{poetry friday all over again, with the seven sisters}

the poetry seven

Swords of Seven, Unite! Or, something. We need an heroic-sounding cry like that, for poetry.

I didn’t even try to stay on the wagon in 2014. I did my haiku during National Poetry Month, but otherwise, I blew it. We keep promising ourselves that we’ll read more poetry, write more poetry, breathe more poetry, even if it’s BAD poetry, to just get it out there, and so we are kicking ourselves in the backside here on this first Friday of 2015; we, being the Poetry Sisters, the Poetry Princesses or the Poetry Seven, depending on the mood we’re in. Once more from the top! A nudge in the direction of a year of poetry. (It’s always Liz coming up with these nudge-slash-butt-kickings. Did I mention that previously? It’s. Always. Liz. The sweet-looking one with the curls and the butter-wouldn’t-melt smile always kicks us in the tuchis and says “MOVE.” What is up with that?) One poem a month we’ll produce, according to a schedule. This month is the triolet.

The triolet is actually a pretty obscure poem form, so there are few in print from Ye Olden Days and it’s not assigned a lot in English classes. A triolet is a short poem of eight lines with only two rhymes used throughout. According to the American Academy of Poets, the requirements of this fixed form are straightforward: the first line is repeated in the fourth and seventh lines; the second line is repeated in the final line; and only the first two end-words are used to complete the tight rhyme scheme. Thus, the poet writes only five original lines, giving the triolet a deceptively simple appearance: ABaAabAB, where capital letters indicate repeated lines. On the surface of things, that seems easy enough – just do what it says on the box, right? Um, no. This is harder than it looks, especially if you have a topic in mind.

I cheated and started writing my triolet this past autumn, while I was reading the book WHISTLING VIVALDI, by Claude M. Steele. While the book covers an overarching sociological study about stereotype, the author uses an illustration about an African American male walking down the street at night, facing the threat of being seen as potentially violent. In the book, Steele recounts how, to deflect this stereotype threat, African American New York Times writer Brent Staples whistled Vivaldi while walking the streets of Hyde Park at night to signal to white people that he was educated and nonviolent. A journalist this past year used the phrase “whistling Vivaldi” to describe how African Americans tried to eradicate the essential “stain” of race for victims of gun violence against innocent African Americans by saying what good grades they’d gotten in school, or how they’d wanted to go to college in the fall, or how they’d had hopes and dreams that signalled a lack of stereotype threat because they were about bettering themselves, and pulling themselves up by those invisible bootstraps or otherwise appearing to follow the safe and acceptable pathway of The American Dream (TM). I thought of that as Photoshopping a life… and it seemed to me that it was ludicrously sad. All lives matter, no matter if that life was spent just lazing around and thinking they’d sleep in for the summer and not go to college right away, no matter if they thought the height of civilization was working in a nail salon. Not everyone has to go to college or be top of their class or otherwise “achieve” in some way, to make their lives count. Even the lives we think are stupid or small or mean or pointless matter. We don’t need to Photoshop people who have been sinned against; we need to first bear witness, look, SEE them — and then, do better.


a life airbrushed by Photoshop
we grieve, for he was just like us
but balanced. Centered, focused, cropped
a life: airbrushed by Photoshop.
reshape his past? we cannot stop.
enshrine a lie we won’t discuss
a life, air brushed by Photoshop,
we grieve for. He was just like us.

Pretty heavy thoughts for this first Friday of the month of the new year… I guess I’m still just sort of reeling from last year, and how much seemed left …undone. Will 2015 be the year we tie up our loose ends? Stay tuned. Happy New Year.

Poetry Friday is hosted today by Poetry Sister Tricia @ The Miss Rumphius’ Effect; please visit for more great poems today. Other poems from the P7Crew are found with Andromeda Jazmon @ A Wrung Sponge, with Sara Lewis Holmes, with Liz Garton Scanlon at her LiveJournal, with Kelly Ramsdell Fineman @ Writing&Ruminating, with Laura Purdie Salas @ Writing the World for Kids. We’ll see you next month for the (less obscure, hopefully way easier) villanelle.

Happy Poetry Friday of 2015!

8 Replies to “{poetry friday all over again, with the seven sisters}”

  1. Thanks, you guys –
    @Laura: — IT IS social media. ALL OVER. You get the snaps of people’s happiest moments, their kids’ cutest antics, and …nothing else. Life by Photoshop.

    @Liz: …it’s the sweetness that your truth, my dear, nothing deceptive there; the smile that promises this poem form is EASY is the problem!!

    @Tricia: I think I shared this one in a handful of three… and decided that I liked this one the best. It seemed too heavy, but I’m going to just… go with heavy, because it’s kind of me. 😉

    @Sara: One of the meanings for “crop” is indeed to consume like an animal… a horse cropping grass, taking off the heads and grinding up the sweetest part. What also came to me is that it’s another word for a whip – right? Or the handle of one. It’s a word with many disguises…

    @Andi: It’s a really interesting book that has gotten me thinking. I’ve had to read it in little snippets – it’s not one to take in all at once. It has, I hope, changed the way I see others and what I fear myself as stereotype.

    @Karen: I’m glad my dark poetry doesn’t scare you. 😉

  2. Lovely, thoughtful post. I hadn’t read that book by Steele, but now I am looking for it. You have brought out so much that is important to mark in the past year, and beautifully used the poetic form to do it in layers. I feel so blessed to be doing poetry with you and all the P7Crew! (That’s my favorite nickname for us BTW).

  3. We seem to feel the need to airbrush everyone these days. It’s a constant spin story that just makes us trust each other less.

    I particularly love how your line “balanced. Centered, focused, cropped” progresses from balanced and centered to the more narrow “cropped.” It’s like looking through one of those paper towel tubes, as the meanings get narrower. Plus…huh…I just noticed that cropped also has more meanings…to be grown for consumption is one. Your poem just gets deeper the more times I read it. Happy to be writing more poetry with you this year. xo Sara

  4. Tanita, did you share this before? I feel like I’ve just read it for the first time and it’s punched me in the gut. I agree that every life is important, no matter how we view it or what that person has accomplished or left still undone.

    Thanks for pulling this together despite all that’s happening in your house. Hope Dave is feeling better soon. You too!

  5. I love this poem so much, Tanita.
    And at least as much, I love your clarity and righteousness (so many people’s righteousness lacks clarity but you always are so precise…)
    Thank you for saying what you say and writing what you write.
    And thank you for agreeing to this year of making poems together.
    Glad I was able to woo you with my deceptively “sweet” self. 😉

  6. Tanita, I have always noticed what you’re talking about in news articles, but I have never thought about it so deeply until now. Thank you for that. And for writing an inspired poem that I can read as being about many other issues, too. I love it when a poem makes me think about an issue that’s not even what the poet was thinking of. For me, this just makes me think of social media in general. Much to ponder in such lovely words. xoxo

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