Wednesday, March 30, 2011
"Secret Tryst with a Love"
This verse was written
At noon, the book in my lap,
While Photoshop stalled.
* * *
I don't believe for a second that it exactly matches the spirit of haiku or that it qualifies as one for any reason beyond the number of syllables. Sometimes, though, you just have to have fun.
Monday, March 28, 2011
The muse has a deal, if you want to make it:
Write death, and your subject will always be known.
But what kind of vulture are you if you take it?
What kind of artist are you if you don't?
* * *
Ah, mother@#$*er. Why did I do that? It seemed I was finally getting somewhere by writing according to syllables, and then, what do I do to follow it up? I put out this cutesy little snippet of thought that attempted to be smarmy and witty and didn't pull it off so cleanly.
I do remember what influenced the idea behind this poem: At the time, it seemed that a lot of the published poems I was reading focused on death. "So," my cynical brain said, "writing about death gets you published, eh? Way to make the misfortune of the deceased work for ya, poets of the world!" I don't think I really feel that way; there are a lot of legitimately touching and startling works about death out there. I just get cranky, knowing that I'm not yet at the skill level I want to be, and sometimes, it comes out. Unfortunately for those of you who might read this, it sometimes comes out in the form of sub-par poetry.
Friday, March 25, 2011
For miles the train, in its old, churning rut,
Has stuttered along, rhythmically grinding
A thin steel sheen onto the rusted rails.
The cars rock as they're led in line between
Stone shelves full of bottles, bottle caps, cans,
All the stuff of life. There is no hurry,
Except for the man who dimly answers
His phone with the necessary questions --
When? What hospital? How did it happen --
Whose dark face wears the rails' hardness and dull
Reflection, who sits still by the window,
Reminded that the train will always come,
If not on the schedule we expected.
* * *
I once heard that writing in form, you know, using meters and rhyme and all that, is something that young or beginning poets do. Only when a writer trusts that the language at her disposal is substantial does she have to confidence to let it out to play in the realm of free verse.
Maybe there's some truth to that, maybe not as much -- there are some fantastic new formalists out there -- but it seemed to apply to what I had been doing. And I wanted to try free verse so badly. Actually, I did try it. And it was horrible:
...At four in the morning, comfort is
A tentative thing. The way the walls meet
Makes me understand the spider
In the corner. Even coffee cups are nestled,
One inside another. Everything is embraced....
Ah, gawd, I can't even post the whole thing! It's terrible! I had forgotten how bad it was until I typed the beginning just now! I think, just by looking at it, I tainted whatever I might have written for the next week!
So I wanted to feel a bit more liberated when I wrote, but free verse and I weren't ready to be together yet. What could I do for a compromise? I don't remember how the idea came to me, but somehow it did: Instead of trying to force a certain meter and a rhyme on top of that, what if I just used a set number of syllables per line?
I don't remember how the idea came to me, but I do remember the choir of angels that appeared.
So I took an event that I actually did witness on the train one day, framed some thoughts around it, and wrote it all down to the tune of ten syllables per line (with a little bit of fudging of the pronunciation). And that's how "Certainty" came about. It's not as precious as I once considered it, and I'm happy that I think I use language better now, but I'm still proud of the first time I managed to narrate an event in poetic form with some degree of success.
Note #1: I thought I was all brilliant for having come up with this idea of writing with a set number of syllables per line; my ego got popped right quickly. In his lovely book The Poetry Home Repair Manual, Ted Kooser, the former U.S. Poet Laureate, mentions that entire books of poetry have been written in syllabics, which is the technical term for what I did. Down, ego, down!
Note #2: Writing by syllables is still my default approach when I'm not sure how to begin a poem. It seems to provide both challenge and comfort.
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
If you are out late on a walk
And suddenly the grey cement
No longer looks as pale as chalk
And shadows from the trees fall, bent
So that they touch the shadowed grass,
You might wish for headlights to pass
Across the way -- you're safe at last.
You might think of the fastened strings
Of colored stars -- no, they were just
Electric baubles, wind-rocked things
You saw five houses down. They must
Have been hanging since months before.
They shouldn't be there anymore.
So who are they still shining for?
They're left for you. It might seem wrong
To find out that you're more at ease
In packaged light that's shipped along
Stiff wires than light that slips past trees.
That incandescent glow you've known
Reminds you, though, you're not alone.
Christmas lights gleam, cars rest their chrome --
The lights tell you you're almost home.
* * *
I like this more for the form I came up with than for the language I used to fit the thought into the form. Written after a nighttime walk that took me past a house with its Christmas lights still up and glowing in April.
[Edit: Hmm, seems that Blogger's insta-formatting won't allow me to indent the last three lines of the first two stanzas and the last four of the third stanza, as they should be. Curse you, technology! *shakes angry fist*]
Monday, March 21, 2011
It isn't that while others aged, white Merlin became young.
It's that he loved good stories, and throughout his life, he learned
As many as he could. He bound them to his breast and tongue.
He kept his bookshelves full -- and seemed to keep the hourglass turned.
* * *
Ah, C2E2, the Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo. It took place for the second time this past weekend; the first one was last year, in April. There's a certain kind of energy that comes from visiting with artists and writers who put so much of themselves into creating images and telling stories. I think that, if you're a creative type, it would be hard to go to a convention and not want to do something.
At last year's C2E2, I had the pleasure of talking at length with one of my favorite writers, Peter Beagle, who's best known for The Last Unicorn. Peter Beagle is a big fan of the old stuff, especially classic poetry, and he can recite entire multi-page poems off the top of his head. Which he did, spontaneously, at C2E2, causing my jaw to drop rapidly and seek a nice spot on the floor.
So Mr. Beagle's a pretty nifty guy, and at the time of C2E2, he was finishing up his 52/50 Project, which involved him writing one song lyric a week for a year and sending them out to subscribers. I mentioned that his pursuit of this goal was one of the things that inspired me to get back into poetry and try to engage in writing it with some regularity. He seemed to appreciate the thought. So what did Geeky Fangirl Me decide to do, having heard him mention that his birthday was coming up? Why, I decided to write him a poem! The day after C2E2, I wrote what you read above, and later, I e-mailed it to Connor Cochran, his kind gentleman of a publisher, asking him to pass it along.
And then, Peter Beagle sent me an e-mail. On his birthday, no less.
I wish I could share it here, but it seems weird to repost someone's personal message without his permission. But I got a message back: He liked it, enough that he had printed it out and forwarded it to friends.
Funny. People are supposed to get the gifts on their birthdays, not give them!
Wednesday, March 16, 2011
"Upon Reading a Trashy Romance Novel"
Her head eddied with tidal thoughts, her bosom with romance,
She smiled past his confused eyes and said, fumbling with his pants,
"You'll be the planet to my star. I'll pull you close, into my heart,"
Not once aware that lines like that keep stellar bodies far apart.
* * *
I remember that it was my birthday, and I wanted to be sure to write something, even though I had spent most of the day out hiking (and subsequently checking Wes' neck for ticks). For a while, the only metaphor or image occurring to me was the one you see in the third line there. And that? That was a bad metaphor. But once I was able to admit that it was lousy and say exactly how cheesy it sounded, well, then I had an idea I could play with!
The following poem was written the next day, after a trip to Barnes and Noble, where I found in the bargain bin the book that gave this poem its title:
"One Hundred Poems to Touch Your Soul"
Sexual harassment laws
Flay men who'd grab our breasts.
Bouncers will bounce them out;
Our girlfriends scar the rest.
What, then, makes bookstores think
That I would buy and keep
A bargain book that hopes
To touch me twice as deep?
* * *
Please, stay with me. It gets a little better, at least I think it does. I promise.
Monday, March 14, 2011
"God as an Old Woman Watching at the Window"
I see them playing, sipping lemonade.
And me? I drink the sun, and I can taste it,
But it's too sweet. With all my efforts made,
It's best to watch. On me, young pleasure's wasted.
I remember two things about writing this: 1) It came about on a day when I walked past a series of condos in which a lot of elderly people live, and 2) at the time, I was reading a lot of Edna St. Vincent Millay, who seems to get a bad rap for being a formalist and using language that gets described as "quaint." I like Edna St. Vincent Millay; I think she was a witty writer, and anyone who can do what she can with so many poetic forms obviously pays attention to her craft.
Okay, so this poem's a little old fashioned, too. Not the best, but I think I felt a little more comfortable with fitting words into lines when I wrote it. And sometimes, short and sweet really is what best expresses the thought. As with this post. Zooooooom!
Friday, March 11, 2011
Not long ago, I saw this article posted on Facebook, all about the physical spaces in which many famous writers do (or have done) their thing. Seems that small cottages and writing huts are popular among writers, which makes sense; a lot of them, from what I hear and read, like to work in quiet spaces so that they can hear the words as they occur to them. Looking at the pictures in this article -- damn, Michael Pollan has a nice set-up!
I wonder if my small obsession with small houses has anything to with this. One of the sites I've enjoyed visiting recently just for daydreaming purposes is the site for the Tumbleweed Tiny House Company, which, like thousands of other people, I saw on Yahoo!. I'm a sucker; the houses are adorable. They can be built on two-wheeled travel trailers, for crying out loud!
In case you were curious, this is where I write the poetry that I've been working on:
Why, yes, the couch is constantly bathed in holy light, thank you for asking!
This couch is parked next to the window (duh) in the room I've claimed as my office. My faithful guard dog, Mercury, is a constant fixture on the couch, as is the portable version of the American Heritage Dictionary there (must find new words and find good ways to use them!). When I'm sitting here, wrapped up in my blankie, it's a happy place.
Even when I'm visited by the frustration that makes me want to chuck my notebook across the room.
Wednesday, March 9, 2011
"Around the Block"
A marriage, travel, jobs, divorce for each,
Yet, years later, they stroll around the block
They ruled as kids, till across memory's reach
He says, "I would've kissed you on that walk."
"It wasn't the right time ten years ago,"
She says. He protests that, even through scores
Of years, the chance for love is rare. "I know,"
She tells him on a breath. "Tonight is yours."
Above, the sun falls backward through the sky.
Below, bikes shift where tires and pavement meet;
They travel in reverse, and time will try
To follow them and return to the street
Where, seasons past, a girl leaned close to say,
"I wonder if I'll ever feel that way."
* * *
Not one of my favorites. Looking back, I think I can accurately say that I was trying too hard to shoehorn an idea for a story into a poetic form. And really, who tries to write a sonnet on her second try at poetry and expects it to come out perfect?! Oh, right. (I also tried a sonnet for my third and fourth attempts, with no more success, and posted about it last year.)
In case you're wondering what makes this a Shakespearean sonnet: It's all about form, baby, as this page will explain.
Monday, March 7, 2011
Up there! Beyond the pine tops. Did you see?
A hand of storm -- an angry god's, likely --
Swept up the lighthouse -- swept it out to sea.
I almost missed it. These days, I'm that way.
The summer people leave their homes to play,
Yet I, distracted, claim the porch. I stay
And watch the fireflies let their pure light slow,
And watch a lighthouse meet the undertow,
And wait for old, dark winter's wind to blow.
* * *
Oh, I know it's not good. The image of a lighthouse collapsing into the sea is a strange one to try to work with and could have been built into something more, and the language seems a little stilted to me, especially in the first stanza. But I was so proud of myself -- my first time trying to write a poem in so many years, and I was able to adhere to a rhyme scheme and a (nearly) consistent meter! I even bounced into my partner's office and made him sit still while I read it aloud for him. Poor Wes.
Written on March 23, 2010; first performed (for a very captive audience of one) the same day.
Sunday, March 6, 2011
Early in 2010, I was writing short stories. I had just put together The People He Thought He Knew, my beloved little collection of horror stories, the year before, and I was working on another collection, hoping to continue the momentum.
And then, one night in March 2010, I totally blew it.
I started writing poetry.
I looked over my stories, decided that they weren't good enough and that I was just hacking them out, and for the first time in about five years, I started writing poetry instead.
It's hard to say what made me decide to try that art form again, other than that I had a thought that only seemed right to express as a poem. Then I had more thoughts, similar in nature. By the time 2010 ended, I had filled half of an inch-thick notebook with poems, and I didn't know what to do with them.
But then, I recalled that I have a blog that I rarely feel I have enough material to update!
So I'm going to put this blog to use. And the poems that I plan to put on here aren't quite masterpieces. The early ones can be pretty rough to read, and even among the later pieces, there are some real stinkers; I'm not even sure yet if I'll share the absolute worst of them. Hey, my delicate ego needs some cushioning sometimes! ;) But some of these poems have some charm or contain turns of phrase that surprised even me while I worked on them. I hope that you'll join me here and see what I've spent these months doing, and that by posting the work, I'll continue to grow, too.