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Week 3: Abstract versus Concrete

In recasting the poems of other poets, I recommend we give ourselves a wide berth.  There are many ways to De/compose a poem!  Here are just a few ideas:

  • Make it close to you--see the poem from your point of view and suite of experiences.
  • Change the situation--you can hold on to the subject matter with a new context.
  • Mimic--don’t be afraid to repeat sounds and ideas that are close to the poem.
  • Play with length--you might start by reinterpreting each word.  But your poem might want a different length and form.

Snodgrass often showcased the talent of renowned poets by stripping the poems of all abstraction. Those poems fell like lead balloons. Part of a poet’s mastery is their ability to balance the abstract and the concrete--to make connections that feel accessible yet magical or strange.  Please select one of the two poems below and De/compose it.

Poem 1: Night Waitress by Lynda Hull
In her poem “Night Waitress” Hull vacillates between the abstract and the concrete skillfully. However is there a point where the transition isn't smooth?  Try attacking the poem considering her tether between those two worlds. What would the poem look like if she kept it strictly to the concrete?  What about if she kept it lofty, abstract?

Poem 2: Crush by Ada Limón
In turn, Limón takes a concrete element (persimmons) and wraps abstraction around it. So much is expressed through the relationship with the fruit. If you select this poem, consider the intense relationship with one complex concrete thing.

Task Discussion

  • MichaelScott   Aug. 30, 2011, 4:43 p.m.

    Here's my response to 'Night Waitress', I'd love to see someone else have a go at either poem.


    All night gas station


    On CCTV all night

    I’m a moving freeze-frame

    from a 1980’s rom-com

    somewhere in those pixels

    someone who hasn’t seen

    marriage running on empty

    give me the remote

    I’ll dig you out

    and not tell him

    these nights I don’t stop thinking

    everything else

    Pump 4


    gum pack at the night hatch

    a red taxi

    woman driver

    she stares video

    me and her

    grabbed normal

    Travis Bickle rant


    leaves fusebox buzz

    Damo Suzuki

    busking stock room water pipes

    Kurfürstendammrattle 1996


    hits the corrugated


    of the semiconductor plant

    bleaches early morning

    me memories

    washed from the screen

    brushed back to the street

    I flow over daybreak’s weir

    to make me a night of Technicolor

    time stamped





  • Vanessa Gennarelli   Aug. 18, 2011, 1:52 p.m.

    We're going to take some more time with this task--let's extend the deadline until Sunday and all try to take a stab at the example poems. 

    Can't rush the art!

  • MichaelScott   Aug. 12, 2011, 11:02 a.m.

    Here is my poem in response to 'Crush' - Michael




    pick blackcurrants
    blind shrimp eye bushes

    stare     careful



    I can’t enter my face

    so I see brambles         billowing
    creeping tangles                      of not me

    not you

    face lit with happy
    the pink smear MMS memory


    but the almost I remember
    is better than the
    whole I've forgotten of
    anyone else


    made me want to love you more

    and understand you less

  • Vanessa Gennarelli   Aug. 14, 2011, 12:59 a.m.
    In Reply To:   MichaelScott   Aug. 12, 2011, 11:02 a.m.

    I feel just as affected, if not more so, by your blackcurrants than Limon's persimmons. "blind shrimp eye bushes" has a sharpness to it that cuts through the sweetness that we think of in fruit, and these lines 

    "but the almost I remember

    is better than the
    whole I've forgotten of
    anyone else" 

    moves from the concrete to the abstract fluidly.  

    Because of the sharpness and implied violence of the poem, "face lit with happy" went too far for me--maybe just "face, lit" or "face--lit" will insinuate the movement in the poem?  "Happy" felt like it might not belong in this world of blackcurrants?

    Thank you for sharing your poem, Michael. 

  • tesspatalano   Aug. 17, 2011, 10:03 a.m.
    In Reply To:   MichaelScott   Aug. 12, 2011, 11:02 a.m.

    I agree with Vanessa, Michael's reinterpretation of Limon's poem is just if not more affecting.  I especially enjoy the last three lines which seem to drive home the sentiment of the whole poem, similar to Limon's.  I think the word in both poems that resonated with me the most is "less."  Your inclusion of it, (as the last word as well) was a nice juxtaposition to the growing and overwhelming plant you describe.  The one abstract idea I really enjoyed, but questioned its place in this poem was "MMS memory."  I love the idea of technology-based imagery, but it distracted me from the natural imagery and the relationship you were focusing on.  I either wanted more of it in this poem or none of it.  All in all, I thought this was a succesful interpretation that resonated with me as a reader.

  • Vanessa Gennarelli   Aug. 12, 2011, 9:41 a.m.

    Hi Poets!  Welcome David and Ninja!  

    Are folks needing more time for their poems?  How is attacking the Hull and the Limon?

  • Vanessa Gennarelli   Aug. 10, 2011, 10:43 a.m.

    Hi Poets!  I wanted to post another poem from this recent issue of Poetry Magazine that might be good for this assignment.  It chronicles a complex observation of a couple eating dinner at a restaurant.  I thought it would be useful here, as it moves from abstract to concrete, but it's also a situation we could recreate for ourselves, or re-imagine it easily.



    Seen Through a Window



    A man and a woman are sitting at a table.
    It is supper time. The air is green. The walls
    Are white in the green air, as rocks under water
    Retain their own true color, though washed in green.
    I do not know either the man or the woman,
    Nor do I know whatever they know of each other.
    Though washed in my eye they keep their own true color.

    The man is all his own hunched strength, the body’s
    Self and strength, that bears, like weariness,
    Itself upon itself, as a stone’s weight
    Bears heavily on itself to be itself.
    Heavy the strength that bears the body down.
    And the way he feeds is like a dreamless sleep.
    The dreaming of a stone is how he feeds.

    The woman’s arms are plump, mottled a little
    The flesh, like standing milk, and on one arm
    A blue bruise, got in some household labor or other,
    Flowering in the white. Her staring eye,
    Like some bird’s cry called from some deepest wood,
    Says nothing of what it is but what it is.
    Such silence is the bird’s cry of the stone.
  • Vanessa Gennarelli   Aug. 8, 2011, 9:59 a.m.

    Hi Poets!  Let's get started on our first poems.  If you have other ideas for sample poems, please edit the course task--these are open to collaboration.

    Please post your poems by Sunday so we can read them.  Excited to break some rules with you all. 

  • Carol Peters   Sept. 4, 2011, 4:53 p.m.
    In Reply To:   Vanessa Gennarelli   Aug. 8, 2011, 9:59 a.m.

    I love this Lynda Hull poem.

    Last night I began writing my poem by working out a couple of lines that emulate this segment of Hull's poem:

    I want a song that rolls
    through the night like a big Cadillac
    past factories to the refineries
    squatting on the bay, round and shiny
    as the coffee urn warming my palm.

    Here are my attempts:

    I want a steak that fills
    my plate like a ninth symphony
    Sunday afternoon on Tanglewood’s lawn
    at summer’s end, crisp & brown
    as Guinness foaming a mug.

    I want colors that echo
    a rainbow like an aspen copse
    mirrored by an artificial lake
    swallowing putts at the fifth hole, complementary & bold
    as Payne Stewart’s plus-fours.

    Today I worked up this draft:

    Spring in Cafayate

    The winds of August clog
    the air with choking dust, scatter
    construction’s rank debris – concrete 
    bags, broken tiles, bits of twine, 
    plastic bottles – winds from north 
    & west, from east, entire days indoors 
    I wait for quiet at dusk, 
    watch the ornamental grasses 
    shimmer like dancing fans, watch 
    the yellow dust collect 
    at every door, on every pane – 
    a swirl, a swarm, a storm. 
    So much dust defeats me. 
    I ring for Elva – sweeper, mopper, 
    multi-jobber – she arrives 
    at six, by eight, 
    the damp surfaces gleam 
    like roofs of terracotta after rain
    while deeper dust 
    settles in darkening fur 
    & fiber rugs, a sofa upholstered 
    chenille, drapes that shifted raise 
    a cloud speckled with web, 
    clean clothes that sully clean 
    limbs. It’s grit between sheets, grime 
    on children possessed by 
    breathless play, sediment sinking 
    in forgotten glasses of wine. 
    It’s spring in Cafayate.

  • Vanessa Gennarelli   Sept. 6, 2011, 1:37 p.m.
    In Reply To:   Carol Peters   Sept. 4, 2011, 4:53 p.m.

    Carol! Welcome!

    There are masterful pivots between the abstract and the concrete here. I love "a cloud speckled with web" and "So much dust defeats me."

    I really admire how the reader follows the path of the dust, and that's the device that moves us from the abstract to the concrete--very interesting.

    There are qualities of the grotesque here that color my interpretation of the rest of the poem: 


    construction’s rank debris – concrete 
    bags, broken tiles, bits of twine, 
    plastic bottles


    It’s grit between sheets, grime 
    on children possessed by 
    breathless play, sediment sinking 
    in forgotten glasses of wine. 

    So that I approach the balance of the poem with some level of trepidation, expecting Elva to be complicit in the dangerous of influence of dust.  The tone of the poem has an oblique danger ("deeper dust/fur" "entire days indoors")? How obvious do you intend this train of imagery to be? 

    The mystery continues with the poem's sense of time. The title insists it's Spring, the traits of the weather and the poem's own lines tell us different.  I don't trust this narrator who waits for quiet and spends their time inside--what's to this game with time?

  • Carol Peters   Sept. 7, 2011, 5:55 a.m.
    In Reply To:   Vanessa Gennarelli   Sept. 6, 2011, 1:37 p.m.


    Thanks you so much.

    This is wonderfully helpful. I will study more when I reach a landing point.

    We are crossing from Argentina to Paraguay this morning.

    End of August & September is spring here in northern Argentina in the mile-high desert. 

    You are very kind.