Six Hungry Ghost Abatement Protocols (II)

A lot of the Hungry Ghost poems have been coming lately with royal or tyrannic classical riders. Lear, Oedipus, Romulus.

Partly accident—a lot of verbs, look, take, sneak, poke, cough up kings when pressed to participle. But in a project like this, which is harnessed accident, I still get to take responsibility.

Something here of hunger for a lost father, a father whose power to shelter shatters. It’s funny, the sorts of ways I used to write, I got or had to go through the whole emotional travail, the past and its unprocessed sadnesses, to get the poem through.

I felt on the far side I’d come through a narrow sharp defile with a few verbal berries at hand and my ongoing breathing.

The plus of that. Authenticity. The minus of it. Harrowing.

High ∙ beat up ∙ on a couch ∙ beside me paper
hands and a spine of lace ∙ so here’s a split
a poem led me back to ∙ Dad getting the door
riffed on the many large thin guarded anthills
and how sound collapsed their city ∙ nobody
knows how he agonized ∙ then and there ∙ no
one more out there or into it than he ∙ lead is
dropping into a neighbouring city ∙ we just ta-
ble it though and go where to be seen is to be
housed to be housed known ∙ the king of lack
woke to a fist of bees some kids tossed at him

This erasure and treatment process, I seem to bypass much of that, the harrowing. The poem comes through semiautomatic processes I watch happen in amaze. On the far side, less of the deeply grateful, I said what it was or is like for me, and plenty of a differently glad, this is a potent made thing-being here.

The one, I’m writing myself through language, other, language writes a poem through me. Viz. Spicer’s Martians.


We fed who knows,
sd th King of Thebes, how
many more than the
city dared.

We than that had no body more.

No, nobody lead, we just—

a sound out there
splits the thought.

One more boring show and how.
Guard the heir.

That’s one I redid this morning. The other is


Dad’s getting so thin.
Mos’ def.

Goes out a sand door.
So where now do we go to be?

And that’s how Rome
woke to a regal glare.

—A heathen deal.
—Yes and some of it lethal.

Dad’s getting so thin.
Go go death gadget.
How snow.

“Go go gadget” a phrase that stood out in a student’s poem last year (thank you Reilly) and somehow got stuck in my mind and forgotten there and returned to view when some of “Dad getting” anagrammed to “gadget.” Had, of course, to look up the ref, cuz my geekiest student is hipper than I.

Speaking of which. Many bonus points to anyone who can for me explicate the directive, “shred the sauce.” Urban Dictionary lets me down here. Written on a student eval last year and I might like to try but no idea how.

Last thought. To give a reading (maybe this upcoming one at Western) wholly of poems initiated or inflected by my work with students. A thread blogwork attunes me to is the continousness of teaching writing reading thinking moving being.

Last last thought. Mistype Western and you get Wetern, as in, “wetter’n,” as in “ahm wetter’n a flounder at the bottom of the sea in this rain.” Sorry, that’s the country music at Liz Station, on now, and maybe Cormac McCarthy doing their work in me.

On disjunction (II)

Disjunction often comes of suddenness—may be suddenness itself, given body, a form found.

Had my students working Tuesday on deep description. Pick one from this clump of grape leaves and describe it with sufficient devotion that another here, given this whole lot of leaves, hearing your account of yours, could pick that one out, unerringly.

They did and did and all good. The followup: Tune your antennae to beginning now and pick one phrase in your description that resonates beginningness. Write it at the top of a new page. Now tune to ending and pick one phrase that sings endingness. It goes at the bottom of that same page. Now, moving quickly, the first thought then the next first thought, write the paragraph that gets you from top to bottom. One restriction—can’t be about a leaf.

If each thing touches every thing (Indra’s Net) then disjunction is just in fun. No disruption except of our sense of disconnection. Blake’s Marriage of Heaven and Hell. Not everything but every thing. Means there’s all the space to move.

Blake - MHH plate 27

The way I put it in a poem that never found a public home.

The ease with each part touches each adjacent part.
Apples in a wood crate on a foldout cardtable.

Oh god he’s quoting himself make it stop.

Thought, as they worked away, too easy to sustain a through-line here, need to shake it up. OKAY I said STOP. On whatever word, or mid-word, stop. Draw a big dash. (Drew an em-dash on the board.) Put a period after it. (On the board.)

The way it came to me in mountains once when I was struck dumb by the perfect of each altogether and entirely open stone. You have all the space you’ve ever needed and have always had. You have all the closeness you’ve ever needed and have always had.

Snagged in a language of one who regathers himself after invasions and evasions as dimly as fiercely remembered. And, the insight didn’t keep me from being a somewhat total asshole to the woman I was there with and did stick with me through it, a year more, then she didn’t any longer, so.

A period after it and now pick up in a new place. Some other new subject, whatever, anything. Just don’t go on saying what you were. Day by day make it new. Day by day? Word by word.

To start, each word, anew. Meant to get to Tender Buttons. Sounds good, for another night than this, rain flying at my windows all.

POSTSCRIPT. After a dissipated start my afternoon class spent ten minutes talking about one line break and without repeating ourselves! The line:


Teaching phil (expandated)

Go figure. Work on another teaching statement for another job app snagged my active engaged interest. Results here. Wary be, some loftiness ahead. And still enamoured of the pilcrow.

The more I write and teach the less I know. In my writing, most of a poem now is found in the moment at hand, in what senses, breath, and mind, each attuned to each, have to say. In that same spirit of unknowing, though, I am less prone than I was, as a young teacher, to think my process a template for my students. More and more they teach me how to teach them. I teach revision as re-vision, deep new seeing. Some students see newly by reworking one body of words: with each pass they come closer to what they meant, or might mean anew. For others, revision means turning the page; rework­ing one piece, they worry it to death. So I have students try it both ways and work with them as they come to a sense of their own practices. My workshops emphasize non-evaluative feedback. I find peer comments are more perceptive, and student authors more receptive to them, when praise and advice are set mostly aside. This ap­proach has a downside—the ego wants to be fed and may complain when it’s not—but I find most students come to prefer it before long. I emphasize the “writ­er’s antennae”—the capacity for close attention to the texture of your moment-to-moment experience of your own writing. I find faithful attention to those tingles of excitement, those pulses of boredom, guides composition and revision more reliably than any creative writing precept or external feedback. And I believe everyone has that capacity, though it’s often obscured by self-doubt or anxiety. A lot of teaching creative writing is showing how to wipe mud off a jewel. All the methods I use in the classroom—peer critique, small group work, class discussion, wacky writing prompts—are meant to foster that process of clarification. Many also ask students to work with differences of background and temperament they may have with their peers. For instance, I often put students in pairs to restore line breaks to a poem I’ve set as a para­graph. One is to make sure the line breaks are expressive, the other that the line itself has integrity. Each has to contact her felt sense of the poem’s language, and to feel through how new lineations will create new patterns of energy. And each has, as she articulates her perceptions, to accommodate the perhaps quite different values and priorities of her partner. In this way, the sort of difference a line break is, brushes against the sort of difference another person is. The values I’ve set out here, self-aware­ness, self-inquiry, empathy across differences, have meaning beyond the creative writing classroom. They are, to my mind, crucial to any humanistic education, and have something real to offer the business major, the nurse in training, the nascent physicist. And creative writing has ways of eliciting these values maybe not to be found elsewhere.  But far fewer of a given school’s students will take a creative writing workshop than take a general education course. So it’s important to me, in my general university courses, which at Western are capped at 60 or 75 students, to carry over all I can from my practice as a creative writing teacher. I rarely lecture for more than two or three minutes at a time. My mini-lectures are usually impromptu—offered as our conversation seems to warrant. I make a point of learning everyone’s names, and make getting a student’s name wrong a point of fun at my expense, to model that I’m learning, too. Really a pretty small expense. I use small group work so everyone can collaborate in their own education. And I give assignments that draw on both creative and analytical faculties—per­form­ance projects, formal debates, journal assignments that ask students to write a soliloquy in blank verse or a scene in the post-apocalyptic creole in which the novel we’re reading is narrated. My hope is that, through activities like these, students will draw their creative, intuitive, emotional, and analytic faculties closer together, and they will be more available to them in their other coursework, their careers, and their social and spiritual lives.

Student Work: 20 little poetry projects (II)

Some more fun bits from my students’ encounters with Jim Simmerman’s exercise.

The well-spoken gangster began to descend.
That gangsta-man was stepping onto the soil from flight, as he said.
“Carpe Diem” he said.
Even the wind howled back when he said this line.
The mountains didn’t soar as high as the gangster, the gangster who was I.

Usually these go better when they get off the topic, line by line, but here a disjointed narrative comes together (apart).

For the dead eye stars the struggle is real. Charlie Bradbury was absent from their event in Vancouver during which many a blue was tasted. We smelled what was right and what was wrong and we saw the reds that pretended to be the blues that were tasted.

Lovely parataxis here.

The trees decide to hug back,
Making the note-taking in fourth-grade science
Less of an assassination

Right at the end of the poem, that, a real surprise.

Arguments will be had but no points will be made
under a slimeball ceiling,
built by men who don’t create.
Papier pour moi, stylo pour vous?
Erasers eat lead.
Gummy belly-button on a pompous twenty-something.

One thing we noticed in class todays—abstractions can earn their place in a poem by sitting aslant each other—as in the phrase “the numbest kinds of pain” in Robert Hass’s prose poem “Museum.” Something similar goes on here in the first and third lines … abstract nouns and generic verbs become lively and specific through being at odds with their neighbours.

Some more on that poem by Hass to come. And haven’t forgotten my promise to follow through on disjunction. Just think though—the longer goes by, the more disjunctive the resumption. Word.

Student work: 20 little poetry projects

Some excerpts from my students’ work with Jim Simmerman’s exercise “Twenty Little Poetry Projects.” Good funs. Oh and I had them do a cutting-and-paring exercise on them … where those went especially well I’ll include the stuff cut.

Lemons are the sun.
Each yellow drop is a blinding, burning, ray in the green.
Wet tongue slides across teeth,
tasting squeezed citrus,
that sprayed lemon into my nose,
the slice of the knife in the skin is a whisper,
the yellow color tart and sweet.
My Nonna’s lemons turned to limoncello in the Italian sun.
Nonna died—those are my lemons.
The first time I lay on wet grass, I was barefoot.

Really effective cuts here opening up spaces that bring Tomas Tranströmer to mind. Only bit I might miss is “Nonna died …”.


a little death. But
today. Rise. rise
get up


40 white teeth
a smiling hole
40 teeth each
Its mouth 
New Year’s Eve
Children smile
into the white
Everything knows
this white.


Rancid milk steaming
In her eyes
one million orchids
Irises white          blank
skin pressed against
with the last energy
turned to heat
all is
heat now
small crackles

Yeah good cuts here too. I admit I suggested some but the poet’s assent to them’s what matters. Again it’s about opening spaces. Here I hear tones of Stevens’s “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.” Just cuz of the roman numerals? Am I that susceptible?

Tom Waits for me, wishing he was in New Orleans.
Ain’t it a crying shame, he says just like that
except that isn’t the way it’s said at all—
after all, the only way to stay together
is to drive in opposite directions.

Echo here for me (that seems to be my track tonight) is Frank O’Hara. Specifically “A True Account of Talking to the Sun at Fire Island.” Specifically specifically the good cheer of the sun. It’s everywhere! How could it not be in a good mood! And that infects Frank and us. Poem as a high-pleasure construct.

A light crack on that little ankle bone on the inside that sticks out far, but the eleven floors otherwise treated her well in the last several seconds.
Zing was upset about the lag.
Effectively, they will no longer speak unless it is to reiterate the tension previously created, and this pact is now effective.

K that long line is just crazy. (Hard to set here. Read each sentence as its own line.) Whitman’s expansiveness, Ginsberg’s hypermania, Moore’s polysyllabism.

A few more …

This dismal abyss of cottage cheese Christmas
is just a fridge full of impulse.
Ms. Mary stole the cobweb from the shelf
Mama Tits has proof.

Where ballad meets blues meets Breton.

You are what you eat.
No purple antelopes here—
taste bitter roads and
hot rain, prickly on ends with
wafting scents of
mud puddles? Dark, but
cracked. Clicking nails
seeing Stairway to Heaven, la la
even Bill Nye believes in Jericho
where antelopes of purple hue
roam freely
from stars in galaxies afar
palooshing each other until
skidding off with fear.

A strange and sardonic turn on its opening truism. Most of the cuts sharpen the sense of line very nicely.

I cut off my arms and replace them with refrigerators.
And I taste my consciousness outside me
Excusez-moi, qui a pété?
I lift my hopes higher with my diamond-studded weasel arms.

Something of Lorca here …

Eu non podo deixar de chorar
I did not know I knew that.
Fate tips his hat and waves as he passes by.
The leaves fly out of my vision, whisked away by a stronger breeze, while I remain grounded.

No surprise, I guess, that a lot of these remind me of Spanish and American surrealists. Here, James Wright, the line at once taut and languid.

I fail horribly at taking a “selfie.”
Since my arms are short and my point of view is warped.
“I literally can’t even.”
The ridiculous clown and his pride ruined the atmosphere of the wake.
And your family was as accommodating as a state penitentiary.

Here I’m taken especially by the passages in quotation marks. As if the poem became aware briefly of its own language and raised a skeptical eyebrow.

He has the heart of a lion.
Does will do as does do.
Though he is not exactly what I would call courageous.
Okay, maybe he actually was.
Though he thrust his hands up in the air and shouted “YOLO!”

The cuts here have little lion hearts. Make bold to take out the connective tissue. The pun in line two liketh me much, acts, deers.

Some more to come later today. Thanks again to mes etudiants for allowing me to post ses leurs travailles.

Kin in compost (II)

And another, found through Google, when I wanted to see if its searchy spiders had found this place, yet. What’s the odds of it? Another blog, begun in the spring of the very year, linking affections for compost and zen.

Click to embiggen to see lots of cool textural crap.

One diff, you might learn some from this one about actual composting, which here, you won’t, I don’t think so, no. The blog: