Zanne Langlois is a teacher, a poet, a former Champion of Champions at The Cantab Lounge. I'm super excited that she's joined in on the project. Here is the first part of her list of prompts based on Devon Moore's Apology Of A Girl Who Is Told She Is Going To Hell.
The audience I am mostly thinking of is high school students who think they hate poetry, but I think Devon Moore would be just as effective for an adult who is sure they hate poetry. I’d choose this collection because it speaks the innocent morbid tongue of children—the one we were all fluent in until the age of eight, when we traded it for the far less useful language of adults, which is, of course, why we think we hate poetry. In addition, her language is not-too-in-love-with-itself, which is refreshing, and removes one of the barriers to the traditional canon: the “you must be this tall to go on this ride” sign, something adults erect to keep you from the fun. Moore does not make us hand over an ID to gain entrance to her poems.
Just scanning the table of contents brings to mind the half-logic of a child describing their dreams: “Inside the House with the Upside Down V Shaped Roof” and “The Caged Girl Wishes that the Man in the Volcano was Free Like Her.”
I’m going to go through the collection chronologically, because of course I am.
“Red”: At first it seems like the mother in the poem is in danger (or perhaps beyond danger, depending on how you look at it.) She is “a body of a woman on a beach,” but it turns out the speaker (a child) is the one in danger. Write a piece where our extreme concern for one character is abruptly transferred onto another. You could also write a poem in which you imagine one of your parents as a young person, before whatever happened happened.
If you need help identifying a thing that happened, think of a naive mistake we only make once, but never quite get over. In Moore’s poem, it is the bleaching of a favorite dress, a dress that made her mother feel beautiful.
“Remembering Why I Wanted to be Human”: The first line of the second stanza is a great first step down a strange road—”I never told you about when…” You could just run with that, or if you need a little more direction, imagine your child-self (the you you were before whatever happened happened) visiting a psychic. What might they have said about your future? Write the fortune in the cryptic, image-driven way a psychic might speak, but have it accurately predict what happened. The psychic in Moore’s poem says “star child, you have many exits.”
“For Knives, Bridges, and Balconies”: Ask a series of questions and give surreal answers, kind of like riddles. From the poem: “Question: What couldn’t you help but do in a room where one wall / is a window? Answer: See all the other rooms you’re not in.”
Make a list of all your ex-lovers, then describe each one in a single image that captures the essence of the relationship and / or what went wrong. From the poem: “the back of your soon-to-be-ex-lover was a ledge. You are still backing away.”
“Inside the House with the Upside Down V-shaped Roof”: I think I’ve yet to find the door to this poem, but I’m enjoying walking around the outside of it, peeking in the windows. So, list the things you are keeping, as slightly surreal or cryptic images: “Hands stained purple with onions, a mustard seed hanging about a neck”
A Word a Person Couldn’t Know”: Like the title suggests, describe something you experienced as a child, before you had a word for it. Use images from childhood to capture the emotions. Ruby slippers, things a child can understand the physics of, like why what is under an umbrella is a different color from what is not.
“The Caged Girl Wishes that the Man in the Volcano Was Free like Her”: This takes place in a carnival. That alone should take you all sorts of creepy places. You are a five-year-old with way too much empathy to be safe here. Go ahead, walk around. Lose your parents.
Catalogue every wish for the coins in the bottom of a wishing well or fountain or anyplace people try to exchange their spare change for something you can’t buy. No need to provide context for the wishes.
“Exhibit”: Become an item stored in the archives of museum, but not on display. Also, become an item displayed, but not really seen. Also, read this poem. It’s so good.
“Anti-Sonnet”: Take a mythological creature: Sasquach, the Lochness Monster, Elvis—what might be a logical explanation for the sightings? “The chupacabra may just be a coyote with a demodectic mange / killing goats in Texas” Why do we need them to be something else?
“Swans and Geese”: Go back to the list of exes. Turn the explanation they (or you) gave for ending things into some kind of metaphorical image that avoids euphamism. “Your happiness [...] / was a mirror that reflected back to me / my own absense, so I wanted to break it. No that is not / what he said, but what was meant. What he really said was space, / there is a need for space”
Ok. That brings me up to page 17 of 78 amazing pages. And it also brings me up to bed time. TBC...
An ongoing conversation between writers and the text that they're reading.