Generative Exercise: “Sasha’s Flight”

LOL – this is not a poem I’m ever going to send out, I don’t think – so I’m sharing it with you. I promised to do a generative exercise along with my poetry students based on an assignment called “Twenty Little Poetry Projects” by Jim Simmerman in The Practice of Poetry. The exercise has 20 random instructions for constructing a poem, such as “9. Use an example of false cause-effect logic” and “14. Refer to yourself by nickname and in the third person.” You never know how weirdly letting-go the results will be. So…enjoy the strange! – mj

Sasha’s Flight
By Michael Jackman

Our garden is a hamster stuffing
weeds in his cheeks. The tomatoes
dare the chickens in the run,
frightening them by spitting
seeds and tomato juice. Fat chickens
shriek and huddle in the coop.
Sasha, a Barred Rock hen, wishes
she lived in Jeffersonville, Indiana.

The tomatoes didn’t dare the hens,
they were flirting, but dinosaurs
have never understood this gesture.
The huddled chickens lick each other’s
tart feathers.

When will the highway grow quiet?
When will the neighbors silence
their polluting porch lights?
At night the light coats the collard greens
like an endotoxin. The highway’s tritones
curdle the corn and they try to cover their ears.
The sound bites their sensitive silk and chews
through a number of kernels.

Breaking dawn makes politicians chew onions,
grinding the teary skins all over God’s green acres,
as onion skins are the diaphanous shawls 
of rhetoric. Politicians mend fences with wire cutters.

Sasha, the Barred Rock, discovers
flight one day and beats her beak against
the netted ceiling until she breaks free
to join a flock of wild turkeys running uphill.
Jackman never sees her again, though he will search
the knobs of Floyd County, finding only splats
of her particular green guano, and he will call,
“Sasha! Sasha!” to the scolding of crows and coos
of mourning doves. The situation will be derelectly
novel, as he knows willows are the arbiters of hen
grievances, and the forests call, “Sasha, cherie,
fais comme chez toi
!” On cold winter nights,
even the chert will light her fires, with one spark.
The tomatoes spit, corn wails, lights ooze down
the sides of collards.

Muriel Rukeyser on Why People Hate Poetry

As a teacher of poetry, I often hear dislike of poetry expressed. When I hear it, I’m dismayed, and struggle to understand why. At least until I discovered Muriel Rukeyser’s The Life of Poetry at a conference presentation. Seventy years ago, Muriel Rukeyser wrote these words explaining why people hate poetry that seem to me just as true today.

Anyone dealing with poetry and the love of poetry must deal, then, with the hatred of poetry, and perhaps even more with the indifference which is driven toward the center. It comes through as boredom, as name-calling, as the traditional attitude of the last hundred years which has chalked in the portrait of the poet as he is known to this society, which as Herbert Read says, “does not challenge poetry in principle–it merely treats it with ignorance, indifference and unconscious cruelty.”

 -Muriel Rukeyser, The Life of Poetry (1949)

These days, you often hear a truism by poets and poetry faculty that turns Rukeyser slightly askew. It goes something like, “Everybody loves to write poetry, but nobody loves to read it.” Just as dismaying, but I think Rukeyser’s statement explains it just as well.

Until we teach poetry in a way which raises the bar in understanding, enjoyment, and sophistication; until we properly offer this art in a way that is cross-cultural, multi-faceted, and inclusive, we won’t be able to get poetry the respect it deserves. I believe what poets and poetry teachers would want would be for people to find in poetry a way to explore what it means to be alive, to find comfort in difficult circumstances, to grow as an individual, and even to find a way to give praise for and to existence.

Molly’s Mutts Plays Rockabilly: Mel Tillis’ “I Ain’t Never”

Molly’s Mutts rocks to Mell Tillis’ “I Ain’t Never” during a practice session in David’s living room. Enjoy! Molly’s Mutts is Molly McCormack (dulcimers, guitar, vocals), Michael Jackman (guitars, ukulele, dobro, vocals), and David Rodger (stand up bass).

Molly's Mutts group photo
Molly’s Mutts is (L-R) David Rodger, Molly McCormack, Michael Jackman

Check out Molly’s Mutts jamming to Bob Wills’ “Roly Poly.”

Four Points of Good Workshopping

Over decades of running and participating in writing workshops, I’ve found that the best workshops happen when they include simple but effective guidelines for responding.

This Four Points of Good Workshopping handout has served me well for creating a community of writers. It helps authors take in critiques and it helps participants guide their responses. It uses well-known interpersonal communication principles in order to achieve these goals.

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Podcast: Arranging “Won’t Get Fooled Again” for Americana/Roots

I played acoustic and electric guitars and sang as a soloist and in a bunch of bands, gigging the small bar circuit throughout the 70s and 80s before moving to Nashville for a while. I never did break into the songwriting business then, and I gave up for many years. After I joined Indiana University Southeast as a writing faculty, I started songwriting, playing and singing again. My music has had a little bit of a renaissance lately, and I’ve enjoyed coming back to one of the loves of my life.

In today’s video podcast, I show you where I’m at so far in the process of arranging the Who’s rock classic “Won’t Get Fooled Again” to a more Americana/Roots style. Check out my progress, as I explain and play through the decisions I’m making for working up this tune to fit my playing and singing style.

If you liked this podcast, you might like my cover of Donovan’s “Colours.”