This past Friday, sitting on the bed in my grandmother’s spare bedroom, I started to draft a poem about communication between me and my father; the lack thereof. I knew I had a few good ideas, but I couldn’t get the pieces to fit together as if I had the pieces from two similar puzzle boxes combined into one. After a few hours of drafting, and several futile cups of coffee, I stowed the work into my overnight bag and went to sleep.
Today we went over the poem that focuses on syllables. Our homework? Write a poem with a minimum of fourteen lines that has some kind of syllable structure. Dismissing, Marianne Moore’s The Paper Nautilus, I decided to use a set of syllables that I was more familiar with: the tanka. The tank is a type of classical Japanese verse in the waka variety, particularly using the syllables 5, 7, 5, 7, 7.
But should I just keep going back to what I’m familiar with? If not the tanka, what syllabic structure? After having accidentally dropped a plate of assorted fruits upside down, it hits me—what if I turn the tanka upside down? I use my draft from the weekend and things begin to fall into place. I suddenly realize that one of the up-sides to syllabic poems is that it can give you a frame in which to work. I was abruptly able to throw out unnecessary connective tissues and build my anti-tanka. Here is a taste:
Me and dad stand opposite
each other on the brick porch
like two phonographs,
blaring through metallic horns—
all mouth and no ears.
Note that I was unable to get wordpress to allow me to get rid of all the space between the lines of the above which is actually a stanza.