Thursday, May 22, 2008

"Thin Slicing"

I've been reading Malcolm Gladwell's very fine book BLINK: THE POWER OF THINKING WITHOUT THINKING,

and much of what he says about the idea that sometimes a decision made in the blink of an eye--some might call it a knee-jerk reaction--is often better than a more studied, calculated, and time-intensive, reasoned approach. This idea in relation to poetry is worthy of its own posting, which I'll get to later (once I've finished the book and have thought about it some more, or maybe I'll finish the book and just blink before I respond).

What made me want to blog today is this--in his book, he talks about Insight Puzzles. You know what they are. Little verbal conundrums that you have to think creatively to solve. It's the type of assignments and break-out-of-the-mold thinking that I teach in my creativity workshops. It gets you out of functional fixedness. It gets you think differently of words, of relationships.

Here's one, for example:

A father and son are in a terrible car accident. The father dies. The son is rushed to the hospital, then taken into the ER room where a doctor looks upon the boy and says, "I can't operate on him. He's my son!" Who is the doctor?

Many of you might've heard that more famous one. But what about this:

A huge steel pyramid is inverted so it stands on its point. Any movement of any kind will cause it to topple over. Underneath the pyramid is a $1,000 bill. How do you remove the bill without toppling the pyramid?

Answers anyone?

It's exactly this type of sideways thinking (my term) that poets use to intuit, to feel, to surprise their way into linguistic and imagistic brilliance. I'm thinking of Yusef Komunyakaa, Kay Ryan, Li-Young Lee, to name just a few. They find ways to get at something from unexpected angles and impress us with their ingenuity. For that, we, as readers, are glad.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Poem Prompts

Poems are everywhere. Or rather, the impetus for creating a poem is. I just returned from Atlanta where I was giving a writing workshop, and I had a two-hour time-wasting opportunity in the C terminal of Hartsfield International Airport. Instead of zoning out on my iPod or watching CNN belabor the Obama/Clinton debate, I kept my eyes open and watched. Nearly six women in the chairs around me held pink carnations, perhaps the cheapest flower known to man. Were this women in cahoots in some way? Did the same person give them each a flower? If so, why? And if not, what did that mean about the universe's laws of attraction (like attracting like)?

As I jotted down some lines for a poem about this super-studly, super-thrifty Don Juan (the solution that pleased me most regarding the unexpected flower abundance), I noticed that beneath the chair next to me was someone's boarding pass. A normal person would've left it there because (a) Americans only pick up their own trash (and even that, only rarely), (b) Americans are litigious, and picking up someone else's boarding pass might mean time to call in Johnny Cochran, and (c) who the hell cares about a boarding pass if it's not yours anyway?

Naturally, I picked it up. The name on the pass? John Daly. I'm sure it was probably John Daly the dentist from St. Petersburg instead of John Daly the infamous alcoholic, gambling, womanizing golfer who hit a ball so hard in his drives that it didn't regain its shape for two seconds. My interest was piqued. What was John Daly doing here at the airport? And why was he flying to DC like me? And where was he? In the john, puking up some Jim Beam? In the TGIF, scarfing down hot wings? He never showed up, precipitating a poem entitled, "Where the Hell is John Daly?"

And on the plane, I couldn't help but notice the cabin smelled like ass. I mean poorly-wiped butt-crack ass. Locker room stuff. So instead of pinching my nose shut and cursing God beneath my filtered breath for 90 minutes, I jotted down a fun poem about that incredibly bad odor which is a bit like the adult (poetry) version of the kid's book, THE GAS WE PASS. So three poems in three hours, and I passed over a dozen other rich possibilities that might've worked for other poets.

Poems are everywhere. They stalk us. They yearn for us. They want us to find them, to bring them to life. Tell me about your own strangest impulses to write poetry. Or better yet, write a poem about it.