Friday, April 29, 2011

My Poetry Year: Entry #21

In which Your Humble Blogger suggests a picture of wealth that's a little less glorious than the ones popping up all over the Internet today:

"Wealth: In Pictures"

In one, a falcon lands
And is so humbled by
His Good Sir's radiance
That it can't bring itself
To draw blood. In the next,
Mums do nothing but pale.
The neighbors would approve,
Though they'd lack suggestions
For what should be done when
The wallpaper turns in
Yellow curls underneath.
But it's fine. Now landscapes
Are what you have to have.
You think you might like one
Just above the mantel.
But you've already hung
So many pieces that
You've covered the mirrors
As well as all the doors.

* * *

Looking at this one today, I can see how it just as easily could have become a story, an almost fairytale one, instead. (And I mean a Ludmilla Petrushevskaya-like fairytale, not royal wedding-like fairytale, heh heh.) I remember it being triggered by the image that ends the poem: a rich person in a land full of other rich people has amassed such a collection of fine paintings depicting the outside world that he or she has covered all of the doors and windows leading outside for lack of space to hang them. Actually, now that I typed that, maybe it would work as a short story. Hmm....

Inspired by discussions of the retirement communities that have popped up in places like Arizona and Florida, where people who are well-off go citing the natural beauty around the community, only to spend the majority of their time once there sealed up in buildings or, if outdoors, playing golf on courses covered in Astroturf.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

My Poetry Year: Entry #20

In which Your Humble Blogger posts a song of love for her partner in crime, who spent the whole morning and part of the afternoon fixing a leaky toilet:

"Great Moments in Daily Life No. 10"

I pinched my boyfriend,
squeezed his ass, the same moment
a car honked outside.

* * *

You remember the post in which I said that all of our home repairs seem to be heating-related? Never mind. Some trickster god apparently read that post and decided that, for a change of pace, what we really needed was to have the wax ring inside our toilet (or the johnny ring, as I've also heard it called) almost completely obliterated. I was planning to post this pseudo-haiku anyway, but the morning's tasks only made it more appropriate; a chuckle seems like a good idea. Song of love? Maybe just in our strange world.

There's not much to say in terms of analysis for this poem, except perhaps "Aaaa-OOO-gaaa!"

But while we're talking haiku, I was recently listening to one of my favorite podcasts, "One Species at a Time," which presents short tales of research being done regarding various living beings. The latest episode, about a creature called the red paper lantern jellyfish, features a haiku written by one of the scientists studying it in Japan. I would retype it here because it's really a beautiful piece, but I don't think copyright lets me do that. However, if you get the urge to hear it, the podcast is only about five minutes long, and the haiku appears close to the end. Hearing it made me think of a time when poetry was something that everyone engaged in, no matter what their primary jobs were. Nice.

Monday, April 25, 2011

My Poetry Year: Entry #19

In which Your Humble Blogger imagines old age in ten syllables per line:

"The House"

I've heard that white isn't fashionable.
Blame the sun. The siding used to be brown.
And I know this here can't be considered
A private front-yard tranquility pond;
It's just a puddle, filled by mud water
From the choked gutters. And it has no koi.
A spacious bath and shower, maybe? No?
Just trying to laugh. Because the corners
Of the porch have long looked like the cracked walls
Of a quarry, and the house is quite old,
Has been for some time, and I can see you
Wondering how anyone can sleep here.
Well, come. Come inside. Let me show you how
I sleep: with my head resting on scrapbooks
and my legs propped on stacks of forty-fives.
Satisfied by the best meals I've eaten.
Falling in love with old friends. Come. Enjoy
The fire. The fire's always better when shared.
Enjoy it before the remaining years
Consume the house, and the fire is set free.

* * *

I fear that the idea of a house as a metaphor for an old, tired body gets lost, especially in the beginning of the poem; worse, I suspect that the description of the house in the beginning just isn't clear or interesting. But I still like the way the poem ends. If some crazy god or demon told me that I could only choose three batches of writing from last year's poems to keep while the rest of the notebook got tossed in flames -- well, there are two whole poems that I would save, and then I would ask to keep the last three lines (plus one word) of this poem.

And then I would snicker like a trickster, because many of these poems are typed up and saved to a hard drive.

Friday, April 22, 2011

My Poetry Year: Entry #18

In which Your Humble Blogger fills some blank space in her notebook with some blank verse:

"Karaoke Night at Wilbur's Bar"

The men and women who decide to come
Come most nights of the long week anyway
And don't need beer to urge their stories out.
The spot-washed mugs and glasses on the mat
Speak for them well; the scrapes and digs along
The floor where all the old chairs have been dragged
Are fine for punctuation. What they need
Are bartenders who try their honest best
To not be awful by recalling that
These men and women are plain worn out, too—
Who understand there doesn't have to be
Discussion and then difference all the time,
And sometimes, some days, things should just lie down
And be easy instead, leaving the way
Open for music. Once the speaker's on
And buzzing, it can fall to anyone
To take the microphone and start the strike
Toward small-room glory to be cheered one day
Far down, after the singer's job has left
Him poor in every way but in the bank.
Stumbles occur — this happens in a bar;
The pitch is tentative, some verses swapped,
But it's all right. Everyone's smiling still.
They know if they can't laugh at their mistakes,
They'll never find it possible to laugh
Beyond here, in their desk chairs or their beds,
Wherever their decisions make them small
And make them crawl behind their hard-set days
Until enough of those days have gone past
And, nights away, their music starts again.

Outside of Wilbur's bar, above a lamp,
Two deep-plumed robins have set up their nest
And now are getting their chicks primed to fledge.
The birds move with the months; because of that,
They sing. Inside the bar, the customers
Do their best imitation of true song
And will return to the same stools next week.

* * *

Blank verse: Lines of unrhymed iambic pentameter! What's that mean? It means that every line has ten syllables, and the stresses of the syllables alternate, weak, then strong: da-DUM, da-DUM, da-DUM, da-DUM, da-DUM (though, let's be honest here, that's hard to keep up through an entire poem, and there are plenty of times when that will get fudged a bit).

The use of blank verse in this poem produced some lines where the language seems a little stiff and clunky to me, and it's going to take a long time to figure out how to fix them while maintaining that meter. But that's why writing in a form is so hard; the poets who can make natural speech fit a set form so well that readers don't even notice the form are geniuses. The good thing, though? This story helped urge me out of a funk. Oddly enough, imagining a group of people who feel stuck except for one tiny moment of glory every week helped me feel un-stuck and gave me a story that I wanted to work for. Funny how you can incorporate your everyday life into your writing, even in ways that aren't direct or obvious.

Next week: One of my favorite throwaway pseudo-haikus, and a rarity for me -- a poem that actually ends on the best line I think I could have written for it. Enjoy your weekend!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

My Poetry Year: Entry #17

In which Your Humble Blogger gives you an idea of how truly low the poetry goes when she can't summon even a hint of inventiveness:

"I Am an Insomniac Without Inspiration"

I expect the words to come
Because I have my notebook open;
I have a pillow and expect to dream.
I am still alive, yes,
But I wonder:
Since I also expect to breathe,
At some point, should I begin to worry?

* * *

At this point in this blogging project, I find myself asking the same question that I think I asked myself last year, when I wrote the poem above: "Come on, when does it get good already?" It's a horrible question to ask. My belief is that there's always something out there to write about; it's just a matter of a writer being open enough to perceive it and willing to work out the best way to present it. When you starting writing poems like the one above, I think it's a sign that something's off with your process, or worse, your attitude toward your process. And something was most definitely off.

This is the best I can offer from a section of my notebook that I've dreaded getting to, because I'm not sure how to handle it or if even posting examples of writing that I consider lazy and well below standard is a good idea. But this is how last year's writing went -- warts and all. ;) Next post, I plan to share the poem that I wrote when I finally decided not to accept my stupor. That one I dread for a different reason: My memory says that it's the second longest poem I've ever written.

If you've stayed with me through these posts, please know that I appreciate your company as I go through my record of 2010. You are most surely a process junkie as well. ;) And I'm honored that you're here.

Monday, April 18, 2011

My Poetry Year: Entry #16

In which Your Humble Blogger incorporates broken household appliances into prose poetry:

"When the Gas Valve Breaks"

Whenever something like a gas valve breaks, or a thermocoupler uncouples, or any trinket component falls apart the way it's going to, and I see you standing in front of the thing bent-shouldered, pulling at your chin as if the gesture could produce some useful decision on the subject before we have to call someone, I can't help feeling that we're playing house. It's long ago, and the food is plastic and cooked on cardboard stoves, and we have no idea what house entails, and marriage is just something that dangles like a swing at the far end of the playground, the odd thought hinted at when we train-lock legs together and go down the slide. We have no clue what we're doing.

* * *

For us, it's always something related to heating that seems to go ker-plunk: the furnace, the clothes dryer, the oven. That realization made me imagine a married couple new to all of the practical details of living together comparing their very real situation to what they might have once envisioned. This poem, too, could use some fleshing out.

I can hear some people chuckling about the contradiction presented by the label of "prose poetry" -- "Hey, if ya wanted to write in paragraphs, why didn't ya just write a story?" :D If you're out there, know that I've been there with you, pondering that same question. But I think that what poems are great at doing is the same thing that pieces of visual art are great at doing: They present an image, a moment, an idea, and let the reader or viewer take it further into the realm of story and imagination. It's just that some poems don't work as well with line breaks. Believe me, I tried with this one:

When something like a gas valve breaks,
Or thermocouplers uncouple,
And you stand bent-shouldered and pull
Long at your chin, hoping that it makes
Some thought occur...

It wasn't doing it for me as much, and I didn't know how to get to the conclusion of the poem that way. So prose poetry it was!

I should mention: At this point in my notebook, the poems start to get shorter, not to mention thinner in substance. I remember feeling stuck at this point, not feeling ready to seriously revise what I had written but also wondering what else I could write about in poetic form, or if it was even worth it to keep trying.

I don't know if I'll share any of the short, especially crappy pieces. But soon, you'll get to see how hard it can be -- and how long it can take -- to seriously wake myself up.

Friday, April 15, 2011

My Poetry Year: Entry #15

In which Your Humble Blogger returns to working in syllables, this time trying to tell a story by pulling together sights and occurrences from various places she's been:

"Do Not Disturb"

Not long ago, in March, two cracked men tried
To rape a twelve-year-old girl in the lot
Of Sonny's All-Night Store. It's summer now,
And kids leave the store chugging cold soda.
The young ones make up rules for chalk circles
They draw on the sidewalk where she stumbled;
The older ones -- not much older, her age --
Escape into illogical music.
The gnats are sitting in my vision. Shut
The door, and draw the drapes against the blinds.
Insects continue to defy the screen.
I can't forget at my age. Every year,
It's the same. And I want no part of it.

* * *

The neighborhood in this story doesn't exist; it's a hybrid of places that I've lived in and passed through. Having just typed this one up (and looked at it for the first time in a long time), I can already see that, with some changes, it might be worth keeping. I like the atmosphere established in the first part, before the narrator starts talking about herself, but I think I'd like to redo the second part and working on tying the narrator more to what she sees. Funny, because I remember this poem actually starting with the second part, specifically with the bugs flying into a home through the window screen. That was happening here at the time!

What do you folks think?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

My Poetry Year: Entry #14

In which Your Humble Blogger answers a question that has undoubtedly been plaguing everyone's thoughts: What is tetractys?

"A Euclidian Birthday (An Experiment with Tetractys)"

was when
I received
my first gift card
and cried, realizing I had grown up.

* * *

Sometimes, I get the feeling that writing poetry is a lot like playing sudoku: Basically, you're trying to fit the pieces you're allotted to work with into a certain form. Out of curiosity, I was browsing the Interwebs one night in search of a different type of poetry to play with; most writers, if they want to work in a form, seem to go with well-known ones, like sonnets. I went to one of my favorite reference sites and clicked on the type of poetry that appeared to have the most unusual-looking name in the list: tetractys.

If you're not one for clicking on links, tetractys is all about the number of syllables in each line: one, then two, then three, then four, and finally ten. Kinda fun, since one, two, three, and four (everyone start singing with Feist now!) all together add up to ten. That numerical sequence and the number ten were apparently of great interest to the mathematician Euclid, hence the title of the poem.

Since that poem is so short, here's another throwaway pseudo-haiku that doesn't merit its own post but is a little bit of fun anyway:

"God as an Embarrassed Parent (or, Why Eve Was Created):

I gift him with speech,
and what name does his mouth shape?
Blue-footed Booby.

Monday, April 11, 2011

My +1 Dagger of Ogre-Slaying Day

That's what I call the day after someone's birthday. I consider it the day where you get to take care of some stuff, whether work or fun, that might not have gotten attended to properly on your actual birthday.

Usually, for me, it's a day for lingering mischief. Today? Don't know yet, but I have a couple of work-related projects that I'd like to get into tip-top shape. So I'm claiming my +1 Dagger of Ogre-Slaying Day and slaying those last few beasts! Poetry returns on Wednesday!

Friday, April 8, 2011

My Poetry Year: Entry #13

In which Your Humble Blogger demonstrates how much of a fantasy/sci-fi geek she can be (contain your surprise):

"Samwise Got It Right"

Although he was
Made to sound drunk and deflated
When he begged to share the load,
    good Sam had the right idea.
He wasn't, however, asking to help, but for help.
    He wasn't
Speaking to Frodo, but
Instead, to the willing, to us.

So we put down
Our worries and tired thoughts of chores,
And we stumbled after their thick feet up Mount Doom.
    Then? Well, we
Quested after Aslan, whittled Buffy's stakes,
    watched the Watchmen, and
Saw the Oceanic
Six safely onto the mainland.

And after the
Screen scrolled black into credits, or
The pages whispered shut, we knew our friends were home,
    in some sense,
And we were happy, though, like Locke,
    we had faith in the adventure
And would've liked to stay
In our best days on the island.

* * *

Yup, I watched a lot of Lost. This was written after the series finale. All stories ask their readers to take a journey of sorts with the characters, but I think that many more stories labeled "sci-fi" or "fantasy" depend on a literal or explicitly stated journey or quest. Beyond that, though, I don't think that fantasy or sci-fi have to be regarded on such a different level as capital-L, lofty pedestal Literature. It's just a question of how you like your journeys presented. :)

Goofy technical notes: One stanza for each book in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and the numbers from Lost play a role, too; check the number of syllables per line! Okay, so I had to fudge it a little. Fifteen- and sixteen-syllable lines were just too long, so those got broken up where it seemed to make sense to do so; that's where you see the indented lines. And lines that were twenty-three or forty-two syllables long were entirely impractical, so I multiplied 2 x 3 for a six-syllable line and 4 x 2 for an eight-syllable line.

No one believes me when I say I do this for fun!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Beyond My Poetry Year (or, "I left the house, and I want to tell you about it!")

In which Your Humble Blogger forgoes posting her own poetry so she can tell you about other people reading theirs:

Yep, I wrote on Monday that today I would post my love letter to all things sci-fi and fantasy. Hope the handful of you reading this (thank you -- *mwah!*) don't mind if I put that post off; I had made that call before I decided to attend a poetry reading.

The picture of a poetry reading that I think many people call to mind (including me, I'm guilty) isn't a flattering one. We imagine flat-voiced readers at an open mic, swaying a little as the words leave their mouths, inserting pauses and breaks between words for reasons we can't always gleam, while the audience, which is composed mostly of other poets awaiting their turn at the mic, flip frantically through their notebooks, trying to decide which selections to read and paying nary a bit of attention to the person currently wading through her performance.

It isn't always like that. If you want proof, and you ever have the opportunity to do so, go see Mary Karr read.

Mary Karr is best known for the memoir The Liar's Club, but it turns out that she writes a lot of poetry, too, and she's clearly in love with the medium. Last night, she gave a poetry reading at Chicago's Art Institute and demonstrated how lively poetry -- and poets -- can be. She's self-deprecating, whip-smart, and has comedic timing right up there with that of all the kings and queens of the one-liners. (One poem's intro: "You've seen these stores called Forever 21... there's no Forever 56 out there... I've noticed...") The best, though, is that she delivered her poems as if she were telling stories, which is a tendency that I imagine could be influenced by her ability to write captivating prose. But there was a narrative flow to her reading; there was emotion in her voice. It was interesting! It was moving! It was poetry!

Poems, pictures, paintings -- they all tell stories; they all strive for human engagement. It's amazing how easily we can forget this, striving for art. It makes me ashamed of my notebook.

But in a good way.

Monday, April 4, 2011

My Poetry Year: Entry #12

In which Your Humble Blogger shares an example of why she doesn't write in free verse more often:

"Slow Dance"

to read the speed
of the flecks of line
beating past
as pace and rhythm
on what should have been
a lonely and musicless
road where only
the relays of static
crack the sky
is to follow fast
fingers as they cross keys
and the radio dial
and to chase the guitar
notes that leap
toward home no
matter what home means
and that is all
another way of saying
you hope to make it
in time
for the slow dance
you promised

* * *

I question the wisdom of posting this, because I think it clearly demonstrates a problem that I still have, which is that I don't know exactly what can be accomplished with free verse or how to use it effectively. As you saw in an example in a previous post, I had tried before to maintain sentence structure in free verse poems, but I didn't like the results. With this one, I had in mind the idea of listening to the radio on a late-night road trip, and I ignored punctuation and chose certain words hoping to call to mind that hypnotic thing that happens when your wheels have been going over the road for a long time in the dark. I'm not sure if it achieves that, though, and the only spot in which I think the line breaks work well is at the end of the poem, where "you promised" is allowed its own line.

I peeked ahead at what comes next in my notebook: Wednesday's poem is a little more fun, I think. You get to see what happens when I try to write an ode to some of my favorite fantasy and sci-fi tales of all time. ;)

Not related to this poem, but I wanted to mention that I've been reading Yusef Komunyakaa's Warhorses, which I really recommend to anyone who wants an example of a strong voice in current poetry. This is a man who knows how to choose his words.

Friday, April 1, 2011

My Poetry Year: Entry #11

In which Your Humble Blogger marks the start of National Poetry Month by not posting any poems:

Oh, glorious sense of timing! I've wanted to do another picture-heavy process post (hey, some alliteration, at least!) for a while; it just happens that today's the best day in my stretch of planned posts to do it.

And that today is April Fool's. No pranks here, I promise. I'm not good at pulling them off.

What I am good at is finding things in the bargain book bins at bookstores that make me happy. I imagine that some people carry with them an image of the writer who, when it was time to begin working at the craft for the day, took a gorgeously bound tome from the shelf or assembled a ream of high-quality paper and, fountain pen in hand, effortlessly began to etch h words onto the page. Alternatively, for some, the image of the daily writer may still be that of Doogie Howser.

This is what I write poetry in:

A couple bucks at Borders bought me this little goodie, a 256-page wonder with an elastic band to keep it shut and a silicone cover, excellent for people like me who tend to spill their beverages.

Also less than glamorous? I write poetry in pencil:

As romantic as the notion of poetry as a fleeting expression of the self may be... I type most of my poems up some time after I write them and save them to a memory card.

My notebook isn't the only bargain book I've found that's made me happy, not by far. This was spotted at the used bookstore not long ago:

And another impressive title:

I love books.