8:35 am, Tuesday — Atlanta
Hello all. This will be the last of the dialogue, or conversation poems, to which many of you may be saying: Yes! The reason for spending so long on them, is that I have found, where I never played with conversation in poems before I did these exercises myself, now I do and I find it to be effective when I do use conversation. Think of it as adding dimension.
What I would like to do with today’s post is to give you excerpts from, and the links to, four very different examples of conversation poems. I would like you to choose at least one to use as a model. You can follow the general form or, in the Ai poem for example, pull out the nouns and verbs and replace them with your own, to arrive at a first draft. This is called a copy-change and is a legitimate way to learn a structure.
The first poem is an excerpt from “Conversation,” by Ai:
We smile at each other
and I lean back against the wicker couch.
How does it feel to be dead? I say.
You touch my knees with your blue fingers.
And when you open your mouth,
a ball of yellow light falls to the floor
and burns a hole through it.
Don’t tell me, I say. I don’t want to hear.
Did you ever, you start,
wear a certain kind of dress
and just by accident,
so inconsequential you barely notice it,
your fingers graze that dress
and you hear the sound of a knife cutting paper…
Next, a very different language from what you are probably used to, but also a good example of a dialogue taking place within the poem. Look at how Keats achieves an immediacy, and a tension, in this excerpt from “The Eve of Saint Agnes”:
He startled her; but soon she knew his face,
And grasped his fingers in her palsied hand,
Saying, “Mercy, Porphyro! Get you from this place;
“They are all here to-night, the whole blood-thirsty race!
“Get hence! get hence! there’s dwarfish Hildebrand;
“He had a fever late, and in the fit
“He cursed you and yours, both house and land:
“Then there ’s that old Lord Maurice, not a whit
“More tame for his gray hairs—Alas me! flit!
“Flit like a ghost away.”—“Ah, Gossip dear,
“We’re safe enough; here in this arm-chair sit,
“And tell me how”—“Good Saints! not here, not here;
“Follow me, child, or else these stones will be your bier.”
One of my favourite conversations takes place between a man and his dead best friend in A. E. Houseman’s “Is My Team Ploughing?“:
“Is my team ploughing,
That I was used to drive
And hear the harness jingle
When I was man alive?”
Ay, the horses trample,
The harness jingles now;
No change though you lie under
The land you used to plough.
“Is football playing
Along the river shore,
With lads to chase the leather,
Now I stand up no more?”
Ay, the ball is flying,
The lads play heart and soul;
The goal stands up, the keeper
Stands up to keep the goal.
And, finally, an excerpt from an anonymous Chilean author, “Two Women“:
Written by a working-class Chilean woman in 1973, shortly after Chile’s socialist president, Salvador Allende, was overthrown. This is to be read by two people, one reading the bold-faced type and one reading the regular type.
I am a woman.
I am a woman.
I am a woman born of a woman whose man owned a factory.
I am a woman born of a woman whose man labored in a factory.
I am a woman whose man wore silk suits, who constantly watched his weight.
I am a woman whose man wore tattered clothing, whose heart was constantly strangled by hunger.
I am a woman who watched two babies grow into beautiful children.
I am a woman who watched two babies die because there was no milk.
Do leave a link in the comments if you write a poem. I love to read the results of the exercises. And always feel free to ask questions.
Join me again Thursday for a review of one of the books I use as a staple in my writing, and Friday for the week’s wrapup of prompts and exercises from other blogs. What are we shifting to next Tuesday? Come along and see. Happy writing.