Monday, May 30, 2011

My Poetry Year: Entry #33

In which Your Humble Blogger salvages a couple scraps from the month of August:

"Dinner for Two"

Two people sit
in the corner
close to the bar,
by candlelight
into their roles,
their silverware
sustaining the
scraping the plates.
They drink the wine
as if tasting
for some poison,
although they know
the toxic test
still waits outside
in the blank face
light left by so
silent a moon.

* * *

"The Attic"

All our good moments
Have been filed neatly
Into letters and
Pictures bound by the
Dank architecture
Of the attic frame.
They've just about been
Forgotten into
Echoes. Even now,
We sit walls apart,
And our voice slump
In unlit corners,
Each one answering
Only its own sighs.

* * *

Double whammy today! Both poems are syllable-dependent, once again. I think I like the second one more. These are the only two scraps from the work trip in August of 2010 that I believe have any worth. (From the start of Comic-Con until the beginning of September, I wrote eight things total, several of them only three lines long. That's not the writing output I was looking for at the time.) I would've posted these back on Friday, but that last post, filled with all of that babbling and explanation, had already gotten too darn long.

But as it is, there shouldn't be too many people here reading this today anyway. Take care and be well; if it's a holiday for you today, hope you get to celebrate with some loved ones while paying tribute to those who have earned it.

Friday, May 27, 2011

My Poetry Year: Entry #32

In which Your Humble Blogger shares with you what she wrote during the last week of July and the entire month of August:

* * *

Yep, that's right, nothing typed out ahead of the asterisks today. That's because during the time frame mentioned above, nothing really got written.

In his book On Writing, Stephen King suggests the importance of establishing a regular time and a regular place for getting your writing done each day. I agree with him, especially when we're talking about writers who are just starting out and getting into the habit of writing seriously. It may seem to take the fun out of the act, but a routine does promote discipline, and if you're intent on refining your art and having it remain an essential part of your life, you have to approach it with discipline. At least I think so. It's right for me, let's say that. :D

Trips and conventions sure mess with your regular routine, though, don't they? You're in a new place, and all sorts of events are going on around you, so your usual schedule goes way out the window, and sometimes, when you're crashing somewhere, you're sharing a small space with several people who operate way differently than you do. As inspirational as spending a week in San Diego for Comic-Con and seeing the work of so many talented artists is, it didn't really help me actually set aside time to produce any work of my own last year.

That wouldn't have been much of an issue if the week in San Diego hadn't been followed by a month out of state for work.

I had known since the year before that I would have to make that work trip. Both Wes and I were part of a crew tasked with labeling, identifying, and organizing the items in Marvel's inventory of archived materials. The work started in 2008, continued in 2009 -- we didn't finish it then, so we knew we'd have to return to the warehouse in 2010. We were originally hoping that the trip would only take two weeks, but we ended up getting scheduled to be there for a month.

And it wasn't all terrible -- it was time away from the computer, we were paid well for our work, and I got to see the other guys on the crew, whom I seriously love hanging out with; they're a standup bunch. But the work itself is frustrating, not something I'm particularly good at or helpful with, and the schedule was very different from the work hours I normally keep. I also had trouble sleeping while I was there -- a few of you have an idea of how much trouble I have sleeping regularly to begin with.

In short, I couldn't get my shit together enough to write as I had been writing before I left. Oh, sure, I tried some nights. I ended up producing a few royal stinkbombs, such as:


One at a time, down the road.
One person in each.
Let them arrive, same time,
same destination -- it's not far --
and let the headlights shine
on the detail
that endless sunbeams
have left for them blunted:
the ground at the end
is quite unpaved.

* * *

I mean, seriously, what the hell was that about? It was all the more disappointing in light of the breakthrough that I felt I had with "Departure," and it -- the trips, the time away -- left me fearing that I didn't have the tenacity needed to consider myself a writer and that all of the potential I had built up was gone.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

My Poetry Year: Entry #31

In which Your Humble Blogger, for one brief, shining writing session, gets it right:


Later, once the pain has settled
And is waiting in exchange for
Boredom, you'll try thinking about
How your arms lifted each other.
But the memory isn't yours
Any more than the morning was,
And the clock has that in its hands.
The wheels on which the morning turned
Will be touching another ground
By then, leaving you with the notes,
The pictures, the scattering trails,
Remnants of the wind that brought her
To you, reminders of the sky
That took her back.

* * *

I didn't think that I was going to get much of anything done the night before we left for San Diego Comic Con. I'm a fidgety traveler, and I like to go over my travel preparations many, many times before I actually leave. When I sat down for my self-mandated writing session that night, I found that all I had on the brain was air travel.

So I decided to write about that.

I thought about some of the people I often see at airports. The looks I see on many of their faces suggested this story. And somehow, it came out more accurate than many other things I've written.

It's another poem written in syllables (the last line breaks the pattern -- hey, who doesn't like some dramatic effect?), but the language seemed to flow into those syllables more naturally, and the words painted the picture I wanted. The metaphor is tight, tighter, at least, than I've been able to craft them in the past. And if the idea of "the wind that brought her/To you" carries some cheese, I'll happily accept it for the snap to reality that "the sky/That took her back" provides. I think I actually shook a little after I wrote it, just because this was the closest I had come to putting the kind of writing that I want to be responsible for on paper.

As you'll see in the next couple of posts, that potential got shot to hell right quickly after I wrote this.

Monday, May 23, 2011

My Poetry Year: Entry #30

In which Your Humble Blogger gets snarky about humanity and ice cream:

"The Equation"

I hate people for who they are
and love people for who they could be.
Someone told me that I got
half of that equation
but wouldn't tell me which half.
So I solved the problem
I hate her for who she is, too,
and am now enjoying
a whole
bucket of ice cream
by myself.

* * *

Just something to keep me amused; this didn't happen. Well, not really. If anything, I might -- might -- have had a thought like the one that begins the poem and then reprimanded myself for feeling that way. And I might -- might -- have imagined that situation as a discussion between two people, to allow me to make fun of myself. Crazy? Misanthropic? Possibly.

But man, I do love me some ice cream.

Friday, May 20, 2011

My Poetry Year: Entry #29

In which Your Humble Blogger gets a little dreamy and goes for imagery instead of logic or substance (hah, like that's really anything new):


I often walk at sunset. When I do,
the horizon, inspired by the weight of
oaks, meets my heel's slope, then continues and
adjusts to the flight paths of the herons.
Conch shells sing its line; when I pick one up
and listen past the break of sound, I am
then lit, as if on fire, with a message:
Enjoy it, dear. The path is rarely straight.
If I follow the voice, then I follow
path, and I am home. I know because
of the curve of Grandma's hand on my head.
The curtains, the ones holding the windows
in place, move to allow for the moon, and
the stars, even in their mobile, are free
for a night of dreaming.

* * *

This was an experiment with less than logical thought. I think that, if I were to keep this around to work on more, I would keep only the last four lines; the rest of it is just a hodgepodge (great word) of images trying to call to mind the idea of curved lines. But hey, sometimes you need to write for a while before something halfway decent comes out. Sometimes you have to sift through the muck before you find that shinier little nugget.

I remember that two factors were starting to make the poetry a bit harder to write at this point. One was that I was starting to miss writing prose, particularly the fantasy-based short stories that I like playing with. I didn't, however, have any ideas that seemed to fit into short story form.

The other factor is one that will probably get its own post soon, and by July, it was casting a huge shadow over everything I was working on. It involved me taking a very long trip out of state....

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

My Poetry Year: Entry #28

In which Your Humble Blogger beats you over the head with a metaphor for freedom:

"Our Children" [I just want to interject here and say that it's a lame title that gets slapped onto a piece when nothing else comes to mind]

We build our fences and keep them vigilantly.
We allow our children to do somersaults inside them.
Yet we can't be surprised if, through the chain links,
Our children see others doing cartwheels and wish to try.
Love allows for the discovery of broader frontiers.
Trust becomes the greatest showing of patriotism.

* * *

Ladies and gentlemen, with all of the subtlety of your local fireworks display, here's the poem I wrote for the Fourth of July! Seriously, even if I really do believe the sentiments expressed in the last two lines, there has to be a better way to express them than through something as maudlin as this. I knew it wasn't the best when I wrote it, but some days, you just have to force yourself to write something.

You know what I feel like sometimes as I go through my notebook? This. And it's only been a year. I'm telling myself it's a sign of growth, even as I flip through certain sections of the book and cringe.

Monday, May 16, 2011

My Poetry Year: Entry #27

In which Your Humble Blogger takes on the idea of foreign language interpretation, and somehow gets hot dogs involved, in a prose poem:

"The Interpreter"

They say that every seven years or so, a person's skin is completely renewed. Because of the age of the musician's interpreter, I think of the interpreter as a castoff from the old musician himself, a photograph in breath and flesh of the creative mind at seven. His words are the musician's words, his pauses are the same. And yet, no one else but this boy born in the same windy corners of the borders of state knows the language, so it's a trip to imagine that what he is telling us bears absolutely no relation to what the musician intends to communicate, that what we're hearing instead are the daydreams and thoughts, the very beliefs, of the young interpreter. To him, still wearing some of what he was born in, belong the opinions on God and the sadness for man; when he says, “Think of this child in a world at war,” what he's really saying is, “I already have.” To the musician, then, old enough to have been reborn several times over, belong memories that go undelineated and unappreciated. They are of his earliest friends, of the way the stars look in his homeland. Of the first time he tried a hot dog.

* * *

Not much to say about this one, except I couldn't imagine it with line breaks or rhymes or any of that; it was a prose poem from the start. I do remember that early on the day I wrote it, Wes had been listening to a podcast, and the interpreter for the person being interviewed on it sounded like she was about eight years old. And the translations she provided were long, long blocks of speech! At some point, I recall thinking something to the effect of, "Man, for all we know, this old guy's talking about the Slurpee he just had at 7-Eleven, and the girl's just making stuff up to make the interview go more smoothly." And lo, a poem was born.

Friday, May 13, 2011

My Poetry Year: Entry #26

In which Your Humble Blogger talks about how she sometimes gets ahead of herself:

The town where I live doesn't exactly have a happenin' arts scene. That's not to say that it's totally deprived. There are lots of resources here, my favorites being our well-stocked library; plus, a few talented creators are also based in this neck of the woods. I'm grateful for everything that's available here. However, the fact remains that the south suburbs aren't the easiest place to find other writers, especially poetry diehards, to turn to for critiques, feedback, and advice. (And the Internet can be helpful! But it's a different feel when you sit down with a person from a writing circle and talk about your writing in, well, in person.)

So during my poetry year, I was pretty much writing in isolation, partly by choice because of nervousness at the idea of getting back into poetry, but mostly for the reasons stated above. At some point, though, I knew I needed some kind of assessment of how I was doing, but something like this blog hadn't occurred to me as an option yet, and I was actually hesitant about showing this stuff to my friends and constantly bugging them with it. Imagine it: I'm a thousand times more nervous and more concerned about what my close friends think of what I do than I am about a stranger's opinion.

Around June, I did something a little forward: I found a small (very small) literary magazine, read one of its back issues and some other sample work posted on its site, picked out a couple of poems from my notebook that I didn't consider a waste of time to read and that I hoped would match the feel of the magazine, and submitted them for publication. Just to see what would happen.

The rejection letter I got was the best thing I could've hoped for:

The magazine touted "brevity and wit" as two qualities they looked for in submissions, so at least I got the fun part! Not quite our style? I can see that. I think it can be pretty hard to discern what an editor's looking for, especially if you're not a longtime reader of the publication. How do writers do it? Do they subscribe to every literary publication that's out there? Oy! There's a lot! And I make freelancer money! ;)

How lucky was I, though, to get a personalized response? Most rejection letters are form letters that leave the writer with no idea why the pieces were rejected and no clue as to how to improve (or if there's even hope for improvement). I am grateful for (and in search of) detailed critiques, but it was very heartening to receive this token of kindness from an editor who otherwise has no responsibility toward me.

I'm not quite ready yet; I know that. But any encouragement that suggests that one day I might be is a good, good thing.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

My Poetry Year: Entry #25

In which Your Humble Blogger invokes the power of rhyming couplets in response to this hot, hot, holy-crap-is-it-hot weather:

“Sleeping Weather”

The last song's candlelight's been ridden
Home. Summer's gone. Her shoulder's hidden
Beneath her coat; the door step lamp
Has dimmed early against a damp
And falling night. Yet, though her shoulder
Stays covered now, the trees, in colder
Blue months, turn bare. Their leaves are laid.
The light returns. The bed's unmade.

* * *

It might seem perverse that I'm posting a poem that references the end of summer before summer has even started, but there's a good reason for it:

I don't like summer.

No, I guess it's okay, but give me the cool weather, the bright colors, the array of scents, and that odd feeling of change and possibility that come with spring and fall instead. And cooler weather is totally good sleeping weather for me -- I love bundling up under, like, twelve layers of cozy blankets! This poem was written last year when the weather is similar to what it is now: Hot. Surprisingly hot. It was written during one of the first warm spells of the year, which made the image of trees losing their leaves a much more appealing metaphor for me to work with.

"Hey, what's a meta for?" For making up poems that are totally out of season, I guess!

Monday, May 9, 2011

My Poetry Year: Entry #24

In which Your Humble Blogger posts a poem that needs a lot of work, but that imagines the Prince of the Damned as a lazy couch-loafer who scratches where the sun very literally doesn't shine, so really, how can you resist?

"A Less Sexy Satan"

Oh, some day, when we're sick of white-brite smiles
And tired of slick attempts at confidence,
He'll be there. But, instead of going miles
To orchestrate a lavish, Hellbound dance,
He'll sink into the couch and drop one claw
Well past the easy buttons of His pants
And scratch. And if we doubt what we just saw,
If we expect temptation or romance,
He'll set us straight. He'll start to pick his nose
Or belch a fiery one. And yet, we'll say
Something like that was needed. How He knows.
And He'll lean back and murmur, “What a day
You must've had, with all the buzz and hum
You humans make. Here, come in. Have a seat.
The TV's on. Do you like gin or rum?”
Who knew the damned's dark prince could be so sweet?
We'll sit and watch fast food commercials run—
He'll mention that new dipping sauce is bold—
Meanwhile, Hell's merry choir will have its fun
Seducing us to sleep. And we'll grow old.
Then, years down, when the chill is in our chests,
We can't be separated from our chairs,
We've long confused our lethargy for rest,
And we've abandoned all our driving cares—
We'll realize that something is amiss.
Out last desires have left us, like thin ships.
And as we whisper, “This is the abyss,”
His beating wings will still our parched blue lips

* * *

I almost didn't post this one, because looking at it now, I see it as a bit of a mess. (If I mention the idea of hellfire, can I call it a hot mess? Ha HA! Thank you, ladies and germs! Try the veal.) I had had the idea of writing about the forces of darkness appealing to humans not with promises of power or riches, but with the hope of what more people these days seem to truly want in their spare time instead: time to sit on their asses and do absolutely nothing. And I knew, with an idea like that, that I would try to start the poem off in a funnier place and then make it more severe, which in itself was a gamble, and it might not have worked. Plus, I think I stumbled into a conundrum: I wanted to describe Satan as not quite the sexy, alluring guy that so much fiction has personalized him as, but then, by providing people with what they want and being "sweet" about it... did he end up, in some way, a little sexy anyway? So there was plenty of difficulty with this poem as it was.

But then why, oh why, did I try to work all of that in using lines of iambic pentameter that follow an alternating rhyme scheme (abab, cdcd, efef, etc.)? Using iambic pentameter makes it harder to get the right words! Perhaps I am truly a masochist. Or perhaps I just wanted to rail against the laziness and indifference that seems to prevent a lot of art or other great things from happening. Perhaps a little from column A, a little from column B, yes?

You might be wondering why I'm posting this poem if I have so many problems with it. It's a follow-up to what I posted on Friday: On Saturday, Free Comic Book Day, a lot of people came out to Evil Squirrel Comics. Enough, it turns out, that Shawn is able to pay off some bills. So with a little bit of action, as opposed to the inaction on the couch that we all long for sometimes, good things can come.

(One last note on this poem: I intentionally left the period off of the last line. I had wanted that realization of what has gone wrong to seem to come suddenly -- and too late -- to the speaker. But I gotta tell you, I don't know if it works, and honestly, leaving off punctuation makes me feel like I'm having one of those dreams in which I'm standing in front of a class, giving a presentation, and out of the blue I realize that I forgot to put on pants. Yes, punctuation is that important to me.)

Friday, May 6, 2011

My Poetry Year: Entry #23

In which Your Humble Blogger briefly shares her opinion on adulthood before bringing up a more pressing matter:

"On Growing Up"

Becoming an adult
Was karmic punishment
For all of the fireflies
I squished as a girl.

* * *

Yep, as adults, we have to deal with responsibility and generally accept a lot less fun in our lives. Sometimes, we get those moments of joy and delight, but sadly, I have to report that one of my sources of happiness is in trouble. Evil Squirrel Comics, the comic shop that has my allegiance, is in danger of closing, and its owner, my pal Shawn, is dealing with the decidedly awful responsibility of trying to keep the store open in this economic climate, when customers just aren't coming by to pick up their books.

Tomorrow is Free Comic Book Day, a great day to get into some great stories, because hey, pop into a store, and you'll get something to read for free. If you're in the Chicago area, or know someone who is, help increase the traffic coming in to Evil Squirrel by coming over to play or coercing your friend or relative to come here. It's in Rogers Park, just off the Morse Red Line stop at 6928 N. Glenwood, and it's a wonderful store. My days of squishing fireflies for kicks are done. Help me keep this bright light of a shop around instead.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Beyond My Poetry Year (or, Spoiler Alert: I Keep Writing)

In which Your Humble Blogger demonstrates in verse the somberness that she's felt for the past few days:

"A Head Full of Stars"

As she collapsed on the floor, she imagined
Sunlight following the bullet through the wound
Along a surgical line of shadow until
It found the thoughts at the center
Of her daughter's gray matter.
Sunlight scattered like bone chips,
Sunlight refracted onto the skull's tiny dome
So that a thousand stars appeared to shine inside.
A thousand possible lives, as empty as wounds.
She screamed her daughter's name to the heavens,
And the heavens, trembling in her hands,
Were close enough to hear.

* * *

This isn't part of the writings from what I've been calling "my poetry year." This was written a couple of days ago. I've otherwise been on a quest for fiction for the past few weeks (long story for a much later post), so this isn't polished, nor has it really seen a good rewrite. But it just seemed like the right thing to share.

It's easy to lament the loss when the person slain is a child; the void that takes the place of possibility and hope, for both the murderer and the murdered, is acutely felt. But I do believe that the killing of anyone necessarily extinguishes a chance, even the slightest, smallest, sliver of a chance, for good to be done, if not by the slain, then by the killer or for someone else even remotely touched by his or her existence. I say this as someone whose thoughts would probably turn ugly if someone she loved were harmed. The idea of vengeance or retribution, however, doesn't make me happy. If anything, it makes me grieve a little more for what we lose by it in the land of the living.

(In case you need a chaser for this post -- I'll admit that I kind of wanted one after writing it -- click here.)

Monday, May 2, 2011

My Poetry Year: Entry #22

In which Your Humble Blogger shares some less-than-impressive words of her own along with a few more valuable words from Ira Glass:

"Thoughts on Father's Day"

The best gift that he managed to give her
Was to sit her in the bedroom to read
While he choked himself with cognac downstairs,
Leaving her, age four, with the quiet glow
Of a warm but tentative night light and
A glass of water; a space small enough
Beneath the desk to feel private, settled;
A stumbling grasp of literacy; and
The unforeseen joy of discovering
How to open better doors.

* * *

Not much going on here. Another pass at syllabics, though the last line breaks the pattern. A number of the poems I've written do this: often, I think that the concluding image in a poem has more snap, more effect, if it's kept short and simple. I don't consider this an exceptional poem at all, though I do like the phrase "a stumbling grasp of literacy." But today, I saw a message on one of the listservs I subscribe to that shared this message from Ira Glass. For those of you who listen to 'This American Life,' do you remember where you were the first time you heard it? I do. It's that kind of a show, eh?

A brief excerpt from the Ira Glass message (which isn't too long anyway):

"For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you."

Thank you, Ira. And for those of you reading this who are also writers: If you have a talent, and a love for this craft, don't do what I did and abandon it for years. Give yourself a chance. The beautiful thing about writing is that, even in the smallest ways, you can always get better at it.