Poem : Individuation and Autonomy
Please choose one of the following assignments:
- Write a poem about whatever you want.
- An ekphrastic poem is a poem that in some way describes, responds to, or interprets a work of visual art. An expanded ekphrastic, then, might respond to any work of art. Write a poem in response to a painting, sketch, sculpture, musical composition, film, song, poem, novel, essay, play, work of performance art, or some other specific work. You might describe or interpret the work of art or attempt to imitate its aesthetic goals. You might contemplate some aspect of the artist’s biography or find ways to bring an anecdote from your own life into this poem. In short, try to figure out why this particular work of art has had such a profound effect on you.
- Larry Levis wrote, “Animals are the objects of contemplation, but they are also, unlike us, without speech, without language, except in their own instinctual systems. When animals occur in poems, then, I believe they are often emblems for the muteness of the poet, for what he or she cannot express, for what is deepest and sometimes most antisocial in the poet’s nature. The other thing that occurs infallibly when the poet places the animal in the world, or in the world of the poem, is the recovery of imagination, or the world of tract housing beyond time. In animal poems the fox may live in the yellowing wood behind the service station; the hawk may be above the billboard.But if they are there, so is time there.”
Write an animal poem. The animal may be the central character or may just make a cameo appearance. Let the animal allow you to say, discover, or admit something that you might not have otherwise allowed yourself to acknowledge.
- An elegy is a poem written in mourning for, or in remembrance of, the dead, and it represents one of the most difficult modes in poetry—in part because grief is unpredictable, and in part because grief is particularly difficult to share with others. We want to speak to our beloved dead, yet the great paradox is that, even as we can see their outward form (i.e., at a funeral), it is very difficult to accept the possibility that the presence that we love may never be again. An elegy, then, must balance several, sometimes contradictory urges. The poem may attempt to speak to dead and living audiences at the same time. The poetic voice may attempt to conjure a lost presence even as that voice is utterly baffled by absence. An elegy may attempt to give a living audience some idea of why this loss is so great and difficult to bear—even as the poetic voice knows that others can never really bear that pain for him or her. An elegy may attempt to console, even as it rejects all possibility of consolation.
Write an elegy. It may be for someone you knew well or someone you barely knew at all. It may be for someone you never met, or possibly, for something. Don’t make the elegy too easy for yourself. Remember that a poet often has to balance contradictory impulses in an elegy.Really try to do justice to whomever or whatever it is you claim to mourn. Try to help your audience comprehend what or who has been lost.
5. Myths, legends, and folktales have many functions within a culture. Such stories have been used to explain the universe or particular mysterious phenomena within it, or to record events. These narratives have sometimes been invoked to teach lessons, and to both reinforce and challenge social norms. For individual poets and writers, myths, legends, and folktales may take on a new set of functions. Robert Alter wrote, “Myth . . . enables man to experience imaginatively what logic might deny, that there is an essential link between the ultimate nature of reality and his own passions, his sexuality, his very biology and anatomy.” The Neoplatonist philosopher Salustius even proposed, “The world itself can be considered a myth.”
In this poem, invoke, retell, or reinvent an older myth, legend, or folktale, or create a new one. You might create your own cosmogony (creation myth) or eschatology (myth of how the world will end). You might turn to science for your subject matter, considering some of the similar functions of science and myth, or use metaphysical wit (see John Donne’s “Good Friday, 1613. Riding Westward”) in order to draw surprising conclusions from a seemingly harsh or oppressive world order.
6. The following assignment comes from David St. John: “Write a dramatic monologue (a poem spoken in a voice other than your own). You might choose a speaker from another time, place, or culture; you might choose a specific figure out of history or invent a fictional speaker (set in either a historical or contemporary context); you might choose a speaker of the opposite sex; you might choose a speaker much older or much younger than yourself. The point of this exercise is to step into the life of another person and to speak in his or her voice. Perhaps you should say some things that you’d never allow yourself to say in one of your ‘own’ poems.”
7.The following assignment comes from Edward Hirsch: “Ever since Wordsworth, childhood has been one of the great, necessary, and dangerous subjects for poets. Write a poem about childhood, about the deep—as opposed to the recent—past. Try to dredge up something otherwise neglected or forgotten, something with special retrospective significance. One of your central strategic decisions will involve the question of tense. Your poem might begin in the past and stay there; it might begin in the present and then turn to the past; it might begin in the present, turn to the past, and then come back to the present. Such poems are inevitably crisis lyrics. Think about what triggers the memory, about what’s at stake in the experience, about what’s lost (and found) in the writing of your poem, about what Samuel Beckett calls ‘that double-headed monster of damnation and salvation—Time.’”
A Possible Variation: Write a childhood memory poem—but let the poem that you write in some way scare you. Consider subject matter with which you are not entirely comfortable, for example.Discover something new about the past.