Monday, March 28, 2011

How to Write a Juxtaposition Poem

When I write poetry I like to write what I call juxtaposition poetry. It's a little like found poetry, except that you 'find' the raw materials from three different sources--- books, newspapers and the like. It's not only interesting of itself, but is something that can get your writerly juices going when you have writer's block.

Your three sources need to be very different from one another--- in 'nuclear sainthood profits' from my book Where the Opium Cactus Grows I used a Catholic prayer book, a book about nuclear war, and something by Karl Marx.

What you do with your sources is 'point and click'. Open each one at random and point, without looking, at the text. Copy out words or phrases from that point. Do this one after another until you have enough material for the poem at hand.

A pure juxtaposition poem just uses this material as you found it. But the secret to writing a good juxtaposition poem is to cheat like hell. Fudge a bit when you are pointing to select your source material, and add, subtract and re-arrange the material to help it make more sense. Or less sense, depending on your writerly goals.

I might point out that my 'nuclear sainthood profits' is not an average example of my juxtaposition poems, but one I feel is one of my best efforts in that direction. Most juxtaposition poems are choppier and don't have unified themes (whatever themes are, I try to avoid them). 'nuclear sainthood profits' is what happens with juxtaposition poetry when your Muse is in the building.

Here is the complete text of 'nuclear sainthood profits' from 'Where the Opium Cactus Grows'.

nuclear sainthood profits

wages after the labour, we beseech you, o limited nuclear war
a son is given to us, testing increasingly smaller warheads
if this limit is overshot, ground zero will accumulate debris
o mary conceived without sin, detonate a nuclear weapon
in the presence of mine enemies

behold, a virgin shall declare war on the soviet union and china
the market price of our pope, our bishop, and all true believers
includes mutual assured destruction when wages and prices are high
and large numbers of intercontinental ballistic missiles
now and at the hour of our death

This poem was written 21 years ago--- wow, a poem that's old enough to drink! At the time I wrote it I was NOT a Catholic, and I WAS a Marxist. But I never meant it as in any was anti-Catholic. It was more like a nuclear-war-drives-us-all-to-pray thing. And of course there was the 'blame-capitalism' reish going on as well. (Did you know that capitalism is responsible for the lack of life on Mars?)

The sharpness of this poem is a result of using sources with high emotional impact. You don't have to do that all the time--- I've used a local newspaper as a source many times, both for juxtaposition poetry as I've described it here, and for single-source found poetry.

These blander sources are essential for school teachers using juxtaposition poetry in the classroom, since in a school setting one WANTS a bland result. In homeschooling, a wider variety of sources are possible, whatever the homeschooling mother thinks is acceptable.

In my experience, some juxtaposition poems are finished after the first day's work, and others need more work. In addition, any type of poem benefits from being 'aged' in a file for a few months and then being given a bit of polishing if needed--- or even a complete re-write.

YOUR ASSIGNMENT: write a juxtaposition poem of your own. (If you post your poem on your blog, do post a link to it here in a comment.)

Related Post:
Blogging 'Where the Opium Cactus Grows'

Featured Books:
The Poetry Home Repair Manual: Practical Advice for Beginning Poets
Modern Korean Poetry
Where the Opium Cactus Grows

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Tracy Krauss said...

this poem is so powerful. I'm sharing it on facebook

Nissa Annakindt said...

Thanks so much, Tracy!