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.

poem-a-thon 3: prayer for an easy death

A quick update, as it’s been a busy day at work… the NaPoWriMo challenge was to do a “charm” poem as a nursery rhyme/recipe. Honestly, I did not have much time this afternoon, and won’t this evening, so I threw together this simple and depressing (and simply depressing?) little thing. It doesn’t particularly tie into anything else, but I suppose once in a while one needs something simple to stretch out the fingers and the tongue.

To anyone who worries about such things: this is entirely fictive, and I’m fine. Though it doesn’t sound like such a bad way to go.

Prayer for an Easy Death

Saltwater bless me
and candlelight rest me
with sleep again.
Let my solution
to bloodborne pollution
sound in the rain.
Cedarwood in the fire,
come finally unwire
the failing brain.

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 twenty-five: prospect park

Five more days until the end of the month! I honestly can’t believe that I’ve made it this far. And yet, those next five days still seem like an impossible task… but I suppose, by the time next week rolls around, things will be, for better or for worse, advanced to the next stage. And then the week after that, and the one after that.

A friend of mine did a tarot reading last month for me that she said was to be predictive of the next year. November and December both came up as crazy and chaotic, but then it was the up-and-up. I’m going to hope for that kind of thing. There have been moments where my own strength has surprised me, and others where I think I only got by thanks to luck.

Enough small talk. The prompt, an ‘t please thee:

1. “…couples were gathering like flocks of geese…” (Tony Hoagland, “Coming and Going”)
2. “The bark spreads, the roots tighten.” (Louise Bogan, “To a Dead Lover”)
3. “I am too polite for my own good…” (me, “Champs-sur-Yonne”)
4. poker chips
5. Name something that irks you, even though it makes you feel silly.
BONUS. Move through time and tense, grammatically and/or thematically, in the following order of “frames”: present, future, past, present, the unreal or alternative present, and then a real, but undefined and “universal” present.
ALTERNATE (4). a bowl of chowder

And the sort of off-kilter, bizarre narrative that grew from it:

(prospect park)

Tall grass is full of conversation
and lovers are unscrewing thermoses
while I am hunched in the bushes,
quite near. This one stretch of path
bristles with inkberry that I gather
one panicle at a time, very quiet,
trying not to make any noise.
I drop each purple cluster in my sack.
Later, if I am lucky, the juice will turn
to ink that I can write with. Long ago
I promised someone very dear
that I would do this: make paper,
make ink, make language, for her.
And now that the sky has grown
so grey, my unkept promises stand out
in sharp relief like ravens. The sack
droops half-full. Joggers are pounding
somewhere close to my little corner
behind the thorn. I almost wish
storms would open to ruin the day
for these people wasting time
while I am on a mission. Although,
I suppose it’s possible they felt
the same pressure around the temples
that I did. Sometimes these things
which seemed so foolish yesterday
become important. They perch
and clasp you. They drive you
into strange between places like this.

(I’m not sure if my use of “strange between” as adjectives works here, but I’m equally not sure how to punctuate it to make it clearer. Don’t want to say in-between, though, for some reason. Hrmm.)

renovation thirteen: first mourning

OK, I’ll admit that it’s gotten cold now. I’ve been sleeping on a couch under, at last count, five blankets (because we’re trying to keep the heat off if possible; energy saving!), some of which I managed to kick off during the night, which meant I woke up freezing. But a brilliant morning it was; none of yesterday’s mystique, just orange and blue everywhere. It fills one with a grim determination.

Here is the prompt for today. I have to say “hrmpf” about the 2nd option, since that was the entirety of Poetry Foundation’s daily poem today. But, one works with what one must.

1. “I’ll snort your mulling spices.” (Becca Klaver, “Fall Parties”)
2. “Thicker than rain-drops on November thorn.” (Samuel Taylor Coleridge, “Fragment 8″)
3. “And all of it trimmed with wires…” (me, “Pra São Gonçalo”)
4. a violet blanket
5. Refer to an event (perhaps in the title) without giving any details about it.
BONUS. Each line must have a different number of syllables from the one directly preceding it, and the one directly following it. Break this rule up to three times.
ALTERNATE (1). “The chimney is fifty years old and slants to one side.” (Wallace Stevens, “The Plain Sense of Things”)

Again, I ended up doing something very fanciful and spare, where the elements of the prompt barely show through, for the most part. For workshop yesterday, I wrote this mammoth narrative poem, so I’m striking my balance.

(first mourning)

The fog was so dense
against the windowpane.
From my bed, it seemed
the day had been
hung in the darkroom
to dry. Old bricks
rebuilt one by one in
the grey. And the eye,
reddened, hooked
onto every shape
with a thrill of recognition
until it slipped away.
Each tree demanded rope.
Each rose called for earth.
The wet glass forbid
the chipped white sill.

I tried to be clever with the title, and to tell a story that would be universal while seeming specific. I’ve been thinking about how it’s been a full year since I’ve submitted anywhere, and all of this drama happening in my life right now, and how tired I feel with all the priorities I have, none of which are simply seek joy. I would rather have that be my priority. I’d rather shovel through the detritus and get to the other side, particularly with writing, because I feel as though I’ve come through infancy and childhood in terms of poetic development; now is the chaos of writerly adolescence. The voice cracks most before it settles into itself.

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.

Pomona

I’m in a frustrated place, where I feel like I want to write blog posts, but can’t. This isn’t because I don’t have anything to say, but I’m at this curious point where I want everything I write to have some kind of deeper commentary beyond the observational. (I always swore I wouldn’t be a commentary poet, and now I can’t help it. At least, any commentary was meant to be inadvertent.) So I keep trying to work these aspects into very straightforward moments that I’m trying to capture in verse, and finding that they turn into wiggly balls of yarn I want to throw out, or really interesting things that I want to keep off the blog for possible fledging in the publication arena. (It’s been almost a year since I’ve submitted stuff. Gearing up for that.) And the result is that I haven’t put anything on here in seven days.

(Of course, if people wanted to send me poems to Refine, I’d be happy to do that, too…!)

But anyway, this is from a moment on the train, though some of the details have been melded and altered. Pomona was the Roman goddess of fruit and plenty and all. I kind of like the idea of her being a self-assured blind woman on the train. Give me more fodder to write with!

Pomona

No one gives up their seat for the blind woman
who taps her way onto the train.

This is the downtown 6 on a Wednesday morning,
everyone heaped with their own weight

until they’re too stubborn for anyone else’s. Except
this woman, lithe and undefeated.

Nothing has been offered to her. She doesn’t ask.
The train’s baleful light burns through

dark glasses to show the shape of staring eyes
free of worry. She sways in perfect time,

knowing the route, each curve predicted two
seconds in advance. Her right hand

props up the white cane. Her left hand reveals
fresh apricots, one by one, cracked open

by some hidden trick of the palm. Soon enough
the whole train smells like stone fruit.

Everyone wants to give something to the world.
The blind woman knows apricots

by their perfume, which she offers up, then
raises to her mouth and sucks back in.

The perfume becomes the train. Which becomes
an everything, shaped like a kiss.

Telegraph

I haven’t flittered a poem out at work in a while, but this odd little metaphor-poem just rose unbidden and nearly fully-formed after reading Afzal Ahmed Syad’s “If My Voice is Not Reaching You” on poets.org. It was a crazy busy weekend (and will be again, coming up), so I’m scraping together what musey bits I can. I was thinking and reading about the telegraph, as it’s one of my favorite words. I like the use as a verb (to pre-announce), as a concept (universal communication), and as a metaphor (in this case, a heart), with a bit of Kay Ryan admiration (naturally) tossed in. Given the current situation of my love life, I think it’s apt. And I think it kind of fits one peculiar angle of the We Write Poems prompt for the week about “growing up”. And that’s enough moping on my part; now I must disappear back into the morass of the office…

(Fun fact, though: telegraphs did catch fire in geomagnetic storms like this one.)

Telegraph

Once my heart has been
long enough with one person
I no longer believe
in its artful conversion
of blood to magic,
its thrummed relief.

Instead it grows
staccato, all punctuation.
That’s the way a heart goes
after elation.

I find it announcing
its own arrival: chewed wood
wrapped with wire,
the kind of up-to-no-good
which in sufficient storms
catches blue fire.

reading: eduardo c. corral, “slow lightning”

Well, first of all, the obvious news I have to give my plaudits for is the double rainbow of DOMA being partially-struck down (arguably the most important part of it) and Prop 8 being thrown out. Neither of these is a complete victory, individually (parts of DOMA still exist, and theoretically someone could appeal the Prop 8 decision) or as a whole (plenty of states still don’t recognize marriage), but it’s a cause for celebration, as far as I’m concerned. Pride this weekend will be absolute mayhem. And I stand with the progressive bloc who cautions that there is plenty of drama going on to rage about and fight against (the women’s rights in Texas, the voting rights all over, etc.), but I believe that we are heirs to complexity and can hold more than one emotion about these things at once. Never ignore all the stuff in the world that needs to be struggled against, but cherish the good moments when they come, because they give you a foundation to build on for progress, and the energy to fight the good fight. And meanwhile, my heartfelt congrats to the many, many couples I know that needed this victory, as well as to the ones that I don’t. ^_^

(I also hear NJ lawmakers have renewed the push to override Christie’s veto. Yeeaaahhh Jerz.)

Anyway, on to the reading portion. Eduardo C. Corral’s book Slow Lightning was recommended to me by Bryan Borland first, I think, at the Rainbow Book Fair. Not long after, I managed to procure a copy, and then felt guilty when I hadn’t read it at last month’s #poetparty, where Eduardo was hanging out. So: now that I have finished, I can say with honesty what a fascinating journey of a collection it is. And certainly this opinion is shared by some of the poetry nabobs, since the collection won the 2011 Yale Younger Poets prize, one of the highest accolades for a first book. There are a number of clear reasons why: the unique quality of the voice, the daring-yet-delicate architecture of each poem, and the fever dreams of their content which do not draw back from being either physical or spiritual. This is a book of careful balance between identities and narratives, one that creates lots of doubles (with a number of possible conjunctions to join them), and one that struggles with contradiction. Even the title suggests a desire to figure out how to live with being at odds with oneself.

It would be impossible to thoroughly explore all of one’s possible identities within the scope of one book, and so there is more emphasis on Chicano identity than, for example, gay identity (which is still very present, but I’d argue not as overtly). Lots of family tales fill the pages, and Spanish is thoroughly mixed with the English in most of the poems; this could be a stumbling block for some readers, but it illustrates the honesty with which Corral is writing. (Sometimes the word you want just isn’t in the language you’re writing in.) But what makes this selection intriguing is that so much has not yet been figured out. In the most maudlin confessional poetry, you find these poets who have already worked everything out, and have psychoanalyzed themselves into flatness; it’s all very pat and one-note. Here, we see less resolution: the figures in the poems (ranging from Corral’s father, to nameless immigrants, to unnamed lovers, to Frida Kahlo) are presented in terms of images that range from mundane (“Prepaid / phonecards. Flea market bicycles. / Above his heart, an alacrán tattoo.”) to the absolutely magical (“If I dream I’m cupping her face / with my hands, I wake up holding / the skull / of a wolf.”), with very little interference from the author. The poems are expressed in terms of the concrete world; even dreams become solid, and handled with physical verbs.

The overall effect of all this is one of standing in two places at once, a crossing of physical borders (U.S.-Mexico, for example), linguistic borders, the border between reality and visions, etc. Corral does not only bring us with him to exist in those liminal spaces, but shows us how he thrives there. This aesthetic coats each of the different exercises he chooses: list poems, ekphrastic pieces (of which there are several), and regular blocks of lines are equally at home in this place he creates. I think most of us can find some truth in those moments of being in-between, but not all of us can understand the full depth of growing up in/being assigned to an in-between-ness full-time. One should always appreciate a gentle guide leading us in step by step, to the point where even the horrors of such an experience (which the author narrates evenly, refusing to let us look away) become more deeply comprehended. There is no doubt that surface political realities, questions of racism, identity tension, and the use of metaphor’s apparatus to make sense of it all reflect and reverberate with each other; or if there is doubt, I exhort you to read a few poems like these.

Regarding writing style, I find it interesting; outside the context of experiments, I’m not very taken with pieces that scatter themselves across pages and break in odd places. (Some of the poems require the book to be turned sideways, but this might simply be because of line length.) However, the author loosens the seams of poetic structure with a deft hand, which eases some of the work the reader must do, and of course writing “outside the lines” serves to further the point of the book’s boundary-crossing matter. So, if pressed to pick a few favorite moments, I’d go with these:

Once, borracho, at breakfast,
he said: The heart can only be broken
once, like a window.

~ “In Colorado My Father Stacked and Scoured Dishes”

Kahlo undresses in front of a mirror.
Her spine: a pouring of sand
through an hourglass
of blood.

~ “Poem After Frida Kahlo’s Painting The Broken Column

Am I not your animal?
You’d wait in the orchard for hours
to watch a deer
break from the shadows.
You said it was like lifting a cello
out of its black case.

~ “To the Angelbeast”

This is all from the first read, and Slow Lightning is the kind of book that demands a second. There’s something cyclical, beautifully and terribly, about the patterns created within its pages. (I’m reminded of two lines from Muriel Rukeyser’s “Ballad of Orange and Grape”: “It could be war and peace or any binary system… orange into GRAPE and grape into ORANGE forever.”) There are things to be cherished and things to be overcome, in any time you choose, at certain places balanced between two worlds. Corral does an admirable job of surviving between a number of such pairs, and furthermore is able to project his vision on behalf of those who don’t make it. There always be a need for work like this, to say there is still something to be done; if there are poets who can manage to say that with this lush and curious kind of language, raw and fanciful at once, then I say, bring on those poets.