Homework, and hitting the books

Several of the prompts in The practice of poetry have participants keep a dream journal. It’s a bit difficult to ask you all in this electronic format, and with a daily prompt to boot. But let’s try.

All I ask of you is that when you wake up, write down some pictures or whatever you remember from your dream cycle from the night. (Most people have more than one REM cycle per sleep session. On waking, however, it’s hard to remember them separately because the mind doesn’t store dreams like episodic memory, so recall is often confused and confused.) Just a few images, maybe a memorable sentiment or a snippet of dialogue. We will work with the material tomorrow evening.

But for tonight, I have real books for you. Get out your dictionary, because Karen Swenson wants us to try some real nonsense. The exercise is called “The Lewis Carroll Carol”, found on pages 173-174.

Go through your dictionary and choose unfamiliar words, ignoring their meaning and the part of speech they belong to. Make a list assigning each to the part of speech you choose and write a poem or series of lines using them in the grammatical boxes you placed them in. As you do this, pay attention to their sounds. The object is not alliteration, which can become heavy or silly: The specter of the willow whipped and moaned in the wind. Instead, work for a repetition of unstressed consonants with accents or similar but not identical sounds such as these in the following categories:

  • Dentals: t, d, th, either as in “to think” or “this”.
  • Labials: b, p.
  • Gutters or velars: g, k, ng.
  • Labiodentals: f, v.
  • Sibilants: s, z, sh, ch, zh, j.
  • Nasals: m, n, ng, nk.
  • Liquids: l, r.

Vowels are also very important and should be used. Turn words into adverbs by adding lily and add the tense ending you need on the words you use as verbs.


Name: oca

Verb: dextran, rhonchus, umbles

Adjective: maravedi, jerk

Adverb: pavid, tectum

The oca moaned all night in the dump
among cars rhonchused, cankered with
the maravedi dust. Dextraning
pavidly in moonlight it
woke neighbors who umbled tectumly
down to the pit with guns and baseball bats,
a saccade crowd bent on murder.

To break it down a bit: oca and moans are paired for their oh his; night pick up the nasals in moans and unload. In the following line the nasals of among game with the on of rhonchus and the not in chancre. VS walk across the line cars for rhonchus for chancre.

The purpose of the exercise is to develop the ear so that it automatically picks up associated sounds. Therefore, it is important to immediately go back and draw circles or underline the associated sounds. Using nonsense words helps keep the mind focused on the sound rather than the meaning. I have also found that nonsense words help focus on the grammatical relationships of the words and will reveal any excessive use of adjectives or adverbs.

(What is that? you ask me. Excessive adjectives or adverbs!? Stephen Dobyns talks a bit about it in his Next word, best word, and also the topic is a problem for me. I’ll get to that a bit later. We have a little time, and other topics, like line music, are much more pressing. This play with the sound that Swenson encourages us to make is a prelude to the music of the line.)

Lewis Carroll, of course, is the author of Alice in Wonderland and on the other side of the mirror. He also famously wrote “Jabberwocky.”

‘Twas brillig, and the toves slithy

Does gyre and gimble in the wabe:

All mimsy were the borogoves,

And the mome raths outgrabe.

“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!

Jaws that bite, claws that grab!

Beware of the Jubjub bird and avoid

The frumious Bandersnatch!

He took his vorpal sword in his hand;

Long the Manxome enemy he sought—

So he rested by the Tumtum tree

And remained a moment to reflect.

And, as he thought he was rising,

The Jabberwock, eyes of flame,

Came whistling through the tulgey wood,

And growled as he came!

One. Two! One. Two! And through and through

The vorpal blade has become a snicker-snack!

He left him dead, and with his head

He left galloping.

“And did you kill the Jabberwock?”

Come into my arms, my beaming boy!

O fabulous day! Callooh! Cally! »

He chuckled with joy.

‘Twas brillig, and the toves slithy

Does gyre and gimble in the wabe:

All mimsy were the borogoves,

And the mome raths outgrabe.

(Prime: black mirror filmed an interactive episode, Choose your own adventure style, called “Bandersnatch.” black mirror is not everyone’s cup of tea, to say the least! But the episode is quite spectacular, in my opinion, in terms of creativity. It includes a standalone “season” and combinatorially speaking, if I remember correctly, over 70 major and minor endings. But I digress!)

Here are your missions, if you choose to accept them: an absurd sonic track tonight, using your trusty dictionary; and tomorrow morning a writing of dreamlike images shape later.

The best is to write to you!


Colin L. Johnson