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Monday, December 19, 2011

Repeat After Me: "Repeat"

Once again I am borrowing a prompt from Poets & Writers excellent weekly e-newsletter The Time is Now, which I strongly encourage you all to subsribe to.

This week the prompt was: "Look back through the poems you've written this year and make a list of images or words you've repeated. This list will guide you toward identifying your poetic obsessions. Choose one of your poetic obsessions and write a poem that fully explores it."

A few years ago I wrote a poem cycle that relied heavily on a similar idea. Each poem was titled by two words, and the first word repeated the second word from the previous poem's title, while the second word was copied to the next poem in the cycle as the first word in that title (so that three poems in row would be titled "shadow: dwelling:" "dwelling: gravity:" and "gravity: body:" for example). The second word of the title of the 30th and last poem cycled back to the first word of the first poem. Once I decided on this form, I thought I might as well look for words that already recurred in my writing, as they would logically lead me to obsessions to mine more deeply. Some of the words I identified were: glass, roofs, gravity, north, chaos.

Once I read a chapbook of a friend's and commented that she had used the word "heel" repeatedly, something she herself had never noticed. We all have these repetitions, these obsessions, and it can be  fruitful to realize the patterns that exist in our own work. Not having examined my poems recently for any obsessions, I'm glad to be reminded to go back and look.

So, what images and words show up obsessively in your work?


Karen J. Weyant said...

Rust, cigarettes, beer, debris, dirt. Over and over again, until I had a friend challenge me to write a poem that DIDN'T contain one of these words! :)

Jessica Goodfellow said...

So, did you write a poem without those words?

Mari said...

With all due respect to P + W, I don't need anyone to tell me how to identify my obsessions! The nature of obsessions is that one lives with them, day and night, year in and year out. An obsession sets up camp in our hearts and minds, our bodies and souls. A true obsession haunts us our entire lives and is all consuming. Eventually, an obsession accrues enough internal pressure and urgency to find its way into poems (or other medium). That's the part that requires patience and... patience. And practice.

Here's to honoring our obsessions... may they continue to haunt and hold us hostage and give us fuel for our creative work.

Good holidays to you and yours, Jessica!

Jessica Goodfellow said...

Mari, I think you may be more self-aware than most people, even than many poets. Yesterday I was sorting through a stack of poems, seeing if I have the beginnings of a cohesive manuscript or not, and I found all kinds of words I hadn't noticed repeating. But I'm not surprised that you are so self-aware.

Anyway, yes, here's to honoring our obsessions. Happy Holiday to you too!

Mari said...

Oh, Jessica... if I were so self-aware, I'd be further along in life and art by now. But, as we know, becoming a person (and an artist) is a lifelong endeavor. : )

Jessica Goodfellow said...

Nobody's ever done, Mari, but I think you are probably relatively ahead (not that it's possible to compare...)

Happy Birthday.

Jessica Goodfellow said...

I meant Happy Holidays. But Happy Birthday too, if applicable (and even if not!)