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Week 3: Poems are personality. (October 15-October 21)

Poetic diction--or voice and tone--gives a poem its character.  Word choice, internal rhyme and pauses in the poem all inform a poem’s voice and tone. Is the poem ironic or earnest? Delicate or saccharine? Consider Philip Larkin’s poem “This Be the Verse.” The nursery rhyme tone and sarcastic diction totally dictate our experience of the poem.  (You can listen to Larkin reading the poem here).

Voice can also refer to the poem’s speaker, and that speaker’s point of view.  Frank Bidart famously took on different personas in his dramatic monologues, such as anorexic Ellen West, and murderer Herbert White. Notice how the voices in the poems shift, where there are inconsistencies in the poems.


  • Select a poem that you can find online. ( We know some of you might choose to look at the poems in weeks 1 and 2 - that's great too!)
  • Take a look at what we as a group think makes a poem great (see, and consider the poem in those terms.
  • Start your remix with an eye towards voice and tone. What elements do you plan to hold on to? Are you keeping the 1st person? The character of the poem? What do you plan to give up? Will you adopt a different voice, ie a modern perspective ona Victorian poem?

Please post:

  1. The original poem as a link.
  2. Your remix

Feedback focus: How did the original compare with with the remix ? Let's talk about what re-mxers held on to or chose to change voice and tone-wise, not forgetting our ideas of 'what makes a poem great' =)

Task Discussion

  • Vanessa Gennarelli   Oct. 21, 2011, 7:42 a.m.

    Week 3: Summary


    • Tracy and Vanessa dug in deep together to explore voice and tone as vital aspects of a poem
    • We analyzed our “base” poems for their sense of voice and tone in their images, in their structure and in the sound
    • In translating poems, we thought about the struggle to maintain a poem’s tone in another language
    • We mentioned how de/composing familiar poems can make one feel both comfortable (Tracy) and a bit intimidated (Vanessa)
    • Tracy mentioned that seeing a poem’s points of convergence--it’s climax/resolution--is another aspect to consider in your poem’s hack
  • Tracy Tan   Oct. 20, 2011, 11:47 a.m.

    I was just sent this link. It's a video on Philip Schultz, a Pulitzer Prize winner and someone who struggled with dyslexia.

    The poem he reads is so moving that I just wanted to share it here :

  • Vanessa Gennarelli   Oct. 17, 2011, 1:23 p.m.


    I attempted Kay Ryan's “A Hundred Bolts of Satin
    All you
    have to lose
    is one
    and the mind   
    all the way back.   
    It seems
    to have been
    a train.
    There seems
    to have been
    a track.
    The things
    that you
    from the
    abandoned cars   
    cannot sustain   
    life: a crate of   
    tractor axles,   
    for example,
    a dozen dozen   
    clasp knives,   
    a hundred   
    bolts of satin—
    perhaps you   
    more than   
    you imagined.

    I highly recommend both this poem and Ryan’s reading of it. The poem’s “about” one’s thoughts becoming unhinged, and Ryan uses a very general voice and tone to implicate us all in her poem. Other aspects to give readers a sense of the voice and tone include:

    End rhymes have a aphorisitc quality to them--it’s like she’s sagely telling us fables.

    Omniscient voice--details seem summative, to come from nowhere and everywhere.

    Knives give it a violent variable, express the danger of a mind lost.

    I tried to hang on to the sense of tone, but also the futility, and the implication of the reader.



    "Change of Address"
    Unpack everything you own

    rusted pairs of glasses
    transported from other eras

    a model bird fused to a crystal

    books primly boxed like a nun

    Paint a room the same color
    everywhere you go

    Itemized means
    flattened pieces of yourself

    Objects or
    tiny tears in time

    The familiar sigh of a train
    heaving the same hot anchor
    several floors below
  • Tracy Tan   Oct. 19, 2011, 11:25 p.m.
    In Reply To:   Vanessa Gennarelli   Oct. 17, 2011, 1:23 p.m.

    Wow Vanessa,

    I thought the whole notion of a 'change of address' really echoed the sense of loss and unsettledness  that Ryan's poem had as well..

    The imagery you used was very powerful  ( I was like - oh, yes, those old glasses!)  and the idea of painting 'a room the same color'  conveyed to me a sense of futility and nostalgia, of wanting to recreate something which had been lost..

    Ryan's poem converges on the line 'perhaps you specialised more than you imagined' -  and it made me think of distilled memories, boxed-up impressions, mistaken notions of someone; all  that rends apart and 'uncouples' relationships..

    i was looking for that convergence as well in your poem... how does that imagery of the train connect with the idea of a 'change of address'?

    I think this is the start of a really powerful, goose-bump inducing poem ... =) =) =)

  • Vanessa Gennarelli   Oct. 20, 2011, 3:15 p.m.
    In Reply To:   Tracy Tan   Oct. 19, 2011, 11:25 p.m.

    That pesky train--it runs away from a phantom place.  That needs to be more focused. You revised yours--no fair!  I have to put mine in a drawer for a while before I can hack at it further.


  • Tracy Tan   Oct. 16, 2011, 4:51 p.m.

    Hi everyone!

    I spent the weekend thinking about what to post, then realised I'm missing home... (I'm living away from Singapore for the first time in my life..) This brought me to an iconic Chinese poem by Li Bai :


    Bed before bright moon shine
    Think be ground on frost
    Raise head view bright moon
    Lower head think home

    Before my bed, the moon is shining bright,
    I think that it is frost upon the ground.
    I raise my head and look at the bright moon,
    I lower my head and think of home.




    This is my hack of it - Thoughts on a Still night - Tracy Tan  

    As I stood by the window

    Soft-drenched in winterlight

    The warm smell of curry

    Wafted in through the night -


    Simple fare for the neighbours

    Who couple below

    Yet a sharp-tanged reminder

    Of my faraway home.


    =) Hope to hear what your weekend thoughts were!

  • Vanessa Gennarelli   Oct. 19, 2011, 9:31 a.m.
    In Reply To:   Tracy Tan   Oct. 16, 2011, 4:51 p.m.

    Hi Tracy!  I thought I might "present" your poem, close reading it and presenting any questions I may have.

    Speaker: singular speaker, alone in their "home" comes up against the edge of another home (neighbor's apartment). The comparison in space prompts speaker to reflect on their sense of belonging, and what isn't there.

    Tone: "soft-drenched" "warm smell" "waft" "faraway home" are all warm and fuzzy. Very sensory images that connect the reader to the positive feelings of home.

    There's another piece to the voice and tone puzzle here: the fact that the speaker is alone and sort of vicariously living in their neighbor's kitchen. Also the loneliness of the speaker. "Sharp-tanged" is sort of the first flag about bittersweet feelings.  

    Where can the voice and tone further support the alone/lonliness and encroaching on space?




  • Tracy Tan   Oct. 19, 2011, 11:52 p.m.
    In Reply To:   Vanessa Gennarelli   Oct. 19, 2011, 9:31 a.m.

    Those are some awesome observations Vanessa!

    Perhaps instead of 'soft-drenched'  I could use the idea of 'cold' to further convey the isolation of the writer vs the cuddly neighbours! So this is my revised version based on your astute comments :

    I stand by the window

    in cold winterlight

    Warm smells of hot curry

    Wafting in through the night -


    Simple fare for the neighbours

    Who couple below

    Yet a sharp-tanged reminder

    Of my faraway home.


    I changed the first stanza from past to present tense, to better express a sense of isolation and contrast.. Wow, your comments have really helped Vanessa, and i hope anyone else out there who's writing or reading can jump in as well! =)