Week 9: Duel Task ~ Results

Beth, Dustin, and Dana were joined by guest judge Denise Duhamel for Week 9: Duel Task. Click here to revisit pop culture portion of the assignment, and click here to revisit the revision portion of the assignment.

THE FINAL THREE:
EMILY VAN DUYNE
W.F. ROBY
KATHI MORRISON-TAYLOR

Beth Gylys said it best when she said, “I want to be clear, my top choice and bottom choice are not separated by miles, but rather by degrees of degrees.” I hope each of you take Beth’s words to heart.

Emily, you’ve earned a spot in the final two. Congratulations!

W.F. and Kathi, both of you are talented poets. Both of you have been active in the poetry scene before this contest, and I know you’ll continue after.

I’m sorry, W.F., you are on permanent caesura.

Kathi, congratulations!

Week 9: Duel Task (Poem Revisions!)

Week 9: Duel Task is a two part assignment for the remaining Project Verse contestants. Below you will find the poems from the revision portion of the assignment.

*************************************************
*************************************************

EMILY VAN DUYNE

ORIGINAL:
Elegy

Oh My God, the angels
wear white gloves on their left hands!
Eternity’s a big fat fucking show
tonight, vacuous black churned white

& glittering. I can see it
from my little clammy foxhole. The sky
is vintage celluloid, the hell with digital.
I hope you didn’t think

you’d make a nice clean break!
For’s Christ’s sake, don’t fail
us now— the stars went scuttling when
they heard you coming! You wouldn’t

leave us with no light
to top the bill? You couldn’t leave
us in the dark. We need another
comeback, need to know this isn’t how it ends—

(if you can end, then so can we)
& trust this Jersey girl who stalks
the sky— we never cared for your humanity.
The world’s no

stage these days, it’s just a screen,
some dumb flat firmament; convince me
why your death would break the mold.
Look up— even the moon’s turned out

for you; old hag of rag & bone,
she’s donned her crescent gold, she’s
donned her best. She’s know
tonight she hosts an honored guest.

REVISION:
Elegy

Oh My God, look up! The angels wear white
gloves on their left hands! A chorus line of shimmy

hipping seraphim. Eternity’s a big, fat blazing
show tonight, vacuous black churned white

and glittering. The sky is vintage celluloid, the hell
with digital. The world’s no stage

these days, it’s just a screen, some dumb
flat firmament; why should heaven break

the mold? Even the moon’s turned out! She’s donned
her best, crescent gold. She hangs in wait

for your arrival; the stars are milling in the aisles.
Mars has snagged the house’s choicest seat. So sorry,

but there isn’t time to sleep! Look, there— the lady
moon’s sashayed into eclipse for your debut:

your show will go on, with or without you.

Emily revised her poem from Week 3: Simile Vs Metaphor, and her strongest line selection is and glittering. The sky is vintage celluloid, the hell.

THE JUDGES SPEAK:
Beth:
I’m glad to see this revision as well. The original was somewhat confusing and the revision seems to me more easily applicable as a general elegy and reads as more sad and more powerful to me because of that. The end “your show will go on, with or without you” is lovely and could be said for and to many who have died, not just Michael Jackson (which I think was the inspiration for the poem). I like the revisions of the beginning too, though I did miss the “big fat fucking” line in the revised version. I agree with Emily about he strongest line, and I think this is a fine revision.

Dustin: I remember my disappointment when I read the original version of this poem. You’ve taken most of that disappointment away. Your original poem was almost in the land known as hot mess, but your revision rescued it. I do believe there is still something missing from this poem, but I’m not quite sure what is missing. I’m happy you picked this poem, and I like the line you picked as your strongest.

Dana: Very much loving your revisions. Now the piece, which still does not mention Michael Jackson, is about more than him, so the whole thing works beautifully. The elegy is now, in my reading, not to Jackson specifically, but rather to the fact that: “The world’s no stage / these days, it’s just a screen, some dumb / flat firmament.” This move positions your poem as being contemporary in terms of pop culture but also as being conversant with literary history. The allusion you make to the world being a stage, and how we’ve moved beyond that, is remarkable — as in, something to be remarked on, as I am doing right now. You do a lovely job with the extended metaphor, creating an entire world inside this poem. I love the line you chose as your favorite from the original, and I feel the new form really helped snap this poem into place.

Guest Judge Denise Duhamel: Yes to the couplets! The poem is much “cleaner” in this version—earth and sky, humans and angels, digital and analog. This is a lovely poem—“sashayed” and “snagged” indeed.

*************************************************
*************************************************

W.F. ROBY

Original:
Singing “Death Letter” at Dawn

Crickets out there singing “Teach me, teach me.”
My baby she wrote me a candle
just long enough to read her letter by,
in the time it takes to flip the record.

My baby she wrote me a candle
in the moonlight sharp as chicken bones.
In the time it takes to flip the record
my baby kicked holes in the toolhouse.

in the moonlight sharp as chicken bones.
Now I look for the grave at my toes.
My baby kicked holes in the toolhouse
until the sun went cannon dark,

now I look for the grave at my toes.
My baby she wrote me a cloudburst —
until the sun went cannon dark,
just long enough to light a candle by,

My baby she wrote me a cloudburst —
my baby she wrote me a letter
just long enough to light a candle by,
just short enough to skip the record.

My baby she wrote me a letter
just long enough to read her letter by,
just short enough to skip the record.
Crickets out there singing “Teach me, teach me.”

REVISION:
A Song Written on the Wall of the Communal Shower
Crystal Beach, Texas, 2002

The beach road’s jutting stripes spit back.
We lost the rubber of a tire
scouting out a pasture where two horses
melt a little every day. The cut still smells like meth —
the cops are quick to point their pens under umbrellas.
That night we spit smoke, waved off the storm,
wonder-eyed and kicking the ass of the cobweb highway.
We edged out along the front winds, we wrecked
and lost the bet.

Now, there’s a crack in the wall of my beach house
between the screen and the front door.
A flower grows there. When
I pick the flower another bud pops up
in the time it takes to flip a record.
There is a mark on the face
of the latest bloom, this one
bent toward the beach, reaching
for the dune where you rest, where your car
sits torched and whining. The tires spin
against the pebbles set aside
for oyster’s mouths or the sandals of a tourist.

For the sake of wind there are clouds and for
the sake of clouds there are umbrellas, though
the two have never met, in fact would not get along. The sun
puffs cannon dark, setting behind offshore rigs,
painting the water as coconut might stain
the sleeve of a dinner jacket, just
a whistle of color. I wait
for the grave at my toes.
This is the coffee and this is the tea
I drink, lonely as laundry left to stack
and wrinkle in its pile — perhaps
a hyphen is tragic to watch up close but
delicious when seen from a bullet train. Crickets

set up shop while the light drips off to Mexico.
They sing “Teach me” over ankle horns and driftwood.
At night I move with the grace of a death letter —
I jump over rocks, across sand, I jump with feet pressed numb
to the planks buried half in sand, half in sleep.
I find you in the dark, open the car door
callous-stiff and salty. I pull you out, we run
where delicate shore beasts press
their claws against the beads of the beach. And when
at day’s end the sun gives up
we decide we are not ready.
You hold the sun there, heavy on the horizon,
making glass of everything.

W.F. revised his poem from Week 7: Pantoum, and his strongest line selection is At night I move with the grace of a death letter-.

THE JUDGES SPEAK:
Beth:
This revision blows me out of the water. It’s so completely different and so much richer and more complex than the pantoum. I love seeing the way the poet recreates the impulse and fashions it into a whole new outfit, as it were. And the language and imagery and movement of the poem all seem rich and surprising and right. “The sun/puffs cannon dark, setting behind offshore rigs,/paintint he water as coconut might stain/the sleeve of a dinner jacket, just/a whistle of color.” I love that “just a whistle of color” I love the dreamy, surreal quality of the poem. This is wonderful and impressive work.

Dustin: I’m happy to see you selected your week 7 poem to revise. You did an amazing job with this revision. Seriously! This poem is splendid in terms of revisions. Yes, this poem could use some trimming in places, but I’m only concerned in the before and after. The place where you pulled this poem, that’s where I want you to write from. On the other portion of the assignment, I stated that you didn’t have control of the poem; you definitely have more control in this poem. I’m also in love with the line you selected.

Dana: I could pick this poem apart in terms of what is not working. But why do that? What I need for you to know is that this poem is so powerful that when I read it while I was at the Wave Books Weekend Poetry Festival, the following three things happened: 1. I could not stop reading it and must have read and reread it for an hour, 2. I chose to read and reread it instead of reading any of the books I had just purchased from Wave authors (and that is saying a hell of a lot), 3. I ended up in the restroom at The Henry, where the event was being held, crying. That’s right. I was overcome by this poem the way I am often overcome by classical music — all that it contains and all that it leaves our for us to insert our own lives, emotions and minds into. This is a risky poem. This is a beautiful poem. I see so much in it, and in you as a poet, when I read it. The difference between the original and the revision is startling. Even that title! Wow.

Guest Judge Denise Duhamel: I honestly thing you have TWO strong poems here—the pantoum which mirrors the skipping record and this new version which riffs on the original.

*************************************************
*************************************************

KATHI MORRISON-TAYLOR

ORIGINAL:
From the Phrase Book of my Fearful Mother

Adventures are for careless people.
Life is dangerous—then you die.
Here’s the church and here’s the steeple.
Watch out for the other guy.

Life is dangerous—then you die.
Every man will want your body.
Watch out for the other guy.
Eating dessert first is naughty.

Every man will want your body.
Knee his groin; poke out his eyes.
Eating dessert first is naughty.
Don’t believe their twisted lies.

Knee his groin; poke out his eyes.
Never say I didn’t tell you.
Don’t believe their twisted lies.
Unrequited love can kill you.

Never say I didn’t tell you.
Henry James, The Wings of the Dove?
Unrequited love can kill you.
Sex, drugs, rock & roll, and love.

Henry James, The Wings of the Dove?
You should go rent Vertigo.
Sex, drugs, rock & roll, and love.
Stop that, now! You know, I know.

You should go rent Vertigo.
Here’s the church and here’s the steeple.
Stop that, now! You know, I know.
Adventures are for careless people.

REVISION:
My Mother’s Explanation

Adventures are for careless people:
never say I didn’t tell you.
Here’s the church and here’s the steeple—
unrequited love can kill you.

Never say I didn’t tell you,
when I was young, I was naive.
Unrequited love can kill you;
he loved his art more than he loved me.

I was young, like you, naive—
your father was a terrible spouse.
He loved his art more than he loved me;
those garish abstracts hung in our house.

Your father was a terrible spouse
and he could be a nasty drunk.
Those god-awful abstracts in our house,
my closets stuffed with still-life junk.

Yes, he could be a nasty drunk:
I stayed with him because I should,
filled secret closets with married-folk junk,
and drank until I understood,

I stayed with him because I should.
Here’s the church and here’s the steeple—
fold your hands. You understand?
Adventures are for careless people.

Kathi revised her poem from Week 7: Pantoum, and her strongest line selection is Unrequited love can kill you.

THE JUDGES SPEAK:
Beth:
I can see exactly what Kathi is pushing for in this revision: to create a more clear character, and I would say she is absolutely successful in that attempt. Oddly, though, I felt like the poem was a little flatter in this version, and I’m not sure why. Maybe because I had read the earlier version, so I knew the general setup, or maybe because the language is a little flat, even though more specific and more effective in some ways. I like the impulse behind this poem, and for further revision, I’d suggest maybe loosening the rhyme scheme so that the language has a little more breathing room. THe poem feels a little like it’s trapped inside something. I do agree that the poem “unrequited love can kill you” is wonderful, and I almost don’t understand the mother, unless she had an unrequited love and then married out of necessity? Maybe there is more to this story, and we need those details here? I don’t think the poem has quite found its final shape, but an admirable attempt here.

Dustin: If we put each line selected by the poets on a list, well, I’d have to go with “Unrequited love can kill you” as my favorite. Great choice! I’m also happy with the poem you selected for the revision portion of the assignment; however, I think there is still some work to be done. Maybe get rid of the cliche “Here’s the church and here’s the steeple.” “Yes, he could be a nasty drunk: / I stayed with him because I should”– much better than what you had in the original version.

Dana: I found myself writing “yes, yes, yes” next to so many of your revised lines. Thank you for opening this poem up to the form and all the potential and subtlety the form contains. And you opened up in terms of content as well, letting the reader learn much more about this narrator’s mother — and in the end about the narrator — than before. I personally would have selected the line “Adventures are for careless people” as the strongest from your original, but that’s a minor point, since the line you chose is also very strong. You used the line you chose, and incorporated the line I liked best as well — and you turned out a very strong poem in the end. You’ve created shades and nuance and depth where there wasn’t any before. I do have to say that I like the title better from the original, though, maybe without the word “phrasebook” but instead just “book.”

Guest Judge Denise Duhamel: Yes! Great revision. Though I miss the “dessert” line. Anyway to bring that back?

*************************************************
*************************************************

PV Week 9: Duel Task (Pop Culture Poems!)

Week 9: Duel Task is a two part assignment for the remaining Project Verse contestants. Below you will find the poems from the pop culture portion of the assignment.

*************************************************
*************************************************

Weekly Guest Judge Beth Gylys wants to send out this message:
These poems are all really wonderfully inventive and powerful and fun. I have to say that I want to be clear, my top choice and bottom choice are not separated by miles, but rather by degrees of degrees, and all of the poems are well worthy of high praise. You four poets have been consistently strong, stalwart, hard-working, innovative and delightful. It has been a pleasure to read your work. Kudos to you all!

*************************************************
*************************************************

EMILY VAN DUYNE
Ars Poetica

‘If Fred Astaire was up and around again and dancing with a humming Frank O’Hara across the dear and broken landscapes of our lives, the sound of their steps, through the late spring afternoon, might have some of the sweetness of these poems. But these poems are sweeter than even that…’ – from Marie Howe’s blurb for All-American Poem

My grandfather is back up and banging
heavy nails with a heavy hammer. None of this if shit,
none of this might. I’m telling you, it’s cold
in my poem. It’s not the late spring. It’s winter
again. The sky’s that deep, headstrong,
island slate, but it won’t fucking snow. We can’t get a break.
We are poised on the verge

of nothing but another long season, building summer
homes for the American rich. I’m stuck
in this town. Try and look out to the ocean—you can’t! It’s blocked
by this skeleton house my grandfather builds, for a family I’ll never meet.
The dad’s a lawyer in Philly. The mom’s got a wet
nurse. I’m not making this up. No one’s dancing
in my poem, ok? I spent last week trying to write

about desire and ended up
in the cold. I thought about the Beatles, blared
Abbey Road, ran my hands down
my taut summer skin, I want you, I want
you so bad…
I got tarted up: a bird in fishnets
with a seam down the back. ‘Girl’ played on repeat
on my turntable, I smoked, topless… It didn’t matter, no one

wants to hear that story. Least of all, my grandfather, whose sweat
is frozen to his hoary brow. Usually in my poems, he’s half
Viking, half Tennyson. He remains
all dead, but this morning he’s visiting
as himself: checkered red flannel and a black wool cap. He wants
a cup of coffee. It’s ten o’clock break. I get the thermos
from the truck. He can’t believe I’m still going

at this poetry shit. Pop-pop, me either. You wouldn’t
believe the asses you have to kiss. And the boys!
They’re the worst. All delicate bones and paisley scarves. Give me
a man, I need a fullback. Someone whose glasses won’t break
in bed. Pop-pop laughs so loud, he snorts. He says they sound
like Gene Kelly. He hates Gene Kelly. Namby-pamby
son of a bitch… Fred Astaire, now there was a dancer, he could really move…

Totally, I nod, sip my bitter, black coffee. I still can’t see
the ocean, but the sun’s out. He picks up his hammer and drops
me a kiss on my red, freckled cheek: back
to work. His heavy steps echo in someone else’s kitchen. No
sweet patter. All boots. He disappears
behind a half-built wall, stuffed pink with insulation. The paint
splattered boom box blares,
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbspOh, darling! If you leave me,
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbspI’ll never make it alone…

THE JUDGES SPEAK:
Beth:
This is the Emily I’ve come to love over the course of the last few months. I love the wacky energy and the bravado of the imagery “The sky’s that deep, headstrong/island slate” And also the wonderful command of tone: “The dad’s a lawyer in Philly. The mom’s got a wet/nurse. I’m not making this up. No one’s dancing/in my poem, ok?” And there’s a wonderful sense of humor at work too “he’s half/Viking, half Tennyson”. At her best, Emily’s work is both fun and wildly imaginative at the same time that it is poignant, and this poem for me shows all of her strengths. The relationship between speaker and grandfather is touching and funny and wistful and the dramatic scenario of the poem effectively defines who Emily is as an artist. Well done.

Dustin: Your title does work; I think it would beckon people from a table of content, and it would do so with an air of mystery. I would flip to the poem wanting to know what “Ars Poetica” is about. I’ve heard Laure-Anne Bosselaar talk about the on-ramp—what we need to get our poem started. You needed the epigraph while your poem doesn’t. There are so many parts of your poem that I love: “None of this if shit, / none of this might” and “The mom’s got a wet / nurse. I’m not making this up.” and ” I smoked, topless” and “he’s half / Viking, half Tennyson. He remains/all dead” and “He can’t believe I’m still going / at this poetry shit”— there’s more to love, but I’m not going to keep going on and on. You do a fantastic job with this poem. This poem does need a little dusting; however, after that dusting it will be ready to be placed on your mantel with pride and joy.

Dana: Nice epigraph. The combination of pop culture references and the poem being about the narrator’s Pop is lovely. I was scared by the title — not a poem about poems! — but this poem does the ars poetica so well by remaining steeped in detail. I for one absolutely want to hear the story about the narrator smoking topless. (I am just saying.) Also, this is a different voice. I love your other voices, but I love this one, too. Totally. I think this is your gift — the assumption of voice and your ability to be immersed in it. I know that’s stating the obvious. I would love to see a collection from you in which you really push into all sorts of voices, where multi-vocality and modulation of voice from poem to poem are what drive the collection as a whole. I would look at the lineation on revision. It seems a little funky in places right now.

Guest Judge Denise Duhamel: “Ars Poetica” is a strong and feisty poem. The voice is clear, determined, a scrappy gal who I am rooting for the whole poem. My only difficulty with this poem was the Howe quote which seemed strange—a blurb to introduce another poem was hard to wrap my head around. I wonder if the poem might just start with the speaker reading the back of a book, seeing the blurb, and launching into her “None of this if shit” riff. Her take on overdevelopment, masculinity, and loneliness are brilliant and real. In fact, “None of this if shit” might be a great title for this poem.

*************************************************

W.F. ROBY
Twenty-six Words for Snow

O Eskimo Pie, O confection frozen
stiff to the wall of the freezer, O vanilla,
O chocolate coat, O foil sleeve you fit inside —
home is where the heart hits the asphalt
my dear, my cold misnomer. In summer
you leave your color on my hands,
you paint the needy grass with tar.
Here is a letter I’ve written to you
and washed of ink, and slipped into
the Gulf of Mexico. Here is a photo of us
caught between noon and the second hand.
I am stuck ankle deep in sand the color of ash —
you are learning the name of the heat,
you are writing it down.

We lie on our backs in a haystack,
you with your pinched face, eyes tight,
your mouth frozen in a perfect O – and I
welcome you to the cave of the Oracle. Where
we turn the gas way up. You are my golden ball,
the thing I forget in sleep but remember
with fondness in the morning, saying “O she certainly does shine.”
Es-ki-mo pie, I fold your foil jacket into words, I hold
each syllable in the palm of my hand
like a train ticket or a promise from a friend.
I’ve given up the smoking, mon petit chou,
chased it off the front porch. All for you.

My Eskimo Pie — in a dream we got married
down South. We walked hand to stick
from cabana to dark swamp
where dry sticks caught a pile of sparklers,
where sparklers wrestled with smoky coals,
where coals sent fire trailing back towards
the wood panel of your dad’s old wagon.
When I woke up, you were pinched between
two chipped fingernails, a girl in a cowgirl suit
with chocolate on her lips. She thought
she’d sneak into the races, find a boy on a horse maybe
could drive her back to Loose-e-ana to see
the hurricane kick and the bayou kick back.

O Eskimo Pie — sometimes when I say your name
I feel my heartbeat in my thigh. Other times
it’s just an incoming call or
the words in red in the family Bible
buzzing through the dead leather. Inside the freezer
where you rest in a hunch
someone nailed shelves at precise heights
for the hand of a child to switch on the lights,
neon, fluorescent and a third light incandescent
taped to the wall for precision. Tonight
let’s walk upwind. I’ll try to remember what Whitman says
about the Learn’d Astronomer with his charts and graphs —
I think it goes like this.

THE JUDGES SPEAK:
Beth:
This is another one of those poems that makes my mouth go agape. I love the traditional invocation in the poem to the ‘eskimo pie’. THe poem’s inventive, wildly imaginative, “O foil sleeve you fit inside–/home is where the heart hits the asphalt.” The poem’s over the top, but wonderfully so. “sometimes when I say your name/I feel my heartbeat in my thigh.” Wowza! I did struggle with the end cause I keep reading it as a colon. I think it goes like this: and want something more. This is probably my problem, not W.F.’s. Fine work.

Dustin: W.F., I want to love this poem. I really do, but I can’t. With your revised week 8 poem, you showed you finally trusted yourself to write what you wanted to write, but the key is that you controlled it. I think you lost control in “Twenty-six Words for Snow.” I think there is a lot of room for cutting to make much tighter lines. Don’t get me wrong– this is not a bad poem. You have lovely parts: “the words in red in the family Bible / buzzing through the dead leather” and “In summer / you leave your color on my hands.” I only wish there were more of those kinds of moments.

Dana: I love how this poem resonates with your revision — asphalt, color being bled from one thing to another, the beach — to name just a few of the parallels. This whole section is rad: “home is where the heart hits the asphalt / my dear, my cold misnomer. In summer / you leave your color on my hands, / you paint the needy grass with tar.” (I used to paint the needy grass with Silly Putty when I was a kid, and I also picked tar bubbles in the road — obsessively, as if I was picking away at some truth.) I was so enthralled by this poem that I completely forgot it was a poem driven by pop culture references. Some might argue that I forgot because pop culture does not drive the poem; I would argue that they are wrong and that this poem has pop culture so seamlessly grafted to it that it’s like a cybernetic moth which looks as if it is navigating the air on its own terms, when there is actually a tiny mechanism inside making it go this way and that. And I love the reference to those old Luzianne iced tea commercials. Get out! (That’s not your narrator’s heart beating by his thigh, btw.) What do you think about ending it on “Tonight / let’s walk upwind”?

Guest Judge Denise Duhamel: YES! OUI! SI! This is a fantastic fantastical poem about love. The personification of the Eskimo pie is hilarious and metaphorically apt. Where I get a little confused is the date—just hard to actually see. How big is this Eskimo pie, for example? Know what I’m saying? I was willing to go there, but I just needed a few more details to ground me. I absolutely adored “When I woke up, you were pinched between/ two chipped fingernails, a girl in a cowgirl suit/with chocolate on her lips.”

*************************************************

KATHI MORRISON-TAYLOR
In the Dream of my Father at the Bar on Tatooine

It was my father’s favorite Star Wars scene, so I’m not surprised to find him
here, drinking and tapping his glass to the cantina band of Bith aliens,
dubbed over with clarinet, saxophone, and even a Fender Rhodes piano.
(My son says the Bith species has evolved past the need for sleep, and here
I am, asleep and listening.) I think, Mos Eisley’s not unlike the dives
my father played, underage, out in the desert by Pasco, Washington:
the red-eyed wolf-men, G-I’s on their Harleys, a bounty hunter now and then,
a one-eyed sheriff, and bartenders steady as priests. Not quite that
“wretched hive of scum and villainy” Old Ben Kenobi pronounces
Mos Eisley, but still an alcoholic’s paradise.

&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp Looking down on us, Luke has just said,
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbspI’m ready for anything.
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbspI see him come in.
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbspI see him tug
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbspon the bartender’s sleeve.

But I am across the table from my father, in this dream of the movie
renamed “A New Hope,” a man who died before the prequels, speeding
in his red car, drunk and unbuckled. No doubt, he is my father,
and he is already dead. (Let me help him lift off his mask;
let me hear him breathing.) I have to ask him where he was going
that night his car swerved and flipped, but he’s not listening,
and no one else seems to see his darkness, as he nods at a Cleopatra-girl
and orders me a Shirley Temple. Nearby, Luke falls into an argument.
I know this part. It’s right before Obi-Wan pulls out his light saber
and slices off that alien’s arm (Ponda Baba, says my son).

&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbspYou just watch yourself, someone said.
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp“I’ll be careful,” Luke answers.
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbspYou’ll be dead.

As my father points out Chewbacca to me – He looks a lot like my student Steve.
Tall and hairy
– someone sets down my drink. With a blue Jedi flash, there’s blood
on the floor and windshield glass raining on our table. My father’s forehead expands,
his ribs crack at the music’s pause. I don’t expect this, the force that brought us
to this place, after his life, years later, after I’m ready for bed, the galaxy’s violence.
I can just make out Han Solo’s face: my father’s Imperial entanglements, the 7-Up
and maraschino cherry of my drink, foreign to everyone there,
that red Ford Probe upside-down on the bar.

&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbspAnd I’m yelling, I don’t like you. No, I really don’t like you!
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsplike someone who’s lost more than an arm.

THE JUDGES SPEAK:
Beth:
Another relative in a dream poem! I love the Star Wars scene, the well-developed narrative, the problematic father figure, the cast of characters. The long lines, the compelling intermix of family drama with pop culture drama (sci fi drama), is wonderfully handled and rich and terrific. Bravo.

Dustin: Kathi, I’m shocked. My shock is NOT from your writing a good poem—I’ve come to expect that of you. I’m shocked a poem this good (written in such a short amount of time) is this good with such a heavy reliance on Star Wars references. Great job! In this poem you show us once again you are good with detail: “(My son says the Bith species has evolved past the need for sleep, and here / I am, asleep and listening.)” and “the red-eyed wolf-men, G-I’s on their Harleys, a bounty hunter now and then, / a one-eyed sheriff, and bartenders steady as priests,” and there is more! At this moment, I’m happy with what you’ve given us as it reads. Yes. At this moment, I wouldn’t change a thing with this poem; however, I bet you’ll end up making changes that will make this poem even sharper, and we’ll be wowed that the poem could be any better.

Dana: Are you all manipulating time to write such amazing pieces? I don’t really understand where all this fantastic work is coming from given the time constraints. It’s been a joy to read. This poem could have gotten away from you and turned into a parody, but you deftly control it and kept the emotional center in place throughout. Lines like “… but still an alcoholic’s paradise” are part of what keep the poem grounded in reality. That line is just this side of too much, just this side of trite, and you make it work. Then you follow it up with the plainspoken facts: “speeding / in his red car, drunk and unbuckled.” We are all visited by the dead in our dreams. Your poem touches on the universal, while your narrator pulls us into the specificity of this death, of this relationship. My father died when I was very young, and I have tried to write poems about my dreams of him. I’ve never come close to anything this skillfully or elegantly executed.

Guest Judge Denise Duhamel: I picked “In the Dream of my Father at the Bar on Tatooine” even though I am not much of a Star Wars fan and didn’t know all the movie references. This poem exemplifies the power of pop culture in that it took something as banal as a blockbuster movie and re-worked the mythic implications of masks and fatherhood to a personal/universal story about a “real” father and child. In addition to the Star Wars references, we get the Americana of the corner bar, Harleys, a bounty hunter, and Shirley Temple (the drink, but also the actress/innocence is implied). A very moving poem.

*************************************************

Week 9: Guest Judge Denise Duhamel

Denise Duhamel’s most recent poetry titles are Ka-Ching! (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2009); Two and Two (Pittsburgh, 2005); Mille et un Sentiments (Firewheel, 2005); Queen for a Day: Selected and New Poems (Pittsburgh, 2001); and The Star-Spangled Banner (Southern Illinois University Press, 1999. A recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, she is an associate professor at Florida International University in Miami. Don’t forget to visit Denise in a monthly column at Read Write Poem called the Double Ds. Become a fan of Denise Duhamel or a Duhamalite on Facebook!

Week 9: Duel Task

WEEK 9: DUEL TASK

Next week, we will announce the two finalists for Project Verse!

Contestants, read this assignment thoroughly:
Pick what you consider your weakest poem written during Week 1 through Week 7 of the competition. You are going to revise the selected poem. (Yes, there is a bit of repetition with this part of the assignment since you are already revising your Week 8 poems; however, please remember the weekly assignments were written before the start of the competition.) At the bottom of the revised poem, you must write what you feel is the strongest line of the poem; I suggest you pick a line you feel you can work with. Pick everything wisely; besides being judged you on your revision technique, we are also judging you on the poem you select as well as the line.

As if revising isn’t enough!—you also have another poem to write. Pop culture references are often hard to weave into poems; however, poets like David Trinidad and Denise Duhamel do it with ease. Duhamel has a whole book inspired by the pop culture icon known as Barbie. If she can write a book of brilliant poems, surely you can write a single poem that is DRIVEN by a pop culture reference.

Your poem driven by a pop culture reference must be written in 60 lines or less.

No form constraints.

Get to writing!