November 04, 2006

First Poetry Session with A

Here's some advice on living (quoted without permission but with a link to the entire poem)


by Charles Harper Webb

...Play guitar
in a rock band. Read Dostoyevsky, Whitman, Kafka...
Collect Uncle Scrooge comics....Love freely. Treat ex-partners as kindly
as you can. Wish them as well as you're able.
...Try not to lie; it sours
the soul. But being a patsy sours it too.
.. Never drive drunk.
Don't be a drunk, or any kind of "aholic." It's bad
English, and bad news.
...Don't berate yourself. If you lose
a game or prize you've earned, remember the winners
history forgets. Remember them if you do win...
...Don't look for hidden meanings in a cardinal's song.
...Don't be too sane. Work hard. Loaf easily. Have good
friends, and be good to them. Be immoderate
in moderation.

To see the poem entire check out this website:
Go to Friday, November 3 if you are not taken immediately to the poem. You may have to search the Writer's Almanac archives if you read this long after the date.

The following is the first (edited) interchange between A and me about the poem she would like to write. She has written her first answers to the 6 questions and I print them here with a little background and some of our back and forth discussion.


A M writes:

Here goes my answers to your questions to learn to be a poet: My answers are about my friend Cat, whose parents put her in a nursing home for mentally ill people, because she couldn't live on her own without lots of help. She was my first real friend when I moved to Chicago and it makes me feel sad that she is struggling now and barely able to contact me or answer my phone calls. I would love to work with you to learn to be a better poet.

Q: Choose a person you love, a friend you adore and respect and admire. What attributes do you see more of than her or his faults?

1. My friend Cat is creative, intelligent, humorous, and a nice person.

Q: What particular quality or trait do you like most in this person? What does he or she do that most endears them to you?

2. She loves to make clothes out of chickenwire and old scraps of clothes.

Q: What reveals this trait, that is how does this trait show itself, by good deeds, fatness, a crooked nose, baggy pants, composting toilet, adopting children

3. She wears a blue, cabled hat knitted for her by her psychiatrist.

Q: What does this trait do that you admire it so? What does it accomplish by being what it is?

b. I admire her ability to paint and write images that tell mythical stories.

Q: What is the significance or meaning of this trait, to you or to others? You can answer this in any way you choose.

c. This trait means that she lives on her moon and worships her own sun.

Q: How has this trait changed you and/or others? Try for something not obvious, something that takes the reader by surprise, or sums up the rest of the sentences with an AHA!

4. When I stepped on a piece of at her apartment, it scarred my foot in the shape of a cabled moon.

Pam's response:

Dear A,

I’m very sorry to hear about Cat’s housing situation. A nursing home is a terrible place to be sent, though I am glad that it caters to mentally ill people rather than the elderly. But I fear it is a warehousing situation. At least that’s what it tends to be here in CT when a psychiatric patient is housed in a nursing home...Tell me more about her, I mean, for the sake of this poem you are going to write! As many details as you can think of.

As far as the sentences go, before we even start, they are very, very promising. You chose a great subject! One question: is the detail at the end of the last sentence, about the “cabled moon,” strictly true, or fanciful? Would I, upon seeing it, exclaim, Oh, a moon in the form of a cable! Or some such? If not, and even if it is true, put a hold on that ending for a while and stay with just the idea of the chicken wire leaving a scar...I think that gives you more to work with. And it is SO good...

We have done some more discussion than that, but for today, let's leave it there and see what A turns in for part 2, the rewrite of the 6 sentences.

Posted by pamwagg at November 4, 2006 10:12 PM


Hi Pam

This is fun. I can't wait until the next installment of Alexis writings as well as your feedback on it.


Posted by: yaya99 at November 4, 2006 08:26 PM

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