Tag Archives: poetry prompt

#429: My Friend the Media Specialist (a poem on April 22, 2022)

My friend the media specialist
(we used to call them librarians)
gifted me this morning a
prompt for a poem.

My friend the media specialist
says the word “precarity”
might make a good subject.
“Precarity,” I say. “Is that like
the feeling or state of precariousness?”

My friend the media specialist
says, “Yes, precarious, uncertain,
tentative, vulnerable, transitory,
dependent on chance.”

My friend the media specialist
and I talk for awhile about
the way precarity, especially now,
seems ever present. Hasn’t it
always been this way? Maybe,
but it feels to be more so now.

My friend the media specialist
and I are both living through moments
of great shifting, personally,
and our community, the country, too,
and even the world seem to be
on the verge of a precarity
of seismic proportions.

“And yet,” my friend the media specialist says,
“here we are, doing our thing, living our lives,
moving forward, holding on or holding steady,
somehow hopeful, perhaps, that our
own precarious states may not end
disastrously. Isn’t that something?”

My friend the media specialist goes
back to her work and I go back to mine,
but then, on this day, not an hour later,
my work day takes a precarious turn
in a classroom activity that goes awry.
Everything hinged for a moment on
one very tense and difficult exchange;
the whole thing broke down around me.

My friend the media specialist
has no idea how prescient was her visit,
no idea how absolutely essential was her
gift of the prompt for a poem. And yet,
again, here we are, holding on
and holding steady, in precarity.



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#424: Five Answers to the Same Question (a poem for April 18, 2022)

I

In a sense, yes.

II

In another sense, perhaps
in the sense with which you mean it,
no.

III
Maybe. A good word.
Ambiguity is everything–
and nothing.

IV
I like the cut of your jib.

V
I hadn’t considered it,
but I will take it up with
the management.

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#299: In a Dream, a Hammer Crushed a Teacup

2298485ae175c7ceee72ac189ebd4cbb

In a dream, a Hammer crushed
a Teacup, Seagulls flew overhead,
one, wearing a Ballet Slipper,
having lost its mate to a Shark.
I sit at a Wobbly Table, recently
crowned a third time by my
Dentist, singing the Rowboat song.

My therapist, who specializes in
dream interpretation, is sad.
He has no idea what it means.
In fact, he says, he’s worried
about me. But he takes a stab
at it, anyway, because, you know,
what the hell. Hammers, typically
symbolize a violence of some
kind, Teacups, insecurity,
Seagulls, a moment of scarcity,
Ballet slippers, a thing
for ballet slippers, Sharks, danger
lurking or the fear of it, Wobbly
tables, instability, especially
concerning furniture, Dentists,
masochistic tendencies, and the
Rowboat song, infantilism.
None of it is good and
he recommends that I check
myself in. Offers condolences.

This is when I decide to
stop seeing this particular therapist.

I trust my own interpretation:
Hammer: strength, obviously.
Teacup: intellectual sophistication, duh.
Seagulls: rising above the garbage of the world.
Ballet Slippers: a thing for ballet slippers.
Sharks: personal power and agency, of course.
Wobbly tables: a healthy, but off-kilter approach to my problems.
Dentists: the fear of Dentists. Nothing we can do about that.
Row row row your boat, gently down a stream.
Don’t worry. Everything’s going to be just fine.

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#292: Two Sides (a Dialogue with Self)

Photo on 4-7-18 at 11.05 AM

Recently, I was thinking about self talk, or, literally, the act of talking out loud to oneself, and decided finally, even though I suspected it all along, that it is a necessary and healthful behavior. I mean, what’s the signature feature of Shakespeare’s soliloquies? To me, the key feature of a Shakespeare soliloquy, beyond the fact that the character is talking out loud to themselves, is honesty. And I thought to myself, and maybe I even said it out loud to myself, that if one could overhear another real human being talking to themselves, this would be one of the most intimate of experiences. It would be, for that moment, just as we can in one of Shakespeare’s soliloquies, as if we were reading someone’s mind. And then I wished that, as a child, whenever I used to overhear my mother talking to herself in the other room, that I would have listened more closely. And then I’ve been thinking a lot, because I’ve been teaching it, of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, in which Guidenstern says, “A man talking sense to himself is no madder than a man talking nonsense not to himself.” Truer words were never spoken. I would amend that statement, though, by replacing “no madder” with “infinitely wiser.”

Sorry for the long preamble, but it all leads to today’s prompt from napowrimo, which is to write a dialogue poem between two of your identities, one that makes you feel powerful, and another that makes you feel vulnerable. I’ll begin with the list I made of my various identities, in no particular order.

husband
father
teacher
fiction writer
musician
avid music fan
reader
poet
blogger
meditation practitioner
friend
brother
recovering Catholic
atheist
secular humanist
liberal/progressive

And here’s the poem between the powerful and the vulnerable, essentially, between the teacher and everybody else on the above list. Maybe because it is the way I usually structure my own self talk, I’ve chosen the second person pronoun. Is this a paradox? This turned out to be more like one voice talking to the two sides, than the two sides talking to each other. A dialogue, nevertheless.

Two Sides (a Dialogue with Self)

You are doing good work
in the lives of young people.
You know, that even though
what you taught might not
stick with them forever,
how you taught will, and
more profoundly, perhaps,
how you treated them. And,
to your credit, mostly, as far
as humanly possible, you
have treated them well,
and you have presented
to them your authentic self.

That’s all very well and good, 
but you also know that in your
capacity as a public servant
you have hidden away a great
deal about who you are. To a
certain extent, professionally
speaking, this is necessary, but
on the other hand, it sometimes
feels like a betrayal, doesn’t it?
Even though you know that
your politics, your philosophy,
your artistic aesthetics, interests,
your deepest beliefs and proclivities
have no place in the classroom,
you sometimes wish that they did.

But you do feel authentic there
because, again, you know that
to be authentic does not mean
that you must be all-revealing.
That guy in the classroom is
the real you, but only part of the
real you, and there’s nothing
wrong with that, is there?

No, but you still long, don’t you,
to have a place, a sphere, a community
with which you can be fully
who you are in every moment.
You doubt sometimes that this
is even a 
possibility.

Ah, so this is not just a struggle
in the classroom, is it?

No. 

It’s everywhere. In every sphere,
it’s a balancing act, as a husband,
a father, a friend, a member of
a community. To be known–
one of the great projects of a
conscious life, of an authentic life,
remains elusive, slippery.

But worth it, my friend. 

 

 

 

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#290: Coda (Zebra Boat)

black_and_white_sailboat

Today, the napowrimo website challenges us to write a poem that reacts both to photography and to words in a language not our own. We are to begin with a photograph. Then we are to find a poem in a language we do not know. Ignoring any accompanying English translation, we are to then translate the poem into English, with the idea that the poem is actually “about” our photograph. On the face of it, this seemed like a super difficult task, but an intriguing one. So I gave it a try, with apologies to Xavier Roelens from Belgium, by “translating” his poem “Coda,” inspired super loosely by the photo above. Prepare yourself for some serious nonsense. I found myself a slave to making English-sounding equivalents of the words in the original language.

Coda (Zebra Boat)

The ship in raging water, zebra hoofed, named him
by the poison that overcame the obstinate rain and
cries words she puts on.

That the zebra harnesses blood & guts defies understanding.
But the shipmaster reopens, sparkles in soft oblivion, while
in the bilge, zebras, invisible, even in Homer’s ear,
ooh, contact problems in the making, have more angels
speaking, have more hair round a kitchen, up so near
islands that they might blow, soak, die in the opposing
moat pavilion.

Gross most stinkingly, the sun comes as an actor,
waking, almost a sinker, as our zebra ship
recharges herself. This damned longitude,
like a zeitgeist from on high that has never heard,
never beheld zilch, sails our boat of zebra.

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