Behind the Book: Oliver de la Paz Talks Writing THE BOY IN THE LABYRINTH

Header image. At the top left, the LR logo, a black circle with the white letters "L" and "R" inside. Beside it, the text "Behind the Book: Oliver de la Paz + The Boy in the Labyrinth." Beneath this header text are two images: a photo of Oliver de la Paz (the poet dressed in a blue shirt and standing against a pale yellow concrete wall dappled with leafy shadows and light), and, to its right, the cover of THE BOY IN THE LABYRINTH (abstract image of a falling figure surrounded with swirling, gauzy, fabric-like layers in colors of dark blue and green; the whole is overlaid with red, capillary-like veining, and with the author's name in blue and the title in bright green and yellow).
Oliver de la Paz & THE BOY IN THE LABYRINTH (Author Photo: Papandrea Photography)

Happy first week of autumn! Today, we’re excited to debut a brand-new blog series. In “Behind the Book,” we’ll chat with authors of new or recent collections about craft, process, and the stories behind how their books came into being. It’s our privilege to start off the series by chatting with contributor and longtime friend of the magazine Oliver de la Paz. Read on to learn how he pursues the discipline of returning to the page amid the busyness of family and academic life and how he grapples with writing about deeply personal subject matter—as well as about the long spool of a journey that led him to the heart of his breathtaking new collection, The Boy in the Labyrinth (U of Akron Press, 2019).

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LANTERN REVIEW: Can you tell us more about how the project for The Boy in the Labyrinth was born? Was there a specific generative moment, as in the encounter with Alicia Ostricker you recall in the Credo? How did the pieces of the story begin to make their way to you—and at what point did you realize that the boy in the labyrinth was your sons?

OLIVER DE LA PAZ: I had made a trip to read for the Slash Pine Festival in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, around 2007 or 2008. That was right around the same time my wife, Meredith, was pregnant with our first son. The poet David Welch had read a few poems, which really had resonated with me in terms of tone, so I tried my hand at a few prose poems that were operating at a similar tonal level. And I thought nothing of it. I kept writing these poems about a mysterious boy in a labyrinth. The writing got a little more frenetic as the magnitude of raising a neurodiverse child as someone who was neurotypical and completely uninformed about parenting started to sweep through my consciousness. But I didn’t connect the fact of the poems with the story of my sons until later, honestly. I continued with the strange little tone prose poems about this boy for almost ten years without looking up and realizing what I was doing. Once I realized their connection, I stopped writing them and started writing poems that ended up being the connective tissue—the questionnaires and the story problems started to trickle into the work about three years ago, and that was when I realized what I had in front of me. The poem “Credo” that opens the book was borne out of necessity. I realize that the book suffers a fatal flaw, and that is context. I had to acknowledge, in writing, my fumbling manner of writing around my anxieties and face them head on.

LR: You begin with apology (specifically, to your neurodiverse sons for writing about them)—something that, you inform the reader, is part of your writing ritual. What is the significance of apology in your writing process? While writing this book in particular, how did you weigh and wrestle with the implications and responsibilities of writing about your children?

OD: Well, I’m still quite uncomfortable about this book and that it’s out. Part of that discomfort is because I’m writing about my sons. At the time of the start of the work, they were really young and didn’t have a whole lot of say in what it was that I was doing. There was no correction from them in my wrestling with my understanding of neurodiversity. Now, my oldest kid’s almost a teenager, and he’s clearly delineated for me his boundaries. He’s read through the tricky parts, and he’s given me a nod, but further on down, I’m not sure how he’ll feel, and so we may have a very different conversation about this book. And so the apology is, in many ways, for the future. I acknowledge that this book is an artifact of a particular time that fixes my sons at a particular age with struggles that are/were particular to a specific moment in time, and in many ways we have all moved beyond that time. 

LR: The impetus behind this book is so personal. Did you ever feel the need to give it space for a period of time when engaging with it felt too emotional? If so, what did those moments of space look like for you, and how were you able to keep bringing yourself back to the work each time?

OD: Oh, absolutely. I worked on other projects to get my mind off of this project. I published Post Subject: A Fable, and I worked on a sixth manuscript. The two projects outside of The Boy in the Labyrinth were much more observational, though what remained intact was the allegorical nature of the writing. I think that thread spreads throughout my work. But then I’d be reminded that I also needed to tend to the more personal work. I don’t know about how other writers work, but I’m usually juggling two or three manuscript ideas at once so that if my mind is fatigued by any given project, there’s always another work that needs my attention. Again, I had worked on the poems in The Boy in the Labyrinth for nearly ten years, so I took many breaks away from the book to get my mind right but also to accommodate being a dad and being a teacher.

LR: How did you find your way to the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur and the use of the Greek ode as a form by which to structure the movement of the book? What craft considerations informed your process while trying to shape the narrative within this Classical framework?

OD: The structure came later. Part of my responsibility in working on such a large singular work is to usher a reader through its girth. It’s extremely dense and seemingly repetitive, which is the nature of obsession and writing through accretion. By imagining the work as akin to a Greek ode, I was also thinking about how the structure of the Pindaric odes commemorated events and how there were predictable elements of ceremony and ritual. I take my kids to church, and there are always particular rituals that they understand (they especially know when mass is about to end). So the Classical structure helped me organize the large morass of writing that I had done, but I also wanted to help the reader through the journey.

LR: How, if at all, did your process of composing the narrative prose poems in this book differ from your process for writing into the other forms that surround and weave through them (e.g., medical questionnaires, “story problems,” etc.)?

OD: I usually alternate between writing in verse and writing in prose forms. As I had mentioned, I’m usually juggling several projects at once, and I had been writing Post Subject: A Fable concurrently with The Boy in the Labyrinth. Both of these manuscripts take their cues from allegory and fable, and I had always associated parable and allegory with very short, concise prose. I wanted to interrupt the fabulist tendencies by writing in a more clinical mode. And I wanted to interrogate the form of the standardized test or the medical questionnaire, but mostly, in my process, I truly and actually needed a break from the discursive mode of allegory. The first of the works to be written outside of the allegorical mode was the “Autism Spectrum Questionnaire: Speech and Language Delay.” And that opened my mind up to other possibilities of writing that were in dialogue with the allegorical stories. They were all written together as a chunk—I don’t write throughout the year. I wrote almost exclusively in the summer for a very short and dynamic amount of time. So, naturally, when I started down the path of writing out these questionnaires, more and more came about because of the intensity of my limited writing schedule. 

LR: What were some of the joys and challenges of working on a project over such a long period of time? Do you have any advice for maintaining (or fostering) a sense of continuity among pieces written at very different points in time?

OD: Again, given my really limited amount of writing time due to parenting and all the other duties that are part of teaching in academia and being a spouse, I had to make some concessions with who I was as a writer, and so I developed a practice that grants me an immediate path when I take the task of writing up the following day. What you don’t see in The Boy in the Labyrinth are the cues that I left myself in syntax and structure that allowed me to continue the sequence. A number of them got cut in the final edits. I will say that Post Subject: A Fable shows many syntactic gestures that I used to help “warm up” my writing brain. I paint on big canvases. I almost always think of individual poems with respect to the poems adjacent to them—how a particular poem activates or negates the work surrounding it. I think in motif and pattern, and I love making bigger connections both in my own writing and in the work of writers whom I enjoy, either in individual poetry collections or a life’s work. 

Of course the challenge of writing in such modes is almost always sustaining the work, and I suppose I enjoy the discipline of continuous project building. In the end, there’s something about working on a singular, sustained project that is akin to controlling one’s time. 

My mother wakes up every day at around 4 AM, makes her coffee, reads, and then does her exercises. She has done this all my life. She is now in her late seventies, and she has Parkinson’s, but her ritual still persists. I admire her defiance, and in a way, writing in such an insistent, systematic, and sustained way is a kind of defiance for me. A way of making space for a ritual against the din of the world.

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Oliver de la Paz is the author of five collections of poetry: Names Above Houses, Furious Lullaby, Requiem for the Orchard, Post Subject: A Fable, and The Boy in the Labyrinth. He also coedited A Face to Meet the Faces: An Anthology of Contemporary Persona Poetry. A founding member of Kundiman, Oliver serves as the cochair of the organization’s advisory board. He has received grants from the NYFA and the Artist Trust and has been awarded two Pushcart Prizes. His work has been published or is forthcoming in journals such as Poetry, American Poetry Review, Tin House, The Southern Review, and Poetry Northwest. He teaches at the College of the Holy Cross and in the Low-Residency MFA Program at PLU.

Editors’ Corner: Books We’re Looking Forward to in 2014 (Part 2)

Books We're Looking Forward to in 2014, Part 2

Today, just in time for the start of the year of the lunar new year, we’re finishing off our two-part roundup of books that we’re looking forward to in 2014.  Last week’s post (part 1) focused on recently published titles, while today’s (part 2) focuses on forthcoming books that are due out later this year.

Note: the books discussed below are divided by category according to whether they are currently available for pre-order, or whether specific details of their release have, as of this posting, yet to be announced. For each category, books are listed alphabetically by author.

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Available for Pre-order

Split by Cathy Linh Che (forthcoming from Alice James Books in April 2014)

Split is the latest winner of the Kundiman Prize (the previous years’ awards having gone to Mezzanines by Matthew Olzmann and Pier by Janine Oshiro). Cathy Linh Che is a poet who writes with clarity and shattering vulnerability. I heard her read from portions of Split, which intertwines histories of personal trauma with the inherited trauma of war and displacement, at last year’s AWP, and watched the crowd be visibly moved as she began to cry on the podium. Che said recently, in a feature on the Blood-Jet Radio Hour’s blog: “at a reading, a young woman called me ‘the crying poet.’ She’d witnessed me bawling my eyes out at not one, but two of my own readings. I was a bit embarrassed by the nickname, but now it is a moniker I am proud of! If a book or reading is moving, I tear up. It is how I determine whether or not a work is good. Does it move me? And after I put down the work, does it endure?” I very much respect this: here is a poet who is willing to own the porousness between her work and herself, who is willing to allow herself to be moved by both the process and the “read” experience of her own writing. I can’t wait to read Split. 

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Turn by Wendy Chin-Tanner (forthcoming from Sibling Rivalry Press in March 2014)

This is a special one for us here at LR. Wendy has been our staff interviewer for the past three seasons (she’s the one who’s been responsible for bringing you the insights of everyone from Garrett Hongo to Don Mee Choi), and we are so very ecstatic that she has a book forthcoming! We first got to know Wendy through her sonically rich, smart, politically-attuned poetry—we published a piece of hers in Issue 3 and enjoyed it so much that we made it the “closer” for the main body of the issue. Since joining the blog staff, she’s been a huge asset to the team, contributing colorful and extremely thoughtful interviews each month.  We were thrilled when we learned that Sibling Rivalry had picked up her book, and are very much looking forward to reading it in a couple of months’ time.

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Continue reading “Editors’ Corner: Books We’re Looking Forward to in 2014 (Part 2)”

Curated Prompt: Oliver de la Paz – “The Fourteen-Hour Sonnet”

Oliver de la Paz
Oliver de la Paz

In celebration of APIA Heritage Month, we’re continuing our annual tradition of asking respected teachers and writers of Asian American poetry to share favorite writing exercises with us on successive Fridays during May. This week’s installment was contributed by Oliver de la Paz.

When you’re a parent of three children under the age of 6, you have to be very deliberate in finding time for yourself to commit to the page. My family lives in the country, and it’s a 40-minute commute from my house to the doorstep of my workplace. In addition, all my children are in daycare. You’d think that having the kids in daycare would afford me some time, but it doesn’t. When they’re in daycare, I’m either teaching, thinking about teaching, preparing to teach, or administrating on some committee that has to do with teaching. Needless to say, my writing time comes in pockets. Slivers. Little flares. My relationship with the page is no longer routinized. I used to have ample time to dedicate to writing, but that was before children. Now my writing time is broken down into excursions. Mini-trips. Little rendezvous. I understand that this is my life and rather than succumb to long silences, I challenge myself everyday, to think about a poem. In order to cope with my hectic schedule, I developed a process that fosters obsession.

An obsession is not a terrible thing to have when you’re a writer. It can be a motivator—generative beacon. I try to dedicate increments of five to ten minutes throughout the day to the composition of a line. I also attempt to write a line every hour for fourteen hours, so by the end of the day I have a sonnet-length collection of lines. My poem “Requiem for the Orchard” was composed under these particular conditions. During the hectic weeks of Christmas vacation (who’d have thought Christmas vacation would be hectic?) I had a sense that I needed to craft a “spinal” poem for a collection of poems I had nearly completed.

During the Kundiman Retreat in 2007, I assigned the Kundiman Fellow cohort the following assignment. I give it to you now:

1) Write a single line every hour. Write no more than a line. Even if you feel you wish to write a second line, restrain yourself from doing so.

2) Set an alarm to go off every hour.

3) At the top of every hour, write a new line, adding to the collection of lines you have written throughout the day.

4) Do this for fourteen hours.

Here’s what happens, at least to me, when you set up these particular circumstances—you wind up thinking about the poem all day. Sure, you’ve spaced out the time you get to the page, but in the interstices of an hour, a poem begins to take shape from its first line to its next line to the line that follows. Of course, you’re going to want to be sure that you are in a safe locale for this. One Kundiman fellow was driving when the fellow’s writing alarm went off and she nearly sideswiped a car. Don’t do that.

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Oliver de la Paz is the author of four books of poetry: Names Above Houses, Furious Lullaby, Requiem for the Orchard, and Post Subject: A Fable, forthcoming from the University of Akron Press in 2014. He is the co-editor of A Face to Meet the Faces: An Anthology of Contemporary Persona Poems and the co-chair of Kundiman’s advisory board. He teaches creative writing in the MFA program at Western Washington University.

Friends & Neighbors: Recent Releases

When the AAWW announced the winners of its 2011 Asian American Literary Awards last month, we were thrilled to hear that Issue 3 contributor Oliver de la Paz’s Requiem for the Orchard had been named 1st finalist in the poetry category (after Kimiko Hahn, who won for Toxic Flora, and before Molly Gaudry, who was named 2nd finalist  for We Take Me Apart).  But Oliver is not the only one of our friends and contributors who has had exciting news this season.  Here some recent publications and releases that have shown up on our radar these past few months:

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Marc Vincenz’s The Propaganda Factory (Argotist EBooks 2011)

Marc Vincenz's THE PROPAGANDA FACTORY
Marc Vincenz's THE PROPAGANDA FACTORY

Contributor Marc Vincenz’s new e-book The Propaganda Factory was released by Argotist EBooks this past August.  In this short collection (which includes “Taishan Mountain,” a poem that first appeared in LR issue 2), Marc weaves together layers of history and geography through an ever-shifting range of lenses that take us from the level of the microscopic to the realm of the galactic at a moment’s notice.  It is available for download here.

Kim Koga’s ligature strain (TinFish Press 2011)

Kim Koga's LIGATURE STRAIN
Kim Koga's LIGATURE STRAIN

Issue 3 contributor Kim Koga now has a chapbook (ligature strain) out with TinFish.  In this linked sequence, which was published as #6 in TinFish’s current retro chap series, Kim floods the page and the mind’s eye with feverish, liquidly intense imagery that involves birth, echolocation, pink and white flesh, and lots of fetal beavers (yes, the actual animal).  Be on the lookout for more about ligature strain later this month.

Continue reading “Friends & Neighbors: Recent Releases”

Weekly Prompt: Ordering, Reordering, Reversing.

Ordered Stones
Sea Stones: Ordered, Reordered, Reversed

As I’ve been working on coding, laying out, and putting together Issue 3 (which in many ways has proven to be a much more technically challenging endeavor than our previous two issues), the question of order/ordering has continually been at the forefront of my mind. How important decisions about order are when presenting a group of poems, or images! Juxtaposition means everything: placing even one small poem strategically can entirely change and elevate the overall energy of an issue, an anthology, a collection. And (to apply this thought to the level of craft) how much more so with regards to the arrangement of lines, images, stanzas, within each poem itself! At this year’s Kundiman retreat, Oliver de la Paz showed me how the placement of a single poem within a manuscript would affect the impact with which certain images in it would be perceived by a reader—and that revising with attention to order, both on a inter-poem and intra-poem level, was therefore very necessary. And during workshop, Kimiko Hahn suggested that one of the Fellows try reversing the order of the lines in her poem, a simple change that which—when applied, completely reshaped its arc, and brought the whole piece alive in a new and fascinating way.

Of course, reversing the order of a poem’s lines does not work the same magic in every case—it worked on the poem that we were discussing because it allowed the strange linguistic impulses of the final lines to speak better and thus made the arc of the new version much less tidy and more texturally interesting. But the results of this simple revision exercise got me thinking about how to apply it to my own writing. How many times have I shuffled and reordered stanzas in a poem that feels stuck, only to find that the arc of the poem was still either falling flat? Oftentimes, my last thoughts as I draft a poem may be some of the most complex, the most evocative, and so reversing a poem, image by image, or even line by line, could be a very useful way to at least read the images in the draft from a different angle, and thus to reenter the revision process on a fresh foot.

Today’s prompt is an example of more shameless, deliberate “stealing” from the advice of teachers whom I admire.

Prompt: Take a poem whose arc or movement feels “stuck” and reverse the order of the images or lines as way to re-envision the “map” of the poem.  Alternately, if you are working on a manuscript, try reversing or changing the order of poems, or experimenting with reversing lines within the opening and closing poems to see whether the impact of this reordering reveals anything new and luminous.

Weekly Prompt: “Stealing”

On the subject of "stealing" poems from the observed world: a "steal-worthy" orthographical variation? (Bag reads "Roos Beep").

Today’s exercise is less of a prompt and more of a practice, but having just returned from the 2011 Kundiman retreat—at which Oliver de la Paz announced on the first day that he fully intended to “steal” from each of us, and where Kimiko Hahn shared a lovely collaborative variation of a “stealing” exercise during my final workshop of the weekend—I wanted to continue the chain and extend the same thought to you.

Perhaps the term “stealing” is a bit harsh-sounding—”recycling,” “quoting,” or “riffing” might be more a more genteel way to put it, since what it involves is not outright plagiarism, so much as a process of exploring new avenues through “sampling” and strategic mimicry—but somehow it still feels apropos, as the delightful discovery and surprise that occurs when one takes something that one admires and puts it into a different context, tinkers with it, uses it as a launching pad or a frame, embeds it, or layers it with one’s own work, does in part come from the feeling that one is doing something utterly subversive.  Socially and culturally, we tend to envision the artist as a lonely figure who operates entirely self-sufficiently—the work, and its every element, must come out of her head and her head alone.  But in fact, in our daily lives as artists, we are engaged in a perpetual process of “stealing”: we observe things in the world around us—the quality of light on a bedspread, the deep crease in a parent’s forehead, the conversation between a pair of girls at a nearby table, the color of a house, what the host is saying on TV, the sound a cash register makes when it opens, the texture of a wall at the train station, the funny taste of food when one is sick, a joke that fell flat at a party—we process them, we file them away, and these things which we file away filter themselves, eventually, into our creative work.

Continue reading “Weekly Prompt: “Stealing””

A Conversation with Oliver de la Paz

Oliver de la Paz is the author of three books of poetry: Names Above Houses, Furious Lullaby, and Requiem for the Orchard. He is the co-editor of A Face to Meet the Faces: An Anthology of Contemporary Persona Poetry with Stacey Lynn Brown, and co-chair of the Kundiman advisory board. A recipient of grants from NYFA and the Artists’ Trust, his recent work has appeared in the New England Review, Sentence, the Southern Review, and elsewhere. He teaches creative writing and literature at Western Washington University.

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LR: Who were your earliest influences as a young poet? Was there a momentous decision to pursue this career?

OP: I’ve got a lot of early influences so I’ll name a number of firsts. My very first poetry book was The Selected Poems of Robert Penn Warren. When my parents first arrived in the U.S. they became subscribers to Readers’ Digest and part of the subscription deal was to receive three gift books with their subscription. One of the gift books was Robert Penn Warren’s book. So apart from my mother’s medical texts, I was pouring over Robert Penn Warren’s poems, not really understanding what was happening in them, but having a profound curiosity over the work.

The first poetry books that I ever purchased for myself were for a poetry class in college. I bought Galway Kinnell’s Book of Nightmares and Adrienne Rich’s Atlas of a Difficult World. The poetry collection that really opened my eyes to the sonic qualities a poem could have was Sylvia Plath’s Ariel. I still have the first two tercets memorized: “The Sunday lamb cracks in its fat./ The fat/ Sacrifices its opacity . . . ”

The first poetic influence that affirmed I could be a poet was Li-Young Lee’s first book, Rose. I was deciding between continuing a career in the sciences, or pursuing poetry. At the time, I was a care provider in a supported living home for the developmentally disabled and an EMT. I had a lot of time to read because the main client I worked with slept a lot due to the meds. So I read long into my shift. I imagine that was when I decided to pursue the life of letters. I wasn’t really excited about the lab work or the medical work I was doing, and I was feeling quite invigorated by all the poetry I was reading.

Continue reading “A Conversation with Oliver de la Paz”

Poems for Monday Mornings: Oliver de la Paz’s “Aubade with a Book and a Rattle from a String of Pearls” at From the Fishouse

Surprise!  Here’s a brand new blog series to start off your Monday morning.  In celebration of National Poetry Month and APIA Heritage Month this year, we (the editors) hope to be able to lead you to an audio recording of a different poem that has moved, challenged, or stuck with us each Monday morning, for the duration of April and May.  A little something to listen to while you’re brushing your teeth, eating breakfast, or checking your email.  A poem to start off the week.  We hope to simultaneously expose you to the wealth of multimedia performances of poems that are available on the web, and to share with you the delight of hearing poems that you might, hitherto, have only experienced on the page.

Today’s Monday Morning Poem is a recording taken from the wonderful archives at From the Fishhouse:

Oliver de la Paz’s “Aubade with a Book and a Rattle from a String of Pearls.”

This is an elegy, an achingly beautiful one that has haunted me (Iris) since I first heard the poet read it in Chicago at AWP 2010.  The tenderness with which de la Paz handles his subject is deeply moving to me (particularly as I continue to reflect on the loved ones whom I have lost this past year), and, in combination with the resonance of his sonics and the spareness of his tone and syntax, paints a rich portrait of a woman that is at once ferocious and yet gentle, quiet and yet somehow audaciously brave.

To listen to the recording, click through and then hit “play” on the grey bar next to the ear icon at the top of the page.

Henry Leung’s interview with Mr. de la Paz will appear on the blog later this week.

Happy Monday!

LR News: April 2011 Happenings (National Poetry Month Edition!)

It’s National Poetry Month! T.S. Eliot may have famously proclaimed April to be “the cruelest month,” but here at LR, plenty of exciting things are happening (yes, even despite the giant, fat snowflakes that I woke up to this morning here on the East Coast):

National Poetry Month Contest Prompts (sponsored by Kaya Press)

In celebration of the urge to translate idea and image into line and stanza, we will be posting a prompt submitted by one winner of our National Poetry Month Prompt Contest on each successive Friday of a full week in April, beginning with the 3rd runner-up on the 8th, and leading up to the Grand Prize winner on the 29th.  Our big winner will receive a copy of Lisa Chen’s Mouth, thanks to the kind generosity of Kaya Press.  Many thanks to all those who submitted a prompt!  Please check back every Friday to see whether your submission has been chosen!

Reading Period for Issue 3

Looking for something to do with your responses to the contest-winners’ prompts?  You’re in luck, because we will be reopening our reading period to submissions for Issue 3, starting next week.  Time to dust off the poetry hat and get your revising on!

Continued Postcard Project Posts (Postmark Deadline: April 15th)

If you took home a postcard from AWP or received one in the mail, now is the time to send it in! Please don’t forget, our postmark deadline is April 15th.  We will continue to post cards as we receive them.  (A reminder that we also plan to choose a couple of postcards to feature in Issue 3, and participating in the Postcard Project does not preclude your submitting through our regular reading period, so if you’re hoping for an extra chance of your work being noticed this time around, sending in your postcard poem in addition to submitting through our electronic system is one way to go!)

Interviews with Oliver de la Paz and Sarah Gambito

We are very excited to have the honor of being able to publish interviews with two Asian American literary luminaries, Oliver de la Paz and Sarah Gambito, on our blog later this April. Be on the lookout for our staff writers’ interviews with these two distinguished poets.

. . . and More.

As always, we’ve got our regular columns (Sulu DC, Becoming Realer), but we’ve also got a few surprises up our sleeves, so keep your eyes peeled!

Happy Poetry Month,

Iris & Mia.

Weekly Prompt: Unromantic Love Poems

Portrait of Old Friends.

Valentine’s Day, with its often-saccharine greeting card verses and glossy commercial sentiments (not to mention its frequent misquotations of everyone from Shakespeare to Emily Dickinson), is at hand once again, and what better time of year than to give that tricky (and oft-abused) specimen—the love poem—a subversive spin?  I’m not talking about writing penny dreadfuls or anguished emo laments (we are not Death Cab for Cutie here).  I’m talking about defying expectation completely with regards to what a “love poem” is and/or should be.  In a sense, the love poem (as it is known in contemporary popular culture) is very much akin to the ode, in that the tone and subject matter of its address tends to elevate the “you” with the use of high language and often ornate imagery.    The purpose of the exercises that follow are to invite you to write against this sense of elevation while still retaining, in some way, at least a loose engagement with the intimacy, tenderness, or intensity of the close gaze in which the speaker of a love poem might hold the object of his or her affection.  To, in short, write against and across cliché and into something that is bold, surprising, and new.

Prompt: Write an “unromantic” love poem.  Some ideas:

Continue reading “Weekly Prompt: Unromantic Love Poems”