After a long hiatus from school, I was working on a Master’s in literature, and just beginning to write poems of my own, when I first read Marilyn Chin’s Rhapsody in Plain Yellow. This book, with its densely allusive fabric, hyper-vivid imagery, and wild formal range, opened up my idea of what poetry can do. “Horse Horse Hyphen Hyphen,” which I wrote about extensively in my thesis, is one of the central loci for all the concerns of the book: immigration and immigrant identity, life in San Diego, at the US-Mexico border, and the border between halves of a hyphenated identity; a faithless father, violence against women, maternal love, and the loss of a mother; and the question of how or whether to change, or shapeshift, or to resist change, in the face of these many forces. The poem’s subtitle, “Border Ghazals,” describes the three sections of the poem as ghazals, and, though Chin here forgoes the form’s rhyme and repeated radif, she uses the unit of the independent couplet to create evocative juxtapositions, to cry out with wit and love and contempt and longing. In keeping with the intertextual play of the book, Chin remakes Catullus in the first ghazal’s opening couplet, “I hate and I hate, I love, I don’t know how /I’m biracial, I’m torn in two,” and Donne in the second section’s opener, “The bad conceit, the bad conceit police will arrest you / Twin compasses, twin compasses cannot come.” I’m still dazzled by the way this poem uses its form to knit together diction from so many registers, to traverse time and space, and to allow the reader to wander through the lucid web of the poem, finding connections.
In her essay “The Holograph,” poet Brenda Hillman speaks of handwriting a poem over and over as a method of revision in her own practice:
Emerging signs are very close to the nerves of the hand. Seeing a letter formed in stages… pulled into the thread or wick, to the thing of the word itself, gives a sense of participatory process, that the poem is still unfolding, that all of its unconscious dream nature has not yet been foreclosed upon.…
Hillman writes too about our “atavistic connections to the written expression.” Thinking about that “atavistic” quality, that reversion to the ancestral, Poetry Daily asked each member of its new editorial board to name the poem that first sparked poetry in them—the first poem they read that gave them permission to write poetry or the idea that they might write it—the poem that led them down the path to becoming a poet.
We then asked each editor to write about that special experience and to create a writing prompt for others based on an observation about the poem. We also asked them, finally, to handwrite that poem—as a kind of homage to its maker, the poet who came before—and an homage to the poem itself as a thing that first sparked their writing.
“I also like to recopy poems other than my own onto new pages,” Hillman observes in conclusion to her essay, “because there is an intimacy about that as well.”
We are excited to present to you these sixteen intimate homages to the relationship between poet as reader and poet as writer, and to what sparks poetry.
Heather Green on Marilyn Chin’s “Horse Horse Hyphen Hyphen”
Write a poem in syntactically independent couplets, making meaning by accretion through the juxtaposition of the couplets. There may be an over-arching theme binding the couplets together, but they should be thematically independent to the degree that they could be moved around freely within the poem. Alter lines of poetry from at least two other poems and fold them into your poem. Alter one joke or punch line and fold it into your poem.
Heather Green is the author of No Other Rome (forthcoming in 2021, Akron UP), as well as two chapbooks, No Omen and The Match Array. Her poems have appeared in Bennington Review, Denver Quarterly, the New Yorker, and elsewhere. She is the translator of Tristan Tzara’s Noontimes Won (Octopus Books) and Guide to the Heart Rail (Goodmorning Menagerie). Her translations of Tzara’s work have appeared in Asymptote, Open Letters Monthly, Poetry International, and several anthologies. She teaches in the School of Art at George Mason University.