The suggestion from Napowrimo today is to write a sijo, a traditional Korean form. It’s like a haiku, only wider. It’s a wide-load haiku. Lines can be as long as about 16 syllables. And it has a kind of magical relationship with the sonnet, I’m told, in that it’s kind of a discussion with twist at the end. I don’t know why I chose this photo to accompany the poem. I felt like the tone was correct even though the subject matter is unrelated. There are some cool images on the new “free image” library in WordPress. News to me. Enjoy!
Poem for April 20
Three quarters of the way through, eight months of staring at a screen.
It feels like I have been talking to myself all year long.
My students, like ghosts; I see their shadows and sometimes hear their voices.
April 19 must be Catharsis Day. Today’s prompt from Napowrimo was to write a rant. So I took the opportunity to get some stuff off my chest. It felt good. Don’t worry about me; I went over the top–you know–for effect. I went full-on grumpy old man. I had a good time. I recommend it for everybody.
Poem on April 19
And another thing! I sit outside for ten minutes And I’ve got these stupid little Bugs all over my shirt. Meanwhile the dog keeps Digging holes in the yard And the neighbor lady Keeps yelling at her barkers And I’d much rather hear Their barking than her yelling And her grandchildren are Playing in a big mound of dirt. Why do people throw Their garbage in the ditch? Don’t people know there’s a Speed limit on this fucking street? And every time I hear one of Those engines that sound like Helicopters or a billion lawn mowers I just want to scream bloody murder. No, you can’t hook up a goddamn Gasoline burning engine to your Stupid bicycle. They’re called pedals! Am I just supposed to say yes now Every time a student asks for something? Yes, you can turn this assignment in Three months late. Sure, yes, it’s okay That you haven’t attended a single class The entire quarter–because I can make time To look at your late work During the next quarter when I’ll have Another ninety new students. I’m so done with this, people keep Saying, and I’m thinking, no, you’re not! Or rather, it doesn’t really matter That you feel done with this; whatever this is Will still be going on whether you like it Or not until it stops. Stupid auto-capitalization At the front of every new line! What century Is this? And I call tech support for some Ugly shadowing on my laptop display, and It turns out my battery is swelling like a hard sponge or a cancerous growth. And I send the computer to Apple and they Replace the battery but there’s still this Ugly shadow shit going on because the two Problems had nothing in common and now I’ll Have to send it out again for another repair! Damn it, don’t throw your needles in my yard! And now Morrissey’s angry at The Simpsons And that one Russian guy is at death’s door And don’t get me started about guns and Qanon And that congressman with an enormous head Who’s in trouble for sex-trafficing a minor And that Jim Jordan guy who thinks wearing a Mask is a violation of his civil liberties. I’d love To violate that guy’s civil liberties. Let me at him. My skin is super dry and I itch all over. Where’s the God forsaken moisturizer in this house? And what’s Up with these ugly spots on my arms? Work with me, People! If it ain’t one thing it’s another stupid thing.
Today’s suggestion from Napowrimo is to write a poem based on or inspired by a chapter title from a book called Poemcrazy: Freeing Your Life With Words by Susan G. Wooldridge. The Look Inside feature from Amazon gives us a peek on to the contents page and it contains a surprising and evocative list of starting points, a table of contents so good that you really want to read the book. I’ve not heard of this text before, which seems to be a kind of inspirational tool for would-be-poets, à la Bird By Bird, or Writing Down the Bones, or any number of “how-to” books about writing–not so much a craft study as a kind of self-help genre designed for writers who are not writing and who need purely generative sustenance. Running a little bit low on energy this evening, I found a title I liked from this contents page, and, while it made me think of a whole host of things to write about, it really all came down to this haiku.
Poem on April 18
Please don’t understand that what I most want to say I’m afraid to say.
“Daddy always looked to the moon. He claimed it as his own.” I wrote those lyrics 20 years ago for a song we recorded, only loosely about my dad about 10 years before he died. Those two lines, though, we’re an accurate portrayal; Not that my father really believed the moon was his, but somewhere along the line, because he loved it so much, he probably just said something like, “There’s my moon,” and it caught on, so that every time a family member, especially my mother, who cherished her husband, saw the moon, a good full one, they’d say, there’s daddy’s moon, or there’s Glennie’s moon. As a child, I fancied that my father’s possession of the big rock in the sky was literal, that as a young man he constructed it somehow and then just got a really tall ladder to find its perfect placement. In my mind’s eye I can still see that fantasy as if it were a real one. At the very least I will continue to think about my dad every time I see the moon, mythologizing my father, keeping him present and very much still alive as the years pass and I try not to forget what he smelled like, the sound of his voice.
Our task today is to write a Skeltonic but I don’t mean, when I say, to be ironic that I’m glad our plague wasn’t bubonic; it was bad enough, our case was chronic and I think I’m supposed to keep up this sonic rhyme scheme until I run out, subatomic, of words that sound like a mixer, a tonic. I guess it’s okay, half way, to sound moronic on day 16 of 30 of this poetic catatonic but I don’t know how long I can stay on it because I can feel a cheat coming on, shit.
My mother talked to herself. I remember listening in from the hallway as she’d go on and on as she was doing some chore or another in her bedroom, putting clothes away, tidying up, dusting, cleaning the bathroom. I rarely could make out what she was saying, but mostly I could tell it was serious. She took these conversations very seriously. I think what she was doing was rehearsing conversations she’d like to have, or weighing particular decisions, talking her way through various outcomes, or taking both sides of the issue, exploring options. She was her own devil’s advocate. Was she ever caught in the act? I think she was. I seem to remember crossing her path in one of these moments where she would be speaking to no one in particular and I would look at her kind of funny. There was no self-consciousness about it. She wasn’t embarrassed. She didn’t apologize. And perhaps I looked at her only kind of funny, because even as a young boy, I knew it was something we had in common. As a child, my older siblings already out of the house, my play was full of speech to no one in particular, and today, when I’m doing the dishes, tidying up, cleaning the bathroom, mowing the lawn, or just sitting around, I will speak to no one in particular, and almost always, no one in particular will respond.
I try to imagine how it will go. Let’s say I’ve got 15 or 20 students in the classroom with me. Let’s say I have another 5 to 10 students who are still at home but who would like to partake in the classroom happenings. They call this a simulcast. What it really means, I imagine, is that students at home will be looking at a blank white board on their computer screens. Because my voice might be amplified, they might hear me, disembodied, addressing the students they can’t hear sitting in desks that they can’t see, and even if the audio is swell, what they hear will be decidedly one-sided. If they work really hard they might be able to pick up a full exchange or two. The students at home, every once in a while, might see me move through their screen across the blank white board to get from one side of the room to another. But every now and then, I will probably stop in front of this computer to check in on them, to see if they have questions, to see if they would like to contribute something or share something with the other students in the room. And this explains, in large part, why they don’t want us to deliver new instruction during a simulcast. The students at home would be seriously disadvantaged, even more so than they are in this scenario. I imagine that only the hard core will stick with it and the truth is that right now there’s just no better way outside of hiring a film crew for every teacher. Teachers just have to do more of that miracle stuff they do and that everyone expects, you know, super hero teacher stuff, like being all things to all people and in two places at one time.
Some new habits have already fallen away. For example, I think I went three days in a row without a preamble. Either I found it unnecessary (as it actually should be with poetry), or I just ran out of time or energy or both. But I continue with the continuity of titles or the lack thereof–which is an easy habit to keep up as it requires not a single iota of creativity. Each poem is titled with the day the poem was composed. Easy peasy. Today’s poem does not follow a prompt, but has been coming on for some time. As a teacher, the return to my building, to interact with students in person for the first time this school year, has been ever present in my mind. So here’s this:
Poem on April 13
Students will return to school on April 26 after learning at home exclusively for a full three quarters of a school year. Teachers will return to school on April 26 after teaching at home exclusively for a full three quarters of a school year. Some teachers will return to school on April 26 after teaching alone in their empty classrooms for a full three quarters of a school year. Some students and some teachers will enter a building this spring for the first time, literally, a building they have never stepped foot inside. Everyone will be masked. Everyone will keep at least three feet of distance. Masked teachers, it appears, might be wearing microphones so that the mumbling they do will be more or less comprehensible and that their voices will endure the three hours every afternoon when they are in the presence of live students. In the morning, beginning April 26, all students and teachers will continue learning and teaching in empty classrooms or at home, as they have done for a full three quarters of a school year. Each group of those computer kids will have a chance to join their teachers as real live kids–twice for each class every week in the afternoons in actual true-to-life classrooms. Teachers have to decide, after they have taught their computer kids and then some of those same students show up as real kids, what to do now with the live ones, knowing that they can’t theoretically give the live students something that the computer students didn’t have, in fairness. Although, we know, don’t we, that they will end up giving the live students something that the computer students didn’t have, by necessity and in actuality. Time. Opportunities to explain, to clarify, to demonstrate, to repeat, to unmuddy the botched computer lesson, to observe, to supplement, to look into the eyes of students and to hear their voices for the very first time. For students, time and opportunities to question, to write by hand, to speak, to be heard, to be helped, to be seen. Teachers also have to decide how they will continue to do the things they were already doing for a full three quarters of a school year with the three or four hours they are now dedicating to the live ones in the room. They weren’t sitting on the couch eating bonbons; they weren’t lounging by the pool or taking exhaustive afternoon naps or enjoying early afternoon cocktails. So the most difficult school year of their careers gets a little bit more difficult even as it gets a little more joyful at the same time. We’re banking on that last bit. This school year, almost more than anything else, needs a shot, maybe even two doses, of some serious joy, an infusion of happiness, a strong, exuberant finish.
In my deck of Greek philosopher trading cards is the rare Tomarchus, disciple of Socrates, a rhetorician, accused of licentiousness by Aeschines, some other Greek philosopher so obscure he doesn’t have his own card.
In my deck of science fiction terminology trading cards is the word areography, the study of and/or mapping of Mars. Ares is the god of war in Greek mythology, the Roman equivalent to Mars, not the planet but the god. The word Ares, though, and the word areography, sound similar to me, at least in part. The first part.
I find it interesting that human beings are so committed to studying and mapping the planet Mars. I also find it interesting that the Romans named their planets after their gods. Or was it that the gods were named after their planets? The Greeks, apparently, named their gods after themselves.
Phoebe Bridgers, early this year, caused some controversy when she smashed her guitar on Saturday Night Live. I don’t understand this. Were people concerned about the guitar? My only concern was how adorable she was, and how incongruous it was for an adorable person to smash a guitar, but I wasn’t mad. There are better things to be angry about.
Phoebe Bridgers is not in my deck of rock star cards. I don’t think rock stars get in trouble for licentiousness, unless it involves something illegal and/or non-consensual. Smashing a guitar on stage doesn’t seem to fit the bill, although, I am relatively certain that the guitar did not consent to its own smashing.
It’s interesting to me that we call them rock stars. Is it because they seem so far above us mortals, like gods? I wonder why we don’t call them rock planets. While philosophers have looked into The Simpsons and South Park, I don’t know any philosophers that have looked into rock stars, but here I admit that I may have missed something.
The point I’m trying to make here is that philosophers, planets, Greeks and Romans, and rock stars all have one thing in common. When I know what it is, I promise, I will pass it on.
Hey self. Why so crabby lately? You might need to exercise or meditate. Why so resistant to exercise and meditation? Do you feel that, since you have deprived yourself of a single bad habit that you must also even the scales with the deprivation of a couple of good ones? I don’t know if I’d call that an even trade. Hey, how’s that book coming along? Oh yeah, that’s right, you haven’t worked on it, hardly at all, since summer. I understand that’s a good way to finish a book–by not writing it. And you’re just sitting on a couple of finished things. How come you’re not sending them out? Do you really want to publish? Or is it that, once you’ve published, there’s more work to do, and you’re not willing to do that? Are you not good enough? Good as in talented? Or good as in, you know, good? Are you afraid of failure? Are you afraid of rejection? Why are your students doing so poorly this quarter? How have you let them down? What’s your problem?
Note to self from Self:
Hey. F you, self. You’re an asshole, and I’m not listening to you. Nor, will I honor your stupid questions with responses. You are not my inner teacher, but the inner school-marm, and, as such, are in the business of guilt and shame, and have no authority in this house. Need I remind you that there’s been a pandemic on? Need I remind you that life as we know it has turned upside down, and while some have suffered immeasurably and far beyond what I have done, all of us have had to make adjustments in our lives, in our behaviors, in our relationships, in our vocations, and in our professions, and everybody deals in the best way they can deal. My game plan tends toward kindness, self forgiveness, openness to whatever comes–you know–Rumi’s guest house. So take your admonitions and your judgement and your reproach and shove ’em where the sun don’t shine. I will exercise and meditate when I am ready. I will write when I am ready; I will submit my work when I am ready. By my self, my family, and my students, I’m doing the best I can do, and not so poorly, come to think of it, thank you very much. And F you, again.