Tuesday, April 22, 2014


Assign three poems for your students to read before the next session. These poems ought to have some common threads, in terms of the writing style or content, but that’s not required. In the meantime, cut 15 words out of each poem. (This exercise assumes a class size of 15 students.) (Adjust as needed.) Choose words carefully: pick nouns that might double as verbs; avoid too many modifiers; include a few muscular verbs but you’ll probably want to err on the side of choosing more nouns than anything else; don’t worry about prepositions, articles, or conjunctions; select a rich vocabulary. When done, place the cut-out words from each poem into a separate envelope. That is, the 15 words from Poem A should go into their own envelope, the 15 words from Poem B should go into their own envelope, and the same for the words from Poem C. Arrive at class with three sealed envelopes in hand, A, B, and C. You could always type-up the words in a festive font, if you’re the benevolent sort.

Lead a discussion of the three poems. For this exercise, I had chosen “Colorado Blvd.” by Lorna Dee Cervantes, “Santa Fe” by Joy Harjo, and “The Colonel” by Carolyn Forche. I dig these three pieces. Two of the three were written in prose, and the Cervantes poem, which employs line breaks, offers the tidy block of its one stanza. The narrators describe similar worlds, in which they, as women, face danger or cope with marginalization; contemplate escapes or seek justice; dream with all the resources of their imaginations or bend the rules of time or narrate startling transformations. Leave about 40 minutes for the writing exercise.

Now you get to haul out the three envelopes. Send them around the class. Every student should select one word from each envelope. Once the envelopes have circulated around the room, every student should possess one word from each poem, and three words total. Ready a stop watch. Students should incorporate the three words into a couple lines of poetry, or a sentence, before two minutes have elapsed. Run a tight ship. Once the two minutes have expired, students should pass their three words to the person sitting beside them. The three words, therefore, will “rotate over” to the student’s neighbor. Once they have received their three new words, students should write another couple lines of poetry or another sentence—you got it—in two minutes or less. Keep practicing this ritual until the word groupings make a full rotation around the room, until the poets receive their original three words. At that point, the exercise should stop. Your students might have guessed at where the words came from, but at this point, you can tell them.

The exercise forces students to work swiftly, and to emulate a compelling vocabulary. Every two minutes, of course, a fresh set of words arrives and requires the student-poets to be inventive, to fit the new words into the emerging poem. The language, itself, tends to establish the poem’s situation, and by its very nature, the exercise creates surprise: the three new words must be puzzled into the whole. Students, in my estimation, should train themselves to write from certain rich vocabularies, and should cultivate the habit of altering rhythms and word choices from line to line. “Evolution ain’t just a theory that governs the animal kingdom.” The exercise created buzz. The poems jumped. We read them raw and loud. I call this the second best poetry writing exercise in the world, since I happen to have devised the best poetry writing exercise in the world, as well. If you’d like to know about that one, well then: buy me a stout.

Thursday, April 17, 2014


Plato hadn’t thought of everything.

The philosopher skipped toward the cave in spirits chipper and spirits over-brimming, as he had encountered a wide world fresh with tendrils and saplings, lush with the industry of socioeconomic paradigms. Owing to his status as philosopher, he recognized the somber duty to educate his countrywomen and men, who he’d left behind, in chains. They faced a blank wall, upon which played but shadows of the greater creation. “Ho!” he howled, still at a distance, but there came no reply. ‘Perhaps they slumber’, he thought. He paused at the mouth of the cave, his hand on the crag, so he might steady his anticipatory breathing. “Ho!” he echoed, when there came a single bestial grunt. “Oh, Horatius,” he laughed, referring to a friend. “Having visions of single-handed corporeal pleasure, are you?” The philosopher entered the cave only to confront a low, estimable beast, its powerful jaws snapping off a lethargic reptilian grunt, before it took a run at the man, waddling with growing menace until the philosopher sprinted into the brilliant light of midday. Even as the confrontation lasted mere seconds, the philosopher entertained horrific images of partially devoured screams. He had recognized the bodily outlines of his unenlightened countrypersons in the reptile’s belly, and out of this terror, didn’t brake his sprint until he stood thirty yards from the cave. The beast had not pursued him beyond the darkness of its lair. All about the philosopher there played the attentive wisdom of the elements, the great quietude of a cool breeze. ‘I had conceived of The Allegory of the Cave’, he thought, ‘but instead, I must now contend with The Alligator of the Cave.’ A very poor morale descended upon the philosopher. He could not enlighten his kinfolk, as they had suffered a mass devouring. He could not enlighten the reptile. Returning to the cave—even if the alligator ever abandoned the premises—made little sense. Eventually, the alligator would return to eat him, too, and would swallow up (if not digest) the philosopher’s enlightenment. The philosopher sought refuge in the arguments of his teachers, but their proofs did not guide him in his inquiries about this newfangled predicament—the sudden appearance of a powerful, armored beast. ‘One can never truly return home’, he concluded, ‘unless, of course, one doesn’t have to square off with an alligator upon arrival.’ He tried again: ‘People chained to their short-sighted belief systems may wind up devoured by their ignorance. The alligator, therefore, represents ignorance come to exact a penalty.’ This sounded better to the man, but of course, he remembered, ‘The fault rests with me for not freeing a single person before I left: a capable wrestler, perhaps, a shot-putter, special policeman, muckraker, or manipulator of media.’ A single plaintive grunt sounded in the middle distance of the cave. The alligator, however, did not emerge into daylight to chase the philosopher, but instead, through its grunt, tipped forward the philosopher’s decision to leave. A powerful, fearsome energy then inhabited the cave. What the alligator knew of the cave’s unenlightened dwellers—it had devoured; it had begun to digest their short-sightedness. ‘While the philosopher ponders, the dumb animal acts upon its hierarchy of needs.’ Or so thought the philosopher, as he tripped outward and away, he himself capable of estimating the predatory forays of the dumb animal, in his quest to convince nation-states of his suffering and sorrows.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014


English III's pre-Loaf.

Cross-Town Loafs
After my football club dropped a key fixture over the weekend, and drifted downward in the table toward the relegation zone, I decided to comfort myself by preparing a Loaf. I snapped a picture of the two main ingredients, ground beef and ground lamb, and texted it to my pal, English III, who supports the same football club. He has other nicknames, such as ‘Sausages’ and ‘Bag-O-Burgers’, but nothing (yet) about Loaf. Occasionally, he goes by ‘Chauncey’, but that’s a Stalag 17 spinoff, and anyone can go by ‘Chauncey’, because ‘Chauncey’ is all about breaking loose, so if you want to break loose, you, too, can be ‘Chauncey’, although being ‘Chauncey’ doesn’t automatically lead you to Loaf. Mostly, you hang around in water towers and agree to thoughts like, “Let’s blow.” Nevertheless, upon seeing the text message, English III declared his interest in preparing a second Loaf. We agreed to bake these Loafs simultaneously; we would publicize the Loafs; we would revel in our Loafing. English III and his wife would dine on the cross-town Loaf that he would prepare for them in their Upper Caucasia apartment.

A Brief History of Loafs
In the early days of our nation, the Federal Reserve Bank kept a pound of gold in Fort Knox for each pound of Loaf out there among the citizenry, among ‘The Beast’. If you had a Loaf, you could walk it over to Fort Knox and trade it, pound for pound, for gold. This was known as The Gold Loaf Standard. Lawmakers feared ‘The Beast’, particularly ‘The Beast’ without Loaf, and so, really scoured America for gold. The famous Gold Rush of the mid-1800’s could’ve just as easily been dubbed the Loaf Rush, and you can imagine hungry, boozy, rowdy gold-seekers, aka Forty-Niners, biting into a nugget the size and shape of a Loaf. Things got confusing. Just as when many thousands of years earlier, the Israelites crafted a Golden Loaf in the Sinai Desert, and fell to their knees in worship. God didn’t smite them for worshipping a golden idol—no, he smote them for following a crap recipe. He immediately summoned Moses to receive a 10-point Loaf manifesto, which has formed the basis of Western Culture. [Note: this article refers to Historical Loaf; for the rap song, “Bum Rush the Loaf”, please see disambiguation.]

The Loaf in Popular Culture and Social Media
Meryl Streep delivered her most memorable role as Loafie, in the great flick, Loafie’s Choice. In the film, Loafie must choose one Loaf over another Loaf. Streep garnered many awards for her acting, although how could it be acting, when Loaf is on the line? She must’ve been speaking “From tha stummick!” Other representations of Loaf include Marquez’s novel, Loaf in the Time of Caller I.D., and Robert Creeley’s cookbook, For Loaf. English III and I didn’t smoke hash, but we employed hashtag #MeetTheLoafs2014. We realize that we have left open the possibility of Simultaneous Cross-town Loafs in 2015, as well. Social media went haywire. We had hits. We had tags. We had Loaf.
My Loafwich, with stout pairing.
Note: Jayson Werth at the bat.

Bye Bye Loaf—Hello Loneliness
A woman asked me on a date just as I made myself a plate of Loaf. I like going on dates. The gal sits down. I sit nearby. And we get into stuff, like our deepest fears. Mostly, we talk around what we really want to say, which is fun, also. It can be wild to be a human being, and going on a date might create some wildness in HD, but at the same time, I was about to hunker down with some serious Loaf. I thought about the Loaf // I thought about the date // I thought hard for all of us // and then I decided to hunker down with my Loaf. Now, ‘hunkering’ is something I could really delve into—I wasn’t just hungry, I was ‘hunkery’ as well. I just felt like the time had come … to commit … to my Loaf.

Thursday, April 3, 2014


Situation: A NASA astronaut encounters a Russian Cosmonaut on the streets of Brooklyn. Slogan: “Hey, I T’ink I Soyuz in Outta Space!”

Situation: A mother must choose which of her two children will get the last bowl of a canned legume and sausage stew. Slogan: “Beanie Weenie Miney Moe.”

Situation: A queasy gunslinger squares off with a U.S. marshal gone bad. Slogan: “Bilious The Kid vs. Wyatt Perp.”  

Situation: The bakery flubs its caraway recipe, resulting in misshapen baked good. Slogan: “Awrye Bread.”

Situation: Your chicken requires institutional care. Slogan: “Commit a Fowl.”

Situation: The heroin trade, long persecuted in the big city slums, relocates to the great outdoors. Slogan: “Your Habitat Is Where Your Habit Is At.”

Situation: Young Americans engaging in mobile communications with their friends south of the border. Slogan: “Gen X Text Mex.”

Situation: A famous ovoid character from nursery rhymes attracts a lover. Slogan: “The Yolk Who Slept with Humpty Dumpty . . . Laid an Egg.”

Situation: A famous rapper / actor acquires a deforming illness that also turns him into an arena rock star. Slogan: “Mos Def Leper.”

Situation: A woman projects obvious disinterest in her shower scrub. Slogan: “She Is Aloofah.”

Nota bene: To each of these may be affixed the phrase “. . . And Other Poems” if one seeks to produce a book of verse. To each of these may be affixed the word “Sucka!” if one seeks to engage in ripe ripostes with other. To each of these may be affixed $1 million in negotiable bank notes and mailed via Opium Door Policy or Wino-Soviet Relations c/o Blood And Gutstein, R&D Dept., Mailstop Where the Glottal Stop, etc. etc., My Apartment, Right Now, Zip Coat Jo’ Mama.