Poetry in reverse: Part 2 of 3

Smithers writer Kym Putnam in conversation with Adrienne Fitzpatrick of Terrace

Smithers writer Kym Putnam in conversation with Adrienne Fitzpatrick of Terrace. Photo by Amanda Follett Hosgood

Reversing someone else’s poem is a way of being in conversation with another poet. Elee Kraljii Gardiner, the gifted Vancouver writer, writing teacher, and publisher who facilitated two workshops at the 2017 Rural Writers in Residence retreat, explained the premise behind looking for opposites when we sit to write a poem:

“We can articulate what is by concerning ourselves with what is not: great poems can be seeded with thoughts of opposition, rejection, and resistance that do not appear in the finished poem.”

Elee invited us to complicate familiar language and to “create poems we did not recognize as being close at hand.” She gave us ten or fifteen minutes to respond to each poem. I was thunderstruck by what was close at hand for the eight of us in the workshop.

We began with a simple 12-line poem by William Carlos Williams that Eat This Poem describes as “one of the most analyzed modern poems.”

This Is Just To Say
William Carlos Williams

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

We didn’t analyze the poem. Elee simply asked us to reverse it—to find its opposites, whether word by word, line by line, by ideas, or by mood.

Harold Feddersen of Terrace did it this way:

Farewell steal fast
empty roots
this will separate
unknown squelching sun

only that
we may secure
ducking gluttony

betray self-less
severed soon repulsive
tear salty
without withs growing

You can see that Harold was true to the Williams poem’s form: three stanzas, each composed of four short lines, with no line exceeding three words. Like Baxter Huston and Norma Kerby, whose poems I posted yesterday in Poetry in Reverse: Part 1), Harold is part of Terrace’s Writers North of 54° group, whose members, I learned at the retreat, are keenly aware of poetic form. I’m a novice, and I tried Elee’s suggestion of associating with the sound of words as much as with the words spelled out on the page. Thus in line 4, I associated “which” with “witch” and came up with its counterpart: wizard.

That Was Comprehensively From Silence

You haven’t starved.
A peach this is,
on a stove,
a lone wizard.

I am possibly
spending too fast.

Blame her.
She and I are putrid
scarcely sour singly
barely hot.

Adrienne Fitzpatrick associated freely and came up with this stunner. She wrote it in four lines, but I’ve had to break them up because of the constraints of my WordPress theme.

Night a snake sliding under your bed
Owl screeches, wide glow of eyes,
the black trees, the brown river.
Wolf eyes slash the mirror, claws in the drawer,
fast trip through the room with muddy feet.
Stealth paws through the door,
heard them coming, coming up the hill.

Terrace writer Adrienne Fitzpatrick, photo by Amanda Follett Hosgood

Terrace writer Adrienne Fitzpatrick, photo by Amanda Follett Hosgood


Hazelton-writer-transplanted-from-southern-Ontario Suzanne Ross wrote the poem directly below in her first reversal. We all were mesmerized by what happened when Suzanne turned it on its head in the second round.

I surrender everything
I weep
My fire empty now

At first I deny
the world becoming

Shame and loss
I yearn for the impossible
an imposter
the sword breaks
I love

I love
the sword breaks
an imposter
I yearn for the impossible
Shame and loss

The world becoming
At first I deny

My fire empty now
I weep
I surrender everything

Suzanne Ross

Suzanne Ross

Many thanks to Elee Kraljii Gardiner and the organizers of the 2017 Rural Writers in Residence retreat. For a writer who lives and works in isolation and craves conversation with other writers, the experience was precious and enlivening.

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