a veritable hodgepodge

Reader, did you know that the word hodgepodge comes from the French for “to shake?” Neither did I. Until tonight. Because I don’t have anything better to do than etymological research on the word hodgepodge. Except eat ice cream. And write this post. Anyway, hodgepodge (or, in the U.K., “hotchpotch”) refers to a jumble. And that’s what I have for you tonight.

First a few more tips from the high desert, this time on revision:

  • Remove all the adjectives and adverbs from your poem, then make them earn their way back in. If they don’t earn it, they stay out.
  • Take the kernel of the poem and write the biggest version you can think of. Then write the smallest version you can think of. This will help you figure out which way to go with the poem.
  • Take every line and write a version of it beginning with every word in the line. See if there’s a version that works better for the poem once you’ve shuffled the order.
  • Erase all narrative links and see if the poem holds without them.
  • Take out all dummy subjects, sometimes called expletive subjects — those subjects that perform a syntactical role but don’t contribute to meaning.

Some things to think about (also from the high desert):

  • “Long prose poems scare everybody.”
  • “There’s no way of finding out what’s memorable other than reading something, setting it aside, and seeing if you remember it.”
  • “You don’t owe anything to the truth. You’re a poet.”

By the way, I’m curious: do you agree with that last bullet? And what about the first one?

Two rules for submissions (yes, also from the high desert):

  • Be relentless.
  • If your work gets accepted elsewhere, run, don’t walk, to your desk and WITHDRAW RIGHT AWAY.

And, because I ran errands with a toddler this morning, I’ve been thinking of the second most important piece of advice related to child-rearing I’ve ever come across (the first is, of course, Lower your standards). Well, it actually wasn’t related to child-rearing at all. It was more related to surviving the westward passage during the 1800s, but I saw it for the gem it was and applied it to my life with three young children. Here it is: Donner party wisdom.

My awesome friend, Mrs. Kwood, made that for me so I could print it and hang it on my frig. And with that, I’m going to hurry along just as fast as I can… to bed!

13 thoughts on “a veritable hodgepodge

  1. Molly, I’d change that last bullet to, “You don’t owe anything to the facts. You’re a poet.” I think poetry is all about telling the truth, but by all means, tell it slant (thank you E.D.). In other words, lie your way to the truth (a quote attributed to all kinds of artists, most often Picasso, I think).

  2. I do find long prose poems intimidating to read–even Robert Bly ones make my eyes glaze over sometimes.

    As for the second bullet, do they mean that our poems don’t have to be nonfiction or that they don’t have to have any element of truth (universal truth)? I would definitely agree with the first–I don’t know many poets whose work is entirely nonfiction–but as for the second, I do think that poems need to have an element of emotional epiphany, at least true for the writer even if it isn’t universally true.

    • To be honest, any long poem scares me — prose or not :). I’m with you on the distinction of nonfiction vs. truth — for me, the poet is obligated to examine an emotional truth, but I wouldn’t require every poem to be nonfiction.

      • Long poems tend to intimidate me in general. As for long prose poems, I am often wondering what still makes them poems at some point. As for the truth/facts debate, I agree with Sandy. The poet does not need to concern herself with the facts to get at a truth that resonates beyond the confines of the writer’s world.

      • We’re cut from the same cloth, I think ;). Long poems intimidate me, too, and I get impatient — like, “If you can’t say it one page, write prose!” But I’m trying to learn to read long poems better, and prose poems, too — just ordered an anthology from Tupelo called “No Boundaries: Prose Poems from 24 American Poets.” Thanks for weighing in!

  3. Hmmm. Long prose poems DO scare most people. I have frequently avoided reading long poems. However, I loved The Aeneid in prose translationā€¦ As for the truth, I feel that all art has the truth as its aim, regardless of whether or not that truth is told entirely with lies and embellishments. The end result should illuminate a truth or lead you to find one, some sort of understanding of the truth, but the means can be entirely fictitious, entirely creative. Perhaps the way to uninhibited writing means being unhindered by the truth and the way of evaluating it means searching for the truth in the finished product.

    Great question.

    • I like that phrase: “unhindered by the truth.” That does open the door for examining more along the way to an emotional truth.

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