Friday, July 22, 2011

STRENGTHS & WEAKNESSES

Isn't it funny how all writers have strengths and weaknesses within their own craft? I spent this week teaching my poetry class about surrealism, using both visual (Magritte) and literary (Breton) art to explain my explanations. Funny, because some of the poems I loathe more than any other pieces of literature are explorations in surrealism-- they can so quickly become obscure for the sake of obscurity. In a way, psychoanalysis and the Jungian theory of our unconscious using familiar images and symbols to communicate deeper meaning from the shadowed parts of our minds is... annoying. Just tell me what I need to know. I don't want to connect the dots; I want to see the resulting shape.

It's been a struggle, I think, for my class to go outside what is real and in front of them. I wouldn't necessarily call that a weakness. But it's a struggle worth going through, certainly. In my poems, I enjoy staying outside of what is real. I venture inside realism every now and then, unfortunately, to write war poems and what I call "lady poems" that scratch the surface of how fascinating gender really is. But in the end, realism isn't where I get my high. Letter-writing goldfish, rats gone sailing in umbrellas, and women who grow gills are more stimulating; I write a good poem with one small surrealist twist and I'm on cloud 9 for, oh, I dunno, 48 hours.

Teaching the class has made me realize that my students and I share an opposite, and similar, struggle. I suffer from not feeling comfortable inside what is real. My writing has become, to me, the most beat-up pair of jeans you've ever seen: worn at the knees, wallet print on the back pocket, burn holes, scratches, busted zipper, ripped hems, and about three thousand pockets, each holding something worthless.

At first, that sounds romantic-- limited to the imagination. But, these days, I see it as unproductive and fearful. Poetry that tells a reader what is happening in front of them is powerful. Poetry that is real is powerful. Poetry that gives you the object without making you follow clues is powerful. And sure, I acknowledge the argument for imaginative / fantastic / surreal poetry leading us to new thought as well. I just wish I could write everything. And well. Poets who can grab true grief (or love, or passion, or oppression) by the neck and wrestle it onto the page astonish me.

If anything, I can spend this semester learning from my students, rooted in their personal experiences and unafraid of exploring it with language. I can gulp the fresh air that comes with forcing them outside their comfort zones too. Maybe I'll write what's real when I'm older and I'm more familiar with what it really is.

Right?

Here's a prose poem from today's scratch work:

READING JANE AUSTEN WITH MY YOUNGER SISTER

We put our books down and rifle through the game drawer. Sorry is missing the red and blue men, Monopoly is ridiculous. Let’s play marbles, my younger sister says. Inside the leather pouch is a stick of chalk probably fifty years old, yellow-white, and a lot of pearls, bluish-white. They skitter out of the bag like mice. My sister picks one up to shoot. Maybe we shouldn’t, I say, These are pearls, not marbles. What do you mean, she asks, positioning herself lower to the ground, on her belly, a sniper on the slope of a ditch. They’re pearls, I say. I grab some from the undrawn ring. You’re cheating, she says. What if they were Mom’s? I say, hoping she won’t shoot. These are marbles, she says, They’re glass, They weren’t Mom’s. I snatch the pearl she’s about to shoot with and smash it with Jane Austen’s anthology. There is a sound of breaking teeth. I lift the book slowly and both of us, on all fours, stare at the powdered white. It’s glittering because it was glass, my sister says. I say, it’s glittering because it was worth so much.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

MOBILE LEARNING ENVIRONMENT



Tom and I have done a lot of traveling in the last month. We flew to Indiana to visit my mom and her husband in Indianapolis (a city that's sort of surprisingly fun), Pennsylvania - Dutch country - to visit Tom's extended family, and in the past two weeks we've hosted my sister and niece from Washington then my in-laws from Alaska. The in-laws leave tomorrow, and we'll finally have a house that might be kind of almost quiet.

(a peony in downtown Indianapolis)

Today, we divided most of our time between the car, driving to Great Sand Dunes National Park, and walking outside, playing in the Arkansas River on the way home, throwing Flynn's ball, and strolling through Salida. It's 9:39pm now, and I've been ready to crawl into bed for the past three hours-- at least.


(Tom, me, and our bully of a dog, Flynn, at Great Sand Dunes NP)

However, I noticed that my blog has been neglected as of late. So, here's a poem I wrote today. Hope you read it, enjoy it, and tell me you enjoyed it. In the morning.

MOBILE LEARNING ENVIRONMENT


You said hey

I wonder if ants

dream about

Jacob’s Ladder

not the one

from the bible

but the flower

they’re so beautiful

the flowers

not ants


and I said

get a load of this

pickup going 90

with a Jetta chained

to the hitch

and is that a go-kart

on the Jetta’s roof


That sounds like

the start of

a really bad joke

you said


Ants probably dream

about the bible

as much as we do

I said


A pickup,

a Jetta

and a go-kart

walk into a bar

you said



...

Friday, April 8, 2011

NAPOWRIMO DAY 7 POEM

On Wednesday, Tom came home after his morning PT session and we made breakfast before I left for work. As we sat at our dining room table, Tom suddenly slapped the front page of the newspaper in front of me, blocking my view of peanut butter toast with a fantastic article. "Abby. You HAVE to read this," he said.

And I did read it. And I cut it out and kept it too.

Here's a picture of Luna, the jumping cow. Her owners, a family in Germany, were unable to give their daughter (Regina Mayer) a horse, so Regina decided to go riding on one of their cows... and she taught Luna how to jump.

(photo from Spiegel Online)

I admired what this article captured so much, it influenced my poem for Day #7 of NaPoWriMo. Of course, this wasn't all that influenced it... I started to notice how often I have heard of the surreal or unthinkable taking place, and it's usually happening in modern Germany. Just a couple Christmases ago, Tom and I were staying up late in a friend's living room in Morlaix, France, watching a TV special about how a German man claimed to be able to tell people's fortunes by placing his hands on their naked butts. You've heard of palm-readers? Germany goes one step further by producing a butt-reader. (Our French friends shook their heads and laughed that night, muttering "Only the Germans.")

It all made me wonder whether modern-day Germany was sneaking into the rest of the world's wildest dreams at night, then managing to make a profit off of our off-the-wall thoughts. Why don't we wake up and try out the weird ideas ourselves? It's a valid suggestion... and I have ALWAYS wanted to ride a cow.

SO MANY TIMES I HAVE DREAMED

Napowrimo day #7

So many times

I have dreamed

of accomplishing

the extravagant.

Bouncing on

a small green

saddle atop

the knobby spine

of a dairy cow,

while bystanders

with faces like

flashbulbs look on.

So many times

I have dreamed

of jumping

on my steed

over painted logs

and beer crates,

of landing

on a bed of

newspapers.

So many times

I dream of sailing

through bluish

pastures frosted

with dew

only to wake

and hear it has

all been done,

just last week,

in the German

countryside.



...



Monday, April 4, 2011

HAPPY NAPOWRIMO!

Welcome to National Poetry Month, a time when all the closet-poets around you suddenly make their presence known by writing one poem per day for thirty days, complete with fanatic revisits to old author-favorites, nervous breakdowns at 11:53pm when a poem still hasn't emerged, the joyous discoveries of new poets and their publications, and a frenzied sort of appreciation for poetry as a craft. Our eyes may be bloodshot and we're speaking in tongues (Ah! Dactylic hexameter!) but we're totally safe, I promise.

I started this period of designated writing time after a month that left me feeling as if I'd endured enough stress to keep my list of creative prompts flowing. Tom came home from Iraq. We've begun this dance (for a second time) that involves complicated steps around living with a partner after living alone for a year, the twirling of occasional mood swings and the quick rushes of celebration.

Then there's been the little things, mostly around the house, that have kept me ridiculously busy. Spring Break was filled with papers to be graded. Flynn ate one arm of the couch (literally. She ATE. IT.) which kept Tom up for one night, sewing for my sanity. A panel of our backyard fence blew over in a windstorm. Stuff like that.

I've more or less been caught in a dry spell when it comes to writing, surprisingly. As I've scrubbed or repaired or graded or driven up and down I-25, I've had imaginary glimpses of a familiar book cover on my reading shelf: Woolf's A Room of One's Own. I can't help wondering if I'd really be able to come up with anything to write if I had guaranteed peace and quiet-- or whether I'd be bored out of my mind without the distractions to write about.

But right now, I'm sitting at my dining room table, and if I lean to the left to see around the vase of half-wilted roses and daisies (they still smell good) I can see my neighbor, Tim, lying on his back in his front yard, tossing a tennis ball up in the air for Louie, his Boston Terrier (Flynn's nemesis). Tim's an older guy, and he's been out raking for the past couple hours as I've worked on class stuff and cleaned up the house. One minute he's filling a garbage can with yard debris from the last windstorm; the next minute he's on his back, side to side with Louie, both of them exhausted from play.

And there might be nothing poetic about it. And I'm learning to get okay with that. I've noticed I've opted out of living in the moment several times before in order to observe the facts, the imagery, the details of a situation. I haven't developed the talent (yet) for multi-tasking in that way-- observing and living, simultaneously. So for now I'm observing.

Tonight, just before I go to bed, I'll check my memory for anything that stuck, and I'll write a poem that stands just as much a chance of being trash as it does for being submitted to a journal. I'll read some William Carlos Williams to console myself in my lack of words. I'll read some Ron Padgett to laugh at myself. And I'll go to bed tired.


SILVER

Napowrimo day #1


I like the color silver

but tonight

it is a boat too small

to carry my thoughts

and myself together,

a shallow dish

placed on the lip

of a river.

It trembles in the current

as it balances

a load of moonlight,

some cigarette ash,

a letter written in pencil.

...

THIS GUY’S WIFE

Napowrimo day #2


I could never tire of looking

at this guy’s wife,

this guy big as a house

and his wife

like a Porsche parked in front

of him,

he says honey I can’t open

this damn beer

so she says give it here

and the beer is passed

between the two,

catching the bronze afternoon light

which flashes like a candle

blown out

in an upstairs window

across the street.

...

THE IRONY IS NOT LOST ON ME

Napowrimo day #3


The flower shop three blocks from home

sells orchids and cacti and ladyslippers

but won’t be open long on account of its inventory,


solitary blooms looming over sculpted pots,

ogling clientele with orange and yellow eyes.

They pull away from their painted green stakes.


But we can walk there from here

so we do, and we each pick out a cactus.

I say I need something hardy. You say


you want something easy on the eyes.

Cacti are difficult to kill, easy to ignore,

and some of them have dusty pink petals


that burst from the tips of pale tendrils

to touch their neighbors lightly, blind.

You pick the kind that flowers,


I choose a squat, silvery one with spines arranged

on half-moon leaves like teeth. Walking home,

I say our family is growing. You say

my cactus looks impatient.


...

Thursday, February 24, 2011

MONTH OF LOVE & STUFF

I wanted to post a new poem this month, something from scratch that might be worth revising, but to be honest, I've written some decently depressing stuff this month. Nothing seems to match the tone of February, of Valentines Day, of spring's first hints, of a month that is no longer steeped in the craziness of winter holidays but isn't quite as warm as we'd like it to be either.

So I think I'll post an older poem. This is one of my very few love poems, and it was originally published in Tiger's Eye (2008, Issue 16) before being printed in my chapbook, Me and Coyote (Lost Horse Press). I tried to think about love from what I considered a very objective point of view-- contemplating the way it is never what I seem to think it is. While I wrote "How I Love You," I thought about how love is too tricky to define... which kind of sucks, because I enjoy definitions. I like answers. But maybe love has too many definitions, too many answers. That's good, right?

For example, my relationship with Tom has always, in a pleasant way, surprised me. Not only did I not intend to get married while I was an undergraduate, I certainly didn't intend to marry someone in the military. But I feel as if I'm never finished talking to him, never quite done being around him. He's so intelligent and hilarious that I decided it might be worth it to put up with the military-- not embrace it, no, but develop some tolerance and take the good with the... less than ideal. My love for him is, I guess, based on opposites, based on not-knowing.

It's occurred to me that someone might read this post and interpret it in a way that I didn't intend, and that brings me back to the format of the poem. I can never point out a couple and define their love. (Well, I can, but it'd be wrong, so chances are it'd be funny too, and I'd only end up telling Amy while we're on the bus to hell.) Love has too many dimensions.

Maybe that's why I don't write about it much.

HOW I LOVE YOU

strange as a jack in the pulpit opening her brown velvet eye into the ground

resilient as veins of ivy pointing with countless arrows to their hearts

distracted as a passionflower letting her vines do the dancing

kinky as three vanilla beans soaking in a bottle of vodka

ragged as the dishtowel hanging from your oven door

simple as a brown moth translucent on the window

silent as a silver key sleeping in a painted lock

naïve as paper flowers tied to a palm tree

persuasive as a brick of chocolate

faultless as a marble Madonna

pious as a sprig of lavender

constructive as a cricket

I love you more than

an iron fence

loves her

house



...

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

a couple updates...

Hey! So, I'm going to post my monthly poem for February... eventually. For right now, I just want to broadcast some updates.

First, I have a personal narrative being published (I know! I wrote prose! Weird!) tomorrow on the Cheek Teeth blog, the online extension of the literary journal Trachodon. It was fun to write, but I have to admit, it's a little more soul-bearing than I'm used to. I now understand how daunting creative nonfiction can be, if I wasn't intimidated by it before. Honesty is something I've become accustomed to making a reader search for in terms of poetry. It's part of the fun. But to just... lay it all out on the line like that? Just write what you think? Flat out? Yikes. Creative nonfictioners, you have my admiration. Well, you do if you read my narrative. Do it!

Second, my monthly reading series is having it's February event this Friday, the 18th, at Black Cat Books in Manitou, for all those who live in the area. This month's guest author is Juan Morales, poet and Director of the Creative Writing Program at CSU-Pueblo. Check out the Colorado Springs Writers Reading Series blog and come say hello after the reading.

Third (and this isn't writing-related but still a significant event), Tom will be returning from his year-long deployment in just a couple weeks! Yay!

Have a great February, everyone. Thank you for listening!

...

Sunday, January 23, 2011

AN "I BELIEVE" EXERCISE

Two posts in one month? I suppose I'm not surprised. Spring semester doesn't start until tomorrow, and I literally have nothing left to clean in my house. I've scrubbed the kitchen and bathrooms, washed bedding, even shredded old documents piling up in the inbox. I've had my syllabi ready for a week now, and I know what I'm wearing for the first week of classes. Escaping myself sounds kinda good right now.

The good news is, I think I'm on the uphill climb out of my shitty-poems-only phase. I'm starting to come up with some that might be worth sending out after revision. Because I'm not as frustrated now, I'm starting to play with exercises more often, if only to kill time before class. (Someone please remind me how bored I was when I am swamped in essays and writing assignments.) (But do it in a not-snarky kind of way, because I'm half joking, and nobody likes a know-it-all.)

My friend Adrienne Christian just posted a blog in which she tries out an exercise from the book Poet's Companion by Dorianne Laux and Kim Addonizio-- a text I've used before in my introductory creative writing class. The exercise tells participants to write out six serious things they believe in, six silly things they believe in, etc. etc. I was attracted to the exercise because it didn't promise a tried and true "poem" at the end; its purpose is to kickstart multiple ideas at once. It's also one of those exercises that serves as a good opportunity for the writer to get to know herself, although, as always, there is room for fiction. :)

So here's my take on the exercise. Thanks, Adrienne!

WHAT I BELIEVE AND WHATNOT, ETCETERA

I believe in judging people based on how they respond to animals, even though I shouldn’t. I believe almost every woman falls in love with another woman at least once in her lifetime. I believe the military is untrustworthy. I believe in forgiveness, the psychological effects of color, and the power of a good orchestra.

I’m pretty sure there’s a devil, that he has helpers, that he has ongoing border disputes. I’m pretty sure love at first sight is an excuse for laziness. I’m pretty sure I’m barren, and that for every man who’s loved me, there are five others who wouldn’t know why. I’m pretty sure my father’s spirit will come home for Christmas.

I’m not sure about the old man at the grocery store who kissed me on the cheek. I’m not sure I’m as complex as I hoped I’d be. I’m not sure of writers who admire my work, nor am I sure of those who dismiss it. I’m not sure I’d survive my husband being killed in combat. I’m not sure about tangerines that have been in the refrigerator for a month and still look fresh.

I don’t think about my financial future enough. I don’t think I look good in most shades of red. I don’t think daffodils are in season long enough. I don’t think I’m entirely honest with people and I don’t think I ought to be. I don’t think I eat enough fiber. I don’t think I like foods that are high-fiber.

I don’t believe wearing nylons is worth the discomfort and maintenance. I don’t believe I’ve eaten more than three desserts I didn’t crave later. I don’t believe people are as kind as they think they are, myself included. I don’t believe in the retelling of that story where Iphigenia escapes. I don’t believe in pride, and I certainly don’t believe in rabbits that live inside of hats.


...

Sunday, January 9, 2011

HAPPY NEW YEAR & IT'S ALL GOING TO BE OKAY, RIGHT?

I think the goal of posting one poem/post a month is realistic for me this year, as I'm making a concerted effort to stop over-scheduling myself in writing, teaching, even reading. I am also working on not feeling bad about cutting back, which has actually become the true problem.

The stack of books beside my bed has grown to an almost comical level-- it's become more daunting and intimidating than welcoming and invigorating... sure, some nights, I really do want to read some Hesse, Heine, or Schlegel, auf deutsch (with translation dictionary tucked in beside me) aloud to the cats, followed by my best interpretation before reading the published translation. Some nights, though, I end up falling into bed with only as much mental capacity as is needed to read a comic book, or at least a few pages of one, and a heavy sense of guilt for not picking up anything German, anything designed to help me prep for that distant idea of a PhD in Literature, anything that makes me think hard enough that I have to get up and write about it before I forfeit the benefits.

I am only teaching three courses this spring at the community college, and I want to get back into volunteering, start showing up at the soup kitchen down the street on Sunday evenings. There's something in me, too, that keeps whispering about how badly I want to teach violin lessons again, how I'd love to pick up a beginning student or two but know the competition in my area is strong and I don't want to spend more time searching than planning or practicing. (Basically, if anyone YOU know in the Colorado Springs area knows a beginning student, point them in my royal direction.)

Also, I'm looking forward to the AWP conference in Washington DC this February... sort of. Some aspects of AWP throw me over the moon: the readings done by so many of my literary role models, the mountains of books I've never heard of and can't put down once I sample them at the book fair, catching up with friends from different writing programs, even getting out of the house, out of my routine for a little while.

My chapbook of war poems is growing slowly, rearranging itself, and I intend to spend more time revising it for contests and open submissions. I was actually getting ready to send it out to three different publishers when I flew off to Washington for my father's funeral, and with the holidays soon after that, it hasn't been until now that I've thought about picking it up again. Still plenty of time before the semester starts, right? I need to learn how to take part in projects without throwing myself in head over heels. Of course, I also have the Colorado Springs Writers Reading Series to coordinate, which I love doing, but, as I planned the December event not too long ago, amidst final grades, house maintenance, baking, bill paying, dog training, church involvement, gift giving, holiday parties, writing requirements, travel preparation and minor physical ailments, Tom so lovingly told me over the phone from Iraq (I'm pretty sure I heard him smacking his forehead), "Dammit, every time one problem gets fixed, you set up another one right behind it!"

So, this year needs to be all about condensing the nonsense, about saying no from time to time, about prioritizing and, oh yeah, beginning that whole process of learning to live with another person again when Tom comes home in March. I need to be kinder to myself every time I pick a rejection slip out of the mailbox, every time I chastise myself for not going one more mile at the gym, for not picking up the German literature at night and opting for a magazine instead. It's all going to be okay.

(Of course, my inner critic is saying right now, "Damn, you're off to a fine start, aren't you, when you need to tell yourself 'It's going to be okay!' only nine days into the year... good luck with this one, chump.")

(And my newly hired other inner critic is putting that older inner critic in a sleeper hold, telling him to "say something nice, asshole! Do it! Now!" until the mean one says, "Okay, I guess she can post a good poem once a month, maybe...")

On that note, here's a poem for January: a first draft of another poem exploring the implications of being a poet at all.


FIVE POETS ON AN ISLAND

A plane goes down in the middle

of the ocean, out where there are

islands yet to be sold or air-conditioned,

and on the plane there are five poets,

each of them surviving (as poets will do)

dog-paddling to the nearest shore

or darting through the waves like sailfish,

graceful even in death’s shadow.

The island is white with yellow palms,

pink beach crabs floating over kelp beds,

lime-green vines woven around all of it.

One poet starts weeping and says

the thing he will miss most is

turning doorknobs, opening doors,

he will miss moving through things;

the others decide silently he will die first.

Another, the oldest, says he will miss

his cigarettes, which did not survive

the crash, and he’ll miss his wife’s garden—

not his garden, you see, his wife’s,

because he was born an ambitious man—

and his wife tended such fragile flowers,

camellias and jasmine and fuschias.

The poet wringing out his shirt

in the shade of a rock cave says

they should definitely elect a leader,

he needs structure in order to work;

the lady poet says she decided

just when the plane dipped its nose

she would make the best leader,

should they all end up marooned.

The poet whose clothes were torn away

by the ocean says something in a language

no one understands so they shrug at him,

tell him with their hands to go make

a fire for their dinner, even though

each of them is burning up, even though

the animals crouched behind them

agreed years ago not to be hunted.



...