Bill Carty teaches the Fall Poetry Workshop, which begins October 18. Each course in the eight-session workshop will begin with readings, prompts, and discussions designed to provoke investigations into the opportunities available in free-verse poetry. Then you’ll move with an eye toward developing, critiquing, and inspiring long-term poetic endeavors.
“the only truth is face to face, the poem whose words become your mouth” – Frank O’Hara
A poetry workshop demands close contact and communication. For this lesson, we apply these lessons of communication directly to our writing.
Steven Marche writes of the French-Jewish philosopher Emnanuel Levinas, “the encounter with another’s face was the origin of identity — the reality of the other preceding the formation of the self. The face is the substance, not just the reflection, of the infinity of another person.” In Moby-Dick, we find: “a fine human brow is like the East when troubled with the morning.”
For this exercise, we will write poems directly into the face of another person (or potentially, animal). The conversation can be silent, or it can be spoken. The face can be silent, or responsive. Stare back, or turn away.
For an example, we will look to a mix of writers, both current and past, for examples of such poems. Among them, Elizabeth Bishop’s “The Fish”:
I looked into his eyes
which were far larger than mine
but shallower, and yellowed,
the irises backed and packed
with tarnished tinfoil
seen through the lenses
of old scratched isinglass.
They shifted a little, but not
to return my stare.
—It was more like the tipping
of an object toward the light.
And also Shane McCrae’s “Still When I Picture It the Face of God Is a White Man’s Face”:
Before it disappears
on the sand his long white beard before it disappears
The face of the man
in the waves I ask her does she see it ask her does
The old man in the waves as the waves crest she see it does
she see the old man his
White his face crumbling face it looks
as old as he’s as old as
The ocean looks
Once we have written a draft of the poem, we’ll use some techniques from filmmaking to take the initial draft and push it to unexpected places. Specifically, we’ll adapt strategies—including close-ups, tracks, and pans—as we see them after watching a passage from Chris Marker’s San Soleil.
Finally, we will read an excerpt from Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s Dictee to see examples of how writers use similar techniques.
As Melville says, “I but put that brow before you. Read it if you can.”
Learn about Bill Carty’s Fall Poetry Workshop here.
Bill Carty has recently published in Poetry Northwest, Octopus, Pinwheel, and Sixth Finch. His chapbook, Refugium, was published by Alice Blue Books. He was a 2012-13 Made at Hugo House fellow and is currently a Seattle7Writers Sorting Room resident.