francine j. harris is my fellow 2015 NEA Literature Fellow in poetry, and around the time that we found out the names of the other fellows, I’d read one poem of hers in Poetry magazine, “enough food and a mom.” I can’t get the formatting to work right here, so please go to the link and read the poem there.
I love the fractured syntax of this poem, particularly the way the loaded words “dad,” “mom,” and “ghost” seem to take over and take the place of other nouns, and even other verbs: “to keep him from going into dad” (the ghost? or “dad” as a state of being?), “Come on now, dad. come to ghost,” “the mom with the smell of cracked dad,” “No. says the dad: lost in ashes,” “They ghost like the bushel of a snowflower,” “At night, I have really long dads” (“dads” instead of dreams?), “We are all sappy dad, aren’t we,” and, of course, that brilliant last line: “I mom of you. I mom of you a lot.” I also love the line the title comes from: “a good seance starts with enough food / and a mom.” To me, this poem enacts the disjoint between the material and spiritual worlds by disjointing its language, so that the words “dad,” “mom,” and “ghost” seem to haunt the words we might expect to be in their syntactical place–in that last line, I’d expect “take care,” or “tire,” or “cut the heart out,” not “mom” of you. But that also feels real, that “mom” is a verb very different from “mother.”
YOUR ASSIGNMENT: Play with parts of speech. Write a poem where nouns become verbs, verbs become nouns, adjectives become nouns (that’s called a “substantive”), etc. Have that role swap become part of the story of the poem.