Tag Archives: Carol Bachofner

Break Out, Go Ahead and Do It: Part II

Last week I introduced you to indigenous poet Carol Bachofner. She has published four excellent books of poetry. Check out her poetry! Part I can be found here.

In Part II, learn Carol’s original process for writing “something else” sonnets. Don’t know what those are? Read ahead . . . .

by guest blogger, poet Carol Bachofner

A poem Carol wrote that illustrates the breaking out she discusses

 Why Hang Out in Bookstores; a something else sonnet

There are other ways to take on the sonnet form and make it serve a different purpose. I recently had another breakthrough, courtesy of an unwitting Sherman Alexie. Visiting our daughter and her family in Seattle, I had one non-family wish of the trip: to spend some quantity and quality time at Elliott Bay Books, alone. I always make a beeline to the poetry section of any bookstore to see what’s new that I might not have seen at home. I found two books that really got my attention, my sustained attention. The first book is The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Prose Poetry (ed. Gary L. McDowell and F. Daniel Rzicznek, 2010) and the other is Alexie’s latest poetry collection, What I’ve Stolen, What I’ve Earned (Hanging Loose Press, 2014). These book finds changed my view of prose poetry. Utterly changed. DRAT!!! Just when I was getting comfortable again! But it is why we hang out in bookstores, to be changed.

I confess that previously I have eschewed prose poetry, claiming loudly to all who would listen that this alleged form is nonexistent. Why do I do that? My literary protestations almost always lead to changing my mind about what I am avoiding or rejecting. On this particular lovely fall day in Seattle I was to be challenged yet again. I would have to face the fact that this form is real, to accept the fact that if Sherman Alexie was writing in this so-called “form,” I would have to see why. I was, from that moment, on the fast track to writing one or more prose poems myself. How could this happen? Prose was always prose and poetry always poetry. I was SURE of that. Until now. As a narrative writer, I knew I was always straddling the two worlds, but I knew somehow where the borders were. and I did not think those borders were crossable.

Where the breakthrough came for me was somewhere in the middle of Alexie’s book, the place where he starting labeling poems as “sonnet” when they clearly looked like prose to me. Have you ever become aware of a slight manic buzzing in your head when you are about to discover something new for yourself, ready to disembark from the safe ship of your life and wobble on the dock? I could feel myself getting hot all over, hearing the buzz, and feeling a twitch in my left eye. Uh-oh.

I tried to find where in his “sonnets” there was something sonnet. What I found was a “something else sonnet,” a combination of prose and poetry that spoke to me. Loudly. Profoundly. He was laying it out in a way that seemed properly improper. No worries over rhyme scheme (have you ever balked at the use of “scheme” as if it is some kind of a trick?) and no worries about where to break a line or where to put the turn or whether to put a turn at all. Instead of 14 clearly defined lines, he dared to make 14 segments of thought, of wondering, of action. Yes, 14 segments that said something without restriction. Oh my. Oh dear. Oh my. I had to try this.

Suddenly I was writing prose that felt more like poetry to me than anything I’d written in a while. Suddenly I was writing poetry that seemed more real, more honest. I was wobbling on the dock and dying to jump off and swim.

Then the inevitable questions for myself began flooding in. What was going to be MY take on this? How would I make something as real as Alexie, without being a poser, a fake, a phoney? It wouldn’t be easy to adapt my previous thinking to this new thing I’d so long rejected. But I knew I was comfortable with sonnets. I was comfortable with every aspect of sonnets. I was also very comfortable with narrative. So there. I had to jump.

At first I thought this meant I could just freewheel it, abandon all traditional aspects of the sonnet. But I had no desire to just throw myself into a sort of “freefall abyss.” I took a few deep breaths and began thinking of what parts of sonnets I might use to my purposes and how far into prose I wanted to venture. The more I pondered, the more one thought came to me: with the skills I possess as a poet, as a somewhat-formalist, I can combine prose and the sonnet, one of poetry’s most lasting forms and make something new for myself.

As I waded out into the deeper waters of form deconstruction, I felt a bit like an inventor. The process I devised is a basic guideline, a first way in. I chose to meld prose and the sonnet form in a way that was different but felt at least a little familiar. I needed my own process to serve as an entrance. Here is my initial process, one I have now abandoned as I continue to grow comfortable with this new “something else sonnet” form.

A Process Toward Writing a “Something Else Sonnet”

1. I decided to go by way of strong words, nouns and verbs. I elected to choose 14 nouns that are somewhat thematically connected. The words I chose are all words of restriction and stoppage and alienation. My theme (loose) is that of being held back or cordoned off from love. You will see my words in bold in the example below.

2. I set off in a direction, toward a theme or idea. I figured I could always reset my direction if the initial attempt was a wild goose chase. I did reset a couple times, but did not fully abandon the original impetus or word list.

3. I chose to follow Alexie in numbering each section (and in using sections or fragments rather than anything approaching lineation. After all, this was PROSE poetry. Beginning with the number 1, using what I determined to be the “best” word from my list of words, I created the first section/fragment.

4. At the place in that first bit of thought where my mind felt a bit like jumping, I put a period and wrote the number 2. After that I let myself leap (free association is the thing here) and used another word from the list. I found it helpful to cross off each word used to make sure I used all fourteen.

5. Repeating this process, paying no attention at all to where numbers landed, I wrote the whole poem as a paragraph with parts. Remember that any numbered portion may contain more than one sentence or fragment. It may be a bit self-contained with one major leap or it may slide into a transition as the piece nears its end, making the next leap smoother.

6. I also began to consider that I might keep going after number 14 and run the poem onward a bit, ending with a rhymed couplet; I did do this in the example below. I wondered as I wrote whether the poem wanted a somewhat traditional volta and where. In the example below, I came to see that the poem wanted to pivot a bit at line./section 9, a pretty traditional thing for a nontraditional sonnet.

NOTE: In the following example, I have bolded the nouns from my word list; these do not remain bolded outside of this example.

Love is Monstrous(ly) Wonderful(ly) Bordered, a prose sonnet

1. Natural barriers could be the colors of love, red lips shine, bruise-blue or some psychedelic bursts of argument hues at the edge of love’s known world. 2. Sterile areas pop up like rabbits. You want to go there to be safe, to be gravid with love. 3. Ditches burrow themselves into sidewalks where lovers pace, submerge to begin their travel along wrist-like veins recently scissored open in desperation. 4. You can achieve closure that way. Real closure. The slamming of the garden gate on too-rusted hinges made furious by rain. The door-bang of a car, locking itself with the keys still in the ignition. You learn how to leave and how to stay. 5. Love opens and closes on everyone eventually, even if no one hears it happening. Love maintains its elastic geography this way. 6. You cannot escape into a security zone to avoid it. 7. Even though you don’t recognize it, your heart is a sovereign state. 8. It has a seam-line of tissue paper tears. Rain will open up in it, open you eventually. 9. You’ll soon be seen at the checkpoint, tourist visa in your breast pocket, flashlight between your teeth. 10. You will head back to the colors of love and sketches you made of it at the blockade. It’s a secret. It is invincible ink. 11. Cruelty is the killing ground. 12. Vault over its borders. Ping between love and its doppelgänger. 13. Roadblock ahead! Drive. Run. 14. Decide to burn down the separation fence. 15. This is what you need to know about love and disaster, about a heart full of tacks. 16. Once you fill your suitcase, you get the monster off your back.

So, let’s review what has happened here that makes this a sonnet:

1. 14 somethings + couplet
2. volta at or near section 9. — of note: key words/phrases of the turn include checkpoint, head back
3. rhymed couplet at the end (though not metrical, it is musical)

We can see what makes this a sonnet and what makes this prose as well. The narrative is sacrosanct in the form, the combining of two forms. It is a hybrid that works well for me as a storyteller and poet. I owe it all to my obsession with hanging out in bookstores. Here is another example of story preserved as a brief prose poem, a sonnet that defies the usual end-rhymed final couplet. Find the turn, if any. Ask what makes this prose piece a sonnet.

Living On, a prose sonnet

1. From a waterfall 12 feet straight down, into 2 feet of water 2. Swept off like leaves ready to die. 3. Never thought about death then. Never thought about life then. All the same to me. 4. Carried to safety by a Paiute, slung sack on his back. Now a piece of him, he’s me too just that way; how I think of it. Carry me, I carry you. 5. The tee shirt he stripped from his back I wear as he wore me. American Indian Dance Theater. 6. I dance. I sway and stomp like the wind trees or the river that caught me. 7. Live on or die. 8. Be Indian. Be not Indian. You don’t get to decide. 9. If you break a bone, pray for all other bones. You will heal 4 people that way. 10. One of them will heal you. 11. The river didn’t want to feel so empty that day. 12. Wanted to fill itself with something that needed healing. 13. Indian Canyon ceremony, sweat running like the river. 14. Grandmothers and Grandfathers yielding to the fire. Me — natal, naked, and ready to live on.

From the Body, sonnets also shall emerge

Recently someone posted a meme on Facebook that was a pun in picture form, a line drawing of a human hip, with the caption: Hip Poetry. A child of the 60s, it tickled me to see this punning of the phrase Hip Poetry. Thinking of the beat poets, I wanted to do something creative in response to the meme, so I decided a contemporary prose sonnet to honor the beauty of the structure of the body, while keeping the humor of the drawing and its caption. I went with a beginning section that began the combination of bone and tone. I allowed myself to flex my verbal musculature and pun, rhyme a little (final couplet), and use marks of punctuation [brackets] wherever that felt organic, seemed to fit. I even included a line from a satire album from the 60s (see section 6). The pure pleasure I derived from creating this sonnet, this prose thing, is immeasurable. I hope you enjoy it too.

Poetry From the Hip, a prose sonnet

1. It’s a body thing, a guts and sinew and bone thing. No one comes to poetry without a body on fire. Flames of language consume the muscle, jerk the nerves, hum in the skull. 2. It’s the hip, that ball and socket controller, that swing along the sidewalk of metrics action, that bend at the, flex at the, sit right down and write it creation that lets it all roll along to conclusion or to an opening at the end. 3. Imagine no hip. No swishing skirts or petticoats, no rhumba or cha-cha-cha to inspire the words of love that pour onto the page, that plunge the poet into despair over loss of. Love pivots on such bones. Love poems pivot on them too. 4. Shoot from the [hip]. Be [hip]. [Hip] [Hip] hooray on the page or off into the air above the page. [Hip]ster, gangster, lover, mime, or magician. 5. [Hip] is your tour de force. 6. This is your hippy-dippy weather man, with the weather, Man 7. Whether or not. 8. Lines of poems hang from hip to hip, like bedsheets with secrets from old lovers. 9. Say lip [service or stick]. 10. Trip [up] or [the light fantastic]. 11. Ship [shape] or [out] and flip the switch to poems without secrets. 12. Secrets die like flies in winter when you turn on the lights. 13. It’s a body thing, a guts and sinew and bone thing. 14. Write it all, let it all, from the hip … swing.

Break Out… out there from here

Just as my last book, Native Moon, Native Days, was a departure from the regional, nature-oriented poems of the previous two collections, my newly-submitted manuscript is a departure. It is structure-oriented rather than topical, regional, or overtly ethnic. It contains an array of what seems to me to be like stardust, a sprinkle of light. Of course, the trick here is whether or not a publisher wants to spread my stardust. Regardless, I am happy to have assembled these particular poems in this way. Hands, These Clumsy Ears of Hands. Out there. Definitely out there.

About the guest blogger:

Carol W. Bachofner, MFA Poetry Vermont College of Fine Arts, is currently Poet Laureate of Rockland, Maine (2012-2016). She founded (2010) and directs the annual Poetry Month Rockand, a city-wide celebration of poetry. An indigenous woman (Abenaki), she writes with a strong sense of place through narrative poetry. Her poems have appeared in such notable journals as Prairie Schooner, CT Review, Main Street Rag, Bangor Metro, The Comstock Review, Crab Orchard Review, The Cream City Review, Naugatuck River Review, and others. Bachofner teaches poetry in her community and “on the road” via workshops and conferences. She has four published books of poetry: Daughter of the Ardennes Forest, 2007; Breakfast at the Brass Compass, 2010; I Write in the Greenhouse, 2011, and Native Moons, Native Days, 2012. In 2011, Bachofner was a runner-up in the Maine Literary Awards, one of three finalists in the short works/poetry category. Visit her web site www.carolbachofner.com for links to her blog, and her facebook page or to contact her for workshops. or contact her by email at poet.laureate.rcklnd@me.com.

Carol Bachofner headshot

 

17 Comments

Filed under Essay, Nonfiction, Poetry, Poetry book, Publishing, Writing, Writing goals

Break Out, Go Ahead and Do It: Part I

I asked the Poet Laureate of Rockland, Maine, Carol Bachofner, to write about a poetic subject important to her. In this piece (which I am posting in two parts–today and then next Thursday), she explores her journey re-creating herself as the sort of poet she envisioned. Maybe all artists have to search to redefine their artistic identities to remain creative.  See what you think.

by Guest Blogger Carol Bachofner

In the early 2000s, I faced myself coming and going in a kind of convergence between form and something “not form.” I needed expansion. I was fortunate at that time to have poetry mentors who sit cleanly in the “new expansionist” camp: David Mason, RS Gwynn, Dana Gioia, and BH Fairchild to be specific. I would describe myself as a new expansionist and count these poets as friends and mentors still. Having said that, I do see myself and my writing now as breaking ground — if only with a tiny hammer. I have not lost sight of my familial roots either, which have led back to ancestor William Dunbar (Scots poet of the 1600s). Despite the age and depths of my roots as a poet, I find myself searching for small breaths of innovation to keep myself and my poems moving forward. I see my contemporaries doing the same, thus debunking the criticism that new expansionists just want to make it old. I wanted to be “that poet,” one who would write the most memorable of poetry, find something new and exciting for my writing life. But instead I settled into a rather ordinary poetic life, satisfying and full, but pretty ordinary.

A breakthrough came for me in 2001while I was living in London. I spent time several days a week in the British Poetry Library located on the 5th floor of the Royal Festival Hall. One day, I came upon a children’s book that changed my writing. It was not a book of great acclaim or literary merit, but it had some language that, for me, was haunting. The story, about a hare in winter, was written by a Scots writer whose tale was poetically told, in a kind of verse that seemed to be prose and poetry combined. I decided to write a poem using some of the author’s rich language approach. I made my first pass at the poem, based upon translation and a parallel presentation, putting together a Scots language version with my translation side by side on the page. Although I did not (still do not) speak the language, I set about doing a translation, one phrase at a time. I still look at that parallel structure from time to time to please myself as a “translator.” As the messages of the story began to unfold in translation, so did the poem itself. I share it here in its final version, minus the original Scottish:

Peace, Tamh

What does one do but look
in a poem to what goes on out there …
Roland Jooris (Flemish poet)

White, cold white
stinging every bare unsheltering hill
Earth you dressed yourself up to be bare
watching snowfall, pleating snow
under doors, over meadows, over moors

The gusts of our longings dizzied us.
We warmed each other,
but the day did not endure

Silence, silence
O’ to be in the circle ‘round the hearth!

The skies are bruised in their seasons
Threads of breath from snowdrifts
travel for miles through the silence
shining white secret, it’s tinkling murmur,
well, that won’t be silent

White waves of stars at time of darkest moon,
a flag of truce for all tribes of the universe.
We are waking.

Then I Chose the Sonnet

Over time, the sonnet form has been adapted into something other than the form we were taught in school, something we can to choose to remake or reinterpret for a contemporary setting. We can open it up and break it into parts, shapes, and employ any manner of contemporary poetic gestures in so doing. Gerald Stern somewhat famously rendered the sonnet “American” by expanding it to more than 14 lines and abandoning obvious rhyme and meter. That got my attention, for its very boldness if nothing else. I found myself more and more attracted to the sonnet. To be honest, I had avoided the kind of regulation the sonnet took beyond what I needed to learn the mechanics of the form, the academic nuts and bolts. But here I was now, drawn to it like a moth to a streetlamp. I spent time, years, reading as many sonnets as I could reasonably do, from Shakespeare to Millay. I began to write sonnets. I wrote traditional ones (mostly terrible ones) and a few break-out ones. I was ready to accept another breakthrough moment.

What can form and an open attitude do to get you out of a rut in your poetry writing? It can redefine your aesthetic, give your writing system a jolt of energy. For me, it keeps me from writing the “same” poem even when focusing upon a particular topic over time. I recently sent off a manuscript that is rife with fractured forms and the whole seems to me to be a most pleasing concoction of what I am capable of doing with words. If I can please myself, I have at least a decent chance of pleasing my readers. Oh, certainly I do want to please you!

I have dared to bend, break, and reassemble form. Let’s look at this a bit in detail. I chose the sonnet, a form I’d rejected for the first half of my writing life. I thought the form stuffy. I hated the way all the sonnets I was reading felt artificial. I admit that my resistance comes a bit from “old stuff” in early college days when New Criticism was fading and free versifying was breaking down those walls. There is no doubt in my mind that I have pretty much always been teetering on the edge of a kind of cosmic divergence between constrained form and free form. If only…

Carol's office

Carol’s office

My very first experience with breaking open and “reassembling” a form occurred not long after this experience with translation. The resultant poem has somewhat traditional rhyme, a turn at line 9 (breakout from rhyme scheme included), and a rhyming couplet that is not exactly a couplet but rather part of a rhyme scheme that morphs into a couplet (fgfgg). Before sharing the broken open form, here is how the poem I wanted to write would look in traditional style (as a block of writing). Take a few minutes and look at all the tradition in this sonnet. There is meter, rhyme that is not entirely predictable, and the look of it screams SONNET! Ordinarily, I’d be proud to have this be my final draft. I’d be told it was a “good” sonnet.

But, for some reason it is not all that satisfying to me. It needed my further attention. You be the judge here. I trust you to see what I saw in the light of innovation and adventure.

Snow, a sonnet

From gardens of the fertile sky, a
fall blossoms made of air b
It’s God’s design that we might sigh a
as we see them sifting here. b
Each flower cut, is folded, sent c
flying stringless, pure, white kites d
to soften up the firmament c
with their muted spiraled light. d
Even the saints will try to shake e
the rumors they’ve been told f
of death that overtook a child g
who wandered in the dazzling cold f
blinded, lost and then beguiled g
by winter’s flowery, frozen smile. g

I think you can see how constrained the subject is due to the structure. It did not feel the way I felt doing the translation. Not at all. It was (is) tight, bordered, and rigid, with the possible exception being the rhyme break at line 9. More on that later when you have looked at the fractured version. The structure needed, wanted to be less rigid. Grief is not rigid. Snow is not rigid. I needed to do something so the poem could say its message. I needed to fracture and reset the bones of the poem.

Let’s look at what opening this poem up on the page did for it:

Snow

From hidden gardens of the fertile sky.
fall showy ice-spun blossoms made of air.
It’s God’s design
that we on earth might sigh
as we watch them sifting silently here.
Each pristine flower cut, is folded, sent
flying stringless, pure.
Latticed crystal kites
drift soft across the star-blank firmament.
From deep within the muted spiraled light,
saints and angels try to shake the news,
the frightful rumors they’ve been told:
of death
that overtook a child of two
who wandered out
into the dazzling cold,

blinded, lost, and then beguiled
by winter’s flowery, frozen smile.

If you look closely at the broken version of the poem, you will find the structure of the sonnet there (the “couplet” is there in its own way). It (the message) drifts down and settles, as snow does. It doesn’t overwhelm the message, but instead allows the message to settle on the reader as well.

Can you find the places where the rhyme lives? What about the turn? Does the turn happen somewhere different from the traditionally-structured version? What do you see as successful or not in this second version? Which pleases you and your particular aesthetic about sonnets? Does the breaking of form unsettle you? Is the second a sonnet at all? Only you can decide. But it pleases me to present it to you here.

Come back next Thursday for the rest of Carol’s essay.

Do you think that all artists have to search to redefine their artistic identities to remain creative?

About the guest blogger:

Carol W. Bachofner, MFA Poetry Vermont College of Fine Arts, is currently Poet Laureate of Rockland, Maine (2012-2016). She founded (2010) and directs the annual Poetry Month Rockand, a city-wide celebration of poetry. An indigenous woman (Abenaki), she writes with a strong sense of place through narrative poetry. Her poems have appeared in such notable journals as Prairie Schooner, CT Review, Main Street Rag, Bangor Metro, The Comstock Review, Crab Orchard Review, The Cream City Review, Naugatuck River Review, and others. Bachofner teaches poetry in her community and “on the road” via workshops and conferences. She has four published books of poetry: Daughter of the Ardennes Forest, 2007; Breakfast at the Brass Compass, 2010; I Write in the Greenhouse, 2011, and Native Moons, Native Days, 2012. In 2011, Bachofner was a runner-up in the Maine Literary Awards, one of three finalists in the short works/poetry category. Visit her web site www.carolbachofner.com for links to her blog, and her facebook page or to contact her for workshops. or contact her by email at poet.laureate.rcklnd@me.com.

Carol Bachofner headshot

22 Comments

Filed under Essay, Nonfiction, Poetry, Poetry book, Publishing, Writing, Writing goals