oulipost 8: trickster god

Ah, the best laid plans. I’d intended to get ahead a bit on the poems for the month tonight, since it’s my freest night of the week (and I likely won’t get another this free for a while), but instead I just goofed off all evening. I did meet my quota for today (four), but so much for getting ahead of the curve a bit. This is for Oulipost, prompt the eighth: to write a beau présent poem, that only uses words made from the letters of a chosen name. The first proper name I came across in the paper was “Tom Hiddleston“, so I had a decent set to work with… here’s what I came up with, in my addled, sleep-needing state.

Trickster God Discusses Eschatology

Most destinies end in demolition:
no stone is stolen, totems melted,
losses on most hostiles. The demons
tithe hedonism to someone
to sit on the demolished hill,
toss some lemon-lime Stoli shots,
hidden in time’s slitted middle. Noontide,
tell the middlemen, slide the loose shot
to the noiseless tents stood in omission.
Inside, the middens on the lines
host mementos, denied modesties,
the Deeds Not Mentioned. Some
is set to one side to see its old edition;
most is led onto the sled, soon to
the sentiment mills, then deletion.

resonance six

A bit late on this one… I’ve been incredibly lazy this weekend for no definable reason. But what’s weird is that my laziness has been punctuated by bursts of getting shit done. I woke up early to accomplish all kinds of tasks by noon, and then proceeded to loaf and laze and lounge my way through the rest of the day, more or less. Maybe my blood sugar is too low or something? Anyway, tomorrow I start the other workshop, which is pretty cool. Not sure what I’ll bring yet, though; I had hoped to get something new in order, but at this point in the evening it’s unlikely. Maybe I’ll cave and try to write something decent to a prompt, since that’s usually good for a jolt to the brain.

I’m also going to try and update this blog more than once a week; keep an eye or two (or three?) peeled for a few reviews and Interesting Announcements that I will make when I have the wherewithal. But I’m pretty out of wherewithal for the evening; all that will have to wait.

It’s all I can muster to get together something for resonance six this evening. There is currently a mix of classic, little-known, fantastic, and awful 80s music ringing out from the kitchen, most of which my roommate is singing along to. It has me thinking about the idea of “retro” as cultural cachet, and wondering whether any generation realizes, in the thick of it, that eventually their music/style/celebrities will be appropriated by their children. I look around at the state of such things nowadays and feel nonplussed that that could ever happen with what I grew up with, but give it another ten years, and I’m sure they’ll be having 90s parties (even — yikes — 00s parties), finding new value in what I’ve taken for granted, ultimately paying no heed to (even though it’s buried forever in my cultural consciousness).

Therefore, tonight we’re going to look back, and then look forward to look back: a poetry in the future perfect, if you will. Start by making a list of places, people, songs, words, anything that have changed in your estimation from one point of time in your past to the present. Maybe you had a notion of France before you traveled there that has become, in the now, very different; maybe the person you thought your aunt was has been undone by crime, or Alzheimer’s, or an unexpected revelation. Each item in your list (let’s say, ten things) should have at least two qualities to show that progression from A to B. Try to vary it a little bit, too: get specific and abstract, get personal and political.

Next, take ten things in your life that you’ve only encountered, or at least formed a solid developed opinion on, in the past year. It could be someone you’ve just met recently, it could be a place you’ve never heard of before, it could be the Wikipedia featured article. Gather ten things that are new to the sphere of your consciousness, and list one descriptor for each of them that sums up how you feel.

Now for the weird part. Begin your poem with a time phrase that sets it in the future: you can be as vague as “Before I die, I will…” or as specific as “Next Thursday, at three o’clock…” Project yourself forward to that date. You don’t have to make it a first-person poem, but allow your view of these places and people to color them when they appear in the poem (because yes, they’re going to appear). Next, you’re going to look for connections between your two lists: maybe some of the items on your first list have trajectories like mystical—disappointment (your idea of Italy?), aloof—traumatized (your childhood neighbor’s daughter?), a chore—a way to relate to my parents (Church on Sundays?), etc. Then look for items on your second list that echo either “mystical” or “disappointment”, and pair them with Italy. Look for items on your second list that are either chores or points of parental connection. Consider these new things in your life as they relate to what is already present, either as it is now, or as you used to see it.

Try to form metaphors and similes and make-likes that draw these lines for the reader in fun or interesting ways. (“My first taste of the air at Genoa / could not have been less like the emerald salt / I imagined. Santa does not exist; / all dogs do not go to heaven; / the spray off the cliffs was too familiar / mud, and sedge, and sunburned thorn.”) You can populate your poem with as many as you want, but ultimately, you are projecting into the future, and the overarching theme of the poem is how will you come to terms with change, or transformation, either in general, or for one/some/all of the things specifically? How will the things that have recently entered your life change in the future, and how will you deal with that, given your past experiences and how you associate them with the now?

Let that inform the structure and content of your poem, and possibly even the voice of it. It’s an exercise that can be uncomfortable — I think as material beings, we are programmed to avoid thinking about mortality and time in this way — but writing our way through it helps. If you feel the spirit move you to do so, please come back to share; I’m curious to see what comes out of this one in particular!

resonance three

This just in: apparently my prompts can be confusing! Sorry guys. In regards to the last one, what I meant by “scatterplot” wasn’t anything from a statistics course, I just meant a bunch of dots drawn on a page. I thought having some kind of visual connect-the-dots component might be nifty, but I suppose I should have given an example. :P This week’s will be easier!

I’m a bit dismayed at not being at the Winter Getaway this year. I had family things to attend to this weekend, and although I had considered driving down for an evening’s jaunt, being sick + the threat of snow + everything going on dissuaded me sufficiently. So now I am just wrapped in many blankets and curled in my bed, typing a prompt. I hope that will do to keep the poetic juices flowing for today at least. I need to fashion an ice pick out of words to start chipping away at the layers that have accreted to my brain, to help speed along the thaw.

So, I’m going to keep resonance three a lot simpler. I’ve been noticing a lot of moments today with interplays of color; rolling with that as a theme, along with a few other nimble techniques of crafting the word. First, pick two colors (blue and white? red and purple? black and chartreuse?) and assign a texture, tint, or some other quality to each one. You might say “metallic blue” or “soft rose” or “dull jade”. Get an idea of what material you might be considering, whether it’s pure light, or a piece of fabric, or something else entirely. Allow one color/texture combination to fall upon the other, and place it within a setting: a kitchen, a park bench, a DMV office. Show the setting with objects or people or sounds rather than just telling us where in one place or another.

You can consider how these colors might catch your attention in that location, or they might be incidental details that distract you from a larger story. You can create this scenario, or just keep an eye peeled during your day for the first moment when the colors come to life in some interesting way. But however it is, jot it down and keep that experience in your pocket and leave it for a bit; because then, you’re going to wait until something reminds you of it. Maybe you’re suddenly struck by a “liquid bronze” (sunlight) against a “cold granite” (countertop) spilled next to a carafe of orange juice (in your kitchen), and two days later you’re reminded of it by a fire in a trash can covered with dirty snow. Or maybe someone talking about countertops will remind you of it; or maybe just drinking orange juice. Allow the senses to re-awaken this memory, real or unreal, and allow yourself to consider the connections between these two moments.

Now, begin to write. Consider the tone of each moment and how they differ, as well as how they’re similar. Try to stay within the realm of description; don’t allow your thoughts to carry you too far away from concrete details. Who is present, what are you doing, what are you wearing, what smells surround you? Play around with narrative structure: do you want to write about the second occurrence reminding you of the first, or the first foreshadowing the second? Overall, the sense we should get is that these moments of connection never happen in isolation: they add a layer of emotion that transforms and is transformed by what they link together. If you were lonely and quiet in the kitchen, then full of adrenaline in the alleyway with the trash can fire, how do those experiences affect each other through the lens of their shared tissue, those colors? It might be a tenuous connection, but try to use words to bolster it, making it strong enough for your reader to walk on.

Notice I said it might be a little bit easier to follow this prompt, not harder to execute. :) Take the time to really understand and be with it, then by all means come back and share it. If you really want to make it hard on yourself, write a poem in two stanzas of equal length, balancing these two visions. Happy writing!

renovation fifteen: sleepless

Not much time for chatter today. I will just say, I’m astonished we’ve gotten halfway through the month so far. Let’s see if I’ve got another half-month in me. The prompt:

1. “On the web there are no days…” (Jillian Weise, “Evangelize Your Love”)
2. “Now put that worm on your hook.” (Natasha Trethewey, “Flounder”)
3. “What is the color the wisest grifter takes?” (me, “The Peacock Room”)
4. plywood
5. Outline a distant memory that you’re pretty sure you remember wrong.
BONUS. Use uncertainty as a device in the poem: give alternatives and misdirections, stop short of declaration, let all your verbs be in the realm of the not-quite-real.
ALTERNATE (4). a deck of playing cards

…and my attempt:

(sleepless)

Soon enough I would fumble my way
down to the kitchen’s stale yellow gleam
where my grandmother sat,
the spak of cards on Formica as she played
game after game of solitaire. There might be
the offer of water in a royal blue cup
or maybe Wonder Bread and peanut butter
and cold milk. But even then, I too would know
how night can pull, how you can get
caught on the hot barbs of its murmur
as it passes. So many shy things
demanding attention, then: the fan’s slow cut,
the rustle of sycamores on the street. Or
the water’s meniscus spilling over a cup’s rim
which I would touch to my lips
as I climbed the stairs again, drinking
because I could not speak, could not say how
I learned what these moments were for.

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.

Where Were You When

Y’all know that I don’t really get political on here too much, or break out of the personal/observational very often into the “real world”. But We Write Poems is asking for poems that show our age, and this is one interpretation (the generational one, I suppose) on that theme. Probably there will be others. I don’t know that there’s anything deep and significant to this piece, except that it’s more of a general musing about the question being asked, removed (at least partially) from any specific moment. I have my specifics, and you all have yours. I hope at least that it’s relatable.

Where Were You When

It’s that Question you can only whisper at first,
afraid to be overheard. At least for a while. Then, years later,
when you’re shouting over the dive-bar din, clinking glasses,
shoving shoulders, or on the street hailing a cab, or summer,
smoking grass behind someone’s too-good-to-be-true apartment,
it breaks through. It cracks open that dam of silence.
My father talks about Kennedy and Woodstock and the moon
at arm’s length, remembering when they first started out
brilliant as the sun, spangled into our national narrative
and too dangerous to look at directly. For me,
it was to see two aluminum eagles drunk and stupid
plunge into the towers with terrible speed. All of us
glued to the TV set, watching again and again, too close
but not quite close enough, too old to be innocent
and too young to do anything that could make the world right.
The Question is not meant for the people caught in the spotlight.
But we all need to feel like part of something greater.
This tapestry in every color, knotted at one end to each tragedy
and flashbulb of wonder, we build with constant weaving.
It becomes a hood to ease the night. Or a banner to wave.
Or a blanket for the dead of winter, which we stretch
over ourselves, over candlelight and hushed love,
each of us there for our own reasons, but still there,
picking out the threads which are familiar and tracing them
to find the points where we cling together.

Exterior

TGIF indeed, ladies and germs.

I’ve got this incipient cycle of poems that are for a certain persona. Not sure where it’s going to go, but I’ll probably be focused on them for the next couple of weeks, and drafting not-so-often here. (Although I said I was cutting down anyway.) And I put in for vacation from the 6th to the 15th of June (plus the weekend after, so really the 17th), which I hope will be a much-needed jolt of relaxation and time for writing. Not sure if I’m going to travel anywhere yet, but the Berkshires are looking mighty tempting if I can swing it, as is Montréal. But hell, even just reclining at home would be nice. And my sister-in-law is due in mid-June, so I’ll probably want to stay around these parts to go home for any impending becoming-an-uncle…

Speaking of having time to write, that was one of the key components in my poem for Sam Peralta’s prompt at dVerse, to write a glosa. I’ve seen this form before, but I don’t think I’ve ever tried it before: it involves taking a four-line snippet of a well-known poem, doing four ten-line stanzas off it that successively end with each of the four lines, and rhyming lines six and nine in each with the last. (Plus, tipping your hat to the poet’s style helps.) Since it’s often a tribute form, I chose a dead poet I’ve been admiring more and more lately, Jane Kenyon, and used her poem “Dutch Interiors” as the basis for mine. This character of the merchant’s wife, so cryptic yet elegant, interests me. I started thinking about what Kenyon’s personal heaven might be like, and wondered if there was an echo to be found in this poem that is ultimately a slightly cheeky take on the presence of the divine.

But, you know, just read it as you will. I wrote it as such.

Exterior

And the merchant’s wife, still
in her yellow dressing gown
at noon, dips her quill into India ink
with an air of cautious pleasure.
~ Jane Kenyon, “Dutch Interiors”

This is what comes, after:
always the sun just beyond reach,
a fat bumblebee in the blossom
gathering pollen to make time
(which will seep and slowly flow)
but too drunk. He never will.
Instead all things are frozen:
the room, the table, the water glass
forever beginning to spill,
and the merchant’s wife– still.

Far below her, the counting-houses
churn their presses, the fisherman’s
fishing, and the king is up a tree.
When you’ve no more life left,
how dazzling to see it spread out
for writing! She gazes down:
what else to do but memorize
the flicker of light on silver scales
and the color of the king’s crown
in her yellow dressing gown?

And she forgets the feel of silk
and the tumbling coin’s sonata.
Only the words, now. The words
join together in her like knots of wind
meeting overhead. Up here,
it is all the glory of watch and think,
waiting for the sun to start up again.
And she feels its wings click close
as her hymn reaches its brink
at noon, dips her quill into India ink.

The merchant’s wife, who is poised
without need, who smiles when
there’s nobody to smile at, knows
when things are too good to be true,
and when they’re just good enough.
This place: she’s taken its measure.
In other houses, other bargains:
but here she is content to be a hand
spilling its simple treasure
with an air of cautious pleasure.