11:00 am, Thursday, 11 November, 2010 – Atlanta
I have spent the last couple of hours lost in pages of ghazals, a form I have long wanted to attempt and long kept at bay. I did the same with pantoums. My brain told me they were too scary. When I finally wrote my first pantoum it became, and remains, my favourite form. I have tried several forms in the last few years, but the ghazal blocks my mind. Not sure why, but I think I am growing closer to attempting one. If you write free verse, while there are many structural aspects you may not be aware of considering, it seems easier than something with a clear structure and set of rules. In fact, rules can make poetry easier to write and if you like puzzles, working out a structure is fun. Along with carrying pen and paper and reading poetry, remember that rules are there to be broken, once you have followed them. Your poem will often dictate a path that breaks whatever structure you are following. Go with the poem.
To wrap up the last two days: I first gave you a list of 15 words, told you to pick 7 and use them in a poem. Some of you liked the seven words I picked from another list and wrote poems with those words. Not a problem. While the whole exercise won’t tie together as neatly, the main point is if you have poems, you’re golden. The next part asked you to describe a particular painting, Brueghel’s Landscape with the Fall of Icarus. Then, taking words, phrases, and images you liked, writing a poem. When I did this exercise, the painting I worked from was Vermeer’s Young Woman with a Water Pitcher. I said yesterday I would show you the poem I wrote in response, but I don’t want to distract from the exercise at hand, so I will push that to tomorrow.
The connection between the 15 words I gave you and the painting is that I picked the words from the poem, “Landscape with the Fall of Icarus,” by William Carlos Williams:
According to Brueghel
when Icarus fell
it was spring
a farmer was ploughing
the whole pageantry
of the year was
the edge of the sea
sweating in the sun
the wings’ wax
off the coast
a splash quite unnoticed
He wrote the poem after the painting by Brueghel, an ekphrastic poem. If you successfully created a poem from the painting, then you have written an ekphrastic poem. Your poem may have stayed on the painting’s focus, or the painting as a form, or gone off a path you found in a detail of the painting. there is no wrong way. The 15 words I pulled from Williams’ poem allowed you to find a poem from a set of words with no context to distract your mind. Writing on the painting and then looking at Williams’ poem allows you to find your own poem in the painting, but also see what another poet has written.
This can be a fun exercise to do with a group, as it gives everyone a chance to read each other’s work. When I did this, we did both the poem from selected words, and the poem from the painting in the space of two hours. I still find it amazing the power of setting a time limit to what you produce. The brain jumps when that happens.