A Poem Can’t Change the World (But It Can Try)

 

One of my morning podcasts that I always listen to is The Slowdown by former poet laureate Tracy K. Smith. She is so perceptive in her choice of poems — she rarely reads her own work, choosing instead to feature the work of others. This week, she has detoured from new editions of her podcast to surface older podcast pieces that grapple with race, identity and politics, and I’ve appreciated her voice in my ear as I do my walking and thinking on the world.

My regular morning poetry writing has been centered on the events unfolding in our country, too, although sometimes slant, as Emily Dickinson might say. I’d never suggest that a poem can change the world that way we hope — and certainly, not my poems — but poetry can provide another lens to better understand the self, the larger place we inhabit together, and the injustices, and the love.

I recommend The Slowdown podcast, that you allow a few open-minded minutes each morning with Tracy K. Smith, to let her insights and worries and words, and her voice, to sit with you a bit, and allow the poems she chooses to share to anchor, or maybe unsettle, your heart and mind as you start your day.

Maybe that is all we can ask of poems, anyway.

Here are my own poems from the last week:

It’s all facade
facing us —
beautiful windows
and bluster
quickly broken
by a handful
of ragged stones
and loud shouts

one lone voice
then two
add
threefourfivesix
then
seven, more
voices,
eightnineten
more, added,
add it again,
twenty
thirty
fortyfiftysixty

collective voices
as street symphony;

no voice
is the lone
voice anymore

such streets
some cracked
some beaten
this season
we stand
for reason
we march
for right
for justice
we shine
light, revealing,
an act
of believing
in something
much better
than this

History
sleeps not
just in the moments
we remember
but also in the moments
we choose for now
to forget

An Autumn chill
arrives on
the first of
June

Harbinger
of the beautiful
or more news
to subsume?

The world beyond,
sleeps, now
accustomed to spin,
perilously
out of tune

The danger
becomes us;
wrapped in a shell
of words we consume

Peace (rippling out),
Kevin

On Rhyming Images: A Poetic Inquiry

Poems
Poems flickr photo by Pascal Maramis shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

The other day, Greg and Sarah began an inquiry into the question of “how to rhyme an image” based off a tweet that Sarah posted after she watched a short presentation from Greg, and her query became the heart of the third edition of Local Glocals, an informal podcast some of us are doing around poetry of the local.

I could not participate in the live event, so I sent some audio responses to guided questions (as did Sheri, and maybe others, like Wendy and Terry, in the CLMOOC poetry community. I’m not sure who answered the call for responses). This is the basic text of my responses of thinking where image meets text and where image inspires text, and maybe vice versa on both of those ideas. (Greg is going to weave everything together into an audio show).

How do you rhyme an image?

What I like about this question is how it moves us beyond the pure visual aesthetics of photography or art. We have to see the image as a text first before we can think about what a rhyme is or what a rhyme may even be, from one picture to another. Perhaps we need to consider complementary colors, the way the color wheel tones of one image might connect to the tone of another image, and how our eyes process light off the world to make color hues our brain understands. Maybe one color tone of one image spills into the other image, and that is what we can call rhyme, the brain finding comfort in the connection. Think of interior decorating, and the way that a designer is intentionally thoughtful of what colors work, where, and what colors, don’t and why. Or maybe it’s the view perspective of the images that is the source of rhyme, or harmony — how one photographer’s viewpoint is in sync with another photographer’s viewpoint, the actual perspective of what the looker sees in the image itself. I’m also curious about the opposite of all this — how do images NOT rhyme? Is there a sudden jolt, a recognition of something off, a sense that this does not go with that, for god’s sake and why did you even try? Does the non-rhyming of an image make us, instead, look closer at the curation of the images — what underlying thinking brought these disparate things together? And is either of these two ideas — complement and dissonance of the visual — poetry?

* What are your other artistic endeavors? What connection to poetry do you see?

I play at being a songwriter, so poetry is the heart of that creative expression on many levels. One thing I find, with songwriting, is that couplets drive so much of the work because of the rhyme that goes in the flow with the music, and there are many times when a song won’t work because the couplet is either too rote, too simple, or I can’t find a rhyme at all. I do try to mess with the rules when I can — false rhymes, uneven lines, and all that. I find it both helpful and unhelpful to read a lot of rhyming poetry, though, for in songwriting, those rhymes and rhythms are apt to spill into my own writing, sometimes without me even realizing it until later. I’m fine with stealing and remixing phrases from others for songs, to twist the interesting ideas into something different, but when I catch myself with an exact phrase from some poem in my lyrics, I have to stop and shake my head, and start erasing or scratching out to start again.

* Do you, and if so how, do you use images in writing poetry?

I love using images as a source of poetry, and do it often. In years past, I spent every April with Bud Hunt’s blog, where he was posting odd images every morning to inspire poetry. I’ve gathered up a bunch of websites that generate random images from Creative Commons (thanks to folks like Alan Levine and John Johnston) for inspiring verse. Lately, I’ve been engaged with Margaret Simon and her “This Picture Needs a Poem” feature at her blog and I’m always watching Kim Douillard for her work with the lens of her camera to spark poetry in her students, and herself, and in others. The thing I find fascinating about images as inspiration for poetry is that the writer edges into the image from the side, looking for something maybe even the photographer didn’t notice. You want to pay attention to what no one else has seen – maybe it’s something inferred, like the story before the image was taken. Maybe it’s what comes next in the scene. Maybe it’s right there, in front of you, but you only see it by taking your time and being open to it. From this, poetry flows, and it’s an interesting kind of poetry, too, because a reader later may not have the visual context for full understanding of the poem, and that’s OK, too, I think. Poetry should give us pause, to wonder.

* Why did you choose the poets you are sharing?

This is strange, but I am sharing an interesting poetry bot, created by Zach Whalen, called Auto Imagist, that is designed to take the image texts from random photographs, and combine that gathered text into poems, in the style of William Carlos Williams. The results are fascinating for the stylistic approach (Williams, of course, wrote wonderful short poems where the visual cues play a key role in the reader’s ability to connect) but also for the technique that remixes the text of images into poetry. What you see in the bot-generated poems are little scenes, small glimpses of the world, little corners of dust and stories. I suspect echoes of the original photographs, as described in the image text, remain, but are obscured by the remix. I don’t know how Whalen created the bot — the raw code is at Github — and I’d be curious to learn more about the programming approach, and how the bot actually works its poetic magic, and of course, this all raises the question: can a bot be a poet if it remixes the words of humans?

Peace (from the East),
Kevin

Slice of Life/SmallPoems Day 14 (all our children)

(I am participating in the March Slice of Life challenge via the Two Writing Teachers site.  Slice of Life is the idea of noticing the small moments. I have been a participant for many years and each year, I wonder if I will have the energy to write every day. This year, I am going to try to coincide it with my daily poetry writing, and intend to compose small poems on small moments. We’ll see how it goes …)

I have mostly been avoiding any context for my Slice of Life poems this month, hoping the words will surface the moments that inspire the verse. But with the temporary closure of our school, and many others around us and in the country and world, I can’t help but think about the divide between the Haves and the Have-Nots, and those kids who need school as a safe place, as a place for regular meals, as a place for connecting with peers. And how summer vacations and other breaks are not seen as something to look forward to but something to dread. I think a lot about those kids. They’re all our children. – Kevin

Day Fourteen

Whose children
will awake in uncertain
days, only to wonder
whether it is better
to save breakfast for lunch,
or lunch for breakfast,
for one is now the other
until otherwise notified?

Our Children

Whose children
will worry about neighbors
on all of our behalf —
the elderly, the sick,
the lost and lonely,
the forgotten cul de sacs
of community —
the not knowing
more unsettling than
the knowing itself?

Our Children

Whose children
will spend their time
in unforced silence –
a collective quiet beyond
the hum of youthful noise
on the tail of social distancing –
neither connected nor rejected
but reflected in reality
that home might be
the loneliest place to be?

All Our Children

Peace (reaching out),
Kevin

Upon Request: A Found Poem for CLMOOC

poetryport submission requestsAs the last days of February’s Poetry Port project for CLMOOC were winding down, I saw my friend Greg sharing a poem in which he echoed his own daily poems throughout the month. That inspired me to go into the spreadsheet where people were requesting poems from CLMOOC poets and work on a found poem of phrases and words and ideas from their submissions.

You can read the found poem here. But I also turned it into a video …

Peace (flowing through),
Kevin