Thursday, August 20, 2015

 

The Rocky Horror Ritual

I.

"Lips! Lips! Lips!"

This cry is heard from New York City to San Francisco to Houston, like a call to arms. In Brooklyn, people have encircled a city block, wearing costumes which rival the transvestites in Central Park. In Tulsa, Oklahoma, a plate glass window was broken because the movie theater did not start the show on time.  Some people have seen this movie a hundred times or more.  What is this movie which has inspired cult-like fanatacism?

It is The Rocky Horror Picture Show, a film based on a stage musical which originated in England, then was successful Off-Broadway, but was a commercial failure as a movie when it was released in 1972.  But a mere seven years later, there were posters, t-shirts, a soundtrack album on picture disc. Certainly, with such a following, this movie qualifies as a phnomenon.

The primary enjoyment of the movie appears to be the experience of losing your inhibitions in a crowd.  People come dressed as various characters from the movie, their costumes and make-up ranging from the very poor to the very convincing.  They reply to comments made by the characters, insult them, and give them stage directions.  As a friend of mine has said, seeing Rocky Horror is like going to a rock concert.

In brief, the movie is about Brad and Janet, two ultra-average college kids who get engaged after two of their friends get married.  They decide to tell their good news to their science professor, Dr. Everet Scott.  Unfortunately, on the way they have a flat tire on a deserted country road.  Because their spare tire is "badly in need of air," they are forced to walk to that castle a mile back on the road.

At the castle, they meet Riff Raff, a crazed hunch-back servant, his sister Magenta, and a warped Dr. Frankenstein-like scientist named Dr. Frank N. Furter.  Frank, in full make up, corset, and stockings, ignores Brad and Janet's pleas to let them use his telephone, but he does invite them to his lab to see his muscle-bound creation, Rocky.  From the moment of Rocky's creation it's clear that Dr. Furter takes joy in creation for reasons beyond the fact that he is its creator — there's an obvious sexual interest. Not only is it implied that he has sex with Rocky, he explicitly has sex with Brad and Janet — in that order.  And all three in one night.

But Frank does not go unpunished.  It seems that he and his servants are from the plant Transylvania in the gallaxy of Transexual.  And Riff Raff has been given orders to leave earth.  In so doing, he kills the doctor because his life-style's been "too extreme," and leaves Brad and Janet crawling helplessly, like insects, on the planet's face.

Lost in my brief synopsis of the movie are the numerous allusions to classic horror movies, especially Frankstein and King Kong. In the end scene, Magenta bears a marked resemblance to Elsa Lancaster as the Bride of Frankenstein.  After Frank has been killed, Rocky climbs to the top of the RKO radio tower with his master's limp body under his arm (RKO is the studio which released King Kong).

Also lost are the crowd's reactions.  In one scene, Riff Raff is drinking wine from a bottle while holding a full wine glass in his other hand. "Drop it," the crowd shouts; and seconds later, he drops the wine bottle.  After Janet has had sex with Frank N. Furter, she asks, "O Brad, how could I have done this to you?" To which many in the crowd reply, "It was easy!" And someone else says, "No, it wasn't – she still has panty hose on!"  In another scene Frank sings, "What ever happened to Fay Wray?" and the crowd answers, "She went ape-shit!"

The movie opens with a wedding, and many in the audience throw rice.  Later, when Dr. Furter marries Rocky, they throw rice again.  During a scene where it is raining, people squirt water pistols.  There's a gospel-styled song titled "There's A Light" during which people hold up lighters, matches, and lit candles.  In another scene, the doctor proposes a toast - so people throw slices of toast.  And when he sings, "Cards for sorrow, cards for pain," the air is filled with tossed playing cards.

These actions are ritual, repeated at every showing of this movie.  Often I have heard, while standing on line, "O dear, I forgot the rice.  Anybody got some extra rice?" or "Anybody got an extra book of matches?" And once you are familiar with the plot and all the allusions in the movie, you surely go to this movie just to be part of the ritual.

Perhaps the meaning of the ritual can be found in the movie. The character for whom the most sympathy is Frank N. Furter.  It certainly isn't Brad and Janet, the logical choices, since they're described by the audience as Asshole and Whore from the moment of their introduction.  Frank N. Furter, who is portrayed by the British actor Tim Curry, is the strongest and most charismatic character on the screen. His introduction, in the titles, is greeted by applause.  His entrance into the film is preceded by a rhythm guitar, with which the audience claps. Clearly, he is the character with whom the Me Generation of the 1970s identifies.

And yet, Frank is killed — punished for his life of extreme debauchery. It would seem the moral of the movie is "The wages of sin are death." But the Pepsi Generation comes to the movie, time and again, to vicariously engage in a wild sex orgy.  In this sense, the movie is a safety valve where those who are repressed in this SEX-obsessed era can release their libidinal steam.

II.

“I'm doing exactly what I want to . . . That's what Rocky Horror is all about.” – Bostonian woman.

— No, we don't have to worry much about violence. We never have to call the police, 'cause there's a couple of guys here who break up fights and escort people out of the theater.

In order to get to the Satellite Theaters in Norman, Oklahoma, you must go up two flights of red-carpeted stairs.   The lobby is small, slightly larger than two prison cells.  And, if you're lucky, and arrive at the right time, you meet the manager, who is the owner's daughter-in-law.  Whe is a very handsome young woman, possibly in her late 20s or early 30s.  When I met her, she was wearing a pastel red pant suit and a brilliant diamond ring.  She was very personable and forthright in answering my questions.

— I'm afraid I can't tell you how much we pay for the rental on the film, how much we make on it, or how much we spend on cleaning. [The owner] doesn't give out that information on any of the films.  Sorry.

— I'm not interested in actual figures; I'd just like a comparison between this and your other shows.  For instance: do you spend more on cleaning for this show?

— Well, I can tell you this: we do spend more to clean up for this show that for the others. He's here most of Saturday and Sunday morning cleaning.  But the crowd isn't all that bad, y'know.  We get a lot of drunks, of course.  And we don't like people drinking beer, smoking marijuana and cigarettes, or lighting those lighters, but .... how can you stop them?
 You know, this one time this guy brought in an aerosal spray can and sat in the front row.  Well, he lit his lighter in front of that can and the flame shot out past those curtains at the side of the screen.  One of the guys escorted him out.  You know, that could've really scared people - if the curtains caught on fire.
 Another time, this guy hit his girl friend and we had to take him out of the theater.  He really hurt her.  But he was real apologetic later; he was drunk, y'know, and he just ... he just got carried away.  Another time, a couple of guys came to blows, but we got 'em out without any problems.. And those incidents are real rare.  Most of the time, they're pretty cool – I guess 'cause they're a college crowd. I've not been there, but I've heard they get really wild at the May, where they show it in the City (OKC).

— So the crowd isn't destructive?

— Not at all.

— Have you ever had a Standing Room Only crowd?

— Not as far as I know.  The theater can seat 400 people, and I think we haven't had more than 250 for Rocky Horror. but if you looked in that theater now [at the 6:30 showing of The Warriors], there wouldn't be that many people in there.

— Do you know why the owner chose to show the film so late at night?

— Well, you know that Twentieth Century Fox [the distributer of Rocky Horror] approached him, he didn't go to them. He didn't know anything about the film until they approached him. They told him a little about it, and how it was a good money-maker. And they suggested he show it late at night.  It really is a late-night film.  You know, the Boomer Theater showed Rocky Horror here in 1976, earlier in the evening, and it bombed. If we showed it daily and for the matineés, I think we'd start loosing money on it. People would get bored with it.  But, showing it every week-end, we get a steady revenue from it.  We wouldn't show it otherwise.

Getting Rocky Horror fanatics to talk about the film is not difficult.  Especially if you sound like you're attacking it.  M.K. Jackson, who is currently a graduate student working in the Bizzell Library, very kindly agreed to speak with me on short notice.  She has seen the movie at least a dozen times.

— Although, she says, I stopped counting at six.  I've seen it in Houston, Kansas, Colorado, Tulsa, and Norman.  The crowds in Houston and Kansas are better than the one here in Norman. There, they cooperate; they all shout the same thing at the right time – between lines of dialogue. That way, you can hear what's going on in the movie.  I don't really like the crowd here in Norman: they shout different things at different times, and it's just noise.

— Well, if it's so bad here, why continue seeing it?

— Because it's fun.  There's absolutely nothing like it.  And it's exciting.

— Something that's interested me: people get so involved in the film – throwing things, wearing costumes, and all of that. Why don't even small groups of people get involved during the orgy scene.

— What you don't understand, James, is this film isn't about sex.  It's a film about decadence, which involves more than sex.  Decadence is self-centered.  And although it's self-destructive – as is the case with Frank N. Furter, and that great decadent, Oscar Wilde – there's also a sense of self-preservation, of how much you can get away with. And the sort of thing you're talking about is just too much.

— Why do you think Rocky Horror is so popular?

— It's a release.  And it's a cult:  with all the rituals, it really is like going to church every Friday or Saturday night.  And I think it fills a need for the ritual which is lacking in America today.

III. Son of Rocky Horror

“Each man must create his own system or else he is slave to another man's” – William Blake

Objectivity is a fiction.  "Truth in journalism" implies an I, and that pronoun proliferates like telephone poles on a country road.  The 1970s were the "Me Decade", as Tom Wolfe wrote.

The 70s were the denouement of a neo-Romantic era which began in the 1960s, between the death of Robert Frost and President Kennedy.  Just as Romanticism in France was heralded by the first French Revolution, so was America's by campus revolts during President Johnson's terms of office. And as the activism of France's Romanticism ended with Napoleon's deposition and the beginning of a more rigid government, so did America's activism end with the shock of "four dead in Ohio."

After these ages of activism ended, an age of Romanticism as literary and cultural philosophy began.  Now the self, as in "self help" is emphasized. The letter "I" is holy.  The accent is on youth, for Romanticism is the teenage years gone wild.  It's the "Pepsi Generation."

I believe Rocky Horror is a fable for the Romanticism of the 1970s.  Granted, this movies is about decadence, as one of the songs says, to "give yourself over to absolute pleasure." But, my dear friend, decadence is just Romanticism in drag.

The advertisements for this movie read: "He's the hero!  That's right, he's the real hero!" But the question is, who is the hero?  It would seem to be Dr. Frank N. Furter, for this is the character whom audiences applaud and cheer throughout the movie. Yet, in the end he is killed, punished for being the true Existentialist Man who lives by no morals but his own.  But this is not unusual.  Dorian Gray dies in the end, after all.  The tragic Romantic hero is an enduring trope.  We cheer these heroes, even though their deaths are a form of moral defeat.

Who would not like to create their perfect mate? No doubt, we envy Dr. Furter's success in that pursuit.  But we also cheer him because we wish we could share his loose morals.  But most of us have enough sense of self-preserevation to realise that such extremism is self-destructive.  Although we may identify with the Doctor, we are really just a bunch of Brads and Janets being vicariously debauched for ninety-two minutes.  Every Friday and Saturday night, we go to this Church of Decadence, barely tasting the communion.

Why?  Listen:

People have an innate need to believe in something, be it Krishna, God, the Flying Spagetti Monster, or the Cosmic Doughnut.  And those who have rejected both Christian mythology and the myths of foriegn cultures are placed in the lonely position of creating, in effect, their own religion.  Without at least one other person believing as you do, and observing your rituals, it's hard to convince yourself that your religion is viable or true.  So we run to the religion of the Self: self-help, self-hypnosis, regression therapy,or Werner Erhert's pseudo-existentialist EST.  Or .... we become card-carying members of the Rocky Horror cult.

I have already described many of the rituals involved in this cult, but what (if any) beliefs do its adherents have in common?  Obviously, all the hard core fanatics believe this movie is great; so great, in fact, that it is worth spending three dollars a shot for as many as forty-three to one hundred visits.  Also, sexual licentiousness is OK.  Although the audience calls Janet a "Whore", I doubt there are very many single virgins in the audience.  The term is used ironically: it is as if to say: "My parents would think you're a whore, but you're all right in my book."

* * *

I originally wrote this essay in March of 1979, at which time I predicted enthusiasm for the movie would soon end.  I'm now a 60 year-old geezer writing about this 43 year-old movie.  Surprisingly, it's still showing in many markets with the same rituals I observed all those years ago.  Romanticism may be dead, but the longing for connection and ritual is not. Nor is the temptation to give yourself over to absolute pleasure.

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Wednesday, August 12, 2015

 

idée d’jour

Just ask, just ask! says the dew, and rolls away.
— Issa

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Tuesday, August 04, 2015

 

Idée d’jour

Ah! what a divine religion might be found out if charity were really made the principle of it instead of faith.
– Percy Bysshe Shelley, poet (4 Aug 1792-1822)

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Saturday, June 20, 2015

 

20.VI.15

Raking fresh mown grass
contemplating
things best left undone

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Tuesday, June 16, 2015

 

Idée d’jour

Sell your cleverness and buy bewilderment.
— Rumi

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Saturday, May 23, 2015

 

The Way of Jazz

The Jazz you can play
isn't the real Jazz.
The Jazz you can sing
isn't the real Jazz.

Horn & Ivory
begin in No-Jazz:
Jazz is the mother
of the American Songbook.

Jazz is empty,
used, but not used up.
Deep, yes ancestral
to the American Songbook.

Horn & Ivory aren't humane.
To them the American Songbook
is a straw dog.

Wise souls aren't humane.
To them Fats & Miles
are straw dogs.

Horn & Ivory
act as a bellows:

Empty yet structured,
they move, inexhaustibly giving.

Horn will last,
Ivroy will endure.
How can they last so long?
They don't exist for themselves
and so can go on and on.

True swing
is like water.
Water's good
for everything.
It goes right
to the low loathsome places
and so finds a way.

Once upon a time
people who knew Jazz
were subtle, spiritual, mysterious, penetrating
unfathomable.

To follow Jazz
is not to need fulfillment.
Unfulfilled, one may live on
needing no renewal.


Selections from Ursala K. Le Guin's rendering of the Tao, substituting words as follows:
Jazz: Name, Way
Horn: Heaven
Ivory: Earth
American Songbook: 10,000 things
Fats & Miles: the hundred families
Swing: goodness

Guin, Ursula K. Lao Tzu: Tao Te Ching : A Book about the Way and the Power of the Way. United States: Shambhala Publications, Incorporated, 2009. 2-24. Print. 

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Thursday, May 14, 2015

 

Dream Café

I got the bum's rush from the Dream Café.

OK, I guess that deserves some explanation.
Woke from the edge of a dream around 2 a.m.:
a modest indoor café – nice wooden tables,
no table cloths.  I was alone at a table with four chairs.
I was writing.
I think I was writing poetry.

The waiter was familiar. The café was not.
There were several pages around me.
No plates, no service ware, not even a cup of joe;
just sheets of paper, one beneath my right hand,
the rest fanned out in a small arc just above.
I was bent over, consumed in my writing.

I think I was alone in the café.
The tables were good quality wood,
not laminate or Formica.
But – no table cloths, no candles.
I'd guess it was a moderately-priced café.

This dream is almost two-days old,
and the path back is drenched in fog.
The memories are indistinct, and
intermingling with my quotidian road.

The waiter was familiar.
He sheepishly approached me:
“I'm sorry, but you'll have to leave
if you're not going to buy anything.”

That's when I woke up.
With dream fragments
to go.

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Saturday, May 02, 2015

 

Poetry Month Scouting Wrap Up

These two questions come from a survey sent by the Found Poetry editors:

  1. What did you like best about the project? What parts came easy to you?
    I appreciated the challenge of the prompts; some were more challenging than others (a couple using websites as resources were especially frustrating).  But I felt a sense of accomplishment in over coming these challenges.  Any prompt that asked the poet to use the source material as "word banks" were the easiest.
    Having a goal of completing at least half the prompts (15 out of 30) was freeing; I felt very successful in completing 28 out of 30.
  2. What did you like least about the project? What parts were difficult for you?
    I remember three websites that were challenging for me: the one for Haiku Anew, the erasure tool for Redacted, and the diastic tool for Spelling B.  I'll admit some of that challenge was likely due to my own time limitations, and concurrent impatience. I knew the "Out and About" prompts would be challenging – and the editors warned us these prompts would challenge our comfort zones.  As it turned out, I completed all but two of those "Out and About" prompts (the two which required the highest level of interaction with the public). 

I chose to take on this project with two goals: to flex my poetry muscles, and to generate more content for my blog.  The prompts have forced me to think of poetry in new ways (e.g., it doesn't necessarily have to tell a coherent story), and have given me some ideas for how to break writer's block in the future.  Since I was essentially writing a poem a day, I had to accept that many of these poems would be mediocre at best - some might not even qualify as poems. It was a good way to enforce the William Stafford method of writing a poem a day - I lowered my standards, of necessity.

As for generating content, I've had more posts this month than in some time, through writing about the process of responding to the prompts.  The links to the PoMoSco site will remain available to the general public through the end of May; after that point, I'll decide which poems to repost on this blog.  Flexing those muscles may inspire me to set myself a modest goal of writing at least one poem a week (or month).

I especially enjoyed the prompts which directed the poet to use text(s) as a word bank. I tend to get stuck on images and words, and this was a good way to break out of that habit.

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Friday, May 01, 2015

 

Short Takes: PoMoSco Update

C1 2 B1 was in response to the Orders Up prompt.  I went to Jeff's County Cafe on Classen, a greasy spoon I go to about once a month.  The title comes from what I typically order for breakfast.

At the Comic Com was written in response to the All Ears prompt. The directions involved going to a public space and copying down as many snippets of conversation as possible, then converting that to a poem.  I picked up a free paper at Jeff's and saw there was a small comic con in town on the same day, and decided to go. One thing that's unique about this poem is that it has embedded PSAs; I'm very pleased the editors let them stand.

A Monk and His Book was drawn from Mark Twain's first book, The Innocents Abroad or The New Pilgrim’s Progress; the word bank was derived by phone number, as described in the Dialed In prompt.

Blue Earth People was derived from a page from Desert Notes by Barry Lopez.  The Click Trick prompt is an erasure variant using Photoshop (or equivalent) to obscure unwanted words.  The resulting poem makes Lopez sound like a cranky misanthropic anthropologist.

Family is a Gift forced me to get some exercise and fresh air by walking in random directions around my neighborhood.  I wrote down as many words as possible on this "Chance Walk".  I remindend myself that many cars names can serve dual purpose as nouns or verbs (e.g., dart). The poem has an embedded ad for the burger joint down the street from my house (technically, a link to its Twitter feed).  The title comes from a sign on the door of an abandoned house.

The As Advertised prompt challenged the poet to use notices on a community bulletin board as word banks.  As it turned out, my favorite bookshop (the only locally-owned new bookshop I'm aware of) didn't have many notices up.  Their bulletin board is in a small entry way, so I decided it would be simplest to read the notices into an electronic device (in this case, a Samsung Tab).  The device "misheard" serveral words (e.g., "yoda" for "yoga" and "sister" for "Sedaris"); I chose to preserve these "mondregreens" for this Earth Day poem.

Listening to Shame was derived from Krista Tippett's On Being interview with Brené Brown.  This was in response to the Quiet on Set prompt; my reading of the directions caused me to keep many phrases intact. I received a positive response to one of those phrases; it's not a verbatim quote (which would've been breaking the rules), but it's darn close.

Another poem which seems very beholden to its source material is Rise Up Young Heart, which comes from a meditation by Bp. Steven Charleston. He graciously granted me limited permission to re-purpose his writing.  I haven't decided whether to reprint it here; it seems at best an abridged version of his original work. This was done in response to the Cut It Out prompt, where the poet literally cut out the unwanted words and phrases with an exacto knife. I thought the scan of the document would be more interesting if I put a picture behind the page.

Hard Without Glasses was in response to the Best Laid Plan prompt. The text comes from “The Alcoholic Veteran with the Washboard Cranium”, a remembrance by Henry Miller.  Not sure this is entirely successful, but it was worthy experiment.

Beautiful Renewal is the last poem written in response to one of the official prompts. Since I was going to miss two prompts, I decided to revisit one of the prompts I'd already completed (one of the Badge Masters did the same thing). I simply revisited Substitute Texter, since my previous attempt had been relatively successful.  The substitutions for this poem were chosen at random from words left over from the Cut It Out prompt; inspired by the work of P.F. Anderson, I decided to construct this as a pantoum.

I only had to create one more "found poem" to have written 30 poems in 30 days, so I set my own challenge, which appears immediately below (Psalm 4: Lord of the Exploding Universe).  The result is sort of a cross between the Substitute Texter and Interloper prompts, since I exchanged some words from the sermon for words in the psalm.

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Thursday, April 30, 2015

 

Psalm 4: Lord of the Exploding Universe

Answer me when I call
Lord of the exploding universe.
My memories live in my body.
You set me free when I was in distress,
for I carry that exploding day in my body.
Be gracious to me now and hear my prayer.

How long, O mortals will you defame my honor:
All is coming apart in this Age of Terror
how long will you love what is worthless and seek after lies?
All is coming apart, all is exploding

Know this, that the Lord has chosen,
has chosen those who are fearful,
has chosen those who are righteous:
I struggle to live with righteousness
but the Lord hears me when I call.

How well we remember.
Will we remember what it means?

Stand in awe; we live in the shadow,
in the shadow of the April 19 Bomb:
commune with your own memories.
My memories dwell in my body.

Offer the sacrifices that are appointed:
The past may be smoke, but it can return in an instant.
Put your trust in the Lord of the expanding universe.
This building of brick has expanded by a foot;
Can our hearts expand as well?

There are many who say,
You weren't there, but you were present
in the shadow of the April Bomb.
Lift up the light of your face on us O Lord.
O Lord of the exploding universe.

But you have put gladness in my heart:
bringing order out of chaos.
The world has shifted.
They may revel in the madness
of mutually assured destruction.
I put my trust in you, O Lord.

The world has shifted, but
I lie down in peace and sleep comes at once:
For O Lord , it is you only
who make memories dwell in my body.

Found poem; Sources:
“Psalm 4.” A New Zealand Prayer Book = He Karakia Mihinare O Aotearoa: The Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand, and Polynesia. San Francisco: HarperSan Francisco, 1997. 200. Print.

Back, Rt Rev George. “On the 20th Anniversary of April 19, 1995.” St. John's Episcopal Church, Oklahoma City. 19 Apr. 2015. Sermon.


I've completed 28 prompts for the Poetry Scout Month Project; looks like I won't make the last two. So, to have a full 30 poems for the month of April, I've done a repeat of one challenge (see Beautiful Renewal), and created a challenge of my own. This explores the communication between a psalm and a sermon delivered on the same day the psalm was read.

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Saturday, April 25, 2015

 

The Rolling Stone Series

Two poems for the Poetry Scout Month project used the April 23rd issue of Rolling Stone as a resource: Down the Rabbit Hole and A Terrifying Band for Our Children When You Look Back. A friend gave me a subscription to Rolling Stone (prior to the campus rape hub-bub), and this project gave me a chance to put a back issue to good use.

“Down the Rabbit Hole” was in response to the Pinch an Inch prompt.  The instructions direct you to select a column inch anywhere on the x-axis of the page.  This was interesting to do with a magazine, since all the magazines I have handy (Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly, and Outdoor Photographer) are divided into three columns of  ~inch each per page.  So, all I had to do was decide what article to use, and which of the three pre-determined column inches to select. I thought a music review would be the most likely to have “poetic language”, so I selected the lead review, which was in the far right-hand column.  Just to make things interesting, I selected two more reviews on the opposite side of the page - both also in the far-right hand column. The poem takes its title from the third of these reviews.

“A Terrfying Band” was in response to the Picture It prompt.  I had a hard time groking the instructions for this badge, until I reviewed what other poets had done in response.  I finally decided the easiest method was to simply doodle on the page and black out any words that might mislead the reader.  The result still did not reflect my intent, so I typed out the version of the poem I intended.  The source text was an interview with Peter Townsend.  He's been somewhat on my mind, as I've been obsessively wood-shedding “Pinball Wizard” whenever I wasn't working on this project.

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Thursday, April 23, 2015

 

Their Testimony

Report on my progress through the Poetry Month Scout Badges continues.  “Their Testimony” was written in response to the “Interloper” prompt. The goal was to go to a public speech (preferrably something specialized and unfamiliar to the writer). I fudged a bit by taking notes at my church – during the sermon and during the presentation for adult education.  Both presentations were related to the 20th anniversary of the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building on April 19.

Based on the editor's response to others (on Facebook), I suspect they would consider this choice “cheating”.  I feel very at home at my church, for one thing, and “April 19” has meaning and familiarity to anyone who has lived in Oklahoma for more than a few years. In fact, there's Reflections of April 19, 1995 linked immediately to your left.

The handbook warned writers many of these prompts would push our comfort level.  The thought of being in a strange place, among strangers, was way beyond my comfort level. So, I strove to honor the spirit of the prompt – the words and phrases of the poem come entirely from the two presentations offered at my church on April 12.

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Saturday, April 11, 2015

 

A Riot of Souls

Two more for Poetry Month Scouting: for the Haiku Anew and Interrogator badges.

First, the Haiku: I selected a haiku from a collection titled Haiku Mind: 108 Poems to Cultivate Awareness and Open Your Heart by Patricia Donegan. It's a source I dip into every so often, haiku being a sort of stout ale best appreciated in sips.  I entered the haiku text (by Hekigodo Kawahigashi) into the recommended on-line discombobulator, which rearranges letters as well as words. It seemed to come up with extra words, so I picked the ones that seemed to work the best. I titled the collection of five haiku Moonlit Riot. The instructions say to create a poem that “fits the haiku structure while still making sense.” At first, I assumed "haiku structure" meant the common 5-7-5 syllabic construction (first line 5 syllables, and so on).  In reading other examples, I don't think many other participants have felt bound to this restriction; I think the editors really meant "a poem of three short lines."

This proved to be an interesting exercise, one I might repeat. I think I'd loosen the bonds a bit more, though.

You Who Question Souls was my response to the Interrogator prompt. I still had Leonard Cohen on my mind (he has yet another live album coming out in May), so I pulled out my copy of Book of Mercy. My goal was to gather about two pages worth of questions from the book.  These questions were rearranged into a new poem. I'm rather pleased with the end result; with the exception of a couple of lines, one might not guess the source was a modern collection of psalms.

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Friday, April 10, 2015

 

Babel Broke Down

Poetry Month Scouting, continued. My poem “Babel Broke Down” was in response to the “First in Line” prompt. As the referenced page mentions, this type of poem is a cento, a form I've tried once before, using the index of first lines from selected poems of Emily Dickinson.

My first impulse was to use first lines from Book of Longing by Leonard Cohen, which happens to be next to the chair by my writing desk. It also happens to have an index of first lines, which includes the titles of his drawings throughout the book. The index goes on for several pages, and felt too overwhelming. So I picked up a chapbook which also sits near my chair, Lexicography, by my friend Carol Hamilton.  Although her chapbook had no index of first lines, it was less intimidating – being a little over 81 pages.

Chapbooks tend to be collections of poems along a common theme, in this case Words, and their meanings. After only a few pages, I was struck by how frequently the first line on the recto page seems to comment on, or reply to, the first line on the opposing page.  In a sense, the poem seemed to write itself.

In my mind, it seems to have a plot.  As a friend said, “It almost makes sense.” As such, I think it is one of my more successful attempts in this project.

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