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.
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.
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.
I am so intrigued by today’s prompt for NaPoWriMo! It invites us to make our poem more concrete by forming it into a shape that reflects its theme. I spent a lot of time reading Windowboxing by Kirsten Kaschock, the poet mentioned in today’s NaPoWriMo post, and I am now officially obsessed with her/her work and the portmanteau. Sadly, I could not figure out a way to make my poem concrete in the way I wanted to, so instead I made it virtual af by using Canva to form my poem into an Instagram post.
That’s the poem I made (for the gram), and it looks nothing like what I pictured when I first read the prompt. I wanted to find a way to create the shape of my poem with its actual text, the way my friend Jessica does with some of her handwritten poems (example below). But I wanted to do this digitally because I don’t have any interesting paper in the house. I played around with a couple different design tools, but this task definitely falls outside my current skill set. Someday, maybe.
Today I listened to Under the Pink (1994, yo) by Tori Amos while I worked on this poem-post. In college, my favorite song from this album was “Pretty Good Year,” but now I think “Past the Mission” is my favorite.
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.
Reading today’s NaPoWriMo prompt came with a wave of nostalgia because it uses an exercise taken from The Practice of Poetry, edited by Robin Behn and Chase Twichell. This book collects writing exercises different poets have used with their students, and I had to buy it for my first undergraduate writing course at George Mason University. My teacher was Mark Craver, whom I loved. He did not throw me out of his (crowded adjunct) office when I demanded he tell me “if I am even any good at poetry before it’s too late to drop this class,” and he cured me of my habit of inserting random French words into my poems to demonstrate my sophistication.
We never used the “20 Little Poetry Projects” exercise in Mark’s class, but I used it to write (a bad draft of) a poem during the first semester of my MFA program, when we had to turn in a new poem every Thursday like writing a poem is easy. I always felt very anxious in my grad school poetry workshops, because Jeffrey Pethybridge was always in my workshop, even though he was an undergraduate student, and he would critique everyone’s poem very thoroughly and seriously — as if we had any idea what we were doing! As if I had formed all the best bits of my poems on purpose instead of entirely by accident when I wasn’t even paying attention to the process! Later, after we became friends, Jeff would call me on the phone at odd hours of the day to read me something he had just written as if my opinion mattered. Graduate school was weird, though I often miss those long conversations (debates? arguments? hallucinations?) with Jeff and Paul and Jamii and Mark and Melissa and Scott and Janet and Tim et al.
Anyway, this time I used the “20 Little Poetry Projects” to better effect, and I put French in it for an actual reason! You can read my poem below, but also if you have children or teens quarantined in your house, challenge them to write a poem following these instructions. Tell them it doesn’t matter if their poem doesn’t make any sense! Poetry is largely nonsense.
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 BookbySei 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.
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.
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!
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?
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?
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.