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"Thirteen Blackbirds Looking at You" and Blackbird Bits

A few definitions of poetry, some by famous poets, some by former Uni Creative Writing students.

If there's time in class to write after finishing up the short story workshop, get started on some work for free verse poems, which will be our next assignment. Read "Teaching the Ape to Write Poems" by James Tate, and then write a short poem (15 lines or fewer) that you think the ape might write in the scenario depicted in the poem. Or, write a poem that you imagine Dr. Bluespire might have written in a stolen moment away from his lab work.

Here's some general advice for how to approach a poem while preparing for workshop, and things to consider when offering feedback to the poet.

Instructions for today's Poetry Game.

Prompt for Tuesday, should you need one: Read the poem "Teaching the Ape to Write Poems" by James Tate. Then write the poem the ape writes for Dr. Bluespire (or any poem from the ape's perspective).

"Insomnia & So On" by Malachai Black

According to officials at Graceland, Elvis Presley receives about 100 valentines a year. Write a fictional valentine to Elvis in the form of a poem. Or, write a poetic valentine to any dead celebrity or public figure that you find particularly compelling or obsession-worthy.

The Academy of American Poets has a nice overview of the pantoum form. Here's a link with one possible rhyme and repetition scheme that pantoums can use.

Here's a link to the advice on revising poetry I shared in class, along with the example poem and revision I showed you.

[Future activity on poem revising...]

Today we'll be practicing the fine art of revising a poem by taking a revising pen to one of the two "advice to myself" poems we read, by Louise Erdrich and Thomas Lux. Both of these are good poems that could be even better with a bit of trimming. They could each also become an altogether different and interesting poem with a lot of trimming.

You'll be revising in small groups. I suggest two or three people per group. Form groups based on which poem you're more interested in revising. (If you really want to revise on your own, that's an option, too.) As you revise, your intuition will let you know what you need to cut. Some general editing advice to guide you:

  • Try cutting or revising out any "connective tissue" that can go without sacrificing meaning or power. Articles (a, the, etc.), conjunctions (and, but, yet), prepositions, transitional phrases, any words that don't actually add something concrete to the poem.

  • If it seems like the same thing is being said two or more times, pick the better of the two versions and cut the other(s).

  • If there's repetition that seems not to be serving a good purpose, cut.

  • If you hate an image or a line, cut away!

  • What seems to you the essence of this poem? Try cutting anything that doesn't contribute to that essence.

  • Feel free to add things back in later if you want. But not too many.

Don't be afraid to argue about things to cut, if members of your group disagree on a particular editing choice. But try to come to a consensus. Also feel free to play with the line breaks, the stanza form, or any other formal aspect of the poem.

Here are links to the Erdrich poem and the Lux poem. Have one group member copy them into a googledoc file, then share it with me (my emajerus07 at gmail address). You can either all work together looking at one screen, or you can share the doc among all members and work on different screens. Be sure to list the members of your group in the doc, in either case