Write After Reading: Living the Life Poetic (Chapter 58)

Write After Reading: Living the Life Poetic is a weekly online book club with poetry participation. It alternates between my blog and Susan Taylor Brown’s blog. Susan led last week’s episode, and we did a very cool exercise of writing poems to given titles. Terrific results!

This week, we’re doing Chapter 58: Writing the Zeitgeist. Here’s where I confess that I don’t know what zeitgeist means. I’ve heard it used only a couple of times and don’t really remember the context. OK, m‑w.com says it is “the general intellectual, moral, and cultural climate of an era.”

Anyway, the chapter is about writing poems related to pop culture or news events. I don’t do this much because I always hate to limit my audience with allusions that they might not get. But then I remember how when I read a poem filled with such allusions that I DO get, I love it. I feel in the know, like the poet and I are kin, are coming from the same place.

And I think about how at Young Authors Conferences a couple of weeks ago, it was fun when the kids would call out something current/slangy while we were brainstorming topics, and that connection that crackled in the room when I actually knew what they were referring to, whether it was B‑Dub or All Time Low or whatever. (Plenty of times I had no idea what/who they were referring to, though!)

So, I think this could be fun!

This chapter asks: What might your poetry have to add to the conversation about our cultural icons, blasphemies, and rejoicings? I don’t know that I have anything profound to add to that conversation! But I think maybe we can use the icons, blasphemies, and rejoicings–and even just more profane elements like current hot restaurants or bands–to connect with our readers, draw them in, let them know this poem is set in THEIR world. I think it could make poetry suddenly appealing and accessible to kids who thought otherwise. How cool is that?

I loved “Lorena,” and I wondered how those who haven’t heard of Lorena Bobbitt would read it, what meaning they would assign it. That ending–oh! I laughed out loud. And “Cher” really spoke to me, too. I remember watching the tv show when I was little (too young to get many of the jokes), and I just love the way this poet brought back those memories. I was entranced by Cher the V‑A-M‑P, Vamp!

All four of the exercises look fun to me. I’ll share one, in case you don’t have the book:

“Write about a story you heard in the news from the inside out, by either inhabiting the point of view of someone or something in the story. Do not describe how you feel about these events. Let the details you choose illuminate the emotion. Look to Lucille Clifton’s “lorena” as an example.“

My challenge to you is very basic: Write a poem somehow overtly tied into today’s culture. Set it at a Starbucks. Write about Charlie Sheen’s meltdown. Write a poem about Obama’s foreign policy. The choice is yours, but pick some way to incorporate today’s news or culture, making it inherent in your poem. I think I’m going to write a poem about hanging out at B‑Dub (Buffalo Wild Wings, for those of you without teenagers:>) I think. Most of the time, the poem I think I’m going to write isn’t the one that comes out, so we’ll see!

Can’t wait to see what all of you come up with!


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