Tag Archives: poetry by corruption

#222: Why I Am Happy


Poet and teacher of mine from a long way back, Peter Sears, taught me about a thing called poetry by corruption, whereby you, the writer, take a poem that you like and just simply and with impunity steal things from it, or, steal it wholesale except for some words or phrases you’ve blanked out from the original and then replaced with your own stuff. It’s only legal because it’s a good exercise to teach us about the choices poets make and it’s a way to pay homage and attention to a poem we love. The only rule: don’t try this at home unless you’re willing to give credit to the original poem. The following is a corruption of one of my favorites by William Stafford.

Why I Am Happy

(from William Stafford)

Now has come, an easy time, I am done
grading sophomore essays, and there is
a lake somewhere so blue and so far
no more student work can find me.
A wind comes, saying, you’re not there yet.

In a few more days will come student
notebooks and portfolios and senior
final exams into my attention. For now,
a lull, unusual, like the one
I hear every summer, when I, too,
laugh and cry for every turn of the world.

Grading goes on and on
but that lake goes on and on even farther;

and I know where it is.

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#139: Another Random Autobiography

We’re kicking off the school year by introducing to students this lovely thing we call a “mentor text.”  We look closely at a piece of good writing, observe its various moves and strategies, and then write our own piece of good writing inspired by the mentor text, mimicking as best we can the moves of the master.  In this case, with our IB Juniors, we’re looking at a poem by Mary Ann Larson called “Random Autobiography.” Philosophically speaking, I think that if it’s a worthwhile thing for students to be doing, it’s a worthwhile thing for me to do as well–as long as I am not yet buried in paper. I am not yet buried in paper.  What follows are the results of my labor.


Another Random Autobiography

(After Mary Ann Larson)

I was unexpected,
a surprise, my mother says,
not a mistake.
I’ve held a dying dog,
And I kissed my dying father.
In the fourth grade, I heard Elton John
and my life changed.
I’ve lost teeth, lots of teeth.
I’ve lost girlfriends.
My heart broke the first
time in the sixth grade.
It’s happened since but
I’ve not been counting.
I’ll tell you sincerely:
McLoughlin Blvd. is more of a
wasteland now than it was
when I was a kid,
even though much of
the neighborhood is
improved, the parks, the roads,
the trolley trail.
Once, I was blind,
bandaged after an eye surgery
and for one year only
I wore glasses.
Once, and only once,
I ate a whole ball of wasabi
because I didn’t know what it was.
It was my birthday.
Just like Mary Ann Larson,
I rolled a Pinto, or rather,
was rolled in a Pinto.
The woman who would be my wife
was driving. We walked away, too.
My life of crime: I shoplifted candy bars
and snuck into movie theaters and drank
wine coolers before I was legal.
My dad let me wash down a raw oyster
with a swig of beer. I will testify
to raw oysters with a beer chaser.
I’ve been scared and scarred by The Excorcist
and by religion generally speaking.
I’ve felt the sharp pick-ax pain
of a broken collar-bone
when my brother fell on top of me
in a game of keep-away Frisbee.
All the writing I did as a child
I’ve got stored in boxes.
People have been kind and
I have been lucky.
I have been known to put mustard
on a piece of chocolate.
I teach and sing and write,
therefore, I am licensed,
armed and dangerous
in the best possible way.


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#105: Life, Friends, Is A Golden Shovel and So Much Depends Upon (A Corruption and a Correction)

OMG.  The assignment today from NaPoWriMo was to do a clever little thing called a “golden shovel,” wherein you write a poem for which ALL of the ending words for each line of your poem are taken in total from some other famous poem–so that, a person reading your poem could read the original famous poem by reading only the last words in each line of yours!  Crazy.  Cool.  Thank you Terrence Hayes. But I spent a couple of hours on this baby and realized I had made a grave error!  But my grave error ended up being something kind of lovely.  I took my favorite poem of all time, John Berryman’s “14” from the book 77 Dream Songs, and instead of ending each line of my poem with all the words in Berryman’s poem (which would have taken forever), I used only the last word in each line of Berryman’s poem, and wrote my poem around those words.  But I also discovered I was copping the same form of the original Dream Song–a structure of three sestets, consistent in most all of the two hundred-plus Dream Songs by Berryman, and I was also copping the rhythmic aspects of the poem.  Additionally, there were a few other phrases or words stolen from the original. So I ended up with less of a golden shovel and more of a corruption–which is also a cool idea.  Take any famous poem or favorite poem and cross out about fifty percent or more of the words.  Fill in the blanks with your own words.  You end up learning about the various choices poets make–but also are able to mimic with your own words the structural and rhythmic moves of your favorite poet.  I liked this golden shovel assignment so much, I had to go back to it.  So here is my grand mistake. I recommend reading the original first:  John Berryman’s “Dream Song 14.”  Following my corruption, keep reading for the correction!

Life, Friends, is a Golden Shovel (A Corruption)

–after John Berryman

Life, friends, is a golden shovel, or at least, they tell me so.
It moves, and grows, reaches and yearns,
digs or scoops for that which we yearn,
and whatever it finds it lifts and carries, oh boy,
(unceasingly) only to reveal we’re bored
and we get no

Satisfaction.  Despite the treasures found, no
satisfaction, because we are too easily bored.
Neighbors watch me,
Students watch me, as I shovel them literature,
Friends watch me, appear to have minor gripes
but nothing like achilles,

with that whole tendon arrangement, watching me.
And sometimes the golden shovel becomes a drag
scooping up after the dog
after several days of neglect and inattention, away
goes all the debris and refuge and blind aspiration, leaving
some trail: tail, wag.


So Much Depends Upon (A Correction) 

–after William Carlos Williams 

I’m not so
blind, not so much
that anything depends
in any significant way upon
good or bad weather, a
catastrophe in tooth and claw, red,
carried away, as they say, in  a wheelbarrow,
for those who prefer their donuts lightly glazed,
or not.  I simply need someone to be with,
someone with whom I can dance in the rain,
holding five gallon buckets out for water
under a gray Oregon spring sky, beside
me through thickness, thinness, the
clouds all the while turning a white
blind eye to the cavorting barnyard chickens.


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