To initiate their ongoing collaborative exchange of poems, Jessica Murray wrote Jennifer Moxley a letter, containing seven prompts.
Jennifer has responded with poems, to which Jessica has responded (find those poems here). They have also responded to the prompts, and one another’s work, with the prose below.
Jennifer responds to prompt one
Impeccable taste/Guilty pleasures. This question baffled me at first. Then I realized why—-I do not associate pleasure with guilt. A result of my non-religious upbringing perhaps? So the only frame that made sense for me was to approach it from the point of view of embarrassment, and what my “righteous living” cohort might balk at. Of course I started with food, since I am a big eater and love to think of “food as culture” much more than “food as health or politics.” What came out, I think, is a good mirror of my high/low taste patterns. Truthfully what I fear most around this issue is a sense that my tastes are being decided by the trends of the moment instead of formed for myself based on genuine pleasure (no guilt!).
It must be lovely never or rarely to associate pleasure with guilt! Having had a Catholic upbringing, I do think I often associate some pleasurable things with guilt… That said, I realized I had painted myself into a little bit of a corner via my original question. In answering you, I took, to some extent, the low road—-though I embellished a few things (naturally), I’ll leave it up to you to guess which of my boasts are false and which true. I think these would work best side-by-side as my lines are a bit more blowzy than yours—-could there be another series & response? I think so, but this is where I’ve taken things so far.
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Jennifer responds to prompt two
Poem as a form of action Spicer/Bacon (are representation or descriptive poems failures of the imagination). I was interested here in the tension between the poem as a form of action—Organic form 101 as articulated by Olson et al— and the idea of poem as “dictation”—-Spicer’s idea, though he took it from Yeats, and we see it as far back as Plato. Dictation implies a deep passivity on the poet’s part. So, how reconcile this insistence on “action” with the source of the poem being wholly outside the poet? I am interested in the gender politics of “action” as well, which is, I think, what these couplets focus on. I only wrote four, in hopes you might continue them (and perhaps address the second part of your question, which I failed to . . . ).
I am glad you mentioned the idea of gender politics and the idea of action—-that was something (the gender politics) that I wanted to broach in question 4, but I felt like I might be piling up too many things. Regardless, at first I was quite uncertain about the way your couplets were engaging any particular gender politics, but as I started to work on some responses, I think I began to see what you were after.
I imagine that there could be more of these, too, though perhaps the arrangement/arraignment feels final. But, I thought if it struck you, things might branch off in another direction or we could add more to either the male or female “side,” or perhaps you want to answer with a different set of women, etc. I shall await your decision!
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Jennifer responds to prompt seven
Apple picking—-New England idyll—-a more complete, though not yet finished, poem came out of this prompt, as you’ll see below. I became interested in how one person’s memory might fold into another’s, or, alternatively, not at all.
I was taken with the reply you wrote in response to my childhood memory, and I couldn’t imagine beginning to change, add, or delete anything from it! I know you said you didn’t think of anything as finished, but this to me seemed very contained in its expression and essence, and it did prompt quite a lengthy reply from me. I may keep playing with some of the wording, but I thought these might make good complementary pieces.
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Jennifer responds to prompt four
Body more reliable than mind. This question astonished me, because I have always felt just the opposite: I distrust my body and feel awkward in it, while I trust my mind. My feeling of disconnection between the two is what animates the couplets below.
I thought this would be a good question! I adored the delicate, somewhat retro feel of your parakeet, and I hope you find the tree’s reply fitting. I tried to answer your tone more than anything else. I have tried not to definitively “finish” anything, and I am not sure whether the bird or the tree is done with its sizing up and singing.
I was intrigued at the way your Tree seemed to be a maternal body, and a neglected one at that. Because you had the Tree speak directly to the bird, I felt I needed to edit my poem a bit, to put it in the first person voice of the Bird (after the first couplet), as well as to create a transition of sorts into your speaking Tree. I am afraid, however, that my Bird grew no more sympathetic to your Tree, even though your Tree was so kind and sweet. I cannot fully explain this!
Well, I can see how you came to see the Tree as maternal (a couple of red herrings, certainly), but interestingly that wasn’t what I was after! More I was thinking of a particular anxiety—-the body’s longing for the mind’s knowledge—-that unsurprisingly the body gets left behind or relegated to a marginal position. My original couplets were an attempt to assert the tree’s kind of knowledge while also expressing jealousy of the bird’s greater faculties…