“Small Blaze in a Roaring Fire,” Amalou Ouassou (Morocco)
Issue 4.1 April 2022
Read the piece here.
Pre-Reading Quick Write
Sometimes, life transitions occur gradually, over time, and through evolution; other times, change strikes as a lightning bolt, with a defining moment slicing through our lives and creating a sense of “before” and “after.” For five minutes, bring to mind one such “defining moment” that you have experienced—a critical conversation, a surprising act of kindness, an unexpected shift in family structure, an unforeseen pivot in perspective. Next, brainstorm a list of similes (comparisons using the words “like” or “as”) and metaphors (comparisons that do not use the words “like” or “as”) to describe this important moment. What did the moment feel like, or remind you of? What might you compare it to? How might you explain it to someone who was not there, or who has not lived through something similar? Use these questions to guide your creativity as you put pen to paper and conjure up your list of comparisons.
Consider the role of comparison throughout Ouassou’s poem. What role does figurative language, such as similes and metaphors, have in this piece? What impact do these comparative moments have on you and your understanding of the poem? Which comparative moment especially strikes you, and why? How would the piece read differently without these comparative moments?
Repetition is a powerful tool in a poet’s toolbox. Scan Ouassou’s poem and identify moments of repetition in the work. How does repetition influence the flow or sound of the poem? How does repetition impact the content or story inherent in the verse? Why do you think Ouassou chose to utilize repetition in these specific poetic moments? How do form and message influence one another?
The lines, “My grandpa’s only picture from when he was a lad/is somewhere on the ground, turned to ash,” are poignant and specific. By grounding readers in a scene through concrete nouns (the picture, the ash), readers are able to latch onto an image that is representative of the larger crisis described. Rather than speak in generalities about smoke and fire, Ouassou presents a level of descriptive detail that “zooms in” and leverages specificity. What impact does this choice have on you as a reader? Can you identify other moments of specificity in the piece? How might you employ concrete nouns in your poetry to create a similar effect (and affect)
Discuss the presence and role of varied sentence structure and enjambment (or line breaks) in the poem. What do you notice about Ouassou’s approach to these techniques? How do these poetic devices influence the flow, tone, urgency, and/or impact of the poem? Point to specific examples in the work, and speak about the ways in which form and content impact one another.
Return to your freewriting from earlier and put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard!) to create a poem about a definitive moment in your life. The moment may be the same or different from that which you explored in your initial writing. Consider how figurative, comparative language, such as similes and metaphors might bring this moment to life for readers, as well as how concrete nouns, like the picture that Ouassou mentions, might ground readers in the visual imagery of your work. Finally, once you have an initial draft, return to the piece and comb through each line with attention to repetition, varied sentence structure, and enjambment; what intentional choices can you make about form to further heighten the impact of your poetic message?