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: Exquisite Corpse (variant)

A variation on the well known Exquisite Corpse exercise dreamed up by the Surrealists. Begin with the words “I went down the stairs and around.” Each contributor only sees the words written by their immediate neighbour. Each contribution is to

  • finish the previous phrase
  • begin a new phrase (not a clause)
  • keep the sentence going (no periods)

Some were shaky on the phrase/clause distinction, so we didn’t quite get to the octopus (one clause from which innumerable phrases hang) of my dreams. But here’s one we wrote (apologies to my other section, that one got lost):

I went down the stairs and around the bend, then down the womping willow they scoured in their boots and in a moment that was tense, they almost were caught so they pretended to be in the circus with a group of cowboys and cowgirls that learned to lasso these silly bulls that stampeded from the mountain shaped like a monkey’s head which made many bystanders turn their heads and fall to the ground laughing so hard their stomach had an out of body experience while digesting the chili from the diner on the corner of Wall and Broadway, it steamed as though 3 men touched each others’ swords together in a loving embrace that ended in the joining of four souls which ultimately began edging towards the end of bombs and explosions.

Word. Or, phrase. (As in, that’s the unit we were on.)