The Poetry Shed

A Virtual Classroom
View From Here

View From Here Instructions

This is the space for community members to see their own writing. Following are instructions for some of the exercises on The Poetry Shed that I’ve given to Salve Regina students. You can email your writing to:

thepoetryshed2020@gmail.com

If one of the exercises below doesn’t work for you, feel free to email anything about your “view” from quarantine. On one end of the spectrum, this might include a photo of the view from your house or a photo of your writing space or the space where you spend your hours. On the other end, it might be a poem or personal reflection or lines of gratitude. You might post a recipe or a link to something online or your daily routine now.

Your post is for you to decide how you want to respond to the new ways of the world. I look forwarding to seeing your work!

Letter from the Future

Write a letter to yourself to be delivered last summer (last July or August 2019). This is a letter from yourself now during this unanticipated quarantine. This is a letter describing the indescribable–words we never thought of over the summer that are part of our daily language: shelter in place, quarantine, face mask, COVID-19, Coronavirus, etc. Describe at least 5 things you were doing, thinking, looking forward to last summer. 

Index

First read the latest example of the Harper’s Index here.

About Harper’s Index (source: NPR)
“First published in March 1984, Harper’s Magazine‘s monthly Index is, in the words of editor Roger Hodge, ‘a statistical poem.’

Each month, the Index presents a single page of meticulously researched statistics and figures — sometimes linked thematically to one another, sometimes standing on their own. ‘The index is a list of 40 statistics that are very artfully [and] very carefully arranged,’ Six people work on researching and writing the feature each month, typically gathering three times the number of factoids that the magazine runs.

The published items are variously amusing, eye-opening and outrageous. Take, for instance, the leading entry on the inaugural Index: Total hours of television watched in American households in 1983: 213,000,000,000. ‘One of the things that we try to do is keep it surprising so that the reader really doesn’t know what’s coming next,’ says Hodge, who adds that his favorite Index item of all time is the average number of peas in a pod (answer: 8).”  

Assignment: Write your own Quarantine Index. List at least 25 statistics that sum up your time during the virus. The list always involves numbers/percentages and moves with surprise. Every entry ends with an answer. For instance: Number of hour spent watching the news each week: 38. Number of rooms turned into a makeshift office: 4.

Like a poem, the list should have energy and move from one thing to another. Sometimes an entry is followed by a similar entry before shifting to new information (e.g., Number of rooms turned into a makeshift office: 4. Percent of beds in those rooms that have turned into desks: 4).  

Look to Harpers link above to see how to format your index (each entry has its own line, centered, etc.). 

Ode

The Chilean poet Pablo Neruda wrote odes for ordinary things: salt, socks and tomatoes to name a few. This exercise is to write an Ode to Quarantine. This will be a “celebration” of all that has been lost.

Some of you may have lost a family member. Others lost sports, senior year, relationships. All of us lost freedom–but in a poem, we don’t use big abstractions like freedom, instead we talk about sharing a room with a younger brother again, or having to take a full time job, or home schooling kids.

Steps

1. Read “Ode to a Large Tuna in the Market” by Pablo Neruda (also below).

2. Title your poem Ode to Quarantine (you can also choose a new title).

3. Start your poem the way Neruda does (“Here, among the…”) then fill in details of what’s around you right now (e.g., here in the ranch house where I work and eat and sleep each day, here in the city I left six months ago, here among the posters of my youth, etc.).

4.  After you describe as many details as you’d like of what’s immediately around you, start a new stanza, like Neruda does. This stanza begins with his words: “Surrounded by…” then fill in the blanks. Surrounded by what? The news, the face masks and gloves, the younger sister, the smell of dad’s or a husband’s cooking? List a number of details.

5. Start a third stanza, again with Neruda’s words: “Only you.” The “you” is the virus. Only you can take away my blank and blank and blank. Fill in all the blanks and more. “Only you” can be repeated multiple times. It can also be how you end the poem. 

You only need three stanzas but you can have more. Keep your lines short and descriptive–image, image, image–like Neruda has done. I’ve put his words in “quotes” above for clarity, but you won’t use quotes when using his words in your poem. 

Ode to a Large Tuna in the Market

BY PABLO NERUDA
TRANSLATED BY ROBIN ROBERTSON

Here,   
among the
 market vegetables,
this torpedo
from the ocean   
depths,   
a missile   
that swam,
now   
lying in front of me
dead.

Surrounded
by
 the earth’s green froth   
—these lettuces,
bunches of carrots—
only you   
lived through
the sea’s truth, survived
the unknown, the
unfathomable
darkness, the depths   
of the sea,
the great   
abyss,
le grand abîme,
only you:   
varnished
black-pitched   
witness
to that deepest night.

Only you:
dark bullet
barreled   
from the depths,
carrying   
only   
your   
one wound,
but resurgent,
always renewed,
locked into the current,
fins fletched
like wings
in the torrent,
in the coursing
of
the
underwater
dark,
like a grieving arrow,
sea-javelin, a nerveless   
oiled harpoon.

Dead
in front of me,
catafalqued king
of my own ocean;
once   
sappy as a sprung fir
in the green turmoil,
once seed
to sea-quake,
tidal wave, now
simply
dead remains;
in the whole market
yours   
was the only shape left
with purpose or direction
in this   
jumbled ruin
of nature;
you are   
a solitary man of war
among these frail vegetables,
your flanks and prow
black   
and slippery
as if you were still
a well-oiled ship of the wind,
the only
true
machine
of the sea: unflawed,
undefiled,   
navigating now
the waters of death.

Imitation

Imitation is a love letter to the original and in writing we are always borrowing from what we’ve read and admired. Imitation is a great way to understand a piece of work and stretch our imaginations to present it in a new way.

Create your own imitation of a famous painting. It can be a painting at the Getty Museum or from any other art collection, but it shouldn’t be a completely obscure or unknown work of art.

You can use food or objects or animals or yourself or family members. For more information click here and for student examples click here.

On Brand

Has your inbox been filled with corporate messages, assuring you that your health and safety are a top priority? Sometimes it might seem thoughtful, sometimes a little opportunist, and other times totally absurd. Because humor is a great way to balance other difficult news and general anxiety, I want you to write your own Response to COVID-19 from your company’s CEO. 

  1. Read this and think of tone, voice, buzzwords. Create your own company. It can be based on one that exists with a slight name change (e.g., Taco Bell becomes Taco Belle–see below) or it can be something entirely new.
  2. In addition to saying some of the usual things that you see in other letters, sprinkle in stuff that is absurd–clearly some kind of desperation on the part of the brand to keep afloat. If you decide, for instance, to create Taco Belle (a southern chain of Mexican fast food), maybe you talk about the seasonal covido burrito your company is proudly launching–a ten layer burrito wrapped in a five layer face mask.
  3. We are a consumer culture but some brands we might have cared about before seem irrelevant. Use this to your advantage. Go for a company that would have a harder time these days or you can go the other way and have a company embrace the fact that all we want to wear are sweatpants and that’s what you are selling.