Friday, December 30, 2011

Last Post of the Year, First Post in a While (but there's a story at the end of it, at least!)

Hello!

So... long time, no see...

*koff*

Well, let's start with the basics: How have you been? If you've been celebrating any holidays, I hope they've been kind to you. If not, then I hope your regular days have merciful and pleasant, or better yet, interesting. Often, I think that a frustrating day full of events can actually be better for a person than one that goes smoothly. Facing difficulties helps us grow by giving us opportunities to prove what we can handle; it also gives us more to talk about. However, I might, just maybe, be trying to force optimism. Can't wait till the next time I feel like kicking a wall. I'm sure I'll find myself thinking of this post. "Screw growth and discussion! I'd rather be short and silent!" (Not to be confused with "silent but deadly"... anyway....)

This winter, I received a lot of proof of how fortunate I am to have the people around me that I do. They spoiled me beyond belief just by being who they are. Though I was given many nifty things that I don't deserve (tangible gifts as well as the gifts of kind words and thoughts - thank you all, you know who you are), one of the most amazing was this from Wes (sorry for the bad photo quality -- I was using my phone):


(Good thing he didn't draw me wearing a skirt....)

Okay, that's enough holiday cheer. I'm grateful, but I'm giving myself diabetes just re-reading this post.

In the last post of "My Poetry Year," I mentioned that I had another project I was working on, one I hoped to have ready by the end of this year. That was when I broke the first rule of planning an independent project: I spoke of a date before everything was ready. Then I broke the second rule. "Boy, hope I didn't jinx myself by mentioning it!" I wrote.

Stupid, stupid.

I read faerie tales; I know better. You don't talk about the magic. You don't speak while the spell is being cast; otherwise, well, you'll break it. And you definitely don't invite The Jinx to show up by mentioning it by name.

So, I still have these stories. I still have the materials to make the books. But now, I have to get back into the faeries' good graces, and I'm damn well not going to say how long that's going to take. But I believe in where my writing can go if I keep working at it. And that's where I'll leave that project for 2011.

In the meantime, I have a holiday story that I wrote much earlier in the year that I'd still like to share. The idea's one I like; the execution could be better. But it seems appropriate for these times. I hope that you enjoy it and that 2012 starts out well for you. Thank you.

Read the holiday story "Clean Bones" for free!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Boo.

Happy Halloween! Does it feel like Halloween to you? It sure doesn't over here. What a shiny, bright, sunny day. Blech.

You would think that, having not updated the blog for a few weeks, I'd return with fantastic news of all the crazy writing I've been doing and all the progress I'm making on the next project.

Nope.

Production on the next project is stalled for a bit. I'd rather have my artist-in-crime do work he's happy with than force him to put out lesser work sooner. It's one of the benefits of putting out your own work: you can adjust your schedule as need be, and since nobody knows who you are, no one cares. ;D Kidding, kidding. Sort of.

As for writing in general, I remain stocked with ideas but plagued with trouble when it comes to focusing and picking the right words out of the air. However, I was able to put together a rough little tale in honor of the holiday. It's not perfect, but I hope it gives you some giggles today. So enjoy a story, enjoy your trick-or-treating, and watch out for magically possessed house decorations:

Read "The Halloween They Always Wanted" for free!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Secret Transmissions


This message was stamped on a flier from a local hardware store. The flier advertised a sale on fertilizer. I am convinced, however, that I've really intercepted a message intended for the local vampire clans.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Monday, September 26, 2011

It's Banned Books Week!

Searching for more information on it, I found this list of classic novels that have been challenged in the past. It also give information about the reasons they were considered objectionable:

Great 20th Century Novels Targeted by Censors

I really do believe that art creates a safe space in which we can discuss and analyze the ideas that speak to us, even those that make us uncomfortable and perhaps offend us. In that safe space, we can observe the world around us as it's seen by our creative peers, and, holding those thoughts and ideas up in our minds against what we know or feel to be right, we come out as strong-minded individuals, better for having examined so many possibilities.

Books. Good.

Friday, September 23, 2011

My Poetry Year: Entry #79

In which Your Humble Blogger ends the "My Poetry Year" project in a most fitting setting:

"The Lichens"

Green life seemed to flourish
In the grey morning air
That swaddled the graveyard,
Especially lichens,
Plant and mold matched in blooms
That spilled from the cracked stones.

The same grey morning air
Also nourished a scream
Inside a woman's chest
Until fissures appeared
In the name of her dead,
And she both laughed and cried
As she set the scream free,
Becoming pure nature.

* * *

And that's how it ends. Six syllables per line, with a first stanza that sits a bit awkwardly -- the "Especially lichens" line doesn't seem to be a good continuation of the first three lines, which land so solidly on their own, but it's necessary for the poem. Is it the best one I've written? Nope, though I still like the lines "Until fissures appeared/In the name of her dead." And I'm sure it might seem like an abrupt note to end this project on, an odd choice as the last poem to share (even if it does deal with death).

In truth, I didn't know that the poems were going to stop. But one day back in March, I had an idea that refused to be expressed as anything but a short story. Seconds after the idea occurred to me, I knew exactly how the story began. And as scared as I was -- I had been writing poetry for almost a year! -- I found myself wanting to attempt fiction once again.

I'm actually a little excited to show you all the results of that fiction binge, even though it won't be ready for about two more months. But I've had some help getting the stories into shape, which I didn't have when I did The People He Thought He Knew, and I hope that the resulting project will be a cohesive and entertaining (if short) bundle of stories. They rest comfortably in the realm of dark, modern fantasy. In fact, you might find "The Lichens" here reflected nicely in a few of them. You'll see what I mean before the end of the year. ;) (Oh, I bet I just jinxed myself by typing that.)

Anyway, that's where "My Poetry Year" brought me: back to fiction's doorstep, hah. Who knows, maybe after the next project I'll return to the reactions to these poems and whip my poetry into the shape it should be in. In the meantime, it's the last post for this project, but the first day of fall -- a good time for change, eh? Enjoy yourself out there today. And thanks for coming along.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

My Poetry Year: Entry #78

In which Your Humble Blogger shares one for all those who like to go people watching:

"Two Pots and a Kettle"

For one breathless hour
A woman at the next table
Waited for a snail
That had been sharing the glass top
To do something.

Finally, joy and laughter:
A quivering of its antennae
Suggested that it was happy
And at home next to the carnation.

"That woman is either a poet
Or a lunatic," said my friend.
And after an hour
And five minutes of saga,
We stood up and left.

* * *

I waver between being rolling my eyes at this poem and finding it mildly amusing.

Lots of writers get their ideas by going outside and talking to people. I believe I remember hearing that the comic book writer Brian Michael Bendis goes to the mall to get impressions of how people talk and gather snippets of dialogue. It makes me wonder who would be the more interesting to actually observe: the people who are out there living their lives, or the writers who are watching them live, making notes at certain moments that, for whatever reason, they find important.

Monday, September 19, 2011

My Poetry Year: Entry #77

In which Your Humble Blogger continues her obsession with large-scale modes of transportation -- this time incorporating boats!

"My Father, the Sailor"

What did I know about my father
Except that he would leave before
The first lonely horn could test
The stillness of morning? To me,
The horns of the commuter trains opened
Onto the same channels as the wounded wails
Of foghorns. The trains' wheels, too,
Rocked in waves. It was all high drama,
And I, good little sailor in isolation,
Would navigate my dreams of him
By the night light left as my northern star.

* * *

Total fiction, written in free verse.

This was written as an attempt to capture that odd chill that used to hit me on mornings when I would be outside, waiting for a bus or a train, before the sun was anywhere near up. I found those mornings to be some of the loneliest and most haunting times....

One image I do like from this poem is that of a night light serving as a navigational marker. :)

Friday, September 16, 2011

My Poetry Year: Entry #76

In which Your Humble Blogger falls into old habits:

"The Habits of Crows"

A few turns of the calendar's pages
Are enough to bring back that sudden start:
Spring returns behind the wings of winter.
Spring returns in the dawn's lightening feathers,
In an overcoat she sheds on your porch
Just before your move to take her inside.
And like that, you find yourself indulging
In all the habits of crows: exploring
Each known thatch of the ripening valley,
Calling to each other until you fill
The branches between open arms, laughing
With only a tilt of your head. And then,
The hours break into noon, and more habit.
You smoke your cigarette into a stump,
Yet not without hope do you finish it.
You have a familiar light everywhere
The morning touched. Spring is easy to love,
Easy to remember, and the crows here,
You realize, don't leave with the winter.
That feeling of beating wings never goes
Away.

* * *

A poem that uses a couple of images I've drawn upon before: crows and the turned pages of a calendar. However, this poem started not with either of those recycled images, but with the line "You have a familiar light everywhere the morning touched." Don't know where that came from, but it's alright. The rest of it, eh. Feels a little stiff to me.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

My Poetry Year: Entry #75

In which Your Humble Blogger says, "It's all about point of view...."

"Perspective"

"Sometimes, everything
inside this house seems
hung crooked," she said
as the universe
tilted suddenly
and thousands of stars
spilled like dice of chance
gathered their fortune
heading for her house.

* * *

Five syllables per line. Sometimes, I think, the best way to incorporate surreal events into a piece is to describe them simply and straightforwardly, letting readers make of the events what they will. This was intended as a poem for all the days we get a little too wrapped up in our own business, to the point that we pay no attention to anything else (she says at the end of a blog post).

Monday, September 12, 2011

My Poetry Year: Entry #74

In which Your Humble Blogger ignores the directive that says that '80s hair metal is supposed to be fun:

"Autopsy of a Rock Legend"

I doubt this is what the women who said
They'd like to see him naked had in mind.
The coroner's handiwork will describe
In new detail what everybody knew
But no one had the stones to keep him from:
The depression of the major pathways
That allowed oxygen into his cells,
The tearing of the liver, the bursting
Of too many capillaries. That's it,
As if she found the autopsy report
Flipping through old issues of Rolling Stone.
It won't be any great revelation.
His heart wasn't made of metal; his hands
Didn't bleed with soul. He's a body now,
His '80s thunder god sex is shriveled,
And even if on teenage nights I dreamed --
But there's no music left where they've laid him
Except for what plays on the radio
In the chalk green morgue while the coroner
Hums along, dropping parts of him in pans,
Each one landing in time with the rhythm.

* * *

Ten syllables per line this time. I think the language in this one could be more evocative and fresh, though there's one line that sticks with me (bet you can guess which one). This year marked the twentieth anniversary of the death of Steve Clark, guitarist for Def Leppard, and that's what set off this poem. Twenty years. That in itself is enough to make me think about mortality, the passage of time, and all the other matters that hair metal generally avoided touching upon. And that statement right there will probably serve as the basis for another poem (or a serious revision of this one) down the road.

Friday, September 9, 2011

My Poetry Year: Entry #73

In which Your Humble Blogger tries to offer some kind words to parents who await with despair the day their children call them the dreaded "O" word:

"A Note to the New Parents"

You will always be old to this child.
As long as she calls you "Dad" or "Mommy,"
You will be considered an ancient.
This is not a hopeless position,
If you recall your astronomy.
Each night we are illuminated
By mature stars that gave us first light,
The light of our human infancy,
When they were well into middle age.
Think of all the majesty of that.
This tiny dreamer, made of your dust,
Will be set aglow because of you.

* * *

Last week, I shared a poem about the Kuiper belt. This week, we continue the astronomy theme by saying, "Hey, old ain't so bad. Stars are old, and we like stars." Master of comparisons, I am.

I believe there will be one more poem that mentions stars after this one. In fact, after this, it looks like I have two weeks' worth of blog posts left. "Eeep!" says part of me, since that means that I'll have to start working in earnest on the next project. ("Oh, thank gods," says the other part that never fully warmed up to doing regular blog posts.) ("Hey, who's Ernest, and what the hell are we doing working inside him?" says a third part that should really go read some Oscar Wilde instead of prolonging this crazy conversation.)

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

My Poetry Year: Entry #72

In which Your Humble Blogger deals in apathy, detachment, and the end of the world as we know it. Happy Wednesday!

"The Southbound 'F' Express"

It was the moment of the Rapture, the unraveling of the world, and like many other trains, the southbound 'F' express was experiencing a delay. Most of the passengers were used to interruptions in the 'F' train's service, so few of them looked up from their newspapers out the window and saw the fissures newly formed in the earth's crust. Few removed their headphones to tremble at the horn song of triumph billowing from Heaven's doors, and few considered the smell anything more powerful than the usual fumes of humans packed closely together. Among those who did notice the Rapture, several pressed against the windows and took pictures to show their friends. The rest pushed their way to the conductor, who had collapsed in a puddle of tears beside the metal doors, and insisted that there must be something he could do to help them; there really was somewhere they were supposed to be.

* * *

Inspired by, of all things, a particularly strong smell of sulfur on the Metra one day. Despite such a pleasant association, I think I'd like to clean this poem up and keep it around; if nothing else, it helps me envision the torment that awaits the seat-mate whose personal belongings keep crowding into everyone else's space. >;)

Monday, September 5, 2011

My Poetry Year: Entry #71

In which Your Humble Blogger shares three short poems that avoid any deep thought whatsoever:

"The Artist at Work"

The artist at work
Is the dreamer deep in sleep.
Let her work in peace.

* * *

"The Upside of the Body's Decline"

Though sitting is painful
And breathing's a chore,
At least you're not thinking
That living's a bore.

* * *

"The Eastern Phoebe"

can develop its song perfectly
even if kept in isolation.

The letters between us
give my song hope.

* * *

Often, the longer poems I write are practically stories; they present the little slivers of fictional thought that don't quite work as prose. The short, short, really short poems? Those usually reflect my actual feelings, albeit the surface-level ones in most cases. I look at these poems and think, "Yep, that's when I wanted some sleep, and that's when my muscles were aching, and that's when I missed people, boo-hoo." Guess I don't like talking about myself in any direct way at length (she says while typing a blog entry).

The piece of information at the center of the third poem is one that I heard on a podcast earlier this year. It seems that the Eastern Phoebe is a bird that, unlike other songbirds, doesn't have to learn its species' signature songs from another phoebe. Chalk one up for the loners!

Friday, September 2, 2011

My Poetry Year: Entry #70

In which Your Humble Blogger incorporates an appreciation for astronomy into a casual analysis of the mess on her desk:

"The Kuiper Belt"

The Kuiper belt is a band of particles
In between the farthest fading ripples
Of planetary trails. The Kuiper belt exists
In the dust-ringed stain and aggregate of crumbs
Beneath my coffee cup. An external observer,
Using signal dishes or cascades of glass lenses,
Would notice the Kuiper belt early among sights
From our slice of the galaxy. Who knows what
The external observer would discover on my desk.
But I stare at the round-moon puddle left by my mug:
Whose house are we in? Whose sens of order
Do we, although we're small flecks of matter, disturb?
And does our scattered, inevitable presence
Inspire them toward poetry, too?

* * *

Sad to say, I can't find the original news bite that inspired this one. What it said, though, was that some data suggests that an alien being looking in on our galaxy is likely to first be able to see the Kuiper belt, the ring of icy objects and particles that surrounds our solar system. I know something about particulate matter. At the moment, I'm sitting next to a bookshelf with a months-thick layer of dust that confirms how true that is.

Funny note: As I was typing up the introductory paragraph for this blog post, I was suddenly struck by a realization of how to turn the idea behind this poem into a short story. And to think that some days I wonder why I even bother posting!

Edit: After I typed this blog post last night, I tried working on that story idea. It's... something. I think I failed in my first attempt at the execution. But that's why we edit things, yet?

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

My Poetry Year: Entry #69

In which Your Humble Blogger tries to make something out of waste:

"A Gathering of Crows"

Like shivers of dust from a rug
That's been beaten over a line,
Crows scattered from the tapestry
Of the sky and settled on piles
Of trash. They made the only sounds
Among the houses, which were locked
For the day while labors were performed
Elsewhere. The great suburban silence.

Very little of the garbage
Actually remained confined
To cans and bags. A grand herd of
Disposable goods had been loosed
Onto blacktop fields, and the wind
Could corral just a few pieces
Along the curb. How it got spilled,
No one had been around to say.

The news from recent days had been
Black: a lawmaker's hopes exploding
Onto a parking lot, birds falling
And fish bellying in large groups
And dying at the foot of man.
No one could explain this, either.
We just assembled on crows' wings,
Shivering over pictures of waste.

The great national silence.

* * *

This was written not long after Representative Gabrielle Giffords was shot in the head in a Safeway parking lot. Also in the news around this time were stories of fish populations showing up dead in rivers and large flocks of birds falling from the sky and dying.

The first stanza is decent, and the last three lines are ones I would keep -- can you tell that those lines are where the poem started? :) Otherwise, I think that the transition into the third stanza is way too abrupt and ungrounded, and the imagery in the second stanza doesn't do much for me. However, crows provided an image in another poem written after this one, and that one, I think, uses them more successfully, so I've posted this poem for the sake of a later comparison.

Monday, August 29, 2011

My Poetry Year: Entry #68

In which Your Humble Blogger shares an odd truth behind today's poem:

"My Grandmother Decided to Go"

My grandmother decided to go
To a hospital close to home when
It was time. And even the machines,
For all that they could do to suggest
Peace within the body, couldn't speak;
They lacked words to explain. The doctors
Had little more to offer.

Over
The resigned Calumet, its grey skin
Of clouds and oil drawn into wrinkles
By long years of industrious work.
The road I took to the hospital
Was the same one my grandmother drove
Every night when she worked at Woolworth's.
But I was coming from school that day.
And she – just wasn't.

There were no roads
That could pretend to cover the miles
Between my grandmother's hands and mine
Then, no monitors to interpret
The thoughts relinquished between each breath.
There was a handful of family,
And the nurses, and my grandmother,
Just her, getting ever closer to
Home.

* * *

I had to change the format of this poem a little when cutting and pasting it today. As it's written in the notebook, there are no breaks between stanzas, and the opening line of every stanza except for the very first is indented so that, visually speaking, it lines up with the end of the line before it. This was done to convey the fact that this poem is mostly written in syllabics, nine syllables per line this time. However, while the last line of each stanza that you see above combines with the line following it to make nine syllables total, it didn't make sense in terms of the narrative to have all of those thoughts running straight from one line to the next. Basically, the way the story's told in this poem, it cried out for stanzas or some kind of visual transition. And the way it's laid out in my notebook conveys the idea of nine-syllable lines better than this type out version does (though maybe this reads better, I don't know).

Why didn't I just indent the damn lines in this post, then? Because I seem to be a little stupid with Blogger. In the past, I've gone to the "Edit HTML" tab and inserted the code for a space, and when I've previewed the posts, they looked correct, but then I publish the post and the spaces at the beginning of the lines go poof. Any thoughts from anyone more Blogger-literate?

Oh, and the last line of the poem disregards any structure whatsoever. Ending on one syllable simply seemed right.

None of this touches on "the odd truth" behind this poem. The odd truth is this: It's very much a work of fiction. As real as it felt when I was writing it, the story is just that -- a story. Yes, there are elements of truth in it; my paternal grandmother did work at Woolworth's, and I was in college when my maternal grandmother died and I did go home from school for her wake and funeral. But I think this poem is a case of a situation that I heard described once: Often, it's harder to write about what you want to be true than what is true. Doing so, however, usually produces the better writing.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

My Poetry Year: Entry #67

In which Your Humble Blogger returns to a familiar theme (because the familiar theme keeps returning to haunt her this year, grrr):

"Scar Tissue"

Mornings these days, I can see a half-moon
Of blue-black darkness, spreading like the bruise
Of a wasted sunset, above each cheek.
No, no one has turned a hand to me or
Done me any harm. None except myself.
The circles that I see are scar tissue,
The shadows of wounds I committed
Against myself every night that I lost
To work, television, any dumb thing
That was dimmer than the plans I once had.
If there is a horizon for these days,
It must be lost past my eyes, because the
Circle of wasted sunsets continue
To descend. They are obvious beyond
My broken mirrors of near-sleepless nights.

* * *

Images from this poem that I would keep and perhaps use elsewhere: "the bruise of a wasted sunset," "my broken mirrors of near-sleepless nights." Everything else can go. Out with ya!

More importantly, if you're in the path of a big, wicked storm, stay safe and dry this weekend, won't ya?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

My Poetry Year: Entry #66

In which Your Humble Blogger goes back to form -- except that she's working in a form she's never tried before:

"She Always Has a Song on Her Shoulder"

She always has a song on her shoulder,
A bird of fantasy that visits her
And sometimes, along with other songs, waits
By her shell-curve ear until she listens.

And it's a sacred day when she listens.
She works bent like a tree at the shoulders,
At her piano until night finds her
And tells her that music will have to wait.

It's a life of compromise. Her clock waits,
But only so long before it listens
To calendars and lays weeks on her shoulders,
And seasons of rhythm change around her.

The moments of devotion allowed her
Are rarer beasts than the songs, and she waits
For them – for what, she wonders. Who listens?
Who pursues lonely lives in art above their shoulders?

Hours spent listening in a half-moon at her piano
Leave her shoulders aching.
But she dreams of the pain as if, like the songs that wait for her,
She, too, has wings.

* * *

I think I set my sights a little high with this one. At the beginning of the year, I was aching to write a very structured poem, as I felt that I'd been getting too loose and slackerly with my approach. One of the hardest forms I know to write in is a sestina. I'm not sure how well I can explain it here -- it feels like such a complicated thing to me, which is why I've included a link -- but basically, each stanza of a sestina except for the last one has six lines, and the same six words are used to end the lines of each stanza, though they're put in a different order each time around. The last stanza of a sestina is shorter, often three lines long, and it contains those six magic words within its lines, usually two per line.

Oof! Well, the concept I had in mind didn't seem like it needed to be developed over the course of a long, long sestina. So I instead used a similar but shorter four-line approach. I did try to be strict with it: I tried to keep each line ten syllables long except with the freer final stanza (though I failed -- some lines are longer), and I kept the four ending words in a specific order (the word that ends the last line of one stanza ends the first line of the next stanza, and the rest get shuffled down, which is how sestinas are supposed to be, but I've seen a lot of writers mess with that and not follow it strictly).

Masochism? Surely. But at the end, the thoughts fit my harebrained pattern better than I'd expected them to. I'm not sure how I feel about the way the lines of the last stanza fall, but I'm hoping that a better arrangement will occur to me.

Monday, August 22, 2011

My Poetry Year: Entry #65

In which Your Humble Blogger starts off the week by going back to the end of 2010:

"NYE 2011"

Far from December,
the year begins with our lips.
Times Square sings for us.

* * *

Yep, that's how 2010 ended here: with a half-baked pseudo-haiku. ;) No, I don't do much celebrating on New Year's Eve. The holiday's marked by three things that I generally don't enjoy: drinking, dancing, and hanging around with lots of people. Well, to be fair, dancing is growing on me. I just don't dance in public that much. You can tell how much fun I am at parties, yes?

Ah, but it wasn't all fireworks and my sparkling personality lighting up the end of the year:


Yes! Another rejection letter! Back in September 2010, I submitted "Departure" to the Alaska Quarterly Review; I had seen a former teacher's name in the index of a recent issue and decided it was a sign. It was not. No, the sign I needed came in the form of this note, which arrived in the mail just before New Year's Eve, just before it was time to start another year of writing, another year of working at getting better.

Friday, August 19, 2011

My Poetry Year: Entry #64

In which Your Humble Blogger laments the fact that many of her closer friends live more than seven hundred miles away (cue violins in the background):

"Returning to Tucson to Visit a Friend"

It takes three buses to get to your house,
Each one following a route that I know
By grids in my veins. But the roads are split
And suffering now, and the buses' wheels
Travel over them in uneven time,
A stuttering rhythm matched in my chest.
Forgive me. For all the miles and the months,
For the sad few messages I managed,
And those sent along broken postal roads
Or long-laid cables. Forgive me. I have
Only human maps by which to find you.

* * *

This is mostly imagination, though I still remember the bus routes I need to travel to get around. I actually didn't get to return to Tucson -- where I lived from 2003 to 2007 -- for a visit during my poetry year, and I think that fact was weighing heavily on me by the end of it, heavily enough for me to imagine that I had made the trip, or was making the trip, and was able to see friends, especially those with whom communication had lapsed a bit. Another poem written according to syllables, this is the last piece that I put any real effort into for 2010.

(For Reuben, 2010-2011)

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

My Poetry Year: Entry #63

In which Your Humble Blogger comments on the pointlessness of forcing yourself to feel something only because you think it's what you're supposed to feel:

"Ornaments"

On a pilgrimage to a distant land,
Chicago, where we saw the holiday
Treated with professional elegance
And were meant to breathlessly consider
The expert drape of the garlands, the perfect
Spacing of the lights, the exact amount
Of whimsy that each glass globe tethered to
The trees could expect to capture. It was
Where I held his hand, although we were friends.
What did I know? It seemed like the right thing
For us to do, children of the movies
And '80s pop radio that we were.
Meanwhile, the planners continued to march
Christmas toward some standard of greatness
As if it needed the help, as if stars
Couldn't already be seen nestled in
Boughs and branches. And we stood awkwardly,
As if friendship suddenly wasn't enough.

* * *

This poem could use some fleshing out, but it might have potential.

Sometimes I wonder: Have we learned nothing from "The Grinch"? Often, in my experience, the events that carry the most meaning are the ones that need no foresight, planning, or scripted behavior.

That being said, would you believe that I've already written very rough drafts of two, two Christmas-themed stories this year? If that weren't sick enough, it seems that I can't write a holiday story that doesn't contain some horrible element, like child slavery or skeletons that strip the bones of living people who waste their food. I swear, I really do enjoy the winter celebrations!

Just not in the way that many others do, I guess.

Monday, August 15, 2011

My Poetry Year: Entry #62

In which Your Humble Blogger gets some stupid poetry out of the way before going on to talk about things that people really want to hear about, like Wizard World Chicago:

"On the Edge"

In the street, on the edge
Of the shallow waters
Of lamplight rolls a cup,
A styrofoam vessel.
I've seen similar sights:
Letters dropped in valleys
Of snowdrift, newspapers'
Headlines dissolving in
The ripples of puddles.
I've just as easily
Lost friends, have treated them
About as well, as if
It was too much, troubling
My hands to hold them tight
Against the chaos of
The wind, my life's chaos.
And yet, some friends remain.
The cup? Still in the street.
And somewhere, some bold ship
Continues a voyage,
Leaving the circle of
A sun-lit harbor for
The darkness that light waits
To become.

* * *

I hate this poem.

No, really. I still carry the thoughts and feelings at the center of it -- that, sometimes, I don't think I treat my friends nearly as well as they deserve to be treated -- but the way they're expressed here is convoluted, and the language is totally devoid of feeling. However, I include it here not only because of that promise to share the crappy along with the less crappy, but because doing so allows me to mention that I've started to take Miss M's suggestion of working with an idea both in prose and poetry. The big difference is that the prose version is starting out in a more literal place: the trash that's been discarded in the street serves as a life raft for two three-inch tall men who have been caught in a storm. Yep, I'm sure that this approach will help the piece become much less convoluted.

And -- and! -- this piece about friends also serves as a great transition to the part of this post where I talk about a place that I saw a few friends this past weekend, Wizard World Chicago (also known as Chicago Comic Con, which was what it was called before Wizard got its gods-of-the-nineties hands on it, and which Wizard is trying to promote again now).

I didn't have high expectations going into this. I had heard various things from various attendees about the past couple years of the convention, but few of the reviews were enthusiastic. This year, I was pleasantly surprised, mostly by how crowded and well-attended the show was. I don't think I've ever seen that many people at Wizard World.

True, the major comic publishers weren't really there (Top Cow had a small booth, and that was it). And there was a long list of faces from film and television, all there to sign autographs, all packed into the front of the convention hall, right at the main entrance, which made it a little difficult to walk forward and see the rest of the convention. But there were some nice finds and deals at the retailer booths. And Artists Alley was huge and hoppin'. I believe there were, what, around five hundred different exhibitors in Artists Alley alone? Daaaang.

Most importantly, I got to see the people that I mentioned in the previous post along with a few others, and I even met a couple of artists whom I hadn't seen before but who were very talented and lovely to talk to (http://cubecrazy2.com/blog/ if you want to see some crazy cuteness). These people make the world better just by being in it, and I'm honored to be able call them my friends and celebrate them, even just by mentioning them quickly on forums like this.

I think I'm getting incoherent again. Time to wrap this up. (Why did I decide to prepare this post the night after a con weekend?) But I had a good weekend, and I hope yours went well, too.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Gone Fishin' (for comics and books!)

No poetry today, no, not when I'm on my way to Wizard World Chicago! I'll be wandering the aisles for the first time since '08 -- let's see how this con is nowadays.

Here are some tables I'll be visiting, and if you're going, I recommend that you check these creators out, too (but not in a creepy, "Hey, baby, how you doin'?" way):

Dan Dougherty and Raf Nieves: Booth #3440
Christopher Mitten: Booth #3644
Mike Norton: Booth #3245
Peter Beagle (squee!): Crap, I don't know his table number. As if that could keep me away.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

My Poetry Year: Entry #61

In which Your Humble Blogger introduces a poem that's heavy on personification by noting that there's a meteor shower this week -- and it looks like the Man in the Moon is going to mess with our ability to view it:

"What Happens Just Before Midnight"

The sky blinks awake with a meteor
then settles back while its dreams
arrange themselves into constellations.
The furnace yawns. A lonely sedan
makes a careful path through the forest
of streetlamp shadows, and a stray cat
demures in the praise of the moonlight.

In the middle of all of this,
the notebook lies open
like the eyes of a sleepless dreamer,
unable to offer testimony
to night's quiet humanity.

* * *

Because of the opening line, this seemed like an appropriate poem to post during the week that the Perseids are set to peak. However, the moon will be approaching full come August 13, when it would otherwise be the best time to see them. Ah, well.

Notes on this poem:

1) Hah, I made "demure" a verb. Can I even do that?

2) I left a message for myself in my notebook under this poem: "Might work better as a prose poem w/ 2 paragraphs." Yeah, even months later, I think I might have been right about that. What say you?

3) I find it a little funny that, with this poem, I was able to fill one page of a notebook by complaining about my notebook being empty and my pages remaining blank. :D

Monday, August 8, 2011

My Poetry Year: Entry #60

In which Your Humble Blogger says, "This is getting old...."

"This House of the Old"

As meticulous as lace, as
Deliberate as the human
Body and its increasingly
Humble bones, that's how the stacks of
Memories look in the closet.
The dust weighs on all those boxes
The same way it weighs down shoulders.
Outside, ice hardens itself on
The sidewalk in deepening piles.
Everything: untouched, brittle lace.
And the people come here because
Our mother's will asked them to.

* * *

Not too much to say about this one, except that it's easy to think about getting old when the air is chilly and the year almost over. I'm not sure how I feel about the title; because titles are often the hardest part for me, I just went for a play on "This Old House," just to have a title there. I will confess, though, that I cheated and edited this a little while typing it out just now. It used to be snow hardening itself on the ground, not ice, but I think the patterns found in frozen puddles make a much more appropriate image here. And the third-to-last line originally read, "Everything as untouched as lace," but, especially with the mention of ice, I wanted to emphasize the frailty of things.

Whether it works or not, I don't know, but what a cold, cold poem! What was I saying the other day about aiming for warmth in my writing?

Friday, August 5, 2011

My Poetry Year: Entry #59

In which Your Humble Blogger seeks out warmth on a cold winter night:

"Snowplow"

Late at night, while others slept,
The first snow fell. Late at night, we whispered
Inside each other while the blanket
Muted our limbs, until the lamplight
Faded into the glow of our breath
And even we no longer shivered.

A pity that the morning came
To push the bedsheets aside.
We had been lying so still
For two people in so changed a world.

* * *

Oh, my imagination, taking the idea of friendly roommates and running it into Harlequin Romance territory.

Actually, it wasn't so much the realm of tawdry romance that I was letting my mind run around in at the time as it was the realm of Yehuda Amichai's poetry. I first heard his poem "Letter of Recommendation" read aloud by Edward Hirsch, who himself is a noted poet. Even though I knew that what I was hearing had been translated from Hebrew, I was immediately struck by what it was accomplishing in English as well. The language was simple and unadorned, but it radiated in a way that lots of modern poetry, especially from the States, doesn't. It was full of warmth. That warmth was something I wanted in my poetry as well. And what better way to shake off the cold than to dive under the blankets? >:)

(One quip with this poem: When I write out poems by hand, I can make each line as long or short as I want to, in terms of how it looks on the page, by adjusting my handwriting. This means that I can make a poem take a pretty shape. But when I type them out.... "Whispered" is without doubt the right word for the end of the second line, but I hate how it sticks out like that! It's as if Line Two is sticking its tongue out at me, daring me to change it.)

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

My Poetry Year: Entry #58

In which Your Humble Blogger for once offers a timely poem, in light of the storms that knocked the Chicago area last night:

“Tornado Drill"

The slow, waking wail of the siren.
What did the sound wake to? I thought of
How life might be entering a storm:
The school's brick walls reduced to trembling,
Bodies flung in silhouette over
The humble earth into a sky green
With the new glow of unsettled dust.
At the moment, friends' bodies were just
Sticks and spindles collected from desks
And swept into the school's safest room,
The boys' washroom. Their, our tiny group's
Noble leader, who was my senior
By three whole months, knelt beside me and
Covered me with his arms, promising
To keep me safe if ever the storm
Was real. I wondered if I would
Lend him my arms' shelter in return
Or make such a vow. I wouldn't have
Known it then, but I was practicing
For you, for a strange time later when
Our bodies would rise in silhouette
And lift inside a storm, even though
I hardly could have imagined then
How life might be with your chest's promise
Falling onto mine, little more than
I could have understood what happens
When the wind begins to touch the fields.

* * *

More work in syllabics. Although there are some images and lines that I like (the idea of kids' bodies looking like sticks and spindles, "your chest's promise/Falling onto mine"), I don't think it's a cohesive poem; I can't say that its separate elements come together well enough to really deliver a punch at the end. But that dreamy romanticism inside of it was important because it provided the foundation for the poem I wrote the day after, and that's one that I still do like.

Till Friday.... :)

Monday, August 1, 2011

My Poetry Year: Entry #57

In which Your Humble Blogger proclaims, "Eight is great!"

"Hanukkah (An Experiment with Eight)"

I
started
the car and
got one headlight
and a warning from
the dashboard: Check the oil --
soon, hey? I started the car;
I was off to go to my mom's.

For there were potato pancakes,
golden-fried, oil-born manna,
waiting for me; there were
prayers to sing for them!
A little light
can sometimes
carry
days.

A little oil will sometimes do.

* * *

Count the syllables in each line -- oh, I love playing with patterns! This is one that I like better, just because everything I needed to say actually fit into the pattern I had thought up for it.

This didn't really happen; it was just my imagination running off again, though it was doing so at a time when that icon warning me about a problem with the car's oil levels kept blinking on at odd intervals, and it just happened to be Hanukkah.

But man, do I love potato pancakes.

Friday, July 29, 2011

My Poetry Year: Entry #56

In which Your Humble Blogger accepts the passage of time (at least for now -- wait till I start griping about how quickly 2011 has passed):

"Smoke"

November has lifted another page
From the year, from lives both in and outside
The home. A glance on one side of the walls
Reveals oak trees, stripped, shaken, and bending
To the blistering sky, and arrows of
Ducks striking the same hard line as the wind.
Inside the home might not seem much better
At first; every heart here has had to work
For each measure of blood it's allowed.
But in November, we also bundle,
Together, around a table for warmth.
The oven hums a tune of heat to match.
And with each day of ritual passing
From hand to known hand, we're able to say,
“Let November have its calendar page.
We'll send it ourselves.” And we press the page
Between our embrace until it smolders,
Disappearing into ash, and rises
Like the years that we mark with lit candles,
Like the smoke that we all together are.

* * *

*peeks through the spaces between her fingers*

Is it autumn yet?

Y'know, I used to hate the winter holidays. I thought it was awful that people seemed to spend most of the year being horrible to each other only to give in later to the warm fuzzies just because the calendar (and Hallmark) declared that we should do so at year's end. Now? I guess I'm just getting old, because I find myself grateful for those shows of kindness around Thanksgiving and Christmas. At least there's some time set aside for empathy and giving these days.

Harumph.

Whaddya know -- Monday's poem is a holiday poem as well. I promise I won't be as cynical with that one. Wait, one more time --

Harumph.

Okay, I'm set.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

My Poetry Year: Entry #55

In which Your Humble Blogger finds herself back at the end of 2010:

"With Winter Approaching"

Most of these pages remain blank, and yet,
You tell me that the snow is fast coming
As if I weren't already cold.

As if I'd forgotten the trouble with the color white.

* * *

To be honest, though, the pages of my notebook aren't so much white as they are an ivory or a bisque. :p

Looking at my notebook, I saw that I don't have too many poems left to share from 2010. And I realized that when I named this project "My Poetry Year," I didn't make it clear with the word "year" whether I was referring to poems from 2010 or poems written within the twelve-month stretch from when I started, from March to March. So I wonder: should I put the poems that came after New Year's Eve 2010/2011 on this blog? How long should I keep this madness going?! I still can't believe that I've had enough of an attention span to keep this project going this long.

Monday, July 25, 2011

My Poetry Year: Entry #54

In which Your Humble Blogger wakes to the language of flight (sometimes, I like these introductory lines better than the poems they introduce):

"They Watched the Sky"

They watched the sky, and they saw
Airplanes turn their turbulent metal toward the sunset.
They watched the sky, and they saw
Ducks skirt the trees toward a place nestled in instinct.
They watched the work of wings
Until the language of flight woke in each of them.
They watched the sky, and they became poets.
And they knew, forever after that, how to get home.

* * *

Odd little poem. Seems to get better with each line, starting at a "meh" level and working its way a bit higher.

Most of the poems you read here have been typed up before, so sharing them here is a simple matter of cutting and pasting and editing for line breaks. This is one that I just typed up now, and it almost went through with a typo -- "sucks" instead of "ducks" in the fourth line. Tee hee hee.

The commentary suffers when I prepare these posts late at night.

Friday, July 22, 2011

My Poetry Year: Entry #53

In which Your Humble Blogger is back to making stark comparisons, this time ending on one of her favorite similes:

"The Winter Hound"

A thin-ribbed maple shivers.
Its ragged limbs rattle against the chill.

A thin-lipped woman shudders.
Her buckling body trembles beneath her coat.

And the wind drags its nails like the leanest of hounds
and, with eyes as desperate as December,
hunts them both.

* * *

A while back, I wrote about one poem in which I presented a few scenes, simply described, with not too much embellishment, and mentioned that I had another poem one that I thought set up its comparisons better. This is the other one. I'm not sure if I like how the language falls in the first two stanzas -- it lands with some pretty jarring thuds -- but darned if the image of that hound doesn't bring me back to those December days when the wind was just beating everything down.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

My Poetry Year: Entry #52

In which Your Humble Blogger answers the question: Who the @#!$ tries to write poetry while stuck in a crowded convention center?

"Lines"

The crowd deepens. We take the bait.
We hope for more but slouch in place.
And people age idling in wait.
Each hour's a new line on my face.

* * *

Many people put a date on their writings as they jot them down in their notebooks. (Actually, who am I kidding? Many people probably type their stuff directly on a computer and have the date stamped on the files as soon as they click "save.") I don't, so while I remember the general time of year and often the month I wrote something, I only have a few poems for which I can recall what the date was when I wrote them.

I dug this out of the notebook not because it's particularly good -- it's not -- but because I remember not only the exact date of its creation but also the exact spot where I wrote it:



A year ago today, on a Wednesday, I was one of hundreds upon hundreds of people, many lovely, some possessing questionable hygiene, packed into a meeting hall on the second floor of a convention center, waiting for the moment when I could join them in rushing downstairs and bursting onto the floor, where I could easily be parted with most of my hard-earned money.

I miss Comic Con a little.

Monday, July 18, 2011

My Poetry Year: Entry #51

In which Your Humble Blogger shares one for many of the women who do the Chicago morning commute:

"The Women Who Love"

Here, boarding the train, are women
Who take steps with legs that support
As much hard work as any bridge.
Their shoulders bear the arches of
Heavy handbags, and their makeup
Isn't finished yet. Their spouses
Burn time in blue factories or
March in line at their offices.
Their children are at school today;
Some are even beating their wings.
But on the train are the women
Who love them all and who, sometimes,
Remember to be proud themselves.

* * *

I wrote a note to myself beneath this poem in my notebook: "Okay -- written when very sleepy!" Heh, guess I knew I'd want to be able to compare the pieces I write when I'm less functional to those I write when, well, a little more so. (That's the best I can hope for, it seems: more functional over less.)

While we're celebratin' wimmin': Another book I picked up from the library last week is The Language of the Night, a collection of essays and speeches by Ursula K. Le Guin. The quote featured on the inner flap of the dust jacket reads, "We like to think we live in daylight, but half the world is always dark, and fantasy, like poetry, speaks the language of the night...." (emphasis added).

Did you get the mental image of me jumping up and down, waggling my finger, and yelping, "A-ha! Yes!" There must be so many people out there who could be drawn to both! And she was writing about this a few years before I was born! Ah, reading that made my day.

Friday, July 15, 2011

My Poetry Year: Entry #50

In which Your Humble Blogger expresses disbelief: She's been at this blogging project for fifty entries now, eh?

"My Favorite Song"

Imagine a road trip, a moment,
Perhaps, on the second night of it.
The road is still running; the road
Is holding on to a lullaby
Promised ahead. The radio signal
Has long since retreated. The light, too,
Though there's a last candle bloom of it
Far off, waiting with that lullaby,
Making the shadows into mountains.
Imagine that, leaning toward that light,
You're suddenly caught by notes of your
Reflection, pale as paper, in the window.
You think of yourself jumping road signs,
And with that thought, you realize,
Even in this clipped part of the land,
Even on this quiet stretch of travel,
What dancing is. Now lay your forehead
Against the nighttime glass – or, at least,
Imagine so, and know that that's it.
The night is on, and so is the music.
It's a song I love for many reasons,
Not the least of which is that
Now, on your road, you've heard it, too.

* * *

I guess it's just culturally ingrained in me, but it seemed like the fiftieth post should be a reflection or celebration of some kind. So I'm posting a poem in which I revisit an idea -- music on a night road trip -- that I tackled before, this time approaching it with structured sentences. One good thing I can say about this project is that it's helped me identify even more ways that I can reinterpret ideas, and it's given me chances to go back, long after I've written pieces, and evaluate them to see how they can be revised.

Another good thing is that it's gotten a few people here, reading and talking with me and joining me for these strange little melodies of art that we sometimes hear in our heads. :) Even if you aren't posting here, thanks again for the companionship -- know that I appreciate it.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

My Poetry Year: Entry #49

In which Your Humble Blogger plays with a moment in which very little needs to be said:

"A Note Found on a Door"

Fingertips, meeting on a doorknob,
send letters across the palms.

The door opens. Words stumble inside.
They shed their order onto the glorious floor.

* * *

I love it when I find items at the library that I totally didn't go there looking for. Yesterday's trip scored me a book called The Haiku Handbook by William J. Higginson. I hadn't heard of it before, and I don't know much about it except that, in its introductory chapters, the author mentions the three poets considered the masters of haiku (Basho, Buson, and Issa -- I haven't read Buson yet, but I've heard the name). So I trust this book, and I'm really looking forward to learning more about how to write in super-short forms effectively and enjoy them even more.

'Cause, if you haven't noticed yet, I really like short-form poetry.

Monday, July 11, 2011

My Poetry Year: Entry #48

In which Your Humble Blogger attempts to sketch a portrait of someone painting a picture:

"The Artist Tries to Capture a Scene"

Today, the world begins at a window
Through which the artist sees a big woman
Walking a small dog. The artist, feeling
The knot in his palm, has known for some time
That people can be seen without his eyes
Seeing them, and the world will continue
move if his hands don't move to catch it.
But he still has to try. Two hours later,
He remembers: To work is to suffer.
He has suffered in the form of one line
And is now taking a break. He goes out,
Checks the mail, comes back to drink a soda.
He fidgets at the dim bathroom mirror.
In the glass is a very old man with
Stiff shoulders, his face broken by the cracks
In the sidewalk where, before, the woman
Walked her dog. The artist is afraid of
The mirror, because the mirror is a
Window through which the line on his paper
Has started to follow the sidewalk's line,
Disappearing into parts of the world
That he might never get to see.

* * *

I skipped around in my notebook a bit this morning. There are a lot of poems in there that I don't like, and I wanted to spend time with one I liked at least a little. One thing I've learned so far from this blogging experiment: I have a lot of poems in which I try to force together words that don't normally go together, just because I'm intrigued by the way they sound next to each other. I end up enjoying those much less than I do poems in which I tell a story with simpler language.

I will say, though, that I think that being in a poetry mindset for a while has given me a new way to find ideas for short stories. Had I been in a fiction frame of mind when I wrote this one, it could have ended up as a fantasy story, with the artist's line literally traveling out of the window, into the world. As it is now, it's just poetic description. But it's interesting to me how the images that get used as metaphors when working in poetry can just as easily become the stuff of substance in surreal fiction.

Friday, July 8, 2011

My Poetry Year: Entry #47

In which Your Humble Blogger identifies a habit of watching cable news in bed just before you fall asleep as a mark of Respectable Adulthood:

"A Longtime Friend Comes for a Visit"

It's the worn house, once knocking at the joints,
That you braced and propped into something respectable.
You sealed the widest gaps tight against the teenage rain,
You fit the blinds carefully to the windows,
You planned, you pushed, and finally, at night,
You were able to watch cable news in bed, in peace.
But now, your friend's blowing in, and you recall
That you might not have set all the traps in the basement.
Some say that life is in the imperfect details:
The missing shingle, the hornet's nest threatening the porch,
The night you and your friend smashed melons at the store,
Just because. And what will you say
When your old friend tells you that
She preferred the life that you were putting together
Back when your house was falling apart?

* * *

It's been a while since I've watched some shows on TV. (Actually, it's been a while since I've watched most TV. I catch some episodes of 'So You Think You Can Dance' on Hulu weeks after they've aired, and for now, that's it.) But wasn't there an episode of 'Full House' in which Uncle Jesse's old bandmates come to visit him at the Tanner house, only to find him saddled with adult responsibility, in response to which they throw down the irresistible challenge embodied in such sentences as, "Dude, you've changed"?

This is the poetry equivalent of that.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

My Poetry Year: Entry #46

In which Your Humble Blogger's feelings about writing after a long day just bubble over. Egads, that is one bubbly, bouncy rhythm there:

"The Distant Subject"

On days that I've spent having fun,
It takes such an effort to write!
As if I've been given the choice
Of living a bit of a life
Or letting my pencil describe
What living a bit might be like.
And night becomes tense with the task
Of tying it all down to words.
The painter lets breath move her brush
As if this is the only way
That she and her model might kiss.

* * *

What started out in my head as a throwaway poem at the end of a day out ended up being one of the little snapshots that I like more, mostly for the fact that the last three lines end the poem in a different place from where it started. Also, with this one, once I had written the first two lines and noticed that they had the same rhythm (da-DUM-da-da-DUM-da-da-DUM), I decided to push myself past my default tendency of just writing in syllabics and try to make the rest of the poem fit that pattern, too. Eh, so I fudge it in the second-to-last line a little. I'm sure someone, somewhere, has also felt the need to stress the word "the" in a sentence. ;)

Monday, July 4, 2011

Fourth of July

Hello, everyone! In honor of Independence Day, I'm posting links to two poems that I think reflect on the holiday here in the states better than anything I have to post could.

The first one is by Kate Gale, and it compares life in two different countries in pretty basic terms, yet still says volumes:

"I think your country has the most wonderful bathrooms..."

The second is by Walt Whitman. If you want to talk about the United States in terms of glorious promise and potential, I don't believe you can do better than Walt Whitman (though, for my money, Philip Levine comes close):

"I hear America singing, the varied carols that I hear..."

Happy Fourth of July. May the ideals of hard work and innovation never be forgotten.

Friday, July 1, 2011

My Poetry Year: Entry #45

In which Your Humble Blogger sees evidence of nature's big, sweeping grandness in an everyday detail:

"Geese"

The geese rise like mountains
From the slope of the water.
Like the mountains, they will make
The line of the entire sky.

* * *

Here's what's probably a really banal thing to say: I like thinking about shapes. Even when I briefly took up painting, I spent a lot of that time playing with geometric abstractions. But I get a lot of images that I find interesting to play with when I compare the shapes that objects (or even phenomena) take, as was the case with the poem about curves. Waves, wings, mountains, flocks in flight -- the comparison was begging to be made, I tells ya!

Currently, my closest retention pond has been taken over by mallards as well as geese. Nine new ducklings have made their debut this week. Additionally, our resident great blue heron has returned and is occasionally joined by a beautiful white crane. At the beginning of the year, I pondered doing another blog simply featuring regular updates on life at the pond. However, that would have required me to go outside often, and something about the weather this past January and February made me wonder if I could reasonably keep up with that.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

My Poetry Year: Entry #44

In which Your Humble Blogger spends more time on the train, this time focusing her attention out the window:

"Demolition"

Everything built on the backs of years
Can be undone in a few days, if only
The other guy would get back from the yard
With more of that yellow caution tape.
But no one else is coming right now
Except the woman in the middle of the street
Who's doing what she normally does around noon,
Which is to walk past these hollow buildings,
With bricks that don't follow their frames
And windows that hold shut, like eyes
Against bad dreams, while in front of her,
A child sleeps in the stroller she's pushing.

* * *

Seen from the Metra train window as we sped alongside the Dan Ryan. It almost looked like the woman and the construction worker idling outside the abandoned buildings were headed for a standoff, the way she held herself as she approached the spot where he stood.

This is one of a series of narrative poems that occupies this chunk of my notebook. I think, at this point last year, I was itching to get back into story writing, but I couldn't figure out how to parlay what I saw into fiction. I wish I had done more with this image, though; there's something to it that doesn't quite get developed in this poem, although it might still have potential.

Monday, June 27, 2011

My Poetry Year: Entry #43

In which Your Humble Blogger continues singing her love for actual, tangible letters, even if they don't arrive through the USPS:

"The Letter"

Out with the stars, you'll find a letter
That I sent you just after we met.
It didn't get lost. But to tell you
Everything I had to say about
The way your echoes resonated
In me – how could I write that letter
And then ask the wind here to lift it?
If you look up, you'll see Jupiter
Approaching the moon, which is smiling
While it dreams of dreams. Their cheeks will soon
Touch. That's where the letter should be now.
The stars and I, we hope you're awake.

* * *

Not the most logical poem, just more dreamy fun with syllables. I initially skipped this and jumped to the Canada poems before I should have. Oops! It wasn't intentional; the pages just stuck together when I was flipping through the notebook to see what I had to post, and I missed this one on my earlier pass.

I really do love tangible media. ("What?" I hear you gasp. "I never would have guessed!" I know, I know! Contain your shock!) Not that I'm against working digitally at all; if I were, I wouldn't have a paying job right now! And there are definite perks that come with the electronic age. Being able to pay your bills quickly or send a message to a friend as soon as you think of it? Pretty nice. If you're like me and you struggle for hours trying to narrow down the field when it comes to selecting books to bring on a trip, I can see how an e-reader is handy.

But there's a warmth that comes with art and communication produced in tangible form that I don't think I'll ever get over, or ever want to. And that should make the next project I have in mind interesting. Mwahahaha.



MWAHAHAHA!

Friday, June 24, 2011

My Poetry Year: Entry #42

In which Your Humble Blogger tries not to mess this post up:

"October"

Out for a walk in October,
I saw leaves parceled into the sky.
Gold as well as brown, every color delivered.
I wished I had sent more letters to friends.

Out for a walk in October,
I thought about old friends.
They had long ago settled their winds on either coast.
And suddenly, I began to miss the leaves.

* * *

My notebook reminds me that I was pondering alternate versions of the last line. The first version I wrote down was, "And I had already begun to miss the leaves."

This was one of the few poems that I didn't type up and save to my flash drive as a backup. Why? Because it was actually written for somebody else. Once I copied it down for the intended recipient (having hemmed and hawed over the last line, heh), it felt like I had done all I needed to do with it. I had made something that I hoped would let a friend know that I missed her, and if something happened to my notebook, that was alright; I would have already sent the poem off to do what it was intended to do.

[Of course, at that time, I had no idea that I would be doing this blogging project! However, the poem's recipient has very graciously given me permission to share it, even though she certainly didn't have to. :)]

I think that art is, to some degree, necessarily self-indulgent; someone sees the world a certain way inside of his or her own head and feels the need to share it. However, just because a piece has its beginning within one person doesn't mean that it's confined to a selfish vein. Art draws on symbols and words and sounds that, for whatever reason, trigger similar emotions across many people. Art can be used to join us socially, to make us laugh or make us have those "A-ha!" moments. And if we're lucky, art can also be used on a smaller scale, to carve out an image from the world and present it as a thank-you to someone who's inspired us that way.

(For Meghann, 2010-2011)

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

My Poetry Year: Entry #41

In which Your Humble Blogger puts aside her wariness of sequels long enough to write a follow-up to the last poem:

"The Canada of My Reality"

Not long after I wrote the other poem,
I received a phone call from a strange number.
My phone informed me of the call's origin.
Nova Scotia.
Nova Scotia!
Briny grey seashore of my dreams,
The one I've loved past the saltwater
Frozen in your beard!
Exactly where, as a kid, I wanted to live.
Oh! My younger self
Had read my poem and liked it, then.
Canada thought I was worth talking to!
So I began to listen to the voice mail
(I never answer my phone –
I'm American and I don't have to),
And I presumed from the voice's friendliness
As well as the caller ID info
That the voice was indeed a Canadian's.
Then the voice told me about
All of the irresponsible behavior
Of Political Candidate A,
Who was my incumbent state representative,
And what Candidate B would do differently.
Oh.
But why were they calling from Nova Scotia?
Then I remembered the call a few days before
Made on behalf of Political Candidate A
From an area code in California.
Oh.
Nice new trick, guys.

Weeks before this, I had read an article
About a phenomenon scientists are observing:
This year, the aurora borealis
Is dimmer than in other years recent.
It seems to be a cyclical occurrence.
If the scientists want an outside explanation
For what passes with the Northern Lights, though,
I hope they ask me.
I think I've got it figured out.
It's because we, down here,
And in an election year no less,
Are touching them.

* * *

Didn't 2010 seem to be a particularly nasty election year here in the U.S.? Such anger, such hostility, such... snippiness. I know that Canada recently had its own election drama. Still, I couldn't help feeling, as November approached, that we were really wallowing in the muck.

This poem is inspired by true stories. I really did get calls on my cell phone on behalf of local political candidates from Nova Scotia and California. Did anyone else get those last year? It was a smart trick -- an out-of-state area code did get me curious enough to listen to the automated message from each number. (It also irked me enough afterward to think twice about voting for certain candidates.) Additionally, the Northern Lights really were in the dim part of their cycle.

I should probably conclude this post with an admission: I've never actually been to Nova Scotia. I just have the same romantic image of it that I used to have of Maine. And I actually liked Maine once I finally got there two years ago. Perhaps, in time, Nova Scotia and I shall also meet face-to-face.... *swoon*

Sunday, June 19, 2011

My Poetry Year: Entry #40

In which Your Humble Blogger writes a love letter to her youthful idealism, the personification of which has seems to have taken up residence across the border:

“The Canada of My Dreams”

See, in the distance, that perfect arc
That's binding the shape of the heavens?
That's not the horizon. That, my friends,
Is Canada, bridge of ice and light
And tempered growth, meticulous bridge.
Up north there, even the blacktop's snow white,
And after walking it for a while,
A potential expat becomes blessed
With Canadians, darling bundles
Of flannel and warmth who present her
With hot chocolate and evidence of
Overwhelming literacy. There,
Everything beams, and though the d├ęcor
Depends largely on mounted deer parts,
Everyone knows that those were procured
Through conservation measures; the effect
Is responsibly charming. Often,
For those reasons, I've gazed at the span
That is Canada, and on lucky days,
I've even see my younger self there.
Normally, she sends me angry notes
Through the mirror, while I'm up weighing
The circles under my eyes or dropping
My bulk onto the scale. Or washing
My hands after doing nothing with them.
When I see her in Canada, though,
That young me seems happy, probably
Because she's going to the doctor's,
And in Canada, health care is fun.
Sometimes, however, she regards me
With such sadness that I almost feel
Sorry for the snow that finds her cheek.
It's all I can do to tell her
Not to worry, because she forever
Has Canada, and its glittering
Promise, and because of that, she will
Never be the one who's cold.

* * *

Ah, my fellow doe-eyed liberals here in the U.S. Raise your hands if, at some point in your youth (or, hell, even at some point recently, probably before the hockey riots), you found yourself thinking, "Screw it, I'm sick of how they do things here, and I'm gonna move to Canada, where they do things right!" ;p

And to everybody reading this: Raise your hands if you think about the way you are now, compare it to the way you believe you used to be, and wonder, "Man, what happened to me?"

Stereotypes can be interesting to play with, if treated carefully and not assumed to be absolute reality. I think the best comedians can use them successfully to make us think about how we behave as members of society at large, and that usually means that they use such exaggerated forms of the stereotype that we know they don't really feel that way. (I also think the problems with stereotypes arise when someone assumes that people are going to behave like a stereotype before she even knows them, or when someone assumes that stereotypical behavior is all that an individual has to offer.) My belief is that we all engage in stereotypical behavior at some point; the question, I guess, is what we do knowing that.

The image of Canada that I think a lot of people have conjured is a little different from reality. My youthful idealism is a bit detached from my current reality. That doesn't mean that I didn't find it worthwhile to spend some time thinking about them.

What's interesting to me about this poem, looking back at it, is the way that it came about. This is one of the few poems for which I had the title before I had anything else; normally, I struggle for a title after I've already laid out the basic elements of a piece. The night before I wrote this one, though, I had had a dream about visiting Toronto, and that's where this explanation gets weird: The world of my dreams has a consistent alternate geography to it. For example, I've repeatedly visited San Diego in my dreams, and while it's the same every time -- there's an old blue house smack in the middle of the downtown area -- it looks nothing like the real San Diego. I was thinking about the fact that there's a certain Canada in my dreams, and lo, there a poem took hold.

So... does anyone else do that?

Friday, June 17, 2011

Shirking My Duties

Hi, kids! Sorry to report that there won't be a post from "My Poetry Year" today. We spent the morning without power, stress is a little high over here, and I've got a few hours' worth of work to catch up on. Rest assured that, barring any serious calamity, all will be back in order on Monday, when I intend to share a poem that is an ode to both Canada and my teenage optimism. Happy trails!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Beyond My Poetry Year (or, I Failed at One Thing and Succeeded at Another)

In which Your Humble Blogger briefly discusses why she's more suited to staying inside and writing instead of, say, going outside and trying to help injured birds:

I initially thought that today's post was going to be nothing more than a quick, dirty thing that I got done early in the morning. We're in the thick of work over here, so I wanted to meet my posting obligation as minimally as possible before going on to what I had to do.

That was before my morning got taken up by me finding a beautiful cedar waxwing outside, sitting on the sidewalk with one wing askew.

After running back to the house, getting some info, and waiting about twenty minutes for it to fly away, I headed back to find the bird still there, at which point I called the Chicago Bird Collision Monitors (a name that makes me think of auto body repair specialists), who instructed me to try to get the bird into a box so that a volunteer could come get it.

Here's something I didn't know until today: Birds with an injured wing can still muster up enough flight to get into a tree, out of your reach, as you approach to pick them up. Seems I was too slow in scooping it up. I also didn't mention before that I had found the bird outside of a neighbor's house while I was on a quick walk. The tree that it flew into, then, was in someone else's yard other than mine. D'oh. So much for keeping an eye on it.

I thought that this meant the bird was in better shape than I had initially thought, but when I called the rescue group back to inform them that the bird had flown off, the response of the woman on the phone was, "Oh, that's a shame. It'll probably die that way."

Wha? Gaaaaa!

That was my morning. Not very successful. So it seems a little perverse to share the tidbit of joy that I had initially planned on posting, but here we go anyway: Remember my red notebook?


I finished it the other night. Filled it up. As you can see, it's not all poetry, but getting to the end of a 256-page notebook still made me feel good. In fact, I was pretty darn happy at the idea of finishing it. Almost as if I was soaring. Flying a little.

Oh.

Aaaaaand we've come back down.

Monday, June 13, 2011

My Poetry Year: Entry #39

In which Your Humble Blogger almost begins her post by singing "I'm a little teacup, short and stout," but then realizes that (a) it ain't "teacup," and (B) she would rather be called "diminutive and well-built," thank you:

"The Joy of Making Dinner"

This measuring cup is fragile and small,
barely enough for a poet to call a vessel,
small, with one purpose.

This poet is damaged and small,
barely able to stir a pot for dinner,
small, with one purpose --

but so is the chipped teacup
that will touch your lips at dessert.

* * *

Devices like similes and metaphors depend on one idea or picture triggering thoughts of another. Some poets, especially if they're using similes, want the comparisons they're making to be obvious: "Attention! This is like this!" Other poets prefer to varying degrees to make the reader work to form the connection. Haiku, which has been a subject here so many times before, has a way of stating two seemingly disparate thoughts quite plainly and then letting a third line tie those thoughts together that fascinates me (if you haven't guessed by all the times I've written about haiku).

In this poem, which is decidedly not haiku, I tried to see if I could use similar sentence structure and repeated words in the first two stanzas to help make a comparison. What I was hoping with the third stanza was that its varied structure would suggest a sudden frankness in the speaker's attitude, as opposed to the shyness in the first two stanzas. Sad to say, I'm not sure that introducing the teacup worked! I would rather have found a way to tie the ending back to the measuring cup instead. Ah, well. There's another poem to come later that's similar in structure to this one but more effectively done, I think.

Side note: Most of my posts are usually typed up the morning I post them, but this one is being typed up late Sunday night. If it makes less sense than my usual posts, I'd like to use that as my excuse. ;p

Friday, June 10, 2011

My Poetry Year: Entry #38

In which Your Humble Blogger shares the poem she wrote to try to snap herself out of a funk:

"On Patterns That Repeat"

A leaf laughed as it caught up
To its friends at the far end
Of the sidewalk. Otherwise,
The night was quiet. Before
The leaf, the couple next door
Had turned off their golden lamps.
And I'd pondered opening
The veins that cross my forearm,
Almost as casually
As I've debated a snack.

I'm wrong. There was another
Sound to be heard that long night.

It was the high song of crickets
Seeking each other across
The retention pond hollows.

* * *

I've been dancing around the idea of posting this poem for the last couple of days (the last poem I posted was actually written after this one), and I even talked to Wes to get his opinion on posting something like this. Really, what do you do with the things you produce when you're in a self-pitying kind of way?

The reason I can post this, I suppose, is that I accept what purpose it served: It was the written equivalent of an eye roll at myself, an attempt to say, "Come on, you can get over it" a little more artfully. I don't know if it succeeds for anyone else reading it beyond me -- I don't know if anyone else chuckles at the last passage -- but it got me, if not outside of my own head, at least to a point where I could try to shape and work with what was there. And it's written in syllables again!

I don't think it was much of a secret to anyone near me at the time that I was in lousy shape during the warehouse trip. My poor editor -- I think even he noticed that I was falling apart, because he kept giving me little tasks every now and then that weren't so taxing, which was helpful, embarrassed as I was about it. During the trip, though, I looked forward to the return home assuming that I would be able to fall back into my normal routine of reading and writing with no problem.

When that didn't happen, when, after initial success, too many nights passed on which I couldn't muster a drive to work on anything or even a thought to work with, that's when the crappy feeling hit hard.

I think a lot more of us get slugged with that severe self-loathing than even all of the PSAs out there would have us believe, and I suspect it's worse among people pursuing art, because when you start to worry that your art has abandoned you -- sucks like nothing else, doesn't it? But art is a great double-edged sword: Even when its absence from your life has you feeling totally hollow, the desire for it, if you can remain focused just on what you want and keep out the fact that you don't have it quite yet, can push you past an emptiness. What I like about this poem, I guess, isn't that it's particularly good but that it reminded me that I still wanted to write. Bless art for all it can do for us.

Music has that power for a lot of people, I've noticed. My favorite song for getting out of a funk? "Caught by the River" by Doves. (I'd love to link it here, but I don't want to step on anyone's toes with copyright issues.) What's yours?

(Stupid, silly fact: Another idea that soothed me a little bit during the warehouse trip was the possibility of shaving my head. Hey, when I realized that I at least have some control over something even as small as my personal appearance, it did a lot for me. :D)

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

My Poetry Year: Entry #37

In which Your Humble Blogger describes what she sees in the women's bathroom at the train station in terms of a favorite story from childhood:

"Where the Unicorns Have Gone"

The women blustering toward
The tissue-clogged sinks are busy
With petite wrinkles that frustrate
Their concealer. They see blouses
That betray their bra straps; they see
Hairs sticking up, like flags of war.
They make practical adjustments.
But the quick women don't see that
The unicorns, holy creatures,
Are here in the public restroom,
Flickering outside the pale lights
And kicking at the mop water.
Undo these pearl lassos, they plead.
But the clock soon will call the bells
Of capture, so the women leave
With a glance. The women don't see
The unicorns. The women see
Everything in the flat mirror
Except their own eyes.

* * *

You know, based on the introduction I wrote for this post, I can understand how a reader would expect a totally different kind of poem from the one that's featured here. ;p

Prior to today, I hadn't looked at this one in a really long time. I like the basic idea of it, but I think I really need to work on clarifying what's going on. The inspiration behind it was the sight of women crowding in front of the bathroom mirror at the train station on their way to work or to job interviews, wherever their professional-looking attire suggested that they were headed. Of course, my opinions and predispositions crept deep into this one; I tend to readily assume that everyone who's out in a business suit is secretly unhappy. I imagine that they're like the unicorn in The Last Unicorn, trapped in a disguise that causes their heads to become filled with all sorts of trifling thought and leads them to forget who they are. I know that's not the case. But man, some of these women I see look so unhappy.

So if I revise this poem, I would at least make it clearer in the beginning that the women are on their way to work and clearer in the middle that the unicorns are trapped inside of them. I think there must be other changes that I can make, too, but I can't exactly figure out what they are yet.

Looking at my notebook, I see evidence that this poem gave me a tough time even when I was first writing it. I don't know if you can see it in the picture below -- the notebook is just pages and pages of eraser smudges at this point, so it's all a mess -- but whatever the first three lines of the poem originally were, they got erased and are gone forever. How romantic-sounding, no?

Monday, June 6, 2011

My Poetry Year: Entry #36

In which Your Humble Blogger gets by with a little help from a friend:

"Riding a Bicycle"

It was autumn, and someone
had soaked our sweaters in the cold air.
Someone had put our bicycles to sleep
under a blanket of rust. It wasn't
either of us, we said. We wouldn't do that.
Except that we had. So we woke
the gears and chains from their long naps,
and we tried our feet on the pedals.
Then, not long after we began,
the trees exploded
into a sky ecstatic with sparrows
that were following the leaves
behind the good idea of being loud and happy.
Every mark on our bicycles' wheels
went around, over the blacktop we had crossed
in spring, when we had ridden for days in t-shirts.
Your breath filled my ears when we finally stopped.
But the leaves, remembering green April,
kept traveling the streets, laughing.

* * *

Kind of a meandering, unfocused poem that doesn't do a lot for me now (though, once again, I like the last couple of lines). I'm also mad that I reused the idea of approaching pedals hesitantly, though this time on a bicycle instead of at a piano. I was still feeling a little desperate and doubtful as I tried to get back into the writing habit.

This poem was born out of -- well, not quite a challenge. A friend (hi, Andy!) sent me a message one day, asking me to provide a topic or idea or object for him to use as the subject of a song. I, too, was trying to gather ideas to write about, so I told him that I would write a poem about whatever subject I assigned to him. Well, I had been going out on walks a lot since returning from the warehouse trip, and I would see people riding bicycles all the time, so... there you have it.

If nothing else, there's something to be said for the power of community when it comes to finding motivation to write. Speaking of community and socialization and all of that, I left the house again! :D I was at the Printers Row Book Fair in downtown Chicago on Sunday, where I listened to some poets read and picked up a couple of literary journals. If you were there, did ya happen to see me?

Friday, June 3, 2011

One More Thing....

I just wanted to say "thank you" to everyone who's been reading here. I recently got a few e-mails from a few of you letting me know that every now and then you pop over and read some of the stuff I put up here. The words you have to offer encourage me beyond belief. So cheers to you, and again, thanks.

Enjoy your Friday!

My Poetry Year: Entry #35

In which Your Humble Blogger shares something short and sweet as an excuse to link to another short work that's way better:

"Flag"

Your hair, set free
from its ponytail,
shows me what you believe in
with all of your years.

* * *

I really thought that I was going to skip over this poem when I began looking at this section of the notebook and trying to determine what to include on this blog. All it is is the basic expression of an idea that needs to be fleshed out more: A slightly older woman grows her hair long despite the conventions urging short hair that we see in play in society, and it's like a statement for her. (Of course, think of the subject of the poem as male, and that changes it a bit, doesn't it? Hmm....)

The reason I'm posting it is because I read a really short poem last night that made me smile, and I wanted to stay on topic and mention once again that brevity can be an interesting defining force. Here's the poem that I read; check out that brevity in action:

"Bladder Song"

I love the fact that the word "human" gets an almost-rhyme. Plus, yeah -- that's easily one of my favorite poem titles.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

My Poetry Year: Entry #34

In which Your Humble Blogger relates how she got back into the swing of things with her writing (it involved scaring herself and then looking for tokens of comfort):

"The Old Woman Remembers"

The old woman remembers
nothing except the piano.

Every morning, her husband fights her
to accept that he has to wash her face,
and he sits next to her while she crumbles
at the thought of using a fork to eat.

He does not watch her in her private time
when she is sitting on the bench
and her feet are attempting the pedals.
He waits at the window
for the illumination that breaks from clouds
like the breath of a child
who has beaten the others in a race.
The old woman's husband does not look
at the old woman remembering the piano.
He looks at the light on the windowsill.

For him, they are the same thing.

* * *

Yesterday, I went to the library; I consider it a treat to myself on my errand-running days. (Hey, who just shouted "Nerd!" back there? Quiet, you!) The library has one of my favorite poetry anthologies in its stacks: A Book of Luminous Things, edited by Czeslaw Milosz (who himself is just an incredible poet). It's a collection of poems from around the world, many written in the twentieth century (if you know someone who needs evidence of what modern poetry has to offer, I highly recommend having them pick up this book). Sometimes, as much fun as it is discovering writers and finding new stories or poems or styles to entertain your brain with, it helps to go back to familiar material that provides comfort and allows you to remember what you love about the medium.

The library was one of the first places I hit after returning from the warehouse trip in September 2010. Actually, I think it went library, then grocery store, and then maybe bank. :p The poetry I chose to arm myself with (along with Ted Kooser's The Poetry Home Repair Manual, because I sure needed repair help) was the work of Philip Levine, a poet who's still alive and working, though he's quite older now. I had stumbled across his work by complete accident several months back; his most recent book of poems, News of the World, was on the "new releases" shelf at the library, and the jacked design was simple and elegant enough to interest me. And I was so glad that I picked it up, because, as I found out, he's considered one of our great living poets, and for good reason. He's got that Walt Whitman folksiness in that he writes about the lives of members of the regular working class, but his language is so tight, and the narrative feel of his poetry is so strong. He's just a damn good story teller. (And he's also anthologized in A Book of Luminous Things -- isn't it great how this all comes full circle?)

Levine's narrative style is what I think influenced the shape and style of this poem, which is alright; considering that it's a free verse poem, I think that the line breaks fell in places that lend to nice little twists. The motivation for its subject matter came from, well, my life. In addition to worrying that I had lost my ability to write poetry while at the warehouse, I was plagued by another, recurring fear that I have -- the onset of Alzheimer's. No, it's not something I'm worried about developing soon, but it seems to have hit everyone in late age on my mother's side, and so sometimes I feel that I only have so many years with a functional brain in which I have any chance of getting my writing done. Fear can be a great inspiration some days. At least it got me back on the horse.

(Oh, one other way that my life inspired my poetry: After the warehouse trip, I took some of the money I earned and bought something that I had wanted for a long time. Let me tell you, there's nothing like trying to play a musical instrument again after years of not playing it to make you feel really, really old.)