Emulate another poem or poet
I picked up a copy of The Practicing Poet: Writing Beyond the Basics by Diane Lockward. In the Craft Tip #3 Poem and Prompt section, she talks about “Variation on a Theme by Elizabeth Bishop” by John Murillo. This poem is based on “One Art” by Elizabeth Bishop. Take a look at both poems side by side.
I really enjoyed this example of emulating another poem. John Murillo took the idea of learning to lose and made it his own. Lockward points out that Murillo does more than keep the theme. He uses repetition as Bishop does, repeating the many forms of “lose,” using many words that start with L, and like Bishop, he writes in imperatives as if giving directions.
So one way to emulate a poem is to write to the theme. Another is to make a list of techniques employed by the poet.
My redrafts emulating three different poems
Back in Part Four of this demonstration I announced which poems I had chosen and did some research into the poets. For this exercise, I chose Dead Stars by Ada Limón, Ode by Jane Huffman, and News by Ben Purkert.
So here’s my process for emulating a poem so far:
- read lots of poems
- pick a few poems I like
- research the poets, learn about their process
- learn about the poem
What’s next? I need to decide how emulating this poem will improve the poem I’m working on. I’m going to ask myself some questions as I read the poem again.
- Why did I choose this poem?
- What do I like about it?
- What technique(s) do I want to try?
- How will this improve my poem?
Dead Stars by Ada Limón
Ada Limón gives us a clue into her intent and feelings about “Dead Stars” in this video
Why did I choose this poem? I chose this poem because I enjoy the creative combinations of imagery. I was drawn to the mundane becoming philosophical and daring.
What do I like about it? I like the spoken words in italics (not quotes) used twice. I like the questions and what ifs that are somewhat random but make sense because we are all part of the big band, the dead stars.
What technique(s) do I want to try? She uses questions, speech, and of the senses in her details. She creates some interesting double turns/twists in the set up with: It’s almost romantic . . . until you say . . . And it’s true.
How will this improve my poem? I think this twisting language could help improve my poem. My narrator is in a dizzying, swirling, vertigo of facing facts that lead to sudden and life-changing reality, so her language dealing with it could be more twisty. Some dialogue in italics is worth giving a try as well.
In kitchen sinks full of ideas, there’s an impression that even arrests fruit flies
Summer’s sandpaper tongue down our throats
jealousy, worry, rage all frozen mid-irritation
like tinnitus so acute it becomes a wasp nesting in your ear
I am a woodpile of ants in heat: a carpenter of denial
My view telescopes through the broken pane
to his sweat on her body behind the bale
I almost believed him as he twisted his favorite cap
until he said, A man has needs, but she’s not you
Which is true, but doesn’t mean he didn’t lie
when he said it was the last time
The dropped dish shatters like we all do
its pieces, still holdable, I toss into the trash
with my colors, light, hopes and ambition
because the glue has lost its flavor and the scissors
Though broken, I still hunger and itch
the clicking, clacking pieces find junction. How
will I survive without? After indelible
marks topple to the tongue?
What if I can ignore and forget? What
if he says Stay. Please stay, and I cave.
I didn’t burn the curtains and the bridge?
What would happen if I left with nothing
opened, bare, clean of sticky coating
with hope of refreshment in bonding
earth nutrients growing, bonding
if I find new understanding wriggling
among the moles under the tent of solitude
will I be scraped as a plate after a feast?
Ode by Jane Huffman
Why did I choose this poem? I like the repetition and how it builds movement.
What do I like about it? The subtle changes and double meanings of words in repetitions.
What technique(s) do I want to try? The repetition of words in slight rearrangement creates the idea of smaller and larger circles while also talking about small and large circles.
How will this improve my poem? Because my poem talks about swirling and vertigo. I think I can use some of this style of repetition to get some of the spin my narrator is going through to come to life.
An impression arrests fruit flies. The fruit
flies are arrested in kitchen sinks full of
ideas. The ideas, frozen in mid-irritation
are like tinnitus introducing vertigo. I am
dizzy with vertigo. I hear buzzing. I am
spinning, spiraling, falling. I am falling.
The ground falls away and I am dropping,
my arms and my dress fly above my head
as I plummet, my pinky toe the stoical point.
The pinky toe somehow holds on. Like a pin
holding strings connecting to what got me
here, to a truth, or many truths long forgotten.
That pinky toe pointed, curled and maimed
from point-shoes leads the other toes and the
foot stepping from the spiral and though dizzy,
dizzy and disoriented I see clearly, my view
telescopes to his sweat on her body, not hidden
by the bale, the dry wasted bale that should
have sold, should have fed. I see the clarity
distorted in his drops of sweat on her younger
body as if finally finding the source of wafting,
wind-blown odor of putrid, rotting decay.
The putrid decay of our love that had swirled,
dizzyingly around until arrested by an impression,
here, now, as I stand at the kitchen sink.
News by Ben Purkert
Why did I choose this poem? I related to the wind talking and asking my to see.
What do I like about it? I like the juxtapositions creating a different, broader meaning
What technique(s) do I want to try? Again, the spoken words in italics. This time using italics as a shape the wind turns the grass into as well as speech. It’s a great idea. In two quick lines, he turns a believable news fact about sardines into a derogatory accusation.
How will this improve my poem? My poem already has some interesting juxtapositions. What could I cut to make the mind jump? Is there a “news” fact that would paint a picture juxtaposed against an unfounded judgement that would bring the reader to make interesting connections?
An impression of fruit flies in furious flight
sketches the words, Think. Can you imagine?
contentment empties glue of flavor
and steals scissors of sharp
cuts. Today, Ms. Winters, the Mayor of Little Town
was recalled for having a litter in her office
Her predecessor was quoted as saying, I told
you she could never do the job as well as a man.
She wouldn’t stop licking the blood
from their heads: blind and mewling
in the box. Think. Can you imagine?
The hunger says this is dying season and–
What indelible marks will topple to the tongue?
Like a bridge burner
who can’t turn around
Maybe refreshment is nothing but
moles digging holes under the tent of solitude
I will get there, won’t I?
To the dark fresh-earth tunnels
where scraping, not smoothing, may nourish understanding
Summing up redrafting
There are so many options for redrafting a poem. I’m excited to try some new things when I revise my next poem. For this demonstration, however, we’ve covered a lot. I think the most important thing for redrafting are the questions I asked myself at the beginning:
- What are my motivations for redrafting this poem?
- What do I like about it?
- What don’t I like about it?
If you recall from Part One of this demonstration, I said, “It feels cluttered. There’s too much that isn’t clear. I want to know more of the story, the character, motivations, and conflict.” Toward that end, I think writing the narrative poem was a great first redraft. The opposites game draft, combined with the original then split lines, were the next most helpful generative drafts.
The new redrafting techniques: Thesaurus game and Put a color on it, didn’t influence this poem very much, but they were enormously helpful with some other poems I was revising.
I’m very excited about the new digital tools I found: Poemage and Scandroid. I imagine I’ll have a lot of fun with them as I continue revising my poems.
Now that my redrafting toolbox is overflowing, an important part of the Review process will be choosing the correct tools for an efficient and effective redraft.
I will read over all of my redrafts and let them inform me as I make some decisions about changes to my original poem. Then I will post it to Scribophile for critique.
While I wait for some feedback, I will continue to learn from other poets. I realized, while writing the post about meter, that I haven’t focused as much on listening to poetry as I have reading poetry. I will work on that through the How Writers Write Poetry MOOCs, YouTube videos, listening to the audio on Poets.org, and exploring some poetry Podcasts.
I enjoyed this video of Naomi Shihab Nye talking about revision.
I also liked some of the things that Juan Felipe Herrera said during this talk. He said once you’ve thrown the words on the page, anything else is a new poem. “If you revise a poem long enough, you have a whole book.”
Using the revision process I’ve been demonstrating, I find his statement is so true. This one short poem, the first one of thirty from NaPoWriMo, has already generated thirty new poems! Think of it: if I took each of the new drafts through the entire process so far, I would have 900 poems and then if I redrafted those . . . One of them would have to be good, right? 😉
In my own experimental forays on Sundays and engaging in writing prompts, it pushes me to look at examples of a particular style. I agree, that reviewing what others have done is definitely a place that can prompt growth.
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