I embarked on my Weekly Poem Project to learn more about poetry, mostly, but also, in my own small way, to bring poetry back to what it used to be: a deeply social–and entertaining–form of communication. It’s been pretty cool to see poems appearing, like little pop-ups, in friends’ status updates and the like. And also cool to find out how many people actually are interested in poetry. Here I’d like to give some shouts-out to two co-conspirators: Jenny Huth & Diana Birchall.
Jenny was my first and best friend in grad school, & we were next-door neighbors in Austin for a couple years. (Good times were had by all ;-).) She’s in Mexico City right now, doing a 4-week Spanish immersion program. She’s blogging about her adventures–and posting great photos–at Jenny Habla. Jenny’s always up for a good challenge and has gamely posted several responses to my weekly throw-downs (throws-down?), including a double dactyl, which I will reproduce here so you don’t have to wade through previous posts & comment threads to find it:
Museums play tricks on me.
Cases of artifacts
Here I am presently,
Looking back, pleasantly,
Until I see me in there,
Something that was.
Jenny was too modest (I think!) to explain the inspiration for this poem, so I am going to do so myself–she posted some photos on Facebook of totally gruesome & somewhat bizarre dioramas at the Museo Archeologico in Mexico City. I couldn’t find the diorama photos on her Tumblr, so to replace a thousand words, here’s one of the pictures:
I’m not sure if this was the exact diorama Jenny’s talking about in her poem (I kinda hope not!) but you get the point.
And here is a photo (also posted to FB) by my friend Diana Birchall, and her accompanying limerick:
The marigolds march through the night!
Setting the whole room alight!
They glimmer and glow
And make such a show
You hardly can sleep for the sight!
Now the teacher in me can’t help but say that what I especially find interesting about all this is that all the poems from this week, including my Sicilian quintain about my friend Laura’s mother’s garden (see previous post), could be considered “occasional poems”: not poems written sporadically–which, I admit, is what I originally thought “occasional poetry” meant when I first encountered the term in college– but poems written for an occasion. Often these poems are written to commemorate an important event; the poems written for presidential inaugurations by Elizabeth Alexander, Maya Angelou, and Robert Frost are perhaps the most familiar examples. But the occasions can be small ones as well: a Valentine, birthday wishes, a visit to a museum or catching a glimpse of a striking arrangement of glass dishes. Of course, this is another important function of poetry, too–since the epic poets, we’ve used meter and rhyme to help us make note of, and remember, important events and ideas.
I met Diana, incidentally, when I was doing research for my dissertation, which focused on a fascinating writer named Winnifred Eaton. A half-Chinese, half-English Canadian, she wrote popular romance fiction in the early years of the twentieth century under the very romantic, exotic-sounding pseudonym Onoto Watanna. (Elsewhere on my website you can check out the Winnifred Eaton Digital Archive, which contains stories and novels I tracked down, discovered, and transcribed over more than 10 years, many of which are unavailable in print form outside of this archive. My dissertation also became a book titled The Literary Voices of Winnifred Eaton: Redefining Ethnicity and Authenticity–which is as boring as it sounds, but got me tenure!–and to which I will immodestly provide a link, regardless, here.) Diana happens to be the granddaughter of “Winnie,” as she likes to call her. She was both a generous source of information about the Eaton family and a research partner– she was working on her biography of Winnie when I was writing my dissertation. It seems only fitting to honor the occasion with a poem about Winnie, which I’ve composed in this week’s designated poetic form, the double dactyl. Ahem:
a Japanese poser she was,
it is true.
really named Winnifred,
nevertheless, she wrote
lots more than you.
You can read all the rules of the double dactyl form on Wikipedia (some of which I broke here) and I hope to see you try writing one–or a poem of any sort– on Facebook or wherever else you write (a sonnet in your next TPS report, anyone?). Double dactyls and limericks may not exactly be elevating the level of contemporary discourse, but it certainly makes it more entertaining. So, here is a way poetry can continue to serve society.
It has been really great to reconnect with old friends– and connect with friends in new ways–and make new friends altogether– in doing this poem project. I am working on another double dactyl which I will post in the next day or two, along with an introduction to the challenge for Week 3: the grook, which my colleague and friend (and bona fide poetics expert) Melissa Girard introduced me to last week.