Writing Outside Your Genre

Fellow writer and friend Laura Lee posted a blog entry today asking readers to consider if they have ever written outside their genre and what the experience was like for them. I thought about the few times I wrote happier poems and how foreign that felt to me. However, I subsequently reflected on a challenge given by poets Debra Bruce and Olivia Cronk to write a “skittery poem.” I rebelled, of course, because I couldn’t imagine writing a poem without some type of readily discernible order, some poem that did not make immediate sense. Skittery poems made me skittish and paranoid.

Debra and Olivia told me that these feelings are the signs that the writer should dive in and try something new. Debra said even though skittery poems were not her typical genre of poetry, she had respect for the work and wrote one of her own. I relented and wrote two versions of a poem, one straightforward and one telling all the truth but telling it skittery. The skittery poem emerged as vastly superior to the original piece:

You Outlasted What?

In Milwaukee, there was enough
Kikkoman’s and rice
for a dynasty.  You know,
the British pronounce it “din-eh-stee,”
but I bet they’ve never been
to the plant in Belvidere, Illinois,
even though Mr. Belvedere was British;
he died in August of 2001,
lucky bastard.

He didn’t have to worry about the expired
milk smelling up the room along with
a sink of tomato soup vestiges,
like the plica semilunaris or the coccyx.
After life, his final joke:
someone else had to clean up after him.

Dante wouldn’t have understood
the punchline, relegated him to the first,
maybe second circle of Hell,
or as mom spells out,
H-e-double hockey sticks.
After his timely departure,
the butler was caught
stashing Pocky sticks, blackberry wine,
Buspar, the San Francisco treat.

Someone left his heart here,
beating without a body. He said donate
my body and my brain to science;
he didn’t say much about the heart.
When a horse dies, they bury the hooves
and the heart, because they say,
“He’s got heart,” which means he runs
well.  They also say, “Wherever you go,
there you are.”  Always seemed intuitive,
yet it’s like death: until you’ve experienced
it, you don’t know what it means.


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