Reverie Twenty-Four: OBEY

The throat ailment continues to improve. I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop, but for now I’m going to assume that things will continue to get better. And I had wanted to post this earlier, but I’m doing a bartender certification this weekend, so that ate up the majority of the day. Enough bellyaching, though! Let’s get on with the prompt.

This week: “OBEY

If you’re not familiar with Shepard Fairey, you should be. He’s a graphic designer/visual artist who create the above image (a stencil of André the Giant), and the Barack Obama Warhol-3-D-glasses-esque “HOPE” poster, among other works. But it’s the OBEY giant I want to focus on. The original (and, in particular subcultures, more well-known) piece was a sticker used as graffiti, with the following: “ANDRE the Giant has a POSSE; 7’4″, 520 LB”. You can read more about it on Wikipedia. There’s been parodies and spinoffs and legal troubles surrounding this thing for 20 years now, but it (and the abbreviated OBEY version) remain an integral part (in my opinion) of late 80s/early 90s art.

I saw someone with the sticker earlier today, which was the inspiration for this prompt. You’re going to be writing about your posse, more or less. Have you ever noticed that first-person plural poems are comparatively rare in the writing world? First-person singular are probably the most common; second-person singular probably the second-most. Third-person singular and plural are also fairly well-represented; second-person plural, maybe less so. But not so many “we” poems, and those that are, often have to do with family, relationships, or other loved ones. This time, “we” is going to signify the posse.

Here’s how it’s going to work: it’s a recipe in several steps.

First, you have to populate the group. Think of at least three close friends (not family, not coworkers, not romantic relationship people) that you’d like to include (and don’t worry, we won’t necessarily be using them by name; you can change the names if you want). Write down a few pertinent qualities about them. Try to include some descriptor about their build: “tall”, “frail”, “petite”, “stocky”, etc. to honor the original descriptor. And be sure to include yourself! Then, you’re going to add a few imagined elements: maybe Hollywood actors, or deceased kings, or fictional heroines. Again, try to pick three, and give some description.

Now, look at your list and think about what you have in common, as well as what’s different between you. Rather than think of yourselves as a group of friends, think of yourselves as a gang: what mischief might you all go get up to together? Who would be the ringleader? Who would be the voice of reason trying to rein things in a little bit? Who would be the blind follower? Maybe you chose three friends who all like pink and three fashion designers from history: would you steal downtown in the middle of the night and paint the town rose under cover of darkness?

We zigzagged Main and Elm with Charlie Brown stripes
of lipstick color and cheekbone color, dipping brushes in buckets;
revising the cars and the post boxes; giving it all
some wildflower panache. 

Use a criminal act as an opportunity to stretch your language a bit, however ridiculous and improbable the act may be. (Get humorous if you want.) But — and here’s the grammatical thing coming back again — use we as your descriptor as much as possible. Bring in the physical descriptions of your posse indirectly, but give them first-person-plural sensibility. Say “we hoisted each other onto shoulders and leaped up to fire escapes” even if only one of you could ever hope to lift another, and only one could ever hope to leap anything. Give that posse a sort of herd mentality where the actions of the individual are owned by everyone. And have fun with it! A posse is no good if you’re not enjoying yourself.

I’ll use this opportunity to introduce a poem that might be the most famous example of one of these posse poems, Gwendolyn Brooks’, “We Real Cool”:


We real cool. We
Left school. We

Lurk late. We
Strike straight. We

Sing sin. We
Thin gin. We

Jazz June. We
Die soon.

I don’t think Brooks herself was one of these live-fast-die-hard pool player types herself, but she was able to project into that state of mind and imagine some trouble that crowd might get up to. (Of course, it’s rather abbreviated, in that Brooksian way.) It’s up to you how much detail you want to give us. You can name particular people in your posse, or not; you can build them all visually, or just allude to their features; you can suggest and create impressions, or you can do a solid, word-by-word narrative. But let your hair down and cut loose a bit. Be the leader of the pack.

And for those who want a little more of a challenge, try to allude to (fictional or otherwise) past events between you and other members of your posse:

We stole a bucket from down by the river, the mud flats
where Mary took us on a hot August night
to brew up mugwort and play hopscotch on the old pier:
we carried it up with us
and filled up behind Tommy J.’s house, big old plantation
where we tried to tell ourselves how bad we were, but it
ended up tasting like honey in our mouths.

I like how Thomas Jefferson got in there. I didn’t expect that. Anyway, that’s the kind of thing I’m trying to get across here. These are going to be long poems, so if you normally write short, try to increase the length this time around; get a narrative going, or maybe a short poem series if you want. And then come back and show off what your posse is capable of. See if you can outfox and out-embellish each other on the poetic field! And we’ll see how that goes.

8 thoughts on “Reverie Twenty-Four: OBEY

  1. […] for burdening you with three posts on top of each other, but this week’s Reverie over at Joseph Harker’s place actually inspired me. After a fallow stretch where every word has had to be painfully squeezed out […]

  2. vivinfrance says:

    Inspiring or what? For once I haven’t taken a week to respond to your reverie!

    I’m glad you’re feeling better.

  3. […] was written from Joseph Harker’s Reverie prompt. Share this:TwitterFacebookEmailLike this:LikeBe the first to like this. This entry was posted in […]

  4. This was fun Joseph. I may go back and play some more with the images at a later date, but it was fun to weave an imaginary posse story.

  5. […] Harker gives us Reverie Twenty-Four: OBEY. Whom? you ask. You will have to wander over to find out, but are Joseph’s exercises ever not […]

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