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!


  1. Very Tom Waits-ian :) . Also, random aside: the part about mistakes and stumbles -- reminds me of a Ted Talk I listened to just yesterday:

    I like the kindness in this poem. And the punctuation in the floor.

  2. I less than three you guys. (Or, to pick the punctuation up from the floor and put it to use: <3 It's not a Chinese character on the side of the road, but hopefully, it'll do to express my feelings here!)