Archive for January, 2009


Posted in Uncategorized on January 28, 2009 by Jess Gross

I generally tend to leave thoughts of God and design out of my poems, so the idea of musing on such topics is fairly new to me. However, I recently wrote a poem called “Pretending” which addresses these very things (metaphorically speaking). The poem goes like this:

What creature is this in front of me?

I have never seen the likes of it before

It can’t be a snail, or an ant

For interpretations of both sit

On either side of the imposter

The shame of it, pretending to be

Something it’s not

But isn’t that what I’m doing, too?

Pretending to be a bug, sitting under

This huge metal flower

I have to crane my neck to see its center

A huge red eye, looking out over me

I could kid myself, and these metal insects

Tell us all that the flower is watching over us

Sheltering us and guiding our paths

But no

The flower is looking far beyond us

Admiring much more complex works of art

The turn in this poem is from the description of the insect, to a reflection on the self, and then to a metaphor of the flower as God. (Perhaps this isn’t the idea we’re looking for, but it gets the job done.) This allows the reader to form their own interpretations of God’s perception of the human race, and vice versa. As a poet, this is also a chance to rebut, or to agree. Challenging religion and perception has always been prime poetic material, as the topic can never be exhausted. Everyone has their own, ever-changing opinion, and so the poetic prospective serves as a medium for musing over these ideas.


“God cracks the pavement”

Posted in Uncategorized on January 28, 2009 by Silvana

The emblem structure employs a certain amount of awareness to very minute, very subtle intricacies. It also entails a philosophical perception, a necessity to the shift of the poem. The process can be easily interrupted while searching for one particular thing, whether it be in a painting, a sculpture, a person, etc. While observing the pieces in the art gallery on Monday, I felt as though I was constantly searching for that specific something to ignite inspiration. Perhaps it was because I was trying to force the inspiration to come forth from this object, and although this may seem very enigmatic, but I couldn’t find any link between the artwork and myself, or how the sculptures and photographs etc were moving or angering or depressing. When I look at a being/concept of art, I’m lost in the artist’s statement. It’s difficult to include myself in that statement, feeling completely estranged from the artist’s idea.

In XVI. Long Beach, NY, 1989 Waldrep writes:

A photograph is a skin that has been removed from the object, a sort of portable illumination.

A photograph, like a poem, is reproduceable through mass media.

A photograph is the skin on which objects rest.

This was the sort of turn that resonated with me. He condenses his statements from a general statement on humanity to the specifics of looking at the photograph and the meaning of the photography. Although the turn is subtle, most of the lines (in this same poem) stand on their own. Each line in this poem, for me at least, could sum up the entire poem. When he writes “One pours, one waters. God cracks the pavement” on the same line, the design of both statements is so distinct.


using the emblemic turn to “zoom out”

Posted in Uncategorized on January 28, 2009 by erinl09

I got a little ahead of myself and began posting comments before I had written my post, which means I might repeat myself–so bear with me.

I do not see the emblem turn as a strict shift toward the marvelousness of “God’s Hand.” Michael Theune says that the tradition has roots in not only theology but art and science and philosophy (Structure & Surprise 27). I think it is important to remember that Jorie Graham’s poem did not have any religiousness about it; she was fascinated with how the habits of this school of minnows reflect all life. “This is freedom,” she says, and it is an organic freedom. My best understanding of emblem structure is that it begins with description and suddenly realizes that it can be applied to something larger, more encompassing. There is a zooming out that takes place when the depictions suddenly have universal meanings.

That is what emblem turns achieve (in my opinion). The poem becomes more than the image, it becomes a realization of where else the image is reflected in life. There are basic rules to reality, and emblem turns literally surprise us with those rules. The turn is significant because it signals that the poem is about more than the initial image.

I said before that I find myself writing emblem poems, and I usually turn the poem with a provoking question. Here is my “Museum of” exercise…

“The Museum of Defect”

formica hallway gray as dishwater, with a child whose lips split in grimace-smile, the stitchless orphan now tied to a beast. blindness. her guide dog is glossed with cataracts, they wait at the bus stop—how automatic each step? four to the left, ninety-five straight ahead, listen for the playground across the way. the siamese men were semi-celebrity, see them conjoined, buffered by a wall of wives and children. these eggs, they began to split and what, halfway through changed their minds? and the savant, his integers with their colors textures sounds, how is a mind bereft of sense? is the world a numbered mosaic with coordinating palette? at the foot of the spectrum a woman huddles over a woollybear, cooing, face rouged with cookie. when maturity arrives—predetermined? does your god take a picture with his kodak optical zoom lens and snap her life into place? in the giftshop you buy postcards, send them without text, it is a beggar’s sign: your end is nigh, smote by thy own face.


The turn I identify as particularly emblemic is, “does your god take a picture with his kodak optical zoom lens and snap her life into place?” Prior to this line, the voice is still looking at the exhibits, relating them to the audience, but at that line, she steps away from the immediate to look at the hierarchy of life. Her turn to the hierarchy of life could, by a less cynical voice, be considered identical to the “Marvelousness of Life” turn I described in one of my comments, identical to the turn to universal meaning.

I am fascinated by this turn because I do believe in basic rules of reality, and I think they are so inherent that they surprise us, at times, when we see them reflected in the ordinary. I believe that this emblem turn is undeniably relevant to our sphere.

I welcome your thoughts.

Turns in Narrative

Posted in Uncategorized on January 27, 2009 by VV

The Emblem structure brings to my mind the idea of Genre in fiction writing — we tend to see genre for what it often is: writing within a set of constraints which can, if poorly used or misunderstood, severely limit the possibility and quality of a piece of writing. For example, a writer might hear the word “fantasy” and immediately imagine images from what famous authors have already accomplished – dwarves, elves, dragons – instead of seeing the genre for what it really, in my opinion, ought to  be – a removal of the limitations of reality from a narrative. But this is such a broad and almost infinitely vast concept that one automatically drifts to what others have already done with it.

In the same way, the Emblem structure, as a shift from observation to meditation, invites the gravitation toward philosophical or religious musings, when “meditation” or “reflection” are far less limiting terms. The turn in an Emblem poem need not include grandeur. Elizabeth Bishop’s “The Fish” follows the Emblem structure without ever introducing the monumental absractions one might expect. She tells the poem in pure narrative description, like the best of short stories, relying solely on the details to explain to us what larger meaning is present – “He didn’t fight. He hadn’t fought at all.” She describes the event of catching the fish, then dips into lentghy and complex imagery to set not only the scene, but tell the story of the fish’s life before it found itself caught. The poem turns here, as the narrator sees “that from his lower lip–if you could call it a lip–grip, wet, and weaponlike, hung five old pieces of fish-line…with all their five big hooks grown firmly in his mouth.” After further exploration, the narrator “stared and stared,” another turn, as we come to understand something about how this person feels upon noticing these details. Following this is the one shift into abraction: “and victory filled up the little rented boat,” signaling a change in mood as the person makes a decision that reflects a significant amount of meditation, with the final line, “And I let the fish go.” In this way, the observation and meditation take place inside the mind of a character in the poem, and in such a way that we do not directly witness the reflection, but instead deduce it through the subsequent action. This exemplifies that the observation-meditation shift need not even be visible in the poem itself, and that such a turn is possible also through imagery and narrative, making the Emblem structure an option for poets that is more of an environment to work inside rather a strict rule about content.

Natural turns

Posted in Uncategorized on January 27, 2009 by alc215

I’m not really intrigued with the idea of following the classic emblem poem and incorporating some way to reflect back on God. I still think that turn would be easy but it feels overplayed. I think that in the modern days of poetry, poets tend to gravitate organically towards what is new and fresh so turns become more creative on their own.

One way that I really thought interesting to turn a poem is by first observing an object, as if it were opening night at an art gallery, and keep looking and looking until you come to some deep revelation about how that object relates to your life. I know that when we went to the art gallery last class, I was really anticipating not being able to turn my poems because I didn’t feel really drawn to the emblem structure and I was having some difficulty with it. I think that after observing the art pieces however, some turns naturally came to me because my descriptions were reminding me of other things. So, I think that when you’re free to turn the poem to relate and tie into your own personal connections, it is definitely comes more easily and is most of the time, more interesting.

G.C. Waldrep also has an interesting approach to the way he turns his poems. On page 28 in the poem “XXII. Snow Hill, Maryland, 1989” he first starts the poem with almost an anecdote; the poem feels as if its going through a road trip and then it reflects on itself with the final few lines:

Art about buildings & food is always really about music.
Say you’re driving along the Eastern Shore with the radio blaring
and suddenly you’re hungry and it’s summer and ahead of you
at the edge of the four-lane mirage
you spy a drive-in—THICK SHAKES! GOOD FOOD!—
and being American you try very hard not to think of words like architecture
so as to concentrate more completely on your hunger, on the Buick you drive
and on the speed at which you are going, which is to say
on the distance between gratification & performance.
Being American you accomplish this with relative ease
but really it’s the music you hear
and it’s the music you keep hearing when at last you pull off the macadam
only to discover the place is closed and looks as if it has been
for what passes in these parts as a long time.

There is a definite shift when Waldrep starts getting into the part where he says, “and being American you try very hard not to think of words like architecture,” which is shifted again at the final two lines of the poem, “only to discover the place is closed and looks as if it has been/ for what passes in these parts as a long time.” I think in looking at this poem as an emblem it is more admirable than the classical emblem in that it is so concise and on the shorter end.

He begins with driving on the road, then shifts to talking about what is American and not American. How Americans are concerned on eating and our own selves that at times it feels like that’s all that can be thought about. How Americans seek to gain gratification through their own performances and that our performances rise above in comparison. But then the poem shifts at the end to say the things that the American is striving towards in essence, suppressing their “hunger,” is closed at the culmination of the poem. I think this is definitely a commentary on how hungry Americans are not only like that literally but how they’re like that figuratively whether it be for money or power or whatever else. Waldrep uses a fast food place to convey this point.

I think direction is more interesting when it is subtler and done in a shorter time period as we see through many of Waldrep’s poems. It makes it almost more necessary to find the shift, where as in the classic emblems, finding the turn is almost facilitated for the reader because the poems are usually so lengthy. I really enjoy quick shifts in direction because I think that’s the natural process of the mind and it feels more natural to me. I think looking at direction this way and especially for a poet can really help in writing because I think that a lot can come out of your own thought processes if you take the time to delve into them.

Leading Down a Different Path

Posted in Uncategorized on January 27, 2009 by bennett89

The emblem structure seems to be a very basic form of poetry. I personally am not a big fan of this structure. I do not like the “God’s hand” aspect of this type of poetry and think it is quite under-minding to say that emblem structure “has” to have the aspect of God in it. There are many ways to approach writing in this way, but still being able to follow the basic outline of description and meditation. It is possible to reverse it where one would meditate and then describe. In my opinion, this doesn’t work very well, simply because the reflection part of the emblem structure tends to be quite philosophical, so knowing what the poet is mussing over helps to understand his/her abstract ideas. Another way to approach writing in the emblem structure is sit and stare at an object (art work for example) and just write everything you notice, and then spend sometime reflecting on what you saw and how it made you felt. When we took a class trip to the art gallery on campus I found this kind of writing quite interesting. I first wanted to walk around and just see what the gallery was about, at the same time trying to see what caught my eyes the most (and/or the least). Once I found something to write about I tired to stay with the classic emblem structure, but quickly found myself reflecting on the piece of art throughout my descriptions of it, instead of at the very end. I think the emblem structure takes a lot of patience to write well. I would rather have the poems be fully in the meditation state with a few descriptions thrown in here and there to add some spice.

The emblem structure does allow for some interesting directions in which a poet could turn from a description of the outside/natural/art-object world to that of a more pensive attitude. Take for example the exercise we did as a class. By looking at a piece of art and trying to describe it you are only looking at it from an outsider’s view. You may then turn in many directions. Some examples being, what you as the viewer of this piece of art feel, what you think was going through the creator’s mind as his/her art piece came to life, if you were the art piece what would you think about those viewing you, what if you were the piece of art being avoided next to the one you are viewing. All of these are interesting approaches to writing the reflection part of the poem. As I am in the process of revising what I wrote from the exercise, I am trying out different approaches to see which one ‘works’ the best. As it stands right now I am thinking that the most interesting approach is to describe the poem and then turn to the piece of art work sitting next to the one being described for the reflection. I find this interesting because it opens up many directions that the reflection can go, such asking questions, or provoking a strong emotion, or just a simple ‘this-is-what-I-think’ task.

On a side note, one of my major problems with the emblem structure is its predictability. For example, while reading “The Fish” by Elizabeth Bishop for the first time, I could predict that the speaker in the poem was going to let the fish go. So by the time I got to the last lines, “I stared and stared / and victory filled up . . . And I let the fish go” I really wasn’t into the poem anymore (no matter how great the beginning descriptions are).

With all that being said, I’ve tried my hand at the emblem structure and I am fully ready to move on to more exciting structures.

Less is More

Posted in Uncategorized on January 27, 2009 by Melissa Goodrich

The aim of the emblem poem seems to be a desire to connect a moment or a vision or an idea to something vitally important to a human being – and this idea of context is, probably, why so many poems revert to God (or the lack thereof). What I’m seeing a lot of in G.C. Waldrep’s work is a turning not necessarily (immediately) to God, but from a consideration of something as an objective to its consideration as a being, as if even material things had essence. For instance, in “Lake worth, Florida, 1987” (p. 24), he writes:

In New York City the small towns are very close together,

so close there is no need to visit. Hibiscuses are imported from other small towns.

Sometimes a hibiscus goes back to the town of its germination,

then everything is tragic and more walls are build.

[…] Joseph Cornell wanted to keep all the hibiscuses exactly where they were.

It feels as though the hibiscuses are transformed from an offhand detail to a being that sometimes makes the mistake of returning to its hometown (an essentially human question – origin and the question of wings versus roots). He keeps to the emblem tradition by transcending the material and considering it a context that is not unlike religion in the sense that everything is taken into consideration. It’s even observed that there might be some (Joseph Cornell in this case) who would rather keep all the hibiscuses in some sort of confined area, almost as if they’re being discriminated against, almost as if there’s a plot to create some sort of hibiscus ghetto. In other poems, such as “Miami Florida, 1987” (p. 37), he keeps the reflection very close to home, limited to what is and is not American:

On loan from le Musée d’Hiver a woman encased in a block of ice

slowly melts. A woman encased in a block of ice is an experience

just as Miami is an experience, neither are exits

and therefore both are American. To be American is to provender Miami,

to be a man in America is to stroke the clear surface of that slivering trap.

A woman escapes a block of ice or else she doesn’t.

What’s brilliant about keeping the reflection to America, an idea that is relatively small (compared against God, for instance), Waldrep invites his readers to see the limitations of the reflection – it is as though in writing Waldrep is mocking that superiority complex that Americans suffer from, thinking the epitome and end of every experience is linked to the emblem of nationality (of course now its terribly popular to go against the grain, something which is as much American now as loyalty was back in the day). There is a huge “how?” left out of such an excerpt – for example, how does a woman escape a block of ice, is there a possibility it has something to do with a thing bigger than what is American? I think Waldrep’s implementation of the emblem poem asks his readers to do a great deal of work, going father than the text of the poem may go. And he gives hints in several poems that more work is required: “Millions of men and women in America do this every day without knowing or without knowing why” or “Keypads on most modern touch-tones still recapitulate the alphabet three letters at a time, but no one cares. Nobody dials that way any more,/ELMwood-2167. If you want crabs you’re on your own./ If you want God you’ll have to use the King James.”

Turn Into Self

Posted in Uncategorized on January 26, 2009 by Allyson

I’d rather not follow the classic form of emblem poetry, no offense to God’s hand. Although it can be interesting to think of, it has been done many times before- as evidenced in the text- and honestly, the only poem that stood out to me was the Frost poem. So what does this say about pondering design? I think it says that I got a little bored (in agreement to what Aaron admitted in class) and that other readers may get bored as well.

While gazing at paintings and metal or wood sculptures in class today, I found myself turning the poems from objects in the gallery to myself or relations I have with others. This, I thought, was kind of interesting. When a single sculpture came into focus, I looked at myself. When a sculpture or painting reminded me of someone, I turned the poem off the art and onto a critique or moment of a relationship.

I think an even better direction for me to take would be, what does it mean that I am viewing artwork? In essence, isn’t the artwork viewing all sorts of people as they pass or interact with it? I think responses to those questions would be rather interesting and Philosophical. I like to make myself think, which would help me broaden my undertandings of things.


Posted in Uncategorized on January 26, 2009 by karlakelsey

This post is for Blog Group A to respond to, in full, but Wednesday morning (preferably Tuesday night). Blog Group B will comment by class on Friday. Thanks!

In class we noted that the classic emblem structure employs a meditation on “design” after the turn. It addresses the way in which the description in the first part of the poem shows God’s hand (or not). In your response, muse over other interesting directions in which you might turn from a description of the outside/natural/art-object world. Use example(s) from our reading and/or examples from your own practice with this form. What makes this “direction” interesting to you? What do you think that it can offer a poet?

Jorie Graham’s Prayer

Posted in Uncategorized on January 23, 2009 by kcwall10

In Prayer, Jorie Graham uses a number of tools to affectively show the poem turning.  One of these is a dramatic change in sentence structure. The poem begins with a focus on minnows.  The lines, which are long and formed almost as sentences, with the line break at the margin, seem to run together in the opening section.  They are separated by commas and hyphens only; there are very few periods.  This allows the reader to see the lines as flowing into one another, as a series of interconnected ideas.  This is most notable when the poem is read aloud, because it is difficult to know where the pauses are and tempting to read it all as one long sentence.

The second half of the poem, when the contextual focus shifts to a metaphorical description of the minnows as people, is markedly different.  Instead of lines that seem interconnected, every idea is separated by a period, so that each stands on its own. This change affects the sound of poem most notably. This change in rhythm forces the reader to focus on each idea separately. This allows the lines to impact the reader in a way that the structure of the first half does not.

Graham’s use of such dramatic change in form and sentence structure is a highly effective tool, especially when combined with other elements she uses, such as metaphor. This particular device makes the change visibly striking as well as within the content and sound of the piece. Graham’s skill in employing structure in this specific poem really helps me to look at structure in my own work.