Writing Exercise: Places & People

The book of poetry that I’ve been following has is an anthology of Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s poems on San Francisco. Many of his poems are based in a specific place, but focus on the people/ a specific person in that place. (The one I find myself reading over and over again is the poem “They were putting up a statue”). Here’s the poem in type format and in an audio format.

So my prompt is this:

  1. Find a place & event– this place could exist in a photograph or on the screen, but it’s better if it’s somewhere that you can physically go. For Ferlinghetti’s poem, it’s the St. Francis church in San Francisco while they were putting up the statue of St. Francis.
  2. Pick a person in that place OR imagine a person in that place that doesn’t quite fit in with the events going on in that place- this person can help provide the “why” of writing a poem about a place or event, and they can serve as an additional way to view the event. Ex. In the poem I mentioned, the main person is a “young virgin /with very long and very straight / straw hair,” who contrasts with the rest of the onlookers both because of her movement (she was passing through the crowd and the crowd was standing still) and the fact that she seemed to be the only one “welcoming” the statue (Ferlinghetti mentions that the birds, a symbol of St. Francis, weren’t singing while the statue was being put up, but this girl was). When writing, your person might stand out because of something like this- action when others are silent/ apathetic. Or the person you choose for your poem might go against the norm in some other way.
  3. When writing, don’t shy away from repetition. One of Ferlinghetti’s strengths as a poet is his ability to repeat phrases throughout a poem without making the poem sounds repetitious or annoying. That’s a skill that I’m still working on developing, because I tend to feel like repetition is unnecessary in most of the poems I write.

That’s it! Pretty short and sweet. Use your skills as a writer to observe what is going on around you, and let the place and the people define an event, instead of the other way around.

(And, just as a little aside, I think that this prompt would work pretty well for political poems, if you wanted to write one. You could focus on an event that’s happened in the past few weeks and create a scene from the images that stuck out to you (such as the “glowing green time from a microwave oven” in Pam’s poem.))

Response to “Poetry and Science” Pt. 2- The Mid-Atlantic Ridge

“Clearly a divide separates the disciplines of science and poetry.  In many respects we cannot enter one another’s territory.  The divide is as real as a rift separating tectonic plates or a border separating nations.  But a border is both a zone of exclusion and a zone of contact where we can exchange some aspects of our difference, and, like neighboring tribes who exchange seashells and obsidian, obtain something that is lacking in our own locality.” – Alison Hawthorne Deming in “Poetry and Science | A View from the Divide”

I’ve been dealing a lot, both on this blog and in my poetry, about how I relate science and writing. This line from “Poetry and Science: A View from the Divide” might best represent my feelings on the subject “The divide is as real as a rift separating tectonic plates.” I’m biased, probably. Definitely. It’s a geology metaphor, how could I not be biased? But Demings also has a large point here with her metaphor, whether it was intentional or not.

Continue reading “Response to “Poetry and Science” Pt. 2- The Mid-Atlantic Ridge”

Response to “Poetry and Science”- Language Use as a Divider of Disciplines

I found an article the other day, while looking for a quote on crafting CNF, titled “Poetry and Science: a view from the divide.” Being the person that I am, I’ve been playing with and reading this article for a good week now, trying to decide what parts of it to respond to. Truth be told, this may be an article that I write multiple blog posts about.

One of the things that Alison Hawthorne Deming does in this article is try to define science and poetry in terms of each other to figure out what is different about them. One of my favorite paragraphs on this subject, which I’ve quoted at the bottom of this post, compared them in terms of language and word use. Deming says that the two disciplines “use language in a fundamentally different manner.” She claims that science uses it as “a tool of measurement” and an “auxiliary tool.” Language, for poetry, is at the forefront of everything. It is the emotion and driving force behind a poem. In both cases, though, scientists and poets use language carefully to tell stories and to explain. The stories they create and explain are very, very different.

Over the summer I had to write a proposal for a directed study. In this proposal, I was talking about pits in the Laki lava flow, a large lava flow in Iceland, and one of the comments that my professor wrote back was about the precision of language. He told me that I could not call some of the pits, which I hypothesized where formed by a collapse of the rock, collapse-pits, because it implied that I already knew they were collapse features. I did not know this, obviously, it was what my entire study was going to be on. Likewise, I find myself reaching for precision when writing poetry, because every word counts when you only use 83 of them. My take away, at least from this part of the essay, is that language use is one of the ways we can define disciplines. Furthermore, the way language is used for interdisciplinary writing requires care, because it combines the original disciple, the everyday understanding of that word/ discipline, and whatever metaphor/ wordplay the poem is suggesting. Scientific words sometimes require that you unpack and understand them to use them. Poetry words require that you think about them within the context of the poem. Both ways, language asks its users to remember that they are part of a subgroup, to use the language of this class, and that they and their poetry doesn’t exist within a void.


Quote from the article Poetry and Science”:

“But science and poetry, when each discipline is practiced with integrity, use language in a fundamentally different manner.  Both disciplines share the attempt to find a language for the unknown, to develop an orderly syntax to represent accurately some carefully seen aspect of the world.  Both employ language in a manner more distilled than ordinary conversation.  Both, at their best, use metaphor and narrative to make unexpected connections.  But, as Czech immunologist and poet Miroslav Holub points out, “for the sciences, words are an auxiliary tool.”  Science–within the tradition of its professional literature–uses language for verification and counts on words to have a meaning so specific that they will not be colored by feelings and biases.  Science uses language as if it were another form of measurement–exact, definitive and logical. ”


The Art Assignment

Given that we talked about ekphrasis last week, I wanted to suggest this youtube channel, “The Art Assignment,” to everyone on this blog. “The Art Assignment” is a youtube channel founded by PBS and hosted by contemporary art curator of the Indianapolis museum (2007-2013), Sarah Green, that interviews contemporary artists about their work. Green will then provide some background art history on a topic related to the one the artist is talking about. The neatest thing about this channel, though, is that the artists create an assignment  (does the channel name make sense now?) for the viewers. There’s an interactive community around this channel as well, because viewers will take on these assignments, submit them to the art assignment social media accounts, and then the channel makes compilation videos from some of the submissions.

The channel also does interesting work in challenging it’s viewers’ perception of art. The first video uploaded to the channel was about an art project where two people would measure the distance between them and find the exact middle point. Then they would both travel (and document their traveling) to that point. There are also videos about art that we could “conventional.” It’s a nice mix.

I also feel like this could be a good resource for us poets, because it can get us thinking about art in a dynamic (rather than static) sort of way.  It also allows us prompts that we could use to do the art assignments or for our writing. I’d highly recommend checking out the channel, and, specifically, the video “Episode 9: Off,” which is a personal favorite of mine.


Verb Repository


This past week I’ve been thinking about two things, both related to words. The first is Pound’s defense of small words in poetry, and his argument that simple language can be effective language when handled correctly. The second thing was Richardson’s stance on using strong verbs, something I don’t think often enough about in my writing. For this reason, I decided to compile a list of short and (hopefully) image-provoking verbs to combine both these trains of thought.

Alert, attach, auction, babble, balk, barf, baste, bathe, bellow, bleach, blind, blot, bolt, burnish, cajole, caution, chide, clip, coast, coil, comb, counter, covet, crochet, croak, cycle, dam, deal, decay, desert, deter, dial, dive, drill, drone, dupe, dust, dye, earn, elope, emit, expel, extol, face, falter, fasten, fax, fence, file, fire, floss, flower, fret, fry, fume, gag, gather, gild, glue, grease, grow, growl, grunt, gurgle, gush, hammer, harness, heap, hoot, hover, hum, hurry, ice, inflate, infuse, inspect, irritate, iron, itch, jab, jeer, jest, kid, knell, knit, knock, knot, laminate, last, level, lick, list, loan, linger, lisp, mail, mar, mend, meow, mix, mop, mutter, nag, nail, nap, nest, ogle, oil, paddle, paint, paste, pause, peck, pelt, pester, phone, plant, pry, quilt, retire, rock, sack, sail, savor, scrape, seal, shriek, shrug, singe, ski, slink, slow, smoke, snarl sneeze, snicker, snore, sow, spark, squirt, stammer, stamp, strain, strum, sway, swoop, tame, tear, thaw, toast, tow, trim, trounce, upstage, usurp, vacuum, venture, vouch, wallow, wash, weave, wink, wrap, Xerox, yellow, zest, zero, zincify, zip, zone.



“[20th centaury poetry] will be as much like granite as it can be.”

Pound talks about rocks, but I’m not sure if he would have liked geology. Geology is not an instantaneous science, and if he tried to describe a rock outcrop by only using “[his] intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time,” he’d be missing much of the story. Geology takes time, context, and observation, which are all things that Pound doesn’t seem to prioritize.

Imagery, I think, uses those tools of time, context, and observation just as much as it uses an “intellectual and emotional complex.”  As a writer, I sometimes find myself trying to observe things from only one perspective, but, as a geologist, I find myself going at a problem from different angles. I think that creating good imagery, might be a bit like creating good science. It need observations to get it started and more observations to get it going. Imagery needs questions, and the creativity to answer them. Imagery can, but doesn’t need to, be the static instant that Pound describes.

I say this, because poetry shouldn’t just be “as much like granite as it can be,” because not everything that looks like granite is. There are granitic rocks, that don’t have the right percentages of quartz, alkali feldspar, and plagioclase to be, what petrologists call, granite. There are “black granite countertops” sold from home improvement stores, that most likely are not actually made of granite. If I am to be accurate writer, I want to work towards something other than writing that is “as much like granite as it can be.” I want to work towards imagery that uses context and nit-picky observation to show a reader what is happening both on the surface of the image and within the image itself. I want to approach writing, not only as a writer but also as a scientist.

The lines we like define the lines we write

Near the beginning of the semester, we were asked what drew us to picking or liking a certain poem. I think what draws us to poetry says more about our poetry than the poem we picked. I’ve noticed over the semester that certain people get drawn to certain lines and certain ideas. Meghan is drawn in by scientific poems and insects. Jay appreciates line with effective white space. Chloe tends to like lines that are delicate and beautiful. You can see these individualized interests expressed in Meghan’s, Jay’s, and Chloe’s poems.

My favorite phrase this entire semester came from a poem, whose title I can’t remember, that Christy wrote: “moon ooze.” I’m unsure of why I latched onto those words. I think it could be that the sound is amazing. The soft m, long o’s, and z make the phrase sound languid and thick-syrup gorgeous. It could be the look of the words together. The double, double oo’s look nice in on page. Everything is nice and rounded save the z, which adds some “spice” to the mix. It might be the image of a dripping moon that I love. I really have no idea. I just know that I’m obsessed with this line, and I was never expecting to get this obsessed with any phrase. I figured I’d just go on casually liking phrases, but never committing to a favorite. Regardless of why I like the phrase, I’ve noticed its influence on my poems as I’ve assembled my portfolio. I tend to gravitate toward longer sounds. I also tend to pair words that have more of a sonic connection than a visual one.

I think that its’ fair to say that, when evaluating yourself as a poet, you can look toward the things that you’ve liked in other people’s poetry as a guide to what you’re doing. I came into the course without liking any sort of poetry, because I had only read people like Williams Carlos Williams and Emily Dickenson. Obviously, their fantastic poets, but their poems (at least the more famous ones that I read) didn’t fit my poetry style at all. Now that I’ve found poets who I feel more connected to, I feel like I’ve started to figure out who I am as a poet.

Writing Prompt- Snapshots

Inspired by Carrie’s line “cloudy snapshot,” I came up with a short little prompt that comes in two parts.

The First Part: Write a snapshot moment.
The goal is to capture a very minuscule moment, freeze everything in time, and then describe it in depth. Focus on feelings. On images. On the sights and atmosphere of the moment. Once you’re down with that move onto the next part of the prompt.

The Second Part: Look at your moment through a lens.
In life, memories can be tainted, tinted, or obscured by our feelings and/or surroundings. The idea is to pick some sort of lens to look at this snapshot through. It could be more of an emotional lens, such as a personal black rain cloud or  rose colored glasses. It could be natural lens afternoon sunlight or cloudy morning light. It could even be more of an actual type of lens like a microscope, a camera lens, or a sepia/black and white filter.

If you’re really low on ideas for lenses, I’d suggest using a gypsum wedge. It’s part of the petrographic microscope that we use in Mineralogy. A gypsum wedge is basically just a slice of gyspum (a slightly colored, but still translucent mineral) that slows down the light reflected off of the microscope slide, which results in a color shift. It looks something like this:


I hope this prompt was helpful, and happy writing! (or revising!)

(picture from here: https://wwwf.imperial.ac.uk/earthscienceandengineering/rocklibrary/viewminrecord.php?mID=76&showimages=1)

Linguistics as a Poetic Device

I thought it would be interesting to look more into language and linguistics in this blog post, since the last poem I wrote played around with those sorts of things. (But mostly because I’m a geek for linguistic).

I’ll start off with some terms that we probably all know:

Homophone- these are words with different meanings and spellings that sound the same, such as there/their/they’re and you’re/your.

Homograph- these are words that are spelt the same, but pronounced differently, such as read/read or lead/lead.

Auto-antonym- I actually call these “Janus words,” because that’s the name I originally learned them. There’s a bunch of different words for this term, though. [Fun background information: Janus is the (minor) Roman god of beginnings., transitions, and gates. He has two faces, one looking backward and the other forward to look at the past and the future. In my high school Latin classroom, there was a painting of him by the door.) These types of words have two contrasting definitions. A common example is fast, which can mean to move quickly (running fast) or to be unmoving (holding fast).

Portmanteua- when two or more words are combined to make one word, such as slang (coming from a fusion of shortened and language) or smog (from smoke and fog).

Mondegreen- these are words that come into being from the mispronunciation of other words. Personally, I think that this term is particularly difficult to understand until you see it in action. If you’ve ever placed the game Mad Gab (I used to play it in a high school English class, and I was particularly terrible at it), then you’ve seen examples of mondegree words and phrases. An example, from a Mad Gab card, you have the phrase “Thumb Other Oven Fin Chin.” Read it out loud. Let the words bland together. You may (or may not) have figured out that “Thumb Other Oven Fin Chin” sounds like “The mother of invention.” [If you didn’t get it try breaking the original phrase down like this “Thu mbother Ov enfinchin.]


Why is any of this important?

As poets, I think that we should be aware of the linguistic nature of words, and how those natures can add meaning to a poem in an extremely subtle way. Silent letters can connote shyness. Homophones can portray confused feelings. Portmanteau words can be used to show a blending of feelings or emotions in a poem. Looking at the linguistics of a poem can add an entirely new set of interpretations and meanings. Linguistic devices also connect very closely to sound (homophones and mondegreen words), to image (homographs and portmanteau), and tp meaning (Janus words), which are all aspects of poetry that we’re focused on anyway.

Plus, we’re writers. If we don’t geek out over words and everything they bring to the table, who will?

Notebooks and the Writing Process

When John Gallaher was here, I noticed that he was writing sentences (or line or observations, who knows?) in a notebook throughout the class. At the end of class, I asked him “Why do you use a small notebook?” He passionately responded that he liked being able to carry it around in his pocket, so that he could write something down as soon as it came into his mind. He talked about the mead notebooks, and how the plastic cover protects it if, for example, he threw the notebook onto a table at a bar. He was so enthusiastic about this notebook, even noting the changes the Mead notebooks have gone through the years (they replaced the plastic back cover with a cardboard one, and they shrunk the size of the spiral , which made it more difficult to slide pens into loops). It was easy to tell that he was obsessed with these notebooks.

Continue reading “Notebooks and the Writing Process”