Birdseed: a writing prompt with Andrew Kozma

with
Andrew Kozma

Birdseed is a series of micro interviews that glean writing prompts, insight and advice from the talented writers leading our workshops.

What course did you teach at Grackle?

I taught a poetry workshop called “Imagery and the Art of Disjunction.” In the class, we investigated two threads: image narratives and how to use disjunction in poetry. I wish I could explain exactly what I mean by those two things, but that was part of the goal of the class, a shared exploration and definition of these elements that I’ve been obsessed with in poetry for a while now. How do you tell a narrative without a story? How can you create a coherent narrative for the reader without connective tissue taking them from one image to the next?

What stands out in your memory as a special moment from your workshop?

What first time we did an in-class poetry exercise and then read them aloud. It wasn’t just what had been written, which was always interesting and distinctive and gave insight into that particular writer’s voice, but how it opened up the class like an egg being cracked open from the inside.

Do you have a favorite writing prompt for your students?

A lot of the prompts for this class involved attempting to get students to write in ways that weren’t normal to them (and that, really, aren’t normal to anyone). The class wasn’t simply about creating disjunction in the poem itself, but trying to achieve that disjunctive effect through paradoxical tasks in writing. For example, one week we read the poems of Irina Ratushinskaya and Jack Gilbert, and here’s the prompt we started from in class:

Ratushinskaya’s poems were created in the confines of a prison camp for political dissidents. Gilbert’s book THE GREAT FIRES is anchored by the loss of his wife Michiko. Though the poems of both poets are haunted by those losses (of freedom, of country, of love, of togetherness, of understanding), the poems are often not tackling those losses head on, but instead come at them aslant.

Now think about a great loss you’ve suffered. It doesn’t have to be grand, but it should be deep in one way or another, something that leaves a stain on the brain or heart. Now, try to convey that loss in a poem where you do not talk about the loss at all.

What is one pearl of writing wisdom you like to offer your students?

Like the prompt above, it’s a little paradoxical.

First, don’t be afraid to test your limits and try new things that, even as you’re writing them, seem like out-and-out failures. Do what you wouldn’t expect yourself to do. Push yourself past what seems like the poem’s natural end.

Second, don’t be afraid to explore whatever your current poetic obsession is. If you are only interested in writing sonnets about tree parasites or poem with rhymes at the beginning of the lines instead of the end, then let yourself do that. What makes us interesting as writers are our differences, our particular strange interests and quirks, and when your creative brain is done with that obsession, it’ll let you know.

Andrew Kozma’s poems have appeared in BlackbirdThe BelieverRedactionsBennington Review, and Best American Poetry. His book of poems, City of Regret won the Zone 3 First Book Award. A former editor for Gulf Coast and a current editor for Reckoning, he currently lives and teaches in Houston.

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