Definition

One must make a distinction however: when dragged into prominence by half poets, the result is not poetry, nor till the autocrats among us can be “literalists of the imagination”—above insolence and triviality and can present for inspection, imaginary gardens with real toads in them, shall we have it.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Weekend Challenge: Play Tennis With A Ghost

"Tinturn Abbey And The River," Edward Dayes (c. 1794)

One of the most profound upwellings of poetry occurred for me in the five years after I first sobered up in 1987. After a decade of sex, drugs & rock ‘n’ roll, I parked that nightly mayhem for days of recovery, marriage, and professional life.

As part of that new routine, I began getting up early to read and write, opening doors within. I burrowed down into mythology and psychology with Joseph Campbell, Carl Jung and James Hillman as my lamps. I also began reading poetry with a passion, plundering the public library for voices which I felt a shouting welcome—Robert Bly, Steven Dobyns, Wendell Berry, Richard Wilbur, Mary Oliver.

Back then, I lived in downtown Orlando, so I could walk to my job at the daily newspaper. And so I carried a briefcase in one hand and a book of poetry in the other, reading out loud as I walked. Surely the bluebirds were amused.

For five years I walked ten blocks of Central Florida dailiness reading Keats and Wordsworth, Eliot and Stevens, Bishop and Lowell. (Swinburne’s Decadent seahorsey-versiness fit my walking gait perfectly). I read Rilke's Duino Elegies and Sonnets to Orpheus, Spenser’s Faerie Queene, Milton’s Paradise Lost, Keats’ Endymion. I read the Spanish poets in translation—Lorca and Machado, Jimenez and Paz and Neruda.

Morning readings had a different vibe than afternoons, the one cultural, the other revolutionary. The seasons revolved through their dominant and subdominant themes. The inward world grew massive, cathedral.

With those rhythms in my ear and reflections of so many mythic tales and motifs forming in my mind, I began to write daily verse in a journal—doggerel mostly, indulgent overripe juvenilia marked by hamhanded theft. How else does one learn to write? As Saul Bellow once said, a writer is a reader moved to emulation. Reading and writing became for me the hero’s journey: Go in, read the treasures, write them down in your own hand, come back. 

I went back to college through night classes paid for by my job (as professional training), and over eight years I completed my BA in English. One of my writing profs was big on reader-response theory, which has it that writers engage and magnify literature through their responses to it.  Critics of the theory say there isn’t enough appreciation of the thing itself – the literary work —and that’s where for me I have settled on a sharing agreement with the ages: I come to your library to read, and you come visit my singing hut to add resonance and heft to the stone.

So that’s the idea with today’s challenge: Go play tennis with a ghost. Take a poem by another poet you respond deeply to and write something by way of response. Maybe it’s the theme and cogitation which stirred you, or the rhyme scheme or alliteration. Write your poem as a letter to the original, offering something between wild applause and Bronx cheer. Make a myth your own; tell something of your history as it were written by Mysteries. (And know that despite what your ego is telling you, it's always good for the art to play tennis with someone far better than you.)

Your source of inspiration could be known to all or be a pet voice in a remote register. Maybe its one of our own. Whatever the case, read and respond—and then come back here to share what you found. (It would be helpful if you include the original, or link to it.)

In a tenth century Icelandic saga, ten ghosts of men just drowned while fishing appeared in communal rooms, still dripping wet and reaching out their spectral hands to warm themselves at the fire. They found their way into the literature, the same way pagan Iceland was then transitioning to Christian times. I think literature endures like that, with one generation getting spooked by shadows of the past and then singing them forward. Who will you partner up with for your game of ghost tennis?


16 comments:

Sanaa Rizvi said...

Fantastic prompt, Brendan! I chose to play with Rainer Maria Rilke!😊 Happy Weekend, everybody!💞

Gillena Cox said...

I agree fantastic prompt. happy weekend every one

much love...

Toni Spencer said...

This seems to be a popular prompt! Here today, Thursday at dVerse, and about a year ago at dVerse again. But I like the playing tennis with a ghost. Very original and fun. I didn't do the prompt at dVerse because we had already done it there.

Brendan MacOdrum said...

@Toni - I had just posted the draft of this when I ambled over to D'Verse to find substantially the same prompt. The idea is old -- perhaps mythic -- hearkening back to the age when poets sat in a dark hut for seven years learning the oral literature before they were allowed to write a lick of their own. We are ever haunted by our influences!

Sherry Blue Sky said...

A wonderful prompt, which struck some sparks in my tired old synapses. I will see what I can come up with. Thanks, Brendan. This intrigues me. Wondering which poet to choose, so many possibilities.

brudberg said...

Hello, I came up with a response today again... again a bit flippant, but still. If somebody is there stealing plums..

Kerry O'Connor said...

I love the idea of you walking to work, reading poetry ...
I have so many lines of poetry deeply embedded in my mind - hardly a day goes by without a reference popping up. Great prompt, Brendan.

Vivian Zems said...

Hi Brendan, it's good to know something about our fellow bloggers and your life has captured my imagination. A great prompt and a wonderful exercise in response poetry. I've gone for William Dunbar's 'Lament of the Makers'

sarah said...

Nice prompt. This is fitting in well with my resolution to live a year of Depth - which for me means reading more poetry, and reviewing and redrafting and editing. This, of course, is not reviewed, redrafted and edited, but it is a response to, and a conversation with, Louis MacNeice, who seems to be popping up all over the place for me at the moment.

paulscribbles said...

The world's an oyster. So much to choose from. I'll be back.

Brendan MacOdrum said...

@Kerry - Your Rough Magic series is an incredible response to The Tempest in our heart.

@Sarah - Bon voyage on that Year, go deep and keep it coming.

Rosemary Nissen-Wade said...

I too enjoyed that snippet of your life story; thanks for relating it. And I too saw the prompt at dVerse earlier but didn't have time to respond then, so am delighted to find a similar one here. But what to choose, what to choose? Then suddenly it seemed obvious: my all-time favourite among many beloved cummings poems. I was pleasantly surprised where it led me.

Charley B. said...

This was such a great prompt at dVerse, I thought I would gladly share my effort here again. I look forward to reading the offerings here.

Susie Clevenger said...

Great challenge! I've been reading Bukowski lately so I chose one of his poems to write from.

Sherry Blue Sky said...

Brendan, i wrote to this prompt, but am on my tablet and it is not letting me copy my link. I will keep trying.

Brendan MacOdrum said...

Such rich and varied responses to the theme, folks! I see so much the agony and ecstasy of influence, playing tennis with our inspirations ... Thanks to all for making this so much fun.