Posts Tagged ‘poetry’

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 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.

The View from Mattie’s Pillow

January 6, 2012

The New Year

I had great plans for the winter break.

After the mad scramble to pull Christmas together—cutting the spruce tree from beside the horse trailer, baking three types of pie and marinating and roasting a fresh ham, decorating the tree, and wrapping then opening presents—we had a delightful dinner and sat around playing Apples to Apples till midnight Christmas night.

My plan was to spend the daylight part of each day, between 11:30 and 3, working with the horses, a reminder to them and to me that we had a partnership, that they weren’t just going feral for the rest of the winter.  But, instead, a mass of cold air descended on the Interior and we hunkered down under 30 to 40 below temperatures, stoking the woodstove, eating leftover pie, watching movies, and sleeping a lot.  Out in the corral, Mattie and Sam hung out in their run-in shed, snug in their heavyweight blankets and fresh shavings.  We brought them extra hay during the day, and I added brome pellets soaked in warm water to their usual dinner of soaked beet pellets and supplements.

My great plans melted into a dozy, slow time, interrupted by visits with friends and the occasional fiddling with cars to be sure they kept running.  When we ventured to town, everything seemed quiet except the coffee shop, filled with the people who hadn’t left town for the holidays, all a bit overheated from their layers of clothes, and talking rapidly from the caffeine.   Saturday night, New Year’s Eve, we went to the University fireworks display and stood in the 35 below air, watching the sparks boom and spray above our heads.  In the deep cold, the sound is magnified by the density of the air and the loud rocket bursts tingled our cheeks—all that was exposed—and vibrated the snow beneath us.  We stood, but some well-bundled folks lay back against a snow berm and watched the fireworks blossom in the dark sky above them.  Later, standing around a bonfire, we set off fire balloons or fire lanterns, and I thought of Elizabeth Bishop’s poem, “The Armadillo,” which has the lines:

This is the time of year
when almost every night
the frail, illegal fire balloons appear.
Climbing the mountain height,

rising toward a saint
still honored in these parts,
the paper chambers flush and fill with light
that comes and goes, like hearts.

Once up against the sky it’s hard
to tell them from the stars —
planets, that is — the tinted ones:
Venus going down, or Mars…

Something in this dark, cold time keeps turning my mind back to old familiar poems.  Later, when a fine light snow fell through the cold, drifting onto the horses’ blankets, and catching the porch light, speckling the night, I thought of Frost’s “Desert Places,” which starts with the lines “Snow falling and night falling fast, oh, fast, ” and ends with

They cannot scare me with their empty spaces

Between stars–on stars where no human race is.

I have it in me so much nearer home

To scare myself with my own desert places.

 I’m not usually one who makes a list of New Year resolutions.  As usual, I’ll make an effort to get back to my dance classes and winter indoor riding—what passes for an exercise routine—to work off the after effects of two weeks of pie eating.  And, in the weeks to come, as the afternoon lengthens and we have the promise of above zero temperatures, I’ll make the usual plans to get Mattie and Sam fit for summer riding.  The first day of class for the semester is still two weeks away, but I’ve taken on a new responsibility in my department—my resolution there is not to let it overpower the things I love about my life—and to do what I can to solve problems along the way.  And, for the most part, to keep that part of my life out of these posts—which are, after all, about the things that sustain me—horses, poetry, dance, gardening, and the things of the psyche.

Today it warmed up a bit.  It was only 10 below when I fed the horses tonight and we all—me, the horses, the poodle—felt a bit lighter-spirited because of it.  The forecast is for 40 below by the weekend, so I’m keeping the horses’ blankets on for now, keeping the fire going in the stove, getting a little more hunkering down done.   We’ve turned the year.

The View from Mattie’s Pillow

November 12, 2011

On Not Writing

Sitting at the kitchen counter, listening to Wha’dya Know on a lazy Saturday morning.  A month has gone by quickly since my last post here, and I’ve been contemplating what has stopped me from writing recently.  I know other writers who participate in National Novel Writing Month—NaNoWriMo—every November, but, for me, November is the month when I finally accept that summer is over and our briefly glorious fall has passed.  A slump month, though this one has been eventful, so far.

Today the sky is flat gray with clouds that stretch down to the Alaska Range, a pale outline, a faintly jagged edge above a slatey line of foothills.  There are chores to do—raking manure, grooming and longing horses, but I’m here with the laptop, drinking coffee, writing at last.

Two Sundays ago, I was washing dishes when a glass, which probably had a hairline fracture that I didn’t notice, broke out a semicircle at the rim, and, when I reached into the dishwater to pick up the glass beside it, sliced open the back of my thumb.  I’ve learned about the emergency services in town, some advances in skin care (such as the pork rind-type substance that sealed the wound and started the healing process), and the power of luck.

Last Saturday, for my birthday, we went to Mark Taylor’s house where he gave us a house concert on his new baby grand.  We sat in his cabin in a room filled with music as the light faded through the birches behind him.  He stopped from time to time to explain what he was playing or to start over, and he talked to us about why he had stopped playing in public and how playing for a small audience (there were four of us) suited the purpose the music was written for.  He dedicated one piece to our friend Joe Enzweiler.

After Joe’s memorial, a strangely cheery event in which friends from all phases of his life in Fairbanks recounted stories, read poems, and played music, I haven’t felt like writing.  Perhaps it’s been that I’ve been busy.  Every weekend has had some Saturday event and, when I can, I’ve been riding at Colleen’s indoor arena on Sundays—at least as long as it’s above 10 below.  But not writing goes beyond grief or busy-ness.  I’ve always had long periods of not writing, sometimes lasting up to a year, when the part of my brain that writes goes fallow.  I have to admit that the world around me seems flatter then; I can look at the sky or the flutter of birds or Mattie trotting in the corral and these things are just what they are, not alive with words.  I love to see these things, but something is different during these times.

This wordless time leads me to contemplate what prompts me to write in the first place.  I think writers write for a variety of reasons: to explain ideas, to gain recognition, to record the life they know—but, for some, there is another reason, a compulsion, a need to frame experience in words, just as a painter frames experience in color and line or a musician in sound and tempo.  In part, I’m reflecting on Joe’s life and poems, which I’ve been reading for over thirty years, and thinking of what drove him to write—the pressure of imagination in his life.  For Joe’s poems always had a moment in them that took my breath away, lines like “the frozen blue you never lost, your halted clock tower eyes.”  When I first met Joe in a writer’s workshop—we were both in our twenties—I would wonder where such turns of phrase came from, as if there were a thesaurus or a trick of mind that could lead me to such phrases of my own.  I came to learn, as our writing friendship grew over the years, that Joe lived his life in multiple tracks—the concrete real world of cutting wood and carpentry and physics, and the invented world of possibilities that ran alongside it.  The invented world, the imaginative transformation of the real world, compelled him, always.

I finally came to realize that my impulse to write was not exactly like Joe’s, that there is no template for writing, but that the desire to channel experience through words is something writers have in common.  When I was a teenager, I believed that if I searched the language, I could find the exact words to translate any experience to the page.  I remember watching a sunset, entranced by the red and orange and the deepening of dusk light, trying out words that could capture the moment in their sound and shape and order.  Much later, I came to accept that words only suggest experience; they are charged with association, but can’t recreate the thing itself.  But they open the writer and reader to the possibility of shared evocative experience.

So, not writing may be, in part, experience exhaustion—in part because the activity of real life uses up some of the energy that words take on in times of contemplation.  Or it may be a gathering up of images for a time when they break loose on the page again.  In any case, now there are words on this blog.

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.

————————————

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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