{p7 on pf: a patchwork of a cento}

“I cannot hide my anger to spare you guilt, nor hurt feelings, nor answering anger; for to do so insults and trivializes all our efforts. Guilt is not a response to anger; it is a response to one’s own actions or lack of action. If it leads to change then it can be useful, since it is then no longer guilt but the beginning of knowledge. Yet all too often, guilt is just another name for impotence, for defensiveness destructive of communication; it becomes a device to protect ignorance and the continuation of things the way they are, the ultimate protection for changelessness.”

Greetings and salutations: It’s Poetry Friday, and is anyone else mildly bewildered that it’s September? While no one can say this summer has gone by quickly – no one who was has been wilting in the heat or sucking down smoke – that we’re officially motoring towards Autumn is a bit surprising… ah, well, on with the dance.

How I did it: While found poetry is typically difficult for me, this month’s cento challenge was a doozy. After TEN YEARS (this past April) of making poetry together with these ladies, I would not have wasted time whining about how difficult this was, except if we’re too quiet, it makes Sara leery, so WOW, THIS WAS HARD, UGH, GOSH, CENTOS, ARGH. Better, Sara? Onward:

From the Latin word for “patchwork” a cento is a collage poem made up of lines from poems by other poets. For our poetic quilt, the Poetry Sisters chose a single stanza from “I See Chile In My Rearview Mirrow by New Delhi poet Agha Shahid Ali. From this poem, we then chose a single word from a selected stanza around which to build our collage.

Finding poems for centos can be challenging, but a quick shortcut is to put your chosen word into the search engine at Poets.org and proceed from there. Out of the plethora of interesting choices, I chose like, which was common enough to give me too many options for poems, so I limited myself to only five pages of results from Poets.org, and twenty-seven poems, which I whittled down to a mere seventeen. Happily, this choice also opened my poem up to myriad cultural and ethnic diversities as well, as we move from the past to the present, through myriad continents and genders and faiths.

Making Meaning: It’s challenging to make meaningful poetry out of patchwork, however – having to leave the words of the poems in the order in which they were within their individual works made this even more difficult. However, because I have still been reflecting on my recent foray into harpy-ism, I found myself with ample fodder for the whirling emotions in the lines which presented themselves. Reflecting on how I had felt in the moment just after an insult, I found a backing for the swirling patchwork, and I pinned my individual bits in various places and orders until they felt true.


ozone & petrichor (after lightning)

i.
I would like to describe the simplest of emotions

ii.
it was like this:
like a feather on an arrow shot through a neck other times
like brooms of steel.
like sunlight, in fog
breaking like oil. the night
smelled like a dead frog.
a rose like a screw
drawn out of my breast like a rib.

I know this is an all-black-people-look-alike moment…
I have never been anything like pink
& lord knows, I have been called by what I look like.
Just like that, I’m a flung open door.
I run around like mad –
Like them, I wanted — only to die, moon-dark. Blessed,
unnoticed. now they look suspended, like heroes
a dream still clinging like light to the dark,
as the mist disappeared. like a curtain, open,
maybe. its flaws, like cracks
leaking in and out in all directions

iii.
mistress, eyes are nothing. like the sun
like a million dollar god with a two-cent
rim-shot, history, like a shadow, passes.


Closing Credits: And there’s even more cento-y goodness from the Sisterhood. Laura meets this month’s challenge through glass, Tricia found a truly envy-producing title, Sara, who set our challenge this month, sees all that is before us, while Liz breaks down breaking/brokenness. From their cushy chairs on the sidelines, Andi and Kelly meanwhile wave their pom-poms in our general direction, cheering us onward.

The true gift of a cento is the impetus to read widely – and wildly – a number of different types of poems one might not have otherwise attempted. To best appreciate the rich cloth from which each piece of patchwork is cut, you are invited to find a line you feel is especially intriguing, and read its antecedent poem.


This week’s Poetry Friday host is Beyond Literacy Link. Here’s to corralling the various whirling emotions that we might have and pinning them down into poetry. A cento style might not make it as easy to impose order onto your world as, say, a sonnet, but there is something to be said for using whatever feelings you have – however you feel – to make an orderly mind out of chaos.

” We use whatever strengths we have fought for, including anger, to help define and fashion a world where all our sisters can grow, where our children can love, where the power of touching & meeting another woman’s difference & wonder will eventually transcend the need for destruction.” Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider: Essays & Speeches (Berkeley: Crossing Press, 2007), 124-133

Hat tip to Tech Boy who made my little table in ten minutes, when I would have had to work carefully, with a lot of scowling and muttering, for an hour or more.

{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.

{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.

{pf: seven sisters and a february tanka}

Another month (was January sixteen years long, or was that just me???), another poetic endeavor with the Seven Sisters! This month we’re visiting Moscow (brrr, in spirit only, it’s far too chilly to venture that direction these days) to stride the wide boulevards surrounding this lovely bit of Moscow called by Muscovites “Vysotniye Zdaniye,” or “the tall buildings.” That nondescript description is more fancifully known to Westerners as “Stalin’s Seven Sisters.” While this is basically one gigantic architectural wedding cake, each of the seven buildings has its own distinct spire.

In our poetic endeavors this month, we’ve been tasked to create tankas – but with a tiny catch. Our topics were chosen for us, as each of us was to respond this month to another sister’s sonnet from last month. You’ll find Sara’s here, right here is Liz’s; Laura’s is here, and along with an explanation of the form, Kelly’s is here, and Tricia’s, here. We wish Andi a happy February, and hope catch up with her another time.

I am fairly certain that I got the easiest assignment out of the crew. Kelly’s winsome little beauty, Kismet made words sparkle from Kelly’s pen, and certainly Kismet easily lent herself to the tanka form, which traditionally celebrated the glories of nature. Well, nothing more natural than a cat falling asleep while plotting world domination, right? I mean, if they could just stay awake long enough, we might need to worry. But, otherwise, nah.

I played with the idea of what it means to “respond” to the sonnet, and, since we’ve encountered tankas before repeatedly in this poetry project, I also tried harder on the “turn,” that comes in the third line of the tanka form. Conventional wisdom suggests that this “turn” could be both used as a widening of perspective, bridging topics between the top and bottom lines, or for a complete turn of attitude. This makes it fun to use Kismet in the sense of destiny, and as the subject of our poems.

o, mighty huntress

russet drab, and dun
flap/flutter/peck unceasing.
double-glazed reprieve
denies this bat-eared huntress.
Crouch gains curl, then, pounce turns purr.

days of dozing

what calico dreams
await the fuzzball, sleeping?
the feline kismet
paws splayed, claws keen to capture
at least one fluffed-up sparrow.

as told by k2

sunbeams shift closer
that translucent obstacle
unimpaired by claws slashing
frames distraction. my human,
eyes dreaming, hears Muses sing

wayfarer

all hard ground and horns
the world is colder, outside
landing on her feet
she’s found warm laps and purring
not all who wander stay lost

Around Glasgow 596

Last week’s Poetry Friday host, Carol Varsalona, invited me to join the Winter Wonderland Gallery, where throughout the months of January and February, the poetry community will be sharing poems, photography, illustrations and reflections on the stillness and artistry of the natural world this season. Carol invites us to share “YOUR perspective of the winter season in any of these mediums: photographs, videos, digital slide shows, songs musical compositions, artistic renderings, collages, illustrations, digital inspirations, image poems, inspirational quotes, sketches, or hand-draw pictures. Share your inspirations globally.” Drop by, friends, and check it out.

Meanwhile, further poetry can be found at Poetry Friday, hosted this week by Donna JT Smith @ Mainley Write.

Pack as much introspection and discovery as you can into these crisp winter mornings. It’s the shortest month of the year. Make every day significant.

{december lights: p7’s poetry friday lai}

…or the stars, as the case may be.

It’s Poetry Friday, and the last month of the year, huzzah! The Sisters have once again persevered and come through! Yay, us! And here we are with another poetic form! This one… I’ve never done before, and it was both simple and hard. Simple is sometimes really difficult, I find. The Lai is a form from France, and this nine-line poem uses an “A” and “B” rhyme scheme with A lines being five syllables, and B lines two. The pattern is AA B AA B AA B. See? Simple. But… also ridiculously hard.

As always, the Sisters did it justice. Don’t miss works by Sara,
Laura, Tricia, Kelly,, and Liz.

Fortunately, our theme was “hope, peace & light” which ties nicely into December’s theme as a whole, right? I gave it a go, and after some technical difficulties under the heading of, “I started to enjoy just writing a poem, forgot there were rules about end rhyme and ended up with some weird hybrid,” I came up with this little poem in three parts – moving from dusk to midnight to dawn… it’s not so much about hope or peace or light, and more about… determination to find such:

I. Waning Light
Darkest time of year
Dusk seems always near;
It waits.
Autumn days austere
chill the atmosphere.
By eight,
Day time’s souvenir,
moon, will disappear.
II. Will The Dawn Return?
Let the dark gestate
That which we await
And fear.
Though we may debate,
seasonal dictates
are clear:
Let us celebrate
Life, as its due date
draw near.
III. Dragging In Darkness
Daybreak’s slow premiere
heralds blue skies, clear
roads straight.
Borne, we cannot steer
Our celestial sphere.
Our fate
mutable, unclear –
But, we persevere,
create.

Vacaville 191

2017 has been… a ride over Niagra in a barrel – and if you’ll recall, Annie Edison Taylor said of it, “If it was with my dying breath, I would caution anyone against attempting the feat…. I would sooner walk up to the mouth of a cannon, knowing it was going to blow me to pieces than make another trip over the Fall.” Yeah… it’s just been that kind of a year. But! While days may be dark, the moon may be dim, and our nerves on edge, remember that the spirit of creativity is its own spark, dear ones. Don’t let your hands be idle. Even if it’s putting stickers on a piece of paper and making bookmarks for a school library, it’s doing something to feed you. Keep finding your feet, holding your candle, and lighting your world.

Arise and shine.


Poetry Friday today is hosted by Cousin Mary Lee at A Year of Reading. Please pop over for more lovely poetry today. Thank you for dropping by, and we hope you join us – the Seven Sisters – for whatever poetic hijinks we get up to next year! We’ll see you in January.

{poetry friday: p7’s ekphrastic: on the rocks}

CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS: Because “mistakes flower/every hour,” this anthology of middle grade poetry will look at mistakes from as many angles as possible, including (but not limited to) mistakes that result in discoveries/inventions, grammar and etiquette mishaps, historical and fictional blunders, funny/silly/embarrassing missteps, ways to make things right, and forgiveness.

Visit the link for details. Submission deadline November 1, 2017. Send poems to mistakesanthologyATgmailDOTcom.


It’s the first Friday of September, and the countdown to autumn begins in earnest. All hail, the gathering of the Poetry Sisters, as they come in from balmy, sticky summer days, too-short vacations, garden grubbing, housekeeping, art-making, school year preps, and conferences.

All hail, the gathering up of the brain cells.

I will now skip my usual song and dance about “Already!” and “Good grief!” and any number of other folksy expressions of shock, and just admit that 2017 feels, each month, as if we’ve lived a full year in the past thirty days… and yet, time keeps on shoving us onward, into the future. Hurrah.

(I mean, it’s not like I would like time to stop or anything, but the shoving just seems rude. I would like the days to pass without a cattle prod, thank you.)

Ah, well. The world is full of short, sharp shocks, is it not? Fortunately, there’s always poetry.

This month, we’re back to the ekphrastic, which means that the form was up to us, and the prompt was the rather lovely picture above, taken by Sara, along a path at the Highlight Foundation retreat center near lovely semi-rural Honesdale, Pennsylvania. I and several other sisters were taken by how the stone etched with the word ‘wish’ was snapped in half – rather like a wishbone – through the pressure of cold and weathering. We also noted how some of the words are obscured. Can wishes be broken? Are the things we wish for, or that make us individual, hidden, even from ourselves?

2 Princes

Snap)(ped like cold stone
two paths. one wish.
No way, except my own
I choose. I walk alone.

Two paths. One wish.
Fated, to Rule of Three
I ch(o)se (to) walk alone,
faithless. [Set free.]

Fated to rule. Of three
wishes, I wasted two –
Faith, let set free
desire’s detainee.

Wishes, I wasted. Two
snap ped like cold stone.
Desire’s detainee?
No (one’s), except my own.

I love how a pantoum can be… about any number of things at all.

In the spirit of the Poetry Sisters trying to think through and talk more about our process, I’ll admit that my brain has to flush itself with a sing-songy, drivelicious piece of nonsense first before I can come to grips with poetry of any kind of Serious Form. True to form, I messed about for quite a bit with this and that, then ran out of time on a sonnet I felt was suitably difficult enough To Appear Serious. The truth is? No matter how much I whine, these are just fun, and I’m grateful to have the outlet for this kind of fun, to let my brain run along paths other than flash floods and garbage fires, war wounds, weeping, and wailing. Wordplay is the best play, right now, anyway.

Once Was Is Past

once was is past: snapped clean and cleaved in twain
time’s pulse a timpani that marches on,
relentless, in this lifetime marathon;
all paths converge and seek out this refrain.

with restless adaptation, time’s campaign
seeks but to better life’s phenomenon:
streams seep, then oceanward surge thereupon
meek molehills strive – to steeper heights retrained.

as all things change, yet changing, keep the time
and dance to day’s distinctive martial tune
what changes least, you’ll find, still dies too soon.
that’s paradox, in living’s paradigm.

the past, a path wayfarer’s quests elude,
ahead, horizon’s trackless latitude.

And, OKAY, since Liz doesn’t think it’s actually drivel – here’s the first thing that fell out of my brain for this project:

WARNING, or DO NOT WISH UPON A STAR

with no apologies to Disney whatsoever

When you’ve wished upon a ROCK
You’ve wished, at least, on sturdy stock,
& tethered it to solid ground –
(not vague celestial hopes unsound).

Wishes on stars are ill-advised;
A heavenly-body’s VAST, in size
You wish might land… or, go astray,
Become some wind-tossed castaway…

But plant your heels on cobblestone,
‘Wish’ turns to ‘deed’ with your backbone.
Persist, and dreams you’ll undertake,
That starlight’s whimsies cannot make.

(Full disclosure; this is the Poetry Sister polished version of this poem; first out of the gate had a much bootstrappier final stanza, and with a mighty vengeance I detest and loathe hoisted-upon-yon-bootstraps poetry – #sorrynotsorry Rudyard Kipling/Robert Service. This ending has both stars and stones to root it, and thank-you, Sara.)

There’s more poetry all over: first, check out Laura, Sara, Tricia, & Liz, and see what they’re doing with this particular ekphrastic challenge this month. Be sure to wave to Andi, and welcome her back!

Next, head on a short flight to Oz, and visit the blog of Kat Apel. Check in and add your links to the rest of the Poetry Friday roundup today.


And now, a little plug for the Cybils Awards: Since 2007, the Cybils have long been a place for those who care about children’s literature to get involved. Especially this year, when it may feel that nothing we do changes anything (cattle prod notwithstanding), highlighting good books for children, tweens & teens is a hopeful imperative. If you read and write about children’s literature, between now and September 11th, there’s an open call for judges in all categories. Better to open a good book – which is, its own way, lighting a candle – than to curse the darkness.

{poetry friday: p7 play “Statues in the Park”}

How on earth is it already August!? This year has seemed to be the longest parade of awful, ever but somehow this summer is flying by like greased lightning. I guess it’s just that the pace of the chaos has sped up…? Who can tell. This week, I’m writing poetry from a new garret, in a house still filled with the odd unpacked box or stack of somethings.

Vacaville 2Vacaville 1

Our August Poetry Project is another Salas Special, wherein Laura gave us the title and let us go hog wild. Well, that’s never a good idea for me. I was stumped for ideas for a hot minute until I narrowed down my Flickr selections of statues to the actual park, and not entryways, old buildings, cemeteries… These bronze statues are in a graveled park, a short cut between a strip mall and a street of shops. The pair of them are gathering pears. The girl is gathering windfalls, while the man takes care of the official harvest. The light and the wet day perfectly captured the ineffable quality of an autumn afternoon:

Statues in the Park, Vacaville

Gather ye orchard’s gleaning
As sun decants to starlight.
The summer leaves no greening
Untouched by autumn’s appetite.
Soft, the season turns, governed by winter’s oversight.

I like that, but still find five-line poems a struggle (if I actually follow the rules for syllables, which I patently did NOT in the final line). Five lines are just not enough time for wordy-old-me to invest a poem with emotion – which is why I deeply respect people who can really make tanka really work. (I keep trying, though.)

I gave up on the quintet form and just went with rhymed couplets — and a statue that stopped traffic for me. Ever been to Treasure Island?

Treasure Island 36Treasure Island 34Treasure Island 30

Statues in the Park: Bliss

Like no one’s watching, dance, they said
Away your fears, take joy instead!
Such glib advice! So hard to take.
(Perfectionists can’t risk mistakes.)

Who wouldn’t choose a bird to be –
All blithe-winged swooping, flying free –
…But, what goes UP must come to grief.
DOWN follows up. Joy’s flight is brief.

Light, soaring thistledown I’d fly
Wind’s fickle dance exemplify,
But plodding, scaredy-self the rope
That leashes whimsy’s gyroscope.

Is fearing, living? NO, say I
If convention we satisfy
And let “tradition” turn our feet!
Take back your drum! Dance to your beat.

They’re watching, but dance anyway
Sing loud. Love hard, life’s cabaret
Plays rarely past four score and five –
You have RIGHT NOW to be alive.

This is “Bliss Dance,” by Marco Cochrane, on the great lawn at Treasure Island. She is forty feet tall, and she literally, the first time we saw her, caused us to hit the brakes and gawk. She. Is. Huge.

Some art you can encounter once and simply remember it. Bliss, I could visit repeatedly. She’s just…there larger than life, and …brings to mind the William Carlos Williams poem, “The Kermess,” another poem I memorized in college. I love the joyous defiance of Breughel’s-great-picture-The Kermess; the poem’s thick shanks and big butts and bellies all swinging round made me so happy. Bliss’ body is traditionally symmetrical, but her nudity puts her on the same level – she’s unashamed and getting her slightly awkward, spinning groove on. She’s probably going to trip over her own feet, in a minute. Do you think she cares?

Treasure Island 31

She does not.


The poetry sisters are in the house! Some of Laura’s statues are just waiting for you to leave. Sara’s diving into the complicated uses of Lincoln’s memorial. Tricia’s managing to write surrounded by family. Kelly’s playing with the idea of release, while Liz is traveling. And don’t forget to wave hello to Andi, who is cheering us on from the bench this week.

There’s more Poetry Friday this lovely early August day! Our hostess kicking off the month in style is [email protected] Write. Put on your dancing shoes, dearhearts, and shimmy through your weekend. They’re all watching. Who cares?

{pf: p7 in the style of “she walks in beauty”}

It’s the first Friday of the month, and it’s time for a bit of Byron!

For preference, “The Destruction of Sennacherib” will always be my favorite of the poetic stylings of Mr. “mad, bad, and dangerous to know,” but “She Walks in Beauty” is gorgeous, too; a lovely example of the poetry of the Romantic era, and a personification of the Beauty that is Womanhood and all of that you learn in Sophomore English. As all Romantic poems do, it deals heavily in hyperbole and is a tiny bit on the ridiculous side, because I don’t know any women in whom all the best of anything meet anywhere, but your mileage may vary. When tasked to write in the style of Byron, I tried to gently capture that feel, going for the over-the-top flowery language and deathless symbolism while still writing something coherent (this may not have worked, but…). Instead of Beauty/Womanhood, I explored truth, via the story of Diogenes and Ma’at.

Calochortus amabilis 2.jpg
By Eric in SFOwn work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Diogenes’s Daughters

Mere Beauty waits to take its bow
Beneath Cardinal Virtue’s gaze,
Seven, the Sisters make their vow
To Veritas, its arts to raise –
And to its Muse – her craft allow
To bright illuminate their days.

Their clear gaze focused on the Truth
Seven set forth their Lamps to raise.
These, undeterred by age or youth
Eschewing private gain or praise,
Sought but to find, by means more couth
Knowledge to set the world ablaze.

Astronomers’ celestial quest
Can no more match this thirst divine
‘Sapere aude!’ Know, and wrest,
From clamor’s call, an anodyne;
Against a world in sore distress –
One honest heart that’s genuine.

In college, there was a yearly competition to find these glorious early Spring flowers, called calochortus amibillis, commonly named Diogenes Lanterns. In the story, Diogenes walked about with a lit lamp because he was in search of one honest man. We never know if he found him, but he should have looked among the women, maybe…? Ma’at is old Egypt’s goddess of truth from which the personification of Justice as a woman holding a scale gets its basis. Though cuneiform tablets and old drawings do not depict her with a scale, her job was to weigh hearts and souls against the ostrich feather she wore in her hair. Only those souls lighter than her feather could go on to the afterlife.

Ma’at

She does her duty – what is right
In desert storms when high winds rise
When taloned carrion birds take flight
– and venturing out would be unwise.
When her gaze finds all clear and bright,
She still permits no compromise.

Though deeds obscure, though lies oppress
The Scales she scries do not displace
A feather’s weight of faithfulness –
True hearts will show their truest face.
No matter if our hearts transgress,
An honest scale’s our saving grace.

She walks ascendant, even now
Though clouds of lies disorient
Her staff in hand, her neck unbowed
Her feather weighs the soul’s intent.
So let it be: let us allow
This lightness, Love to represent.

Sapere aude is Latin for “dare to know.” Humanity has searched for and championed from antiquity various versions of The Truth. Do we dare to know? From myths and gods onward, the search continues…

Here’s Kelly, who started us off, telling us what that cousin really thinks. And Laura’s, which takes a decidedly glittery angle on things. In Sara’s, equine hoofbeats pound in iambic pentameter. Like most of us, Tricia found this challenge both fun and impossible to do while trying to do other things, and Liz skidded in at the finish line – with her usual grace. Andi continues to walk in beauty this month, and will catch us later. For more poetry, check out the Beyond Literacy Link blog.


BONUS ♦ BONUS ♦ BONUS ♦ ~ Next week, July 14th, is National Mac-and-Cheese Day. You know Poetry Friday Must Celebrate, right? Next week’s round-up is at Tabatha Yeats’ blog The Opposite of Indifference. Be there with cheese on – be it Gruyere or vegan cheddar.

{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: p7, talking back to Rilke}

It’s the first Friday of National Poetry Month, which means a doubly special poetry challenge, participated in by Kelly, Sara, Liz calling in from the road; Laura, and Tricia (Andi is sitting this one out) as part of the Poetry Seven’s Year in Poetry challenge. This month, Sara chose a poem by Rilke for us to respond to directly –

You, darkness, of whom I am born—

I love you more than the flame
that limits the world
to the circle it illumines
and excludes all the rest.

But the dark embraces everything
shapes and shadows, creatures and me,
people, nations—just as they are.

It lets me imagine
a great presence stirring beside me

I believe in the night.

—Rainer Maria Rilke, The Book of Hours, translated by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy

Stirling Holy Rood Church T 13

We all read this poem a few times, and then a few more, and then decided what to do with it. I tried to write a line-to-line response first, which didn’t work at all. Then I tried to write a kind of …Big Picture Thought about how the poem made me feel. Also didn’t work. As I was trying to work through my daily poem challenges for National Poetry Month, I begin to get a little worried… Rilke, with his usual straightforwardness, was not striking any sparks with me.

And then, I started thinking about sparks… little spangles of light, illumination. And the opposite of said. Sparks don’t actually let us do anything but see that there’s contrast. They don’t help us see anything but the light itself, and what is it, really?

This is a dude who likes the dark. I respect that about him. Few people actually do. Oh, we think we love the dark, the stars. We quote “When I Heard The Learn’d Astronomer,” and gaze up wistfully. But, where most of us live is so much light pollution we don’t actually have dark. I have become acquainted with the night, because I briefly lived way out in the country, in Glasgow. Our neighbors were sheep. It was flippin’ dark out on those country lanes. It was …kind of amazing. And, I knew I was walking right next to spiders. I had to decide how much I was going to let that bother me.

In the end, I decided that I agreed with ‘ol Rainer, because I like the dark, but I also want to like the dark. Being who I am, the literal girlchild who has thought a great deal about the word “black” as reflected in theology and hymnody, darkness is going to mean a little something different to me — and I could see that reflected in the seven’s poetry, as we wrote on our shared Google document. I may be the only one who likes the dark, but I won’t hold that against anyone. I have walked a different (spider-adjacent) road, and I tend to have to reject the experience that “most” people have with darkness – because I am not most people.

Took me long enough to figure that out.

“the absence of color”

from darkness thou art formed & dust thou art
first secreted within thy mother’s womb
deep shadows, holding fast creation’s start
to secret hopes in dreamer’s sleep entombed

(blackness is sin, a moody study’s brown
and white holds light, a purity renown
a Presence stirs, beneath the surface bright
foul fiend, forfend, or wisdom’s erudite?)

before the light can drown thy timid sheen
enlightening with fact that still deceives
hold to thine task: believe what is not seen
and be ye blesséd by the unperceived.

Poetry Friday is hosted today by Irene Lantham at her blog, LIVE YOUR POEM. Check it out, for more!