I buy most of my books in bookstores. When I do order a collection of poetry online, I tend to order the cheapest copy available. Not just to be frugal, or to take the most advantage of online shopping, but because many of these books come used, often by students who have filled the margins with notes.
These notes are usually Hella Basic. Which is fine. It might be their first time experiencing poetry. Or they were forced to take this class and have been told to take notes, but have no idea what parts of a poem are important. Or they are experts and their notes are well-researched and fascinating, and drive me to explore more.
The copy of Yusef Komunyakaa's Talking Dirty With Gods that I received was Hella Basic. But without me having to do any editing, they produced a poem I quite like. These are the notes with the linebreaks, punctuation, and capitalization as they appeared in the book. Stanza breaks occur when there are many notes for one poem, although there are some stanzas that represent several poems, which only had one note in them.
A Young Reader's Guide To Yusef Komunyakaa's
Talking Dirty With Gods, As Written By A Young Reader
Judas in the Bible
hanged himself on.
He stands for a betrayer
-a skinning knife
monster made of different parts
God of doors that had 2 heads
formalist - relation to title?
sociological - sum up main points?
river of the dead
consequences of childlike behavior --> (indecipherable)
copy animal's abilities
-King of the gods
off as the victim
-fire center of attention
-large disastrous fire
-used many disgui - bull
Zeus = Jupiter
by wolves & are
the founders of
the city of ROME
-a museum in flame
}we start believing
<strike>he gets aroused</strike>
-act of having weight
to her children
:City of the dead
b/c that's where
all the artifacts
are: The sarcophagi
vials of ash, etc.
-b/c its the
city of angels
wealth, <strike>& business</strike>
-partial shadow <strike>+ an eclipse</strike>
-egyptian god <strike>the end</strike>
of the afterlife/death
-a stone coffin
-a sailor that was always drunk
-A faun-like God
of sheep & flock.
He was <strike>in</strike> linked to
God of <strike>Isis</strike> Thionisis
Also known as the one
that discovered music
[He made people fall
in love (like Cupid)]
- you are in
on it. you're
part of the
-------difficult to define
}He wAs pAn
being moved on
in love affairs.
-touch - sexual
die > obstacle
For her to
to hear her
T: women try to escape
the fate lives they live
---out of the dead
curled milk - sour
action of having sex
-action of having sex
sounds? of sex?
- Americans - open to sex
pain of last love
sin + temptation?
-->demon in the form
of a man (indecipherable) woman
to seduce one in dreams
-not 1st time!
50s & 60s
--inability to move on
doves in chimney
-found in chimney
Sadly, poet John Ashbery died this week. He wasn't a huge influence on me or my writing, but I often enjoyed how he chose to evoke feelings rather than use a traditional narrative.
To celebrate his memory, I read one of his more recent collections, A Worldly Country . Here are twenty prompts based on the first twenty poems from the book.
1. Worldly Country: Imagine a day where complete chaos has run over the world. Not a violent apocalypse, but a day of complete inexplicable weirdness. But just One Day of it. The next day, everything's back to normal. What caused that day? And what happened during it? Will we ever know how it got back to normal?
2. To Be Affronted (directly from the text of the poem): Imagine a movie that is the same/as someone's life, same length, same ratings./Now imagine you are in it, playing the second lead,/a part actually more important than the principals'./How do you judge when it's more than/half over?
3. Streakiness: Imagine that it's not people who prefer to go out in good weather, but weather conditions that prefer to come out only for certain people. What's their criteria? Do clouds have a different agenda than the wind?
4. Feverfew (directly from the text): What if we are all ignorant of all that has happened to us?
5. Opposition To A Memorial: Describe, in detail, the quality of an intangible concept. For example, what would "I can't find my cellphone" look like if it were a house. How would you envision "How am I going to explain this to my mother?"
6. For Now: Forgive yourself for something you did out of ignorance. Still keep yourself accountable, and lay out a way you can, in some way, account for that mistake.
7. Image Problem: If your life was a novel, let's assume it was divided up into chapters. Where does your fist chapter end? Why there?
8. Litanies: Make a short list. A list of days, or seasons, or flavors in a single packet of Skittles. Something manageable. Now decide which of those things is The Best of them, and offer that thing praise, and excuse it any shortcomings it might have.
9. Like A Photograph: Everyone reading this has, at some point tripped, and then carried on as if nothing had happened. If you have mobility issues, maybe your transport very temporarily stopped working. What was your inner-monologue like immediately following the issue? Did any part of your actions or speech betray that monologue?
10. A Kind Of Chill: Even non-human animals must get bored of their jobs from time to time. Narrate a nature documentary of an animal with ennui.
11. One Evening, A Train: Dismiss someone or something from your presence. Let it know, in no uncertain terms that they/it is not only no longer needed, but no longer allowed near you.
12. Mottled Tuesday: Something is about to go horribly wrong at a grocery store or retail establishment. Watch it unfold. Tell us about it.
13. Old Style Plentiful: Passive Aggressive Notes was a popular website about a decade ago. Write an extremely passive aggressive ode to something or someone you like, but which is driving you crazy.
14. Well-Scrubbed Interior: Is there a part of you that you feel is understaffed? Maybe your temper could use more employees, or your heart needs a new manager. Write a want-ad to fill the positions you can afford to fill.
15. Cliffhanger: In all plays, even Hamlet, the scenery/is the best part. Describe the scenery in your favorite play, movie or book. Focus on the scenery. If you can somehow make that tell the story without using any dialog or describing people's actions or motivations, then you are a true professional.
16. The Ecstasy: If history was a single building, what would it look like? Would you want to stay there? For how long?
17. Filigrane: Give an evacuation order for part of your past. Explain how it will benefit from leaving you. If the spirit moves you, give it conditions for the possibility of its return.
18. Ukase: Write a celebration of nature using a thesaurus for at least 1/3rd of the words in the poem. You don't have to slot the frilliest words, just the vocabulary you wouldn't commonly chisel.
19. Casuistry: What would happen if morning didn't come when it was expected? What would come in its place? How would you handle it?
20. Andante Favori: The end of summer can be a depressing time, particularly when you're a kid and have to say goodbye to all of your summer friends (or are summer friends mostly a construct of living in a seasonal economy tourist trap?). Tell us about how the change of a season affected your emotional well being.
My John Ashbery books mostly sit on the shelf, muttering softly to the neighboring books. I think A Worldly Country could tell by the way I lifted it from between its neighbors that its author was dead.
I read through it, maybe for the first time since I bought it. Maybe for the first time ever. I came up with a series of prompts based on the writing. And now, here is a poem that was slated to be a Maggie Nelson interaction. It may also end up being a Maggie Nelson poem , but for now it is definitely a John Ashbery interaction.
2. Burying My Head In The Pillow
The capital of sleep has been walled off
whatever tyrant is currently
wearing the shiniest tiara.
The passengers on the train
that no longer stops
don't even bother
to look up from their crossword puzzle
to reminisce about what isn't
so much lost
as currently unavailable.
is a thirteen letter imaginary
word for the shade of whatever color
you imagine represents the exhaustive
collapse of willpower to try and improve
society. No one has solved it yet.
Even the birds obey
the wall's strict existence.
The trees argue over whether
the sun will even bother to show up tomorrow
since all of mornings checks have bounced this month.
Don't forget your sweater.
Not that you're forgetting things. I'm just saying that
today would be a terrible day to start.
Visual formatting is important to me, so when I first opened Jon Pineda's Little Anodynes, I was skeptical. All of his poems are little gutters of words two inches wide. All of his poems. I was skeptical. The quotes on the back of his book are arranged in two two inch gutters. I was skeptical.
But I like his amuse-bouche style memoirettes. Though the poem they inspired ended up being much longer than his.
A History Of Smoke
The third time your roommate almost burns
down the house
in a grease fire You wake up
to a smoke filled bedroom Worse than onions
rotting on the kitchen counter Inexplicable
spoons buried in the soil of house plants
There is no fire yet
Turn the stove off and douse the pan
obviously before you go to work
smelling like irresponsible
Like the failing restaurateur
desperate for insurance Work all day
with that resin of averted tragedy
clinging to what you will later remember as what used to be
your favorite shirt When you get home
blow out each room
Soak the curtains in perfumed soap
Buy a new filter for the vacuum Mop
every surface in the kitchen until every sponge is kombu
Keep the roommate
Evict the behavior
Try and remember
a brand of cigarette that you both hate
the smell of Say parliaments are your father’s
whiskers left in the sink Newports are
the last roommate who tried to burn
down your house Not with a grease fire
but with candles and grief
and the haunting of a dead mother Grieving
with smoke Cooking
with smoke Everyone you love is charcoal
briquettes Wood chips at the base
of your temper Everyone kindling
camels are tomato flavored
fruit roll ups People forget
tomatoes are fruit Don’t linger on fruit
as an insult Don’t consider yourself
a tomato Don’t imagine
your past as smoke
Say salems are You know what
don’t say salems at all
not because of its proximity to
witches Their burning Their smoke
Don’t say salems
because of course another ex asked you
to buy salems and hide them Openly
gay Closeted smoker Only in emergencies
you were to produce a single salem He already had
a lighter waiting He was a state of constant emergency
You were a telemetry nurse
A cigarette machine Say
you never love the fire just
the aftermath The stench Say cling again
but don’t know for certain if you speak
of the lovers or the smell
Stay up all night trying to understand yourself
Lose your sense of chronology until you can only remember
when you are by the flavor of cigarette wisping or pluming or whatever
word describes the barely visible traces of burning tobacco but fail to
consider the weight left in its tiny wake
Remember the camel lights who lived
in your bed just long enough for you
to quit smoking You hated the smell of camel
lights for a decade
You hated the smell from the moment you met him
You were always a marlboro man
Masculinity dreamed up by an advertising executive
who believed filtered cigarettes were too feminine
The circumcised cock as a cowboy hat Your addiction was
always rock hard They say
you never quit wanting cigarettes
and mostly you think
they’re right After two hours in a dead car
with a stranger who had ruined her life
ruining one of your friend’s life you called the man you stupidly loved
and begged a cigarette for the first time
in ten years The first inhale was like kissing him again
Wrong the moment
your lips parted so you kept them together
for as long as you could
Breathing each other
You made it halfway
through the cigarette before giving him the option of taking it from you
or letting you crush it beneath your shoe
He didn’t want it back
You haven’t wanted a cigarette since
But you buried you face in his pillow
every time he left his bed that you slept in
breathing in everything killing him
as if it was keeping you alive
It was so familiar
The first man you stupidly loved was the same
brand But you were so younger
enough to be happy dying
with each other You couldn’t taste the rot of you
The first day the world turned without him
you slept on the couch with his fucken marlboro
spiced sweatshirt over your face to block out
the unrelenting morning He told you he’d call you
and maybe you’d beach day Or maybe
you’d smoke on the patio
until night wisped You waited by the phone
until you couldn’t decide whether you were angry or sad
And when you found out he decided to die without you
you soaked his sweatshirt with the butane of your grief
An ongoing conversation between writers and the text that they're reading.