Poem About Writing a Poem (3rd Annual Dialogue Contest Winner)

by Mark Jordan Manner

Mark Jordan Manner.


That's the first line of your story.

It is.

Mark Jordan Manner.  Brown hair and brown eyes and brown dirt caked on the toes of his brown boots.  He tongues the small cut inside of his left cheek. It tastes sharp, metallic.  He lights a cigarette.

I know how it goes.  You don't have to read it to me.

You smoke cigarettes?

Not in real life.

But you do in the story?



Because I'm a writer in the story.

But you're a writer in real life too.

Not really.  In the story I'm a different kind of writer.  A real writer.  The kind who smokes cigarettes.

I don't follow.

It's not important.

But it is important.  You've got yourself smoking in practically every scene.  There has to be a reason for it.

That's just who the character is. He's someone who smokes cigarettes. That's what he does.  I don't know how else to explain it.

Fine.  Fair enough.  So talk to me about the violence.

What about it?

The knife had an orange grip and an eight-inch blade.  It was a hunting knife.  He used it to scalp the girl, carving the blonde tresses from her skull, leaving her bloody and bald.  She screamed without making any noise.  Mark Laughed. He stuck the girl's scalp onto his own head and started dancing around the room.  Naked.  "Look at me," he said.  "I'm a pretty lady.  Everybody look at me."


Are you laughing at this?


It's supposed to be funny then?


So is this your way of telling the world you've officially lost your fucking mind?

What do you mean?

Well, for starters, you wrote a story about yourself scalping girls with a hunting knife.

It's not me though.  It's another me.  It's the me of the story, the writer version of me.

But you're a writer in real life, so you already are "the writer version" of you.

I'm not a writer though.  I'm only aspiring to be one.

And you think this story is a step in the right direction?

I do.

May I tell you why I disagree?

Yeah.  That's why I invited you over here.

You remember taking that poetry workshop freshman year?

I do.

Before each assignment, Bobby told us the same thing: "Avoid writing a poem about writing a poem.  It's been done to death.  It's buried.  It's dead."

I remember.

Well that's your first problem. You write too much of the story about writing a story.  Pages and pages of dialogue where nothing happens, just a couple of guys sitting around talking to each other about stories, and about writing them.

But my character is a writer, and that's what writers do.

But writers do other things as well; so maybe try focusing on these other things? Because the way it is right now doesn't work.  It's boring, expected.  It's all been done.

I'll think about it. 

Good.  Another thing.  Your main character is you.  Mark Jordan Manner.  Yet another technique that's been done to death.  No legitimate reason for it whatsoever.  It's like you only stuck yourself in there to be arty and pretentious. 

It's about a guy writing a story. I'm a guy who writes stories.  Why wouldn't I just make myself be the guy? It seemed to make sense at the time.

The elderly man's name was Bernie.  Mark bent him over his walker, then reached around the front to unbuckle Bernie's belt.  Bernie was crying.  Mark was hard.  He spit into his right hand, making his palm moist and shiny.

Quit reading me portions.  It's condescending.

You just told me the guy in the story is you.  Well, the guy in the story rapes an old man.  How do you explain that?

It's only a portion of me. 

Mark.  This isn't real writing.  It's all for shock value.  You think that sticking yourself in as the main character, having him rape and scalp everyone, will shock people, but so what? His actions don't hold any sort of weight.

Not true.  There's a good reason for everything taking place.  The raping.  The scalping.  It's all an allegory for global pollution.

What the hell? Is that a joke?


I strongly doubt you even know what allegory means.

Fine.  So what would your suggestion be then? Cut out the rape and the scalping and myself as main character?

And the writing about writing.

Without those things I've got nothing.

So start from scratch.

Who has time for that?

Make time.

What should I write about then?

Doesn't matter, so long as it's minimalist, ambiguous, no violence or sex or anything cheap and easy.  Avoid everything you included in your original story.

Should I write about the time my grandfather performed a magic trick?

Magic trick?

He was supposed to make a tissue disappear, but I could see it bunched up inside of his sleeve.  I was young.  Maybe six or seven.  I pretended to be amazed even though I knew where it was.  That way he could continue to believe that kids have faith in magic.

Yes! Write about something along those lines! Perfect.  Just remember what I said.  Make it minimalist.  Ambiguous. Write from a perspective that's detached, that's already lost its innocence.  You could call it "The Magic Trick."


Good.  So you agree?


I guess we're done here then. You mind if I steal a cigarette from you?


Thanks, Mark.

No problem.  Thanks for your help.

You got any ashtrays in here?

No.  You can put it out on my arm once you're done though. 

Your arm? Doesn't that hurt?

A little, but it's a good kind of hurt.

BIO:Mark Jordan Manner is currently a student at York University where he received the 2011 President’s Prize for Fiction. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Ricepaper Magazine, Word Riot, Untoward Magazine, Red Lightbulbs, among others, and his prize-winning story 'Your Son' was recently published in Inkspots: A Collection of New Canadian Short Stories. Links to more of his writing can be discovered here: