3 April 2020

I’m very excited because today’s NaPoWriMo prompt, which involves using an online rhyming dictionary to create a word bank that will provide material for your poem, dovetailed nicely with an idea I had for a list poem. A list poem, or catalog poem, presents an inventory of objects, places, people, or ideas. List poems often use repetition and may also include rhyme. Their structure is usually deliberate rather than random, and they tend to conclude with a strong image or significant idea. (If I sound like I am lecturing you, it’s likely because that definition comes from a lecture I give to my creative writing students.)

Walt Whitman’s “I Hear America Singing” is a famous example of a list poem, as is “Shirt” by Robert Pinksy. Some of my favorite list poems come from The Pillow Book by Sei Shōnagon. During her time at court, Shōnagan kept a daybook to document her observations and reflections. Sometimes she wrote a more typical diary entry, but she also created lyrical lists that could be considered prose poems. Here are some examples from the Ivan Morris translation of The Pillow Book of Sei Shōnagon:

16. Things That Make One’s Heart Beat Faster

Sparrows feeding their young. To pass a place where babies are playing. To sleep in a room where some fine incense has been burnt. To notice that one’s elegant Chinese mirror has become a little cloudy. To see a gentleman stop his carriage before one’s gate and instruct his attendants to announce his arrival. To wash one’s hair, make one’s toilet, and put on scented robes; even if not a soul sees one, these preparations still produce an inner pleasure.

It is night and one is expecting a visitor. Suddenly one is startled by the sound of raindrops, which the wind blows against the shutters.

29. Elegant Things

A white coat worn over a violet waistcoat.
Duck eggs.
Shaved ice mixed with liana syraup and put in a new silver bowl.
A rosary of rock crystal.
Wisteria blossoms. Plum blossoms covered with snow.
A pretty child eating strawberries.

43. Poetic Subjects

The capital city. Arrowroot. Water-bur. Colts. Hail. Bamboo grass. The round-leaved violet. Club moss. Water oats. Flat river-boats. The mandarin duck. The scattered chigaya reed. Lawns. The green vine. The pear tree. The jujube tree. The althea.

If your social distancing circumstances include cohabitating with children and teens, you might invite them to experiment with writing a catalog poem of their own. I found a sample lesson plan for high school students on the NCTE’s website. A (very lazy) search on the interwebs took me to multiple list poem lesson plans for younger children (like this one), as well as this plan designed for college students. I also found an interesting article about using image lists to jumpstart your writing process.

What I am saying in a very roundabout way is I have written today’s NaPoWriMo poem! and I actually followed the prompt! and I wrote a list poem! and You can read it below! Hooray!

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The rhyming dictionary definitely helped me take this poem in an unexpected direction. It also allowed me to indulge my lifelong obsession with Greek mythology. The rhyming dictionary suggested golden mean as a rhyming partner for quarantine, and looking up the definition reminded me of the violet hour, a reference found in T. S. Eliot’s poem “The Wasteland,” a poem you may have studied in school. If you have never read “The Wasteland,” you probably are still familiar with its first line, which people often quote this time of year: April is the cruelest month. Typically, this line can be read as a reference to the emergence of spring, or the earth’s attempt to resurrect plants and flowers  (i.e., “breeding / lilacs out of the dead land”).

This April we’re experiencing another type of cruelty, which is why I am seeking comfort in poetry. I hope you are finding solace as well! What is bringing you comfort these days? What provides you with solace?

 

 

2 April 2020

Today’s NaPoWriMo prompt was inspired by James Schuyler and involves using concrete details to write about one particular place. I really like poems that rely on specific nouns and cultural references. “Homage to Sharon Stone” by Lynn Emanuel is one of my favorite examples of this type of writing. I am so curious to read the poems that emerged from this prompt. If you have written one, please share!

My poem for the day attempts to address a different prompt, created by the teenage daughter of one of my best friends and favorite writing partners. T (her daughter) actually gave us this assignment on Monday, and I just finished it, which suggests I may not be the ideal candidate for homeschooling. In my defense, I initially found the assignment to be slightly off-putting since it required us to write a piece that must include the words ooze, palpable, chicken. I immediately came up with the phrase “the palpable ooze of chicken” and then required a palate cleanser of immense proportions. Thanks, Elisa Gabbert for introducing me to negronis in 2009. I would not have survived this assignment without them. If reading about T’s prompt has put a bad taste in your mouth, you might also need a negroni. Don’t know the recipe? Watch this video of Geoffrey Zakarian making one during his self-quarantine.

Anyway, I accepted this writing assignment from T and then, for no good reason, decided to make it more difficult by using her required words in a cento. If you know me in real life, then you already know how much I seem to enjoy complicating an already complicated task. Make it harder, that’s what I always say (to myself and literally no one else). I had planned to inventory my fridge and pantry this afternoon so I could make a meal plan and limit our outside interactions to one local grocery shop every ten days, but instead I spent about four hours reading poems on the Poetry Foundation website. A search for the word chicken returned 317 poems, in case you were wondering. But I also had to do a separate search for poems containing the word palpable (197 results). Fortunately, the word ooze just turned up organically, as it does.

Like an erasure, a cento requires you to use source texts, and I have listed the ones I used to write “Shell, Cage, Bone” at the end of the post. (A lot of them use the word chicken in the title, a fact that may surprise only myself. Before today, my knowledge of poems that contain the word chicken consisted of “The Red Wheelbarrow” and nothing else.) I encourage you read these poems; a cento is designed to introduce you to the work of many different writers.

In addition, if you live or are quarantined with children and teens, I encourage you to encourage them to 1) participate in National/Global Poetry Writing Month or 2) write a cento of their own. The second option should occupy them for 1 to 5 hours!

You can read my “ooze, palpable, chicken” cento below. I hope T likes it. She has already given us a new assignment, so I am behind on my homework again (required words: emphasis, sunflower, scissors). Why am I doing homework assigned by other people’s children? Is this going to become a trend? What madness has social distancing wrought?

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Source texts (in order used):

1 April 2020

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.

1April2020_Birds

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.

 

June Stack

This month I pledge to not buy any new books until I make a significant dent in the books I’ve bought recently. I want to finish two books I started reading earlier in the year — The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra and Fahrenheit 451. I also want to make some progress on the 2019 Read Harder Challenge, as my completion rate is currently 3/24. I blame my tendency to read “airport thrillers”1That is, pulpy thrillers engrossing enough to make you forget you’re stuck in the airport; thrillers which are often conveniently available for purchase in airport bookstores.after a long day of studying or writing for this disappointing ratio.

But summer brings more sunlight and more time for leisure reading. If the reading takes place near a frosty cold brew or bubbly rosé, so much the better.

A heavy workload in my MLIS program at Syracuse University slowed my reading down this spring, but I hope to return to my usual pace this month. I’ve added an ambitious 20 titles to my June TBR stack, which I’ve posted below to motivate myself!

Books to finish reading in June:

  1. The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra by Vassem Kahn
  2. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury2My niece read this for a tenth grade Honors English assignment, and since I’ve never read it, I thought I would read along with her.
  3. Pietr the Latvian by Georges Simenon
  4. The Essential Drucker: The Best of Sixty Years of Peter Drucker’s Essential Writings on Management by Peter F. Drucker3This is a required text for my management class that I found strangely compelling.
  5. The Champion’s Mind by Jim Afremow4I am reading this book as part of an independent study project for my management class.

Cover image of Pietr the Latvian by Georges Simenon

Books to read in June:

  1. American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson
  2. Let Me Hear a Rhyme by Tiffany D. Jackson
  3. All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung
  4. The Sleep Solution by W. Chris Winter
  5. The Library Book by Susan Orlean
  6. Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss
  7. Spin by Lamar Giles

Cover image of Spin by Lamar Giles

Poetry to read in June:

  1. How to Know the Flowers by Jessica Smith
  2. The Carrying by Ada Limon
  3. Ghost Of by Diana Khoi Nguyen

Cover image of How to Know the Flowers by Jessica Smith

Graphic novels to read in June:

  1. This One Summer by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki
  2. Goldie Vance, Volume One by Hope Larson, Brittney Williams, and Sarah Stern
  3. Shoplifter by Michael Cho
  4. House of Women by Sophie Goldstein
  5. Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann and Kerascoët; translated by Helge Dascher

Panel from This One Summer by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki

1 April 2019

For the ninth(!) year in a row, I’m participating in NaPoWriMo (or GloPoWriMo if you’re free from these United States). Writing 30 poems in 30 days sounds daunting, but trying to achieve that goal has always been an extremely generative process for me. My first attempt at #NaPoWriMo involved a secret pact — and a secret password-protected blog! — with a poet whose poetry and practice I admire. She taught me a lot about writing within a compressed time frame and suppressing my editorial impulses when creating a first draft of a poem. These lessons capture the core mission of National/Global Poetry Writing Month (or any other 30/30 writing challenge). All too many poets, regardless of their level of experience, get blocked in their writing because they start editing even before they have written anything at all. NaPoWriMo invites me to limit the demands I put on each poem by demanding that I limit the amount of time I spend bringing that poem into the world. I write as many poems as I can each April and then edit them at my leisure.

The poems I write during April often figure into other poetry projects I pursue throughout the year, so I rarely follow the daily prompts although I highly recommend using prompts, especially with writing groups or creative writing students. I am still centering my #writeeveryday efforts on using the predictive text algorithm in my phone’s memo application to write poetry. (I (still) have a Samsung Galaxy S7.) So far, the algorithm and I have produced some solid work. Most people remain skeptical of the poetic potential of their predictive text function, but I encourage you to explore ways to disrupt the algorithm’s rhythm. You’d be surprised at the results.

Today’s #NaPoWriMo prompt is to write a poem that provides the reader with instructions on how to do something, which is a classic. I have used it myself and with students many, many times. I didn’t even read the prompt until after I wrote my poem for today, but I think I might come back to it later in the month.

I usually keep the majority of my #NaPoWriMo posts private or remove the poem after a few days in case I want to submit it for publication in the future, but I’ve posted a screenshot of my April 1 poem below. Did you know about my obsession with Alexander the Great? And my further obsession with Mary Renault‘s novels about Alexander the Great? Now you do.

Screenshot_20190401_1Apr19

 

“untouched and still possible”

To the New Year

With what stillness at last
you appear in the valley
your first sunlight reaching down
to touch the tips of a few
high leaves that do not stir
as though they had not noticed
and did not know you at all
then the voice of a dove calls
from far away in itself

to the hush of the morning
so this is the sound of you
here and now whether or not
anyone hears it this is
where we have come with our age
our knowledge such as it is
and our hopes such as they are
invisible before us
untouched and still possible

W. S. Merwin

used for fortune telling and in certain games

I’m participating in a resident reading tonight, and a lot of people asked if I would be projecting images of the visual poetry I’ve been working on here. I immediately thought of pictures I’ve seen of Jessica reading her poems as they’re projected on a big screen behind her. I would like to be like Jessica.

But, since no other readers will be using a projector tonight, I decided to wait until the final Open Studios of the month to try and share some of my visual work. In the meantime, I promised to post some pictures of my daily Tarot card erasures here. (As always, you can click on a picture to enlarge it.)

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tarot_010614

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I am less interested in the fortune telling properties of Tarot cards than I am in their origin. I like the idea that a rich Italian aristocrat might have commissioned a hand-painted set of playing cards that included extra allegorical trump cards on a whim. tarot_noun I like to imagine a world where people play ordinary card games with Tarot decks. I also love seeing depictions/interpretations of Tarot cards in popular culture. For instance, a particular Tarot card plays a major role in the film The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones. You might not know this, because you are possibly an adult person who does not read large quantities of YA fiction and/or watch a lot of television and films whose target audiences are adolescent girls. But I watched City of Bones while I was knitting the other night, so I know all about it. Those cards were hand-painted, too. Everything comes full circle.

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Not the scene with the Tarot card.

Forecasting the Future

Tonight Leonid Lerman, a visiting sculptor here at VSC this week, gave a slide talk about his work and life. I am a little in love with him. I found his talk/work so inspiring that I went back to my studio around 9 p.m. and wrote a long (7 page) erasure about prophecy and the future and my obsession with apocalyptic visions.

You can see the first page/section of the poem, titled “Forecasting the Future” below. (Click the picture to enlarge the screenshot.)

Screenshot 2014-01-16 09.41.34

My source text for this erasure is What Is Coming: A Forecast of Things After the War, written by H.G. Wells in 1916.

 

your little month

The title of this blog comes from the following sonnet by Edna St. Vincent Millay, one of my poetic kindred souls. I love the line so make the most of this, your little day and often recite it to myself as a reminder to focus on the present moment while remaining bold enough to embrace the vastness of long creative projects.

Edna St. Vincent Millay
IV
I shall forget you presently, my dear,
So make the most of this, your little day,
Your little month, your little half a year,
Ere I forget, or die, or move away,
And we are done forever; by and by
I shall forget you, as I said, but now,
If you entreat me with your loveliest lie
I will protest you with my favorite vow.
I would indeed that love were longer-lived,
And vows were not so brittle as they are,
But so it is, and nature has contrived
To struggle on without a break thus far, —
Whether or not we find what we are seeking
Is idle, biologically speaking.