (but how did you get your issue already I and I didnt?!?!?)


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