Sunday, July 17, 2011

New Picture Poem

Here's another moving picture poem by one of the workshop members:

-Letter to the First Woman in My Life-

Dear Ma,

I hope you remember me
your good ol' son alfred whinaryd
I remember you, you left when I was 7, 30 years ago
My life turned out peachy. I'm just like Pa
smoking 2 packs of 5 stars a day like a smoke signal and drinking my jim
Bean outside like it was never ending on the porch scratching my belly as if to
Claw out my sins.
And just like you and Pa I had a son too, his name's
When I sober up I play ball with him in the yard, and
When he's a good boy I don't just wait till I'm sober--
I play drunk as hell until recently I just use the bat as a
Walkin' stick.
My wife Cassandra, Cass for short is an amazing trail-
blazer of a woman.
She has that outspoken streak in her just like you.
When I'm really drunk I beat her a few times, but when I
sober up from good ol' Jim Bean I'm awful nice.
One thing I wished that happened 30 years ago is that
you should have taken me with you. I could have avoided
Pa and his mean words, who knows who I could have turned out to
be, I'm afraid she might leave me, like you Ma, she's just like you.

New Ode Poem

Another great ode poem by one of the workshop members:

An Ode to My Glasses:

Fugly little brown-rimmed things
Crooked on my face
I only kept you because I wanted a Driver's License
Couldn't find my Tina Feys
Couldn't find my Lisa Loebs
Couldn't find my Palins
So I stuck with you because it was 9 PM
And my mom was cranky
And I didn't want to spend too much on something I didn't want in the first place
But I can't just shoot out hot anger at you
Because of whose touch I get to wear on my face
Because Hulga Hopewell had glasses
So I hope you won't feel too offended that I've put shiny new contacts in your place
Invisible like magic
Quiet and unassuming on my already cluttered face
Can you blame me for wanting to upgrade?
But don't fret
You'll have your day in the sun
Whenever I'm feeling dry
And in need of your polite distance

Monday, July 11, 2011

Memory Poems

Several of the poetry exercises we have worked on during the course of the workshop have centered on memory and the past. In these samples from workshop members, the first poem recalls the feelings that a particular memory invoked, whereas the second is known as a "sliding door" poem, reflecting on how life might have been altered had the poet acted differently.

Locks of Love (Morgan Katz)

I lost 8 inches of hair
This past May.

I donated it to women
Who have cancer
And have lost hair
From the treatment.

I felt a great sense of accomplishment
After my hair was cut off.
I felt as if I
Were as heroic as Superman.

I wanted to help people
Who are less fortunate than I,
For I can not imagine
What it would be like
To have no hair.

What Pain Is (Alison O'Connor)

“You think she’s in pain”, Mr. Gumb said. “You don’t know what pain is. You hurt her and I’ll scald you.”

----Jame “Buffalo Bill” Gumb (The Silence of the Lambs (p. 305)

If I hadn’t drawn Jame Gumb
A serial killer from my novel
I wouldn’t have felt the pain he
Told his victim she didn’t know.
If I hadn’t sketched him in agony
as his victim held his poodle hostage
at the bottom of the well in hopes of escape
If I hadn’t drawn Jame Gumb teary eyed and furious
Making and screaming threats to scald his victim
He wouldn’t have exacted his heated threat on me.

The killer wouldn’t have haunted the Pyrex
Measuring cup I held the next day
Causing it to gravitate away from the boiling
Steaming kettle, splattering water
Scalding my left hand.

If I hadn’t drawn Jame Gumb
He wouldn’t have a reason
Or a toy poodle to scald for.
I would have made myself
Herbal iced tea, would have used
The recipe from the Barefoot Contessa
I secretly claim is my own
Would have sipped the sweet nectar
Instead of forming a potent addiction to coffee

I wouldn’t have felt the cusses and yelps
Bubble over out of my panicked throat
If I hadn’t scalded myself
I would have avoided those blistering
Ice cubes over the searing heat
In the dead of summer afternoon’s
Temperature rising all around the kitchen

I wouldn’t have been driven to the hospital
All the while too nauseated to look at the missing skin
The gaping second degree burn my left hand
Held like a sagging load.
I wouldn’t have been crying to myself
Pleading and hoping a doctor or nurse
Would come and see me, fix things fast.

I wouldn’t have held the debate
In the crowded emergency room
With mom over whether or not
The Shining was a great film.

If I hadn’t scalded myself
My family would have eaten tilapia---
Ted’s dinner choice---Instead of salmon
My parents and brother would have
Munched popcorn as Jack Bauer
Dismantled bombs.

No, we all watched Ordinary People
Turned out the lights
My mom repeatedly sobbing.

Haiku Poems

Here is one Haiku from a member of the workshop:

A warm summer wind
Blows on the beach-
Peace found!

Speed Poems

Here are a couple samples of the "speed poems" we worked on this week by members of the workshop! In these poems, the speed of the activity described is mimicked by the pace of the writing itself through the manipulation of punctuation.

Running Out of Time (Rodrigo Garcia)

The ball is rolled out of bounce to conserve the time, it rolls, the other team notices the ball rolling and dash as line backers blitzing to retrieve the ball and just like that we pick up the ball at our free throw line and launch a pass to our center (10 seconds) surrounding him he throws the ball back in great desperation to keep the ball safe (5 seconds) he stands there for a quick moment noticing the whole entire opposing team dashing to him forgetting about everyone else only concentrating on the ball and he sees the open man on the base line three he launches it across (2.5 seconds) gets the ball and with the quick release time slows down and everyone, sees the shot soar, above them and, enter the basket the coach jumping and it's in the crowd screams with joy we hug our teammates with brotherly love.

Draw Quick (Alison O'Connor)

The song playing is Beautiful World by Eliza Gylkison
I move my pencil slow, softly, making a quick mark on the paper
Sketching the woman, Dawn, out.
The pencil is stiff in my hand.
Brush, back, forth. Erase. Stroke, float across the surface.
The shape of her rounded head, world weary features
Tumbled graying curls is all laid out. Time to get technical.

The song switches to Pop The Trunk by YelaWolf, tempo
Quickens, stabs jabs at the thick paper grow rapid evolve
into reckless beings manic slashings like I'm Jason Voorhees
With my 2H pencil shading back forth scritch scratch till
Darkests dark like pitch black form in the crevices and
Into the wise eyes of Dawn. Too dark.
I need to go back, take, deep, breaths.
Clear the cloudy graphite.

The next song is The Ruler's Back, a Slick Rick tune
With thump. Da thump thumps. Tinklings of piano keys.
I thud my eraser with a satisfying. Clash down, rubbing.
Rub, clash. Erck, thwack. Too light. Bring back the dark.
With the horns, eraser shuffles in an awkward side step.
Roughens notes across the pencil's barbed wire fence.
Made up of sharp, thorny lines. Eraser looks smudged
Like the paper it graced. In cautious beats of swag.
Need a gloomy song to end the piece. I realize, running
My thumb over the Ipod dial
to something depressing.

Lyida by Slaid Cleaves
a country downer closes the curtains
now I want this over with like a
slaughter want my piece wrapped up
in bows and wrappings in 3B 2B lead
lead the way lead the way with the sad
lonely gin soaked melody blaring through
your ears your crazed eyes gleam with insanity
go crazy get muts share there rub rub my thumb
right pointer finger in that spot
where nothing is shaded
cut deep into the pulp of the paper with my pencil.
The song gives way into melancholy lyrics.
Marks give way to toned down blurs.
A claming peace blossons across the paper.
Lines twinkle out into the dark abyss.
I created a woman's face. Finished.
The drawing. Complete. Pencils.
Lyida resumes until the last guitar string
is plucked.

Picture Poems

Here's a sample piece from a workshop member from the "Letters from Germany" exercise in which students created entire characters and personas from a single picture.

Dear families visiting Devil’s Lake, Wisconsin,

Hey, how’s it going, all you sweet little out of towners tucked up nice and cozy in your rented mobile homes and Wal Mart tents who grace Wisconsin’s pristine Devil’s Lake campgrounds. Name’s Jasper Perkins, aged 53 years young. I whittle cheap wood doohickeys that I carve and shape with artisan care to bring you all each good luck and to keep the bad chi away. Well, that and for you to prove to your neighbors back home you spent three days and two nights camping out in Devil’s Lake. But I live here, have lived here for nearly 35 years, and to me, Devil’s Lake is like a harpy wife, I can hate the ass out of her, but I came to her, took up a shack like Ted Kaczynski’s and married this here land.

I was always good with my hands, don’t laugh, but my best marks in school were in Home Ec, and I joined and belonged to the 4-H club since the sixth grade. Boy did that piss off my dad, who wanted his only son to be a rough and rowdy scamp who’d eventually outgrow the hoodlum act and develop into a mature yet macho lawyer, or Government scumbag. I was always a hippie, though I’m a tad too young to have been a flower child. But my parents were about the right age to have been Levittown prudes. They lived the life right to the last, they my sis and I all lived in the community in New York State, and for all I know, my folks still do live in a suburb in New York. Don’t mark me down the wrong way, they were all right; my dad did, after all, tell the best off color limericks, and mom, well, she was a fiend in the kitchen, would’ve kicked Julia Child right in the behind at any stove, you name it. But they despised my moderate-lefty “Devil’s ways”, my love of arts and crafts, obsession with superstition and spirituality and this lust I have for grit. My folks always obsess over squeaky clean.

They were just like that Joe Levitt pictured, imagined for his little boxes made out of ticky tacky like Pete Seger once sang about. Now, I got nothing against nuclear families, or the ‘burbs for that matter. I kissed my first girl, played kickball out on the cul de sac with my lil sis and best buds, learned to ride a two wheeler and my old man handed me the keys to his precious Studebaker. Hell, my lil sis, now 49, lives in a quaint little suburb in Conneticuit with her Actuary husband and their three kids, Rodney, 18, Samantha, 15 and almost ten year old Christine, or “Chris” as she goes by. I Visit from time to time, correspond by snail mail and I respect their life, to each their own, live and let live as my man Paul McCartney once sang. I’m not like that Chris McCandless crackpot, not at all: I’M experienced and rational, competent in my decisions and how I wanted to spend my years.

I also, if you can believe this, don’t begrudge my folks one bit. They were God fearing in their own way, looked out for me, put a roof over my head and food in my belly etceterra. Yet they never once supported me and my passions for weaving at old looms, stitching and sewing. They never read or bothered to look into the spiritual rituals and folklore I’d read religiously since age nine. I always wanted to just take the Studebaker out to the woods somewhere so I could maybe whittle a figurine or two in secret. I’ve been long whittling birds---well, all sorts of critters, but I’m best at birds, specially hawks, and field mice, otters, bears and does. Back when I was 27 and living out of a used RV of my own and looking for work in Kenosha, a park ranger spotted some of my creations out on the dashboard and, as luck would have it, was tight with the Devil’s Lake officials, and offered me a job creating custom made souveniers, heck, he even set me up with my shack. I love it here in the well preserved wilderness; I love how the evergreens and foliage stretch high and seem to nod and vibe under the sun. I’ll often step outside with a cool birch beer (Lived in Wisconsin for nearly 25 years and don’t drink a drop of alcohol, if you can swallow that) and continue working on the ideal dream catcher that’d look real nice drifting in the wind above my front door. For keeping the nightmares away, the howling winds on deathly winter nights and those damned bleeding flashes of bitter sleep when I envision the folks I haven’t seen in near 24 years. During these bouts I can fully envision that one and only time they ever came to see me in my Devil’s Lake quarters. Mom fidgeted real bad like she had to pee, kept adjusting her thick sunglasses and sniffed the air every 5 seconds as if a bear defecated nearby. Dad stated at my creatures like they were omens conjured up by Satan, destined to burn. They begged me to take them to Geneva after one sour hour went dragging by like it was covered in molasses. Dad never did take a seat, though there were more than enough tables and chairs, never sat down to pretend to enjoy his food with the world’s worst acting skills. Dad told me after lunch was served that he and mom were heading out to find a phone to take an important call he was expecting. Dad knew I had a fully operating phone on the coffee table right in front of his face. Dad never took important phone calls while away on trips or visiting family. Dad and mom never came back. Drove in that FREAKING Studebaker and never looked back not once. What’s done is done. You know what? Forget it, I need a dream catcher, that ideal one, sooner than I thought, to keep the negative vibes away. Oh, and I hope all you good minded families with your spouses and kids and decently furnished homes enjoy your stay. And don’t forget to purchase a customized souvenier for the road. (Alison O'Connor)

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Wordplaygrounds: Week Three!

Day One: Today, guest speaker Jim Davis gave a reading of several of his poems, including "Genesis of a Poem", "Summer Storm", and "Day trip to Carl Sandburg's Boyhood Home". Afterwards, the class had a chance to ask him a few questions, leading to a discussion of topics such as how to end a poem and why a poem must always remain "suspicious" of even his or her best lines. Next, the class read a sample from "Letters from Germany", a collection of poems in which the port writes through his father's voice during the war. We attempted a similar exercise-- each member of the class was given a picture of a random person and asked to flesh them out into a character, eventually writing a letter or poem through this imaginary person's voice.

Day Two: On Thursday we focused on the effect of sound and speed in poetry. To kick off the class, we read Paul Simon's song "Changing Opinion". In the lyrics, the "electrical hum" that is the subject of the song is mimicked by the very sound of the words in the poem; words like "hum", "room", and "from" all create a constant "mmmmm" sound just like the hum described in the song. In two groups, we all tried our hands at finding words that sounded like the noises we might hear in a particular place-- for example, the sound of splashing at the pool or the ringing and clicking of a cash register. Next, the class studied the effect of speed on the meaning of a poem. In Dick Lourie's poem "What It's Like Living in Ithaca, New York", for instance, the frenzied pace of a car without breaks speeding down a hill is reflected in the poem, in which pauses such as punctuation are almost completely removed. In the last part of class, we too focused on the pace of our poems, adding or removing punctuation to create a speed similar to that of the activity we were writing about.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Exquisite Corpse

Here's one of the poems created during the "Exquisite Corpse" activity! Each line was written by a different member of the group without any idea what the people before them had written.

In the belly of a killer whale
In the heat of the bell tower
A deep purple smile from the face of gray despair
Money can't buy friends
Remember those ridiculous hats at the royal wedding?
The swim trunks were bright pink and shimmered in the light.
Crafting a masterpiece. Uh-uh-uh. That's right, Mona Lisa.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Some Action Photos from Week Two!

Mr. O'Connor explaining Haiku to the class:

The class hard at work trying to remember the things they've lost:

Wordplaygrounds: Week Two, Day Two!

Today in workshop students shared their Ode poems from the previous session-- then, we started in on an entirely new kind of poem, centering on "Things we've lost". The students were instructed to take a few minutes to make a list of 20 things they had lost, maybe in the past hour, week, year, or even in their lifespan. When everyone shared their lists, we heard everything from the very specific and small (my cellphone, a pencil, a videogame) to the very broad and/or serious (my grandmother, my train of thought, my ignorance of being ignorant). Often, we found that the most powerful lists were not just made up on one catergory or the other, but of a mix of minute specifics and broad concepts. In the second half of class, we tried to pinpoint what exactly makes a Haiku (hint: it's not a 5-7-5 syllable pattern). After we had come up with a few good criteria (it has three lines, involves the 5 senses, usually has to do with nature and the seasons, usually involves two images, and captures an instant in time) the class tried their hands at writing a few haiku of their own, starting with the first line "A summer storm".

Ode Poems

A couple members of the workshop volunteered to share their Ode poems from last Tuesday's class:

Ode to Acting (Isabel Isaacson):

I love the sound
of feet running
across the blackened
wood floor
the quietness when
being precise.
Sharing a moment with
someone I've just met
I love talking to
someone and not
know what they're
saying but
being able to understand them.
I love
touching what's not there
in the open
space just knowing
how to wow every
pair of eyes on me.
I love the creative
license I get when
enter the door
to freedom.
Complete freedom.

Ode to Chuck Norris (Jackson Blitz):

Definition -- beastitude.
Ability -- beast.
Weapon -- his fists.

Destroyer of

Defines infinity
divided by 0.

Movie Star. Many
roles played.

He pushes the Earth
Down doing push-ups.

Macho Man, he should be. His signals
Are impossible to tell.

Around him, everything ends
In death.

Ode to Books (Morgan Katz):

Books are like airplanes
Transferring you
to other worlds
And other lands.

Books are like magic--
The authors' talents with
words are like watching
a magic show.

Picture books are especially good--
They are like watching a movie. The pictures
Allow the reader to see the magic
in their own home.

What would I do without you, books?
How would I be able to experience
Other places and cultures without you?

Books are the magicians of libraries--
They have so many secrets between their
Just waiting to be revealed.

Wordplaygrounds: Week Two, Day One!

The power was back at the Glencoe Public Library, so we held our third session back in familiar territory. On day three we were focusing on describing things in unpredictable or unexpected ways, so our first exercise was an activity called "Exquisite Corpse". Each member of the workshop wrote a single sentence or line on a piece of paper, then folded their paper over so no one could see what they had written. Next, everyone passed their paper to the right, where the next person would write another line on the paper without knowing what the first line had said. Once the papers had made it all the way around the group, we all read our compositions aloud. While they didn't all make sense, we came out with a few strange masterpieces that fit together in an entirely bizarre and enticing way! Next we all took part in an activity dubbed "Superstitious Definitious" by Mr. O'Connor, which one member of a pair would write three questions: (For example, "What is hunger?", "What is war?", or "What is a watermelon?") while the other member would write three answers without knowing what the questions were. The results were at some times hilarious, at others incomprehensible, and occasionally brilliant, answering the question in a way that might never have occurred to us otherwise. For the last activity of the day, the class was introduced to Ode Poems-- though traditionally written to extravagent or beautiful things such as the sun or Helen of Troy, we were asked to write to something much more mundane and common to our daily lives.

Wordplaygrounds: Week One!

Day One: The class met for the first time at the Glencoe Public Library. Our first group creation was a Letter Poem centering on the letter "q", which turned out to look like infinity, a flag, a brown stick (?). Next we created a word chain, a poem centering on free association and bridging the gap between two vastly different ideas. In the last half of class, we used the "title list" method to create poems made up entirely of song, book, or poem titles. Lastly, Mr. O'Connor introduced the class to the "Sliding Door" poem, in which the writer reflects upon what his life or the life of another might have been like had he chosen to act in a different way. While some chose to reflect on the results of large and difficult choices they had made, others focused on much smaller, seemingly unimportant decisions that might, nevertheless, have changed lives.

Day Two: A power outage at the Glencoe Public Library after Tuesday night's big storm meant that class took place at the Glencoe Village Hall instead. The court-like setting, complete with podiums, working microphones, and a semi-circle of raised council chairs for the class to sit in, made it pretty clear that we needed to make some new laws for Glencoe, America, or maybe just the entire world. In lists or poetry, we outlawed rude driving, annoying neighbors, towns without a Starbucks, and the dark, among other things. In the second half of the workshop, workshop members wrote and shared"I Remember" poems, lists in which each line must start with the words "I Remember".