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Unboxing Poetry

Much has been made of the fact that the word ‘poem’ comes from the Greek poíema, a ‘thing made’. As such, poets are makers of ‘things’ and for millennia poets and critics have debated the reasons for and approaches to this particular kind of thing-making.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about poems as ‘things’ because I’m beginning to worry about how to store my numerous ‘poetry-objects’, how to keep them both handy and safe. These sorts of poems, which are of course ‘made things’, don’t sit easily inside a book and therefore on a shelf alongside other volumes. They demand to be handled and even used for purposes other than reading, yet they can’t be left sitting out awaiting damage. I’m afraid to say that my bureau at home and the mantlepiece in my office in the School of English are packed with such poems, such made things. They are part of my everyday life.

I am reminded of pragmatist philosopher John Dewey writing in Art as Experience:

We do not have to travel to the ends of the earth nor return many millennia in time to find peoples for whom everything that intensifies the sense of immediate living is an object of an intense admiration […] such things were the enhancements of the processes of everyday life.

I will admit that I recently compounded my storage problem by buying a few more poetry-objects for Christmas, including Geraldine Monk’s Madvent Calendar, which allowed me to ingest a poetic morsel (healthier than chocolate) with each day’s door opening, beginning on 1 December with:

Christmas Rose. Daub.
Splay. Haunts own ghost.
Occulted petals. W-

And culminating on Christmas Day with the glorious lines:

Big-bottomed bird rocking
up the mythical droop-fruit
tree. No Way. Partridge. Pear.
First day for ever. Merry

When I teach poetic form to students in the School of English, I often unbox Stephen Emmerson’s Poetry Wholes. The instructions for using Poetry Wholes are as follows:

Each Poetry Wholes contains 5 templates which you can use to make instantaneous poetry in a range of styles. Choose from the following:
• Minimalism
• The Sonnet
• ‘Vito Acconci’
• The Ballad
• The ‘Slash’
How do I use them? Simply take a regular ‘A5’ size book such as a novel or a book of poems and place your template over the top. Now you have a poem!

Poetry Wholes enables us to grasp very quickly that poetic form (a ‘made’ shape) is a both a whole and a hole which does something very specific (and very interesting!) to language.

Another recent very special purchase of mine is Jesse Glass’s After Heraclitus described by the publisher’s site as: ‘Fossil facsimilies with fragmentary poetic etchings, accompanied by book, presented in a box and black organza bag, in a strictly limited edition of five.’ My real fossil says (formatted here according to the book version):

strife tips—

stasis slips,

worlds fall:

change is ALL.

If you’d like to enhance the processes of your everyday life and get ahold of your own poetry-object, whether it be a fossil, calendar, takeaway dinner (Sue Birchenough), or tarot deck (Sascha Aurora Akhtar and John Alexander), the UK is replete with intrepid presses that release poems as ‘things’ including zimZalla, if p then q, Crater, and Pamenar, to name but a few.

As always, the question for poets is what are we making today?