Jack Collom An Ecosystem of Writing Ideas
Brief mentions of some of our other commonly used exercises:
The so-called Chant Poem harks back preliterate times, with its rhythmic repetitions and hypnotic effect, when poetry was oral, made for memorized ceremonial performances. Many contemporary poets have revived Chant and adapted it to the page and to (post)modern concerns.
Walt Whitman's poem "This Compost" serves as a pungent model for poems about nature that are sure not to sugarcoat the realities. Whitman contrasts the rot and death that enter the earth with the fruits and flowers that emerge.
Haiku exemplify the classic pure glimpse of nature, with just enough turn of thought (not stated but imaged out and placed) to, as it were, salt the vision. Haibun is an interesting derivation: a prose text, usually descriptive of travel, interspersed with the occasional lyric pause of Haiku. Basho's famous The Narrow Road to the Deep North is Haibun. Another variation is the Lune, just an eleven-word (3/5/3) poemlet of anything, shorn of traditions. The Lune can talk any way it wants to.
Students turn in essays throughout the course. Some are critical responses to readings; another assignment is to research a local (Colorado-wide) eco-situation and write it up. The final paper is an essay on Eco-Litwhat's happened, what's happening, what will or should happen. A final-essay example would be the tracing of ecology themes in music and song.
I-Remember Pieces (from Joe Brainard) are perfect, in their imperfection, for helping class members realize poetry does not have to be abstract, grand, fancy, or removed; it can leap from quotidian experience in "ordinary" speech patterns. The form demonstrates that poetry often comes and goes best in the author's most familiar paths.
If poetry is, as I believe, the sort of writing in which the intimate relationality of each phrase, word, and syllable to its surroundings is most crucial, then poetry is an intensely ecological study in itself, and poems written about poetry are doubly ecological. All of the methods mentioned here, and more, serve to illuminate poetry to its own exploratory eye.
The Sonnet seems somehow the Queen of Verse. Its call-and-response movement is a "natural."
Other forms we've gone into include Drama, Field Notes, Oratory, Sestinas, Prayers, Definitions, Narrativewith the sense that there's an endless potentiality of possible approaches. I continually hear about new, dynamic writing ideas, mostly from my own students. Lately, "Wall of Words," Illôt-Mollo and other devices that emphasize the context of the writing scene as a fountain of varied input (with collaborators, books being read out loud, distributed objects, announced words that must be incorporated...) have seemed to me particularly helpful in making nature writing, more and more, be models of nature and process, as well as think-pieces about nature (done as if from some exterior point-of-interest).
I think the older styles of nature writing, and the currently acceptable styles, are fine; I have no desire to replace them but to add to themto a radical degree. Availability of forms should be multiplied by several hundred. To make this availability felt, the emphasis of "nature's" definition must be moved to say something like "that within which we bob and swim." This will be, for all practical purposes, an infinity to work in.
Someone might argue that we should each master one or two forms (styles, genres), but I think that generally with creative writing, as with learning different languages, the more variety you undertake the more unity of essence (mastery, coverage) you achieve. Were someone to argue that depth is more important than breadth I'd say depth consists of variation even more than breadth does.
Oras in nature "itself," even if the probabilities run no more than 85% in favor of these assertions, we have a crop of pinyon pines, junipers, and Gambel's oak, with green-tailed towhees singing from the top twig.
If we sit down and write, "We are part of nature and must learn to integrate our activities more sensitively and thoroughly with its processes," a good philosophical point will have been lined out. But the tone of such utterance is such as to contradict its own substance, since it is a tone of abstract examination from the outside. Even if we write, "The killdeer's wing like a broken, brown arco iris dragged over Occam's razor..." we're simply looking at phenomena and spinning our own prefab references.
If, on the other hand, we gather in a group and, having passed around rocks and willow twigs and cigarette lighters and candles and social security cards, etc., with our attention drawn to all the other details of our surroundings, and someone reading, say, Samuel Beckett aloud, or reciting transitive verbs or bird names or rhythmic syllables, if we write a "crazy" blend of these varied inputsor if we pen a few "CHICKADEE" acrostics and/or "go inside" the chemistry of a plastic bag...we'll be exploring mind and language in a structural way that's ready to be applied to the rest of nature.
If these two "hands" cooperate, generating both perspective and process-immersion, then we have some dimension(s) tow work with. The two hands of ice and water... .
Then "last year's grasses" may be "steeped" in various liquefying transformations, and our mental freshets may "flow with meadow tea" (image from Henry Thoreau).
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