Recorded the lecture for my class this morning, so I had to run in the afternoon, when it’s warmer. Hot! Sunny! Everything dry and dusty, thirsty — the dirt trail, the dead leaves, me.
Listened to a playlist until I reached the south entrance to the Winchell Trail, then to the gorge. Dripping pipes, striking feet, my breathing, falling acorns.
10 Peripheral Things — above, below, and beside
- dirt flying up on my ankles as I ran on the dusty trail
- brittle red leaves, crunching underfoot
- the shadow of a bird flying overhead
- frantic rustling in the bushes — I flinched in anticipation of a darting squirrel that never arrived
- a walker moving over to the edge of the path for me to pass — thank you! / you’re welcome
- a slash of red just below — a changing leaf
- flashes of orange all around — construction signs
- to my right and below: dribble dribble dribble — water falling down a limestone ledge in the ravine
- shrill squeaking under the metal grate in the ravine as I crossed over it — a chipmunk?
- is this peripheral? breaking through several spider webs on the winchell trail, about chest height
For the second week of my class, which starts this Wednesday!, I’m offering alliteration as one way into the words for describing/conjuring/communicating wonder (along with abecedarians and triple berry chants). This poem-of-the-day on poems.com (Poetry Daily), is a great example of what’s possible when you write only words starting with one letter — in this case, a:
Autobiography/ Michael Dumanis
Attempted avoiding abysses, assorted
abrasions and apertures, abscesses.
At adolescence, acted absurd: acid,
amphetamines. Amorously aching
after an arguably arbitrary Abigail,
authored an awful aubade.
Am always arabesquing after Abigails.
Am always afraid: an affliction?
Animals augur an avalanche. Animals
apprehend abattoirs. Am, as an animal,
anxious. Appendages always aflutter,
am an amazing accident: alive.
Attired as an apprentice aerialist,
addressed acrophobic audiences.
Aspiring, as an adult, after applause,
attracted an angelic acolyte.
After an affirming affair, an abortion.
After an asinine affair, Avowed Agnostic
approached, alone, an abbey’s altarpiece,
asking Alleged Almighty about afterlife.
Ambled, adagio, around an arena.
Admired an ancient aqueduct. Ate aspic.
Adored and ate assorted animals.
Ascended an alp. Affected an accent.
Acquired an accountant, an abacus, assets.
Attempted atonal arpeggios
There’s also an essay about how Dumanis wrote this poem, which I haven’t had time to read yet. Very excited to check it out! Okay, I just skimmed it. Here are some resources from the end that I might want to explore:
A few terrific examples of letter-constraint-based contemporary poems include Phillip B. Williams’s tour de force “Mush-mouf’s Maybe Crown,” where all the words begin with M (or, occasionally, “em” or “im”); Izzy Casey’s univocalic “I’m Piss Witch”; several terrific single-vowel lyrics in Cathy Park Hong’s collection Engine Empire including “Ballad in A”; Harryette Mullen’s linguistic experiments, such as “Any Lit,” in her collection Sleeping with the Dictionary, and, of course, Christian Bök’s virtuosic book-length project Eunoia, in which, among other idiosyncratic constraints, every chapter can only use a single vowel. All such projects derive at least some of their inspiration from the mid-20th century French avant-garde collective Oulipo, or Ouvroir de littérature potentielle, a “workshop of potential literature,” which encouraged systematic, sometimes arbitrary, language-based constraint in the composition of texts. For my Oulipian autobiography, it was especially important to me that every individual narrative moment made clear semantic sense despite the constraint, that the alliteration did not overly affect the speaker’s syntax or natural cadence, that taken together they told the story of a life.