Monday, February 18, 2013

Read one, write two

Today's Oulipo class featured a constraint I made up in the middle class sometime last week but have only just now had a chance to try out. I call it "read one, write two," and it goes something like this:

1. One person begins the process by writing two lines of a poem, each on its own scrap of paper.

2. This person then passes the second line only on to the next person. This person then writes two lines of her own, passing only the second one on to the next person, and so forth.

3. At the end, the finished "poem" is assembled, made up of the various pieces, only half of which were "visible" to more than one person.

We had five rounds going at once, and though the bookkeeping took a little getting used to, we got the hang of it and managed to compile five 20-line poems between us. I've transcribed them below.

Ye, old hag,
why do you look at me so?
Do you not know
the love that's harbored within?
It only helps us to make nonsense out of silence.
The white noise under spoken tremors
is the most terrifying noise you'll hear
and the lullaby from the song on the radio
put us to sleep, like the video
of the man with the golden eye, daddy-o.
She spoke with both reverence and bewilderment,
"he's the smoothest street walker in town."
They say, though, he has a secret:
that once upon a time, he nearly got caught,
our hands upon the deer, illegally slain
the blood stained there and drying fast,
red as a cabernet sauvignon
to be shared with friends at the end of the week,
even when so tired you can barely speak,
with this, with them, the solace you seek.

Spring came too early this year,
we were too young; unready for the harvest,
and yet so old because all that we'd seen,
and each day a reminder of the ages we had
were reflected in the barman, who was mad
from all the ale he drank, he thought he was from Baghdad.
The drink was starting to affect his mind, you see.
Well, his mind along with his liver
were rotting, rotting away,
drinking poison day by day,
I feel my body giving over,
friends and lovers wash away
like suds off a car
washed in the middle of a hot summer day.
Instead of languishing in dismay,
if you must run, then run away!
Run off to the great unknown,
never to be seen again!
No, never to be seen again,
not ever in this world.

Whose great works were served to the throne?
There once was a barber from Rome
who quite enjoyed the company of loose women,
although you'd never know by how much he went to church.
Church, yes, but by night he wanders the murky forest,
hand in hand with darkness.
So trudge I thro' the tortured bush [?],
willows hang in gloomy mourning,
a shadow extending across the field.
The running water would not yield:
wounds so deep cannot be healed
prancing through the poppy field
stopping to watch the butterflies
flying in the air.
But when night fell, so did I;
a broken angel with battered wings
keeps moving forward, although winds blow through;
passing through the cold light of a sunny pale mid-winter afternoon
I saw a man standing in a meadow
and he said to me, "all is well."

Birds skip playfully through trees;
I find I have a sudden urge to sneeze.
The urge builds in the back of my throat,
undeniable, unbearable, I cannot resist any longer.
"Oh, Rowan!" she shouted,
the smell of catfish in the air.
Alive, they predict earthquakes.
Caught, killed, and fried, they are tasty.
Tasty to the one who eats meat,
a vegetarian's nightmare, a vegan's torture.
No, nothing at all, not but rotting meat,
for the ship had sailed  for endless weeks,
endless weeks of throbbing, busy crusading outward on a thin vessel,
looking for a reason to keep from looking
by distracting myself with television shows.
But every so often I begin to start looking...
at the old cafe, where she was once cooking.
And if I look hard enough, I can smell her dumplings.
Their aroma takes me to the kitchen of my 11-year-old self,
where all my dreams began.

A bottle of water under a chair,
to hydrate those who care to drink,
or care not, and drink none at all.
But drink too much? I hardly think
a slip of vodka, a drop of wine --
hardly enough to make me blink.
I've lived it all before, it's no lie.
We will play these games until we die,
and I will die singing songs, telling myself my body was my greatest tool.
There is nothing left to wait for
because I am in the front of the line.
Now the cafe barista asks for my order.
I said "bring me a cafe from Mordor."
The barista said, "we ran out of those in the last quarter.
Running businesses is hard, you see."
Working tooth and nail, and still no profit.
But who needs profit anyway?
Maybe a poor man like he
could live by a liverwurst sea
and eat cantaloup grown from a mulberry tree.

1 comment:

Miss Maggie said...

You know I hate poetry, right? But I LOVE these!!!!