by Zachary Schomburg
The spark that happens from these two unrelated tropes will be the heart of this poem.
One of the tenets of surrealism from Andre Breton’s Le Manifeste du Surréalisme is the concept of manufacturing a “spark” set off by touching together two images/words that have no logical relationship with one another. This creates a third thing, the space between those two points, that has never before existed, something a reader has no way of intellectually compartmentalizing. While Breton is mostly talking about the spark between singular images, I think a similar electricity, that third undefinable thing, can happen while putting whole tropes together, clashing metaphors, etc.
This is not a new idea — the Italians were way ahead of the French here. Almost all sonnets have some kind of volta, some turn of logic about three-quarters of the way through the poem (depending on whether it is Petrarchian or Shakespearean) that puts the poem’s last lines in emotional, narrative, conceptual contrast with what preceded them. It is where the poem gets turned on its head never to return to its original uprightness; it is where the poem hinges. I believe that without some sort of volta, a poem falls flat and is one-dimensional because it has nothing to butt up against.
So, what I propose is that we write a poem in two parts and then later combine those parts at its volta.
Write a missive to someone you knew, personally, who died a while ago, someone for whom you haven’t grieved in some time. Tell them about a very specific memory between the two of you, perhaps one that they wouldn’t even necessarily remember. This shouldn’t take up more than five to seven lines or so. For example, I would tell my grandpa that I remember being a child and sitting on his lap, watching the Kansas City Royals on television, that he had a glass of ice milk, and that his chewing tobacco smelled minty.
Make a minor confession, something you haven’t told anyone before (but that isn’t necessarily a major secret — or hell, confess what you want). Perhaps you’ll write about something you’ve stolen, some small moment of indiscretion, transgression or weakness, something for which you hold some guilt. This should only be a few lines long. Maybe the last of those lines can address how it made you feel to steal this thing (or whatever your confession might be).
These parts have nothing to do with one another. In other words, your confession does not relate to your memory of your lost loved one. When putting both parts together, find a turn of phrase that creates a narrative shift — something like “I wanted to tell you … .”
Also, I should be clear that what we’re doing has nothing to do with Surrealism. In fact, what will be created with my suggestions will be far from it. But that spark that happens from these two unrelated tropes will be the heart of this poem. Hopefully, you’ll be able to get at something that you can emotionally understand but not articulate.
Zachary Schomburg is the author of Scary, No Scary (Black Ocean, 2009) and The Man Suit (Black Ocean, 2007). He is a co-editor of both Octopus Magazine and Octopus Books. A collaborative chapbook with Emily Kendal Frey, “Team Sad,” was published in 2009 by Cinematheque Press. He lives in Portland, Ore. You can find out more about his poetry at his blog, The Lovely Arc.