Tag Archives: writing genres

Ode to a Night-in-Jail (not really, but it could’ve been close)

I’m on a roll with other writing today, but so as not to entirely neglect the blog this weekend, I thought I’d post a wee little short-short story that I found in my computer files.  It’s a true story, actually, that I wrote about my brother for his birthday, and it chronicles one crazy night we and our other two brothers had in the Windy City.

Context: ‘Keo Dog’ is a nickname his buddies gave him back in high school, and the setting is none other than the legendary Wiener Circle.

KEO DOG, with relish and a side of cheese fries

It was a brisk April day, an overcast day, a Windy City, too-cold-to-even-really-want-to-speak-at-the-Cubs-game day.  But who really needs to speak at a Cubs game anyway, other than to heckle the home team?  One man, at least, did speak.  This was a man who was never at a loss for words.  And he spoke of wondrous things indeed.  He spoke of a remote dwelling that burned fiery reds and yellows into the monochromatic greyness of our arctic environment.  He spoke of the abundance of culinary delights to be found there, and of the distinctive language the indigenous peoples uttered there by night.  Our frozen eyes teared up at the thought of this urban oasis; it can’t be real, we thought. Believe, he told us.

In fact, throughout the entire duration of the day, he continued to speak of this local legend, how it was no legend, for he had been there, he had seen it, and, most significantly, he had heard it. When the time is right, he promised us, I will show you.  Our southbound pilgrimage brought us progressively deeper into the realm of inebriation, dulling our senses and warming our extremities; but his focus remained keen, and his belly burned for one thing only.  For a moment my confidence in him faltered as he slipped into a margarita-induced coma TWICE while engaged in conversation with me, but I realize now that, as he nodded off into oblivion, slumping ever so slowly forward toward the tabletop, he was only reawakening within himself the vision of the dream to come but a few more blocks southward. It’s the greatest, he said, You’ve got to experience it yourself, he said.

His demeanor became all the more energized and self-assured as he continually described the surreal and foul obscenities that flew in the wind of the wee hours there…Everyone does it, he said, Even the venue elder and those in his employ; in fact, you may not even obtain what you seek there unless you join in the custom. While there was one innocent doubter among the group and another who appeared more preoccupied with parking-meter hurtles and leaving assorted personal possessions strewn about the city, this man stayed his course, and, oh yes, his goal would reach fruition.  As the warm light blanketed our faces and beckoned us inside, we heard the filthy vulgarities abound, and the man’s eyes glowed like smoldering coals as he cackled with wicked delight at the offensive display.

This was it—the threshold of hell, and far too late to turn back to the refuge of Clark Street.  With a confident stride, he stepped to the counter, paused a moment to consider the luminescent options of temptation hovering before him, and, as we huddled in eager, almost nervous anticipation of what crude, ritualistic phrases would spew forth from his throat in the tongue of the after-hours natives…his lips parted…and…in a meek, gentle voice, he sweetly articulated:

i’ll have a char dog, please??


Exploring Form

The Prompt:

Addressing our existing or yet-to-be-created written pieces, page 7 of Room to Write gives us two options:

1)  We can compose a new piece of writing without considering what form it will take–that is, approach writing organically and allow the words to dictate their structure, not be boxed into it.  The idea is that writers do not and should not try to slot themselves into a specific category of writing–essayists can be poets, poets can be journalists, vice versa and etc., etc.  We may be hindering our writing by forcing it into a convention and, even worse, we may be regarding ourselves as failures when we do not succeed in one genre without giving consideration to how we might flourish in another.

2)  Spinning off #1, we may instead choose to select a piece we’ve already written in some form or another and rewrite it following an alternative genre:  e.g., short story, poem, essay, performance monologue, creative nonfiction, or children’s story.

Given my yammering about my 4th grade poetry anthology in a previous post, I’m going to choose Door #2 and convert one of my existing prose snippets into a poem.  It’s not a form that I gravitate to naturally, and I can’t recall any poetry I’ve written since high school (usually of the lovesick teenager variety in my diary) except maybe a sonnet in grad school.  So the piece that I am transforming below is something I freewrote and later revised in preparation for inserting into my current book project if it ends up fitting in anywhere.


Late night bath—

The drain releases overhead.


Flipping pages,

Pausing for a moment’s thought,

Eyes drift unconsciously

To where it nests,

An evening bag in her line of sight.

Eyes plucked from pensive pause,

They focus yet still do not,

Enrapt are they in the celestial body

Of the beading

As though staring into milky heavens,

A private observatory of unrestricted skies,

Free of constellation form

And twinkling the more for it.


Lens zooms in,

Eyes and mind allured,

And only then an awareness

Of rising volume and intensity.

Water trickling,

Encompassing her

About her

Around her

Within her

Deafening her

Drops stream then bead

On her skin

Blood courses with new coolness.


Close-up transcends

stationary to tracking

As she rises


The dazzling hexagon,

Its glittering lid swept open

Its reflective remnants stared into

Seeking out that which sought


In a flicker irretrievable

She sees them:


Fogged green

And glaring back.


I’m not sure what I think of this.  It’s nothing profound, but surely something that if I truly sought to perfect as a poem, I could go through countless revisions and take it into even further directions.  The original piece is intended for a larger work, so it begs the question whether it can stand alone in poetic genre.  I tend to think that it can, as the poetic form allows–if not effectively requires–gaps in the story as it’s explicitly told, instructing the individual reader’s imagination to construct implicit meaning to allow the tale to flow within one’s own interpretation.

I obviously did not take my prose piece word for word, and in deconstructing and reconstructing it in this way, I found myself deleting prepositions left and right and allowing myself to shift into  passive voice at times–the beauty of poetry, after all, is that unless you’re writing a traditional one that wears a corset of rules as a sonnet does, there is no strict convention.  It does not have to rhyme, it does not have to allot a certain number of syllables per line (not to discount the genius that is Shakespeare’s mastery of iambic pentameter), it does not matter how long or short each line or stanza is (sounding a “barbaric yawp” to you, Whitman!), and grammar and punctuation are a free-for-all (Miss Dickenson, what a rebel in petticoats you were).  On this last point, what I did have a hard time with was the punctuation–even knowing that it was entirely up to me and how I deemed it supported my words best, I still gravitated toward conventional mechanics in that respect.  Judging when to insert line breaks, however, came more easily, as it’s such a simple yet effective visual tool for emphasizing words and phrases via isolation versus italics, caps, or bold font.

This exercise also brought my attention to the poetic devices already embedded in my original piece, which reassures me that I am incorporating a variety of such in my prose to hopefully better appeal to the senses and facilitate understanding–the ones I spy in particular (and which are color-coded in the poem above) are metaphor, simile, anthropomorphism, alliteration, and assonance.  The fact that I did not need to intentionally plant them into the poem for the sake of the activity tells me that I am listening to my words as I write them and endeavoring to paint mental pictures.  It is not always that these come through in a first pass, however–actually, while it’s wondrous when they come naturally, it would be too inhibiting to constantly be deliberate in incorporating them when first generating new writing.  Instead, it’s good to approach writing the way Goldberg seems to be encouraging us to (and as exemplified in this Dead Poet’s Society clip), by letting go and riding with the current on the first draft.  Subsequent revision is then our opportunity for elaborating with detailed description and devices where needed.

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