Thief Of The Interior Part 3: When I lay out a book, I’m making an early 1990s rock album. I don’t mean I’m growing my hair long, mumbling incoherently, and raging against the machine that pays me to rage, I mean I’m trying to make each poem connect directly with both the one that precedes it, and the one that follows. Often the final line or image from a poem is somehow echoed in the title, first line or image of the next poem.
I don’t write them that way. I don’t finish up a poem with “syphilis” and then write a poem about STDs. I find a poem that I wrote two years ago about a relationship that ends with the word “broken”, and follow it up with “The Fix”. It feels like the most honest way for me to create a manuscript. It feels truer than chronology, and tighter than sectioning a book off by themes, as I often get exhausted when an author has twenty pages of poems about the death of their dog, and then fifteen about sex, followed by twenty pages about 9/11. I’d rather read the heartbreaking poem about the dog, a 9/11 poem, a sex poem, and then another poem that includes the dog’s death. I am way more likely to go back and reread a poem that is echoed ten or more pages later than I am to get invested in a whole section about dead dogs. I realize this goes against my previous post about how brilliant Part 2 of Thief Of The Interior, and the work of Patricia Smith are, but those are two high caliber exceptions to a rule. For the most part, I hate themed collections. The Father is my least favorite Sharon Olds collection, even though I love her poems about family in Satan Says, The Gold Cell, and The Dead And The Living.
I acknowledge that arranging a book for my reading pleasure instead of traditional organizing methods means I am assembling the manuscript For Me. Making it easier for me to contextualize than a reader who might want all of my dead dog poems in the same space. I think, if we are honest, we always write and assemble our books for ourselves. We're just glad when we find that there others who appreciate how our brain chemistry functions.
The third section of Williams’s Thief In The Interior is a masterpiece of ‘90s albuming, with each final line /image feeding directly into the following poem.
In many ways, this is how a successful suite is written. It’s not the only way to write a suite, but I think it makes the process simpler. Writing five poems on a specific theme can be challenging. So why not write one poem on any topic you like. When the poem is complete, look at the last line. Is that a good starting point or inciting image for another poem. It can be thematically related, or it can have the tethering image/line be The Only Connection between them.
Write a five poem suite using the final lines and opening lines as connective threads. Bonus points if you can get the last line of the last poem to echo the first line of the first poem.
Examples from Williams’s Thief In The Interior Part 3:
Who could turn their backs to them and survive connects to I was told I could turn my back to them
We offer to pay. She says “No. Tell him.” connects to No, tell him--
to enter, turn the knob though the knob will burn connects to I go to turn the knob of a burning skull
under skin, over thought, in the tremble of my hand connects to Hands trembling, they wash their bodies
and from which the shade of “resist, don’t” can be found. Connects to “Resist, don’t”: the difference between what one thinks
Part II: Witness: Everyone has a news event that hits them hard. Maybe something that happened close to somewhere you feel home, or maybe a tragedy happened to someone who reminds you of yourself or someone you love. This can be a story you’ve already written about more than you planned, or one you’ve been afraid to write about. Write a poem in any style you choose and write until you have written as much as you can from that angle. Now write it again from a different angle. Keep going until you cannot possibly think of another angle to write from.
This is not a one-day exercise, this can take weeks, months, or years.
How long does it take a city to discover/Grief is a knife.
You cannot love a god/that you fear.
The second section of Williams's Thief Of The Interior is a series of connected poems about the death of Rashawn Brazell. A factual reporting, a poem in the voice of the duffel bag where Brazell's body parts were found, a letter to Rashawn's mother. Williams interacts with the story from an array of angles. It reminded me both of Patricia Smith's Blood Dazzler and the section of her more recent collection, Incendiary Art, that deals with fathers who drown their daughters.
These long form odes to the dead, intertwined with news stories to explain the unpoetic horror that inspired the poems, are emotionally draining in the most necessary ways.
These poems are difficult feats. No one trying to do the above exercise should feel failure or disappointment in not ending up with a long form poem like Williams's or Smith's. If you end up with one short poem or even one good line that you wouldn't have come up with if you hadn't tried to interact with the story from a multitude of angles, then you have succeeded.
For today's interaction, a series of prompts inspired by the first section of Phillip B. William's Thief In The Interior, a book which I picked up purely because it had cover art by one of my favorite artists: James Jean, but which has become one of my favorite collections of poetry. Williams messes with forms in truly inspired ways while still making great, accessible poems.
I'm not sure, yet, if this would be the first book I'd present to a Poetry 101 class, but it would definitely be one I taught early in the semester to get people into enjoying poetry, and would reference frequently near the end of the semester when I tried to inspire final projects.
Bound: Write a poem with your vernacular: how you, personally, speak. Don’t try and model your speech after a movie, or a writer you like, or how you imagine other people hear you, use your own unfettered grammar, without stylizing spelling. Allow yourself to interrupt yourself, make an incomplete thought if you would make an incomplete statement in conversation. The subject can be anything you care about or would talk about with friends, or it could be you trying to explain yourself to someone who communicates differently.
Can I be only one thing at once? Embrace your own dichotomy, and your inherent contradictions. This is not a Who I Want To Be/Who I Really Am exercise. This is a Who I Am Sometimes Clashes With Who I Am exercise. How do you balance your own opposing desires or actions? Do you?
Black Witch Moth: When most people approach nature poems, they merely report what’s around them. Many of us have seen wind through grass, water streaming over rocks, a fucken flower growing between cracks in a fucken sidewalk. So what? Write about something visual in your environment (which does not have to be a pretty lake, or a graveyard, or some distant mountain range) and explain why we should give a fuck about it. You don’t have to say “There is a graffiti mural on this wall that I love. Here is why.” You can point out the mural and write about something else in your life, or in the news that you relate to the mural. Maybe the flower growing through rocks inspires other writers to consider how something beautiful can grow in an unexpected place, but to you, it evokes a feeling of despair that there aren’t any other flowers around to hang out with, and it seems as though it will be inevitably crushed.
Let the earth take in the boy as it with the bull.
Ignus Fatuus: Write a poem about the way you love, without mentioning a specific person you love. Specific bitterness or fond individual memories have no place in this poem. It’s not who you love, it’s how you love. If it has gone right for you, how did you learn to allow it to go right? If it hasn’t yet gone right for you, how does it always seem to go wrong. Don’t blame the other person (even if it’s totally their fault), find a behavior or recurring action of yours that plays a part in things going right or wrong for you. This about the way you love, not the way others are loved by you.
Imitate the varied stars that/have failed to guide us; now imitate everything/beneath the stars
First Words: What deliberately dangerous thing have you done in your life? Nothing as abstract as “loving someone imperfect” or “being real with the people I love”, we’re talking skydiving into crocodile-infested waters, putting a fork in an electrical socket. Something that gets the adrenaline pumping that has a reasonable chance of serious physical injury or death. Why did you do it?
thunder’s umbrage: using as few words as possible, personify the weather in a way you haven’t encountered before
Then As Proof The Land: For me, the word spiders actually means good luck to me. I don’t mean that when someone goes on a journey, I wish them spiders (though I may start doing that), I mean that when I talk about spiders, I am not talking about fear or entrapment, which some people associate with them, I am talking about how, usually, when I notice spiders in unusual places, something positive then happens in my life. So I might use the verb spiders instead of portend. What image or word means something particular to you that isn’t inherent in its definition?
Because when I write “tree” I mean fire/of autumn.
Inhertance: Spinning Noose Clears Its Throat: Write a poem where the first word is also the last word. Make sure it is a thematically necessary word to your poem.
I am leery of shape poems. It is very rare that they transcend their gimmick. Phillip B William’s example here far transcends gimmick. If you can, write a shape poem that will convince me that Williams isn’t the only genius to ever pull this off.
As far as I’m concerned, freedom/Desires no promise. Simply feet, strange horizons.
Vision In Which The Final Blackbird Disappears: When a person dies or becomes victim of major trauma, people who know that person often seek to validate the person’s existence by saying things like she was so smart, she could have been a doctor or he had such a great heart, he would have made a wonderful teacher without taking into account that the person probably didn’t want to be either of those things. So often, we speak about people we don’t know as well as we imagine. Have you ever heard someone talk about your desires or ability in ways that make you uncomfortable? Using third person, explain the difference between the person they have made you out to be and the person you feel you are.
his hands a chorus of heat and recoil
Inheritance: The Force Of Aperture: Using a photograph, audio, or video as a starting point, explain how your country of birth is dangerous to you.
Did aesthetes go blind when the myths looked back?
God As Failed Figuration: Portray a single image in a poem. Let this one moment in time signify an important belief you have. Keep the poem as short as possible.
Inheritance: Anthem: Take a story that’s important to you. A specific memory. Write two poems: one with lot of imagery, word-play, and metaphor; the other a straight-forward account of what happened to you using no hyperbole or poetic devices.
Myth does not/radiate from the target,/rather the target calls/myth to its core
Sonnet With A Cut Wrist And Flies: Deconstruct a poetic form. Make it your own.
from which all darkness was made legible
A Spray Of Feathers, Black: This poem is a sonnet, a terza-rima, and an anagram because Phillip B Williams doesn’t fuck around when he writes in form. Blend (don’t Frankenstein, blend) two or more poetic forms into your own creation.
Look how a lilt of dust is built to serve/sits on the lips like a song with no verse
Prayer: Everybody wants prayer to heal the sick, help feed their greedy desires, enact vengeance. Maaaaaan, ain’t no god got time for all those boring prayers. Prayer for something specifically yours. A series of things you don’t think anybody else has thought to ask for. If there is a god answering prayers, make them laugh enough to consider granting your creative requests.
Help me distinguish between approaching blizzard/and his breath against my ear
Misericorde: Bees and I have an arrangement. I don’t fuck with them, they don’t fuck with me. Any time a bee or hornet or wasp shows up in my writing it’s signifying danger. Unlike the spiders mentioned earlier, this is not an unusual association to have with the sharp little bastards. The title of this poem refers to “a long, narrow sword used in medieval times to deliver the death stroke to a seriously wounded knight.” Bees won’t kill me (I hope!) but the comparison between the bee stinger and the misericorde fascinates me, and I wouldn’t have made the connection if I didn’t Google the poem’s title. Go ahead and embrace a trope-ic image in your poem but pair it with a piece of trivia not widely known.
A sweet burn nets the room
An ongoing conversation between writers and the text that they're reading.