Weekly Prompt: Poem-Objects

Untitled and "Mot Cache" by Theresa Hak Kyung Cha

This week’s prompt is inspired by some of the visual poetry work done by Theresa Hak Kyung Cha (1951 — 1982), a Korean American artist and poet who experimented with film, mixed media, intertext, and live performance to push her audience’s experience of the written word in radical directions.  Cha lived an incredibly productive, but tragically brief life: at the age of 31, she was murdered by a stranger in New York City.  Her much-studied book of hybrid poetry, prose, and image, Dictee, was published a week before her death.

One of the things that interests me most about Cha’s body of work is her experimentation with the book as object.  On many occasions (as in the two pieces pictured above), she made use of objects other than the standard book format in order to demonstrate a kind of poetic.  The forms and physical textures of the (often handmade) media with which she presented words in these pieces creates a process-oriented experience for the observer, in which we see and can feel the labor required to produce each piece of text.  The text itself, too, has a physical quality to it.   In the “untitled” piece above, it dangles almost precariously on wire, trapped halfway in a glass jar (the words read “water,” “fire,” “earth” . . . and something which I can’t quite make out . . . in French).  We sense the microcosmic nature of language — it becomes a flimsy, yet beautiful item that constitutes our world.

Prompt: Create a poem designed to be presented as a 3-d object.


The piece I’m sharing with you here is actually a project I created for a contemporary poetry class last year: we were supposed to create an archaism, and I decided to use the technique of embroidery, along with nineteenth century / early twentieth century botanical diagrams and mottos from the language of flowers, to reflect on the idea of a curated representation of self (the work, obviously, is a pun on my name; the antique language of flowers handbook that I used indicated that the Iris used to convey the message “I Burn [for you]”).  This, when combined with the sexuality of the plant’s anatomical structures (a flower is a plant’s reproductive organ), and the traditionally gender-bound craft of decorative embroidery, I hope — forms a reflection on gender, artifice, craft, and time.

To see more works by Cha, visit the BAM/PFA online archive.

As always, please do feel free to share your experiments on our Flickr pool. Happy Weekend! (Don’t forget to think about an entry for our prompt contest!)

Weekly Prompt: Poems that Play with Shape

During the past week or so, we’ve been looking at poems and aspects of presenting poems on the page which take into account (2-D) visual space and make room for illustration and elements of painting, drawing, collage, etc.  This Friday, our prompt asks you to reexamine a form which many of us may remember being introduced to in grade school: the concrete poem.

Examples of Calligrams by Guillaume Apollinaire
Examples of Calligrams by Guillaume Apollinaire

Concrete poetry,” according the Poetry Foundation’s glossary, is “Verse that emphasizes nonlinguistic elements in its meaning, such as a typeface that creates a visual image of the topic.”  Far from being limited to poems whose words take on the outline of the object they are describing, concrete poetry can encompass everything from a playing with the sizes and spacing of text on the page to certain kinds of full-on “visual poetry,” which are more akin to collage or painting in their methods of arrangement words. The challenge, of course, is how to integrate the visual into a poem in a way that is satisfyingly beautiful (or jarring, depending on the desired effect) and yet feels organic and further enhances the complexity of the reader’s interaction with it.

Prompt: Write a  poem takes into account shape and visual space on the flat plane of the page.

Some suggestions:

1) Compose a calligram, or poem in which the shape of the words enacts or take on the visual form of some object as a kind of complex illustration.  (See examples of Guillaume Apollinare’s famous calligrams at the top of this post).

2) Create a poem that experiments with unusual typographical arrangements to emphasize its meaning.   The Poetry Foundation also has a couple of neat visual poems that play with the shapes of letters: here, and here.

3) Write a poem on a piece of paper (or other flat surface) that is not a standard vertical letter-sized or notebook-sized sheet, using the shape of the surface to guide your form.  For example, a long piece of ribbon, or the back of a circular coaster.  I’ve found that this exercise (which I’ve borrowed from a former teacher of mine, Bruce Snider) becomes especially interesting if one uses a writing surface that already has words on it and allows those words to seamlessly flow into the resulting poem.  (Examples of poets who’ve used a similar technique include A.R. Ammons, who wrote “Sphere” on ticker tape, and D.A. Powell, who wrote one of his books with his notebook turned sideways).

4) Write a poem that engages with the use of negative space in an existing piece of text or image (for example, a poem written in the margins of a newspaper, between the lines of a letter, or in the background spaces of a photograph or advertisement).

We realize that this week’s prompt is a little different, in that your response may or may not be easy to share in comment form.  In light of this, we’ve created a Flickr pool where you can upload photos of your responses to our prompts if you’d like to share them [if you don’t feel comfortable uploading photos of whole poems, feel free to crop creatively or blur out portions of the text].  Here’s how to do it:

1) Follow this link to get to our pool.

2) Click “Join this Group.” (Sign into Yahoo/Flickr if you need to do so, or create an account).

3) Confirm that you want to “Join this Group.”

4) Upload the image or video you want to your stream.  In the description, mention the prompt you’re responding to (if you like you can include the text, too, but that’s not necessary). We suggest that you tag your poem for ease of navigation as the pool grows (for example, I’ve tagged the concrete poem I uploaded with “concrete poem”), but that’s also optional.

5) Choose “Groups >> Your Groups”

6) Select the group “Lantern Review — Weekly Prompt Responses”

7) Click “Add something.”  Follow the instructions to add your photo to the pool.  That’s it!

We hope that you’ll share some of what you’ve written with us; we’d love to see how your experiments turn out.  If we get enough responses, we may even feature some of them on the blog in upcoming weeks.