{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: subtraction & excuses}

I realized the other day that the last book-related event I attended was… in…2010. I tend to make lightning visits to the library, I’ve missed the last two readings I was meant to attend, for reasons of illness, hailstones (no, really), and plain forgetting; I didn’t have a book out when ALA was forty minutes away, I knew the author but I didn’t quite know where I was going… The list goes on; “reasons” sounding a great deal like excuses.

I’m going to a book-related thingy today, though – because I’m being carried along by Tech Boy’s enthusiasm. I really don’t want to. And yet, I know this of myself: I hate the idea of going; the pangs of dread as I get dressed, the dismay as I accessorize, the teeth-grinding anxiety on the drive down… and usually, most of the time with rare exceptions, I find something to enjoy. Once I arrive and hit the last hurdle, forcing myself to walk through the door into a room packed with voices and people, things are fine – I’m entertained, I’m amused, I’m relieved that I went. It just takes wading through the other things my brain throws at me first.

Sometimes, it just doesn’t feel worth all of that effort, and I find myself deleting, subtracting one thing, two things, three, and soon I’ve managed to take everything away from myself. Introverts do like people and social situations, just in measured doses, so all the erasure doesn’t make me happy, either (it makes the neurotic anxious me happy though, but that’s another story). Sometimes this subtraction is just too easy to continue once you’ve started…

That Will to Divest

Action creates
a taste
for itself.
Meaning: once
you’ve swept
the shelves
of spoons
and plates
you kept
for guests,
it gets harder
not to also
simplify the larder,
not to dismiss
rooms, not to
divest yourself
of all the chairs
but one, not
to test what
singleness can bear,
once you’ve begun.

– Kay Ryan

I’m finding this goes for packing, too…

{#npm’17: time travel again}

My sister and I are on a nail odyssey, as in, we’re attempting to not bite them for an extended period of time. She got nail tips done in a shop to prevent this biting. It lasted for… a week. Mine lasted somewhat longer. Today, she’s on my mind, so I am re-posting poems about her from a couple of years ago. Enjoy.


Yesterday, my mother sent me this picture from her phone.

nsmail-39

These are my sister’s old braces – molded specifically for her infant-toddler-child-girl-woman legs and feet, so we can’t pass them on, only recycle them. Mom couldn’t bear to do it when she was small, so they’ve been in the attic for the past decade, a silent testament. Like the pencil marks on my friend Bean’s kitchen doorway which track the progress of her daughters, now both in their late twenties/early thirties, these are a witness to how much the years have changed the Bug. This is a record of the surgeries to correct the tiny bones, of the structuring forced on her dimpled limbs to enable her feet to lie flat, her ankles to support her weight, her back to stretch out, her body to stand tall. At nineteen and fairly petite, there aren’t dimpled elbows and knees left, and there probably won’t be too much more lengthening of those femurs, but stature from other directions – cognitively, of course, because every teen needs cunning and guile – wisdom – confidence. But what records do we keep of those? How do we know when we’ve become what we’re meant to be?

“running” your own life takes practice

stand up for yourself
don’t let them walk over you
just put your foot down

we’ve “stumbled onto” a solution

you don’t stand a chance
’til you can stand on your own
so take the first step

roll on you crazy diamond

“I’m fun-sized, not short,”
she takes this life in her stride
while finding her feet

Yep, that’s my girl.

{#npm’17: with apologies to the doggerel patrol}

rx for writer’s block

the lowered sky scowls, ushers in
another springtime squall.
restless, the wind’s spin, once again
heralds cold raindrop’s fall.
in layered wool, enwrapped in fleece
and sipping piping tea
the writer sighs at spring’s caprice —
and, writing, finds the way to peace.

should others, plying art as trade
find dull days leave their souls in pique
recall that sun, too, can invade
with sick ennui the Muse pervade —
perhaps, what’s best is this technique:
Keep Butt-In-Chair, five days a week.

{#npm’17: a tender shoot}

Hayford Mills 026

My play-cousin, Mary Lee, has been posting all about Pete Seeger’s lyricist, Malvina Reynolds, this past month, and Reynolds’ song about failing fell in a good spot for me. But I didn’t want to admit to Mary Lee that I’d never heard, um, of Malvina Reynolds, and I couldn’t identify more than one Pete Seeger song if paid. (*cough* I know. Sorry. “This Land Is Your Land?” that’s all I’ve got.) Protest songs weren’t necessarily my era, and our household was all about the religious music, except for illicit Manilow and the odd easy-listening in the car on the way to the grocery store. (My mother, the maverick.)

So, I thought Mary Lee’s favorite Seeger lyrics was a good thing to post today, for my Christian peeps, and for my Jewish, Muslim, and Generally Not Into It peeps as well. It spins well off of Tupac’s “The Rose that Grew From Concrete:

Did you hear about the rose that grew
from a crack in the concrete?
Proving nature’s law is wrong it
learned to walk with out having feet.
Funny it seems, but by keeping its dreams,
it learned to breathe fresh air.
Long live the rose that grew from concrete
when no one else ever cared.

Water drills stone. Roots shift concrete. Grass covers all. Whether your rose or grass is HaShem, Jesus, the Prophet, or sheer granite determination to get through these next few days, months, and weeks, may your sneaky, rooted self find all the cracks, and may your push never falter, that the concrete which stifles us might buckle, and a necessary growth take place.

God Bless the Grass

God bless the grass that grows through the crack.
They roll the concrete over it to try and keep it back.
The concrete gets tired of what it has to do,
It breaks and it buckles and the grass grows thru,
And God bless the grass.
God bless the truth that fights toward the sun,
They roll the lies over it and think that it is done
It moves through the ground and reaches for the air,
And after a while it is growing everywhere,
And God bless the grass.
God bless the grass that breaks through cement,
It’s green and it’s tender and it’s easily bent,
But after a while it lifts up it’s head,
For the grass is living and the stone is dead.
And God bless the grass.
God bless the grass that’s gentle and low
Its roots they are deep and it’s will is to grow.
And God bless the truth, the friend of the poor,
And the wild grass growing at the poor man’s door,
And God bless the grass.

~ Malvina Reynolds

Hayford Mills 330

Pax.

{#npm’17: be here now}

robin’s song

“to the artist, to make the most of time”

a little bird once laid on me
intelligence in four short words
“be here right now.” philosophy
astonishing if not absurd –

we’re always Here. we’re always Now,
but humans linger in the past
endless Regretfuls we allow
to turn Today to overcast

so mindfulness in pithy phrase
may Zen-pretentiousness suppose,
but practice it – the mind’s malaise
will fade to nothing, decompose

friend robin sang and told a True
I strive for all my waking days:
“take risks! make messes! and pursue
both Love and Art, without delay.”

For my friend Robin Smith, who, hearing Tech Boy had been out of work since December sent a card asking, “I know you’re worried about all of that, but have you been writing? You have so much to offer.” So timely to this past week, I was sincerely touched that she wrote just when she has her own stuff going on. ♥

Christmas Here Right Now

{#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: faking it}

Continuing my rejection-revision saga, this was a tweet attributed to the quirkily brilliant alien Jon Sun: “editing is easier than writing bc writing only works when u believe u dont suck and editing only works when u believe u do”

That was… painfully relevant. Painfully.

those two imposters

this poem is me, faking
that i know how to rhyme
and balance lightly, meter, & do so all the time

a rule in poem-making
to make the stanzas chime
in poems is me, faking
that I know how to rhyme

my word choice is painstaking,
my rhetoric, sublime
a single phrase illuminates, and shifts a paradigm —
but poetry? Me? Faking
that I know how to rhyme
and balance lightly, meter, & do so, all the time

“The first problem of any kind of even limited success is the unshakeable conviction that you are getting away with something and that any moment now they will discover you.” ~ Neil Not-Getting-Away-With-It Gaiman.

::Sigh:: I know, from watching other people do so, that you can disbelieve your way out of a field. So, there is a trick to this that one must perform daily, or else.

(Point of interest: this poem is a variation on the Italian form called a madrigal(e). I thought one only sang those, but perhaps not. “Those two imposters” refers, of course, to Kipling’s “If,” stanzas of which we memorized in the fifth grade, and used for handwriting lessons as well – “If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster/ And treat those two imposters just the same…” I am torn between nostalgia and exasperation at the memory of that poem, and how hard we tried to live up to all of that… so we could be “a Man, my son.” Good grief.)

{#npm’17: the land that never has been yet}

Vacaville 194

Yesterday, I got to thinking about the idea of “average” and “mainstream” and the massive mythos that has been built up about the American. The definition of the American Dream as written by James Truslow Adams in 1931 posited that “life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement” regardless of social class or circumstances of birth. That sounds reasonable enough, right? And yet, the dream has morphed continuously. Have you ever read the whole of Langston Hughes’ “Let America Be America Again?” Not just the first few lines or stanzas. Read it all, aloud. I’ll wait.

As you see, depending on who is dreaming for us, what we want is to be The Best. We are supposed to be Made Great. O, Pioneers, we are meant to go forth and conquer. We are supposed to want to be captains of industry, while many of us want to just have a decent house and a garden and maybe a couple of kids or a weasel (same thing, really, as my friend Liz might tell me ☺). And yet, the cross-section of most people you know and I know, the true average mainstream want simpler truths, that change, that level place to stand and be, for them and theirs. As Langston Hughes said,
O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!

musings of the mainstream

o, beauteous, this spacious sky
belongs to all who live hereby
to all who strive on this earth’s curve
to freely live, and love to serve.

And let us take up Langston’s vow
& though we know not when – or how –
let’s live in hope the dream is true
and no mere “greatness” thus pursue…
for who the dreamer? whose, the dream?
& which America a gleam of graft and rot in rheumy eye
& which the land where you (& I)
the masses yearning to breathe free
can safely plant a family tree?

a genuine and human heart is unconcerned with being great
but looks instead to love and serve, and has no need to compensate.

With apologies to Langston Hughes, and Emma Lazarus, and everyone who winces at poetic doggerel.