Sunday, August 19, 2007

Good Poetry, Bad Poetry: Fly, Blue Bird, Fly!

writing on writing:

Once upon a time, I figured that poetry was easier to write than fiction. Anybody could slap a few random words together and find a hoity-toity wannabee who'd call those words "deep" and "probing." Right?

blue bird rising
by Mr. Wrote This in Twenty Seconds-Man

chirps like chocolate on a bright battery

shine on me, now

men of a thousand faces

laced, razed

land, gone.


She cries.

"blue bird rising" is about the abuse of Native Americans upon Columbus' conquest of the West. The title ironically evokes the rise of modern America ("blue bird rising"), while the "bright battery" symbolizes the co-opting of Native American culture. The "men of a thousand faces" are the Cherokees, Seminoles, and Apaches beaten down by imperialism. Finally, the "She" who cries is the spirit of all oppressed peoples.



"blue bird rising" is about nothing. I'm Mr. Wrote This in Twenty Seconds-Man. I wrote nothing in twenty seconds. However, I did spend time and effort in writing the paragraph explaining the meaning of my bullshit. What's funny is I started to believe in my blue bird, thus giving myself a little window into the world of bad poetry, its criticisms, and its praises.

But that's the key word: bad. Good poetry is a whole different beast, and I respect it beyond measure, for every single word, capitalization, punctuation mark, and line break counts. If you change one syllable, the whole piece collapses.

While "good" fiction and good nonfiction can survive without a word or two here or a sentence or two there, good poetry needs every single thing it's already got. That fact is intimidatingly impressive, and something I only began to appreciate once I tried slapping not-so-random words together.

What follows are three poems I wrote for Taije Silverman's Intermediate Poetry class at Emory. I haven't written much poetry since, but the class and its exercises have pushed me (I hope) into becoming a savvier writer when it comes to economy and honesty of words. Yet I'm still learning. You could say that this blue bird is still rising.

Sorry, I couldn't help myself.
(Note: Poems should be read aloud. You want to feel the words on your tongue. It's more fun that way. Trust me.)

Scrabble King

(co-written with Zachary Travers)

He always likes to whine about the score.

He lays the letters down and splits a smirk.

I don't want to play Scrabble anymore.

I think that he's a triple-letter whore.

He uses words like Zek and Auk and Irk.

He always likes to whine about the score.

He hasn't kissed a girl since 94'.

He thinks the ladies love him. He's a jerk.

I don't want to play Scrabble anymore.

An irritating bastard and a bore,

he reads the dictionary while at work.

He always likes to whine about the score.

He just biked home back from the comics store.

He bought a life-sized doll of Captain Kirk.

I don't want to play Scrabble anymore.

Whenever we play Scrabble on the floor,

he yells "You cheater!" Then I go berserk.

He always likes to whine about the score.

I don't want to play Scrabble anymore.

Locker Talk at Sweet Briar High

Like honestly,

Just because I said

you had pudge on your hips,

herpes on your lips

and zits on your tits,

gives you no right

to call me a bitch.


like honestly?

If you say you’re sorry

I won’t hate you.

You’re not that ugly.

The Thirteen-Year-Old Boy at the R-Rated Movie

Very back row,

end of the aisle,

you sit.

Don’t you get caught,

don’t go get popcorn,

big risk.

Spot the ushers?

Sink into your seat,

don’t split.


movies are not you.

No shit.

You sweat, you wait

for a boob or two

or six.

Your bar mitzvah

did not prepare you

for this.


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