TALK TO THE POETS
Prompt Against Anxiety #17 | from poet, arts administrator, and teacher Stacy Szymaszek, who worked at Woodland Pattern for over half a decade before going on to direct the Poetry Project at St. Mark's from 2007–2018. She is the author of five books, including A Year from Today (Nightboat Books, 2018) and Journal of Ugly Sites and Other Journals (Fence Books, 2016).
Self-Portrait, Tucson, AZ (2019)
Talking to other poets, both living and deceased, has been a significant element in my writing . . . not always, but since I started getting work published about 16 years ago.
Talking to other poets in real life and in poems broke my work out of a slump of the imagination, not only linguistically but in terms of what I could imagine for my own life as a poet. Of course, they are related. I don’t know if this would have happened if I hadn’t found Woodland Pattern. I worked there from 1999–2005, while gleefully and doggedly creating my own line of study that included any book or ephemera on their shelves and drawers that even looked a little interesting.
The pandemic seems to have intensified this aspect of my writing. Having any concept of lineage that talking to poets affords has been, in general, a deterrent to feeling alone. It’s astonishing to me what solid company the dead can make. Sometimes I use quotes, more often it’s an allusion to another writer, a dedication, or a reference that I think a reader will either get or be able to discover if they are curious, or I’m thinking through an idea posed by another. The poet I’ve talked to in poems most consistently has been Pier Paolo Pasolini. I wrote a chapbook that was a riff on his Roman Poems (City Lights) in 2005 that I thought of as emotional translations. My current project is to rewrite my rewrites, as a middle-aged person, as a sort of diary of how I, and the world, have changed, and how Pasolini’s anti-capitalist, anti-fascist, and anti-institutional stance only becomes more crucial for us to understand as our country falls deeper into autocracy.
My prompt is simply to choose any writer or writers who are important to you and write a piece that engages with them in any manner. Think about what we might learn from those who come before us, who might have been misunderstood, obscured, not heard—and how they might influence conversations we are having now with the people in our lives.
Here is an example. I titled a poem ANTI-POETRY after a movement that Chilean poet Nicanor Parra was an early proponent of, and open with three lines from one of his poems. The piece also closes with a quote from a letter Petrarch sent to Boccaccio. I wanted to experiment with letting surrealism and satire into my work, more cultural critique without becoming too didactic—things Parra is known for. Writing this poem last year took my work in a new direction.
More from this series
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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