{pf: poetry peeps attempt the etheree}

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???

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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!

San Francisco 137

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.

summer in
“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
ancestors from

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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.

Central California Driving 46

10 Replies to “{pf: poetry peeps attempt the etheree}”

  1. Tanita,
    What a powerhouse of a poem! I never thought about writing a poem about my state but I should because I am about to make a major move from my lifelong homestate of NY to Virginia to be closer to my granddaughters.
    Great lines:
    “punch-drunk on sunshine”
    ancestors from
    The idea of “home” is endearing but better yet is the notion that a mixing pot makes home more universal – what many of us hold dear in America.

    1. @CVarsalona: Aw, thank you for the kind words, and good luck with your move! What a time to be leaving NY, huh? If we are literally able to find home wherever our dearest hearts are found, you should be loving Virginia in no time! Thanks for dropping by.

  2. “Wherever you’re from is home.” Heck yes. I still tell people I’m from New York. I didn’t claim Virginia in my first 15 years here because it was still all “the south will rise again.” It has gotten much better in the city, but much of the state still holds with these values.

    I adore the line “punch-drunk on sunshine.” That is not something my home state is known for. Apples, Great Lakes, snow, wine, but definitely not sunshine.

    And I love poppies. I had no idea they grew in California. Thank you for teaching me so much about the place you call home. It is an incredible love letter.

    1. @MissRumphius: Hah, yeah, we met some of those “the south will rise again” folk in 2010 when we visited… but I know there are well-meaning people everywhere, and there are definitely some in VA – you’re there, after all!

      I am collecting poppy seeds for you, my dear… you’ll have your own little corner of dizzy bright sunshine.

  3. Tanita, I was about to say the exact same thing as Liz, and I’m glad I’m not the only one. The prose made me think, but when I got to the reverse etheree part, those last 9 lines, tears just started leaking. We have so much beauty. Why do we humans insist on making things ugly. Powerful poem.

  4. For some reason, this post made me cry today. I know it sounds ridiculously uncool and naive but I am just heartbroken that we can’t all be nicer, more tender and empathetic with each other. Why is so much that’s supposed to be funny actually mean? Why do we all “other” each other all the time? Sigh. Deep breath. Picturing those big beautiful Golden Gate swoops and sending love and appreciation to you.

    1. @Liz Garton Scanlon: My dear, anyone who champions kindness and empathy is not uncool and naive, but connected to the heart of everything. You keep on holding up your candle and lighting up your part of the world; the rest of us will do our part as well – which is all we all can do.

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