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43

In the Carolina Ballroom at the Sheraton Charlotte, there are enormous chandeliers dripping with iridescent crystals that reflect the light from electric candles. Their opulence, while beautiful, seem in distinct contrast with what I learned about writing this past weekend at the NCWN, North Carolina Writers' Network, 2014 fall conference. And what I learned is this: writing is dirty work.

I suppose I latched on to the phrases "gear shifts" from Rebecca McClanahan's presentation and "jumpstart" from Zelda Lockhart's because I grew up around cars. I know what it means to push a vehicle until it's rolling, jump in, and pop the clutch. My father's nails had a perpetual line of black beneath them from working on our cars. From the '61 Impala to the '69 VW bus to the '86 Grand Am, my father slid beneath each one of them, cursing more often than not, as my brother and I waited for his short barks for tools.

McClanahan, author of the memoir The Tribal Knot and many other worksinstructed her audience to use their "literary muscles" to "shift gears" in their writing. While her workshop, titled "Making Their Stories Your Own," revolved around how to use family history and artifacts in your writing, the ideas can apply to all writing. She suggests shifting gears at least two or three times in any given piece, no matter the length. You started by questioning? Shift gears to quoting. Shift again to describing. McClanahan encouraged us to use the literary muscles we have, and she used "My Grandmother's Love Letters" by Hart Crane to illustrate her point. Crane shifts gears eight times in this 26 line poem. He begins in the present, and then he informs, describes, meditates, questions, quotes, speculates, and circles back to the present. 

Zelda Lockhart, author of many books including Fifth Born, presented her audience with a copied line drawing of a steering wheel, rearview mirror, vanity mirror, and side view mirror from the driver's perspective at the beginning of her workshop titled "The Mirror Exercise." She guided us through a series of prompts that involved jotting down bulleted lists on specific parts of the drawing and then freewriting on each section. During the freewrite sessions, Lockhart handed us the tool of opening a book of poetry, setting our fingers down at random, and using the three words closest to our fingertips to "jumpstart" our writing. This was almost eerily good. My jumpstarts even seemed to be thematic. "His solid ruddy," "of the flesh," and "the ones with teeth" were just three of my jumpstarts, and they really helped me to let go of preconceived ideas and just jump in that car and pop the clutch.

These were just two of the workshops I attended. There were also readings and speakers including Wilton Barnhardt who entertained the audience with stories of places he "should never have been" including a tour of a particularly deep cave and the offices of Sports Illustrated. By the way, another one of my jumpstarts was "where I've never gone before." 

Part of the reason I attend writers' conferences is to reenergize myself, to rekindle the flame. After last weekend, I'm ready to roll up my sleeves and get to work with the tools I have at my disposal; I'm ready to get grease underneath my fingernails. I'm ready to kick that muscle car in my mind into fifth gear, hit the road, and ride.

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104

lock and fresh days 11  12

I just love a challenge, so whenever I find a fill-in-the-blank-with-your-favorite-artistic-genre-a-day, I try to jump on it. Both feet. This month, I've been working on INKtober 31's challenge to create a drawing a day (although I have failed miserably at the "a day" part -- I've done about seven). This one is tough because you're supposed to start and finish each drawing in nothing but ink. It has pushed me to be deliberate with my lines because I can't erase. I've learned about and used new-to-me tools like Derwent ink blocks and Copic markers. There is a Facebook page where artists can post their drawings, and give and receive feedback. I've become part of an online community of artists, and those artists are producing some amazing work. 

On the writing side, Rattle introduced its Poets Respond challenge. The idea is to choose a news story from the week and write a poem in response to it by each Friday. There is a Facebook page for this one, too, where poets can post their drafts and read and comment on other poets' work. This is another terrific online community.

Next month is NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). While I won't be writing a novel this time around, I will participate in Robert Brewer's 2014 November PAD (Poem A Day) Chapbook Challenge. It's just what it sounds like: write a poem a day in response to the prompts Brewer posts on his Writer's Digest blog, Poetic Asides, and turn it into a chapbook by January 7. Daily poems can be posted to the blog where the chalenge community can read, and give and receive feedback. I'm looking forward to it. Join me!

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133

I'm feeling very lucky to be a poet today. I just got back from facilitating a poetry workshop at Ellsworth Commons, a senior community here in Eastern NC, and I can't stop smiling about the writing and sharing that happened. When I first agreed to give the workshop, I thought very little about what I would actually do, but as the date got closer, I realized that my audience was different from any group I had worked with before. Then, I panicked a little. Then I Googled it. This is one of the terrific ideas I found: Susan Y. Dyer's blog The Moveable Alphabet, "Creative Writing with Seniors." 

I was attracted not only by the subject matter of the post, but also by the Montessori ideals behind it. The basic idea is to cut out words from magazines and have the workshop participants choose the words that stand out to them. Then, they arrange the words on a largish piece of paper. When  satisfied with the placement on the page for meaning, they glue the words down. This does two wonderful things: 1. It helps anyone who has difficulty writing, for any reason, to express themselves in the written word. 2. It allows participants a starting place. Watching the residents move their chosen words around, trying them out in several different ways to get their messages across was really cool, and the stories they told me while figuring out word placement were even better.

When I first told the group that we would be writing poetry, there were some groans and talk of being "back in school." When I told them how we would be writing it and held up the large font, green ink cut-out word "Pickles," they laughed. But the gentleman who took the word pickles wrote a poem about his grandmother, how he used to make pickles with her, how they used to cook everything from scratch and make homemade ice cream. When he finished his composition, he read it out loud to me, pointed to the page, and said, "That's me. Right there."  

Some of the other residents wrote about camping under the stars, fishing, and learning patience. One woman, after finding the right order for her words, looked through the piles of cut-outs for about five minutes, determined to find something to do with birds so she could complete her thoughts.

I am looking forward to going back in December, and the participants have said that they are looking forward to writing some more poetry. What a wonderful gift on this stormy Wednesday. And many thanks to Susan Y. Dyer for her terrific ideas!

 

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132

erasure game of thrones

So I finally broke down and started reading A Game of Thrones. Naturally, today's erasure prompt is taken from pages 44 and 45. Here we go!

First, I circled the words and phrases that stood out:

fingers, rough stone, wrought all in rubies, "In my dreams, I kill him every night," pillar, tomb, bitter twist, doubts, wounds, bleed again, "she left in the dead of night," sworn to protect, rattling among the tombs, flash of white teeth in the thicket

Do I want the fingers to be rough as stone? Do I want the fingers touching something that is rough as stone? And what is wrought in rubies? The object being felt or the fingers themselves? To whom do the fingers belong?

The mother's fingers, grown stone rough, 
years of working shears, threaded needles
pricked and pushed, creating faces,
dresses trimmed in ribbon, trimmed in lace.

Grown thick as pillars, silver-circled,
wrought all in rubies. Ringed fingers
sworn to protect...

I'm not sure I like this direction, so...

Flash of white in tomb-strewn thicket,
rough stone pillars sworn to protect.

Fingers rattle, wrought all in rubies.
In my dreams, bitter twist of teeth.

I like the imagery here better. 

I'm getting a definite fairy/folk tale, ancient stone circles feel here, and I'm afraid that I am not successfully separating the feel of the novel from the feel of the words that will be a poem. Not that they have to be different, but, when I do erasures, I like to try to deviate as far as possible from the subject and tone of the original text.

How about...

In a bitter twist,
I kill him every night.

Hmmm...this might be interesting! What would you do with this erasure?

Martin, George R.R. A Game of Thrones. New York: Bantam Books, 1996.

 

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117

dragon pinata

Yep, it's been a while since I've posted. What, you ask, have I been doing? Well, I'll tell you. I planned and executed a Harry Potter Tri-Wizard Tournament birthday party for my daughter. We even made a dragon piñata from scratch. It's truly amazing what you can do with a balloon, some newspaper, and liquid starch. I began a new semester of teaching -- this makes year seventeen of new students, new methods of teaching composition, and new ideas. Oh, and I wrote a book.

I took the 3-Day Novel challenge for the third time, but this time I wrote a book of poetry. It's about abandoned places: what happens when we build a place and then leave it? What type of creature might inhabit those spaces? By creature I don't mean mice and cockroaches. I mean what sort of essence is left? What might grow out of our human residue? It was interesting writing so many poems in a row, in a sort-of order, on the same topic and with a storyline. Very different from my usual randomness. I had a great time that weekend, digging around in my brain and pumping out some halfway decent poetry. 

For today's post, I want to give thanks to some of the people who helped me find the joy in writing and reading poetry again. Before I was accepted into the low-residency MFA program in poetry at Converse College, I hadn't written much of anything for years. I had been debating between a PhD and an MFA for forever, and I finally just got my act together, revised what I saw as my best poems, and sent them out with the application packet. Then I waited. And waited. And I almost missed the whole thing because my acceptance email went to my spam folder which I never, ever check. 

Long story short, I have had the privilege of working with some amazing poets (and fiction writers, and creative non-fiction writers). Denise Duhamel was my mentor for two semesters, my first and my last. Most recently, she was shortlisted for the National Book Critics Circle Award for her latest collection Blowout, and she was awarded a 2014 Guggenheim fellowship. Suzanne Cleary was my mentor during my second semester. Her latest book Beauty Mark won the John Ciardi Prize for Poetry. Both of these poets have long lists of awards, publications, and achievements. I'll admit, before I started the program in 2011, I was a little intimidated by those long lists next to each and every faculty member's name. What would they say about my poetry? What was I getting myself into?

As it turns out, both Denise and Suzanne are excellent teachers on top of being respected poets. They both encouraged me to experiment, helped me to learn different ways of tackling that most difficult of processes -- revision, and directed me to read some poets I might have never encountered who are now a permanent part of my poetic life: Richard Hugo, Kim Addonizio, Agha Shahid Ali, Dorianne Laux, and Charles Wright, just to name a few. (I know, I know, how could I have missed Charles Wright? But you can't find the poets you love if you aren't reading poetry. No you can't.)

If you're considering an MFA, I encourage you to consider Converse. I owe my renewed passion for poetry to the program and its faculty. You've got three days to the fall application deadline. Three whole days! That's enough time to write a book  AND make a dragon! Get your materials together and send them in. 

 

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171

This past weekend, I reread Stephen King's The Gunslinger. It is my favorite of the Dark Tower series, and it is one of my favorite books by King, but it had been twenty-six years since I last read it. 26! How does that happen? Anyway, The reason I hadn't read it for so many years is simply that I didn't have a copy. The first time I read it, I borrowed it from a friend at a party, started reading it in a corner (I know, I know. I'm that girl), and finished it in my car by the next morning. 

Naturally, I decided to write an erasure from page 45. Like I do. I copied the page, started circling words that stood out, and noticed that I had a phrase/term I loved: sound watchers. I started thinking about synesthesia -- how can you see a sound? How would you actively watch for sound? I started picking out words on the page that are sounds: grunt, howl, tearing rasp, rattle, screech, pound, vibrate, struck, shiver. The last three are more actions than sounds, but they do produce sound. I also picked out the phrases: "some monstrous clockwork," "So here's your wonder," and "And he began to laugh again" (King 45). 

So while I was looking at these sound words and trying to figure out how they fit together, this bird

bird save

hit the window directly behind me. I heard a thunk on the glass, turned to look out and see if the bird was ok (the sound of a bird strike on a window is distinctive), and saw my outdoor cat slinking away with a wing sticking out of her mouth. I ran outside to retrieve the bird. It was stunned, but after about five minutes, it flew away. 

Hearing sounds while thinking about sounds. That's what life is giving me today. 

Let's see:

The prothonotary warbler (my best guess based on a quick search) struck the window as I wrote. The sound was dark. The sound was the dark of death, the creamsicle orange flash of a cat with a beak in its jaw, the stun inside a bell.

Play with sound and synesthesia today!

King, Stephen. The Gunslinger. Signet: New York, 2003.

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203

One of my favorite movies (and stories turned into movies) is The Shawshank Redemption. Among the many great quotes in this movie (like "Get busy living, or get busy dying") is this: "Geology is the study of pressure and time. That's all it takes, really, pressure and time" (Shawshank). Which brings me to what life gave me yesterday. Maintenance.

I spent all day yesterday pulling weeds (many, many toads were displaced), cutting grass, vacuuming rugs (my dog really should not have any hair at all on her body at this point), and sealing my deck. I pressure washed the deck Wednesday; I hadn't realized how weathered the wood had become, but it has been ten years since we built it. Ten! Ten years! Anyway, pressurized water cleaned my deck, and I wanted to get it sealed before another ten years went by. Like they do.

While working, I found a rotten board which will have to be replaced. Ten years of rain and snow and sun and feet turned this particular board into near mush. If I didn't weed and cut grass, we'd be overrun in very short order. The moss, vines, insects, moles, and weather; the pressure and time would eat away at the brick and wood, eventually taking the house into itself. So maintenance is what life gave me yesterday. And maintenance ain't going away anytime soon. How can I re-invent this and find a poem?

Maybe I'll write about feeling very, very small in the face of nature. Take a large-scope view of humans trying to maintain what they build. I live in the South, and it's easy to see what nature can do. There is a farmhouse or tobacco barn or trailer being pulled down by vegetation everywhere you look. Or maybe I'll write small. A poem about the rotted board. Now that I know it's there, I keep poking at it. When I press on it with my toes, water beads up through the cracks in the wood. It's rather like a kid playing with a loose tooth. Come to think of it, brushing teeth is like pressure washing the deck. More maintenance! 

What will you try to maintain today? Write about it!

The Shawshank Redemption. Dir. Frank Darabont. Columbia Pictures, 1994. Film.

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182

mutant target mushroom

I want to thank my seventh grade science teacher for the phrase fungus amongus which goes through my brain every. single. time. I see a mushroom, or a shelf fungus, or a nice crop of slime mold. I even wrote a poem about slime mold once, the kind also known as "dog vomit." Yes, yes I did. 

I saw this unnatural looking beauty in the Target parking lot, and I thought...fungus amongus. Then I said it out loud, and my children repeated it for about three hours. Naturally, I took a picture for day three of writing the everyday. This thing is such a bright yellow/ochre color, I thought mutant mushroom? But apparently there are plenty of different types of bright yellow mushrooms.

I'd like to learn how to properly forage for mushrooms. They are often so compelling to look at. I won't say beautiful, although that might be one word for them. More like strangely fascinating and repellant at the same time. We have had several orange fungi crop up in our mulch which look very like Cthulhu's tentacles. After a quick search, I found out they are columned stinkhorns. Now that's a name to include in a poem, for sure. Thanks to Bill from Wondering about Fungi for that information. He's even got a Facebook page "Florida Fungi." Love it. 

So...off to read more about fungi, look at some images, and think about poetry, and spores, and fairy rings, and columned stinkhorns. 

What poetry will you grow today?

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157

bath tub toys

Everyone should have Jedi Masters in their bathrooms. 

So...bathtub toys. I remember bathing our cats when I was little - bathing them while I was in the tub with them. Not sure how that worked out without being stripped to ribbons (they were not declawed). Not that they were bathtub toys. My brother played with his Star Wars action figures until they had no defining features. 

It's really not the same when you get too tall to fit your whole body under the water, know what I mean? Something is always sticking out of the water and cold. 

Where, oh where will a poem go from here?

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173

pits

I've been feeling a bit untethered lately, and I was trying to come up with a way to kick myself in the behind when I came across Naomi Shihab Nye's poem "Valentine for Ernest Mann" yesterday. It's a beautiful poem where two skunks become a Valentine's Day present - you should read it. But the lines that really resonated with me go like this: "poems hide. In the bottoms of our shoes, / they are sleeping [...] What we have to do / is live in a way that lets us find them. [...] Maybe if we re-invent whatever our lives give us / we find poems" (Nye). 

This is my challenge to myself, and my challenge to you: every day, I will write about the things life gives me. It's not all that different from what I've been trying to do here at Lady Random, but it is a renewed permission to simply write. About anything. I challenge myself to "live in a way that lets [me] find" the poems hiding in my everyday life.

Today's inspiration is the pits. I don't have a kitchen windowsill, but I do have a shelf above the sink, and that is where little things tend to accumulate. My kids save seeds and plant them regularly; sometimes they even grow. We have an avocado tree that's doing fairly well - I'll have to remember to bring it in for the winter. There is something that remains fascinating about pits. Their shapes and textures; oval and smooth, arrowhead and convoluted, rough. The peach pit cracks open to reveal a pale seed. 

I remember our family labrador, Tippy, steadying avocados between her front paws, intently peeling them, and eating around the pit with her tiny front teeth. 

Maybe I'll write a draft about pits, or maybe I'll write about Tippy, a sweet dog who also stole shoes. 

What do pits make you think of? What will you write today?

Nye, Naomi Shihab. "Valentine for Ernest Mann." Red Suitcase. 1994. Rpt. in Academy of American Poets. Web. 4 August 2014.

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1677

imajica erasure

I think I'm going to have to get more specific when I choose words and phrases, because this is a tough one. I have been simply choosing words and phrases that strike me. Maybe next week I'll choose words in alphabetical order and write an abecedarian, or maybe I'll make up some other rules. We'll see. For now, let's play!

I'm going to try this two ways: The first will be "reading" top to bottom for each of two pages. The second will be reading left to right across both pages. I'm not going to break any lines at first.

One

damnable magic shivered with unease rituals for the raising simpering, mindless plucked by their summoners It wasn't congenital stupidity it was anguish the summons the binding he was trapped changing his face on occasion search vicious sway he failed to see this wretched interview it took a kind of genius nothing to regret for it "We're ready for you now" won't even know you existed sounded ludicrous extraordinary step condescension without argument revenge the drapes were drawn clutter of bottles brooding weary faces invited to occupy not one face among them wealth and influence forbade

Two 

he failed to see damnable magic this wretched interview it took a kind of genius shivered with unease nothing to regret for it "We're ready for you now" rituals for the raising simpering, mindless plucked by their summoners won't even know you existed sounded ludicrous it wasn't congenital stupidity it was anguish extraordinary step the summons, the binding condescension without argument revenge he was trapped the drapes were drawn changing his face on occasion clutter of bottles brooding weary faces search invited to occupy vicious sway not one face among them wealth and influence forbade

Now, let's try some line breaks.

One: damnable magic

shivered with unease Rituals
for the raising simpering, mindless, 
plucked by their summoners. 
It wasn't congenital, 
stupidity. It was anguish. 
The summons, the binding. 
He was trapped changing his face. 
On occasion, search vicious. 
sway He failed to see, this wretched.
interview It took a kind of genius
nothing. To regret. for it "We're ready
for you now." won't even know
You existed sounded ludicrous. 
An extraordinary step, condescension
without argument. Revenge.
The drapes were drawn. Clutter
of bottles; brooding, weary faces
invited to occupy. Not one face
among them wealth. and Influence. forbade


I like the way the words take on new meaning when line breaks and punctuation take them out of their original configuration. I feel that this one might be going in the direction of "To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet" (Eliot). And I really like the title. Lots of places to go with that.

Two: On occasion, a clutter of bottles

He failed to see, damnable magic, 
this wretched interview it took a kind
of genius. He shivered with unease. Nothing
to regret. for it "We're ready for you now."
Rituals for the raising simpering,
mindless, plucked. by Their summoners
won't even know you existed sounded
ludicrous. It wasn't congenital. 
Stupidity it was anguish, extraordinary. 
step The summons, the binding condescension. 
Without argument, revenge. He was trapped. 
The drapes were drawn, changing his face. 
On occasion, a clutter of bottles. Brooding, 
weary faces search. invited to Occupy
vicious sway. not one face among them
wealth and influence forbade

I'm not as sure of the direction of this one, except that there is a sense of futility present. But my brain is now awake and working! What will get you started writing today?

Barker, Clive. Imajica. New York: Harper Paperbacks, 1991.

Eliot, T.S. "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock." Poetry Foundation. 2014 Web. 20 July 2014.

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188

 

anansi erasure

 

This weekend's reread was Neil Gaiman's Anansi Boys. A terrific read, as always, and the natural choice for today's erasure effort. So, here you go.

look what you did!

five bottles of whiskey, plantains, pineapples, mangos, banyan tree. sit and eat don't you lie to me If you lie to me, I'll tear out your throat. what is it? he kills her, loves her places her body he was serious he wasn't going anywhere, It wasn't the first time he's never been born. all stories Even this one. singing the sky and the ocean. he wanted all the stories man gets himself all tangled up he looked like a man. he never changed his shape. That's all.

Now, let's adjust the lines:

Look what you did!

Five bottles of whiskey, plantains, pineapples,
mangos, banyan tree. Sit and eat. Don't you
lie to me. If you lie to me, I'll tear out
your throat. What is it? He kills her, loves her,
places her body. He was serious.
He wasn't going anywhere. It wasn't
the first time he's never. Been born. All stories.
Even this one. Singing the sky and
the ocean. He wanted all the stories.
Man gets himself all tangled up. He
looked like a man. He never changed his shape.
That's all.

Ok. Let's play a bit: 

He wanted all the stories

Five bottles of whiskey. Don't
you lie to me. Plantains, pine-
apples. I'm serious. Mangos,
banyan tree. Sit and eat.
I'm not going anywhere.
I've got myself all tangled
up. You look like a man.
You're killing me. Love me.
If you lie to me. Singing
the sky and the ocean.
I'll tear out your throat. Don't
ever change your shape. 
It's not the first time. Sit.
You want all the stories,
even this one. Replace
my body. Look what you did.

Hmm...it was a challenge to keep Anansi the spider and the story with Tiger out of this, but I think I've got something to work with here. Critique! And I highly recommend this novel. It's even better the third time around!

Gaiman, Neil. Anansi Boys. New York: Harper Torch, 2005. Print.

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202

marbles

 

On scrolling through Facebook this morning, I came across the article The Fermi Paradox by Tim Urban on his Wait but Why blog. Among other things, this article discusses the vastness of the universe, the tiny-ness of humans, the possibility of other tiny lifeforms in the vast universe, and theories as to why we haven't had even so much as a text from any aliens, ever. Unless, of course, you subscribe to ancient alien theory, but I'll let that one go for now. And so it was that I was reminded of this magnificent tin of marbles I got at a yard sale a few years ago.

Maybe it's because I watched Big Blue Marble as a kid. Whenever I think about stars and planets and solar systems, I think about that image of Earth from space. You know, the one that was so unique way back in the 70's. And now we've got satellites littering space and a whole internet full of pictures of Earth from space. I am reminded of a book edited by Kurt Brown titled The Measured Word: On Poetry and ScienceSome people think that science and poetry are at odds, that there is a deep, unbridgeable chasm between the two. This book explores the closing of that chasm. I believe that science and poetry naturally go together. While I am no scientist, as a poet, I question and seek answers. I want to know the origins of things, I want to understand how things work, and I want to know how humans function in the great expanse of space and time. Poetry is one vehicle for exploration, for discovery.

Anyway, the Prompt: 

Write a poem of exploration and discovery. Or write a poem about marbles. Your choice. 

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235

Food Network color bowls I set out this morning to do an erasure, but after flipping through a few magazines, I hadn't found anything that jumped out at me. Then I got to this article in the May 2014 issue of food network magazine. While some of the items presented are fun to think about; a flame red Kitchenaid stand mixer (ooooh...), a lime green quartz countertop (how cool is that?), a grape cooking range (stainless steel's got nothing on this); it was the colors themselves that called to me. "Flame red," "mustard yellow," "lime green," "teal," and "grape" are rich, bold colors. They are fun colors. But before I could despair about my poor, dull, unfun kitchen countertops and appliances, I remembered Richard Hugo's "Stone Poems."

These are my favorite Hugo poems. They are funny and sad and contemplative and weird. In "Brown Stone," Hugo writes, "Act friendly to the stone. / Smile. Touch. Even pat its brown hand / and say 'good stone, good,' though of course / be alone when you do. Don't get a reputation: /  'Creep with pet rock'" (428). In "Blue Stone," he writes, "A blue stone is only one piece / of a huge blue stone nobody can find. / A blue stone is anything but / a blue stone. It is a speck of sky / in your hand or a tiny bit of sea" (Hugo 429). These poems have switchbacks like mountain roads; they make you go back, look again.

Prompt: 

Pick a color. Pick a dull color and make it exciting. Pick a bold color and make it feel like the last kid picked for the team. Write a poem about color.

"Brighten Up. 60 Ways To Color Your Kitchen." food network magazine. May 2014: 59-68. Print.

Hugo, Richard. Making Certain It Goes On. The Collected Poems of Richard Hugo. W.W. Norton & Company: New York, 2007.

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263

gloves2 saluda

Draft: 

Work Gloves

You wore your leather work gloves like pearls,
ever-present, necessary accessory
when pulling stubborn weeds from between
volunteering tomatoes, when clearing grass
for a decorative bed of rosemary,
lavendar, a dwarf juniper sweeping
brown mulch with its prickly skirt. When raking
crumbling must of fall leaves, when clearing
baby black walnuts with loppers extended
or with a growling chainsaw. I watched you pull
the string, bring it to life, your hands strong,
padded palms, biceps working slick. The leather
is stiff with your sweat, plant oils, sap, gas,
like pearls worn against a lotioned, perfumed curve
of neck and never properly cleaned.
I would pull them on, flex thick scarred fingers
until they felt at home around a trowel.
The certain weight of a treasured necklace
against my heavy breast.

Critique! Thanks for reading.

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228

gloves2 saluda

Quick one today! Visual prompt.

Post your first response in the comments, and thanks!

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198


Lately, I've been listening to and reading about murder ballads. I find this genre oddly fascinating, like watching Dexter and wanting him to not get caught. Writing ballads, basically song lyrics, is harder for me than writing straight poetry. The rhyme seems restrictive, and the repetition has to really mean something. But I've been wanting to try them, so here you go.

Draft: 

I'm Long Gone

I come home from working, I been working all damn day.
Oh, I come home from working, I been working all damn day.
I come home to find you sleeping,
in our bed with that girl from 'round the way.

The sheets I washed were bunched around your hips,
Yes, the sheets I washed were bunched around your hips.
Well, I pulled out my pistol,
and damned if I didn't empty that clip.

I'm just driving, driving, leaving the blues and you behind. 
And I'm just driving, driving, leaving the blues and you behind.

When they find you, they'll find nothing but piles of bones.
When they find you, honey, they'll find nothing but your bones.
I torched those sheets; I watched them burn.
I've got smoke in my hair, and I'm long, long gone.

A hundred miles out, and night has turned to dawn,
A hundred miles out, and night has turned to dawn.
I've got my pistol on my hip,
and every thing's right that once was wrong.

I'm just driving, driving, leaving the blues and you behind.
And I'm just driving, driving, leaving the blues and you behind. 

Process: 

I started with the fourth verse/ fifth stanza "A hundred miles out..." This is the first image that popped into my head, a woman driving into the night after killing her lover. This is a pretty standard topic for a murder ballad, but there are a few things I left out. I did not give a proper name for the victim or the shooter. I think that this song would benefit from having a name to attach to one or the other. I also did not include justice being served. Usually in a murder ballad, the murderer end up in jail or hanged, or some member of the victim's family exacts revenge. I think I'd like to write more where the murderer gets away with it. And as I write this, I can't help but think...again...what's wrong with me? This genre has been around for a long time and has been popular in many different cultures. Why are we so fascinated with death and revenge? 

I'm not satisfied with this draft, but it's time to post and move on to revisions. Anyway, I'll try a few more, I think. And Nirvana's "Where Did You Sleep Last Night?", their rendition of the traditional "In the Pines," just came on my Pandora station. Haunting.

Let me know what you think!

 

 

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Home again, home again. I'm back from the first annual Converse College MFA alumni weekend, which was absolutely fantastic by the way, with readings by Albert Goldbarth, Denise Duhamel, Robert Olmstead, Cary Holladay, Leslie Pietrzyk, and Jim Minick; and I got to read with two of my favorite women who also happen to be two of my favorite writers, Sonja Condit and Kathleen Nalley Moore, at Hub City Bookshop. We had terrific workshops involving exquisite corpses (from which emerged the title of this post), fake author bios, and a month's worth of laughter. What a wonderful group of people, and what a terrific low-residency MFA program. If you've ever thought about getting your MFA in poetry, fiction, or nonfiction, you should check them out.

So I'm back, and I just realized it has been a little over a month since I've posted here. National Poetry Writing Month was such a wonderful challenge, and I thought I'd just take a few days off, and now it's June. Yikes! So, let's get this party started.

As a refresher: I'll post a prompt. I'd love it if you would add your first responses to the prompt in the comments section by clicking on "continue reading" below. Yeah, you have to sign in, but it doesn't take long, promise! In a couple of days, I'll post a draft of a poem based on some or all of the ideas. You can post a draft, too!

Prompt: 

I'm stealing this from my good friend and fellow Converse MFA alumni Matt McEver (whose latest work "Yonder Comes a Sucker" can be found on Steel Toe Review): What is/would be your own "personal apocalypse"? 

I'll start: oh, this could go in so many directions. From Starbucks goes out of business to my MacBook Pro explodes to the much more serious. I really should back up my hard drive...

Now you! And thanks for playing. Write on!

 

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270

 

nimoy and hendrix

Prompt: 

I love a prompt with directions, especially in the form of  list. I used NaPoWriMo's prompt title "Twenty Little Poetry Projects" courtesy of JIm Simmerman. I think this also fits Brewer's prompt of magic/realism. Enjoy!

Draft: 

 

Listening to Hendrix on Vinyl

Life is an LP record, a vinyl disk pressed in a continuous spiral, moving inward from a vast expanse to a tight circle of bright black where the music ends.

If you start at my left big toe, you can unpeel my skin in one, long, curvy strip like the devil peels a hard-boiled egg.

Skin cracked like thick paint on wood siding.

Skin browned like a cage free hen’s egg.

Skin like salt on the soft white dome, like teeth through thick yolk.

Skin like crepe myrtle blooms in humid air, the scent of steam.

Skin brushed by thin fabric, feathers preened by a beak, sound like sliding the sheet over a browned hip in the night.

Thin skin just a cover, a network of cells. When pressed, it sounds like a diamond tipped needle in a v-shaped groove. Gently drop the arm.

Jimi Hendrix live at Otto’s Grotto grinds the span of my hips, slides around my ribs.

My skin can no more be removed than the devil from your hand.

I don’t believe in the devil.

At the coffee shop, I bite into an omelette replete with feta, tomato, and consider a picture of Hendrix standing hip to hip with Leonard Nimoy. 

Because the picture is in black & white, the cream is old and clumps up in my cup.

I don’t really like coffee. I just keep drinking it hoping I’ll start to like it, like beer.

The thin skin of hue is a cold blue when held to the light.

Membrane less like a shroud and more like a sliding glass door. 

Pull it aside. Step through. 

Gabby’s record is played out. The needle skips. Skips.

It will slide all the way to the center. Rise.

Pressed egg like a record, like grooved black vinyl.

The needle settles into my skin.

Pa’lante, pa’lante, pa’tras ni pa’ coger impulso.

I follow the groove to its inevitable end where I rise, return, rest.

Run your devil fingers in a spiral on my thin skin, press this surrendered silk shell.

 

 

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534px-Mars atmosphere

Mars Atmosphere: Viking Orbiter Raw Image Archive 1976

Prompt: 

NaPoWriMo: write a poem using a news story

Brewer: write  a "settle" poem

First, I thought, well, I don't read the newspaper. Actual paper was the first thing that crossed my mind. So I almost gave that up, but then I thought, aha! There's this thing called the Internet... I Googled "settle news story" and came up with a surprising number of Seattle sites and a bunch of law suits/cases, but then, there was this: Mars One - Human Settlement on Mars. Ahhh...yes. That's more like it.

Draft: 

Settling

I will write you a story explaining everything.
Its pages will be blank. I got that from Voltaire.
Voltaire described Mars' two moons (panic/fear) and
(terror/dread). He got the orbital distances,
orbital periods info from Swift. Who probably
was just speculating but pretty much got it right.
These moons are not nice and round like Earth's moon
named Moon. We are very concerned with whether or not
the Moon had water. And then if Mars had water.
From space, it sure looks like it. And so humans can settle.
In 2024, we will watch humans shoot one-way
to Mars to live in Mars trailers. They will grow their own
greens. Two men and two women from disparate cultures.
They paid their $38 or equivalent based
on per capita income. They will have shown
"indomitable spirit" ("What"). From the "Five Key
Characteristics of an Astronaut": "Your humor
is a creative resource, used appropriately
as an emerging contextual response" ("What").
Reality TV from space. With no escape.
What would make me get on that ship. What would make me
get in a wagon and head west. What would make me
get on a boat and head west. What would make me.
Panic and fear in my pocket, orbiting terror and dread. 
I will write you a story explaining everything.

Process: 

Oh how I love the Internet. Who knew that the author of Candide wrote science fiction? Ok, I suppose a lot of people knew that, but I didn't until today. I also didn't know that there are at least a couple of groups raising money to settle Mars starting in 2024. Part of the funding will come from film rights. Reality TV from Mars. Awesome.

Critique! Only two days left of NaPoWriMo. Bring it!

"What are the qualifications to apply?" Mars One. Web. 28 April 2014. 

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