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Week 4: Poems have purpose. (October 22-October 28)


Hi Hackers!  Jump on in to complete this last poem.  We'll be posting them and using our group rubric to evaluate them.
Climax and Resolution
When does a poem miss its mark? When it fails to act--when the climax or realization of a poem is disorganized, requires rearrangement, needs punch. The turning point in a poem is a delicate thing. Pace, rising action, and context all play into a successful realization. A poet may also consider the resolution, or denouement of the action, in structuring their poem.  Otherwise poems can feel abrupt, or like they fall right off the page [or computer screen :-) ].

Take it further:
I Passed Three Girls Killing a Goat
by Miriam Bird Greenberg
Where are the realizations and turns in the poem? What if the climax and resolution happened before it did? What if it didn’t happen at all? Think about the poem with a different sense of climax and resolution--is it the same poem?
Week 4 Task:


  • Now, analyzing your own poem you've written for Hack this Poem, or try something new.
  • Analyze its climax and resolution, it's narrative pace
  • Change the arc of its climax and resolution
  • Post both the original and your hack by Wednesday, October 26th


We can’t wait to hack poems this week!

Task Discussion

  • Vanessa Gennarelli   Oct. 30, 2011, 12:44 p.m.

    Hi Poem Hackers!


    Tracy and I hope you've enjoyed Hack this Poem. We've got a learner satisfaction survey we hope you'll complete to improve our community.

    It'll come to your P2PU inbox--thanks for hacking poems with us. 


  • Tracy Tan   Nov. 2, 2011, 8:47 p.m.
    In Reply To:   Vanessa Gennarelli   Oct. 30, 2011, 12:44 p.m.

    Hi everyone!

    Just wanted to add to Vanessa's mail - if you've simply read stuff in the course - and  even if you've never posted anything for the course -  we still would very much like to hear from you!!

    (It'll really help us fine-tune the course for the future...) 

    The survey will just take 5 - 10 minutes...

    Really hope to hear from you!!

    THANK YOU!!!!

    Tracy and Vanessa

  • Tracy Tan   Oct. 24, 2011, 8:14 p.m.

    Ballade Of A Talked-Off Ear




    By Dorothy Parker


    Daily I listen to wonder and woe,
    Nightly I hearken to knave or to ace,
    Telling me stories of lava and snow,
    Delicate fables of ribbon and lace,
    Tales of the quarry, the kill, the chase,
    Longer than heaven and duller than hell-
    Never you blame me, who cry my case:
    "Poets alone should kiss and tell!"

    Dumbly I hear what I never should know,
    Gently I counsel of pride and of grace;
    Into minutiae gayly they go,
    Telling the name and the time and the place.
    Cede them your silence and grantthem space-
    Who tenders an inch shall be raped of an ell!
    Sympathy's ever the boaster's brace;
    Poets alone should kiss and tell.

    Why am I tithed what I never did owe?
    Choked with vicarious saffron and mace?
    Weary my lids, and my fingers are slow-
    Gentlemen, damn you, you've halted my pace.
    Only the lads of the cursed race,
    Only the knights of the desolate spell,
    May point me the lines the blood-drops trace-
    Poets alone should kiss and tell.


    Prince or commoner, tenor or bass,
    Painter or plumber or never-do-well,
    Do me a favor and shut your face
    Poets alone should kiss and tell.




    Ah…. I love Dorothy Parker. When I came across this, I wondered what Parker would say in this age of continual kissing and telling !!


    I apply the same theme to cyberspace, and insert a little narrative into the mix.




    I do not like

    Your status updates

    Of borrowed brilliance

    or trivial fates


    I do not like

    To find you four-squared

    In yet another place

    For which I do not care


    I do not like

    That photo you took

    With me in the back

    Untagged and unlooked


    I do not like

    Your 893 friends

    Too many for comfort

    Though I’m one of them.



  • Vanessa Gennarelli   Oct. 25, 2011, 9:39 p.m.
    In Reply To:   Tracy Tan   Oct. 24, 2011, 8:14 p.m.

    I like the inversion here--Parker was definitely being sarcastic when it came to poets "owning" the ability to kiss and tell.  Your piece's point of view definitely inverts that--who "gets" to tell the backstory is, earnestly and a little bitterly, the poet. 

    I'm going to push a bit further here--

    • First stanza: Instead of "trivial fates" can we have a concrete example?
    • Second stanza, "you do not like" and "do not care"--what's a precise feeling about monitoring space?
    • Third stanza: I'm not sure what "unlooked" means.
    • Fourth stanza: is 893 too many for comfort? Or is it to many to be real? I'm being vague, but you can play with the imagery.

    Do you want to try to revise our poems? Do you have time/feel up to it?

  • Vanessa Gennarelli   Oct. 24, 2011, 2:24 p.m.



    In my post this week, I wanted to build upon the lessons we learned from Voice and Tone last week, and chart out the sense of dramatic action we take up this week.  I hacked the poem above “I Passed 3 Girls Killing a Goat” by Miriam Bird Greenberg.


    I Passed Three Girls Killing a Goat


    I passed three girls killing a goat, shotgun
    leaned up against a tree and the entrails
    spilling into a coil on the ground. It was hooked
    between the tendons of its back legs
    to a high branch that gently creaked
    like a dry hinge busybody aunties wouldn’t oil.
    Blood drained into a pail, you could smell it
    shifting with the air, and black flies landed
    in the shadows of things where the wind
    didn’t touch. I dreamed I was carrying a sack
    filled with animals, and it dragged blood
    in the gravel and stained my skirt hem, you could follow my trail
    to the county line where old men
    sat on the liquor store porch. One crooked his half-arm
    for the bottle where the auger had caught his hand.
    I dreamed I was in a new country rinsing livers
    under a spigot, and the men cracking
    black walnuts on a stone named my limbs
    like the weather, like none of us knew
    the same words. By the tree the girls and the goat
    were faltering, one squatted to sharpen
    her blackened blade on a strop, and the men
    on the county line leaned back on the heels
    of their chairs talking about anything, each other,
    spring weather, the long-haired boy scalped
    by a combine, and one of them swore you only plant
    beans with the moon in Capricorn otherwise
    the fields choke up with scrub juniper. One
    looked intently at his left palm; his right wrist
    uselessly brushed the woven seat of his chair.
    When a wind came, the screen door leapt up
    on its leather hinges which never creaked
    and slammed shut. Mud daubers in the muck
    by the spigot blew sideways around my ankles and up
    under my skirt, and inside I could hear
    the woman who lived with the liquor store proprietor
    cursing as she locked up the vanilla like she knew
    how to break the back of a ghost.

    To get a sense of the poem's dramatic action, I looked at the pieces and tagged them to a dramatic arc--a beginning, a middle and an end. Put visually, we can refer to this arc as a "dramatic mountain."


    By Kaede4 (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons



    When applied to "I Passed 3 Girls Killing a Goat" dramatic structure looks like:


    • Speaker comes into contact with traumatic triggering event

    Rising action
    • Speaker hones in on grotestque details
    • Details lead to an underworld--“where wind can’t touch” “augur”
    • Moment of perceptual imbalance--are we in the dream world? Are we in speaker’s reality?

    • The energy of these people, their existences and gestures, compresses, overwhelms, transcends
    • Speaker hears it & feels it in a tactile way (spigot sideways, water under her skirt)

    Falling action and end/resolution are very close here
    • Reality of the liquor store wife--she knows the dark moral, unspoken code of these people--that they’ll steal vanilla for it’s alcoholic properties


    What I wanted to retain was that feeling of violence, voyeurism and clear imagery.  My style is a bit more spare than Greenberg, and breathier. So this is still very much my voice and point of view, but a similar arc. Here's my piece, "Guardians."
    This morning they combed the water for a woman
    along the Mass Ave bridge

    Her body a pile of ropes and coils
    amongst the chop of the Charles River

    All they would say is that
    her head was shaved close on both sides
    with a tuft of hair at the top

    The morning traffic
    a hiccuped hum
    snaking off onto the esplanade

    When I went to meet the masseuse that evening
    she had the softest handshake
  • Tracy Tan   Oct. 24, 2011, 3:02 p.m.
    In Reply To:   Vanessa Gennarelli   Oct. 24, 2011, 2:24 p.m.

    Hi Vanessa!

    I love how you analysed Greenberg's poem! I have a question  - do ALL poems follow this arc? (I ask 'cos I know I've read some poems which gave me goosebumps, but which did not necessarily have a 'dramatic action' arc...

    I was instantly hooked by your premise of a body found in the Charles River. It certainly echoed Greenberg's 'traumatic triggering event'! The description of the body also evoked a visceral response from me - who was she? who shaved her head? why did they release those details?

    But I found it hard to connect with the last two stanzas.. (don't worry, it could be because I'm quite dense!) Were they tied to the title of your poem 'Guardians'? Was the masseuse' 'soft handshake' suppose to echo the limpness of the drowned body? Is it that everyone was complicit in this death, that everyone failed in our role as 'guardians',  with our distractions and places to go and general self-obsessions?

    Would love to hear what you think!

    (P/S: I'm still trying to work out my poem.. will try to post soon!!!)



  • Vanessa Gennarelli   Oct. 25, 2011, 9:27 p.m.
    In Reply To:   Tracy Tan   Oct. 24, 2011, 3:02 p.m.

    Hey Tracy Tan!

    I'm working with the idea of casual, communal trust--other drivers in urban traffic, rule-enforcers, practioners of healing--and the ways we're immune to thinking about fragility in order to move through the world without paralyzing anxieties. We opt-in, we give guardians the ability to speak for us--unless we take data away, like the woman in the river who was a Jane Doe. 

    So that's the content arc, or where I was going with the content arc.

    But your point is totally, totally well taken--indeed, the "dramatic arc" has been criticized for being a Western convention

    Good poems can also come out of rebelling against the arc--although that may unsettle your audience, who is looking for a clear beginning, middle and an end.  That's definitely a creative choice.