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Wednesday, June 9, 2010


For Big Tent Poetry

This week’s prompt
Emotion is in our poetry – on some level, be it evocative or exploratory, empathetic or explosive.
This week’s prompt is about anger. Maybe something or someone has pissed you off recently – someone you know or someone you don’t. Maybe it’s personal; maybe it’s philosophical. Maybe something in the Gulf of Mexico has you seething and frustrated. Maybe there are old hurts that still sting.
We want to explore that anger this week, but we want to do it in a controlled way. We want to focus our anger. While using emotion in our work can be fantastic, sometimes our poems can become overwrought unless we handle heat deftly. Sometimes the poem is more rant than revelation, or a lecture instead of a lesson or metaphor. Although that may be satisfying on a cathartic level, we might not get as much out of our poem as we could have had we focused that emotion and used it like a tool.
I read
Bill Moyer’s Fooling with Words recently. His interview with Shirley Geok-Lin Lim was striking. Lim said she used the strictest form structure she could think of to “control her anger,” in this case anger directed at the Chinese one-child policy that resulted in female infanticide. Out of her focused anger she wrote “Pantoun for Chinese Women.”
This week why don’t you try doing what Lim did? Use repetition, in the form of a pantoum, to focus your anger in the unique voice of poetry.
Pantoums aren’t as scary as one might think. You don’t have to rhyme or use meter (although poets did when the form was first created).
The modern pantoum is a poem of any length, composed of four-line stanzas in which the second and fourth lines of each stanza serve as the first and third lines of the next stanza. The last line of a pantoum is often the same as the first.
Read Lim’s poem as an example, or look through the many samples linked at About.com. The Poetry Foundation has a couple of pantoums as does Read Write Poem. Spend a little time thinking about the form – and your anger – and see where it takes you.
The resultant poem does not be polished. Think of it as an exercise, a draft, an experiment in anger management that might create something powerful. Come back Friday and let us know how it went. (And if this exercise doesn’t grab you — try some other means to focus your anger in a poem.)
(If you need a book recommendation, I can happily point you to Moyer’s. Lot’s of great poetry and explanation, via Moyer’s interviews, about how a broad range of talented poets go at their work.)


Don’t tell me I’m over-reacting.
I’ll give you thirty two good reasons;
Better still, thirty two good hidings
One for each stitch the physician sewed.

I’ll give you thirty two good reasons
- Lessons in responsibility
One for each stitch the physician sewed -
Why my reaction is justified.

Lessons in responsibility;
Barely adequate compensation.
While my reaction is justified,
There’s still an outstanding bill to pay.

Barely adequate compensation
To show me the money; call it quits.
There’s still an outstanding bill to pay,
Although cash sounds reasonable… just.

Show me the money; we’ll call it quits?
I’d like to take my own pound of flesh,
Although cash sounds reasonable. Just
Don’t tell me I’m over-reacting.

I’d like to take my own pound of flesh.
Today, dark clouds dominate.
Don’t tell me I’m over-reacting;
Precipitation likely.

Today, dark clouds dominate;
Low pressure system develops;
Precipitation likely.
Long-term forecast, more promising.

Low pressure system develops.
Overcast conditions apply.
Long-term forecast, more promising;
Horizon coming into view.

Overcast conditions apply.
Sunny intervals later;
Horizon coming into view.
Perspective adjustment follows.

Sunny intervals later.
Tomorrow, a clear blue sky.
Perspective adjustment follows.
Today, dark clouds dominate.

Tomorrow, a clear blue sky;
The calm comes after the storm.
Today, dark clouds dominate.
Don’t tell me I’m over-reacting.