The Trip Begins


What a luxury of choices for the start of our communal “canto.” Though any one of these fine entries would make an intriguing beginning for our expedition, let’s go with Charise Hoge and her “gypsy soul”:

On a Caravan of Dreams

The trip begins without a sign that’s hung.
The mark may lie within your palm a line
a psychic knew before your time was sung.
She saw the span of dissonance: you pine
to scale a chart, depart where others clung;
refuse the map, forget reviews unkind.
My year of birth your cry of “Something Else!!!!”
A gypsy soul keeps nothing on the shelf.

This stanza is a rich starting point, both in its own special “something else” and in its ekphrastic (art speaking to art) connection to Opening a Caravan of Dreams, a 1985 album by saxophonist Ornette Coleman and his Prime Time ensemble. This album references Fort Worth’s artist-run performing arts center and nightclub, “The Caravan of Dreams,” christened in 1983 with a Coleman performance. The phrase “caravan of dreams” originates from One Thousand and One Nights, in which individual narratives both gather within and illuminate the frame story of brave Scheherazade, who saves herself and the kingdom’s women with stories, each night mesmerizing her captor with a suspended tale, a veiled future.

Hoge’s stanza demonstrates the nature of art as eternal return. Jazz builds on jazz—but Coleman’s genius sax and this new stanza unsettle the score.

Second place goes to another ekphrastic stanza, Berwyn Moore’s linked collage of incidents based on Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s painting, Netherlandish Proverbs:

Only the sun holds still, over the bay,
its blue penumbra both morning and night.
The town itself bristles, a busy spray
of flaw and folly. One man, full of spite,
flings feathers to the wind; a woman sways
her friend with gossip. Yet no one incites
the other to anger. There hangs the knife,
and there sighs the man with his cheating wife.

The description of the town as “a busy spray / of flaw and folly” is a revelation, with “spray” working overtime to make an image of what would otherwise be invisible. Though passionate, the scene is compellingly inconclusive: “no one incites,” “There hangs the knife,” “there sighs the man.”  Only a rhyme couples “knife” with “wife.”

Third-place honors go to Jordan Sanderson’s arresting “A Goat in Tennessee”:

In the road a goat stood munching a scarf
Blown from the neck of a pilot. The fingers
Of a lady’s black glove marked with a heart
Clutched the goat’s left horn. It seemed de rigueur
To swerve, but someone had left a glass jar
On the shoulder. Our tire ruined, we lingered.
We followed the goat when it bleated, for
We were somewhere we had never been before.

This charmingly omnivorous goat reminds me of Louis Simpson’s famous dictum at the start of “American Poetry.”  Find it in full here:

Whatever it is, it must have
A stomach that can digest
Rubber, coal, uranium, moons, poems.

There’s much to get from Sanderson’s goat—the philosophical jeu d’esprit of Wallace Stevens, the elegant anarchy of past avant-gardes. I hope for another chance to follow its bleats to somewhere else I’ve never been before.

I also covet a ticket for Paul Michelsen’s Greyhound, this week’s honorable mention:

An odyssey begins on Greyhound bus
The driver barely looks to say hello
These passengers may look worse-off than us
As tattered as the bags tossed down below
No single one looks like someone you’d trust
Not one resembling anyone I know
But each of us is picturing the end
Though none of us is going where we’ve been

This bus seems quintessentially American—and also poem-like. Imagine the passengers as words, the aisle as caesura. Destination a title printed on a roll of paper hurriedly wound forward.

As our own working title, let’s recruit “Caravan of Dreams.” In proposing a second stanza, aim to touch some aspect of the first, but also to depart from it—improvising onward in a jazz spirit. At the same time, hold to our eight-line stanza with its flexible iambic base, and its abababcc rhyme scheme. Keep in mind what Ornette Colman once said of his band members: “I don’t want them to follow me. I want them to follow themselves, but to be with me.” Submit your stanza no later than midnight Eastern Time, July 25, 2015.

Permission required for reprinting, reproducing, or other uses.

Angela Ball is a professor of English at the University of Southern Mississippi. She is the author of five poetry collections, including, most recently, Night Clerk at the Hotel of Both Worlds.


Please enter a valid email address
That address is already in use
The security code entered was incorrect
Thanks for signing up