Archive for the ‘Poetry Challenge’ Category

Poetry Challenge for the New Year

January 5, 2016

Tonight, a quiet evening playing Scrabble with Mike–no TV, no internet, no cell phones, just us, the board, and the old fashioned wooden tiles. I’ve played Scrabble since my grandparents introduced the game to me when I was seven or eight, and I find it settling to sit for an evening with someone else who loves words and let the game challenge me. It activates the part of my brain that has always responded to words, and does it in a specific and concrete way that brings back into focus what I love about them–their sounds, their resonance of meanings, the shapes of the letters and their precise order. These days, when there’s plenty to rant about that involves language–the attenuation of words, sentences, and paragraphs through the rise of texting (don’t get me started on that), or the replacement of focused attention (reading, for example) with multitasking and distracted thinking, or the plain misuse of language and logic in everyday discourse (don’t get me started on that either)–it’s lovely to sit for hours just putting letters down in a cross-word pattern with a well-matched partner. Tonight, a rarity: a tied game.

So, if you are looking for a challenge, write something that involves words you like the shape of–or better yet, words you make by drawing Scrabble tiles. Think of the texture of the tiles, the sound of the words, the movement of your tongue as you speak them. Don’t write about these things, specifically, but let them be an undercurrent in your writing. Send a poem in the comments and I’ll add it to this post.

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Poetry Challenge 78

January 4, 2013

Being Mrs. Patmore

Over the holidays, I’ve found myself in the kitchen most days, cooking or cleaning up after a previous feast. It’s been good to feel the rhythms of cooking and cleaning, of preparing and serving food to friends and family, of being at the center of such a basic pleasure as cookies, pies, marmalade, a grand meal, or a simple curry. I mentioned to someone who hasn’t seen Downton Abbey that I felt like I was channeling Mrs. Patmore–that consummate professional cook–and they said, “Who?”

So, I’ve been reflecting on simple acts that create order in our lives, such as cooking, and how the act of cooking creates community, stability, and a deep sense of pleasure in life. In reflecting on my obsession with Downton, I think that the meals eaten (by all characters) are a unifying theme. Life can be good, Downton suggests, if we share simple pleasures, made with artistry and pride, and eaten with love and respect. More on this in a longer post.

For now, write about something you do that requires skill, that brings pleasure in the doing, and that you share with others. Be sure to include the sense of taste. Post this as a comment and I’ll add it to this post.

Poetry Challenge 77

March 8, 2012

Reading Aloud

On Friday night, I’ll be reading with poet Derick Burleson and fiction writer Geri Brightwell in the UAF Wood Center Ballroom (7pm). That’s the shameless plug.

Now the challenge–listen to what you or others say and notice how compressed and poetic everyday speech really is. Eavesdrop, write it all down. Then go outside somewhere quiet and say the words and phrases you like best to the trees or the street or the sky. What sounds good to the ear? What feels good to say? What sounds do you hear in response?

Now write the poem.

Poetry Challenge 76

January 22, 2012

The long cold drags on.  We were warned.  I read in the paper last summer that we were in a La Nina cycle, which would mean long cold spells and little snow.  Here in the Interior, we’ve missed the 18 feet of snow they’ve had in Cordova on the coast.  What we get is the fine, dry stuff, the moisture freezing out of the air and falling in a thick mist over the backs of horses, fenceposts, car windshields and anything else that’s out there.

But it’s warmed a bit and today I spent a couple of hours raking and shoveling manure out of the corral, stockpiling for the summer’s compost.  And the light lingers longer, too, well past 4pm; after all, we’re a month past solstice, the darkest day of the year.  And I’ve already looked at seed catalogs online–tomatoes so plump and red, the lovely ruffles of mesclun lettuce–and I’m studying plans for swallow boxes to go up on the hill behind the house.  A little fantasy vacation to the summer to come.

It will be cold again this week–40 below at night–and the blankets are airing out, ready to go back on the horses.  We have plenty of chocolate and split birch wood.

So here’s the challenge: write about the days ahead, referring to the details of the day you’re in.  What is in flux?  What red tomato image holds you steady through this post-solstice time.  Use a vegetable in the poem.

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Karen from KD’s Bookblog sent this:

Trimming Leeks

Goodness lies
in cutting away
leathery greens,
lopping off rootlets
like idle talk.

What’s left recalls
a roll of white paper.
The leek master
chops it, wilts it
in sizzling butter. Adds
broth, slivered potato, cream.
Purees, seasons, serves
her soup with thick slices
of sourdough.

The empty bowl
cradles the spoon and
a whisper of lost parts.
In the dark kitchen
discarded stems
decay like new bones
in an old casket.

Poetry Challenge 75

January 10, 2012

Deep cold lingers here–our second long bout of it since November.  Coming out of the drowsy holiday season, we’re restless and sluggish, both.  Heading down the dark morning road, fine snow and exhaust swirling behind the cars ahead of us, obscuring the red of tail lights, it feels like we’re tunneling out of a cozy winter den into a rougher outer world.

But then there’s the light, a dusky blue that hangs in the air and lightens gradually as the earth rotates toward the sun.  We’re tilted away from it here in the sub-arctic, as if shy of it and the intensity it brings us at other times of the year.  But we long for it and turn daily toward the spot it dipped below yesterday, hoping that it will linger longer above the Alaska Range, and that we will be alert enough to be outside to see it when it does.  It always stays a bit longer now–three more minutes–and soon we’ll have an hour more of light than we did at solstice.

But we don’t feel it yet, half hibernating in our layers of clothes, still sleepy from the dark.  So write about what hibernates within or what you hibernate within.  What draws you out of your winter cocoon?

Post your poem in the comments here and I’ll add it to this post.

Poetry Challenge 74

October 14, 2011

Tomorrow, friends of Joe Enzweiler gather at the Dog Musher’s hall to remember him and celebrate his life.   It’s been six months since he slipped into the cosmos–and it still seems to me that he will pull up in his rusty Toyota pickup, smelling of stale woodstove smoke, carrying papers under his arm for an evening of reading and food and wine and talk.   Today, in a pre-memorial, I sat with a friend and threw some birch leaves into a small fire–scrap wood and a many-armed spruce root burning in a newly-built fire pit.  We sat in silence, mostly, and I thought of how the memories we leave each other create a unique “self” in the minds of those who care about us when we are separated by distance or time or the great infinite.

So, to celebrate the lives of poets gone on ahead, find a line you like from a poet you like and take the words and toss them into a new poem.  Your words, your images, built on theirs, as we truly do in any community of writers, artists, friends.

I’ll try it and post my poem.  Send me yours and I’ll add it here.

Poetry Challenge 73

September 9, 2011

Yellow Season

Driving home the other day I noticed how the clouds glowed yellow behind the ridge, as the sun slipped behind the crest of the hill. The air itself filled with yellow light–or a faint yellow tinge–and I began to notice the paling of leaves that leads to September’s yellow days.  By Labor Day, I was driving up the hill to peach-lit clouds, shaded with plum–colors so luscious my stomach growled.  The tops of the birches in certain spots are orange, catching the orange light of the
setting sun and holding it for a while into dusk.  Gradually, the green birch and aspen leaves are taking on  rims of yellow, then whole patches of yellow leaves.  In a week or a few days, the whole interior will be bright with the yellow of leaves.

It’s a short-lived season.  Rain or frost will bring the yellow down, and we’ll hunker in for the short days ahead.  But now the land and trees are gathering up light and we store it in our memories for the time to come.

So, write about how light moves through something–plants, animals, a window.  Or write about what you do now to prepare your inner light for what lies ahead.

Post a poem as a comment and I’ll re-post it here.

Poetry Challenge 72

August 17, 2011

Chores

Still August, here, but that means we’re in the limbo time, the pause between summer’s intensity and fall’s quick drop to cool days and dark nights.  There have been sightings of patches of yellow leaves on the birch trees, and there’s definitely a dark period at night.  Tomorrow, the public school kids begin their school year and the university starts two weeks later.   It’s time to get the chores done that we’ve been putting off all summer.

So, yesterday, we dug a new hole for a railroad tie post to replace a broken four by four that made up part of a pass-through along the fence line next to the horse water tank.  Today, we dug a trench for electrical conduit out to the horse shed–no more “winter” electric cord trailing out to the water tank heater.  Tomorrow, splitting and stacking wood.  Soon, back to the hay fields for the last of the hay for winter.

Write about essential chores where you are.  What are the sounds and smells of them?  What ache do they bring on–in the muscles and in the heart?  What lies beyond?

Post your poem as a comment and I’ll add it here.

Poetry Challenge 71

July 22, 2011

Dragonfly Summer

Last summer was the summer of yellowjackets, but this summer their population seems to have crashed and in their place we have dragonflies, zooming like tiny kites through the air.  The other day, out in the horse corral, I was surrounded by five of them, hovering around the manure pile.  I think they may be eating my fly predators, but there are plenty and very few flies.  Normally they eat mosquitoes, but we’ve also been relatively mosquito free this summer.

I’m thinking about climate change quite a bit these days–how it’s impacting regions of the country with sauna-like temperatures.  For us, it brings changes in the insect population and just enough heat that we can complain–though we know better than to complain too much about 80 degrees when 40 below is always in our future.

So write about an insect that signifies change or one that signals good things (such as no mosquitoes).  Write about the world it inhabits, what it desires, what we are to it.

Post your poem in the comments to this post and I’ll add it here.

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From Karen at KD’s Bookblog:

Belated offering in the insect category:

Inchworm

Mid-day starlings clear the yard of grass seed,
larvae, wild strawberry. One frantic juvenile,
coarse voiced, berates its parents for neglect.

They explain that the gutters are ripe,
and the house gains a pulse from their pecking.
By dusk the birds are gone.

I take the children out of doors,
give them names of plants: marigold,
radish, cornflower. Words hover over us.

Salvia, lemon grass, forget-me-not, chicory,
red clover, star moss, Indian paint brush.
A bright green worm spins down on a thread,

elf from a tree, one worm accounted for.
We go inside. Green jaws chew through
the night, Citizen Worm.

Poetry Challenge 70

July 3, 2011

In my memory, the 4th of July epitomizes summer–a pause in the year, a moment when it seems summer could last forever.  Yesterday, we went to the annual birthday gathering of our friend Max, born on the 4th of July.  Again, this year, his extended ranch family came to his cabin outside Fairbanks to grill and tell us ranch stories.  It’s remarkable to be among them, since so many of us in the Interior have settled far from extended family.   Their voices are the same; they know each other’s stories by heart; they tease and look after each other.

Whether or not you follow politics or are drawn in by the red, white, and blue everywhere, this mid-summer holiday has sounds, tastes, smells that mark it: the acrid smell of exploded firecrackers, the taste of watermelon, the sound of birds and insects in the evening air.  Pick a small detail of your day and mull on it, create it new, without sentiment, but observed in detail.  Share it in the comments and I’ll post it here.


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