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Ars Poetica

Some call them an ars poetica - poems about poetry. Horace wrote many of them in Latin and poets have followed ever since. They vary from poems about the art of writing poetry and about poetry itself, to poems about the poet's own work.

In Robert Lowell's poem, "Epilogue" from The Collected Poems he seems to be focusing on the latter type. It is from his later period when his poems turned away from form and towards his own life. In this poem he writes about the failure of his own poetry to satisfy his desire to say something imagined, not recalled. Still, who can write about their own work without accepting the possibility that they are writing about other poets' work?
Write a poem that follows Lowell in which you examine whatever you feel you have failed to capture in your own writing. Examine the process and your desire rather than trying to write your "unwritable" poem.

Also see: Ars Poetica by Archibald MacLeish and  Beth Houston's online journal ARS POETICA.



UNWRITTEN

The poem in the
spaces.
Where the line
breaks and I
double
return like a note
When I read this to
you on the couch
[your glances at the television]
my pauses
[my foot's three taps on your leg]
I press the spacebar tab
enter
return,
trying to capture a moment
[from a year ago]
that was disappearing
as he walked
out the door.

Pamela Milne

NOT THAT ONE

I can't write that poem.
The one that's about you,
but really isn't, but really is.
You'll think it's about my divorce,
or about the man I loved in the spring.
You'll read about the dead fly tilted sideways
on one iridescent gray, stained glass window-paneled
wing, or the one black leaf only I can see on the top
of the blood-red pear tree that burns outside my window.
You'll ask yourself if you are the fly, the wing, the dying leaf,
or the living branches that bleed and lick like flames towards the light.
The answer is yes, you are. You are. You are. Oh yes, you are.

Svea Barrett-Tarleton

WHAT I MEANT WAS

How I would like people to hear
the sound of snow falling
through the deepening night. - Hakuin

The chord that will not resolve.
The crocuses crushed under the last snow.
Something left behind that you can not throw away.
The astonished fish lying on the river bank.
Her voice calling up the stairs.
One coal still glowing in the ashes.
My own hand touching my face like a stranger.
A dead peach tree that falls with a push of the hand.
Books on the shelf that you never read.
What breaks the ocean surface in the dark.
A coffin wet with rain being lowered into the earth.
Wood smoke when you step into the night.
The feeling that made you go to your desk.
Children speaking a language you don't understand.
A woman who looks just like her and waves her hand at you.
A long row of birds on a powerline at sunset.
The seven years since.

Pamela Milne


FED UP WITH MY WRITING

I decide to burn all my poems, clean house
so to speak, like getting a divorce from myself.
And isn't writing sometimes like love?
You're drawn to it at first in that electric way,
can't get enough of it, write on scraps of paper
when you should be doing other kinds of work.
You find yourself awake in the middle of the night
teeming with ideas and images you can't let go
until you realize the same things keep cropping up,
your father, for example, or death, and always,
always, love. A word like unfurl, which sounded right
at first, now seems stolen from someone else's poem.
The too familiar voice begins to grate like chalk
on a blackboard, and you wince as you notice
the flaws that of course, were always there
but which, blinded by love, you ignored:
too much narrative, not enough nature.
You wonder if it's even poetry.
Maybe there's some better way to satisfy
this need-yoga begins to sound more and more
appealing. Or tennis where, even if you lose,
love finds its way into your vocabulary
without sounding like a cliché. So why not
take a match to it all, throw everything
you've ever written into the fire?
Watch it curl and burn, feel it warm your face,
see shadows dance off the walls, hear sparks
crack into the flue. Something smells familiar.
Outside, smoke chugs from the chimney,
and no one passing by reads anything into it.

Susan Rothbard

Blank Verse

You're not reading the poem I wrote for you.
The poem in which we meet,
where a tree becomes a flame,
my heart is a house and you are the thief who breaks in.
It's form is tight, as tight as an envelope for a letter never sent,
sealed by the same tongue that formed the words never spoken.
Poetry has been for me the bad kid
who hung out with the crowd
you were warned about.
Dark basements and the bottle of liquor stolen from her father's cabinet,
the attic that hid all their pasts, things hidden in drawers,
under the lace were beautiful knives,
pills in enameled boxes,
mint and thyme crushed on my fingertips.
My hand still moves over words after I put down the rosewood guitar,
metered notes lasted less than the fingered thought that created them.
It's why I hold the brush, the tip dripping wet color,
the flaming tree turns green again around your face,
your hands holding poems,
fingers stroke paper,
pluck strings,
touch your lips,
feel your tongue,
say the words to have just one more line,
one chance to smell mint and thyme again.

Ken Ronkowitz


THIS

poetry? words subject to individual
interpretation, making liars of us all
an exhibitionist with nothing to show
seeking attention from voyeurs.
an intellectual exercise in futility
or maybe just an uneducated
poor boy from the hills of Appalachia
using the left side of his brain for
something other than a hat rack
tell me again where to put the dots
with tails on them,
the ones called commas

ray cutshaw
PORTAL

Offer me to the world--
present me and boldly declare
my unfolding spirit.
Include the proud and
the oh so embarrassing
moments
of being me.
Let me materialize
through you--
Like a butterfly
from a cocoon.
Illuminate
my crevices
and capture
the cadence
of my soul.
When others
read my poems,
may they
feel
my laughter
and know
what I look like
when I cry.
Can they fathom
my deepest canyon?
Sketch these memories
from my mind.
Portray the masterpiece
of life through vivid
chosen words.
When people finish
reading,
will they be able
to grasp
my existence?
Do you think,
that maybe then,
I too
will
understand?

Francisca Scrivano
In my tree of words
leaves of laughter
rustle softly, will not rest.
Nonetheless, restless, studied rhyming
sweeps the keep of mind
through, and throws the cadence
words become a hindering wind,
whirling laughter into thoughtless
kinds of verse - even worse -
throwing poetry another day away!

Catherine M. LeGault

INK AND MORNINGS

the savage steps
as I question my soul
again and again
the pen an enemy
taunting me in colors
blues, greens, reds,
bold, bright and sharp
cutting harsh lines
through my day
laughing at my lack
of words, thoughts
pocketed silently
in the morning
you leak your derision
in flowing stains
over my heart, my soul
and I am helpless
wordless, without rhyme
as you pronounce judgment
in neatly lettered failures
that bloom to flowers
in my tears
each day they blossom
as ink and mornings
fade away

James M. Thompson
POOR PASSING FACTS
"Grazie tanti! You put into me perception of never know !
- then ensured that I would know myself forever mediocre." --Peter Shaffer, Amadeus

That luminous moment
that sends a young girl's
pencil to the margin,
scrawling shadow words,
dull reminders
of ache or frisson
she will find when she is old
That line bold as granite
a man recalls easily
as the dates carved
into his mother's gravestone.
His lips incant them both
on gray days of soul ebb,
till all becomes transparent,
That crystalline image
erected for the world
that replaces the poet's face
when they speak the poet's name,
an image so strong
the words fade from view,
a thing more real
These elude my grasp
like smoke from frankincense,
or the tinkling of silver bells.
Somewhere a sanctum holds
these mysteries, and a mystic
few receive them,
but I reach out a leprous hand

R.G. Evans

MISSIONARY

I come to save you
from poems that posture
and crave to impress,
with words that roll off
the pages of Roget; the ones
that speak of pulchritude
when it is beauty they mean,
or say utilize rather than use.
I come to speak to people
in the street, using
slang, adage and cliché
I will gush over babies
and flowers, praise old ladies,
and gentlemen of any age.
I will wear love on my sleeve,
recognize your need
for truth above all else,
and your desire to think about death.
I will speak about God,
and everything he has made.
I will not be afraid to bleed.
I will rhapsodize about trees
and flies, horseshit and moonbeams.
No subject will escape my list.
And I will do it musically

Ruth Zimmerman

endings

humility wears a quiet mask
hides my rage
in unspoken words
in less than lucid moments
i try to touch the illusions
motion to disappearing forms
my eyes beckon to
a constant pool of voices
candles burn in darkness
flicker in the wind

marie a. mennuto-rovello

PERHAPS YOU ALREADY KNOW THIS

Perhaps you already know this
poem. Perhaps your new lover
read it to you or, on a high green hill
in the summertime, spoke it aloud,
suddenly and softly
as if it had just occurred to him
Perhaps you've seen this poem
painted on faded walls, or heard it
read with jazz or, rolling around
like thunder in a brainstorm, it hurt you
and you had to write it down.

Ron Lavalette

SPEAKING THREADS

The awareness sits before me, a dense apparition.
Can I choose one thread of this complex weave
And follow it with language not yet defined,
To deliver it to your mind, to your eye, to your heart?
Select this, discard that, tear the thing to shreds.
A rummage sale, a cakewalk, a contra dance.
Which will take you with me to the place
Where you might envision this wonder I see,
Where you might know it in your own way,
The reason I sit here struggling with it,
With pen and paper, with patience, with breath deep and shallow?
Shopping for words, sifting through the bins and heaps and piles
for the words.
For this piece of my experience, which might also by chance be yours,
Might not become known if I do not speak it in this language
we share,
Finding form for your ears, for the eye of your mind, for the
expression of our existence.

Ann Steiner



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