Joshua Beckman Workshop

Last month I was grateful to attend a workshop hosted by Joshua Beckman at The Poetry Foundation. He’s been a foundational poet for me in my understanding of modern haiku in the English language. I remember Campbell McGrath describing him to me as “a guy who eats pancakes and wears an undershirt” and since that was all I knew about the man I had decided long ago that he would be worth studying.

 Signed copy of my favorite book of his, Your Time Has Come. When he signed it, he seemed to be taken back to the time when he wrote it, which was the summer in NYC immediately following 9/11. He really went on a journey in his mind right in front of me. I almost felt bad about it. It also made me jealous, that he had a project that could transport him to a 3-month period of time, in the same moment that it demonstrated its own danger.

Signed copy of my favorite book of his, Your Time Has Come. When he signed it, he seemed to be taken back to the time when he wrote it, which was the summer in NYC immediately following 9/11. He really went on a journey in his mind right in front of me. I almost felt bad about it. It also made me jealous, that he had a project that could transport him to a 3-month period of time, in the same moment that it demonstrated its own danger.

 We were asked to make a poetic diary of the events of the weather for the week preceding the workshop. Here’s a sample of what I typed.

We were asked to make a poetic diary of the events of the weather for the week preceding the workshop. Here’s a sample of what I typed.

Beckman’s workshop was based upon us generating seven days of poetic diary related to the weather. We then traded these diaries with other poets in the workshop, and we generated poems from the work that we had received. It was interesting that some participants refused to share their work with one another. I received a wonderful poem in return that had so much emotion inside what I had thought were fairly objective poetic observations.

 Here’s the poem that was generated out of my diary. Notice the line taken from the typewritten image above this one. The poet admitted to me she had received a call from a former lover the night before, and it had influenced her reading of my objective diary, which was really fascinating.

Here’s the poem that was generated out of my diary. Notice the line taken from the typewritten image above this one. The poet admitted to me she had received a call from a former lover the night before, and it had influenced her reading of my objective diary, which was really fascinating.

Joshua Beckman gave us three ideas for generating poems:

  1. The poetic diary of weather (described above)

  2. Transcribe voicemails from your phone - thinking of other people’s messages can help you write towards your own thoughts.

  3. Think of the last photgraph you took or was taken of you and describe it.

I particularly like the first and third idea. Perhaps the second idea is too raw and emotional for me to kick into another gear. But the idea is beautiful: to be held in captivity by a solitary voice and to write in response.

 In advance of the workshop we read Beckman’s latest projects, two books of poetic essays.

In advance of the workshop we read Beckman’s latest projects, two books of poetic essays.

“Three Talks” and “The Lives of the Poems” were also required reading for the workshop. Reading these books left we with a lot of ideas that I’m still turning around. I find myself captivated by the poetic diary, and reading this book reminded me of the art book AKIRA CLUB. The images in AKIRA CLUB celebrate the titular manga, collecting covers, pin-ups, and promotional images. But what ties the experience together is the inclusion of small diaries for each image. So as you are looking at 3 covers of AKIRA, you are also reading about Katsuhiro Otomo’s headcold for three consecutive days. The juxtaposition of these amazing images and menial life is profound in that it recognizes the staggering difference between the mind and the body’s reality.

Beckman could certainly be called an imagist, and I find his desire to be held in a singular moment with a monastic like dedication to the present to be a really admirable poetic way of life. One image he related it to is like reeling a kite in on a fishing pole - there’s nothing else to look at.