First Workshop Exercise: In Order to be Good they are always Forgetting…

Basis for the writing exercise / workshop

Alright, so lately I have been creating little workshop ideas in my head.  Sometimes they are based off of poems, sometimes they are based off of things I do or see and write about.

I’ll be putting out a workshop exercise at the beginning of each month and you can share the poems you write based on them here in the comments section or perhaps send them for a possible submission to The Idiom Magazine at theidiommag@yahoo.com ….maybe you’ll hate what you write or not write anything and that’s ok too.  But keep writing and something is bound to happen eventually….I think the odds are for us if we do that….right?

First Writing Exercise:  Based off the poem, “The Noise the Hairless Make”

So this first assignment is based off of Stephen Dobyns poem “The Noise the Hairless Make”.  I have his bookVelocitiesand really love the whole book.  This was one of the first pieces that stuck out for me:

“The Noise the Hairless Make”

How difficult to be an angel.
In order to forgive, they have no memory.
In order to be good, they are always forgetting.
How else could heaven be run? Still,
it needs to be full of teachers and textbooks
imported from God’s own basement, since only
in hell is memory exact. In one classroom,
a dozen angels scratch their heads as their teacher
displays the cross-section of a human skull,
saying, Here is the sadness, here
the anger, here’s where laughter is kept.
And the angels think, How strange, and take notes
and would temper their forgiveness if it weren’t
all forgotten by the afternoon. Sometimes
a group flies down to earth with their teacher,
who wants them to study a living example, and
this evening they find a man lying in a doorway
in an alley in Detroit. They stand around
chewing their pencils as their teacher says,
This is the bottle he drinks from when he
wants to forget, this is the Detroit Tigers
T-shirt he wears whenever he’s sad, this is
the electric kazoo he plays in order to weep.
And the angels think, How peculiar, and wonder
whether to temper their forgiveness or just
let it ride, which really doesn’t matter since
they forget the question as soon as it’s asked.
But their muttering wakes the man in the doorway,
who looks to see a flock of doves departing
over the trash cans. And because he dreamt
of betrayal and pursuit, of defeat in battle,
the death of friends, he heaves a bottle at them
and it breaks under a streetlight so the light
reflects on its hundred broken pieces with such
a multicolored twinkling that the man laughs.
From their place on a brick wall, the angels
watch and one asks, What good are they? Then
others take up the cry, What good are they,
what good are they? But as fast as they articulate
the question it’s forgotten and their teacher,
a minor demon, returns with them to heaven.
But the man, still chuckling, sits in his doorway,
and the rats in their dumpsters hear this sound
like stones rattling or metal banging together,
and they see how the man is by himself without
food or companions, without work or family
or a real bed for his body. They creep back
to their holes and practice little laughs
that sound like coughing or a dog throwing up
as once more they uselessly try to imitate
the noise the hairless make when defeated.

Whether you believe in angels or not you can’t deny how well this story is told and how beautifully it is laid out.  Every line runs so smooth and I wish even my blog posts could do that….but now those first few lines
How difficult to be an angel.
In order to forgive, they have no memory.
In order to be good, they are always forgetting.
How else could heaven be run?

He starts off really explaining why angels are the way they are….how they differ from humans.  The idea that they keep forgetting is what allows them to forgive or to be good is a great introduction.

I want you to write a poem that explains how angels differ from humans, what traits make them exist in ways that we are faulted….try to tell a story about the angels and make them as descriptive as possible….don’t like angels?  Use devils instead with that same rationale….don’t believe in angels or devils?  Try to write a piece based around our souls or some kind of afterlife explanation or aliens perhaps….put the angels in some kind of common situation (not a classroom though, like Dobyns did)  maybe write the situation first and the differences between them and humans may come after you write that out….

any questions post them in the comments section and we can discuss them as a group.

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