Poetry and 52 Cards

In On Poetry Glyn Maxwell gives a writing exercise where you draw from a deck of cards. Each suit prompts a social situation; each value prompts a setting. Draw a card. Write a stanza. Repeat. Or not.

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Memorizing Mandelshtam

Re-reading Glyn Maxwell’s On Poetry, I took special note of this following passage, which appears just before a section break.

A memorized poem can be passed to you intact. I think this makes the written poem unique, in terms of our relationship with its materials—by which I mean the black (something there) and the white (nothing there). The Stalin regime could destroy Osip Mandelstam, but not the poems his widow Nadezhda had learned by heart. That’s something and nothing showing their true colors.

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Casaubon’s Incredulity and Negative Capability

I first made note of this passage of Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum in 2005. The narrator is Casaubon.

I believe that what we become depends on what our fathers teach us at odd moments, when they aren’t trying to teach us. We are formed by little scraps of wisdom. When I was ten, I asked my parents to subscribe to a weekly magazine that was publishing comic-strip versions of the great classics of literature. My father, not because he was stingy, but because he was suspicious of comic strips, tried to beg off. “The purpose of this magazine,” I pontificated, quoting the ad, “is to educate the reader in an entertaining way.” “The purpose of your magazine,” my father replied without looking up from his paper, “is the purpose of every magazine: to sell as many copies as it can.”

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Poetic Urges

I’m filled with this longing—again—to be taken up with writing and reading poetry. It will pass, a momentary urge. But where does this urge come from? To be known? Who knows poets but other poets? And it seems unlikely that I’d find publication when I haven’t put the time in. I haven’t read, I haven’t written in years. But that can all change. And let’s say I stop chasing an ideal and just start working at it. What might that get me?

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Exercises from On Poetry

It’s been quite a few years since I last spent time on poetry. For whatever reason I seem to go through cycles where I read and write none of it, and then it comes back like some kind of need. So, I’m re-reading Glyn Maxwell’s On Poetry and doing some of the exercises this time. The exercises for the first chapter involve taking a number of blank pages and pretending certain things about them. What follows are my just-spit-it-out first draft attempts. Just getting the juices flowing again.

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For Anastasia

for Anastasia

I was wrong to ever try to teach you;

The things I want for you cannot be learned:

Swallow sun and dance upon the waters—

Swallow moon and skip stars across the sky.

—November 15, 2012

On Playful Seriousness

I remember my father reading to me. He made the stories into a spectacle of elaborate, silly voices. That spectacle became ingrained in me, and goes with me into the daylight spaces of my own adult life. This childlike play acting, the art of verbal exaggeration and caricature, has perhaps been my only salvation from an unbearably melancholy disposition. My father taught me many things, but the unintentional lessons have been the most cherished.

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