Tuesday 30 April 2013

National Poetry Writing Month: Done! (Whew!)

This afternoon I managed to write the draft for a last poem for National Poetry Month, and I'm relieved, pleased and tired. How have others done? 

I enjoyed the process much more when I was on spring break; when I came back to teaching, in the final weeks of term, writing a poem a day felt like more of an assignment than an indulgence. I'm tempted to pass on it next year and do something similar in the summer instead. We'll see. 

I'd be glad to hear what exercises people tried that they found most effective or successful, as I use such exercises in my teaching and try to stick to the ones that prove most useful.

Congratulations, everyone!

Wednesday 24 April 2013

NaPoWriMo, one week to go!

Who's still doing a poem a day? (I am!) If you've fallen behind, there's still time to catch up!

Saturday 20 April 2013

Poetry Prompts, Nos. 20-30

How did I come to feel obligated to provide a prompt for each day of National Poetry Month this year? I don't understand it, but I feel it and persist nonetheless.

20. Sandra Lim has some splendid titles in her first collection, Loveliest Grotesque. Use one of these as the title for your own poem: "Curious This"; "The Horse and Its Rider"; "Reasoning in a Raw Wind"; "Ballad of the Last Chance"; "Year of the Gallows Birds"; "You Could Feel That Freedom Coming on Too".

21. Find a photograph or online image of the place you live from at least fifty years ago, and describe the place as though you were there now.

22. Write an ode to your favourite vegetable. For inspiration, here's Pablo Neruda's "Ode to the Artichoke."

23. Think of something unpleasant that happened to you as a child--a bee sting, an embarrassment, a natural disaster, a car accident, an illness, etc.--and write about it in third person. Don't tell us how the child feels--show it through her actions, the description of the environment, etc., and don't be afraid to fictionalize what happened for the sake of the poem.

24. Look at a poem of yours that you never finished or don't feel is really working, and choose your favourite line. Using it as the opening line, write a poem that takes on a subject or direction different from the one in the original poem.

25. If you have a pet, show, in a poem, how its behaviour influences your own. Don't say what kind of animal it is anywhere in the work. Your description can identify it, or you may prefer greater ambiguity, such that the poem might apply to a number of different creatures. 

26. In a place where you have lived before (or where you live now), list some specific names of the flora and fauna of that environment: the names of one or two birds; other animals (squirrels, coyotes, rabbits, etc.); one or two kinds of trees, plants and wildflowers. Now place yourself, as a character, in this environment, with one particular worry on your mind. In the poem, let the details of your concern intermingle with the details of the environment, and bring in other senses in addition to sight to give a stronger impression of the place.

27. Write a poem in response to a song. Argue or identify with the song's import as you describe a particular experience, whether real or fictional. 

28. Write an anti-ode about something you don't like or an action you don't like to do. Use vivid, concrete details to make your dislike palpable without saying it.

29. Write a poem about an object that belongs/belonged to one of your parents. You might find it easier to convey the object's meaning if you describe your parent using (or whatever word's appropriate) that object in a particular moment in time.

30. Remember a song you loved as a teenager. What might you have been doing as you heard it (driving, sitting on your bed, dancing, etc.)? Describe one scene involving your younger self and the song in such a way that the reader readily discerns how the song made you feel. Again, don't be afraid to fictionalize for the sake of the poem.

That's all, folks! I'd be glad to hear whether any of these prove useful.

Wednesday 17 April 2013

Sandra Lim's Loveliest Grotesque (Kore Press, 2006)

Some favourite passages:

Fall shudders red and ochre, clean through to a various pain.


Once, inside a night of live stars and other improbable sky lights, the conversation seemed indispensable. I'll be so willing. Ever was. Ordinary behavior, and you can walk there.

from "A Village Journal"

I wanted to see the themes grow inside us
like a talent or a tumor. Pure accident.

from "Last Mash Note"

Survival & reverie salt the palate....

from "Ballad of the Last Chance"

--sub-rosa ways of understanding self and others. The blue streak you take as a personal asterisk.

from "Where Metaphorical Moves Get Started"

...the thickening allusions alighted on all our shoulders with a look of loneliness.

the end of "What Is an Image?

                                        So there
we are, in low relief: creaturely, comely,
deducible wholly by what we have lost.

the end of "Year of the Gallows Birds"

The saddening ways slam
back and forth like a metal screendoor.

opening lines of
"You Could Feel That Freedom Coming On Too"

So often you don't think,
"Little nicks of monstrosity, I shall be splendid in it."

last lines of "Just Disaster"

Intent on being expressive rather than lovely, they are practically breaking with light and dark.


Dear unkind world, should we wonder after quiddity?


These rifts, these hungry expressibles, they are swiftly drawing me on.

from "There Is No Wing Like Meaning"

There is ground between loving and being pleased. See, it is a city unto itself.

from "'Wish You Were Here'"

The ferocity of the world inside has the might of weeds.


I feel so "personal" despite the fact that I am standing alongside myself, subject to dispersal.


I sing as a girl shedding the fever garden, as a boy tasting the knife of her. Word-slung and feral, I happen upon "those places in the body that have no language" but there really is no shielding in the end.


You'd like something of maximum vehemence and physical grace. Instead, "A Day! Help! Help! Another Day!"

from "Equilibrium"
(NB This poem has footnotes I couldn't easily include here.)

I hang the air with barbeque smoke
winding up my walk and my weft.
I longitude, I latitude, I spangle
from the core.

from "Touring, Touring, Gone"

Much later, what emerged unexpectedly but poppy. Nodding red, nodding orange, but always darkly nodding away. Between her and poppy, a torn-up world of cause and effect, pasts and prologues, broken clocks, the clatter in parting.

last stanza of "Afterword"

And the indifference of the island
bellows from shelf to shelf. A turtle rubs along.

from "Blind Future"

Tuesday 16 April 2013

Poems sought for poetry anthology on human rights

The University of London’s Human Rights Consortium, in conjunction with the Keats House Poets and the Institute of English Studies, seeks submissions for a new anthology of poems about human rights. The deadline is 15 May, and further details are available here. Those writing a poem a day for National Poetry Month may want to devote a day to drafting an appropriate poem, then revise and submit it once the month's out.

Monday 15 April 2013

NaPoWriMo: The Halfway Point

It's 15 April, and because of the heavy workload I have with the return to teaching, I drafted a poem this morning to make sure I'd get it done. While I have thus managed my 15 poems in 15 days and am excited by the results thus far, the end of spring break is going to make the second half of the month significantly more difficult in terms of finding writing time.

How are others doing at this point? I hope the prompts have proved helpful to those wanting outside inspiration.

Jack Spicer on poetry: "Time to change spooks!"

I found this passage from Jack Spicer's Letters to James Alexander (1958-59) rather wonderful and wanted to share it:

"I don't like my poetry either. I read a new poem last Wednesday and nobody said much of anything and I asked why and Duncan said it was because it was a very good Jack Spicer poem and I threw the poem in the garbage sack not tearing the poem because it was a very good Jack Spicer poem. The watch was ticking on my wrist all the time and was not a Jack Spicer wristwatch and would never be a Jack Spicer wristwatch and that should be the way with the poems.

It's rather like a medium (a real medium) who gets a spirit, call her Little Eva, to control her. Pretty soon, after a few sessions, she'll get to know what Little Eva is going to say and start saying it for her. Then it's no longer a seance but fakery and time to change spooks.

That's what your watch tells me. TIME TO CHANGE SPOOKS!"

Friday 12 April 2013

Imagined Sons (Seren Books, 2014)

I'm delighted to announce that Seren Books, which did such an impressive job with my first collection, The Tethers, will be publishing my third book of poetry, Imagined Sons. This is my first strongly thematic work, exploring a birthmother's consciousness through two kinds of poems: Imagined Sons, prose poems where the birthmother encounters the son in different guises once he's come of age (baker, hotel clerk, surfer, black olive, etc.) and catechisms, where the same recurring question provokes different answers over time.

I first completed a draft of the manuscript in 2006 and produced a pamphlet manuscript from it for Oystercatcher Press in 2009, The Son, which was named the Poetry Book Society Pamphlet Choice for that quarter. Poems in the book have appeared or are forthcoming in Barrow Street, The Iowa Review, Long Poem Magazine, New Walk, New Welsh Review, PN Review, The Republic of Letters and The Times Literary Supplement.

Reviews of The Son have been wonderfully heartening, with Peter Riley describing it as "quite startling--a serious work about loss through a terrific play of imaginative resource." David Morley wrote in Poetry Review: "Carrie Etter's sparkling, serious beating-out of prose poetry and catechism continues in a finely judged sequence, grieving and honouring and surprising on every page. 'It is time' (Etter quotes Celan) 'the stone made an effort to flower'. And so this fine book, its respect, sadness and subject." 

Over the next few days, I'll be giving the manuscript its probably hundredth read and searching for potential images for the book's cover. A great way to spend what's forecast as a rainy weekend!

My Vocabulary Did This to Me: Collected Poems of Jack Spicer (Wesleyan UP, 2008), second selection

from A Birthday Poem for Jim (and James) Alexander (1959):

I can't describe good
But once tried to in a poem about a starfish
Or your watery eyes
Seeing nothing but what they told you.


Poetry seeks occasion. In a man's life
There is May, June, December, birthdays, nothing else really matters.
(I don't understand why I omitted October. Poetry seeks occasions.
        In a man's life
There are birthdays.)


You have hours
There are 
To use them. Choose your

from within the same collection, a couple passages from "Imaginary Elegies V":

Another wrong turning
Another five years.


                                                     But the birds are real
     not only in feeding. I think
Their wings. Glittering in the black ab / sense. 

from Helen: A Revision (1960):

Nothing is known about Helen but her voice
Strange glittering sparks
Lighting no fires but what is reechoed
Rechorded, set on the icy sea.

Thursday 11 April 2013

My adoption birthday comes round again

I was adopted two weeks after my birthday, on this date, oh so many years ago. Here I am, in the middle, oblivious to the two happy people who'd come to get me. If not in town, I always called home on this day; as I became older, the date seemed more important than my natal birthday. 

This is my second year without them, my father having died in 2009 and my mother in 2011. Last night I dreamed we (my family of childhood) were traveling by car and picking up some things along the way. At one place we stopped I found loads of keepsakes: old photographs, school yearbooks, letters, drawings, etc., but there was only so much space in the car and only so much time to go through them, which was making me increasingly anxious and upset. That's when I woke and realized the dream was close to reality, as one of my brothers-in-law threw out boxes of who knows what and a great chunk of what was saved was destroyed in a fire.

I can hardly explain how fortunate I was to be adopted by these two people, who were consistently loving, proud, and supportive of me and my endeavors. I think it was the best thing that ever happened to me.


Wednesday 10 April 2013

Day 10!

It's day ten, and I'm happy to say I have ten quite different poems drafted. (Coincidentally, today I also completed my tenth hour of driving lessons.) I feel a little nervous saying this, but on third or fourth reading I'm pleased thus far with the results. Some are weak, sure, but I've been ambitious and risky, and the poems feel stronger for it. How are others doing?

Tuesday 9 April 2013

More poetry prompts

To my surprise and delight, some people have been using the prompts I provided as starters for their National Poetry Month poems, and as I offered nine, I thought it time I posted some more. That is, I feel the need to continue providing such sustenance through the month. I'd be pleased to hear of people's experiences with these.

10. Write a poem in second person where the you being addressed is a specific person (rather than a general/public or reader you).

11. Remember an image that has moved you and describe it (without comment, without sentimentality) in 2-5 lines. That is the end of your poem--now write toward it.

12. Think of something you do every day, and tell someone else how to do it in step-by-step imperatives that provide close descriptive detail of the actions and any objects. Some possibilities include changing a diaper, preparing butternut squash, choosing a watermelon, and styling your hair.

13. What are you feeling right now? What are the three abstract nouns that would best describe it? Right now I might say mine would be lust, ennui, and fatigue. While the narrative of events leading to those feelings would be mundane and probably uninteresting, is there another, more condensed narrative--something that could happen in, say, ten minutes--that might convey the same combination of feelings? In a prose poem, write the narrative that helps to convey those feelings, and let the title clue the reader in to that general mood. (This was my approach with my poem 'Melancholia' in This Line Is Not for Turning: An Anthology of Contemporary British Prose Poetry.)

14. Write a poem that is an actual numbered list, and let the nature of the list come not from the title but the accumulation of details. Some possibilities include: seven regrets without named parties; five historical events I wish I'd been present for and one that I had; my experiences with everyday people in different cities I've visited.

15. Write a poem in response to something in the news, but rather than falling back on your own perspective, imagine another person's. For example, how might a former miner's child respond to the news of Thatcher's death? Or, from another angle, how might one of her advisors respond? Try to make the response nuanced, a complex of multiple emotions rather than settling for the predictable, simplistic one. 

16. Write a poem that uses two or three beats/stresses per line. If unsure what to write about, take the view out of a window, starting at a distance and becoming increasingly more detailed and intimate. If you need more inspiration, dip into Basil Bunting's Briggflatts (http://carrieetter.blogspot.co.uk/2009/07/basil-buntings-complete-poems.html); it's not in two-beat lines but conveys the idea of such a poem well.

17. Consider a news item you'd like to write about, and find a good-sized article about it online, preferably in a quality newspaper or journal. Take five phrases from the article that seem to sum up different points or events involved. In your poem these will be in quotation marks or italicized, and your work is to write between them.

18. Use five of the following six words in a poem: dirt, hand(s), path, tree (or a kind of tree), sky, weight.

19. Remember someone you knew now dead, and remember one of their interests or hobbies (i.e. my father was obsessed with the weather and cycling; my mother watched medical dramas and house restoration programs and used to sew). In a poem, talk to the person about it, and end with a question. 

I hope these prove useful.

Friday 5 April 2013

NaPoWriMo, Day 5 Progress Report

It's barely day five of National Poetry Month. I've got four poems for the four days, and I love how I feel: gratified by the completed work, excited by the variety and possibility of some quality among them, and whirring with thoughts about word choice, form, and imagery. How are others doing?

Thursday 4 April 2013

Reverses Heart's Reassembly by Scott Thurston (Veer Books, 2011)

As Scott Thurston explains in the acknowledgments, "The accounts of dance and movement in the pages that follow relate to my experiences of dancing the Five Rhythms--a movement practice devised by Gabrielle Roth." Here are some of my favourite passages from the collection:

From Section I, Boundaries:

Get out of your own way--to get
in the way of being guided.
Each line equivalent to the whole
book of your fear of dissolution.
Openly revealed, it conceals
a guarantee of a new body.


The dancer holds a space for other dancers. I bring a few neatly-parcelled luxury anxieties to sit and unwrap in a clutch of unfolded limbs. [...] To move at emotional depth I need to keep my thoughts in play.


Trying to outrun the ego and mourn its lost authority.


I'll find it just as well in the un-like.


If this is civilization it starts to unravel
in the corner of vision.


In the dance--pain, discomfort, exhaustion, injury start to expose the lineaments, the estate of one's self....

from Section II, Compassion: 

What constitutes wildness? Binding both the preserved and the destroyed, resistance can be experienced as pain--memory needs to change all the time.

from Section IV Relation:

The tension between intention to move and moving; between dancing by oneself and with others.


I recognised I'd brought a demon with me which I named 'Without Knowledge I Am Nothing.'

Approaching knowledge as an encounter.

from Section V, Turning:

...turning and returning
with intricate delay.


Trust me to buck the trend in coherency:
in the give and take of talk our mutual
knowledge gives way to being known
on this bleak rib of land, curving upward.
The longing of the endless hills--mynydd
hireaethog--when speech dies on the wind.


Moving with the shape of space
creates a wild line. Start to turn
and learn how to serve you and you
trust me.


The shape of a choice: lust, trash,
truth, that grace arises from grace.  

Reverses Heart's Reassembly can be bought by post directly from Veer Books or online at Amazon for a mere £5.

Wednesday 3 April 2013

Prompts for Poems

I hadn't planned on providing a prompt a day, but I see that by starting out that way, I may have created that expectation. Here, then, for day 3, is a prompt I offered in 2011 that has led to some strong work. These 7 more, from last year, will cover me through day 10! I promise to offer more, or links to more, again by the eleventh.

Tuesday 2 April 2013

Day 2: Another Prompt

My Poetry School students did so well with this exercise I invented, I thought I'd share it as a prompt for National Poetry Month. 

Thinking of one event you'd like to write about--it needn't but could be personal (or historical, etc.), write a poem consisting only of questions, maximum 20 lines. Indeed, it could just be one question extended over a number of lines. 

I know what gave me the idea for this exercise. Years ago, Donald Justice published a poem, "Twenty Questions," in Seneca Review, and I wrote a poem in response, "Twenty Answers," published later in the same magazine. The catch, if that's the right word, is that my answers were also questions. 

If you try this approach, I'd be glad to hear of your experience with it.

Monday 1 April 2013

And so National Poetry Month begins!

After all that build-up seeking fellow poets to join me in writing a poem a day, the month has arrived, and fortunately, I'm still on spring break. This time I have several projects I'd like to continue with: Gretel, 'open field' poems that tell the Hansel and Gretel fairy tale from her point of view, in third person; The Modie Box, a prose poem about my mother and her death, focused on the box file in which I keep her letters and cards to me, my letters to her, and various mementos (Modie is the first name I called her, perhaps clearer as Moddy). Additionally, I'd like to replace one of the Imagined Sons in my manuscript of the same name with a new piece, and so plan to try to write several new Imagined Sons poems. I also want to prepare a couple poems for themed contests and magazine issues, including this important competition raising money and awareness of cardiac risk in young people. I hardly need any additional inspiration to make it through the month! 

But I always have ideas for poems and don't understand writer's block per se. That won't keep me, however, from offering prompts for those who find them useful. I'll start by promoting a couple of favourite forms, the pantoum and the prose poem. If you haven't written one of them, give it a go. For more on the pantoum, see this page at the Academy of American Poets; here's their page on the prose poem. On the latter, I'd also be glad if you explored my site Sudden Prose, devoted to both prose poetry and flash fiction, with many splendid examples.

What plans do others have for National Poetry Month? I'd be glad to hear.