Can’t Be Helped

why some people be mad at me sometimes

they ask me to remember
but they want me to remember
their memories
and i keep remembering

— Lucille Clifton


It’s National Poetry Month.  Last year I posted a poem a day and chose poems by all kinds of poets.  Thirty days isn’t enough to cover all the poets I love, and certainly not enough for all the poems I love.  This year, because we lost her so recently and because my heart still aches for it, I’m going to post a Lucille Clifton poem every day.  I have to say I’m a little surprised and saddened that I didn’t hear her name more at the conference last weekend.  We didn’t hear about too many poets at all, actually.  It was definitely a fiction-heavy weekend.  And ok, I’m a fiction writer, so maybe I should be happy and be quiet, but I also love poetry, and we also have many, many outstanding poets who are black.  Maybe next time?

Last year I also set for myself the utterly insane challenge of writing a tanka every day for the month of April.  Let me just say for anyone who’s new here: I am not a poet.  I write poems (or things that can pass for poems), but I am not a poet.  That I set out to write a poem a day for a month still amazes.  The fact that I’m setting myself up to try it again convinces me that I’m just plain nuts.

When I attended the so-wonderful-I-still-haven’t-fully-processed-it workshop with Sonia Sanchez on Sunday, she introduced me to the Rhyme Royal (a/b/a/b/b/c/c), and she talked about the need for us all to go out and buy a rhyming dictionary if we didn’t already have one.

Can I just admit to you now that, if I ever knew there were such things as rhyming dictionaries, I had forgotten.  And it certainly would never have occurred to me to wonder if such a thing existed.  Sanchez said that when she tells her students to get one, someone invariably asks: “Isn’t that cheating?”  She laughed, said that was just silly, why would we be expected to remember all the rhymes?  Such a good point.  Why wouldn’t I ever have thought about a rhyming dictionary?

So when I went to the bookstore the other night, I bought one.  It’s a cute little thing.  Have you used one of these?  It took me a second to get how it works.  I kept trying to look up a word, but then realized I needed to look up the sound I want to rhyme (yes, you can say “Duh!” right about now).  So clever. 

Oh.  And yes, I’m stalling.  I should be posting my first attempt at a Rhyme Royal and instead I’m yammering on about the cleverness of rhyming dictionaries.  I’ll just say that I hope this gets easier.  If it doesn’t I might have to go back to tanka.  I may not have written the most brilliant poems last year, but that form really clicked for me.  This one hasn’t (yet).

the chill grey of rainy spring nights
settles in me a nostalgic sadness
a lifetime of remembered slights
simmer and almost rise to madness
so many hurts, so much stress
whisper my name, shout out, call —
why do I still hold each, all?

I won’t lie. I don’t care for that much. And it was like performing my own abdominal surgery to get it out. Ok, the first try. Let’s see where I am in 30 days.


2 thoughts on “Can’t Be Helped

  1. I never heard of a rhyming dictionary so I’m going to check that out too. Poetry month hmmm…where do I stand?
    As for you, I would say, given your month of tankahs last year. I was thinking, wow Stacie’s a poet! I think Lucie might agree.


    1. Whew! Glad I’m not the only one who never heard of a rhyming dictionary! Thanks for the compliment about the poetry … maybe in another ten years or so I’ll start saying I’m a poet. Still too new (and, too, when I’m turning out dissatisfying ones like yesterday’s, being A POET feels very far off).


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