Moving right along, here’s the prompt from March 14:
A salt lake in Melbourne, Australia recently turned pink due to the growth of algae “in response to very high salt levels, high temperatures, sunlight, and lack of rainfall.” The phenomenon transformed the lake from its natural blue tone to an unusually bright flamingo color. Write a poem that begins by evoking the sensations of one color, and then—gradually or abruptly—turns a strikingly different color, perhaps even pink. How will you manipulate the mood, images, sounds, and rhythms of your language to reflect the color change? [Click here to jump to the final draft]
There are some poems that I need to write to fill in gaps in the narrative for the collection I’ve been working on. This is harder to do than it may sound (at least, it is for me). Because the poems are filling in gaps, I know what they need to be about – but writing about specific topics is not typically part of my process. When I write a new poem (one that doesn’t come from a prompt, that is), it generally starts with something that I notice: a group of ducklings crossing the road, the way the sunlight hits a particular blade of grass on a freshly cut lawn, a woman scolding her child in a public setting. Usually, it’s an image that sticks with me for one reason or another. Then, that image will sit inside of me for days, weeks, sometimes years, before an event will take place that is in some way reminiscent of that image or strikes me as somehow connected. A dying raccoon on the side of the road gets connected to the day I watched my father die; mowing the lawn gets connected to bending in order to not break in a tough situation. It’s not an exact science.
I work with prompts to force myself out of my box and to explore what might crop up that could, much later and after some work, become an important poem. I work with prompts like a kid works one of those giant metal hand games – plopping the hand down to grab some random toy from the pile. Sometimes you get a giant stuffed unicorn, sometimes you get an eraser in a plastic egg. But writing a poem that needs to serve a particular purpose in a collection is a different beast entirely. Sometimes, like today, I use a prompt to get me working on a poem that I know I need to write to fill one of those narrative gaps. On occasion, that’s successful. More often than not, it’s not. This is one of those attempts.
KING OF THE CARNIVAL
Because we had a history with vampires, we went in search
of Ann Rice’s house. Some trolley operator shouted something
that sounded about right, though we were in the middle
of clearly suburban New Orleans and there were no signs
identifying which house might belong to Lestat’s mother and which
to some third grade teacher at Lake Forest Elementary, we got off
and made our solitary way down the tree-lined street. Of course,
we never found her house – they all looked so similar: tan stone,
Here I stopped writing because the poem was feeling too wordy and descriptive rather than relying more heavily on imagery and – as the prompt dictates – on color. I had decided to write about purple because the poem needs to be about a particular day in New Orleans when my ex-husband and I were still dating – and purple is a color strongly associated with NOLA. But there’s also a lot of black in what I think will ultimately be the imagery surrounding the poem (especially as it relates to vampires). So, I decided to start over, this time focusing more heavily on the color and less so on the narrative.
KING OF THE CARNIVAL
Black was the color of love: a slinky dress hiked up, his mouth
on me, dark hair tumbling – an all hallows eve vampire fantasy,
I put his desire on like a second skin of zebra striped sequins.
We took it all the way – I wore an amethyst cross and held his hand
across the lost lawns of suburban New Orleans – in the rain, we ducked
into a cantina to drink strings of pink cosmos and each other.
The fortune teller said our love would last lifetimes. There’s no denying
we believed it. In the dusky masquerade of make-believe, we danced,
the airy night illuminating the fires that started the world.
I’m leaving it here – though it’s not nearly complete, I do think this version is more in line with what I’m looking for for the collection. I can see this evolving into a longer series of tercets, and I’d like to see more carnival imagery showing up – especially surrounding the idea of a masquerade – possibly even moving into the religious undertones of carnival – especially what with the vampire and cross references. Needless to say, there’s still much work to be done here, but I think the prompt has done its job which is to get me moving in the direction of a poem. Working out the final version will take substantially more time and space than I want to take up here. And so, we move onward!