I’ve made a lot of poems that bear the name “Prepared Statement.” Originally, my impetus for doing so was necessity. In 2012, I signed up to host a radio show and realized I had no idea of what it would consist. So I figured, “jeez I better write something.” The pieces I wrote addressed my presumed audience (like an epistle, letter, or plea), were kind of pathetic (from pathos, which means “a quality that evokes pity or sadness”), and included information both “public” and “private.” The reality of their delivery—of writing for/through an interface, or having a microphone, or a “platform”—also affected the process and the writing itself. I was looking for a way to overlap subjectivity and objectivity that would help dissolve a traditional, egoistic self, yet also retain some directness. Over time, these pieces originally written for radio became poems. The show ended, but I kept at these poems called Prepared Statement.
The most common kind of Prepared Statement—other than the kind presented in court or at a congressional hearing—is probably the type crafted for the purpose of damage control. A police department, government agency, business, organization (or representative thereof), sometimes a really famous person, will have been caught or called out for a wrong, harmful, or offensive action, and subsequently, often with the help of a PR team, craft a Prepared Statement, which is then “released” to the general public. Frequently, the purpose isn’t apologia so much as an attempt to justify or “change the conversation” surrounding said event.
A Prepared Statement can also work on the level of one person addressing another. William Carlos Williams’ famous poem “This Is Just To Say”: “I have eaten / the plums / that were in / the icebox // and which / you were probably / saving / for breakfast // Forgive me / so sweet / and so cold”. . . might in today’s context be considered a kind of Prepared Statement. The poem was written on a piece of paper and left as a real note for his wife, Flossie Williams. It was composed for the purpose of conveying a simple idea, but it became something more, broken into lines, contextualized as a poem by the author of several books of poetry. It spilled outside of its original purpose. Indeed, it’s now an Internet meme that translates seamlessly into “sorry not sorry.”
So what came to be most interesting for me was that a poem could present initially as such a conveyance of a simple idea, but then transgress those bounds. This, to me, is where the poetry happens, in that excess of other, less useful information. This transformation might happen via out-of-context ideas, or juxtaposition that opens new vistas in the writing.
We have a lot more interfaces through which we can make a poem now than Williams did, and I don’t know whether or not that’s inherently good or bad, but it’s definitely a thing. For example, you will also find the following definition of a Prepared Statement: In database management systems (DBMS), a prepared statement or parameterized statement is “a feature used to execute the same or similar database statements repeatedly with high efficiency.” For me, this definition speaks to the prevalence of algorithms and other automatic processes that interlope on our lives, and indeed, enter our writing. We’re only just beginning to understand how word processing and its preset templates for composition, compounded by connectivity, affect poetry and other language-informed arts.
This prompt is not intended to help you manage some public relations snafu. Rather, this prompt asks you to consider ways that the functionality of the Prepared Statement might become something else—how such a statement can actually transform into a kind of associative writing template, in which you add language or “content” from wherever, freighted with the added pathos of addressing a presumed audience.
Step 1: Locate a Prepared Statement and examine its rhetorical composition. Who is the intended audience for this statement, and what is the statement’s main purpose? What other objectives, overt or underlying, do you recognize? Look closely at each phrase and sentence, noticing how the language builds and works together to try to achieve the statement’s objective(s). Notice any repetitions and any turning points. Make a chart if it’s helpful. Underline or write down any phrases that sound “official” and any other language scraps of note. A sure way to find a Prepared Statement is by googling “prepared statement” and going to the News heading. You will find the definition of Prepared Statement that applies to code-writing under the All heading, and this might be useful too, an added layer having to do with the statement’s functionality as well as rhetoric and social context. But first it’s good to get the general context, and you will find that there are a lot of carefully crafted Prepared Statements in the News.
Step 2: Identify an argument and/or an audience you want to address in a Prepared Statement of your own. Do you feel like there’s something you want to explain but aren’t sure how or where to begin? Consider working with this as your argument. Or, look again at an already existing Prepared Statement. Do you find the statement to be disingenuous or wrongheaded—maybe you could play with its language and expose its dubious rhetoric? Once you’ve chosen a premise, consider who your potential listeners or followers might be, and don’t limit your imagination. Let the writing be a little ahead of you. You can start anywhere. For example, you might want to address your shoes, a dead poet, items in your medicine cabinet, or all of the books on your shelves you haven’t read. You can also address no one in particular. The argument and the audience you’re addressing do not have to make sense as a pair.
Step 3: Consider what kinds of supporting “evidence” you will include. What different kinds of information—public, private—could appear in your Statement? Make a list of talking points that strike a balance between the objective and subjective.
Step 4: Now draft your own Prepared Statement. Include some of the rhetorical devices and/or strategies you found in the example text, but also consider ways you might deviate from the template. For example, you might incorporate digressions that take the reader away from the original purpose of the address, or that supercede it. While Prepared Statements released by corporate institutions are often crafted to target a specific audience or demographic, and to steer the discourse, we want a Prepared Statement that does anything other than that. You might however start with a greeting, even one that feels unnatural or stilted, and then just keep writing without knowing what you’re going to say, or who you’re addressing. You could see it as writing past the official framing and presentation of the truth toward some other truth(s) that are irreducible, less given to “thoughts and prayers” with platitudes, and more toward a fuller picture of language and its capabilities in the world.
More from this series
Collage Your Own Writing PromptPrompt #31—Helen Hofling
Prepared StatementPrompt #30—Mike Hauser
Repeat Repeat WritePrompt #29— Lewis Freedman
Poetic CorrespondencePrompt #28—Eric Baus
EKPHRASIS YOURSELFPrompt #27—Jennifer Nelson
POETRY IS FOR THE PEOPLEPrompt #26—Angela Trudell Vasquez
MAIL ARTPrompt #25—Siwar Masannat
VISUAL POSTCARDSPrompt #24—Portia Cobb
A [LONGER-TERM] DEEP LISTENING PROMPTPrompt #23—Jibade-Khalil Huffman
Humor as Medicine for the SoulPrompt #22—Mauricio Kilwein Guevara
Personification: A Social Justice PromptPrompt #21—Derrick Harriell
Ponge ExercisePrompt #20—Tyrone Williams
Occult DocupoesisPrompt #19—Kimberly Alidio
Junk Drawer SongPrompt #18—Hoa Nguyen
TALK TO THE POETSPrompt #17—Stacy Szymaszek
Make-Do Origin Stories & Concrete FuturesPrompt #16—Ching-In Chen
The Family PhotographPrompt #15—Rosa Alcalá
Writing Advice for Your Younger SelfPrompt #14—E.J. Koh
Note(s) to SelfPrompt #13—Stacy Blint
Embracing ConfusionPrompt #12—Bryon Cherry
Writing/Playing the ArchivePrompt #11—Jay Besemer
CAPTURED & FREEDPrompt #10—Dasha Kelly Hamilton
Poetic Exit StrategiesPrompt #9—Ana Božičević
Proyecto ConbífPrompt #8—Erick "CK" Ledesma
TRILOGYPrompt #6—CA Conrad
Utopian CompromisePrompt #7—Paul Druecke
A Series of RoomsPrompt #5—Laura Solomon
Two Variations on N+7Prompt #4—Jenny Gropp
T H E A P A R T / TOGETHERPOEMPrompt #3—Margaret Rozga
An Exercise in WindowsPrompt #2—Marla Sanvick
Erasuring AnxietyPrompt #1—Peter Burzynski
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