Tag Archives: poetry

As a Result of Maintaining a Regular Blog…

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I have found a book.  It just appeared there. I wasn’t intentionally writing a book. I was just blogging. One day I decided to look closely at a pattern I saw emerging (among many patterns), and there I found a book! I found a book of poems, needing revision, sure, but almost fully formed, a book of poems about teaching, written in partially shitty rough drafts over a four year stint of keeping up a regular blog and publishing those shitty rough drafts during the course of National Poetry Writing Month and beyond.

It strikes me as a bit unorthodox. Maybe I’ve mentioned this conundrum before, but I’m a fiction writer, a fiction writer who does not write fiction on his blog site, but instead, writes poems and essays. I know most serious poets, or at least, most serious poets that I know, do not write poems on their blog sites, do not publish poems in that realm as they occur to them. That’s just not what serious poets do (whatever that means). I guess it means that serious poets typically draft and revise and revise and revise until they are happy enough to send out a poem. They keep doing this. Eventually, a number of their poems are published in lit mags, and maybe simultaneously or concurrently or subsequently they discover they have enough poetry for a manuscript. They assemble a book and ship that baby off to poetry presses. Or they go through a similar process while knowing ahead of the game that they are working toward some conceptual continuity. I just kept writing and posting poems, and four years later, I look back and find this cache of poems about teaching, most of which I kind of like, and most of which form a nice little arch that will neatly work in collection together as a bonafide book!

One could read all of those poems here. But my feeling about this is that when they are together in sequence, and after they’ve been polished up, they’ll be better. I’m going to immediately go out and try to find homes for some of them, compile my favorites, and make a manuscript. Maybe by the time fall rolls around they will have found their way out into the world. I’ll see what bites. Wish me luck.

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#282: On the Last Day of National Poetry Writing Month, The Poet Speaks of Things that Happen Over and Over Again

Days go by,
and they keep going by
constantly pulling you
into the future.

–Laurie Anderson.

 


For starters,
days go by
one right after
another, but today,
during meditation,
I held my father’s
hand one last
time before they
wheeled him
into surgery
on the eve of
his last day
on the planet
7 years ago
last October.
That was unusual.
And while I
was momentarily
overwhelmed,
it was not with
sadness, but with
gratitude for fathers
and sons, for my
father, and my son,
and as I walked
through the construction
site across the way
and saw my home
from some distance,
intact, old, encircled
by gigantic oak trees,
another wave
of thankfulness
came over me as
I realized how
truly lucky I am
to be who I am
and to love who
I love and to have
what I have.
The future tugs.
The past sometimes hugs
perhaps too tightly.
Even the present,
with it’s absurdities
and rank abuses,
so much like the past
and yet so much more
absurd and abusive,
for now, I hold it
at bay. I will fight
that in my way,
but for now,
walking the dog
again, seeing this house
again, and anew,
and finding myself
inexplicably happy
and sober, I praise
this day, this Sunday,
with a kind of reverence
no number of churches
could fathom or contain.

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#281: Gin

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This might be me in 9 days. 

Today, from napowrimo, the suggested prompt is to take a favorite poem and find a very specific, concrete noun in it. After choosing the word, put the original poem away and spend five minutes free-writing associations – other nouns, adjectives, etc. Then use the original word and the results of the free-writing as the building blocks for a new poem.

Perhaps my favorite poem of all time might be John Berryman’s “Dreamsong 14.” Here’s the line from which I will pull my concrete noun:

And the tranquil hills, and gin, look like a drag

And from this lovely line I will choose the word “gin.” I couldn’t begin to tell you why this particular word strikes my fancy at this time. #whole30.

Here’s a brainstorm on “gin.”

Gin rummy
Gin and tonic
Gin martini, dry, with an olive
Cotton gin
gin with a hard g, slang for going
or “one more ‘gin,” as in once more again
Sloe gin, Cold gin, the rock band Kiss
drunk
alcohol
no drinking for 30 days
my first drink after 30 days
It’s day 21
Gin sounds like Jen or Jenny
Rhymes with din, fin, sin, begin
slight rhymes: men, been, ben, again,
citrus
juniper
john Berryman
the farmer’s market

Okay, enough of that. Let’s write a poem. Here’s an attempt at a formal structure that totally breaks down at the end. Sorry.

Gin

In 9 days I will be able to drink gin
according to some dietary regimen
that prescribes 30 days without sin,
at least of the alcoholic variety.

Who’s to say my first drink will be gin?
–as there are other choices, bourbon,
to be precise, a fave, gin coming in
a close second, a balance of dark and light.

It’s not like I’m counting down to gin.
I think I might live beyond 30 and again
another 30 without a drop of gin.
But this is not what I want.

I am looking forward, that’s all.
I don’t think that juniper brew,
that olive on a stick, that action
with the shaker and the dash

of vermouth could ever seem
to me a drag. Gin, like the tranquil
hills: Let there always be
comradeship between us.

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#280: A Mostly Unrhymed Food Dipodic at the Close of Teacher Appreciation Week


This week for teacher
appreciation,
they bring us junk
to eat, like chips,
and candy, bread,
pancakes, syrup,
none of which I
can eat, sadly.
Yesterday, kids
wheeled in wagons
full of goodies
into classrooms
from which I could
only choose bottled
water. Somehow,
this week I don’t
quite feel the love;
appreciation
is not for me
in the midst of
this Whole 30.

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#279: The English Teacher Reveals the Writing Prompt for the Day

Unknown

The English teacher reveals the writing
prompt for the day and tells his students
to start writing and one student doesn’t
have his notebook and while it’s supposed
to be quiet another kid tells the kid
without a notebook that he saw him
leave it inside the lunchroom and
the notebookless kid doesn’t believe
him and for the first three minutes of
the quiet writing time these two boys
are arguing about whether or not the
one kid knows where the other kid
without his notebook
left his notebook.

The English teacher tries to shut
them up so that the other students
can have quiet time to write but
the argument between the boys is
so distracting that words begin
to fail him as he repeats the instructions
in a way that sounds to him incomprehensible
but nevertheless engages his students
in a fury of feverish free writing.

 

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#278: When I Was Away, Before I Was Born, I Have Never Been


I attended a writing workshop last weekend taught by the Oregon Poet Laureate Emeritus Paulann Petersen where I was asked to participate in a generative process very much unlike the process I am used to in my own creative work. It was a very particular kind of brainstorm activity she called “priming.” Now, as a teacher of writing, I ask my students to brainstorm often–but it typically takes a pretty simple or mundane form: freewriting, listing, word mapping, that sort of thing. And I will often do that with them to generate pieces of my own–right along with my students. But left to my own devices, (true confession) I most often skip the brainstorm/priming process altogether. I dive in feet or head first and swim. My brainstorming occurs simultaneously with composition; I storm as I create–in both fiction and in poetry.

So my contribution to day 26 is the result of the brainstorming or “priming” activity Paulanne led us through last Saturday. Different from conventional brainstorming in its specificity, we folded a single piece of paper into three equal columns, and, based on some guided instruction for each of those three columns, we primed ourselves for a poem. With no instructions about how we might tie these things together, we were asked to head each column with the specific name of a place we knew well, to record details of those places in their respective columns, and then add details about what might be happening in those places in our absence. Additionally, and quite discursively, we chose three concrete nouns from lists, a list of words from Szymborska, a list of words from Neruda, or a list of Nature words. We took further notes on what might be happening to or with those nouns, again, in our absence. So, to conclude the longest poem preample in the history of poem preambles, this is what I used for source material, the notes for which are in the photo above. It’s interesting to me what made the cut and what did not:

  • Lewis and Clark College
  • Champoeg State Park
  • The house I grew up in
  • Séance
  • Ancestors
  • Campfire

And here’s the poem:

While I Was Away, Before I Was Born, I Have Never Been

I
While I was away,
strangers moved into the house
I grew up in,
put a garage in the backyard
over the gaping hole where we
used to splash happily inside
the swimming pool. He’s there
now, this neighbor, inside his new garage,
a stranger to me, using a handsaw
to shape oak boards into
another new thing.
I walk by there, trying to
remember. I don’t wave.

II
Before I was born
my uncle Cecil graduated
from Lewis and Clark College
28 years before I would arrive there
on that transformed campus,
still bursting with old fir,
graced by the manor house,
the rose garden, views of the
Portland skyline and Mt. Hood,
but a different school nonetheless,
to be transformed again another
28 years later, and still later,
perhaps for my son, William
Stafford’s voice ringing on and on
inside the library.

III
I have never been
inside the circle at a séance,
whispering to the dead, burning
candles to light their way,
lavendar, or maybe vanilla,
because the dead like
the sweet stuff, are put off by
campfires, smoldering coals, ash—
the fires that burn
long after I’ve fallen asleep,
long after I’ve already gone.

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#277: The Topography of Our Intimate Being

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The Topography of Our Intimate Being

is a box
or a series of boxes.
I’m in there,
over four decades
on hundreds of scattered
pages, in a drawer,
on a shelf, the most
recent version of
myself in a box
on my writing desk,
or, where the oldest
pages are stored, in bins
in the basement,
in a room we call “scary,”
only because it’s the only
enclosed space down there–
and when we bought
the house the door
had a latch for a padlock
as if the previous owners
intended to keep something
or someone in or out.
I’m in there with
the earliest pages,
yellowing now and a
little fragrant from years
of isolation, a novel I wrote
when I was twelve, another
when I was thirteen,
a series of silly essays
I wrote as a teenager,
and then all the detritus
of six years of college
and my first serious attempts
as a fiction writer and poet.
I never look at this stuff
but I continue to save it,
this record of self,
these word snapshots,
moments in time of me
becoming myself becoming
still another self. Who, if anyone,
will know? Who, if anyone, will see?
Who might discover or map
this topography of intimate being?

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