This is the second part of prompts written by Zanne Langlois based on Devon Moore's Apology Of A Girl Who Is Told She Is Going To Hell.
Part One is here.
Devon Moore: Apology of a Girl Who Is Told She Is Going to Hell Part II For the rest of Devon Moore’s collection, I’m going to base these next prompts on themes and patterns, rather than connecting them to specific poems.
The most fundamental theme in the collection is loss. An alternate title poem for her collection could have been “For the Lost.” Many of the poems are like negative space drawings, in which Moore defines the outline of the space a person leaves. In most, but not all of the poems, the lost person is her father. It is in many ways an elegy, but without the pastel shades and blurred edges of the the filter we often apply to the lives of the recently dead. At various places, she refers to the task of the poems as resurrection, taxidermy, and patricide, revealing the complexity of grief over the loss of a parent, particularly a parent who had been missing from their child’s life in crucial ways even when they were alive. Many of the poems walk the line between grief and regret, and show the ways in which the second amplifies the first.
Prompt: Write a negative space poem. Describe the shape of the hole left when a person close to you either died or left. It doesn’t have to be grief-shaped. It could also show what there is space for now that there wasn’t before. Maybe there’s a new appreciation for something, or something you started together has stayed in your life even after the person is gone (as in “Gardening with Gravity”).
Prompt: Find a small item left by someone who has died and imagine it as a sign of their presence. What is it? How and where do you find it? What do you do with it? What do you do because of it?
Another theme is miscommunication and misinterpretation—what we think we are saying vs. what it heard, and vice versa. Some of the poems explore the way kids misinterpret things because of their naivete, while others focus on the miscommunication between adults, especially those in romantic relationships.
Prompt: write a poem in which every line could be interpreted two ways, and those two ways would cause conflict between the people communicating if one was meant but the other was heard. Perhaps have the gap between the two possible meanings be a harbinger of what is to come. Bonus: use a few homonyms to show the nature of a relationship. “Going to Ocean” uses current and currant. Explore the different things two words that sound exactly the same can mean, and explore miscommunication and mismatch through them.
Here it occurs to me that I’ve been focusing almost entirely on content, as opposed to craft or structure. Most of Moore’s poems are written in free verse, with the exception of one villanelle, which I’d read a number of times before I realized it was a villanelle, which made me like it even more. But for the most part, I can’t really identify a structure in the poems. What does come through is a specific voice. The speaker in Moore’s poems often has a slightly breathless sound, like a child who is telling a story they are excited about—run-on sentences, non-sequitors, illogical or overly logical conclusions. As when a child tells a story, all the details get the same level of importance, even if their significance varies greatly.
Prompt: Describe two or three specific emotionally charged moments from your childhood. Your parents announcing their divorce, the arrival of a new sibling, the loss of a relative or a pet. The first time through, describe the event from a place of adult understanding, to capture the bones of the moment. They go back and translate it into the thought patterns / speech patterns of a child at that age. Maybe 6 year-old you is explaining what happened to 30 year-old you. Maybe they are even trying to comfort 30 year-old you with their explanation.
Prompt: Identify someone in your life who has a very distinctive way of speaking, in terms of cadence, diction, sentence structure. Write a poems in their voice, in which you directly address the reader. Think about what filler words do they use between their ideas, how long their sentences tend to be, where they pause, etc. If possible, write about a topic they care about.
Moore’s poems are full of everyday objects that pin the poems to a particular time period— Okinawan saucer, ruby slippers, Nintendo, mandarin orange scented soap, Bouncing Betty, snowglobe, etc. These objects do a lot of the emotional work in the poem, sometimes as talismans, sometimes as symbols, sometimes as props that identify the setting of the poem.
Prompt: List 20 objects that define the first decade of your life, both personally and culturally. Some brand names, some items specific to your family. Items at your relatives houses that you coveted, items in your house you were not allowed to touch, items you touched every day, items that only came out on holidays. Food items, toys, clothing, furniture, etc. Now use at least 10 in a poem. Here are some places to start: 1) Find the time capsule you buried in yourself as a child. Pull out each item and explore the memories it evokes. In what part of your body is each one stored? Maybe it’s an archaeological dig. 2) Create a museum diorama of your childhood. Maybe a series of them. What do the descriptions on the wall next to each exhibit say? 3) Where are these objects now? What happened to them after they disappeared from your life? What disappeared with them?
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.