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.
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 am very excited about the NaPoWriMo prompt for today. It suggests using a line from a poem written by someone else as the seed for your own. If you’re familiar with my work, then you already know my writing practice often involves incorporating material from other texts either through a form like a cento or an erasure or through direct quotation or allusion. I thought I might be able to use today’s prompt to address my (now dreadfully late) homework assignment from my friend’s daughter (that is, the writing assignment in which I must use the words emphasis, sunflower, and scissors), but I lost a lot of my afternoon to the unnecessarily ardurous process of safely and ethically procuring groceries and household essentials without risking too much exposure to the world outside my apartment.
I have a medical condition that compromises my immune system, so we are trying to limit our interactions with others. But we still need to eat and blow our noses and such, so someone still needs to venture into a grocery store/drugstore scenario. It seems to take an unreasonable amount of time to plan for one of these scenarios, and now our town wants people to wear face masks when they go outside, but, of course, we don’t have any face masks and cannot easily obtain any without, you know, goingoutside. (Even if we were outside, though, where would we get face masks? It’s a quandary.) Suffice it to say, I am saving today’s NaPoWriMo prompt and my assignment from T for a less frustrating day.
Today, I made two more anger erasures, using the Wikipedia entry for “anger, cognitive effects” and “anger, expressive strategies,” respectively. When I read the poems over, they sounded like reports from some type of sinister human trial that violates everything I learned about conducting research with human subjects in my research methods course. So. Fair warning to you.
Those lines come from Williams’ long poem “Asphodel, That Greeny Flower,” and you can read an excerpt from it here.
So, as you can see, the news and poems can complement each other, and I liked seeing this juxtaposition in today’s NaPoWriMo prompt. I decided to use the article “Researchers Discover Faraway Planet Where the Rain is Made of Iron” as the source text for an erasure, and I found the process of creating this poem very restful. The poem did not demand anything from me or take anything from me. I just let my mind glide over the words, keeping the ones that struck a chord. Is this the best poem I have ever written? No. Is this worst poem I have ever written? Also no. It’s just a poem I made that has the word pretty in it. And that’s fine.
[Jill Hurst-Wahl uses the phrase “And that’s fine” in almost every one of her collection development lectures, and I find it so soothing.]
I was listening to Live Through This by Hole while I did this erasure, which does not sound restful or meditative but, oddly enough, was.
Today, the NaPoWriMo prompt asks us to write an ekphrastic poem that uses Hieronymous Bosch’s triptych The Garden of Earthly Delights as its inspiration. This prompt felt exhausting to me for no apparent reason. I woke up in an extremely foul mood, hating everything and everyone. Moods like this always remind me of Edith Wharton’s novel Summer because in the opening scene the main character steps outside and says, “How I hate everything!”
The first time I read Summer that scene resonated with me on a deep, primal level, and I think of it often.
So, I feel a bit like Charity Royall today, even though she detests working in the library, and I adore working in the library, and I did not use today’s prompt. Instead I started working on a little erasure series about anger, using sections from this Wikipedia entry as my source text.
Feels cute. Might delete it later. Might do a hundred more erasures titled anger. Might listen to the Captain Marvel soundtrack a thousand times in a row.
How about you? What emotion are you experiencing today? What are you listening to? What are you writing? What will make you happy tomorrow?
I am once again attempting to complete NaPoWriMo (or GloPoWriMo if you’re free from these United States) during our cruelest month. I don’t always end up writing 30 poems in 30 days, but since social distancing has become our new way of life, I want to carve out time every day to write a new poem. This year’s participation also gives me the chance to interact with some of my closest (distanced) friends, and I hope sharing the work we create this month will bring us (virtually) together.
For my first poem, I decided to use the early bird prompt posted on March 31st, although as usual, I seemed to have strayed from the prompt’s instructions by writing about birds in general rather than a favorite bird. Do I have a favorite bird? How does one select a favorite bird? I sense a new self-quarantine project emerging.
Anyway, here’s my poem for Day 1. It’s an erasure that uses the introduction to this Wikipedia entry as a source text.
If you haven’t written your NaPoWriMo poem yet, you could use the favorite bird prompt or the prompt from today’s post, which references one of my favorite poems of all time including all time yet to come.