Workshop Song: An Imitation of Jean Toomer

I chose to imitate “Harvest Song” by Jean Toomer because I love the sounds and language he uses. The poem indicates a dryness that cannot be quenched (specifically, the “hunger” that is consistently repeated throughout), and the lack of satisfaction and fluidity is emphasized by images of breakage and strain.

The sound contributes to these scenes of breakage with harsh consonants (i.e. cradled, crack, teeth, dust, scythes, split, caked). In addition to the abrasive sound, the language imbues the poem with an almost disgusting darkness and struggle (set at sun-down, chilled, fatigued, blind, strange, sheath their blades), emphasized with a chilling voice of “eoho” rattling through the dried and painful darkness.

Throughout this discordant poem, however, there is the feeling of music and rhythm, seeming at odds with the harrowing language and scraping sounds. You’d think that Toomer would have instituted a more Mina Loy-esque styling of constant upset within the lines: short, terse, and breaking at awkward angles. But I think the reason he doesn’t do this is because breaking the lines or creating awkward syllable counts would have created a poem—or a subject—beyond repair. The usage of song allows Toomer to compose something productive out of the desolation and pain of experience. The binding of the cracking words into a harmonious bundle shows Toomer’s attempt at self-comfort since satisfaction cannot be reached within the actual understanding of experience.

In my imitation I try to utilize Toomer’s mastery of sound and language to match the subject of the poem, while instituting his vivid and disturbing imagery. My subject is writing and refers to the anxiety felt within workshops or reading great poets (such as within this class).

Workshop Song

 I am a leaper whose lines stretch the sun-down. All my words are fabled.
But I am too swollen, and too slated to keep them. And I whisper.

 I tuck a note deep in my chest. I do not see it.
I have been in the verse all day. My mind is hot. I whisper.

 My sighs are flung with flecks of word docs in academic.
I am a pinprick who stains across the sheets, seeking slicked wit
     of other poetic.

 It would be good to read them . . . crimson, shaken, and candy sweeten verse
     of the syllabic . . . It would be good to read them, fleck-flung and
     sighing. I whisper.

 (Festive with sick slipping phoneme their stanzas fell in.)
My mind is hot. And should I sing, a tucked note like the words
     . . . oh-ah—

 I fear to sing. What should they hear me, and offer me their note,
     words, or slang or tone? I have been in the verse all day. I fear
     I could not see it. I fear my own still whisper.

My voice is flung with flecks of word-docs in academic.
I am banshee girl who sinks at sounds the songs of other poetics whose
     minds are also hot.

 It would be good to see their poems . . . leapers of the fish-fooled
     paper, fighters of the tone . . . even though their minds flung, and
     the festivity of sickness silenced me.

I whisper. My mind is hot. Now that the sun is real and I am swollen.
     I fear to sing. (Oh-ah!, my lovers!)

 I am a leaper. (oh-ah!) All my words are fabled. But I am too slated
     to keep them. And I whisper. I tuck a note. It has no voice to
     it. My mind is hot . . .

 O my lovers, I lick my pens, fetching porcelain page cuddled to my
     writing. (You lick your festive phoneme.) My beauty seeps.
     Seeping wonder notes and slang and tone. Maybe it will shake the
     stillness in my whisper.

Imitations are always difficult for me, but I appreciate them because they force me to be hyperconscious of what is going on in the original poem, even if I don’t quite achieve the original technique in my imitation.

About Katherine Bartter

Senior Creative Writing major Poli. Sci. minor Cat enthusiast
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One Response to Workshop Song: An Imitation of Jean Toomer

  1. Prof VZ says:

    I like how you make this poem more explicitly about what Toomer’s poem seems implicitly to be about: about reaching across the bounds of one’s isolated work to reach others. For Toomer, it is also about the degree to which his own “work” as a writer can bring him knowledge of his hunger, or whether finally making contact will only make one more aware of one’s condition (is it better to toil in silence or hunger, or to join a broader network of pain?). Your post actually helped me think more carefully about the ways in which Toomer’s is–as so many modernist poems are–a poem about poetry (even as it is surely a poem about labor, a poem about death (I sense the same theme here as in the reaper).

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