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An update from our forty-second Writing Workshop with Conner Bassett

A summary of the workshop held on Saturday, September 24, plus some of the output published below

"A poem does not make sense. A poem excites the senses." -Nikki Giovanni

"Poetry is the sound of language organized in lines" -James Longenbach

This week Conner drew our attention to a more micro topic: the poetic line. To begin, we looked at an excerpted page of prose from Anna Karenina—we could see the margins, that prose goes all the way across the page. By contrast, Conner told us, poetry pays little attention to margins.

We then paused for a quick exercise wherein Conner gave us a sentence "So much depends on a red wheelbarrow glazed with rainwater beside the white chickens" (William Carlos Williams's poem "The Red Wheelbarrow" written as prose" — and we each broke up the sentence into poetic lines in order to show how a poem and its meaning changes depending on the breaking of its lines.

Continuing the workshop, Conner showed us four important tenets of writing poetry in lines:

  1. A poetic line is not a sentence
  2. The end of a line is not the end of a sentence
  3. A poetic line is a stand-alone unit of meaning
  4. Use enjambment (to break a line) to complicate the meaning of your poems

With this knowledge, we read from the poems "Prism" by Louise Glück, "The Great Figure" by William Carlos Williams, and "Popcorn-can Cover" by Lorine Niedecker that showcased short lines, and then we read some excerpts of long line poems like "I Hear America Singing" and "Song of Myself" by Walt Whitman, "A Supermarket in California" by Allen Ginsburg, and the opening lines of Homer's Odyssey. 

The Challenge: Choose between one of the following, and write in 15 minutes:

  1. Look out your window and write a long line poem about what you see
  2. Find an interesting object in your room and describe it in great detail in a long line poem
  3. Write about Picasso's Guernica in long lines

Then change that poem into a short line poem.

The Participants: Emma, Allie, Josh, Russell, Anushka, Aditi, Arjun, Tate, Samantha, Savi, Alice, Robert


Emma Hoff, 10

The glowing lightbulb touching the candle that goes out when it hears the long, loud bray of the horse,

we didn’t need it anyway, the people say as they look towards the birds that are praying, their heads jutting in all directions,

slowly the ghost comes downstairs into the cramped basement,

her head, neck, and hair are the only parts of her that are present until she grabs an arm,

a wail, entering the paintings on the walls until the people fall and say, we are the painting! Do not hurt us!

the bull slowly grins, leaning against the wall, horns on one side of its head, the ear from the slaughtered pig on the other,

someone’s nails - sharp nails, scratching at the walls as what’s left of what was a human being tries to makes its escape,

while the legs, quickly running legs are released and the man dog howls at the ray of light that is extinguished quickly,

someone breathing on the door as they, too, are swallowed up, the knob left untouched, but why not just enjoy the party?

It’s blood, but it’s my blood, and so you learn the joy of ownership as your face turns white and your eye slowly clicks and turns in its socket,

and the smoky tail of the bull slowly runs over you, making sure you’re dead before it carefully tramples you, then picks you up and sings to you.

Guernica Transformed

It’s a body,
cradled by wisps of what
is left,
it’s a ghost,
a bull transformed with red,
you say hello anyway,
you’re just passing by,
you’re just cold,
it’s misty red,
it’s a misty red bull
wearing hooves for a coat.

More Than Just a Clear Sky

Arjun Nair, 10

The glowing clouds jog across the endless sky.

Over the trees, over the planes, over the buildings.

Giving us some shade from the burning sun.

Giving us rain when our flowers are withering.

Giving us more than just a clear sky.

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