When I first conceived of the interaction projects, I asked people to recommend their favorite collections of poetry. I got some great suggestions. But I also wandered around the bookstores and libraries in Cambridge and checked out Employee Recommendation shelves. It was on one of these shelves that I saw Gregory Pardlo's Digest. I read a few pages, I bought it, I went back to work, I finished my shift, I stayed at work until I finished reading the book. I reread a few poems on the bus ride home. I too pictures of a couple of poems and texted them to a friend who was looking for new poetry collections to read. He called me. We talked about the book for an hour. I hadn't had that particular response to a poetry collection in probably years.
Rereading the first half of the book this morning, it still engages me in a way many books do not. I'm going to try and do some of these prompts, based on his poems, myself in the near future.
Written By Himself: Pardlo repeats “I was born” statements that all expose the different parts of his humanity. None of them contradict each other. He does not ever change the place or circumstances of where he was born in such a way that his mythology changes. For example, he talks about being born “in a roadside kitchen skillet” and, later, “across the river”, never saying whether the roadside kitchen skillet is in a kitchen across the river. They might be the same place. They might not. This is one of the parts of mythology that I enjoy, that many people avoid when creating myth. Mystery. Referring to events using specific images or plot points, but not pinning events down to a specific location, or describing the physical attributes of the characters in such a way that two readers are likely to have the same image of the character in their heads. Create your own mythology of self that uses metaphor and hyperbole to describe who you think you are/have been, but try to avoid anything resembling a fact, or giving physical characteristics.
Marginalia: Find a sectioned document (a guide, a political document, legal papers, etc.) that’s important to you. Maybe it supports something you believe in. Maybe it’s something you’ve fought against your whole life. Maybe it’s a self-help guide that is so inaccurate for you that it makes you laugh when you are depressed. Write a poem for each section of the document. It’s okay to change styles/narrators/opinions/form between sections. Lead the readers on a journey that will make them want to see the document for themselves.
Attachment Atlantic City Pimp: Taxonomize a profession or enthusiast that you have close knowledge of. Get very specific about how you see the traits of your subject. It’s important that this is a type of person you have expertise in, as you don’t want to resort to stereotypes, though you can refer to the stereotype existing and comment on how accurate they are.
For an extra challenge, taxonomize a profession or enthusiast through the lens of a friend, family member, or existing fictional/historical character that you are also very familiar with.
Corrective Lenses : Creative Reading And (Recon)textual/ization: Write a field guide for how you read books. What goes into your selection process? Do you choose books by writers, genre, friends recommendations, bestseller lists, cover art? Do you buy books blind, or do you read a bit in the store/library/online before committing to buying it? How far into a book must you delve before giving up? What would make you give up on a book? What traits would make you recommend a book to other people? Do you make across-the-board recommendations, or do you always tailor your suggestions to specific people? Do you take notes? Highlight? Dog-ear pages? Where do you read? Have you ever been in a book club? How did you enjoy reading assigned work in school? Does what type of book you read depend on your mood?
Four Improvisations On Ursa Corregidora: Research a relationship that’s important to you. It can be two celebrities, it can be family members, it can be the relationship between a movie and its audience, anything you are fascinated by. Now create four blank sonnets (fourteen line poems with roughly the same syllable count per line…but don’t freak out about iambics or how many feet are in each line) about the relationship. They should all be from the same character’s perspective, and about the same incident. But they should tell us different things about both the speaker and the subject. For example, if you were to wright Four Improvisations on Ike Turner, you might write about the day Tina Turner finally left him. Part one might be her take on the actual day she left him. Part two might be her looking back on the day she left him from the day she released her first solo work. Part three might be watching the day she left him as depicted in the movie What’s Love Got To Do With It. And maybe part four would be looking back on the day she finally retires. The first phrase in each sonnet, and the final word in each sonnet, should be the same. Also, seed each poem with five specific words/images that appear in all four parts.
Copyright: Tel the story of a historical even from four different characters’ perspectives. It’s ok if all of them have similar views on the event. The purpose of this exercise is not to show that the event means different things to different people, it’s to work on establishing unique narrative voices. For example, if you write about four Patriot’s fans reactions to Super Bowl LI, they all probably loved it. They were all probably incredibly nervous. Maybe one of them is religious and talks about praying during the game. One is very hyperbolic and uses a lot of cliché phraseology. One promised herself that if the Patriots won, she would propose to her partner. And one came from Atlanta and had been bullied by Falcon fans while he lived there. It’s your universe, make all four narrators as specific as possible, and have them employ memorably different language in each of their sections. Bonus points if you can incude one distinct phrase in all four parts.
Renaissance Man: Write a poem heavy with description. It can be of a person, place, or event. Use as much assonance, dissonance, alliteration, and consonance as possible.
Shades Of Green: Envy And Enmity In The American Cultural Imaginary: Write a dry, academic description of a movie or book that you love. Drain all the humanity from it. Use sociological language. Try to invoke passion for the movie/book in your readers without displaying any passion in the text. Let it be clear from how well you know this subject, that the passion was in the watching and the researching.
Copenhagen, 1991: The start of a good love story or buddy comedy is a specific inciting incident. Something amazing should have happened when they first met. Write about a first date, or first time hanging out with someone that is filled with specific images and lines of conversation that make it clear that the two characters are destined to be involved with each other’s life for an extended period (it can be forever, it can be years, it can be for two weeks of summer camp). Never use the word love or friend. Never discuss how they look at each other or other common signifiers about people caring. Let their dialog and the images do that for you.
Ghosts In The Machine: Synergy And The Dialogic System: What does the number zero mean to you?
Palling Around: Write about a text, e-mail, phone call, letter, or conversation that you regret having. Something that forever changed your relationship with a person. Don’t discuss hat changes occurred, or what your relationship was like before. Focus on the actual message you regret. Whether you were worried you were fucking up as you made/sent it, whether it didn’t occur to you until just after it went out, or whether it wasn’t until much later that you figured out your mistake.
Raisin: Discuss a time you took someone you care about to a play, a movie, a poetry slam, a concert, some cultural event you love. What was your purpose in taking them there? Did they enjoy it? Did it change the way you interacted going forward?
Philadelphia, Negro: Write about a time someone you cared about took you to an event that was out of your experience zone. Something you didn’t imagine you’d be at all interested in. Did you become interested? Instead of focusing on your relationship with the person who brought you, discuss how it altered your perception of the thing they exposed you to.
An ongoing conversation between writers and the text that they're reading.