Jack Collom

An Ecosystem of Writing Ideas
(continued)

One of the most colorful formats is the recipe. It's loaded with a special vocabulary, yet familiar to everyone. Fantastic elaborations are encouraged—the wildest imaginative leaps fit readily in the recipe idea, so it's both extremely expansive and extremely compact. No food allowed!

Boulder Valley Surprise

boil igneous rock for millions of years
let stand until cool
when inland seas subside
uplift red sandstone, crimp edges
grind soil with glaciers
boil off glaciers
decorate with trees, evergreen and deciduous
then add large mammals, fish and birds
transfer humans with stone weapons
across the Bering Strait
convert large mammals
to food clothing and shelter
now add other humans from the east
sprinkle liberally with iron and gunpowder
in a large well-wooded valley
sift for gold dust
construct wooden buildings, then add brick
steam railroads, a shot of whiskey
then, with a large spatula
smooth out even layers of concrete
on any possible surface
sauteed in carbon monoxide
bake with electromagnetic waves until saturated
in a large sealed container
cook plutonium until doomsday
garnish with shopping malls, tanning salons
takeout chicken, video arcades and massage parlors
set blender on puree
bring to a boil
fun from the kitchen

—John Wright


The acrostic poem has been practiced for thousands of years: basically, a word is set vertically, and lines of the poem "spill out" of the letters. Acrostics serve any topic with great structural readiness, since the "spine" word resonates through the poem. Many variations of the primary acrostic model have been tried. Her's a whole alphabet, for that inclusive effect:

All together now, longer lives are special, longer lives are
Better. Because one gets to learn a lot,
Cuz one has the opportunity to learn from mistakes,
Dumb mistakes, dumb stupid mistakes like
Environmental disasters, like
Flooding lowlands for recreation, like
Giant dams that hold back water, like
Habitat destroyed in name of progress, like
Incan ruins unearthed and shattered, like
Jays being shot because they're too loud.
Kill, kill, why not kill? this globe this planet this
Land that bustles on its own much noisier than the
Moon. Oh, opal light, eclipse and mountain—
Now is the time to strike back, reform the earth,
Our knowledge unleashed for centuries without
Prior thought, without consideration of the side effects, without
Questioning the start of what once begun will take lifetimes to
Reverse. There is a
Sweet trickle of clear water, there is a tiny stream
Trapped beneath the underbrush, singing beneath the
Unborn ferns, where all the fiddleheads pop up like
Violins and accompany the stream.
Where has it all gone and why are these places now named "treasures"
eXactly where a small valley was, not far from where
Yellow poppies battle with winds, their skinny stems the strings of
Zithers still playing for us, still playing for us, can you hear them?

—Sten Rudstrom

I invented an acrostic variation that uses a phrase, made vertical word-by-word (rather than letter-by-letter). It's a powerful setup for development of contrast and slant effects. Here's an Eco-Lit example:

DON'T give me that shit. I
KNOW it's a gas guzzler, but I don't drive too
MUCH. Just to work. So don't give me this shit
ABOUT doing my part. That's
HISTORY, man, that "taking a shit stand" shit. That's the 60s, man.

DON'T, oh please don't show me another picture of some cute mammal baby you
KNOW is about to go extinct. Species do go extinct, that
MUCH we know—survival of the fittest. It's been going on for centuries—
BIOLOGY, pure and simple. Not something to get all worked up about.

DON'T talk to me about facts and figures and how much there is to
KNOW about the problem. It's all too
MUCH. It's staggering, overwhelming. Sure I care
ABOUT the environment, but when I see extent of the damage in terms of
SCIENCE and ecology, and all those
BOOKS cataloguing the damage, the enormity of it, I just feel dizzy.

"DON'T worry, We
KNOW how to contain the risks of the situation. I assure you,
MUCH will be done to ensure public safety," said French prime minister ???
ABOUT the government's plans for storage of
THE seventeen tons of radioactive fuel rods from the
FRENCH nuclear power programs. Thousands of Parisians and
I
TOOK to the streets to protest the government's lack of controls...

BUT there is a possibility,
I believe, for this world, which is that we
DO care. We
KNOW that the future depends on us,
THAT we are the ones who will make the difference, or not.
I believe that we will, for we
LOVE this planet, this gift of life,
YOU and I.

—Suzanne Keith


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