NaPoWriMo 2018 Day 20



Today is April 20th, and that means we are now two-thirds of the way through Na/GloPoWriMo, 2018. Time flies when you’re writing poems!

Today’s featured participant is Summer Blues, where the simple language of the poem written for Day 19’s structured erasure prompt eases you into a subtle but satisfying resolution.

Our craft resource for the day is Alice Notley’s essay, The Poetics of Disobedience. In it, Notley advocates for a poet to “maintain a state of disobedience against…everything.” By this she means remaining open to all forms, all subjects, and not becoming beholden to “usual” methods for writing. Whenever we are sure that there is one “right” way to write, or some specific set of topics that are the “right” ones to discuss, we should ask ourselves, what part of experience are we leaving out? And why?

Our prompt for the day (optional as always) takes its cue from Notley’s rebelliousness, and asks you to write a poem that involves rebellion in some way. The speaker or subject of the poem could defy a rule or stricture that’s been placed on them, or the poem could begin by obeying a rule and then proceed to break it (for example, a poem that starts out in iambic pentameter, and then breaks into sprawling, unmetered lines). Or if you tend to write funny poems, you could rebel against yourself, and write something serious (or vice versa). Whatever approach you take, your poem hopefully will open a path beyond the standard, hum-drum ruts that every poet sometimes falls into.


From the essay I grabbed ‘a state of disobedience’ and wrote from there. I often think that the Government advice which is anything from alcohol consumption/health to weaning babies is unnecessary and a bit ‘1984’ (Orwell), so I ran with the idea of a woman who was rebelling against every legislation.

The poem itself is nonsense really but it was fun to write.

She used the low risk drinking guidelines leaflet as a beer mat,

5ab39dd423e2c-bpfull The Poetry School Day 20

Day 20: Personism 

Today I’d like you to write a poem that speaks directly to another person. It should be written so that you “could use the telephone instead of writing the poem” — or so says Frank O’Hara in his manifesto, Personism.

But what is Personism? Back to Frank:

“Personism, a movement which I recently founded and which nobody knows about… was founded by me after lunch with LeRoi Jones on August 27, 1959, a day in which I was in love with someone (not Roi, by the way, a blond). I went back to work and wrote a poem for this person. While I was writing it I was realizing that if I wanted to I could use the telephone instead of writing the poem, and so Personism was born. It’s a very exciting movement which will undoubtedly have lots of adherents. It puts the poem squarely between the poet and the person, Lucky Pierre style, and the poem is correspondingly gratified. The poem is at last between two persons instead of two pages.”

We know because O’Hara dated his work, that the poem he references here, the one he wrote ‘for this person’, was ‘Personal Poem’, and that is today’s example poem.

Note how the poem speaks directly to the addressee (casually, as if on the phone) but doesn’t mention them or discuss their relationship with the speaker. It can be tempting with this prompt to write to someone about something important in your relationship with them – a declaration of love, a long-withheld confession, an apology – and this is a perfectly valid way to go about it, but is that really what you always talk about when you get them on the phone?

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