Tuesday, April 30, 2013

PAD Day 30

I made it!  Thirty-nine poems in thirty days. And while they're not all classics, it felt good to be productive again and have some fun writing.  On the other hand, I'm kind of glad it's over.  Some days it was a real struggle just to produce something as brief as a haiku. I also wish I'd been more successful some days at combining the two prompts I was using. (But then again, if I had, I may not have written more than 30 poems.) It's a good challenge and exercise in writing self-discipline.

The final April prompt from NaPoWriMo is to take a poem from earlier this month and write its "opposite" - in other words, substitute the original words with their opposites. My Day 21 poem, "Fortune Cookie Senryu", which contained inspirational messages, seemed like a good target for this exercise.  What I came up with here could probably be called "dispirational".

Misfortune Cookie Senryu

Measure failure by 
how low you have sunk, and what
you don’t do down there.

Despite how relaxed
and idle you are, take one
thing off your list: work.

Don’t go out today,
ignore your environment,
don’t reflect on it.

Optimism hates
air, pessimism dies worst
in total vacuum.

My divorce account:
squander laziness and joy,
and I’ll go bankrupt.

Poetic Asides' final prompt is to write a "finished" and/or "unfinished"poem.


A poem is never finished, only abandoned.
- Paul Valery

The poem sits in a meadow,
rusting in spring rain. Once
it carried me to delightful destinations,
but it wasn't perfect. I  tried tinkering
with it - new engine, transmission,
a different rhyme scheme,
tightening the meter,
a fresh coat of metaphoric paint.
Then just  when I  thought
I fixed it up the way it should be,  
someone would walk by and say,
Do you have the right tires? or
Those door handles look clumsy,
or, I don't understand your imagery.
Eventually, it ended up in a drawer,
and later moved to this field.
Today I found it again, a corroded shell
of what it once was.  I sat down
in the April drizzle and begin to write
a poem about an old abandoned car.

I hope you've all had a great National Poetry Month!

Monday, April 29, 2013

PAD Day 29

Today's prompt from NaPoWriMo is to write a poem that uses at least five words or phrases from a foreign language, I took some liberties with this one and came up with what I think is a rather amusing commentary:

This is America, Buddy

So if you want to order real American food
in my diner, like pizza, crepes,
or frankfurters and sauerkraut,
you’d better speak English, capice?
Don’t be a schmuck and give me your lip –
we can go mano-a-mano any time.
So what if I’m gung ho about speaking the language?
If you don’t like it, c’est la vie.
And don’t forget, Friday’s Karaoke Night –
we’ll all be singing “Gangnam Style”.

The second prompt, from Poetic Asides, was to take a line from one of your April poems and make it the title of a new poem. I took it a step further and wrote a poem comprised of one line each from twenty of the poems I wrote this month (including the title). In other words, I wrote a "cento".  All are the original verbatim lines, too, except for one which I broke into two lines.

How Complex You Are

I'll tell you unequivocally,
Nature: I love and hate you.
I'm dopey enough to tell you how I feel.
We've breezed through laughter,
slogged through tears,
promises, engagements, hearts,
casting aspersions, doubts, accusations
when you betrayed me. Still I held back rain.

Pessimism loves a vacuum.
The ants are in the peonies again.
Ghost-faced owl dives, curls talons.
Please keep your wrath at bay -
we can't let the dark possibles dictate us.

Sun plus warm equals melt -
then take a walk, admire daffodils.
Let's go on a holiday to the borderline.
Our bodies respond with madness,
like a town crier on Doomsday,
lips puffed beyond the natural,
with fireworks of purple.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

PAD Day 28

Today's dual prompts: (1) Write a "color" poem, and (2) write a shadorma.  A "shadorma" is allegedly a form that originated in Spain (though it's more likely an invented contemporary form) of six lines with syllable counts of 3,5,3,3,7 and 5.  As such, it's a similar discipline to haiku or tanka.  So here's a string of shadormas I wrote on the topic of color:

The Color of Azalea

In my yard
an azalea bush
my birthday
with fireworks of purple
flowers every year.

Yet "purple"
doesn't do justice
to its hue -
perhaps (that's my niece's name)
or heliotrope.

Maybe plum
(no, that's way too deep),
or lilac (those don't work, they're
other flowers' names).

Puce or mauve?
Both are ugly words.
No artist,
just a guy,
I'll be content with "purple" -
it suits me just fine.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

PAD Day 27: Happy Birthday to Me

Oh joy. Today I am now officially old enough to collect Social Security.  My prompts for today are (1) Write a "mechanical" poem, and (2) follow along with me now - take the first three words of a popular phrase or "old saying", plug it into a search engine, and use the first three pages or so of results, picking out interesting words or phrases you can use in a poem.  Maybe I'm using the wrong "old sayings", but this exercise just didn't quite work for me.  The first poem I produced came out dark and disturbing, and though it was an entirely fictitious narrative poem, it might have shown up on some homeland-security radar, especially in these sensitive post-Boston bombing times, so I chose not to share it.  I did plug in the beginning of an appropriate old saying for today, and I was reminded of a tired old analogy, which inspired this short and pithy piece:

You're Only as Old as You Feel

"A little age can be a wonderful thing.
Take a fine bottle of scotch for example...."


That's it.  And here's my "mechanical" poem:

Birthday Robot

 I need a robot to absorb all my birthdays,
so he will be the one who needs service
and repair, more often every year.
He'll be the one who everyone will tell,
"You look pretty good for your age,"
and "You're only as old as you feel."
He'll get all the snarky getting-older birthday cards. 
and he'll be the one who will worry
what will happen when his warranty runs out.
And while he's fretting about circuits
that don't connect so quickly any more,
blockages in circulation, dimming light sensors,
joints that creak with every movement,
I'll be lounging on an island somewhere,
no older than last year, sipping a piña colada
and sending him a snarky birthday card.

Friday, April 26, 2013

PAD Day 26 Part Deux

So here's my second poem of the day, in response to Poetic Asides' prompt to write a "casting" poem.  I'm posting it separately only because it's so totally different from my other poem today.

O'Reilly Goes Fishing

Took my favorite rod and flies,
waded out hip-deep, where the river
bends to the right, and started casting
aspersions, doubts, accusations,
reeling in my catch, one after another.
Tonight I have bigger fish to fry.
My fans won't even realize that I've
filleted my dish of reason, logic,
and fairness, nor will they notice
when I choke on the bones.

PAD Day 26

Once again, I had a hard time reconciling the two prompts for today.  Poetic Asides' prompt is to write a "casting" poem.  Maybe I'll come up with something by the end of the day, or tomorrow.  Meanwhile I worked on today's prompt from NaPoWriMo, which is to write a "deletion" poem: Take a longer poem and delete most of the words, then use the words you have left - in order - to form another poem.  It is suggested that you even leave the words more or less in their original positions on the page, which makes for a more concrete, post-modern appearance. I tried this with one of Billy Collins' longest poems, "Victoria's Secret", and here's what I came up with.  (The title, "To Rise" is also an excision of the original title.)

To Rise

                   a deeply scalloped

cannot hide the shadow of

Here, the            
with       ruffles

as if to say           I am         nothing
                a low sweetheart

                                                a music box
                    will wake         her
in the                                       library

with a   

                                her neighbor

 a beautifully shaped
                ice cream
       a new sofa
peach,                                  rose, and periwinkle
It is
                                                a   swollen

Rain is beating on the roof.                          

Thursday, April 25, 2013

PAD Day 25

Today’s dual prompts from Poetic Asides and NaPoWriMo: (1) Write a poem with the title “Everyone ________”, and (2) write a ballad (whether an old English-style ballad, a rock power ballad, etc.) I’m not exactly sure why the subject of my poem popped up, other than the fact that it’s been a pet peeve of mine lately – an almost irrational and toxic animosity toward a certain celebrity, and it seemed to be a good fit for the title prompt too. I’ve been writing a lot of humorous and light verse this month for some reason, so why stop now?

Everyone Hates Anne
(The Ballad of Anne Hathaway)

There is a girl in Hollywood,
Anne Hathaway’s her name,
and people seem to hate her guts,
and most resent her fame.

She’s pretty, perky, gifted too,
yet people seem so bitter,
with snarky comments on their blogs
and Facebook posts and Twitter.

She did The Princess Diaries
and Brokeback Mountain too,
but still they call her “theater kid”;
her acting they pooh-pooh.

She’s been Jane Austen, “99”,
a fashion gal in Prada.
How much respect did they give her?
Try, zero, nothing, nada.

She’s played Batman’s Selina Kyle,
and Alice’s White Queen,
Then she brought home her Oscar gold
for playing poor Fantine.

But still the haters had their doubts,
although she shed a tear
when she gave her acceptance speech;
they called her insincere.

So here’s my message to you folks:
please keep your wrath at bay,
for I’ll make no apologies –
I love Anne Hathaway.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

PAD Day 24

Today's dual prompts from Poetic Asides and NaPoWriMo: (1) Write an "auto" poem (to be interpreted as you like), and (2) write an "anagram" poem, particularly one that uses anagrams of your name.  I tried the second prompt a few years ago on the Poetic Asides blog - I wrote an "aragman", an invented form by poet Salvatore Butacci.  I can't locate the rules of the form now, but it seemed to involve anagrams of your name alternating with lines that would help tie them together to make sense.  Here's the "aragman" I wrote back then (all the odd-numbered lines are anagrams of "Bruce Niedt"):

Aragman of a Parallel Life

“Be nice, turd!”
I told myself. “Ditch the
beer – induct
me in sobriety!”
I bent crude
ways to straighten my life.

I dub recent
lapses superfluous.
I’d curb teen-
like urges – only the
tribe dunce
would risk it all for a fling.

“Nicer” debut –
now I won’t squander a
buried cent.
No gambling – and any
bet inducer
I have vowed to resist.

Cuter in bed
now, in my good wife’s eyes.
But nice red
boxers are what gets her
enticed – rub
her back; we both relax.

Burn deceit!

For my "new" poem, I used yesterday's NaPoWriMo prompt to write a triolet and combined it with the "auto" prompt:

Last Repair

I’ve had enough of you, old car.
For many years you carried us
to destinations near and far.
You’ve had enough. Of you, old car,
I’ll say you used to be a star,
but now I’ll need to take the bus.
I’ve had enough of you. Old car,
thanks for the years you carried us.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

PAD Day 23

Today's prompts are another good fit: (1) Write a love and/or "anti-love" poem, and (2) write a triolet.  A triolet is a formal poem of French origin consisting of eight lines in iambic tetrameter (eight syllables, for beats) with a rhyme scheme of ABaAabAB, where the capitals are repeated lines (though they can have minor variations to make things more interesting).  I've done a few of these, and some have even been about love, but what the heck, why not do another?  This one anticipates a big event for me that's less than three months away.


We've kept this up for forty years;
we must be doing something right.
We've breezed through laughter, slogged through tears,
and kept it up for forty years.
Another lap, we pass to cheers,
we've run the race, we've fought the fight
and kept it up.  For forty years
we must be doing something, right?

Monday, April 22, 2013

PAD Day 22

Today's dual prompts: (1) Write a nature-related poem for Earth Day, and (2) write a "complex" poem (once again, interpret the word any way you like - complex idea, apartment complex, inferiority complex, etc.).  I seem to be still in a "senryu" mood today, because so far this is all I came up with (maybe more will come to me later):

cherry tree blossoms
a different day each year –
how complex you are

Happy Earth Day!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

PAD Day 21

Today's dual prompts fit together perfectly: (1) Write a "fortune cookie" poem, and (2) write a senryu.  In case you don't know, a "senryu" is a haiku-like poem, usually with a 5-7-5 syllable count, but with a more humanistic theme than naturalistic one.  Also there are fewer restrictions on form (for instance, there doesn't have to be "kigo", a reference to a season).  So here are my "Fortune Cookie Senryu". The upbeat, inspirational messages may not be characteristic for me, bur I guess the beautiful spring day outside and the baby shower for my daughter-in-law at my house are influencing my mood.  Plus, I once wrote a poem called "Cynical Fortune Cookies", so been-there-done-that.

Fortune Cookie Senryu

Don't measure success
by how high you climb, but what
you do where you are.

No matter how stressed
and busy you are, add one 
thing to your list: rest.

Take a walk today,
observe your environment,
report back to you.

Pessimism loves
a vacuum; optimism
thrives best in fresh air.  

Your marriage account:
invest hard work and some tears -
you'll yield dividends.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

PAD Day 20

I had to work quickly today - lots and lots to do.  The dual prompts are (1) Write a "beyond" poem, and (2) write a poem using at least five of these words:

owl generator abscond upwind squander clove miraculous dunderhead cyclops willowy mercurial seaweed gutter nonpareil artillery salt curl ego rodomontade elusive twice ghost cheese cowbird truffle svelte quahog bilious

I always like to challenge myself in these "word bank" prompts by using as many words in as few lines as possible.  So here are two short poems that use a total of eleven of the words (which are underlined in the list above):

Evening Tanka

amongst the truffles
a young rabbit looks for food
upwind from danger

ghost-faced owl dives, curls talons,
absconds with his evening meal

To a Reckless Golfer

It's beyond belief that twice now,
elusive beneath the thunderhead,
you were not lit up like a generator
by lightning, you miraculous dunderhead.

Granted, the first poem has nothing to do with prompt #1, and the second poem has. once again, a tenuous connection, but I did have fun using that word bank. For some reason, I really love the phrase "miraculous dunderhead", and I couldn't resist rhyming it with "thunderhead".  

Friday, April 19, 2013

PAD Day 19

Today's prompts: (1) Write a poem in the form of a personal ad, and (2) write a "burn" poem (to be interpreted as you like).  I admit that my poem's connection to the second prompt is tenuous at best ("burning" is mentioned in the first part), but I did have fun doing this one.

Musical Personals

Are you lonesome tonight?
Hunk o' burning love seeks
hard-headed woman to love him tender.
Loves pets, especially hound dogs. 
Don't be cruel, it's now or never.
No suspicious minds.
Reply care of Heartbreak Hotel.

Jealous guy seeks woman for real love.
Come together and imagine us
in a day in the life, free as a bird. 
I'll do whatever gets you thru the night.
No mind games. 
Reply to www.iamthewalrus.com.

Material girl seeks true blue lover
not afraid to express yourself
and tell me a bedtime story.
I want to be crazy for you
but you need to justify my love.
Let's go on a holiday to the borderline -
I'll act like a virgin and live to tell.
Call 1-800-555-VOGUE.

Another bonus poem today: Yesterday I told my teenage son about the Poetic Asides prompt to write a poem with the title "I Am ______".  He suggested that in light of recent events that I write one from the point of view of the city of Boston.  When I said I wasn't sure if I would do that, he took the initiative and wrote one himself.  Here it is:

I Am Boston
by Ryan Niedt

I am Boston,
the capital of Massachusetts,
the shouts and cheers at a Red Sox game
when Yastrzemski was at the plate. 

I am higher culture,
showing the world the way artists capture
a world with their brush.

I am history.
My roads still echo with the cries of patriots,
dumping tea into my harbor,
and the cracks of musket shots
preceded by a British officer screaming,
"Hold your fire!"

I am a 24.5 mile run
that ended with a sickening "bang".
I am the cries of anguish and fear.
I am in the faces of those
who had the nails tear at their skin.
I am the blood and the pain.

I am selflessness
 and altruism.
I am all the people
who risked their lives
for the preservation of others.
I am patriotism.
I am unification
as America raises its voice
in support.

I am love.
I am life.
I am hope.
I am Boston.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

PAD Day 18

Rather late today, partly because it was pretty busy day, and mostly because I really had a hard time with getting inspired.  Ironically, the two prompts were pretty easy: (1) Write a poem with the title "I Am _______," and (2) write a poem that begins and ends with the same word.  The second one got me to thinking of palindromes for some reason, so I wrote a poem with palindromic word order, and in the form of a Fibonacci too.  (A Fibonacci poem is based on "Fibonacci numbers", a series in which each number is the sum of the two numbers that precede it: 1,1,2,3,5,8,13,21, etc.)  The number of syllables in each line adhere to this sequence, and mine has the added bonus of counting back down to 1.  If nothing else, it's an interesting exercise.

I Am Busy

too stressed out,
working on errands,
tiring chores, honey-do lists,
spinning plates, juggling balls, throwing out garbage - no
time to write, just Fibonacci in palindromes. In Fibonacci, just write to time,
no garbage out. Throwing balls, juggling plates, spinning
lists, honey-do chores, tiring
errands, on-working,
out-stressed, too

Today I'm also featuring a poem by Joseph Harker, and I encourage you to visit his excellent blog Naming Constellations.  He is also doing daily posts for Poetry Month, and this is one of the new poems he's writtten:

My mother swings off-course and cries, fresh corn!
The sign hangs awkward, painted red and white:
she knows the market. We are sometimes born-
again to local farms, lapsed converts sworn
then swayed and swayed again. A secret right,
an unpaved road, the farmer’s gingham wife
up to our window. Taste this, have a bite–
but we crave corn. The wife sighs, money’s tight,
we had to sell. Instead, she has black plums
like far-off planets ready for the knife.
Of course, desire denied is hard-replaced:
but see the yard, the house. My mother thumbs
through dollars: we’ll make cobbler, or still-life.
The fruit is passed; my mother’s hand, embraced.

[Used with permission of the author]

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

PAD Day 17

Today's prompts from Poetic Asides and NaPoWriMo: (1) write an "express" poem (interpreting the word "express" any way you like, and (2) write a poem of greeting or saying "hello" (to contrast with the "valediction" prompt on Day 9).  For some reason I couldn't get the quote from the movie Jerry Maguire out of my head, that romantic scene at the end where Renee Zellweger says to Tom Cruise, "You had me at hello."  So this morphed into an old-fashioned love song, and for the second time this month I wrote from a woman's persona.  (Getting in touch with my feminine side?) I worked in two variations of the word "express" to satisfy the first prompt, and I guess the poem is more a reaction to a greeting than a greeting per se. So take it for what it's worth, corny verse and all.

You Had Me at Hello

You open like a greeting card,
and let sentiments just flow,
but you really needn't try so hard,
you had me at "hello".

Unlike "Expressway to Your Heart",
that song from long ago,
the traffic won't keep us apart,
you had me at "hello".

It's taken you the longest time
since your very first impressions,
to realize it's not a crime
to share sincere expressions.

So shut your mouth and look at me,
all you've said, you know I know.
I'll tell you unequivocally,
you had me at "hello".

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

PAD Day 16

Just a quick note to say that my thoughts and prayers go out to all the folks in Boston who were killed, maimed, or traumatized by those horrific bombs yesterday.  I spent a year living in Boston in the 1970's and my home was only blocks from where it occurred.  Let's hope that great city heals quickly and the culprits are brought to justice.

Today's prompt from NaPoWriMo is an exercise that I believe is called "translitic" poetry.  You take a poem  in a foreign language that you don't know, and "translate" it into English based on visual, and perhaps sound, cues only.  I've always found this to be a difficult and frustrating prompt - I struggle with it and end up with something half-baked that makes little sense.  Today is no exception, though after a second draft perhaps something is beginning to take shape.  It's still pretty surreal and only semi-sensical though. Here is the original and my "transliteration". Note that I took  a few liberties with word order, syntax, etc., but that's fair game in this exercise, especially once you start revising.

I wasn't able to reconcile the two prompts today, so below you will also find my response to the Poetic Asides prompt to write a "possible" and/or "impossible" poem.

by Hédi Kaddour

Les arbres de la cour circulaire
Jaunissent, une délirante en contention
Les regarde ; elle se met à parler
Soudain comme si de rien n’avait
Jamais été, puis meurt le lendemain
De sa tuberculose en s’excusant
D’avoir tant dérangé. Il ne faut pas
Non plus, dit le docteur, chercher
A complètement calmer certains
Patients car ils s’ennuieraient trop.
Il a cessé de rêver aux sociétés
Sans classes, et s’installe parfois
Devant le kiosque municipal pour écouter
Une fanfare jouer des marches d’Empire. 

The Doctor

The arbors of the circular course,
jaunty and delirious in contention,
are in less regard. Hell is met at the parlor.
A sedan comes in the rain and awaits.
James stays, premiers the end of Man.
The sad tubercular and his excuse
devours deranged taunts. He is not fat,
passes nonplussed. The doctor checks
a compliment, calmly ascertains.
The patient's car has a sunroof top.
Will he cease on the river of society
to send classes and install par-fours,
the deviant municipal kiosk for encounters,
a fanfare, join the march of the Empire?


(for the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings)

Twelve years ago, we were invincible,
before the impossible happened.
Now we know not only that it's possible,
but somewhere, sometime, it's probable.
Yet we can't let the dark possibles
dictate us.  We need to get on and off
the trains, run the race, attend the games
and concerts, shop at the mall,
go to work every day, if we work,
as if we're not afraid to be normal,
except for a furtive glance over the shoulder
now and then, on the watch for what probably
won't happen, but possibly will.

Monday, April 15, 2013

PAD Day 15

Tax day!  And for once, I didn't wait till the very last minute. (Well, almost the last minute - I mailed my return out on Friday the 12th.)  I hope you like my "clean" new look.  I got tired of glitchy problems with cutting and pasting content into the blog and then having to finagle with the text and background color.  There was no exact color match with the previous blog background, and things looked highlighted in a particularly ugly green.  So black-on-white seems to solve the problem.

Today's dual prompts from Poetic Asides and NaPoWriMo: (1)  write an "infestation" poem, and (2) write a "pantun", which a Malaysian form that's a cousin to the pantoum.  It consists of a quatrain (or quatrains) with an ABAB rhyme scheme, each line 8 to 12 syllables.  I don't think there's a specified meter, but I went with the iambic. Also lines 3 and 4 are supposed to be thematically unrelated more or less to lines 1 and 2, but still have some implicit connection. Since today's pretty busy, so far I've only turned out one. Coincidentally, both the poems that the respective bloggers gave as examples mentioned ants, so I took that as a sign to include them too:


The ants are in the peonies again,
the mice run rampant in the shed.
At one a.m. the smoke alarm blared on, and then
turned off. A glitch, but it's still in my head.

P.S. Interesting story about my Day 9 prompt, "Billy Collins, Private Eye: Chapter One".  After writing it, I realized that it sounded a bit like one of those "Guy Noir" skits on Garrison Keillor's radio show A Prairie Home Companion. So I Googled and found out that Billy Collins has actually been a guest on the program, and he's even played himself in a a couple of Guy Noir skits.  Here's a transcript of one of them - it's pretty funny, riffing on a favorite poem by William Carlos Williams:

Sunday, April 14, 2013

PAD Day 14

Today's dual prompts: (1) Write a persona poem from the point of view of a superhero or super-villain, and (2) write a sonnet.  Well, the sonnet is one of my favorite forms, but apparently I'm not the world's best authority on superheroes (or superheroines), because my son pointed out that the subject of this poem is not technically a superheroine but a "mutant".  What-evs - I kind of like the way it came out.


This power is a blessing and a curse,
a force that can control the atmosphere.
I'll summon up a hurricane and worse,
or blow away the clouds and make it clear.
My colleagues all respect my strength and powers
to vanquish villains with climatic change.
But when I wile away the idle hours,
I wish this talent didn't seem so strange.
When I met you, the sky was full of blue.
We basked in sun, but soon the clouds would gain
their hold on the horizon, moving through
when you betrayed me.  Still I held back rain.
I've got to clear these dark thoughts from my head,
or some stray lightning bolt may strike you dead.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

PAD Day 13

Today's prompts from Poetic Asides and NaPoWriMo: (1) write a "comparison" poem, and (2) take a walk and write about your observations from that walk.  It was a perfect spring evening in our neighborhood, and yes, it happened almost exactly like this:


We start our walk on a nearly-perfect
April  evening - cherry and apple trees
in full regalia, daffodils poking through
the mulch.  A carpenter bee zig-zags
across our path. We stroll the sidewalk,
admiring the lawns, a little greener
than yesterday, and we start to talk
about  our son and college plans -
where will he go, how much will it cost,
is he really ready to live away from home?
Suddenly he jogs past us, not watching
the scenery, but checking his watch
as he turns the corner, hell-bent on shaving
another thirty seconds off his time.

From time to time, I like to feature poems by poetic friends and acquaintances. Today I'm offering a poem by Jane Hirshfield, whom I had the pleasure of meeting and working with about two years ago at the Palm Beach Poetry Festival, and with whom I've kept in touch ever since.  If you don't know her poetry, you should - it's sensuous, metaphysical, and full of striking imagery. (She's a wonderful human being, too.)  This is perhaps her "signature" poem, and one of her most beloved:

For What Binds Us
by Jane Hirshfield

There are names for what binds us:
strong forces, weak forces.
Look around, you can see them:
the skin that forms in a half-empty cup,
nails rusting into the places they join,
joints dovetailed on their own weight.
The way things stay so solidly
wherever they've been set down—
and gravity, scientists say, is weak.

And see how the flesh grows back
across a wound, with a great vehemence,
more strong
than the simple, untested surface before.
There's a name for it on horses,
when it comes back darker and raised: proud flesh,

as all flesh,
is proud of its wounds, wears them
as honors given out after battle,
small triumphs pinned to the chest—

And when two people have loved each other
see how it is like a
scar between their bodies,
stronger, darker, and proud;
how the black cord makes of them a single fabric
that nothing can tear or mend.

(From Of Gravity and Angels, ©1988 by Jane Hirshfield, used with permission of the author.)

Friday, April 12, 2013

PAD Day 12

I've been struggling the last couple of days to combine the Poetic Asides and NaPoWriMo prompts to create one poem, but the good news is sometimes I get two poems out of that struggle.  The first one today does combine the two: (1) from Poetic Asides: write a "broken" poem - one about something broken or breaking, and from NaPoWriMo: (2) write a poem consisting entirely of things you'd like to say, but never would, to a friend, lover, parent, child, teacher, boss, sibling, etc.  The first poem combines both prompts, more or less, and the second is in response to just the first prompt.


You stride up and down the aisles
like a town crier on Doomsday,
barking orders impossible to follow.
Your e-mails are all in capitals,
with more exclamation points
than anyone deserves to use.
You bully and condescend,
threaten and belittle, and then try
to be friendly, with that rictus-smile
and some lame term of endearment.
And by the way, I don't want to hear
any more about your freaking cats.
You cannonball, you gnome, don't you know
this place is broken, or are you too busy
playing little dictator to notice?

Breaking Things that Glue Can't Fix

Records, dawn, routine and news,
bread and waves, the law, taboos.
Resolve and fasts, sound barrier,
codes and rank and character.
Promises, engagements, hearts,
training, silence, wind (that's farts).
Amish, Bad, and Benjamin,
up and down and out and in.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

PAD Day 11

Today's dual prompts: (1) write a tanka, and (2) write a poem with the title, "In case of_______".  I couldn't really reconcile these today - titling my tanka "In Case of"-whatever just seemed awkward, so I wrote two short poems, one for each prompt. (A tanka, if you don't know, is slightly longer than a haiku, with a syllabic count of 5-7-5-7-7, usually about nature, with a twist or punchline, if you will, at the end.)

I've been thinking for days about several incidents involving hawks in my suburban neighborhood. The international student who lives with us described a hawk snatching up a mouse as she was walking home from the mall.  My neighbor told me about a grisly incident in his yard when a hawk grabbed a squirrel, which got stuck in the chain-link fence, and the bird literally tore the poor animal in half.  And we found the haunch of a rabbit on the sidewalk between my neighbor's and my yard, most likely the work of a hawk as well.  Nature can be ruthless.  My tanka could have fit with the "hunter/hunted" prompt from the other day (and I worked in a hawk/rabbit image into my "detective poem" that day too).  The other poem was just a fun little exercise, kind of like that old folk tune "There's a Hole in the Bucket".

Cruel Tanka

By the daffodils,
a hawk catches a squirrel
and tears out its throat.
Nature, I love and hate you
for your horror and beauty.

In Case of Fire

In case of fire, break glass.
In case of glass, repair windows.
In case of windows, hang curtains.
In case of curtains, let in the sun.
In case of sun, stay in the shade.
In case of shade, trim back the trees.
In case of trees, chop down for wood.
In case of wood, build a fire.
In case of fire, break glass.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

PAD Day 10

My poetry this month seems to veer between the comic and the tragic.  Today's double prompt somewhat guarantees the latter: (1) write a poem about suffering, and (2) write an "un-love" poem.  (Aren't most poems about suffering?)  So here is my entry for the day - probably not my best effort of the month, but it will do for now:


She storms in like a jealous lover,
crowds out all the good in him,
weakens his resolve, murders his appetite,
and starts to claim him all for herself,
while we on the outside fight
to get him back.  We try to force her out,
but in the end she's won, and what's left
of him is a shadow, a husk.
He surrenders as she takes him with her,
leaving us abandoned, useless,
like broken toys in the rain.

On a more upbeat note, I wanted to share a very amusing poem by my friend Kelly Ramsdell Fineman.  This poem appears in the new issue of U.S. 1 Worksheets and also today on her most excellent blog, "Writing and Ruminating."  It's a great parody of a very famous poem.

Stuck Doing Chores on a Summer's Evening
  with apologies to Robert Frost

Whose clothes these are, I think I know.
I gave them birth. I've watched them grow.
They leave their dirty laundry here
In heaps as deep as drifted snow.

Sometimes I use All, sometimes Cheer,
And if a stain proves too severe –
Some grape juice, or some chocolate cake –
I always keep stain treatments near.

I give the Spray & Wash a shake – 
It's running out, and so I make
A mental note. The dryer's beep
Reminds me I don't get a break.

My family is counting sheep,
But I have washing in a heap
And piles to go before I sleep.
And piles to go before I sleep.

- Kelly Fineman

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

PAD Day 9

Today's double prompt is (1) Write a poem in the style of "film noir", and (2) write a poem about a hunter or the hunted.  My poem's connection with the latter is rather tentative, but I guess one could consider a private eye as a "hunter" of sorts.  I used the name of one of my favorite poets because it sounded like a good name for a gumshoe. I also had a little fun picturing him in that role. (I think he'd look pretty good in a fedora.) Hope you enjoy all the poetry references and at least one bad pun.

Billy Collins, Private Eye: Chapter One
It was one of those foggy nights in this city by the bay,
the kind of fog that comes in on little cat feet.
I was in my third-floor walk-up, feeling like a pair
of ragged claws scuttling across the floors of silent seas,
deciding whether to have a shot of Jack or a cup of joe,
when she walked in. Her name was Sylvia, a blonde
with curves in all the right places, and legs to infinity.
(Shall I compare her to a summer’s day?)
“You have to help me, Mr. Collins,” she cooed.
How could I resist those baby-blue eyes?
I snuffed my cigarette. “What’s the story, sweetheart?”
“It’s my daddy,” Shirley sobbed. “I hate the bastard,
but he’s disappeared. I need you to help me find him.”
“Maybe he went gentle into that good night.”
“No, no, no, I’m sure he’s still alive.”
I asked for a description – she said he was six-foot-six –
“Oh, a long fellow,” I remarked – and she said
he seemed disturbed before he left.
“Sometimes things fall apart, the center cannot hold,”
I suggested. “Where’d you last see him?”
“In his farm yard,” she replied, “next to his red wheelbarrow,
beside the white chickens.”
I asked for a photo and told her I’d get on it right away.
I threw on my trench coat and holstered my Magnum –
after all, if I cannot stop for death, he may kindly stop for me.
It’s a wild world out there – a million nighthawks
looking for a scared rabbit to sink their talons into,
as they sound their barbaric yawps over the roofs of the world.
As for me, I have a promise to keep –
and miles to go before I sleep.

Monday, April 8, 2013

PAD Day 8

First, I just want to send a shout-out to the fine folks at U.S. 1 Worksheets for the release of their 40th anniversary issue of their fine literary journal.  They claim that their writing and critique group, the U.S. 1 Poets Cooperative based in Princeton, NJ, is the longest continuously-running such group in the U.S.  Their annual launch party, which I just attended this past Sunday, is always a great event, and this year their venue was packed.  I read my poem from the 40th anniversary issue, which was a reminiscence on my wedding, which coincidentally was also 40 years ago this July.

Today's double prompt from Poetic Asides and NaPoWriMo: (1) write an "instructional" poem, and (2) write an "ottava rima", which is an Italian form - a mini-sonnet, if you will.  It's eight lines of iambic pentameter with the rhyme scheme ABABABCC.  Here's my attempt:

Accounting for Spring
First, itemize your income, enter here,
then take a walk, admire daffodils.
Then come back in and pour yourself a beer,
and find deductions: mortgage, doctor bills.
Then go back out – the day’s so warm and clear,
forget 1040’s – look at these green hills.
Yes, April is the cruelest month, it’s true,
its beauty peaks when I have taxes due.