â€œBrevity is the soul of wit.â€Â Shakespeare: Hamlet: Act II, Sc. 2
My mother kept cans till they exploded.
Better to let beans curdle to oil
poison swelling the tins like blisters
than have nothing to show.
This poem, which I found in the Sept 24 New Yorker, dazzled me.Â Itâ€™s only four lines long, but itâ€™s a complete poem.
- It introduces the setting or premise
- It draws a metaphor
- It relates the metaphor to the real-life situation
- And as it does so, it gives depth to the metaphor
- And reveals a luminous, ironic detail of human nature
A woman from a previous generation, with a certain responsibility
kept cans till they exploded.
Sheâ€™s needy, canâ€™t bring herself to let go of the most meager possessions.Â Perhaps she grew up during the Depression, or worse.
Better to let beans curdle to oil
Whoa!Â Why would you do that?
poison swelling the tins
Now, this isnâ€™t just inadvertent.Â It should be obvious to her or anyone else that these cans are dangerous.
Hereâ€™s the metaphor.Â A visual simile, but much more.Â The blisters are a human phenomenon.Â The poison isnâ€™t just botulism, itâ€™s pus.Â The cans are symptoms of an illness.Â Whose illness?Â And why?
than have nothing to show.
Ah.Â My cupboards are full of poison, but theyâ€™re full.Â Deprivation, neediness is the deepest humiliation of all.Â At least I can show I once had the means to buy that food.
Nowâ€¦weâ€™re not done. Let that sit on your mind for a moment. Now look at it again. I like to go back through it backwards, line by line.
This is where a good poem really rewards the reader. Look at the next-to-last line. Whatâ€™s the real poison here? Pride?Â Vanity?Â Finding my self-worth in what I possess?
Many poems of this brevity are merely epigrams:
a politician is an arse upon
which everyone has sat except a man
PLEASE FIND ME
I AM ALMOST 30
Here are a bunch of examples of poems nine lines or fewer.Â Study them.Â Where is the metaphor?Â What is the luminous revelation?Â What is the human insight?Â What is the irony?
A few of these, you may argue, are merely epigrams.Â Which ones?Â Why?
THE REASON I WRITE
The reason I write
is to make something
as beautiful as you are
When Iâ€™m with you
I want to be the kind of hero
I wanted to be
when I was seven years old
a perfect man
Angelica stands by the sea
Anything I say is too loud for her mood
I will have to come back
a million years later
with the scalp of my old life
hanging from one hand
O I had such a wonderful dream, she said.
I dreamed you made love to me.
At last, he said to himself, the spirit
has taken up some of the heavy work.
when god decided to invent
everything he took one
breath bigger than a circustent
and everything began
when man determined to destroy
himself he picked the was
of shall and finding only why
smashed it into because
Indignant at the fumbling wits, the obscure spite
Of our old Paudeen in his shop, I stumbled blind
Among the stones and thorn-trees, under morning light;
Until a curlew cried and in the luminous wind
A curlew answered; and suddenly thereupon I thought
That on the lonely height where all are in Godâ€™s eye,
There cannot be, confusion of our sound forgot,
A single soul that lacks a sweet crystalline cry.
One had a lovely face,
And two or three had charm,
But charm and face were in vain
Because the mountain grass
Cannot but keep the form
Where the mountain hare has lain.
NOTHING GOLD CAN STAY
Natureâ€™s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leafâ€™s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.
THE LOVING DEXTERITY
she saw it
a pink petal
how shall we tell
the bright petals
from the sun in the
crowding the branch
save that it yields
in its modesty
to that splendor?
THE RED WHEELBARROW
So much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white
William Carlos Williams
I would beat out your face in brass.
The side of your head I would beat out in brass.
The nose, the mouth, the hang of the hair thick over
your head, the cool straight-looking forehead,
I would take a hammer and a sheet of brass and beat
them out till your face would be set against rain, frost, storm, sea-water and sea-salt, against hoofs, wheels, nails, against tidewater, rust, verdigris.
I would set your face at a blue crossways of sea beaches, a dream of blue and brass.
Portraits are to daily faces
As an evening west
To a fine, pedantic sunshine
In a satin vest.
An everywhere of silver,
With ropes of sand
To keep it from effacing
The track called land.
Watching snow cover the ground, cover itself,
cover everything that is not you, you see
it is the downward drift of light
upon the sound of air sweeping away the air,
it is the fall of moments into moments, the burial
of sleep, the down of winter, the negative of night.
She tells me
that I can
see right through
her, but I
look and can
so we go
kiss.Â She is
fine glass, I
her to the
None of us have felt good this year:
pus around the eyes,
sores that come and go with no explanation.
But we still believe we will come through it!
I signal this news
by lifting a little finger.
This strange thing must have crept
Right out of hell.
It resembles a birdâ€™s foot
Worn around the cannibalâ€™s neck.
As you hold it in your hand,
As you stab with it into a piece of meat,
It is possible to imagine the rest of the bird:
Its head which like your fist
Is large, bald, beakless and blind.
from SEVEN WAYS OF THINKING ABOUT MONET
He continues to paint,
almost blinded by cataracts.
The Japanese bridge
is a red ball of fire,
like an impression
Pixels draw you near
You answer my cyber-ad
Cling like silicon
Write a poem.Â Max. nine lines, preferably closer to four.Â No haikus!Â Try to make it a complete poem, as Iâ€™ve defined it above (not that thatâ€™s the only possible definition of a complete poem).
Analyze one of the above poems.
- PutÂ SunWE in the title and tags.
- Share your post with Gather Writing Essential group.
- Indicate in some way which devices or techniques I should be paying attention to. Â (If responding to todayâ€™s, put Brevity in the title field.)
- This prompt does not turn into a pumpkin a week (or even two) from today.Â If your piece isnâ€™t done in the next week or two, get it in when you can.Â This is supposed to be fun.
- I will comment on every submission and include a link to it in the next column.
- If you would like a little more academic critiqueâ€”but still very friendly and positiveâ€”include the word "rigorous" in your post (e.g. "rigorous critique wanted").
Responses to previous prompts below. Let me know if I missed yours.
byÂ Irina Dimitric
Lean and Mean
byÂ Adina P.
Â© 2012 Douglas J. Westberg. All Rights Reserved. Â Please share this on Gather.com, and elsewhere on the web by means of a link back to this page, but please do not copy. Â Doug's latest book is The Depressed Guy's Book of Wisdom from Chipmunka Publishing.
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