Students in my online, 24PearlStreet “Every Phantom // A Story: Erasure and Revision” course explored erasure as a political and social justice act and then completed “Dear ,” an erasive poetry exercise, last week after reading the following assignments:
Last week I had my 24PearlStreet Erasure and Revision students burn, soak, and rip up handwritten copies of a new love poem. I called these “environmental erasures,” inspired— or, rather, after—Sappho’s surviving verses on papyrus fragments. Here are the directions:
“Love Poem Lost”
1. Draft a poem addressed to a (real or imagined) lost love. This can be a romantic love or a love based in friendship, someone once known or a teenage celebrity crush.
Write out by hand or print three copies of the poem, and then perform the following acts of environmental erasure, taking pictures along the way:
– Burn: Go into a safe, open environment and hold a match or lighter up to strategic places on the page.
– Soak: Use water, wine, coffee, vinegar, or some other liquid to ruin or occlude portions of the page. (Works best on free-flowing, not ball-point, pen ink.)
– Rip: Tear up the poem into quarters. “Lose” at least two of these quarters.
Post pictures from each act of erasure, along with paragraph-long reflection about the process. What happened to your poems in each of these environmental erasures? What was brought out? What was subverted?
The Warren County Cultural & Heritage Commission asked me to teach as a part of their Teen Arts day. Although post-blizzard school delays prevented us from taking full advantage of my two planned workshops, the exercises and lesson plans I prepared for the day are collected here for other educators’ use.
9:30–11:00 AM: Beyond Rhyme: Poetry’s Music
How do we make our poems “flow”? How many word fireworks can we set off in a single line of poetry? In this workshop, we will explore the sounds and rhythms of free-verse poetry by listening to poems, trying out new techniques, and writing our own new poems.
Who are you?
What school do you go to?
Why did you take this class?
What’s your favorite word?
What is poetry?
What makes poetry poetry?
What makes poems sound good? How do they “flow”?
Some vocab: rhyme, cadence, assonance, consonance, alliteration, anaphora
Free write a poem on any subject. For every noun you use, you must select one that has at least one sound similar to the previous adjective, verb, or noun. Example, from “Inversnaid”: “This darksome burn, horseback brown.” The noun “burn” borrows the sound of r- in “darksome,” as does the noun “brown” from “horseback.” Additionally, the latter noun also borrows the b sound from “back.”
11:30 AM–1:00 PM: Speech Bubbles: Poetry 10 Ways
Ever heard the phrase, “The medium is the message”? In this poetry workshop, we’ll try our hand at writing poems using different mediums-posterboard, postcards, typewriters, and on our toes-to see if we can appeal to different parts of our brains and become more creative.
Who are you?
What school do you go to?
Why did you take this class?
How (and on what) do you usually write?
Writing Exercise: Poetry 10 Ways
Station 1: Writing by Hand. Freewrite a poem of at least 4 lines on unlined paper.
Station 2/3: Landscape/Portrait. Freewrite a poem on the index card laid out horizontally, and then rewrite it on another index card laid out vertically.
Station 4: Big Concerns. Using a pastel, freewrite a poem on a piece of posterboard. Try to “size up” your handwriting to the size of the paper.
Station 5: Boxing It In. Using the colored pens, I’d like for you to take one of your poems written at a previous station and underline the most important five words in that poem. In another color, I’d like for you circle all the nouns. In another color, I’d like for you to put a square around all the verbs. In another color, I’d like for you to put an X through at least three unnecessary words in the poem.
Station 6: The Snake Eating Its Tail. At this station, you will partner with another student. Rewrite one of your previously drafted poems in pencil on a piece of paper. Swap poems with your partner, and then erase 5 to 7 words from your partner’s poem.
Station 7: Address. Select a friend or a family member to whom you have a lot to say. Write a poem to them on the provided cards.
Station 8: Cut! Copy out one of the poems you brought in previously. Use the scissors to cut it in half.
Station 9: Walk It Off. Go out into the hall. You will compose a poem in your head while you walk to the end of the hall and back. Try to come up with one word per step. Record yourself (using your phone or mine) speaking aloud the poem.
Station 10: Type It Up. Come to this computer workstation and type up one version of one of the poems you have written today in this Google doc. Your only parameter here is that you must introduce new line breaks.
On days after nights I dream wildly, my imagination’s much more agile, limber. These are the best days for me to write, and I begin by recording the dream in my writing notebook. This transcription—or, rather, translation—of the dream returns me to a fertile space, where probabilities lack context and possibilities abound.
This morning I created a little exercise for myself, a prompt to keep me creative when I don’t have the time or energy (ahem, end of the semester) to keep me writing poems. I collected tweets, with some redaction and the introduction of some punctuation, from three other Twitter users with the name Emilia Phillips, and I created the found poem below. The line breaks are mine. The exercise could easily be adapted for the classroom setting, especially if you have your students search for their online name-twins.
Found Poem Made Up of Tweets By Three Other Emilia Phillipses, All Teenage Girls
Today marks the first time in history
I have ever been satisfied
with my school photo. There’s a special place
in hell for people who think it’s okay
to rip out your earbuds and eat
your food without asking. If only
emotional stress used up
calories. When I say there’s nothing
to eat I mean there’s next to nothing
I enjoy. Quit saying I wish and begin
saying I shall. Scratch that,
I hated summer when it was still
winter. Do you ever just think
to yourself what the hell
are you doing with your life. Oh,
shut up with all this
“Previously on…” crap,
I’ve already binge watched
six episodes today. Can’t do this anymore
and I don’t see why
I have to. Wow I really
like Chance the Rapper #plottwist. I can’t pretend to smile,
all I do is think about how
my life can be better. You don’t
understand true fear
unless you walk in on somebody
using your laptop
without your permission. I just monster
sneezed all over
my phone. Lana del Ray is
queen. I spent 12 dollars on
frozen yogurt 2 months ago
and I get angrier everytime
I realize it. I don’t feel 18…
My mom is trying to explain
the patriarchy to my sister.
Ain’t nothing gonna put out
that flame — my chem teacher.
I couldn’t resist trying my hand at another one.
Found Poem Made Up of Tweets By Three Other Emilia Phillipses, All Teenage Girls (II)
All I do is grumble about being bored
and tired. I’m always playing this game
called am I overly sensitive or were you
really being an ass. Politeness is becoming
so uncommon that many people mistake it
for flirting. The friend zone was invented
by guys who are friends with girls
and believe they are owed
sex for being a good friend. We all love
a nice ass. I am so stressed out. I have
way too many things to deal with right
now. My parents are literally watching
a nature documentary and narrating
the thoughts of the animals. My cat thinks
the Christmas tree is grass and keeps trying
to eat it. I actually feel shameful for having to use cutlery
to eat pizza. Braces suck. Who hurt you?
Why are you so pretty! So bored
of my hair. Ok next week I’m going
healthier. Need next payday
already. Christmas just isn’t the same
when it’s in the middle of summer. It’s awesome
how you can read a book, watch a film, listen
to music, speak with someone you love and forget
that there is a world
around you. Does anyone else remember
The Country Bears? I used to love that film.
Fucking vile creatures. They’re the spitting
image of a piece of shit. Peep this
gross pic of me. The proof is in the way
it hurts. I’m not always vulgar.
Sometimes I’m sleeping.
After the group presentation on Karen Russell’s Vampires in the Lemon Grove, my Craft of Prose class participated in an exercise inspired by Russell’s title story, in which they had to write from the point of view of mythological creatures who are rejecting their mythical powers, innate desires, or supernatural tendencies. Here are some of the creatures about which they wrote:
With all the driving I’ve done the last couple weeks, I’ve been drafting poems aloud again & recording them on voice memo. I haven’t yet typed them up but I have transcribed them in my notebook. I’m waiting for the page, at least for a little bit. I will be writing about composing aloud for my next Ploughshares post, and I hope to draw on the experiences of other writers and make connections between craft choices and the method of composition.
In the “Debate” writing exercise, students are asked to create two characters—political candidates—with unique syntax and diction in order to debate a phony issue, like whether muffins should actually be called cake, for example. In doing so, they learn how to format dialogue; to progress action through dialogue; and how to demonstrate a character’s values, motivations, and background through dialogue.
Yesterday I drafted a poem titled “Why I Write Poems About My Body.” As an undergrad professor, I’ve been thinking a lot about what writing I was exposed to when I was an undergraduate, what that offered me, and how it limited me. One part ars poetica, one part invective, the poem needed me to write it, even if only for myself.