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This week’s task is to focus on an object in your environment, preferably an object from the natural world, to really examine it, to try and see it with utmost clarity, and to wait for the word, that first word or phrase that seems to capture, for you, the essence, in language, of that object. Then use that word or phrase to construct a poem that gives a voice to that thing.

Natural objects and manmade objects each have unique challenges. Because the former lie further beyond the zone of human intercourse, it is harder to find a language for them, and the danger is to anthropomorphize them. The trap with manmade ones is to rely on familiar expressions and relationships and to miss the opportunity

of calling attention to their unique properties. I would like to say: our aim is to make the object speak, but we know that is impossible. In the end it is we who speak. Language is always ours, and is of primary importance in our relationships to the world and to each other. And while poetic language is surely one of the most beautiful justifications of human utterance, our version of birdsong, our object is not to be enamored of our own beauty, but to find the truest, most respectful words for that thing. That is the object of our poetics today.

The master of this form of poetic expression is the great French writer Francis Ponge
Ponge describes the process in The Carnation:

Accept the challenge things offer to language. These carnations, for instance, defy language. I won’t rest till I have drawn together a few words that will compel anyone reading or hearing them to say: this has to do with something like a carnation…. What’s to be gained by this? To bring to life for the human spirit qualities, which are not beyond its capacity and which habit alone prevents it from adopting…. What sort of disciplines are required for this venture to succeed? Certainly those of scientific thought, but particularly a large measure of art. And that’s why I think one day such research might also legitimately be called poetry.

Here are a couple of examples:

by Francis Ponge [translation by Beth Archer]

Fire has a system: first all the flames move in one direction . . .

(One can only compare the gait of fire to that of an animal: it must first leave one place before occupying another; it moves like an amoeba and a giraffe at the same time, its neck lurching, its foot dragging) . . .

Then, while the substances consumed with method collapse, the escaping gasses are subsequently transformed into one long flight of butterflies.

[here is another translation]

by Francis Ponge [translation by Beth Archer]

The surface of a crusty bread is marvelous, first because of the almost panoramic impression it makes: as though one had the Alps, the Taurus or the Andes at one’s fingertips.

It so happened that an amorphous mass about to explode was slid into the celestial oven for us where it hardened and formed valleys, summits, rolling hills, crevasses . . . And from then on, all those planes so neatly joined, those fine slabs where light carefully beds down its rays – without a thought for the unspeakable mush underneath.

That cold flaccid substratum is made up of sponge-like tissue: leaves or flowers like Siamese twins soldered together elbow to elbow. When bread grows stale, these flowers fade and wither; they fall away from each other and the mass becomes crumbly . . .

But now let’s break it up: for in our mouths bread should be less an object of respect than one of consumption.

You’ll notice that these are examples of prose poetry. Your poem need not be prose. By all means, sing, rhyme, employ any and all means you are comfortable with, as long as they serve the object you have chosen.

Here are some more examples of Ponge’s poetry.

And here is Ponge’s text from which I have taken the title of our prompt.

Mark Kerstetter