Creation Mythology

Today’s exercise doesn’t come from Bernadette Mayer, though she does have a similar one, but from a new MOOC I’ve signed up for. It is Sharpened Visions: A Poetry Workshop and is run by Cal Arts. They do weekly prompts, so I’ll probably intersperse them with Mayer’s.

This one asks us to take a piece of prose and attempt to shape it poetically by inserting line breaks. It’s really just to help us understand the poetic purpose(s) of line breaks. I chose the last two paragraphs from the book Of Wolves and Men, by Barry Holsten Lopez:

I have looked for a wolf different from that ordinarily given us in the course of learning about animals. I have watched captive wolves in Barrow, Alaska; in Saint Louis, and in Nova Scotia. I drove across the Dakotas and Montana and Wyoming, speaking with old men who killed wolves for a living when they were young. In New York I read in libraries like the Pierpont Morgan what men thought of wolves hundreds of years ago. I read in the archives of historical societies of outlaw wolves and Indians. I went out with field biologists in Minnesota and Alaska and spoke with Eskimos. I spoke with people who loved wolves and with people who hated them.
I remember sitting in this cabin in Alaska one evening reading over the notes of all these encounters, and recalling Joseph Campbell, who wrote in the conclusion to Primitive Mythology that men do not discover their gods, they create them. So do they also, I thought, looking at the notes before me, create their animals.

I played with it for an hour or so, trying to make the lines into distinct units of sound, and could probably have gone on for days, but who has time for that? So here’s what I have so far, you’ll see I couldn’t help inserting stanza breaks too:

I have looked for a wolf different
from that ordinarily given us in
the course of learning about animals.

I have watched captive wolves
in Barrow, Alaska; in Saint Louis
and in Nova Scotia. I drove

across the Dakotas and Montana and
Wyoming, speaking with old men who
killed wolves for a living when

they were young. In
New York I read in Libraries like
the Pierpont Morgan what men thought

of wolves hundreds of years
ago. I read in the archives of historical
societies of outlaw wolves and Indians.

I went out with field biologists in Minnesota
and Alaska and spoke with people who
loved wolves and with people who

hated them. I remember sitting
in this cabin in Alaska one evening
reading over the notes of all

these encounters, and recalling Joseph
Campbell, who wrote in the conclusion
to Primitive Mythology that men do

not discover their gods, they create
them. So do they also, I thought,
looking at the notes before me

create their animals.

I can’t tell you how much I want to substitute some of the words for others that fit the soundscape better, but I have thus far stopped myself.

14 Comments

  1. Alright! No fears. I’m mentally back on track!

    Interesting how line separation alters the read. Maybe I should look into the techniques. I tend to write huge blocks of impossibly long sentences, divided by flocks of commas.

    BTW I stared into the eyes of a grey wolf while backpacking the wild on an island in Lake Superior. Breath taking!

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      1. A bit. It is more of a reflection on, believe it or not, me being way too easy to offer my heart. Haha! Classic. Though the account itself might stand well on its own. Pretty magical!

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      2. I know I’m beating this thread to death! But in recent months I started following a blogger who writes passion. Having never experienced this before, got instantly hooked!!! I want out! It’s freaking painful! Though I’m learning a bit on this form, it seems like my writing used to be more diverse. Suggestions? Monastery?

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      3. Hooked on the blog or on writing passion? – a great title for a book of poems btw! – either way I’d run with it. As far as I can tell almost all writers eventually settle on a theme, it may not always be obvious to the casual reader but its invariably detected by anyone who reads the whole of a writer’s output. So your reduction in diversity is probably a natural consequence of your maturity as a writer/artist.

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      4. Both! It was tearing me up! She was mutual muse who was a very refined writer. But I didn’t want to be caught. I know, it sounds epic, maybe stereotypical! But I got seriously muddled. These things never end with happiness! But I knew this coming in. 🙂

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      5. So here it is, in the rough. I tend to let things go, and hit them again, and again, ad nauseam! Maybe some potential? I haven’t been able to get deep with it, yet.:

        So an experience came to mind, one that drove me today. Yes. Pun. So this was a moment of backpacking… big surprise. A morning, plodding on a trail on bright soft dirt, running the center of a fire break, human made, a grassy space in the dark, green shadowed forest, dividing pine, fir, spruce, aspen, and all. Boots, made for rugged properties, stones and creek, stride rather than tramp the earth this fine clear day, finding peace in this contrived meadow, shared by dragonfly and gnat, busied by myriads of bug tasks.

        Fine is my mind, as well. Breakfast done, steps light, spacious and level trail brings songs to my mind and pulls my head forward, tracing the edges of the path with my thoughts, heat and load generating perspiration on face and neck. Yeah, there are doldrums on the trail, as anywhere, though beauty and art flows along this progression.

        A sense! Not exactly. Looking up I freeze with a flinch. There, on the path, ten steps ahead, sits a gray wolf. As a statue, I’m stunned by the moment and demeanor of this wild and motionless beast, waiting for me, without my seeking, but rather sought. We pause, our eyes meet and share, still on either side, for the wonder of this floating time.

        Some symbolize the wolf as a solitary creature, in reality, a being of love, family and community. This animal, alone, but unlike the lone wolf, often thin, she is strong and beautiful.

        Her eyes penetrate mine. Maybe golden brown is the color of love. No sound, there seems to be a question, or at least connection between us so deep, primal.

        Breath drawn from me, I decide to relinquish my heart, so equal this sacrifice of such the intensity. As I extend my soul, this wild being lifts to her feet, and in three silent strides, dissolves into the dark green shadows of the wild, never to be seen or heard.

        And I stand, outstretched, heart in hand. Beautiful and foolish.

        Years have passed, I have heard the songs of wolves at night, in their deep and resonant cry. I wonder how I would have followed her into the wilderness. I am no wiser.

        Here’s something a bit more palatable, of my own style… who knows? I was soaking in this one right away!:

        Delicate as Air

        Soft pedal, watching the world from your grasp, now, in spring’s clean sun, release the tip of the twig, letting the convections and updrafts bear you a lift as you turn to see your home, now distant, grateful and joyous of your ascent.

        Gasp, pleasure, as you tip onto chill quiet pool, clear and deep, tipping and rocking with soft breath, and crystal joy.

        Lucky me, to have been here the moment of your happy freedom, I lean in for a closer look.

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      6. Ha! I just figured out that I can switch genre and regain that balance! Frankly, I think I like the WordPress community. It’s a great way for an introvert to make quality connections! One of the difficulties is that I think I’ve forgotten how to read more than a few thousand words at a time.

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