Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Faculty Voices with Ron Koertge: Re-Vision Part 1

Prose comes from the Latin prosa = straightforward, “without the ornaments of verse.”  Oh, dear.  ‘Ornaments’ is an awful word.  Verse as Christmas tree, similes and metaphors dangling from the branches.   

Many of the poems I write are, as many have pointed out and not always kindly, “prosey.”  Meaning easy-going and fun to read.  And they can be straightforward because I want readers to come along with me but if I really wanted to be straightforward I’d write prose.   One of my disciplines is to reward my readers with something yummy every few lines  -- a turn of phrase, an unlikely word in a likely place.  Whatever it takes to keep someone’s eyes on the page.   

Sonnet is from the Italian sonetto:  little song.  I don’t write many straight up sonnets, but all my poems are little songs:  melodies, show tunes, arias, lullabies, hymns.

Here something I’ve been working on.   Is it an aria?  A hymn?  Or  -- shudder  --  just elevator music.

The Plane Doesn’t Crash But the Landing is So Rough
There’s a Lot of Screaming

Right next to the airport is a gentlemen’s
club  where all the dancers wear Santa
hats.  I have a stiff drink, slip 20

to the topsy-turvy down girl on the pole,
then enter the freeway tentatively,  like
a horse at the ocean.    

Windows down, I hear John Coltrane
from the nearest Camaro and near
1st and Hill somebody praying
from a rooftop.  
Home at last I park beside an electric
reindeer lying on its side and twitching.

Lighted windows.  On the shadowy
porch the smokers are changelings,

It’s California, winter, but something
is blooming.  Perfume and terror.
Coming in hot to LAX, the woman
beside me clawed at my jacket.

“Tell my husband I love him,” she
cried.  Taxing to the gate she blushed,
“That  thing before?  It’s not really
true.”    But she was excited still.  

Vibrant and giddy.  Glad to be alive.  
“I’ll never forget,” she said, “the first
time he kissed me.”

There are some things in this draft that kept me interested.   The long title pushes me into the poem, the simile in the second stanza was a pleasant surprise.  I’m okay with Coltrane, the electric reindeer, the smokers but then the little song slips off-key.  Where’d that woman come from?    The last thing this piece needs is another character, much less another one with conventionally sentimental feelings.  

Come back on Thursday to see how Ron revises his poem.

*Ron Koertge is a faculty member at Hamline's MFAC program. He writes poetry for everyone, fiction for young adults, and recently co-authored a young reader series. You can discover Ron's literary work by visiting his author's website or visit his faculty page to learn about him as a professor at Hamline University.

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