Tuesday, April 30, 2019

PAD: The Month in Review

Another April, another Poem-a-day Challenge, is history. Overall, I was fairly satisfied with the poetry I wrote this past month - a total of 37, including the haiku and the one-word minimalist poem I wrote on the 30th. In addition to those, there were two sonnets, a villanelle, a triolet, a double tanka, and abecedarian, a blank verse, a monorhyme verse, a prose poem, a bunch of free verse, and no less than three take-offs on Wallace Stevens' "Thirteen Ways of :Looking at a Blackbird". I wrote 638 lines of poetry, an average of about 21 a day. As I usually do, I've assembled some of my favorites of the month here, for those of you with neither the time nor energy to scroll through thirty days worth of blog entries. So here are my highlights, with reference to the prompts that inspired them: PA = Poetic Asides; NP = NaPoWriMo.

[Day 9: PA - "Love' and/or "anti-love"; NP - a list poem (inspired by the lists of The Pillow Book by the medieval Japanese writer Sei Shōnagon); plus word bank from The Sunday Whirl]

[poem deleted]

[Day 11: PA - a "dedication" poem]

[poem deleted]

[Day 12: PA - a poem entitled "The Art of ______"; NP - a poem about a dull thing you own, and why you love it.]

[poem deleted]

[Day 17: PA - a "reason" poem; NP - a poem that presents a scene from an unusual point of view.]

Thirteen Reasons You Should Look at Us Blackbirds

1. Because we are ominous,
    like crows and ravens,
    though we don't say "Nevermore."
2.  Because we weren't in that playground scene
     in The Birds (those were crows),
     but we could have been.

3. Because we don't guard the Tower of London
    (those are ravens),
    but we could.

4. Because in the colorful pageant of nature,
    our darkness is our brightness.

5. Because we can be striking.
    like our red-winged cousins,
    with sergeant stripes on their shoulders.

6. Because you shouldn't confuse us with starlings.
    They think they're pretty,
    but they look like oil slicks.

7. Because a group of us is a cloud,
    or a cluster, or a merl,
    not a "murder" like those dodgy crows.

8. Because when we swarm in the air,
    it's like a plotted equation
    performing a ballet.
    It's called a murmuration,
    and oh, it's a sight to see.

9. Because Paul McCartney liked us
    singing in the dead of night.

10. Because when we sit on a snowy branch
       it is a haiku.

11. Because four and twenty of us
      can be baked in a pie. (Oh, wait...)

12. Because you can pack up all your cares and woes
      and tell us bye-bye.

13. Because Wallace Stevens said so.

[Day 18: PA - a poem titled "Little ______"; NP - an elegy.]

[poem deleted]

[Day 19: PA - a "license" poem; NP - an abecedarian.]

Zero Tolerance

ostracizing the "other",
mendacity with a
license to
kill dreams,
housed in cages,
family separation,
direct our
backward, like
an alphabet in reverse.

[Day 20: PA - a "dark" poem, NP - "write a poem grounded in language as it is spoken – not necessarily the grand, dramatic speech of a monologue or play, but the messy, fractured, slangy way people speak in real life." ]

[poem deleted]

[Day 22: PA - a "correspondence" poem; NP - a poem that engages with another art form.]

To a Young Musician

Dear Student,

I sit in the next room during your lesson
trying to come up with a poem
while you and your teacher distract me
with a flute duet by Kuhlau.

The two disciplines seem to clash -
your weaving arpeggios slide up against
my thumping iambics, till finally I give up
and let the music seduce me. I sink into
the couch's soft cushions, my notebook
lies open on my lap, my hand
relaxes and drops my pen to the floor.

There will be no poem this evening,
but I am still nourished, not from
the satisfaction of cobbling words together,
but from notes already composed,
perfectly read, and swirling in from the study
on a spring breeze. Thank you for the respite.
Thank you for your exquisite art.

An Admirer

[Day 24: PA - a poem titled "Complete ______"; NP -  "Locate a dictionary, thesaurus, or encyclopedia, open it at random, and consider the two pages in front of you to be your inspirational playground for the day."]

Complete Guide to Page 427 of the Dictionary

What a flavourful, flawless fleet of entries,
fleshed out for the flexible mind.
For instance, "fleur-de-lis" is a stylized iris,
though the word derives from the French for "lily".
Fire consumed the Notre Dame spire, called a "flèche".
You "flay" the flesh off a person's back,
but you "flense" the skin off a whale,
and of course you "fleece" a sheep.
And I finally found the name for those
silly folded diamonds with messages
we fashioned as kids, that we called
fortune tellers. They're a form of "flexagon".
"F layer" is the top of the ionosphere.
"Fleishig" means made of meat in Yiddish.
And it's obvious that a Fleming speaks Flemish.
Fleas, mere flecks of insects, flit around here,
as in fleabag, fleabitten, flea collar, flea market.
And I learned everything I need to know about flax,
except why folks eat the seeds.
I knew a "fletcher" is an arrow-maker,
but I didn't know that a fledgling could be fledged
before it flew. And by the way, "flews"
are the flappy upper lips of a bloodhound.
Okay, enough. I feel a need to flee this page 
before you all fleer at me. (Look it up.)

[Day 26: PA - an "evening" poem; NP - a poem that uses repetition.]


The colors shift red to blue, clouds form this evening;
it's in the bones - likely it will storm this evening.

Like damp laundry, humid air hangs on all of us;
even fans can't save us, it's so warm this evening.

Verandas, open porches may give some relief,
but the bugs revel - mosquitoes swarm this evening.

With distant rumble, lightning flashes cloud-to-cloud;
our cold drinks sweat, waiting to transform this evening.

And I, the sly guitarist, neatly tune my strings.
Damn the heat, my love - I will perform this evening.

Some other poems that get "honorable mention" and you may want to check out: 
The Worst (Day 2)
Frida Kahlo (con Collar de Espinas) (Day 4)
Thief of Time (Day 5)
Giving (Day 7)
Origin Juice (Day 11)
Six More Weeks of Zombies (Day 13)
State of Confusion (Day 14)
Like, Sonnet 18 (Day 27)

PAD Day 30: Made it Again!

Yup, today's the last day of the Poem-a-day Challenge. The final dual prompts from Poetic Asides and NaPoWriMo: (1) Write a "stop" and/or "don't stop" poem, and (2) write a "minimalist" poem. After spending a lot of time composing poems especially in the last three days, I appreciate the break that Maureen offers in suggesting a very short poem. She linked to a very interesting essay on the history of minimalist poetry, which you can find here. An extreme example of minimalist poem is one the article cites, written by Adam Saroyan (son of author William Saroyan), considered by some the shortest "poem" ever written: the letter "m" with an extra "hump". (I remember reading Saroyan's work in college.) I thought that I could actually do something minimalist with Robert's Poetic Asides "stop/don't stop" prompt, using a single word:


...but I won't count that one. Actually, the shortest poem I ever wrote was probably this haiku, published in the online journal tinywords:

all over

So I'll go with haiku today, and use the more "minimalist" 3-5-3 "American" model for this one:

birdsong stops
for the approaching

I'll be back soon to summarize my month. Thanks for reading!

Monday, April 29, 2019

PAD Day 29: On Grandparenting, and Happy Belated Brithday to Me

Two poems today!  The prompts from Poetic Asides and NaPoWriMo are (1) Write a poem entitled "_____ Again", and (2) write a "meditation" poem; that is, in Maureen Thorson's words, "a poem that meditates, from a position of tranquility, on an emotion you have felt powerfully." I'm not sure how successful I was with the latter prompt, but here's what came out of it:

Attempted Meditation While Parenting Again

I really don't have time for reflection -
One has a poopy diaper,
the other has alphabet homework.
I 'm not sure where I expected
to be at this juncture of my life,
but raising kids again wasn't part
of the plan. Yet, I still seem to do okay
despite some stress, those moments
when patience is thin and time is thinner. 

I know it's not twenty-four-seven,
this grand-parenting, but for me it's at least
eleven-four. Don't get me wrong -
I love them dearly, and as "Pop-pop"
I have license to spoil. But I still have
regrets for mistakes I made when I raised
my own, like the times I lost my temper.
Did they turn out fine because of me
or in spite of me? Maybe a little of both.

Yet somehow they trust me with theirs,
and for that I am grateful.
Besides, that's what family are supposed to do -
take care of each other.
My wife's parents helped watch over our boys,
and my sisters and I took shelter and guidance
with our grandparents too.

Another afternoon. I put them both in for a nap,
those two beautiful granddaughters,
ornery and loveable, smart and willful.
I am exhausted, but instead of taking a catnap
myself on the couch, I clean up toys, do the dishes,
put in some laundry, and write this poem.

Almost every year during Poetry Month I've written a poem for my birthday, on my birthday (the 27th) but this year I missed it, having caught myself up in writing two sonnets that day. So here is my belated birthday present to myself. I guess it's a meditation too, in its own way.

17 Again

This is my fourth 17th birthday,
and each one has been radically different.
My first seventeen, I was a skinny dork,
pegged as a "smart kid", getting a driver's license,
trying to figure out girls,
and the Beatles sang "Hey Jude".

My second seventeen, I was a dad twice over,
with a third on the way,
and a civil service career in full swing,
Everybody and their brother
wanted to help Africa, so they sang
 "We Are the World".

My third seventeen, I was starting to feel
the effects of job burnout, had a fourth
soon-to-be-son in our home, and had just
navigated some marital speed bumps.
9/11 was still fresh in my mind
when Springsteen sang "The Rising".

Now on my fourth seventeen, I'm hardly
winding down, retired but busier than ever,
with two grandchildren in my weekday charge,
four grown kids of my own, a wife
who's stuck with me for the duration,
and everyone still wails on American Idol.

If I get to my next seventeen,
it will be a doozy,
and so will the soundtrack.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

PAD Day 28: Meta-poetry Remix

Today's dual prompts from Poetic Asides and NaPoWriMo: (1) Write a "remix" poem, and (2) write a "meta-poem".  Yeah, I just had a "remix" prompt yesterday from NaPoWriMo, but instead of remixing a Shakespeare sonnet, I'm supposed to do a remix of my own poetry. A "meta-poem" is a poem about poetry or the process of writing poetry, a poem that is "self-aware", as it were. A similar term for this is "ars poetica". I've written a number of these over the years, and at least a couple I've written this month allude to writing poetry. I thought an easy but effective way to write a "meta-poem remix" would be to employ the "13 Reasons" framework again, even though I've done it twice already this month. So here goes. (After the poem, I list each section and the Day Number of the poem(s) I excerpted for each one. I did some minor editing and addition, but for the most part the lines are as they appeared in the other poems.)

13 Reasons Why We Write Poetry

1. Because of a broken wind chime,
a robin with a broken wing. 

2.  Because the apple holds the world
and the world holds the apple. 

3. Because of words -
we smelt them and grind them down. 

4. Because we like a flavorful, flawless fleet of words
fleshed out for the flexible mind.

5. Because even if there will be no poem this evening,
words still percolate up through the muck and clay. 

6. Because we write despite the fact
that words come harder now,
like an alphabet in reverse.  

7. Because of our miscellaneous pages
released into the wind. 

8. Because you the sly guitarist
neatly tune your strings,
and your weaving arpeggios slide up
against our thumping iambics. 

9. Because we are ominous,
and our darkness is our brightness. 

10. Because we stole a moment, then stole two -
but we promised they'd come back to you. 

11. Because we try in vain
to contain our unbridled joy. 

12. Because we live on in verse -
we've got it made. 

13. Because what's the worst that could happen -
indeed, what's the worst? 

[Poem sources:
1. Day 9
2. Day 21
3. Day 6
4. Day 24
5. Days 22 and 10
6. Days 12 and 19
7. Day 16
8. Days 26 and 22
9. Day 17
10. Day 5
11. Day 11
12. Day 27
13. Day 2]

Saturday, April 27, 2019

PAD Day 27: Props to Will S.

Today's dual prompts from Poetic Asides and NaPoWruMo: (1) Write a poem whose title is a direction, such as "East", "South by Southwest", "Into the Woods", etc., and (2) write a "Shakespeare sonnet remix". As Maureen describes it: "You can pick a line you like and use it as the genesis for a new poem. Or make a “word bank” out of a sonnet, and try to build a new poem using the same words (or mostly the same words) as are in the poem. Or you could try to write a new poem that expresses the same idea as one of Shakespeare’s sonnets, like 'hey baby, this poem will make you immortal' (Sonnet XVIII) or 'I’m really bad at saying I love you but maybe if I look at you adoringly, you’ll understand what I mean' (Sonnet XXIII)." I only realized when I was most of the way through my rewrite of Sonnet 18 that it was one of the examples that Maureen cited here. I also realize that there's a lot of mixed vernacular in here - I doubt most millennials, for instance, really talk this way. But oh well, I had fun with it

Sonnet 18
by William Shakespeare

Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer's lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm'd,
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature's changing course untrimm'd:
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow'st,
Nor shall death brag thou wander'st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow'st,
     So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
     So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

Like, Sonnet 18
(props to Will S.)

What's up with you and summer, anyway?
Okay, you're prettier, but not as hot:
You know, the wind will blow the blooms away,
And summer's three months long - that's all it's got.
And man, that sun is brutal in July,
Except when it gets dimmed behind a haze,
And pretty stuff gets tarnished, by and by,
By bad luck or by nature's aging rays.
But babe, to me your summer is forever,
Your foxiness, I think, will never fade,
And when Death comes you'll answer, "Like, whatever,"
'Cuz you live on in verse; you've got it made.
      So long as geezers wheeze and peepers peek,
      So long this poem makes you look on fleek.

The other thing I did for the "Shakespeare remix" was to make a wordbank, based on Sonnet 29 ("When, in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes..."). I took one word from each line of that sonnet and made it my word bank to create a new sonnet. The fourteen words were fortune, outcast, deaf, curse, rich, possessed, art, enjoy, thoughts, state, lark, earth, sweet, and kings. (I also, more or less coincidentally, used "heaven" and "desire", both of which also appear in the sonnet.) What I came up is a bit of a screed against the "One Percent". (The title satisfies the Poetic Asides prompt):

Toward Heaven

O, all you kings and all you would-be kings,
Who horde your fortunes like you were obsessed,
Deaf to the world, the desperate state of things,
Who on a lark count what you have possessed,
Who enjoy art for its appraisal price,
Who see the earth as something sweet to plunder,
Whose starving masses you don't think of twice,
Now turn your thoughts toward Heaven - do you wonder
how hard it just might be to get you in,
Your avarice no blessing, but a curse?
While being rich itself is not a sin,
Your selfishness made your position worse.
Embrace philanthropy as your desire
Or you'll be outcasts, twisting in the fire.

Friday, April 26, 2019

PAD Day 26: A Ghazal Serenade

Today's dual prompts from Poetic Asides and NaPoWriMo: (1) Write an "evening" poem, and (2) write a poem that uses repetition. I thought immediately of using a poetic form based on repetition. There are a lot, especially the French forms, but I decided to go with the ancient Middle Eastern form of the ghazal.


The colors shift red to blue, clouds form this evening;
it's in the bones - likely it will storm this evening.

Like damp laundry, humid air hangs on all of us;
even fans can't save us, it's so warm this evening.

Verandas, open porches may give some relief,
but the bugs revel - mosquitoes swarm this evening.

With distant rumble, lightning flashes cloud-to-cloud;
our cold drinks sweat, waiting to transform this evening.

And I, the sly guitarist, neatly tune my strings.
Damn the heat, my love - I will perform this evening.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

PAD Day 25: An Honor, and a Dog's-eye View

First things first: Thanks to Maureen Thorson of the NaPoWriMo blog for featuring my blog post from yesterday (with my poem "Complete Guide to Page 427 of the Dictionary") on her site. It's an honor to be singled out - I guess my poem really amused her. 

Today's dual prompts from Poetic Asides and NaPoWriMo: (1) Write an "exile" poem, and (2) write a poem about a season or seasons, using all five senses and a rhetorical question. Here's one from a dog's point of view.


Banished to the back yard
for the crime of taking a steak
from the kitchen counter,
I'm literally in the doghouse,
limited by a leash. It's spring, though,
so I don't mind so much,
though the smells drive me crazy -
squirrel and rabbit mixed with bird.
I want to find them all, but in restraints,
I have a limited radius. Why can't they
just trust me to stay in the yard?
I hear the neighbor's dog whine plaintively -
I wonder what he did -
and I see that roaming tabby cat
trotting through the garden.
I bark and strain at the end of the leash
but she ignores me, as usual.
There are some flowers in the grass here,
the kind my master always kills.
I nibble at them - yuck, bitter.
No wonder he doesn't want them.
I slurp some water from the bowl
to get the taste out of my mouth.
It's not so bad out here, really.
A warm breeze tousles my fur,
and I lie down to doze in the cool shade
until they let me in for dinner.