{pf: the poetry peeps are piñata-ing}

Welcome to another Poetry Friday Poetry Peeps Adventure!

Poetry Peeps! You’re invited to our challenge for the month of February! Here’s the scoop: We’re writing …love letters. Epistolary poetry in the form of a love poem can pull us in any number of directions. We’re writing our ways of seeing love as an animal, vegetable, mineral, emotion, decision – or anything else. Are you game? Good! Whatever way of seeing that you choose, you have a month to craft your creation and share it on February 23 in a post and/or on social media with the tag #PoetryPals.


From Process…

Mere weeks ago, I can remember thinking to myself, “If I can just make it through December…” Hm. Well. January is proving to be its own special level of Hades so far. First, I got roped into just “beefing up the choruses” for a Pergolessi piece, and somehow ended up doing a solo and a duet on top of the chorus pieces. Then, I was given a draft deadline a week before said concert for next year’s middle grade novel, and I figured out one day that the act of opening the document for my draft made me physically ill, I hated it so much, so obviously then I started rewriting THE ENTIRE THING a week before said deadline… and, THEN one of my parents had the temerity to have a minor heart attack. Oh, 2024, you’re a special snowflake already.

You’d think this would mean I would a.) bow out, or b.) sensibly at least cut my research short for our first Poetry Friday venture of the year.

…*crickets*…

That would have made sense, wouldn’t it? ::sigh::

It’s been a joy to revel in the work of Roberto Benavidez, the South-Texas sculptor who specializes in the piñata as an art form. The color and light and movement in his work is a serious treat on these gray, soggy days. From poking around on the artist’s Instagram page, it appears that it’s done via layering the thin pieces of crepe paper. Some of the paper is impregnated with glitter, but a lot of the effect is simply light filtering and refracting through the thinnest layers of paper, and it is… *chef’s kiss* WOW. We Poetry Sisters gave ourselves the latitude to write an ekphrastic poem on any of his wide body of work, and that, in itself, was a little daunting. Initially I found myself fixated on his treatment of birds, and thought that’s the direction I was going… until I saw the Medieval Bestiary from his Illuminated Piñata show. The basilisk isn’t a bird… but it’s also a bird? Or something. I obviously needed a deep-dive into the medieval mindset on monsters, didn’t I. (I mean, what deadline?)

Before I get too distracted, you should see what Sara did. Or, what Laura came up with (when she wasn’t serving as the Poetry Princess Archivist, and updating all of our challenges since sometime in 2007. Thank you, Laura). Cousin Mary Lee’s way of seeing is here, Tricia’s piñata poem is here, and Liz‘s project is here. Denise K.’s poem is here, Linda M.’s celebration of the artist is here. Michelle K.’s sandpiper piñata poem is here, and Linda B.’s meditation on the Hieronymus Bosch piñata is here. (*snicker*) You might discover more Poetry Peeps checking in throughout the weekend, so stay tuned for the full round-up as I find them. Meanwhile… Poetry Friday is ably hosted today by Susan @ ChickenSpaghetti, who I “met” blogging sometime back in 2005. Here’s to the blogosphere, which, when it’s not giving us nonsense, sometimes gives us both good friends and good old friends.

I won’t bore you with all of my reading, but I had to share a few of the hysterical historical images I found, as well as a couple of significant points: one, a basilisk was mostly a basilisk in Europe. In Britain, it was referred to in the main body of literature as a cockatrice. It’s essentially the same thing, but the Brits have always strove for distinction, historically and to the present moment. It’s part of their brand. ☺ Secondly, from Pliny the Elder on down, no one could… agree quite on what a basilisk/cockatrice looked like (I mean, the CROWN. Jeez Louise, Pliny, how much poppy was in that wine???). Or, really, even what it did. Some swore that the beast was like a giant gastropod, dragging poison via its belly and even killing plants and soil beneath it, in a wide swath, while others say its mere breath did the slaying – not to mention its gimlet gaze. So much fear! So little… detail! That… got me thinking.

…To Poem

As I inarticulately tried to explain what I was working on in our Poetry Sisters Zoom meetup, Cousin Mary Lee said that my description of what the basilisk was – and wasn’t – sounded like politics. I kind of laughed at that, but then the thought returned insistently. So much of what we hear via the churn and spin of the news cycle regarding the Sturm und Drang of current events is like …well, like trying to swim by committee. Too many people are trying to manage the arms and the legs, trying to coordinate the strokes and the breathing as we beat the water into a froth, aerating our fears into some whipped up thing that we cannot see through. Boy, do we need to step back! Scoff. Doubt. Question. Interrogate. Take a moment and let things settle, and really look at what’s before us. Sometimes, when we truly examine circumstances, situations, and individuals which terrify us, we will find that they really are ludicrous… and then we can laugh.

This poem makes it sound pretty darned easy to do all of this – just pack up our troubles in our old kit bag, or some folksy nonsense. Friends, we are all well aware how easy it’s NOT. Fears are sometimes a serious, crippling business, and I will freely admit that this is just my first-ish draft of this idea. But it’s an idea to which I’ll be returning this year – because I am sometimes a person deeply in need of getting out of my own head. Doubting our fears is the first step away from them… and I hope it’s an one which gives you a different way of seeing things.

And if your 2024 is beginning with a seismic shift the likes of mine, take heart – we are in the year of the Dragon, and we can a.) start this New Year thing over and b.) immolate what isn’t working, and move on. Breathe fire, friends, and make your fears take wing. Who knows, you might be the basilisk.

{pf: poetry peeps elfchen it up}

Welcome to another Poetry Friday Poetry Peeps adventure!

Friends, it has been a year of TRANSFORMATION and we’ve been glad to have every one of you who joined us. Thanks for being one of our #PoetryPals this year.

The Sisters are very shortly going to be in our annual poetry confab to come up with the 2024 challenges we’re setting ourselves, and to choose a theme or word of the year. While normally I’d let you know in this space what’s on for next month… you’ll have to stay tuned for the January 7th announcement! In the meantime, if you have a form or style suggestion, please feel free to drop it in the comments.


FROM PROCESS…: Our last challenge for 2023… might have been set by me? None of us remembers anymore, but since I’m a real fan of a five line poem, we suspect me. ☺ The Elfchen is eleven words, and the -chen suffix is a diminutive, so it’s a “little eleven” poem. As I began Duolingo German this year, I was happily able to try writing with my shaky grasp of another language. The basic Elfchen rules requires ONE word for line one, TWO for line two, THREE words for line three, FOUR for line four, and returns to ONE word for the fifth line. I’ve read that the first word is meant to be a topical, setting the tone of the piece, and the final word is meant to summarize and wrap things up. I did not always feel the need to summarize, as sometimes the topic wasn’t closed, but I like knowing what I’m supposed to be trying to achieve!

Of course, my restless brain took those rules and …tweaked them a little, deciding to not use only counted words, but counted syllables as well. As German is not a language known for short words, beginning with a single word of a single syllable was… definitely more of a challenge. (WHY did I feel like I needed more of a challenge? German wasn’t enough? Yikes, brain). As I made my attempts, I quickly discovered that I had to actually write in German, not take what I wanted to say in English, translate it, and then create the poem — that didn’t work at all.

…TO POETRY. What worked best for me was simply to draft many, many poems. Writing egregiously bad poetry is sometimes the only way I can get to the better stuff, so I wrote and wrote, as rain rolled down my office window. This is why so many of the poems I drafted had to do with being sleepy and or wanting to be cozy and warm… and/or wanting desperately to go back to bed with a book…! I wrote so many Elfchen it got to where I was once again counting words or syllables while I was thinking. The other day I wrote in an email to a friend: “Busy”/ isn’t true/ My holiday was/ Wholly ‘booked’ this year/…reading! However, I will spare you more of my stream-of-consciousness poetry, and share what the rest of the Poetry Sisters got up to. Tricia introduces us to a reverse elfchen here. Liz’s poem is here. Laura’s poem is here. Mary Lee’s is here, and Michelle K’s myriad Elfchen are here. Carol V.’s poems are here, and Linda B.’s Elfchen is here. Denise’s poems are here, and Heidi’s irresistible Elfchen are here.

More Poetry Peeps may be elfchening throughout the weekend, so stay tuned.

Let It Go For Now
Süß,
nicht wahr?
Wenn endlich
der Tag endet:
Schlaf.
————–
Sweet,
isn’t it?
When finally
the day ends:
sleep.

In neither language does this fit the rules for word count, but it does make the syllabic rule work.

Ausschlaffen (Sleeping In)
Wet
window,
drumming drops
murmur, “Safe. Sleep.
Shh.”

This final poem follows the actual rules of the Elfchen and not my invented ones – in an announcement that pretty much speaks for itself and explains why many are receiving New Year’s cards:

My Last Spoon
Folks,
The drawer
yawns empty now –
No further hungers sated
today.


Poetry Friday today is generously hosted @ More Art 4 All with Michelle K., one of our Poetry Peeps who has been playing with the Elfchen form for a couple of weeks now. May you find warmth and light as the year burns down to its coals – and may you gather a breath of strength, purpose, and hope to fan the flames again for next year. Happy New Year.

{11•29 gratitidinous}

Hard to believe that it was way back in 1810 when tin-coated iron cans were patented, and people started to be able to have pre-cooked food available to them as an alternative for when they were done with working all day and were too tired to be bothered to cook anything from fresh. Way back in 1977 was when cartons for food stable goods were brought into use.

You care about this because like me, when the light fades as early as it does in late autumn, about all we’re good for is opening a carton or a can of soup, adding in some frozen veg, and calling it a day.

Yet another good reason to be grateful – for shortcuts.

late autumn
twilight
a workday done
pathways wending homeward
as light drains from a cold, wet day:
soup’s on.

{11•28 gratitudinous}

When I was growing up, I cannot tell you how many lectures, sermons, and morally high-toned talks I heard as a kid about escapism. I still am not entirely sure why so many people are against it, but there are people who will bend your ear at any hour on the subject. In all seriousness, I’ve genuinely never understood what could be so bad about escaping present circumstance through the vehicle of story, since escapist reading is what I heard spoken against most often. My Dad didn’t always like to see me reading, because it was his opinion that I was wasting time.

Yesterday I was on the author website of one of my favorite pairs of fantasy writers and I read hundreds – literal hundreds – of comments about scenes and books of those authors which were their favorites, which they considered “comfort reads.” And I hugged each word of the Book Devouring Horde to my heart.

One of the greatest things about being An Old is that you read what you want, you escape when you can, and you enjoy the realm of books and comfort reads for what it is – sheer joy.

like a book
she named it frigate
but on smooth-gliding train tracks
a story moves me

{11•26 gratitudinous}

::Sigh::

Sometimes holidays churn up the silt in an otherwise settled pond.

I used to think that our collective attention span was one of humanity’s greatest problems. Observing our cycle of outrage and amnesia regarding the events of the day, it might easily be argued that if we had just paid attention to things or remembered, we might have saved ourselves any amount of grief. And yet, memory is a hard master, something that younger me didn’t really understand. It doesn’t solely allow us to exert some control over our future actions and reactions by means of recalling past mistakes, no, memory also shines a merciless spotlight on some of the worst experiences of our lives. Total recall? No thank you.

So, thanks for that, for the shadows of time, which blunt some of the sharpest edges of a sometimes painful past.

oblivion
Mercy
Is in snowflakes,
in drifts of attic dust;
Pressing memory’s wound until
it clots.


{11•24-25 gratitudinous}

The day I got my three vaccinations, I asked if I should have the one for RSV – not remembering that not everyone can have it.

“Are you sixty-five?” the pharmacist asked, brows raised in polite query.

“Oh. Nope,” I laughed. “I’m not yet so privileged to have lived that long.”

“And it is a privilege, isn’t it?” he mused, swabbing my arm.

Yes. It is. And as I scowl at my sugar-frosted hair – which I usually have streaked with various shades of purple and blue – I am grateful, indeed, for the privilege… even if my hair looks goofy, because silver hair has the consistency of WIRE and really likes to stick up. ::sigh::

privilege
rock that,
you silver fox –
this hair that’s going white?
call it the icing on the cake
age goals

I often think of my grandmother, when I think of the work that I do, and the life that I live. She left school in the third grade so I could have my MFA. Such thanks for that word, progress…

My Ancestors Wildest Dream, IV
back then,
they only worked:
school was not for brown kids,
but she raised her own to want more.
Progress.

{pf: poetry peeps in the style of Valerie Worth}

Welcome to another Poetry Friday Poetry Peeps adventure!

Poetry Peeps! You’re invited to our challenge for the month of December! Here’s the scoop: We’re writing the eleven-syllable German cinquain, the Elfchen. Unfamiliar? There’s plenty online about this brief form, which has often been taught in German elementary schools, so intangible bonus points wenn dein Gedicht auf Deutsch ist (if your poem is in German). Are you game? Good! The Poetry Sisters are continuing to throw our 2023 theme of TRANSFORMATION into the mix as possible. Whatever your topic or theme, you have a month to craft your creation and share it on December 29th in a post and/or on social media with the tag #PoetryPals.


Poetry Friends! I hope you had a lovely Thanksgiving/Friendsharing/ChosenFamily/Family Day yesterday. I am putting this blog post together a week in advance, and might not ‘see’ some of your posts right away, but I will get there and add you to the Valerie Worth round-up! What with travel and meals and homes full of guests, those of us nearby may be a bit slower – so do pop back in for a full roundup later in the weekend. Meanwhile, it was delightful to meet with almost the whole gang at our Poetry Sisters prewrite last week. You must check out Mary Lee’s poem here. Sara’s poem is here. Laura is joining us here, while Liz’s poem is here, and Tricia’s poem is here. Laura’s poem flew in to land here. Michelle K.’s poem is here. Linda B.’s poem is here.

Poetry Friday is hosted by Ruth @There Is No Such Thing as a Godforsaken Town, long-distance from Uganda, so let’s take our time with Ruth and savor everything, along with a second helping of pie.


“Never forget that the subject is as important as your feeling: The mud puddle itself is as important as your pleasure in looking at it or splashing through it. Never let the mud puddle get lost in the poetry – because, in many ways, the mud puddle is the poetry.” (Valerie Worth, quoted in Another Jar of Tiny Stars, the second NCTE book of award-winning poetry, edited by Bernice E. Cullinan and Deborah Wooten

As I recall from our brainstorming session at the beginning of this year, we chose to write in the style of Valerie Worth first because many of us were less than familiar with much of her work, except her books for children, and secondly, because her poems are short(ish), small, plain-spoken (unrhymed), and specific. Note that when we say ‘small,’ we don’t mean an additional observation on length, but rather a topical observation on the dialed in, specific topics Valerie Worth judged worthy of poetry. Fence posts. Rags. Earthworms. Mushrooms. Valerie Worth was a poet who had, as Mary Oliver attributed to excellent writers, “an attitude of noticing.” I believe that observation lends itself to its own theme of transformation… In so many ways, when one is able to extrapolate the extraordinary from the mundane, it changes things seen, experienced, known, and understood. Inasmuch as Mary Oliver described that ‘noticing’ as a relentless and dynamic curiosity about the world, I believe that Valerie Worth’s unwillingness to exclude anything from observation is what enabled her to be a poet whose work is memorable and occasionally astonishing. To that end, in my own choosing, I purposefully looked for ‘small’ topics. I thought of my dead sunflowers, which I’ve left in place because the birds really love them, Himself’s giant clogs which I keep tripping over on the garage step, and the draft evader I fashioned from flat fiberfill stuffing and torn flannel rags. Sunflowers when they’re bright get plenty of ink – not so much when they’re dead. We might write poems to baby shoes, but not to rubber gardening clogs. Few find the wads of cloth we stuff under door and windowsills particularly poetic, and yet…

I started by hewing as closely as I could to one of Worth’s actual poems. Sparrow is one of my favorites about a dun-colored bird minding her own business, and not caring if you look at her. I transferred the sparrow’s ubiquity to the boxy rubber clogs that seem to grow on the back step – worn by anyone whose feet will fit, perfect for standing in the outdoor kitchen frying something, or chucking things into the compost bin in the rain…

Our garden is still quite lively, for all that it is considered functionally dead. The dry flower heads, yellow-browning speckles of mildewed stalks and fallen seeds are alive with an hundred thousand birds, chasing lizards, squabbling, pecking, rolling in dust, and scratching like hens. This is why we’re the WORST gardeners – we can’t bear to tear everything out and turn it under just yet because the birds are having way too much fun. May they all make themselves at home.

(This handsome specimen isn’t MY draft stopper, which is a scrappy, patch-worked thing in various shades of ‘dirt.’ Mine is in the wash just now and unready for its close-up, so we’ll just pretend I actually stitched something pretty.)


Mary Oliver’s famously succinct ‘Instructions for Living a Life’ admonishes us fussily to “pay attention.” Maybe in a less didactic tone, as there is nothing truly obligatory here, we might encourage ourselves to give attention to our lives, to see within our every day ordinariness a sheen of the extraordinary. As German actress and coach Uta Hagen once famously said, “We must overcome the notion that we must be regular…” As we tunnel out from stolid regularity into glorious irregularity, exchange our viewpoint on life as ‘usual’ for the chance to revel in the unusual, may we discover that life is more than we knew. May we, by being open, inventive, expressive, and questioning, live our uncertainty and questions into answers that change everything.

All poems ©2023 Tanita S. Davis

{11•23 the action of gratitudinous}

I love Spanish – well, I love all my Duolingo language studies, which include at present are Spanish, Dutch, German, and Latin – but I love Spanish specifically today, because sometimes the literal translation of things makes me smile… like saying “thanksgiving” in Spanish. It is Día de Acción de Gracias. The day of the ACTION of gratitude. Such thanks for this reminder.

fourth thursday
linguistics
names it a noun –
while performing actions
with deliberation and thanks,
Grateful.

{11•22 gratitudinous}

In 2019, poet Amy Schmidt opined in the “Poets Respond” section of Rattle online that no one could feel lonely when zesting an orange. Today, prepping for my cranberry salsa, I see her orange and raise her lime and ginger.

When the house is filled with the scents of tradition – well-loved meals and old recipes, it is hard not to be kept company by the memories of past holiday. Meals savored and empty platters, empty tables left with a confetti of crumbs, past times with friends, past celebrations and anticipations – and perhaps past hopes and anxieties, too. It’s a little bit crowded in the kitchen just now — swirling as it is with the many ghosts of meals gone by, holidays past, and the aching memories of absent loved ones pressing close to us.

remnants
kneaded into loaves
and simmered through every sauce,
voices long absent
dearly beloved and gathered
a fragrant cloud of witness

Those who are facing a “first Thanksgiving since…” this year, know you are not alone in your loss.

{11•21 gratitudinous}

Autoimmune disorders – or any of the other various disorders of the mind or body which require trying several medications before you find one that works – have a routine. You take the drug, wait out that requisite activation time, sigh, then try the next thing the doctor proffers. I was speaking with a pharmacy nurse about a new drug and was surprised to hear her ask, as we were nearing the end of our talk, “And what will you do if the medication is successful?”

“I’m sorry?” I asked, caught off-guard. “Can you repeat that?”

“What will you do if the medication works, and your symptoms vanish? How will that change your day?”

Ohhhh,” I said, finding my brain empty.

Friends, I didn’t know.

I have been at this for so long I no longer expect the drugs to work. That’s… a pretty big realization.

Upon reflection, however, I found such gratitude for the question – a timely intervention into the same old, same old, medicate, rinse, repeat.

SOMEDAY, this is going to work. SOMEDAY this will not be a part of my life anymore. Someday we WILL kill it. Such thanks for the reminder to hope.

DISEASE
after Vertue, by George Herbert, 1633

This pain,
That stabs with scalding blight,
A fraying rope made up of twisted lies
Pinioning me, knotting as I fight –
          Someday, you’ll die.

Disease duplicitous, I crave
Concealment from your hot, malicious eye,
Knowing that nothing from your grasp can save,
          I pray you’ll die.

This body, strong and weak, opposes
Both health and its reverse, as it supplies
A surge of cells, its will imposes
          On that which someday dies.

Left with a body willed to be whole,
And by that will still grimly combative,
Clawing, enduring to the goal –
          Freed from disease, someday, to live.