{pf: the p7 & the sestina scourge}

Okay, so maybe “scourge” was dramatic, but this, y’all, has been… just about impossible.

Don’t get me wrong – every month, I adore the challenge of pitting myself against a poetic form, but the sestina and me… we’ve just never managed to do more than approach a strained détente and limp back to our respective corners to lick our wounds.

The form… just… repeats a word. Not a whole phrase, a word. That should be no harder than a pantoum or a villanelle, right? And yet, because of the length, perhaps, or the lack of rhyming, the tetrameter, or perhaps the specific order of the word repetitions… well, for whatever reason, it just seems much harder. The list of end words from which we were to choose six seemed fine at first – nothing wrong with face, down, mirror, ground, prism, prison, block, bend, wishes, beam, string, or blade, but eventually they were too concrete, too unwieldy, too… blah, blah, blah. Something.

Add to that, a creeping horror over the vast and terrible fires consuming my home state and my adopted country while suffering a soul-sucking loss of faith in humanity from the decay rate of our disintegrating Republic, bleak discouragement over a new diagnosis which might lead to surgery, generalized introvert anxiety over house guests, as well as the stomach ‘flu in the SUMMER, and you may well understand that my mental state was not all that it might have been for the construction of this poem.

Nevertheless, she persisted.

With locked jaw and gritted teeth. Scowling fiercely.

Won’t you celebrate with me? I’m still here. Still. Here. Dang. It.

As are my sisters Tricia, and Laura, and Sara, — as well as Kelly, Liz, and Andi, though those three are down at the boardwalk just now. Through packing and moves and trips and illnesses and too many meetings and family – still here. The battle this month is to those who finish, no matter when it happens. Slog on, ladies.

Here’s mud in the eye of all the things trying to ruin our day.

Battle Plan

A countermove for every move you block
A spark and it could all burn to the ground.
A breath could tip the house of cards you face;
They count you out, but you will not stay down.
Resolve a whetstone sharpening your blade
In battle’s heat you will not break, but bend.

How fine the line exists ‘tween ‘break’ and ‘bend’
What makes ‘assist’ turn into ‘stumbling block?’
There’s no help up from those who’ve fallen down
No stopping ‘floor’ from meeting with your face…
At least you walked before you met the ground –
So trial by fire creates a stronger blade.

It parries; thrusting, slashing with a blade
We nimble fighters long must strike and bend
Not moving meekly to the chopping block
We slash and stab until we’re falling down…
Bedtime. Tomorrow we must battle face
For now, retreat, regroup, and go to ground.

And this is where we find our common ground:
That all of us are wounded by this blade
That all, whip-scourged and raw, before it bend
And all, hauled fighting, to life’s butcher block.
And all of us death hunts, and will drag down
We’ll “go not gentle.” That, we could not face.

Still spitting venom in disaster’s face
We won’t just let it drag us underground.
A change of route avoids each sly roadblock,
We pray for open roads around the bend.
Audacity shines, hope-bright on the blade
The slingshot wielding shepherd boy brings down.

“He’s small – but won’t take trouble lying down.”
“She killed a giant?” – Shock on every face.
“But, when the gristmill grinds you up, you’re ground!
And, I heard you were bludgeoned by that blade!”
They didn’t see you learning how to bend…
Mustering moxie through each stumbling block.

A starter block for scything setbacks down:
First, stand your ground. Look trauma in the face
Then draw your blade and make the bastard bend.


Shout out to Josh Mandel’s useful and beautiful sestin-a-matic for help in remembering those tricky repeat patterns, especially in the envoi. Visit the site, click through, and choose a few words of your own, if you’re feeling poetically frisky. Sestinas really are a delightful challenge… when you’re not in a vile mood. Or, maybe they still are, but your sestina might end up being a teensy bit combative. Whatever, right?

Poetry Friday today is brought to you by the letter U and the number 8, and is hosted at my play cousin Mary Lee’s blog, A Year of Reading.

{pf with p7: whatcha behn up to?}

Turn up the fan, and gather ’round. It’s time for another monthly poetry challenge.

Aphra Behn, 1640-1689, was the foremost female dramatist of her day, as well as a poet and a spy who wrote to make her way in the world – something not possible for many women, and only possible for a White woman who was particularly charming. She was a commercially successful playwright, and in her time, a household name. Most men were equally challenged, titillated, and horrified by her, as she would not stay safely within society’s confines for her gender. Alexander Pope all but called her a whore, but… I mean, Alexander Pope. His picture was in the dictionary next to Uptight. The commentary of uptight old men upon her work was believed as fact until the early 20th century.

For all that she wrote a lot, she herself remains a mystery. One of my favorite poems of hers is from one of her plays called Abdelazar, a revenge romance which characterizes Love as this terrifying alien that feeds upon lovers.

Song from

Abdelazar

Love in fantastic triumph sate,
Whilst bleeding hearts around him flowed,
For whom fresh pains he did create,
And strange tyrannic power he showed;
From thy bright eyes he took his fire,
Which round about in sport he hurled;
But ’twas from mine he took desire
Enough t’ undo the amorous world.
From me he took his sighs and tears,
From thee his pride and cruelty;
From me his languishments and fears,
And every killing dart from thee;
Thus thou and I the God have armed,
And set him up a Deity;
But my poor heart alone is harmed,
Whilst thine the victor is, and free.

Despite the archaic wording, the writing is so passionate and bright – and very different from many writers in the 17th century.

In multiple poems, Behn used an ABBACDDCEE rhyme scheme in iambic tetrameter in sometimes ten, and sometimes fourteen lines. Often, but not always, the last was conveyed in iambic pentameter. Our challenge from Kelly this month was to write a poem using this rhyme scheme, with length and topic up to us. It was… not easy. I really dislike changing meter at the end, and because I hated it SO MUCH, I left it that way. (This challenge is meant to be about moving from one’s comfort zones.) I was silently beaming as I read the exchanges from my Sisters about how hard this one was. (Also: EVERYTHING RIGHT NOW IS HARD. This is why we write poetry; we have to keep exercising those creative muscles in any way we can.) I can cheerfully say that none of us is wholly delighted with their poem (what else is new?) but I think we’ve all done a bang-up job of trying: Sara managed a bit of magic about July 6th while Laura carved out a list. Liz jumped in with another slice of summer. Kelly raised the Aphra-as-spy topic, and we’re throwing up our hands with Tricia, who is hosting today, as well as living on the wild side. Andi is wisely laid out in front of the fan. For now, it’s onward with my own difficult bit of verse:

I often use poetry to work through things which are in my head, which is why this poem is… sharp… and dedicated to a certain Querulous Old Man, bless him, and to all who’d never even heard of the Wilder Award, yet still come to weigh in loudly as if called….

Legacy

To celebrate an ancient lie ~
A “good old days” rife with cliché
You must, beginning, put away
Examination. Justify!
“We can’t just erase history -”
“Smearing her legacy’s a crime.”
“She was a product of her time.”
These arguments are sophistry.
But, “boldly go,” O, Pioneer,
Your destiny is manifest!
Your cause is trending (hastag “blessed”)
But all things change. (Is change your fear?)

Well, history remains the same –
But will you celebrate what should bring shame?

(EDITED: Or, “But will you celebrate its shame?” to keep the tetrameter intact.)


Poetry Friday is hosted by the glorious Miss Rumphius. Head on over to Tricia’s blog for more poetry goodness. And have a great weekend. Stay out of the saltpeter.

{p7, pf: it’s all birds & bees}

Netherlands 2018 453

Where there is true winter, summertime sings.

Remember the ‘flu season? Remember how we thought it would NEVER go away? Remember how much coughing we did? Rejoice, and be exceedingly glad, for great is our reward. Hello, sunshine.

Changes

A velvet-legged bee bumbled by
While skyward, the swallows swooped by
A ricochet breeze came to ruffle the trees,
As suntime bid snowtime, “Goodbye!”

Every living thing is getting busy here in Delft, The Netherlands, where we’ve been for the past ten days. Mosquitoes are certainly active, in this balmy humidity (le sigh), but also bumblebees the size of 747’s and all manner of interesting beetles and swallows and magpies and waterfowl and oh, the swans. Nasty, hissing creatures, but such grace.

With all of this vacationing going on – and the number of guests we’ve had traipsing through our rented flat – I’ve rather overfocused on the birds and the bees, and not as much on the poetry. Fortunately, this month it’s limericks, which shouldn’t take me long at all. In theory.

My very helpful houseguests all know that I have this monthly challenge. “Oh, a limerick!” they crow. “I can help with that! There was a young lady from Delft… um….” and then they run into trying to rhyme Delft three times with ANYTHING, and finally shrug. “It’s harder than I thought.” Well, yes. Yes, it is.

So, while it is violently cloudbursting – we get a couple of these a day, and then they pass and everyone goes back out for a bike ride and gelato – I shall take a moment and flog my brain for a suitable rhyme on the theme of “the birds and the bees.” Ahem.

Pond Dancin’

A waterbug skimming along
Tried to dance to an eider duck’s song
Pirouette with a turn was all he could learn –
He got dizzy and sank before long.

Netherlands 2018 66

(Technically, this isn’t quite a duck; I’ve heard it called a water hen… in common parlance, this is a coot, but does anyone know why its babies have red feathers when as adults they’re b&w? They’re a mystery…)

To a Waterfowl

A duckling is made out of fluff.
If that isn’t precious enough,
Canals where they’re found with lilies abound –
(Not “awww”-ing is actually quite tough.)

Marktplaat

The warm air says ‘Springtime!’ – so sweet
In the market square, played on repeat
Are hand-clasps and hallos, a cheerful buzz grows
As neighbors meet friends on the street.

Invariably, limericks will wander off-topic… but, hey, jogging. Exercise. That’s seasonal, right? Right.

Netherlands 2018 33

Delft has a Thursday market and a Saturday market, and you can get bakery goods and sundries and produce at them both, and flowers on Thursday and antiques on Saturday. It is …wow. The best combination of a farmer’s market and a flea market. I could hang out and just stall-shop all day. I bought some random soaps that look like limes – enough so that I could put them on the table and someone would try to slice them. They smell amazing.

Pitfalls

On holiday, meals are sublime
and missing a treat seems a crime.
but, a girl can mistake her longing for cake
for desire to jog all the time…

And now, back on topic…

Duty

Mosquitoes play tag in the rain.
Well, young ones do – old ones abstain.
There’s duty to do – tourists to pursue,
Before they end up as bloodstains.

(Well, one can hope, anyway.)


So, how did the rest of my Sisters deal with the birds and the bees and the limericks? Here’s Laura swooping in, Tricia fluttering over, and Sara buzzing by. We’ll zoom over to Liz, and Kelly. Andi is in the garden, trying to keep ahead of the weeds!

Poetry Friday this week is hosted at Buffy Silverman’s Blog.

{a gentleman and a scholar}

Ah, Mr. Peck, your memory is a blessing.

There are few people in the children’s lit industry whom I respected more. He was so active on behalf of his readers, and on behalf of we feckless new writers who were trying to break into the industry. I will always be grateful that I took one of his mini-writing courses at SCBWI years ago, and kept all the worksheets he handed out (He was ever an English teacher. He had a suggested reading list). I will always be grateful for the smiles he kept giving me, the encouraging twinkle in his eye, and even though I was my usual ridiculous self and mostly sputtered instead of speaking like A Reasonable Adult, he squeezed my shoulder and complimented my work. I hoarded his kind words like emeralds.

A true gentleman and a scholar. We will not see his like again.


Netherlands 2018 526

Now, if children’s lit would stop having things happen whilst I was vacationing, I’d appreciate that… I am having a Twitter recess and mostly read the news by titles in my blogroll that I dismiss. Nothing stops the news cycle, but it is an untold relief to be able to legitimately ignore it, though. Sorry, cannot engage, am on my holiday… (Why can’t I manage that when I’m at home?)

We’d PLANNED to go on somewhere in August, but here we are in the Netherlands for three weeks and some change right now. We found an apartment (up 39 spiral, attic-style stairs, thankyouverymuch; that was a joy with two hard-sided suitcases) and we’ve settled in the little city/big town of Delft as a base for our wanderings. Since it’s not tulip season, it was cheap to be here now; high season starts a bit later in the year.

Today’s plan is to run away from home and move here.

It is surprisingly balmy weather – warmer than at home in California – and we are enjoying ourselves in this land of bakeries and water and bicycles. It is an idyll I didn’t know I needed. Wish you were here, friends.

{w r i t e}

Yesterday I said I’d share my unfinished fragment of a blog post sometime. Here it is:



[6.29.2017]
It’s both necessary and redemptive; as seductive as the lure of the whale, as obsessing as the chase, the need to conquer —

Write for the spaces between the words, for the air that buoys you like a rescue device, safety trapped between layers of subordinate clauses. ♦ Write toward the air and light, like a trapped miner digging toward safety, seeing the light filter at the end of the paragraph. ♦ Write deaf, like a sailor of Odysseus, ears defended against distractions beautiful and deadly, against the siren song of doubt. ♦ Write in darkness, thirsting for starlight, tracking your path like Galileo, defending your belief in the world the shape that it is.

~ ©2017



{p7 on pf lift a glass & w r i t e}

Every once in a while, I go through my blog’s drafts folder and find posts I began and never finished, or finished and never published. Sometimes, the reason is crystal clear – they were too moody, too personal, too specific. We always want to show our best selves in public, after all. But, every once in a while I find unfinished gems. I started a post last June, after Robin Smith died, and I was “all up in my feelings,” as it were, pondering her exhortation to me to keep writing despite the chaos in the world. (And there was chaos closer to home, too – after Robin passed, we had houseguests from across the country to entertain, my Mom went back to work, Tech Boy got a new job, and within two weeks, we’d abruptly moved out of a place we’d been for the five years since we moved back from the UK – it was A LOT. Too much, really.) I was groping my way through what those words meant to me. I did eventually publish something on writing near the end of June, and will eventually share the blog fragment — but today is more for my thoughts based on those words.

The fragment was some very descriptive thoughts on writing – and writing through life’s chaos – and as a jumping off point for the Seven Sisters Poetry Challenge this month, that’s my topic. Now, this month, Sara’s challenge was for us to write a toast. Or, kind of a toast, anyway; more of a salute to a…thing. Toasts for non-drinkers don’t come up a lot, but I gave it my best shot in three glasses.

three tools, one toast

A quill! A quill! The poet needs a quill
to scribe in blood the pain of loss
to lance the flesh and drain the wound
to coolly plot a double-cross
signal a shipwreck left marooned
A quill! A quill! All hail the mighty quill.
      ♦
A pen! A pen! All celebrate the pen
chips ice from frozen seas inside
a two-edged sword, which cut both ways
a whetstone to the tongue applied
we cross out lines and then rephrase –
A pen! A pen! All celebrate the pen.
      ♦
A word! A word! the writer seeks a word
elusive as a unicorn
it hovers just beyond one’s reach
grasped for in joy and hurled in scorn
its figure lent to grace your speech
A word! A word! the writer seeks a word.


Sara’s rules for “A Toast! A Toast!” were merely that we had to begin and end each poem with the same two words. (After setting the challenge, even SHE found this supremely difficult!!!). The crew is off in seven different directions this month, so we may not all get to this challenge at the same time, but we raise a glass to Laura in Cyprus, Sara in an airplane between here and there, Andi in the garden, Kelly in the studio, Tricia under a pile of final projects, Liz dashing between school and daughters, and me packing for vacation. The poetry must go on!

Poetry Friday is being hosted by the gracious Brenda Davis Harsham at Friendly Fairytales. Pop over to visit her beautiful garden-centric blog.

{time capsule, 1 year + one month ago}

April 3, 2017: “I’m fairly tolerant.” “I don’t see color.” “I’m pretty broad-minded.” “I’m the decider.” Because, if you have to say it, it’s likely not true, the previous four statements sound pretty off to me… and yet, they were said by well-intentioned people, and meant to be statements of purest truth.

During my last classroom visit, the teacher in charge made a slightly odd statement, perhaps meant to provoke the students into response. It was a deeply, deeply discomfiting statement, one which began with the statement, “I consider myself a liberal human being…” and ended with the statement that was something like but I didn’t realize black people did yoga. Unfortunately, I thought it was said in jest, and burst out laughing – only to realize no one had joined me. I could only attempt to salvage the moment and talk more in depth about the assumptions people make about people of other abilities, cultures, gender expressions, ethnicities, etc., in our country and in our world that lead to the confusions we share as human beings. It was …a moment.

broad-minded

I don’t see color –
(i’m better than that.) Unseen,
the people waited:
Unacknowledged, their voices.
Unheard, this story’s flip side.

the space between lines
that’s where you’ll find the story
& in the margins
(if you can’t see me, am i
your imaginary friend?)

Somoka is a form of poetry where both sides of the poem talk back to each other – and it’s supposed to form a love story. This time, it’s a missed connection…

…and a year on, I am no less confused by how that classroom visit went. I …just don’t understand, in all seriousness, how some of us can so fail to see the rest of us. I think some people operate on the two-year-old’s philosophy that if they close their eyes, some things don’t exist.

{mistress mannerly & #introvertproblems}

Dear Mistress Mannerly,

Today Tech Boy and I were invited to vacation in a lovely seaside resort home with two other couples. How can I explain to them that I’d rather chow down on rusted iron nails than be trapped in a house full of strangers who expect me to act like I want to speak to them and not hide in an empty room, and who want me to do something other than completely ignore them in favor of reading a book?

Signed,

An introvert completely panicking about togetherness in August even though it’s months away.


Greetings, Completely Panicking Introvert,

The seaside is lovely at any time of year, and you’ll find these next three months will just fly by, never fear. While those in the pica community prove that there are indeed minerals like iron and zinc to be gained from ingesting clays, metals, and the like, Mistress Mannerly begs to remind you that chewing nails will absolutely wreak havoc with your smile. Substituting the barest pinch of ground glass for your iron indulgence will result in a much more satisfyingly attractive corpse.

Mistress Mannerly begs you remember, panic is counterproductive. Mindful action – even the mindful action of letting rip the odd existential scream – is a much better way to get on.

Fare you well, and tastefully,

Mistress Mannerly

{npm18: 4.28}

The extended fam rented a vacation home outside Yosemite years ago, and most members dropped in during some part of the week they could get off work. During that trip, Nephew 2 turned four. Memorably, he didn’t want a cake, so we went with what he ate the most of… a banana. Later that day, he had banana pancakes.

Years later, and every time that child comes into my house, there’s a banana in his hand. Or, in his backpack. Or, on the guest bed upstairs, something which, no matter how many times I remind him about food upstairs, keeps happening. (Along with the Legos I keep finding everywhere, but that’s another story.)

Brilliant and scattered, he wears the apologetic grin of the perpetual people pleaser. He’s turbo-carb-charged, with a lot of energy from his favorite fruit, and a lot on his mind. He still doesn’t like cake. He still prefers bananas. In his perfect world, there would be no chocolate, and banana chip cookies, instead. In some ways, he and his brother couldn’t be less alike. It’ll be interesting to see what kind of treat he requests this weekend… probably a whole bunch of bananas to himself.

Little Man at 9

hummingbird sweetness
as his busy brain vibrates
and sends him flying
into six different projects
fully fueled on yellow fruit