Archive for March, 2012

The “Level Four Poetry Manifesto”

In the Spring issue of the Museletter, The Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets newsletter, Lester Smith, the WFOP President, writes about how William Roetzheim selected poems for the Giant Book of Poetry.

To back up a minute, I’d like to say that I sure wish I’d seen these criteria first but since this blog is my on-line poetry scrapbook, I want to make note of them here so I don’t forget them. They are good.

Okay. William Roetzheim is the editor of the Giant Book of Poetry, which was published in 2006. In the introduction, he writes that to understand what makes a poem good, and thus understand the criteria for including a poem in the anthology, we must turn to his “Level Four Poetry Manifesto.”

Poetry, according to Roetzheim, operates on four levels. On Level One, the poem must communicate on the denotative level, or on a direct level with the casual reader, e.g., the poem might tell a story, describe an image, or contain a surprise ending.

Level Two poems communicate on the connotative level; they suggest something more, such as music, communicated through meter or rhyme.

At Level Three, poems may have a separate message conveyed through a metaphor, for instance, that becomes apparent when pointed out to a non-skilled reader of poems.

Finally, Level Four uses a symbol to communicate a separate message. Roetzheim says Level Four poems have both literal and representational meanings, and readers should be able to “fill in the specific meaning that applies most closely to their personal life.”

Each level builds on the previous level and should not be skipped, although many poets go straight to Level Three or Four, leaving innocents in the dust. Roetzheim contends that Levels One and Two grab the reader and without them, the poem will be lost to history, and not read and re-read. Further, he says poets should begin writing at Level One and then move on to Levels Two, Three and Four.

I am used to looking for symbols in art, but not so much in poetry. But now I own a Kindle copy of The Giant Book of Poetry so I will read the poems knowing that all four levels are there, waiting for me to find them. “The Level Four Poetry Manifesto” is a very interesting and useful construct for readers and writers of poems. I’m grateful to Les for writing about it in the Museletter.


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Distractions and More

A few weeks ago I wrote about reading Stephen King’s book On Writing:  A Memoir of the Craft, published in 2000.  If you Google the title, you can choose among several sites that contain quotes from the book, pithy statements of counsel such as, “Remember, Dumbo didn’t need the feather, the magic was inside him. “

However, the most interesting suggestion was to start with a situation and a couple of characters and let them, and the plot, develop.  Listen to your characters, don’t try to control them.  I’m paraphrasing, but it’s quite a contrast to the many writers – or should I say teachers of writing – who tell you to prepare detailed character studies with family trees and dream histories and to plot out the entire novel, chapter by chapter.  I have actually done that, at least twice, and I never wrote the novel.  I am ready to try King’s more “organic” approach!

A few of King’s poems appeared in a book called The Devil’s Wine, edited by Tom Piccirilli.  The title is from a quote by Augustine:  “Poetry is the Devil’s Wine.”  It’s a collection of poems by writers of horror and science fiction.  None of the poems excited me that much, but the titles of the poems by Piccirilli are fabulous.  They would make great writing prompts.  Here is a selection:

  • When You Look Down to Find Yourself Going but Not Yet Gone
  • Jones Beach, Thirty Years After the Last Sand Castle
  • Nunzio, Sixty Years Dead, Lying at My Side, Staring
  • How to Perform Heart Surgery with Someone Else’s Gaze
  • The Curve After Which the Engine Squeals
  • Staring into a Bitter Face I’ve Seen Before
  • Poised on the Division Bridge
  • Sunday, While the Sauce Simmers

 I might add these:

  • Waiting for the Floor to Dry, I Saw my Face Pucker
  • The Third Dimension of Cat Puke
  • Blades of Grass Growing from my Calves
  • Injured by Two Hundred and Forty Months of National Geographic

My list of titles likely reflects my current status as house cleaner, cat care taker, detritus reducer and an It’s Too Early! gardener, all of which more effectively reduce the time available for writing than reduce the piles of Stuff in my basement. 

Nevertheless, I find time to read, read, read:  Books and articles on Chinese painting for a class I’m auditing, The Essential Whitman, Atoms and Eden by Steve Paulson, Textiles:  The Whole Story by Beverly Gordon, The Angle of Yaw by Ben Lerner, The Last Nude by Avery Ellis, Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart, and a couple more. 

These books, one open on every flat surface in my house, are also a distraction, but much more fun than cleaning or yard work, especially Super Sad True Love Story, which is an all too true futuristic love story about Lenny, a 39 year old Jewish guy and Eunice, a 20 something Korean gal, both children of immigrants.  It is very funny.  I will just say that as I sit in my Chinese Painting class watching the young Asian students play with their “apparats,” during class, that Eunice is alive and well in Madison!



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Wisconsin / March / 82 Degrees

It’s not early Spring.

Look for BBQ & Grits:

the South has moved North!

Just so you know how unusual 82 degrees is, the average temperature here between July 1 and July 20 is…82 degrees.

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The Neighbors and Me


Regular readers may recall that we fed the neighbor’s six cats at Christmas.  Well, when New Year’s rolled around, the neighbors disappeared.  Their cars were in the driveway but there were no lights in the house on New Year’s eve.  On New Year’s Day, we knocked on the door and then we phoned.  Nothing.  So we called the police.

“Officer, they have six cats!”

The neighbors next door were abducted

by aliens when we weren’t watching

because when we looked, they were gone.


Fearing the worst, we called the police,

but of course since they were gone,

the police found nothing but cats.


The woman across the street reported

a siting at 10:27 the previous morning.

She used to work for the CIA,


which is a handy past to have

if you want to spy on your neighbors

but a useless skill if they are gone.


Meanwhile, on the other side of town,

the couple with two cats in the window

and five chickens in the yard,


threw out corn.  And for the time-being,

those cats and the chickens were sure

they’d be fed no matter what.

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