Monthly Archives: March 2014

Embarking On Yet Another Forced Creativity Experience


Happy National Poetry Month! Beginning tomorrow (this is no April Fool’s joke), I will attempt for the second year in a row to participate in the NaPoWriMo challenge of writing a poem a day for the entire month and publishing each poem here on the blog site. I promise, no cheating; I will not be publishing poems I have written earlier, but only those poems I write on each day of April, 2014–the good, the bad, and the ugly.

I remember last year the challenge of squeezing out a poem every day, and squeezing out the time somewhere to get it done, and the rewards and pitfalls of writing fast, off the cuff, without time for revision, sometimes from prompts, sometimes from the mundane events of the day, and often inspired by what I was doing in my classroom. That last bit will prove a challenge this year; in both of the classes I teach we are studying the same material I looked at last year with a different group of students: the Chinese poets of the T’ang Dynasty, and American Romanticism. So, I’ve already got a whole series of poems about these things! Is there more to say? I’m sure I’ll find something! It is a cool coincidence (I swear I didn’t plan it this way) that in both my IB English class and my American Literature class we are studying poetry during National Poetry Month.

If you would like to help with the cause, you can.  Feel free to send me suggestions for poems–subject matter, specific prompts, stylistic guidance, particular forms, special challenges.  I’m up for almost anything, provided it’s not ridiculously hard, e.g. write an epic in 300 numbered quatrains about the Spanish American war entirely in iambic pentameter.  You could also help by reading, commenting, and following, which I appreciate immensely.  Otherwise, wish me luck.  I hope you can check it out, if not every day, every once in a while.

Meanwhile, here’s a couple of cool related items of interest:

A great resource for poetry:

A place to play for free books of poetry:

A place to learn about and play the poem a day for a month game:



Filed under Introductory, Poetry

#100: Serious About Poetry

I have just now reached my personal goal of writing 100 poems in a year!  I know poets who have written a poem every day for a year, so this may not be the most amaze-balls news of the world, but it’s amazing for me.  I think it’s a personal best, a personal record.  I’ve had times in my life when poetry sprouted forth in spontaneous and voluminous spurts, but never sustained over such a long period, never 100 in a year.  So, I’m pleased with myself despite misgivings I have about the quality of my verse, which, I’m pretty open about, and which, often, has become the subject matter for poetry, and which, is pretty much the subject matter for my one hundredth poem.  I’d like to thank the academy, my readers, all my lovely and brave followers, and in particular, National Poetry Writing Month–which got the whole ball rolling for me in the first place one year ago April 1st.     


Serious About Poetry

What would happen
if I became serious about poetry?
For one, I might stop
simply breaking my tiny
essays into lines and
calling them poems.
For another, I might do
things like this:

Rain comes down in torrents,
beats like mad against the windows,
and I shout over the top of it to be heard:
what’s for dinner, darling?

Something like that would be
good for a poem.
It seems to have all the requisite
poetry things: rain for example,
and an unexpected turn at the end,
the pairing of the mundane
with a totally different kind of mundane.

On second thought,
I think I’ll keep writing tiny essays
and breaking them into lines.
I’m calling that poetry, for now.




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Filed under Poetry

#99: It Sucks When There’s No Resolution

Sometimes I argue with my poems.
Sometimes, I write things I don’t believe, just to try them on.
I just published a poem that claimed that good fiction sometimes
has no resolution–and in that way–good fiction mirrors
this same aspect of living–that often, more often than we’d like,
issues, problems, and conflicts go unresolved.

Certainly, that last part is true.
I’ve experienced this many times, and recently,
within the last month, I’ve found myself
in the throes of a conflict for which there was
no resolution.  That’s not true.  I’d put it this way:
there was no satisfactory resolution.
That’s life for you all up and down.
It sucks.  It hurts.  It bugs.
It nags.  The wisdom says, let it go,
and the wisdom would be correct,
but this is difficult work,
some of the most difficult work we do,
and sometimes we fail.  

But in fiction, an ending must be
satisfying–even if it does not resolve–
and in this way, yes, a resolution can
be that there is no resolution–but it still
has to satisfy, satisfy someone,
particularly and most importantly,
the writer.  And in my own fiction,
I realize, probably as a hedge against
(and not a reflection of) the realities of living,
I have penned the resolution that I found
most satisfying.  Call it wish fulfillment,
if you like, but I prefer the idea that in
the imagination we can solve problems
or envision the world in a way that might
embody itself in reality some long night
into the future, or because we have imagined
the opposite scenario, we’ve told an ugly
truth about the way things are and not
the way we’d like them to be,
we’ve created a potential
for change in the universe.


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Filed under Literature, Poetry, Writing and Reading

#98: Sometimes the Resolution is No Resolution

In fiction writing, or in reading fiction,
it’s important to understand that
sometimes the resolution is
that there’s no resolution:
there’s no way it can be solved
or fixed or for all parties
to see eye to eye about a
situation they’ve disputed.
And the reason it’s that way
in fiction writing and in reading fiction,
at least in good writing and reading,
is because it’s this way in reality
as well, that rarely are things tied
nicely in a bow, rarely is everything
figured out and settled to everyone’s satisfaction.
And if you want your fiction this way,
and if you want your life this way,
the truth of the matter is that you don’t
want good fiction writing or reading
and you don’t want the life we’ve got.
You want something else altogether
and you will be disappointed over and over
when life doesn’t mirror your particular
brand of story book resolution.


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Filed under Literature, Poetry, Writing and Reading

#97: Doing the Extra Soul Credit

Is this worth any points? they ask.
And I say, of course, but you won’t
see them in the grade book; instead,
you’ll feel them somewhere inside
your head or your heart–that’s why
we call it extra soul credit.
Very few students are motivated
by this. I don’t care. While I’m not
opposed to enrichment work, I am opposed
to extra credit, in principle,
because the work we do in class
is the work for the class.
You don’t build a thing for someone,
do a terrible job at it,
and then ask for something else
to do better.  No, the person
will either fire you or make you
build the thing correctly that
you were originally supposed to build
in the first place.  However,
you might go the extra mile for someone,
or, more importantly, for yourself,
ad that little something special at no charge,
or just be super cool and caring and understanding,
and at first, you get absolutely no compensation for that
except the warm fuzzy you feel and they feel for having
shared something positive with other humans
or for having created or accomplished
something unique, worthwhile, good.
You do the extra thing because it is worthwhile doing
in and of itself.  You’re doing the extra soul credit.
It’s good for you.  And, eventually, maybe,
even in some tangible way, it pays off.



Filed under Education, Poetry, Teaching

#96: An Extra 5 Years To Live

So these folks made a video
to call attention to the fact that
today’s generation of children
is for the first time in history
expected to die five years earlier
than their parents. The film-
makers asked a bunch of kids
what they would do with another
five years to live. This is a poem
about a few of my favorite
responses to the question:

I would get more hamsters.

I would be the boss of all
the chipmunks.

I would try to fix
everything I did bad.

I was thinking about making,
like a helicopter, like a wooden helicopter;
but I don’t have any wood.

I’d want to go check out the moon sometime.

If I had five more extra years to live,
I don’t really know; I think I’d do ANYTHING.

Only one of these kids says the thing
you’d expect her to say–or the thing
you’d think would get people to care
about making sure this prediction
isn’t borne out in her future:
I would make medicine for the sick.
But what interests me more are
the absolutely mundane ones, hamsters,
for example, and the responses beyond the realm
of possibility, the time machine,
running at the speed of light,
having complete authority over
chipmunks, and somehow these
kids’ answers seem more effective,
because more adorable, imaginative,
expansive, and resonant.

I would bring my uncle back
because I miss him very much

With an extra five years,
I’m convinced this kid just might
be able to pull it off.


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Filed under Poetry

#95: On the End of Spring Break

There’s laundry to fold and put away
and dust bunnies to suck up
and it’s raining and blowing so hard
we’re sort of trapped in here.
Water puddles up in the flower beds
and these damn sugar ants keep
crawling over my keyboard
while I type up another poem.
It’s Saturday, half way through,
and after that we have one more
Sunday before everyone goes
back to school.  There’s an over-
whelming amount of grading
just waiting on my desk in the
classroom which I’ve managed
not to think about all week long.
But now I’m thinking about it
and there’s a heaviness in my
chest of dread anticipation.
Why must there be grading?
Why must everything be measured?
Does learning not happen
unless there is a record of it?
These are the thoughts I’m having
on the end of spring break,
and then I’m wondering what I will do
with my last real night of freedom,
longing for something just slightly
out of my reach.

Heavy Downpour

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Filed under Poetry, Teaching

#94: Hair


So, I’m almost 50 and
I still think about my hair.
I’ve written poems about my hair
and here goes another one.
I’m growing it out again–
which I’m pleased to say,
I’m still able to do,
but embarrassed to say
that I’ve given it this much
thought. I’m revisiting
(this time around) my
hair from the last decade
of the 20th century,
which basically means
I’m growing a kind of fountain
off the top of my head,
keeping it short around the ears
and in the back and letting
all hell break loose above.
The stylist, barber, hair artist,
(what do we call them now?)
who gave me a beer and cut my
hair today said to me she thought
I was going for a professorial look,
and I was at once complimented
and insulted.  Complimented, because,
yes, I am the professor, but insulted
because the real motivator behind
growing more hair is about the rock and roll.
This is rock and roll hair, you, girl with scissors,
or, at least, what this particular old guy
imagines when he thinks of rock and roll
and his own silver hair in the same sentence together.

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Filed under Music, Poetry

#93: The Resident Eight Year Old Questions the Literary Merits of Finnegans Wake

What the hell is wrong with that book,
he asks, listening to Dad attempt a reading
out loud of the third paragraph of Finnegans Wake.
What the hell is wrong with that book, Dad?
Well, for starters, there’s a word in the paragraph
in question, the third word in the first sentence,
in parentheses, that’s 100 letters strong and ends
in an exclamation mark, of course.
The boy hears the word
and understandably wonders about
the novel’s literary merits,
clearly does not understand the word
as a possible metaphor for the origin
of everything, eventually spewing out
Finnegan at short notice,
sending any unquiring ones
in quest of his tumptytomtoes.
See? As plain as the day is long.


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Filed under Literature, Poetry, Writing and Reading

#92: On Reading The Wake Out Loud

Me and the Wake

I’ve written before
how it’s been impossible
for me to finish Moby Dick
and now I’ve once again
picked up another formidable
tome, Finnegans Wake.
This one, too, I’ve tried
many times before and failed
but nevertheless keep
coming back to it,
a glutton for punishment.
But with neither Moby Dick
or the Wake do I feel punished.
Something there is that
doesn’t care for an easy
read, that takes great
pleasure in the difficulty,
that has fun, especially
in the case of Joyce,
with the pure playfulness
despite enormous, near
insurmountable obstacles
to comprehension. And,
maybe, too, it’s a way for me
to get in touch with how
my students feel
sometimes when asked
to read Shakespeare
or Heaney or Morrison.
Although, it’s true that they may be
crying while I am laughing,
unable to get themselves
into the space of really
loving what seems nigh
impossible to understand,
allowing all that difficulty
to pass over their tongues
and out into the space
of the room, listening
to the voice of Joyce
coming out of their mouths.



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