Archive for March, 2009

Blog Group B: Post 4

Posted in Uncategorized on March 30, 2009 by karlakelsey

In “The Mid-Course Turn” Gerry Harp discusses work that turns, midway through, from the “genre of its development” to a different genre all together. When you look at Asher Ghaffar’s work, what genres do you see incorporated? Describe the connections and disconnections Ghaffar makes as he turns from one genre to another in the course of a single poem.


Dialectal Argument Structure

Posted in Uncategorized on March 20, 2009 by alc215

The poem I looked at to work within class was Hymn by A.R. Ammons. What appealed to me first was the way he makes very clear arguments that oppose each other. He first says “I know if I find you I will have to leave earth/ and go on out,” which meant to me, he clearly recognized that if he found this godly figure, he was going to have to leave earth with this imminent feeling of never being able to return. We get this feeling of breeching into heaven with the lines, “and on up through the spheres of diminishing air/ past the blackest noctilucent clouds/ where one wants to stop and look”

The opposition of this original idea comes with the phrase “And I know if I find you I will have to say with the earth” Just the repetition of the “I know if I find you” draws attention to what is going on. In these lines, the narrator is saying that if he finds God, he will have to stay on the earth even if he wants to be with him. He will have to find him “everywhere partial and entire/ You are on the inside of everything and on the outside.”

His final repetition of this phrase comes with “and if I find you I must go out deep into your/ far resolutions/ and if I find you I must stay here with the separate leaves” which is where it feels as though the narrator has come to this recognition that there needs to be this separation between the relationship of him and God, even when he wishes he were closer with him physically. But the only way to do that really is to die and leave the earth behind, so it definitely shows the conflict within it. I liked that Ammons was able to show the narrator’s discontent with of having this problem with having to physically leave earth and get it up to be with God in contrast with staying on earth and recognizing that the relationship needs this distance while he is on earth.

From that poem, I really wanted to emulate this direct contradiction in the way the relationship is realized by the narrator. I was really attracted to the repetition and the way it worked as a whole.

I also looked at Joshua Clover’s “Radiant City” for guidance with this structure. I really enjoyed his enjambment throughout and how that kept the reader in suspense sort of of what was going to be contradicted or create this real tension within the poem. So I was attempting to use some of those techniques in my poem for class as well.

I’m not sure if this structure is for me. The structure is very complex to me, which when done well, is really strong, but at the same time, it’s almost as though I feel like I have to be this really philosophical person in order to produce a good poem in dialectical argument structure. And in that regard, I’m not sure that my subject matter, at least for my in class poem was strong enough to accomplish that. For instances, some things that conflicted on the list I was given was whether to text someone or call them, whether to go out or stay in, and whether to drink on a school night and do homework. I think it would be really difficult to pull off a poem in this structure with that as the subject. I’d be interested in trying it again though if I thought I found something more fitting for the complexity. 

water water everywhere

Posted in Uncategorized on March 18, 2009 by Melissa Goodrich

I worked with A.R. Ammons’ “Hymn” (p. 112), whose internal contradictions (having to go infinitely beyond the earth to reach God v. recognizing the distance as an essential part of that relationship) make perfect sense even as they contradict each other. Part of what bound these irreconcilable differences so tightly together was the repetition of the phrase “if I find you I will have to”/ “if I find you I must.” What works about this complication is that the speaker comprehends his/her helplessness with this two contradicting arguments – while the speaker knows s/he will have to reach the highest heights, “up farther than the loss of sight,” s/he recognizes that s/he would be lucky to have God revealed in something so tiny as a private physical sensation or feeling (“praying for a never cell”). Furthermore, God is everywhere (according to the speaker), “You are everywhere partial and entire/ You are on the inside of everything and on the outside” – complicating this yearning to discover or find or reach God – if He is everywhere, there isn’t really any reason to go “on up through the spheres of diminishing air” – but why then does the speaker feel the longing to go looking if God is in fact everywhere at once?

When stealing ideas, I made my subject water (which is everything – in the sky, in the ground, in our own bodies) and my speaker dying of thirst. In this way, I was able to mimic the “water everything” idea and yet maintain that searching aspect (just because its humid outside doesn’t mean you can’t be thirsty). I suppose this element appealed to me because it philosophically complicates a quest (making one pause to ask questions like ‘Why do we get thirsty if our bodies are 61% water?’ or ‘Why do we feel a pull towards God if He’s supposedly everywhere?’). I think the dialectical structure forces us to confront complex arguments and makes us take the time to plot out each side of an argument and to be so thorough that we are convinced that both are true at once, even if they’re irreconcilable. I feel this structure is most applicable to its certain subjects – those which do mesmerize us because they frustrate us, and so it can be the mode by which to explore the most probing and irritating questions of life, the universe, and everything.

shared philosophy among voices

Posted in Uncategorized on March 18, 2009 by Silvana

Working with multiple voices within one poem is strange enough, yet that skill becomes more difficult when each speaker is riddled with sarcasm, and neither take a distinct form. I worked with D.H. Lawrence’s “To Be Superior.” Each voice in the first three stanzas make a distinct commentary on “superiority,” yet each allude to their own superiority among “everyone else.” Yet at the same time, I found there to be hardly any difference of voice between the speakers/the monologue of a solitary speaker. The question I addressed was “What makes people find themselves inferior among the so-called superior/’normal’ demographic?” Rather than re-write the poem from the perspective of the superior, each phrase intended on giving a voice to the bumbling, awkward inferior.

I suppose the most obvious poetic device I used was re-defining each speaker’s voice, into a similarly structured poem. I began with imitating the poem from the “superior’s” point of view, yet this only led me in a completely different direction. I originally wanted to incorporate both the inferior and the superior and end with the apathetic normal/apathetic superior that Lawrence ends with. Though the last three lines aren’t quite so indifferent because the speaker states “I should like to” and this gives us reason to believe there may be a sequel to this unanswered question. What I found most interesting about Lawrence’s use of the dialectical argument structure is how different this poem felt from the other samples. Each stanza disagrees with each other, but only to an extent. There is still an agreement that each speaker has sought betterment, therefore superior than whomever. However, the use of “people like you and me” led me to believe that this was a discussion among poets, or in broader terms, the writing community.

Voice may seem like a very basic poetic element or device, yet capturing three voices that are in agreement, yet also disagree only on philosophy but not of truth went just slightly over my head and abilities. However, I do think that the dialectical argument structure is an interesting technique, and certainly not one that I’ve used in my poetry before, unlike the emblem structure (without being conscious of what structure I was unknowingly using).

A Diolouge Between the Soul and Body

Posted in Uncategorized on March 18, 2009 by Allyson

…was the poem that I decided to imitate out of the book. At first I just tried to play around with one of the other ones, but I liked the idea of two VERY different forces conversing in the same poem, much like the poem about the house and Bernadette. I liked that the two were separated into different parts and labeled as such, but I think that I won’t use such obvious sections. I mean, it is quite possible that I will keep them the way they are(for now I have them sectioned as “yes” and “no”, which seems to work well). I think this style appeals to me the most because it seems neat and orderly. I like order simply because of my personality.

One thing about the poem I imitated that I am not a fan of is the title. I mean, it is very straight forward, but it doesn’t really add anything to the poem. Mine is called “Companionship and Compatibility” with sections titled “yes” and “no” (it’s similar to picking the flowers off the daisy and saying “He/she loves me/loves me not” except it’s not a cute-sy love poem and doesn’t involve a daisy).

I’m really not a fan of Dialectical Arguement Structure and I don’t feel that it is working for me because of the necessity for two opposing sides. Sometimes I can work in two different sides by having a particular situation with a language choice that doesn’t match it completely. This can create uncertainty or uneasiness (depending on the situation) without having to sit down and clearly state “this is what I think about owning a cat” and “this is what I think about owning a dog”. Staying true to the form, it is difficult to find a way to tie the two together, let alone end the poem. Some subjects cannot end, or do not find an end for a particular speaker/poet. I don’t like the “pressure to wrap up, or compromise”.


Posted in Uncategorized on March 17, 2009 by VV

I imitated Bernadette Mayer’s “House and Bernadette,” using the particular device of personification. She give the house a voice and feelings and opinions and even a sexual orientation. I didn’t go quite this far, because I only gave it feeling and possibly opinions. The title of my exercise was the question “What offends a house?” inspired by Mayer’s line “H: Emptiness insults me but I have my limits and you have exceeded them.” This led in my poem to a more philosophical exploration of the function and purpose of houses and the way we should treat them and, perhaps by implication, people. There was no conversation at all, but the idea of something inanimate as thinking and feeling was definitely present.

I don’t know why I’m so drawn to personification, but I think it can serve a number of purposes. When you get down to it, personification is just a metaphor: This object is like a person. But the metaphor is much less directly stated, and is inferred through such things as the voice of the object itself. This tends to put the metaphor into a more subservient category. The point isn’t that a house is like a person, but rather, that if a house were, it might speak like this and have feelings like that if it were treated the way this particular person treats it. The metaphor becomes a lens to which we look at ourselves by giving just one aspect of us (sentience) to something which in most other ways is completely unlike us. Perhaps the distance and juxtaposition of that make objective observations of ourselves easier. Maybe they convey things we couldn’t say as precisely when they were coming through our own voices.

Personification, I’m sure, can serve many other functions as well, but for me I think the most valuable thing I get out of it is a different way of seeing than I’m used to, a sudden unfamiliar angle which lets me view the world in different fashions which might be insighful or illuminating to me.

Blog Group A: Post 4

Posted in Uncategorized on March 17, 2009 by karlakelsey

In class we worked on imitations of poems from the “Dialectical Argument Structure” section of SS. Share with us which poem you imitated, what aspect you tried to model, and why this element appealed to you. End your post by reflecting whether or not, and in what circumstances, the “Dialectical Argument Structure” is for you.

Elegy as death itself

Posted in Uncategorized on March 11, 2009 by tadros

Henry’s opening poems in Quarantine embody certain characteristics of the elegy described by Powell in Structure and Surprise: they are “concerned primarily with loss,” reflect “a mode of thinking” rather than following any prescribed form/structure, often turn more than once, and are most certainly characterized by descent. The losses are apparent as the speaker states unquestionably that he “knew [he] had died and was dead” (Henry 1) and that he recalls also his son and wife’s deaths (4). While the focus on what seems to be a widespread and rampant death in “the town of the sick and the dying” (4), the speaker is addressing other losses as well. In “Quarantine/4,” he says

I felt like screaming my wife

only cried she blamed me for

she blamed me for everything

I had brought it into our house

I was the cause for his death for hers

she never mentioned mine

though I was as close to death as she (4)


The speaker here is alluding to not only the physical deaths within his family, but the death of their relationships, a death he continues alluding too and one which we have reason to assume has been preceded by a long period of deterioration. The bitterness surrounding this relationship death is apparent in “Quarantine/5” when the speaker says,

As close to death as she I asked her

how she felt if she was happy now

at last knowing she had been right

if being right brought joy if

it was in itself a virtue

if rightness could be a source of joy

without knowing one were right

I know I was smiling as I spoke

as I myself was dying and she said nothing… (5)


As the speaker lays dying beside his dying wife, they are not attempting reconciliation; he is instead “smiling” and bitterly asking her if, awaiting her impending death, she is “happy now…knowing she had been right.”

Henry’s refusal of punctuation and his execution of line breaks both add to a reflection of the “mode of thinking” of the speaker, reflect the thought process of the dead. These tools create a sense of rambling and fuel a certain perpetual motion characteristic of racing thoughts. He also manages to render multiple meanings through his line breaks. For example, in “Quarantine/7,” the speaker says, …so I left and told my wife I hoped she died happy at least knowing she knew I hoped she died in pain hoping she knew I hoped she died in pain… (7) By breaking the line after “died,” Henry creates an ambiguity that serves the speakers bitterness. We may read this line thinking the speaker told his wife he “hoped she died” or that he “hoped she died/happy,” though this too is likely filled with bitterness in the context of their relationship as we are reading it. And did he hope she died “hoping,” in some sort of peace? Or did he simply hope she knew he was wishing her a painful death?

This is an example also of how Henry is reinventing the traditional elegy structure (if there is, in fact, a traditional elegy structure), addressing death and loss in fresh and unique ways. Powell writes that despite its focus on loss, the elegy “is embedded with implied love and with an overwhelming need to triumph over death.” On the contrary, Henry’s speaker suggests no love for his wife (certainly) or for his son. The closest we read to the suggestion of love for his son is in “Quarantine/4” when he says “I was relieved to hear him stop/screaming whenever he screamed/I felt like screaming…” (4).

Powell writes also that the elegy often aims “to bring the beloved back from obscurity” and is characterized by a “pattern of descent and ascent.” Henry’s speaker, however, clouds his family members, the closest figures we can read as any possible “beloved” subjects, in obscurity, addressing instead his bitterness, his apathy, and the physical realities of their dead bodies lying in the grass. And Henry’s poems seem to descend, certainly, but with no hope of ascent. We watch the descent of the relationship between speaker and wife and their simultaneous descents into what we assume to be a degrading and painful death from the title of the book and the environment of death and sickness Henry has depicted. We read no suggestion of hope or of the speaker having taken some meaning from the situation. At the conclusions, the final descents, of the poems, he is sometimes bitter — “I was the cause for his death for hers/she never mentioned mine/though I was as close to death as she” (4); sometimes matter-of-fact — “and then of course she died/not in her sleep but with her eyes open” (5); sometimes hopeless – “I knew I would not drink again/the water more painful than its absence/a jagged fire in the mouth and a knot/in the stomach as nothing came out” (7). He descends, but does not ascend.

Arguably, Henry’s work does feature the kind of “imaginative resurrection” Powell talks about in elegy in Structure and Surprise, as the speaker himself says he is dead but is speaking to us. But Henry really does not adhere to any of the three “central elegiac structures” Powell outlines: elegy salvaging victory from death by giving immortality to the mourned, elegy surrendering to the experience of loss in sadness, elegy refusing solace but discussing strong love. Henry’s speaker is certainly not victorious. He has surrendered to loss, but while we read a great deal of bitterness, some apathy, and occasional hopelessness, there is no suggestion of real sadness about his death and certainly not the deaths of his family members. Finally, the speaker isn’t really refusing solace because he doesn’t seem to be seeking it or attempting it in the first place.

Henry has taken the elegy and transformed it into something bleaker, something matter-of-fact, something characterized by a sense of inevitability, as death itself.

Lack of remorse

Posted in Uncategorized on March 11, 2009 by superduder

Before I began thinking about this question I decided to do more research about the elegy. I find that Structure and Surprise can be informative, but sometimes it just doesn’t speak my language. I pulled the research paper “no no” and went on Wikipedia, which I think gives information in a much more common way. “It commonly describes a poem of mourning, from the Greek elegeia (derived from elegos)—a reflection on the death of someone or on a sorrow generally. As such, it may be classified as a form of lyric poetry.” When I started to get more of an idea about the basic definition of the elegy I went back to Structure and Surprise and looked at in more detail in relation to Brian Henry’s work in Quarantine.

Based on what I infer an elegy to be I find that at times Quarantine comes off as being somewhat unconventional. In Structure and Surprise, Powell writes that the elegy stems from a desire to bring the dead back from obscurity. Numerous times throughout the section of the book I have read the speaker does not seem to show much remorse for the death of his wife and son. Although he is dead now also, it appears that he was the last to go. The lack of remorse in his words leads me to believe that these poems fall into the category that Structure and Surprise describes as “surrender to the experience of loss.” One example of the surrender to the experience of loss can be found on page 6.

“My wife died with her eyes open

but her eyes were not on me

when she died I was not there

when she died”

Although it seems like there was tension between the speaker and his wife before her death, a normal reaction would be to dwell on the loss. The speaker was not there when his wife died, but he does not express that in a remorseful tone. I think that the way in which Henry writes makes the elegy new. The speaker in the book is so careless and at times appears to be heartless. He conforms to the mythic tradition that Structure and Surprise also describes as the speaker “refusing solace in a structure that signals the triumph of death,” but he does it in his own way. The overall tone of the speaker is something I have never seen in poetry before and the lack of punctuation really makes the elegy Henry’s own type of poetry.


Quarantined Without Punctuation

Posted in Uncategorized on March 11, 2009 by Mary-Kate

Brian Henry works really well with letting the reader insert their own pauses, comas, periods, semicolons, and whatever other kind of punctuation the see fit to insert into it. I really liked this because unlike a typical poem without punctuation, Henry starts to give little ‘hints’ in the poem of where he would break it off and also how it should be read with all of the repetition. I think that this is breaking free from a standard poem with no punctuation where the line ends at the end of the line and continues like that throughout the entire poem. Actaully Henry keeps a continuation of thought going on within the entire book and links it to the freedom of not having any punctuation. This can be seen in Quarantine / 5, Quarantine / 6, and Quarantine / 7.

“As close to death as she I asked her

how she felt if she were happy right now

at last knowing where she had been right

if being right brought joy if

it was in itself a virtue

if rightness could be a source of joy

without knowing one were right” (5)

As it can  be seen from 5, there is a different cut in the words once it comes to the word ‘joy’; the lines start pausing in the midst of the line with a sort of ‘hidden’ punctuation that you can just sense should be there. The same thing happens when Quarantine / 5 goes into Quarantine / 6 and then into Quarantine / 7.

“and then of course she died

not in her sleep but with her eyes open” (5)

“My wife died with her eyes open

but her eyes were not on me

when she died I was not there

when she died” (6)

“When she died I was at the river

though forbidden to leave for any reason

my throat a fleshy burn I left

the house to find water” (7)

The really interesting and cool thing about reading this kind of poetry that makes it a different elegy is that I could be reading this completely different then someone else who is reading this. It kind of puts the lines and the wording in the hands of the reader to interpret the way that they want to. For example, I read the exert from 6 a different way the very first time I read it then I did when I went back over the lines.

As to how this pertains to Structure & Surprise, I’m still not quite sure. The dialectal argument structure in this case might be between the reader and  Henry. The compromise, or the final part of the structure is the words on the page and the interpretation that the reader/Henry wants to take from it when the punctuation is removed.