poem-a-thon 6: moon taming

I know it’s after midnight EST, but I did finish this beforehand. I’m going directly to bed (do not pass go; do not collect $200) right after this, but just a bit of natter beforehand to say that I did as the NaPoWriMo prompt suggested, and gathered some sensory details outdoors today. Sat in a tree, people-watched, observed as much as I could, and gathered this scene out of it, even though I couldn’t think of a decent title. This one swings a little far from my theme for the month (reminder: please donate to my Poem-a-thon! Margo is still the only rockstar to help out!), but I’m still fond of it. The kite was something to see.

Moon Taming

Two girls huddle together, the cranberry-maned
wrapping tight round the other, who has wound string
round her fingers as if they were spindles
to slacken the kite.
There it is, an arc-minute or two to the left of the moon,
up already in the afternoon, bellying out its white
with a minuscule dark in it as the girls’ pet geometry
draws close and draws away, the air
fierce today, sharp but loose and eddying.
The girls breathe in time. Their eyes lock like a compass
at the same angle. Hoodie sleeves are rumpled, lip rings
are sucked, as they pair their arms and hips
to keep the wings afloat.
So many things threaten a tangle: the clothes donation bins,
indifferent boys throwing Frisbees, and always
the possibility of interference from trees even in the open,
far from the sounds of a city.
And the girls haven’t eaten much for days,
saving their money for Brooklyn, the couches of friends
where they will spend the spring, with at least a leaky roof
over their party-colored heads, waiting for
calmer weather to offer their most prized possession
to the vapor-trailed sky.
The moon will take confessions. The sun will hide its face.
Scribbled on the paper kite are the prayers of young lovers
who write what has not yet taken place.
It will not stay aloft forever: already the mothers begin
gathering their picnics, the rusty bikes are untethered. Still
these two laughing girls catch each upward tremor,
each dizzying fall together. What must need be
but to write these words
and aim for that littler eye of whoever’s up there, whoever
will believe what they read?

poem-a-thon 5: philadelphian spring

I had a lovely conversation in the coffeeshop line this morning, with an older woman in a green coat who remarked that her coat matched my hair. This turned into a chat about how she’s currently re-touching her (deceased?) painter father’s artwork, and so has been living in a world sensitive to color for a while (months? years?). Which then turned into a discussion of how those in my generation who have a sensitivity to art for art’s sake, and the turning of everyday things into beautiful things, must stem the cheapening tide that our culture is currently awash with. (I’m making the words more florid than they were.) We talked about the value of what’s worked with hands and personal touch, and then we got our coffees and carried on. Best three minutes I had this morning.

That really has nothing to do with anything else, I just wanted to mention.

Guys, I’m getting a little desperate and could use some signal boost for my Poem-a-Thon goal. Nobody’s donated yet, and we’re five days in, and I’m bummed about it (but also I’m probably not doing enough to make a stink about it, so I feel guilty too). If you’d consider donating, that would be Way Cool, and if you can’t donate, then please bug people with more accessible cash who can. I am going to raise a fuss about this until at least something materializes… I really don’t want this frenzy of poem writing that I’m putting myself through to be for naught.

And on that note, here’s today’s. NaPoWriMo wanted a golden shovel, which I wasn’t familiar with: writing a poem where each line ends with the word of a poem, in order. (Charles Simic’s “Watermelons” was suggested, and as I recently read a collection of his, I went with that one. I did cheat a little bit by turning “spit” to “respite”, and breaking the extra-long last line, with the final teleuton.) I really miss Philadelphia in the spring sometimes, though New York in the spring ain’t so bad either. I might go back outside after this!

Philadelphian Spring (with occasional myth)

The 12th Street gingkoes shrug out their newest green
and we rub their bark like we would the bellies of Buddhas,

for luck, new life, growth, change. The cafe speakers are on,
blasting Kylie Minogue; we fall over laughing as we Do The

Loco-Motion down the alleyways. Corner vendors cut fruit
for passerby, and stray tomcats blink and flee, then turn, stand,

watch. Center City gets about an hour of this sunlight, and we
need every minute, night-owl eyes squinted with joy. We eat

and drink it, we squirrel it throughout our hollowed bodies, the
most inaccessible parts. When’s the last time a lopsided smile

shed its breakers on either of our chins? Days lengthen and
earths open: we read the story of Persephone as we respite

in the used book shop. Who can say how long she’ll be out?
But we know firsthand that doesn’t matter– only the now. The

not-yet-going-back-beneath. The first time in a long while
  we’ve shown our broken teeth.

resonance seven; and also meta-blogging: CSHS

Guys, I resurrected my Twitter after forgetting that I had it for a couple months. So you’re welcome to follow me on there if you’re one of those Twitterers that one hears so much about in the news media, etc. Take a gander at my left-hand sidebar if you are so inclined!

Also, I’ll take the opportunity to do the “Interesting Announcement” I alluded to last week and mention the new journal that Tessa and I are curating. After many vicissitudes, both positive and negative, we’ve had a number of conversations about regrouping and restarting our editorial aspirations. So, at this point we’ve put together the blog page and posted for submissions, which means we’ve pretty much dug our own grave of commitment. CSHS Quarterly is open for business, if you’re the poetic, prosaic, or photographic type and want to get some work out there in the world. (And as for the cryogenically frozen elephant in the room known as Curio, there will be an Announcement about that in the near future as well. We promise.)

OK, on to the promptings. For resonance seven let’s talk about our relationship with nature. Growing up in suburbia, I was never much of a naturalist kid; I can tell a maple and an oak by their leaves, I know the cherries flower before the roses, and I know that tomatoes are only good in July. But I give a lot of credit to people who can tell trees apart by their bark, determine the age and gender of deer from their tracks, know the change in direction of wind and what it entails, etc. It’s a knowledge set that is often lost completely in the glare of screens, the blast of music, and all the other trappings of life these days. And yet poets are often caught up in the mystique of nature without taking the time to really learn their stuff about it. You could argue that it doesn’t matter so much for an observational poem to know the whys and wherefores of Thing X that is occurring and inspiring the poet; but as a consummate Wikipedia addict, I am forever looking into the reasons behind the visions.

Particularly because we’ve had so much snow in New York this week– make that this month– or hell, the last three months– I’m feeling especially starved of green, and also ignorant of the life still humming during the winter. Wherever you are, start by paying attention to your natural surroundings: start with the seasonal generalities of climate and temperature for your place, then zoom in bit by bit on the animals which are active, the plants that are currently alive/seemingly alive, the landscape of where you are. (Even the city has a botanical landscape!) Next, highlight the bits which are striking to you: I find the repeated pattern of slush/freeze/snow that causes these Ice Puddles Of Death on every street corner to be compelling. (And not just because I keep slipping into them.) And there is this one particular bird that I don’t know, which I keep seeing around, drinking from things.

Do some inquiry into the scientific, botanical, meteorological underpinnings of what you’ve teased out. With those puddles, I imagine there must be some kind of air temperature pattern that’s causing the very particular thaw/freeze cycle which leads to their layered water/ice construction. That bird must have a name and a reason for not migrating. For the sake of a poem that just needs hints of background, I think Wikipedia will often suffice; depending on your readership, no one is going to ask you for citations of the facts. But adding that bit of knowledge allows you to go a bit deeper and find metaphors and elements you didn’t know were in there before. And find ways to incorporate the information in poetic ways: rather than talk about how the apple is in the same botanical family as the rose, talk about the apple being “teased out of the wild rose” or something. Most importantly: don’t allow these factoids to distract from your observations. You want the two to dovetail and complement, not one to overshadow the other. The factoids taking precedence will sound stuffy; the factoids being incidental will sound tangential.

(As an example I’m fond of, although there’s only a bit of this development, go read Ross Gay’s poem “To the Fig Tree at 9th and Christian”. He very deftly incorporates a couple factoids with a minimum of words: describing figs as “wasps’ sugar” is the most beautiful way I’ve ever seen to handle the symbiosis of figs and wasps, a very biological theme.)

(Also read Dorianne Laux’s “Facts About the Moon” for a different approach which combines the two impulses very neatly!)

Your poem may be kept a bit spare. It’s easy to go off on wild flights with poems that are purely about the inspiration drawn from seeing a ring around the moon, much harder to get pedantic with why the ice crystals that cause the effect form the way they do. The poem will be reined in, and that’s okay; this is an exercise in restraint as much as an exploration of theme. And as always, when you have done your poem, you are welcome to report on the state of climate, flora, and fauna in your region by posting it here, in poem-form. Many maps unroll tonight.

renovation twenty-nine: support

Just one more day to go… oof. I really hoped I’d be out of the woods with everything by the end of the month, but of course, as things rarely go according to plan, it seems as though the next several days will still be a hectic mess. (Which I guess is fine. I live on hectic messes, most days.) But I’m proud of myself that I have managed to do one of these every day thus far in November. Probably afterward I’ll go dark again for at least a few days, before starting up again…

Anyway, here’s today’s:

1. “For you I stay like a mountain.” (Sarah Messer, “Prayer from a Mouse”)
2. “Of course we miss the flowers…” (James Whitcomb Riley, “When the Frost is on the Punkin”)
3. “Can one man worship the legs of another?” (me, “Legs”)
4. an alarm of some kind
5. Praise a quality in others that you do not have.
BONUS. Write a tritina: three tercets with the pattern of repeated endwords ABC, CAB, BCA, followed by a line that uses all three endwords in it. See below.
ALTERNATE (2). “Strike deep, divide us from cheap-got doubt.” (Marie Ponsot, “Private and Profane”)

…and some vague weirdness I did in response:

(support)

Good lovers wear their tallness like a tree
who’s known the storm. I watch the lightning drum
upon their hair and wish for such a calm–

but unsure-footed boys are rarely calm.
I’m more a marsh-flat reed than some old tree
that’s deeply rooted, swaying to a drum

whose pattern always hesitates– my drum
of fear. Good lovers keep their watchers calm.
They never fall. Each turns his manhood-tree

to heartbeat-drums, weight-bearing, tree of calm.

renovation twenty-seven: lullaby

Between the whirlwind of activity yesterday, the whirlwind this morning at work before the holiday, and then the trek southward to my parents’, it has been a chore to get anything done for myself at all. But, before I traipse off to dinner, I didn’t want to leave you guys in a lurch, in case someone needs a prompt! There are still a few hours left in the day…

1. “…you showed me your dark workroom…” (Jean Valentine, “Friend,”)
2. “When I see the cradle rocking…” (Donald Hall, “Advent”)
3. “I’ve been living with static in my ears.” (me, “Headphones”)
4. luggage
5. Create a kind of strange mythology to explain something.
BONUS. Break your poem into sentences. Break each sentence across an equal number of lines.
ALTERNATE (5). Talk about when you stopped believing in something.

…and clearly the miserable weather has impacted what I’m thinking about. This one is completely slapdash, I literally wrote it ten minutes ago:

(lullaby)

If we consider music
the flowering of noise,
every noise
could be its seed.
There is a spirit
assembling the sound
of rain and sleet
before we hear it.
We’ve tried to lose it
with machinery–
but the need
becomes too great.
Each storm finds us
keeping time with
its primal drum,
its encircling beat.

A better effort tomorrow, I promise you!

renovation nineteen: wasp

Guess what. Another Kay Ryan style poem. I have to shake this out of me (well okay, I don’t have to, I just think I want to add more variety), but maybe the best way to do that is to just write as many as I can… anyway, they’re good for crazy days at work when I have limited time for prompts. Like this one!:

1. “It isn’t easy to catch a living / thing and hold it…” (Diane Seuss, “Toad”)
2. “That all you want is Fame?” (J. Patrick Lewis, “At the Crossroad, Highways 61 and 49)
3. “The one I love will be the one who says…” (me, “Berkshire Blazon”)
4. something unknown that glows in the dark
5. Invent a plausible fact about an object that comes in pairs or sets.
BONUS. Use at least one word with at least five syllables.
ALTERNATE (2). “Everyone said she was a clever woman.” (Margaret Atwood, “Marrying the Hangman”)

I could say that there’s something deeper to this story than there is, but maybe you’ll figure out something I haven’t. I’ll borrow the dictum we have in workshop: if I could have said anything else about the “backstory” here, I would have put it in the poem.

(wasp)

We flinched
when it settled
on Risha’s thumb.
Her pinch was
delicate, fingers
thick from needles
cupped to
envelop it. Wings
pricked the light
as she cast it
out the window–
and then
we could breathe.
Stuck fast with
inconsequential
things, pulled
loose by a pluck
whose ease
was so gentle.

renovation eighteen: storms, november

I kept turning this one over trying to do something with it, but dammit, it’s just not sticking. Here’s the prompt:

1. “Please God, or whomever, get it over with already…” (John Gallaher, “In a Landscape: IV”)
2. “Because the eye has a short shadow…” (Naomi Shihab Nye, “Fundamentalism”)
3. “Water is cello music.” (me, “Little Kanawha River”)
4. a pile of wet leaves
5. Consider how your life has been improved or complicated by a certain piece of technology.
BONUS. Include five internal slant rhymes, four internal full rhymes, three end slant rhymes, two end full rhymes, and (optionally) a partridge in a pear tree.
ALTERNATE (1). “That was until I realized I was American.” (Ken Chen, “Child of Immigrants” from “Brief Lives”)

And I wanted to write about the strange disconnect between seeing the destruction in the Midwest yesterday vs. the very placid post-blown-out-storm front this morning. It was beautiful here, really, and the peculiarity of that is not lost in me. Damned if I could get it into words though, let alone an(other) unseamed sonnet. Crazy days at work don’t help much either.

(storms, november)

The spent storm rolled through, shaking the sky,
and morning was all frail light. The yard was gilded
with leaves, and the wells were cold with water.
Someone will take up the blower, the rake,
and discard the evidence. It will hum in the gutter.
Soon each part of this part of the world will dry,
save yesterday’s paper left out in its plastic sack.
Ink bleeds. But the photos of ruin remain clear
from the front’s tornadoes out west: people take
what they can, and no longer trust the air.
Someone will talk about seeing the bigger picture,
which seems so senseless. There is some cruelty
up above. It must seem we’re ripe for the picking,
like we’ve doubted the earth, its teeth, its curvature.

renovation twelve: ars poetica: honeysuckle

First Snow was this morning. I don’t know if I should celebrate it proper, though, since none of it stuck to the city and it was over pretty quickly. But considering how often I’ve been griping about things lately, and feeling as though I could really use some kind of break, it was at least a momentary bit of happiness (cold, wet happiness) on a grey morning. And then I beasted through this prompt, which, upon completion, will mark 40% of the way through the month. Still trucking along!

1. “A builder and a doubter.” (Tom Sleigh, “The Parallel Cathedral”)
2. “I moved my chair into sun.” (Jane Hirshfield, “I sat in the sun”)
3. “When I get to the bottom, I’ll swallow myself whole.” (me, “Indulgences”)
4. chopsticks
5. Describe what you actively do (not what you feel or think) when something you’ve been waiting for turns out to be not as amazing as you expected.
BONUS. Keep the first and second person out of the poem, at least outwardly. Or go further, and keep all humans off the surface entirely.
ALTERNATE (5). Describe what you actively do for luck, superstition, or just compulsion, in order to have something turn out the way you expect.

I keep thinking about this honeysuckle plant I was dealing with over the weekend. When it’s not in bloom or leafy, it’s basically just this mass of red-brown wire twined around everything else in the garden, living and unliving alike. I was trying to cut back specific non-honeysuckle plants, so I ended up unwrapping its curls from around other twigs and trying to bolster it with the fencepost. Probably it will be trimmed later; maybe then I’ll write a poem about what editing’s like. Still, I thought of the symmetry between the miniscule variations of growth that make it take its shape, and the similar careful choices of a poem.

Also, I thought a bit about Sharon Olds. One poet I know describes her poems as being careful in their awkwardness, which lends them a unique feel and effect. Just a little experiment in that direction, here.

(ars poetica: honeysuckle)

Writing a poem is delicate as plant-work, like
honeysuckle curled around a fence. Every piece
seems like a new pluck of words and
carefully pierced phrases, the sugar stars
white in June, the root tenacious, the harsh
tea-color vine clung to the chain-link in November.
This is how poetries are. One of them
concerned with chasing the sun armors itself
with leaves. It does not let on to the one
whose nectar is slim and ready underneath. Nor
the parasitic bit-by-bit that spirals up and down
other twigs clambering for attention, quiet and
subtle and close to the ground. By now, this
naked material catches frost easy and curls
inward for warmth. It burrows at last again
into the dirt, heavy with itself, seeing another
way it might have started and might have gone.

renovation nine: nymphs

Just a quickie. This morning there was much yardwork, which grew this poem out of the ground. And then I wanted to write something Kay Ryan-ish today as well. I need to get food, and then get home, for more family stuff… running rings round these parts. But I didn’t want to wait too late to get this prompt up:

1. “Haunt me with deities I never saw.” (George Santayana, “There may be chaos still around the world”)
2. “Your measureless compassion will be sweet.” (Sophie Jewett, “Defeated”)
3. “I see the muscles move beneath the naked skin…” (me, “Henosis”)
4. gardening paraphernalia (pruning shears, trowels, etc.)
5. Discuss some things one can do for recovery, without settling on one or the other as the right way.
BONUS. Write a poem in the style of a poet you admire.
ALTERNATE (2). “…today, the dusky seaside sparrow / became extinct.” (Alison Hawthorne Deming, “Science”)

And I didn’t get all of these into what I wrote I think; I had more, but trimmed it out to be more sparing. But, better something that nothing.

(nymphs)

Cutting back the garden’s
unmade bed, shapes
accuse from the eye’s
periphery. Shutting a gate
hardens into the idea of
some muse dead to history
whose look could crack
old slate. No matter
that handiwork clears
a mind and its scatter.
Spirits to banish, who blunt
the shears, are required.
Roots must have teachers
of the kind of rough edges
well-known to survivors.

renovation four: seraphim

I’d like to mention that I’ve noticed several people doing the daily prompts, which is awesome! I’ll find some time to go through and read/comment, hopefully this evening (when I’m not working on this report thing I have to do), and I encourage anyone else who’s doing them to leave links in the comments as well.

Since I woke up early today thanks to Daylight Savings, I managed to get most of the prompt done in the morning, and just finished cleaning up my draft. Here’s the nuts and bolts we have to work with today:

1. “but there is a lot of color before their vanishing     and a name” (C.D. Wright, “Imaginary June”)
2. “We can be happy, and forget our doom.” (George Santayana, “Sonnet XXV”)
3. “Praise be to the tired back and stooped neck.” (me, “Gauguin’s Washerwomen”)
4. a crossword puzzle
5. Explain the physical feeling you get when something different from what you expected, but not unpleasant, happens in the morning.
BONUS. Enjamb every line (except the last).
ALTERNATE (2). “I’m carrying my box of faces.” (Naomi Shihab Nye, “One Boy Told Me”)

And here’s the semi-fiction that came out of it:

(seraphim)

Going out for the Times before dawn, the pavement warm
and wet under my feet, I see the moths’ peppermint color
stark against the brick. They are mating on a rivulet,
two leaf wings tucked into two leaf wings washed by water
poured from the gutter. I’ve been fixing the wiring; fetching paper
was supposed to be my last act before bed. But I stand here
motionless, watching these moths quiver. I think of Alex,
hundreds of miles away and also alone, almost call to tell him,
listen, there are these two luna moths… Soon, they rise
shy and soft at odd angles into the air, all business,
a parting spiral and that’s all. The adult luna has no mouth
to kiss or speak with, only the desperate body. And Alex and I
haven’t spoken in years, yet all I think of is that morning
when he crept out of my house, and we separated just like this,
slow, silent orbits, hooks of want tugging free. Now, the moths
carry me one loose thread at a time. I know the pieces of myself
by the air they’re lost on. I am so weary and so content.

Yeah, yeah, it’s a little bit sappy. What can I say.