A couple of weeks ago, we posted an imitation exercise, so I thought it would only be fitting to post that exercise’s opposite: writing an inversion. I’ve done this exercise a few times before, and on each occasion I’ve found it very difficult! The decisions one has to make about how to flip another poet’s meaning inside out and yet still remain somewhat faithful to the sonic/syntactical frame of the original poem and at the same time create a piece that has some aesthetic sense to it really stretch one’s abilities in all sorts of ways. Though I couldn’t imagine the results of any of my inversions as finished poems (I’m not yet good enough at the exercise to have made it really work for me!), I’ve often found myself being pleasantly surprised by the fresh aesthetic directions in which the exercise has pushed my language and has caused me to step out of myself. Often, I find that allowing myself the freedom to write what feels like complete nonsense truly makes me pay further attention to technicalities of sound and word choice.
Prompt: Write a poem that is an inversion of another poem. Take each line of the original poem and try to write its antithesis or opposite, subverting the original poet’s imagery and meaning while remaining as close to their rhythms and syntactical patterns as possible.
Just for kicks, here is an excerpt from a first draft of an inversion exercise that I patterned on Pattiann Rogers’ “Address: the Archaeans, One Cell Creatures“:
“Yes, some are fully clothed
but too large for even the boldest
black and white and since they are silent
and neither tuneful nor stoic, they are,
therefore, not any less than mirage, less
than illusion, less than truth.
They have not stood against stiff
white desert surfaces and stayed,
they have crumbled beneath the breath of equatorial steam, have failed to root
amidst loose radicals and reactive
salts, slipped away easily while coughing up
conjoined flesh. They are more whimsical
than concrete, far more solitary
than black holes (. . .)”
Another interesting possibility for the inversion exercise—one that I have yet to fully explore myself—is the opportunity that it might afford for a poet to “write back” at the politics of a poem representing a set of ideals that he or she might want to subvert. I’ve yet to find a poem that this would work well with for me (the success of the exercise depends as much on one’s choice of an original poem as it does on the execution!), but if you’ve tried this before successfully, I would love to hear about your experience—please do share your thoughts with us in the comments!
Happy writing, and happy weekend!