Ironic, two-line poems are everywhere! Why not write a few? Gather a friend or two, or a whole bunch, and do the following.
Take a look at some of the ironic, two-line poems in Structure & Surprise (Charles Bernstein’s “Shaker Show”) and floating around this blog, such as Ashbery’s poems under the “Ironic Structure,” and a two-line poem written by two student-authors (the 18/02/2009 post). Check out the “Valentine Slams” collected here. (Many of the Valentine Slams’ rhymes are great, but, as the examples from Bernstein, Ashbery, and the student authors show, you don’t have to rhyme an ironic two-line poem.) Read the first section of Joshua Beckman and Matthew Rohrer’s Nice Hat. Thanks. (nominee for Best Title. Ever.), a collection of collaborative two-line poems, many (but not all) of which involve ironic turning.
Though just two lines long, these poems fully enact the ironic structure’s rising-falling motion, its rapid transition from set-up to punch line.
These kinds of exciting, silly, revelatory poems don’t have to be difficult to write, if the writing process involves play and collaboration.
If you’re teaching a class or working in a writing group, get the group warmed up by offering the group the following first lines:
“You came to me with chocolate and flowers…”
“A little spring here…”
“Sing to me…”
And try to have group members try to come up with surprising second lines for these.
And then offer some second lines:
“…one rivet at a time.”
“…where violence sets the table.”
Have your group members try to develop interesting set-ups for these.
Have the group share what they wrote. What worked? What made people laugh out loud? Or gasp? Or smile knowingly? Why? (There may be lots of reasons here, but many likely will be about surprise, the delight of the unexpected, the thrill of reversals, etc. All good stuff.)
Now, have each of your group members develop a few first lines and jot them down separately on small pieces of scratch paper. The great thing about this stage of the process is that first lines are easy to write–they can be just about anything! But, you might want to offer a few ideas: remember that we have all these binaries in our language (come/go; left/right; rise/fall; inside/outside; here/there; Jets/Sharks; now/then; yesterday/tomorrow; etc)–perhaps write first lines incorporating the first elements of these binaries; or, perhaps use modes of address, instructions, commands; though abstraction can be used to great comic effect, try to incorporate at least some touch of detail–even if it’s just an interesting abstraction(!). (Note: you also might want to have group members put a “1” by these writings to indicate that they are first lines.)
Then, have group members develop second lines independently of the first lines. (Note: these are second lines without first lines.) Jot these down, separately, on pieces of scratch paper, with a “2” next to them, to indicate that they are second lines.
Redistribute this writing among group members so that no one ends up with any lines they authored. Have group members “complete” these poems.
Read, and enjoy!
Note: Results will vary. Some of the poems created will have the ironic structure, but perhaps not all of them. This shouldn’t be a problem. Poems work in many different ways. (Ashley Samsa, in “Poetry and Process,” tried this exercise, and though she didn’t craft any specifically ironic turns, she made some lovely poems–which is the point, of course.) If you’re focusing a lesson on the ironic structure, acknowledge, praise, comment on any poem that’s working, but just highlight (perhaps write on the board, etc), those that employ the ironic structure.
Why write funny poems? Check out Matthew Rohrer’s thinking on this issue here.
For some excellent thinking about collaborative poems in an essay that makes frequent reference to Beckman and Rohrer’s two-line poems, see “Ouija, Canoe, Haiku: A Collaborative Investigation into Collaborative Poetry,” by Isaac Cates and Chad Davidson (in The Writer’s Chronicle 39.3 (December, 2006): 80-84).
–My thanks to Christopher Bakken, the first person I saw teaching the ironic poem in this way, and the one who came up with the line “You came to me with chocolate and flowers,” and who inspired the thinking above.