Today B had to venture out into the world to pick up my unmailable (not to be confused with unmalleable) prescriptions (now only available in Medford) and buy groceries. We’re trying to arrange our lives so that he does not have to shop more than once every ten days; his last trip took place on April 11th, so we did pretty well. The random unavailability of various items has started to stress him out, though, and since I am the one who normally does all the shopping and stocking in the house, he feels a bit out of his element. We’re lucky to live in a city where we can have a farm share and things like local dairy and produce delivered; I can’t imagine how stressful grocery shopping might be in remote areas, cities with less access to local agriculture, or the suburbs.
Anyway, shopping day now comes with extra anxiety, so I did not feel I could live up to the playfulness of today’s NaPoWriMo prompt, which asks us to write a poem about a particular letter of the alphabet. The description in the prompt reminded me of a the Bembo’s Zoo video my friend Jamii’s husband showed me a long time ago. I used to play it for my niece N1 all the time when I babysat.
Today I did another horoscope erasure, and I plan to erase all the full moon horoscopes I receive this year. Perhaps they will make a nice slim chapbook someday.
I listened to the new Fiona Apple album again today. I am still trying to figure out how I feel about it. However, I did decide that I like the song “Heavy Balloon” quite a bit. I’m really into the gardening metaphors in the chorus.
If you follow me on social media, then you know I have been a little under the weather (both physically and emotionally) this week. I am trying to be gentle with myself and to rest even when it feels like I should be more productive. I find this advice easy to give and hard to follow. But I find it’s easier for me to rest my body and my mind if I digitally detach for a while. So, I am trying to put down the phone, close the tablet, and shut the laptop for longer periods this week.
Fortunately, you do not need the internet to write poems. Although I did use the internet to write my NaPoWriMo poems for yesterday and today, so now the previous sentence feels a bit disingenuous.
Yesterday’s prompt involved homophonic translation and reminded me of an exercise I used to assign in my poetry workshops at Wheelock College. I had a handout that contained various poems in their original language, and then asked students to choose one poem to “translate.” (The key to this handout is eliminating any poems written in any languages your students speak.) I tried to include haiku by Bashō on this handout whenever possible because 1) he is one of my favorite poets, and 2) his life and work have influenced my own poetic practice. So, yesterday I pulled that handout out of the cloud (a.k.a. Dropbox) to see if I wanted to try doing a homophonic translation of a Bashō haiku.
I “translated” tako as “taco” before I thought better of the whole enterprise. I knew tako can be (actually) translated as “octopus,” and I vaguely remembered that the first poem on the handout had something to do with octopus jars, which are actually octopus traps, so then I spent some time reading different translations of that haiku. Then I found this fascinating article about “octopus pot” syndrome, and then I knew I had found my poem. The draft below uses a translation of the original Bashō poem as its epigraph.
I kept the boldface type from the original article in this erasure. I liked the way it set off certain phrases. I also liked today’s writing prompt, which involves using an idiom from a different language as the inspiration for a poem. Once I had read through the lists of idioms linked to the posts, I knew I had another opportunity to write my favorite kind of poem — a sort of prose collage that pulls borrowed sentences and phrases together and attempts to form them into … something else. Ideally, a poem. At the least, a cohesive “whole” of some kind.
I titled today’s poem after a famous line from Carolyn Forché’s poem “The Colonel,” which is what a documentary would be like if documentaries were poems. I was extremely lucky to take both a poetry seminar and a poetry workshop with Carolyn during my senior year at George Mason University. She was my first, and possibly my most influential, mentor. She taught me to think of poetry as an art, rather than an accident, and in workshops, she always had a tiny trick to strengthen your poem. I still follow a lot of her advice today.
“The Colonel” comes from The Country Between Us, Carolyn’s second poetry collection. That book is still in print and easy to find at the right bookstore. In the meantime, you can watch this video of Carolyn reading this poem in 1992, just two years before I met her. (She’s even more beautiful now, if you can imagine.) I have been thinking about Carolyn a lot lately because I bought her most recent collection, In the Lateness of theWorld, at Brookline Booksmith right before B and I had to begin our self-quarantine. I haven’t started reading it yet. I am saving it to read on my birthday (May 18). The draft I wrote today reminds me of something I might have written in Carolyn’s workshop. We had to bring scissors and glue to each session, and she was always having us cut up failed drafts to paste into better poems.
Today I’ve been listening to this Spotify playlist I created for one of my own poetry workshop exercises. I choose one line from each song on this playlist and then toss them into a hat, or a box, or some other makeshift container. Students pick a line from the container and then have to use it as the first line of a poem. Is this exercise merely an excuse to play some of my favorite songs for my students? Absolutely.
It’s Patriots’ Day in Boston, and it’s the second time since I’ve lived here that the marathon has been disrupted. B has been WFH since Friday, March 13th, and I haven’t been to my internship since February. I am supposed to be working on my independent study project, but I am not making any meaningful progress. I’m not quite sure how to jumpstart that process. My interest in the topic hasn’t diminished, but my ability to focus on reading or writing about the topic certainly has. Maybe I will wake up tomorrow with my motivation newly restored. Stranger things have happened.
It’s the twentieth day of NaPoWriMo, and technically, I have already written close to thirty poems, so it seems to be going well. Today’s prompt focuses on gratitude, and I started messing around with a weird, prosey (or perhaps prosy) gratitude list. I don’t think I will finish that today. I did mess around with some gratitude erasures. (Source texts here and here.)
I had planned to accomplish a lot of other things today, but it looks like I am mostly done doing for the day. This morning I listened to Blind Man’s Zoo by 10,000 Maniacs and remembered how much political music I listened to in college. I also listened to Tigerlily (Natalie Merchant’s first solo album) — a record my friend Katy suggested a few days ago. I am happy with these choices.
I have been a bit under the weather this weekend (a chronic condition, not the virus), but I did manage to draft a response to today’s NaPoWriMo prompt, which challenges us to write a poem based on a walking archive. I haven’t left my apartment in 36 days, so I decided to “dreamwalk” through objects from some of my more recent dreams.
I dream about my grandparents quite often; I process most of my grief while I’m asleep. I am also reading The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa right now, and I feel like some of that imagery made it way into this poem.
The writing prompts for the past two days of NaPoWriMo sent me into some sort of nostalgia fever dream, and I lost a whole afternoon to thoughts of the mixtapes I used to record on actual cassette tapes, the slow, careful process of cuing up a song on your dual cassette deck, the search for those short, sweet songs to fill the last few inches of tape, the labor involved in handwritten track lists. The love, the unbearable tenderness we infused into our homemade compilations. The emotions we projected on to them. The hopes they carried.
Now is the time where I tell you I wrote a poem about coffee. Or a poem about mixtapes. Or both. But I just … couldn’t. I am full of ennui and what I would call existential despair if we didn’t all know it’s actually social distancing despair. I firmly believe we all should be staying home, potentially for much longer than we anticipate, but I am also concerned that I may never see my family (and my sister’s kids in particular) again. I am concerned about not being able to work. I am concerned about my favorite chefs and bartenders and servers and restaurant managers not being able to work. I am concerned about not being able to go to the library. Still, we’re inside. We need to stay inside. So I decided the poems I wrote today should also turn inward. I decided to use the horoscopes Chani Nicholas did for my sign (Taurus) in February, March, and April as source texts, and I turned these into three erasure poems.
Today I listened to the new Fiona Apple album, which my social networks have been literally raving about, while I wrote. I just don’t know how I feel about it yet. It could be that I just can’t move out of the 90s right now. I can’t forget seeing Fiona Apple at The Boathouse in Norfolk, Virginia during the Tidal tour.
A former Wheelock student reached out to me on Facebook and asked me to recommend some books to her. She told me she felt sad about the state of the world and wanted something lighthearted and funny. She didn’t want to have to think too much about what she read. She wanted something comforting. So, I compiled a list of eleven comfort reads that should appeal to emerging adult and adult readers. (Eleven feels like a comforting number.) I grouped them by categories: novels that take place in the afterlife, romantic comedies that involve some type of mystery, and first books from a cozy mystery series.
Life After Life
Reading books about dead people during a global pandemic might seem like a bad move, but the concept of an afterlife comforts me. I have always been drawn to stories that take place in the life after life — narratives that involve the dead needing jobs, forming relationships, and learning how to gently extricate themselves from their pasts. These stories give me hope and allow me to view my own life through a less critical lens.
I Woke Up Dead at the Mall by Judy Sheehan — After her unexpected murder, sixteen-year-old Sarah wakes up in the afterlife, which just happens to take place in the Mall of America. Sarah eventually begins to adjust to her life after life among other murdered teenagers, and even meets a cute boy, but she still desperately wants to solve her own murder and save her father from a similar fate. Will her newfound ability to haunt the living be enough to foil her murderer’s plans? Is it possible to have a meaningful romantic relationship after death? Read this funny, heartwarming book to find out.
Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin — After a tragic accident, fifteen-year-old Liz wakes up dead in Elsewhere, a place with all the comforts of Earth where you can reunite with the loved ones who died before you, including relatives you never met when you were alive. Life in Elsewhere resembles actual life so closely that Liz ends up finding a job (and a boy!) she loves even though she stills feel bitter about missing out on getting her driver’s license or going to prom. But once she realizes that everyone in Elsewhere ages backwards and then travels elsewhere, she begins to wonder if she will ever be ready to leave. A gentle, charming book about grief and loss.
The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo — Li Lan comes from a prominent, and bankrupt, family. She has a chance to help support her parents by becoming a ghost bride, but after a tense visit with her future in-laws, she finds herself being haunted by both her dead fiance and the handsome new heir to his family’s fortune. Li Lan soon realizes that she is in grave danger, and in order to free herself from these ghostly entanglements, she travels through the Chinese afterlife, working as a domestic servant, evading demons, and consorting with a handsome, if reckless, guardian spirit. An intriguing supernatural romance that recently became a Netflix series.
I feel like the name I gave this category says it all. I will only add that all these books end happily. (Also, all the protagonists are alive. Bonus!)
Good Riddance by Elinor Lipman — Daphne wants to make sense of her life, so she embarks on a decluttering project and decides to throw away the high school yearbook she inherited from her mother. But when an irritating and eccentric filmmaker plucks the yearbook from the trash and uncovers a mystery inside, Daphne suddenly realizes how little she knows about her parents. She enlists her handsome “friends with benefits” neighbor to help her uncover the truth before it ends up in an unauthorized documentary. An endearing and tender romantic dramedy.
Attachments by Rainbow Rowell — Beth and her bestie Jennifer know that someone’s monitoring their work email but refuse to let that knowledge inhibit their conversations. In the meantime, Lincoln (the someone monitoring workplace communications) has been reading their intimate exchanges and starts to fall for Beth. But how can he start a relationship with her without revealing all her knows about her personal life? Lincoln’s dilemma makes for a highly entertaining romantic read.
I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo — Desi Lee knows magic isn’t real but also remembers a time from her childhood when she performed magic. Ever since the death of her mother, Desi has believed she can achieve any goal through unwavering willpower and sheer physical effort. She’s become a top soccer player, a nearly perfect student, a student government leader, a community volunteer, a dutiful daughter, and a loyal friend all in service of her primary goal: acceptance at Stanford University and a brilliant career as a doctor. Desi’s only failures revolve around flirting with boys, but at the beginning of her senior year, she discovers the perfect system to help her land artsy, angsty transfer student Luca — The K-Drama Steps to True Love. Finally embracing her Appa’s passion for the romantically melodramatic genre, Desi begins her quest for a boyfriend. An exceptional contemporary romance that might inspire you to start watching K-dramas.
American Panda by Gloria Chao — This debut novel from MIT alum Gloria Chao (a dentist turned novelist) follows 17-year-old Taiwanese-American Mei, who has learned not to risk disappointing her traditional parents, through her first year at MIT. Mei fully intends to honor the dreams her parents have for her by becoming a successful doctor and marrying the right sort of Taiwanese boy, but once she moves onto campus, she finds it hard to ignore her true feelings about medicine, her future, her family relationships, her inscrutable roommate, and the completely inappropriate, completely adorable Japanese-American boy she meets. A lovely coming of age story set in historical Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Where You’d Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple — For years Bernadette has been living as a virtual shut-in, focused exclusively on renovating the house she lives in with her husband and daughter. But, after agreeing to a family vacation to Antartica, she finds herself unable to cope with the challenges in her life — a botched PTA fundraiser, an aggressive neighbor, a notorious professional rival, a history of depression. One day Bernadette disappears, and her family must wade through the emails, invoices, and school memos she left behind in order to find her. A book about anxiety and fear that will make you laugh out loud. No one seemed to pay much attention to the film adaptation (available on Hulu), but I really enjoyed it.
We call certain types of mysteries cozy for a reason. Their plots may involve murder, blackmail, or kidnapping, but their stories contain hot cups of tea, Instagram-worthy meals, and romantic flirtations. Written in soothing, straightforward language, cozy mysteries offer respite from the challenges of our daily lives.
Aunt Dimity’s Death by Nancy Atherton — This extremely cozy, slightly supernatural mystery series begins when Lori Shepherd inherits a cottage in a quaint English village from Aunt Dimity, a close friend of her mother’s. Lori lives in America, makes very little money at a job she hates, and needs to solve a mystery in order to secure her inheritance, which comes with an adorable stuffed rabbit, a magical journal, and a handsome young lawyer in addition to the cottage. Aunt Dimity mysteries are the very definition of heart warming, and every story comes with a recipe. You can view the complete list of Aunt Dimity books here.
The Secret Adversary by Agatha Christie — Over the course of her career, Agatha Christie wrote five books about Tommy and Tuppence, two emerging adults in search of work after the Great War. They initially form a professional partnership, launching a business called The Young Adventurers, and their work frequently puts them in danger as it often involves spycraft and murder. Later on in the series, Tommy and Tuppence marry and have children, but they never abandon their adventerous ways. The Secret Adversary is the first book in this comforting and romantic mystery series. You can view the complete list of Tommy and Tuppence mysteries here. There is also a cute Tommy and Tuppence miniseries from the 80s, and a more controversial adaptation from 2015.
Death by Dumplingby Vivien Chien — Lana Lee never imagined she would be working at her parent’s restaurant after college, but after impulsively quitting her job and recovering from an intense break-up, she finds herself waiting tables at the Ho-Lee Noodle House. Death by Dumpling is the first book in this series. A restaurant regular dies after eating take-out that Lana delivers, and she decides to conduct her own investigation in order to protect her family’s reputation. In this book, Lana reveals her talent for solving mysteries and starts a relationship with a handsome red-headed police detective. You can see the complete list of the Noodle Shop mysteries on Vivien Chien’s website.
I slept for almost 8 hours last night, but I have felt so tired all day. It might be allergies. It might be anxiety. It might be sleep debt. I do feel emotionally drained this week. I talked to my (favorite) aunt, and she still seems pretty sick. (She contracted COVID-19 on a family trip last month.) She’s quarantined in her bedroom, all alone with her childhood stuffed animals, and I am worried about her. I talked to my mom, and even though she and my stepdad seem to be recovering, they don’t have anyone close by who can bring them groceries, toiletries, or medicine, so I am still worried.
I am supposed to be working on the literature review for my independent study on emerging adults in contemporary young adult realistic fiction, but I am finding it impossible to focus on academic writing. This week I am also having a harder time reading in general. My brain feels wobbly.
The NaPoWriMo prompt for today invites us to make an extravagant declaration of love or admiration, which sounds like so much fun. Too much fun for my current mood, maybe. I will file it away for the future.
Today I worked on erasures just to keep my mind loose. I took a break from anger and created an erasure about insomnia, another about sleep deprivation, and then two quick erasures related to grief for a chapbook manuscript I am putting together. The grief poems use these Wikipedia entries as source texts: complicated grief and disenfranchised grief. These may or may not be finished. These may or may not be nothing more than warm-ups. And that’s fine. (I miss you, Jill Hurst-Wahl!)
I listened to the new Dua Lipa album while I was writing. I like it a lot, but so far I don’t like any of the songs as much as I like “New Rules” from her debut album, which is basically the pop song Dorothy Parker would have written if Dorothy Parker wrote pop songs.
We’re exactly halfway through NaPoWriMo/GloPoWriMo, and I am actually pleased with my progress for once. I love the prompt for today, which challenges us to write a poem inspired by our favorite kind of music. I will definitely attempt this prompt in the future, but today I just worked on a few more anger erasures. I am not in a particularly angry mood, but I am still interested in these Wikipedia erasures I have been doing on and off for about a year and a half.
Today I used the Wikipedia entries for anger, coping strategies, suppression and anger, physiology as my source texts. (Spoiler alert: Suppression doesn’t actually seem to be a super effective strategy for coping with anger.) Also, these erasures came out very dense, with tense little clusters of words that seem to reflect the inherent tension of the subject matter. So, maybe have a nice sip of something while you read.
I spent more time than usual on the NaPoWriMo prompt for Monday. I did not follow the instructions, which involved writing a non-apology, but I did write a poem that engages with the idea of theft.
More precisely, I wrote a poem that consists solely of sentences and phrases I stole from Gabe’s April project: writing 30 single sitting flash fiction pieces. Sometimes he uses the daily NaPoWriMo prompt as an inspiration; sometimes he finds inspiration from conversations we’ve been having. Sometimes he just pulls something small and devastating from the depths of his mind. Then he posts them to the internet, for anyone to see or, in my case, steal.
To write the following poem, I took at least one line or phrase from every story he had posted by the end of the day on April 13th. He has kept the pace so far, so I had 13 flash fictions to plunder. And I am not going to apologize, so in a way I did follow the instructions for yesterday’s prompt after all.
Today’s NaPoWriMo prompt challenged us to reflect on our poetic influences, and I got really caught up in the idea of mapping out my influences, and then I got really caught up in the idea of making a really beautiful map, and the next thing I knew it was 2:45 a.m. The map below does not yet document all my influences and their relationships, but it does capture all the reflection on influence I have done tonight. It also captures my response to this prompt, so feel free to click on the mindmap below. You can use the white (safely) gloved hand to move around the map. That’s it. That’s the poem.
Although I have been keeping up with the daily NaPoWriMo prompts, I decided not to write any blog posts over Easter Weekend. Easter celebrates a resurrection (Roman Catholics would say the resurrection), but we cannot rise from the dead without first experiencing grief and loss. The pope spoke about resisting regret and sorrow during his Easter Vigil sermon, and I have also been reflecting on mourning over the past few days. My close friend’s elderly mother died early Saturday morning; L’s mother was 92 and living in an assisted care facility, far away and under quarantine. They tried to say goodbye over FaceTime. I cannot even imagine.
Later on Saturday, I learned that my mom, stepdad, and (favorite) aunt all contracted COVID-19 on a trip they took together in early March. My mom lives on the other side of the country, and my siblings and I quickly realized how difficult it has become to care for someone remotely. Even a simple gesture like having groceries delivered has become nearly impossible. Our family is lucky in that our loved ones seem to be moving toward recovery, but in reality, no one can say for certain what recovery looks like. We can only hope it looks like what we see.
The NaPoWriMo prompt for Sunday allowed me to experiment with a poetic form I had never encountered before: the triolet. It felt like something invented by rich people with too much time on their hands, but it appears to have been invented in medieval times, so probably an ambitious (and impoverished) artist came up with the idea. I don’t really know what to say about the poem I wrote other than I read a lot of science fiction and fairy tales. Also, like, be careful where you keep your baby. Goblins will switch places with it in a heartbeat.
Today’s weather is dark and stormy, and I have been listening to the playlist I made during Hurricane Sandy. It would be perfect if the song “Sandy” from Grease was still available on Spotify.