{npm22: 29~ bloom!}

Greetings! Welcome to another Poetry Peeps adventure on Poetry Friday!

You’re invited to our challenge in the month of May! After such a big month for National Poetry Month, we’re taking it easy for now. Our simple task is to write a poem with the theme of string, thread, rope, or chain. Any poetic form, rhymed or unrhymed, but we’re including one of those four items. Plotting? Good! You’ve got a month to string your line(s), then share your offering on May 27th in a post and/or on social media with the tag #PoetryPals. Can’t wait to see what you come up with!

This month the Poetry Peeps wrote poems in imitation of Taylor Mali. For Laura, that meant this poem – short(ish) and sweet. Tricia explored her ideas here. Sara’s meta poem ON the poet is here, Cousin Mary Lee enfolded climate greening into her poem, Liz’s project, plus a bonus poem is here, and Andi’s popped in here. More Poetry Peeps may pop in with more words and thoughts as the weekend continues, so stay tuned. I may be very slow doing the roundup (as in finishing it next week), since I’m away from my usual haunts (and time zones) so bear with me.

I started out with the best of intentions to flatter poet Taylor Mali by imitating “Totally Like Whatever, You Know?” Alas, the longer I spent with it, the less I found flattering to say. Published in 2002, soon after the 1998 “Ebonics” conversation the talk show circuit, this poem is reflective of the social critics of that time, which is to say it hasn’t aged well. Mali’s mocking contempt echoes still of American society’s knee-jerk tendencies to mock and belittle the young, especially young girls, for the way that they speak, act, the media they consume, the bands they love, and the clothes they wear. When devaluing fully 51.1% of the population becomes automatic, misogyny persists, and follows girls into adulthood. More importantly, it leaves a mark. And men aren’t the only people who belittle and begrudge the young; it’s an American past time, which is why this poem so needled me.

I remember running into my 8th grade English teacher as a college student. She quizzed me on my activities and my GPA, and then, as I was proudly telling her my news, she interrupted. Reaching forward, she fiddled with my collar, smoothing it. “You know,” she said in a low, confiding voice like she was revealing a secret, “You’d sound so much smarter if you didn’t say ‘um, okay’ quite so often.” Well, that was me told that I wasn’t up to her level! Rather than enjoying my weekend home, I spent the rest of the time listening to myself, wincing at each “um” and “okay” and wondering desperately how people ever learned to change their speech.

I look back on that incident and seethe.*

My NPM project this year was sticky-note proverb poems. They are proverb-based and SHORT, but Taylor Mali doesn’t lend himself to short, so today I’ve creating two poems, first, the freestyle, unrhymed imitation (not my favorite style; feel free to suggest revisions in the comments), using the words of consent and consensus which are so often dismissed, and second, a sticky-note sized distillation. Additionally, today’s poem calls for a new proverb, one I’ve just made up. It is:

“Wisdom celebrates variation; not every difference suggests flaws.”

um, okay

Okay, but have you noticed
how it is somehow A-okay fine
for them to get right in your face
straighten up your collar and say
“right, if you would just -” and
okay, you knew you weren’t up to par –
yeah, you couldn’t pass as perfect
or more than okay, but who is?

Okay, so, have you noticed
the ground between us
is like potholes and mountains,
it’s that uneven, which is like,
fine, whatever
but what makes them think
the place they’re standing is
always the high ground, right?

Okay, but had you noticed
how they steal your words when they
crush your voice, grind words into pulp,
when they smother your spark
had you noticed why? they silence you –
like you’re just a piece of work
right, but if they would just,
back off, you could work out
making the pieces
whole, right?

Okay, so you had noticed
that consensus creates strength, that two heads
are better than one? so, okay you seek approval –
yeah, sometimes you ask permission –
So? you don’t know if you’re allowed
to take up space, to speak
aloud, so you rehearse
your sounds, right?
and you check your strengths
’til you know them
by heart.

Okay, so had you noticed
your flex, your stretch, how strong
you’ve grown? they did not, which is like,
fine, whatever –
you’ve blown past their

so, it’s your space
send roots into the earth
shout “I’ve arrived! make here the place
you grow

Want more poetry? Poetry Friday is hosted today at Jone’s place.. Hope you have a wonderful weekend.

*I taught school, too. I recognize that for some, the job is changing the world through their students. But, I’d really rather leave the world unchanged than be remembered for the kind of casual cruelty that implies someone sounds/is stupid.

{npm22: 28 ~ the heat}

One of the Poetry Princess the other day mentioned how she likes that I sometimes write about things I don’t like. I kind of laughed – there are a LOT of things I don’t like, and honestly, I need to write poems about them so no one else has to hear my rants. Today I’m writing about an American proverb I don’t particularly enjoy. It was yet another of those often repeated during my childhood. It’s one which seems to imply incompetence needing to step aside for those who are better equipped to carry things out. It’s just… irritating.

And this one’s not just home grown, its origin is the American political arena, and is credited to the celebrated “plain speaker” Harry S. (did you know the middle initial doesn’t stand for anything?) Truman as far back as 1942 when he was a senator, and evolved into the phrase we know today during his presidency in 1949. It’s a bit of a snarky one:

“If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.”
– Harry S. Truman, 33rd President of the United States

“Stand back –
Let the experts
Show you how it’s done, kids.”
(Pride has arrived. Now we await
the fall.)

In a world plagued with experts, I’m happy to get out of the kitchen and let somebody else’s goose cook. Happy Almost Weekend.

{npm22: 27 ~paving}

I kind of like the agrarian proverbs – ones that tell you when to make hay, or what to think when it’s a red sky in the morning. Those are… kind of easy, you know no one will ever figure out who wrote them, so provenance isn’t at issue, and you can make them mean whatever you want, since you’re not a farmer. This proverb is a bit more direct – though the provenance is equally murky.

Myriad names have been tied to this proverb, though surprisingly, the first printing in English is in an English Bible translations in Ecclesiastes, which states, “The way of sinners is made plain with stones, but at the end thereof is the pit of hell.” (Although why I’m surprised at the Bible in a proverb about hell, I don’t know…) Being “made plain with stones” is an accurate description of trail-marking, or cobblestones. A reference in 1791 leaves out the road altogether, until A Hand-book of Proverbs, published it in 1855, puts it all together with:

“The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

non verbis
listen —
outcomes matter.
living’s cause-and-effect
outweighs all your best intentions.
deeds count.

{npm22: 26~ bald rocks}

Is moss a good thing, or a bad thing? I’ve never figured that out. We do know it grows slowest of most plantlife, thus the meaning of today’s proverb is that a person who is never still never gathers the detritus of stillness — the things we have to pack up when we move.

I have a friend who is on her seventeenth move in her adult life this month — seventeen states, I believe — and she has a little less “moss” than the average person, perhaps, but she has stuff. Books, bed, couch. At one point in my life, I was able to pack everything I owned into a 4’x 2′ steamer trunk. Is my life better now that I cannot?

Are bald rocks that bad? Surely a question for the ages.

The first appearance of this proverb in print was in 1508, in Adagia, the annotated collection of Greek and Latin proverbs, compiled during the Renaissance by Dutch humanist Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus. Its first appearance in English was some years later in 1546, in A Dialogue conteinyng the nomber in effect of all the Prouerbes in the Englishe tongue, by John Heywood:

“The rollyng stone neuer gatherth mosse.”

Are not allowed
Too far from home to roam;
Now a woman grown, I tend to
Stay home.

{npm22: 25~ a start}

Today’s proverb is both ancient and Chinese, and though it might be cliché’s first assumption, it’s not written by Confucius. Surprise, there are hundreds more sages and creators of proverbs from this ancient culture! Today’s proverb is from the Tao Te Ching. Though this book isn’t found on B&N’s website in its entirety, it exists in various copies and dialects and is a widely studied, widely argued over classical Chinese text. The Tao Te Ching is usually credited to Lao Tzu, though others argue it was written by someone else, and is probably something from between the 4th and 6th century BC. It’s ancient. So, we have a genuine Chinese proverb, though the wording isn’t the same as we use now. Originally it said, “A journey of a thousand li (a traditional Chinese unit of measure, approx. 0.3 mile/0.5 km.) starts beneath one’s feet.” No one knows how or when, but as the quotation came West (probably because no one could figure out what a li was), the phrase turned into:

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

Empty suitcases
Filled up with memories
Of “Once Upon A Time, Boldly.”

Nope, I’m not actually ready… but I’m going anyway.

PS – yes, I know I can’t really draw an airplane.

{npm22: 24 ~ rest}

Today’s proverb is actually fairly recent, as proverbs go, with a straightforward provenance. According to Phrases, it was printed anonymously in a news sheet called the Hampshire Advertiser, in Southampton, England in August, 1857. It appears in the first stanza of a rather bad poem — and a rather long poem. Eleven stanzas of …erm, instruction. I haven’t read it myself, but apparently the ultimate line of every stanza is the same:

Ye votaries of sofas and beds
Ye sloths who exertion detest,
This maxim I wish to drive into your heads
A change is as good as a rest.

Ye children of Fashion and Wealth,
With countless indulgences blest,
Remember that indolence preyeth on health
A change is as good as a rest…

Ah, the Victorian Era, ever ready with the didactic bit of poetry to drive into your heads. Sheesh.

“A change is as good as a rest.” – English proverb

monday night
fresh ironed pillow-slips
a tightly made bed –
perfectly equipped
to sleep like the dead.

…if you’re counting sheep
as the hours slip by
at least in fresh sheets
you’re sleepless – dignified.

Is a change as good as a rest? Not… really. But, if nothing else, it helps you rest, a little.

{npm22: 23 ~ spoons}

Growing up Southern-adjacent (with Southern-born relatives but not having spent much time there yourself) means hearing a lot of weird phrases and stories of which you’re not quite sure you know the meaning… One of the odder phrases was, “You’d better feed ’em with a long spoon.”

I always heard this proverb outside of home in reference to some animal or other which couldn’t eat properly. There’s an Aesop fable about a stork and a fox having a meal, and one needed a shallow dish and one needed a vase…? Or something. Another variation is an allegory of people in heaven (or hell?) wearing casts and having to feed each other from across the table with long spoons, in order to live…? But, at home this saying meant to stay WELL away, on the other side of the table, in order to feed with a long spoon this ravening beast you’d somehow led to your table … so that it would not bite off your hand.

Obviously, I had to look this one up.

Once again this is a very old proverb, from 14th c. England, where having a meal with the Trickster was seen as a distinct possibility. Human beings were taught that they were often tricked and messed about by the devil, and so they were more than a little wary.

We first find this proverb in Chaucer’s Canterbury collection, in the Squire’s Tale, 1390. Therfore bihoueth hire a ful long spoon That shal ete with a feend. Therefore, whoever would eat with a fiend must have a very long spoon. (Note to self: avoid meals with fiends.)

“He who sups with the devil should have a long spoon.”

With a whip and a chair
We’ve a banquet to prepare:
No, that’s not bloodthirsty roaring.
He’s been sleepy – that’s him snoring.
You’ve heard shouting? shrieking? yelps?
It’s SO hard to find good help.
Me, be careful? You’re obsessed!
He’s just any other guest…

Happy weekend, dear ones. Keep your friends close, and your fiends… somewhere outside arm’s reach.

{npm22: 21~ in place}

One memorable summer I shared a room with my two older sisters. For some reason or another as I recall, my older sister was in trouble for being untidy, and my eldest sister was in trouble for something else, thus all the three of us sibs were shoved into one space. As you might expect, things got… intense. The usual sibling squabbles were turned up to eleven. We had the usual parental cleanliness pressure, but with the shared space there was increased stress and I — cracked. That summer I became mildly obsessed with keeping things straight – from my possessions and the masking tape lines my eldest sister had put on the floor of our room to the sections of food on my plate. I lined up my shoes and organized my hair clips.

I hear people in jail can also become obsessively neat…

Let me tell you, that sibling experiment ended with a great sigh of relief for all involved.

“A place for everything and (put) everything in its place.”

these measured loops
a choreography
celestial circling, turning

Though the Oxford Book of Quotations notes this proverb from the 17th century, there’s no follow-up reference. The closest discovered before 1799 is included in a collection called A Century of Sermons, by one John Hacket, Bishop of Lichfield, in 1675 which simply states that “the Lord hath set everything in its place and order. The phrase exactly as we know it didn’t appear in print until 1842, and was in keeping with myriad other cheerfully didactic Victorian phrases that were taken as conventional wisdom and not authored by anyone in particular.

{npm22: 20 ~ book-learnin’}

Somewhere, college-aged me is face-palming in dismay.

My junior year we were required to read Alexander Pope’s An Essay on Criticism. To say that it was a slog is an understatement; I could not STAND his know-it-all tone and his insistence that all the great minds had to make their way through the Greeks and other classical writers, and that good poets must write in a prescribed way – prescribed by him, of course. Add to that, it was written in verse so there was this overarching sense of self-superiority AND rhymed couplets. Gah! Imagine my disgust to learn that he was, at the time of his publication, all of twenty-three — nearly the same age as I was — and yet he pontificated as if he knew EVERYTHING.

Granted, he knew more than I did, but STILL.

Despite how annoying Pope was, we get tons of witty sayings from him — “To err is human, to forgive, divine,” and “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread” among the most notable. His declaiming today’s proverb wasn’t really original, writing, as he did, during the Age of Enlightenment where the publication of works became more commonly accessible. Suddenly anyone – gasp! – who could read had access to learned discourse, not just those who had been classically educated at the best schools. On that more level playing field, English politician/philosopher Sir Francis Bacon published a 1601 essay on atheism. In it he argued, “A little philosophy inclineth man’s mind to atheism; but depth in philosophy bringeth men’s minds about to religion.” That train of thought is a cousin of our proverb:

“A little learning is a dangerous thing;”

drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:
there shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
and drinking largely sobers us again.
– Alexander Pope, An Essay on Criticism, 1711

the risk
the uncertain swimmer, it’s said
must jump, lest they give in to dread.
can’t dip in a toe
and say that you know
dive! perceive the depth then as read

Is a little learning is a dangerous thing? Perhaps, although maybe knowing even a little can alert you to the vast seas of ignorance in which you’ve previously been content to swim. At least one can hope so.

{npm22: 19 ~ float}

Since yesterday’s proverb was so old, I thought I’d find one that’s newer. This one is very much considered an American proverb, as it came into common usage in 1963, in a presidential speech by former President John F. Kennedy. Kennedy claimed that it was a saying from Cape Cod, and indeed it had been a slogan of The New England Council for thirteen years at that point. However, it had an earlier provenance in a New Jersey newspaper, referring to a fundraising scheme for missionary work in 1910.

…and before that Wikipedia claims it was a common phrase in China, and was first published around 1894-ish in a novel called The Gallant Maid. How I wish I had a solid reference for that phrase in the novel, but… it’s from the Qing Dynasty and it’s in Chinese, so no luck. Regardless, so much for this proverb being a “new” one!

This proverb has been used to support theories of rising economies trickling down from the deepest to the shallowest cups. While that may or may not be a political taradiddle, I have always loved the imagery of a sudden swell making all the little boats bob and sway.

“A rising tide raises all boats.”

the pull of the moon
gathers with chill clarity
dancers from the deep

Did you know that the best fishing is on an incoming or rising tide? Yet another Random Thing I Learned looking at this proverb. Happy Tuesday.