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.

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

* * *

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:


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 ( 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:


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)"

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

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.