NaPoWriMo certainly gets to the heart of things. I enjoy April every year for the gifts of words and focus on poetry. I give myself permission to write a lot of rubbish, but every year there are a handful of poems created with a glow, many of these go on to be published in magazines, anthologies and my own collections.
Today, our featured participant is color me in cyanide and cherry . . ., where the liminal prompt for Day 4 led to a wonderfuly dreamy-spooky poem, and taught me a new word, too!
Our featured reading is a live event that will take place tomorrow, April 6, at 8 p.m. eastern daylight time. The poets Mairead Case, Kenyatta Rogers, Erika Hodges, and Israel Solis, Jr will all be reading as part of the Open Door Series, sponsored by the Poetry Foundation.
And now for our prompt. I call this one “The Shapes a Bright Container Can Contain,” after this poem by Theodore Roethke.
This prompt challenges you to find a poem, and then write a new poem that has the shape of the original, and in which every line starts with the first letter of the corresponding line in the original poem… Any poem will do as a jumping-off point, but if you’re having trouble finding one, perhaps you might consider Mary Szybist’s “We Think We Do Not Have Medieval Eyes” or for something shorter, Natalie Shapero’s “Pennsylvania.”
Yesterday I spent some extra time with NaPo – inspired by the featured participant poem, I wrote a poem from the 6 words drawn from the Universal Deck prompt (Day 3), which involved some planetary research – again this is a theme I explored in poetry a few years ago so felt like familiar territory. The poem explores the disconnect between creative and scientific and stories we believe. It was surprising – as any poem resulting from the deck prompt is bound to be.
I read the featured poem Waldeinsamkeit, this is the chosen image. An incredible, wondrous poem grew from this prompt.
Waldeinsamkeit – I knew this was a German word, but haven’t studied the language since I was a teenager, when I looked up the meaning I discovered it loosely translates as: solitude of the forest/ the feeling of being alone in the woods. Wald (“forest”) + Einsamkeit (“loneliness”), which I think you get from the poem anyway but it does put the forest ensemble in context.
When I read this poem I was struck by many lines:
handing out tea-cups of air to a stuffed forest ensemble seated around the table – You watch but do not drink, not even of the sunlight
will not breach through my eyes that reach with the hunger of the treetops,
the nightbound places of my roots;
I was absorbed into this poem of body and wood, of devil and soil, of observation and being watched (or not). I had a wander around the blog and read other poems by Mirjana M, Inalman.
I often use the Poetry Foundation website, I hope to attend this reading series but it is 1-2AM BST and I am in a late night event which finishes at 1 AM already and in a month when I was attempting to cool the number of readings I attend. The laptop is on its last legs and I have work to finish. It is in the diary but may be missed. I discovered the NaPo reading from yesterday was also LIVE/available to watch on You Tube, so maybe the PF one will be too, although looking at their You Tube channel there is no evidence of this.
When I read today’s prompt I felt my mind twist with the implication for the resulting work. I was happy to try something I haven’t done before. I never did the ‘mimic’ poem/poet stage as a developing writer and although prompts like this can throw up some incredibly original work I worry about the link to the original and the closeness of forgery. I guess if the poem I create is ever submitted I would just cite ‘After…’ and the original source. I know the copyright laws/infringement vary greatly between the US and UK. I did a lot of research when I was editing the Transatlantic Anthology for the A Tale of Two Cities project, from which many poets have gone on to publish their work, which is a joy. (Another anthology of Worcestershire poetry ‘The Poetry of Worcestershire’, published by Offa’s Press featured a great many poems local poets had written during my Worcestershire Poet Laureate projects too.) Spreading the poetry love!
As I was unsure about creating from an already created source, I decided to use one of the referenced poems (which probably means there will be millions of almost couplet poems starting with O-W-I-I-W lines), but never-mind, that is the fun of Napo, just to play and create. We are not writing for publication right now.
For all the years I have done this writing month I have a handful of decent/reworked/edited/workshopped Napo poems in print, there are a few in both my own collections Fragile Houses (2016) and Patience (2019) as well as various magazines and anthologies. But right now, if you are feeling like me… just breathe and DIVE IN!
When I extracted Natalie Shapero’s “Pennsylvania” the first thing I noticed was the amount of repeated letters, I know there are differences between UK and US poetry too and was unsure whether this would result in a good poem at first. But remember rules can always be broken and already I feel this ‘mimic form prompt’ will possibly be rendered down to create a different end-poem, I got down to the writing anyway. After all, NaPo isn’t about worrying whether the writing is any good and even our rubbish writes take us somewhere.
Do not be afraid and if a prompt scares you that can be a GOOD thing, NaPo for me is all about writing poems which would not otherwise have been written.
Another tip would be: Choose a poem you aren’t familiar with, don’t read it. Strip it for the parts needed to complete this prompt – write and only when finished read the original poem. Then you know for sure you have copied nothing but the initial letters and form. (Number of stanzas, lines etc.).
Mimicry is actually a recognised part of writing development it appears in many workshops and academic classes. Remind yourself you are not doing anything wrong here.
The start of my creation looked like this.
It took a surprisingly long time to create a poem, mainly because the idea forms of what it is you want to say and then you have to find a word starting with a specific letter to fit that, but this is the gold dust of this prompt – by following the constraints of the rule you finish with a poem worded in a way you wouldn’t naturally have written it.
I didn’t worry too much about the ten syllable counts, or matching line lengths to the original, I just wrote what felt right.
After I finished I read the original and copied and pasted the poems side by side. Several of my lines were longer in places so I changed the size of the font to make them carry the couplet form, (obviously not necessary when just looking at my poem alone). I was intrigued to find that I started with the idea of the world still turning, carrying on without you and the original Natalie is talking of death and new life, the circle of life;
the whole of the globe turning
off for a moment, then shuddering
back, the same as it was,
Covering the same concept because when you are ill in hospital or cut off by grief you feel this sense of no longer being part of the world, and yet everything around you carries on despite your world being forever changed. Other than that the poems are (I am happy to say) completely different. And the common ground is a universal experience which has been written about for hundreds/thousands of years. My troublesome title came right at the end, I had a selection of P words, but Prognosis only entered my head as I was typing the penultimate couplet.
An extract from Prognosis:
encode the hours between meds and cups of tea.
Accept this bed, this broken body–
prophesize your release.
I knew of Natalie Shapero, but had not read this particular poem. It sounds like a spectacular collection, read about it here: