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.


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.

Recursion Twenty-Four: bayou saints

“There is a slowness in affairs which ripens them, and a slowness in affairs that rots them.”
~ Joseph Roux, French hydrographer and painter

Generally, I’m against pre-set posts that go up at particular times, but I’m seriously considering it tonight. At the very least, I’ll probably type up tomorrow’s Recursion and then have it prêt-à-poster tomorrow morning, because this whole thing of crazy busy work time is not conducive to getting these prompts up in a timely fashion. (For which, once again, I apologize.) I ought not to complain about having a job, and I spend too much time as it is doing non-work-related things, but at the same time, it’s really awful to have the twin spectres of the Bottomless Pile of Onerous Tasks (which follow no parameters of schedule or duration), and the Critical Panopticon Boss. (This is why I don’t write allegories, I can’t think of succinct archetypes.) Without saying too much (for fear of, I don’t know, jinxes and retributions*), I’m hoping the situation will change soon and I can get a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T, but maybe I hope too much.

* I was reading about Urim and Thummim in the Torah, the divinatory devices of the Israelites’ High Priest, of unknown origin. The names have a couple possible etymologies, my favorite of which is “lights and perfections”. It’s just such a cool dyad. I want to start making cool dyads like this one, like jinxes and retributions, whenever possible.

Free admission: Louisiana, which I have never been to, is informing a lot of my idea of the last few days of riverine prompts. Maybe it’s because there is such a rich history/culture centered around the unique river’s-end landscape there, certainly the richest in the USA (with the possible exception of the Chesapeake Bay). But all of my Louisiana-sense is secondhand, so I apologize if I get some of it wrong. In any case, I’d like to delve into a couple different aspects of the Mississippi’s lower limb, and I hope you’re all as enchantedly unfamiliar with it as I am. No discussion of the Louisiana river course would be possible without the bayou, so that’s what we’ll discuss today. (We’ve already talked about levees, the other big one. Maybe steamboats, too.) The word refers to a very slow-moving stream (or other body of water), often branching from one body to another, often brackish and choked with bogs and marshes. I love the imagery of those lush, flooded woodlands, and although I’m sure I’d hate to actually live there, it’s easy to romanticize the landscape. The bayou teems with wildlife, and a rich culture and lifestyle have grown up around it.

Although I keep re-hashing the idea of gathering speed, power, and volume as this month-long exercise enters its final channel, let’s do try to slow down for just a moment. (Any river becomes a bayou if the brakes you apply are to time rather than space.) Re-focus on the rich collection of themes and images that you’ve built up over the weeks, and remind yourself of those ever-present different angles of examining the set as a whole. There’s three actions I’d like to take regarding that set of inspirations: first, multiplication. Make a list of ten recycled or new things (runoff from the bayou’s banks, rain over the bayou’s mud) that spring from/fit neatly into the unshakeable column of water that is your pet theme. (For that biological process in the world thing I’m working this week, I might pick things like honey, breeding sheep, air burial of the dead.) From each item, make some lines that branch off into a couple of connected thoughts which add a perfectly Decadent richness to the words: charming honey from bees and gathering it by hand, the messy action of actually shearing wool turning into clean yarn, seven generations of a family leaving their dead out for the vultures.

Then, restriction. Slow down to a single moment, and zoom in to a narrow scope. For that honey charming, I might want to write about the feel of bees crawling on a hand moving super-slowly to lift the comb from its well. When we have slowness, we have time to think; and when we have time to think, we find meaning in the simplest or quickest of actions. Confine your imagery and themes; you may also wish to set yourself a stanzaic form (though I don’t think the regularity of sonnets or rondelets works here, as with the waterwheel prompt), or at least a particular sound structure, to make your thought more measured. The last task is connection, as every good bayou lazes from one water to another. How does the microcosm teeming with small bursts of activity in a long, drawn-out moment, reflect one of those major river-themes? What can you say, or not say, to remind the reader of the hydrological connection? Consider the vocabulary, sounds, voices, and tones you’ve used in recent poems; do they match the color of the water and type of sediment in the bayou’s sort-of-removed sweep?

Bring all of this together into a whole that may seem jumbled, but is cohesive when you go deep, along the muddy bottom. Continue to carry us along; but only a little bit. There is time enough for rush tomorrow; and until then, do come back and share, so we can follow.

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.

Recursion Seventeen: diversionary tactics

“Not he is great who can alter matter, but he who can alter my state of mind.”
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson, American poet and philosopher

This morning, what I described to Tessa as Operation: Pancakes was finally a success: I got myself to wake up 45 minutes early, head to the greasy spoon down the street with notebook in hand, ordered up some chocolate chip pancakes, bacon, and coffee, and proceeded to write. (The pancakes arrived right as my normal get-up-for-work alarm went off. Awesome.) Managed to get short draft out of it, plus some framework for another piece, so I’d like to think it was fruitful. Certainly not something I can bring myself to do in time or energy every day, but it was definitely a nice change. It’s interesting how much writing at a time of day you never write in can feel so different; I don’t think the writing itself was markedly different, but it definitely felt strange to be there with a pen at an hour I’m normally cursing the 9-to-5 gods for their malevolent demands. A general poll: when do you write, and how does it feel to write at a time when you never do?

Thinking about that led to thinking about (of course) today’s Recursion prompt. I was thinking of using “irrigation” as a metaphorical limb hanging off the main one, keeping with the humanity at the water’s edge kind of thing, but that turned into a notion about all kinds of manipulations we do to water’s path. History is built by society; society is built by agriculture; agriculture is built by what you do with water. It can be luck or hard work that does it, but ingenuity tends to last the longest: once irrigation was invented, and it became clear that the river could be tamed (at least, a little bit), so many doors were opened. Whether or not it’s been for the best in the end, I don’t think we can say yet. But while I’ve been talking so much about letting the ideas flow in unabated, I suppose we owe ourselves at least a brief chat on the nature of trying to push them this way and that. I have two thoughts on the subject.

First, if my experience this morning has taught me anything, it’s that you need to divert your writing habits themselves from time to time. If you write indoors, try sitting on a park bench somewhere; if you write at night, try in the morning, even if you can only find the barest snippet of minutes. Be self-aware, and aware of your surroundings, and how both things change from this new perspective. When you come to the river in the morning, it looks different than it does in the evening. Use whatever images and thoughts are floating downstream to you, but try to alter your position a little. Compare what arrives to any drafts or free-writes you did during those “usual” times: maybe you have three nights’ worth of writing to compare with your one morning’s worth. Write a poem that emphasizes the qualities of this other method.

Second, we can take different things from the endless flow for different purposes. Draw off a single bucket of idea and theme that occur to you from the wash of ideas the last few weeks: drink it in, and see how it nourishes you (if it does at all). (If not, why not?) Dig through the earth to create a moat or a crannog: what kind of habitation is in the middle, and what would that ring of thoughts around it protect? And how? Maybe you want to think of your work as diverting water to crops along the bank: if you have empty skies and a widowed aunt’s love occurring to you today (maybe from — let’s not forget — that infusion of new water we got the other day), what grows out of those? (And the water can always be glimpsed, but not seen outright, underneath.) Or, maybe you want to briefly divert the water entirely, creating a meander like we did before; instead of following its path, though, what is left behind when you push, forcefully, all those thoughts away? I know this is pretty wiggly and esoteric, but I have confidence in your metaphorical mind to think through all these various ways of changing the game a little bit. And never worry: the river always returns, eventually (tomorrow), to its proper path.

Then, you can come back and share, if you wish!

Three Metaphors for Alex’s Kiss

We Write Poems wants poems about the first kiss. If I’m going to be truthful, there were lots of first kisses: the first one was probably in sixth grade, on a dare. There were others in high school with the two girlfriends. There was the first one with a guy, freshman year of college (he was straight and it was at a party and I already wrote a poem about that), and there was the one with the first kind-of-boyfriend. But this is about the first real boyfriend, whose birthday — go figure — is the day before Valentine’s. He’s happy with his guy, I’m happy with mine, and we talk only infrequently; but there is still, and I suspect always will be, that little nugget of love in my heart. I don’t write many poems about Alex (pseudonym! whee), maybe because I’m afraid to do so will corrupt the memory. But everything in the metaphors I tried to craft here — the nature images, the sense of time and doom, the inescapability of things, the hope and dream of it — is all directly related to the memory of my (comparatively whirlwind) romance with him.

I still think Massive Attack (in “Teardrop”) says it best and most simply: love, love is a verb / love is a doing word / fearless on my breath.

Three Metaphors for Alex’s Kiss

The snapdragon’s morning gravity
when it draws in little water-moons
to collect on its shoulders,
an entire hour of paste diamonds
at the ball to be treasured
until the sun arrives,
harsh and honest.

The blank space as the chapter
ends, lone period delicately hung
over a field of snow,
which seems to last forever
before you can find out whether
some antihero or another lives
or dies.

The inevitable wave at midnight,
dirty and blue-brown with foam
as it’s tugged ashore,
quilting the sand, unpainting
scrawled names and prophecies,
leaving only a now, as cold
as it is correct.

Reverie Fifty-One: personal holiday

Before launching into this week’s Reverie, I want to discuss this prompt series. I think it’s gone well, and I’ve enjoyed doing them, but I don’t know how much more I can dredge up from the idea wells in the coming year. I’m wondering if I should change tack a little bit, still doing weekly prompts but with a different tone. What do you all think? I know that sometimes these move between too complicated and somewhat interesting, but if you have any ideas for what works/what doesn’t, and what you might like to see (and whether you’ve benefited from these prompts), I’d be happy to hear them.

Also, if you have suggestions for what shape the last prompt of the year should take next week, please drop them in the comments, as my brain will be in slumber mode, and I will be happy for some input.

This week: “personal holiday

Between Hanukkah, Yule, the end of the world, Christmas, Kwanzaa, New Year’s, and all the other holidays crammed into the few weeks at the year’s finish, it can feel as though there is simply one special festive occasion after another to attend to. In a sense, when every day is a holiday, can there be said to be any holidays at all? (There’s a brain-teaser for you.) I do find that some of these holidays become a bit tired after a while, and I start looking for new traditions to follow.

So, this is a prompt that has been used elsewhere before, which I will now appropriate. On the subject of holidays, you have two options for this prompt. The first one is to take a pre-existing holiday (it doesn’t have to be one of the winter ones) and give it a new spin. You can discuss some kind of existential issue that’s been bugging you about Arbor Day for years; or share some rare and unique tradition from rural Romania that takes place the first week of Advent; or you might even find a holiday that’s only celebrated in one part of the world which you want to research. However it goes, you ought then to think about how to describe it poetically. A couple of pointers:

– think about the season where the holiday falls, and use that as a backdrop to juxtapose the images of the celebration: if, during Italian Easter, they carry big torches around the countryside, focus on the colors of Tuscany in April at least as much as the color of the flames
– decide whether you want to zoom in on the trappings of the celebration or the overarching purpose of it, but don’t try to do both, as it might be too much at once
– dig up some photos, music, items, stories, or other artifacts about the holiday, and do a bit of free-writing to see what they summon up in you: do you get particular stories or emotions that you can name out of them?

Then, choose what form you want to use for your poem and begin writing. Tantalize your reader: don’t give away everything about the holiday, just leave enough traces of its spirit to get the reader interested. If you had to describe Christmas for the first time in thirty seconds to make it appealing, how would you do it? Stick to powerful, rich images that pique the reader’s interest.

The other option (which I prefer) is simply to invent your own holiday. A word of caution: I suggest not using a personal anniversary that will not have a universal appeal. (I know, the title of this Reverie is “personal holiday”, but bear with me.) Pick something from the natural world, or an abstract concept to celebrate (in the way that Valentine’s Day has transitioned from a saint’s day into a generic festival of love, more or less). I’ve often said that two of my favorite holidays are First Snow and First Thunder, which demand their own particular kinds of pomp and ceremony (and are moveable feasts as well). And as with the first option for the prompt, zoom in on the particulars of time/place to give some specificity to the piece. A few more tips, this time for the second option:

– if you choose a natural moment/event, pick apart why it summons up emotion X or Y in you; try to draw some symbolic associations between the literal, elemental parts of what you’re celebrating and the emotional, figurative ones
– alternatively, if you’re more concerned with a place or thing in the world (if you have Grand Canyon Day, for example) rather than a particular time, how will you decide when your holiday should be?
– get diverse with the descriptions: First Snow is not just about seeing the white stuff on the ground, it’s about the peculiar bite in the air, the colors of the sky, the silence over the trees, etc.
– because you’re creating this holiday yourself, come up with some celebratory aspects; do you go on a picnic, or see friends, or say a chant, or dance madly on the roof, or what?

When you write, it’s up to you how you want to frame this, to invite the reader in. The first option can be considered a little more educational, for lack of a better word, especially if you take a familiar occasion to explore: you and the reader are jumping off on this journey of discovering the wiggly backstage of Christmas, or July 4th, or whatever, together. The second option is simpler for the brain, but perhaps more open to the heart. It doesn’t take a wild logical leap to understand “first snow”, and there’s not much you can teach about the event itself, but the challenge is to draw the reader in to understand why this celebration you’re doing is important to you, in the emotional sense. Of course, if you can manage to both educate and enchant your reader at once, you’ve been doubly successful; maybe you can have the first snow happen on Christmas, and get those two sides of the celebratory coin in at once. In any case, allow yourself to go deep and pensive with this one, and really think about what the celebration does for you, more than what it just “means”. And then get meta, and think about that day against the backdrop of a year that is (largely) drab and shallow by comparison.

Time for a nap, but I hope this is enough to get you started. (And I know people are busy this week, but if you have a chance, do come back and share!) Hoping to see what ideas you have, and any suggestions for the final Reverie of the year…!

(untitled winter poem)

I’m pretty sure I had an untitled summer poem at some point, so why not a winter one? I wanted to get done this one (for the We Write Poems prompt about time and seasons) before bed; now that I have accomplished that, to sleep I go. More substantive stuff tomorrow…

(untitled winter poem)

No one tells the sun,
Undo yourself like this behind the tall buildings,
with those stripes of vermilion and grey;
she just does it, evening after evening.
No one tells the leaving birds,
Spell your V on her back when you fly south;
but they do it anyway, trailing every word
that begins with the hum
of pearled teeth on a hesitant lip.
And no one tells the breath,
Reveal yourself;
it simply wants to see the deepening night,
it knows its kinship with that first frost
creeping up the fire escape.
And no one tells us
that the space between two breaths, between
pairs of diminishing wings or memories of color
painting the windows, is just long enough
to catch the roll of time like a skein of yarn.
We just know it; we just see it
gathering promises of snow and smoke,
knowing it and wanting it all the more.