Wednesday, December 1, 2021

November Chapbook Challenge 2021: Haiku Edition

 Once again I did participate in this year's November Poem-a-day Chapbook Challenge hosted by Robert Lee Brewer on the Poetic Asides website. Although for me it's not usually as intensive as the April Poem-a-day challenge, I try to get involved each year with varying degrees of success. The object is to have enough poems (preferably with a unifying theme) by the end of the month to publish a chapbook. Robert announces winners based to their manuscript submissions but does not publish them. That task is up to the individual poet. My best success was when I wrote poems with a baseball theme in November 2013, which turned into my 2016 chapbook, Hits and Sacrifices, published by Finishing Line Press. I also have submitted a manuscript based on the pandemic-themed poems I wrote last November, in a form called the hay(na)ku. That's been submitted for publication, and if accepted, will probably come out next year. 

This year I wrote 38 haiku and senryu on a general theme of November and autumn. I tried to stick to Robert's daily prompts, at least tangentally. I doubt they will turn into a chapbook, but for what it's worth, here are some of what I think are the best ones I wrote this past month:

[Day 1: write a "correspondence" poem]

Dear November,
thanks for the feathery frost 
paintings on my car


[Day 4: write a "party" poem]

dancing on cold feet -
who invited foggy breath
to this party?


[Day 7: write a "health" poem"]

I'm out of the woods
healthy once again, but now
the leaves are dying


[Day 8, first day of Standard Time: write a poem with the title "______ of the _______." I used the phrase in my first line.]

first day of the change -
we wound all the clocks backward -
where did the sun go?


[Day 11, Veteran's Day: write a "memory" poem]

leaves cascade to ground
as I stop to remember
all of the fallen


[Day 14: write a poem with the title "______ That." I used the phrase in my first line.]

who would have thought that
she'd be in the food bank line
for a free turkey


[Day 19: write a "future" poem]

wild turkeys wander
while their cousins on the farm
face a bleak future


[Day 22: write an animal poem.]

brown rabbit
standing, ears at attention
senses winter


[Day 24: write a "response" poem. This was a kind of response to my own haiku from Day 21.]

handing out hot meals,
angels in the soup kitchen -
cornucopia


[Day 27: write a "remix" poem. I wrote seven haiku that used words I previously used in other haiku this month. This one reused the words "foggy" and "umbrella."]

foggy morning -
I hold up an umbrella
as if it would help











Saturday, May 1, 2021

PAD Challenge April 2021: Recap

Another National Poetry Writing Month is in the books, and so is my Poem-a-day Challenge. I think I've been doing this for at least 15 years! I produced 42 poems in April (52 if you count the ten "warmup" poems I wrote in late March.) My poet friend Kendall Bell, however, eclipsed me with 92 in April. Mine were mostly free verse, as usual, but some were written in form. I wrote no sonnets, strangely enough - it's one of my favorite forms, and I usually write at least one or two in April. I did, however, write four general rhymed verses, a blank verse, a sijo, two haiku, a tanka, a skeltonic, a limerick and a limerick sequence, a fib, a rhymed shadorma and a shadorma sequence, a quatern, a triolet, and two golden shovels. I also wrote four ekphrastic poems, several persona poems, and two song parodies.  As always, I'm grateful to Robert Lee Brewer (Write Better Poetry blog on the Writers Digest website) and Maureen Thorson (NaPoWriMo website) for providing daily prompts for inspiration, and special thanks to Maureen for featuring my blog and poem "Laurie" from Day 8.


I regret that I only participated in one (virtual, of course) poetry reading in April. (Shout-out to Cord Moreski and his excellent Couch Poets Collective series.) I hope to be involved in more soon, and who knows, maybe some in-person readings by the end of the year. Another highlight of the month was my poem "Public Apology" featured on Your Daily Poem for April 15. I celebrated a milestone birthday, and received birthday wishes from poet friend Marge Piercy plus a slew of other poet friends and acquaintances. I also got tree care advice from Ted Kooser, and had another pleasant email exchange with friend and mentor Jane Hirshfield. And as usual, my friend Vince Gotera and I dutifully followed each other's blogs and gave each other feedback. (He's working on a "poetry novel" that I can't wait to read.) I want to thank everyone, by the way, who read and responded to my poems in April.


As usual, I've selected a handful of my favorite poems to reprise here, in case you don't want to slog through 30 days or more of blog entries to find the highlights. These favorites may change over time, but they seem to be my darlings right now.


[Day 5 prompts: Write a poem titled "The First _____"; write a poem that uses the "shape" and the first letter of each line of another poem, and write your own poem in that framework.]


The First Year
(after "Today, When I Could Do Nothing" by Jane Hirshfield)
 
This has been a brutal time.
I am still here.
 
I've been lucky enough to dodge disaster,
sanity still intact
through this morning, at least.
 
Are we now seeing the tunnel's bright end?
 
It depends on all of us.
 
I hold out hope
today
and pray
sensible people will prevail.
 
I watched a Cooper's hawk
take down a robin yesterday morning
then feast in my backyard.
 
That robin may have thought it was safe
till talons hooked into it.
 
Scales try to balance
commerce with the risk -
many want to eat out, exercise, drink.
 
Science says, not just yet;
immunity's the key, shots in arms essential.
Watch the numbers and graphs.
 
I saw a red fox lope across my lawn.
Eventually, nature balances itself.
Where do we fit in, and how much longer?
 
Are we even deserving?
Will this be our extinction event?
Hubris can be a fatal flaw.
 
I mask, I wash, I distance.
 
This spring when everything strives to open,
connect, expand
beyond the confines of homes and bubbles,
I tread lightly.


[Day 8 prompts: Write a metaphor poem; write a persona poem in the style of Edgar Lee Masters' Spoon River Anthology.]


Laurie
 
Returning from New York that night
we were so full of promise,
we young artists and our teacher,
when our van crashed on the turnpike,
and everything changed in a second.
Some of you were badly hurt,
but it was too much for my fragile frame.
I am sorry, friends, to take such an early exit -
I hope I brought joy in my short time there.
Fifty years on, I see most of you
have led good lives, and that pleases me.
You've navigated the highway well,
that treacherous stretch of road
that can flip us at any moment.


[Day 11 prompts: Write a poem that incorporates one or more prime numbers; write a one-stanza poem that is a "fan letter" to someone famous, and a one-stanza response. 
Eratosthenes (er-a-TOS-the-neez) was a 3rd Century Greek polymath who discovered a way to identify prime numbers called "The Sieve of Eratosthenes," but is more famous for being the first person to accurately estimate the circumference of the Earth.]


Fan Letter, 223 B.C.
 
Eratosthenes, you are so smart -
this letter comes straight from the heart.
It's amazing, I think, that you give
us prime numbers that fall through your sieve.
 
Well, thanks! You know, chances were teeny
that your letter'd  reach me in Cyrene.
Now excuse me while I prove my worth
by measuring the girth of the Earth.


[Day 12 prompts: Use the following words in a poem: great, play, season, race, convict, voice; review two reference sources - Lempriere's Classical Dictionary and The Historical Dictionary of Science Fiction, then take at least one word, concept or idea from each one and work them into a poem. I used the Greek myth of the war between the Centaurs and the Lapiths, and the science fiction term "space tan."]


Beethoven and Disney in Outer Space
 
Listening to Beethoven's great Pastoral Symphony,
I can't help thinking of the cartoon from Fantasia,
that bucolic romp of mythical characters to the music,
centaurs and unicorns, cherubs and satyrs,
and fat drunken Bacchus, sloshing wine all about,
as they celebrate the spring season, playing and cavorting
till Jupiter crashes the party with a fistful of lightning bolts.
Life wasn't always idyllic for the centaurs, though.
They raised a ruckus after too much wine
at a wedding, which quickly became a small war
with the Lapiths, an altercation they say was incited
by Mars, pissed off that he wasn't invited.
All this rolls around in my head as we pass angry Mars,
racing on our way beyond majestic Jupiter, and from there
heading with conviction toward Alpha Centauri,
our next-nearest star, and its habitable planet.
We are space-tanned and ready to be a new voice
in the universe, challenging the gods.


[Day 13 prompts: Write a "lucky" and/or "unlucky" poem; write a poem in the form of a news article you wish would come out tomorrow.]


Lucky Day
In other news, COVID is done,
world peace prevails, we've banned the gun,
all the poor have been fed,
all the despots are dead,
and my lottery ticket just won!


[Day 15 prompts: Write a poem with the title "_______ Story"; think about a small habit you picked up from one of your parents, and then to write a piece that explores an early memory of your parent engaged in that habit, before shifting into writing about yourself engaging in the same habit.]  


Storm Story
 
When I was little, my mother would tell me
that the thunder in the sky was God
moving the furniture, or the angels bowling.
She hoped this would assuage my fear,
but I couldn't ignore her body language,
especially during an evening storm,
when she'd pace the halls and rooms of our house
in her nightgown like a restless ghost,
smoke trailing behind her from another cigarette.
 
When I was a little older I wanted to be
a meteorologist. The hows and whys of weather
fascinated me, and I documented their changes
with my amateur weather station. I could estimate
the distance of a lightning bolt by the number
of seconds between its flash and boom.
Still, I inherited my mother's fear of thunderstorms.
 
If I were a dog, I'd hide under the bed whimpering
whenever thunder crashes overhead.
I can't sleep through storms at night.
And like a dog, I have a kind of sixth sense -
at the slightest distant rumble or faint flash,
I'm awake, turning on the lights and pacing
through the house, just like my mother.
But I've never smoked.


[Day 24 prompts: Write a "question" poem; take an article about an animal, then substitute the name of the animal with another noun, concrete or abstract, or even a descriptive phrase. Then arrange those edited passages into a poem. I substituted "aging" for "polar bear."]
 
Questions About Aging
 
Q: What is aging?
 A: Aging (ursus canus) is a large bear
with transparent fur that appears white.
It has three eyelids, four inches of body fat,
and a blue tongue.
 
Q: How big is aging?
A: Aging is one of the largest predators in the world,
reaching a length of 6 to 9 feet and a weight
of up to 1300 pounds. It has 42 razor sharp teeth
and sharp-clawed paws the size of dinner plates.
 
Q: Is aging dangerous to humans?
A: Aging is an apex predator, putting it at the top
of the food chain with no natural enemies.
Aging has been known to hunt humans.
It can stalk them and run up to 40 kilometers per hour.
You can try to outrun aging, and you may succeed
for a while, but eventually it will catch up to you.
It is also an excellent swimmer.
 
Q: Is it true that aging screams when it poops?
A: Yes.


[Day 25 prompts: Write a "thought" poem; write an "occasional" poem; that is, a poem written for a specific or special occasion. April 25 is "National Hug a Plumber Day."]


National Hug a Plumber Day
 
I know it seems unlikely, but
one day some person thought,
"I hope they don't think I'm a nut
when I say that we ought
 
to give our favorite plumbers hugs,
those masters of the pipes,
the scrappy gals and hearty lugs
who each day earn their stripes
 
with wet and dirty work, some days
in water to their knees.
Let's have a day to offer praise
and give them all a squeeze!"
 
Of course, that's hard to do this year
with viruses about -
perhaps instead, just give a cheer,
a fist bump or a shout
 
to those who fix our sink and loo,
and sundry leaky bummers.
Let's hope in Twenty-Twenty-Two
we all can hug our plumbers!  


[Day 27 prompt: Write a "believe"and/or "don't believe" poem. I didn't use a second prompt for this one.]


At Four, She Believes in Unicorns
 
An invisible one trots about the house
and whinnies when it's hungry.
She loves to draw them with fat oval torsos
and spindly stick legs, pointy ears and horns
and big smiley faces. Even pictures of horses
in her preschool papers and coloring books
become unicorns, thanks to a magic-wand crayon.
This is how a horse can become blue with a pink mane
and a rainbow-colored spike on its head.
Even unsuspecting zebras and cows can be transformed.
Today she drew me a birthday card with backward Ps
and a Technicolor unicorn. If only I could ride it back
to that magical four-year-old's land
where there was still so much more to believe in.


[Day 29 prompts: Write an "evening" poem; write an "in the window" poem. In other words, imagine yourself looking into a window and describe what you see. This is an ekphrastic poem in response to an Edward Hopper painting.]


Night Windows
 
I am an incidental voyeur
strolling through fallen darkness
in a city of yellow eyes
that I can gaze into
and find a story inside,
 
like the woman I spy
in a third floor walk-up,
getting ready to call it a night.
Her derriere and pink slip flash
in the second of three windows.
 
From the left one, wide open,
a blue curtain billows out
into muggy August air
like a sheer flag or a gesture
of a graceful hand inviting me in.
 
The right window is obscured
by a translucent red shade,
so I can't make out all the details,
but I accept the curtain's invitation
and open the brownstone door.
 
I bound up two flights of stairs
and jiggle the doorknob -
it opens without resistance.
I slink like a cat through the flat
and into the back bedroom.
 
Suddenly she turns
and her eyes widen in surprise.
"You shouldn't leave the door
unlocked and the shades up,"
 I growl.
 
"Oh hi, honey," she laughs nervously .
"You're home early."


Some honorable mentions:

Say Hello to Jazz (Day 1)
Up to Fifty (Day 2)
Baby (Day 3)
again (Day 4)
Bursting (Day 6)
Weekend Warrior (Day 7)
The Answer Squash (Day 18)
Misappointment (Day 23)
Appointments for the Heart (Day 23)
How to Get to Love Park (Day 30)


 
 








Friday, April 30, 2021

PAD Challenge Day 30: How to Get to Love Park

 Today's prompts from Write Better Poetry and NaPoWriMo: (1) Write a "goodbye" poem, and (2) write a poem that gives directions about how to get to a particular place. I was thinking about writing a poem with a love theme, and I thought of Love Park in Philadelphia, so named because it has one of those iconic "Love" sculptures by Robert Indiana. But Philly, an otherwise great city just over the river from me, seems to be experiencing a record-breaking epidemic of gun violence. Every single night the local news has at least one report of a fatal shooting in the city, and usually several. Even young children have been victims. I could rail on about gun control, but I won't do that here, today. Instead, I offer what may be a rather naive or even fantastical solution, but one that makes my point, I hope.


How to Get to Love Park
 
Say goodbye to all the family strife
settled with a gun.
Say goodbye to all the parking lot arguments
settled with a gun.
Say goodbye to all the gang power struggles
settled with a gun.
Say goodbye to all the need and envy
settled with a gun.
Say goodbye to all the paranoid delusions
settled with a gun.
Say goodbye to all the traffic stops
settled with a gun.
Say goodbye to all the breaches of brotherly love
settled with a gun.
 
Walk to the river, throw your weapons in,
and walk as straight as you can,
walk through neighborhoods of all shades,
walk past the struggling shops,
walk past the theaters and restaurants,
walk these streets which can be great again,
walk to 16th and Kennedy Boulevard,
walk to the big plaza with "Love" written
right in the heart of the city,
and practice it.




Thursday, April 29, 2021

PAD Challenge Bonus: Grandmom the Art Critic

 On Day 18 I wrote "The Answer Squash", an ekphrastic poem based on an installation I read about by artist Anthea Hamilton at the Tate Gallery in London. (You can read about it here.) I find it fascinating, and if I were near the Tate (an excellent museum which I have visited before in prior trips to London), I would check it out. But it's not for everyone, for sure, and one of the most notable features is the squash-shaped full-head masks worn by the models, who walk around in a huge, classically decorated, tiled room. I noted in my blog that day that it reminded me of my wife's Italian family's saying, "You have a head like a gagootz!" The word gagootz is a slang dialectic version of cucuzza, a type of Italian squash. So therefore, if you have a head like a gagootz, you're not very bright or thoughful. All this begged another poem: What if my wife's relatives, like her mother (who was born here) or grandmother (from the "old country") had seen this exhibit? They would not have minced words. This poem, you could say, is a kind of "remix" (see day 28) in that it's different take on the same artistic subject.  Here are some samples of the costumes in this exhibit:




And here is the poem:

If My Wife's Italian Mother Had Visited Anthea Hamilton's 
"The Squash" at the Tate Gallery 

Ai, maron!
What is this place with all the tiles and columns?
It looks like the pope's bathroom!
And how about these models,
wearing these science-fiction clothes?
That one looks like a badger, and that one
looks like some weeds I pulled out of my garden!
Their taste is all in their mouth!
Speaking of which, they should eat something -
so skinny! Mangia, girls!
Here, I brought some pizzelles in my purse!
And what's with these big hats,
or masks, or whatever?
You can't even see their faces,
and their heads all look like a squash, 
a gagootz!
You'd have to have a head like a gagootz
to like this stuff!
Now where's the real art?
Don't they have the Mona Lisa here?
Or the Pietà?









PAD Challenge Day 29: Hopper Night

 Today's prompts from Write Better Poetry and NaPoWriMo: (1) Write an "evening" poem, and (2) write an "in the window" poem. In other words, imagine yourself looking into a window and describe what you see. I was a little stuck on this one, so I decided to go "ekphrastic" and found a painting by Edward Hopper (of "Nighhawks" fame) that fit the subject. So here is the result, a little short story based on the painting. 


Night Windows
(after Edward Hopper)
 
I am an incidental voyeur
strolling through fallen darkness
in a city of yellow eyes
that I can gaze into
and find a story inside,
 
like the woman I spy
in a third floor walk-up,
getting ready to call it a night.
Her derriere and pink slip flash
in the second of three windows.
 
From the left one, wide open,
a blue curtain billows out
into muggy August air
like a sheer flag or a gesture
of a graceful hand inviting me in.
 
The right window is obscured
by a translucent red shade,
so I can't make out all the details,
but I accept the curtain's invitation
and open the brownstone door.
 
I bound up two flights of stairs
and jiggle the doorknob -
it opens without resistance.
I slink like a cat through the flat
and into the back bedroom.
 
Suddenly she turns
and her eyes widen in surprise.
"You shouldn't leave the door
unlocked and the shades up,"
 I growl.
 
"Oh hi, honey," she laughs nervously.
"You're home early."



 

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

PAD Challenge Day 28: Remix Time

 Today's prompts from Write Better Poetry and NaPoWriMo: (1) Write a "remix" poem based on a poem or poems you have written this month, and (2) write a poem that poses a series of questions. The first prompt is a favorite go-to of Robert Brewer's at Write Better Poetry, so I've done the exercise before. It can be interpreted in a number of ways, including using lines from different poems and cobbling them together into a new poem. One of my favorite ways to do it is to take the last line from several of my April poems, and make a new one, like this one:

Challenging the Gods

Dust,
bright enough to cast shadows
in the thin Martian air,
can flip us at any moment.
I tread lightly.
 
Yes,
Anyone can fly
to their ultimate heights
in the universe,
challenging the gods
with a promise
of new adventures,
where there is still
much more to believe in,
and then we'll sit
and marvel at the view
with quiet wonder
and launch our downy seeds
into the wind.

[List of source poems below]*


My second exercise (and frankly, I consider it more an exercise than a good poem) combined both prompts. In reviewing my poems and lines from the month, I noticed that were a total of twenty questions throughout them - two poems contained four questions and one had six. This one only has three, all used in prior poems. I also used three lines (in order) from a senryu I wrote, not in April, but late March as part of Write Better Poetry's "warmup" prompts.

At the Door of 4B
 
What have you done?
 
What I should have said
long ago. I told her I was leaving
 
Was I supposed to be your next affair?
 
I thought that was what you wanted.
Since last week, your remark
echoes like a cruel spirit
in my head.
 
Will you let me in?
 
I never wanted this.
For all I care you can rot
in the stairwell.

[List of source poems below]**


I'm also offering up this older poem, because I think it's a different take on a "question poem." This was previously published in the print journal U.S. 1 Worksheets. (Try reading it out loud and see what happens to your tone of voice by the end.)

Trivia
 
Who was the first
How many
What is the word for
Who won
When did
Can you name the
Who is the only
In what year did
Where would you find
Which of these is
How many times
Where in the world did you
When did you think
What is the matter with
Why in God’s name
What kind of question
How dare you
Do you expect me
Why should I
How am I supposed to
Who do you think you are?


*Challenging the Gods: I only made minor changes to some of the original lines, but I did split a number of them into two lines because, for some reason, this poem wanted to have shorter lines. This is how they break down:
Line 1: Despot (Day 7)
Line 2: "owl waits patiently..." (tanka, Day 17)
Line 3: Ingenuity (haiku, Day 19)
Line 4: Laurie (Day 8)
Line 5: The Next Day (Day 5)
Line 6: Questions about Aging (Day 24)
Lines 7-8: Up on the Met Roof... (Day 20)
Lines 9-10: Beethoven and Disney in Outer Space (Day 12)
Lines 11-12: Appointments for the Heart (Day 23)
Lines 13-14: At Four, She Believes in Unicorns (Day 27)
Lines 15-16: Up to Fifty (Day 2)
Line 17: Backyard Fox (Day 7)
Lines 18-19: Bursting (Day 6)

**At the Door of 4B: Here are the sources of some of the lines.
Line 1: Earth Day (Day 22)
Line 4: Misappointment (Day 23)
Line 9: It's Me, April (Day 1)
Lines 2, 7, 12: "what I should have..." (senryu, posted March 30)
The other lines are new for the poem.




Tuesday, April 27, 2021

PAD Challenge Day 27: A Three-fer!

Today's prompts from Write Better Poetry and NaPoWriMo: (1) Write a "believe"and/or "don't believe" poem, and (2) look over The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, and pick one of the many words coined there to describe emotions and experiences for which there wasn't already a word, then write about it. 

The prompts wouldn't have been that hard to combine today, but I didn't try that hard to do so. Instead, I came up with two poems for the first prompts and one for the second. I usually try to write a poem about my birthday on my birthday (today!), so that was one of the "believe" prompt poems. The other is about my younger granddaughter's infatuation with unicorns. The poem for the NaPoWriMo prompt is about the word "pâro," whose definition is found in my epigraph. I took some literal inspiration from the accompanying video for the word on that website.


At Four, She Believes in Unicorns
 
An invisible one trots about the house
and whinnies when it's hungry.
She loves to draw them with fat oval torsos
and spindly stick legs, pointy ears and horns
and big smiley faces. Even pictures of horses
in her preschool papers and coloring books
become unicorns, thanks to a magic-wand crayon.
This is how a horse can become blue with a pink mane
and a rainbow-colored spike on its head.
Even unsuspecting zebras and cows can be transformed.
Today she drew me a birthday card with backward Ps
and a Technicolor unicorn. If only I could ride it back
to that magical four-year-old's land
where there was still so much more to believe in.



Big Zero
 
I don't believe in round numbers;
there's nothing magical about them.
No milestone, no benchmark
any more important than any other.
 
So what?
I'm 70 today.
 
I don't feel any different than yesterday at 69.
Some days, I admit, I feel 17, and some days 71.
On my birthday today I feel more like the latter.
 
There's a pharma commercial where people say
they're 53 but feel like 35, or 64 and feel like 46.
Yesterday  I wouldn't touch that miracle drug -
I wouldn't want to be 69 and feel 96.
Today I could be 70 but feel  like 07,
then I could drop the zero and be a little kid again.
But I wouldn't want to.
 
Instead I'll employ the skip-counting method
my favorite second-grader is learning in school.
I got seven candles on my birthday cake today,
one for each ten years. If I skip-counted,
not by tens, but by four, five, or even  six,
I could shave off decades.



Pâro
 
n. - the feeling that no matter what you do
is always somehow wrong.
- The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows
 
Murphy may have felt this way
when he came up with his Law,
except there should be a corollary:
"If there is a wrong way to do something,
you will find it."
 
I read so many articles in magazines
and papers for advice:
 
"Worried About High Blood Pressure?"
"Worried about Toenail Fungus?"
"Worried About Nuclear War?"
 
"Confused About Refinancing?"
"Confused About Your Preteen?"
"Confused About the Universe?"
 
"Tweeting: You're Doing It Wrong"
"Folding Laundry: You're Doing It Wrong"
"Coughing: You're Doing It Wrong"
 
"Here's the Right Way to Cook Pasta"
"Here's the Right Way to Strip Wallpaper"
"Here's the Right Way to Be Happy"
 
"Why You Should Drink Red Wine Daily"
"Why You Should Avoid Red Wine"
"Why You Should Wake Up Early"
"Why You Should Sleep In"
"Why You Should Go on a Diet"
"Why You Should Never Diet Again"
 
I'm done with the so-called experts,
so I put all the magazines away,
and the newspaper too.
Then my wife says,
"You folded that paper wrong."