Left to right: Hayoung You, Porshia Bernard, Mark Brazeal, Danbee Moon, Loren Goodman, HyunJeong Lee, Jiwon Lee, Inhye Choi, Ahyoung Youn, SeoHyun Lee. Not pictured: Jiha Ko, Sanghee Kim. (Photo by Jiha Ko)
Poetry as a Second Language is going well. I got the idea for the course from Kenneth Koch and Paul Valery ("A poem is by someone who is not the poet, addressed to someone who is not the reader"). This is an immersion course conducted entirely in the language of poetry.
Today we read and talked about aphorisms on poetry we had written in the manner of Paul Valery:
Remember that Christmas when your mother walked into the room and
pretended she was the Christmas tree because you had no money?
Writing a poem is being your mother on that Christmas night.
There is no such thing as rhyme, only sounds that have sex with each other.
There were some other great ones that I cannot remember exactly. One was like "Poetry is the essence of literature--such an unpoetic way of stating what is being said." Another was about how poets write because they are afraid they will not be understood. Another by the same person went something like "Writing a poem is one long struggle against cliche, from beginning to end." I hope this person sends me her aphorisms to post here, because I'm not getting them quite right.
SeoHyun wrote a nice one that began, "Poetry is like a bartender...," and went on to describe various mixed drinks/poems. This, however, was my favorite of hers:
5 Steps of Poetry and Shopping
1. Feel the need to write/purchase something
2. Decide what to write/purchase
3. Find the best words/deals
4. Write/Purchase it
5. Appreciate it
Ahyoung read us a poem (in Korean and English) by her father, a former literature major who switched to dentistry (and still writes poems!). She also shared her artwork with us--fantastic etchings (Aubrey Beardsley on Manga). Mark said he'd like to get at least two as tattoos.
Reading more of our poems, we talked about how--as with any visceral activity (gymnastics, jogging)--writing requires a warm up; how important it is to be aware of this while revising; and how some people play their best tennis during the warm up.
One highlight of the course occurred last month when we had a visit from Osaka (and carbon)-based poet Trane DeVore. Together we watched a Substance TV interview between Robert Creeley and Bruce Jackson, then Trane read us some of his amazing new futuristic/fantasy epic poems and collaborations. As Sanghee commented later, it was great to have the voices of Trane and his grandfather (Bob) in the room together, to talk with Trane about him, and hear his new work.
What about the best Korean poetry? Here's some, in good company:
When someone tells you “you look smart”
When someone tells you
You look smart,
What does it mean?
How can someone look smart?
How smartness can be seen?
I already gave up on
Being told “you look pretty”
Do not describe my appearance
With unseeable words
When you say “you look”
Please say what you are
Father lives all day
With a load on his back
Skims along his face
Pushes his whole body
Finishing toilsome day
With my hand
On his shoulder
Has melted away.
Oddities of the English Language
A swan of bees
Beating its buzzing wings
And I stand amazed
At the existence of such
An elegant monstrosity
But if there exists a swan of
Bees, surely there can
Be a goggle of geese
I can wear underwater
And a prime of lions
I can divide with nothing
But one and itself
What about a frock of doves
With which I adorn my love
Or a clam of hyenas
Cooked into sumptuous chowder
Even a mop of kangaroos
That reminds me of my hair
Maybe I should stop now
The swan still buzzes
For the slightest second
It delays before
It dissipates, and scatters
Into the finest blackest filaments
And I step down to the station
Where I catch the midnight
Train of monkeys.
A half-decent poet once said
No ideas but in flings
So, being the good poet I am
I throw my wishes in the air
And watch them get torn apart
I write about a surveillance camera waxing lyrical
Perhaps a little too introspective
I write about a cacophony of sounds
Too harsh and cluttered for the ear
I write about a bird made of insects
... Yes, it makes absolutely no sense
And the bunch of lies I came up with
Is best left, I think, in a remote corner of Antarctica
Maybe penguins could find some use for them.
What I’d like to write about is
Her eyes and her mouth
A line for every lineament of her body
A rhyme for every fathom of her soul
This, and nothing else
No ideas but in her she-fragments!
This shall be the first line of my poem.
Le bus with purple wheels
Une salade with purple carrots
Un billet in purple letters
Monsieur with purple mustache
smoking a purple cigarette
making purple donuts
Mademoiselle under purple parasol
shielding the purple sunshine
from the purple sky
Purple pigeons eating
tossed by a purple hand
Couples making purple hearts
taking a purple walk along the Pont des Arts
On the way to my purple room
I take a metro line number 4 (the purple one)
feeling people’s purple eyes on
me in orange, a total exotic orange
in your purple world
Awaken Thy Soul
Let all of the strife of life demands be distorted
By the awaking of the troublesome soul take hold and be courageous enough
To cast thy fears away
Bawl! Scream! Cry aloud all you of a proud heart. Wail!
Rejoice and dare to accost your unprofessed ghoul
Draw near to that which you have the guts to fear
Bawl! Scream! Cry aloud all you of a proud heart. Wail!
Ahead of you is thy very own soul
Awaken and draw nearer, closer, beloved! Awaken thy soul
Roar! Shout! Cry! Scream! Bawl!
Beloved no longer can you live your life as if one trapped in a dream
Awaken Thy Soul
Cast away thy fears
Dry thy tears
And with your whole heart, awaken with no more fears, beloved, draw near
Arise! No longer dispose thy ways, only hang on to he who fashioned thee out of the terracotta
Oh bleak and broken soul as thy lay, take heed to the lexis
For that is what the seraph entreats
Arise! Arise! Arise! And Awaken Thy Soul
For thy glory before long will be made known
Pies of Flowers
I wanted a deep pie of flowers
flowers sprouting silky veins
and broods of timely fish
They would live in a box of
wrinkled in fleshy skies
But what I really wanted as a kid
was a string earthquake that peels like cheese
And a tall dream where oranges stream
bricks of stony red parasols
They would stab the jonquils and bleed green
I thought I could have packs
brimming of one huge hysterical dream
which would inform me of dappled suns
Oh, I wanted other things too
Burning corn flakes
Milk ripe with laughter
Daffodils yellow like
Clusters of frogs
What bugs you the most?
It’s when people spit watermelon seeds all over my back
What soothes you gently?
It’s when I have conversations with Miss Cranberry
By the way,
Be careful when you talk with Miss Cranberry
She sometimes spits while talking
That’s how I got my ruby red back
I have known B all his life
ever since I was only a murmur and he only a child
people would place their hands on his newborn chest
and feel me gallop under his rib cage
I’ve been likened to a tomato
which is demeaning although we are both red and have chambers
but at least that is better than sharing my name with
those pink blobs people paint on valentine cards
flat, lifeless –
Recently B has someone he hates.
I pound hardfaster whenever she approaches
and pump, spraying angry blood
once she laid her hand against his cheek
and I thought B was going to hit her,
he held his breath.
So one day I asked, point blank,
Why don’t you kill her?
And he answered,
You don’t know anything.
Niggi Niggi Noo Noos e nu nu noos
Man misses his
missing her man in , dreams of
negligee of Sunflower’s in the marlboro morn’
and fresh T of hickey, conceived the night
of the mild seven, remain to her remindment
The Panic of VD.
All-in-all, a roundtrip-misfortune out-of-town extravaganza!
Almost of it for sex but
some other stuff met too.
A rickshawed glance.
The meat skewered, in the sand.
Said rainbow said to pass said beach.
Along with the stone on the balcony,
Man reminisces between the ashy pipe:
“In commonly them all wore uniforms”
Stone: “Strict with it. Also strict with fingernails, shoes, and loads of other stuff”
Man: “A robin had no choice but to die.”
Cigarette: “And the late Miss Massachusetts always
had a knack for more than meets the eye.”