Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Holidays Have Begun!

...for better or worse.  I admit I have a love/hate relationship with the holiday season.  If I can get past the hustle-bustle of traffic and shopping, the constant barrage of seasonal ads, the exhaustion of trying to cram all the shopping, decorating, cleaning, wrapping, cooking, etc. into just a few weeks... it's always worth it in the end.  It started auspiciously enough with Thanksgiving dinner at my house - we had fourteen at the table, and it was a truly international affair, with four Korean guests (our current international student and her mom who is visiting this week, plus our former student - now in college at Penn State - and his friend) plus my son's partner, originally from India.

And of course I'm already playing Christmas music.  I just downloaded an album called Holidays Rule, a collection of alt-music artists doing familiar and not-so-familiar seasonal songs.  The highlights for me are Rufus Wainwright and Sharon van Otten doing a heartfelt version of "Baby, It's Cold Outside"; Paul McCartney's mellow "The Christmas Song"; R&B legend Irma Thomas doing "May Ev'ry Day Be Christmas"; The Civil Wars' goosebump-inducing "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day"; and my absolute favorite, a gorgeous song by Calexico, "Green Grows the Holly".  Downside: an abrasive version by the band "fun." of "Sleigh Ride" and a clunky version by the Shins of McCartney's "Wonderful Christmastime", which unfortunately are the first two songs on the album.

Poetry News:  I will have a poem published next year by the baseball-themed literary journal Spitball.  It's called "Nine Innings", and it's an autobiographical poem in the context of being a lifelong fan of the Phillies.  It borrows from a form used by poet Donald Hall: nine stanzas of nine lines, each with nine syllables.  These poems by Hall usually address a friend and have an allusion to baseball.  (Hall himself is a lifelong Red Sox fan.)  I'm excited to have something so personal in print, in addition to being the longest poem I've ever had published.

I also have signed up again for Peter Murphy's Winter Getaway Poetry and Prose conference, and I will attend Dorianne Laux's workshop.  It was a choice between that one and the Palm Beach Poetry Festival, which was very enticing with two of my favorites returning - Billy Collins and Jane Hirshfield.  (I took Jane's workshop there two years ago, and as those of you who know me can attest, I still can't stop talking about how great she is.)  But budget, time and distance were all considerations, so the Winter Getaway won out.  This will be my fourth time there, and I always enjoy it.

Music:  I'm rather disappointed that WXPN is not doing a countdown of the best albums of the year this year.  Back in the day, they used to play the top 50 albums (as voted by their listeners) in their entirety, but in recent years they have cut back on that programming, and this year they did away with it completely, going instead with a Top 200 Songs countdown. In a way, it's a sign of the times, as folks these days seem less interested in albums (much less CD's) and more interested in individual song downloads.  So in spite of all that, I've compiled a list of my favorite albums - and songs - of the year:

1. Wrecking Ball - Bruce Springsteen
2. Slipstream - Bonnie Raitt
3. My Head is an Animal - Of Monsters and Men
4. A Thing Called Divine Fits - Divine Fits
5. Milk Famous - White Rabbits
6. Be the Void - Dr. Dog
7. The Lumineers - The Lumineers
8. Port of Morrow - The Shins
9. El Camino - The Black Keys
10. Bloom - Beach House

Honorable Mention:
Big Station - Alejandro Escovedo
Babel - Mumford and Sons
Clear Heart, Full Eyes - Craig Finn
Algiers - Calexico
Sunken Condos - Donald Fagen
Little Broken Hearts - Norah Jones
Handwritten - The Gaslight Anthem
Gossamer - Passion Pit
Anastasis - Dead Can Dance

1. Little Talks - Of Monsters and Men
2. Little Black Submarines - Black Keys
3. Land of Hope and Dreams - Bruce Springsteen
4. I Will Wait - Mumford and Sons
5. Would That Not Be Nice - Divine Fits
6. Stubborn Love - The Lumineers
7. No Way Down - The Shins
8. Take a Walk - Passion Pit
9. Danny Come Inside - White Rabbits
10. Default - Django Django

Poem: I'm still doing a poem a day for November, and following Robert Brewer's Poetic Asides blog. This month he solicited writing prompt suggestions from participants, and he used mine on the 21st, which is:
Take a random list of song titles, from a shuffled iPod playlist, CD, the next five songs on your favorite radio station, etc., then use as many of those titles as you can in a poem.  Here's the one I wrote - note the last title in the random list was a real toughie:


If you want me to make sense

it will have to be after you’re gone.

You’re the one I want
to lay down in the tall grass.
That face like Grace Kelly knocks me over,
a tree in your avalanche.

I’d do anything for you – shop on Black Friday,
eat chocolate-covered crickets,
say the alphabet backwards:…D,C,B,A.

25 horses couldn't keep me away.

If You Want Me – Glen Hansard and Marketa Inglova
Lay Down in the Tall Grass – Timber Timbre
The Avalanche – Sufjan Stevens
Grace Kelly – The Whiffenpoofs
D.C.B.A. -25 – Jefferson Airplane]

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Veteran's Day

I just wanted to wish any veterans out there who may be reading this, a happy Veterans Day.  Like many of my peers, I protested the Vietnam War in my youth, and one of the unfortunate by-products of those times was a disrespect, even a vilification, of many of the veterans who returned home.  My philosophy since then has become, "Love the soldier, hate the war."  My late father-in-law was a WWII vet, and I had the utmost respect and appreciation for him.  So best wishes to all the vets out there, like my poet friend Charles H. Johnson.  (Read his work if you haven't already done so.)

Today's poem-a-day challenge was to write a poem from the point of view of a veteran.  Never having been one myself, I tried to put myself in the shoes of a vet returning home from Afghanistan, still carrying some emotional scars.


I have come back from a dry, rocky hell
feeling hollow, needing to be filled again.
I hold my family close. My dog licks my face,

and I take him with me to the woods,
down to the brook, where he chases squirrels,
while I sit on a stump and listen
to the birds, the gurgling water.

It all seems new again.

Moments like this, I am at peace,
and I feel safe within the walls of home,
although it's never far behind me,
that other fear, the bloody phantom
that comes leaping at me in my dreams.

[I should also mention that I combined this prompt with the "Wordle" word bank on the blog The Sunday Whirl.  I used all the words from the bank: dry, rocky, hollow, wood, brook, birds, new, walls, although, never, phantom, leaping.]

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Extra: Post-Election Poetry

I'm doing Robert Brewer's Poem-a-Day Challenge again for November, and though I won't be posting daily as I did in April, I may share some of my prompted poems from time to time. This one I wanted to try to post because I'm not the most savvy person with HTML, and I wasn't sure how to post these "justified" poems anywhere else.  The prompt (from Day 6) was to write a "left poem" and a "right poem" - to be interpreted anyway the poet desired.  So in light of yesterday's election (the results of which I am quite satisfied with, just so you know), I thought I'd write a "right", a "left", and a "center" poem:

Red's Lament

The Left
is out in left field.
They've left behind
all reason, those bleeding hearts.
I will pay them no compliments,
not even a left-handed one.
I don't even trust southpaws.
You know "sinister" is Latin for
"left-handed", don't you?
When they're done with our country,
what will be left?
Blue's Ballyhoo

The Right
just aren't thinking right.
What gives them the right
to leave the poor behind?
They think everything's all right
as long as they've got theirs.
In Latin, "right-handed" is "dexter",
like the serial killer on TV.
You think they'll kill our country
with greed and selfishness?
You got that right.

Purple's Plea

We're in the middle
of all this fuss.
Let's get over ourselves,
find our center, and breathe.
Compromise is not a dirty word.
Here in the middle of the road
there are no ruts.
Red and blue together
make such a beautiful color.
If we're even-handed, we'll be great again,
the center of our universe.