Wednesday, April 16, 2014

PAD Day 16: An Elegy of Lies

Today's dual prompts from Poetic Asides and NaPoWriMo: (1) Write an elegy (a poem about someone -or  something - that has died),and (2) write a ten-line poem in which every line is a lie.  For some reason I thought of an infamous person who recently shuffled off this mortal coil:

Elegy for Fred Phelps Consisting Entirely of Lies

O Fred, you were a kind and tolerant man.
Your church welcomed people from all walks of life.
You accepted others' differences, especially their sexuality.
You were grateful for the service of our men and women in uniform.
You were a strong supporter of a woman's right to choose.
You always allowed bereaved families to mourn with dignity.
You  quietly held your beliefs and did not impose them on others.
If you disagreed, you did it in a reasonable, intelligent manner.
You surely are in heaven, Fred, and the world will miss you.
May God rest your soul.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

PAD Day 15: "Pathetic" Poetry and a Terza Rima

I just became aware today that four of my poems appear in a new anthology called The Pathetic Book of Poetry. It's a self-published project of one Jody Pratt, a fellow member of the online poetry community, of which I've been a member for almost fifteen years(!)  Jody recruited about 26 poets from the site to contribute to the anthology, which was a long time in process, but it's finally here. If you are interested, it's available for order on (see link to the title above).

Today's prompts from Poetic Asides and NaPoWriMo: (1) Write a "love" and/or "anti-love" poem, and (2) write a terza rima.  A "terza rima" is an Italian form created by Dante Alighieri in The Divine Comedy: A series of tercets (three-line stanzas), usually in iambic pentameter, with an interlocking rhyme scheme of ABA, BCB, CDC, DED, EFE, etc., and usually ending with a single line that rhymes with the second line of the preceding stanza.  There is no length limit to the terza rima.  My most successful poem in this form was probably "Erosion", which appeared several years ago in the late lamented journal  The Barefoot Muse, edited by my friend Anna Evans.  Today's poem is actually a "terza rima sonnet", used by Shelley in his poem "Ode to the West Wind" - the last two lines (the traditional closing sonnet couplet) rhyme with the second line in the prior stanza.  Got all that?


It's not some gilt-edged bound-in-leather journal
in which I write with fancy flourishes,
my quill pen scratching odes to love eternal.

My Bic pen scrawls, its blue ink nourishes
lined paper bound by wire spiral spine,
torn cardboard covers held against their wishes

by duct tape, just to lend a silver shine.
What matters is what's put between the covers,
not whether your book's prettier than mine.

Let's read our work to our respective lovers
and see who swoons to each impassioned page,
and like the tiny hummingbird who hovers

around the nectar jar, their love will rage.
It's so much better than a living wage.

Monday, April 14, 2014

PAD Day 14: Dubious Questions for Uncle Walt

Today's dual prompts from Poetic Asides and NaPoWriMo: (1) Write a poem with the title "If I Were _______", and (2) write a poem consisting entirely of questions except for one statement at the end.   Once again, I had a hard time coming up with anything for two relatively simple prompts, but here's the result. I was thinking of insipid celebrity interview questions, which led me in this direction. (After two longer poems in the last two days, it's a relief to write a shorter one, too.)

If I Were to Meet Walt Whitman, What I Would Ask

Did you know they named a bridge after you?
What do you think of Camden today?
What was it like being a Civil War nurse?
How did you deal with being gay in the 19th Century?
What was Oscar Wilde like?
Who were your favorite poets?
When did you decide not to rhyme?
What do you think of rap?
Where did you like to go for dinner?
Did your beard get itchy in the summer?
Where did you get that floppy hat?
Why did you only write one book of poetry?
Can I get your autograph?
Then he'd sign my copy of Leaves of Grass,
and show me the door. 

Sunday, April 13, 2014

PAD Day 13: The Weird Family's Kid

Today's dual prompts from Poetic Asides and NaPoWriMo: (1) Write an "animal" poem (and as a suggestion from guest judge Daniel Nester, write a sestina), and (2) write a poem with at least one "kenning".  A kenning is a trope of Norse origin which is a marriage of two words that don't usually go together, to metaphorically describe another word or phrase.  Thus "whale road" could mean the ocean.  One of the most common kennings I can think of in English is "rug rat" to describe a young child, specifically a crawling baby. A sestina - well, all you poets probably know what that is.  For those who don't, the short definition is a poem with six six-line stanzas and a seventh three-line stanza. Six words are selected as end-words and one must be used at the end of each line, in a specific rotating order, with all six used in the three lines of the last stanza (the "envoi"). The poem is usually written in blank verse (ten syllables per line), but doesn't have to be. It's one of the most daunting forms, and hard to write without sounding like little more than an exercise in form. I've only written one or two I consider really successful, one of which was published. I don't know if this one is in the same league, but here it is.  It's a bit of a riff, or an exaggeration, on how my youngest son must feel about not having a pet dog in the house. Oh, and my "kenning" appears in line 5:

The Weird Family's Kid

First warm weekend in spring - people walk dogs
with impunity. In my neighborhood
there is a dog in every family
but mine. They all parade past my window-
furry little leash-puffs the size of bees,
hulking hounds as tall as a sunflower.

I know their names. The pug in the flowered
sweater is Bessie. The big police dog
is Bear. He likes to snap at honeybees.
Fred and Ginger trot through my neighborhood,
two Corgis in tandem. Through my window
it's a kennel show - all the families

strut them proudly - all but my family.
My parents are allergic to flowers,
and anything that floats in the window -
dust, pollen, smoke, and especially dog
and cat hair. I stroll through the neighborhood
petting every dog, avoiding the bees.

My folks are even allergic to bees.
Just how I escaped all these family
traits is a mystery. The neighborhood
is a battleground for them. No flowers
in our yard, and obviously, no dogs
or cats. And we always keep the windows

closed.  Our neighbors see our blinded windows
and shake their heads. But I don't want to be
seen as a weirdo. That label won't dog
me to adulthood. When those families
see me on the street smelling the flowers,
speeding on my bike through the neighborhood,

they will say, "Look, there's that nice neighborhood
kid, the one whose parents keep their windows        
shut - he's not so bad." When my life flowers,
when I've learned all about the birds and bees,
I'll move out from this shut-in family,
and maybe even get myself a dog.

People in this neighborhood buzz like bees.
They want families with open windows,
who plant flowers and like to walk their dogs.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

PAD Day 12: Loneliness and the City

Today's Poetic Asides prompt is to write a "city" poem. NaPoWriMo's prompt is a little more involved: Take a common “concrete” noun, like “dog” or “desk” or “lemon”, and use a search engine or other method to find references to that word, then substitute an abstract noun, like “love” or “sorrow” or “freedom” for that word and base a poem on the results. Per the first prompt, I used “city” as my concrete noun and “loneliness” as the abstract one, and what happened was this slightly strange “found poem” based on a fascinating newspaper article ("A Physicist Solves the City" - Jonah Lehrer, New York Times,Dec. 17, 2010).   I’m still paring it down, but here is what is looks like so far:
A Physicist Solves Loneliness
Arguments over the details of crustaceans
were a sure sign that it was time to move on,
so I began to think seriously about loneliness.
I had this hunch that there was something more,
that loneliness was shaped by a set of hidden laws.
I can take these laws and make precise predictions
about the number of violent crimes
and the surface area of roads to loneliness in Japan.
I bought a thick and expensive almanac
featuring the provincial loneliness of China.
New York isn’t just more loneliness.
It’s a former Dutch fur-trading settlement,
the center of the finance industry,
and home to the Yankees.
After analyzing the first sets of loneliness data —
we began infrastructure and consumption statistics —
we concluded that loneliness looks a lot like an elephant.
Like an elephant, loneliness becomes more efficient
as its gets bigger.
When you look at some of this fast-growing loneliness,
it looks like a tumor on the landscape. The concept
of loneliness spread for an entirely different reason.
Modern loneliness is the real center of sustainability.
Creating a more sustainable society will require
our big loneliness to get even bigger.
Why, then, do we put up with the indignities
of loneliness? If you ask people why they move
to loneliness, they always give the same reasons.
Loneliness is all about the people, not the infrastructure.
All successful loneliness is a little uncomfortable.
Loneliness is one of the single most important inventions
in human history. Loneliness is an unruly place,
largely immune to the desires of politicians and planners.
Loneliness is not as a mass of buildings
but rather a vessel of empty spaces.
Loneliness isn’t a skyline — it is a dance.
Loneliness can’t be managed,
and that’s what keeps it so vibrant.
There are few planned meetings,
just lots of unplanned conversations.
It’s just these insane masses of people,
bumping into each other and maybe
sharing an idea or two. It’s the freedom
of loneliness that keeps them alive.

Friday, April 11, 2014

PAD Day 11: Wine, Women, and... Poetry

Today's dual prompts from Poetic Asides and NaPoWriMo: (1) Write a poem whose title is a statement, then respond to that statement in your poem, and (2) write an "Anacreonic" poem; that is, one about wine and love.  Anacreon was an ancient Greek poet who loved to write about those two subjects, and though prompt #2 doesn't require it, I tried to write my poem more or less in the form he used, or at least, the form of the English translations. ( Fun fact: Did you know that "The Star-Spangled Banner" was based on an old English drinking song called "To Anacreon in Heaven"?)  My "statement title" is a quote from Robert Louis Stevenson.  So here's my light verse for today:

Wine is Bottled Poetry

Wine is bottled poetry
said Stevenson, and now says me.
I can woo you with my rhymes,
but wine assures us both good times.
Join me in the meadow, lass -
We'll read my works and raise a glass.
I think that a rondelet
complements a chardonnay.
Or let's try a villanelle
with a zesty zinfandel.
You might prefer to sip merlot
while I read you my rondeau.
Then I'll share with you a sonnet -
just don't spill your claret on it.
A limerick, my last resort,
will go quite well with tawny port.
I'll read my verse if you will hear it,
but take it with the proper spirit.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

PAD Day 10: The Future is Now!

I'm late today - I don't know why two relatively simple prompts gave me so much trouble, but it's taken all day to come up with something worthy of posting. First, though, a couple of shout-outs to follow bloggers who are participating in daily writing prompt challenges: Vince Gotera's blog  The Man with the Blue Guitar (I especially like his Day 9 poem which used my "playlist" poem prompt that I suggested for NaPoWriMo, to create an entertaining poem in the "hay(na)ku" form), and Joseph Harker's naming constellations, whose link you can find in my sidebar.

Anyway, the dual prompts from Poetic Asides and NaPoWriMo: (1) Write a "future" poem, and (2) write an "advertising" poem.  The latter can be a poem in the form of an advertisement or one about advertising. My reference to that prompt is rather peripheral, and I don't think it's my best poem so far this month, but for what it's worth, here ya go:

The World of Tomorrow

Now that we have arrived in the future,
it doesn't look much like we imagined it
in all those old advertisements
and Popular Science magazine covers.
We have no flying cars. Folks don't zip
around the city in pneumatic tubes.
There are no condos on the moon.
And from here on, the world of tomorrow
may look much like today, depending
on how close your "tomorrow" is.
We can't expect a sea change of technology
overnight.  Yet every day we see ads
that tell us the future is already here:
little robots that clean our floors,
wristwatch-sized smart phones,
and soon, cars that drive themselves.
Moving through it all day by day,
our progress seems incremental,
yet looking back at all those predictions
from decades ago, we got some of it right,
and looking forward, we can only imagine.