Poetic Inquiry

In this post I briefly discuss some elements of poetic inquiry that may be useful if you want to try for yourself, and then show an example. To do poetic inquiry is to notice, to listen, and to be present with the subject, but it is not only writing poetry. It can involve photography, drawing, music, dance, writing, etc., or a combination of different artistic mediums.

Poetic inquiry is about unsettling what is often taken as commonplace, allowing an artist to re-imagine a particular situation or subject and look at it in a different light. The particular situation or subject does not have to be profound, and often insights can be gained from unsettling and re-imagining mundane, everyday things. The example I offer below -- going to the laundromat -- would probably be considered quite mundane to most, but it is a perfectly good subject for poetic inquiry and made me reconsider this apparently ordinary event.

If you've interested in giving this a try, I would encourage you to work with your own experience, with the simple things you do and take for granted. It could be taking a bus ride or going to the grocery store; it could be going for a walk in the forest or making dinner, any subject or situation you want. Ask yourself, what about the subject calls out for notice, and how can you represent it artistically? What other ideas are brought up by being present with your subject? There doesn't have to be any conclusion or solution and you may be left with many more questions than answers.


A Trip to the Laundromat


they look to be waiting for someone (anyone) to put in a coin and turn them on

I don't mind being here but there's usually company

so it's strange to be alone with these machines

I wonder if they are watching me

I thought change comes only from within (who knew there was a machine for that too?). I put in a ten dollar bill and the coins clatter down, some spilling out and
to the floor... rolling around my feet.

The coins go into the slot and I hear them say clink-clink in a metallic accent.

(If at first your coin doesn't go down and you need to press the "return coin" button, scratch it on the metal panel beside the slot and give it another try. It may be a superstition, but I think it allows the machine to know the coin a little better... something like a first date.)

Set the dial to "bright colors" OR ELSE! (Made that mistake before). The water floods in and the machine comes to life, seeming somehow satisfied. Through the window I see the clothes go


Now wait. Wait more.
If you are thirsty, you can put some coins in the Coke machine.

While I wait, a man shows up. He has clothes in one of the washing machines and is going to put them in a dryer. He opens the door of the washer and notices that his clothes are soaking wet. The water and soap did not drain. Perhaps he overloaded the machine. The machines don't like when you do that. He swears under his breath as he puts them into another washing machine. He has to pay for a whole load, even though he only needs a rinse and a spin cycle. He also has to wait for another half hour.

Does this man run the machine
does this machine run the man?

"Buzzzzzzzzz!" says the washer
put clothes in dryer
more coins

press button

smell of fabric softener
perforated metal cylinder
more coins

press button
encased in steel(cosmos swirling)glass is a world

waiting to be discovered


Harlequin said...

this was nicely done... the visuals and word shapes and the neat way you make sounds with words are all combining in a swirl of purposeful agitation.... kind of like the washing machine itself ....

and your description of poetic inquiry was eloquent;
this a a great prompt.... I am looking forward to exploring it

January 19, 2010 at 10:30 PM
Anonymous said...

It arrives.
An infested germ chamber on wheels.
Standing room only
Sardines in a can...

You push your way
to grab something
to hold on to

Ah ha! A belt loop
you grasp...balance secure!
or not...it s l i d e s
the entire horizontal length.
Seems like boot camp

A canvas bag
smacks the side of your head.
Sports equipment jabs your ribs
with the sudden screech of brakes.

Terminal transfer.
Another approaching limbusine.
Standing room only
Sardines in a can...

January 19, 2010 at 10:36 PM
Anonymous said...

oops, sorry...this should be posted under Poetic Inquiry!

January 19, 2010 at 10:37 PM
Anonymous said...
Jon said...

Thanks! I look forward to see what you come up with...
And I'm glad you like the little write-up on PI. It was kind of brief by design, and this is a method that could be given so much more time!

Sounds like quite a bus ride! And like many-a-bus I've been on. Perhaps a bad joke, but in summer in Toronto we called them the SARS express.
Thanks for this lovely poem. I love the description of the hand grip as a belt loop, and the way your word slides... you've got a great talent for poetics and I'm glad you're getting some miles out of these posts.

January 19, 2010 at 11:17 PM
Anonymous said...

When I looked at the first picture, I saw the title as 'empty' and there is something about the emptiness and the orderliness of the picture that leaves me feeling somewhat forlorn. This feeling is intensified by some of the last words 'wait wait wait' and the space around and the orderliness of these words seems to reflect some of the elements of the first picture.

I am left thinking of the machines -- waiting.

January 23, 2010 at 9:45 PM
Jon said...

Fish Face,

And this is just how I started thinking about it!

So perhaps they are waiting (but waiting for what?), and is it me looking at them (or you looking at them in the picture) or them looking at us? (!) I suppose we shall have to WAIT for the answer, eh?

Thanks for your thoughts on this piece. I think some of the elements you pick up on (perhaps the modern "condition") we are seeing in the same way -- the order and the machines, the space and the money -- however it all fits together.

January 23, 2010 at 10:48 PM