Last year, I tried (unsuccessfully) to write a review a day for National Poetry Month. That same month, I shared several poems I loved, and many of my non-poet friends and family were much more interested in “being told what poems to read,” in the words of my brother-in-law, than they were in reading reviews of whole poetry books that they didn’t plan to ever buy. Thus, my goal for this year is to tell you what poems to read (though I hope kindly!), talk a little bit about why I enjoyed each poem, and include a short writing assignment based on the poem. I’m hoping to get you to then buy these books, particularly those of contemporary writers who are still alive to appreciate the sales, but I realize we don’t all have the money to do that, and I’d definitely rather you read my poems for free than that you didn’t read them because you couldn’t buy them. I assume other writers often feel the same. I’m going to try to write a blog post every work day of April–thus, 20 curated poems.
The last book of poetry I read is Carrie Bennett’s The Land Is a Painted Thing (The Word Works, 2016), and it’s INCREDIBLE. The images are surreal and lyrical, and many of my favorites appeared in this poem originally published in the magazine The Destroyer:
from AFTER THE VIOLENCE BEGINS
I love “[d]ear little song under my wrist”–to me, it’s a perfect kenning for the pulse. I also love “I tell myself my hands are peppermint leaves I stuff in my mouth,” both for the olfactory and gustatory resonances of peppermint and the emotional implications of the speaker stuffing its/his/her hands in its/his/her mouth. And, of course, “the pulse [the speaker] was looking for” is “there,” as “[t]he lost throb has fallen from [its/his/her] throat.” What a surprising verb, to fall, to use for the pulse in the throat, but it feels appropriate to the motion of the pulse, or even to its ceasing. The assonance of “lost throb” pulses appropriately, too.
YOUR ASSIGNMENT: Pick a bodily process, such as the pulse, or the breath, or hearing, or anything your body does repeatedly, and write a kenning for it. A kenning is a poetic circumlocution–a way of naming a process that talks around it, doesn’t name it directly, but does so in a poetic way (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kenning). I will admit that they’re usually two-word phrases, often compound words made with hyphens, and this phrase from Bennett’s poem is much longer–if you know of a more appropriate poetic term to use to talk about that sentence, let me know.
Then, write a poem that includes your circumlocution.