I’ve developed a couple of new habits this April for National Poetry Writing Month. Mostly, with only one exception, I’ve been writing little preambles, you know, introductory remarks, before each day’s poem. I’m introducing the prompt I followed, or explaining why I ignored the prompt, or how I manipulated the prompt toward my own devices. And sometimes, I don’t know, it’s like clearing the throat, I just need to ramble a little bit about this or that, whether there’s any connection to the poem I’ve written or am about to write or not. The other new habit I’ve developed is that I’m not giving my poems titles, instead, I’m just marking them by the date they were written for Napowrimo. I love titles, so that’s an unusual move for me. I don’t know exactly why I’m doing it, but, like a lot of habits, good or bad, I’m going to keep doing it. For continuity’s sake. Yeah, that’s it. Without further ado, inspired a little by today’s prompt on the Napowrimo website, here’s a list of things in my junk drawer to be sung to the tune of “Do You Realize” by The Flaming Lips. Speaking of titles, “Junk Drawer.” That’s a pretty good one. It’d also make a good name for a band. There’s a poet out there, I forget his name, who wrote several poems, or maybe one long one, that consisted of nothing but ideas he had for band names. Pretty great. Okay, everybody sing along. “Do You Realize.”
Poem on April 10
One, two, three, four–
Do you need this? These two sunglass pairs you never wear? Do you need this? I think that thing’s a glue gun there.
Do you need this? That Wild Roots distillery patch? Do you need this? That mini-plug to RCA adaptor? And instead of saving all of those earbuds You could throw them out into the curbside trash. It’s hard to know when you used them last. You realize this drawer won’t empty itself; It’s just another thing you probably will never do.
Do you need this? Ah-ah-ah!
Do you need this? Those two service pins you got for years of work? And instead of wearing them proudly on your shirt, you could toss them into the recycling bin. It’s hard to justify a ten-year service pin. You realize that switch plate has to go but you’ll keep the pipe that was a gift from your bro.
Do you need this? That gum ball there will never be chewed. Do you need this?
Things to do: Shovel shit out of the back yard. Empty the poop bucket. Mow the lawn again. Avoid dying. Attempt three more days without alcohol. Decide. Finish teaching the school year in still another mode that’s never before been attempted in the history of your school. Be best. Decide again. Find a way to remove that stain. Purge. Acquire new music. Unlearn everything. Meditate again. Ride that stupid bike. Know that you cannot change them if they do not want to change. It’s not personal. Decide. Ask yourself, is this important or is that more important than this. Either live without or do the damn thing and be satisfied either way. Decide. Love that ambiguity. Take risks safely or do something stupid. Stop imagining another life. Go ahead, imagine it. Love better. Eat well. Convince 9th graders that e. e. cummings is the shit and don’t confuse being with unbeing. Finish the laundry again. Fold the laundry. Tell your son three days in a row to put away his clothes, then stop telling him. Decide. Have fun growing old. Check out those crazy birds. Make sure you get back to the ocean, and soon. Notice what’s missing from your to-do list and cross everything off except for those things. Begin again.
The prompt for today was to write a monologue from the p.o.v. of a deceased person, in the style, say, or at least inspired by, Edgar Lee Masters’ Spoon River Anthology. That’s a pretty good idea. But my heart’s not in it–my computer was shut down and I was trapped in the study with dogs while my partner taught a piano lesson in the living room. Away from the prompt and finding myself going back to a physical notebook, I picked up a pen and wrote about last night’s dream. It’s rare that I remember dreams vividly–especially all through the next day, so I thought this one might be worth recording.
Poem on April 8
Last night I dreamed I was drinking a beer. I was fully aware that I was five days shy of my goal of 100 days without alcohol and part of me was ashamed and another part of me just didn’t care. I want to be high on something, I said, and, not being one for smoking or other kinds of chemical amusement, I was drinking a beer. It wasn’t even a good beer. And something else was wrong. I was at a writer’s conference at which no one was writing. The people I met there didn’t know the first thing about it. I was in the wrong place or in the wrong time and I was drinking a beer. I think the dream was a sign that I should go the full 100 days without alcohol. Before that day arrives, on the eve of that day, I will dream of a tumbler of whiskey, and I will be some place, any place, really, where people know who they are and exactly why they’re writing or drinking and it might even be the same reason.
1/1/2/3/5/8. These are the syllable counts for a six line poem called a Fib, named after the first six numbers of the Fibonacci sequence. And I am writing one of these for today’s poem, a prompt courtesy of the Napowrimo website. Correction: I am writing two of those, one forwards, then one backwards, to make one slightly longer mirrored Fib. This visual has nothing to do with the poem, but is an example, one of billions, of the Fibonacci sequence, or the Golden Ratio, at work in the natural world.
Poem on April 7
My son purchased a phone app that measures and scores the quality and quantity of his night-time sleeping patterns. It even records sounds he makes like speech, sleep talk.
And I find that I have much more to say about this subject but not enough stomach to write another poem. He’s pretty excited about his sleep app. For two school days in a row, he has been able to wake himself, without any prodding from the parental units, and get himself out of bed in plenty of time for school. This is nothing short of miraculous. The app, he believes, is working some serious magic on his experience with sleep, qualitatively and quantitatively. And this morning, he plays me a recording the app made in the middle of the night, an incident, apparently, of sleep talking. We are amused. Clearly his voice. Clearly he is speaking. The words, however, are incomprehensible, not because he wasn’t articulating, but because whatever he was articulating could not be considered “words,” at least not in English, and they weren’t Spanish either. So this wondrous new phone app is capturing our son immersed in his own dream language. Speaking in tongues. That’s all. Technology. For me, the jury is out on whether this application, in the long run, will benefit the boy, or whether he’s just been taken on a $30 ride. I will let you know next April when his subscription automatically renews.
I’ve been in the habit of writing these little preambles before the poem of the day. Today, the preamble will be necessarily short, as the following, I hope, speaks for itself. I didn’t like the prompt for today, so invented my own out of desperation and some inexplicable afternoon blues, and it was, simply, to write something by hand. I’ve provided photographic evidence, but, out of courtesy, I typed up a revision afterwards.
Poem on April 6
The last time I wrote in a physical notebook it was November and I was taking notes on a discussion about a book I was writing. Some writer friends were telling me what they thought, how they reacted, if and when they were moved, which moments stood out, how I might experiment with form, and I took notes on what they said. After that, in this notebook, nothing: some names and times, related, I think, to the only conferences this year between parents and teachers, and then, mysteriously, a phone number, on a page all by itself, a number without a name or any other identifying marker.
This afternoon, in a kind of lethargic fog unlike anything I’ve experienced since I stopped drinking, I struggled; I didn’t know what to do with myself, pacing around the house like an idiot, trying to avoid my phone, longing to be outside, but longing also for a task, something to do. And then I remembered, almost begrudgingly, that I had set myself the goal of writing 30 poems in 30 days.
Let’s go outside, I said, into the backyard, where earlier the kids next door could be heard reenacting Lord of the Flies, and let’s write a poem in a physical notebook, no technology, a draft of a poem in pen on paper inside of the notebook we’ve neglected since November. Yeah, let’s get that done. In our shitty mood for no reason, with our dogs, in our chair, on the new patio, using what has become, after years and years of disuse, an almost indecipherable scrawl, we will write a poem for April 6, 2021. And we will feel better somehow, as if something we were currently doing made a difference.
So 8 p.m. rolls around and I’m suddenly apoplectic: I haven’t written a poem! My god, I haven’t written a poem! Fortunately, no one witnesses this tizzy. My wife and son are at rehearsal. I’m home alone. Only the dogs see the tantrum. I feverishly check the Napowrimo site. Nope. I’m not doing that. Expediency is the operative word tonight. Oh, happy day, short-term memory kicks back in and I realize that yesterday, after I had written volume 2 of the vaccination poem, I had a leisurely Sunday afternoon to get started on something new–something that I had saved as a draft even. All is not lost.
Today’s poem was inspired by a former student of mine, who is now an English teacher in my district, a human being that I am super proud of, but who posted a joke on Facebook the other day somewhat at my expense. That deserves a poem:
Poem on April 5
A former student of mine who is now a friend on Facebook, posts a question in which I am tagged: Is Jarmer still ghosting students in the comment section of the report card?
Apparently, John, (we will call him “John”) is sore, some twenty plus years later, feels slighted because, despite the ‘A’ and no tardiness or absences in my class, I select not one comment about him for his report card, not even #8: a pleasure to have in class.
I’m sure he thought it would be a fun little post and that I’d be a good sport about it–and it was, and I am., especially because in the end he compliments me, is probably not really at all butt-hurt by my neglect. However, I feel somewhat called out, because, yes, I’m still ghosting students in the comment section of their report cards. He is correct, this “John.”
I would like to go on record as saying that John was a pleasure to have in class. And most every single one of those students earning A’s were a pleasure, even if I never said so, never filled in the bubble for #8, or now, selected it from a drop-down menu. #8 has always been #8.
And it’s not that only ‘A’ students are a pleasure to have in class. I am pleased to have any kid in class so long as they can be nice, and most kids know how to do this. So then you end up saying that everyone is a pleasure to have in class and you might as well say nothing at all.
And ultimately, students know, don’t they, if they are a pleasure or a pain, and nobody needs to tell them that. Even their parents, especially their parents, already know. So the only comments I give are the ones that explain the low grade or the failing grade because this might be useful information. #52: Assignments are missing. #47: Absences have effected work/grade. #57: Student does not complete assignments. Nevertheless, they were all a pleasure to have in class.
Happy Easter, friends, and happy 4th day of April, the 4th day of National Poetry Writing Month. Easter’s not a huge deal in my household. There’s candy around the house, an egg here or there, usually plastic, and filled with, you guessed it, candy. The real eggs are in the fridge and they are white or brown, as eggs are, completely in their natural element. Perhaps, for me, the most significant kind of Easter observance over the last 8 years has been the writing of a poem. Sometimes it’s Easter related, sometimes not. This year, the Napowrimo website sent us a link to a twitter account called “Liminal Spaces,” and from there it was suggested we could write a poem about one of those images. I checked them out. Many of them are super cool-but what was most interesting to me about the prompt was not the imagery from twitter, but this word all by itself. Liminal. Easter, I suppose, is a holiday in which the liminal could be celebrated. If you’re a Christian, the connection is an obvious one. If you are not, then the task becomes finding elements of the liminal in your own experience, in your own mind-life. That’s where we’re going today in my second poem about the COVID-19 vaccination.
Poem on April 4, 2021
As I have said, and it’s worth repeating, I’ve had my shots. Twice I have stood with hundreds of thousands of people moving through a line, like a fast moving concert queue, or like a long line for some strange kind of amusement ride, a palpable feeling in the crowd of sharing some pivotal experience, one for which a little trepidation is operative, yeah, because no one really loves an injection, but at the same time, an overpowering awe for the enormity of it all, the historic nature of it, the profundity. Hell yeah, it’s profound. Everyone’s trying to be stoic, but it’s easy to see behind those serious faces (eyes, really, because everyone is masked), and maybe one thinks it can be seen because one feels it bubbling up inside: a tsunami of gratitude. Especially as I snaked my way through the second time, smiling under my mask what must have been the stupidest of grins, I felt on the verge of tears. And when I arrived at my ultimate destination and sat down next to my administering nurse, she seemed holy somehow, and I loved her. This is a liminal space. If there ever was a threshold between this place and that, before and after, then and not yet, this was it, and I was happy to be there.
I must say that the prompt for the day on NaPoWriMo left me feeling uninspired. Actually, it was not a bad idea, something about making yourself a deck of cards, a “personal universe deck,” and drawing cards from it to inspire a poem. It just seemed too labor-intensive for me today. So I will be reaching into the reserves already filed away in the personal universe deck that is my brain. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the vaccination experience. So that’s where I’m headed today. I’ve captured only a small part of it here. Could be the start of a series. IDK.
Poem on April 3
I’ve had my shots. Both of them. The first one hurt going in and my arm was sore for a day. The second one was astonishingly painless, but later the chills came, the creep, the fog, the overpowering desire to sleep. I missed a work day for that one, was able before the effects plunged me into a stupor to forge an elaborate interactive slideshow my students could do in my absence. Down for the count, as they say. And most everyone says it, to some degree, that they were down for the count. A small price, yes, for the security, the peace of mind, the near assurance that you will be safe. Nothing changes, really, in the short run: I’m still wearing the mask when I go out, still keeping my distance; I might be safe but other’s might not be, so we carry that with us wherever we go. We long for a social exchange between vaccinated friends, when we may not have to mask, and we might even be able to touch one another. I don’t miss handshakes, really, but I could sure use a hug from someone who is not my wife or my son or the dogs.
Happy 2nd of April, friends, and the second day of National Poetry Month. The sun is out. And after a full day of looking at a computer screen, teaching kids and grading their work from a distance, and spewing imaginary lectures to recalcitrant seniors in IB English, I had to take a break. I sat outside in the back yard holding what I would like to say was a cherished notebook but in reality was a stupid smart phone, and with today’s prompt from Napowrimo in my head, I began using voice-to-text to compose a poem. You can’t tell the microphone to make a line break–I mean, you can, but the phrase “make a line break” would be scattered all over your poem. So I ended up with a nice block of text that I could turn, and have turned, into lines–once I got back behind a computer screen. We must suffer, at least a little bit, for our art. Without further ado, here’s the NaPoWriMo prompt:
“In the world of well-known poems, maybe there’s no gem quite so hoary as Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken.” Today, I’d like to challenge you to write a poem about your own road not taken – about a choice of yours that has “made all the difference,” and what might have happened had you made a different choice.”
And here’s the poem:
Poem on April 2
I could have had a career managing a 7-Eleven. No kidding. I could have lived out of a van and toured as a musician all year round. Maybe, I could have been a rock star. I could have never married. I could have waited to get married until I was an adult, or at least, more of one. I could have become a father before I was an adult, or at least, less of one. I could have chosen not to be a father. One large swerving or even a small tiny move along the way and my son may never have been born or some other kid may have been born in his stead. Some accident, or some significant nudge this way or that might have changed everything and I would never have known the difference. Two roads diverged in a wood. I could have taken the road less traveled, the rougher one, the rockier, the riskier one, but in actual fact, it never occurred to me that I was choosing between roads. There seemed to be one road and I was just going down that road. Nietzsche said that free will is an error. My choices, even the bad ones, even the utterly stupid choices I have made, everything I have done or did not do brought me right here. And again, Nietzsche might have said that I could not have acted otherwise. And, I’ll be damned, I think: he would have been right, again.
Okay, first of all, happy National Poetry Month! Second of all, I feel just a little bit of shame that I have not posted a poem on this blog site since April 30th of 2020. I have, over the last seven years, been in the habit of celebrating National Poetry Month by writing a single poem on each day of April. In between the Aprils, I have, from time to time, continued the practice of posting poems here, you know, to keep things moving in the poetry department. 374 poems in all. But 2020 proved to be a dismal year for poetry, as it was dismal in many other ways as well, at least for me, at least until a very late kind of redemption that took place around November. I think I may have written one poem during all of the rest of 2020 after April–and for some reason, it didn’t end up on the site. Suffice it to say that things are a little rusty over here. I have, I suppose, been saving my poetry energy for other things, like writing about The Plague Year, like surviving said Plague Year, not only by remaining healthy, but by trying to keep my head above water in this brave new world of enforced Distance Learning and Teaching. I’ve been talking to myself, talking to a computer screen, talking to 9th graders’ junior high school pictures, all year long. It makes Jack a dull boy. So after this long preamble of excuses for not writing poetry, let’s dig in, shall we? See if we can recapture the spirit, get this poetry department back in order, open for business.
As always, it is my practice, at the beginning of each day in April, to visit the mighty NaPoWriMo website for inspiration. Every day in this lovely place there are things to read and consider and a prompt to get one started, if one needs a boost. The prompts are always optional–we wouldn’t want to make the compulsory poem-a-day feel any more compulsory than it already is by requiring people to write from a prompt. But I find these things helpful and often do take up the suggestion–especially if, instead of a subject matter suggestion, it’s a crafty one. You know, write a limerick–but write it about whatever you like–that sort of thing. Even as I write this I don’t know what I will do–but I will tell you what the prompt is, if you like, just to give you a feel for the thing. Here’s today’s prompt:
That was actually not the prompt from Day 1 of Napowrimo, but the early bird prompt from yesterday for those folks who, for some trick of the sun and the moon and the orbit of the Earth were already in April before the rest of us. I liked that prompt, and immediately I knew the piece of art I wanted to grab, one not found on any of those links. Do you want to see it? Here it is.
This is a piece by a Polish artist named Rafal Olbinsky. It appears to me that it was used to promote a performance of a work called “Don Carlos” by Verdi, but I know it, at least that part of it that begins above the tip of the naked guy’s sword, as the cover of a novel I am currently teaching, and have written about before here on the blog, called Kalpa Imperial by Angélica Gorodischer, a super important practitioner of fabulist, fantastic, or speculative fiction from Argentina.
My god, it’s late. Way later than I wanted to be writing my first poem of the month. The day has been a kind of train wreck. There is a part of me that would like to just bail and cry April fools! But there’s the other part of me, the Catholic part, that insists that a poem gets written today come hell or high water. So I proceed. Trust me. Even in this moment, as I’m writing this, I have no clue about this poem–what it’s called, what it’s about, how it will look. I only know that somehow it will be inspired by the art above, maybe by the novel I’m teaching, and that it will happen on this screen underneath this paragraph.
Poem on April 1
I have a city growing out of the back of my head. It’s ancient, built of stone, full of towers and spires that reach, as long as I’m looking at the ground, to the sky, to the stars and the blood red moon. The city out of the back of my head prefers this orientation, reaching up while I’m looking at the dirt. But if I hold my head upright and look full forward, the city out of the back of my head reaches behind me, always following, always trailing, like ghosts, like memory, memory like ghosts, ghost-like memory, a whole city of things I cannot forget, things I would not forget even if it were possible. As much or as best as I can, I try to keep my eyes focused ahead; I move my body forward, try to see straight, while the city out of the back of my head continues to grow, building itself larger than life in my wake.