{pf: poetry peeps make a metaphor}

Greetings! Welcome to another Poetry Peeps adventure on Poetry Friday!

You’re invited to try our challenge in the month of March! Here’s the plan: We’re going to dance forth with some “dizzying dizains.” Never heard of a dizain? Not sure why you’ll be stumbling and spun? The short version is: it’s a French form from 15th-16th c., with a 10-line stanza · 10 syllables per line · And an ababbccdcd rhyme scheme. A bit longer of an explanation can be found at Writer’s Digest, with a few helpful tips and an example. Interested? Good! You’ve got a month to spin your poem(s), then share your offering (or someone else’s) with the rest of us on March 26 in a post and/or on social media – #PoetryPals.


Our second challenge of 2021 was to roll the metaphor dice, digitally or in person if we had actual metaphor dice on hand, then write a poem – full stop. There were no other rules nor themes this month. Fortunately, the Perchance metaphor generator is …full of delightful chaos. Today’s Poetry Friday hostess, Karen Edmisten’s first metaphor made me snort-laugh – I look forward to seeing what (if anything) she comes up with. You should read Sara’s here. Tricia’s is here, and this is Liz‘s. Laura’s is here, and here’s Kelly’s. Michelle’s metaphor is here, and Mary Lee’s is here. More Poetry Peeps will be checking in throughout the day, so stay tuned!


Metaphors are wild – there’s no plausible deniability as with similes – no cushioning “like” or “as.” No, no, my dear, you ARE my sunshine, full stop, you ball of flaming nuclear goodness. My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun, but the rest of her…? She is FIRE…apparently literally.

While also a number of other things, metaphor by definition is a descriptive device, used for rhetorical effect. While I started out trying to use blank verse, the more rigid, syllabic form felt best – and don’t ask me why, except maybe it is just that metaphor is so whimsical (read: IRRATIONAL) I felt it needed some guide rails. The guidance-heavy form I selected was the Zeno, created by poet J. Patrick Lewis. As a ten-line poem with a syllable pattern of 8/4/2/1/4/2/1/4/2/1, it seemed most like time – mathematical and divisible. The fourth, seventh and tenth lines – all those with single syllables – rhyme, making it deceptively simple looking, but wresting sense and emotional resonance from such firmly structured lines is the tricky part. I found that after the first one, the next came much more easily, and the form matches really well with something so variant.

Go Set A Watchman

Honesty is a watch, well-honed,
its pendulum
gleaming:
sleuth-
hound, two-edged sword,
ticking.
truth-
piercing, marrow
cleaving –
toothed.

This next poem is from the metaphor dice, and is a phrase I was initially against using. It seemed to obvious, too easy – and yet, when I asked myself why, I had no good answer. Some questions… don’t.

chronic

Home is a mad thunderstorm. Wild
intermittent
tempers
fly.
Hurricane stills –
Clearing
skies?
Is this the eye?
The end?
…Why?

And for all that it felt “too obvious,” and the form possibly too confining for emotional resonance, I think this one edges toward being my favorite.

Finally, this last effort was from a phrase that initially was poetic right out of the box. “Talent is a birdcage.” As a kid, I loved singing, but my distaste for ‘performance’ seeps through from being trotted out at church like a beribboned Shetland pony. “Oh, of course she’ll sing!” my parents gushed, smiling without asking, somehow pleased to be asked. “Why did we pay for voice lessons?” they asked in sharp whispers, when my tiny rebellions emerged. (What? Bitter? Me?) Throughout my life, I have been involved in countless thousands of performances, but there’s a way to sing without it being performance, I think? Something between sharing your soul and selling it…

These are my first try at zenos, and I’m really pleased with them, for all that syllabic poetry occasionally presents me with some real difficulties. Poetry Friday is hosted today, as I mentioned, over at Karen’s. Thank you, Karen! I hope the rest of you will take your sunshine-y presence on over that way and enjoy some more poetry.


In just a few days, it’ll be March, and we’ll have officially passed A Plague Year. It feels odd to think in terms of “celebration,” when despite several vaccines emergent, it’s not over, and its distanced-and-masked reality – and its global impact – will yet be with us. So, while we cannot truly celebrate, can we commemorate our resilience? Our neighbor’s courage? Our loved ones’ lives, lost, or carried on, though slowed and changed? Think about it… every day of a life well-lived is worth remembering. Happy Weekend.

{embrace the weirdness: poetry friday…}

…even if you’ve got your head in the clouds, you won’t want to miss the fun. The metaphor generator, Perchance is full of… weird and wonderful phrases, and after having sister poet Laura Salas throw hers for me, I’ve discovered that metaphor dice are possibly even weirder! So, look forward to some thoughtful, random, and possibly offbeat poetry – see you Friday!

{the acknowledgements…}

I don’t often read the acknowledgments in the back of books. Do you?

Perhaps an unpopular opinion from the writer who just showed you the one she wrote, but I don’t actually… like acknowledgements. While they’re expected in a nonfiction book that requires a lot of phone calls, interviews, research, and borrowing offices and documents, in fiction, they can feel extraneous. Some go on, unlike a dedication, which is generally no more than a sentence or two. They’re often deeply self-deprecating, emotional or personal, and give a true behind-the-curtain glimpse of the author. However, unlike many people, I …don’t always care about the author.

(Shhhh! I told you: unpopular opinion. Some of you I can just see giving me side-eye for my ungenerous spirit. I feel the heat of your glower, but I’m not wrong. No, seriously…)

Fellow middle grade author, Kate Messner, wrote about the pitfalls of acknowledgments years ago, though coming from a different – and not often thought of – area of concern. Another piece I saw a years ago in School Library Journal or Publishers’ Weekly described acknowledgments as “acceptance speeches without an award.” Even the New Yorker has had their say (and they are clearly the last word on everything). Acknowledgments are not always near to thanking The Academy, of course, but… sometimes it’s a near thing. And, every book I write – with disbelief I’m finishing up number nine now – I’m met with that moment at the end of going over Master Pass and seeing those little TK’s glowering at me. TK is publishing speech for “to come,” or “Where’s the acknowledgements, ye wee numpty?”

I’ve only really happily accepted the summons to acknowledge… once. And it was called an “Author’s Note,” and it was more an opportunity to talk about the book more than to thank anyone.

It isn’t that I don’t believe in giving thanks – nobody who reads this blog and sees the years I do a November month-of-gratitude post-a-day thing could believe that. But, saying a public thank-you that has nothing to do with owing gratitude for documents or time, to people and institutions or playlists that supported you during the work… it just feels very public to me, very exposed. That an acknowledgement is enshrined forever on the pages of a book makes it even worse… “Social media is forever”, we’re told. Yes, but for me books in print feel even more permanent still.

Today, the TK I encountered was limned in yellow, with the words “Pls supply,” an imperative highlight that made me feel like I needed …ammunition to ignore its summons. I felt like my pipsqueak sullen mutterings of “I don’t wanna” wasn’t enough, so I went looking at other recently published middle grade novels.

…Aaaand they all have them. Every one. Author’s notes. Acknowledgments. Sometimes just pages and paragraphs long. I had to go back to a novel published in 1984 before I could find a novel without acknowledgements – and that novel might only have skipped them because it was a paperback copy, fifth printing or something.

SO.

Looks like I’m on my own, here.

With love and gratitude, I’d like to acknowledge all of the cheerleaders and silent supporters who have helped me write this novel.

I’d like to thank my mother, who listened to me whine about editorial notes without fully knowing what I was talking about, or paying that much attention, to be honest, but if pressed, would be firmly on my side anyway.

(Maybe.)

Thank-you to the whimsically lovely James Margaret, whose silent support comes in the form of adorably shaped sticky notes that are pretty much everywhere, bearing lists, reminders, snippets of story and, oddly, the address of a total stranger in Ashland, Ohio. *unsticks this and examines in bewilderment*

Thank you, Tech Boy, for always trying to help me do technical things beyond my ken much, much faster; for periodically dragging me on walks; for standing in the hallway listening to me prattle when you only got up to pee and weren’t calling a basic cessation to the work day, and for not reading my manuscripts because you’re really busy, and I don’t actually want to discuss the points of punctuation you’d want to get into because I already have copy editors. Apparently three of them this time.

Gratitude to those people with babies or bunnies – and apparently loads of free time – who send me heart-melting pictures of their cuddly, chubby spawn that revive me when my brain is imploding. Ditto to the senders of Instagram memes.

Thank you to the makers of Ibarra hot chocolate, Prednisone and Imuran, the unholy trinity which occasionally keeps me upright, and to June’s Journey, the game on my phone which provides helpful hidden object puzzles for me to do while my brain plays the Jeopardy! theme and a little loading hourglass spins.

You are all, in your own way, truly helpful, truly special, truly necessary, and I adore you. Thank you all, so very, very much.





And now that I’ve thanked you here, I can skip writing an acknowledgment. Right?

RIGHT???

{cover reveal: PARTLY CLOUDY}

Lightning couldn’t strike twice, could it?

After a terrible year, Madalyn needs clear skies desperately. Moving in with her great-uncle, Papa Lobo, and switching to a new school is just the first step.

It’s not all rainbows and sunshine, though. Madalyn discovers she’s the only Black girl in her class, and while most of her classmates are friendly, assumptions lead to some serious storms.

Papa Lobo’s long-running feud with neighbor Mrs. Baylor brings wild weather of its own, and Madalyn wonders just how far things will go. But when fire threatens the community, Madalyn discovers that truly being neighborly means more than just staying on your side of the street — it means weathering tough conversations — and finding that together a family can pull through anything.

So, without further ado…here’s Madalyn.

Look at that face – those eyes! I love how …serious she looks, yet how adorable. Madalyn is, like many middle grade protagonists, all heart. She cares a LOT about friends, family, fairness and doing what’s right. The more human beings we get on a topic, though, sometimes the more “right” is a hard word to figure out!

But, like most middle graders, Madalyn tries to figure it out anyway – ’cause that’s part of figuring out yourself.

Isn’t it beautiful? September 7, 2021 is coming sooner than you think!

{revealed: PARTLY CLOUDY, coming 2/16}

Ta-daaaah!

IT’S A CLOUD!


It’s a rainy Monday, and I’ve got clouds, folks!

I haven’t historically made a fuss over my covers, but my HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen Books book covers are so lively I’ve been unable to stop myself. And the upcoming PARTLY CLOUDY (coming SEPTEMPBER 7, 2021!) has got to be my favorite cover this year so far. Illustrated by the splendidly whimsical Geneva B (Dragons in a Bag, The Dragon Thief, Beyoncé: Shine Your Light, Curls) PARTLY CLOUDY somehow looks like it was done both in chalk pastels and digitally (how?) and captures all the heart and emotion of its main character, Madalyn.

Come back and see it tomorrow! Until then, enjoy your President’s Day, and… have some clouds.

{a fable. a parable. or a true story.}

This is a 2017 post from my family blog. It seemed a fitting repost.

Oakland Museum of California 23

It was the Mozart solo she’d had her heart set on. A simple kyrie, appropriate for ten-year-olds, but the rising descant over the chorus made her feel unnameable things, and she wanted to sing it with all her heart.

In parochial schools in those days, there wasn’t much else to do but participate in the arts. There was no prom king or queen, no dances, no competitive sports. Instead, the boys took piano, and the girls played the flute – or, at least it seemed like everyone in her grade did. Twenty-some girls on flutes, and not a one of them with the courage to do something original, like learn the French horn. But, it was what it was – middle school in the 80’s.

The Kyrie was the first real classical music they’d ever done, so out of the mundane realm of kids’ songs they’d done before. Everyone was aware that they were in the presence of Grown-up Music, and acted accordingly. Desire to show themselves as grown up – and sing that descant – was intense. Her choir teacher knew she wanted that solo, knew she was a soprano who could consistently hit the right notes, but, weighing his choice by scales she could not read said, “Well, sweetie, we’ll give this solo to Sheley. We’ll save a nice, juicy Spiritual for you.”

But, she didn’t want the Spiritual. She wanted the Mozart.

♦ ♦ ♦

In college, she was to remember this moment when visiting home on a weekend to sing with an ensemble. The rehearsal was early – the music was lackluster, and the director was getting desperate as the singers’ yawns increased.

“Sing it more black,” the director urged her, finally finding both scapegoat and fix.

She stopped singing altogether, bewildered. “What? What does that even mean?”

“Well… you know,” the director gestured vaguely. “More black.”

She vanished behind a brittle smile. “You mean, with more of a swing? With more of a backbeat? With more syncopation? What?”

She kept her voice even, because she had learned it did no good to scream.

♦ ♦ ♦

Fast forward to a progressive party in San Francisco, where, armed with cameras, teams of teens and twentysomethings were on a scavenger hunt. One of the requirements was for participants to take a picture of themselves on or near a stage. Half the group pressed to simply go to Max’s Opera Cafe and take a group shot with a singing waiter. Another vocal male found a jazz bar on one of the piers, and insisted she go inside, take the mic, and ‘scat.’

“Scat?” she echoed, for a moment setting aside the breath-stealing idiocy and horror of making an unsolicited performance in a private club.

“Yeah, scat,” he said, “Like Ella Fitzgerald. You know…scat!”

This time, embarrassment came mingled with humiliation, as the entire group began to wheedle. “No, you guys. Really…no.”

♦ ♦ ♦

Fast forward even further, to singing with a quartet, in which the music director and the pastor – both white males – donned sunglasses and capered to the spiritual style hymn in the style of the Blues Brothers. Fleeing during a break, she called her sisters, asking them what to do, how to act. They stood and listened while she laughed, tears streaming, down a face so hot they evaporated. “But, why am I embarrassed?” she kept asking. “They’re behaving like jackasses, and I’m embarrassed? I feel like they’re making fun of me, and it’s humiliating, but why am I the one who is feeling …stupid?

Oakland Museum of California 118

The shame didn’t make sense, but by then she had learned that few things did, when microaggressions – casual racism – was added to the mix. Musically, it meant that people assumed she wanted – always – to sing gospel music, even though she did other music well. It meant that people assumed she could break into Janet Jackson improvised choreography, that she could imitate the vocal rhythms of Bobby McFerrin on a whim. It meant that instead of who was in front of them, someone whose eclectic tastes ran from the weird to the classical with many stops in between, all they saw was myriad aspects of what – The Other combined into a single person, on whom they could glue myriad of labels, none of which were hers.

It was exhausting.

♦ ♦ ♦

We fast forward one last time, but our time machine is about out of steam. Now see it has limped to a stop at chamber rehearsal, where a gleeful last-minute addition means another entry into the program, another song to be learned. “Oh, it’ll be quick,” the director encourages the panicky singers. “It’s just two parts, in Swahili. Uh, just read the pronunciation as is — I’m sure it’ll be fine.”

“It’ll be fine.” A startling phrase, after the lengthy lectures about pronouncing German as to not “sound like hillbillies.” Unexpected, after the long-winded arguments about “church Latin” vs. classical Latin pronunciations. Jarring, after the many long lectures about pronunciation of Hebrew consonants vs. Yiddish, of Argentinian Spanish vs. Mexican. Shocking, that an entire language is mischaracterized (the people are Swahili; the language, Kiswahili) and shrugged off as “nothing to worry about.” As the translation was cooed over, in ways the translations of European languages were not (“Ooh, how sweet!”), she found herself… conflicted.

The composer’s name was American, and a thorough search uncovered no African translator. Deeper research revealed that the composer’s translation didn’t match a word-for-word translation of Kiswahili words, that the tune was from a Nigerian harvest song. There was no citation as to where the words came from, no African educator or musician listed. She feared that they were singing an imaginary lullaby, with imaginary text, the rocking 6/4 tempo convenient but false. This was music selected by an intentional community made up of good people, people whose stated goals were to bring parity, inclusiveness, and justice to the world – yet they easily diminuitized the importance of a tribal people and its language as “cute,” but ultimately too insignificant to merit concern or further study.

Perhaps, as was implied, it wasn’t that important, in a world where wrongs of greater significance loomed large. Perhaps it was merely good enough for an American winter festival – not exactly religious, Christmas, not exactly non-religious, Solstice. Not exactly meaningless… and not exactly meaningful.

Or, perhaps it was as infuriating and confusing as everything else she had ever encountered.


Edited to Add: PS – you will be gratified to know that speaking up helped a little. The director phoned a friend in Kenya, determined that the text is “maybe Nigerian” and not at all Kiswahili, and promised to do due diligence to find out what he could, and add his findings – or lack of such – to the program notes. Intentional communities such as choirs and churches – and libraries, schools, and other places – must be intersectional in their inclusivity, thinking through the many ways we as people can belong to various communities, and doing our best to come to each of them with thoughtfulness, respect and appreciation, thinking not just of our individual needs, but how to serve a whole, which is the sum of its parts. As has become so readily apparent, it is tricky, but if we draw each other back to the road when we wander off, it can be done. It must be.

{pf: poetry peeps time travel with M-W}

Greetings! Welcome to another Poetry Peeps adventure on Poetry Friday!

You’re invited to try our challenge in the month of February! Here’s the plan: We’ll roll a set of metaphor dice and write a poem inspired by your metaphor. Don’t have metaphor dice? Never even heard of them? I first encountered them in Heidi’s Juicy Little Universe, and they were invented just a few years prior by the poet Taylor Mali. Interesting, right? If you’d rather not get metaphor dice, just use an online metaphor generator, like this one. Then share your poem on February 26 in a post and/or on social media – #PoetryPals.


Our first challenge of 2021 was to visit Merriam-Webster’s Time Traveler page and explore when a word was first used in print. Not invented, but printed – the first time a word was used in the United States, at least, in a print publication – a book, a newspaper or a magazine. To begin, each of us chose a year which was meaningful to us – for whatever reason – and went back in time before diving into poetry. There were no other rules.

Time Traveler is a big old rabbit hole, and I hope you take set aside some time to dig around and see what you discover. I chose 1973, and find it surprising that no one had said “underwire” or “bralette” in print until then – although, that might be because some objects of clothing were considered “unmentionables” not so long ago, even in women’s magazines. Just imagine – people hadn’t referred to “news person” or “anchorpeople” before 1973. Concepts like a “crumple zone” or an “ACE inhibitor” were unknown. The plethora of medical words first in print in 1973 indicates the number of discoveries being made – and shared – with the general public for the first time. And I was unsurprised to discover that words like “lockdown,” “super-spreader,” and “bunyavirus” (what even is that?!) were also there. History records, and our Time Traveler confirms: viral outbreaks and lockdowns are nothing at all new.

While forty-eight years ago, no one had ever written about video games, urgent care, soccer moms, or televangelists, romance was, of course, alive and well (how else did we all get here). The clutter of Valentine’s related junk in my inbox (as frantic retailers try to make it The Next Big Holiday) together with the utter randomness of my 1973 word list came together in my head to create… a love story. Obviously. Because, what else would I write about? With apologies for the resulting cheesiness, I present to you…

Meet Cute

A Love Story With The Worst Romantic Verbiage, Ever

Who would’ve thought when first we met
A deconstruction – of Chaucer! – made him a sure bet.

His factoid filled mind jump-started my heart
8 AM edutainment – he made snark a fine art.

I kept seeing him, sending me into hyperdrive,
My space-cadet heart barely kept me alive…

I was cash-strapped and stressed, held up by duct tape
Balanced on razor wire with no means of escape.

While reverse-engineering success, I could soar
But dating? No thanks! I was no revolving door.

So we were “just friends,” and he shared his moon-roof.
As it turned out, “mere” friendship was the burden of proof

That I needed. That swooning was not such a sin.
My heart broke its lockdown: I gave up! He was in.


(Don’t fact-check me, but there’s just the teeniest bit of history in this poem. Deniability is the name of the game!)

This list of words was both frustrating and hilarious. I started trying to use the fact that the words are presented alphabetically, but an abecedarian form did NOT work. I finally settled on blank verse, which apparently any Joe Six-Pack could do, but the disparate variations of meanings and sounds made me greedy – I so wanted to use so many other words, but — honestly! — this was plenty. I had fun, and that satisfies the requirements for this challenge. Want to see the other attempts of our stalwart crew of poetry peeps? Check out Laura’s. Right here is Liz’s. This one’s Sara’s. Find Kelly’s here, and Andi’s, and this is Tricia‘s. Cousin Mary Lee’s will eventually turn up here, and Michelle Kogan’s is here. More poets will check in throughout the day, so stay tuned!

Poetry Friday is hosted today by Jan at Bookseed Studio. Thank you, Jan! It’s finally safe to say Happy New Year to everyone – it’s the Year of the Ox! Here’s to stubbornly pushing forward on the things we need to do this year. Until then, keep your food processors busy, and your hot tubs sultry, and your Earth tones subdued. Happy weekend.