NaPoWriMo Day 7: Q & A

Happy weekend poets! How do you get to know someone new? Or someone you thought you knew but who constantly surprises you? Ask questions! So get ready to ask your poet self some probing questions. The answers may surprise you. Here’s your (optional) daily prompt.

Interview Questions. Find a set of interview questions and answer some or all of them. Make your answers into a poem, omitting the questions. You could use classic job interview questions. Or, how about Huffington Post’s list of 84 questions to ask on a first date? Or, you could answer some of the 36 “questions that lead to love”  detailed in a popular article from the New York Times column Modern Love.

I decided to use questions from a podcast I sometimes listen to called the 10-Minute Writer’s Workshop. They always start out by asking the author they are interviewing whether the first sentence or the last sentence is the most difficult to write. I wound up writing my whole poem as a response to just that question.

Writing Poems

First lines swarm you like bees,
pattern your neck with their probing footsteps,
breach the collar of your shirt.
You writhe with their tiptoed testing of your contours.
You may intoxicate them,
with incense sticks or syncopation—
that one lilting note in Vivaldi’s “Spring”
gets them every time—but
scraping, burrowing, they persist.
They have come to make honey
and will not be deterred.

Last lines are four-leaf clovers.
You can stare yourself blind for hours
in a patch of turf. Then you see it.
It was there all the time.
Pluck it, press it in a book.
But when you open it again,
a little dried husk falls out, shatters.
It’s not at all what you remember.
And you throw yourself down in the field
to look again.

NaPoWriMo Day 6: Buried Treasure

It’s Friday! You’ve been writing poetry all week. I’ll go easy on you. You don’t even have to write any words today. Just find some you like and cross the rest out.

Erasure. Unleash the Sharpies, poets! We’re going to make poems by obliterating words today. Trust me, this is fun. Erasure poems seem to be all the rage these days. Find yourself a source text and redact (fancy legal word for white out/black out/obscure) the words you don’t want, leaving only the ones you do want. You can do this with legal forms, junk mail, newspaper articles, obituaries, wedding vows, song lyrics, pages of old books. Try it with a famous or important document. Try it with a trivial and ridiculous document. Maybe try it with a document that has a vocabulary and tone that is very different from yours. Is there a hidden meaning you would like to highlight?  Would it be cathartic to manipulate the words of the writer or speaker and turn them to your own purpose?

Now, let’s talk logistics. You can print your source text and go after it with a black marker. Then it is pretty clear what you have done and the act of doing it, even the form of the marks you make, become a visual part of your poem. As a Google Image search for “erasure poem,” demonstrates, this can be quite beautiful. You can also use one of those little correction tape dispensers or doodle or paint over your source text. For the digitally inclined, you can cut and paste your text into a word processing program and change the font color of the text you want to omit to white. It remains there, as a placeholder keeping the words you want to use in place, but your poem shines through very cleanly.

Here is an erasure poem I made using the last 25 tweets (at time of writing) from that prolific tweeter, @realDonaldTrump:

Wishful Thinking

Wishful Thinking Source Doc

NaPoWriMo Day 5: Newsworthy

Hello poets! Today we explore a virtually unlimited source of poetic inspiration: your morning newspaper. Go fish it out of the recycle bin and let’s WRITE WORDS NOW.

Respond to a Current Event. Write a poem that responds to an event or movement that has been in the news during the past year. Is it something that has received a lot of coverage? Or almost none? Don’t be afraid to address society, ask questions, and express outrage in your poem. On the other hand, perhaps you would like to address your poem to a person who you know has a very different view of the event than you do. Or address the poem to yourself. What would your poet self like to explain to you about how you are perceiving this event?

Need inspiration? Check out the Poetry Foundation’s wonderful collection of political poems and poems responding to social issues.

For this prompt I wrote a sort of epic poem, in which the hero is the house Rosa Parks lived in for a time when she moved to Detroit after the Montgomery bus boycott. It’s something I have been thinking about writing about for a while, ever since I clipped an article out of the New York Times back in September. You can see a photograph of the house in the link.

2672 South Deacon Street

Another foreclosure sale, a line item on a demo list.
Detroit didn’t want it, had problems of its own.
Rosa’s niece bought it for a dear five hundred.
An artist took the little white house apart, piece by piece,
and shipped it to his home in Berlin.
Then he built it back up again in his back yard.
The niece let him do it because, what else was there to do?

Snow fell on the house. The wind blew.
The windows of the house were pasted with rain-driven leaves.
Yellow flowers burst from beneath the boards.

People of means paid homage.
Each day the door of the little white house opened and shut.
Each day hands pulled back the pleated white curtains.
Each day faces were pressed to the dirty glass.

But the house grew forlorn.
The dark nakedness of its boards,
The strips of peeling paint fluttering in the wind,
like a quivering fur of decay.
The little white house lay dying,
black sockets for its eyes.

The artist brought flood lamps, and there was light.
But the light was not kindly. It burned like shame.
The little white house winced and heaved,
reckoned itself an imploding star.

The artist made calls, desperate pleas.
“Yes!” they said. “Bring it back! We
want it, we want it, bring it back.”
And so he did, boards stacked neatly,
venturing forth again in the belly of a ship.
For the second time the little white house
felt the pain of unbecoming, the prising apart of the
floor boards where her bare feet had stepped,
the shoving together of window frame,
where she had always set her spoon,
and rafter, where her eyes once leapt to in a storm.

There was to be an exhibition.
Instead, a letter to cease and desist.
An institute, at odds with the family,
claimed the rights to Rosa’s name.
This was not truly her house, they said.
Or, there was another house that was more her house than this.
The people bowed low before the specter of the law,
resolved themselves not to make trouble.

The artist managed to erect the little house again,
But just the bones, and for only two days.
It was an obscenity. It was a disgrace.

His house, her house, their house. What can it possibly matter?
Wasn’t this her stopping place, after the death threats?
Her place of refuge after the “no” that changed the world?
Places are consecrated, deemed hallowed, subject to pilgrimage,
On a great deal less. A president slept here. A king.
A rock star ate dinner at this table.

And what of the little white house? Didn’t she walk its floors?
Fit herself around the crowded table? Didn’t the door slam
Behind her when she stepped into the garden?
Didn’t she, her hands full, shimmy it open again with her hip,
Because she knew just how to do it?

Put it together. Take it apart. Ship it back across the sea.
It will stand somewhere, freshly painted,
stripped of her last residue, silent of her echoes,
a monument only to our great indifference.

NaPoWriMo Day 4: Gross Anatomy

Hello poets! Today we are going to focus our attention on something that is always with us, the human body. Better yet, a specific body part. Ready to WRITE WORDS NOW?

The Human Body. Write a poem about the human body or some aspect of it. Think about Lucille Clifton’s “Homage to My Hips,” Walt Whitman’s “I Sing the Body Electric,” or Jane Hirschfield’s “A Hand.” Prompt Source: Poets&Writers prompt from November 2, 2017.

Like Clifton’s poem, you can write about a specific part of your own body. You can say what it is. Or like Hirschfield’s poem, you can speak of a body part more generally. You can say what it isn’t. Or like Whitman, you can celebrate the whole messy miracle of human bodies everywhere.

Here’s what I did with this:

Concerning Chins

No little tilt-knobbed
apricot Mona Lisa.
No Poe-pale Victorian
heart point. Mine’s
halved slightly, like a
peach, warm bread roll,
thumbprint cookie.

Chin up, Buttercup!
Give us a pretense of joy.
Show us your
mandibular apex,
terminous of that
moveable horseshoe
that is the lower jaw.
Raise it above bars
in feats of strength.
Display vulnerability
to prove a point.
Lead with your chin, man!

The world is full
of chinless apes. So
what to make of it,
this souvenir
of sexual selection?
Survival of the
square-jawed man.
Chiseled-granite-
anvil-chinned man.
Picture Don Draper
hunting mastodon
(go ahead, it’s ok.)

Dimple, cleft
Chin pit, chin well.
In Persian literature
they call that a
place to trap a lover.
Ask your Travoltas,
your Kirk Douglas-
Viggo Mortensons
if this isn’t
absolutely so.

But forget all that.
Fit it snug to your
your palm shelf and,
pensivity perfected,
you’re a living Rodin.

NaPoWriMo Day 3: Go Fish

Hello poets! Even if you never wrote poetry before this challenge, you can now say that you “write poetry.” Because you do. Don’t stop now! Here’s your (optional) daily poetry prompt. And please remember to check out the prompts offered at NaPoWriMo.net. They have a fun one up today!

Random Word Challenge. Today, find your bowl or hat or jar with ten words in it. Choose one and write a line or two using that word. Choose another and do the same thing. Start a new stanza and choose two new words for that stanza. Maybe you’re finished. Or you can keep going and use more, maybe all, of the words if you like. Variations of words (slice/slicing/sliced/slices) are just fine.

Don’t like your words? Try a random word generator. If that seems too automated/impersonal, check out the beautiful images at A Bowl of Random Words. This is a trick you can use all the time. I jot down interesting words or phrases all the time and add them to a big Mason jar on my desk. My little fireflies. Maybe it only takes one word to get you started. Maybe you need to keep stringing on the bugs and casting your line.

I also highly recommend subscribing to the Merriam-Webster word of the day. You’ll find a new word in your inbox each morning.

Why do this to yourself? Wouldn’t it just be easier to write a poem without this extra challenge? Not necessarily. Constraints fire our creativity. Uncut freedom sometimes paralyzes it. Check out this article in the Harvard Business Review about Boosting Creativity Through Constraints. The author is a photographer who finds that his photos improve when he limits himself to a fixed lens camera. And he talks about how musician Jack White challenges himself by working with low-tech, low-quality instruments that he has to fight with to get the sound he wants.

Here are my 10 words and the poem I wrote using most of them.

stellar, bullets, crevice, sink, creeping, fernlike, unfurl, twist, fold, slice

Miura Fold

Your flesh repulsed bullets.

You drew a gold coin once,
from a crevice in the sidewalk,
taught yourself to jump from
sinking ships. Creeping things
drew radials, respected perimeters
all about you. You unfurled yourself,
fernlike, into the void.

But you could also fold yourself,
a solar panel, readied for space.
Mountain folds and valley folds.
Tessellations made perfectly flat.
On contact, slicing free even
of these constraints, you
gathered the light in your arms.

NaPoWriMo Day 2: Strike a Prose

And now for the real test. Can you fit poetry writing into your busy Monday? Yes you can. But you must WRITE WORDS NOW! Here’s your daily (optional) poetry prompt:

Prose: Write a prose poem describing a ritual you have, something you do regularly, just for yourself. But don’t just describe it in general terms. Describe a specific time that you performed this ritual. Some examples of daily routines turned into beautiful prose poems are Amy Lowell’s poem “Bath,” and Ron Padgett’s “The Morning Coffee.”

And here’s a little bit of homework. Circle ten words from your prose poem, jot them down on slips of paper, and put them in a bowl or a hat. You will need them tomorrow.

This prompt may be perfect for you if you find that your first draft, or your second, or even your fifth, looks a whole lot more like prose than poetry. You may find yourself wondering, is this even poetry that I’m writing? Yes! The Academy of American Poets tells us that a prose poem is “[a] composition printed as prose that names itself poetry.” Basically, if you call it poetry, it is poetry. And if it is not broken into lines of verse, it is a prose poem. The Poetry Foundation reminds us that a prose poem will still “demonstrate[ ] other traits such as symbols, metaphors, and other figures of speech common to poetry.” So, your poem will look like an ordinary block of text but it will still sound magical and poetic because of your word choice, how those words sound, and everything that they evoke.

Here’s what I wrote:

Super Blue Blood Moon

I move through the dark house, its silence hinging into my ears, hours before others stir, flick the little soft light over the stovetop on and press the button for coffee. At the first hisses and spits, I slide my mat from the crevice in the built-in and unfurl it on the kitchen floor. My mat is twenty-two years old, bought before you could get double thickness extra-long ones printed with mandalas or creeping vines. I step into its blue rectangle, its body-sized ocean. The moon through the window is full. More than full. Rocked with a humming luminescence. Larger by degrees than should be possible. New moon? Harvest moon? I have no words for it. I say I will look it up later. Nameless moon of a Wednesday morning, blanketing me in the twining phosphorescent brine shrimp of its light, filtered by slow-moving snowflakes. The snowflakes are outsized too. This I know something about. I line up my body beneath me, join the palms of my hands, and close my eyes. I picture them falling: fernlike dendrites, columns, needles, diamond dust crystals, stellar plates, split plates and stars, bullet rosettes. They collide with drops of water, birth rimed crystals, collide again and are graupel—the furred tufts of soft snow hail.

I press the button on my headphones, the little saddle slung from ear to ear across the base of my skull. The magic of Bluetooth. Music fills me, does not escape me, as I move in the barely-lit silence. Fold, sink slowly, cobra, down dog, warrior 2. My phone plays songs for me. The Lumineers. Janis Joplin. I am surprised, though I know I shouldn’t be, at the ability of a computer algorithm to guess my pleasure, disappointed in my own predictability, the reducibility of my desires to lines of code. Zeros and ones. But as I move—lung, twist, side plank, sink slowly, cobra—I reconsider. Don’t we all want to be reduced to our essences, our decisive and definable selves? I like this. I don’t like that. How else do we know who we are? Zeros and ones. We all seek to be the one thing. One with my body, one with this mat, one with this soft-hailing moonlit morning. And then, as always happens—down dog, hop, halfway lift, mountain pose—even the oneness falls away; I am not the thing moving but the movements themselves. A nullity. A particle of light. Prayer pose, namaste.

 

NaPoWriMo Day 1: Repeat After Me

It’s Easter. It’s spring! It’s Day 1 of NaPoWriMo! You may have noticed it is also April Fool’s Day. But make no mistake, this is a serious endeavor! Check out my description of this month’s writing challenge here, where you will find links to learn more about National Poetry Month and NaPoWriMo.

And if you are ready to WRITE WORDS NOW, here’s your daily (optional) poetry prompt:

Repetition. Choose a word and repeat it throughout your poem, as Kevin Prufer did in his poem “Rain.” This prompt was offered up back on October 10, 2017, by the folks at Poets&Writers. They post three different weekly writing prompts on their blog “The Time is Now.” Poetry prompts on Tuesdays, fiction prompts on Wednesdays, and creative nonfiction prompts on Thursdays.

Here’s what I wrote. This started out as a poem about a Gwen Stefani song, so …. go figure. Editing is my friend. Except now it ends with the meaning of life, which seems pretentious. And maybe a little ridiculous. I’ll call it a work in progress. Onward to Day 2!

Knowing

And now, at the
midpoint of your life
(thank you, Dante),
knowing you can
make life, take life,
be marked for life,
knowing that,
though the sea
teems with life,
there are whole
stretches of space
unresponsive to life,
you wonder if your
life lacks Meaning.

And you forget,
Are you supposed
to go get Meaning and
give it to your life?
Or is Meaning there
already, waiting for
the tip of your spade?

The Internet, full of
other people’s answers,
assures you that
both things are true.
Tells you to get a life,
take charge of it,
turn the lemons
of life into sugar-free
organic beverages.
You must cultivate
simple moments,
make plans, get an
accountability partner.

But as you lie in bed,
churning to embark,
there is a tiny mole
on your shoulder,
shaped like a star,
or a lump in your
breast, like a kernel
of unpopped corn, or
a sesame seed-sized
spot on the rubber malbec
surface of your liver.

Because life
provides its own
accountability partners.
(Of course it does.)

Mole, lump, spot,
other people’s answers.
Just cut them out.
Just cut it out.

The meaning of life
is to live.

A Fresh Start

Ready to start something new? There is creativity and power in a fresh start. That’s why my writing practice is focused on a monthly re-boot. There is a quotation about this, about the power of dedicating yourself to a task and making a strong beginning, that I see repeated not only by authors but by people of other disciplines and walks of life too.

Here are a few examples:

“Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

“When you want something; all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” – Paulo Coelho

“The important point is to make a definite beginning somewhere and as soon as possible—Now. The moment such a serious beginning is made forces begin to gather round the centre of endeavour and take the aspirant forward towards his goal, slowly at first, but with increasing speed until he becomes so absorbed in the pursuit of his ideal that time and distance cease to matter for him. And one day he finds that he has reached his goal and looks back with a kind of wonder at the long and tedious journey which he has completed in the realm of Time while all the time he was living in the Eternal.” – From The Science of Yoga, The Yoga-Sutras of Patanjali, translated from Sanskrit by I.K. Taimni

 

On your mark, get set …

Hello friends! I hope you are ready to join me for this month’s writing challenge, National Poetry Writing Month. Stay tuned for prompts, information, and samples to keep you motivated, starting April 1.