{poetry friday: the p7 shovel gold}

When they invented the sestina, indeed, the resultant yowling by Aquitanian poets throughout Europe was no doubt noteworthy… but that was before they invented the Golden Shovel…


The Golden Shovel’s title enlarges the idea of tribute, of “shoveling” the golden bits of another poem for reuse. First, a poet takes an admired line, then, keeping the words in order, uses the words from this line as line endings in a new poem of their own creation. Finally, the poem reveals their new creation, and credits the old.

We chose the hardest poem to work with, Gerard Manley Hopkins’ “Pied Beauty.” You remember the tongue-twister that you utterly failed to memorize in the seventh grade for speech class?

Yeah, that one. (What? Was it only me?):

Pied Beauty

Glory be to God for dappled things –
    For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
        For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
    Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough;
        And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
    Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
        With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
                Praise him.

~ Gerard Manley Hopkins, 1877

Once I got over the shrieking horror of How am I supposed to work with compounds like ‘chestnut-falls’??? Is that one word, or two???, I began to figure out what this poem was – and what it was not. Foremost, it was not a rewrite of Hopkins’ original. In Terrence Hayes’ original poem, “Golden Shovel,” based on Gwendolyn Brooks’ “We Real Cool,” (1959) he took her words and whipped them into a whole new dish. The poignancy and bravado of a nameless black boy cresting the hill of adulthood is certainly there, but he’s not leaning heavily on the bravado of school-skipping adolescents hanging out at a pool hall. Once I stopped trying to rewrite “Pied Beauty,” my process cleaned up a whole lot… though I was still tempted by it. As you can see, I took for use the first line of Hopkins’ exultant poem:

Photos via Wikipedia

lilium fatale

there blooms the lady, gaudy in her glory
as a trumpet blast. Bright freckles massed might be
music, presaging summer’s solo. Oh, to
grace a garden, now that spring is here. Does God
dream in stargazers? Let no beauty be for
gotten: strumpet striped, dewy, sunlight dappled;
dizzy, drenched, these senses! delight in all things.

   ~ after Gerard Manley Hopkins

Moving past my usual squeamishness about blank verse, with its resultant no-rules/no-brakes feeling, I wondered, next, if it was possible to add a little lightness to these poems. Oddly for a tribute form, most I’ve seen are quite serious in content. While the rules in a Golden Shovel freed me from the tyranny of end-line rhyme, I found that thematically, with this poem specifically, thematic variance was nearly impossible. (I’ll be interested in seeing how my other Sisters managed this — I could not.) I’m just not sure how else I could have used these particular lines, although the second half of the poem might have .

star talk

“we’re made of star-stuff.” this, a dazzling sendup of us all;
humanity made luminosity. great, glowy things
reactive (con)fusions, ticking like a Geiger counter,
our radiance cosmic, scintillating & original
yes, we’re stars… but, mostly quarks: odd parts in a box marked ‘spare;’
we broke the mold. we’re distinct, authentic, genuine… strange.

   ~ with genuine affection for the brilliantly strange Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson

My one regret is running out of time to try for the last two lines (despite what Laura was told, the last two words constitute no challenge at all, thank you) – but maybe someday!


With such a busy month, we had zero time for collaboration, so like me, I know you’re dying to see what Sara (who is in NM with her kids just now, so may post later next week), Tricia, Laura, Kelly, & Liz are shoveling up this week between commencement, travel, and other ceremonies. Andi’s not with us this month, but we know she is reading and being filled. She will be back. More Poetry Friday goodness to dig your teeth into is found at Buffy’s Blog.

{#npm’17: vicious flowers}

I admit to a tiny bit of fear of mantises. The 2400 species which make up Mantodea all have raptorial forelegs, stereo vision, and massive jaws that make them a fearsome predator for insects (as well as small lizards and frogs, in some areas). I was pinched rather firmly by a mantis one as a child, so seeing them as an adult still gives me a bit of a turn – although my mother, God bless her, still loves to catch them in a jar and find a bunch of children to tell about them. (Once a teacher, always a teacher…) I think the way they stalk things is worrying, and the fact that they pounce – and have stabby claws on their legs — is both fearsome and wonderful. Add to that their sexual cannibalism, and ((O_o))… no. (And we kids are taught that they pray! Hah. Amy Ludwig VanDerwater has another take on that, which cracks me up.)

More unnerving than other mantises are the so-called flower mantises. Biologists call what flower mantises do “aggressive mimicry.” It’s when a predatory insect or animal uses something benign as a lure — or when what you think is a gorgeous orchid rips the head off of another flower its just mated, and eats it.

Do you see it? It’s not even trying to not look floral. At all.

Wikipedia Commons photo by Philipp Psurek

The poem below is attributed to Ogden Nash, though I have found no provenance for that – but it’s the sort of doggerel he would write about bugs. Note that if indeed Nash wrote this, he was mistaken, for it is the grasshopper, not the mantis, who is of the phylum Orthoptera… the mantis is Arthropoda. Yes, and now you know.

Praying Mantis

From whence arrived the praying mantis?
From outer space, or lost Atlantis?
Glimpse the grin, green metal mug
that masks the pseudo-saintly bug,
Orthopterous, also carnivorous,
And faintly whisper, “Lord deliver us!”

Indeed!

Poetry Friday today is hosted by Teaching Authors.

{#npm’17: circumference}

(x – h)2 + (y – k)2 = r2

we are all self-centered
it is said
we are all self-centered
but what matters is
how wide your circle


hearing a tale of injustice leads some to make an empathic mistake
instead of an ear, the listener becomes
a speaker whose tale overtakes
the voice of the hurting. shifting the spotlight.
demanding, asserting that they have the right
to stand in the center and speak on their feelings –
but that isn’t empathy, friends, that’s stage-stealing.


we are all self-centered
it is said
we are all self-centered
but what matters is
circumference

{#npm’17: further fakery}

San Diego Zoo 40

Resigned Meerkat is resigned.

Monday I’ll have come to a conclusion about what action I’ll take regarding this manuscript, but until then, I’m working to believe that I wrote something okay to begin with. It’s amazing how hard it is to believe excellence of yourself… aaaand just typing that word ‘excellence’ seems like a bridge too far. ‘Pretty good’ I’m okay with; ‘excellence’ seems dubious – again, peacocking. Ugh. This is the serious work that creators and artists do every day… in addition to creating and making art. What a world, huh?

artist mending

Intuiting that I’m the one
missing a clue in this romance –
(perhaps my overture has run
outside the lines of taste, by chance)
sincerely seeking for my sin I
take a breath. Regroup. Assess
expect that I have gone awry, &
realize I have not transgressed.

So speaks the critic in my mind,
“you’re not so much at writing yet
no lasting words to leave behind, your
debut something to forget” –
Refuse this! Take your writer’s place
Over the noise of doubt’s disdain
Make art from your own knowledge base
Embrace your flaws, your mess, your pain.

Poetry Friday today is hosted @Dori Reads.

{#npm’17: p7, talking back to Rilke}

It’s the first Friday of National Poetry Month, which means a doubly special poetry challenge, participated in by Kelly, Sara, Liz calling in from the road; Laura, and Tricia (Andi is sitting this one out) as part of the Poetry Seven’s Year in Poetry challenge. This month, Sara chose a poem by Rilke for us to respond to directly –

You, darkness, of whom I am born—

I love you more than the flame
that limits the world
to the circle it illumines
and excludes all the rest.

But the dark embraces everything
shapes and shadows, creatures and me,
people, nations—just as they are.

It lets me imagine
a great presence stirring beside me

I believe in the night.

—Rainer Maria Rilke, The Book of Hours, translated by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy

Stirling Holy Rood Church T 13

We all read this poem a few times, and then a few more, and then decided what to do with it. I tried to write a line-to-line response first, which didn’t work at all. Then I tried to write a kind of …Big Picture Thought about how the poem made me feel. Also didn’t work. As I was trying to work through my daily poem challenges for National Poetry Month, I begin to get a little worried… Rilke, with his usual straightforwardness, was not striking any sparks with me.

And then, I started thinking about sparks… little spangles of light, illumination. And the opposite of said. Sparks don’t actually let us do anything but see that there’s contrast. They don’t help us see anything but the light itself, and what is it, really?

This is a dude who likes the dark. I respect that about him. Few people actually do. Oh, we think we love the dark, the stars. We quote “When I Heard The Learn’d Astronomer,” and gaze up wistfully. But, where most of us live is so much light pollution we don’t actually have dark. I have become acquainted with the night, because I briefly lived way out in the country, in Glasgow. Our neighbors were sheep. It was flippin’ dark out on those country lanes. It was …kind of amazing. And, I knew I was walking right next to spiders. I had to decide how much I was going to let that bother me.

In the end, I decided that I agreed with ‘ol Rainer, because I like the dark, but I also want to like the dark. Being who I am, the literal girlchild who has thought a great deal about the word “black” as reflected in theology and hymnody, darkness is going to mean a little something different to me — and I could see that reflected in the seven’s poetry, as we wrote on our shared Google document. I may be the only one who likes the dark, but I won’t hold that against anyone. I have walked a different (spider-adjacent) road, and I tend to have to reject the experience that “most” people have with darkness – because I am not most people.

Took me long enough to figure that out.

“the absence of color”

from darkness thou art formed & dust thou art
first secreted within thy mother’s womb
deep shadows, holding fast creation’s start
to secret hopes in dreamer’s sleep entombed

(blackness is sin, a moody study’s brown
and white holds light, a purity renown
a Presence stirs, beneath the surface bright
foul fiend, forfend, or wisdom’s erudite?)

before the light can drown thy timid sheen
enlightening with fact that still deceives
hold to thine task: believe what is not seen
and be ye blesséd by the unperceived.

Poetry Friday is hosted today by Irene Lantham at her blog, LIVE YOUR POEM. Check it out, for more!

{#npm’17: for sarah}

Mexico City 162

…who tweeted the other day that the most insidious thought she has whilst writing is, “you’re not very good at this.”

writing exercise

no one does it ‘better’
no one does it right
success begins with failure
triumphing over blight.

insidious, the whisper
that tells you otherwise.
deft treachery, these lying brains
sow doubts, and criticize…

but there is no one “better”
there’s no such thing as “right”
there’s only bum firmly in chair,
and you, art’s acolyte.

            Courage.

            ♥t

{poetry friday & p7: villanelle}

February already. What a long, strange trip its been in 2017. Each day I wake and… function. And feel such empathy for those who have to function in public, especially teachers, who have to shine and smile…but how?

Those were the thoughts with which I greeted the second month of the Poetry Sisters’ annual Year in Poetry challenge. This month is Kelly’s choice, and she compelled us to write a villanelle on the subject of brevity/shortness. Now, we’ve revisited the villanelle repeatedly, and it’s actually one of my favorite forms. But, having finished a revision the penultimate week of January, I found myself floundering and the spatter of acidic ink on all of those “orders” – from Hater-in-Chief and the Confederate Cabinet – ate my creativity for lunch. This annoyed me. I am a child of the 80’s who wrote bad poetry all the time in response to the tyranny of shoulder pads. I could do this.

The trick, it turned out, was volume, the same thing that worked in my tween years. I wrote TONS of awful villanelle, a form which easily lends itself to overstating a point. Sneer poetry? Is not nice. And I am so GOOD at it. I screeded, blaming everyone for everything. I showed no love at all. I recently started embroidering thistles, and they were enough to make me write about weeds, thorns, and bleeding (It’s a Glasgow thing. Nemo me impune lacessit, and all that. It worked for me. Don’t judge).

Eventually, after many awful poems marinated in sarcasm and mean wit, I realized that my biggest fears about brief time these days were about myself… and what I feared I didn’t have time for anymore, and was wasting time doing, et voilà. A poem I could live with.

(And then, as ALWAYS happens, when I get something I can work with, something ELSE springs fully formed from the forehead of Zeus, with words I didn’t know I wanted to say which answer my original question of “how” – however, since that poem is wildly off-topic of our theme, I’ll share it later.)

If you’d like to check out themed villanelles from people who probably didn’t have to write ten run-up poems, and who can follow a theme without getting lost in their own heads (!), do see Kelly’s poem, on self-care which has to be a topical first; Tricia’s offering, Liz, in just under the wire; Sara’s “all too brief” rhymes and Laura’s, whose timely tweet to the gang, showing the poem in progress, put the spurs to us! (We’ll wave to Andi from our repeating lines, and see her next time.)


And for more poetry from poets who wrote and write during daily drudgery as well as intense moments of antipathy, don’t miss Poetry Friday, which today is hosted by Penny Parker Klosterman at A Penny & Her Jots.

The bad moon has risen, orange and malignant from the smoke in the air, as the garbage fire roars. Affix your breath mask and center yourself. You’ve got this. Go.