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An update from our thirty-seventh Writing Workshop with Conner Bassett

A summary of the workshop held on Saturday, May 14, plus some of the output published below

During every session, Conner devotes one workshop to discussing poetry—namely, how a poem functions. This week we again brought our attention to poetry, beginning with a personal anecdote about Conner's experience watching Waiting for Godot as an 8-year-old. What Waiting for Godot taught him, and what he taught us today, is that if art (more specifically a poem) can be immediately understood, it is likely bad art. "A poem," he said, "has an emotional importance you can't quite articulate." Or, as we learned from "Ars Poetica" by Arhibald Macleish, "A poem should not mean but be." We also defined a poem as a body of writing more attentive to the "how" of language than to the "what." In other words, a poem's mode of writing is the content, and all poems are language about language. From this definition, we discussed two ways to write a poem: one, by focusing on what a poem shows, and two, by focusing on how a poem sounds. Over the course of this workshop we read "Pope John" by Bernadette Mayer, "In the Station of the Metro" by Ezra Pound, an excerpt from T.S. Eliot's "The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock," "The Snow is Melting" by Kobayashi Issa, "marry at a hotel, annul 'em" by Harryette Mullen, and "Poisonous Plants of America" by Elizabeth Willis.

The Challenge: Write a twenty line poem with these following prompts:

  1. begin poem with a metaphor
  2. say something specific but utterly ridiculous
  3. use at least one image for all five senses
  4. use one example of synesthesia
  5. use the proper name of a person and the proper name of a place
  6. contradict something you said earlier in the poem
  7. change direction or digress from the last thing you said
  8. use one word you would not expect to see in a poem
  9. use an example of false cause and effect logic
  10. use a phrase or a piece of language you have overheard in conversation recently
  11. write a sentence using the following construction: the, adjective, concrete noun, of, abstract noun
  12. write an image in such a way that reverses its usual associative qualities
  13. make the persona or character in the poem do something they could not do in real life
  14. write a sentence in which you refer to yourself by a nickname in the third person
  15. write a sentence in the future tense, such that part of the poem seems to be a prediction
  16. write a noun with an unlikely adjective
  17. make a declarative assertion that sounds convincing but that ultimately makes no sense
  18. use a phrase from a language other than English
  19. make a nonhuman object do something human
  20. close the poem with a vivid image that makes no statement, but that echoes an image from earlier in the poem.

The Participants: Nova, Emma, Josh, Ellie, Fatehbir, Shiva, Chelsea, Alice, Zar

To watch all of the readings from this workshop, click here

Emma Hoff, 10
(Bronx, NY)

The Rose on the Dining Room Table

Emma Hoff, 1o

The rose was a child’s wrongly stained hand,
the eager postman ate his donut while sitting in the mailbox,
the lemon tasted sour, smelled sweet, looked salty, felt spicy, sounds like water,
the rushing of waves is gray,
Emma Catherine Hoff lives in the Bronx, New York City.

The rose was a clean and fresh adult,
the waves are rocking me so hard,
if you work out too much, you will wilt and become unhealthy,
“the only emperor is the emperor of ice cream.”

The sinister dishwasher of color,
the spiderweb was metal, sharp like a shark’s tooth,
Randy Brown hovered upstairs,
Em was a girl who had no nickname,
she will find this poem on a piece of paper.

The cow was bright red,
honestly, I’m sure if you just go to the bakery, you’ll find your chihuahua,
ya ne chitatel', ya pisatel',
the glass jar sung its song,
the rose is like a bird on a cloud.

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