{poetry seven: etheree}

Mountain View 5

The Guardian, Karen Cauvin Eustis, 2013.

A new month – wow, where did September go!? – a new poetry challenge.

These poems are named after a woman – Etheree Armstrong Taylor. According to Teh Internets (TM), Ms. Etheree was a poet from Arkansas who invented this simple form first called “The Etheree” and which is much like the cinquain, and just as American. Interestingly, in French, éthéré is a word that refers to the “aether,” from which we derive the word “ethereal.” Aether is also an archaic term for the equally archaic term, firmament… or, good old air. The etheree is simply counting syllables, one per line, ’til one reaches ten syllables in the last line. The theme of the poem is meant to be singular, and …well, maybe to be light and airy? A double etheree is 1-10, then 10-1. A reverse etheree simply begins at the end with ten syllables and goes on down to complete the poem with a single. A twin etheree is a spin-off form I’ve seen, where it’s two lines of one syllable, two lines of two, and so on ’til ten, but that version IS rhymed.

Despite the simplicity and unrhymed straightforwardness of the form we chose — or maybe BECAUSE of it — some of us decided to throw in a wrench. We thought we’d need something to make it harder, you see — so we gave ourselves a theme, at some point … relationships.


I flunked on theme. But, eventually I got out a poem or three, thank goodness. Should you do this with your peeps, try agreeing to all end or begin with the same word, or try agreeing to include a specific, unique word in each poem – it’s just much easier. The form lends itself to unwrapping many concepts in tiny increments.

A word – concept, really – that came to light in the 90’s is postemotionalism. Post, being “after,” put together with the word emotion almost would sound like we’re “over” emotions, but in fact, we’re over emotion-ed. Sociologist Stjepan Meštrović, in his book POSTEMOTIONAL SOCIETY, talks about how media input – from our friends on social media, from news reports, and pushes our collective emotional state up, pulls us down, moves and jerks us around so much that we numb ourselves. Meštrović theorized this after watching weeks of indifference by Americans, watching refuges from the Bosnian genocide on their television screens. There was so much emotion demanded – so many responses elicited by the all-caps-exclamation-point media, that “bad things” seen in what Meštrović calls the “daily diet of phoniness” all blended into a constant hum of negativity which drew no further response. Emotional manipulation on commercials, in newspaper headlines, in “breaking news” shilling on CNN was common and growing louder, tugging the world’s attention this way and that. (For more on this, Lisa Wade, a professor at Occidental College, explains it better than I can.)

I have always had a massive capacity for feeling, grieving, really, at all that goes on in the world. But, when I get that “something in my eye” feeling over cat comics and gum commercials, too, how real is it? In the final summation, have I truly felt… anything?

empathy fatigue

a heart wrung-
out to nothing,
twisted like a rag,
sucked dry by greedy frauds
fed “a daily diet of
phoniness.” Disingenuous
world in which emotions are tapped like
so many oil wells, drained dry to sell soup…
Fact: this capacity for compassion,
is a resource finite. heartfelt “feels”
that tug our strings and spark our rage?
Artificial sweetness and
ersatz-sourced sour. Such
hearts, daily broken,
fueled on falsehood
how can they

the poetry seven

The rest of the Poetry Seven have called in with their etherees. Andromeda is talking about technology – ebook, or hardback?. Liz is writing a love story for the ages, if the ages are middle grade. (New Novel!?) Sara’s got mint on the brain, in the planter, growing in cracks in the sidewalk… Tricia’s relationship is puppy love, unless you ask the cat… Laura’s bickering celestial siblings are on the road to a time out. Kelly’s gone all Austen on that cold fish, Mr. Darcy.

EDITED TO ADD: And we can’t forget our Poetry Cousin JCL@Headlong Into Poetry has been etheree-ing the whole month long.

Need more? Poetry Friday is over at Heidi’s Juicy Little Universe.

9 Replies to “{poetry seven: etheree}”

  1. Beautiful, Tanita! Sad too, but so well done.

    These lines just grabbed me and pulled me in. Love it when you find lines that you want to go back and read again and savor.

    a heart wrung-
    out to nothing,
    twisted like a rag,
    sucked dry by greedy frauds

  2. This poem blows me away for so many reasons, but mostly because of the recent shooting in Oregon. I love that you share your inspiration for these things. The fact that you can write with so much emotion about something stemming from an academic treatment of a subject just makes it even more astonishing. And I love the ending. It’s a great question, and one I wish we had an answer for.

  3. Tanita, you are so full of passion and empathy and emotion–in the most wonderful way. I always leave your blog feeling *something.* Maybe entertained, maybe fired up about some injustice, maybe empathizing about the struggle of writing. But always something.

    This is great–I especially like

    hearts, daily broken,/
    fueled on falsehood

    I sometimes feel I’m not emotional enough about things on social media–things that seem to have ruined other people’s days, which is odd, since I am overly sensitive to bad things…now I don’t feel as bad about it. Maybe I’m just saving up my true emotions for the more important things:>)

  4. Your poem makes an important point (ha! It makes a POINT), but here’s my struggle as an empathy-fatigued adult: nurturing empathy in 10 year-olds. I’m just hoping that if they can develop it for each other, it will sit like a seed ready to grow for causes greater than their elementary world.

    You seven poetry sisters light up my sky. I love your monthly group appearances. I hope you will continue in 2016!

  5. Love this! Interesting backstory about the form and lots to ponder about the over-emotionalization in our society. True, we are bombarded so much in our daily lives that we have to steel ourselves. It’s getting more difficult to avoid being manipulated. But I’m a believer in true hearts, and knowing that you are one makes me feel better. 🙂

  6. You’ve written such a nice background on the poem form and your postemotionalism theme. It’s making me realize all over again why I don’t’ watch the news or TV much at all, and why I have a short tolerance for social media. Thank God the gift of poetry, which can keep us in perspective!

    “tapped like
    so many oil wells, drained dry to sell soup…” Lord help us!

    And I have to say I love your Seven Sisters graphic. Pinning that.

  7. I only now realized that your poem is shaped like half a heart. Broken-hearted, indeed. A tough topic to take on in a short form, but you nailed it. “Fueled on falsehood” keeps thumping in my brain each time I read this.

  8. I didn’t know about Ms. Etheree! I like the history lesson — thank you! And this doubled form. It works SO well. This one makes me ache a bit…. xxxoo Liz

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