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Please bring strange things
Here. Have some poems and some prompts. For the practice. Who knows what will happen next.
A whole new year on earth, amen.
I love nothing like I love what’s possible. I’m always writing it down and talking it through. I’m calling it in—the world I want, the love I want, the joy and the space, the time and everything beautiful, working as it ought to, in harmony, toward balance. I have said this, many times, in different ways: spelling is a spell.
I believe in writing it down.
I believe in saying it out loud.
I believe in invocation.
Two years ago, Zach asked if I’d ever want to host a poetry workshop with him, a cute chill situation, potentially with trees. It could be whatever it needed to be. Maybe writing in community. Maybe sharing drafts and getting feedback. I told him yes and I meant it.
Two weeks ago, Zach hosted a generative poetry workshop and invited Ben and me to help lead it. It’s too cold by now to be with trees, so we had tea and cookies instead.
Ben brought a deck of plays and a page full of provocations. Zach brought Gitanjali and a random word generator. I brought fifteen seven-page packets of poems and prompts that I assembled, printed, collated and stapled at the Chicago Public Library, where you can print up to ten pages for free.
I am nothing if not overprepared.
It was a lovely evening. One of the good ones. We shut down a wine bar and for one night only had it entirely to ourselves. I bought a bottle to share. We spread out, wandered around, stood on chairs when the situation called for it. Lemmy made me cry. I ran out of packets and made four, maybe five, poem-like messes. Maybe they’ll take shape. Maybe they’ll remain what they are, a mess.
Maybe the exercise is enough.
Let’s say the exercise is enough.
In which case, here. I’d like to share my prompts with you. In case you’d like to practice making a mess.
One prompt is called Invocations. The other is called Instructions, and I adapted it from an exercise we did at a workshop facilitated by author Toya Wolfe, who rules.
Each comes with two poems—a little flavor, some juice to get the blood going.
No pressure or anything. Maybe you’re not in a place right now to write. Maybe you’re on a mountain or something. But maybe you can take ten minutes to make a little mess. See what happens. And if you do, maybe you’d like to share your mess with me, if you’d like a witness or a word, maybe two, of love and affirmation. I’ve almost always got a few to spare.
Prompt #1: Invocations
Initiation Song from the Finders' Lodge
Please bring strange things.
Please come bringing new things.
Let very old things come into your hands.
Let what you do not know come into your eyes.
Let desert sand harden your feet.
Let the arch of your feet be the mountains.
Let the paths of your fingertips be your maps
and the ways you go be the lines on your palms.
Let there be deep snow in your inbreathing
and your outbreath be the shining of ice.
May your mouth contain the shapes of strange words.
May you smell food cooking you have not eaten.
May the spring of a foreign river be your navel.
May your soul be at home where there are no houses.
Walk carefully, well loved one,
walk mindfully, well loved one,
walk fearlessly, well loved one.
Return with us, return to us,
be always coming home.
Eight deer on the slope
in the summer morning mist.
The night sky blue.
Me like a mare let out to pasture.
The Tao does not console me.
I was given the Way
in the milk of childhood.
Breathing it waking and sleeping.
But now there is no amazing smell
of sperm on my thighs,
no spreading it on my stomach
to show pleasure.
I will never give up longing.
I will let my hair stay long.
The rain proclaims these trees,
the trees tell of the sun.
Let birds, let birds.
Let leaf be passion.
Let jaw, let teeth, let tongue be
between us. Let joy.
Let entering. Let rage and calm join.
Let quail come.
Let winter impress you. Let spring.
Allow the ocean to wake in you.
Let the mare in the field
in the summer morning mist
make you whinny. Make you come
to the fence and whinny. Let birds.
The old world is dying, and the new world struggles to be born.
All that you touch
All that you Change
The only lasting truth
The only lasting truth is change.
A new world is coming.
What do you want to bring into it?
What will the new world need to not just survive, but to flourish?
What do you want more of in your own world and in your life?
What do you wish for every living soul on earth?
Make a list of 5-7 things you’d like to see in the new world.
They can be abstract and ambitious or perfectly pragmatic and tactile. Peace on earth. Peace with imperfection. Reciprocity. Fresh water. Free cookies for everyone at 3pm. The abolition of time, and also the police.
Circle your three favorites.
Got em? Good.
Now make another list of 5-10 items, emotions or images you associate with your favorites. Get loose with it. Make leaps. Don’t overthink it. Congratulations you have generated a small but interesting inventory of the New World! It’s time to call it in.
Use your inventory to write a poem about the world you’d like to live in.
What else lives there, what thrives? What will we see? What will we feel, what will we let ourselves do? Make your request to the universe. Use litany and repetition to strengthen your case to the gods. The gods like that sort of thing.
Look to Ursula LeGuin’s Initiation Song from the Finder’s Lodge. Borrow her structure— use Please, Let and May to pattern your lines into a prayer.
Or you can take the Linda Gregg route—begin with an image to drop us into your world. Your opening image can be as grandiose as you’d like or as simple as eight majestic and unbothered deer chilling on a hill at sunrise. Let that image breathe into the next one, and maybe one more before you begin your litany, again using invocation and imperative to call in the new world.
Prompt #2: Instructions
Because the most difficult part about making something, also the best,
Is existing in the middle,
Sustaining an act of radical imagination,
I simmered a broth: onion, lemon, a big handful of mint.
The phone rang. So with my left
Hand I answered it,
Sautéing the rice, then adding the broth
Slowly, one ladle at a time, with my right. What’s up?
The miracle of risotto, it’s easy to miss, is the moment when the husks dissolve,
Each grain of rice releasing its tiny explosion of starch.
If you take it off the heat just then, let it sit
While you shave the parmesan into paper-thin curls,
It will be perfectly creamy,
But will still have a bite.
There will be dishes to do,
The moon will rise,
And everyone you love will be safe.
Instructions on Not Giving Up
More than the fuchsia funnels breaking out
of the crabapple tree, more than the neighbor’s
almost obscene display of cherry limbs shoving
their cotton candy-colored blossoms to the slate
sky of Spring rains, it’s the greening of the trees
that really gets to me. When all the shock of white
and taffy, the world’s baubles and trinkets, leave
the pavement strewn with the confetti of aftermath,
the leaves come. Patient, plodding, a green skin
growing over whatever winter did to us, a return
to the strange idea of continuous living despite
the mess of us, the hurt, the empty. Fine then,
I’ll take it, the tree seems to say, a new slick leaf
unfurling like a fist to an open palm, I’ll take it all.
It’s not just what we say but how we say it.
We have so much to share. We’ve learned so much along the way. Each of us is uniquely skilled or gifted in something or other, something we’ve had to get good at to make it to this morning. Why not share it?
Make a list of 5 things you’re very good at it.
Toot your own horn goddammit. Who cares? Are you good at writing emails? Write it down. Are you a capable woodworker? Can you make an upper-deece risotto? Put it on your list.
Next make a list of 5 people you think of as great communicators.
Maybe they have a particularly powerful voice, or a lovely way with words. Maybe they’re super bossy and you adore that about them. They can be people you know personally or public figures. The important thing is that you know how they speak and express themselves. Like you can hear their voice in your head right now.
Circle one item from each list.
Write a how-to.
Share your instructions for how to do that thing you’re really good at…in the voice of the person you circled from your second list. Borrow their syntactic flair and expressive flourishes. Perhaps, like the speaker in Ada Limón’s poem, they are deeply sentimental about and attentive to the natural world, and they fill their speech with images and metaphor. Maybe, like Longenbach’s speaker, they’re more literal and plainspoken, given to declarations and short asides.
Speak through them. Share what you know. Notice whose voice comes out of you. Not for any reason. Just because it’s interesting.
There you have it, friends. Two invitations to get a little messy, fresh on this side of a brand new year.
Also congratulations on getting to the bottom of this email! If you’re here, please do me a favor and reply with one word, I don’t care what it is, it just has to mean something to you today. No clue what I’ll do with it yet, I just want it.
Sometimes you gotta make a mess before you get anywhere good.
Happy new year.
You are loved.
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