Luther Hughes’ You Smell Like Outside: A Cute Little Syllabus for March
“You Smell Like Outside” is Luther Hughes’ wonderful column for Frontier where he seeks to answer the question every month: can poetry help us with our real, day-to-day life? For March, Luther’s continuing his series, A Cute Little Syllabus—a new cannon featuring works by poets of color. With each syllabus comes a prompt and exercise, which you can submit here. Luther will select and publish one of your poems with each new Syllabus!
GIVE ME A BREAK
Using and abusing line breaks: Line breaks are one of the key elements that attunes readers to whether or not a piece of text is a poem. But, how does one successfully break a line? How do you know which word or punctuation to break the line? Why do we break the line? For suspense? For aesthetic? Where do we break the line? After a complete thought? After an image? After a metrical foot? For form? How important is paying attention to line breaks when writing (and editing) a poem?
WRITING EXERCISE PART 1:
- Free write in prose (no line breaks) for 10 minutes.
- Must have at least 5 ending punctuation marks (period, question mark, exclamation mark).
- Must have at least 5 images.
- Type free write.
- Create 7 copies.
- End-stopped: a line broken on punctuation (comma, period, colon, etc.)
- Annotated: a broken line that resists closure or doesn’t read like an ending
- Parsed: a broken line that reads a end-stopped without the punctuation
WRITING EXERCISE PART 2:
- Using your free-write, end-stop each line. (This does not always mean break on the ending punctuation of the sentence. Feel free to break on commas, semi-colons, etc.)
- Using your free-write, annotate each line.
- Using your free-write, parse each line.
READ AND WRITE:
- The Blue Terrance by Terrance Hayes for breaking on sound/rhyme.
- Using your free-write, break each line on sound or rhyme.
- If They Come For Us by Fatimah Asghar for breaking on image.
- Using your free-write, break each line on an image.
- After Reading Sharon Olds by Diannely Antigua for breaking for surprise.
- Using your free-write, break each line for surprise.
- Somewhere Holy by Carl Phillips for extending the syntax over multiple lines.
- Using your free-write, break each line to extend the syntax.
Lue’s selected poem from February:
If you ask me, I’ll say I’m ready to share
my silence, have you stand beside me
at the window full of rain. There’s nothing
much to see, but what there is is chaos.
The garbage cans topple. A letter leaves
the mailbox in a tizzy. Vegetation left over
from the lawn care I ordered, $50
for an hour of noise, is spread
like confetti to the tune of whistles
ringing in the clean, clapping branches.
Power lines touching make double dutch
loops. Tinny air snakes through the glass
like a phone call made on bean cans and string.
What is there to say? It’s only a moment
in the work week. We hello-and-goodbye plenty.
My eyes say, Look at that cloud
shaped like a cookie jar. Look at that bush
shaking like a dog happy to see us.
Can you feel how glad the house is
just to be rained on? To fog the windows
with someone else’s breath?
Jennifer Greenburg is an associate editor for the South Florida Poetry Journal. Her work has appeared in Literary Mama, SWWIM Everyday, Homology Lit, Coffin Bell and is forthcoming in The New Southern Fugitives.
Written in response to February’s “Just Fucking Say It” Prompt.