Heart’s Thaw

Oh, what the hell, why not a random poem. We Write Poems wanted a Zen poem about body-soul connection, and while I can’t claim this is either Zen or a body-soul connection kind of poem, I guess it veers, like a wheeling bird, slightly close to both. I just wanted to have some fun with rhyme and structure, and come up with an image or two worth repeating. It was just something to do for a Monday evening, I suppose.

Heart’s Thaw

After such a long time heartsick,
to see the birds’ northward line
and the archery of homecoming–
from the bone to the flesh grown thick
moans a green sound, the rhyme
of the body with the sky hums
vowel on drowned vowel– the signs
meaning spring and rain running
will fill each part and cavity– the sun
paints bird backs as a flame the wick,
gravity claims their upward climb–
and the flock tacks right, lowly divine
with the sleepless heart caught undone
in its wake– knotted by the quick
turn, by the art of so many dimensions
and leaves who burn with becoming.

Tramp Song

I went to the Publishing Triangle Awards earlier this evening, to hope for the wins of three excellent authors (a memoirist, novelist, and poet, respectively) I admire; two made it, and I am dismayed about the third, but it was still nice to go and check it out. (And it was free/open to the public. Also nice.) I’ve just been in kind of a malaise all day, and wish that had snapped me out of it, but instead I just came home, made dinner, and did absolutely nothing for a while. I don’t know why. I’ve been thinking too much about the future and how much different things I love are worth it.

But Miz Quickly had a prompt that I kind of followed, to write a poem after another poet’s line. This one is from a line by Mark Doty, which is the first line of my poem, from his “At the Gym”. I walked by a bench under flowering trees earlier this evening, and thought it looked like a nice place to nap. That’s about as deep as the story goes.

Tramp Song

Here is some halo
for a carpetbag saint:
the cherry-web blown
and the magnolia browned,
this bench with chipped paint
for a carpetbag throne.
Here is a motive
to be sleeping outside:
the banish of grey
from republican sky,
nobody’s denied
to be sleeping all day.
Here is a coda
on the night-weather’s chords:
by night, blessed to find
a chapel out of wind,
some bench with its boards
on the night-weather’s mind.

Up Comes the Cicada

Another one before I get down to actual work I have to do this afternoon. This is for the NaPoWriMo prompt of using a list of words, Wordle-style, for a poem… I ended up using miraculous, gutter, salt, curl, ego, elusive, twice, and ghost in mine which is, for some reason, about cicadas. (I’m looking forward to their arrival, unlike just about everyone else I know.) I don’t always follow the NaPo prompts themselves, but regardless, they have some pretty great daily links for poetry sites around the Web that you ought to check out. I recommend it!

Up Comes the Cicada

Right out of the ground: dirt boils,
trees flow. You can’t help but respect
sleeper agents waiting seventeen years,
patient, webbed with their own growth,
until who-knows-what moment.
It must be clicked into place by that sun
each cicada only knows twice
(first as the salt-crystal egg, then as
one wriggling thumb to crawl the gutter),
triggered like a curl of watchwork gears
grinds their teeth. This day and age,
how can anything be so elusive?
You thump barefoot through the weeds,
all id and ego and here i am, naught else
but yourself. To go unknown under that
could be the last miraculous thing.
And the second-to-last is exposure
for the sake of just one green moment
quick with music, bodies slipped
off bodies, battered together until
particles of young cicada fill the V’s
whittled into a twig. To bloom and fall,
to rise and rejoice, and between to sleep
seventeen years: who won’t say
there is still such a thing as a secret?
Not to mention kept by nymphs who sing
like a million match-heads striking:
like how ash crumbles after the burn,
and wet fire itself must be rubbed close
to keep in your memory, down drop
the cicadas, up go the ghosts.

Three Magnolia Tanka

After the long mess of a day at work, I carried on to the yoga studio to do my shift, cleaning and things. Pretty exhausted by this point, and probably about to hit the hay, but I didn’t want to pass up the tanka-writing challenge set by NaPoWriMo, particularly as I’ve been noticing the magnolias lately, ready to burst in bloom. Bury me under a magnolia when my time comes. So, this is three tanka for those marvelous trees. (Although, they are pushing the envelope of what I consider best practices for writing tanka/haiku/other waka forms. Mea culpa.) Maybe I’ll manage one more before I pass out…

Three Magnolia Tanka

What is the sentence
spelled by the magnolia branch,
each bud a comma?
Your hand, the full stop, tugs it:
you cannot tell me either.

A coin thrown on earth
does not ring like fountain-coins
tossed in the water;
I will continue to wish
into the magnolia’s dirt.

In your hair you wore
the purple-kissed magnolia
until it went brown.
Now, it’s so awful to walk
these tree-lined streets in April.

Cana

Well, I find myself somewhat bemused, but also chuffed, that my blog showed up on the WordPress Freshly Pressed site this morning. (Although, like when they show those sweepstakes winners on TV, and they answer the door in housecoats or sweatpants with, I don’t know, pizza sauce in their upper lip, I feel like the particular post that was featured was one of my clunkier ones.) Honestly, I have no idea how that process works, but: thanks, WordPress! I hope that means people like the blog, and that if there are new people cruising my writing, they like it, too.

So, I’m doing a couple different challenges for the month, some of which I will put on here, some of which I won’t. I think that the NaPoWriMo.net ones will all find their way here, as will other prompted poems as the occasion arises. There will also be daily Recursions, and occasional Refineries. But then, as always, I will keep my workshop poems offline, along with other prompt work that happens when I least expect it. (Tomorrow I’m going down to DC, so I hope a long bus ride will be fruitful. The next day, a ride back up!) Got in two today, though, so I hope that’s a good start…

I’ve been thinking about writing some more lurid-dream poetry. The intersection of sexuality, religion, gritty city things, elemental imagery, and lyric turns of phrase is still, ultimately, my favorite assortment of things in a poem, so probably the NaPo ones will lean heavily on those this month. I’ll get chaste and prudish and whimsical again later. The prompt for Day 1 was to use the first line of another poem for the first of your own, and I ended up using “Life is Fine” by Langston Hughes. Although, this is pretty much as opposite a direction you could go in as possible from his piece. Um, enjoy!

Cana

I went down to the river
Saturday night. I wanted to see her
disassemble the moon, make
little lamp-mirrors to mark the path.
And the men were walking on water
over to the boys’ side
to celebrate the first of Spring. It was
open-up-your-zippers weather
with two cold teeth subtle in its mouth.
The river hummed to be trod on,
sacred and sure in her alto murmur
under a stinking bridge.
I was waiting on a wooden bench.
I was the witness for sudden weddings
dripped from the earliest rosebuds.
And the river: the priestess.
One man pissed in her steady lap, then
sat next to me to make his proposals.
But I said, no, I am only here
changing the night into a story.
Watching the river spell out her name.
I perform no miracles, I kissed
into his ear. And the water is
a bitch tonight, wanting so much to be
more like us, who seem so alive.

the refinery: marian veverka

The afternoon is wide open, and despite ungodly winds out in the city today, there is sun and beauty and warmth. I am feeling, for the first time in a while, that I have several constructive things to do that I actually want to do and share, and the time/energy to do them. First and foremost of these is to do another (gasp!) Refinery post, so I don’t forget about doing it for the week. And, to re-iterate what Margo said on her blog: pretend I don’t have a list to work through, and send me stuff still, please! For now, we have:

The Golden Trees” by Marian Veverka

My favorite poems of Marian’s are the ones which are sweeping and elegant; she does better long-form and formal poetry than many other poets I’ve seen on the blogosphere. (Not to say her other work, an example of which has appeared at Curio, is lacking; I just prefer the lengthier, structured poems.) What I’ve seen of her work often touches upon the natural and the personal at the same time, so this poem should not come as a surprise:

Along the roadside’s graveled edge
A row of poplars lift their limbs and spread
Their roots to where secret water hides
In the shallow pools of dried stream-beds.

A thirsty summer, hot and dry
With sudden storms that made green leaves fly
From nervous branches, all shaken down
Beneath the scorching sun in an empty sky.

Today, as the heat-stricken hours fade
Each tree now casts its golden shade
water trickles through the once dried stream
Clouds arrive, but few will stay.

I stand, immersed in the golden glow
Beneath the poplars’ royal row
Through long winter nights I’ll return in dreams
While the poplars sleep in their robes of snow.

It’s rare that the issues I pull out of a poem are balanced carefully between form, style, and theme, but I think this is a case where I find on each, so that’s how I’m going to tackle it:
– Let’s talk about form first. This is very close to/counts as a ruba’i poem, with AABA rhyme scheme stanzas and (usually, in English) an iambic tetra/pentameter rhythm. What I would tweak from a form perspective, because it’s usually the easiest thing to fix in formal verse, is the consistency. There are some playful takes on the scheme with near-rhymes, and the rhythm is flexed at various points. But I think the issue I have with these two aspects is that the experimentation itself doesn’t feel certain. When I read the first stanza, rhyming edge, spread, beds, I think, okay, this will be a poem of not-quite-rhymes. But then I see dry, fly, sky, and I second-guess myself. Then, I notice that hides connects the first stanza to the second as a near-rhyme; and then that link is not repeated from the second to the third; and then the B line in the third and fourth stanzas near-rhyme. Similarly, the syllable count in each line varies a little bit too much for me to tell if it’s supposed to be a particular metre or not. Some tweaking would be good, I think, to make it more clear what the poem is doing: it doesn’t have to be rigid and uniform, but when you bend the parameters of a received form like this, keep it going!
– Now, style. This has a very Frost-y feel to it, in my opinion; Frost used a lot of ruba’i structure, and often had those nature-meditation moments in his poetry. But I would like to see more metaphor, more risks taken in the presentation of the imagery. A caveat: I think that it depends on how you want to approach the theme. If you’re going for a very straightforward snapshot, the literal might be preferable, but as I’ll get to in a moment, I think Marian is digging deeper, especially with that last stanza. There are several words in here that could use some alteration, which might in turn help with the consistency of the metre. Some of these veer close to cliché: scorching sun, for example. (I’m a fan of folk songs that use this phrase, but I think we can do better in modern poetry.) Or shallow pools: what about teaspoon pools or withered pools or something? The words poplar, tree, and golden come up again and again; find synonyms and other characteristics to describe in the subject! You don’t need to be overly florid to find more interesting ways to describe an image. Remember that part of the charm in poetry is to put together two words that haven’t been put together before (or at least, enough).
And as for theme, which might be the hardest nugget to crack, I find myself wondering how personal the poem is trying to be. Most of the piece is a meditation on the appearance of the poplars, but we have all these value words describing the trees and their surroundings that gives it a specifically anti-haiku quality. And then this “I” appearing in the last stanza: we have a poem that shows the polarity between an object and its observer. What I’d like to see is more deepness to this “I”, because once she is introduced, it immediately adds another layer to the poem that isn’t nearly as thick as the rest. The “I” could appear earlier, or the descriptions of nature could even more specifically imply an observer. (A hot summer is impersonal; a thirsty summer, like we have here, requires a presence to give the season personality; an oppressive summer does the same, but adds a relationship between the speaker and the object.) Aside from the relationship needing some intensity, I’m also a little uncertain what the speaker is trying to get across: it seems to be a reflection on the beauty of these trees enduring through the change of seasons and into memory, but I’m not sure. It could use a bit more expansion, perhaps!

OK, enough critique. Let’s go to the other end of the spectrum:
– There are some subtle sound things happening that I like here, some alliteration and internal rhyme (stricken and trickle is a great pair) mixing with just some wonderfully-chosen words (which balance out the examples I was picking out earlier). Probably secret water and royal row sound the most lyrical to me. I don’t think it would be hard to extend that feeling through more of the poem without losing the meter and rhyme that gives it so much of its structure. And I love that sentence Clouds arrive, but few will stay. I might suggest tweaking it a little bit, but it has an elegant simplicity that I think sums up the whole poem.
– Keying off that, the theme is one of those tried-and-true ones I like to talk about. There are countless poems about the transience of nature still being beautiful, probably because it echoes the knowledge of our own mortality. The trap with this theme is risking a hackneyed approach to the theme. I don’t think this one falls into that trap, but only because it hasn’t deepened its own voice enough. If Marian goes back to edit this, and does develop that theme, I would say be careful not to get too clichéd with it: take risks, approach the concept in a way that is rarely explored. That may require lengthening the poem or messing with its structure a little bit, either for space reasons or to create a point using the sound of the poem itself.
– And of course, the challenge of doing a form at all is often to be commended. I used to consider myself a pretty stolid New Formalist, looking for the potential of a sonnet in every prompt, but have, in recent years, headed away from that. It’s always a pleasure to see a received form executed well, without fanfare: this is not as long as Omar Khayyam, nor is it one of those bite-sized forms full of repetition like the kyrielle. It has meat and an idea, I just think that it needs to trust itself more within the confines of its structure to clarify what it wants to say.

A few bits and bobs:
– Some of the enjambment isn’t working for me, particularly and spread / their roots.
– This is a goofy idea, but I would suggest using Monet as inspiration, maybe even wholly considering this an ekphrastic poem. Changing the title to something reflecting Monet (who did painting after painting of poplars) would add a layer of allusion (is the speaker standing in a museum? is the speaker Monet?) and at least remove one instance of each of golden and trees
– …because really, some of that repetition does drag me down.
– If I had to pick one stanza to follow its lead, I’d choose the first one. It’s the most solid, followed by the fourth one.
– Previously, I talked about the use/overuse of adjective + noun pairings, and how variety is good. This could use some variety in the length of descriptive phrases: we have a wall of one adjective + one noun in the middle of the poem.

Marian, I hope this was useful to you, and I hope that you’ll share any revised version of the poem with us! And for all the non-Marians out there (it sounds like I’m picking favorites in some kind of Christian philosophy debate, doesn’t it?), here is a prompt based on the poem to whet your appetites:

Write a poem in a traditional received form (sonnet, sestina, rime royal, whatever) that is at least fourteen lines. Focus on your relationship with a particular object in nature and how it sums up a larger opinion/feeling about Nature with a capital N. Include the words “secret”, “arrive”, and “sudden”. Use only the senses of sight and touch for your descriptions.

Cheers! See you all for the next one…

Horoscope (I)

If you ever wanted to make a list of the things that cheer me up no matter what, here are five important ones: being out in heavy (but not treacherous or impassable) snow, blossoming cream in coffee, chocolate chip pancakes, a careful thunderstorm, and any object of such a deep and complicated blue-green (like a peacock’s breast, or a kingfisher’s wing) that it breaks your heart. I got the first three this morning, so I feel pretty well-outsnapped from whatever funk I was in last night. Mostly, at least; if this is the last hurrah of winter, followed by the glory of spring, I will be over the sopping moon. And since I didn’t end up going to Boston (which was probably a good idea: it’s really coming down outside), I have today, and the rest of the weekend, to feel lightweight and free.

I suppose the more chocolate chip pancakes I eat, though, the less lightweight I will feel… oof.

Anyway, I wanted to write some kind of meaningful poem about the feeling of this cusp of winter rolling over into spring. It has a feeling that’s curved and moist, like a contact lens. (How’s that for a metaphor that’ll never work: “The spring equinox is a contact lens / fallen from God’s eye. He searches / everywhere for it. Lightning strikes the earth.”) I appended a (I) to the title because I feel like I could do a short series of these horoscope poems; this one turned out okay, I think.

Looking back at what I’ve written lately – and the comments in workshop (which might be extended!) have been invaluable in figuring this out – I think I’ve got a pretty good idea of how I write. There’s certain flavors of structure and device I keep coming back to, and I’ve been working a lot on deepening the feeling of my poems. But now I’m turning my attention to theme, and wondering if I should try fleshing that out a bit. I’ve always said I don’t want to be “a gay poet” or “a New York poet”, but rather “a poet who happens to be gay”, “a poet who happens to live in New York,” etc. Maybe I should explore what I know a bit more thoroughly, though: there are plenty of poems about these two subjects, and all the others I feel heir to, but I think it will take something written by me to resonate with myself.

Horoscope (I)

I envy any child born on a day like today,
that part of Pisces where the potholes discover
thaw, and the reservoir’s mirror begins to hollow.
From here on out, we all roll downhill into
a brightening gorge. Nothing to do but
get warmer: the hill grows soft with our passing,
begins to burst with grass seed and crocuses,
opens pearly toadstools to shimmy the rain.
In the hospital, infants are squinting their eyes
at long snow-braids leading down Seventh Avenue,
mooring the sky to the earth. But when
mothers and fathers carry them out the front door
the dandelions will begin. And as they begin
to grasp and flex comma fingers, there will be
fresh honey and the smell of sweat in parkland.
Tonight the sodium light will turn all the wires
into ropes of milk glass; but tomorrow carries
water for Pisces children to flash in.
They say Pisces curl their secrets close,
but I’ll wager this one’s clasped in common:
hope, like a wet, dark place carved out against
endless cold, dancing through it the way
a fearless crow does, one sodden foot at a time.