and…we’re back. Ready,set, April!

I couldn’t have asked for a better week of vacation. Along with the sunny weather and most excellent company, I had hours to read and write and think, a definite luxury. I wrote a lot of what I can only call fragments – not poems, not stories, just little chunks of text that I am looking forward to reading back and manipulating into something recognizable. I was absolutely blown away reading Dean Young’s Fall Higher, so much so that I read it at least three times and even wrote a cento using the first lines of Young’s poems.

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And tomorrow begins National Poetry Month! If you haven’t already done so, head on over to this previous post and leave a comment to win some poetry books from me. I will NOT be attempting poem-a-day this year, but I will do as I did last year – I will try to engage with poetry in some way every day – writing, reading, attending readings, teaching poems to my class, submitting – all of these will “count” toward my daily goal.

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If you are looking for some inspiration for poem-a-day, don’t forget that you have the tow truck archives (all prompts) and the Mix Tape archives (favorite poems with prompts) at your disposal.

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Some new poems should be appearing online this month, including the debut of the pioneer wife – I will keep you posted about where and when. Write well, write often, and remember, April is only the cruelest month if you let it be.

Poetry Mixtape 50: Give a Little Bit

Photo on 2012-12-27 at 15.31 #2My holiday haul of gifts from my family included several small press poetry books that I have been wanting to read. One of them was Letitia Trent’s One Perfect Bird (Sundress Publications, 2011). There are many poems in the book that I enjoyed, but I would like everyone to go to Poemeleon and read the last poem in the collection called “Give.”

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I like how the poem begins with the generalities of common negative expressions using the word give and moves to image to explain them: the disheveled bed, burst spokes, popping a filling in a caramel apple. Then the poet turns the connotations of those sayings on their heads, finding the positive in the “good sag and drop”- the unlacing of tight work shoes, the falling down into the “crumbly, change-clanking couch.” Then she transforms them altogether at the end to the benevolent meaning of give: how the speaker will give everything to a person who can offer “a good, ballooning below me, place to drop.” Comfort and a place to land. What more can any of us ask – especially when we’ve had a time where we want to give in, give out, or give up?

If you want to write:

1. Choose a common expression that has a negative connotation and/or several incarnations: fall down, fall hard, falling fast, for example. Run through the possible different readings of those sayings as both positive and negative.

or

2. Write a poem about what you would give for something you desire. Drive the entire poem with image.

Poetry Mixtape 48: Perspective (Again)

Short poems are good for busy times, and these past few weeks have been busy. Short poems also pack a huge punch if they are done well, providing thoughts that linger long after the words are put away.

A few weeks ago at a pop-up book fair, I purchased a book by Jessica Savitz, a poet that was unfamiliar to me, mostly on a whim because I liked the titles of the poems. I haven’t read the whole book – entitled Hunting is Painting – but I have done an initial skim and scan and came upon this poem that I like very much for several reasons.

Glass Display Case at the Museum of Natural History

Square image and title in the manner
of an ancient Christmas card –

See there a herd of extinct horses
heads low to imaginary ground like white cats
and sunset hills of small camels in death-pose.

The people come in and paint convincing trees.

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The last two lines are my favorites- the image of the small camels in death-pose and the people in the museum as a moving forest.

If you want to write:
1. Use a description in a poem where the people represent something other than people.
2. Describe a museum display with a focus on something other than the actual art.

Poetry Mixtape 47: Remembering

On Wednesday at 12:12, every seventh grader in my school hooted “WHOO!” in the middle of class, celebrating a moment in time that seemed special because of its numerical anomaly. Who can say why we deem certain moments more important than others? Sometimes our most cherished memories involve places that no longer feature in our daily routines, the simple things we did there. A poem that captures this perfectly is Robert Lowell’s “The Old Flame.” (I figured it was time to give Lowell his due- after all, his correspondence with Elizabeth Bishop inspired my chapbook manuscript that is now a finalist for publication with Tired Hearts Press.)

The Old Flame

My old flame, my wife!
Remember our lists of birds?
One morning last summer, I drove
by our house in Maine. It was still
on top of its hill –

Now a red ear of Indian maize
was splashed on the door.
Old Glory with thirteen stripes
hung on a pole. The clapboard
was old-red schoolhouse red.

Inside, a new landlord,
a new wife, a new broom!
Atlantic seaboard antique shop
pewter and plunder
shone in each room.

A new frontier!
No running next door
now to phone the sheriff
for his taxi to Bath
and the State Liquor Store!

No one saw your ghostly
imaginary lover
stare through the window
and tighten
the scarf at his throat.

Health to the new people,
health to their flag, to their old
restored house on the hill!
Everything had been swept bare,
furnished, garnished and aired.

Everything’s changed for the best –
how quivering and fierce we were,
there snowbound together,
simmering like wasps
in our tent of books!

Poor ghost, old love, speak
with your old voice
of flaming insight
that kept us awake all night.
In one bed and apart,

we heard the plow
groaning up hill –
a red light, then a blue,
as it tossed off the snow
to the side of the road.

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The specificity of the simple memories -the snow plow’s groan and lights, the lists of birds – plus the addition of the idiosyncrasies of the lovers in that place (the ghost lover, simmering like wasps in a snowbound tent of books!) make the relationship vivid and real. The speaker has no nostalgic longing to have the place back (which so often happens in poems about former homes)- he wishes the new owners well with their new paint job and carefully chosen antiques. But the title and first line show a fondness for the memory of the start of the relationship, perhaps a time when things seemed simple and new. There is a sweetness to the poem that is almost deceptive – Lowell’s mastery of narrative and form both show themselves here. Two end rhymes assert themselves in different lines of each stanza, and the use of rhythmic hard and soft sounds (“Atlantic seaboard antique shop” – brilliant!) is lovely.

If you want to write:

1. Remember a place where you spent an earlier part of your relationship (if you are currently in one. If not, then a part of your childhood.) Imagine revisiting that place now and noticing the changes.

OR

2. Write a poem to an old flame that includes the phrase “simmering like wasps.”

Poetry Mixtape 46: Something Missing

So far this November and December in Chicago, temperatures have been quite a bit above normal. Any precipitation has been rain, with none of the white stuff in sight. (Which, I must say, I am happy about…snow is lovely, but shoveling it and driving in it have become increasingly difficult for me the last few years.)

But a poem about snow is always welcome. Especially one as beautiful as this one by Miguel de Unamuno.

The Snowfall Is So Silent

by Miguel de Unamuno

Translated by Robert Bly

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The snowfall is so silent,

so slow,

bit by bit, with delicacy

it settles down on the earth

and covers over the fields.

The silent snow comes down

white and weightless;

snowfall makes no noise,

falls as forgetting falls,

flake after flake.

It covers the fields gently

while frost attacks them

with its sudden flashes of white;

covers everything with its pure

and silent covering;

not one thing on the ground

anywhere escapes it.

And wherever it falls it stays,

content and gay,

for snow does not slip off

as rain does,

but it stays and sinks in.

The flakes are skyflowers,

pale lilies from the clouds,

that wither on earth.

They come down blossoming

but then so quickly

they are gone;

they bloom only on the peak,

above the mountains,

and make the earth feel heavier

when they die inside.

Snow, delicate snow,

that falls with such lightness

on the head,

on the feelings,

come and cover over the sadness

that lies always in my reason.

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Unamuno was a favorite author of a friend who passed away in April. As we prepare to pass into a new year, the snow may fall, but the sadness for that loss lies always in my reason.

If you want to write, use the weather to comment on something you will not forget.