Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Poetry Slam!

Tonight, Luke will participate in his first poetry slam, a gathering of the older students reading original poems and poems by famed poets. (Which, now that I'm home and in hindsight, Shel Silverstein is clearly the ONLY poet the entire school's ever been exposed to. I whispered to Luke, "Read 'em one of my poems!" and Luke looked at me with utter disgust.)

Luke's is intended to be a rap, which means I haven't taught him anything about writing, though it's really very good, and he did re-work the ending so that it actually ENDS, rather than his original ending, which was something like "I can't think of any more stupid words or phrases." (WRITER COP-OUT!) His rhymes are daring, and I can totally see him blossoming into more than just a good prose writer.

Rap. As a genre of music, I detest it. All of it. But kids dig it. It's like writing a song or a rhyming poem. By virtue of its form, it needs cohesion and a beginning, middle and a wrap-it-all up at the end. Luke's is about a walrus (naturally) playing drums and not the bass guitar (awesome) and you can read his first draft, which I published in a previous blog. I'm excited to see what the young writers came up with at their tender ages (though EVERYBODY seemed to rhyme!), and I'm sure Craig and I will have quite a laugh between us (Craig missed the whole slam due to choir practice, which was a shame, because we would've both been critiquing everyone). Luke's previous short stories and prose have been exceptional given his youth, so he shows promise as a writer, which his dad and I will certainly encourage.

Personally, I'm getting into the poetry of the recently departed Wislawa Szymboroska, winner of the 1996 Nobel Prize for Literature. She's an ironist who writes a lot about post World War II Poland, yet is capable of both bitter and loving sentiment. The editions of her works that I have have the Polish on one side of the page and the English translation on the other side. Certainly, some of the lyrical beauty inevitably gets lost in translation, but I find her work intriguing and can plow through quite a lot of her poetry in a relatively short time, given my attention span when it comes to reading books.

Whilst cleaning things out and purging what was needed and what was garbage, I stumbled upon a folder of free-writing from college that was *supposed* to make it into some sort of poetry for my senior writing portfolio at some point. It was 1994, and I was, in hindsight per my psychiatrist, already bipolarly symptomatic, when I explained some of my behavior during that era.

Looking at the free-writing, it was more than nonsensical. "Vivid Gibberish" is more what I would label it now. Evidence of insanity? Not quite. Evidence of creative genius? Uh, no. It's like looking at an artist's early paintings or listening to a band's first couple of albums. They all might have artistic merit, but it's only after the artist grows and practices that his/her true creativity is evident. Reading the free-writing, I can't help but wonder: They gave me a degree for shit like this? Hmm. Thanks, Knox College.

I'll perhaps post some of the free-writing in the future. Maybe I'll try, and mind you, I haven't sat and written a poem SINCE college, to forge the blabber into something that makes sense TO ME. Not that, in my opinion, every poem SHOULD make sense. Much of what I wrote and what ultimately made it into my senior writing portfolio, that I read aloud at the Caxton Club at Knox during my public reading, was logopoeia. That's when you take a bunch of free-flowing words or phrases, put them together, and hope to God something remotely comprehensible is the end result. Yet, who is to judge what is comprehensible and what is random blabber? I think that's why surrealism appeals to me so much artistically. It's so open to interpretation. Surrealism I could identify with, because it proved to me that all the visions and thoughts in my head weren't necessarily insanity, because I could make sense out of them myself. Not necessarily to anyone else, but...

(Some of the logopoeia and a few more solid efforts won me the Davenport Poetry Prize in 1994, where I came in 1st place and Craig came in 3rd. I still don't think he's forgiven me for that.)

Ultimately, even back in college, I didn't necessarily *want* my readers to all see the "point" of my poetry. I wanted readers to interpret my poetry the way someone looks, or should look at any piece of art--to gauge their own opinions, their own feelings, their own imagery, and make the poem their own. Most of my published poetry is in my storage unit; otherwise, I'd throw a few of the good ones out there for the masses. But I *did* find one in my bookcase.

Knox's literary magazine, Catch, published one of my poems in the fall of 1993, which in hindsight, I can't believe was actually put in a creative writing publication. One that, in the liner notes "About the Writers," I had to apologize openly to my family for it being so (or is it?) dirty:

Thinking of Tuesday

I tingled in orgasm
After the penetration of his face
Into my gas grill.
I hadn't the stamina
To roast him too far;
Instead I released his
Terrified skin,
Unique as a Post-It Note
Left floating upon
An erect nipple.

INTERPRET THAT, MOFOS! What's it about? Sex? (Well, to be fair, I did use the words "orgasm" and "nipple" peppered with "penetration" in a few short lines.) Was it about food? Why is the Post-It note unique? Roasting him? Why didn't I think to employ a trademark after "Post-It Note?" Is it about murder? Revenge? Love? What was that all about? THAT, my friends, is for all of ya'll to figure out.

Here, I'll share a short piece that never made it to fruition that I wrote, that's a) unfinished, b) has no point and c) makes no sense, though I admittedly like what I had written so far, though I can see it's naive simplicity and would, in hindsight, edit out half the lines if I were writing or critiquing it today.


In the corner of the room of ruins
I was there with you
You were in the iron mill cavern
Flooding heat
Compressing strength
You came early
Three hours early
For blood

Crumbling rock and red sand fine,
Hieroglyphics our only language
Primitive in its form
It was easier to understand than

I want to fly you away, bleeding feather.

That's as far as I got on that piece. Could I have been more obvious that hieroglyphics was PRIMITIVE? I'm not even sure I ever presented it as an idea to my professor, though I seem to remember a poem about the image of the bleeding feather later in my studies. From what I remember, we were required to produce 2-3 poems a week. Sometimes, ideas would flow fluidly for me, and I'd really come up with some good ideas. Other times, perhaps in a depressive mood, I would tell the professor that I simply couldn't compose the required poems but "Here," I'd say, "I wrote down all these ideas that I can work on later." She never dinged me for it. (In all fairness, Lisa Ress, my writing professor, was fucknuts herself, so she really had no space with which to ding.)

Here's one that at least had a title, albeit a stupid one,and cliches a-plenty:

Fishless Fishbowl

Water clouded, murky weeds
Unchanged for years
Never evaporates
Which is puzzling

As the hammer sticking out of it rusts
Lying on the bottom
Is a sunken treasure ship
Containing miniscule jewels
I could crawl out using the hammer
but this is where I live.

It's important to note that at no time during my poetry writing career, did I ever write a poem that rhymed. I was never asked to. Characteristically, I honestly dislike poems that rhyme. They all seem forced. You spend countless hours trying to come up with words at the end of lines that rhyme, that make sense. That always seemed like a colossal waste of creative energy to me. (Remember, I studied writing before the internet--you couldn't Google "Words that rhyme with "go.") Right now, Luke's learning the rudimentary methods to writing poems, that I suppose are essential for very young writers to master. I told him to go along with what he's being taught, write what he's supposed to write, do the same in high school, and once he gets to college to promptly FORGET everything anyone ever told him about writing poetry.

That was one of the beautiful things about studying writing at Knox--the creative freedom and lack of demands. We didn't do things like learn to write haikus, which I can, but I don't. We never had to follow AB-AAB-A-B rhyming patterns or other shit that is systematic and uninteresting that you're forced to do in high school. We were left free to graze the transoms of our own boundless (and in my case, sometimes psychotic) thoughts and ideas.

Sometimes, I don't think there's a poem left in me. Other times, because of the intrinsic brevity of the genre, I think if I really worked at it, I could be capable of some glitter of awesomeness somewhere in my brain. Stay tuned.

That free-writing is some freak-ass shit....

No comments: