Hi, folks. Wren here. We’re trying something new with Three Things. Hazel will still bring you her amazing visual prompts a couple times a month, but we’re going to switch things up and bring some non-visual writing prompts featuring three things, too. (Have other ideas for what we should incorporate into these writing prompts? Email us at email@example.com!)
Today, I’m thinking about dictionaries. I grabbed my nearest dictionary (The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language) and flipped to three separate pages, closed my eyes, and pointed at random. Here are the three words to either inspire or incorporate directly into your next narrative, story, and/or poem (it sounds a bit ominous, eh?):
hawk: n. 1. Any of various birds of prey of the order Falconiformes, and especially of the genera Accipiter and Buteo, characteristically having a short, hooked bill and strong claws adapted for seizing. See falcon. 2. Any of various similar birds. 3. A ruthless person who preys on others; a shark. 4. Informal. One who favors a militaristic version of his country’s foreign policy. In this sense, compare dove.
necromancy: n. 1. The art that professes to conjure up the spirits of the dead and commune with them in order to predict the future. 2. Black magic; sorcery. 3. Magical qualities: “the necromancy of female gracefulness” (Poe). See Synonyms at magic.
rim: n. 1. The border, edge, or margin of an object. 2. The circular outer part of a wheel, furthest from the axle. 3. A circular metal structure around which a wheel tire is fitted.
Poetic Scientifica by Leah Noble Davidson (University of Hell Press, 2013)
The title drew me in. Science, it seems, is endangered by the current administration’s denial and de-funding, so I’ve been longing for its textured diction and conjecture. Davidson denied my expectation, but offered something more broad and thought-provoking than just scientific vocabulary.
From the very beginning in a section titled “Nobody Reads the Introduction,” Davidson reminds the reader of the interplay between language and meaning and also that meaning is subjective and constructed by language and experience. She puts forth a hypothesis that the book goes on to test: “It is possible to give a poem deeper meaning by abstractly defining the dialect of the words of which it is composed.” In one sense the book is a biome rich with nutrients which feed the ‘organism,’ or the opening poem. The first poem is placed before the table of contents and each word of the poem is used as a title for every poem in the book. Therefore, each word in the opening poem is a cell made up of the linguistic molecular structures and associations that make up each corresponding poem in the book. Davidson contextualizes her own dialect, as it were, and creates a scaffolding system for the reader to climb deep into the underbelly of the opening poem.
Right away, I wondered how Davidson would write satisfying poems for the articles in the opening poem. How do you write a good poem a title like “the” or “so”? Poetic Scientifica answers that question again and again. In the opening poem, the word ‘into’ is repeated three times, so the book contains three poems titled “into.” These are three of my favorite poems in the book; they’re about abuse and violence, but the voice is both direct and distant, giving the reader the impression that the poem is examining a wound with an objective hand. These poems engage the reader viscerally while creating a shared meaning of the title word between the reader and the poet. The three poems titled “into” build on each other, and by the end of the book, I feel more intimately connected to the poet than I ever would have expected.
Formally, the poems vary in this collection. While some poems employ end-stop, others ignore the line altogether in a prose-like manner. I would not recommend this book as a model of strong line breaks, and I feel that the voice comes out most strongly when Davidson lets language resonate on a sentence level. In “have,” a prose poem, she creates tension with long sentences and minimal punctuation:
The depression begins with you fingering hand towels you can’t afford in a store you’ll never remember the name of because you’re consumed with how they remind you of the ones you dried the dishes with when you quit working to stay home with the baby while he started his career at the job that you got for him
In other instances, reading Davidson’s imagery is almost like visual hallucination. “So you are in a boat without language,” “Tell” begins, “and I have a stick for a mouth.” From here the speaker gesticulates wildly within this reality. The poem is playful and inscrutable because we can’t imagine spaces that have no language, but the poem also carries emotional power. And the ending lines carry so much more weight than a flippant experiment in constructionism: “there are no words in your head. // Just a picture, a moving picture of what we won’t call water and a loss for something not a stick.” Davidson’s playfulness comes out in other poems as well such as “person” which is just as fun while less cerebral.
Harold the Zombie is picking his wounds again—
the mood must feel as gray and distant.
Jennifer asks him if he feels like
a pitted olive cheese. “No,
Harold wants to be a vegan, wants
to quite smoking, and learn Pilates He wants to
watch less TV, but it keeps him off the streets.
out of people’s heads,
out of his own head
In my opinion, a few poems are less hard-hitting, in and of themselves, than others; however, the project of the book answers for itself and for each poem too. Each page is necessary to test the hypothesis, and that’s what makes this book a satisfying read.
Again, in light of this political moment, I appreciate this book for the way that it draws attention to the unwieldy power of words to contain multitudinous meaning. For example, think of the how the word “great” connotes vastly different meanings in the phrase: “Make America great again.” Davidson takes words and shows the reader how each contains a world, a color, a story. After reading this book, certain words will seemingly never be the same for me now that I’ve experienced these dialectical expansions. Just for fun, I put a handful of those words together into a sentence: Burrito your brains into the hallway for business ballet. Now that sentence may or may not mean anything to you, but I bet if you read Poetic Scientifica, it will mean a great many things.
Can you think of any words that pack a punch for you? Try writing a poem that explores a word other people might never think twice about.
Today marks Hazel & Wren’s sixth birthday! While we celebrate quietly amongst ourselves, let’s write about a birthday balloon (or another occasion that calls for a balloon). Cheers!
Julie Blackmon, Birthday Girl, from Domestic Vacations. Photograph. www.julieblackmon.com
Jasper Oostland, Zwarte ballon (Black balloon), 2007. Acrylic/silver foil on canvas. www.jasperoostland.com
David Graeme Baker, Cutout, 2013. Oil on panel. www.davidgbakerpainting.com
Want to know what I love most about these round-up posts? I love how my “must read” list expands into genres and styles of writing that I wouldn’t otherwise have discovered on my own. One of the ways I’ve been coping with the current political climate is to read as much as possible, and as widely as possible. I believe that by immersing ourselves in different perspectives (which books can do so well), we are inspired to grow, practice awareness, and find compassion for others. I hope you, dear reader, will also find new perspectives in whatever you’re reading, and that your “must read” pile of books is ever-growing.
We Are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson (Simon + Schuster, January 2016)
Reviewed by Cassidy
The world is ending, and only one person can stop it. Sixteen-year-old Henry Denton is abducted by aliens and given two choices: press a big red button and save the world, or do nothing and watch everyone die in one hundred and forty-four days. It should be an easy decision. But after Henry’s boyfriend commits suicide and leaves behind no note or explanation, Henry isn’t sure the planet deserves to be saved. An in-depth exploration of grief and how we choose to survive, We Are the Ants is a brilliant, unique, compelling book that I never knew I needed. The book lives in a nebulous space between contemporary and science-fiction. Though Henry is very sure the aliens (or sluggers, as he calls them) are real, the reader is left questioning if they’re actually there, or a manifestation of a deeper trauma.
Here by Richard McGuire (Pantheon Graphic Novels, 2014)
Reviewed by Taylor
Richard McGuire’s graphic novel Here takes place in the same location at different times, going back and forth over billions of years. Through stunning full-page spreads and overlapping frames marked by the year, the reader simultaneously sees the living room of a 20th century house spanning generations in one family, the hunting grounds for Native Americans in the 1600s, the first colonial settlers, the glaciers of the past, the floods of the future, and everything in between. More than being a story with a defined plot, Here is a beautiful piece of art meant to highlight our undeniable impermanence in this world.
Azumanga Daioh by Kiyohiko Azuma (Yen Press 2010)
Reviewed by Aaron
I’m currently reading two too-long books, so while I struggle with those, I’ve been cramming in lots of quick reads. The best of them has been Kiyohiko Azuma’s Azumanga Daioh, a long-running comic strip about girls in high school. Each four-panel strip is a strange delight, weaving through school activities, drunken teachers, bizarre dream sequences, and quiet moments of delight in cats. The characters are multitudinous and varied, so it never feels like the book is showing a “right way” to be a high school girl. The best moments of the strip come from the characters’ failures, especially when shown against the persistence of life and friendship despite those failures.
Well, no, the best parts are the trippy dream sequences with talking ponytails and mutant cat dads. But the friendship stuff is good too.
Haiti Glass by Lenelle Moïse (City Lights 2015)
Reviewed by Wren
Do you ever have a poem stop you in your tracks? That’s how I first encountered Lenelle Moïse’s work. I get the “Poem of the Day” emailed to me from Poetry Foundation, and when her poem “quaking conversation” showed up in my inbox, it shook me to my core. I immediately ordered Haiti Glass from City Lights and devoured it in a single sitting. The collection is a complex, raw love letter to Haiti and the people that live there. It’s at once heartbreaking and joyful, fierce and tender. Moïse deftly wields language to expose and surrender to the complexities of this living, breathing portrait of Haiti. And so, I’ll leave you with the last stanza of “quaking conversation”, the poem that first sparked something in me as a reader:
come sit, come stand, come
cry with me. talk.
there’s much to say.
walk. much more to do.
Happy reading, and listening, and doing, folks.