The second day of the Moorman Symposium began with an informal Q & A with poet Angela Ball and visiting poets Billy Collins, Denise Duhamel, Barbara Hamby, David Kirby, and David Lehman. Lehman started things off by asking everyone about their favorite writing assignments. Here are summaries of their advice on how to get to good writing:
Angela Ball: Give obstructions. Which may or may not include writing the poem in Cuba (an exercise in writing based off the Danish film The Five Obstructions)
Denise Duhamel: Haiku hurricanes. Make it rain, good lines of poetry. (Students write lines of 5 and 7 syllables on slips of paper. Then, just as human paraphernalia is picked up, mixed up and laid back down in real deal hurricanes, the lines are collected and redistributed.)
Billy Collins: Haiku memorization and destruction. (Students write a haiku, walk around campus memorizing the haiku, then return and destroy all paper evidence of the haiku. The survival or extinction of the poem is now their responsibility.)
David Lehman: Translation and mistranslation. (Have students translate a poem written in a language they don't know. It helps them give up some of their self and collaborate with language.)
Barbara Hamby: Poets' letters, read them. (Let students see Ovid, Keats, Dickinson, Rilke, and Rimbaud struggle with life - and the gruel of finding an artist's life).
David Kirby: Soul Siblings. (At the beginning of the term, have students write down three poets who are not influences but who they would like to be at a beach house with for a weekend. These are their guides.)
Billy Collins: Create and destroy a happy farmer. (*Disclaimer, this is for writing fiction.* Part 1: Write of a happy farmer - everything is coming up giant squash and healthy children. Part 2: Destroy his happy life.)
David Lehman remarked that this story had been done before and was called the Book of Job, which made everyone laugh and seriously contemplate the inescapable-ness of the Bible. What story can be new?
Hearing the poets talk about their influences was another highlight of the conversation. Even though David Kirby said influence is "something you see in the rear-view mirror" and Collins added "the rear-view mirror of influence wears a flag of convenience", this did not stop each from sharing a bit of what inspires them.
Angela Ball spoke of the female painter Paula Modersohn-Becker's Self-Portrait with Amber Necklace and Denise Duhamel talked about contemporary French artist Sophie Calle mailing her bed from Paris to a stranger in San Francisco.
When David Lehman discussed popular songs, jazz standards, and what they can teach about wit, economy and rhyme, things took a decidedly musical turn. He noted connections between Shakespeare's "Sonnet 130" and "My Funny Valentine". Reciting some lyrics to illustrate the point soon turned into singing. A Lehman and Collins duet! Audience members came in on the refrain, and it felt as though this sing-along answered all the questions we did and did not ask that afternoon. What more could be said (sung)?
David Kirby, answered this question by reciting, "Take your spoon out of your cup, when you drink your tea, take good care of yourself, you belong to me." Explaining that the lyrics show the leaps that poetry thrives on - the escape from having to explain in prose, something like "because your spoon will almost certainly stick you in your left or right eye."
The slapstick humor of hitting yourself with your own spoon lead Collins to comment upon how many songs start funny, and then become very sad in the end. A last round of singing began:
I make a date for golf, and you can bet your life it rains.
I try to give a party, and the guy upstairs complains.
I guess I'll go through life, just catching colds and missing trains.
Everything happens to me.
I fell in love just once, and then it had to be with you.
Everything happens to me.
The sad love song silenced the singing. Now, even more was understood.