A Poem Has Resurfaced in the Midst of My Editing

I’m nearing the final stages of editing my new collection of poems, Playing House. In this long process, I’ve uncovered some old poems, essentially my personal back catalogue, some of which hasn’t been published yet. There are poems in here that are more than fifteen years old, and I’ve been examining them to see what can be revised and useful now, if anything.

One poem I’ve run across, which I love but probably cannot include in the book, was an exercise from a poetry workshop I took back in 2002 through Inprint in Houston. The teacher was Alan Ainsworth. He had everyone in the class come up with a line of blank verse, and then our homework was to arrange all those lines together into a poem. There must have been fourteen of us, because we ended up with a collection of extremely different sonnets.

I don’t remember which line I contributed. I actually don’t even remember if the poem I collated was truly all the lines from the class, or whether I ended up taking a few of the lines I especially loved and writing the rest of it myself. I do remember that all the resulting poems were wildly different, and that we enjoyed the exercise. It’s one I’m planning to use in my own classes this spring.

Anyway, since I’m not still in touch with any of the other poets in that workshop, I have no way to verify anything about this poem — assuming the others would even remember it. I remember it only because I have a hard copy of this poem in my archives.

So with the disclaimer that I don’t remember how much of the following poem I composed but I certainly did arrange it all, and with grateful acknowledgement of all who were in that class, including Alan, and a desire that any of them who might see this post come forward, here is the cleverly entitled “Exercise.” Enjoy.

 

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Exercise

 

 

Whisper to me in Urdu, “I know you”:
after we kiss, mildew falls from heaven
and the old silence suffocates the hills.
Turning from you, I decipher voices

 

like a sandy crust. In my mind, lazy,
thought collapsed upon thought in lines,
remembering the frayed pockets of ancient ships,
where I wrapped my legs around your wooden ones

 

while two lawyers watched from across the room,
leering over the table, grinning gin.
They swarm, these creatures of the night.
Ten years have passed since you finally left.

 

Now you enter again in a battered white van, senseless.
You should know better than to summon a holy scribe.

 

 

 

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Featured Poet: Paul Otremba

Several years ago, when I hadn’t been doing much writing and was near crazy with the frustration of not having enough time to do it, my husband wisely insisted I take a poetry workshop over the summer to get myself back into writing regularly.  I hadn’t produced any poems for years, though, having focused almost exclusively on fiction since my son was born three years earlier — when I could focus, that is, which wasn’t much.  I was unhappy, steadily denying a vital part of who I am by allowing myself to be busy with other work.

Poetry, Aaron reminded me, was something I could do in relatively short pieces; the manuscripts were bite-sized compared to the novel I was trying to write.  I could draft and workshop and revise and edit and be done without taking years and years to finish something.  (I suppose it must seem, to an observer, like a poem is the closest to instant gratification this craft achieves.  I suppose, in a way, it can be.)

Anyway, the poetry workshop I signed up for that summer was led by Paul Otremba, and it was cathartic and intellectually nourishing in the best of ways.  Without abandoning fiction, I became a poet again; I hadn’t realized how much I’d missed it.  That summer was wonderful, geeking out about language every week in Paul’s class.

Paul Otremba is the author of two poetry collections, The Currency (Four Way Books 2009) and the forthcoming Pax Americana (Four Way Books 2015), which will include the poem posted here today. His poems have recently appeared or are forthcoming in such places as Witness, Southwest Review, Hotel Amerika, Green Mountains Review, Third Coast, and The Minnesota Review. He teaches creative writing at Rice University. His website, where he also writes about poetry and cooking, is http://paulotremba.com.

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The Hive

– “To the Age Its Art, to Art Its Freedom”

 

New techniques, material
layers, so a body
of work glued together—we found

that break showing honey.
Oh, Vienna, you cannot move!
But always in the same period-dress

gardens and words
feel stepped on.
Their progressions curdle

behind our profiles
like eggs, or an obvious Typhon
if only you know the handshakes

for entrance to the dance.
And Mal? Your strings
still echo full of wolves.

At the end of the day
they call us where?
Just some hope a cue summons

within you. Here, I submit
a list of my complaints.
I did but taste the field.