Tag Archives: poetic devices

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


Poem B

Jordan River

The Jordan River

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Waiting for the Light: A Meditative Poem for Advent

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)?

Tulips, Canberra; photo by John O'Neill

Tulips, Canberra; photo by John O'Neill

Like many of my poems, “Dead Stones” was inspired by the title of the Bach cantata BWV 106: “God’s Time Is the Best Time (“Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit”). Bach might have had death and funerals in mind, but I have found that “God’s time” truly IS “the best time” for major passages in life. Something that would have been impossible yesterday, or would have required struggle and travail, flows easily today. You have to learn to read the signs.

It’s like, you know, the time for tulips to bloom or babies to be born; it’s generally out of our hands.

Poetry-class students: Look for alliteration, anthropomorphism (pathetic fallacy, personification), anaphora, euphony, apposition, and assonance. Describe the meter.

Dead Stones

I’ve seen you fulminate and shake your fist
at all the monoliths and caverns met,
immovable as Jupiter from Earth —
as inhospitable and cold  — assailed
in vain, in agonies of thwarted aim —
with blood and sweat and tears expended, all
for naught; in years abandoned to the joust
with still, insensate obstacles that won’t
or can’t apologize, that cast no eye
on their defiers, neither pitiful
nor hostile, lacking choice, remaining where
they fell, their tombs, finality without
a voice to mock, without a will to move
or to remain immobile, barely scarred,
unmindful of the cataracts whose birth
within the rock is just as silent, just
as still, and just as certain. These now swell
as flood surrounds and enters every rent
and pore and cavity, where steady rain,
insidiously, probes the stony faces.

Now the mountains are made low.
Now the mud begets the stream.
Now the shadow disappears.
Now the blood and sweat and tears
flow together, are redeemed.

Now the carcasses of years
sink into the brittle crust.
Now they make the barren land
generous to growth again;
now absorbing seed and spore.

Only now, and not before.

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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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  • And Then We Shall Return

    How to Write Poetry and Live Poetically

    Free E-Course Assignment 37.1

    Chapter 11: Living Poetically
    Sestina Time

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

    goldharvest_okWe’re almost done! This is the final assignment for Chapter 11, and Chapter 12 will be the last chapter.

    I recently wrote a sestina for a poetry contest. I thought, why should I have to suffer alone? So I am asking you to write a sestina as well.

    It’s a rather demanding form, but it’s a very good exercise for “writing poetry and living poetically,” because, while your left brain is busy putting the puzzle pieces together, your creative, intuitive right brain remains free to romp and frisk.

    Harvest moon

    Harvest moon

    Below is Wikipedia’s definition of sestina:

    sestina (also, sextinasestine, or sextain) is a highly structured poem consisting of six six-line stanzas followed by a tercet (called its envoy or tornada), for a total of thirty-nine lines. The same set of six words ends the lines of each of the six-line stanzas, but in a different order each time; if we number the first stanza’s lines 123456, then the words ending the second stanza’s lines appear in the order 615243, then 364125, then 532614, then 451362, and finally 246531. This organization is referred to as retrogradatio cruciata(“retrograde cross”). These six words then appear in the tercet as well, with the tercet’s first line usually containing 1 and 2, its second 3 and 4, and its third 5 and 6 (but other versions exist, described below). English sestinas are usually written in iambic pentameter or another decasyllabic meter.Wikipedia

    Let’s see if I can clarify that a bit.

    • Choose six words. We’ll call them A, B, C, D, E, and F.
    • Your sestina’s first stanza will have six lines. The first line will end with Word A, the second line will end with Word B, the third line will end with Word C, and so forth.
    • You will write five more six-line stanzas. The six lines in each stanza will also end with Word A, Word B, and so forth, but in a different order for each stanza, as specified in the pattern below.
    • The seventh stanza will have three lines. All six words will appear in these three lines, as follows: A and B in the first line, C and D in the second line, and E and F in the third line.

    pumpkin_field

    Here is the pattern, using the words I chose for my sestina (than, round, day, wide, great, countryside):

    Stanza 1
    Line 1-than (A)
    Line 2-round (B)
    Line 3-day (C)
    Line 4-wide (D)
    Line 5-great (E)
    Line 6-countryside (F) 

    Stanza 2
    Line 7-countryside (F)
    Line 8-than (A)
    Line 9-great (E)
    Line 10-round (B)
    Line 11-wide (D)
    Line 12-day (C) 

    Stanza 3
    Line 13-day (C)
    Line 14-countryside (F)
    Line 15-wide (D)
    Line 16-than (A)
    Line 17-round (B)
    Line 18-great (E) 

    Stanza 4
    Line 19-great (E)
    Line 20-day (C)
    Line 21-round (B)
    Line 22-countryside (F)
    Line 23-than (A)
    Line 24-wide (D) 

    Stanza 5
    Line 25-wide (D)
    Line 26-great (E)
    Line 27-than (A)
    Line 28-day (C)
    Line 29-countryside (F)
    Line 30-round (B) 

    Stanza 6
    Line 31-round (B)
    Line 32-wide (D)
    Line 33-countryside (F)
    Line 34-great (E)
    Line 35-day (C)
    Line 36-than (A) 

    Stanza 7
    Line 37-than (A), round (B)
    Line 38-day (C), wide (D)
    Line 39-great (E), countryside (F)

    …And Then We Shall Return

    Now, here is my poem:

    paintbox_farmstead

    Laverne and I like nothing better than
    to climb the oaken steps that circle round 
    and round up to the steeple; to this day
    intact with bell and rope, its windows wide
    and open in the summer to the great
    green quilt of rolling countryside.

    And in the autumn, this same countryside
    is rusty red with sorghum, riper than
    the melons, yellowing upon their great,
    thick, ropy stems. The fruit grows round
    as basketballs — not striped and lush and wide
    like watermelons picked on Labor Day.

    We try, Laverne and I, ‘most every day
    to mount the steps and view the countryside,
    horizon to horizon. On the wide,
    wide world beyond, we ponder gaily then,
    imagining the wonders of the round,
    revolving planet: bustling cities; great

    metropolises, great blue seas, and great
    the mountain forests we shall see some day,
    and then we shall return: The world is round,
    our place in it the motley countryside,
    in which our twisted roots are deeper than
    the sun is high, the stormy seas are wide.

    Wide seas, wide roads we do not crave, but wide
    green fields of corn and wheat; and harvests, great,
    sweet-scented harvests, more abundant than
    the ones before. We pray for cool, dry days
    so laborers can clear the countryside;
    and sometimes, in the evenings, they sit ‘round

    a blazing campfire, as the full, bright, round
    and heavy harvest moon throws shadows, wide
    as haystacks, on the now-still countryside.
    Is there, in all the earth, a work as great
    and satisfying as a harvest day?
    Is there a job more fine and noble than

    the farmer’s? More than seasons turning ‘round
    the wheel, each day is new-made glory, wide
    as seas, great life-bestowing countryside.

    * * *

    Please 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.

    tree_landscape_beautiful

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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.

    * * *

    Detour

    The shortest distance between two points is not always a straight line

    In the poetic life, the shortest possible distance between two points is not always a straight line

    MAP LEGEND

    1. We plan to go to the Washington Monument (intended route = straight vertical line)
    2. Just as we are leaving, we receive emergency phone call: Grandma has fallen down the steps. We drive as quickly as possible to Grandma’s, dodging kangaroos along the route; Grandma is able to walk (a very good sign) and knows her name, what day it is, who is president of the U.S., etc.
    3. We take her to see Dr. Checkerout, who says that Grandma is hale and hardy and that the very best remedy for the small laceration on her left nostril (splinter on steps) would be to spend the day at the Washington Monument (Is that a coincidence, or WHAT?)
    4. We drive back to Grandma’s so that she can get her hat and camera and put on her walking shoes, and we set out again for the Washington Monument

    5. Oh, no! There is road construction in the vicinity of the Washington Monument; we must detour via Bermuda
    6. Well, since we have to go there anyway, we enjoy the sun and the surf in Bermuda, along with numerous tropical drinks containing rum; Grandma is sloshed, so we check in to a hotel
    7. We resume our trip to the Washington Monument the next morning, arriving without incident and having a wonderful time

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    roadsign_kangaroo2 

    The poetic life is nothing if not flexible.

    In the above diagram, the shortest distance (as the crow flies) from our house (upper left) and the Washington Monument is represented by a vertical arrow. Once we had learned of Grandma’s accident, however, it was not possible for us to take that route, poetically speaking. The shortest distance had become much longer. If you are going to live poetically, you need to use mystic math.

    Mystic Math

    (The Truth Is in the Poetry)

    One thinks of Julio and Jeanne next door....

    One thinks of Julio and Jeanne next door....

    Is it so foolish to deny that 2
    plus 2 must always equal 4? Because

    one thinks immediately of Julio

    and Jeanne next door, with twins, Celine and

    quiet Jim — not counting Thor, the sheltie,

    they are four indeed — but one in the

    directory, one phone, one family,

    one house, one home.

     

    How many syllables comprise a poem?

    How many deities are in the Trinity?

    How many personalities have you, or I

    (not in the psychopathic sense, of course,

    although one wouldn’t know, would one, if there

    were moments unaccounted for — so many

    billion galaxies to travel in for

    one a bit unraveled)?

     

    ...so many billion galaxies to travel in....

    ...so many billion galaxies to travel in....

    And then there is the Christian marriage

    ceremony, wherein 1 plus 1 make 1,

    and during which the wedding guests affirm

    that all are one in Christ.

     

    One day, one night, together, they become —

    a day. Once more, the sum of 1 plus 1

    is 1, at least within the limits of

    the English language — its vocabulary

    vast, indeed, although, alas, not infinite.

     

    fiddlepm_chair_istockAnd think of all those violins, violas,

    cellos, basses, trumpets, clarinets,

    trombones, and horns and cymbals, harps

    and bells and such — and all the men and

    women, dignified in black and white,

    with all their individual concerns —

    one widowed just a year ago tonight,

    another six years clean and sober; to

    her left, an oboist whose brother was

    indicted yesterday for tax evasion; on

    her right, a Pakistani having such

    a frightful allergy attack — and the

    conductor, who has just received a check

    for twenty thousand dollars from the lottery—

    but now she raises her baton — and

    in that instant of anticipation, in

    that sacred, silent metamorphosis, how

    many, would you say, have they become?

     

    Ludwig van Beethoven, an 1804 portrait

    Ludwig van Beethoven, an 1804 portrait

    Four notes — three quick, one slow — are played:

    the Fifth (but first, perhaps, in pure

    and simple glory) symphony of Beethoven

    begins… and in the audience,

    a few may fidget, measuring

    the minutes and intending to

    retreat at intermission. Violinists

    count the silent beats of idleness

    between their passages, but, I imagine,

    seldom ask themselves how many

    notes they play in all, and just

    as well, it wouldn’t change a thing. Do you

    suppose there’s someone who, for fun

    or scholarship, attempts to number all

    the microbes in the hall, and further,

    calculates the ratio of respirations that

    occur between the second movement and

    the third? For to be sure, it could

    be quantified somewhere by some technology

    or other. Fortunately, no one cares.

    And that’s the point. They came, you see, to hear

    the symphony.

     

    ...the stars care nothing of our counting them....

    ...the stars care nothing of our counting them....

    Therefore, you’ll get no argument from me that 2 plus 2 are 4, not 3 or 17
    or 20, but in turn you must forgive
    the solecism I commit, suggesting there’s
    a truer truth than anything that can
    be proven by addition — if it were
    not so, than why would anybody bother?
    What would be the joy of noticing
    this pattern or that symmetry? Do we
    pursue a proof because the numerals
    insist on our attention? I am sure
    the stars care nothing of our counting
    them or our refraining from it. Finding
    order in the universe, or else
    imposing it, or otherwise competing
    in a race with chaos, really has a single
    benefit — it satisfies, however
    temporarily, the spirit, and
    the truth, you find, is in the poetry,
    not in the paper that it’s written on
    or in the composition of the particles
    that dart about at rates astonishingly
    great — as we believe, for so the eye
    of science witnesses, and since we give
    it credibility, we cannot disagree.
     

    ...viruses or other microscopic entities....

    ...viruses and other microscopic entities....

    It pleases us to cede authority

    to science, even though we never see

    the viruses and other microscopic

    entities; but science offers remedies

    for every manner of disease and warns

    that to release a sneeze uncovered will

    unleash a tyranny of demons; so

    it seems, in our experience, and is

    esteemed as fact, no longer theory…

    because it matters. That’s the only

    reason — saves a life, perhaps, or

    fifty million. If the latter, is the

    scientific effort fifty million times

    more worthy? I don’t know.

    You do the math.

     

    by Sister Alma Rose

    February 2006

    “Galaxies,”  “tulips,” and “stars” images © Luc Viatour GFDL/CC

     tulips_magentas

    The Ashley Incident

    My son Jack and daughter-in-law Ashley live next door with their children, one of whom is Little Jack, who is almost a year old.

    Computerized tomography (CT) scanner
    Computerized tomography (CT) scanner

    Last Sunday, I got a 7 a.m. phone call from Ashley. She was obviously in huge pain. I told her to go immediately to the hospital, where the emergency-room personnel discovered via numerous expensive high-tech methodologies that she was hemorrhaging, which I could have told them without the machines and the expense. After about six hours spent groaning in agony, Ashley was rushed to the operating room for exploratory surgery, anesthetized, split open like a salmon, and relieved of a couple of pints of blood and a ruptured ovarian cyst.

    i-40_map
    Red line = I-40

    They sent her home on Tuesday, less than 48 hours after the surgery, with an incision the length of Interstate 40 and instructions not to lift the baby or any other heavy object for two weeks. This was one of those unfunded mandates doctors and hospitals are so fond of issuing, because of course they did not send Mary Poppins or Mr. T  home with Ashley.

    “How,” I asked myself, “would a Person Living Poetically respond to Ashley’s dilemma?” This was not an idle question, because I tend to feel that I am to blame for everything, including World Hunger, and that everything is therefore my responsibility. I am a pathological People-Pleaser, and my default definition of myself (CONtentwise) is “one who ties up all the loose ends in the universe.”

    As it happens, I had a lot to do this week, and Ashley’s plight arose at a very inconvenient time for me. I had deadlines to meet and telephone interviews to conduct and no clean underwear.

    ...telephone interviews to conduct...
    …telephone interviews to conduct…

    Theoretically, it would have been possible for me to keep to my schedule, just as it would have been possible for the Washington Monument–bound family to call 9-1-1 for Granny and go on its merry way. But if one has decided to live poetically, such choices are no longer simple. Another possibility would have been to help Ashley and grouse about it continually, moaning and groaning every time I had to carry little Jack from one room to another or, worse yet, up a flight of stairs, which I did, several times, moaning and groaning shamelessly because, after all, I didn’t drop him, so I attained the victory only slightly tarnished.

    Aleutian Islands (triangles = active volcanoes)
    Aleutian Islands (triangles = active volcanoes)

    Fortunately, I had done the decluttering exercise in Lesson 5.1 and I had finished the personal inventory assigned in Lesson 13, so I wasn’t being a knee-jerk do-gooder when I decided to devote as much time as was needed to Ashley for as long as she needed it. Using the Golden Rule, it turns out, is a pretty good way of making decisions much of the time, and what I would want Others to Do unto Me, if I had just lost 25 percent or so of my blood supply and had major abdominal surgery and if I were lurching around due to the pain of an incision that looked like the Aleutian Islands, is, I would want Others to cater to my every whim and relieve me of all responsibility for babies, diapers, six-year-olds, meals, and the like.

    Finnish macaroni casserole (photo by Suvi Korhonen)
    Finnish macaroni casserole (photo by Suvi Korhonen)

    So that is what I have been doing instead of attending to my blogs and my deadlines and my laundry. That, and accepting with gratitude the various casseroles and salads and desserts supplied by the Church Ladies, because that is what Church Ladies DO, just as helping one’s grown children when they are in need through no fault of their own (as opposed to being in need because they have screwed up Big Time) is what I do, when I am living poetically. 

    Assignment 34.1

    1. Identify as many poetic devices as you can in “Mystic Math,” above.
    2. 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.
    3. Keep exploring the meditations at www.LifeIsPoetry.net, and continue with your meditation journal.  

    * * *