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Archive for the ‘using our words’ Category

I had another long overdue friend date tonight. Make that L-O-N-G overdue. I met up with Michele, someone I hadn’t seen since I was in my early 20s. For realz.

I was nervous, waiting for her. What if we couldn’t find a way to talk or be comfortable with one another, what if being friends in our teens wouldn’t translate into being friends in middle age, what if?

(I will be honest and say up front that there aren’t a lot of folks I knew in my teens who I would risk meeting today. I knew Michele was one of those few I’d be safe meeting, but I was still nervous.)

But then I looked up and she was walking toward me, and I knew we would be fine. Her face, that smile. And then we were hugging and laughing, and there we were, just talking and talking.

Great evening. And a great exhibit that I need to go see again, take a closer look.

_____

Reunion

With so much to say —
all the years in between us,
the years to catch up,
all the things to remember.
Story on story,
a jumbled, hurried telling
decades in hours,
an ever-pouring fountain.
This conversation
interrupted by our lives,
floods back with a welcome ease.

No envoi on this one. I thought it was going to fall into place, but the poem clearly had other ideas. I think the poem works well enough without the envoi, but I miss it, miss the rhythm of having that final tanka.

_____

A chōka is a Japanese form poem with a specific syllable count per line. The shortest form of chōka  is: 5 / 7 / 5 / 7 / 5 / 7 / 5 / 7 / 7. The 5- and 7-syllable lines can repeat as many times as needed. The poem’s end is signaled by the extra 7-syllable line. The final five lines can be used to summarize the body of the poem.



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Yes, all of that. For all the reasons.

First, let me say that, the moment you fix your mouth to tell me that “even Hitler” wouldn’t do some particularly heinous thing … you’ve gone down the wrong path. The very moment it occurs to you to make such a comparison, STOP. Stop, take a deep breath, try to count at least to five. Let a new thought flow into your brain, anything but a favorable reference to Hitler, a reference to the genocide he orchestrated in a way that makes it sound like the Mall of America. Maybe count all the way to ten … and remember that you, in fact, know absolutely not one whit about history, that you half-recall some names, no dates, a few terms of art. Realize that all of this means you should shut the fuck up — all the way up — that you should change course and never, ever attempt to make even the most basic of analogies ever again.

That’s first.

Second, how clear is it today and to how many people, that THOTUS¹ has no respect for anything that is in any way related to the job he has lied and cheated his way into? You tried to pretend it didn’t bother you when Kellyann curled up on the Oval Office couch with her got-damn shoes on to play with her phone before taking a pic of all those school choice advocates who’d come to see her boss. You looked down at your hands and acted as if you couldn’t see when Ivanka sat in on diplomatic meetings, when she officially took on an advisory role. You were suddenly interested in your shoes and their need for a shine when Jared was put in charge of brokering Middle East peace and a thousand other important issues for which he isn’t the least bit qualified.

But now Hitler’s been put on the table, and surely you finally have to admit that you see it. If THOTUS cared at all about the job he has shoehorned himself into, he would make some kind of effort to surround himself with staff who have the first clue about government, about the world, about history, about any damn thing that has to do with leading this country.

But THOTUS doesn’t care. At all. He has never cared. He has only ever been interested in winning, in showing the naysayers that he could walk in and take whatever the fuck he wanted. That was always the goal. What happens to the rest of us now that his aides are sitting around picking their noses and playing with their hair is not his concern.

And so, three. What now? What’s your path forward in spite of, in response to, in solidarity against? Have you found the form that resistance takes for you?

_____

Jib for the Jobber

I have only this —
anger, an uncontrolled rage,
only this belief
that we will have to survive,
have to save ourselves
step out of the inferno.
I have always rage,
questions, my fierce, ugly hope —
bulked up and ready,
pushing me forward in spite
and in spite of. Yes.
This isn’t my song,
but I have learned all the words.
I can sing all day,
long into the night. Watch me
outlast you, my voice still strong.

__________
¹ Titular Head oThese United States

_____

A chōka is a Japanese form poem with a specific syllable count per line. The shortest form of chōka  is: 5 / 7 / 5 / 7 / 5 / 7 / 5 / 7 / 7. The 5- and 7-syllable lines can repeat as many times as needed. The poem’s end is signaled by the extra 7-syllable line. The final five lines can be used to summarize the body of the poem.



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As in lifting something heavy. As in the weight of something heavy. And H is for Heavy. As in something of great weight, difficult to lift, move, or carry. As in of great density, thick or substantial.

And what does all of this have to do with my decision to spend this Poetry Month writing chōka? Yes, that would be the rearing of my Little Hater’s ugly head. Let me explain.

Last week, I noticed that I was feeling comfortable with my poetry challenge. Anyone who has read my April writing for more than a minute knows that I have struggled mightily with poetry, with the idea that I can write poetry, with the idea that I would have the nerve to post those poems online, with the idea that I would have the unmitigated gall to call myself a poet. Just about every April since I started my blog, I come here and try to push back against all of that and write poems. I force myself to post them, even when I know they aren’t even good enough to be called mediocre. Because I have to. Because to not do that is giving in to that mean, awful voice that has been telling me since I was 18 years old that I can’t write poems.

Learning a new form sometimes pulls me out of that negative loop very nicely. I don’t know what or why that is. Maybe it takes so much focus for me to wrap my brain around the new patter there isn’t room for my Inner Critic to slip in.

So I was feeling that, feeling pulled away from that mean voice, content to just play with the words.

I’m sure you can guess where this is headed.

Yes. As soon as I noticed that I was feeling comfortable … all that comfort drained away and the tidal wave of doubt flooded in. Of course..

My doubt wasn’t about whether or not the poems were good. Or, rather, not much about that. It is generally a given for me that the poems aren’t particularly good. I am always surprised when I like a poem I’ve written. That is hardly the anticipated result. So I chided myself for not writing good poems — that one from Thursday night is still pretty unforgivable — but then I realized that quality wasn’t what had me thinking negative thoughts about my poems.

No, my Inner Mean Person was kicking my teeth in because my poems were boring. Plain and simple. My poems weren’t about anything substantive. When I did my last year of aruns in 2014, I was just getting into genealogical research, and my poems were about Samuel and finding family and history. When I did prose poems in 2015, my poems were little Black Lives Matter protest songs. In 2009 when I started this April business, I wrote about love, about Sean Bell, about Black death. From the beginning I’ve landed on serious subjects. My poems may not have been good, but they had weight. Heft.

Thursday I wrote a poem about having “Boogie, Oogie, Oogie” as an earworm. Such a piece of fluff as could be carried away by the softest exhalation.

Of course, there are plenty of heavy, serious, somber things to write about. Every. single. day. But I haven’t found my way into those stories, found the way to tell my piece of any of those stories. And so I — and you, dear reader — am stuck here, in this fluffy place. And maybe that’s as it should be. Maybe I need to be here, churning out banal chōka to give my brain a rest, a chance to sort through and process all the everything else. Maybe when that’s done, I’ll find my way back to writing poems with heft.

Spring

Smooth, shining spring day
here at last, reminding me
of April in France
Paris opening her arms
no longer stiff, cold
finally welcoming me.
Claude driving us fast
along the Champs Elysees
the air honeyed, light.
Spring reminds me of Ludlow
those days with Walter —
was it pollen in my eyes
blinding me to him?
A later spring, me and Ray
the back of his bike
cruising up the Palisades.

It is again spring
and this old woman’s fancy
turns to thoughts of love
(loves) in the dim long ago —
wringing verses from their bones.

_____

A chōka is a Japanese form poem with a specific syllable count per line. The shortest form of chōka  is: 5 / 7 / 5 / 7 / 5 / 7 / 5 / 7 / 7. The 5- and 7-syllable lines can repeat as many times as needed. The poem’s end is signaled by the extra 7-syllable line. The final five lines can be used to summarize the body of the poem.

(Is this an essay? I’m going to call it one. It needs more work, but it’s enough of a start to give my revision some direction, an idea of where I wanted to go.)



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Yesterday, I wrote an arun poem for the first time in forever. And a few people commented that it was a form they weren’t familiar with, so I thought I’d post about aruns tonight.

It’s no surprise that the arun isn’t a familiar form because … wait for it … I invented it! No, really. As crazy as that sounds, I did. For poetry month in 2012 the form I chose was the Zeno. When I read about it, I discovered that it was a fairly new form, created in 2009. And that surprised me. I’d never really thought about inventing a form, figured all the forms had already been invented. Or that inventing forms was someone else’s domain, certainly not mine. But there was the Zeno, only a few years old when I learned about it.

Then, in 2013, another slice-of-life writer introduced me to OULIPO and snowball poems (scroll down the page to see the description). Combining my thoughts about the Zeno with the idea of the snowball pushed me to play around with patterns I liked, and — voilà! — I came up with the arun with its specific syllable count but no rhyme scheme because I still haven’t quite reconciled myself to rhymes.

The arun: a 15-line poem with the syllable count 1/2/3/4/5 — 3x.

It still doesn’t seem possible that I created a form. That’s really should be, must be, someone else’s domain. But here we are, with the arun. “Arun” means “five” in Yoruba (according to The Google), and the name was chosen by popular vote in a little blog poll I put up. It’s not super sophisticated, but I like it.

Here’s one I found in a draft blog post from three years ago:

Play
this game —
eyes open
senses alert.
Listen for every
breath,
every
sighed exhale.
Don’t show your hand.
For now, in silence,
watch.
Keep still —
hold your breath.
Listen. Listen.
This is the reveal.

I have no idea what I was upset about on April 17, 2014, but this didn’t express it well enough. I like the one I posted on that day better than this one, but I wanted to share this one anyway. (It was languishing in my “Drafts” folder all this time, seemed only fair.)

Still not sure what form I’ll write next month, but wanted to clear up the mystery of “what’s an arun, and where did it come from?”

If you write an arun, I’d love to read it. If you link to it in the comments, I’ll be sure to check it out.

Or, perhaps, instead of writing an arun, you’ll create a form of your own! If you do, please share. I’d love to try my hand at your new form!



It’s the 10th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Head over to Two Writing Teachers to see all of today’s slices

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On Thursday I wrote about getting the news that I hadn’t been awarded a writing residency I’d applied for. In their comments, Heidi from Wordsmithing and Akilah from The Englishist expressed interest in the DIY writing retreat I made for myself in 2012, and Akilah’s comment made me realize that I’d never written about it. So today I will.

In 2012, I decided to send myself away to write. In both 2010 and 2011 I’d gone to VONA and had my heart and mind and craft blown wide open. For 2012, I decided not to apply, but rather to take the money I’d spend on a VONA week and create a two-week writing vacation.

I was nervous about doing it because I’d never been particularly successful with writing on vacation in the past. I’d turned out a few pages, but mostly spent my time vacationing and maybe (maybe) writing in my journal. But those had all been vacations and not specifically writing retreats, and I wanted to believe that calling my trip something different would actually help flip whatever switch in my brain needed flipping to get me to be more productive.

So I planned.

  1. Find a place to go. I searched on Flipkey (like AirBnB) for a place to go. I searched in Mexico, in the Caribbean, in France, in Canada … Everything looked great, nothing looked right. And then I clicked to an apartment in Tulum and the first photo won me. It was a slightly fuzzy picture of a sunny kitchen table. When I saw it, the first thought I had was, “I could write there.”
  2. Figure out when to go. The retreat was going to be my birthday present to myself, so I wanted to go in the fall, as close to my birthday as possible.
  3. Make a plan for writing. I made my schedule very simple: I would write all morning and go to the beach in the afternoon (it was going to be Tulum, after all, home of one of the most beautiful beaches on the planet). I also signed up for an online writing class and planned the timing of the trip so that I’d be in the middle of the course while I was in Mexico.
  4. Make a plan for what you want to get done during the retreat. There was a story I’d been fighting with. I knew that, if I was ever going to find my way through that story, I needed to understand this one character I’d been avoiding. So I decided that I’d use my retreat to write about him, to figure out who he was so that I could make sense of what he was supposed to be doing in my story. I don’t know if this part of the equation is necessary for everyone, but having a specific project in mind before I started helped me. I wound up writing other things during the retreat, but having this clear idea already laid out in my head helped me know exactly where to begin on day one.

So I was good to go. I was still worried about whether I’d get much work done, but I figured I’d done as much planning as I could or should, and that I’d have to trust myself.

I got to Tulum, the apartment was as lovely as the photos had led me to believe, I set up my writing corner of the dining table, and went to sleep early so I’d be ready to dive in with my schedule the next morning.

My schedule didn’t work out at all. Not even a little. Here is how almost all of my days went:

I got up early and had a little something for breakfast. I sat down with a cup of coffee or tea and started working. After working for a while, I started to feel ravenously hungry and had to stop writing … which would be when I’d discover that it was somehow 3 or 4 or 5 in the afternoon, that I had been working all day.

Two weeks in Tulum, and I made it to the beach twice. Twice. That is actually a crime, I think.

But —

I wrote like a crazy person. I wrote more in those two weeks than I normally write in a whole year.

I have never felt more content, more perfectly at ease in my body, more perfect. I was completely exhausted at the end of every day and fast asleep before 11pm … and then up with the sun to start all over again.

A big part of the success of my retreat was signing up for that online class. It was a class with Minal Hajratwala. I’d taken an online class with her once before, so I knew what to expect. Minal is an amazing and amazingly generous instructor. The materials she prepares, the exercises she gives … always fabulous. I was taking her Blueprint Your Book class during my retreat, and I had a huge breakthrough thanks to two of the exercises she gave us. She is an entirely lovely person, and if you have the chance to take one of her classes, I enthusiastically recommend it.

__________

It’s definitely not necessary to go to Tulum or to go away for two weeks to make a DIY retreat work. You can stay right in your town. You can:

  • Find an AirBnB place that’s not crazy expensive (my apartment in Tulum was $50 a night), rent it for as many days as you can, and go write.
  • Apartment swap with a friend who lives a short train ride or drive away, sit at her desk or at his kitchen table, and write.
  • Stay in a hotel for the weekend, order room service, tell housekeeping to leave you alone, and write.
  • Find a co-working space that will let you rent for 2, or 5, or 7 days, and let the fact that you’ve paid for the space inspire you to actually spend those 2, or 5, or 7 days writing.

The important things are to 1) set aside time to work, 2) be in a place where you can work without interruption, and 3) hold yourself accountable to giving yourself that time.

I’m looking forward to planning a retreat for myself for the end of the summer. I don’t know if I could ever be as insanely productive as I was in 2012, but I like having that bar to aim for.



It’s the 10th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Head over to Two Writing Teachers to see all of today’s slices

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On my way home after a great afternoon and evening out for two different friend dates. Walking to the bus stop, I see this fabulousness:

Yes. That is all. That is all. One call for each of the next four years as THOTUS drags us toward hell.

#RiseAndResist





It’s the 10th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Head over to Two Writing Teachers to see all of today’s slices

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So, we have:

Woman without her man is nothing.

And also:

Come and eat grandma!

And slowly, even the most stubborn souls begin to see the value of punctuation.

Woman: without her, man is nothing.

Come and eat, grandma!

Oh, what a different a few dots and squiggles can make.

These are famous ones, of course. I was trying to remember a really wonderful one that wound up in print a while ago, and finally found it:

And this is all silly and a good reminder that commas are life savers (I know Ray’s family and dog are grateful for them!) … but there was a story the other day that also proved that a well-placed comma can mean the difference between winning and losing a legal battle.

I’ll admit that I’m a latecomer to the Oxford comma. I was forced to use it in grade school. But I was forced to do a lot of things with my writing in grade school, and many of them I heartily disagreed with and despised. Once I had a little more freedom to write how I wanted, I began to jettison those things I didn’t care for, and the Oxford comma fell by the wayside with the other castoffs. People have argued with me about it quite a bit over the years — which maybe says something about the folks I hang with¹ — but I have remained stubbornly against. I taught English for many years, and I taught the Oxford comma … but also made it clear that a) I didn’t use it myself and b) no one’s grade would be damaged by the decision not to use it.

But then I got my current job. I got this job, and one of the first things I had to do was edit the big, serious report we were producing. And before the editing began, I was asked to put together a style guide so that all of the people who were adding writing could try to have the same set of rules in mind as they worked and so that changes I made to text would all follow clear guidelines.

Making that style guide was, I have to admit, fun for me (which most definitely says something about the kind of person I am!). I saw the guide as my chance to lay down the law, list out my writing pet peeves, make our sleek and shiny report conform to my writing style. (Oh yes, a little power is truly a dangerous thing!)

Pretty quickly in my style-guiding I ran smack into the Oxford comma. And somehow, for reasons I couldn’t explain and can’t explain now, that comma suddenly made sense. Made perfect, why-didn’t-I-ever-see-this-before sense. And I’ve been using it ever since. (Somewhere, my 6th grade teacher is pointing, laughing, and saying, “I told you so!”)



It’s the 10th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Head over to Two Writing Teachers to see all of today’s slices

__________

¹ This wacky-grammarians-on-my-friend-list business did not extend to the guy who came to a party I threw years ago … who smugly diagrammed the sentences of the people who spoke to him. You may think this is a clever party trick. Trust me when I tell you that it really isn’t.

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