Writing Visually, and a collaborative poem

Writing Visually, and a Collaborative Poem

Setting: Saturday afternoon, June 6, at the Chanhassen branch for Carver County Library’s class on Writing for Real People: Writing Visually.

Purpose: to have fun with words! And to get ready to write a poem for the Library’s Poetry/Art Collaborative later this summer — people can submit up to three poems, which judges will give to participating artists, who will create an original artwork (painting, photo, drawing, collage, etc.) inspired by one poem. So… the artists are responding to the poets. A captivating twist on the more typical format of poetry inspired by art.

What did we do? First, we talked about the definition of “visual writing.” From the Hamline University MFA in Creative Writing program: “Visual writing is a focused use of vocabulary to evoke a visual imagery of the action; visual writing tends to be lyrical.” Lyrical writing has emotional beauty — in other words, there is something profoundly human at stake.

Examples of writers whose style tends towards visual are Isabel Allende, Sandra Cisneros, Tim O’Brien, Herman Melville, Carol Shields, William Kent Krueger… and many, many others. We read two poems, “Abandoned Farmhouse” by Ted Kooser and “all that” by Charles Bukowski. We listened for images, moods, feelings, messages and anything that engaged our senses. We talked a bit about the shorthand of poetry, about how it conveys all those things to us as much by what it leaves out as by the words themselves.

Then, we made a list of Carver County icons — things, places, people, events — that represent Carver County. On our list were things like Lake Waconia, other lakes, rivers (Minnesota River and Root River), the Arboretum, Honeycrisp apples, maple trees, St. Hubert’s old church, other old churches, ball games, parks and reserves, settlers like Wendell Grimm and family, and the Peterson family and farmstead…

From the list of Carver County icons, the class decided to write a poem about HONEYCRISP APPLE(S). Here’s our brainstorming list of words and phrases about Honeycrisp Appples:
shiny red and green
U of Yum
product of research
cracking crisp
Minnesota grown and Minnesota’s own
Sweet, tangy, not to be confused with SweeTango
Because we had a short time to work together, here is what we thought about narrowing a setting for the poem, people, time of day/year, etc:
Minnesota, fall
early afternoon

Next, we brainstormed about words and phrases we wanted to include in our poem. It’s a little difficult to describe on paper the back and forth and give and take of the session — best of all was seeing what happened when someone shared an idea and others riffed on it, circling around and under and over the words on our original list.

We decided to wait on a title until after the poem was written — the tile you see below was decided at the very end of the afternoon. Here’s what happened when we expanded the list about Honeycrisp. Please note that the phrases aren’t written in the order we generated them — we made connections as we went along.

Honeybees, producers, leave bank in the blossoms, promote the soft opening for the main event
Waking your neighbor with cracking-crisp bites, bringing juicy taste with a flip of my wrist
Sweet and tangy juices dribbling down your chin — chin-wiped   puckering   ready to kiss
It’s our apple — one in a thousand
not to be confused with SweeTango
or those foreigners from Washington   flowing out (juice)
dollar signs stuck in it
guarded research
patent-pending nervous researchers
not like those others
home-grown and out of reach, untouchable
Minnesota’s own gold
delicious paradox

Pretty cool work so far for a roomful of people who didn’t know they’d be writing a poem together! And here is the poem after our quick editing — the beginning of a finalized poem:

A Delicious Paradox

            by Writing Visually class participants, Carver County Library, 6/6/2015

Waking your neighbor with cracking-crisp bites
cradling the red prize
juices dribbling to pulse points touching.
Cradling, craving.
Honeybees leave bank in the blooms.
It’s our apple, one in a thousand
Not those from far away, out there
foreign ones.
Patent pending
guarded research, like the honeyed combs
the prize is bred from.
Dollar signs
piercing the flesh.
University of Yum
homegrown Honeycrisp.
Out of reach, Minnesota gold,
a delicious paradox.

What fun we had! Amazing what a few people can come up with by sharing their thoughts and words. We can see several different threads in this first edited version. Which thread shows you something at stake? Challenge: follow it to write a poem that is visually engaging and emotionally beautiful.

Register for artist Gail Speckmann‘s August 18 class, or contact Angela Hunt at Carver County Library at ahunt at co.carver.mn.us or call nine-five-two 448-3886 for more information about the Poetry/Art Collaborative.



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