Sunday, January 13, 2008

Poems, from A to Z

I'm reading Matthea Harvey's Modern Life, in preparation for our Poetry Book Club discussion at the end of the month. So far, I am enjoying her slightly surreal take on the world.

One of the aspects of her book that intrigues me is her use of abecedarian (alphabetical) poems. Her series of poems, "The Future of Terror," use alphabetical lists of words embedded in the text to flesh out the descriptions. Most of the poems go from the letter "g" to the letter "s" or "t". It's a brilliant technique, because she stretches towards a unique vocabulary. In the poem I linked here, we get everything from garden gnomes to napoleons.

When I think of alphabet poems, I always think of the more formal style. Christina Rossetti's "An Alphabet", is emblematic of that style. Intended for children, it contains still hidden philosophical gems like, "I am I—who will say I am not I?" The beauty of the abecedarian poem is the way it forces the poet to fill in words, and surprise ourselves in the process.

Similar to my surprise and joy at Natasha Trethewey's mirror image poem, Myth, this new take on the alphabetical poem may inspire to write some actual poetry yet.

I hope you're enjoying Modern Life as much as I am!


Anonymous said...

Serendipitous-I came to your site today to recommend Harvey's essay she mentions on her notes page in the collection we're reading. I find the abecedarius fascinating too, especially her take on it, which leaves room to explore.

Anonymous said...

I just read Myth, so beautiful and sad. I love the form, and her way of making the words sound so fluid, as if the poem could float away from her, just like her dream. Thanks for sharing.

Maybe we could write a mirror poem as a prompt for RWP....

Jessica said...

I'm glad we're on the same, serendiptious page...although I'm a little embarrassed that you came over while I was redecorating (editing my template.) Hope that didn't slow down the reading. :)

Mirror poems would be a great prompt for RWP -- they're really challenging, but fun. I would love to write another one.

Anonymous said...

The new look is fabulous, my dear. No, no inconvenience for me. I only thought my eyes were playing tricks on me!

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