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David Van Etten - Exercise #2 Review

By David Van Etten:

Review of Exercise #2

In the previous exercise, I asked you to memorize a poem, reverse engineer its verse logic into a series of prompts, and draft a new poem applying those prompts. The general idea was to treat a contemporary free-verse poem as though it was an age-old heavily structured genre. If Dean Young’s “We Through Mists Descry” were following a granular set of rules, what might those rules be?

Below is a successful example of the completed exercise by David Serra, including his reverse-engineered prompts and his new poem. We even include his markup notes documenting the process, for good measure. Fantastic.

1. a short burst observation.

2. ordinary actions against unique actions set against a background of dramatic weight.

3. flip of emotion never related to that emotion. Simple but with action. Against overwhelming.

4. describe work in nature.

5. camus version of sisyphus. big against the small. visceral sensory imagery.

6. complex wordy sentence with more irony, thick with conceptual thought.

7. tension, more irony. struggle, a failing with something ordinary but in good condition.

8. mad gods. emotion put upon those dieties we can think of being emotionless. create sentence where those beyond our grasp performed actions for us. pose question.

9. explanation of the above posed question happened in a  simple way.

10. repetitive emotion that could be something else or viewed as a different emotion.

11. incremental repetition…something heavy bringing in observations. earthy first, earthy but a bit more obscure second.   

12. colors reflect how we view an everyday object or concept but place physicality to it.

13. how we are feeling about the above emotions and react to it in a physical way.

14. object with similar equivalent names or functions that are conceptually different. logos to actual concepts/branding.

15. create a perfect push/pull

16. failing again. describe the try in terms of known notion or action then describe how it is viewed by world.

16. failing again. describe the try in terms of known notion or action then describe how it is viewed by world.

19. describe how it looks at the surface but again go deeper.

20. incremental repetition of remembrance of advice mantras both safety, both related to above.


We divide the molecules. Grasping at plastic forks,

driving driverless cars, dividing the estates of our elders

as we clack keys and chimes ring above us.

I giggle when you get mad; anger at the madness

I can’t reach, the scared black hole. The birds wrap 

their beaks against the wood, pulling

the simple reward to keep going. Waveforms appear

from unseen places, knowing it pokes

our stomachs, fluttering our taut drum skins,

while the invisible ache continues to roll 

even in light of the decree. A push and pull

does exist in all things clear, when we see

or chose not. The house has a leak

even though the materials gave many some employ.

Even Demeter wept as Persephone was forced

underground for a third of a year, was it? Or, was it

winking and braying, which is also a deep sorrow?

All this to give us ultimately a spring.

We played music when he left, the station

never coming in clearly, his mighty sound lingered

awhile, acrid residuals in such a sterile place.

We played music when he left, his mighty sound lingered

awhile, with piles to be delivered to various places.

The flowerbeds drooled brown til creatures not seen

grasped at the surface. I believed there was a clarity

that I could squash between my fingers.

Hand devices glowing to receivers, tired, tired suns.

Let’s burn it all down, but archive the ashes.

We scratch out the Earth and try to hope and others

snicker. We know they worry and fog to wake again.  

To feel in unknown ways is familiar, the liquid that

pulses for you, for me creates an ocean of knowing.

I hear they buy abandoned houses and flip them.

I hear it’s time to buy a tiny house at the shore.


David Van Etten is a lawyer, teacher, uncle, theologian and poet. Van Etten's poetry is regular feature on Flapper Press, and his newest collection of poetry. Twist the Blue Burlap Inside You, will soon be available for purchase. His regular poetry educational series—Dave's Poetry Workshop can be seen monthly, along with his ongoing series of posts about his journey through recovery from colorectal cancer.

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