White, Grey

First of two random little ones for the day… I had these grand designs to use my comparatively free evening to write and scribble away. But then, the thermometer got up to 82 (Fahrenheit, of course), and nothing I could possibly do seemed as important as going up to Central Park and lying in the grass. Which means I didn’t really have a lot of time to write, which means I’ve dashed off crummy bits of verse again, which means I’m going to just be even more aggravated with myself tomorrow. (And it will be another free, warm evening, so I might just throw in the towel.) I think what I need is a retreat, just to be locked in a room for a week with nothing but poetry.

Actually, that sounds like a good way to go crazy real quick.

This is for NaPoWriMo‘s challenge to write an ottava rima and Miz Quickly’s prompt about using the first two colors you see as the title, then writing a childhood poem keying from them. To this day, I don’t know what that white stuff was on the bird in question.

White, Grey

The broken bird lay heavy in the dirt.
A wine drop gathered in its half shut beak.
But most of it was feather-grey, inert,
and staining it, white streak upon white streak.
I wanted it to rise and stand, unhurt,
and waited– children wait– for it to speak.
We learn, when least expected, certain things:
that birds grown cold refuse to clean their wings.

Polyglot (II)

I already wrote a poem called “Polyglot”, but I couldn’t think of anything else to call this one. Oh well!

On Saturday night, I was hanging out with a bunch of friends from high school, and struck up a conversation with one of them about synesthesia. I’ve often said that I believe everyone has it in small amounts, and that it’s intimately tied into the experience of metaphor-building, and on the spectrum from a world devoid of sensory associations to full-blown debilitating medical synesthesia, one can try to practice it as a skill to develop one’s verbal craft. In the psychological sense, my friend has it very strongly: she has perfect pitch because she perceives each note as a color, and each letter has one too. It’s not so acute that it affects her reading (and it greatly aids her musical skill), and it’s just one of those things that is taken for granted.

(For the record: mine manifests very minor-ly. Pieces of music as a whole — not individual notes — sometimes trigger colors in my mind’s eye, as do spoken languages, and numbers have distinct personalities. Writing poetry has actually helped me get a lot more comfortable with the numbers 4 and 6, which I used to fear and hate; I’m still uneasy with them, but quatrains and sestinas demand at least a working relationship.)

So, We Write Poems has a synesthetic prompt, and I thought I’d explore the languages bit, since it doesn’t often get attention, and being a linguist, this is a discussion I often have with people. I am absolute in my conviction that Vietnamese, Irish, and Bulgarian are green (though different shades), Spanish is red, German is chocolate brown, Italian is a sort of lustrous, seashell white, Japanese is such a dark blue that it’s practically black, and Thai is a delicious deep purple. I think part of this explains why I resisted learning Spanish and German for so long, but felt an instant attraction to Irish and Japanese; red and brown are not my colors, but green and blue definitely are. My point here is that the descriptions I give in the poem should not be considered symbolic; these are more sensory experiences, which will certainly differ from person to person. (Oddly, English doesn’t trigger anything; it’s like the taste of the inside of your mouth.)

It helps that for NaNoWriMo (broke 40k words yesterday, woo!) one of my protagonists is a synesthete, so I’ve been loading my descriptions with this technique lately. Anyway, go ahead and read. Enough talking from me.

Polyglot (II)

When people ask me
what my favorite language is,
I say, it depends:

for I could run my fingers over the silken
syntax of Greek all day, an oxbird ending perched
carefully on each noun’s back to pick it clean,
or the wooden puzzle of Arabic that must be
deduced and arranged, and wax-droplet Mandarin
sculpted on a table, so fluid until you let go;

although when it comes to sound, I love
the blackberry seeds of Japanese popped
across the teeth, and Welsh pouring butterscotch
down the channels of my tongue; I love
how Croatian is chewed slowly, developing flavor
after flavor, sourdough sentences rising at the end;

but perhaps most of all, I must consider
which is sung best, whether it might be Irish that
blossoms a weary marbled jade from the lips
or Persian, all morning glory heart-stars
shaking in the wind, or maybe it’s that nameless
glossolalia that iridesces every color at once;

and when they talk of
fluency, I think perhaps
that’s not what they mean.

Mount Greylock

Was anyone else having problems with WordPress yesterday? It just did not want to work on my compy. Very odd.

The inspirational juices are running pretty low this week… work has been kicking my post-vacation behind. But I managed to get this one out there, which is doing semi-double duty for Margo’s prompt about looking at things with a different perspective (okay, I’m really fudging on that one), and WWP’s prompt about using colors. Really, I just wanted to write this poem, and that’s a heartening feeling.

Mount Greylock

Tumbling round the bend is the first
suggestion of autumn: when small leaves put on
pale jewelry and everything grows wet
with possibility.
Every haystack is a phoenix nest and
every precipice is a triumph of faith.
One prow of cloud emerges
between two of the mountain’s hundred
furrowed brows; it bears a memory of blue
dripping with deepness. And
occasionally a car rouses a seedy
storm of amaranth grains.
And when
two omens without a shape collide, well,
for every action– there is a peal of thunder,
a sudden frisson of falling-chandelier-rain,
treasure, soaked through, appearing,
spilling its yolk
upon the dirty canvas sky. And we sing for
the passage of time. And we applaud the curtain
coming down on yet another
fine performance.

Three Tanka for July

Been a little while since I’ve tackled some tanka, so thanks to Hannah Gosselin for this prompt through We Write Poems. This one took a little bit longer than I intended because, having more time on my hands today than I knew what to do with, I ended up translating the first one into some mangled kind of Japanese. As always, if you are a Japanese speaker/professional waka-writer, please forgive my ineptitude.

Here’s the English:

The first blackberries
collected in a jade bowl
have a beetle sheen:
who would’ve known this darkness
hid emeralds underneath?

And then I did the kanji version, with the English transliteration, with a more-literal gloss:


hatsu tencha
gyokuhai-ni haku
kurasa no shita-ni
moke-na rokugyoku

the first blackberries
gather in a cup of jade
like scarab beetles
underneath its darkness are
unexpected emeralds

And then there’s two more, just in English, because there’s only so much linguistic masochism I’m up for in one day:

A squall in the west
builds its low grey parapets
on the Palisades.
The dimming light reminds us
no city is grander than rain.

One thin firecracker
snaps its own grey body back
into a star-necklace
chained with a thundered moment
and thrilling the night-baked heart.

All right, enough of that. Now I’m off to enjoy the rest of this beautiful day!

Reverie Twenty: taste the rainbow

So much for the 21st century and technology. Internet wasn’t working on the bus-with-Internet, the Fellow doesn’t have it as his place currently, and it’s down at my favorite cafe in the city. So now I’m back at the university on graduation weekend, cannibalizing the wifi and trying to keep a low profile. So many parents and kids running around, dressed to the nines, and me in shorts and a T-shirt on this beautiful day: not what was expected. After this, I suppose I’ll get out and about again to enjoy the weather.

This week: “taste the rainbow

Last time we talked  about quantum poems and using two (or more, perhaps?) sets of lines interwoven to create an idea of multiple poems happening at once. There are other techniques to get this effect, and we’re going to play around with color, since it’s relatively easy to go absolutely nuts on the Internet in this fashion. I apologize in advance if you’re color blind or have an otherwise-impaired color sense; but I don’t know of anyone reading this who would be, so let’s press on!

You may recall some time ago when we had a bit of synesthesia going on; you may have used colors to represent concepts and ideas that seemed (for instance) particularly blue or green. That’s going to be folded into this prompt as well, but it’s only half of it. The other challenge is to get several of these color threads going at once, and if possible, to branch them out, in a way allowing the reader to determine the path they’ll take through your words. First of all, think about how many colors you want to include (I say go for five or six, it will be good and complicated), and think about how complicated/structured you want your poem to be. For example, you might have it branch out like this:

I walked
full of mourning joy
through greybacked fields greenfaced hills
barefoot and
halfway destroyed with glory.

The blue clearly carries a more sober tone, while the red is happier; note that both contain color words that are perhaps better suited to the tones than blue and red (tricky, eh?) and that barefoot, being purple, could go with either. Play around with mixing colors like this; it will make you more careful about how you arrange things. Another possibility might be to split the lines a bit, like so:

               Whenever a rain begins,
I think of how your face
               appeared beneath the willow
tree in summer: time
               transfixed like an orange
jewel, catching us breathless
               as we huddled under branches
in a gleaming noon.

The reader could go straight down the middle, or read the whole thing. Use the lines of color as a vertical method to create new poems within the lines that go horizontal. Think of it like an acrostic, but using words instead of letters, and buried within the poem rather than at the beginning. And of course, you don’t have to restrict yourself to keeping the colors all in one line either:

We had a firefight: but it was hollow-point choices
we shot at each other. What a pair we are, foolishly
askew, our guns blazing. It was so easy to make war.
What did we own besides this when and this where,
a time and place? Love, there’s nothing left to say
but to throw my love down, which is a gauntlet, a steel-
knuckled challenge. 

Note the cyan period at the end. I’m quite pleased with that little nearly-unnoticeable bit of punctuation. I was trying to do something interesting about crossing paths, having green and blue represent two different attitudes, and showing the whole idea of a relationship nexus through color and word placement, but you know, I am short on time and just spouting this stuff out, so forgive me.

I believe you can go up to six without really starting to lose yourself in the writing; and often it’s a good idea to close each thread, rather than leaving a mish-mash of color open at the end of the piece. The important thing is consistency, because if your reader does start picking up on what’s going on with the colors, they’ll get drawn by it, and you want to make it less confusing for them. A thread of red will stand out beautifully on a black block of verse.

Don’t be afraid to use imagery and metaphor to either support or confound the rainbows you create, too. Maybe you want to use red to highlight a succession of blood imagery dripping down the poem; maybe you want to use blue if you’re trying to make a point about someone who’s noble or lives their life on the sea; or maybe you want to use orange if you’re just trying to be surreal. Maybe blue words winding their way through the poem can suggest a river, or green ones a snake. Maybe you just want to highlight three very specific moments with very specific colors that are meaningful; maybe you want to characterize lines of dialogue by giving each speaker a different color; or maybe you just want to highlight every instance of you with purple or something, to give “you” a very unique feel (which will reflect how you feel about the color).

The possibilities are nearly endless, and this is a tool that is often neglected which you can use to allow your imagination to run wild. Poets are often more concerned with the content of the poem rather than how it’s presented (and usually rightly so, unless they’re writing concrete poetry), but the reader will notice both and try to draw meaning out of both. Come up with an idea or two about how to use colors (and feel free to borrow liberally from above) and share what you have… the cardinal rule is just to make it clear that there are multiple levels of meaning, multiple poems if you will, under the surface. Use that rainbow to bring them out.

(A note on mechanical things: if you’re blogging with WordPress, there’s a little color-selector tool if you’re typing the post in the Visual editor – rather than the HTML editor – when you show the “Kitchen Sink” bar. Press the button all the way to the right, or hit Alt-Shift-Z, to show this second bar; the selector button is the fourth one. You could also write longhand with multicolor pens, or do the typing in your email, or something. For Blogger, I have no idea how it works, but I imagine there is a similar option to change text color.)

The Peacock Room

About to head out of work for a weekend in DC (the Fellow’s birthday celebration)… a long bus ride ahead, but I received mysterious packages in the mail from Jessie Carty and Margo Roby lately, so I think I’ll be able to occupy myself. This is also the Bus-with-Internet, so maybe I’ll be on here a bit too! But in the meantime, I cranked out this little ditty for the dVerse prompt, inspired by Gerard Manley Hopkins (whom my mother adores, but I feel so-so about), onsprung rhythm. I mirrored his “Pied Beauty” pretty closely in terms of rhyme and line numbers, drawing from Whistler (whom I adore, but my mother feels… actually, I think she likes his art too) and the Peacock Room in DC. Check it out sometime! But until then, enjoy this little dream-experiment about it.

The Peacock Room

Porcelain pieces line the shadowboxed walls,
deep-sea-garlanded with some dream of Japan.
And fan-tailed walkingbirds, born from foam off gold lakes,
shy from the gaze, muddle detail with their calls.
One unhandled cup in a reverent hand:
what is the color the wisest grifter takes?

Easy as scraping all dimension from the sky,
it peels from ancient leather in palatable bands.
Thief of that spectral bridge where green-blue breaks,
catch it easy as a grape with beak or with eye:
birds wake.

Celestial Navigation

Hey! Head on over to Qarrtsiluni, because my poem, New York Bridges, is up there, and you can hear me read it in a painfully awful Whitmanesque kind of reading voice. I am rather proud of it, though. And, I found out quite by accident that over at Clapboard House, three poems I submitted a while back have been published; I knew they were accepted, but forgot to keep track of when they’d go up, which they must have done fairly recently I guess. So, check all that out.

This poem is for Margo Roby‘s prompt of using motifs in a poem. I am a fan of motifs, so let me bore you with my process notes: first, I noted two recurring things around my indoor home private space: the color blue (a rather deep one) and the fact that because I live in a basement, almost all the ambient light is artificial and small. We only have one real lamp. The rest is all track lights with small bulbs, candles, Christmas lights, etc. I tried to have both of those recur, and give them a feeling: that sense of possibility but rudderlessness for the blue, and then that sense of being fixed in place but secure in location knowledge for the lights. I hope that it all kind of works… the narrative was sort of an afterthought.

Celestial Navigation

Fairy lights webbed above the bed,
candles adrift on a shore of stones,
incense poking out its hot orange tongue:
this is how I paint you in your sleeping skin,
one drop at a time. I’m making
a pointillist map of your body, for memory.
(I hope that you won’t mind.)

If I tugged the wires free
and gave a sharp exhale, we would be
dyed through with indigo again. With
no way to tell if this is your room or mine:
the same benighted quilt and pillowcase,
carpets spun from murky water.
When we wrap ourselves in all this,
bathe in sleep, we drift: anything’s possible
submerged in the miracle of blue.

Tonight, I tug my jacket on and step out,
taking in the city through all my senses.
This late, no one is out
but the old man with his wheelbarrow
(blue, blue) picking up crushed bottles,
slaloming the scaffolds. We are
tracing out the city; we nod in passing.

If I had hands ten miles wide,
all this could be cupped for a moment like
a water balloon in the middle of its collapse,
orb spilling between fingers. The color of
discovery is this midnight color:
what might emerge from it next?
I need thumbtacks and twine to hold it,
changeable ceilings of stars
and the hypnosis of WALK/DON’T WALK.
Give me glowing insects for guidance, or
the distant lighthouse stripe of Times Square.
Someone leave one lantern lit.

A flowering quince captures a streetlight,
becomes a candelabra of petals
to whisper me home. And I creep to bed,
a cobalt city dirtying my feet. We can be
everything and nothing at once, I think.
Fire becomes a puff of smoke,
I tie my anchor to the nightlight’s eye–
and I will steer us now by touch alone.