Saturday, March 6, 2010

Marie Ponsot workshop at Poets House, February 27 and 28

Day one.  

We write "running dragons" with each other.  This is a form Ponsot learned in Beijing.

Alternating stanzas of three lines, then two lines.
Choose one word in the last line of the previous stanza to repeat in the first line of the following stanza.  Begin poem with a location, or non-human subject.  Continue to write stanzas without a person in mind or implied, until after at least three stanzas.  Once you do introduce a person, you finish poem with the same number of stanzas you wrote before the person appears.  The last stanza introduces the idea of spring, either explicitly or implied.

Here is mine.
Day after day of rain. The mushrooms bloomed.
Nearby, the Indian pipes had penetrated
the leafy carpet from last year's autumn.

Their vertical stems formed a carpet
over the moss.  Is this what they mean

by a fairy ring?  Is this what they mean
by enchantment, the nodding white heads

attached to vertical white stems.
Impossible to think they're attached
to the seeds buried since spring.

Some things Ponsot said that resonated:
It is essential to be able to write about the non-human. 
Competition and testing are not intellectually respectable.
Learn something by heart every day.
People like to create.
In a crowded life, try Running Dragons (or Dragons Running, the phrase works either way.)
Your world of language is inside somewhere -- you need to get access to it.  Write ten minutes every day.

William Blake said "Without contraries there can be no progression."

"The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction."  (from Proverbs from Hell)
(We wrote revisions and takeoffs of these proverbs as an exercise)

Ponsot's mother was a teacher.  Good teachers assign work they cannot fail at.  
The challenge of writing is working from the inner life to the spoken life to the written life.

Question:  What do you think of self publishing?
Answer: It is important to show your work and have someone show you theirs.  

Practice re-writing which is elemental not remedial.  Once in a while you get it first crack.  Mostly it takes handling, like a potter with clay.  Take it into yourself and see if you can say it differently.  Rewriting can be productive.  Go to the strength, or to the bad knot, and unfurl it.  Say it in other words.

Day Two
What is the mystery that makes a poem hit you forcibly in the diaphragm?  Here is a poem that does that.

From Shakespeare's Cymbeline:
Fear no more the heat o' th' sun,
Nor the furious winter's rages;
Thou thy worldly task hast done,
Home art gone, and ta'en thy wages.
Golden lads and girls all must
As chimney sweepers come to dust.
Everyone wrote what they thought was meant by truth for the poet.

Another useful technique for poets is to widen the range from the constant I voice to include another person's point of view, either in a dramatic monologue, or as a dialogue, like Stevie Smith's.

Stevie Smith's "The Sea widow"

How fares it with you, Mrs. Cooper, My bride?
Long are the years since you lay by my side.
Do you wish I was back? Do you speak of me, dearest?
I wish you were back for me to hold nearest.
Who then lies nearer, Mrs. Cooper my bride?
A black man comes in with the evening tide.
What is his name? Tell me! How does he dare?
He comes uninvited.  His name is Despair.


Marie Ponsot is a wise woman, a great teacher, and an inspiring poet.  I felt that I was learning even when she wasn't saying anything.   


Penelope Cake said...

I like the idea that a good teacher assigns work that cannot be failed - what a difference that concept would make in our educational system!

Patricia Markert said...

This was one of the most memorable things that she said. As a teacher, I think of it every day.