Tag Archives: metaphor

Poem H–Going Fishing


Clover near West Emma Creek

Clover near West Emma Creek

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To help my friend and colleague Queen Jane Approximately decide which of my poems to submit to publications and contests, I am posting  ten of my particular favorites — poems A through J  (yes, I had to count off the letters on my fingers). I’d like your comments as we go along and, in particular, when all ten have appeared, your ranking. Which do you like best (10 points)? Least (1 point — I can’t bear the thought of getting Zero points)?

WEST EMMA CREEK

It was a halcyon day in June
with nothing in particular
to do, so we decided to go to
West Emma Creek
to catch fish
and lie in the sun
and read about mockingbirds
and antelope herds
and constellations.

We decided not to go by limousine
to Houston, or aeroplane to Dublin,
or submarine to Arabia, or flying
carpet all the way across
the world to Marrakech.

We decided to go to
West Emma Creek
to catch fish
and lie in the sun
and read a novel by Jane Austen.

We decided not to go by subway
to the Pentagon
or run into the jungle
or drive into the desert
or fly beyond the sun.
We decided not to be going, going,
going somewhere.

Now we are walking to
West Emma Creek
to catch fish
and lie in the sun
and read about Little Bear
to children.

STUDENTS

  1. West Emma Creek is an actual stream in central Kansas, but in this poem it serves as a metaphor for _________.
  2. This is, for me, anyway, a short poem, and very little of its vocabulary is accidental.  There are several possible answers to the following question: Why might the poet (moi) have chosen the following words or phrases: mockingbirds? antelope herds? constellations? limousine? aeroplane (with its nonstandard spelling)? submarine? novel by Jane Austen? subway? Pentagon? walking? Little Bear?
  3. Please identify the following poetic (rhetorical) devices in the poem: anaphora, euphony, cacophony, hyperbole.
  4. (There is no single right answer to this question, either.) What, beyond the superfluous (she likes to lie in the sun), do you discover about the poet in “West Emma Creek”— something she might not have known about herself until she wrote the poem?
  5. Does “flying carpet all the way across the world to Marrakech” suggest any particular type of journey?

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Poem F–The Middle Way

Marie Mouchon nature reserve, Belgium; photo by Luc Viatour, link below

Marie Mouchon nature reserve, Belgium; photo © Luc Viatour GFDL/CC, link below

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Benign Light

To help my friend and colleague Queen Jane Approximately decide which of my poems to submit to publications and contests, I am posting  ten of my particular favorites — poems A through J (yes, I had to count off the letters on my fingers). I’d like your comments as we go along and, in particular, when all ten have appeared, your ranking. Which do you like best (10 points)? Least (1 point — I can’t bear the thought of getting Zero points)?

The previous poem, “Life Is Poetry,” you may purge from your memory bank. I think that I was struggling so much with it because it was too weak a vehicle to carry the burden I had placed upon it.

On the other hand — the following poem, “Benign Light (The Middle Way),” also has me a little mystified, but at least it’s a decent poem. It’s complete, it has been complete for a long time, I feel no need to eff around with it, so I can just study it, meditate on it, comfortably, no hurry.

It's a long way to Belgium from here

It's a long way to Belgium from here

Dordogne, Périgord (France)

Dordogne, Périgord (France), © Luc Viatour GFDL/CC

The photograph above and the one at right were taken by Luc Viatour, who is hands down the best photographer I have ever known, although I don’t actually know him, in the sense of having ever seen or spoken with him, inasmuch as he lives in Belgium and I live in Nebraska, though we have exchanged a few brief e-mails. He is very generous with his gazillions of spectacular images, and I illustrated most of my first book, Unfamiliar Territory, with his photographs.

Unfamiliar Territory would be a perfect Valentine’s Day gift, it occurs to me…. And while I’m engaging in blatant self-promotion, I might as well let you know that you can buy “Benign Light,” beautifully illustrated and sold in an 8-1/2-by-11-inch “frameless” frame, for, um, $19.99, with free shipping.

"Benign Light," $19.99

"Benign Light," $19.99

Benign Light (The Middle Way)

Benign, warm light inclines organic
things the way a cat will arch
contentedly toward a caress. Butter,
used to being cool, relaxes its
oppressive form and angularity
when carelessly left on the table by
the window. I used to love to sleep
in pools of sunlight, inching westward, creeping
toward the warmth, as hatchlings blindly cling
to Mama in the nest.

I held a match too long once, lighting birthday
candles on a marble cake with chocolate
frosting; though the little burn scarred
smooth, it smarted fierce for days. That’s when
I learned about the middle way and how
to look for balance in a contest of
extremes. But even in the agony,
innocuous as it may seem in
retrospect, of injuring a toe
or shin or elbow, when you hop about
for no good reason you can think of, there’s
a wakening of senses you’d forgotten
and a memory of the birth of feeling.
So, still cautious, you allow a bit
of gentle light to enter and to
circulate around the tender places,
so long unexposed, at first they shy
away but then are drawn as moth to flame.
And you remind yourself, “the middle way,”
and seek the shade. But something of the glow
remains, for passers-by peer in and say
to one another, “Look! A firefly.”

© Luc Viatour GFDL/CC

© Luc Viatour GFDL/CC

Students

  1. Re “the middle way and how to look for balance in a contest of extremes” — give an example of a “contest of extremes” one might encounter.
  2. Why does the narrator “seek the shade”?
  3. Why a marble cake? Why not sponge cake or coffee cake? There are at least two “correct” answers to this question.
  4. This poem uses commonplace devices (rhyming, pentameter) in rather unconventional ways. How does this practice reinforce the meaning of the poem?

Do you see a bear there?

Yogi Bear

Yogi Bear

The appearance of a poem — the way it looks on the page — can be a poetic device, though it’s one I’ve never used, at least deliberately. But as I was writing a little poem for my granddaughter’s birthday, it struck me that the poem’s shape was similar to the profile of a famous bear — either Yogi (because of the flat head) or Winnie-the-Pooh, I’m not sure which. What do you think?

To Maggie on Her Birthday

You are so dear to me; there is so
much of me in you; and if you find
that frightening, then let me hasten
to assure you: It is Lovely being me;
I like myself enormously, and if some
say I’m slightly out of touch with what
they call reality, what do THEY know?
We all create our own reality, or partially,
or everyone would be the same, and even
the most skeptical agree — they name it
“existentialism” — they can’t help it,
naming things, I mean.

When dreamers say “Follow
Your Dreams,” it’s more than
a cliché, and those who choose
in favor of expediency, becoming
dental-floss distributors, perhaps
(there’s nothing WRONG with that,
if it’s the path that’s lit for you), may
someday wish the toss had gone the
other way. “We are what we pretend
to be” (Kurt Vonnegut), and there is
an infinity of glorious potentialities to
draw upon, not all at once, of course,
but bit by bit, as one will flutter past,
you snap it up, examine it, and keep
the best of what it has that fits. “Be
who you are” is HUGE and TRUE,
reliably, and has been throughout
history, that old banality that
is the key to liberty at last. It
means no matter what you
do, the hard, unblemished
core of individuality that
is uniquely YOU is built
of shards of love and
overfilled with joy,
is solid, beautiful,
unchanging, safe,
and permanent,
and absolutely
necessary to
the Universe.

Pooh with Kanga and Piglet

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Poem E

TapKids

TapKids — Wicked timing, talent, stamina, and entertainment

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God’s Time Is the Best Time

(English subtitle of Cantata No. 106, by J. S. Bach)

There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.
Julius Caesar Act 4, scene 3, 218–224

The Rockettes

The Rockettes

To help my friend and colleague Queen Jane Approximately decide which of my poems to submit to publications and contests, I am posting  ten of my particular favorites — poems A through J (yes, I had to count off the letters on my fingers). I’d like your comments as we go along and, in particular, when all ten have appeared, your ranking. Which do you like best (10 points)? Least (1 point — I can’t bear the thought of getting Zero points)?

I don’t like to explicate my own poems — I let my students do that, and then they explain them to me, and then I get them (the poems; not the students) — but I am not as confident of this poem’s integrity as I would like to be… I keep changing and expanding it… although I think it’s finally Done. I just don’t quite get it! My own poem!

This poem, “Life Is Poetry (Now),” is on my website’s home page, and it is the theme of my free online course “How to Write Poetry and Live Poetically.”

Tap Kids

TapKids again, astounding the audience (see short video below)

And I am going to do a bit of superficial explication, because I’m not sure what the poem is trying to tell me. If you approach poetry-writing properly, your poems will outrun your conscious understanding, just as dreams do. And puzzling them out is usually fun and revealing.

Below are some of the messages I think the poem is trying to express. But I still keep missing that train….

Being ‘on’

If you’re always running after your life, you won’t be paying attention and you’ll miss the signals

Fred Astaire and dancers in the 1935 romantic comedy TOP HAT

Fred Astaire and dancers in the 1935 romantic comedy TOP HAT

But if you must live chaotically, do even that with panache; be magnificent, even if you arrive halfway through your big number

Be bold
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we’re liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others. —Marianne Williamson, A Return to Love – Reflections on the Principles of “A Course in Miracles”

Don’t ever, in anything, go on autopilot. I heard recently that Orthodox Jews have prayers and rituals for every conceivable activity, even those that occur in the… um… powder room

Kevin McCormack and Riverdance

Kevin McCormack and Riverdance

Timing is everything… being in sync with the rhythms that surround you, but also knowing which ones to pay attention to [Ah. I think there’s something here. Not in sync. Unaware of the rhythms]

Brutus, the speaker in the Julius Caesar excerpt above, seems to imply that if you miss the train (“the tide… at the flood”), it’s over, and you might as well just mark time until you croak. I, however, think we have lots of chances, an infinite number. The train keeps coming back… it just doesn’t stay very long in the station… so, travel light; don’t let your baggage weigh you down

BUT THERE’S MORE. I’m still missing something. Look! Except for the fellows below, all the images I chose to illustrate “the poetic life” are big clumps of dancers. I suppose stranger things have happened, but I’m pretty sure that I will never be a Rockette.

The Scottish Pipe and Drum Band, Alexandria, Virginia
The Scottish Pipe and Drum Band, Alexandria, Virginia

LIFE IS POETRY (NOW)

When you find your spot and hit your stride,
regardless of how hard you tried to be
on time and didn’t quite succeed, yet neatly,
gracefully, and perfectly in step,
slipped into your appointed place as if
you were the missing tuba player in
a marching band, but landed with a grin
and saucy bow, finessing now,
extemporaneously starring in
an unpremeditated bit, and everyone
applauded, just assuming it was part
and parcel of the entertainment — then
you’ve made a work of art out of a chance
anomaly, and life is elevated
from the ordinary: It’s a symphony,
a dance, a comedy… perchance, by grace,
beyond felicity, to be accompanied
by ginger tea and love and handmade lace
and wondering at Coleridge and Blake… now
you must get some pixie dust (before
you are allowed a bit of rest and solitude)
to give you extra effervescence and
a bit of magic, and, not merely reading
sonnets of Rossetti, Keats, and Sidney,
be a sonnet, one with careful, offhand
rhyme, magnificent. Be poetry;
its tide is in, its time may not soon be
so sensible again

STUDENTS

  1. Obviously, “be a sonnet” and “be poetry” suggest metaphors. In what ways might a person be, metaphorically, a poem? (I want your wild guesses here; there are no wrong answers)
  2. Why a sonnet, do you think? Why not a rondeau or a cinquain?
  3. The poetic device called sibilance is conspicuous in this poem. What functions might be served by the use of sibilance here?
  4. Life, metaphorically, is a symphony, a dance, a comedy — something orchestrated, choreographed, managed in a way that the poet (who would be me) evidently believes to be a step up from an entropic, path-of-least-resistance lifestyle. How does the poem indicate — explicitly, or by use of rhetoric — that the poet doesn’t want this “managed” life to exclude spontaneity?

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Kevin McCormack and Riverdance

Kevin McCormack and Riverdance

Poem D

Des Moines, Iowa, early 20th century; Dad was born in Des Moines in 1913

Des Moines, Iowa, early 20th century; this postcard features seven church spires; Dad was born in Des Moines in 1913

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The Morris Chair

Drake University, Des Moines, Iowa

My maternal grandmother graduated from Drake University in Des Moines, some time before 1900; my paternal grandmother was a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Oberlin, also before 1900

To help my friend and colleague Queen Jane Approximately decide which of my poems to submit to publications and contests, I am posting  ten of my particular favorites — poems A through J (yes, I had to count off the letters on my fingers). I’d like your comments as we go along and, in particular, when all ten have appeared, your ranking. Which do you like best (10 points)? Least (1 point — I can’t bear the thought of getting Zero points)?

Students: Name as many rhetorical devices used in this poem as you can. Here are a few for free: assonance, metaphor, simile, apostrophe….

Dad (left) and his brothers, around 1940

Dad (left) and his brothers, around 1940

The Morris Chair

for Dan Campbell, 1913-1985

Once ordinary oak and textile, it
became your incarnation’s residence
of preference, your citadel, in fact; and
since its frame and cast, at first, were hostile
to your contours, something had to give — and
there, the victory was yours; the Morris
never had a prayer.

As sitting folks will do, you made a firm
impression on the worsted cushion. Its
topography was less an object of
erosion than redistribution, and, in
time, the planet was reshaped: a plateau
here, a gully there… a landscape; where
before had been mere serviceable flatness,
there was now a valley sculpted by an
adamance of muscle, bone, and flesh.

After the armistice, you and the Morris were
compatible as are the angled pieces
of a jigsaw puzzle, which is why, when
anybody else might try to sit
upon the thing, that individual
would find it uncongenial — not rigid,
really, or relenting, never that — no,
just tenacious of its silhouette,
true to its architect, and guardian of
your indelible effect.

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Poem C

Lily of the valley

Lily of the valley

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A Mother’s Prayer

To help my friend and colleague Queen Jane Approximately decide which of my poems to submit to publications and contests, I am posting  ten of my particular favorites — poems A through J (yes, I had to count off the letters on my fingers). I’d like your comments as we go along and, in particular, when all ten have appeared, your ranking. Which do you like best (10 points)? Least (1 point — I can’t bear the thought of getting Zero points)?

Students: Name as many rhetorical devices used in this poem as you can.

Grassy valley under a blue sky

My space inviolate—grassy valley under a splendid sky

My Space Inviolate

My space inviolate, circle of safety, whitewashed
in whorls of sweet sunlit air. Here is a cradle;
here is a lullaby; here is the wild strawberry,
here is the lily of the valley, in the shade, these
unpretentious in their scent and in their aspect.
Charmed, I fill my lungs with earth and flower
essence, and my heart with innocence —
nothing tainted is permitted here;
I fill my sight with creamy pastel spring
blooms and new yellow-green sweet grass.
Angels who whirled in the dance now sit quietly,
expectantly, one who is wise beside me.

New spring grass

New spring grass

Meditate this hour on your angelic
guardians, whose charge is but to guide you
to your joy. Now rest and dream, and when
you rise, put on the vestments of your power.

All that is kind; all things for love; all hope for
harmony, you’ve just to ask. It is our only task
to give you ease, to please you, to create
a clean, unsullied heart in you, fulfilling
what you’ve chanted at the precipice
of sleep, so near believing all these years.
Look! Every tear you spent for love and
penitence is sacred; each was shed in
honest pain, and we have saved them for
this baptism.

Raindrops on ficus leaves

Raindrops on ficus leaves

Be happy, then. Know that we look after
him and mend his heart, so sore and
unprotected. There! It is done,
and he has seen the messengers of his
salvation, and believed. Then we embraced him
with a lambence that will cleave to him. You
need to understand that love like this,
angels cannot resist. It’s manna, meat and
drink to us. Now you must let him go;
now do release him; entrust him to us.
We shall keep him in an easy custody,
his warden shall be bliss.

Here in this circle is no place for fear.
Nothing feeds it here. Now be serene,
as you were meant to be, for all is well.
The insignificant, pathetic demons
from the place called “hell,” which is no place
at all, but just a state of mind, were chased
away, by saying, “Boo,” and making faces
at them. And yet they scare you so,
they interrupt your dancing— as if they were
substantial… as if they were not less than air.

Cattails


Published!

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Dundee School, Omaha, Nebraska

My school, Dundee Elementary, in Omaha, had a large playground and, between the fence and the wall, wonderful climbing trees and hiding places. I fell off the wall and ruptured my spleen when I was 9. Photo: RDG Planning & Design

In a small literary magazine…

…appeared this poem, my very own! Note rhetorical devices, including pathetic fallacy (anthropomorphism, personification), alliteration, assonance, consonance, simile, metaphor, onomatopoeia, internal rhyme, slant or half rhyme, and others.

Swaddled in Saturday Afternoon

Friday afternoon in early spring
was all but Saturday, and finer in its
way — a long, warm wallowing in
fresh anticipation — no activity
at all, allowing for the effortless,
habitual mobility of youth,
and I had energetic fantasies,
pie in the sky, like every other foolish
girl — I’m certain it’s a rule or ought to
be — uncensored dreams, I mean. How pliable
the world and I were then, how agile my
imagination, deftly crafting Saturday
scenarios and shaping situations on a whim.

Mother Greeting Children After School

Friday afternoon...

In my fringed suede jacket with my long,
brown hair in braids that swished across
my back, I could be Jo March or Annie
Oakley just by wishing to. A lengthening
of stride on pleasant residential
sidewalks, in an instant turned to hard-
packed trails across Nebraska Territory,
I was guiding covered wagons westward,
though unhappily my little pony, Daisy,
had been left behind in Council Bluffs,
recuperating from… from… um… the
hiccups; such a mystifying case,
so strange.

Girl Playing with Leaves

The wind changed...

The wind changed. Balmy just a tick ago,
the day turned strangely dark, and
cold, quick puffs of what remained of
winter merged into a gale. I loosed my
braided hair and let the wind do what it
would. I knew (the wind did not), no
matter how it tugged and turned, no
ordinary wind could separate my hair
and skin — a small but gratifying
evidence of power, to tease the elements
that way, and win. And with such grand,
decisive triumphs, Saturdays begin.

Kids in Spring

Oh! Here they come...

There was a wild and wooded place, if
only ten feet wide or so, that circumscribed
the park. Good climbing trees were there, and
shrubs to hide in while you waited for
Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp to ride in
from their day of keeping lawlessness
at bay. I must be canny and adjust
my brim, so it just skims my eyes. Oh! Here they
come! Alas! It isn’t they, not then! It’s
Robin and his Merry Men, and I, Maid
Marian, again defied the wind and
pinned my tousled hair into a prim,
aristocratic bun, with tendrils tumbling
‘round my face.

Mom Serving Lunch

...for there was lemonade...

The wind abated and the sun peeked out.
I leaned against the Gallaghers’ red maple tree
and watched the play of shade and glimmer in
the variegated canopy and felt
the muffled thrum that was the rhythm of
a Saturday in spring, the quieting
of afternoon in placid neighborhoods.
I heard my mother mixing commerce with
a bit of gossip as the Alamito
Dairy man, whose name was John, sold butter,
half-and-half, and cottage cheese, and muttered
something he had gleaned from Mrs. Hahn,
about the Beasleys’ sheltie’s puppies being
weaned, as I recall. I listened to the
uninflected tune of bees around
a clump of lilacs, heard a small child’s bleating
and her mama crooning consolation,
and a screen door with a wicked spring
obedient to physics, snapping like a
shot, too raucous for the soporific
interlude. And why not let myself
be swaddled by the sun, the homely
sounds, the scent of sod just laid, and lilies
of the valley emanating fragrance
disproportionate to their small,
delicate, half-hidden habitat?
Well contented was I then to call
an end to my adventures for a time;
for there were lemonade, and crackers, and
a book to carry to the back yard and my
secret nook between the privet and the
elm, concave as if it had been made
expressly for my shoulder blades.

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    The Many Roads…

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    How to Write Poetry and Live Poetically

    Poems

    waterfall_mountains_halfwsize

    DEEP WATER

    The Ancient Ones believe: If we
    could hear it in primeval purity,
    beside a sacred spring, just by the
    sunlit surfacing where it emerges
    all but unadulterated, there must
    be, in all the fullness of a
    symphony, a song within the
    watercourse — which, hearing,
    touching, tasting, bathing in it
    heals the spirit of its slow,
    insidious decay and makes us
    innocent and wholly realized,
    perhaps immortal — who can
    say?

    Even now, you and I can hear our
    voices clear and buoyant in the
    chorus — although you might
    perceive nuances and notes and
    cadences in this eternal mystic
    composition differently than I.

    For since our origin, we have
    sailed on different seas to
    different ports; our purposes and
    choices have developed separate
    pathways in the mind through
    which the melodies pour in and
    where the orchestration rises like
    the ocean at high tide. Yet even
    so, divided at a crossroads,
    separated by a veil, we can yet
    decide — to harmonize or clash,
    sing peace or, maybe, dissonance
    and, if the latter, float with a
    deceptive ease, by flattery and
    treacherous inducement,
    downstream through the sluice
    gate to cacophony; so many
    voices, shrill and wounded from
    the willful howling, shouting,
    shrieking to be heard above the
    rest.

    And when at last we learn that life
    is not a race, nor yet a test, then
    destiny — some call it grace —
    will bring us home, in this life or
    the next, perhaps a thousand
    lifetimes hence. The many roads
    are one road in the end, and every
    soul will seek at last the blessed
    lullaby; each in time will kneel
    beside a holy well, to rest, to be
    made innocent, as once more
    called to cleansing in the spring,
    the sunlit source of all we know
    above the deep and hidden flow.

    blade_of_grass

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    Lesson 35
    Chapter 11 (continued): The Morris Chair and Other Metaphors for Love

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    A freshwater swamp in Florida (U.S. Geological Survey)

    A freshwater swamp in Florida (U.S. Geological Survey)

    I am not into angst. Give me good, honest sadness, if you must, but don’t take me down sordid side streets dead-ending in despair.

    Do not write poetry about your feelings, except metaphorically, or in passing. You will get stuck there, in that swamp of emotion, when the point is to uncover what lies beneath the muck.

    Let’s say your mother has just died. Please, if she is living, know that I am not ill-wishing her; may she live in robust health and prosperity to 150. My mother — as you know, if you have been paying attention — died in 1974. I did not write much poetry then; it would be another five years or so before I started writing therapeutically, or out of pure joy, rather than to impress someone.

    If I had wanted to write a poem about my mother, I would not have begun by recalling how wonderful she was and how much I had loved her and was missing her. Those were sentiments that were going nowhere… that were honest but superficial; my feelings were so much more complicated than sadness and grief. There were anger, regret, a little guilt, gratitude, laughter, bemusement, mixed with emotions that, to this day, I believe there are no words for — a tangle of knots and orphan threads that were going to either crush or choke me.

    A schoolchild's slate very similar to Mom's

    A schoolchild’s slate very similar to Mom’s

    As it happened, I went into therapy instead of writing poetry. But if I had written poems for and about my mom, I think I would have begun with the little slate — one of the orphan threads in the tangle.

    I have said that Mom was an antique collector and dealer. One of her prize possessions was a small slate — a child’s personal chalkboard from the days when paper wasn’t plentiful. I’m sure it was fifty or seventy-five years old; it was about five by seven inches if you count the rickety half-inch frame.

    I found the slate in the closet of the spare bedroom a few days after Mom died. Written on it, with white chalk in Mom’s handwriting, was “Merry Christmas 1974.”

    Now, this was very odd, enigmatic bordering on spooky. Mom died on August 8, 1974. For what possible reason might she have, that summer, to all appearances glowing with health and vitality, written “Merry Christmas 1974” on the little slate and put it in a closet where it would be easily found among her treasures?

    Canon Typestar 110 electronic typewriter

    Canon Typestar 110 electronic typewriter

    Pappy’s Journal

    When Dad died, in 1985, I was wiser. I did not go into therapy. Dad had retired about three years after Mom died, had bought an electronic typewriter, and had begun sending to his relatives, periodically, four-page documents printed on the backs of pieces of junk mail. He called this work-in-progress Pappy’s Journal. It contained amusing and sometimes poignant reminiscences about everything from ice-skating on the Des Moines River when he was a boy to a play-by-play of the previous Saturday’s Nebraska Cornhusker football game. Dad had been a CPA and a Scot, and he was thrifty to the core. (He had perfected a way of grafting soap slivers onto just-opened bars of Palmolive.) He always sent four pages, even if the fourth page ended midsentence, because four pages of twenty-pound paper was the maximum you could mail using a single first-class stamp.

    The Red Sea—Nebraska's Memorial Stadium, 2007 (photo by Bobak Ha'Eri)

    The Red Sea—Nebraska’s Memorial Stadium, 2007 (photo by Bobak Ha’Eri)

    So instead of seeking psychiatric help, I edited his reminiscences, sparingly, and wrote some annotations, and I also wrote several poems, one of which won first prize in statewide poetry contests in both Kansas and Arizona.

    The Morris Chair

    for Dan Campbell, 1913-1985

    Once it was merely oak and textile, but you
    chose it as your incarnation’s favorite
    dwelling place; and since its cast, at first, was
    hostile to your contours, something had to
    give — the Morris never had a prayer.

    As sitting folks do, you made an impression on the
    topography of the worsted cushion, and, like the
    victim of erosion, the planet was
    reshaped: a plateau here, a gully there… a
    landscape — where before had been mere
    serviceable flatness — was now the sculpted
    valley of adamant flesh, bone, and muscle.

    After the armistice, you and the Morris were
    compatible as the angular pieces of a
    jigsaw puzzle, and anyone else venturing
    to sit upon the thing would find it
    uncongenial, neither rigid nor
    relenting, just tenacious of its silhouette,
    and true to its architect, and steward to
    your indelible effect.

    It doesn’t require a death in the family to write an evocative poem, choosing for its fulcrum something small and secretly prized, perhaps. Here is one of mine:

    Summer Afternoon, Shinnecock, by Julien Alden Weir

    Summer Afternoon, Shinnecock, by Julien Alden Weir

    Meditation on a Summer Afternoon

    All the riches of the world exist in shadows
    of a walnut tree on sunny summer
    afternoons: the small, expressive flutter of
    a leaf in a listless breeze; the cleaving
    scent of earth and pine and grass and
    honeysuckle heavy on the vine; the
    rough-and-tumble scratching of a
    dozen squirrels in a frantic scramble
    branch to branch, and suddenly
    they’re statues munching fat, firm
    nutmeats, littering with shards of
    shell my cluttered yard that I shall
    rake another day; plump robins, in
    shy trepidation, venturing to search
    for succulent gourmet delights, then,
    frightened off by someone’s slamming
    of a door, they dash away on wing
    and call a warning to their mates.
    Nearby a brash woodpecker hammers,
    hammers more, persists in hammering
    upon a maple tree. I clap my hands,
    applauding, and to see what he will
    do. He quits, and then resumes.

    A book of poetry sits idly on my lap,
    unlooked at. Pages turn upon a
    breath of air; perhaps, I fancy, there’s a
    spirit there, enjoying Blake. I listen to my
    children at the neighbor’s, splashing in a
    plastic pool and laughing with the
    unrestraint that grace bestows on
    childhood; and down the street, somebody
    mows a tidy lawn that’s lined by rows of
    peonies, exuberant and lush, ridiculously
    pink or deep merlot.

    Pink peonies (photo by Fanghong)

    Pink peonies (photo by Fanghong)

    Something sighs contentedly. Perhaps it’s
    I, or else a pixie living in a tribe beneath
    the shrubbery. Nothing weighs on me. I
    feel so light that I’m surprised to find
    myself still sitting on my rag of quilt upon
    the grass instead of simply rising, chasing
    birds or playing tag with bees. But I am
    earthen still, and glad of it, delighted to
    be wrapped in humid air; it moves
    sufficiently to cool my skin and curl my
    hair. The ground is warm, a comfort, womb
    of seed and tiny creature curled in sleep,
    awaiting dusk.

    As shadows must, they lengthen and the
    laughter shrills. The time has come. I will
    collect the children and go in. I brush away
    the thought, just for another minute’s
    taste of pure serenity, but also fond
    anticipation of the dinner hour—cheddar
    cheese and melon salad, I decide, and
    lemon pie, and then the bedtime stories
    that transport us to exotic climes. The
    time has come, but I have evening yet to
    savor. Summer comes in such abundant
    flavors—warmth and coolness,
    thunderstorm, forsythia and clover, early
    sunrise, tall and motley hollyhocks—I feast
    upon them all.

    garden_sister_alma_rose-120x139-90x105

    Assignment 35.1

    Every day if you can — but at least twice a week — choose a moment out of the day you have just experienced and write about it metaphorically in the poetic form of your choice. I hope you will do this for the rest of your life. It will prevent your “running on empty,” as Jackson Browne sang… or, perhaps even worse, running on autopilot. Entire spans of years of my life, when I was not living poetically or contemplating things by writing poetry, are a blur to me now, and sometimes I go back and try to recapture those lost moments, as in “Meditation on a Summer Afternoon,” above.

    Send your assignment via e-mail to Mary@LifeIsPoetry.net. I will not grade your assignment, but I will return it to you with comments.

    * * *

    For Honest Poverty

    How to Write Poetry and Live Poetically

    Free E-Course Lesson 32.2

    Chapter 11: Living Poetically
    Robert Burns, Part 2

    Join now! Find details about this free E-course at Lesson 1 … 

    robt_burns_alex_nasmyth_18281

    Robert Burns wore his heart in his poetry. His topics range from romantic love to radical politics. In meter and rhyme, he attacked the church, the class system, and the inequality of gender roles.

    An incident in the 1745 Scots rebellion, painted by David Morier

    An incident in the 1745 Scots rebellion, painted by David Morier

    Burns was born thirteen years after the Battle of Culloden, the beginning of the end of the traditional Scottish Highland way of life, and of the clans. The British, who had nominally controlled Scotland since the 1707 Acts of Union but had never been able to harness the independent Highlanders, mercilessly seized Highland farms, killing the occupants or driving them off their land summarily, with nothing but the clothes on their backs. The Highlands were cleared, the clan system abolished, the wearing of the tartan prohibited.

    Thus, Robert Burns

    belonged to a nation which had lost its independence but was at the same time part of a larger state in whose successes he could rejoice and in whose better government he was interested, so that his patriotism was always of a peculiarly double sort. His attachment to what, for want of a better word, must be termed his class, that is, to the lower orders, broadly conceived, reinforced and buttressed his nationalism. —Robert Burns Plus, accessed January 28, 2009

    He is regarded as a pioneer of the Romantic movement and after his death became a great source of inspiration to the founders of both liberalism and socialism. [Burns was a] cultural icon in Scotland and among the Scottish Diaspora around the world, [and] celebration of his life and work became almost a national charismatic cult during the 19th and 20th centuries…. His influence has long been strong on Scottish literature. Wikipedia, accessed January 28, 2009

    Jane Austen, c. 1810; a sketch by her sister Cassandra

    Jane Austen, c. 1810; a sketch by her sister Cassandra

    The poem “Is There for Honest Poverty” is a plainspoken, songlike expression of Burns’s democratic principles. These were radical for the time. Read, for historical perspective on class distinction, the delightful novel Emma (1816), by Jane Austen. The title character is a wealthy, beautiful, clever, and basically kindhearted member of the rural aristocracy, but one with a misguided rigidity in matters of social class.

    Emma persuades her young and impressionable friend Harriet not to marry the well-spoken, prosperous farmer who is courting her. The girl would be marrying beneath herself, Emma explains, and Emma herself would have to “drop the acquaintance.”

    emmaAusten, in her gentle way, exposes Emma’s folly; she is properly ashamed. The author writes satirically, of course, as in all her novels, about artificial distinctions between “gentlemen” with inherited wealth or social position and those who had to earn their living — as merchants or tenant farmers, for example. The egalitarian fervor of the French Revolution (1789-1799) had not gone unnoticed in England, and it certainly influenced the politics and poetry of Robert Burns. 

    As well as making original compositions, Burns also collected folk songs from across Scotland, often revising or adapting them. His poem (and song) Auld Lang Syne is often sung at Hogmanay (the last day of the year), and “Scots Wha Hae served for a long time as an unofficial national anthem of the country. Other poems and songs of Burns that remain well known across the world today include A Red, Red Rose,” “A Man’s A Man for A’ That” [“Is There for Honest Poverty”], “To a Louse,” “To a Mouse,” “The Battle of Sherramuir,” “Tam O’Shanter,” and “Ae Fond Kiss….”

    He is generally classified as a proto-Romantic poet, and he influenced William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and Percy Bysshe Shelley greatly. The Edinburgh literati worked to sentimentalise Burns during his life and after his death, dismissing his education by calling him a “heaven-taught ploughman.” Wikipedia, accessed January 28, 2009 

    Lady Georgiana, Dutchess of Devonshire, and her siblings, Lady Henrietta Frances and George John Spencer, by Thomas Lawrence, c. 1780. Georgiana was a celebrated beauty and a socialite who gathered around her a large circle of literary and political figures—a salon. She was also an active political campaigner in an age when women's suffrage was still over a century away. —Wiklipedia

    Lady Georgiana, Dutchess of Devonshire, and her siblings, Lady Henrietta Frances and George John Spencer, by Thomas Lawrence, c. 1780. Georgiana was a celebrated beauty and a socialite who gathered around her a large circle of literary and political figures—a salon. She was also an active political campaigner in an age when women's suffrage was still over a century away. —Wikipedia

    Assignment 32.3

    1. Analyze one of the poems at “The Ploughman Poet“: (a) What intimate glimpse of Burns’s soul does it provide? (b) How does it do so (through language, rhyme, meter, metaphor, and other poetic conventions)?
    2. Write a poem patterned after Burns’s style that illustrates one deep conviction of your own.
    3. Identify the poetic devices in your poem.
    4. Send your assignment via e-mail to Mary@LifeIsPoetry.net. I will not grade your assignment, but I will return it to you with comments.
    5. Keep exploring the meditations at www.LifeIsPoetry.net, and continue with your meditation journal.
    6.  * * *

     

    Spare No Sibilants

    How to Write Poetry and Live Poetically

    Free E-Course Lesson 31

    Chapter 10: Meditation
    Part 4: Poetry-Writing as Meditation

    Join now! Find details about this free E-course at Lesson 1  

    girl_art_project

    The creative arts are the playground for recognizing and understanding our purpose in being here. When we truly allow our spirits to be filled with the purpose, our minds can begin to take stock of the necessary steps and needed materials so the body can become the mover or manifestor of the desire. Mind, Body, Spirit: Connecting With Your Creative Self,
    by Mary Braheny and Diane Halperin

    * * *

    I wrote both of the poems below “meditatively” — that is, with an open mind, as part of a morning ritual.

    The first poem originated from my noticing that at this time of year, the earth’s orientation to the sun is such that the rays slant more brightly and beautifully through my bedroom windows than in any other season.  I have said before that I live in a church basement, though that’s not quite accurate. Half of my apartment is below ground level. The windows — there are four, all on the south side — are full sized, made possible by window wells.

    In meditative poems I try not to be intentional. I work with the poetic conventions I choose and let the tale tell itself. In this case, I chose the following:

    There are other common rhetorical devices as well. (1) How many can you identify? (Please name the ones you find.)

    The poem was going to be a meditation on a ray of light, but it turned into something quite different. (2) What might it have told me about myself that I hadn’t been aware of?

    1. WHIMSY ON WELCOMING WINDOWS IN WINTER

    My walkdown is half below ground and thus darkish
    with windows on only one side, and these mullioned
    and frosted and dusty, gray-tinted with shadows
    from brickwork and privet… and silent, so quiet
    that lightning and thunder at midnight can’t penetrate;
    but, more’s the pity, I can’t discern birdsong;
    cicadas lamenting and crickets scritch-scritching,
    however, are easily heard in midsummer.
    I once had a fright from a possum who tumbled,
    at least I inferred that she had, to the floor of
    the window-well; captive, she skittered around on
    the old metal screens; and I, thinking the threat must
    be human, in fear and confusion, punched in nine-
    one-one on the phone, and no fewer than two dozen
    uniformed men armed with pistols came quickly
    to rescue a woman alone in her bedroom,
    defending her person from one hapless menacing
    possum. The men with the guns were forgiving,
    and, surely, one had to do something, not knowing
    the danger. I do love a window that faces
    the south in the wintertime, feral four-footed
    invaders, indeed, notwithstanding; for sunlight
    slants through in a comforting, angular way that
    is perfectly suited for afternoon naps and
    geraniums, too.

    January 18, 2009

    restored_winter_garden_2002_ground0

    The inspiration for the following poem was the much-embellished language of Elizabeth Peters’s delightful Victorian archaeologist and detective Amelia Peabody Emerson. Peters has written a few dozen books about the Emersons, all narrated (for the most part) by Amelia, whose husband refers to her affectionately as “Peabody.” There is an unrestraint about her utterances (as there is, as well, about Victorian houses, furniture, and other artistic expressions) that is greatly at odds with the more modern, pared-down prose of later writers. If something can be clearly expressed using five words, Amelia will use fifteen.

    tomb234There is, I am overjoyed to find, a new book in the series: Tomb of the Golden Bird (Amelia Peabody Mysteries).

    Again, the poem wandered into uncharted territory. (3) What do you think I learned about myself in the process of writing this poem? (HINT: There are no wrong answers.) 

    2. LIBERTINE (AMELIA)

     “They will rid us of resident

         “rodents,” said Amelia Peabody —

    Oh, what a droll redundancy

         Of D’s and R’s and S’s.

    Amelia is generous with consonants

         and commas and asides,

         not sparing

         an embarrassment of prepositions

         or extravagant Egyptian

         nomenclature.

    Ah, to scatter syllables

         with no fear of reprisal,

    Scribbling whatever adjectives

         arise, page upon page,

    To be intemperate at last

         and feel the weight of pent-up participles

         lifted from one’s shoulders,

         nobly carried, one might add,

         despite the rain.

    Now to feast upon the delicate,

         the succulent, the opulent

         accessories, plucked in

         leaner days from one’s

         repast, but frozen — for

         one knew their banishment

         would end at last.

    Economy, begone! Pack your

         valise and abdicate

         your stern and pious reign.

    Don’t slam the door when you

         egress. Expect no severance pay,

         for you’ve exacted

         more than you were owed.

    And now, a toast, companions

         in the liberation, mes amis.

    Now lift your flagons, lift them high,

         and drink to whimsy, arrogant,

         peculiar, wry, benevolent.

    Drink to liberty

         in flowing crimson silk

         arrayed; Amelia Peabody has

         gained the citadel, and

         holds aloft the flame.

    O, wasted wealth of words, O, damned

         display of Latin origins.

    O, Norse and Arabic, O, Gaelic,

         Greek and Cherokee, and more;

    Ye assonant ambassadors, rejoice!

    Amelia has restored

         your scattered fortunes.

    Spare no sibilants;

         there shall be subsurrations,

         seventy times seven, and

         a score besides.

    Throw wide the gates for

         summer’s retinue,

         ripe pomegranate.

    Go and populate the periodicals, reclaim

         the islands where verbosity

         has honor still.

    Amelia has gained the citadel,

         and yet, take care that your extravagance

         is eloquent, laid on with artistry. For as

         “the tombs themselves descend in

         “sinuous curves,”

    Endeavor to deserve, when you are

         gone, an orderly effusion

         in the manner you (yourself)

         displayed.

    Immerse yourself in immortality.

         Immerse yourself COMPLETELY,

         like Amelia,

    Who bathes and then adjourns to the

         verandah,

    Where breezes ruffle Nefret’s hair

         that shimmers in the light like

         golden threads.

     

    February 2006

    peabody

    Assignment 31.1

    1. Answer the questions highlighted above in red.
    2. Write a meditative poem in blank verse using iambic or trochaic tetrameter. Your poem should have no more than twenty lines. BEGIN WITH A MINIMALIST, CONCRETE SUBJECT, AND DO NOT WRITE OVERTLY ABOUT YOUR FEELINGS.
    3. Identify the poetic devices in your poem.
    4. Send your assignment via e-mail to Mary@LifeIsPoetry.net. I will not grade your assignment, but I will return it to you with comments.
    5. Keep exploring the meditations at www.LifeIsPoetry.net, and continue with your meditation journal.

    * * *