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149

skeleton motorbike atlanta

Wait, it's June? Sigh.

I'm having a rough day. Yes, already. To tell the truth, I've had a rough week. There are lots of unrelated reasons for this, but rather than lament here, let's see what poetry can do about it. Rather, let's see what poetry can do with it.

Since my brain is wiped, I'm going to try a jump-start with a cento, a form of found poetry that typically uses lines from other poets' poems in a sort-of written collage. I want to lighten my mood, lighten my heart, so I'm going to go off-book here and use first lines from the chapters in the seventh book in Charlaine Harris' Sookie Stackhouse series titled All Together Dead. Yep. Vampires, telepaths, weretigers...I can get lost in this other world of supernatural beings and, yes, lots of sex. Supernatural sex. Plus these books were made into the HBO series True Blood, so, you know, you can't go wrong with that.

Let's see what happens:

The Shreveport vampire bar would be opening late tonight.
Halleigh, since you're marrying a policeman, you'll be able to tell me...just how big is a cop's night stick? (See? I'm laughing already.)
We were in the kitchen when Amelia returned.
It was still warm at night, but not oppressively so, not this late in September.
I was walking in my sleep.
On the second morning after Jason's wedding, I was feeling much more myself.
I don't have anything to say.
"My bags are packed..." I sang. (Now, see here? I'm sensing a theme. Anxiety about something, acceptance, subsequent action. A leaving.)
It was mid-afternoon when we arrived in Rhodes. (I've written centos before using poetry, and I can tell that this is going to involve much more cutting. I'll need to cut most of the proper names, for sure.)
"Go see," the Queen told me.
I was so anxious to get out of the crowd in the wedding hall that I collided with a vampire, who whirled and grabbed my shoulders in a blur of darkness.
I simply couldn't process what had just happened; it didn't jibe with my inner picture of myself or how I behaved. (Hmmm...this could get serious.)
It was a bomb. (Yep.)
Batanya killed the assassin with a throwing star. (Tee hee. How will this factor in?)
I'd finally gone to bed at four in the morning, and I woke at noon.
The vampire Jodi was pretty formidable.
My eyes snapped open like shades that were wound too tight. (This just sparked a memory of my childhood bedroom. We had those shades! I'm heavy handed, and those things flew off the wall more than once. Note to self.)
I know there are many worse things than waking up naked in bed with someone you don't know very well. (Hmm, hmm!)
I'd been terrified the whole two-day drive: that I'd be stopped and they wouldn't believe I'd gotten permission to use the car, that Frannie would change her mind and tell the police I'd stolen it, that I'd have an accident and have to repay Quinn's sister for the vehicle. (Ever spent time in someone else's car absolutely terrified? I have.)

Ok! Now I've not only got some lines I can play around with, but I've got some concrete memories that I might work with later, too. And that's what I call a successful jump start. 

Harris, Charlaine. All Together Dead. New York: Ace Books, 2007.

 

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NextBookHerePic3FINAL

Yesterday, the North Carolina Writers' Network announced the winner of the 2015 Randall Jarrell Poetry Competition on their website, and guess what? It was me! Check out the write-up here with lovely comments by the final judge, William Wright, like this: "There is a sense of loss and danger here, of 'scarred skin [at the] throat'; simultaneously, there is a Stevens-like otherworldliness that delights in the imagination," Wright said. “‘Failure to Obliterate’ is centered, understandable, surprising, and genuinely beautiful.” Yes, I did dance a jig when I read that.

Regular readers will remember the Valentine's Day post about the manta ray and my efforts to write about my experience. The resulting poem is the poem that won! I can't even tell you how honored and thrilled I am. I can, however, tell you how I got to the point where I write and submit my poetry regularly: I took the leap and applied for an MFA.

In honor of #TBT, let me take you back five years to 2010. I had twelve years teaching experience, two (very) small children, and a file folder full of creative writing which I hadn't touched since 2000 and which I hadn't ever, ever submitted. Anywhere. It just sat there, looking at me, yellowing at the edges with age. I decided it was time. Was I a writer or wasn't I?

Some people don't need award-winning poets like Denise Duhamel and Suzanne Cleary as their super-fantastic mentors. Some people don't need a kick in the ass to take their writing seriously. Some people don't need to be immersed in an environment that values creativity. I'm not some people. I applied to the low-residency MFA at Converse College, I got in, and, five years (and 150+ submissions) later, I won a poetry competition. 

Can I guarantee that you, too, will win a prize if you apply for an MFA? Of course not. (Remember the 150+ submissions? Only 20 of those were accepted. So far.) But I can guarantee you that you will come out the other side a better writer. You'll have lasting friendships and a killer network. And if you keep working at it, if you submit your work regularly, if you treat your passion for writing with the respect it deserves, then you will call yourself a writer, and that will make all the difference.

Interested in applying for the Converse College Low-Residency MFA? Read the press-release below, and plan to attend the rockin' open house May 31st. I'll be there with my dancing shoes on. Come by and say hi!

S.C.’s Only Low-Residency MFA in Creative Writing to Hold Open House May 31

Spartanburg, S.C. -- Discover why Publishers Weekly named the Converse College Low Residency MFA in Creative Writing "a program to watch" in 2015. Join us at our Open House information session on May 31, 2015 from 6:30-7:30 p.m. in the Barnet Room of the Montgomery Student Center on the Converse campus.

Meet current students, published alumni, and faculty, including Robert Olmstead, Denise Duhamel, Marlin Barton, Leslie Pietrzyk, Susan Tekulve, Albert Goldbarth, C. Michael Curtis, Suzanne Cleary, and program director Rick Mulkey. Learn about the program’s new concentrations in Young Adult Fiction and Environmental Writing, plus scholarship and Teaching Assistantship opportunities, along with information on recent alumni successes in fiction, poetry and nonfiction. Then stay to mingle with current students who are on campus for their summer residency, enjoying live music with Nashville-based folk rock band The Hart Strings beginning at 8 p.m.

More information on the Converse College Low-Residency MFA is available at www.converse.edu/mfa.

About the Converse College Low-Residency MFA

As South Carolina's only low residency MFA program in creative writing, the Converse College MFA offers students opportunities to focus in fiction, Y.A. fiction, poetry, nonfiction, and Environmental writing, plus opportunities to pursue internships in publishing and editing through our C. Michael Curtis Publishing Fellowship at Hub City Press. MFA students may also participate in editing opportunities with the program's national online literary magazine, South 85 Journal, and pursue teaching opportunities with our Teaching Assistant program, a unique opportunity for low residency students. 

“One of the strengths of a low-residency format is how it introduces students to the real writing life,” said program director Rick Mulkey. “Most writers have family and career obligations in addition to their writing. While students spend part of each academic year on the Converse campus during the residencies, they continue work on their writing and academic projects during the rest of the year without disruption from their family and career.  Plus they study in a true mentor/apprentice relationship with a gifted writer. It provides both an intensive learning environment and the flexibility that most of us need.”

Converse MFA faculty members include National Book Critic Circle Award winners, best-selling novelists, award winning short fiction writers and essayists, plus some of the top editors in the country. “In addition to being outstanding writers, our faculty are energetic and dedicated teachers who have been honored for their classroom instruction,” said Mulkey. “In some graduate programs, a student enrolls to discover that the writer she planned to work with only teaches one course a year, or is on leave while the student is in the program. Here you have the opportunity to work with a large number of writers, editors and agents in a very personal mentoring relationship.”

In the last few years, Converse MFA graduates and current students have distinguished themselves with honors and awards including the AWP Intro Award, a Melbourne Independent Film Festival Award, and the South Carolina Poetry Initiative Prize, among many others. In addition, they have published work in a range of literary venues from Colorado Review, Shenandoah, Ploughshares, and Southern Review to such noted publishers as William Morrow/Harper Collins, Simon & Schuster, Random House, Negative Capability Press, Finishing Line Press, and others.

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vintage pattern

Today is day 19 of The Found Poetry Review's National Poetry Month challenge PoMoSco (Poetry Month Scout), and today's prompt is "Quiet on the Set." Here's the process: watch at least 30 minutes of a tv show or movie, write down as much of the dialogue as you can while viewing, then write a poem using only the words you got down and in that order. No adding words, no mixing words around. The only think you can do is delete.

The found poetry prompts like this one, where we Scouts had to keep the words in their original order and not add anything, have been a real challenge, and I haven't felt like many of them flowed well until today. This one clicked. Of course, it may be because my kids and I have been on a Doctor Who kick, so writing while watching "The Age of Steel" didn't seem forced at all, or it may be because the words, out of context, reminded me of one of my favorite episodes of The Twilight Zone, "Number 12 Looks Just Like You," but this one feels like a complete draft. I felt tuned in while writing it. Tuned in, get it? Yes, yes. I am easily amused.

This is a terrific exercise, especially if you're blocked and might just have turned on the tv, and, you know, you're in a tv coma... I've copied the entire process below with the poem draft last. Hope you enjoy it! 

Here's the original trancription:

2 gods we can take them if you kill them what’s the difference between you and the cybermen smelling salts little trick 3...2...1...there’s gonna be more then let’s go get them with the preachers I used to be ordinary worked with 9 to 5 until I find something I’m not supposed to all I did was read it men with guns knocking in the middle of the night I found the preachers what about Mr. I got that from a book. They needed a techie but he thinks I’m dead the only way to keep him safe what about you got any family who needs family what’s your real name don’t tell a souls not a word code 6 doctor did that one just move it’s just the torch light they’re waking up run! quickly! open it open it! quick quick come on oh good tea Mrs. Moore upgraded 6,500 repeat and rising you will wait you ok? No. all reject stock will be incinerated sound of a saw, knives, lasers, alarm, stomping feet any sign of Jackie tutorial confirm I recognize you my name was restrain her brain is inside this body I came to save you to create our species take them to cyber control they killed her maybe there’s a chance maybe we can reverse it there’s nothing we can do which one was her they all look the same nobody’s home I don’t know they might have transmission controls written n big red letters just look cyberman he’s dead it’s empty no brain suit is just for display ok transmitter you are not upgraded upgrade this yeah well what the hell was that thing electromagnetic bomb you figured right logo on the front turned into a brand is that flesh central nervous system responds like a living thing oh but look emotion inhibitor still got a human brain imagine if it could see itself realize itself inside it would go insane why am I cold I broke the inhibitor do you remember your name you’re a woman where’s Gareth he can’t see me you’re getting married you sleep now just go to sleep I didn’t die for nothing that’s the key if we could find the cancellation code they’s realize what they are we’ve got to before they kill everyone else we’ve no choice doctor you are an unknown upgrade you didn’t have to kill her we need an oxyacetylene or something  we crash the zeppelin let’s have a look it’s locked override trust me oh and I forgot to bring one with me I’ve been captured oh well never mind and where is her the famous Mr. Lubick meet our lord and master he has been designated he’s just like you this is the age of steel and I am its creator almost there it’s moving come and have a go help that’s my friends at work good boys free will I have factories waiting on seven continents take humanity by force. london has fallen what the hell is that thing I will bring peace to the world and unity and uniformity imagination you’re killing it dead a redundant title doctor you’re a clever man I might call you a genius except I’m in the room once you get rid of sickness and mortality what’s to strive for lacking the one thing that makes this planet so alive ordinary stupid brilliant people have you know grief and rage and pain yes and they hurt oh yes wouldn’t you want that a life without pain you better kill me I will take that option a species of my own you just don’t get it some ordinary man or woman for example the code behind the emotional past firewalls knows how to find binary 9  keep on fighting to save his friends chats on your phone you will be deleted yes my particular favorite send making everything compatible with everything else yes what have you done I gave them back their souls thy can see what you’ve done and it’s killing them delete no way out we’ve got to get this balloon’s gonna ignite we’re not leaving her behind there’s no way we’re leaving her behind hold it Rose can you hear me head for the roof he says head for the roof no! just hold on I’m coming to get you I can’t go any lower there’s got to be something oh yes! welcome to Mickey’s airlines please enjoy your flight this is for her ha ha ha! explosion wind so what happens inside that thing then I don’t think so all that stuff you said about different worlds who are you? It’s like you say imagine there are different worlds, parallel worlds, and their daughter I’ve gotta go I can’t someone’s got to tell the authority’s about them we’ve gotta go thank you for everything dad just don’t here it is I found it not a crease my suit good man one more thing her real name she’s got a husband and children tell them how she dies saving the world thing is I’m staying there’s work to be done she’s till alive she needs me what if I need you yeah but you don’t we had something a long time ago but not any more I told you travel between worlds is impossible we fell through a crack in time when we leave I’ve got to close it we can’t ever return stop those factories good luck Mickey the idiot thanks we’ve had a lark though haven’t we seen it all been there and back flying through the stars imagine what we’d do one day go on you’ll miss your flight Jake you’ll want to watch this what the hell that’s the doctor in the tardis with rose tyler mama I was the last time I looked where did you go far away he’s gone round that was far away I know it’s not easy with my face we can remember him you think there’ll be one in Paris you and me in a van I want to save the universe in a big yellow truck there you go sir all wired up for the great occasion they’re being turned into monsters men in black are you sitting comfortably? good then we’ll begin

Whew! Really, really wish I'd taken typing back in high school. Here's the next step, which is where I took out words and phrases that stood out. They started to gel almost right away.

3...2...1...

I used to be ordinary until I found the Preachers soul’s not a word code one just the torch light they’re waking up and rising all reject stock will be incinerated my name was restrain inside this body I came to save you written in big red letters it’s empty just for display you are not upgraded upgrade logo on the front brand central nervous system

responds like a living thing imagine realize do you remember your name you’re a woman now just go to sleep trust me I’ve been designated just like you I am creator factories on seven continents will bring peace to the world unity uniformity rid of sickness and mortality brilliant a life without pain I took that option you will be deleted yes making everything compatible with everything else souls delete oh yes! enjoy one more thing we had something a long time ago but not anymore we fell in time we’ll fly through the stars imagine what we’ll do one day you’ll want to watch this I know it’s not easy with my face remember there’ll be one in you there you go all wired up for the great occasion being turned into monsters

Are you sitting comfortably?

Good. Then we’ll begin.

 

And here's the completed draft! 

At the final fitting for her permanent body, a girl.

     “Being like everybody is the same as being nobody”  from “Number 12 Looks Just Like
      You” Twililght Zone

3...2...1...

I used to be ordinary until I found 
the Preachers. Soul’s not a word. Code.Just 
torch light. Waking up and rising. All reject stock 
will be incinerated. My name was restrain.

Inside this body, I came to save you
(written in big red letters). It’s empty. 
For display. You are upgraded. Upgrade logo
on the front, brand, central nervous system.

Responds like a living thing. Imagine!
Realize, you remember your name. 
You are woman. Now, just go to sleep. Trust me. 
I’ve been designated just like you. I am

creator. Factories on seven continents 
will bring peace to the world! Unity, uniformity. 
Rid of sickness and mortality. Brilliant! 
A life without pain? I took that option. 

You will be deleted, yes, making everything 
compatible with everything else. Souls? 
Delete. Oh yes! Enjoy. One more thing: 
We had something a long time ago, but

not anymore. We fell. In time, we’ll fly through stars.
Imagine what we’ll do one day! You’ll want 
to watch this. I know it’s not easy, with my face. 
Remember, there’ll be one in you. There you go! 

All wired up for the great occasion: 
being turned into monsters. Are you 
sitting comfortably? Good. Then we’ll begin.

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music wall MN copy

 

Ok. So trying to process a conference like AWP the day after you get back is like trying to move after eating most of an extra-large pepperoni, bacon, and sausage pizza by yourself. But I'm gonna try anyway.

Best Session: Definitely S140 "Promotion as Art: Thinking Beyond the Book Trailer." This session focused on five poets who had films made of their poems as promotion for their books. Photographed by David Flores, the short films get straight to the heart of the poem and the poet. This film of Ellen Hagan's "Things to Tell Araceli" is really beautiful. What a terrific way for poets and poems to reach a larger audience!

Best Reading: I'll have to post two here. The first was the reading I participated in with Found Poetry Review. The 17 poets who participated had to read poems we had written while at AWP, no small feat, let me tell you. I wrote four out of eight prompts, and the last one was finished less than an hour before the reading. I have never felt such energy and a clear sense of play at another reading. Dan Chelotti's poem in response to the "Overheard at AWP" was particularly animated. I wish I had taken video! Also, the reading was at artist Allen Christian's House of Balls, a fascinating place filled with art created from found pieces, and the perfect venue for a found poetry reading. Check out this carved bowling ball sculpture (hence the name of the place!):

 carved bowling ball

The second reading was by Ray McManus from his book Punch and Jon Pineda from his book Little Anodynes. I had read Punch before going to AWP, and I was happy to get to hear McManus read. I bought Pineda's book at AWP, and after hearing him read, I am really looking forward to reading it!

Best New-to-Me Journal at the Book Fair: Hoot. This is a literary magazine that comes to you once a month in the form of an illustrated poem on a post card! I love this idea, and now I have a good example for how to do the post card reward for my Kickstarter poetry and art book project. 17 days to go! Check it out and please, consider backing my project.

Best Thing Seen at the Book Fair: An old typewriter converted to transmit to the iPad as seen at the London Review of Books Booth. Who could resist signing up for their mailing list when you get to use this?

ipadwriter

Best Food: 'Cause, you know, it's important! Definitely the Hen House Eatery. I had their rancheros tostadas twice, and they were fantastic. Black beans, avocado, eggs, queso fresco, fresh salsa, cilantro...mmmmmm. Yummy.

Of course, seeing old friends and meeting new friends was wonderful, and I had many, many interesting conversations with them about writing, reading, philosophy, science, art, travel...oh, and beer. Let's not forget that. 

Thanks AWP, and thanks Minneapolis for hosting all 13,000 of us! Your mayor is awesome! I had a blast.

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pigswm

It's day seven of NaPoMo, National Poetry Month, and I'm on track with my poems for PoMoSco through the Found Poetry Review. Let me tell you, I never knew that writing found poetry could be so much fun or that there were so many different methods of writing it! 

So far, I've written down words at random from Salman Rushdie's novel Fury and rearranged them; I've printed out Mark Twain's "The War Prayer," cut it up, stuck the pieces in a bag, drawn them out and pasted them down exactly as they came out; I've eavesdropped at the Wal-Mart and written a poem using the bits of conversations (and...just whoa...that's where I took the photo of the claw machine above); I've written a cento using the first lines from Rick Mulkey's poetry book Toward Any DarknessI've whited out words to create a poem on the editor's note from this month's Food Network magazine; and I've Googled the unlikely word combo "dainty iguana." Whew!

This is what I love about poetry -- playing with words and sharing the results. Check out the poems on the PoMoSco site; I am one of "213 poets representing 43 states and 12 countries"! What a wonderful way to celebrate National Poetry Month.

My Kickstarter project is a book of poems and art created in this same spirit of play. I hope you'll check it out and consider backing me! Thanks!

 

 

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kickstarterfront

It's April, my favorite month. Why, you ask? Well, I'll tell you. It's sunny, everything here is starting to bloom, it's not 200 degrees yet, and...it's National Poetry Month! That means two things: 1. Yay poetry! and 2. Crazy poetry challenges.

Challenge #1:

I've launched my very first Kickstarter campaign! I am hoping to raise enough money to publish my book of poems, art, and writing tips. Please check it out here: "Imposition of Joy." If you enjoy it, please consider becoming a backer! And please, share, share, share it with your friends! Thanks!

Challenge #2:

Also, this year I'm a part of Found Poetry Review's PoMoSco, a month of daily found poetry challenges. For today's challenge, I took Salman Rushdie's novel Fury, and I wrote down words and phrases that stood out to me, then turned them into a poem. It was a lot of fun! You can check it out here: "Street-Goddess Swagger." Hope you enjoy!

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lightning blown paint

There's been quite a bit of drawing and painting going in at my house with ice storms and school closings and temperatures in the single digits. 8 degrees. In Eastern North Carolina. 8. I've been experimenting with using a straw to blow paint across the page as an abstract starting point. I thought this was going to turn into an exploration of sheet lightning. One of the most beautiful things I've ever seen is lightning shooting across the desert sky in the American Southwest. 

lightning with couple

But then these two showed up. I still thought it was lightning. You know, love hit like a "bolt from the blue," which turns out to be a thing. The bolt travels horizontally first, far away from the storm cloud itself, before it shoots to the ground. Is love like that? One minute, you're standing in the middle of a field or a street or a hotel lobby, and the next you're lit up and blown right out of your shoes.

couple with color

From Franz Wright's poem "Our Conversation":

Pure gaze, you are the lightning beyond the last trees
and you are the last trees'
past, branching (lines 1-3)

lightning to tree

And then it wasn't just lightning, but it was also a tree. A weeping cherry in winter, ghosts of pale petals.

Ceaseless blue lightning
this love passing through me:
I know somehow it will go on
reaching you, reaching you
instantly (Wright lines 50-54)

Now...off to do some more reading on lightning and then a poem draft. What will you write today?

 

Wright, Franz. "Our Conversation." Poetry Foundation. 2015. Web. 22 Feb. 2015.

 

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You know those moments that you never quite forget? Moments that parts of your mind cover like a scrim, shielding the outline, the shadow of that moment? And then, something triggers, a light comes on, and you realize the moment was there all along. 

blow paint ray

One beautiful Southern California night about twenty years ago, I was walking on Manhattan Beach pier with a friend. It was just cool enough for a sweatshirt, and it was clear enough for stars. There were a few people out walking and some fishermen with their poles and buckets. 

blow paint full with salt

As crowds sometimes do, this one started with a shout almost no one noticed. A fisherman, a young, barefoot man in frayed jeans and a t-shirt hooked something big.

ray with purple

So big, he had to drag it down the pier. The crowd gathered in his wake, and, as each individual looker over the railing, the crowd grew a voice.

with ray

At the end of the line was a great, thrashing, gray creature. Its wings beat at the surface of the water, throwing froth and spray.

ray finished

This moment, the magnificent ray fighting the line; the moon, stars, and pier lights reflected in the tips of waves and furious churning of the ray's wings; this moment is always there. I've been dreaming about it lately and trying to get it down on paper, but I don't think I will ever be satisfied with the results.

From my poem draft "Failure to Obliterate":

If I could swim beneath it in the cold dark, 
I know its great gills would open 
like the iron grate of a furnace, 
continuous exchange of oxygen in blood. 

What is your ever-present moment?

 

 

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Some days, chilly days, days when the sun in shining but you can feel the crunch of the frost on the grass beneath your feet from inside the house; those are days when you need to just clean out the fridge and the cupboard, throw it in your crock pot, and turn it on low. I won't even tell you how long this butternut squash has been in my kitchen. Let's just say I got it with all kinds of eating healthy intentions at the farmer's market...before it closed for the winter. These things last forever!

butternut squash

And what a great word: butternut. It's all assonancy and consonancy at the same time. Let's throw some alliteration in the pot while we're at it:

Baleful butternut,
brawny hide belying time,
surrounded by browning bananas.

It was almost a haiku, but taking out "surrounded by" didn't make sense. Anyways...so I found a recipe for "Pinto Bean Chili with Corn and Winter Squash" in my Southern Living Slow-Cooker Cookbook that called for butternut squash (yay!), two cans of pinto beans, frozen corn, a can of crushed tomatoes, a can of green chilis, onion, garlic, red bell pepper, some spices, ad queso fresco. I had everything but the pinto beans and queso fresco, but I did have black-eyed peas and goat cheese, so I set to work.

all chili ing in pot

 

Ah...the slow cooker. A metaphor for the poet's brain -- when it's not a blast chiller freezing, a microwave zapping, a vacuum sealer marinating, a mortar and pestle grinding away...ok, ok. It's true. I watch Chopped way too much. But seriously, sometimes ideas need to hang out together in a slow heat until they come together in a steaming helping of warm-you-from-the-inside verse. 

chili done

 

From Mary Ruefle's poem "Blood Soup": 

[..] I had lost track of my life
before, but nothing prepared me for the onslaught of
wayfarer's bliss when she continued to list, one
by one, the impossible ingredients I needed to live. (lines 24-27)

What words will warm you today?

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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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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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505

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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513

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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444

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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478

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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1997

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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503

 

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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617

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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538

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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563

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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