{…but, history keeps the score}

After Psalm 137

Anne Porter

We’re still in Babylon but
We do not weep
Why should we weep?
We have forgotten
How to weep

We’ve sold our harps
And bought ourselves machines
That do our singing for us
And who remembers now
The songs we sang in Zion?

(The rest of the poem is here.)

These words have come back to haunt me repeatedly this past week… the beauty and power of Porter’s poem remind us that not only have we forgotten how to weep, the reasons we were meant to weep, and that we ever sang, we’ve also not really got time for any of the above… History rushes us on, and tomorrow, there will be another reason for outrage, if not for song, as The Globe predicts.

This week, Mitali Perkins’ Twitter comment that “Social media is a shallow container for grief” was poignant and empathetic, though yesterday, I felt like adding “…and, collective memory is a deep colander.” Not only are we failing to assign any real thought to things, in the fast-paced give-and-take of conversation on our Facebook feeds, we aren’t taking the time to fact-check before we state and repeat. I found this to be true this week in myriad comments I heard about school shootings.

The world has grown dangerous, is the usual cant, and I didn’t sign on for this, and We should arm teachers, and the classic, In Free America, they’ll take my guns from out of my cold, dead hands. (Yes, ol’ Charleton’s long dead, but apparently, still armed.) These are comments from smart people, too, but what they’re saying isn’t very intelligent… because school shootings are not, unfortunately, a recent phenomenon of a world gone suddenly, inexplicably crazy.

Because we forget things so fast, having new images and information crammed into our heads all the time, it’s forgivable, in some respects, to think that Columbine’s tragedy in 1999 was the beginning of a new trend in American violence. It was not. Setting aside violence perpetuated as a result of the Reconstruction, and against tribal groups in the American West, there’s a long historical trail of violence against students in schools, some specifically Civil Rights related, others directed by law enforcement for reasons of “public safety.” I remember being in high school when a man blew up his van in Stockton, CA, which was parked by a school, and then, in the ensuing chaos, shot into a playground, killing mostly Hmong kids. That was 1989. There has been so much violence since, and so much violence before 1999, when the most infamous school tragedy happened in Colorado.

We forget. But, history keeps a scorecard, riddled with holes and gunpowder burns.

In 1989 reporters argued that the bitter alcoholic man who killed all of those Cambodian and Vietnamese refugee kids shouldn’t have been able to get access to an AK-47. He’d had depression, and showed signs of mental issues. The Colorado students had posted questionable things on their Facebook. How could this have happened? the community raged. And yet, it did happen, and it has happened again, and again, and again, over, and over, and over…

And, in between, we hang up our harps and post cat videos on our Instagram. Until the next event for collective, ineffectual rage is called for.


And speaking of rage: I’m flattered that people felt so moved by my last blog post on the children’s publishing industry’s sexual harassment outrage/racist indifference that they’ve followed my Twitter and have tried to contact me for comment. To the many more who retweeted and boosted my thoughts, thank you. I’ve watched, as people have taken the “pay attention” that Debbie and Tracey tweeted and further characterized that post as “raging” – albeit beautifully, or as an essay “venting frustrations” albeit “eloquently,” and as “furious” albeit again with the modifier “beautiful.” It is… telling, to me, how even people who are trying to show they’re on your side can mischaracterize thoughts and intentions so easily. The Angry Black Woman trope is ever, ever before us; ever pervasive. Truth is, I was not furious when I wrote that blog post, I was factual. If I, as a black woman, got mad every time there was an injustice, I’d never do anything else. This wasn’t raging, this was Tuesday, and me thinking an issue through, and processing it in written form, as I often do…. This is why I mostly blog and often don’t speak up about things on social media. It’s just too, too easy for even those who appreciate us to misunderstand tone or intent, and for that misunderstanding to be a springboard to some other person’s soapbox. I appreciate so many people reading with and thinking with me – and there’s definitely a time and a use for anger – but I’ll save my rage for when I believe it will tilt the scales toward justice.

{“…after the watermelon thing.”}

I told you! I told Jackie she was going to win. And I said that if she won, I would tell all of you something I learned this summer, which is that Jackie Woodson is allergic to watermelon. Just let that sink in your mind.

And I said you have to put that in a book. And she said, you put that in a book. And I said I am only writing a book about a black girl who is allergic to watermelon if I get a blurb from you, Cornell West, Toni Morrison, and Barack Obama saying,”This guy’s okay. This guy’s fine.”

Yeah, remember that? 2014, the National Book Award, televised on C-SPAN and elsewhere. People are so heartened to see African Americans on the National Book Award finalist list. Poets and writers and people of letters are tuning in. In the children’s lit community, we’re thrilled that Jacqueline Woodson, one of our steady bright lights in YA literature, has won. She’s earned that BIG award, one which will thrust her outside the quieter waters of children’s lit, and… in that moment, the professional crowning pinnacle of her success thus far, the presenter makes …a watermelon joke.

“In a few short words, the audience and I were asked to take a step back from everything I’ve ever written, a step back from the power and meaning of the National Book Award, lest we forget, lest I forget, where I came from.” – Jacqueline Woodson, quoted in the New York Times.

He had an hundred million reasons why, later, he had remarked so disparagingly on the poets who were nominated, why he had told jokes and tried to wrest the attention of the crowd from the nominees onto his vast and hungry ego. But, it wasn’t personal; he cried no foul, she’s my friend! a thousand times, and yet, that moment, those sly, knowing words sliced thousands of us to ribbons, as the audience laughed, and a tall, serene woman had to stand – and yet again, endure. Endure. Endure, with her face at peace, as if the buffoonery of the man before her didn’t reach her.

I don’t support hate, and yet, in that moment, that dizzyingly visceral emotion shivered in my sight. Gut-punched, I wanted to both hiss and claw, scream and spit. As far as I was concerned, that man was finished, and I was done with him and all his works, forever. I never bought, reviewed, read, or talked of anything else he said or did. It made no difference to his life, I am sure, but it seemed right, to me, to simply use my internal Wite-Out and blot him from my notice for the rest of forever. I was fully over this “problematic” favorite.

It’s clear that I’m still sitting with our current moment in the children’s lit industry, trying to work through it, and thinking about the last time that so many voices came together to exclaim in disgust. It was for our Ms. Woodson, and rightly so. The commentary was sharp, and loud – and ultimately… was placated by the huge monetary donation Handler gave to We Need Diverse Books. And then, most of the voices were hushed, pressing their hands against the shoulders of those who still rose up, and their hands over the mouths of those still bitterly protesting. He apologized. He made it right. You can’t judge people on what they say.

But, yesterday, after Handler wandered flat-footedly into the pages of children’s lit history again, this time into the earnest signatories of the #ustoo pledge, wherein members of the children’s lit industry pledged to hold accountable conferences and gatherings, and not attend those which have no clear sexual harassment policy, people took him to task for his very clear participation IN the harassment. The very innuendo-laden jokes, in front of children and adults. The demeaning sexual talk. But — he apologized. He made it right. You can’t judge people on what they say.

It seems clear that you can, unless what they say is racist.

In my small and petty way, I blocked Daniel Handler from my sight years ago – but he’s still been doing things, writing, being invited places, feted within the industry, and I’m the doofus who didn’t realize that his “little faux pas” on Ms. Woodson’s big night had long been forgotten.

But, as Heidi so succinctly asked, didn’t we figure out this guy was trash after the watermelon thing? What are we doing still courting that kind of person to be a speaker and to visit classrooms? Why don’t we seem to take the humiliation, shame, and harm of racism as seriously as we’re all endeavoring to take the #metoo harassment thing?

In all seriousness – is a #metoo movement going to actually succeed if, once again, racism is instructed to take a seat at the back of the bus?

1897. “The day before the inauguration of the nation’s 28th president the Congressional Committee of NAWSA hosted a large parade on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. The idea behind this was to maximize onlookers who happened to be in town to attend the inauguration. Woodrow Wilson expected a crowd at the train station to greet him; however, very few people actually showed up to greet the president, the largest part of the crowd was his staff. The parade was led by the beautiful lawyer Inez Milholland Bouissevain upon a white horse. This image of her as a warrior atop a horse is what made her an iconic image in the fight for womens’ right to vote. This massive parade consisted of no less than nine bands. It also included four brigades on horseback and close to eight thousand marchers. The parade was cut into sections: working women, state delegates, male suffragists, and finally African-American women.

The point of the parade was “to march in the spirit of protest against the present political organization of society, from which women are excluded.”

Ida B. Wells-Barnett, the journalist who led an anti-lynching campaign in the late nineteenth century, organized the Alpha Suffrage Club among Black women in Chicago and brought members with her to participate in the 1913 suffrage parade in Washington, D.C. The organizers of the march asked that they walk at the end of the parade. She tried to get the White Illinois delegation to support her opposition of this segregation, but found few supporters. They either would march at the end or not at all. Ida refused to march, but as the parade progressed, Ida emerged from the crowd and joined the White Illinois delegation, marching between two White supporters. She refused to comply with the segregation.”

– Excerpts taken from One of Divided Sisters: Bridging the Gap Between Black and White Women by Midge Wilson & Kathy Russell, Anchor, 1996, and PBS.org.

I think I’ve been naive, and pretty quiet – but it’s clear the time for my naive assumptions is way over.

{so very Monday}

Newark 107

No idea what kind of flower this is, but it was unfurling outside the post office where I – finally, after entirely removing three chapters I’d moved around in the narrative twice before – mailed off my latest project.

I shall take a tiny moment and say “Hurray!”


There is a lot swirling through my head this morning: yesterday, I attended a community concert on behalf of our chamber choir, and upon returning home a.) found out that the mother of a dear Scottish friend of mine has died, a woman I had met and enjoyed; b.) was told a “you’re-not-supposed-to-know” update on my Dad’s cancer, c.) then, my autoimmune disorder, which over the last two weeks lulled me into a false sense of serenity, bloomed out in full malevolent force, and d.) myriad people asked me if I knew what was going with Anne Ursu’s report, and the subsequent discussion in School Library Journal on sexual harassment in the children’s lit industry. (After a bit, the comments are NOT worth reading. Reader discretion is advised.)

I decided to take a bath and go to bed.

Today is a new day, and everything I tried to ignore yesterday has returned to pay a call. In triplicate.

There is so much good – all of the Youth Media Awards from the ALA are in and faaaabulous, and Erin Estrada Kelly’s win is well overdue, so I’m thrilled she’s being honored; the fourth Asian overall, and the first Filipina to BE honored with a Newberry by the American Library Association – within the horrible, there are shades of wonderful swirling past (Witness Rick Riordan’s commentary and Gwenda’s sterling response and empowerment to the community.). Still, I feel like I’ve been caught in a hurricane, one the forecaster had predicted, but which had been ignored.

So, here’s a song to which you can sit and breathe… and then, get up, and head back into the fray.

{pf: seven sisters and a february tanka}

Another month (was January sixteen years long, or was that just me???), another poetic endeavor with the Seven Sisters! This month we’re visiting Moscow (brrr, in spirit only, it’s far too chilly to venture that direction these days) to stride the wide boulevards surrounding this lovely bit of Moscow called by Muscovites “Vysotniye Zdaniye,” or “the tall buildings.” That nondescript description is more fancifully known to Westerners as “Stalin’s Seven Sisters.” While this is basically one gigantic architectural wedding cake, each of the seven buildings has its own distinct spire.

In our poetic endeavors this month, we’ve been tasked to create tankas – but with a tiny catch. Our topics were chosen for us, as each of us was to respond this month to another sister’s sonnet from last month. You’ll find Sara’s here, right here is Liz’s; Laura’s is here, and along with an explanation of the form, Kelly’s is here, and Tricia’s, here. We wish Andi a happy February, and hope catch up with her another time.

I am fairly certain that I got the easiest assignment out of the crew. Kelly’s winsome little beauty, Kismet made words sparkle from Kelly’s pen, and certainly Kismet easily lent herself to the tanka form, which traditionally celebrated the glories of nature. Well, nothing more natural than a cat falling asleep while plotting world domination, right? I mean, if they could just stay awake long enough, we might need to worry. But, otherwise, nah.

I played with the idea of what it means to “respond” to the sonnet, and, since we’ve encountered tankas before repeatedly in this poetry project, I also tried harder on the “turn,” that comes in the third line of the tanka form. Conventional wisdom suggests that this “turn” could be both used as a widening of perspective, bridging topics between the top and bottom lines, or for a complete turn of attitude. This makes it fun to use Kismet in the sense of destiny, and as the subject of our poems.

o, mighty huntress

russet drab, and dun
flap/flutter/peck unceasing.
double-glazed reprieve
denies this bat-eared huntress.
Crouch gains curl, then, pounce turns purr.

days of dozing

what calico dreams
await the fuzzball, sleeping?
the feline kismet
paws splayed, claws keen to capture
at least one fluffed-up sparrow.

as told by k2

sunbeams shift closer
that translucent obstacle
unimpaired by claws slashing
frames distraction. my human,
eyes dreaming, hears Muses sing

wayfarer

all hard ground and horns
the world is colder, outside
landing on her feet
she’s found warm laps and purring
not all who wander stay lost

Around Glasgow 596

Last week’s Poetry Friday host, Carol Varsalona, invited me to join the Winter Wonderland Gallery, where throughout the months of January and February, the poetry community will be sharing poems, photography, illustrations and reflections on the stillness and artistry of the natural world this season. Carol invites us to share “YOUR perspective of the winter season in any of these mediums: photographs, videos, digital slide shows, songs musical compositions, artistic renderings, collages, illustrations, digital inspirations, image poems, inspirational quotes, sketches, or hand-draw pictures. Share your inspirations globally.” Drop by, friends, and check it out.

Meanwhile, further poetry can be found at Poetry Friday, hosted this week by Donna JT Smith @ Mainley Write.

Pack as much introspection and discovery as you can into these crisp winter mornings. It’s the shortest month of the year. Make every day significant.

{poetry friday: from tricia’s yoga class}

This is one of those times when I use the blog as more a repository of thoughts I wish to keep than an accounting of my days… but I will say I finished my latest WIP yesterday, and am in that liminal space of “is it reasonably good enough, or does it need to age a bit while I fiddle.” I’m playing the piano a lot and cleaning house while I figure it out. And Tricia’s helping, by sending me the poetry she hears in her apparently amazing yoga class. Here’s another one:

BEING HUMAN

I wonder if the sun debates dawn

some mornings

not wanting to rise

out of bed

from under the down-feather horizon

if the sky grows tired

of being everywhere at once

adapting to the mood

swings of the weather

if clouds drift off

trying to hold themselves together

make deals with gravity

to loiter a little longer

I wonder if rain is scared

of falling

if it has trouble

letting go

if snowflakes get sick

of being perfect all the time

each one

trying to be one-of-a-kind

I wonder if stars wish

upon themselves before the die

if they need to teach their young

how to shine

I wonder if shadows long

to just-for-once feel the sun

if they get lost in the shuffle

not knowing where they’re from

I wonder if sunrise

and sunset

respect each other

even though they’ve never met

if volcanoes get stressed

if storms have regrets

if compost believes in life

after death

I wonder if breath ever thinks of suicide

if the wind just wants to sit

still sometimes

and watch the world pass by

if smoke was born

knowing how to rise

if rainbows get shy back stage

not sure if their colors match right

I wonder if lightning sets an alarm clock

to know when to crack

if rivers ever stop

and think of turning back

if streams meet the wrong sea

and their whole lives run off-track

I wonder if the snow

wants to be black

if the soil thinks she’s too dark

if butterflies want to cover up their marks

if rocks are self-conscious of their weight

if mountains are insecure of their strength

I wonder if waves get discouraged

crawling up the sand

only to be pulled back again

to where they began

Read the rest here.

~by Naima, Copyright © 2015 Climbing PoeTree, all rights reserved.

All that the earth has to do is …be.

In all of our striving and reaching, may we, too, take some time to breathe into who we are: humans, being.


Thanks to Carol Varsalona for hosting Poetry Friday at Beyond Literacy Link; click though for more poetry.

{thank you for being here}

Content warning: suicide.

A few years ago, Jennifer Michael Hecht’s book Stay: A History of Suicide and the Philosophies Against It offered a lot of people encouragement. Here is a snippet of an interview where she talks about some of the research for the book, and makes a good point about the impact of a suicide, and peripherally, why she wrote the book.

Dear ones, thank you for being here.

{invicta animi, & rest in Earthsea, ursula k. leguin}

Dear Readers, today we lost a sage.

…Success is somebody else’s failure. Success is the American Dream we can keep dreaming because most people in most places, including thirty million of ourselves, live wide awake in the terrible reality of poverty. No, I do not wish you success. I don’t even want to talk about it. I want to talk about failure.

Because you are human beings you are going to meet failure. You are going to meet disappointment, injustice, betrayal, and irreparable loss. You will find you’re weak where you thought yourself strong. You’ll work for possessions and then find they possess you. You will find yourself — as I know you already have — in dark places, alone, and afraid.

What I hope for you, for all my sisters and daughters, brothers and sons, is that you will be able to live there, in the dark place. To live in the place that our rationalizing culture of success denies, calling it a place of exile, uninhabitable, foreign.

…And when you fail, and are defeated, and in pain, and in the dark, then I hope you will remember that darkness is your country, where you live, where no wars are fought and no wars are won, but where the future is. Our roots are in the dark; the earth is our country. Why did we look up for blessing — instead of around, and down? What hope we have lies there. Not in the sky full of orbiting spy-eyes and weaponry, but in the earth we have looked down upon. Not from above, but from below. Not in the light that blinds, but in the dark that nourishes, where human beings grow human souls.

~ from the 1983 Mills College, A Left-Handed Commencement Address,” by Ursula K. LeGuin.

Thank you for everything, especially the Hainish novels, which truly brought me truths from fiction. May we always see differences in the world with kinder eyes.

2♦sday Flicktions

If you hadn’t heard about the Tuesday Flicktions challenge some of my writing group is participating in, I hope you’ll pop over to Wonderland to read a basic write-up about it why we’re doing it, and to find links to other people’s poems and stories. If you do know about our writing exercise challenge, well, then, below is this month’s image, and the following is my little scribble about it. Enjoy!

Harryhausen Skeletons

Harryhausen Skeletons, by Flickr user Jürgen Fauth of Berlin.


Caught Up In Wire And Plaster

A heavy steam of golden syrup through our single-pane window, the sunbeam pressed me deeper within my nest of blankets, sweetly contented and relaxed. With my father elsewhere, and chores and other duties finally discharged, I was gleefully blessed with time to myself. I turned on our massive console TV to Channel 20, to find the Sunday Afternoon Movie. Always a double-feature, with no commercials allowed, the Sunday Afternoon Movie was pure gold. One never knew which cinematic clinkers would be unearthed each week; they ran the gamut from the Wizard of Oz to Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, from Cleopatra to Cat Ballou. While my sisters would skive off to watch more modern shows on my parents’ tiny bedroom TV, I was all in favor of the oldies. If it was, as she called it, a “spaghetti Western,” my mother would settle in behind me, and drop off to sleep on the couch, while I watched with glorious abandon, my permission all but guaranteed by my mother’s insensate body. Though sometimes I was bored (I wasn’t as big a fan of Bridge Over the River Kwai or Lawrence of Arabia), and I spent more time with Shirley Temple and Bob Hope than can reasonably be expected of someone with the intent to retain their sanity, this Sunday afternoon tradition was a rare oasis of calm in a contentious household.

This week, there was a pair of adventure films on the bill. In the first, there were interesting costumes and a lot of dialogue – too much for me, so it was mostly ignored. At nine, I was vastly interested only if there would be dancing, animals, or stunts. Robberies, shoot-outs, and kissing scene were where I squinched my eyes closed, and if there was too much talking, I sometimes wandered away entirely. To my mind, this movie had a LOT of talking, but eventually, the bald, eye-glowy guy in fancy robes, the young woman, the other guy in a sort of baggy-ankled pant, eventually got …somewhere. The bald man did things, then disappeared, and then, only the couple were hurrying through a cave made up of improbably sharp stalactites and massive boulders, when suddenly, they come upon a chained dragon, scaly scale flexing mechanically. On cue, the woman gives a sharp, cinematic scream as another monster – a cyclops? – appears. They’re trapped, of course, between greater evil and lesser evils, but baggy-pants has a plan, and he somehow loses the dragon. Entranced, I leaned forward, toppled, and sank into the story without a splash.

It was a glorious afternoon. The acting was stilted, the monsters, completely ridiculous, and the stutter-step of the stop-motion animation of the skeletons as they emerged from underground and attacked the Argonauts – with eerie screams from what vocal chords? – was both hilarious and compelling. I was hooked, moving closer and closer to the television.

And then, from behind me, my father grunted, “Huh.”

I jumped.

I rarely lost track of my father, ever. Knowing his location was important, and as every rabbit watches obsessively for hawks, I watched for him. When he was home, the floor seemed made of glass, being scored by diamond-sharp words and cutting silences. When he drove away, the walls leaned in and exhaled, and chronic tensions which had held the foundations tense shifted, softening the floor and resettling the roof.
I turned my head, trying to watch him from the corner of my eye. Now that I thought about it, I’d vaguely heard a car in the drive, but when the front door hadn’t opened, I’d relaxed my guard. He’d come in through the backyard, I guessed. And now, when I was so deep into the story – and so close to the TV – that now, when I was dying to know how it ended, now he’d returned, and was staring, hands on hips, at the TV. Now was the silent judgment, but next would come the pounce, as his body uncoiled, one hand shooting forward to jab to the OFF button, while the other would come down, a weighty pincher claw on my shoulder. Then would come the tightly gritted lecture, perhaps the one where he told me that he had something for me to do, if I had nothing else to do but “waste the Lord’s time.”

I held my body to unnatural stillness, pushing internal furniture aside to lock down emotional response and resistance; already a rabbit going limp, even as I fumed that now I would never know how the skeletons got out from underground with shields and swords, nor would I know the outcome of the fight. The Sunday Afternoon movie rota would move on, and they might never show it again.

“Huh,” my father said again, then, rasping a hand over his scruffy chin asked, “That Sinbad?”

Warily, I turned my head. “Maybe,” I said. When he only hmphed again, I ventured. “It might be. See, there was this dragon, and then, these giant birds…”

“Naw, don’t remember all of that. That’s the skeletons, though.” He stood, transfixed, and so I turned, too, watching with him as the skeletons leapt in awkward jerky motion, and with voiceless yells, brandished menacing swords. Jason – or Sinbad? – and his men fought valiantly, heroic and dying dramatically, yet emerging at last, triumphant against their deadly wire and plaster foes.

When the scene changed, I heard my father shift behind me, and blow out a breath. I sat back again, waiting.

“Huh. Sinbad,” he said again, shaking his head with a chuckle. I sat, blinking, as he walked off, adding from around the corner, “Sit back from that TV some.”

I scrambled to comply, a rabbit streaking for the bushes, now that the hawk has passed by.

And so, my father went his way, perhaps to do something important and mystifying with a stub of pencil, grout, and a triangle rule. And, as I sank into the story once again, the foundations shifted, and the floor softened. From above my nest of blankets, the roof resettled.

{this is both hysterical and disheartening}

“Some Little Bug Is Going To Find You (Someday)

In these days of indigestion it is oftentimes a question
As to what to eat and what to leave alone.
Every microbe and bacillus has a different way to kill us
And in time they all will claim us for their own.
There are germs of every kind in every food that you can find
In the market or upon the bill of fare.
Drinking water’s just as risky as the so-called “deadly” whiskey
And it’s often a mistake to breathe the air.

For some little bug is going to get you someday.
Some little bug will creep behind you someday.
Then he’ll send for his bug friends
And all your troubles they will end,
For some little bug is gonna find you someday.

The inviting green cucumber, it’s most everybody’s number
While sweetcorn has a system of its own.
Now, that radish seems nutritious, but its behavior is quite vicious
And a doctor will be coming to your home.
Eating lobster, cooked or plain, is only flirting with ptomaine,
While an oyster often has a lot to say.
And those clams we eat in chowder make the angels sing the louder
For they know that they ‘II be with us right away.

For some little bug is going to get you someday.
Some little bug will creep behind you someday.
Eat that juicy sliced pineapple,
And the sexton dusts the chapel
Oh, yes, some little bug is gonna find you someday.

When cold storage vaults I visit, I can only say, “What is it
Makes poor mortals fill their systems with such stuff?”
Now, at breakfast prunes are dandy if a stomach pump is handy
And a doctor can be called quite soon enough.
Eat a plate of fine pig’s knuckles and the headstone cutter chuckles
While the gravedigger makes a mark upon his cuff.
And eat that lovely red bologna and you ‘II wear a wood kimona
As your relatives start packing up your stuff.

For some little bug is going to get you someday.
Some little bug will creep behind you someday.
Then he’ll send for his bug friends
And all your troubles they will end,
For some little bug is gonna find you someday.

Those crazy foods they fix, they’ll float us ‘cross the River Styx
Or start us climbing up the Milky Way.
And those meals they serve in courses mean a hearse and two black horses
So before meals, some people always pray.
Luscious grapes breed appendicitis, while their juice leads to gastritis
So there’s only death to greet us either way.
Fried liver’s nice, but mind you, friends will follow close behind you
And the papers, they will have nice things to say.

In my copious spare time (oh, hahaha) I’m helping find selections for our chamber’s comedy concert, and this song will NOT be one of the selections I suggest…! All I have to say is that 1916 was hardcore with their humor… but these people knew from epidemics, especially since the influenza one reached peak fatality only two years later. Oy.

{deep breath & welcome back}

It’s the first Friday of the first month of the new year, and we’re here again, against all odds. Happy New Year, dear ones, and all hail the dreams of faraway places. Someday, may we meet in Norway. Or anywhere where there’s a place to read in the sun, and quiet adventures….

Already its been an eventful year – SnoCyclonopolis 2018, earthquakes, floods, and nonsense. Good thing we have poetry to make… well, if not make sense of it all, certainly to give us something delightful to look at while we ignore the rest of what’s going on…

Once again, our poetry addiction has brought the sisters of stanzas together for another year… we’re once again pushing ourselves past our comfort zones and poetic boundaries with January’s curtal sonnet. It’s exactly what it sounds like, albeit with archaic spelling; a curtal sonnet is curtailed, and Kelly this month invites the sonneteers to join Gerard Manley Hopkins, the author of this form, in trying our hand at sprung rhythm. Lines 1-10 are iambic pentameter, and the eleventh line is iambic trimeter. It sccans effortlessly when Hopkins does it… not so much with the rest of us more ordinary mortals. But, let us crash the gates and bully onward anyway.

One of the benefits of this form, to me, anyway, is that its rhyme scheme begins abcabc. That’s only six rhymed pairs, which feels manageable, at first. The additional five lines (DBCDC) have repetitions which may trip you up later, but to begin with, all is calm. -Ish. The first poem I came to with a topic, and shoving the idea I had in my head into the form… showed. It worked well enough, but it was fairly lifeless, so I scrapped it (even though it was written in the voice of Mr. Bennet, the hapless father from PRIDE & PREJUDICE). My second poem I decided to just… write, and then gently apply as much of the form as I could during the creation process. This actually worked out better than I expected, and I had minimal revision to do once I got it down – mainly just to elongate some of the lines to scan properly, and change a few of the more challenging word choices into something which had additional nonsensical words which rhymed. (The ‘c’ in the abc pattern is a snare unto the unwary, let me tell you.) I even knew for whom I was writing this – my unflinching, implacable, …marshmallow-hearted Tech Boy, whose favorite phrase used to be “disturb the comforted, and comfort the disturbed.” Everyone knows a truth-teller, and they often make people so very uncomfortable… but I, who so loathe lies and lying (and advertising, and sales tactics, and all the subtle, deliberate misrepresentation of exaggeration in media, social and otherwise) feel a certain ease that the scales never lie, and that the lens of truth always sees what’s really there.

soothsayer

        Pointless to point out garments that don’t match,
Knowing so well your penchant for the clash,
        How eager, cheerfully, you seek discord!
As sun’s bright gaze can kindle fire’s catch
        And burning, leave the forest white-hot ash,
So scything Truth divides us with its sword,

        Parts joints and marrow. Cuts us to the bone.
Scalded, we cower, hide from truth’s backlash.
        No, truth’s not universally adored
Yet, wisdom’s outcry needs its megaphone,
        Its living, two-edged sword.

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Forsooth, did you realize that “sooth,” around the 800’s to the 1600’s, meant truth, or genuine? Oddly, by the 17th century, that was considered old and out of use; instead, by 1727 Daniel Defoe lists soothsayers along with astrologers and magicians. They went from being the source of truth to being augurers, clairvoyants, and psychics… the very antithesis of truth-telling. Odd, how meaning twists and changes.


There’s more poetry to accompany this damp and frosty (depending on which coast or hemisphere you’re on) day! Laura brings another beautifully natural image, while Liz is flinging it all to/at the squirrels. Sara’s acute perusal of Hopkins makes us bite our tongues while Tricia’s sonnet ushers in the deep breath of winter. Finally, Kelly shares an original in the original sonnet form, while we wave at Andi who is having a snow day.

Whether Curtal or longform, sonnets are a song, and if you’d like more poetry to sing to you today, Catharine at Reading to the Core is this week’s Poetry Friday host, and she’s highlighting CAN I TOUCH YOUR HAIR, which has to be my early choice for a 2018 poetry collection. Thanks for dropping by, and strength for your journey today. Tell the truth and shame the devil, won’t you?