P&W Prompt 2: War-Zone Show and Tell

This week’s Poets & Writers‘ prompt asks us to write poems of erasure:

Write an erasure poem:  Rip out one or two pages from a magazine or newspaper.  Read through them, underlining words and phrases that appeal to you and that relate to each other.  Using a marker or WhiteOut, begin to delete the words around those you underlined, leaving words and phrases that you might want to use.  Keep deleting the extra language, working to construct poetic lines with the words you’ve chosen to keep.

For this week’s prompt, I randomly selected an old magazine from a basket of rolled up magazines in the bathroom. I then randomly selected a page, tore it out, and started highlighting.  The page I selected comes from the April 19, 2010 edition of The New Yorker, pages 33-34.  As instructed, I went through the lines, marking words and phrases that struck me.  Here’s the list:

War-zone show and tell

Who else has stolen the ashtray

Liberated

Ugly and ungainly outfits

Breaking sanctions pretty

Ladies had been sewing

What sounded like an American marching hymn

Rwandan tourism

A burka for Barbie

Deconstructing before my eyes

Disappearing before my eyes, man

Dark, wide and bouncy

In a flash of shock and awe

A generation of college kids on to the roots

Elegant primitivism

Looks like a seascape

It departs from perspective

Hear the bells, Wolf said

Illuminate the night

The feel of the darkest hour

The kind of yellow he used

A friend suggested he hunt

Muttering, it has to be cadmium yellow

Midnight souvenirs

Resulting in a thick impasto of sound

Inky background

You’ll hear the bells

Slim of shank

Among the green revelers

Gobsmacked, squinting

The icebox.  The kitchen table

Filled with moving

A white plate

Biggest bookie

Big walk-in icebox downstairs

Spoke german.  In the front

Pointed at an avacado

At night I have possums

Through the cat door, and they bring their babies in

Hot-dog festivals, that I’m a champion hot-dog eater

Bando never did it

A gnarled two-foot-long stick

It’s a walrus penis

The next step was to try to create some meaning out of the random words and phrases I’d selected.  I also began the process of breaking the lines into stanzas (also to help with meaning).  Without altering too much the original lines, here’s what I came up with:

War-Zone Show and Tell

I wanted to know who else had stolen the ashtray,

liberated the ugly and ungainly thing,

breaking all the sanctions pretty

ladies had been sewing.

What sounded like an American marching hymn

Spilled from the Rwandan tourism office that sold

burkas for Barbie, Barbie,

deconstructing before my eyes.

Disappearing before my eyes, man.

Dark, wide and bouncy,

In a flash of shock and awe

a generation of college kids held on to the roots

of elegant primitivism

looking for a seascape

departing from perspective.

Hear the bells, Wolf said, how

They illuminate the night.

The darkest hour felt like

the kind of yellow he used.

A friend suggested he hunt, but Wolf kept

muttering, it has to be cadmium yellow.

His paintings of the bells at night,

midnight souvenirs, a thick impasto of sound

on inky background.

You’ll hear the bells

slim of shank among the green revelers.

Gobsmacked, squinting, we stood by

the icebox.  The kitchen table

filled with moving white plates

and a sketch of the biggest bookie in town.

Next to the big walk-in icebox downstairs, Wolf said

they spoke German  in the front,

and then pointed at an avocado.

At night I have possums come in

through the cat door, and they bring their babies.

He never talks directly of the war.  Instead,

It’s all abstraction. I’m a champion hot-dog eater, he said,

Bando never did it.  And then picked up

a gnarled two-foot-long stick.  Do you know what this is?

His face is scarred wonderment.  It’s a walrus penis!

Finally, I went through what I had and attempted to make an actual poem of out it.  This time, I didn’t worry so much about holding on to the original lines (although I did hold them wherever I could) and I messed around more with stanza breaks.  My main goal was to get the narrative straight.  In a poem that is essentially fragmented and confused intentionally, narrative becomes extremely important so as to not lose the reader – even though the desired effect is to have the reader become somewhat disoriented, forcing her to rely more heavily on implied meaning and emotional content.  Miraculously! The first line that I highlighted on the page works beautifully as a title of the whole piece.  Here’s the “final” draft.  Of course, as with all of these prompts, it still needs a substantial amount of work before being an “actual” final draft.  Enjoy!

War-Zone Show and Tell

I wanted to know the story behind the stolen ashtray,

a liberated, ugly and ungainly thing.  Wolf laughed and said he was

busy breaking all the sanctions pretty ladies had been sewing.

He hummed a few bars of what sounded like an American marching hymn,

the sound he remembers spilling from the Rwandan tourism office

that sold burkas for Barbie. Barbie, deconstructing before my eyes.

Disappearing before my eyes, man.

His face is dark and wide, he’s bouncing around the apartment talking

about shock and awe, a generation of college kids holding on to the roots

of what he calls “elegant primitivism,” then takes out a painting  of a small boat

lost on a seascape departing from perspective.

Hear the bells, Wolf said, how they illuminate the night.


I think I understand.  It is late and the darkest hour feels like

the kind of yellow he used.  A friend calls to suggest he go hunting,

but Wolf keeps muttering, it has to be cadmium yellow.

His painting of the bells at night, midnight souvenir, is a thick impasto

of sound on inky background.  Listen, he whispers, you’ll hear the bells

slim of shank among the green revelers.

Gobsmacked and squinting, we stand by the icebox.  The kitchen table

filled with white plates and Wolf’s sketches of the biggest bookie in town.

Next to the big walk-in icebox downstairs, Wolf returns long enough

to tell me they spoke German in the front and then points at an avocado.

At night I have possums come in through the cat door,

and they bring their babies. He rarely talks directly of the war.  Instead,

it’s all abstraction, puzzle pieces.  I’m a champion hot-dog eater, he says,

Bando never did it.  And then picks up a gnarled two-foot-long stick.

Do you know what this is?

His face is scarred wonderment.  It’s a walrus penis!

3 thoughts on “P&W Prompt 2: War-Zone Show and Tell

  1. Pingback: P&W Prompt: Cento | J. Gabriel Scala

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