Tag Archives: Poetry for the Pandemic

#369: Some Kind of Hymn

Photo on 4-25-20 at 10.44 AM

(after James Schuyler and for Cresslyn Clay)

Moss grows on the roofs of the garage and the woodshed
and the weather is shitty, again. This April, it’s unseasonably
warm and dry with spells that go on for days of rain
and clouds, gray spells. We’re in the middle of one of those.
We sit at home this Saturday and try to think
of things to do. She shops on-line for a bedroom rug
and I look at Schuyler’s poem in awe and frustration
and the dogs whine and complain and we keep telling
them to shut up. The boy sleeps in late, a habit he’s developed,
or a practice at which he’s become a consummate pro.
I’m drinking my second cup of coffee and I’m not hung over.
I have an idea of doing some field recordings in the back
yard mostly to capture the sounds of birds; I could get
audio samples of birds almost anywhere these days but
for some reason I’d like to record my own birds. I think
about spinning Apple Venus (Volume One) again today
as a kind of tonic or some kind of hymn against the shitty
weather and even shittier times. Andy sings “Just like a mad
dog you’re chasing your tail in a circle” and that about sums
it up for many of us, for all of us, to some degree or another.
The boy stirs and his mother grills up the rest of the pancakes.
She keeps calling up the stairs, “Come on, let’s go” to roust him
down to the breakfast table. It’s noon. These pancakes have
blueberries in them, and they’re paleo, for what that’s worth.
He finally comes down and I sit with him while he eats his
pancakes and he tells me about a video game he thinks I’d like
called “Stanley’s Parable.” In a rare father-son teaching moment,
I ask him if he knows what a parable is. He does not. So I tell
him about Jesus and Socrates and all of a sudden he’s expressing
a keen interest in the ancient greeks and I had no idea.
I brush my teeth before I finish that last cup of coffee, and,
while, as I say, toothpaste and coffee are complimentary,
by now the brown stuff inside my Shakespeare Insult mug
is cold. I’m not drinking that. “Thou art a boil, a plague sore.”
That’s fitting. It’s nearly impossible to think of any of the bard’s
greatest insults and not be able to apply them immediately to that
imbecile in the White House, “an infinite and endless liar, an hourly
promise breaker.” I quote not from memory, but from my mug.
It’s my favorite mug, just behind my Composition Notebook mug,
a gift given to me, I think for no occasion, by my teacher friend
Cresslyn, whose birthday is today. I’ve said these are shitty times,
and yet, I am happy, happy for friends like Cresslyn, for time to write
poems after Schuyler, wide long poems instead of the long skinny
poems I usually write, for the kindness of people in my life, like
Cresslyn. Others come to mind, but she’s in the forefront, in part,
because it’s her birthday, and in part, because she is so kind.
I miss her. I mean, I miss being in the same building, the same
room with her, in our school, collaborating in person, sharing
stories about our students, walking all the way across the building
for a quick visit to say hello or ask a question. For now, we have to
be satisfied with looking at each other on computer screens.
There’s a caravan of cars driving by her house this morning,
honking, singing happy birthday, perhaps, heads out the window.
I’m happy for that. The sunshine is peaking through the clouds
and we may be able to walk the dogs. Schuyler’s poem takes a half
an hour to read out loud but I don’t want to write a poem
that takes a half an hour to read, just like yesterday, I’m not writing
about fruit. To say that the sun fruited the trees with leaves–
that’s the best I can do this afternoon. And there’s a hummingbird’s
nest inside the tree right above the hammock. Did this ever happen to you?
What do you want that you can’t have? How do we make whole
what has been scattered or broken? What’s the reason for this
laughter, these tears? Have I made the right choices, Saturday,
this one? The boy’s upstairs now, practicing his rudimental snare
and my wife’s phone is chirping in the other room, like some bird
robot. The dogs stir. This can’t go on forever.

****

Postscript: In case you are wondering about the inspiration for the poem, here’s a link to Schuyler’s “Hymn to Life,” and here is the prompt from Hoa Nguyen’s website.

  • Bring your perspective and verbs back to the present tense, even when addressing memory

  • Seek the “unforced flow of words”

  • Introduce all of the things that you might ordinarily deem incidental or too small for consideration

  • Include quoted speech (overheard, announced, in dialogue, as song lyrics)

  • Build your lines with associative accumulation (parataxis), move with your attentions

  • Introduce a swerve or observation that serves as interjection, non-sequitur

  • Include at least four colours

  • Animate the landscape or nearby object, imbue it with expressiveness of action or address

  • Include perceptions of the weather without, perceptions of weather within

  • Use a noun as verb that is typically not used that way (anthimeria): “white freaked with red”

  • Introduce the occasional 3- and 4-word sentence.

  • “Let’s make a list”: include a list of things you love

  • Did you remember to ask questions?

  • Include a hemistich line: a line made-up of two halves, of equivalent beats, hinged on a silent beat (caesura): “The world is all cut-outs then—and slip or step steadily down”

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A Journal of the Plague Year: #17

Most importantly, I will not be able to BE with my seniors in IB English, not even remotely. I won’t see their faces, hear their voices, read their writing, laugh at their good humor, be in awe of their intelligence and kindness. But additionally, I will not be able to formally finish the Hamlet unit with my seniors. I will not be able to read Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead with them. I will not be able to read Death of a Salesman with my students. I will not be able to read Waiting for Godot with my students. I will not be able to ask them, what is your dream, what are you waiting for? I will not be able to explore with them the six tenants of existentialism: existence precedes essence, time is of the essence, humanism is at the center, freedom and responsibility are key, ethics are paramount, and integrity is all. I will not be able to share with them the names that many of them will have heard for the first time in their lives: Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and Sartre. I will not be able to share with them the poems that would prepare them for Paper I. I will not be able to share with them the random questions about drama that would prepare them for Paper 2. I will not be able to commiserate with them as they prepare for and then spend four hours taking these brutal IB written examinations, which, while brutal, are still so much fun and provide so much rigorous reward. And afterwards, they will not be able to tell me how they felt well-prepared for the task, how they felt confident about their work. Finally, I will not be able to see them make fools of themselves as I ask them for a final exam to write and perform a play of their two-year IB English experience. I will not be able to do these things with my seniors. And all through the staff meeting this morning on Google Hangouts, I was fighting back tears, unsuccessfully.

For today’s poem, (#9), inspired by the NaPoWriMo website, I offer up a concrete poem, which is not really a concrete poem, but a poem about concrete, and improvised into a voice memo, and revised only slightly, because, god damn it.

#353: Concrete Poem

Concrete,
seemingly solid,
cement,
deceptively hard,
rocky,
stupid and orange,
sometimes grey,
sometimes blacktop,
asphalt, potholed
like my driveway.
You play ball
on the concrete,
basketball
in the park
or in the
driveway,
foursquare
on the
playground.
If you fall,
little rocks
embed themselves
inside your knee-
skin.
This is a concrete poem,
but it doesn’t look
anything like what
it’s about.

And finally, yesterday, I wrote a poem that stole a first line from Emily Dickinson, but today, that poem still haunts me, so I read it here–because I believe it helps.

 

 

 

 

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#348: Don’t Do Something

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I get it.
People shut in want
to get things done,
they get all ambitious
and want to complete
the house project, write
the great American novel,
exercise themselves into
hardbodies, record a hit
record, paint their master-
piece, read 20 great books,
write poems every day.
The experts tell us
to knock that shit off.
Today I hardly know
what to do with myself
even though the list
is long of things to do,
things that need doing
and things I need to do.
And I’m trying not to feel
bad. Today, I think, I’ll
take the advice of the experts
who, in their infinite wisdom,
are trying to tell us,

Don’t do something,
just stand there.

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A Journal of the Plague Year: #13

Today is April 1 of the year of our pandemic, 2020, but it is also the first day of National Poetry Month, during which, over the past six years, I have celebrated by writing a poem every day for an entire month. This will be year seven in a poetry writing streak. To the best of my recollection, over the last six Aprils I have never missed a day, and if I did, I’d write two poems the next day to make sure I had a poem for every day of the month. I was hard core. Additionally, I started writing and publishing poetry here that was not written in April. I numbered all of the poems, more than anything else, to easily distinguish blog poetry from blog prose. I’ve got 344 poems here. But every once in a while I will have started a series that is also numbered–like this one you are reading right now, #13 of A Journal of the Plague Year.

I actually woke up in the middle of the night thinking about this, among many other things, that I do not want to stop writing A Journal of the Plague Year, that I do not want to skip this year’s National Poetry Writing Month, that I do not want to write two blog entries a day, that I do not want to cause number confusion, and finally, that I’m not sure how I feel about recording video performances of my own shitty rough draft poems, not after reading Rilke and Donne and Oliver and Stafford and Piercy and Wordsworth and Rumi and Dickinson, which has become a kind of tradition in my Plague Year Journal. For readers who were especially fond of that segment, who maybe (I shudder to think) skipped ahead of all the verbiage and went straight to the video–think how disappointed they might be to find me reading, not Berryman or Bishop, but me!

For now, I have reached this truce with myself: I will combine the Plague Journal with the original poetry for April. The poem will be imbedded within or conclude the day’s journal entry. I will continue with the numbering of both pieces. Maybe, they can work nicely in tangent; maybe the poem, in and of itself, can be The Journal. Still unresolved is whether or not to continue with the video recordings. That remains to be seen. Especially now that I am officially (but remotely) back at work. The time I spent “slaving” over those video recordings may just not be available to me anymore.

As I get to the end of this long preamble, feeling surprisingly fatigued from video conference calls and trying to get my brain wrapped around my new teacher reality and writing a longish letter to my IB Literature seniors, I’m having a difficult time writing the damn poetry. Visiting the napowrimo website for some inspiration, I left feeling uninspired. I can’t write a poem today about a bird and I don’t feel like a metaphor self portrait, although I did have some minimal fun with a “synaesthetic metaphor generator” where I found the phrase “the colossal bays of escarpments.” So I started from scratch today with three completely different ideas, all shelter-in-place-for-the-pandemic related, and I landed on this one.

#345: What Our City Looks Like from Above

A photographer took drone pictures
of our city during the pandemic.
Beautiful and haunting, beautifully haunting,
there are no cars, trucks, or busses on the freeways,
there are no cars, trucks, or busses on the bridges,
you can just imagine how
the freeways and bridges no longer
stink of exhaust, which is nice,
but also terrifying, and why I’ve
been sitting at home for two and
a half weeks, only now starting to
reconnect with the life of my school,
remotely, from a safe distance,
sheltering in place,
emanating zero exhaust.

Unknown

Photo courtesy PORTLANDRONE®

 

 

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Filed under Poetry, Reportage, Teaching, The Plague Year, Writing and Reading