Of Resolutions and Poetry

 Mark Twain

Mark Twain

 

“New Year’s Day: Now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual.”            Mark Twain

 

Two months have passed since 2016 began, and most of us have paved hell: We still bite our fingernails and neglect vegetables. We look through dirty windows we vowed to wash every month and wear bedraggled bathrobes we swore to replace. Our cupboards and garages are not organized; the dog is not trained; and our bathroom scales continue to lie.

I win few victories when I make resolutions disguised as a rule: I’ll write 500 words every day. But when I dream about possibilities, my success rate improves: I’d like to write a book.

Shortly after I first contemplated the possibility of a book, I read an anonymous poem that captured my apprehension about trying to create one.

Before I share the verse, I’d like you to identify a consuming interest or passion you have: sketching, skiing, genealogy, calligraphy, hot air balloons, playing the trombone. Next, think about a personally-fulfilling accomplishment you’d like to pursue with that interest: making a cherry wood table, entering a photography contest, completing a half-marathon, starting a book club, crocheting an afghan for every grandchild.

Then substitute that ahievement for the poem’s title.

Writing a Book
It’s
impossible,”
said Pride. “It’s
risky,” said Experience. “It’s
pointless,” said Reason. “Give it
a try,” whispered the
Heart.”

As the unknown author knew, pursuing our dreams brings risk. We suffer from self-doubt, setbacks, and the skepticism of others. I feared I would not live up to my expectations or those of my friends and family. I cringed at my vulnerability when strangers critiqued the work I had poured my heart into. Sometimes, not attempting a book seemed easier to live with than trying to write one and faiIing to do so.

Another poem rescued me: “Berryman” by W.S. Merwin, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1997 and 2009. As a self-doubting college student, Merwin asked John Berryman, an established and important American poet, how writers know if what they write has any value. Later, Merwin recounted the advice he received in the following verse of his poem Berryman.

I asked how you can ever be sure
that what you write is really
any good at all and he said you can’t
you can’t you can never be sure
you die without knowing
whether anything you wrote was any good
if you have to be sure don’t write.
W.S. Merwin

I’d like to recommend a resolution to you for the rest of this year and for all the years to come: Follow your dream wherever it leads you; follow it because it will fulfill you, not because it will be perfect.

Transforming Moments

Nursery rhymes and Dr. Seuss caught me as a child. Then poetry disappeared from my life, and I didn’t notice. In high school, I analyzed the elements of assigned poems, managing to do so without thought or connection. In college, I avoided math, foreign languages, and all things poetic; and as a young adult, I forgot poetry existed.

Then Robert Frost rose up, thumped me on my head, caught my attention, and took my breath away with a flow of simple words focused on a fleeting moment.

Dust of Snow          raven on a spruce
by Robert Frost

The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree

Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.

With his straightforward description of a meaningful moment in his life, Mr. Frost captured similar brief, shining occurrences I had experienced — moments that lifted me from myself and filled me with a sense of wonder: a monarch butterfly hovering near my face, a mountain sunset of magenta staining a river below, a breeze ruffling the cottonwood leaves through which I climbed, morning light outlining the silhouette of an elk, a bear playing peek-a-boo by repeatedly popping his head out of road-side undergrowth, then quickly withdrawing.

An evening grosbeak showed up in our yard today.Male Evening Grosbeak in Winter

I was drinking coffee with Joel, idly gazing at a spring-infused morning through windows in need of washing, when a male grosbeak plunked himself down in our platform feeder.

My heart leaped. After last summer’s absence, the bird with an unfortunate name and striking appearance had returned. I grabbed the binoculars to verify his details: bright yellow forehead and body, exaggerated pale bill, white-blazed wings and confident demeanor.

A grosbeak picking through the sunflower seeds we’d sprinkled with hope transformed my morning; a morning I had dreaded for reasons that now seemed insignificant.

The splendid bird also reunited me, however briefly, with an esteemed poet named Robert Frost: the man who returned me to poetry.

 

 

Thoughts on a Spring Morning

American Robin (Turdus Migratorius) resting on a large branch

So self assured
I thought

They
go about their
business
with intent and
confidence
like landed gentry

enter any environment
oblivious to the squabbling and
jostling of others

bathe at will and
oft-times in public

indulge in sex when and where
and with whomsoever

all with panache
and assumed acceptance

They
command universal love
even from
rough-haired youth
armed with
new-found swagger and
BB guns
who seldom
aim their way

Then
an adolescent of the breed
puffed up-scruffy
uncomfortable in his skin
unsure in his grooming

and investing too much effort
in his awkward movements

fled without elegance
or economy when
challenged by a
smaller foe

and reminded me:

robins, too, have
an awkward stage

Last Challenge: Future, Sonnet, Chiasmu

A sonnet is 14 lines of verse, usually grouped into four stanzas of 4-4-3-3 lines. Sonnets used to be written in metered verse, but many modern poets forget about the meter, or at least don’t use it consistently. Sonnets also tended to be written using any number of established rhyming schemes but that, too, is no longer a formal requirement.

A chiasmus is a reversal: Laid back, with my mind on my money and my money on my mind (from Snoop Dog).

 My Body and I Face Our Future

My body, my blight, cataracts darken my sight
My body, my shame, with bunions I’m lame
My body, my bane, another sprung vein
My body, my pest, gravity lowers my chest

My body, my plight, and now cellulite
My body, my trap, a tree with no sap
My body, my curse, it’s going to get worse
My body, my shell, we’re going to hell

but my body, my all, we’ve answered the call
My body, my light, the end’s within sight
My body, my guide, I’m terrified

But my body, my source, I’ll stay the course
My friend, my body, we’ll dance to the end
Oh, body, dear, I beg of thee…..forgive me

 

Challenge: Landscape in a Found Poem with Enumeratio

A found poem is written using words, phrases, and/or sentences selected randomly from tweets, book titles, the poems of others, every fifth word in a newspaper article, or anything else imaginable.

If you use a list, or lists, in a poem, you are using enumeratio.

I found my words by randomly drawing them from a box of magnetized words meant to be displayed on one’s refrigerator to spur family creativity — though when a friend tried it, her children wrote nothing but derogatory sentences about one another. I bought my set at a thrift store for a quarter many years ago and had never used them until now. Most of what I say is true.

For my found poem, I added the title, conjunctions, introductory words, pronouns, and prepositions. I felt free to use other forms of the words I drew and didn’t attempt to use all of the 100 drawn.

 

The Landscape of Janet

I enjoy
foreign movies
black gum drops
and mountain meadows
swarmed by strong-
willed wildflowers

I believe in
hard work
too many shoes
showing my work
and doubling the garlic

I tend to
eat between meals
blurt
and think the
world will end
when I don’t sleep well

When alone
I eat cake for breakfast
scratch my head
sing in vibrato
and two-step

I hate to
polish my nails
run for planes
spit for the dentist
and shop.

I would never
pierce my nose
play hockey
have a pet turkey
buy used bowling shoes
or write another poem like this

 

 

 

Challenge: a ballad about a hero with anaphora or epistrophe

A ballad tells a dramatic story frequently written in four-line, rhyming verses. Anaphora is repetition of the same word (or words) at the beginning of multiple lines of verse. Epistrophe is its counterpart: repeated words appear at the end of lines.

I decided to use anaphora and write about a man who only imagined he was a hero.

 

The Fall of Mr. Grossman

Mr. Grossman, a mammoth without hair,
the VIP of the junior high,
announced the news with fleshy lips,
and several girls began to cry.

The teacher of the theater class,
with drama made his call,
his favored one would play the lead.
She was the best of all.

Mr. Grossman weighed three-hundred-three
and sponsored every dance.
He lumbered the floor in challenged shoes
and his signature, belly-stretched pants.

With glutinous eyes and flesh that lapped
he watched for any two locked tight,
then stepped between, and with bad breath,
banished the duo from the site.

Mr. Grossman, who lived with his mom,
and didn’t stint her dinners,
counted the votes for everything
and decided who’d be winners.

His fall came hard; his fall came quick;
‘twas prompted by his rage,
when the teacher, in an angry snit,
tried to leap from off the stage.

onto a wooden folding chair
that shattered ‘neath his weight.
Then Mr. Grossman, a whale aground,
entered an apoplectic state.

Students stared with mouths ajar
as, wearing bits of chair,
he rose and stomped toward the door;
then giggles filled the air.

Not knowing a seam had split and gaped
he turned as laughter swelled;
then at Mr. Grossman, tyrant of teens,
a rowdy student yelled,

“Mr. Grossman, shame, shame on you —
for indecent exposure and yelling,
you’re banished forever from the gym
and your mother we’ll be telling.”

 

 

Challenge: An elegy with fog and a metaphor

An elegy consists of pairs of verse, rhyming or not, with the first line being slightly longer than the second. Most elegies contain an element of longing. In the words of Ben H., who distributes and explains the daily poetry challenges, “… your elegy can be about anything, as long as it evokes a thing that’s irretrievably gone.”

Poet’s Note: Please, dear readers, believe me: On my dashboard in edit, my poem is a series of two-line verses with the first longer than the second. When published, the first line frequently wraps. For thirty despairing minutes, I tried to figure out how to use a smaller font, then, having better things to do with my Saturday, gave up and hoped you would imagine a flow of perfect two-line verses as you read my poem.

 

For Memorial Day and Childhood

Saturday, as I walked with friends from my 4-H group,
we heard a meadowlark’s trill.

“Listen,” our leader said, “it’s singing its song for us,
telling you Lake Shore’s a pretty little place.”

Smoldering fires twined black smoke, farmer’s fog, toward the sky,
sending our way a pungent smell, familiar since our birth:

the scent of scorched cinnamon from where our
fathers,
wielding shovels, burned their irrigation ditches clean.

On Sunday, my family scurried toward a church filled with song
as sycamore trees waved encouragement and urged us on;

through it’s open windows congregational voices soared,
singing,“Welcome, Welcome, Sabbath Morning,” with joy.

Later, Bob and I bickered lazily as we looted the garden for dinner:
baby carrots clumped with earth,

leaves of lettuce, fragile as butterfly wings,
peas to boil with new potatoes.

On Monday, Mom rinsed chipped Mason jars to be filled
with the unflagging cheerfulness of buttercups,

the curvaceousness of purple iris, the fulsome fragrance of lilacs,
and white petals of daisy surrounding small suns.

Seven miles away, the cemetery waited with gentled grass,
under the freshness of skies filled with spring light,

to receive our offered flowers, our memories,
our quiet laughter, our tearful eyes.

,

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Poetry

stressing out above computer

In a moment of irrational optimism, I endangered my sanity by registering for Writing 201: Poetry, a Blogging U class on WordPress.

Every day for two weeks, I will try to write and post a poem I’ve written to given prompts, forms, and devices.

Oh my.

If you’re in need of amusement or befuddlement, please drop by. Comments expressing sympathy would be nice as well.

Monday Feb. 16:
prompt word: water
form: haiku
device: simile

damp eyes and wet chins
in rest homes sodden and sour
junkyards for the old