Odes

coalIn poetry class, you are writing odes, odes to soap, music, somebody’s distant cousin–even the sound S makes as you assemble an alliterative sentence. You are crafting tributes to colors and memories and all of the things you love in the world.

You are in front of the classroom describing how the gray blue tile you hold between your fingertips, a color you have named dad’s truck blue, a sort of primer blue hue, reminds you of dad’s old Chevy Apache. And, you explain how when you initially see this shade it reminds you of your first sleeping bag, but it is, in fact, more the shade of the vehicle that was dramatically flattened under a ginormous tamarisk in the late 70s. Decades later, this  tint can still evoke the explosive sound of the tree untethering from the earth just outside the chickens’ coop.

You read recently about Polish idioms, that Polish people don’t daydream. Instead, they think of blue almonds. They don’t speak bluntly. Rather, they tell it straight from the bridge. They don’t beat around the bush; they wrap the truth in cotton. And, you think this is the poet’s work; you spend entire days thinking of blue almonds, lecturing from bridges, and softening the truth.

You think about all of the odes there are left to write: salutes to Warsaw traffic, praise for pickled eggs and beets and herring, testimony for trust and faith and lust, homages to the lost, to the sky streaked with coal, to drunk people falling softly in snow, to every gilded representation of Jesus, to meeting your husband’s relatives who don’t speak your language–still they look into your face and love, love, love you anyway.

The world is composed of stories…

OLS Writers' Conference 2018 Flyer

The writers’ conference is coming soon!

Even sooner, we are seeking submissions through the end of February for the literary journal. Submissions can be posted online at: https://cosumnesriverjournal.submittable.com/submit

And, my online Creative Writing students are blogging at:

No Day

911 quote

On the way to Poland for winter break, M and I spent a couple of days touring New York City. One of the places we visited was the hallowed ground of the 9/11 memorial. It is a startling amphitheater of  deep sorrow,  a mausoleum for the 2,977 lost, a monument of remembrance for  the survivors–and the rest of us. It is horror amplified to sensory overload with the sounds of sirens and phone calls and news and the photographs of people frozen in disbelief, dumbstruck, confused, terrified.

There is an urgent seriousness buzzing through the halls, as if the tragedy hovers over us–and it does. I did not know how heavy the news of this particular morning (this vast crime) wears within me. Wandering through the exhibits, the heaviness inflates again with sorrow, and I am almost bursting with the deeply personal stories of the people.

Today is the birthday of a handful of victims whose names are marked with a white rose and whose stories play in a dark room, as a vigil of sorts, with friends telling the stories of their loved ones, how brilliantly they lived, how tremendous the loss.

How tremendous the loss. “No day shall erase you,” I am reminded at my discomfort. “No day shall erase you,” I promise to the void.

“No day shall erase you,” reminds the adamant woman who survived the terrorist attacks in 1993 and again in 2001 by climbing down the stairs, these same stairs where she reports to work each morning as a docent bound to share her story and the stories of those who cannot.

*

I am headed to Poland, and people keep asking me which Polish writers I like. And, I stall, wondering if I have categorized writers by country. I have not. I report that I know I love anything by Wislawa Szymborska. I think of her poem “Hatred” and how relevant it is now–and probably forever. I research other Polish writers and pull out pieces that might accompany blog posts.

*

I am searching now for other poets’ takes on 9/11. And, the first piece I find comes up Symborska. An audio poem with no companion text, it does not prepare me. It does not prepare me:  Photograph from September 11.

*

No day.

  • White roses, stories, monuments, museums, poems, and more combat erasure. What must we remember?

 

[More on Virgil’s quote.]

Even

 

“Even when folks are hitting you over the head, you can’t stop marching. Even when they’re turning the hoses on you, you can’t stop.” – -Barack Obama

Even though your voice is tired from preaching to the choir and anyone with ears and a heart, even though the plodding makes you ache, even when (perhaps especially when) it makes you afraid, even if you must crawl, you must. Even though some days you believe humans are incapable of goodness, of anything more than greed; though you doubt the point of this life or that any hope or light can guide us through darkness, you must march onward, bear witness, rage with all of your might.

Yesterday in poetry class we discussed how last week I speculated that all poems are love poems, but today I insist all poems are political poems. We realize this is not a “but” but an “and,” that these two approaches are not mutually exclusive.  In fact, they are complementary. We discuss Leroy V. Quintana’s “Poem for U-Haul,” from the anthology Poetry Like Bread. (https://www.amazon.com/Poetry-Like-Bread-Martin-Espada/dp/1880684748/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1517383267&sr=8-1&keywords=poetry+like+bread). The poem is a four-line masterpiece that shows how a simple and awful domestic scene can inspire reaction and even action. One of the students says sometimes the act of finally loving oneself is a political one.

Hours later, I am still excited about the conversation from class, about the imperative for writing to be “like bread” instead of  as “like cake”–or “caviar,” of the power of words to express love and show us the way to justice.

According to The Guardian, “Nobel laureate Nadine Gordimer, whose novels and stories record and define apartheid, argues that a writer’s highest calling is to bear witness to the evils of conflict and injustice.”

  • Write a love poem on the evils of conflict and injustice.

 

Whap

Sock
Merry Christmas!
I was about to draft a list titled what I like best about Oaxaca, but, before I could start, a man hit my arm with his plastic patio chair and ran to fetch an expensive pair of sunglasses he’d left in the restroom.
See that would be a good title to accompany one of the German artist’s pieces.
How do I know this? When he returned, he leaned into my face to tell me the glasses were expensive and that he had paid more than four thousand pesos for them. I wanted to slap his stupid sunglasses out of his hands.
Instead, I said: ok, packed up my things, and left.  I could feel the celebratory inventory of sounds and scents and stories simply vanish with the quick whap of the chair.
  • I was thinking about what happened and how:
    • 1. the incident was significantly palpable and audible
    • 2. the onomatopoeia of the instant marked a change in me.
This made me look for pieces featuring onomatopoeia. Among the pieces, I found: “toon tune,” by Gustave Morin: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poems/51817/toon-tune. It is an odd piece as the words are embedded in the collage of cartoons. This piece is a delightful play on words–and with words as well as colors and images. This made me think of Susan Howe and her collage pieces: http://www.raintaxi.com/write-through-this-the-poetry-of-susan-howe/. Make your own collage.

One Sock Almost Always Demands Its Pair

IMG_5172.JPG
I tell the friendly woman at the laundry that a pair of some other woman’s underwear (or interior clothing) made it into my bag. She says sometimes they are small and hide in the dryer. I agree that they are indeed small.
She laughsand offers the trivia that it is rare for people to return in search of panties, but one sock almost always demands its pair. Neither do people seem to notice the lost washcloth.I
I am grateful for insider information such as this. Of course, I don’t know its immediate application to my life and travels, but I am grateful that I can engage in this sort of small talk with someone who’s smiling and interested in my interest in her domain.
I’m off to the tailor in the market to try out new words.
I can’t help but recall the warning of WS Merwin in his short prose poem “Language,” from: https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/language
Certain words now in our knowledge we will not use again, and we will never forget them. We need them. Like the back of the picture. Like our marrow, and the color in our veins. We shine the lantern of our sleep on them, to make sure, and there they are, trembling already for the day of witness. They will be buried with us, and rise with the rest.
  • Which words will you be buried with? Why?

Audience

I’m sitting at Subway in the spotlight of vendors of a variety of things. Necklaces, spoons, bookmarks, a toy with chickens pecking at seeds, bubbles, books, music, candies, chargers, chess sets, birdcages, paintings, bracelets, floral crowns, blouses, purses, balloons, rugs, jewelry boxes, tablecloths, scarves, blouses, skirts, masks, flowers, and a range of services: caricatures, portraits, hair braiding, tattooing, song, and whatever it is that clowns do.

The three old guys drinking coffee and sitting next to me are as regular as the constellation of flies that own the bistro tables surrounding the zocalo.
One man insists they must move as the sun floods his seat. He’s says he fears turning the “color of a sausage.”  I refrain from laughing because part of the trick of being a tourist is convincing the locals I understand only a little of what’s going on.
That’s mostly true anyway, but reactions can frighten some into holding their tongues.
The man next to me is out of his chair offering a vociferous theater performance of an argument he had with a child. I think he’s pantomiming for my sake. He’s replicating yelling in a funny voice, perhaps a woman’s.
Certainly he has discerned that I’m an eager audience.
Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, in “Audience,” explains:

1

People think, at the theatre, an audience is tricked into believing it’s looking at life.

The film image is so large, it goes straight into your head.

There’s no room to be aware of or interested in people around you.
In sequence three, she writes:

My story is about the human race in conflict with itself and nature.
 https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/audience
  • What is it that you want your audience to understand about your story?