In Diane Lockward’s June newsletter,* the Craft Tip article “Poetic Sequences: Practice Makes Potential” by Oliver de la Paz tells of his visit to the Picasso Museum in Barcelona, Spain. On that visit he came across one room where the paintings, drawings, and studies on the walls, as well as the sketchbooks filling a table were all remarkably similar in texture and colour. That’s because they were all studies of the same subject—the painting Las Meninas by Velazquez.
La Paz likens these artist studies of Picasso’s to what poets do when they write sequences. He says, “By writing a series or sequence of poems on a singular subject, we can create a volume of individual poems that are at once independent and in dialogue with adjacent poems in the series or sequence. These are generative exercises—painting studies and sequential writing.”
Two advantages la Paz sees in writing sequences:
1. They allow for a close study of a subject from different angles and perspectives, at different times of day, in different seasons, through different moods etc. (depending, of course, on the subject).
2. One doesn’t have to “mine for” a different subject every day. He says, “I’ve found that working in sequences frees me from obsessing over a blank page. Psychologically, I’m prepared to work with content that has already been worked over.”
The power of sequences came to my attention even before I read the newsletter article when I judged a poetry contest a while ago. Though the entries had no names on them, I suspected several were by the same person because they were about the same subject. The subject was a certain creek. The first poem about the creek didn’t strike me as particularly strong. But as I read the second and third poems about the same location, I saw how these “studies” fortified and bolstered each other, the whole becoming greater than the sum of its parts.
I have found myself naturally circling back to some subjects in my own writing, perhaps because they were new experiences for me and writing about them helped me understand them better. The death of my mother was one such. So was my broken hip this spring. Beginning in March, when I was newly recovering, to April’s poem-a-day challenge, and on, I wrote quite a few poems about my unaccustomed state.
The other day I collected them and found they were a sequence of sorts. I’m going to be sharing them here over the next little while (though not arranged in the order I wrote them). I call them my LIMP sequence. As in the poems about the creek, when these LIMP poems appear with others of the same subject they seem more complete than they do as individual poems. So, welcome to my LIMP sequence! Below is the first one.
(After Genesis 32:24-32**)
Jacob wrestled with an angel
I fell down some stairs.
The surgeon plated, screwed it
but I was unawares
somehow he took a bit off
I now walk with a limp.
Does God bestow a blessing too
with this gait that’s gimp?
© 2014 by Violet Nesdoly (All rights reserved)
*You do know about Diane Lockward’s excellent newsletter, don’t you? It comes out every month with a prompt, a craft tip, a writing-book tip and other goodies. If you don’t subscribe, you know you should. (You can subscribe in the right sidebar of her blog Blogalicious.)
**The Bible story is that one night Jacob wrestled with an angel, the angel injured Jacob’s hip, and Jacob wouldn’t let the heavenly being go until the angel blessed him. Jacob did get the blessing but along with it came that lifelong crippled hip.
By the way, I’m walking just fine these days, the cane long retired. Even the limp is growing less noticeable every day!
September 23, 2014 at 10:06 am
Very interesting, Violet! I hadn’t thought about the ramifications of circling around the same subject.
Glad your hip is doing better 🙂
September 23, 2014 at 10:19 am
Thanks Tabatha. You may find you have some sequences in your own writings. Most of us have favorite subjects and poems on them, when collected, may fit together creating their own particular ‘thingness.’
Linda Baie (@LBaie)
September 23, 2014 at 12:39 pm
My daughter works at the Museum of Contemporary Art here & I’ve notices more than one artist who responds with even varying media to the same subject. The idea of doing this with poetry is wonderful, Violet, & your beginning to open your own topic in this poem, each line nearly opens its own topic! Thanks for the link, too.