For the past couple-three years now I’ve celebrated National Poetry Month with a personal challenge of tweeting upward of three original haiku or limericks a day for a month; a fun way to play a little and keep my wordsmithery focused. I usually followed this up by rounding-up the week’s tweets in one place to share with those who might have missed them in my twitter feed.
This year I decided to take myself and my writing a little more seriously and joined Pulitzer Remix, a month-long project where poets use a Pulitzer Prize-winning work of fiction as the basis for creating found poetry. Each of the participants — 85 of us, or 82, 80-something — has committed to creating and posting a new poem daily for National Poetry Month, which is going to yield an insane number of new poems when it’s all over.
My source book is “The Stories of John Cheever” from 1979. When choosing a book I wanted two things: a book published during my lifetime, and a collection of short stories where I could use each as the artificial confines from which I had to choose my words. The process I used in approaching each poem varied. For some I would glance through the story looking for interesting words or phrases to latch onto and see what they suggested. In other cases I went in with an attempt to try a particular form, structure or style — some less successfully than others. And sometimes I started with a title and tried to build from there. I should note is that the titles of all my poems are taken from the original stories themselves, near anagrams. I say near because I don’t end up using all the letters but I tried to use as many as would make sense.
Our agreement with the project is that we not repost our poems anywhere else until after the project is open, so with my weekly round-up I’ll be giving some background to the poems I’ve composed along with links to the full poems so you can check them out.
And while you’re there you should check out all the great work my fellow found poets are up to as well.
This was an early poem and took a while to coalesce. I wasn’t actually sure what, if anything, it was building up to until I came upon the phrase “the noise” mirrored at the beginning and end of the original story. It then became a question of contrasts that were bound by another mirrored word – want/wanted.
For this poem, I had underlined some sections I liked and then, as I read them straight through, felt they both had the feel of a fever dream mixed with a sense of urgency. I formatted it a couple different ways before I finally settled on the tight column. I wanted it to look rigid and stiff (like the narrator’s flesh) and yet running down, running dry.
The final structure of this poem owes a debt to Maurice Sendak’s book “Alligators All Around,” one of the tiny books in the Nutshell Library. I was actively hunting down adjectives, not really sure what I wanted to do with them, and they started to pair up nicely. In Sendak’s abcadarian the Aligators are doing things that start with one letter of the alphabet — N, Never Napping, O, Ordering Oatmeal, etc — and the resonance of that scheme just popped out at me. Not a perfect fit, but once I found the word “cohorts” in the original title, and then the phrase “fond models” I felt I’d gotten as close as I could.
This is actually one of the last poems I wrote, and it was because I was having problems whittling down all the material I had uncovered. As with most “lost” things, sometimes in order to find what you’re looking for you have to stop looking. After a few weeks put aside, I opened the story to a random page and found a section offset from the rest of the story that had everything I needed. The title was a happy gift.
It took a while, but I finally found a story with a line that worked out as an ending but at the beginning, and so I pulled an e.e. cummings. Or rather a cummings-lite. With this story I started to get bugged by the way Cheever treated female characters, so I wanted something a little less… hysterical?
But enough about me, there is literally a sea of poems over at Pulitzer Remix, so if you really want to sink your teeth into a whole mess, I mean a monumental passel of poetic goodness, just head on over and jump right in! And in case you weren’t aware, there’s another whole roundup of poetry happening over at Robin Hood Black’s blog Read. Write. Howl.