HAPPY OCTOBER’S END!
It’s the most wonderful time of the year!
It’s the time of vivid skies and shaded leaves and the sharpest fading of the light, leading to long-blooming mornings and gray blue twilight that snuffs out sharply into deepest dark. It’s the time of low fogs and high winds and swirling leaves caught up and crunching underfoot… and being tracked into the house… starting off the cycle of more vacuuming and dusting and sweeping and giant spiders from who knows where just SHOWING UP and taking over your house, and also, who invited all the earwigs this year!?!?
Right. Wonderful. We were focusing on WONDERFUL.
No matter the pumpkin spiced nonsense that comes with, Autumn is A Good Time, and it seems we Poetry Peeps decided, in our infinite 2019 wisdom, that October was going to be a good time to explore a new type of poetry – new to me, at least. The name naani is a word in a Dravidian language of the ethno-linguistic Indian people of Telugu, who live predominantly in the Indian states of Andhra Pradesh. Naani sounds playful and brief, and I like the idea of a poem whose name is defined as, and which addresses “of one and all.” That means our random meanderings are welcome here – as long as we keep them from 20 to 25 syllables. This is an accessible form for most of my Poetry Peeps – check out what Liz did with it. Laura‘s is here. Tricia‘s is here, Michelle’s naani is here, and Sara’s is here, and here’s Elle’s Poetry Peeps debut. Stay tuned for more links here as other Poetry Peeps check in.
Unlike the haiku form, this poetry isn’t going to be necessarily nature-inspired, but it’s more a poetry form for what catch-all topics cross the mind – housekeeping. Earwigs. Moods. In my case this month it’s …mail. Specifically, junk mail. Political mail. I’m quite ready to be done with it.
pen pal’s promise
(longer letter later) keeps me
through ads, bills & junk
hope holds on
slick-bright pages loud
with entreaty: see me! believe me!
unheeding, I file.
(Yes, that title and last line work together to create a pun on “circular file.” You’re welcome.)
In this neighborhood we have teensy tiny porch mailboxes, the flat kind with the little lid, which means there’s limited space in there for nonsense, and each day this week the box has been simply crammed. Between the door-to-door candidates who just slip something under the door mat, and the newspaper inserts and the mail, there’s so much paper trash, all of it yammering at me for my attention and my vote. 100% of it goes into the recycle bin, 99% of it without even meeting my eyes. Surely there’s a better use of politicians’ time? I know there’s certainly a better use of MINE – not to mention our poor mail carrier’s!
But, we’re nearly there, my friends. In just days the time changes, the election will finally be over, and we’ll be free to actually enjoy these blustery autumn days – light our candles instead of just leaving them to look pretty on the hearth, drink our tea, instead of just getting it as gifts, to take the moment we’re in and fully inhabit it for joy, before the next round of minor irritations and major worries gather to bracket our days. Breathe. Be.
Even more poetry today is brought to you by Linda at Teacher Dance, who is helpfully hosting our Poetry Friday with memories of Halloween past.
So much has weighed so heavily this month that the word ‘ponderous,’ which was intended as a sort of light-hearted take on feeling dragged low by the end of summertime has a much, much greater weight to it now.
There’s much, as always, for which to be grateful – for today, the air is clear, the fires are closer to reaching containment, there’s been minimal damage from any earthquakes, and while we’ve lost our Justice, a new one hasn’t been forced upon us just yet. Just for a moment, let’s take a hard turn away from the ponderous news cycle and our very literal feelings of heaviness, and concentrate on something happier… like hippos.
Of the Poetry Peeps, Laura’s usually the animal poem person, but I have had a soft heart toward hippos since seeing Disney’s Fantasia as a kid. I always cheer on the underdog, and Hyacinth Hippo was …meant to be comedic, in her ungainly grace, with her less than sylph-like size – but just like the ostriches who began the dance, she was also earnestly, beautifully dancing her best.
When Fiona, the hippo born six weeks prematurely at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Gardens, became a YouTube star, I think everyone’s love of hippos skyrocketed. Fiona is adorably full of personality, and her fans find hippos just the sweetest, hugest, splooshiest… water cows, ever. (The Afrikaans word for hippo is seekoei, which literally means sea cow… which makes sense, if their closest relative is the whale.) And, finally, I have to love hippos because I was leaping around, pretend ballet-dancing after school when I was about ten, and got called a hippo, because …Middle School.
Y’know, not everyone is a graceful seahorse. We sea cows may as well own it.
Never cutting through the river
like an arrow, swift and clean –
Never poised and leaping lightly,
Not a sylph-like figurine.
Comical with weighty wallow,
In a pod they’re called a …BLOAT!
River horse, cow of the water
Always barrel-shaped and ponderous
but their bite can snap canoes.
Always outclassed as a runner –
(Those jaws need no running shoes.)
Munching eighty pounds of grasses,
They cause crocs to think again
Confidence their superpower,
Hail the whale’s more deadly kin.
(I couldn’t decide if the last lines should be, They make crocodiles think twice/Though they’re graceful in the water/Mess with them, and pay the price, but I like both conclusions equally: the hippo is the deadliest land-animal in Africa, and we should be so lucky to be called a hippo.)
Want to see what our other Poetry Peeps have done this week? Liz was relieved to write about hippos instead of, say, the presidency. Tricia’s pondering hippos, while Laura’s are stepping high. Ponder Sara’s wordplay here. Check out Carol’s seaside poem here, and Cousin Mary Lee is exploring ponderous thoughts here. Stay tuned as other poets check in with their hippo-ponderous poetry throughout the day.
Poetry Friday is hosted today at Jone McCulloch’s blog, where we’re invited to be both brave and mathematical. Thanks, Jone!
The finalists for the 2021 NSK Neustadt Prize for Children’s Literature are:
・Laurie Halse Anderson
・Linda Sue Park
・Cynthia Leitich Smith
The 2021 prizewinner will be announced on Oct. 20, the second night of the 2020 Neustadt Festival, which runs Oct. 19–21. Though traditionally, this Festival is held on the campus of the University of Oklahoma, this year, you’re invited to join us online! Hope to see you there!
Last week, poet Carol V. so loved the Bach invention poem I found that she used a stanza of it for a golden shovel. That seemed as good a reason as any to revisit the golden shovel form from 2017 for this month’s hindsight challenge, and remember the particular challenges of that form. Our task this month is to either revise a poem, or write a poem in concert with a poem we’ve written before, and after these last couple of weeks, I think a golden shovel will serve nicely as a complimentary complex and chaotic form (for me – YMMV). Through a crippling heatwave, massive thunderstorms, multiple lightning-sparked wildfires, days of gray skies and breath-stealing smoke, rolling power blackouts, more humidity than I am generally prepared to deal with, AND A COMPLICATED NOVEL REVISION, August has been A Month, and I certainly need more words than mine to describe it.
And yet it’s somewhat startling to discover that it’s nearly September. I’m definitely over August, but September seems… a guest come too soon. Schools are open, faculty are stumbling into the new normal, and somewhere, some eejit is muttering already about Ugg boots pumpkin spice. And yet, it feels like this wild summer cannot possibly be finished with us yet. Too much has happened. Too many continued conflagrations spark from all corners of the world. What next? Who knows. There’s no way to engage our much valued foresight – and in 2020, our hindsight is wholly broken.
I saved this image from the graphic design journal, Print (which folded in 2017) years ago. Like the 17th century English proverb, “Enough is as good as a feast,” this particular quote has inspired me for a long time. Regardless of the David Pearson’s flowing graphic design, and his quirky title – “Fortune Cookie,” the words themselves are simple and a bit stark. The most we can do is our best. There’s literally nothing else – at all – that we can do. And while so many struggle against the changes this virus has wrought in the world, reeling from continued disappointments and discomfort, giving in to depression, the truth remains: the most we can do is our best, and not a single thing more. If you’re doing your best? Take a breath. You’ve done what you can. You’re doing all right.
The science writer for The Atlantic, Ed Yong was on NPR’s Code Switch this week, and said something else which resonated and informed my golden shovel thoughts. He said, “Throughout much of the year, people have asked themselves, how can we get back to normal? And I think radial introspection begins with understanding that ‘normal’ wasn’t so great for everyone.” Beneath the strictures of a suddenly shifted society, where the change is impersonal – and permanent – there is room only for acquiescence and acceptance. It is what it is – and the most we can do is our best to take what was and sift from it what should never have been and make what we have better than what went before. Tall order, that. But can we do anything else? Do we have any other choice?
it dins and rattles on. the
year a scything saw blade, felling most
of normalcy. the things we
held, befouled, bereft, bereaved. how can
we amend ‘grieve’ to do?
adjust acceptance to what is?
the past imperfect, gone – our
present, tense. come, future, be our best.
Roll call for the poetry peeps! Many of our student and educator friends are treading pretty deep waters this month with the reprise of digital/distance learning, and haven’t quite made it back to poetry yet – we salute them and we’ll see them next month. Meanwhile, writing to our challenge this month is Laura’s, whose poem is here, and Michelle, whose leap into foresight is here. Carol is revisiting a firefly poem here. A very busy Sara alighted briefly here, while Tricia is here. Stay tuned for other poets checking in.
Graciously hosting Poetry Friday at My Juicy Little Universe, Heidi is remembering the other September when so much changed we thought we would never find “normal” again.
If you could have anything in the World that you wanted to put there, what would you add? I know what I’d want – you. We need you in this strange new reality in which we find ourselves. Rest up this weekend – we’ve all got a lot to do to remake a more just society. Just don’t forget – only try to carry what fits into your arms. Take a breath – and you may find the first step is easier.
TECH SUPPORT NOTES: Several of you have contacted me about various weirdnesses involved in you commenting on these blog posts – you should in theory be able to comment now, even if you log in from a WordPress.com site instead of .org; as always, updates and fixes are ongoing. Thank you for your patience!
I love J.S. Bach’s musical “inventions,” which are short compositions which Bach composed for his students to learn keyboard mastery. They’re logical… in the way that scales are, with each note coming properly after the next, and coming into a lovely, restful conclusion… and they’re also… complex. I ran across a poem about them, and it just… sings. Don’t we all wish our busy, complex, chaotic lives were made into something so orderly and wise?
by Jane Tyson Clement
If I could live as finished as this phrase,
no note too strong; each cadence purposed, clear,
the logic of the changing harmony
building and breaking to a major chord
strangely at home within a minor web
of music; if I could define my end,
from the beginning measures trace my course,
I might be old and prudent, shown by laws
how to devise a pattern for my days
and still be free, unhampered, yet refined.
He sat before the keys and turned the notes
into a fabric of design and peace;
here are the notes, the keys, my fingers free
to run them through their course, and here my mind
seeing his wisdom work within the chords,
finding his knowledge in the finished line.
I would be wise if such restraint were mine.
Smith College, Massachusetts
Poetry Friday today is hosted by Molly at Nix the Comfort Zone which is a most provocative blog name! Have a good weekend – rest and reorganize.
Check in: Welcome, Poetry Peeps! It’s nearly August, and a lot has happened this last month! Laura has requested that with this post we update each other, so I’m pleased to share that I’ve just gotten to vote on my favorite voice-over artist for SERENA SAYS, my middle grade book coming out in November, and I’ve just turned in the first draft of my 2021 WIP, and I am attempting to write wildly improbable fantasy as a palette cleanser. Who knows if anything will come of it; the purpose is to have fun and try to be funny – to relax into just ridiculous. I’m still gardening (badly) but my salvia is blooming and my carrots are many. Success is what you make of it.
Peeps, how are you???
Etheree Taylor Armstrong arrived February 13, 1918 and departed this mortal coil on March 14, 1994. She was a poet from Arkansas, and what little else we know of her is derived from the poetic style that she invented – she was deliberate and organized, and good with numbers. That is, in my opinion, what one needs to work with the etheree.
The etheree’s simplicity is deceptive – anyone can compose ten lines with syllables matching the numbered line. But, making the poem thematically meaningful whilst counting syllables is more of a challenge.
Jump in the Wayback Machine with me and check out Sara’s, John’s, and Kelly’s from 2015, when we made our first etheree attempts. (Sara’s on the move, and Kelly’s seeing to hubby’s knees, and John’s waving from afar – all with us in spirit.) Our theme this time around was purposefully vague – summer or foresight – and I think we did it justice: Here’s Laura’s, and Tricia’s; Liz’s etheree is here. Michelle’s is here. Don’t forget to let us know where you posted yours!
A glance at the paper this week mentioned the possibility of a California running-mate on the election ticket this November. Whatever one’s political leanings, the heavy sigh in response to the reminder, “California is a code-word,” was probably loud and sustained throughout the state, knowing just how tiresome it’s all going to be. We expect the resurrection of the slew of slanderous comments about our “values;” our queer folk, our Latinx neighbors, our many vegetarians and vegans, our commitment to environmental justice, our film industry, and our tech folk. I have acquaintances who call themselves my friends yet are faintly hostile at the mention of California. I recall strangers following us singing “California girls” (the ugliest most objectifying sexist rubbish ever) when my sisters and I walked the streets of the one stoplight Louisiana town where we visited my grandparents. Eventually, one gets a thicker skin, but I cannot say I’m looking forward to more. This poem unpacked how I see myself in reference to my state – its reputation writ large against the small and varied lives which busily thrive here. My affection for my state is real, but it’s not “my State right or wrong” but more “my State, and maybe yours is a lot like it.” Wherever you’re from is home.
“the golden state,”
“land of fruits and nuts”
punch-drunk on sunshine, our
poppies even seem to glow.
few States polarize the nation:
bring Beach Boy dreams or fury, spitting
from strangers who have never breathed its air…
we, nightmare or California dreaming?
blue bowls of sky above the suburbs
blunt hills a thousand shades of gold
hazy blacktop mirages
fog-wreathed redwood forests.
stretching to the past
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
I enjoyed playing with the placement of the poem – I imagine it as a the swoops of the Golden Gate, reflected on the Bay on a still summer morning. This poem is kind of a thematic fail; this is meant to have been about SUMMER, and it’s a bit State heavy, but California – in its public narrative, at least – is rumored to be an endless summer. It’s wholly a tissue of lies, but still, it counts right? Right. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.
Poetry Friday is hosted today at Reading at the Core. We hope you embrace what’s left of summer with all your might – and may all roads lead you to wherever you call home.
“I have learned that
racism affects African American people
every day of their lives.”
the labors of Sisyphus
were punitive –
just desserts and
fair penance for
underhanded, dirty dog
an underworld eternity
of useless effort, of
endless blistering frustration
some god must be offended
some Poseidon, a lightning thief
escaping, marked this realm
besting Zeus. we are accursed
understanding is a boulder;
the truth a heavy weight
rolling back to crush us
ignorance speaks – and whoosh!
dust flies – that two ton weight rolls on
like mercy hasn’t.
like empathy can’t.
like racism always does
rolling the rock –
straining for uplift
only for its weight to crash down —
The other night I tried to write a letter to an acquaintance who wrote a letter with the above statement… I sat with it for two days before I tried to respond and then determined that it’s just… too… much… work. During that time, however, I came up with a metaphor: if a child you loved was bitten by a dog, you would in nowise stand as they wailed, bleeding, telling them of all the breeds of dogs which are Good Dogs, which have not bitten them. You would, I hope, if you possess your humanity, bandage and hold them and grieve with them over this dog, this breach of trust, this theft of innocence, this pain, this bite.
Oh, the difficulty of hearing from someone in a position of trust about “the vast majority” of policemen with “integrity and courage” just now… it is both unnecessary and repellent — the same as grandiosely stating that all lives matter to God, because DUH, but that’s not the point just now.
Why do people find humanity, empathy, and solidarity so hard?