Throughout the day I will post poems from Project Verse’s Week 1: Workshop 1101. Let me explain my comment from yesterday before we get to the poems.
Two competitors did not submit their poems by deadline. I’m a bit of a rule whore, so as you might imagine, I’m not prone to deviate from the rules— especially when I created them! With that being said, the two contestants were automatically eliminated from the competition.
There is a lot at stake in this competition. Do I need to remind the competitors about the residency at Marilyn Nelson‘s fabulous Soul Mountain Retreat? A week in the home of the award-winning Marilyn Nelson has to be one of the closest things to Poet-Heaven on this earth.
W.F. Roby and Kathi Morrison-Taylor are taking the spots of the two eliminated contestants. They have agreed to complete the Week 1: Workshop 1101 assignment within 24 hours. The limited time to complete the assignment will be taken into consideration when the judges deliberate.
In an effort to keep poems blurring together, asterisks will be used to distinguish separation as well as each Project Verse competitor’s poem will be posted in an unique color. (Colors will be consistent throughout the competition.)
The poems are posted exactly as how they were submitted. Here we go!!!
Please note: Poems are best viewed in Explorer. HTML coding shows in Firefox.
A Day of You
A day in the life of you: the boom
and the filth of it, the dancing girl
of it, the push-shove-fight of it,
the man and woman making love
like cats in a zany club of it, the too high
taxi cab fare of it, the slick velvet streets
of it, the dancing umbrellas of it,
the long fly ball out to center field
of it, the subway rushing by
like a letter in the wind of it,
the mixed drink of it, the trading
of bills over the Indian dinner tab
of it, the fresh flowers in bins
next to limp sidewalk bums of it,
the beating rugs and hanging shirts
on the line of it, the slipping off
shoes and pausing your debonair body
like a film at the end of the day, exculpated.
THE JUDGES SPEAK:
Beth: Very nice energy and sense of play here. A keeper.
Dustin: The “of it” repetition combined with images is a great move. List poems can easily become clogged and exhausting. You do neither, so I give you a THANK YOU.
Dana: The list poem is a brilliant way to go about this assignment because once you are freed up from narrative, it’s much easier to work the assigned words into the poem without in the process contorting the story. But this isn’t the easy way out by any means. This poem doesn’t have a weak word anywhere. The images are unexpected and, dare I say, delightful. This poem uses a collection of items to make a larger statement, to evoke an overall emotion and mood, and to ramp up our energy level.
BROTHERS AT THE GATE
The interrogator and priest were as close
as brothers, altar boys at Saint Francis
dipping their pocket combs in Holy Water,
debonair in their velvet sashes and dark
socks. They loved the zany prestidigitation
of Jesus, the limp arms welcoming them
to their future, closed eyes projecting
fervent anguish, twisted love. Each boy
chose a path of righteous indignation.
The interrogator’s pistol, on his hip,
was worn like a cross for his prisoners,
promising absolution or lightning bolts.
The priest’s confessional, a holding cell,
reminiscent of a dimly lit boys’ bedroom,
probed parishioners’ secrets, exculpated
sinners from bombed villages, strafed whores.
Dunking a man’s head beneath the water
was soothsaying to the interrogator, baptism
to the priest swigging wine to electro trance.
Bawdy texts twittered between the brothers
on their travels to turn men into brethren,
into beanie babies tagged in bargain bins;
they shared recipes for goat stew, onion
dip, skin rolls pinched to make a point.
They each agreed that the other would ask
God one question when the time arrived,
and they were certain the answer would be
the same, their long-forgotten family name.
THE JUDGES SPEAK:
Beth: Hmmm. I like the use of specifics here, but the poem for me is a little uneven in its presentation. I’m not clear of the point of view, the passive voice serves as a distancing device for me, and the cultural references seem confused “beanie babies” verses “goat stew”.
Dustin: You have a great first two lines that build suspense/excitement. These kind of lines make the reader want to dive in the poem, and this is how I felt. However, by the end of the poem I felt the suspense/excitement weren’t done justice by the poem.
Dana:This poem is extremely creative. The first line almost starts out like a joke in that such seeming opposites are paired. One almost expects the first line to read: “The interrogator and priest walk into a bar.” But the poem is not a joke at all and manages to show the mirroring in these two men’s lives despite the seemingly disparate paths they have taken. It’s interesting to me that the word “zany” was paired with “prestidigitation.” I don’t know that the pairing works, especially with the phrase “righteous indignation” only four lines down. I don’t know that this poem can hold both the words “prestidigitation” and “indignation.” I would have liked “zany sleight of hand” better, I think. I also felt the poem broke down sonically in stanzas 10 and 11, with so many “b” words piling up in three lines, and the reference to Beanie Babies seemed out of step with the overall tone of the poem and the rest of the language used throughout.
Thick as Thieves
“Your Aunt Hat was eccentric too,”
mother scoffs, slamming the dough
with bloodshot arms.
“’zany’, she liked to call it. She lived
with goats, did you know that?
All by herself with goats. Watch out.
You have tendencies. Certain
females in our line bloom mad, poppies
among marigolds. Hattie for instance,
with her hut full of lentils
and those awful amethysts,
suckered in by that limp-eyed grifter Dan.
Oh but he was debonair;
that’s all Hattie cared about.
All the time he had his sights
on her antique violin. It fetched
quite a haul. She wound up
pregnant of course. Nearly died delivering.
All for a little fun. The likes of you and Hat
can’t keep your tongues off of poison.”
It’s true I’m cavalier
about madness and venom,
but I nod, and snitch a pinch of dough.
I do not say: Mother, never mind
poor Hattie–the limp-eyed man and I are one.
How I divine his wanting, his object, all
he’s willing to do for treasure.
I do not say: Mother, each night
those blanched goats of Hatties’
gather at my window, their velvet snouts
whiting out the stars. I pray to them in dreams:
Exculpate my hunger. Forgive me my salt tooth.
THE JUDGES SPEAK:
Beth:Very nice shifts here between the opening dialog to the speaker. I like the fullness of character, the end works beautifully to heighten the poem’s intensity, and there’s a good ear at work here too.
Dustin: You have such wonderful lines in this poem: “Certain / females in our line bloom mad, poppies / among marigolds” and “The likes of you and Hat / can’t keep your tongues off of poison.” This poem is a treat.
Dana: This is another poem that folds the assigned words in without any hitches at all in the piece. The structure of this poem is interesting, given the long direct quote from the mother. I wondered at first if it should be a dramatic monologue. But then there’s this amazing surprise in the last three stanzas of the poem where the narrator writes in response to the mother, revising the mother’s assessment of her. This is so true in parent/child relationships, and especially mother/daughter relationships: Parents often can’t see who their child is through the image they’ve created of that child. I have to mention that last, gorgeous stanza, in which the blanched goats gather at the narrator’s window, “their velvet snouts / whiting out the stars.” That is not only an amazing image, it also moves the poem up and out, making it about more than just the relationship between the mother and daughter, but an issue of cosmic proportions.
EMILY VAN DUYNE
for Norberto Gonzalez
Limp-wristed Puerto Rican fat kid— zany R’s doubled
from your tongue, but mostly your words plopped
heavy on the air, gaskets
off a black conveyer belt. We felt nothing
but contempt. ‘Homo, ‘Rican, Spic… nail gun sounds spit
from our tiny mouths as you stumbled down
the melon colored halls. Even the teachers in their worn
cotton shifts rolled their eyes at your weird
speech, fuzzy hair, Salvation Army t-shirts
stained and stiff beneath the arms. At 13,
language left my fiery mouth
as easily as humans will make metaphors— it was
a shotgun triggered, sprinter off the blocks.
I couldn’t shut up if I tried. In English class, you asked
to read a poem you’d written yourself—
(a real one, sweet pea in a mattress stack—
Who left the milk of the baby to sour? It was not me.
The dishes to rot in the sink? It was not me…
No apostrophes in your tongue, your nouns
couldn’t own a thing— )
I laughed as loud
as the rest. You sat stony, white-faced, nearly
debonair. No tears, and filled with grace. In a month,
you’d move onto another city, another school.
In a month, I’d giggle the story
of your poem to a teacher
I adored, and he’d tell me— at 5, in Puerto
Rico, you’d found your father hanging, black-
faced, from the linen closet door. Your mother scrubbed
houses by day, hotel rooms by night. He told me,
Please, get out of my sight. This shame hangs
time like a crimson velvet cloak. It will not
exculpate. If I could, I would give it back.
It was not me, it was not me—
Little white girl, little hater, liar.
THE JUDGES SPEAK:
Beth: This poem is so beautifully tricky in its presentation. We get a clear and poignant picture of both the speaker and the child she describes.
Dustin: You have a great beginning to this poem that makes us want to know more, and you give us more in detail. Great use of the words from the assignment. This poem reached up and bitch slapped me. (That’s a good thing.) Great job!
Dana: Great imagery right off the bat with the image of words coming out of the child’s mouth like gaskets off a black conveyor belt. The piece is powerful throughout and tackles several difficult subjects incredibly well — not by having a narrator who preaches but by having one who has not behaved well and is honest about that failing. The only place the poem breaks down for me is in the last stanza, where exculpate is not used correctly. The word takes a direct object, and there is not one in this instance. While words can be used in creative ways in poetry, I don’t feel like it’s working in this instance. The last line is incredible. But since it’s in italics, like the line the teacher speaks in that same stanza, it did make me wonder who was speaking at the end. I imagine the last two lines as an internal chant that the narrator begins repeating when she realizes the shame of what she’s done, but it could also be read as an extension of what the teacher said.
Our Lady of the Lint Trap
Faint her face outlined in blue thread, the babe
a darker shade.
Hail Mary of loose fiber, velvet pile:
what grace, what calamity calls? When she
appeared last year,
a cataract in the night sky, no one
believed you, you who wear your faith
like an old wool cap
in the darkest months. But the debonair
offer other prayers and you know loss.
In a dream, you fold
bath sheets into swans; they fly through
the window without breaking glass, leave
lint in the yard.
Today, you didn’t bother to sort the wash.
You peel mother and child from the trap,
cradle the cloth
scraps. Perhaps it’s enough to exculpate
yourself? Note the five-legged ant
hump a crumb
with an angel’s limp across your linoleum.
You are not madcap, zany. To hell
with the heavens:
what swans move at such speeds?
THE JUDGES SPEAK:
Beth: There’s lots to like here: the tone and control of the beginning, the lovely phrase–“you who wear your faith like an old wool cap in the darkest months,” surprised and a deftness with language, but the image “five-legged ant/hump a crumb/with an angel’s limp across your linoleum” is a bit strained, and finally the poem’s beauty at the beginning seems to lose focus and get a bit scrambled.
Dustin: “Hail Mary of loose fiber” and “you who wear your faith / like an old wool cap” and “…you fold / bath sheets into swans; they fly through / the window without breaking glass” are great moments in this poem. While I think this is a good poem, I don’t think these moments represent the poem overall.
Dana: “Hail Mary of the loose fiber, velvet pile” Hail this poem of the Lint Trap visions. I love this piece. It’s fun without being light verse. It’s surreal without barring readers from being able to access and participate in it. It touches on wacky (or should I say “zany”) contemporary news (the Virgin Mary in an egg sandwich) without allowing the news to overtake the poem. It pays careful attention to language and includes such exquisite lines as “you who wear your faith / like an old wool cap / in the darkest months” and “In a dream, you fold / bath sheets into swans.” I also love how the poem moves into a confessional mode, with the admission of not sorting the wash and cradling the lint mother and child as a way of being cleansed.
November 26, 2006
Why do I come here,
to point at the long velvet muscle of my brother?
To skate over sheets of azalea? Last week
he got picked up for indecency. With a child.
We walk his castle, two dogs and me,
a bald faced youth with a crooked hand.
We bark at the cars in miniature, pick dragees
off his birthday cake. The dirty carpet
makes a showcase for his limp.
My brother has hidden pills everywhere,
among stereo bits they are like
quick nips of the future.
Why do I come here, to wake
my brother, sleep doused and drowsing?
He turns his head to me, his hair
as leaves of lettuce torn and left
to season underneath a rocking chair.
He needs a bath. He shows me
a poem he’s written, his zany scribble:
Let us turn away,
at the hour of the death of the poem
and hold our own lyric close to our palms,
like opening an umbrella against
an otherwise cooling rain —
but with bright eyes, like you would look
at a drawing made by an infant
and pretend to believe it is
a sketch of a house and a car
and the sun and a tree.
There’s no good way to peel clothes
off a debonair junky. He tells me the neighbor girl
will exculpate him. Without the scent of ash
or incense, without a candle
dripping waltzes in brisk wind,
there is no high romance. It is early evening,
I am washing my brother
with a hose in his backyard,
and but for lightning bugs
I’d be doing this alone.
THE JUDGES SPEAK:
Beth: There’s an emotional poignancy about this poem that seems consistent and compelling and for that reason, I give the poem high marks (especially since this was written in 24 hours), but the images are sometimes a bit hard to follow “his hair as leaves of lettuce torn” (I can’t imagine hair like leaves of lettuce try as I might) and “candle/dripping waltzes” while nicely surprising is also rather hard to grasp as a visual. On the other hand the ending is really quite brilliant (those lightning bugs).
Dustin: I think this is a good poem for being written within 24 hours. I’m endeared to this speaker because of the details we receive. I will change up the cliche “watch before you leap” to “analyze more before you simile.” I think you handled the words from the assignment well for a poem written in 24 hours.
Dana: This poem has amazing moments. I would go so far as to say startling. It’s the kind of topic that could end up getting sentimental, especially at the end, where many poets would attempt to end it on a predictable note. But instead, in this piece, we end up with the narrator washing the brother with a hose in the back yard. There’s so much to say about the ending alone — what it evokes not only in terms of emotion but also in terms of adding to the poem. The reader (or at least this reader) starts filling in the scene, imagining the brother getting in the back yard to begin with, the narrator’s decision to wash him, to care for him, in this way which could be seen as even more dehumanizing but is clearly an act of love and the best one the narrator has in that moment. There is no “pretending to believe” at the end of this poem. There no pretending at all.
JENNIFER C. WERNER
Chuck Berry tweaks
zany guitar riffs
and we’re dancing
from our knees
and ankles – joints
like the place
where rock and roll
begins: hands, fingers,
and elbows, forearms
limp for authenticity’s sake.
We work the floor:
toward each other, trying
to exculpate Elvis;
from getting fat, from dying
late, from that velvet lined cape,
hiding behind cars, girls and
the jukebox, singing black songs
the disco ball is unlit,
because this was before
that and rock-and-rollers
can’t be distracted by
such debonair decorations,
because this is the place
where something is beginning,
because even backwards
is a movement.
THE JUDGES SPEAK:
Beth: Again, good energy here, a nice organic movement. The use of “exculpate” stands out as rather exercise-like and there were a few less graceful moments, but generally, I think this one works well and feels cohesive and presents a clear depiction of character.
Dustin: I like that we get movement in your poem as we move along through it; however, I think toward the middle there might be a bit too much. I love this image “Tonight / the disco ball is unlit, / because this was before / that and rock-and-rollers / can’t be distracted by / such debonair decorations.” This is easily a metaphor for many situations in life.
Dana: I love that this is a poem based on movements, and how music gets in our bodies. The ending is fantastic, where the narrator deduces that the dance floor is a place where something is beginning. And love the last line, “because even backwards is a movement.” What didn’t work as well for me were all the gerunds, such as “twisting,” “swinging,” “pulling, “dying,” “hiding” and “singing.” I felt the gerunds were getting in the way of the Elvis imagery and that this language wasn’t as strong as other moments in the poem, such as “joints / like the place / where rock and roll / begins.”
Eve at the Lake
These new days
you wake up barely a pirouette. The parrot-
colored lure, zany in the water: your wish
to leap in and be
a water fish. You have a body with which to use the world,
a dyad of hands to feel up
the world’s slip velvet fuzz, a debonair
dancefloor squirm for the world to have a dance,
a dip and then a double dip. Take a look
below you now, your face to the lake-smooth tension,
and exculpate the world. You know what it’s like to be wet,
the poem of your hair a limp power totem,
the warbling wind disturbing
your lonely rooms. The waters in your body
respond to this tremble,
draw out the long thrum of their next
best hunger, the one that resolves
what to do next, and why.
THE JUDGES SPEAK:
Beth: This has a way of moving slippery along, alluring in its sounds. “the world’s slip velvet fuzz” and so on. And there’s a sensuous ease in the way the lines move. I’m not as wild about some of the line breaks though “jump in” seems a bit forced. The end is graceful and generally the poem has a sinuous ease that I admire.
Dustin: My favorite part of the poem is “You know what it’s like to be wet, / the poem of your hair a limp power totem, / the warbling wind disturbing / your lonely rooms.” I enjoyed the water imagery of the poem, and I think you work it well. You did a good job slipping in the words from the assignment. However, I have to agree with Beth in regards to your line breaks.
Dana: The most striking part of this poem for me is the phrase “You have a body with which to use the world.” This is an assertion worth noting, since we typically don’t think about “using” the world per se but rather becoming part of it or honoring or serving it in some way. This feels like the heart of the poem for me, and this central statement develops into the idea of entering the water to exculpate the world, which I also find intriguing. Here, the word “exculpate” — in my opinion the most difficult word from the list to incorporate — isn’t merely a decoration in the poem. It is central to the poem’s movement and development. The introduction of the notion of cleansing or absolving the world points me back up to the word “use” and makes me think about how these two terms are being positioned in the poem. How can someone’s actions at once use and cleanse the world? Does the author perhaps want us to cast and re-cast the word “use” throughout this piece? The fact that I could spend hours on this one question the poem raises for me shows how evocative I find the poem. This is another piece I would never know was written to an assignment because the words are incorporated so well.
inside the body of the verse
Bring, the velvet and the
Mousse of your hands, tell
My verse yes we are
In love with this body
Yours and mine, with our
Zany nights that jerked off
Emotions and plights
Hold, just hold tight on
To the limpness of rhymes
Before we arouse slowly again
This turn of flaccid limbs
Your flourish into the dawn
My frenzy hay-rolled just
As in old-fashioned silver-
Screen tales of our body
Our verse so debonair
Give, give me that strophe
Stroked by your lips and set afire
This song of Moulin Rouge
The body of phones in sweet pangs
Say, just whisper into my ears that
You exculpate this ecstasy spent, so
Free from glare, you and I can curl
Up in pleasure and love the words
Off pages growing on our chests.
THE JUDGES SPEAK:
Beth: I like the sensuality of the poem, but many of the line breaks (“the” for instance, in the first line) feel a bit forced or clunky, “You exculpate this ecstasy spent” is rather a hard phrase to digest, and generally, the poem isn’t as polished as it might have been.
Dustin: “Bring, the velvet..” is a nice opening for a poem, and it grabbed my attention; however, my attention wasn’t kept. Again, I have to agree with Beth about the line breaks.
Dana: There are beautiful lines in this piece, including the opening “Bring, the velvet and the / Mousse of your hands.” The ars poetica is so hard to pull off. In this case, I didn’t feel the poem locked into the imagery of the sexual relationship with the kind of clarity I would like to see. I felt there was competition in the poem between the poetry images and the sexual images, and that the two weren’t working well together, leaving both in a sort of muddy place that I could not see or feel clearly.
Black Velvet Billboard, Summer 1977
Let’s say Elvis loves the Black Velvet Girl.
We imagine when they met. He unzips her
and paints a self-portrait on her dress.
He’s all “Love me Tender” to her cool
blonde Canadian proof. He’s all blue-suede
beret and wing tips to her fallen-off-
the-billboard charm. She’s tipsy as you were
at your uncle’s wedding when that zany
photographer with the squirting daisy
brushed against your breast.
Let’s say Elvis loves the Black Velvet Girl
and he’s alive again, looking down
on passing traffic with her and her giant
whiskey bottle. Up there, he’s dusted off
his debonair charm and croons to exculpate
his mid-life slump. And us, at 13, we’d die
to be as strapless and glossy as she is.
We sigh until our hearts go limp, Graceland
dizzy in a highball of grief, romance
oozing through our radios.
THE JUDGES SPEAK:
Beth: The control of tone is both consistent and admirable here throughout. Those “Let’s say Elvis” beginnings work well to establish a sense of control, and the imaginative riff is a lot of fun, with its deft handling of colloquial phrases “He’s all….” I love the details too. That “squirting daisy/brushed against your breast”…a really fabulous moment. Really, the poem’s quite stunning.
Dustin: You wrote this poem within 24 hours, and I’m impressed. I like how the words from the assignment don’t stand out. I like your line breaks. I like the first line of the poem that acts like a hook to pull readers into the poem, and the reader doesn’t regret the journey through the poem. One of my favorite parts in the poem: “She’s tipsy as you were / at your uncle’s wedding when that zany / photographer with the squirting daisy / brushed against your breast.”
Dana: One of the things I was looking for in this round were poets who seamlessly incorporated the assigned words into their poems. I didn’t want any of these words to call attention to themselves (for the wrong reasons) when I read each poem. This poem achieves that. The imagery is clear and original, the language compact and everything is ratcheted up with the sounds in the poem, namely the internal rhyme that pulls us from line to line. I noticed that several of the words from the assignment were folded into the poem by being paired with a rhyming or near-rhyming word, including “zany,” which is paired with “daisy” and “limp,” which is paired with “dizzy.” This incorporation, not just on the image level but on the sonic level, helped make those words feel like part of the poem rather than elements that had to be forced into it. “… a highball of grief” is a phrase I will not soon forget.
TOP 2, BOTTOM 2, WHO IS GOING HOME, & “Firsts”