One of the things I love most about blogging is meeting excellent writers I didn't know before. Earlier this year, I met Catherine Pritchard Childress, who took on a teaching exercise I described in a blog post in May 2011.
Wait, let me back up a little. It might help if you read about this in-class exercise in that post — especially the ad hoc, impromptu, improvisational way it came about — but basically the exercise asked my students to write a 12-line poem based on the following paragraph from the story "VIVA!" by Erin McReynolds.
The tricky part was that you had to pick one word from each line of the paragraph and use it in the matching line in your poem. A word from McReynolds' first line would go in your first line, then a word from line 2 would appear in your line 2, and so on. Small changes in the words (remove to removing, say) allowed. I left line 13 from the paragraph out of the game because it had too few words in it, and I didn't want the word blood to unduly influence what the students might write. And me too, because I did the exercise along with them.
Well, I was impressed — flabbergasted, even — by the exercise poems my students dashed off in about ten minutes ... and the two poems I wrote weren't bad either. That experience was the inspiration for that blog post in which I shared the exercise, its backstory, and a couple of the students' exercise poems, as well as my own.
So, back to Catherine ... after reading about the exercise, she was inspired to try it and then shared what she'd written in a comment to the post. Here it is, with the "borrowed" words from the McReynolds paragraph in gray at the right.
This is quite an amazing poem, actually. Catherine wrote this in ten or fifteen minutes. And notice how she uses two words in her first line. (Catherine, I hope you won't mind too much that I edited this a little, adding a hyphen in lines 1 and 3 to match your hyphen in "whiskey-free.")
Even more amazing, Catherine then shared, a month later, another exercise poem that, as she put it, "resulted from working with this exercise and a little more time."
My response to Catherine, in our conversation through blog comments, was this: "I really appreciate the seriousness of the poems, how they deal with such personal topics with dignity and elegance." Absolutely ... dignity and elegance.
Since she had written such fine exercise poems, I challenged Catherine to take even more time and try it again. Here's what she sent me two months later.
Just a tremendous poem. The phrase "dignity and elegance" is again apropos, and perhaps even pales. In this persona poem, Catherine affords her character such dignity, such pathos, as he faces up to coming out as gay to his father who will, he knows, be broken by it. Hmm.
There's plenty more I could say about any of these lovely poems but I've been holding back. I'd really like to hear what you have to say. Please write me a comment below. And Catherine will be "listening" as well and I'm sure she would be happy to reply. As will I.
Incidentally, Catherine recently wrote me on facebook that "My poem 'Oeuvre,' which was inspired by your online writing exercise, was accepted in its revised form, along with another of my poems, for publication in a journal based in Hawaii, Kaimana. Thanks for the inspiration." Congratulations, Catherine! I'm glad and proud that my little exercise had such a grand result.
Again, friends, do leave a comment below, please. Thanks.
Happy New Year, everyone! Manigong bagong taon!
Added later on 2 Jan 2012: After I posted this, it occurred to me another lit mag editor might see the poem "Hush" and snap it up. All because of my hosting it online. Well, I had been thinking about publishing "Hush," so I contacted Catherine and asked if the NAR could have it. And this was on the three-day weekend, no less. (I very rarely do this kind of thing; the great majority of my selections are from work already submitted to the NAR.) Anyway, happy ending. I've made a couple of suggestions and Catherine is considering some revisions. Watch for "Hush" or whatever its eventual title will be in the NAR! Stay warm, everyone!
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