{pf: the poetry peeps are piñata-ing}

Welcome to another Poetry Friday Poetry Peeps Adventure!

Poetry Peeps! You’re invited to our challenge for the month of February! Here’s the scoop: We’re writing …love letters. Epistolary poetry in the form of a love poem can pull us in any number of directions. We’re writing our ways of seeing love as an animal, vegetable, mineral, emotion, decision – or anything else. Are you game? Good! Whatever way of seeing that you choose, you have a month to craft your creation and share it on February 23 in a post and/or on social media with the tag #PoetryPals.

From Process…

Mere weeks ago, I can remember thinking to myself, “If I can just make it through December…” Hm. Well. January is proving to be its own special level of Hades so far. First, I got roped into just “beefing up the choruses” for a Pergolessi piece, and somehow ended up doing a solo and a duet on top of the chorus pieces. Then, I was given a draft deadline a week before said concert for next year’s middle grade novel, and I figured out one day that the act of opening the document for my draft made me physically ill, I hated it so much, so obviously then I started rewriting THE ENTIRE THING a week before said deadline… and, THEN one of my parents had the temerity to have a minor heart attack. Oh, 2024, you’re a special snowflake already.

You’d think this would mean I would a.) bow out, or b.) sensibly at least cut my research short for our first Poetry Friday venture of the year.


That would have made sense, wouldn’t it? ::sigh::

It’s been a joy to revel in the work of Roberto Benavidez, the South-Texas sculptor who specializes in the piñata as an art form. The color and light and movement in his work is a serious treat on these gray, soggy days. From poking around on the artist’s Instagram page, it appears that it’s done via layering the thin pieces of crepe paper. Some of the paper is impregnated with glitter, but a lot of the effect is simply light filtering and refracting through the thinnest layers of paper, and it is… *chef’s kiss* WOW. We Poetry Sisters gave ourselves the latitude to write an ekphrastic poem on any of his wide body of work, and that, in itself, was a little daunting. Initially I found myself fixated on his treatment of birds, and thought that’s the direction I was going… until I saw the Medieval Bestiary from his Illuminated Piñata show. The basilisk isn’t a bird… but it’s also a bird? Or something. I obviously needed a deep-dive into the medieval mindset on monsters, didn’t I. (I mean, what deadline?)

Before I get too distracted, you should see what Sara did. Or, what Laura came up with (when she wasn’t serving as the Poetry Princess Archivist, and updating all of our challenges since sometime in 2007. Thank you, Laura). Cousin Mary Lee’s way of seeing is here, Tricia’s piñata poem is here, and Liz‘s project is here. Denise K.’s poem is here, Linda M.’s celebration of the artist is here. Michelle K.’s sandpiper piñata poem is here, and Linda B.’s meditation on the Hieronymus Bosch piñata is here. (*snicker*) You might discover more Poetry Peeps checking in throughout the weekend, so stay tuned for the full round-up as I find them. Meanwhile… Poetry Friday is ably hosted today by Susan @ ChickenSpaghetti, who I “met” blogging sometime back in 2005. Here’s to the blogosphere, which, when it’s not giving us nonsense, sometimes gives us both good friends and good old friends.

I won’t bore you with all of my reading, but I had to share a few of the hysterical historical images I found, as well as a couple of significant points: one, a basilisk was mostly a basilisk in Europe. In Britain, it was referred to in the main body of literature as a cockatrice. It’s essentially the same thing, but the Brits have always strove for distinction, historically and to the present moment. It’s part of their brand. ☺ Secondly, from Pliny the Elder on down, no one could… agree quite on what a basilisk/cockatrice looked like (I mean, the CROWN. Jeez Louise, Pliny, how much poppy was in that wine???). Or, really, even what it did. Some swore that the beast was like a giant gastropod, dragging poison via its belly and even killing plants and soil beneath it, in a wide swath, while others say its mere breath did the slaying – not to mention its gimlet gaze. So much fear! So little… detail! That… got me thinking.

…To Poem

As I inarticulately tried to explain what I was working on in our Poetry Sisters Zoom meetup, Cousin Mary Lee said that my description of what the basilisk was – and wasn’t – sounded like politics. I kind of laughed at that, but then the thought returned insistently. So much of what we hear via the churn and spin of the news cycle regarding the Sturm und Drang of current events is like …well, like trying to swim by committee. Too many people are trying to manage the arms and the legs, trying to coordinate the strokes and the breathing as we beat the water into a froth, aerating our fears into some whipped up thing that we cannot see through. Boy, do we need to step back! Scoff. Doubt. Question. Interrogate. Take a moment and let things settle, and really look at what’s before us. Sometimes, when we truly examine circumstances, situations, and individuals which terrify us, we will find that they really are ludicrous… and then we can laugh.

This poem makes it sound pretty darned easy to do all of this – just pack up our troubles in our old kit bag, or some folksy nonsense. Friends, we are all well aware how easy it’s NOT. Fears are sometimes a serious, crippling business, and I will freely admit that this is just my first-ish draft of this idea. But it’s an idea to which I’ll be returning this year – because I am sometimes a person deeply in need of getting out of my own head. Doubting our fears is the first step away from them… and I hope it’s an one which gives you a different way of seeing things.

And if your 2024 is beginning with a seismic shift the likes of mine, take heart – we are in the year of the Dragon, and we can a.) start this New Year thing over and b.) immolate what isn’t working, and move on. Breathe fire, friends, and make your fears take wing. Who knows, you might be the basilisk.

15 Replies to “{pf: the poetry peeps are piñata-ing}”

  1. Tanita, you special snowflake hang in there. Life has its ups and downs. Snowflakes come and go. May your days be bright, airy, and full of joy in the midst of clamor. So your mind stuck a cord of tackling the might medieval monster. Bring it to heel and write on. Once again your prose before the poem is insightful and enjoyable to read. Thanks to you and the Poetry Sisters for always offering us a challenge. this one was full of hopping from post to post. While I forgot to look for the challenge others led the way.

  2. Oh, Tanita–you’ve been dealing with a LOT. “Oh, 2024, you’re a special snowflake already.” This made me snort my lemon ginger tea. I hope your parent is recovering okay! I hope YOU recover okay from the joy of January. Mercy. “Your venomous monsters need slaying / Doubt them!” So many people need to hear that, in one context or another. Breathe fire, Tanita–and then slay that deadline–or you probably already did. xo

  3. You had me at “taradiddle.” Humans and their relationship with monsters (real or imagined) could fill volumes, so don’t worry your poem didn’t say all you meant—it can’t. The sea of fear is vast. Maybe best to do what you did, and examine a small piece of the map, and say: here be dragons, advance with caution, go armed with poetry.

  4. “whole cloth talk” is such an old-fashioned phrase. I love it here in this poem. Part riddle, part rock? Ha! Great way of setting us up for a grand mystery.

  5. Wow, Tanita, your January sounds exhausting. I hope your parent is recovering well from the heart attack. It made me smile that you couldn’t bow out or cut your research short. You are a genius–creative and productive! Good luck as you continue to bring your own fears this year to heel. Like that novel that needs you! All the best.

  6. Dear Tanita, since you took that ‘deep dive’ & I so enjoyed it, I did, too, had no idea that this basilisk has more than one identity and that because the very early stories did similar descriptions, there are actually ‘real’ lizards with the name from their resemblance to the ancient stories: “basilisk, (genus Basiliscus), any of four species of forest lizards of tropical North and South America belonging to the family Iguanidae.” Your poem brought me to today, not to ancient times, or is it that the times have collided even though we have thought we were rather modern, right? Your final words are good advice and I know it isn’t easy, but if, if, we are all together. . . Have you read ‘When Women Were Dragons’ by Kelly Barnhill? I think you would like it. Finally, best wishes for your novel. . .

  7. Do I spy a phoenix lurking around by this here Basilisk… “immolate” burning down, whoa well we better all face the music quick, but I also like the idea of looking at what’s ahead with multiple views. Tremendous poem Tanita, yes I definitely detect a bit of politic in there too, and YES let’s slay those Monsters. Or perhaps this Basilisk is a relative of the ancient Classical Greek Sphinx that Oedipus’ correct riddle answer finally brought her to her demise—Yikes what a year, hold on… Thanks for this marvelous deep-dive explore, and watch out for any stray Basilisks…

    1. @Michelle Kogan:This piñata sculpture is based on an actual woodcut of a basilisk and a weasel – which were said to be the basilisk’s only natural enemy somehow (don’t ask. Pliny the Elder really was on something). It’s so colorful and matches my idea of a phoenix too. I hereby declare that 2024 is the Year of the Phoenix. I honestly think it’s close enough to a dragon, right?

  8. Tanita, first, I could not agree with you more about January. Mine feels like it’s been several months long already and I have had it. And now February’s arriving with an extra day to boot. Oooof. Let things ease up!!!

    More importantly, and I mean this sincerely, HOW DO YOU DO WHAT YOU DO???? Your wordplay and rhyme astound me — I love every bit of this, from research to rooster. Thank you.

    1. @Liz Garton Scanlon: I very much appreciate that you enjoyed this! I still feel like I didn’t say what I wanted to and I was a little frustrated, but honest to goodness, I do not have TIME to give it another moment – so onward.

      Here’s to the rough stuff subsiding, so we can get on with the year.

  9. Woohoo! WordPress actually let me login today. I’m counting that as a win.

    The last stanza of this poem packs a punch, particularly the first 2 lines.
    Your entreaty to “really look at what’s before us” is what scares the ever-living daylights out of me right now. Fear indeed. It’s hard not to empower it.

    I’m sorry to hear that 2024 has started of roughly. I’m sending healing prayers for recovery after even a minor heart attack, and sending you much strength for the year.

  10. I love “churn” and “spin” and “Sturm and Drang” so much…I think they might need a poem of their own!

    And YES to being the basilisk! Or the dragon. Let’s burn some stuff down and start over again fresh! Let’s silence the “whole-cloth taradiddle!”

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