Poetry Issue 16

Issue #16 : January-June 2012

      Methodology: "Looking" by Mabi David

      Description. In this exercise, participants use an iconic photograph and relate it to both historical event and personal experience.

      Objective. To combine different narratives associated with an iconic photograph.

      Materials. One iconic photograph. Additional information on photograph.


      1. Discussion might revolve around the following points:
        1. What is happening in the poem? Can we identify different situations in the poem? How do the characters in these situations relate to each other?
        2. Based on the details of the poem, describe the photograph.

      2. At this point, the instructor shows the Eddie Adams photograph and asks how the image affects the participants’ understanding of the poem.

      3. The instructor shows a photograph of another iconic moment in history. Some examples include: Ninoy Aquino’s assassination, self-immolation of the Buddhist monk, Mount Pinatubo’s eruption, first man on the moon, among others. Instructor gives a background on the historical moment depicted in the photograph.

      4. Apart from this, instructor should also give a background on the circumstances that led to the taking of the photograph. This can include interviews and statements by the photographer. Participants can underline sentences and phrases they can use.

      5. Instructor asks participants to choose a “decisive” moment in their lives of which no photograph was taken. Narrate the circumstances that led to this moment. Describe this moment as if it were a photograph.

      6. Identify three to five scenes from steps 3, 4, and 5.

      7. Write a poem that combines the various scenes. You may use the underlined phrases or sentences, but do not modify the language or add any transitional phrases.

      Note to instructor. This module touches on a variety of poetic elements and rhetorical devices, namely: narration, description, diction, imagery, ambiguity, juxtaposition, and structure. Instructor may provide additional input on photography, such Bresson’s notion of the decisive moment.

      Time allotment. One hour and a half, broken down into 45 minutes for discussing the David poem, and 45 minutes for writing.

      by Mabi David

      His eye on the target: an earlobe.
      The finger hooks the trigger, a dispatch
      of instruction and the barrel tips upward
      in an arc that will land the man dead.

      He will not loosen his grip on his camera,
      the finger a steady crook on the shutter.
      What has he lost that now steadies him,
      that he can whisper Hold still to himself,
      or to this man with the gun,
      maybe even to his prisoner?
      For this prize, that instant when the bullet swifts through the skull
      and he is past afraid, past his terror for himself, the man,
      reducing fear to a frown you put on when someone
      you once slept with without having to love, died.

      This is his favorite photograph:
      Eddie Adams’ “Street Execution of a Vietcong Prisoner.”
      Mind-blowing, he repeats each time he looks at it.
      A student of the decisive moment:
      Pity to be gifted with such instances and to look away.
      Even when he slapped her he insisted on eye contact.
      This is how you know it is duty.
      That time he sat her through two hours of B-horror,
      held her knee and she could not move.
      He always meant well, believing good did not mean tenderness.
      Wrinkled and bent like a broken wing, now in fits he coughs.

      He had called her, made her kneel on the floor
      where he spat, and asked if there was blood.
      How could she move away and be dutiful?

      When he dies, she will remember this:
      looking at him looking at the photograph,
      through Adams to the stunned man,
      missing the point of horror and compassion.