May 2024 Poetry Feature: Pissed-Off Ars Poetica Sonnet Crown

By REBECCA FOUST

    1. (Written after the workshop)

Fuck you, if I want to put a bomb in my poem
I’ll put a bomb there, & in the first line.
Granted, I might want a nice reverse neutron bomb
that kills only buildings while sparing our genome
but—unglue the whole status-quo thing,
the canon can-or-can’t do?  Fuck yeah, & by
“canon” I mean any rule, whether welded
by time, privilege, or empire, & also by
the newer memes. Anyway, I want the omelet
because of the broken eggs. I want to break glass
into dust, to spindrift it into new form. I want
to melt mortar down into quicklime that burns.
Less piety, please. Any real response to my poem
will do—laugh, cry, yawn—or STFU & go home.

 

    1. (It’s not about you per se) 

STFU & go home if you can’t take a joke.
Poets can be so, well, touchy—bespoke
about things like words, not just couture
where we could, OK, use some advice—
come on, people! Remember, less is more
& when it comes to bombasting on Art,
more is definitely less. Give us some space,
please, some room. Don’t we all want
the same thing? A quick fix to exhume death,
heal our mortal wound? Or at least, add
a honeyed dram to the oatmeal of living?
Listen: it’s not always about you, or even me
(though it’s mostly about me), or the topic
per se. Not in this context, anyway.

 

    1. (What matters is how, or don’t share these)

In the context of writing, the what (your topic)
& the who (the self) always matter less
than the how. Those line-broken journal screeds
& earnest poems penned in a fever en route
to the reading?—they suck. That shit’s not art,
not even when sauced with a British accent.
Or rapped. Or sung. If Athena leapt
fully-formed from Zeus’s brow—& BTW,
I do dispute this—it was not as a good poem.
Suit up or go home, folks. Art takes work,
& by “work” I mean: Read (wide & deep, not
just what you like or can get in a sext) & Revise.
First drafts make good seeds. But—please,
please don’t share these. Except with your cat.

 

    1. (Can you write while girding your loins?)

It’s really great your cat loved your poem, 
but you’ve got to accept that she’s not,
nor will be, on staff at POETRY magazine.
For one thing, it’s in Chicago. Poets, please
don’t share your work before you’ve revised,
& maybe—not ever. Certainly not when
you’re still drunk from writing. Stay home.
Sober up, take a nap. Pass on the Open Mic.                                
Or do what one teacher told me to do
with my own newborn poem: sock it away
in a drawer for a year. I did, & later,
was appalled. The world won’t be kind, he said.
Expect landmines. Also, next to poets, lawyers
are marshmallows—but he didn’t say “marshmallows.”
Can you write while girding your loins?

 

    1. (Instructions to self)

No, you can’t write while girding your loins,
so let me rephrase. Something more upbeat
like “Tell your truth, & stay open
for every life experience”—fake facts
let us do this. Say whatever we want. Lie
to tell a greater truth, as Picasso
would say. Said,  I think. It said so
on The Internet. (Yes, I slipped & went surfing
while supposed to be reading & revising.)
Tip number five: stay alive. Actually surf.
Turn off your fucking phone. Take a walk,
without it. Eat some lemon cream pie
along with your kale & stale heel of GF bread,
or maybe it just always tastes stale.  

 

    1. (Alaska is hot right now)

Everything always tastes stale that’s good
for you, & that’s the truth
& a damn shame. Also, everything
you’ve tasted more than one time.
This is why rhyme rarely works anymore.
Not never, but, like, really rarely.
Poets, don’t rhyme “June” with “moon”
or “spoon,” & so on, unless you make it new,
like it’s a coke spoon, or June means
a city in panhandle Alaska (Alaska is hot
right now!) Or, unless you’re using “June”
to modify “bug” (as in that big beetle
your cat just ate). Tip 6: new tricks—
learn the old ones, then turn them.

 

    1. (Turn some tricks)

Learn the old tricks, then how to turn them
to your advantage. Then, turn them
& turn them again—best get used to this,
Poets—it’s right there in the job description:
be naked & splayed. Also, love everyone
lavishly—I mean their work—while feeling
like crap re your own. Embrace rejection
(bc rejection’s the John) &–It’s about fit!
—How ‘bout I fit my foot up your ass,
Mr. Editor? I bet you’d like that–
(bc yes—he’s the pimp). Anyway, it pays—
well, not—but I mean it’s good at least to look
at what others have done, before you
decide you’d sooner die, than be like them.

 

    1. (Give it all you’ve got)

 No, seriously. Before you decide
you’d sooner die than be like them, study
those poets. Like you’d study dinosaurs,
to see what offed them, perchance
thus avoiding their fate. Maybe they got old
(luck with that) or, lazy, lolling around
on mudflats & losing their edge.
Edge is important. So is risk. Busking
is one thing, art something else.
It’s true trolls may dox you or out you
or boo you or sue your cat—so what.
Give it all you’ve got—why not? You can suck 
or shine & still The Asteroid Will Come.
It will come. Don’t give it the satisfaction. 

 

    1. (The book, it’s great)

Don’t give Fate the smug satisfaction
of seeing you have succumbed. Fight on,
Poet, fight on. What—your first book
came with six pages missing inside?—NBD!
No one reads past the pub credits anyway.
The book is an artifact, not any other kind
of fact about your writing prowess. It proves,
at best, you’re good at entering contests,
or are well & widely plumbed. Actually, JK.
The book is OK, it’s great. It shows Fate
& your cat you mean business, unless of course
Fate intended the book all along   .   .   .  Fuck,
get me off the hook here! What I meant
to say was, the book was never the point.

 

    1. (Once in a while)

The book was never the point, & that
is a great consolation when it fails
to sell, or garner a single review
besides your mother’s, on Amazon,
& she gave it two stars. All these brass rings,
grasped, just fall away to reveal other,
more elusory, brass rings. It never ends,
the siren singing on Facebook re Y
or X’s latest success. What it’s about is this:
you getting a grip on you, through language.
The world held at bay by your desk. At times
you make yourself smile, or weep, or feel
less or more pissed. Once in a while,
the next poem sucks slightly less than the last.

 

    1. (Like a really good serial killer)

Once in a while you’ll write a poem that sucks
less than the last, & Poets, that—that is
the bomb. Remember the bomb? (It was
in the first line.) Good poems are rare,
& often mime bombs that do or don’t blow,
(I mean, up)—they just have to, you know, have
that potential. Like a really good serial killer,
tension lures readers in, keeps them tied up
in knots inside, then eviscerates them.
What’s the best source of tension? Mystery.
How best resolved? Not at all. Or, by Pity & Fear
led into Surprise, Recognition, Catharsis.
Wait, wasn’t this space supposed to be safe?
Who let that cat—& Aristotle—in here?

 

    1. (Who let Aristotle in here?)

This was supposed to be a safe space, so tell me,
who let Aristotle in? I’m down with him
& his pet catharsis being here, don’t get me
wrong. But—observe the three unities of Space,
Action, & Time? Does Netflix? Didn’t A
also say to kill all the poets? (Nope.) The play’s
the thing, according to Shakespeare,
who reprised Plato’s line as kill all the lawyers,
& who can dispute that? (Me, but I’m retired.)
A’s right, though—the poem is a play, & also
S— the play’s the thing. A poem is a drama, People.
Give it a beginning, middle, & end. some stakes.
A poet could do worse than read The Poetics,
slow food for thought, & a feast for ascetics. 

 

    1. (My pen is my sword, & the blade itself) 

Slow food for thought, & a feast for ascetics
—how’s that for a blurb? (Curb your enthusiasm,
please.) Oh dang, this is the point in the crown
where the will to go on tends just  .  .  .  to break down.
Deep breath. We must stand & face the death
that is coming, As it will. It will. What will you do
till the day convenes? Me, I’ll break things,
then build them back up with my pen. Or keyboard,
whatever. My pen is my sword & the blade itself
(Oh yeah—who hasn’t yearned to use that line?).
What wealth waits for she who keeps the flame? (None).
What fame? (Same). Why then, go on? Well, what if
the grid goes down? It’s a key life-skill, like reading.
Stuff like maps, to reconstruct the world.

 

    1. (I really like that bomb thing)

 A map is a construct & not the world but
—let’s be real. What do you most want & need
when you’re lost without GPS? Yep, a map
& a compass. Poets, we surely are lost
& were even before Covid & fire & flood
& fucking Trump—but I digress. This manifesto
will discuss only Art. I began with a bomb,
my right to write it, then pled with poets
to read all they can—study the greats, & revise.
I do still regret the shortage of praise
or hard cash, the lash of letting an email
decide the work is worthwhile. But I really like
that bomb thing. A good poem coils a spring
of real fear, & then, sprung, is fear’s negation. 

 

    1. (A Poem is a construct, not the world)

A poem can inspire fear, then can be fear’s negation. 
A poem is a construct, not the world. A game,
the Hunger-Games kind. Poets, your poem can say
“bomb.” It can be a safe space, slow food for thought,
a flag unfurled, or a wedding “I Do,” so long as
the next effort sucks less. The point is, don’t give Fate
more cause for smuggery. No, seriously.
Before vowing you’d sooner die than learn old tricks,
learn how to turn them. Things that don’t taste stale
are rarely good (for you, or anyone)—so don’t
share new work. Write before girding loins. How matters.
not what or who, so go home if you can’t take a joke.
Fuck can’t, all cant & the cat you keep quoting, &—you.
I’ll say “bomb” in my poem if I want to.

 

Rebecca Foust’s fourth book, ONLY(Four Way Books 2022), earned a starred review in Publishers Weekly and was recently reviewed by Mark Jarmon in The Hudson Review. Her poems, in journals including Narrative, POETRY, Ploughshares, and Southern Review, won this year’s New Ohio Review prize and were runner-up for the Missouri Review Editors Prize. Past recognitions include the James Hearst, Pablo Neruda and Poetry International prizes, fellowships at Hedgebrook, MacDowell, and Sewanee, and a Marin County Poet Laureateship.

May 2024 Poetry Feature: Pissed-Off Ars Poetica Sonnet Crown

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