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.
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.
We’ve made it through the first third of April, and so far, I have managed to write a NaPoWriMo poem every day. Knowing my (socially distant) friends are also working on their own April projects has helped me stay on track, and I look forward to seeing Gabe’s flash fiction, Melissa’s poetry, Jojo’s collages, and Vané’s (offline) erasures throughout the week. I’ve also enjoyed looking at the work of other NaPoWriMo/GloPoWriMo participants each night.
It’s also nice to hear about everyone’s adventures in baking, meditation, home schooling, Zoom conferencing, and social distancing. What are you reading and watching? What music are you listening to? How are you sleeping? What local businesses are you supporting? What comfy clothes are you wearing? What special events are you missing? My partner and I had to postpone our June wedding until next year, but honestly, that’s fine. We’ve only been dating for ten years.
I am all about today’s poetry prompt, which invites us to experiment with the hay(na)ku, a poetry form invented by Eileen R. Tabios. I love reading both traditional and contemporary Japanese haiku, and I love facilitating haiku workshops. My former creative writing students may remember fondly my Wheel of Haiku exercise, which requires you to spin a wheel to select a season, a kigo, and a surprise word for each haiku you write. (Or they may remember that exercise as a source of immense distress. It’s not that easy to work the word elevator into a haiku!) I, however, always found these workshops to be delightful. If you have children or teens languishing in your living space during these days of quarantine, I would be happy to teach them about haiku. Just say the word.
I have been using Duolingo to practice my French during my stay-at-home hours, and in yesterday’s lesson everyone you could imagine — il, elle, nous, je, tu, Paul, Alice, ma sœur, ta sœur, tout le monde — was opening the window. The window very clearly needed to be opened, early and often. La porte, not so much.
The lesson left an impression on me, and so today I wrote 10 tiny poems entreating you to open the window. (You can read them below. The final poem is dedicated to my sister Rose, which is also the title of a very catchy 10,000 Maniacs song.) While I wrote, I listened to 10,000 Maniacs, a band my siblings and I played incessantly during my adolescence.