“If one is lucky, a solitary fantasy can totally transform a million realities.”
~ Maya Angelou, African-American biographer and poet
I don’t agree with Eliot that April is the cruelest month, exactly, but it certainly is one of the most frustrating. This morning I took a look at the Waste Land for the first time in a while; I haven’t deeply read/analyzed it since senior year English. Probably this has been said to death, but the “cruelty” seems to me to be the we are forced to transition between two opposites that we love for different reasons (winter for its paradoxically warm, “forgetful” “Memory”, and summer that surprises, and is full of conversation). In between, we miss what we had, and what we’ll then admire hasn’t yet arrived; so we’re stuck in this limbo of back-and-forth heat/cold, hibernation/exultation. The cruelty is only one of dashed expectations in relation to other things. So today, when it’s freezing cold, except when you specifically walk in the sunlight, where it’s blistering hot, and there’s this delicious stink of gingko fruit in the constant wind, it’s easy to feel buffeted and just at a loss. (I love it.)
Of course, Eliot probably had ten different specific moments of mythology in mind when he wrote that handful of lines at the start of the poem, and I can’t claim that my more mundane angle was one of his interpretations; it just makes it work for me. (And better that than to quote it without any background.) So as we go rushing into the final full week of April, I want to combine a few different aspects as well, bringing the veins of what I hope has been inspiring water together into one great vena cava heading towards the end. (My medical terminology might be off; damn this mixing of metaphors!) As the title suggests, I want to get a bit hydroelectric today. It intrigues me that water flowing through a dam courses over turbines to generate mechanical force, representing earth to me, converting it into electricity. That kind of transmutation is what we’re after; and after today’s prompt, I hope that we can stick with one truly refined thread of inspiration to carry us through to (almost) the end (you’ll see why almost).
This is a three-parter. First, as with the previous waterwheel prompt, construct some kind of purely mechanical contraption to shape the flow a bit: you may want a particular form to use, or a certain kind of sound scheme, or even just a directive to yourself about how to set up the structure (short lines only/long lines only, couplets, have a refrain line, etc.) But be attentive to rhythm and sound regardless! No faults in the turbines if possible. The second thing you’ll want to do is, as before, gather up all the recent flotsam you’ve written the last day, two, or five. Ideally, it will be a mix of three different lines of thought, containing three sets of images/thoughts that may overlap (but are all of which are regarded in different ways), within which particular connected items are related in particular ways. You might have orange peels and paternal admiration, mixed with longing for a place you’ve never been which branches Corfu, the love of a woman, and reasons for homosexuality, and then from that little dash of pollutants we added, you might have wasps dying inside of figs and the horror at our own nature. My hope is that you have rich and colorful waters to draw from.
Then, once you get as much of this turning through the lines of the form you’ve chosen as you can, what kind of energy do you hope to generate? Pretend you’re writing a chapbook, and need some central axis around which the poems will revolve: this is what the prompts will focus on for the next several days. Pull all those images and themes into a rotating column whose gravity will draw in runoff from the river’s lowermost course. (The ones above, I might coalesce into something like biological process in the world, or something, which has a high inner density.) Your real challenge, beyond the gathering and the forming, is to determine how the structure of the poem itself — with enjambment, with a careful arrangement of the phrases, with particular sounds and rhythms — will suggest the beginnings of that center. As the river roars out the other side of the dam and begins its final, furious rush for the sea, it has more power than it did upstream, when it meandered along pulling in streams. Now we are interested in the force of that concentrated whole, which refuses to sacrifice anything else. With that in the forefront of your mind, write: then if the spirit moves you, come back and hook up to the power grid. (And like any good power grid, draw from each other! The inspiration of others can be inspiration to you, too.)