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Exercises for Poets 

Write a poem imagining your conception. If you have any "real" information about it, such as your mother's story about that one night when the moon was full and your father was drunk, fine. If not, just conjure it. The form of the poem should be in line with the subject: long fast lines, languorous jerky ones, or slow dark-syllabled half-sentences wrapped around domed Latinate dips and rises. Use the breath measures that might have been those of your conceivers. One page, due Friday.

Write a poem about your birth. You can begin slightly before in utero and end slightly after when your umbilical cord is snipped, but the poem itself should be concerned mainly with the journey from the moist darkness of the womb through the birth canal into the light of the world where the United States is now the only superpower. If you were born in America, this light should give you no trouble. If you were born in a country where your chances of surviving your own birth were slim, please celebrate the fact that you are now in my poetry class, in America, and writing about what might not have been. This poem should be both painful and celebratory, as befits the subject, and should also contain feelings of: compassion for your mother, pity for the world, and anxiety about yourself. Make sure the form follows the content, by using spasmodic utterance and spiraling vowels. Two pages, due Monday.

Portrait-of-Another Poem. Look around the class, find somebody you like and, if they are interested, go away with them for a week. Go someplace quiet, without TV, radio, telephone or computer, and interview each other about the most intimate and profound thoughts and feelings about everything that really matters. You will know that it really matters when you'll feel yourself unable to speak of it. At the end of the week, go alone to a secluded grove or hotel room and write a 13-line portrait of the other person. Each line should pack the equivalent of a ton of TNT. This is a sonnet, so make sure that you are familiar with different kinds of sonnet and conversant with the sonneteer's deep-throated restraint. Small grants available. Due three weeks from now.

Interview-a-Tourist Poem. Walk up to a tourist, tell them that you have an assignment for poetry class to interview a tourist. Buy them coffee or a drink and ask them the most startling questions you can think of. For example: "Have you ever made love in a church?" or "What kind of medication are you on right now?" In the process of baffling them with your "poetry" questions, you will note (or record) their opinions about poetry (everybody has one), and their attitudes toward life, writing and tourism. The focus of your poem should be what you have learned about strangeness and familiarity. What is exotic? Do tourists have souls? This work should be ten sprawly pages in length, and it should include digressions, quotes and laughs. Recommended: the Ferlinghetti manner. Due any time.


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