Saturday Night Poetry Slam

Monday, April 22, 2013

In college I would occasionally venture out to weekend poetry slams. Italian soda in hand I'd lounge and listen to brave peers share original compositions. It felt so raw and bohemian. I was nineteen and had just enrolled in my first poetry class with Ken Brewer.

This past Saturday, in celebration of National Poetry Month AND National Library Week, I organized a poetry event to commemorate the occasion. The crowd was small, but I appreciated the intimacy of the gathering. We began by looking at images from Renoir and Monet; examining the color and shape of their paintings. The object of this activity was to understand what impression the artist was trying to convey. The speaker continued, the color and shape of an impressionist painting were like the sensory detail and metaphor found in a good poem.

Poems are interesting pieces of writing. They do not need a meaning or story. Nor do they need to move through space and time. Poems are often ambiguous (consisting of two or more meanings) or just plain vague. Good poems should have tension and resonance. And finally, poems must always be read twice. I suppose the abstract nature of poetry is similar to the abstract influence in modern art. Which might explain why both forms suit me.

We then looked at Ezra Pound's poem.

The apparition of these faces in the crowd; 
Petals on a wet, black bough. 

What, from these words, can we gather about Pound's impression of urban life in Paris? Can you feel the tension within the poem? Do you want to read it again? What words carry the greatest weight? In this poem metaphor creates a richness, paired with the economy of language characteristic to the format.

We were then instructed to create something similar to Pound's piece. This was my attempt.

The parents of fragile newborns;
Oiled kernels, flesh fresh white.  

Of course we didn't have the advantage of multiple revisions (Pound was a compulsive revisionist), however the short activity was a great mental stretch. And as anyone that has written poetry knows, it's hard work. Ultimately, a poem looks smooth only in its finished state.


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