A Quantum Prayer

Sometimes you have to just dump some words out and see what happens. This is for one of Donna‘s prompts, to use the following nouns (pilfered from lines she’s been writing in February) in a poem. Deep breath:

snow, sky, day, sun, shadow, mango, summer, shimmer, season; desire, faith, something, hours, knots; map, land, compass, points; dung beetles, starfruit, hijabs, uncle, thumbs

I fiddled with one or two, but managed to get them all in, I think. The other two prompts – to use the verbs, and to use one line as the headwords down the spine of a poem – will follow and be (I hope) easier. This one led to a gumbo poem where everything floats next to everything else in their shared juices. But you have to break a few eggs to make an omelet, yeah?

Last night at the poetry workshop, we talked about poems of ideas, which this definitely is. There’s not a lot of concrete guidance or establishing shots to invite the reader in, and I apologize for that, since (in light of the assortment we read/discussed) I think those are definitely both my strong suit and my reading preference. But I do like to have the expansive thought balanced carefully on top of the lush image; I want my poetry to shoot the reader like an arrow from a well-described bow. And that got me thinking about contrasts and coexistence, which glommed this piece together.

(I hope Donna eventually releases those mysterious poems with all these words, because I suspect they work much better than this one.)

A Quantum Prayer

If I’m going to have faith in something, I want it to be
counterpoints, the idea that each object has its shadow
stitched along its outline. Give me a shimmer of depth
to trace with an outstretched thumb.

But if I’m going to have one desire as well, let it be
to lay down in my negative adverb. “Not”s and “never”s
cover us like hijabs: yet we are still there, underneath.
I’ve spent hours being and unbeing at once.

I believe in the fade of season to season, the sucked
mango in summer giving way to a map of snow.
But I want to blur the days together, compass them
into one simultaneous sky.

Let the living crawl with dung beetles, and let the dead
gnaw on starfruit. Let our aunt and uncle deities descend
to stride the land. Let us know annular eclipse, half-dark
sun pierced like a listening ear.

Reverie Forty: strange loop

Beautiful day for a poetry event, I think! Taking a break from the book fest near my parents’ house to type this up at the local cafe… there wasn’t time to read whole poems, but I did a snippet of a prompted one that we were given, and it seemed to be well-received. And at one point we talked about description and outlining the setting of the poem, which got me thinking about self-reference. It’s one of my favorite brain-breaking topics which is difficult to do in poetry, at least; do you remember the quantum poetry prompts from some weeks ago? I’ve read my share of Douglas Hofstadter’s work, and I’m enchanted by it, but I’ll spare you the really wacky stuff that would be nigh-impossible to get into. We’ll just be mildly self-referential this time.

This week: “strange loop

Part of the charm of writing poetry is the ability to transport yourself to other locations with the swipe of a pen, not to mention slip into some other story of your life, bring in lies as details, etc. And as I’ve said before, I’m a believer in breaking out of the habit to cherish it the more. Bear with me on this one. Before we get started, you may wish to find somewhere to write whose mood you want reflected in your poem. If you want a comfortable poem, choose your usual writing spot; a meditative poem, choose somewhere quietly interesting; an uneasy poem, go somewhere you’ve never been.

Begin by free-writing for five minutes about your space, place, and location. I separate these three because they have three different senses. “Space” is the physical and emotional feel of where you are: bring in the senses and the gut reactions to construct the cafe/bedroom/park bench/wherever. “Place” conveys the social and cultural information summed up by where you are: what does a cafe suggest? What does one do in the bedroom (yeah, yeah, I know you’re thinking it)? And “location” gets historical and geographical: you can think in terms of GPS coordinates or town, state, and country, as long as you’re honest with what weight those things have for you. Let these three levels resonate with you, both from your experience and from your intellect. I could say:

Space: cafe table with whorls in the wood like waves, scent of steamed milk, 4 Non Blondes on the radio, the black plastic chair hard underneath me
Place: local cafe, social zone for the town’s artsy writer community, quaint little building with a lot full of flowers on the corner, somewhere to meet people and create together
Location: South Jersey, homeland, reassuring and familiar, full of the SJ dialect “a”-sound I love

All my memories in this cafe interact with all the other cafes of been to. This cafe’s place in my mental map of South Jersey is heavy with significance. Et cetera.

Once you have fleshed out your location with some free-writing, begin to write about yourself for another five minutes. What are you wearing? How are you feeling, physically and emotionally, today? Are you eating or drinking something? What was the last word you said to someone else? And get more interesting with the inversions of the usual questions you might ask: what are you not wearing, that you always do? Have you just gotten through some physical or emotional feeling that you needed to overcome, or do you feel the threat of one coming on? What are you craving right now? What was the word you didn’t say? Try to stay away from generalities – no zodiac signs, or ages, or unchangeable features like eye color – and live in the moment. Here’s me:

I’m wearing a black shirt and my favorite jeans with the patched knees that my mom gave me for Xmas. Sipping a butterscotch latte, thinking about a sandwich for lunch. There’s a bit of a headache (from caffeine withdrawal), but it’s wearing off. I’m wearing the bracelet the Fellow gave me, mismatched earrings, and a pendant from Greece. But I didn’t bring the MetroCard that’s always in my pocket, as I’m not in NYC.

The final piece of this free-writing puzzle is to write about the action of writing. We’re getting a little bit ars poetica here: if you’re not familiar with the term (which is just Latin for “poetic art”), it’s often used to describe what I like to call meta-poetry, writing poetry about writing poetry. This can be really trite and saccharine stuff (we’re trying to avoid that), or simply a very personal moment that you’re letting us into. Do five more minutes of free-writing about the process itself. Write about how you think I’m a jerk for making this prompt more complicated than it needs to be, write about the keys on your keyboard that don’t work so you’re avoiding those letters, write about the hue of the ink from your pen. Describe those moments of writer’s block; describe equally the moments of inspiration, even if they’re only two words long.

This is where it gets weird. What I want you to do with these three chunks of writing is to create a cycle with them: think rock-paper-scissors, where the chain can just keep going on forever. How do we do this? You don’t have to get super fancy and deep, but simply allow yourself to build up the scene with elements of where/when you are, who you are, and what you’re doing. (The “why” and “how” is what will seep in, with luck.) Do allow yourself to jazz up your metaphors and images a little bit. I might start off with something like this:

I am tapping out a sonata on the laptop,
nearly ready for its first flight. Perhaps it will be
a guiding-bird, stained on its crown with one
butterscotch drop fallen from my unspeaking lips.
Jersey light comes in through the closed window.
Jersey voices tug at me in many different directions.
I am pausing for a moment to stroke the “s” key
and cannot tell why it makes the whole
of gravity feel different.
But the mug still sits on its flat lacquerwood beach,
and the cupbearers pass in and out, unhurried…

So: there is writing, then cafe, then Jersey, then writing again, then cafe again… I tried not to think too much while writing this, so that I could try to pull out some themes and all. The idea of feeling unmoored while in a comfortable place is starting to gel from it, I think.

Which leads me to my final two points, both of which I’m borrowing from the poetry workshop earlier. First, the theme of this poem will be like rock candy. Fill the lines with your freewriting, like it’s sugar-water; then dip the idea of creating an ever-revolving loop with the pieces, like a piece of string or a stick, into those images. The poem will begin to crystallize around it, and the themes will begin to appear as you go, so that you can tweak it by the end. And of course, you’ll want to go back and edit, not the least of which because: this poem can get LONG. Note the capital letters. More than likely, you’ll end up with more than you expected or wanted, and the real challenge here is going to be trimming the fat down to the lean. (Of course, if you like epics, keep it as it is; but be merciless.) You want every word to be worthwhile, something that will add to the cutting-deep of a poem.

Play around with the ideas in here, and the beauty of this exercise is that it can be repeated with infinite variations at almost any time and place. Come back and share some of the fruits of your labors, and maybe you’ll see that while we’re all strange loops, some of us are stranger than we thought.

Reverie Twenty-Eight: les trois mots magiques

Damn, have I really not posted since Tuesday? Apologies for that. I have been in the midst of the huge work-project (79 documents into Southeast Asian languages, this time), and haven’t come up for air since then, it seems. But now that it’s the weekend, I have… well, okay, not that much free time. A bit of free time. Somewhere in all the hubbub I will, someday, find occasion to sleep and have absolutely Nothing To Do one day. (Last Saturday was pretty good for that; I need another of those.)

This week: “les trois mots magiques

I hope Viv appreciates this. :) In honor of Bastille Day/La Fête Nationale, we’re going to have a French-inspired prompt. The title is from historian Mona Ozouf in reference to the French Republic’s three-part motto, liberté, égalité, fraternité. (Or, if you are not Francophone, liberty, equality, fraternity.) These are often considered to be reflected in the French flag: blue for liberté, white for égalité, and red for fraternité. It took time after the Revolution for all of this to be standardized, but any French student who gets past beginner level probably has it ingrained in their heads these days. (I certainly did.) And it helps that there’s an excellent trilogy of films to cement the concept.

So, we’re going to try to reflect these themes in a poem. Or rather, three poems. I think this one is pretty straightforward, though it’s high-volume and might take as much time as a short poem with wiggly requirements. Here’s the battle plan:

– Think about what each of the three concepts means to you. Is liberty more of a political right or a personal quality; does it relate to physical being or the soul; do you consider it more religious or social? What is your experience with (in-)equality; how do you see its place in history and your daily life; what is your reaction to its balance and imbalance? With whom do you experience the most understanding and fraternity; how did you develop those closest relationships; what are the places you do and do not expect to find kinship?
– Come up with a unifying theme across your interpretation of these three concepts. It could be a single situation or character weaving through all three, it might be a single line that is repeated, or maybe just a certain motif that appears to link them together. The idea here is that they should be recognizably part of the same voice and experience.
– But at the same time, allow them to be different. Maybe you want to vary that repeated line slightly, or that motif. (Maybe in each poem you have some kind of bird as a symbol: the eagle, the swan, and the crow; or maybe the bluejay, the dove, and the cardinal.) Let the variations of your poems’ connective tissue take on characteristics of the qualities they symbolize. For example, in the poem about liberty, let your symbolism veer towards freedom, whether expressed or denied. Do you want that eagle in a cage or soaring overhead?

If I roll with this bird imagery, I might end up with snippets like this:

…the eagle rolls its gold eye and clacks its
hooked beak, dragging its broken foot with the air of
a broken king…

…sunset, gold poured on the water, a pair of swans
knowing better than to ask for more of a perfect moment
than they already have…

…and before the storm births itself out of
gold-bellied clouds, a hundred crows lift in time, drawing
graphite omens along the ricepaper sky…

Or something like that. “Gold” is repeated over and over, though it’s a very different gold each time; and the birds show up in each part, but with a variety of meanings. You don’t have to make these poems very long, but make them long enough to show the clear distinctions between the three themes. You also don’t have to write them all at once (maybe tackle one per day for three days), but it might be helpful to do them in one go, since you’ll be able to keep the connecting threads clearer in your mind. If you prefer to think of this as one poem in three parts, you can do that too.

For those who want an additional challenge, you can try to represent the concepts of the three-word motto, and the number three in general, in the forms of the poems. The way you do this is up to you, but for me, I would suggest free verse for liberté, some kind of regimented meter (with perhaps an equal number of syllables in each line?) for égalité, like blank verse, and something with a formal rhyme scheme (lines that are, wait for it, fraternal in how they end) for fraternité. You might also want to represent the number three by doing stanzas in tercets, or even taking on a form like the terza rima or terzanelle to truly dazzle your readership.

You could also, for a truly epic undertaking, try a triptych poem, where the three poems are side-by-side, and can be read one at a time straight down, or across each line. (This similar to the quantum poetry we worked on a little while ago.) This is a difficult undertaking, but can come up with some astonishing results. Samuel Menashe did one of these that you might find inspiring, but for my money (and I hope she doesn’t mind me linking to it), Nicole Nicholson writes the best triptych poems I’ve seen yet out on the Web, like this one here. They’re beautifully crafted, and I hope they’ll be a good kick-off point for you. You can even try using the three words of the motto as the first line. (A formatting note: you may have to do the poem in Word and make an image file of it before uploading, or use tables in your blog post: three columns is a pretty tough format to preserve on the Web.)

And of course, bonus points if you work in something about France and/or its history into your work, for a meta-thematic kind of thing. But I’m easy on this point: I’m probably going to the Upper East Side for a celebration later on with the Fellow, so I’ll have my fill of that. Que vous écriviez bien!

Reverie Twenty: taste the rainbow

So much for the 21st century and technology. Internet wasn’t working on the bus-with-Internet, the Fellow doesn’t have it as his place currently, and it’s down at my favorite cafe in the city. So now I’m back at the university on graduation weekend, cannibalizing the wifi and trying to keep a low profile. So many parents and kids running around, dressed to the nines, and me in shorts and a T-shirt on this beautiful day: not what was expected. After this, I suppose I’ll get out and about again to enjoy the weather.

This week: “taste the rainbow

Last time we talked  about quantum poems and using two (or more, perhaps?) sets of lines interwoven to create an idea of multiple poems happening at once. There are other techniques to get this effect, and we’re going to play around with color, since it’s relatively easy to go absolutely nuts on the Internet in this fashion. I apologize in advance if you’re color blind or have an otherwise-impaired color sense; but I don’t know of anyone reading this who would be, so let’s press on!

You may recall some time ago when we had a bit of synesthesia going on; you may have used colors to represent concepts and ideas that seemed (for instance) particularly blue or green. That’s going to be folded into this prompt as well, but it’s only half of it. The other challenge is to get several of these color threads going at once, and if possible, to branch them out, in a way allowing the reader to determine the path they’ll take through your words. First of all, think about how many colors you want to include (I say go for five or six, it will be good and complicated), and think about how complicated/structured you want your poem to be. For example, you might have it branch out like this:

I walked
full of mourning joy
through greybacked fields greenfaced hills
barefoot and
halfway destroyed with glory.

The blue clearly carries a more sober tone, while the red is happier; note that both contain color words that are perhaps better suited to the tones than blue and red (tricky, eh?) and that barefoot, being purple, could go with either. Play around with mixing colors like this; it will make you more careful about how you arrange things. Another possibility might be to split the lines a bit, like so:

               Whenever a rain begins,
I think of how your face
               appeared beneath the willow
tree in summer: time
               transfixed like an orange
jewel, catching us breathless
               as we huddled under branches
in a gleaming noon.

The reader could go straight down the middle, or read the whole thing. Use the lines of color as a vertical method to create new poems within the lines that go horizontal. Think of it like an acrostic, but using words instead of letters, and buried within the poem rather than at the beginning. And of course, you don’t have to restrict yourself to keeping the colors all in one line either:

We had a firefight: but it was hollow-point choices
we shot at each other. What a pair we are, foolishly
askew, our guns blazing. It was so easy to make war.
What did we own besides this when and this where,
a time and place? Love, there’s nothing left to say
but to throw my love down, which is a gauntlet, a steel-
knuckled challenge. 

Note the cyan period at the end. I’m quite pleased with that little nearly-unnoticeable bit of punctuation. I was trying to do something interesting about crossing paths, having green and blue represent two different attitudes, and showing the whole idea of a relationship nexus through color and word placement, but you know, I am short on time and just spouting this stuff out, so forgive me.

I believe you can go up to six without really starting to lose yourself in the writing; and often it’s a good idea to close each thread, rather than leaving a mish-mash of color open at the end of the piece. The important thing is consistency, because if your reader does start picking up on what’s going on with the colors, they’ll get drawn by it, and you want to make it less confusing for them. A thread of red will stand out beautifully on a black block of verse.

Don’t be afraid to use imagery and metaphor to either support or confound the rainbows you create, too. Maybe you want to use red to highlight a succession of blood imagery dripping down the poem; maybe you want to use blue if you’re trying to make a point about someone who’s noble or lives their life on the sea; or maybe you want to use orange if you’re just trying to be surreal. Maybe blue words winding their way through the poem can suggest a river, or green ones a snake. Maybe you just want to highlight three very specific moments with very specific colors that are meaningful; maybe you want to characterize lines of dialogue by giving each speaker a different color; or maybe you just want to highlight every instance of you with purple or something, to give “you” a very unique feel (which will reflect how you feel about the color).

The possibilities are nearly endless, and this is a tool that is often neglected which you can use to allow your imagination to run wild. Poets are often more concerned with the content of the poem rather than how it’s presented (and usually rightly so, unless they’re writing concrete poetry), but the reader will notice both and try to draw meaning out of both. Come up with an idea or two about how to use colors (and feel free to borrow liberally from above) and share what you have… the cardinal rule is just to make it clear that there are multiple levels of meaning, multiple poems if you will, under the surface. Use that rainbow to bring them out.

(A note on mechanical things: if you’re blogging with WordPress, there’s a little color-selector tool if you’re typing the post in the Visual editor – rather than the HTML editor – when you show the “Kitchen Sink” bar. Press the button all the way to the right, or hit Alt-Shift-Z, to show this second bar; the selector button is the fourth one. You could also write longhand with multicolor pens, or do the typing in your email, or something. For Blogger, I have no idea how it works, but I imagine there is a similar option to change text color.)

Reverie Nineteen: quantum entanglement

Sorry for the delay with posting; I went home for Mother’s Day, and just returned to the city, bearing a full-fledged sinus infection. Which I combating with every weapon at my disposal: blackberry tea, Vitamin C, nasal spray, Mucinex syrup, boxes of Kleenex… I want this congestion gone. ASAP. But as these things never seem to go as you want them to, I’ll just have to battle through it, I guess. And we had intended to put together Curio today, as we have gotten the first batch of the backlog done with; for everyone else, you are the shape of our nightmares next week. But for now…

This week: “quantum entanglement

You guys are going to love this one. :D

I used to be really into the idea of writing “quantum poetry“, pieces that masquerade as one poem but are really two (or more) at once. But ultimately, they’re really time-consuming and require a lot of thought and planning; so what better place to practice those than with a Reverie? I’ll first drop three links to ones I’ve written which were, I think, more or less successful to the concept: “The Red Line is Experiencing Temporary Delays“, “Speed Dating“, and “Schrödinger’s Boyfriend“. Check them out, but don’t say “ugh, I’m not going to try this”… give it a chance. We’ll go slow! These are in the kind of form we’re going to approach, weaving together two sets of lines that can stand independently or together; there are other ones I’ve done (like “Triptych“) that use color and direction too, but we’ll keep it simple.

So the two most important things to remember are enjambment and ambiguity. Enjambment hides the seams of the poem quite well (otherwise, you just have whole sentences; which is fine, if you want to do that), but can be very tricky to do properly: if you’re alternating every line, you need to be careful that every line’s ending could feed into two possible beginnings. For example, say I wanted to do these two lines:

green was a deadly color, a ragged sheet of moss
dipping one dusty finger down the ground 

And then these two:

curtains suspended from the birdless sky, the wind
dragging circles like a spoon through afternoon coffee

I suppose it’s sort of an alternation between extreme weather (tornado) and a beautiful day. When you splice them together, going back and forth, you get:

Green was a deadly color, a ragged sheet of moss
curtains suspended from the birdless sky, the wind
dipping one dusty finger down to the ground,
dragging circles like a spoon through afternoon coffee.

I suppose the sudden-ness of such storms cropping up would be a nice motif for that terrifying aspect of nature, which would join those two sets of images and lines together. But pay attention: you could read only the non-italic lines (which has a threatening feel), or only the italic lines (which has a lazy-afternoon feel), or all of them (which has a very threatening, detailed feel). Because of the way the phrases are worded, ended, and begun, it becomes possible to move between these three options fairly seamlessly. It could have been a series of sentences:

Green was a deadly color, a ragged sheet of moss.
Curtains were suspended from the birdless sky.
They dipped one dusty finger down to the ground.
It dragged circles like a spoon through afternoon coffee.

Doesn’t work nearly as well, and there are more grammatical considerations to take into account when you have isolated sentences (if you’re into grammar). The poem feels much more natural the other way. I’ll give you three tricks where the notion of ambiguity comes in, all of which I used in the example above. First, end a line with a word that could be a noun or adjective (or noun usable as an adjective), like “moss”: then use it both ways in the two following lines, as a way of “splitting” its definition and use in the poem. Second, end a line with the subject of a sentence or clause, like “wind” above: that way, the next two lines can be two completely different verbs, but still branching the wind into two possible futures. And third, use gerunds/participles wherever you can. They’re amazingly versatile, both because they have the same form (-ing), and because they can functions for nouns, verbs, and adjectives without much trouble.

I want to draw attention to the whole idea of the quantum physics sense: the notion that for every action, there are a certain number of set outcomes. All of them exist at once, until time moves forward and one of them becomes apparent (in this dimension/universe/experience/whatever you want to call it). Quantum computing has been getting a lot of talk in the news lately. If you’re unfamiliar with it, think of it like this. Computers operate in binary, meaning all the bits of information are sorted into “0” and “1”, no and yes. But quantum computing allows the superposition of data, allowing the option “0/1”. Schrödinger’s cat is the other famous example: a cat occupies a box that is completely sealed except for a small aperture, through which a laser/bullet/whatever is fired. In the thought experiment, the cat has an exact 50% chance of occupying the path of the projectile. According to Schrödinger’s logic, until the box is opened and a choice (alive/dead) is selected by the information we are made aware of (through senses/medical confirmation), the cat is “alive/dead”: both at once.

(I suppose another way to think of it is, when you flip a coin and call it in the air, until the moment it lands, it will land on “heads/tails”. As soon as it hits the ground, that quantum possibility is eliminated, along with either heads or tails, and you’re left with the result. I suppose another way is to watch the Gwyneth Paltrow movie “Sliding Doors”.)

I’m sure a physicist could explain this all better than I can, but you don’t need a thorough grasp to get the idea for poem-writing. What’s important, thematically, are the ideas of duality and multiple possibilities. Rather than thinking about the future of the path is unknown, think about all possibilities coexisting at once until they’re shut down, leaving one (the “actual” future) is left. It’s very Star Trek. So, if I’m writing a poem about tornadoes, I want to juxtapose images, lines, and metaphors that suggest their severity with images, lines, and metaphors of calmness. It’s not so hard to write those two sets of lines; it’s much tougher to get them to coexist.

When the rain came beating on the windows,
we froze stock-still. But only for a moment,
before we thundered down to the empty cellar
full of anticipation of what could happen next.

That’s your challenge for this week: find some kind of duality to explore both sides of, at the same time, and weave strips of those sides into one poem. If you want additional challenges, try doing it so that the lines reflect each other in structure (as in the “Speed Dating” poem), or so that instead of reading the italicized lines from the top-down, you can read them from the bottom-up. Messing around with this is really fun and brain-teasery, but eventually things like grammar and punctuation start going out the window for the sake of the exercise, so be forewarned.

I’m going to have another quantum-ish prompt next week, but not as heavy as this one. Until then, show us what you’ve got!

Reverie Sixteen: nothing but a pack of cards

It’s a fancy-nice day out there, and I’m feeling fine, myself; I hope the same for you all. And what better way to get the creativity rolling than a fresh Saturday reverie? That’s what I always say.

This week: “nothing but a pack of cards

Alice said it best. We’re going to do a purely process-y prompt this time around. Let me explain a story: one of my favorite novels that I’ve ever had to read is Milorad Pavic’s Dictionary of the Khazars, a weird postmodern romp through Eastern European history, mythology, and urban fantasy. Among its many quirks are that it was printed in two editions (the “male” and “female”) which differ by a single (but perhaps crucial) paragraph; it is laid out as a series of stories in alphabetical order (dictionary-style), and there are three sections (the Judaism, Islam, and Christianity books) that repeat entries here and there.

The effect is that each of the three books has only part of the picture, and you have to keep flipping back and forth (again, dictionary-style) to truly grasp the entirety of the fascinating plot. My professor that assigned it asked us to choose a non-traditional way to read, and after some speculation, I noticed that the total number of entries (including some of the sub-entry tale-within-a-tales that the longer ones had) equaled 52. I don’t know if it was intentional on Pavic’s part (he wrote a “tarot novel” once), but I ended up assigning one entry to each card in a deck, shuffling, and then reading the entries in the order I drew. I think some of the story was probably more disjointed than it would be if I had read straight through; but there were some correspondences which seemed totally random that laid out important plot points so clearly that there’s no way I would have figured them out if I’d planned it.

Bearing that in mind, we are going to try something similar. First, you will need a deck of cards, standard 52 pack with four suits. (If you don’t have one handy, check out this nifty tool I found.) Make sure it’s well-shuffled! And then shuffle it again.

What I need you to do is think of the four suits: clubs, diamonds, hearts, spades. You don’t need to know anything about the original symbolism of these, because you’re going to invent your own. What does the word “club” suggest to you? A gathering or association; violence and blunt trauma; or a dance hall, perhaps? You can get as complex or in-depth as you want; for example, spades always remind me of love lost, since they are almost upside-down hearts, gone black. Choose some kind of theme like this for each suit, and you can have multiple ones if you want. Here’s my ideas, for example, which veer from the tangible to the abstract:

clubs (♣): physical action, the world on a scientific level, collision and inertia
diamonds (): blurred light, confusion, deception
hearts (): the body and its organs, centers of things, two things coming together
spades (♠): love lost, bitter cold, brooding too much on this or that

Now for the ranks. I want to insist on one rule: the face cards should represent people, and the number cards should represent concepts. (Let the ace represent “one”, since one is too good of a number to leave out; only the jacks, queens, and kings need be people.) For each of the values, pick just one idea or concept that’s represented. These can and probably should be narrower in definition than the grander scope of the suits. Points in time, important individuals, specific kinds of places, objects… it’s really up to you. In a sense, you’re building your own kind of “poetic tarot” to determine the knots of narrative that the poem’s thread will have. Again, you can do whatever the numbers and people signify to you, you could expand upon them in an unexpected way, or you could just be totally random about it. Here’s mine:

Ace (one): something to sit on (alone)
Deuce (two): a bird
Trey (three): last-minute change of plans
Four: a street corner
Five: summer fruit of some kind
Six: a minor natural disaster
Seven: something to write with
Eight: moment spent in quiet reflection
Nine: just barely missing something
Ten: bedroom
Jack: a scientific, dispassionate genius
Queen: that friend who you sometimes cannot stand
King: someone you don’t know who inspires you

You’re welcome to use these, but I suggest coming up with your own. The only thing I loved about Alexander Pope’s The Rape of the Lock was his way of randomly coming up with personalities and epic destinies for playing cards, and it’s an enjoyable kind of activity. So, once you have these all in place, draw a few from that well-shuffled deck. Here’s four that I drew from that online generator: A, J♣, 2♣, 4. Given my suits and themes, as well as ranks and concepts, I might assign these as “desk in science class”, “physics professor”, “pigeon” (I collide with pigeons all the time), and “Times Square”. The challenge then becomes to work those into a poem or verse somehow. It’s kind of like a Wordle, but with tropes instead of vocabulary.

There should be an equation for me, sitting here
in Astronomy 101: what is the Greek symbol for being
completely lost?
And the Professor’s voice lilts with Gujarati music,
lulling me into dreams of neutron stars and novas:
things that collapse.
The only mathematics I was ever good at were
operations of chaos, navigating people and pigeons
in Times Square.
That is where to discover the random infinity of light.

So put together your own little guide of symbolism, and let yourself be guided by chance rather than intention. And of course, there are a few options you could take on to complicate matters a bit:
– If you’re a fan of one or another card game, work it in to your process. Poker fan? Try to get the best poker hand you can in a couple rounds and make those five cards your elements. Blackjack? Maybe if you hit 21 you’ll have a happy ending, and if you bust, you won’t. Bridge? I have no idea how Bridge works, so you’ll have to surprise me.
Put in the jokers. I would suggest that if you draw a joker, have your poem do a complete about-face in terms of its narrative or topic. The bad becomes good, the fortune becomes misfortune, everything inverts.
– You could try to get through the entire deck in a poem of 52 lines. This is not as daunting as it seems, necessarily: every line will already have its content pre-determined. Getting to all work together is the hard part here.
– Do two poems that have the same arrangement of cards, but use one of your secondary themes for each suit, and completely change around the meaning of each rank. Seven of clubs for me might be “hammer and chisel” (physical action/collision + writing implement), but if I make 7 equal to “a windfall” and shift to the secondary theme of physical science, it could become “discovering a comet”.

And if you have other unique interpretations for the prompt, of course I’m interested in hearing. Take some time and work it out… I have the feeling that there is an infinity of poems (or at least, a very large number) waiting to be  drawn from this.

Eyes and Ears and Mouth and Nose

I used to be a much bigger fan of writing quantum poetry, and I wish I had the time to sit again for hours on end, just thinking up the perfect wiggly forms of poems that mirror, fracture, reverse, and twine. Donna Vorreyer‘s got an e.e.cummings inspired prompt up, that challenges the reader to defy grammar and mechanics; I suppose I could have gone in a more serious direction, but this was on my mind today, and so I just did this cheeky little bit. It’s not quite in line with cummings’ work, nor the punctuation-centered theme, but I hope that (if your browser supports colors and fonts well) it will still show an approach to that style. For whatever reason, my sense of smell is just really on today. Not quite sure why. I was going to call this “Orifice”, but I like this title better.

Eyes and Ears and Mouth and Nose

yesterday was
eyelashes like a hundred frail fingers i clung
to sight: as though it were my only sense

but today cinnamon smell began to intrude
on my every rib sweat waking dishwater moment
concrete reading became trash became croissants
tea impossible
to think
that unwashed hair
I am exhaust anything freshly painted but a dog
with west wind my nose my clothes my compass
through ground coffee the blood world:

scorched oil that salt air was jasmine perfume
everything baked UNTIL goods I BEGAN also
the burning THE BURNING the burning