Haven’t done one of these in a while! Lately I’ve been trying to use more creative exercises (not strictly writing; in fact some that are specifically in other creative areas, like art and music) to better and more fully exercise my subconscious. I feel like much of the work of crafting stories happens off the page, when we are in rumination and our minds may wander and jump and connect. Blackout poetry is one such occasion to do so and, being creatively active, engages the mind differently than running or doing the dishes does. And when you’re done, you have a bit of art to show for it!
[Wrote this based on a brief, real image glimpsed out my window in the midst of winter blizzardry this Thursday. Haven’t written any poetry in a while, but this came to me quite readily, and I liked the few lines’ simplicity.]
For the first week of April I am reading ten poems a day, listing them here (with links when available), and discussing my favorite of the ten: why I liked it, and what I observed of technique. As always, these posts are open to response and commentary! I am going to try and mix it up so that I read from eclectic anthologies as well as the selected poems of a handful of poets.
The poem I want to talk about today is this:
“A Beautiful Girl Combs Her Hair”
by Li Ho
Awake at dawn
by cool silk curtains
fragrance of spilling hair
half sandalwood, half aloes
windlass creaking at the well
the lotus blossom wakes, refreshed
a pool of autumn light
standing on the ivory bed
loosening her hair
watching the mirror
one long coil, aromatic silk
a cloud down to the floor
drop the jade comb — no sound
pushing the coils into place
color of raven feathers
shining blue-black stuff
the jewelled comb will hardly hold it
spring wind makes me restless
her slovenly beauty upsets me
eighteen and her hair’s so thick
she wears herself out fixing it!
she’s finished now
the whole arrangement in place
in a cloud-patterned skirt
she walks with even steps
a wild goose on the sand
turns away without a word
where is she off to?
down the steps to break a spray of
I wanted to start with a poem that shows how loose and poignant poetry can be. As you can see with “A Beautiful Girl Combs Her Hair,” a poem doesn’t have to follow a set scheme of rhyme, or couplets, or meter. This poem is free verse and inconsistent in form, but still gorgeous.
The other element I wanted to highlight from the beginning is the use of concrete imagery. The reason poems can be so brief is because they communicate through image and sense. Cool silk curtains, sandalwood, aloes, windlass, well, jade, the jewelled comb: all these things create visual images, and many appeal to smell and touch and sound. It is through details such as these the poet can take an ordinary, everyday phenomenon– brushing one’s hair– and make it a refreshing, vivid experience.
Today’s complete reading (my favorites are starred):
From Poetry, An Introduction, compiled by Michael Meyer (Fifth Edition)
- “Fat is Not a Fairy Tale” by Jane Yolen
- “End of April” by Phillis Levin
- “A Beautiful Girl Combs Her Hair” by Li Ho*
- “Junior Year Abroad” by Luisa Lopez*
- “The Voice You Hear When You Read Silently” by Thomas Lux
From The Great Enigma, collected poems of 2011 Nobel Prize winner Tomas Tranströmer:
through a crack
in the roof,
in metal pails