What Do You Call a Person Who Writes Poems That Don’t Rhyme?

In Baker’s novel The Anthologist, Paul Chowder believes all poems should rhyme.  Also, he’s having some trouble with his girlfriend, smaller troubles with his dog and a mouse, and he has an intro to an anthology he needs to finish.  This isn’t “save the earth from a falling satellite” kind of trouble, but enough to keep me reading.  I think it was Vonnegut who advised writers to do at least something to keep a reader interested even if it was only jamming a piece of food between the protagonist’s teeth and causing him or her to want to get it out.  The good stuff in The Anthologist for me was in the clever and/or funny lines. Here’s a couple of them:

On Tetris, “that computer game where the squares come down relentlessly and overwhelm your mind with their crude geometry and make you peck at the arrow keys like some mindless experimental chicken and hurry and panic and finally you turn your computer off.  And you sit there thinking, Why have I just spend an hour watching squares drop down a computer screen?”

My Tetris is Probably Madden Football

On “poems” that don’t rhyme:  “That’s what I call a poem that doesn’t rhyme–it’s a plum.  We who write and publish our nonrhyming plums aren’t poets, we’re plummets.  Or plummers.”

Torgerson Baker The Anthologist Read Books

Nicholson Baker's The Anthologist

The laws governing romantic breaking up:  Paul notes when he sees his ex girlfriend, “If you break up with someone, you get to go out with someone else.”

Except for when my eyes glazed over during the longish explanations about iambic pentameter, I liked this book enough to recommend it.  It served as a kind of argument for me that I ought to think about giving up all the Goodreads, WordPress, and tenure track paperwork stuff and maybe move up to Maine or down to North Carolina and stick a lawn chair out in a shallow creek bed.  I could send my books out from there via email, except for there’s that thing about needing a paycheck.  Paul Chowder, the protagonist, is in sore need of one of those too.

This book had a lot of writing advice in it.  I might bother to type it all up and share it if anyone seems to be interested to ask for it via comment.  If any of you out there are poets or plummers, I’d like to hear what you think of this book.

Bowery Poetry Club – Love, Lepers, and LA:

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I’m planning on making my first-ever visit to the Bowery Poetry Club this weekend (Sat. Sept. 25) to listen to my former professor Laura Newbern read from her new collection of poems.  That she used “purple” as a verb always makes me smile.

Bowery Poetry Club – Love, Lepers, and LA:.

Hey English Teachers and Writers, any suggestions for a class that looks like this?

When I begin to write a syllabus for an upcoming class, I usually first think about the course’s goals and what the assignments should be.  Once that’s decided, I try to plan a schedule that will help us reach the objectives.  As I began this process for my upcoming summer courses, I was feeling kind of bummed out thinking about diving back into that same old work.  Class never ends up much like my ideal writing day, and so I’ve decided to mix up the structure for how I think about planning a course.  I’m starting with what is closer to an ideal writing day for me, and using that routine to give the class structure.  Here’s what I’ve got so far.  I’d love to hear what you think.

Daily Course Structure for Prof. Torg’s Composition Class

For me, to be a writer and thinker means to live within a mass of habits. I believe there might be as many ways to write and think as there are people engaged the acts.  By living in this routine three days a week for six weeks, I hope you’ll begin to think about how to craft your own routine for thinking, or it might be that you’re more of a person who will create an anti-routine.

(20 minutes)    Writing Studies / Annotating a Text

Let’s see what other people have to say about writing.  When I say annotate, I mean that I want you to try and have a conversation with the writer on a copy of their text.  After that, let’s practice using MLA guidelines to integrate the thoughts of others into our own texts.

(5 min)           Warm Up with Rich Language (I provide or you choose?)

Read something that will challenge your intellect, the sort of text that might introduce you to a new word.   Log the word, the context, the title of the work and the author into your daybook.  I think I’ll start you with Poetry magazine.

(10 min)          Teacher as Text.

This is like the first twenty minutes, but you’ll do this on your own with a text of your choosing.  Read something that you’d say is among the best of the sort of text you are trying to write.  I recently adapted my novel and so early each morning I tried to challenge/inspire myself by reading from Alan Ball’s American Beauty and Diablo Cody’s Juno. Look for one writerly observation of which you might make use.  Log the example in your daybook.  Make sure you take good enough notes that you could quote from this text and cite it in a works cited entry for your Writer on Writing Paper.

(20 minutes)    Write a Draft of Something you Need to Write.

Most, if not all of us, write on a computer screen with lots of distractions.  Here, we’re going to try something different:  we’ll write on paper ignoring our cell phone, instant messages, and the latest email to come dinging into our inbox.

(20 minutes)    Small Group Workshop.

Here’s something you might not be used to:  a real audience.  You can share what you just wrote or something that you’ve written and brought in.  It’s best that we all have a copy, but it is also fine if we don’t.  Readers should annotate the text:  underline phrases that get your attention, challenge the thinking, explain what you learn, and ask questions of each other and the writer.

(10 minutes)    A Lesson From Prof. Torg. Usually, there’s something coming up that I need to explain.

(10 minutes)    Work on Your Group Technology Project.

Your group is to make a movie and write a paper that focuses on one aspect of writing studies.

(5 minutes)      What happened worth mentioning today?

Let’s hear from a couple of the writers in the room.  What happened today that you can share?  Is there something you’ve written or read that you are willing to read to us?

(10 minutes)    Prof. Torg on a Text for Grade.

For this portion of the class, I want to show you the best I can what goes on in my head as I read a text written by someone I’m going to have to give a grade.

(10 minutes)    Research at Work.

I’m going to show you clips from a variety of documentaries and/or the work of previous students.  I see these films/texts as examples of those who are asking meaningful questions and pursuing answers.

Fear and Writing

A friend of mine wrote to me scared about an opportunity he has in that his girlfriend is going away for 21 days and he has practically the whole time to himself to write.  He’s wanted to write more but he suspects that he might instead sit around in his underwear, let the dishes pile up, and watch a lot of stupid television shows.  (if you laughed, his words)  There’s a lot in what he says that resonates a ping for me.
Let me start with fear.  I am more terrified today when I am about to write something new than I was when I got started trying to write everyday.  I think I know enough to know how badly I could screw everything up.  I’ve got Chekhov, Dubus, Ford, Boyle, and Chabon in my head and every sentence that I write is a peanut butter and jelly sandwich next to a Giada (see the Food Network) creation.   When I’m revising, no problem.  I’ve got something to work with and I can read it over and over, dink around with the sentence, chop paragraphs and put them back.  I can layer in images related to character or setting and cut what doesn’t add up to much.
As for my fear of the new sentence, I worked up a lot of what I’d call “warm ups.”  I read a poem or two from Poetry Magazine.  Since I’m not so smart there are always a few words I don’t know.   I look those up, log the definitions, and then I type in the context of the poem.  I try to look over one of those pages a day.  I don’t really learn the words as they pop up and surprise me once in awhile.  It was like that in basketball.  People who saw me play will laugh that I use this analogy.  I don’t know that I had moves in as much as I just tried to run past people and shoot.  But I think words and sentences pop out like dribbling moves on a baskteball court.  You drill and drill, you immerse yourself in the langauge, and then in the games (when you write for real) every once in awhile you surprise yourself with something new.
I’ve lost my way a bit from where I started here, but I keep telling myself that’s what I like about a blog.  I can be a little off my game, not pay total attention to my focus, but still find my way into something new to think about, find my way into 1 little bit about something I care about.  If you write, I wonder how you get going, I wonder if you’ve got half the hang ups as me that you must cling to in order to get started.