Things I am thinking.

My hands lift, juggle, balance, hold —
what I’m here for,
what I
what you expect.
It’s not
that I won’t drop
or stop


The “dumb and divine stumbling” continues.¹  Things I am thinking:

  • Part of me wants to just throw these poems up here and forego the disclaimers, but I can’t seem to do it.  Talking about my process seems to be part of parcel of learning this form, of learning this new way to string my words together.  Talking about the difficulty I’m having actually seems to help me see new ways to approach the form.
  • I am always and always saying that I’m not a poet.  And I mean it when I say that, but I’m getting tired of hearing it.  Okay, so I’m not a poet, but I’m clearly invested in writing poetry, so I need to forget about labels and just do the work.
  • My mom scolded me over the weekend for talking disparagingly about my poetry.  She reminded me that I used to write poems all the time.  “Bad poems,” I said.  “Or good greeting card poems.”  And that’s a really obnoxious thing to say.  Don’t I look for “good greeting card poems” all the time when I’m … yes, of course … shopping for greeting cards?  I read for the things that move or amuse me, clearly finding some more powerful and effective than others, clearly assigning such judgmental labels as “good” to some and not others.  Why is it so easy to dismiss that writing because it’s used commercially?  And my claim is probably not true, in any case.  I can’t imagine any company — no matter how edgy or dysfunctional — that would have taken even one of my morose and melancholy high school poems and printed them on fancy card stock with a fancy price tag! 
  • I need to remember that there are people who will only see this one post, who won’t look back to find out that this is a Zeno poem, to find out that I’m trying to write a Zeno all April long, who won’t know what the rules of the form are … so I need to remember to include that info every day without annoying myself or the people who read here more regularly.²
  • I fell asleep before hitting “publish” on this post.  So I am agonizing over whether it’s dishonest to back-date it to the day I actuallywrote it (which is now yesterday already) or just put it up now and not be so ridiculous.  As you can see, I continue to be ridiculous.
  • Sigh.

¹ This is lifted and twisted from “The Seed at Zero,” a favorite Dylan Thomas poem.

² A Zeno has 10 lines. Syllables = 8/4/2/1/4/2/1/4/2/1. Rhyme scheme = a/b/c/d/e/f/d/g/h/d.

Catching a Tiger by the Tail

Seriously. Tonight, friends and neighbors, I want to introduce you to heidisabertooth.  I’ve known Heidi a while, but not really.  We work together, but it’s only in the last maybe 18 months that I’d say we’ve started to know each other.  Part of that is because we work much more closely together now.  Part of it is that she’s made the decision to share her music and herself as a musician with us in a way she hadn’t before.  I am hugely glad of both of these changes. 

Last month when I started the daily SOL challenge, Heidi started a much bigger challenge, creating and posting a song a day for 100 days.  I know, right?  Unbelievable.  I am bowing down even as I type this.  Her project is 100 milkteeth (if you don’t have facebook, you can go to the 100 milkteeth blog or YouTube channel).  One of the things Heidi’s been doing over the last 41 days is collaborating with other musicians and artists … and for today’s song she collaborated with ME!  She turned my mandala Zeno into song #41 (video embedded below).

I thought another fitting (though less musical) collaboration would be an interview so I could introduce her to you good and proper.  And so, ladies and gentlemen, I give you heidisabertooth:

What made you decide to launch 100 milkteeth?  What inspired you about the idea of the creating and releasing a song a day?

Well there are too many reasons to list here but one of the main reasons I wanted to create and release my work every day was to make a commitment to being in the studio every day. I wanted to kick my growth as a musician and producer into high gear — especially as a producer because that is somewhat new to me. It’s kind of like if you went to the gym every day for 100 days in a row — how could you not start seeing and feeling the results??!

How would you describe your music to someone who’s never heard it?

Maybe I can start by describing how I make my music — it is sample-driven, acoustic/electronic.  What does that mean?  Basically, I am generating all of the sounds myself from a wide variety of instruments: mandolin, guitar, trumpet, keyboard, beat machine, accordion, and many others … Then I sample onto looping pedals, and then perform the samples live through a bunch more pedals to create the song. I don’t use a computer. It is all instruments and pedals. And of course I sing too.

[I saw Heidi perform several months ago.  She’s all things at once, using hands and feet, and singing too.]

What has the song-a-day process been like so far?  How is it just like or completely different from what you anticipated?

I like this question how is it like or different than what I expected, because I am thinking about that lately.  I am quite a planner, but I really have had to take this thing day by day — it has been hard to have many expectations! My good friend just ran the NYC Marathon this fall and I was watching her prepare and I kept thinking … ‘ok, Heidi. 100 milkteeth will be like a marathon. You can prepare, but you never run the full 26 miles until the big day!’ So, I am currently maybe on about mile 10 or so … and hoping desperately that I wont get a stomach cramp!!!  🙂

I continue to be so impressed that you aren’t “only” producing a song a day, but you’re putting up a music video every day, too.  What made you opt to take on that additional challenge, and what has the visual side of the project been like for you?

Wow!  Well that decision came really late in the game. In fact I was gonna start the project 2 weeks earlier, but I started to think … how am I gonna actually get people to listen to these songs?  How am I consuming most of my new music lately? And I had to be honest — it’s mostly through video — sometime on the artist’s website but also a lot through people posting artist videos on youtube.  And I think people are practically becoming hardwired to seek out a visual component to their music listening experience. It’s everywhere — at live shows, paired with album/single releases … and it’s great!  So, I just decided it was worth the extra time and effort.  I think the technology is just there now where many people can develop both aspects. And I have to say this is the single most surprising thing about this project — because I had never worked with video before, so I was reluctant …  But I’m hooked!   I love love love love to make a video as part of my music creation process … it adds another artistic element and really gels the song for me. I will never go back to just making music — I’m multi-media all the way from now on!
Have you begun to notice any changes in the way you work? The way you approach / think about your music?  The kinds of songs you’re making? What’s this project showing you about yourself and the musicians / artists you’ve been working with?

Well, song a day forces me to just make decisions and go for it! I used to labor and agonize over too many details — analyze so much that I would overdub and re-record so much that I think sometimes I lost the original emotions that inspired the song. So I think I am capturing that a bit more now…  Although I am looking forward to a happy medium after this project is done.  I would like to have the freedom to go back to a song and maybe do some cleaner takes, work on the mix down, etc. …  But that is for later.  After all, I have another song to make TODAY!
What do you think the long-term impact of 100 milkteeth will be on your work?

I hope that the project makes me a better producer, collaborator, composer — I plan on doing all kinds of fun musical projects in the future — collaborating with all kinds of musicians, scoring some film soundtracks, performing, oh so many things — and I hope that this experience will have taught me some things about the creative process, so I can take my art to the highest level possible!  I do plan to at least get some of these milkteeth mastered (the final sweetening process for all music on the radio or on anyone’s album) and release them proper!  Perhaps even on vinyl — oh, that would be a dream.  Then who knows! Maybe there will be a market out there for me to make more! For now I am just enjoying the process and am so appreciative of all of the support and advice I’ve been getting from my friends and listeners. Whatever the outcome, this music thing is here with me to stay — we have a great time together — I’m like a kid in the studio, and that fits me just right.  🙂 🙂

And here is today’s milktooth, Mandala:


How much fun is that?!  Good thing the first Zeno I wrote is also the most successful one so far.  Tonight’s — an effort to capture my collaboration with Heidi — is a little less on target, but I’m happy with it all the same.  Go listen to Heidi’s other songs!

Her music running through my words —
shared creation,
doors flung
Shared creation.
This smooth
I’ll remember.

Love inspires.

Today my niece is 13.  That shocks and amazes me.  Isn’t she still two and a half?  Isn’t she 30?  I’ve written a poem for her birthday each of the last three years, each year that I’ve pushed myself to explore a form for the month of April.  So now she has a tanka, a Rhyme Royale and a nove otto … and now she’ll have a Zeno.  If I somehow manage to keep this up, one day I’ll be able to make her a book made entirely of my love poems to her!

God child. A spring bloom in my life.
Watching you grow,
my heart
Your energy —
hot, sharp,
Our connection,

Lilac Memory

Lilacs smell like falling in love.
Didn’t you know?
That day,
full, scented sweet,
your breath
light on my neck,
my heart

Listening to Prince tonight (yes, again!) on my way back to New York from my Easter with Fox and my mom.  When Doves Cry shuffles up to the top of the playlist and I am instantly thrown back in time to an ampitheater, a cool spring evening, technicians blasting that song for a sound check and me: seated high in the stands, not quite leaning against Damir, a friend of a friend, a man I had just met who was showing me the city.  I had known him twelve hours.  It was too early to know how completely I would fall for him, but already there was something. We sat, nearly touching, my foot tapping along with Prince, the air thick with newly-bloomed lilacs, that huge stone theatre our private space for those moments.  There was something.  The strengthening pull of the attraction I’d felt the moment I’d seen him that morning, static electricity sparking warmth between our not-touching hands, our not-touching thighs, between my senses and his freshly-showered skin, his aftershave, and all those lilacs, lilacs and lilacs.


Clearly I’m not going to manage a poem or post a day for April.  In part, this is due to my utter exhaustion after stepping up my game and posting every day for March’s slice of life challenge.  Sadly, I think it’s also due to my insistence on staying exclusively with the Zeno.  This form is kicking. my. butt.  Soundly.  Soundly.

But tonight I heard Prince and remembered the lilacs and suddenly there was a poem.

So, no daily posts.  And I’m determined not to beat myself up about it (thank you, Fox, for pointing out that such abuse is uncalled for).  I’ll do the best I can, and we’ll see where that gets us.

Oh. And, because a few people asked, here’s the set-up for a Zeno poem:

ten lines with the syllable count 8/4/2/1/4/2/1/4/2/1
and, to make it fun, there’s a rhyme scheme, too: a/b/c/d/e/f/d/g/h/d

Have fun!

SOL: Just Write

Ego Tripping (excerpt)

I was born in the congo
I walked to the fertile crescent and built
the sphinx
I designed a pyramid so tough that a star
that only glows every one hundred years falls
into the center giving divine perfect light
I am bad

— Nikki Giovanni

Let’s just say it now: there are too many things to love about Nikki Giovanni.  She is such an incandescently bright light.  Her voice, her words, her eyes, her smile.  She is a gift to all of us.  And she is most definitely bad.


And the itchy-scratchy struggle with the Zeno continues.  I’m not really feeling very “poem-y” these days.  Not sure what that’s about.  I remember hearing Germaine Greer speak years ago and during the Q&A someone asked her what she did when she had writers’ block.  Her answer was, “Write.”  At the time, I remember thinking that wasn’t a kind answer, that the person who asked was clearly struggling and wanting something to help her get through to the other side and Greer’s answer seems so flip.  But she was so perfectly right, though, wasn’t she?  The only way to get past whatever’s in my way with writing is to put pen to paper.  I’m certainly not going to get past it by laying about moaning on over over.  And so the Zeno and my decision to try to write one every day for April.  I keep fighting it … and keep writing, too.  I know that eventually something’s going to click and I’m going to feel this form.  I’m not anywhere near there yet, however …

Sometimes I can forget my name.
I am blank canvas
with the trying.

And yet —
hand still open,


It’s the first Tuesday since the end of the month-long slice-of-life challenge … and that means it’s time for Tuesday SOLs again!
You can see today’s slices of life over at Two Writing Teachers.