The poetry I wrote in my teens and twenties was fueled by longing, love and loss; better known as want it, got it, lost it. Most of my early poems stayed in the light green pages of my favorite college notebooks produced by the National Blank Book Company in Holyoke, MA. When I read these poems I’m eighteen again—attracted to things that make me cringe.
When I frown after reading the first stanza of a poem in a top-rated literary magazine, I remind myself there may be one or ten or a hundred people who frown when they read my poetry. If they’re frowns, I hope they’re caused by nods to child abuse, addiction and domestic violence—not lack of understanding on the reader’s part.
When the second stanza of a poem consists of varying, indented lines of illogical, boisterous words that have nothing in common with the bland words and repeated verbs in the first stanza, I remind myself I’m an intelligent, educated woman—one who apparently had a TIA sometime after reading the first stanza. There are other possibilities for poems that don’t qualify as abstract, but fit nicely into crazy. I hear absinthe has made a comeback.
Consider the following stanza from “Black and Red.” There are two articles, three adjectives, four nouns—two likely Thesaurus-found—and three verbs, one of which was previously known as a noun.
Bolshie wencher tigressing
skirting the rubicund cannonade;
limp, limp the salvo.*
Is the poet referring to a classified cold war document? A cat-like barmaid suffering from PTSD? An injured tiger on the set of a vodka commercial? All of the above or none of the above because the poet misspelled Rubicon?
I may have discovered a method (besides drugs and alcohol) that explains confounding contemporary poetry. I decided to pick random words from the dictionary and string them together to “create” poetry. Remember the game Fictionary? Why not Poetionary?
Here’s how Poetionary would work: each player would take turns picking a card with three numbers. The first number would represent a page from the dictionary issued with the game. The second number on the card would be a 1 or 2 for the column on the dictionary page and the third number would be for the word in the specified column. In other words, a card with “125:2:14” would match up to the 14th word down in the 2nd column on page 125 of the dictionary. Players would pass the dictionary around after each draw to write down their words until they had 15 cards/words each.
After all the words were written down, players would have five minutes to write their poems, keeping their Poetionary words in the order they were picked. Articles, pronouns, prepositions and punctuation could be added at the player’s discretion and if a verb was selected, it could be used in any tense. The player determine the number of words in a line, and the number of lines in the poem.
The dealer would read all the poems, including a “real” poem issued with the game only he or she could see. Players would vote on the poem they believe to be the real poem (similar to Fictionary) and they’d receive points for every vote their Poetionary poems received. The player with the most votes wins the game.
I typed fifteen sets of random numbers as if they were cards I drew in Poetionary. My numbers were: 23/3/1, 97/1/9, 357/2/5, 975/1/9, 759/2/15, 32/19/1, 295/13/2, 1221/1/17, 221/2/5, 535/1/21, 868/2/12, 471/1/18, 1001/2/9, 669/1/15 and 924/2/13. I used an old Thorndike Barnhart Dictionary for my test. I was surprised by my random words—agonist, bear, elements, San Diego, Norwester, along, Denominationalism, version, combusting, hotly, Precambrian, glob, Semitropical, Macbeth and recycled. Iadmit I spent more than five minutes on my inaugural Poetionary poem.
Beta Poe Poem
Agonist of the bear
in her elements of San Diego.
He, a Norwester along
Their version combusting hotly;
a Precambrian glob.
* “Black and Red” is for demonstration purposes only. Do not write poetry like this at home.
** This poem proves random dictionary poetry is out there.