Notes to Poem
|Preface: In Wednesday January 24th Workshop "The Occasions of Poetry", Robert Pinsky told the class to bring in an anonymous poem. He felt that after three workshops of reading and critiquing each other's poems, students should have a good idea of everyone's writing style. Pinsky said: "Perhaps you could write in a style of one of your classmates to fool us. Email your anonymous poems to Ryan Jacobs, the English Department Assistant, so he could staple all the poems together. We'll guess who wrote each poem while critiquing them on January 31." Rachel asked Pinsky if he was going to participate and submit an anonymous poem too. Pinsky just smiled "We'll see." This exercise sounds fun and challenging. Most of my writing is philosophical in nature and easily identifiable. My friends will say "Another Peter poem." Last week, Supriya wrote a poem "Next Door" about her roommate reading "Glamour" magazine, celebrity gossip, dark nail polish, and canned cinnamon fragrance. I decided to write a list poem about fashion magazines selling in the supermarkets. The list poem is a poetic form used by Mark Strand in his "Giving Myself Up" (1970) on his body parts. This form was also used by Christopher Smart in "Jubilate Agno" (1762) extolling his cat Jeoffrey that I found quite amusing. On Sunday, January 28, I went to Safeway in Mountain View, and spent 45 minutes jotting down the titles of feature articles in 11 fashion magazines at the checkout racks. From this two-page list, I spent four hours making a list poem using the juiciest titles in these magazines. When I read this list poem to a friend the next day over the phone, she said "It's terrible and boring!" She suggested a conversational tone among Stanford girls on getting a guy for the Prom." "Why not put lipsticks such as Strawberry Passion and Jungle Fever into your poem", she tossed more ideas my way. When I asked her whether those are actually real names of lipsticks, she confessed she just made them up. After my research, I wanted to put real titles of magazine articles and real names of cosmetics. My friend told me she'll go to Long's and jot down real names of lipsticks and nail polishes. I went to the Foothill College Computer Lab in Palo Alto at 3 pm Monday, and began revising my list poem into a conversational piece. Pinsky's first assignment was to write a poem imitating the way people use language such as oration, sermon, hymn, argument, instructions, small talk, flattery, nursery rhyme, etc. Bring the idiom suggested by the title to some unexpected kind of experience or emotion. Because Ryan forwarded Pinsky's email to the class late, few did his assignment. I decided on "Small Talk" with a slight twist at the end. The poem is divided into two 24-lines stanzas. The first stanza depicts two female roommates chatting on getting a guy to the Prom. The language is directly from the cover articles in the fashion magazines. The language in the second stanza is more uplifted and spiritual. The Hindu friend who walks in, shares her Oriental philosophy on why those fashion magazine recipes don't work and how she found happiness in life. I managed to squeeze a line from all 11 fashion magazines in the first stanza. The Sensual Spice lip gloss and Star Kissed nail polish were not on the magazine covers, but are real names of cosmetics my friend found at Long's. I incorporated them into my poem and emailed my anonymous poem to Ryan Jacobs just before Foothill Computer Lab closed at 10 pm Monday.|
Notes to Poem:
missing cats & dogs in the classifieds
Dalai Lama's five inner values
pain comes from selfishness and cravings
joy comes from selflessness and helping others
Fashion Magazine Sources for the Poem:
February 2007 Magazine Covers (good source of large images)
Note: Some of the magazine covers were not available at the magazine's web site or the images were too small. Larger images were obtained by searching in Google typing the magazine's "title" + "February 2007". Resized in Photoshop to fit in table.
Afterword: Pinsky asked the class to select the anonymous poems they like to read and critique in today's workshop. Somehow, the quality of today's poems were better than the previous three sessions. Many I felt were better than mine. Some of the students were imitating the style of Emily Dickinson and William Carlos Williams poets that Pinsky liked and included in his Reading Syllabus. As the hours passed, none appeared interested in reading my poem perhaps because it was longer than most of the others. Then Pinsky said, "How about Small Talk?" and began reading my poem. The women in the class acknowledged that the women magazines were all saying the same thing. John felt that these fashion magazines are exploiting women. Pinsky suggested that the author scramble the lines to make it go better mix what the Dalai Lama said with these fashion headlines. Maybe the line about "why Demi Moore never ages" or "the SEX he'll die for!" would make a good ending. Kelcey, a documentary film major, liked that idea. She learned that a film scene of a departing train edited with someone catching the train always brings suspense and tension in the viewer. Pinsky then suggested the author see Sergei Eisenstein's Potemkin, how he used splicing so effectively in juxtaposing a train wreck scene with the actor's face. [Note: I had seen Potemkin in a Cornell film class decades ago, and still recall Eisenstein's montage of the Odessa steps soldiers firing on civilians, mother carrying her dead child toward the firing Cossacks, a baby carriage careening down the steps, mother getting shot in the eye, her glasses splintering!]. I took notes on all these suggestions for later revision of this poem. The class had read and critiqued 12 poems, and Pinsky didn't have time for the six remaining poems. He wanted the last 15 minutes of the class for students to guess who wrote what today. Some identified correctly the author, others were mistaken. None ventured a guess on who wrote "Small Talk" until it was the only poem with "Sola Renga" unidentified. Then some of the women pointed to Pinsky "You wrote Small Talk!" Pinsky said he didn't write any poem himself, but the anonymous poem "Why the HG Is Holy" is a poem by Mark Halliday from his first book Little Star. "Nobody cared for the poem I brought in" Pinsky said. I've kept quiet for the entire class. Finally Rachel (who wrote "Sola Renga") pointed to me "Peter Did you write Small Talk?" and I said "Yes." The whole class bursts out laughing and applauded. Pinsky shook his head "I didn't believe Peter could write such a poem." He congratulated me for my attempt in writing something in a different vein than usual. It was the first time I wrote in a female voice. I gave Pinsky this set of notes, and upon seeing the magazine covers I've compiled with all the juicy headlines, he said "I see that you really did some research" as he dashed off to catch his plane flight back to Boston.
| © Peter Y. Chou, WisdomPortal.com
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