Clamping the mind down on details. some exercises and then a song. or two.
William Carlos Williams: “It is in things that for the artist the power lies, not beyond them. Only where the eye hits does sight occur”
–haiku, I think, is a clever method to get ourselves to write/see/picture simultaneously.
First, most people during early school years actually did write some form of it,
and might recall it with fondness or joy, or embarrassment and scoffing. Either way,
many of us can remember the act of really writing, before we began an endless series of quizzes and bubbles and dumbed down education.
So, we tap into what Wayne Kramer might call, original joy. Like hearing an effective pop song for the first time, and trying it yourself for a few seconds, dreaming of the Monkees. Even if it didn’t pan out,
it tapped into your creative impulse.
In this exercise, I could care less about counting syllables, but I am concerned with three crisp lines.
The first two must relate/offer images of nature — you must immerse the reader, your must draw the picture
in words, you must avoid abstraction and empty language, vessels of nothingness. You must engage.
The third line is the repository of understanding, the link: eureka/satori/understanding, of how the first two
interrelate, how two juxtaposed images, by and of themselves, create a unifying element, stir
an association, and become packed with potential meaning, however latent.
Now, as you model this (I’ve even done this with fellow writers and teachers, and trust me, they
are just as stumped and shy as students at first), you can also show other writerly techniques, devices,
conceits, tools, etc.
For instance, I use a variation of this, imperfect, no doubt, but useful:
sun slants through trees barely naked
crow caws as moths whir
spring is here
Now, again, I don’t aim for profundity as much as potential.
I can exhibit:
Alliteration (sun slant / crows caw)
Inverted syntax (trees naked/ naked trees … a play on Whitmanesque lines,
“I saw in Louisiana a Live-oak Growing” rather than proper
formal English, which begin with prep phrase, “In Louisiana, I saw…”
Personification (naked trees)
Near/off/imperfect rhymes (whir/here)
Gray clouds drift through skyscrapers
Birds fly in V-patterns
But, most important, the images confer a crispness, a photograph-etching-eye glimpse
So, we set to work making two similar works based on our own sense of nature
Now, to get that started, we’ll do an immersive activity, like shut the lights off,
and then silently recall a meaningful place of nature, and then flush out our senses in memory, all five, one by one, silently, in our active brain, then we pop the lights on, and scribble first thoughts best thoughts
regarding images/sensations we recall, on notepads we write
the two haiku based on those impressions and scribbles…
Next lesson, nailing People, Place, and Time. As we know, narratives do not
stem from vacuums, they come from environments, even latent and subtle, but
always from a sense of PP and T.
We create one-line sentences that frame the sense of PP and T for
their exposition, the first section of their narratives, or first stanza of poem/song etc.
Not unlike M. Gilmore who once wrote, tell stories like you are describing the
rooms you used to live in, like a walking tour. Immerse. Root.
Then I’ll write my own as the class scribbles, and last time it was something akin to:
Rockford: IL, a rust belt city where the guys walked around with stumpy fingers
flicking ash into the beer cans from endless cigarettes, or committed suicide
in garages with pulled-down pretty painted doors, or road motorcycles into Yield signs,
pummeling their faces.
The Ensmingers: The kind of family that bought old 1960’s Mustang with rust-eaten holes in the floorboards,
planted peanuts and pear trees in the backyard with bird baths and and dead buried
guinea pigs, and played basketball on the warm drive-way until dusk
awakened swarms of eager mosquitoes.
1989: The sound of metal “hair band” ballads swooning across the FM airwaves in hair-spray
glitter and excess spun from Hollywood boulevard nights until Nirvana let loose flannel shirts, duct-taped drum sets,
and teenage spirit, sweeping the spandex under the rug.
Imperfect, no doubt, but at least I give them a literal and figurative rootedness, a sense
of immersion, so when I craft my song or story, these elements may persist and leak over
into the narrative, providing context and a field of association…
–from david ensminger
“Change now to
Dungaree shorts, gaudy
Green sandals, blue vest
With white borders & a
Little festive lovegirl ribbon
In her hair Carolyn prepares
The supper- ….
She prepares the aluminum
Silex for coffee – never
Puts an extra scoop for
The pot – makes weak
American housewife coffee
–but who’s to
Notice, the Pres. Of the
Waldorf Astoria? – She
Slams a frying pan on a
Burner – singing “I hadn’t
Anyone till you….”
gray sky above has
a hurting luminosity to the
eye & also rains with
tiny nameless annoying
flips & orgones –
life dusts of Time –
beyond is the vast
aecidium green Erie
pier, a piece of it,
with you sense the
scummy river beyond-”
So there is NYC…go find it still.
Or if you be in Colorado:
“…the one skinny
revolving windmill in
the Vast, – lavender
bodies of the distance
where earth sighs to
round – the clouds
of Colorado hang blank
& beautiful upon the
And then, for Jack, a family home:
“…a pink-tinged pastel,
the No Carolina afternoon
aureates through the
white Venetian blinds
& through the red-pink
plastic curtains & falls
upon the plaster, with
soft delicate shades – here,…”
“The only thing that can save the world is the reclaiming of the awareness of the world. That’s what poetry does. ~ Allen Ginsberg
Here’s a few of my favorites from Jack Kerouac’s Book of Haikus:
The windmills of
in every direction
following each other
Two cars passing
on the freeway
– Husband and wife
in the wind
I’m a lousy lover
Two clouds kissing
backed up to look
At each other