Thursday, August 31, 2006

Garage Sale Exercise

My life has been a series of big garage sales. I'm always trying to sell things I'm lukewarm about to people who don't want or need them. O.K., use that has an exercise: Write a poem that's a garage sale, cutting and pasting lines you don't like from rough drafts of poems into one document. Once you have about 20-25 lines of that "junk," revise it and make it into a poem.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Kick Ass Exercise

Poets spend a lot of time going, "Woe is me." In many cases, this is justified. But pretend for this exercise you kick ass. In fact, that is the exercise: "I kick so much ass because . . . ." It doesn't have to be a narrative poem or explanation; it could just prove, by its amazing power, that you do kick ass.

Random Post

I'm not drunk right now. I don't actually drink that much, when I do. Some people in college, though, years ago, never saw me except when I was drunk. They thought that was who I was. But now I like Diet Coke, despite Coca Cola's environmental destruction in parts of the world. There are worse addictions, I guess. I had a beard, too, that I never shaved. A cuckoo bird may have lived in it. A friend told me it once talked to him as I slept on the floor and he was trying to get a beer from the fridge. This story is not verifiable, though. No one else heard it. I'm writing, writing a lot, but I can't seem to get the linguistic energy I had in previous works. It comes and goes, I guess.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006


I am a gnat on the ass that is poetry. I shall sting it if I can.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Your Worst Enemy Exercise

This is your chance! Make a new enemy and write a new poem! Choose someone in your office or neighborhood, preferrably the weakest and/or dumbest. Wrap his or her office/home in toilet paper. Sing outside his or her widow at 3 in the morning. Run after him or her with your pit bull. Promise him or her you'll drink his or her blood. When your enemy retaliates by trying to hit you, shoot him or her in cold blood. Go to prison. Now, you have plenty of time to write a poem!

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Banana Pudding Exercise

Eat nothing but banana pudding for 2 weeks. You can have water, but no Butterfingers, beef jerky, or exploding cans of beer. Just banana pudding. Then write your poem. And it will be the greatest one ever. Go!

Friday, August 25, 2006

Pillow Case Exercise

Put a pillow case over your head. Walk around the house with it on, or just lay in bed with it on, for one hour. Take it off. Write your poem.

Favorite Toy/Food/Etc.

Here's another exercise: Write about your favorite toy, food, or other item as a kid. What was so great about it? Do you still like it now? Why do you think it was your favorite? How did your family and friends react to your interactions with your favorite? Think of ways to use this material: as childhood myth, as social commentary about childhood/adulthood, or just revelling in the language and images of this experience.

Another Exercise

Pretend you're dropping from a place very high in the sky. As you fall, write about the things you see on the way down, what memories and ideas go through your head, and end the poem in a less conventional way than just being smushed on the ground. Who saves you? This can be used just to formulate images and ideas.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Two Voices

Jack's been a big help to my writing over the last year (see his blog listed to the right), and some advice he gave me is the source of this exercise. Many of my poems lack tension, because they are too dark or they only show one viewpoint in depth. So, my exercise is: write a poem with 2 voices. It doesn't matter if they directly oppose, just that they're distinct. One could be an object or an animal, or the two voices could be different genders. Maybe a "you" and a responding "I" is a good idea. Go to it!

Rock Lyrics, Fiery Furnaces

Here's a link to an interview with Matthew Friedberger, a member of the Fiery Furnaces, a great indie rock group. His answers at least point to a way to think about rock lyrics and poetry. Here's a excerpt: Pitchfork: How important are the sound of words to your lyrics vs. the meaning of the words? MF: It's the difference between good lyrics and bad lyrics to me. Rock lyrics should have noisy words. You get to have a lot of double talk and excessive alliteration, and that kind of aligned in my mind to later 19th century or early 20th century writing, before the crystal-clear Ernest Hemingway and William Carlos Williams style. [Robert] Browning and [Algernon Charles] Swinburne and Kipling, those are the writers who are appropriate to steal from for rock lyrics because they're big and noisy and vulgar in a certain way like rock music is supposed to be. That's the costume rock music should be wearing. The link:

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Rock and Roll/Poetry

At what point to rock and roll lyrics become "poetry?" Or is there a difference between the two? I'm thinking of bands like They Might Be Giants, some of whose songs' lyrics often read like surrealist poetry (though their novelty hits are much more juvenile). Or even The Decemberists; Colin Meloy's lyrics are almost like narrative poetry. Why do rock and roll stars want to be poets, and why do some poets want to be rock and roll stars?

Monday, August 21, 2006

Book that changed my life? I'm thinking of three ones in particular. The first is "Brave New World" by Aldous Huxley, which I read on the way to the Indianapolis Children's Science Museum when I was 12. I think it made me see how our world resembled this dystopian one, and it made me oppose some of the negative things I saw in our society, like consumerism/advertising. The second would be the short story collection "City Life" and the story "Game" by Donald Barthelme. This was my real introduction to postmodernism and experimental literature. I think it was a big brain opener for me. The third would be "The Splinter Factory" by Jeffrey McDaniel. Hearing him read, then reading his book, turned me on to writing outside my depressing, confessional mode. I've read more than once? "The Broom of the System" by David Foster Wallace. It's just very, very funny. Like Monty Python, but even smarter. "What Narcassism Means to Me" by Tony Hoagland (truly gets to what it's like being a guy) and "The Crying of Lot 49" too (love the crazy psychiatrist). I'd want on a desert island? I think I'd like a big book, like "Don Quixote," the collected works of Shakespeare, Donald Barthelme or Raymond Carver's collected stories, or "Infinite Jest." I guess though, in my heart I could infintely reread "V" by Pynchon and "The Third Policeman" by Flann O'Brien and not get bored. Book made me laugh? Anything by Tom Perrotta. Especially "The Wishbones." Very sympathetic characters and funny dialogue. And anything by Tony Hoagland and Richard Brautigan! Book made me cry? I'm going to be honest: "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" I identified a lot with the main character. Yes, it is a teen book. I wish had been written? A book showing how we can live forever. I wish had never been written? "The Protocols Of The Meetings of the Learned Elders Of Zion." One of the most malicious books ever written, infinitely harmful. I'm currently reading? "The Sighted Singer" by Allen Grossman and Mark Halliday. Great dialogue about the writing/meaning of contemporary poetry. Also, "Mad Magazine," "Simpsons" comics, issues of "FHM" and "Sports Illustrated," and assorted Frank O'Hara poems from his collected. I've been meaning to read? Too many to count. Maybe Means' new short story collection, "The Secret Goldfish." Or Billy Collins' first poetry collection, now republished. I know -- "Gravity's Rainbow" Nope, I never will get to it.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

James Wright

I was reading James Wright last night and 2 things occurred to me: (1) I really like Franz Wright, despite his annoying behavior, and I see where he got his mystic naturalism from (2) Originally, I didn't really get him, but now I see what seemed too simple, too "just there," was actually fine crafted and deliberate. I go back to that chapter on Rilke in Stephen Doybn's book of essays, of how Rilke started as a callow artiste, but through hard work, was able to create a fully perfect merging of form and content. I think I'm pretty skeptical of the whole "genius artist" idea, and that it has to take hard work to make something lasting. Sometimes it's just accident, I believe, sometimes I feel the Beats had it right, first said, best said. But in Wright, I can see how years of hard work resulted in poetry that seems easy, but really isn't. Here's a Wright poem anyway: Depressed by a Book of Bad Poetry, I Walk Toward an Unused Pasture and Invite the Insects to Join Me by James Wright Relieved, I let the book fall behind a stone. I climb a slight rise of grass. I do not want to disturb the ants Who are walking single file up the fence post, Carrying small white petals, Casting shadows so frail that I can see through them. I close my eyes for a moment and listen. The old grasshoppers Are tired, they leap heavily now, Their thighs are burdened. I want to hear them, they have clear sounds to make. Then lovely, far off, a dark cricket begins In the maple trees.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Word Poem

Write a poem in which the word "noun," "verb," "adjective," or "adverb" is the main character. Or, the word "the," "of," "and," or "or" is the main character.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Prose Poem Exercise

I finished an exercise I wrote very quickly, and I want to share the idea. Write a prose poem with four separate blocks of: (1) statements, either negative or affirmative, (2) questions, (3) descriptions, and (4) commands/interjections (sentences with exclamation points). Let me know what you think of the exercise idea.

Call Me Wordsworth, Billy

No one in their right mind would publish the poem below, for fear of Billy Collins' wrath. In a way, it is a very pro-Collins poem, but I think it could also be misunderstood. I saw/heard Collins at a reading at MLK Library in D.C. and gave this poem to him after having my book signed. He took it, sort of briskly; he probably gets all kinds of strange people giving him crap he doesn't want to read. I wonder what he thinks of it? (Is calling myself Wordsworth a little too much?) Call Me Wordsworth, Billy by Donald Illich People love accordion music, a statement you can disagree with. It's opinion, not a fact, like a girl's not a boy, unless there's an operation. Just the same, I love to wear dresses, long peasant ones that hide my lines, mini-skirts that leave them open to sexy review. Scan me, honey, these are authentic iambs you can take home to little Italian sonnets. Others wonder if I really love Billy Collins, since he's just a date everyone calls low class but screws late at night under the bleachers. I gave him my pin of daffodil clouds but he's stopped calling me Wordsworth. I won't beat a meaning from you Billy, I'll treat you right. Brautigan wrote about sleeping with a girl at a bookstore. Did those go out of business in the Sixties? Should I stop hanging out in the human sexuality section? Stephen King says he gets his ideas from a child's heart he keeps in a jar. Someone should call the police. Parents ask the boy where he left it, and all he can do is point, point, to a copy of "Carrie" he's afraid to read.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Justify Your Art in 250 Words Or Less

I justify writing poetry, when there's so much out there already, by saying there are worse things I could be doing. Better activities, sure, but there are many more worse things (developing a drug addiction, stalking celebrities, watching too much TV). How do you justify it? 250 words or less.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Still Life: Bed

This is a still life poem (on behalf of Jack's exercise): Bed by Donald Illich Accident and Injuries Workers Compensation Lesionad En Un Accidente? Carol Popular Music Winner of the Colorado Galvin Iran's Double Agent Larry Snow Flying Monkey Saloon 227 Duvall Second Story Books Thank You The REG 08-05-2006 22:49 Severity Elizabeth Bishop Edgar Allan Edson How Long She'll Last In This Kooser Visit us at Parallel Legitimate Dangers Sarabande Poems John Ashberry Daedalus Selected Play 9780226 "520575" 19 2006 Stephen Amy Bloom "If Dave Sedaris could Burt Dorothy Allison "Brave and forthright Fun Wesleyan University Press Poet's Global Alliance: Britain, Calif. Unite Home Interview: Christian Martin On Alison Porter&Shure Automobile Accident Houghton Sierra Trail Mix Fruit and Nut Bechdel Doctor EXP SS The Washington Post Mifflin selected poems by cott cairns Broken Snack Pack Del Monte Choice by Pencil Se Habla Espanol 301-884-9000 Magazine Child, child, love while you can Robert Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc. of Though love be heaven or be Pinsky 866 Third Avenue, New York, N.Y. Independent The Self-Dismembered Man Arts Edited and Annotated by Alice $5.95 Official Partners of the Washington Redskins Issue 29

Operational Definitions Exercise

A poetry exercise idea: I once wrote a poem called "Operational Definitions," that took random nouns from the dictionary and defined them in strange and interesting ways. For example: A mouse is a brand of chocolate cereal eaten by children most likely to misbehave during morning sunshine rituals. So, I did a whole poem of this kind of stuff. Try it out.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Wallace Stevens "Sunday Morning"

I was reading "Sunday Morning" last night and beyond the difficulty of just trying to figure it out, I asked myself whether or not I liked the sweeping, majestic tone. I'm not likely to make the same kind of pronouncements about Jove, paradise, earth, etc. that he does. Is it a lack of ambition? Is it a distrust of general, universal statements? I don't know. "Death is the mother of beauty; hence from her, / Alone, shall come fulfillment to our dreams / And our desires." Death makes everything impermanent, and if everything was permanent, could we see beauty or have desire? What an amazing idea and language from Stevens, but could I say something so bold and direct about death in my work? I work around the edges, try to imply or point to things, but I usually don't go out and just say it. Is that what postmodern poetry about? Here's a link to Stevens' "Sunday Morning":

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Karl Parker, Lame House Press

Last night I went to see some poets (including the wonderful Sandra Beasely, and met Karl Parker, who will have a new chapbook of poems, HARMSTORM, from Lame House Press coming out soon. Mr. Parker, an erudite guy with a fondness for Neil Young, read short pieces from that book are very pointed and strong. He has a fierce prose poem by him that was published in MIPosias. It's a surreal work about faces, burning, and mice, and hurtful relationships: Here's an interview with him: Here's the Lame House Press Web site and a sample of one of his poems is there: