How to Write a Poem: Jealous Poem Stacks

How to Write a Poem: Jealousy Can Serve

It’s true. I love this red flag: jealousy.

Jealousy is that piquing of the soul: “I’m not happy. I want. Why not me?” It’s a key which I never, ever throw away (nor chide myself for). You could say I honor emotions for what they try to tell me—rather than judging them, feeling guilty, or sweeping them aside. As humans, we’re built to feel. I like to pay attention.

Paying attention to emotions is a great start. But if all we do is feel and sit still, it is quite likely we will drown in our feelings. So I always act. (And, sometimes, yes, my action is the seemingly sit-still choice to wait and figure things.)

Yes, I sometimes wait. But other times I act immediately. That’s how it went with my Jealous Poem Stacks.

I was reading the poems in Satellite Convulsions and feeling very simplistic. Such words these poets use! Such style they sport!

Part of me knows I’ll never be the kind of poet who uses complex words, but I didn’t care to shoo the feeling away. Instead, I took a very simple action and wrote down the words I loved. Unusual words. Words that felt good in the mouth. Words I’d never heard. Words I wished were mine. I sprinkled a few mundane words between. No one is really going to call these poems. They are poem stacks. Good for starting something. Good for jealous days.

Jealous Poem Stacks

Satellite, pp. 36-46

Deniers
shudder
desire’s
pallina
galehot
rapt
hard
licked
unobstructed
labyrinth
pillowed
passages
pledge
gelato
unknow

Satellite, pp. 1-35

Plum
jacaranda
eaves
weft
blurred
gestures
interlaced
symmetric
rotation
striation
suffused
crest
vertigo
autumnal
umbilical
pewter
marigolds
tongued
riverbeds
wandering
collide
nothing
desists
no
siren
chimes
surfeit

Teaching With Poem Stacks

Now the really fun thing is that I thought I was done with my poem stacks. I thought they were a private deal. It’s not like I was going to do anything further with them.

But last week I taught a workshop, and I wanted to get across the idea of how “mining” is part of the writing process. I brought a pile of books on rocks and minerals, North American birds, trees, wildflowers, mushrooms. And I asked the workshop participants to “mine” the books for words or phrases they loved, which they could then simply stack. The exercise was presented at two possible levels:

1. just “mine” and stack

2. “mine” and stack to answer a question like “How will I find my way?” or the Susan Wooldridge Goldsmith question “Who were you in my dreams?” (Or you could make up your own question or switch one of these around, like Donna did below.)

The results were most wonderful when participants read their stacks back to us. What might have initially felt like nonsense to the participants suddenly made sense, especially at the level of sound. Poems were being born, if only in the simplest way. And that is something to which I like to pay attention.

Who was I in your dream?

I was the
magnificent
descending
wail

rattling
voice
shink
shink
shink

I was the
green
winged
kestrel.

—Donna Falcone

Who were you in my dream?

details
hardness
carbonates
cleavage
rhombohedral
transparent
powdered
invisible
beautiful crystals
obsidian
primitive
razorsharp
concentric
crystalline tourmaline
weathered surface
rocksalt luster
subvitreous
visibly biogenic
conchoidal fracture

—Michelle Ortega

Who were you in my dreams?

star lily
immortal
bright yellow
tiger lily
the golden color of ripe wheat
ghost flower
lemony
golden ear drops
devil’s claw
fragile prickly pear

—Maureen Doallas

Poem Stack

Yuccas
Palmettos
Bipinnate
Catawba
Baldycypress = Swamp cypress
Loblolly Pine = Mud Puddle Pine
Persimmon = Possum Wood
Fringetree = Old Man’s Beard
Wild Olive = Devil wood
Pinckneya = Fever Tree

—Nancy Franson

Poem Stack

paw paw
edible autumn
dry to moist woodlands
husk
conspicuous
petallike bracts
poisonous lookalikes
phragmites
spotted touch-me-not
storksbill
rocky crevices
unadulterated
nanny berry

—L.W. Lindquist

How Can I Find My Way? (unfinished, based on poem stack above)

Next to the edible autumn,
between the conspicuous paw paw,
follow the husks, the petallike
bracts that grow out
of rocky crevices.
Avoid the poisonous touch-me-nots.
Turn when you see the storksbill,
keep going past the nanny berry
and the phragmites…

—L.W. Lindquist

Try a Poem Stack?

How about you? You needn’t be feeling jealous. You could be feeling inspired. Find a book of solid source material to “mine” and try stacking. We’d love to hear what you pick and place, word by intriguing word.

Photo by Basheer Tome, Creative Commons, via Flickr. Post by L.L. Barkat.

How to Read a Poem by Tania Runyan

Buy How to Read a Poem

Comments

  1. Marcy says

    Well, I’m just blown away from all this writing, all of you had a mouthful of words to share. I can really relate to cleavage when I where my boat neck red sweater. Just had to throw that one in for my babies.

    • says

      You could do it too, Marcy.

      Maybe find a list of yarn types and colors (I thought of that because of your mention of the red sweater).

      Then stack! :)

  2. says

    I’m in a Mary Ruefle state of mind this week. Just read this last night, which makes me think of the way the poem stacks felt different when read aloud vs viewed on the page. She quotes Cecilia Vicuña:

    ‘Words have a love for each other, a desire that culminates in poetry.’

    The poet has an intuitive way of putting words together, perhaps without even realizing at first, that creates a feeling whether or not the actual words are understood.

  3. says

    Nothing desists:

    jacaranda, suffused with plum,
    shudder with vertigo;
    marigolds, in a blurred rotation
    of symmetric gestures, rise rapt
    from their hard-pillowed labyrinth.

    With every unobstructed roll,
    the pallina travels,
    no interlaced passages striation-licked.

    At the crest, Galehot, wandering
    below the eaves where seasons collide.
    The weft of umbilical cord frayed,
    he cannot unknow desire’s siren calls.

    Though autumnal deniers be pewter-tongued,
    they sound as mere chimes in the riverbeds.

  4. says

    I will have to do this exercise in the morning when I’m firing on more than one clogged cylinder. It’s an intriguing exercise that gives so much room for interpretation.

    For now, here’s one with the words from the above poems.

    Jealousy – Possibly Tainted by a Woodland Mushroom

    Deniers
    ought to
    shudder
    plum
    sirens –
    I
    was
    the
    magnificent
    (me! me! me!)
    the winged
    detail of
    your
    fragile
    prickly
    swamp
    puddle.

    Take your
    loblolly
    fever and
    touch me not,
    (you! you! you!)
    poisonous
    nanny
    berry.

  5. says

    Red Eyes and All That

    The words of my poem
    spilled from my very own blood,
    captured the fleet feet
    of my lamb’s innocence,
    yet the judge was only Abel to see
    the basket of lentils
    sorted in iambics, parsed
    in quatrains that grained
    the wilder growth. Cain I
    care for darkened lessons
    of acceptance and rejection?
    No, my active voice
    sounds deadened
    past tense.

  6. says

    I know I’m a little late on posting mine, but here it is.

    axis
    bristled
    consensus

    covenant
    cutlass

    departure
    economic

    indomitable
    integrity

    intervention
    pilgrimage

    rigging

    Secesh
    tenets

    volley

    * These are “Words We Want to Know” in our home school co-op group. (I actually got this idea from L.L. a few months ago. Students place words on slips of paper into a container and then at a given time they each draw out three. Definition discussions ensue and then the dictionary and encyclopedia definitions are read aloud, followed by more discussion — specific to the “Need to Know-ers” reason for including the word.

    This collection shows the diverse reading of the three students, age 10 (boy), 12 (girl), and 14 (girl).

  7. Marcy says

    Where Were You When The Sun Went Down?

    Dreaming
    Blissfully.
    Aura
    Amidst,
    Billows of softness.
    Cozy with only
    Candle light.
    Demure
    Dazzled
    Dare say?
    What a damsel.
    Enchanting
    Envisioned,
    Fingertips play.
    Fantasy
    Glimpses yet graceful,
    A glow of allure.
    Visions at night,
    What are yours?

  8. Sandra Wirfel says

    I want to give someone the proper acknowledgement or credit for introducing me to stack poetry from your website, who would that be? I chose stack postry for my 2014 Poetry Goal, and I want to give credit where crdit is due. can you please tell me who the right person to give creid to would be?

    • says

      Sandra, where did you first see it? (Are you looking for the person who tweeted or Facebooked it, or the person who wrote the post? Might be me in either case, but let me know what you’re interested in finding out :) )

      • Sandra Wirfel says

        I saw it here first, under these guidelines, “teaching with poem stacks” and although mine are not all mined from books, they are all stacked poems. The only other reference I was able to find was someone stacking books from ther books shelves where the titles kinda make a poem. But when I comeplete my book, I want to be able to credit someone, as to the idea, each year I pick a style of poetry or a theme, of poetry to write about, my goal was 52, one stack poem a week, right now I have 243, some might seem monotonous, and others are just downright silly, but I still have 243 and the year isn’t over yeat, I changed my goal to 365.

        • says

          Ah. Well, that would be me.

          I taught a workshop in NYC and wanted to help people do some poetry writing that didn’t feel so much like poetry writing, and culled from excellent, arresting language. Thus was born, Jealous Poem Stacks.

          Thanks! Cool project.

          • Sandra Wirfel says

            Cool. I am going to be doing some poetry projects in April, at a local venue, do you have any special way I shouldcredit you…credentials and stuff?

            So, tell me…how do you get to be where you are at, where so many people get to enjoy your poetry guidance? Do you ever come to Pa?

          • says

            L.L. Barkat, Managing Editor, Tweetspeak Poetry.

            Hmmm. Time, I guess. Writing for various venues. Having poetry books. Becoming an editor. A long process.

            Not generally in Pa. But I can sometimes be found at a function in NYC :)

  9. Sandra Wirfel says

    I have successfully completed a years worth of Stack Poetry, 398 was my 2014 total and I have had so much fun that I have decided to continue for 2015, with a goal of 1000 Stack Poems by the end of 2015. Which means I have to double my output. Anyhow thank you so much for the style, and keep and I need a mailing address, as I would like to send you my Stack poems about Tea.

  10. says

    Thank you so much for pointing out this post and idea! I have made word lists before but I appreciate the encouragement to create from it directly. Here’s my poem:

    Why are you eager for the new year?

    I’ve been collecting
    these water pockets
    of new histories

    Distilling
    cold fronts
    into a leather skin canteen

    A predominant wind
    has exposed my skin
    here
    in the trample grass

    A single downward stroke.

  11. Sandra Wirfel says

    This was the first stack poem I used the suggesstion from the original post.

    Who Were You In My Dreams?

    You
    are
    The
    Man
    In
    My
    Dreams
    That
    I
    Married.

    Y14M1D1 SLW

  12. Sandra Wirfel says

    This was my contract to committing to write Stack poetry. I could go on and on….

    Stack

    Blow my stack
    Books
    Cars
    Deck
    Magazine
    Paper
    People
    Piles
    Problems
    Wood
    Work

    Arranging,
    Comparing,
    Forming
    Stuff.

    That’s what
    this year
    Is all
    About.

    Y14M1D1 SLW

  13. Sandra Wirfel says

    I Am

    An Agent of change
    As clear as mud
    Responsible for myself
    Not responsible for others
    One of a kind
    Receptive
    A poet
    A writer
    Perfectly happy here and now

    Y14M3D10 SLW

    This was one I wrote on my birthday

    I Have Learned
    To keep my mouth shut
    To speak my mind
    To listen
    To keep the distance
    To grow closer
    To keep the peace
    To make waves
    To surrender unconditionally
    From my mistakes
    To put myself together again
    To be myself

    Y14M3D10 SLW

  14. Sandra Wirfel says

    OWL-NIGHT FLIGHT

    Owl
    Exquisite
    Dominating
    Silent
    Forceful
    Turn-turn-turn
    Glance
    Turn-turn-turn
    Glance
    Lift
    Flight
    Gone

    Y14M7D4

    Coming through 1889 Park,a beautiful Owl,
    was sitting in the middle of the road.
    It happened so quickly,I couldn’t get my camera out and ready before he flew away.

    This is one of my favorites, besides all the ones about Tea.

    Ok…I think I am done sharing.

  15. says

    I couldn’t resist mining for words as I ache for spring to start.

    I’m balancing on tree roots
    mossed over in unreal green:

    They carry a familiar bone structure
    of hands silently working

    Nourishing tree flesh
    in the bluing dark of Monday

    This root system extracts its choice elixir–

    It sips on chilled rain
    and leaves a mineral tang on its breath

    As it respires
    I ruminate:

    What will these elements look like
    redressed in the coming leaves?

Trackbacks

  1. […] Last week L.L. Barkat posted at Tweetspeak about “poem stacks.” She was talking about the way it’s easy to become jealous of another writer and the importance of listening to that jealousy. Instead of sitting on our hands wishing the jealousy would go away, taking time to listen and see what it has to say: […]

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