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.

Exercise: 20 Little Poetry Projects

(An exercise by Jim Simmerman, taken from The Practice of Poetry, Robin Behn and Chase Twitchell, eds. Will post some recent strangeness later.)

Give each project at least one line. You should open the poem with the first project, and close it with the last, but otherwise use the projects in whatever order you like. Do all twenty. Let different ones be in different voices. Don’t take things too seriously.

  1. Begin the poem with a metaphor.
  2. Say something specific but utterly preposterous.
  3. Use at least one image for each of the five senses, either in succession or scattered randomly throughout the poem.
  4. Use one example of synaesthesia (mixing the senses).
  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 a word (slang?) you’ve never seen in a poem.
  9. Use a piece of false cause-and-effect logic.
  10. Use a piece of “talk” you’ve actually heard (preferably in dialect and/or which you don’t understand).
  11. Create a metaphor using the following construction: “The (adjective) (concrete noun) of (abstract noun)…”
  12. Use an image in such a way as to reverse its usual associative qualities.
  13. Make the persona or character in the poem do something he/she could not do in “real life.”
  14. Refer to yourself by nickname and in the third person.
  15. Write in the future tense, such that part of the poem seems to be a prediction.
  16. Modify a noun with an unlikely adjective.
  17. Make a declarative assertion that sounds convincing but finally makes no sense.
  18. Use a phrase from a language other than English.
  19. Make a nonhuman object say or do something human (personification).
  20. Close the poem with a vivid image that makes no statement but that “echoes” an image from earlier in the poem.

The ones go best that let go, over and over, of whatever one thought to mean. Simmerman comments:

I created this exercise for my beginning poetry writing students who … seemed to me overly concerned with transparently logical structures, themes, and modes of development at the expense of free-for-all wackiness, inventive play, and the sheer oddities of language itself.

I created the exercise in about half an hour, simply listing, in no particular order, a lot of little sillinesses I had seen and liked, or had not seen but thought I would have liked, in poems here and there.

Here’s a poem by Simmerman that completes the twenty projects in order.

Moon Go Away, I Don’t Love You No More

  1. Morning comes on like a wink in the dark.
  2. It’s me it’s winking at.
  3. Mock light lolls in the boughs of the pines.
    Dead air numbs my hands.
    A bluejay jabbers like nobody’s business.
    Woodsmoke comes spelunking my nostrils
    and tastes like burned toast where it rests on my tongue.
  4. Morning tastes the way a rock felt
    kissing me on the eye:
  5. a kiss thrown by Randy Shellhourse
    on the Jacksonville, Arkansas, Little League field
    because we were that bored in 1965.
  6. We weren’t that bored in 1965.
  7. Dogs ran amuck in the yards of the poor,
    and music spilled out of every window
    though none of us could dance.
  8. None of us could do the Frug, the Dirty Dog
  9. because we were small and wore small hats.
  10. Moon go away, I don’t love you no more
  11. was the only song we knew by heart.
  12. The dull crayons of sex and meanness
    scribbled all over our thoughts.
  13. We were about as happy as headstones.
  14. We fell through the sidewalk
    and changed colour at night.
  15. Little Darry was there to scuff through it all,
  16. so that today, tomorrow, the day after that
    he will walk backward among the orphaned trees
  17. and toy rocks that lead him
    nowhere I could ever track
    till he’s so far away, so lost
  18. I’ll have to forget him to know where he’s gone.
  19. la grave poullet du soir est toujours avec moi
  20. even as the sky opens for business,
    even as shadows kick off their shoes,
    even as this torrent of clean morning light
    comes flooding down and over it all.

Examples from my students’ poems here and here.