Friday, March 21, 2008

How to Tell if an Egg is Bad

1. Put your head between your rotten knees. Cross your wrists and grasp your ankles. Sniff for sulfur. Suffer.

2. Slip off the grouty lip of the deep end. (Chlorine gnaws at open eyes. Fluorescents hum hum hum even under water.) Witches and bad eggs float at the surface.

3. Worried about blood vessels, movement just out of sight? Before bed, put a flashlight in your mouth. Read by the meaty light of your head.

If going off, hard-boil. Twirl. Twirl. Twirl.

5. Cracks show as faint white lines. Cracks show as corners: spiderwebs, mouse droppings. Stray hairs in corners of dry mouths.

Consume immediately.

* * *

Last week, in my penultimate Creative Retirement poetry workshop, I set the group the exercize of writing 'how-to' poems.

First, I distributed copies of wikiHows (which are collectively described as a "collaborative writing project to build the world's largest, highest quality how-to manual.") on a variety of topics, some practical, some absurd.

How to Rip a Phonebook in Half. How to Survive in the Woods. How to Seduce a Woman.

The writers had five minutes to read them over and then return the wikiHows to me. They were then to spend the next ten minutes thinking about how they would write a ten line how-to poem.

As this point, one or two of the writers asked if this was a found poem exercize, and, if so, were they expected to remember the document?

No, I said. The wikiHows were only meant to seed them with information on the subject. If they wanted to steal phrases from their recollection of their brief readings of the text, fine. But they were free to write anything that came to mind that could be conceivably framed as an instruction.

Fifteen minutes writing time resulted in some very clever and amusing poems.

Next, we read Maine-based poet Philip Booth's How to See Deer from Garrison Keillor's Good Poems. The poem, elegant and elusive, quieted the group a little.

And then I announced that their take home assignment was to write their own How to See Deer, again as a ten line poem.

I've been dwelling on short poems and line breaks with the group partly to distinguish between prose and poetry but partly too because I've been particularly drawn to the wikiHows of late.

The How-to of the Day appears in a widget in my Google homepage and since I use Google all the time, I see the titles several times a day.

How to Rip a Phonebook in Half. How to Survive in the Woods. How to Seduce a Woman.

For some reason, the lack of (and assumed mantle of) authority in the wikiHows has been striking just the right note in my fevered brain.

Also, given that the May Day Poetry Project will soon be ramping up again, I wanted to get into the habit of writing short while leaning on the imperative, the instructional.

But I hadn't written one yet.

So today, determined not to spend the day emailing and websiting, determined to back my way into contemplation, to give myself permission to contemplate nothing and everything, I sat myself down at the dining room table and read over How to Tell if an Egg is Bad.

Then, I spent thirty minutes just sitting there. Just goddamn sitting there.

Given the aforementioned fevered brain and the lack of structure to my life these days, this was difficult. I'd even hazard poopy.

But when the half-hour was up, I started writing this poem.

1 comment:

Rolli said...

"How to Swallow a Pig" by Robert Priest (from the book of the same name), is one of the funnier ex's of this type of poetry. Liked your "Bad Egg" one v. much, too.