poem-a-thon 20: year of plenty

A friend of mine coined the term Weedster for today. Groan. I’ll just leave that there.

After my blaze of writing yesterday, all the food and family and travel today just tripped my circuit breaker, I think, and I’m unreasonably mad about it (even though the aforementioned events were all lovely, I suppose). It’s ten o’clock and I still have one more poem to go, and I’m not going to get done any of the stuff I actually need to get done for tomorrow. There’s a lot of things I’m frustrated about tonight, and I can’t allot myself enough time to be frustrated about them all…in the long run, I guess it’s a good thing, but in the here-and-now, not so much.

NaPoWriMo wanted a poem in the voice of a family member, but you know what, I already did one of those before. So I’m doing a bullshit nature flowering cherry poem in a Kay Ryan style because there’s nothing else I can think of, and wasted a title on it. (We did talk about the flowering cherry in the yard today, and the bees. There’s the family connection.) Enjoy!

Year of Plenty

Bees cloak
the sour cherry tree,
fuzzed collectors
flower-choked on
their own nectarology. We
who carry along
wingless see their story
buzzed from every
burst pinkish hollow–
how to pull beauty
loose, to counteract
what misery may follow.
We too circle
begging a year of plenty–
but the cropped trees
which are most fertile
are first to drop pale money,
selfless as bees
of which we have many.

poem-a-thon 19: liberation

Feeling a lot more refreshed today: I can actually swallow without pain again! Take that, strep.

So we’re moving into the last decan of April, and I do feel a little bit more in tune with my poem-brain this morning; two down, one to go for the day (and maybe a bonus one for my pocket if I’m lucky). NaPoWriMo gave a list of seashells with peculiar names as the prompt, and I’m actually pretty happy I more or less worked in four of them (incised moon, Lazarus’ jewel box, sparse dove, unequal bittersweet), kept to my Poem-a-thon theme of queer youth struggle, and got a little Ryanesque voice in there around some unpacked Catholic school hangups. Not so bad for a morning’s work, I’d say, even if it got a little obtuse in the execution.

Since I’m at home while the Easter preparations are going on, obviously there’s a lot of religious topics on my mind, and also there’s not much to do (as I don’t want to get bacteria in the food or anything). I’ll try to be more active and firebrandy today and tomorrow. To wit, why don’t you go donate a bit? If you enjoy my writing, help save some lives…

Liberation

How we scoured the testaments
looking for hidden theology:
hours considering Jonathan’s
sentiments for David, or how,
unbidden, the Beloved Apostle came
from Galilee to bow beneath the cross.
Or Lazarus, uncovered,
unbound: imagine how he thought
he’d lost the incised moon forever
to the merciless ground.
Who but a lover would open up
his jewel box of miracles and release
the most precious? We hoped
by reading between the lines
that these sparse doves of peace
could let us sleep easy.
No youth’s heart of hearts beats
abomination. We only wanted
truth instead of this– haunted
with complication, unequal, bittersweet.

resonance nine

The hair-plans have met with rollicking success! Please observe:

Photo on 2014-03-01 at 14.59

I’m pretty satisfied with how it turned out; people’s reactions at work and among friends have varied along the spectrum from “bemused” to “baffled”, but I can live with that. Terms such as “algae fire” and “electric grass” have been bandied about. The intent is to keep touching it up as it fades (being semi-permanent dye), so that there is a constant ebb and flow of color throughout. And then after the roots come in, I’ll bleach the new bits and start adding in a different color scheme that goes well, before beginning to trim out the upper bits. It’s this whole complicated procedure that I’m totally in love with, and do not regret one whit. ^_^

Everyone’s off at AWP right now, and I’m a mix of jealous and indifferent. Last year, I really did want to go — Boston is not so far, after all — but I knew from the get-go that I couldn’t afford the trip this year, since my would-be-crash-pad friend has decamped from Seattle for New Zealand. (She couldn’t handle the thought of me visiting so much that she literally had to go to the other side of the world.) I don’t know that I believe all the hype, though; it seems like the Dodge on steroids, and while I enjoyed the Dodge, it won’t save your life or anything. There’s this whole machine with the MFAs and journals and people throwing shade on anyone who doesn’t fit their paradigm and too many panels to see everything you want and exclusive parties and so on and so forth… I’d rather just relax, and write, and have the superpower of summoning any poets I want to dialogue with, via some kind of rip in space-time. But until that happens, I’ve been tagging various posts and Tweets with #nawp to signify “not-AWP” or “not at AWP”, as well as channel a bit of Whitman. I do hope everyone’s having a good time, but someone needs to balance things out a bit…

Enough of that. Let’s talk about resonance nine. This year I’ve been on a book-a-week reading frenzy, and have just finished book #12 (ahead of the game! wooo), which was Ballistics by Billy Collins. I’ve never read a book-length collection of his before, and it created a mix of emotions. (I should do a proper review of it. Consider this a mini version.) There are individual poems of his that I’ve been dazzled by, but as with any collection, this one had the gristle in with the meat, and some of them just seemed two-dimensional. He often seems to be (in this collection, at least) a poet of stumbling across a slightly odd everyday experience, and then turning it into a portrait of “Billy Collins considers X”, which I’d say works well about 50% of the time, works brilliantly about 20% of the time, and then just elicits a shrug for the rest. (Granted, that’s a ratio better than most poets that try the same.) But it did get me thinking about that as a process, and how it can be turned into an activity that we can use for some generative work.

Make a list with at least one element in each of the following categories: an object lying around your house; a view in one direction from wherever you’re sitting; a mundane personal detail; a place you’ve been frequently; a place you’ve never been, but often dream about going; a nameless stranger you encountered (and what the encounter was); a factoid you read in a book; and an emotion too complicated to be summed up by one word. Try to get at least two elements for each category here, and be as authentic and detailed as you can. (Better to develop extensively and not use everything than to leave us in some kind of vague dark.)

Now you’re going to half-create the prompt yourself, like a mathematical formula. Come up with a list of connections that will enable you to attach one of these elements to another: some suggestions might be as it relates towhich reminds me ofwhich suggestsfound increating a sense thatindicating that, etc. To give a brief example, let’s say I filled in the first three categories with “a box of champagne flutes”, “the trash in the alley closed off by corrugated metal”, and “I have defined veins on my hands.” Then I used the connections found in and which reminds me of, to create a string like “a box of champagne flutes, shattered, might be found in the trash in the alley closed off by sheets of metal, corrugated and battered like the veins running over my hands.” Allow it to transform and flow freely, before starting to follow the order of operations here. I might turn such a stream-of-consciousness thought into a short poem about breakage, frailty, and feeling unwanted, but still acknowledging the sharp, sinister, and graceful quality of that wreckage (both literal and metaphorical).

The challenge here is to take these square pegs and fit them into round holes, while making them artful. Streams of consciousness happen. Don’t try to dam, ford, leap, or otherwise avoid them; follow the current like a leaf bobbing down the water. A lot of this is, I feel, the way we approach the world “poetically” to begin with, sorting out information in our heads, linking it together with our brains’ capacity for connection, and then slowly shaping it into thought, followed by (if we are so inclined) words. I have no idea if Billy Collins does his poems of everyday experience like this, but it’s what reverberated for me after reading his work. I’ll close with one parting thought: the most important thing you can do after this exercise is cut stuff out. Allow everything to link together with all its sopping mess, and then carefully prune it down into something that fits your aesthetic of what a poem should be. (Which may be very different from mine, or someone else’s, of course.)

As always, you are welcome and encouraged to come drop a link to what you come up with in the comments. But if you’d rather just keep it to yourself… so be it!

resonance one

~pulling out the ice-chipper, the snow-brush, the dust-cloth, and the polish-rag~

Yes, yes, let’s dispense with the obvious stuff. I took a month (five weeks, even) to regroup, which was maybe a bit longer than planned. But some important things have happened in that time. Namely, I moved apartments and I got a new job. Those of you who follow my life at all know that living on couches and hating every second of the work week were the main stressors on my existence for the last several months, and it was an excellent idea to take the time to address those. And once I gave up on 2013 entirely, it was much easier to just coast through it, allow the good to turn up, and suffer through the rest. (There were also the winter holidays to get through, which ate a lot of energy.)

I’ve been doing some thinking about hubris. I think I entered the year with a lot of it, saying I was going to grab 2013 by the horns and make it work for me; what I got instead was the second worst year of my life. A lot of the Taoism I espouse fell by the Wayside, which was a mistake. So I’m going into this new year with resolve (not resolutions) and reserve (not reservations). That applies to my writing life that I seek to jumpstart once again, and really all the other aspects of life that need some charge. Instead of setting out for concrete achievements, perhaps I’ll try to form good habits, just one at a time, and let that build into a better lifestyle. It may not be as earthshaking as when people say “I am going to skydive this year!!” or whatever, but I think it will make me feel like a happier person in the end, and hopefully good stuff will follow along the way.

(There’s a tipsy burn in my mouth. I think the cute barista added way more vanilla extract than required to this latte, and it’s all sunk to the bottom. Perhaps he is trying to sauce me up?)

Anyway, the point is that I’m in a much better place than I was back in the fall, for all of my grandstanding. Today I had the first real poem of the year come upon me, shaped out of the events of yesterday, full-formed and ready for the page. (I was in the shower at the time, so you can imagine how awkward that was.) And that gives me confidence and renewed vigor; I’m going to resist the urge to tug at it, and just let it wash on through. What I do want to do is get into the prompts again, since that kept the engine running on this blog when I had nothing else to fuel it with. And as is my wont, I’ve been going with Resonance as a working title, for one of those abstract re- words I love so much. There’s not going to be a particular structure or theme to the prompts, and I may not always give an example poem of my own, but I’ll do my best to keep them up through the year. At least I’ll try for once a week. Maybe Margo needs some Saturday/Sunday bits to fill the rolls…?

So here we have resonance one, fairly mechanical in nature, which you can take as much of as you will for the sake of a poem: Begin by finding three segments of text, not too long, not very sensational. They could be newspaper headlines, short paragraphs from the novel you’re reading, whatever. Try to re-write one of them by replacing each content word (nouns, verbs, and adjectives especially) with its antonym, or at least a very different word with the same part of speech: explosion might become construction, red could change to bluewalking shifts into flying. The new phrase should make sense, though: what you want to do is create a space bounded by the original text and this new one, an area that is a spectrum fading from one to the other.

Develop your ideas in this space. You might decide to address the how or the why: how did that explosion lead to a (new) construction, and why would that (insert noun here) change from red to blue? The theme of this poem is transition and change, and making sense of these inexplicable shifts. Additional challenge: incorporate any ideas generated by the other two bits of text you found. Maybe the nouns you pull from the others can be woven into the body of the poem to become symbols, or the verbs you pull will give your subject more animation. But here is the cardinal guideline: ask yourself the questions you want to answer with the poem, on the subject you’ve created with mirrors. And then, by the end, do answer them.

I know that’s a lot of wiggly stuff to start off the year; I will try to come up with an example if I can. I think I know what I mean, at least. But that cute barista’s sly smile is getting to me, so I think it will have to wait until later. For now, it’s good to be back, and I will endeavor to be more present; I wish you all the same!

renovation twenty-eight: thanksgivingukkah

I know, I know, so late! But there was so much family stuff, and so much food, and I just could not get it together at a reasonable time. I’m taking care of things now before going back down to have board games time with my brothers. Hopefully everyone is enjoying their Thursday/holiday, whichever it may be. But for those who need some late evening activities, here is the prompt:

1. “…with the cities growing over us…” (W.S. Merwin, “Thanks”)
2. “And under the old roof we gather once more…” (Edgar Albert Guest, “Thanksgiving”)
3. “This is the afterlife of lying and waiting.” (me, “Valley of the Kings”)
4. a map of something cosmological
5. Describe what is unique about this moment, right now.
BONUS. Have your poem’s first and last line start with the same word.
ALTERNATE (1). “Insects nudge me in my dreams.” (Hoa Nguyen, “Swell”)

…and here is the poem that grew out of it for me, having heard “gobble tov” all day and seen the posts on social media and all. The “we” here is the universal we.

(thanksgivingukkah)

When two such holidays click into place at once,
I find myself thankful to have heard the calculation
that this fortunate spin won’t happen again
for however many millennia, and then knowing
our choices are all half chance and half foretold
by ancestors lying awake at night, thinking of us
eating turkey and trading gelt at candlelit tables,
this moment of generations knotted together
which we’ll tell our children about someday,
when they too must hide from a high, icicle moon.

renovation twenty-three: compassion

You can tell by the fact that I’m posting this at noon on a Saturday that a) I woke up earlier than I should have for a weekend, b) I did not put nearly enough thought into this prompt, and c) I’ve got Things To Do this afternoon. But we’re only one week from the big finish! And at the very least, I feel as though I am in a writerly mode for the foreseeable future, tempered by the fact that I am changing jobs (hopefully to less stress), and hopefully getting an apartment soon. Less stress = more happy writer things. Hell, maybe I’ll even submit something before the end of the year.

For now, here’s this prompt:

1. “People will not let me in / to their warm gardens / full of bees.” (Janet Loxley Lewis, “Austerity”)
2. “…but the rain won’t give.” (Rita Dove, “November for Beginners”)
3. “I am the proof you’re dreaming of.” (me, “Ovillejo for Myself at Sixteen”)
4. an oil stain
5. Consider how a thing you take for granted can be seen multiple ways.
BONUS. Have the title be a single abstract noun. Have the poem be a single sentence that somehow explains it.
ALTERNATE (1). “Called to, a thousand times, I never looked back.” (Ezra Pound, “The River-Merchant’s Wife: a Letter”)

The bonus came out of the direction I went in for the randomly invented narrative. So I hope you’ll be able to roll with it…!

(compassion)

For example, the first time
since she got out that,
while limping towards
her rusted orange Beetle
weighed down by groceries
and the accusing stares,
one of the bag boys
did not simply watch her
limping across the asphalt
with her feet splashing
rainbow puddles of water
and slick, but instead
came out into the drizzle
and hefted her bags over
one quarterback shoulder,
thinking about civics class
where they discussed
Justice and her blindness,
how she being blind can
still hear old murderesses
with burns on their cheeks
repeating I did not do it
without believing them,
then feel their weight
shake for want of strength
and stretch out a pale arm
like this one, automatic,
the way worlds must
hold themselves together,
here and now, where
what’s come before
doesn’t matter anyway.

renovation seven: what blood

Sorry for the delay today, you guys; it was kind of a hectic Thursday. I’m a little bit paranoid about saying why on the blog, but if the near future goes well, perhaps I will be able to eventually. How delightfully cryptic of me, n’est-ce pas?

Anyway, here is today’s prompt:

1. “Beyond the carrots and blind white worms…” (Rachel McKibbens, “deeper than dirt”)
2. “Bloody hell, the world’s turned / upside down.” (Cally Conan-Davies, “Ace”)
3. “One of these houses cannot be found on maps.” (me, “Moving Day”)
4. a long, broken zipper
5. Describe as best you can the palpable feeling of nostalgia in a particular place.
BONUS. Make the poem a series of grammatically complete sentences, each of which is no shorter than four lines.
ALTERNATE (5). Describe the palpable opposite of nostalgia: the anxiety at confronting something from your recent past that you haven’t had to deal with lately.

And here’s what I came up with, which kind of keys off a discussion I had a friend the other day about going back to the first house you lived in and doing the whole “excuse me, I used to live here…” thing. I imagine this doesn’t happen in situations where people grow up in apartments, but I could be wrong. And what do people feel if their building is just gone? My mother and I were talking about nostalgia last night; that informed part of this too.

(what blood)

When the city children return with children
of their own years later, to spell their own prologue
over a sagged thing of brick and wire and
a butternut-colored jalopy, what must they think
to see the old corner lot wrapped in yellow
plastic tape and COMING SOON signs.
The porches have all been ripped off like scabs
and replaced with people flashing by
going from this place to that, and the doormen
will not let these children with children in.
What blood must rush to their head after coming
all this way to draw a line in the dirt with a sword
and upturn a wriggling narrative with the point
as if to explain, no matter how far you go, you leave
the littlest hairs of your roots behind– only to be
turned away from a place that is not theirs,
nor their children’s. The front matter is blanked
from their biography, hanging wide
like a mouth with puzzle teeth that, having
opened too far, finds it cannot shut.

I have a free and clear evening tonight. Perhaps I will cruise around the poetry blogs a bit, catch up on some more writing, practice some headstands… you know, the usual Thursday rubbish. We’ll see.

Time

Oy, it’s been a week. A few things:

First, there are two poets lined up for Refinery! I promise you both that I’ll get to them, and I have read both poems already. I just need to find some time to actually put the thoughts in order and craft them into a post. It’s been incredibly busy at work (the boss is away), so I haven’t been able to work on it then. The evenings have also been pretty chock full of things to take care of, with the roommate away. My hope is to get at least one up by Friday (so Margo will have something to report!), and the other this weekend.

Second, one reason the weekend was so busy is that, holy cats, I did a reading on Sunday evening. So I was freaking out for a few days leading up to it about what to read, would people like it, etc. (I’ve done an open mic here and there, but this was the first time I was a “headliner”, and people paid to get in, and I was up first.) I think it went fairly well; I read eight poems, which got various amounts of applause, and the almighty “Mm!” which is the reading poet’s best friend. Anyone can clap, whether they feel something or not; it takes an actual emotional response to get that Mm!, and you can hear how the audience feels in it. (Fantastic magical realism poem about my grandmother’s house? A wistful, charmed one. Poem about my friend who died of AIDS? One that was ripped out of their throats.) Hoping that there will be other readings to follow, at some point.

And then, the third wrinkle this weekend was a domestic dispute upstairs, followed the next day by a fly infestation in the hallway ceiling, which had me really paranoid for a little while. (I called my roommate from DC, who majored in forensic science, to see how long a body took to start producing flies.) The infestation has blown over, and I don’t think my neighbor killed anyone, but it threw me for a loop. That’s what I get for writing a poem about swarms of black insects, I suppose.

Enough housekeeping natter. Here’s a poem without much substance and originality. “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,” pretty much did the theme as well as it needed to be done, back in the 1600s. But I don’t have rosebuds, I have berries outside the window, and that’s that.

Time

Every morning the temptation by the window:
rain dripping from leaves and berries from vines
climbing the trellis. White paint cracks,
green globes grow red-violet, and pockets
heaped with adverbs give up their loads:
slowly, eventually, soon. The sun escapes
to drop sugarcubes in a pale chipped afternoon.
Thoughts clip to modal verbs: I will, is promised,
I should, is said. A wrapped bolt of summer heat
and summer fruit dangles before the eyes.
Wet, then dry. Who allows the clumps of color
to blacken and fall? Who allows the sparrows
to swallow them, purple staining their beaks
and their music, their shit on the garden wall?
Then consequence closes in like evening glory.
Participles make mist from hot summer ground,
a backwards-traveling song. Its key is minor,
its moral threatening, going, is going, has gone.

Visitation

Had a weird experience at the café tonight, where they played a particular song (Cranberries, “Zombie”) that comes up rarely enough that it always reminds me of a certain deceased classmate of mine from high school. We were never the closest of friends, though I suppose we could have been; sometimes I think we mirrored each other in some ways. But then I feel guilty appropriating his memory like that, and I know there are people much more strongly affected by his passing than me. What is the line? Where do we know where we stand, in relation to the dead? I would feel strange saying “my friend who died”, but I can’t deny that I felt for a minute that he was sitting there across from me, just like the last night I ever saw him. And so this poem kind of spilled out of that into a shape I don’t like, but I’ll cope.

Meanwhile, happy birthday to Tessa!

Visitation

Is there a word in any language for the dead
we did not grieve for? Not to say they were not dear,
only that others have better earned the right to say
I knew him, I knew her. Such a phantom
may appear and sit with you at a dimly-lit café,

and suddenly you remember– the song they’re playing,
the last time you heard it was when you were out
someplace with this ghost brushing hair from his face.
Drinking a tropical drink and smoking a cigarette,
and being alive. Now, it is only the air that passes

between the rungs of a chair, the breeze blown
through the door to bear the musical echo, the smoke
over a cup, or the aftermath. What do we call them?
We do not feel bereaved. What is their noun,
and anyway, who would such a word be for?

meta-blog: readings and ravings and residencies

Get ready for some linkage. Last night was the Sibling Rivalry Press reading in Bryant Park, which was oodles of good clean fun. (Well, maybe not clean, entirely.) Seven excellent poets read, and several more excellent poets were in the audience, and we all had birthday dinner for Bryan afterward. Which was perfectly lovely. I always get so shy and nervous at these things, though, usually sitting there until someone more extroverted ropes me into a conversation. But after being a lurking admirer of the work of people like Eduardo and Stephen for so long, I finally got to talk and hang out with them, which was really cool! And then I am reminded of why it’s always worth it to hang out with fellow poets, and I keep resolving to try and do that more often.

Speaking of readings, I’m doing one at the Cornelia Street Cafe in the West Village on August 25th. It’s on the website and everything now, so it’s official. It will be with two of my fellow workshoppers and our moderator Señor Goetsch; if you’re in the city, do come by and support us! I’m a bit nervous, since this is the first time I’ve read as an invited thing. Open-mic rooms at the Winter Getaway and the Dodge are good practice, but there’s an honest-to-goodness cover charge for this one and everything. We’re opening for Cornelius Eady. What the hell am I going to read. Et cetera. Maybe more than a bit nervous.

But here’s my double thought: it’s not necessary to read publicly, and it’s entirely necessary. Some people are content to write in the privacy of their own space, without ever feeling the need to present their work to the world (Ms. Dickinson, for example), and others have work that, honestly, seems only to work when it’s performed in public (the performance poetry community). (And I know I’m being curmudgeonly, but I just feel very feh about performance poems when I see them written, usually; you can tell when a work demands to be projected from the stage.) But in-between, you have poets that write a body of work which relies on auditory sound as much as it does on the shape of words on a page. You have poems which are fine standing on their own, but they transform into several different poems when read by the author, or other people, or recited and discussed with someone at a cocktail party. I’d say the all-performative camp is the smallest, and the all-secluded camp is the largest, though the Internet has made everyone more interconnected. But I’m fond of being in that intermediate space. I enjoy my work in its silence on the page, or when it’s muttered under my own breath; I hope it has limbs enough to work in a darkened bar next month. The real advantage of public readings, though, a point that last night’s drove home, is the community aspect and the engagement with the voice behind the words. Just sixty seconds of introduction and the barest bit of natter totally changes my opinion of a poet’s voice.

Maybe I’m in the minority on that one. Who knows!

My brother texted me the other day: “Have you ever thought about Yaddo?” And dammit, now I am thinking about it. I don’t feel ready for it; but then, I have no idea how strict they are about the people they take for residencies. And come to think of it, I don’t know much about residencies, period, except that I might like to do one, Yaddo or otherwise. (Advantages of Yaddo: it’s close to home, and I think cheap? If I even got accepted, that is.) I’m saving up money for the Winter Getaway again, but something longer-term, in the order of weeks, would be marvelous. But I wonder what those of us who thrive on noise and chaos do for residencies, since so many of them seem to be back-to-nature kinds of environments. I love unfamiliar places for inspiration, but I also love cities; the most productive I’ve ever been was two days in Buenos Aires. Maybe they have a residency there for wayward American youth.

There’s actually not much raving to this post, more just musing about these various issues of poetic community. But I’m curious about what others think. And as much as I say I’m going to get back into cruising around blogs/responding to comments, I know I’ve not really done as much of that as I should, so I want people to make unreasonable demands of me and get me to do so. Dialogues! Conversations! Have at it!