The next poem in Dragonfly is yet another
Let's see . . . what can I tell you? Like the Santana poem, this is a sonnet. To be precise, a terza rima sonnet like each of the numbered sections in Percy Bysshe Shelley's poem "Ode to the West Wind." Tetrameter instead of pentameter, however.
Many many years ago, in some online workshop, an anonymous workshopper tore into this poem, shredding it beyond belief and courtesy. One of the things that person said was that vampires don't eat the dead, technically. I'm using the word vampires rather than zombies or ghouls because it alliterates with vermillion and vile. It's also in loose consonance with the surrounding "f" words: flames, fired, fed, feast, flesh. Also, vampires just seem culturally cooler and more together than zombies and ghouls.
Besides, do we really know why or how we make such decisions when we write? Yes, we can rationalize a choice like I did above. But seriously, often there's a rightness that's just there, and it all clicks.
Oh, do click on Joseph Solo's Hendrix image above; this will take you to his Hendrix animation — it's pretty glorious — and then you can also see his other rock god animations. If you're looking for a graphic artist, give Mr. Solo a try.
As always, I'm very interested in getting some feedback or discussing anything with all y'all. Comment, okay? Thanks. Ingat.
Sunday, May 20, 2012
Friday, May 18, 2012
The next poem in Dragonfly is another
I wonder if I ought to have an epigraph that says "after Philip Larkin" because the poem plays off Larkin's well-known poem "For Sidney Bechet." Larkin's opening line in that poem is "That note you hold, narrowing and rising, shakes." And later, Larkin writes, "Oh, play that thing!" When I was putting together I eventually decided against the epigraph because the borrowing seemed so obvious that anyone who knows Larkin's poem would immediately see the connection. I'd really like to hear what you think about this.
As with the previous poem ("After the Gig") I changed a semicolon in the title to a colon. As I said with the last poem, the semicolon just seems wrong to me now. What else? The word "60s" should have an apostrophe in front. Decided to leave that one alone. If this poem were to appear in a future "selected" or "collected" volume, I would probably then add that apostrophe.
The character Pete is my cousin Peter Padua. It occurs to me now that I should call him "Peter" in this poem because in our family "Pete" always referred to his dad. I had changed it in this poem to "Pete" for the sake of better rhythm in the lines. I put words into Peter's mouth here, specifically the first quotation. But Peter did say that "machine gun" part in reference to Neal Schon and Eddie Van Halen . . . stole that from ya, old buddy. Thanks for that great bit, cousin Peter!
To pay my cousin back, let me give him a plug. Here's a video of his band, Peter Padua and Friends, performing his song "Jammin' Free." They are playing next Thursday, May 24, from 5:00 to 9:00 p.m. on the Main Stage at the Sunset Market, Oceanside, California. If you live in or near Oceanside, go check out their music. I guarantee, you'll love it.In terms of form and poetics, did you notice this is a Shakespearean sonnet? Slant rhymes and roughed-up meter. I'm particularly fond of the rhyme between "machine" and "Mission": gotta love that rich consonance.
Music references include the already mentioned ones to Schon and Van Halen. I also allude to Jim Morrison and Miles Davis. As well as to Santana's own discography: "black magic." The ending line in Spanish means "Listen, Santana, to the rhythm, good to enjoy." That's pretty literal. In a looser sense, something like
Copacetic, friends. I'd love to hear what you think of this poem or anything else here (maybe whether it needs that epigraph attribution, say); please comment below. Thanks. Ingat.
Wednesday, May 16, 2012
I was just involved in a facebook convo about disallowing fan fiction, romance, sci-fi, etc. in creative writing classes. I said, "I don't allow fan fiction, but SF and Fantasy and Detective (etc.) are fine as long as they are simultaneously 'literary' . . . I find this actually teaches them a lot about literary fiction per se."
Though this is beside the point. The discussion reminded me about this poem I wrote a while back that I've never been able to get published. So either it's not good (which may well be) or it could be running up against editorial prejudgements about "science fiction" vs. "literary" blah blah.
These are haiku (traditional, 5-7-5, etc.) and in certain circles science-fiction haiku are called "scifaiku." I'm titling this post "Scifaiku One" because who knows, I might just start a series of scifaiku. Watch for "Scifaiku Two"! Can't wait until "Scifaiku 130." Just kidding. Well, maybe.
I wrote this poem while teaching a Beginning Poetry workshop at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival, maybe three years ago. We wrote haiku in class and for homework, and this was my contribution.
Okay, that's all for now. Comment below? I'd love to hear what you think. About this poem or about not allowing genre writing in classes or whatever. Or write a scifaiku in your comment! Ingat.
Tuesday, May 15, 2012
The next poem in Dragonfly is also a transition poem. Yes, I said that the previous poem was a transition into poems dealing with childhood, esp. in San Francisco. And this one does. But this poem also leads us into another favorite subject of mine:
I made a small change from the original text in Dragonfly. The poem's title in the book had a semicolon after the word "gig" . . . that punctuation just feels wrong to me now, and so I've changed it here to a colon, the more conventional choice between title and subtitle. Also, there are other poems in the book that already use that
I was Yusef Komunyakaa's MFA student when I wrote this poem, and the phrasing in opening line shows some of that influence, I think. Here I'm using a stanza mode I still employ: groups with the same number of lines throughout (here, five) without deference to meaning, as in verse paragraphs. This method can cause strong stanza enjambment as in, for example, the break between stanzas two and three above.
The names of the band members in the poem are actual . . . though I've fiddled with the gear: I played an SG Junior, not a Custom, and Jay had a Farfisa organ or maybe a Fender. (For some reason, a brand name starting with F sticks in my memory with Jay.)
Steve, however, actually had a Vox bass, the short-scale Bassmaster; I remember Steve always had a tough time finding strings because long-scale strings were too thick at the short-scale length to feed through the tuner posts. In the photo below, you can see Steve on the right with his Vox bass (this is, however, of a different band we were in together, three years earlier); click on it to see a larger version.
The Leslie speaker mentioned above is often associated with Hammond organs; it used two spinning speaker horns for a unique doppler effect.
Things specific to San Francisco in the poem are teen clubs (youth groups in Catholic parishes) and the Doggie Diner restaurant. This was a San Francisco-only fast-food franchise, now gone. A nostalgic memory for many native San Franciscans. The picture above is of the Doggie Diner at Mission and 18th. The one our band always went to was at Geary and Arguello. The poem's setting in time coincides with the Vietnam war, and male high school seniors at that time were all very worried about being drafted into the Army. And of course the poem concerns itself more largely with oncoming adulthood. Interesting in this context is that our band in the poem was named Change of Heart. Hmm.
Okay, that's all for today. I'd love to hear what you think of this poem or anything else; please comment below. Thanks. Ingat.
The first image above is a family photo taken by my dad. More info on it is available in the blog post dated 3 September 2011, which also talks about the Doggie Diner. The second image above is borrowed from the website Doggie Diner.com, and the photographer is Chandler White. ¡Viva el Doggie Diner!
Wednesday, May 9, 2012
The next poem in Dragonfly is a transition poem. The two previous poems focus on family in conjunction with pop culture. Starting with this poem we get a series of poems that deal with childhood. This poem focuses specifically on Asian American childhood in San Francisco in the '60s.
I've written about this in the blog before: last year, I posted a short story on this very topic titled "Manny's Climb"; when that story had been published in the book Growing Up Filipino: Stories for Young Adults, it had appeared with a preface that explains what happened: during the '60s and '70s, teenagers who were neither white nor black had to choose one or the other of those identities in order to survive on the streets. That's the way it was in San Francisco, certainly, and I would hazard a guess that that happened in many locales.
What I saw happening with Asian American kids in particular — both girls and boys — is that they would oftentimes teeter-totter back and forth between passing as white and passing as black.
On the right is an image of African musicians wearing the dashiki. Not gold as in my poem above but other bright colors . . . the man in the center sports a mainly red one while around him are white dashikis, orange, yellow, etc. From about 1968 on, people in the African American civil rights movement wore dashikis as an Afrocentric statement; this fashion filtered down to common folk, and Asian American youth who were, again, "putting on blackness" followed suit. Bad pun, sorry.
Because of the realities of my growing up during that time, I was fluent in Black English (again as a survival practice). A linguistic fluency that also came in very handy during my US Army service from 1972 to 1975. When I use this poem at readings, in fact, I perform the latter part of the poem, the italicized portion, in Black English.
There's also an interesting story connected to the closing part of this poem. I wrote this text as a freestanding poem in a beginning poetry writing class with the poet Belle Randall at Stanford University in 1971 or 1972. Then, in probably 1986 or thereabouts, when I was working on my MFA in poetry with Yusef Komunyakaa, I resurrected it, as something that really spoke to my childhood experience, and inserted it into this poem, so that the opening section (the romanized portion) serves as contextualization for the ending section. I sprinkled the latter around the page in order to differentiate it from the part in standard English and to give a sense of its performative quality.
Okay, that's all for today. I'd love to hear what you think of this poem or whatever; please comment below. Thanks. Ingat.
The image on the left is borrowed from the website PastReunited.com. No attribution of photographer there. I'll be glad to give credit or remove this image if the creator contacts me. If you click on the photo, you'll be taken to PastReunited.com; this specific image is about 14 screenloads down that page.
Monday, May 7, 2012
Okay, so there was a two-year gap between the previous Dragonfly post and the one before that. And then from that last post to now, a nine-month gap. Has any project ever hung fire so much?
It's been so long, in fact, there may be readers who have never seen a Dragonfly post. To those friends, let me explain: I'm blogging my first poetry collection page by page, or rather, poem by poem with commentary on craft or the circumstances surrounding the composition of the poem, etc. At the bottom of each post, you'll see a little box at bottom right that will help you navigate to the initial Dragonfly post (from late 2008), the table of contents, and so on.
This next poem in the book is thematically related to the previous poem since both deal with gambling.
This poem may also be connected to my MFA professor David Wojahn's assignment to write a poem in which a family member meets a celebrity. I didn't write this until several years after I was David's student, but there it is. Some of you may know of that famous Wojahn assignment, which has been published here and there.
What else can I say? It's a sestina. Google that word or click on the word "sestina" in the labels below. I wrote a decent blog post on the sestina in March 2009.
Let's see . . . that picture of Elvis above is from a Sun Records promotional photo when he was 19. I tried to find an image of Presley that's not well known. I borrowed it from Wikipedia; click on it for more info. The picture's in the public domain.
There's a small anecdote connected to this poem for me. I was a visiting writer at the William Joiner Center for the Study of War and Social Consequences, at UMass Boston during the '90s, and I performed this poem, among others, at a reading. During the Q&A, a well-known scholar and historian of the Vietnam war called me out for sexism, citing the portrayal of the character of the showgirl as evidence. I felt bad about that for quite a long while, but really, if one were to write from the point of view of a mass murderer, does that make one a mass murderer? The showgirl is, admittedly, a static, undeveloped character who is shown only as silly arm candy for Elvis. But her purpose in the poem, as an image, as a device, is to characterize Elvis's womanizing and to oppose his character to that of Uncle Ray. I'd love to hear some thoughts about this question, if you wouldn't mind posting a comment about it below.
Oh, one other thing, the phrase "cruelly handsome" above was originally "brutally handsome" in the book. I think, though, that I unconsciously lifted that from the Eagles. Hence the alteration.
Okay, that's all for now. Comment below, won't you? About anything, please. Thanks. Ingat.
Added 5/8/2012: Yesterday, I mentioned that the Wojahn assignment had been published. Here's the scoop: "The Night Aunt Dottie Caught Elvis's Handerchief When He Tossed It from the Stage of the Sands in Vegas," a poetry-writing exercise by David Wojahn, from The Practice of Poetry: Writing Exercises From Poets Who Teach, edited by Robin Behn and Chase Twichell. Lots of great exercises in this book . . . worth picking up.
Sunday, May 6, 2012
Friends, I'm doing a small experiment with colors using the same erasure poem as last time. Could you help by telling me what's working and what's not?
First, a little background. In the comments on the last post, Sandy Longhorn and I had a discussion about colors. She said, "I especially love that the erasure isn't complete and the other words not chosen sort of float in the background of the poem."
After saying something about the image being like a palimpsest, I said this: "You know, Sandy, it just occurred to me that if you pick the right colors — because cool colors recede and warm colors come forward, one could really go for what you said. So if the page background were bluish, for example, and the unerased words were red or yellow, you could really enhance and magnify that floating in the background effect. Hmm."
Anyway, that's why I'm experimenting with the colors. Let me start with the extracted text and source.
How to Build a Dinosaur
You can also compare these by clicking on one of the images. You'll be taken to a slightly larger version with a black background. Then click on the two thumbnails at the bottom, center, to switch back and forth between the two images.
In the blue one, does the unerased text look like it's popping out of the book and floating in front? And is the erased text receding into the pages? Still floating but farther back?
Or maybe there's no difference except for the colors? How is your emotional response colored (sorry for the bad pun) by the treatment of color in the two versions? How does this affect your own thinking about erased poems?
Please let me know what you think in the comments below. Thanks. Ingat.
Added after the 10th comment below.
Friends, I didn't make myself clear. I'm very familiar with complementary colors, and I have a really good sense of color, artistically etc. I happen to prefer the tawny background for this poem because it feels more like an aged book. I also prefer having the connecting lines because I'm not sure all readers realize that the poem reads left-to-right and top-to-bottom, suggesting that the poem text already existed in the original text. That it's supposed to feel like a secret text, a coded ciphered text.
What I'm wondering about in this post is based on the optical illusion that cool colors seem to recede from the viewer and warm colors seem to come towards the reader. Look at the black box below. Do you see how the green and yellow seem to stand forward from the black, the white and red seem to be in the plane of the black, and the blue and violet seem behind the plane of the black? What I'm experimenting with is whether this visual effect can be exploited to have the erased text feel further away from the reader than the extracted text.
Perhaps the effect is not as evident without a black background. And perhaps it would work better if the poem text were green or red; that occurred to me but seemed to me to go against the illusion of the book looking like aged parchment.
Anyway, how does that affect the way you see the two versions? I'm not asking which is better. I'm not asking which is more artistic. I'm asking, in which version does the erased text seem to recede into the background? Or does it in either at all?
I'm only showing the blue one here hypothetically. The yellowish background with the blue circling and connecting is the one that's going to remain.
Friday, May 4, 2012
Friends, sorry for the delay in completing an erasure poem from Wednesday's prompt. Anyway, here it is. Completely concocted in Photoshop after scanning in the two book pages. That's why there's a herky-jerky quality to the blue lines; I'm drawing them with a mouse while holding my index finger down. Obviously need more practice. (Click on the image to see a slightly larger version that's easier to read.)
How to Build a Dinosaur
I don't know that the poem makes a whole lot of conventional sense. I was trying for an alchemical feeling in it.
Anyway, I think of it as a practice piece: a rehearsal into creating the visual artifact, and also isolating the/a found text from the source. I do think the altered pages look pretty sweet. Don't you think so?
The source is How to Build a Dinosaur: Extinction Doesn't Have to Be Forever by Jack Horner and James Gorman (Dutton, 2009).
What do you think, friends? Please leave a comment below. Thanks! Ingat.
Wednesday, May 2, 2012
Friends, are you feeling there's a "hole" in your artistic life today because for a month you were writing a poem a day? Fear not! Here's a prompt to get you through till bedtime. Try making an erasure poem.
Yesterday, I wrote a post that showed an erasure poem I "wrote" — or, perhaps more properly, "found" — based on a text by fiction writer Erin McReynolds (it's kind of a long story . . . go to yesterday's post for more details).
I also said in that post that I wasn't sure if the piece should be called an "erasure poem" or a "visual found poem" or an "altered-page poem." The name "erasure poem" just seemed to be so focused on removal as opposed to creation, while "altered-page poem" seemed so connected to the mixed-media art of altering books as objets d'art in themselves (see Tom Phillips's website humument.com for a glorious, brilliant example of an altered book, or "treated book," as Phillips calls it). The alternate "visual found poem" seemed most accurate but it's so blah. After some googling and researching, I've settled on "erasure poem" as the most useful term because it focuses on the process more than the product, and erasure as process is the exciting part of this poetic mode.
Okay, then, here are some examples of erasure poems. The top two are from my last NaPoWriMo post, written by my poem-a-day buddy Catherine Pritchard Childress and me using the same source text (an expansion of the McReynolds text . . . even more backstory in that post).
The bottom two are from the doyenne, the queen, the champ, of American erasure poets: the artist and writer carrieola or Carrie Arizona. The pseudonym carrieola is her moniker at the network deviantArt. She used the pseudonym Carrie Arizona in my feature of her erasure poems in the blog; I talk at some length in that feature about this piece, on the left, called "Beautiful Leech."
The piece on the right was featured in a May 2011 art show in Tucson. This piece started out much like the one on the left, an erasure poem altered from a book page, but was then altered or treated further as a collage for the art show.
There are many more beautiful erasure poems in carrieola's deviantArt gallery, such as the georgeous erasure poem titled "The Sea." Many more erasure poems can be seen in her gallery; here is the section of her gallery devoted to poetry (including more traditionally written poems).
So, where's the bleep-bleepin' prompt, you might be saying by now?
Here goes . . . create an erasure poem in the vein, in the mode, of carrieola. (Obviously, the poems above by Catherine and me are very derivative of carrieola's work.) Pick a source text (hints: find something that has interesting words, and pick a text that has a fair amount of leading, i.e., space between lines). In Catherine's and my examples above, you can see that because the lines are tighter together the visual rendition can feel cramped.
Wave Books has created a VERY cool found-poetry generator. This will save you from having to find your own source text, and how the generator works is a LOT of fun. The only thing I don't like about it is that in your finished erasure poem, the erased words and phrases are completely invisible. You also can't make cool visuals like carrieola's. What you could do, though, is use the generator to figure out what the poem will be, then go back and type out the original text and alter it visually. Making the visual artifact is just as much fun as altering the text.
Okay, that's it. Post your completed erasure poem here in a comment below or put it on your own site and leave that web address below. Have FUN!
Comments below, please? Ingat.
P.S. Thanks to j. i. kleinberg, blogger at chocolate is a verb, for telling me about Sue Boynton's excellent resources on found poetry. It's worth combing through this material for great links to all kinds of cool schtuff.
Also, The Found Poetry Review has a collection of prompts you might find helpful.
Tuesday, May 1, 2012
Friends, I've been going through all my NaPoWriMo / Poem-a-Day posts, cleaning up code, inserting a picture or two I had meant to put up but somehow neglected to, like a screencap from Chromapoesy for Day 15, stuff like that, and realized it would be a great idea to provide an index to all the blogs and sites that I featured or referenced during the month. The index would be mainly for my own use as I revisit places where I meant to read NaPoWriMo poems more closely, but of course it would be useful to all of you too. That index appears at the end of this post.
Before the index, though, I'd like to show you another visual found poem — or altered-page poem or erasure poem — I created in January. It's connected to the ones of Catherine and mine posted yesterday because it works with the Erin McReynolds text we've used for prompts before. (See yesterday's explanation.) The occasion for this particular piece was that I had assigned my poetry workshop class the same original exercise and when doing the homework along with the students, I made a visual found poem. Here's that piece. And thanks once more to Erin McReynolds.
Here's the poem text extracted from the paragraph above. That is, the circled words and phrases left over after erasure, concatenated and lineated.
And here's the index to sites and blogs cited during NaPoWriMo.
Poetic Asides (Robert Lee Brewer) • http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/poetic-asides
Hope you enjoyed National Poetry Month and that the blog contributed to that enjoyment. I also hope that, if you visit the blogs and sites noted above, you enjoy their NaPoWriMo poems even more. Comment below, please? Thanks. Ingat.
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