Posts Tagged ‘writing’

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.

Advertisements

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.

————————

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.

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.

The View from Mattie’s Pillow

September 29, 2011

Randomness

A few years ago—or perhaps more—I noticed that my son began using the word “random” to mean “unknown” or “indistinct” as in, “Some random girl walked by,” or “We took a random cab.”  Even writing this, I have a hard time separating the new meaning, the slang meaning, from the one embedded in my English teacher memory.  Random: unpredictable, occurring by accident or without plan, without pattern or intent, as in “The leaves fell in a random pattern, the yellow and orange ones jumbled together.” Or “The dog would appear in our driveway at random times—sometimes before breakfast, sometimes in the late afternoon.”  Adding the term “random” into contemporary vocabulary may be an attempt to reflect the true randomness of experience, or it may be yet another post-modern “joke”—we know the girl meant to walk by and we expected her all along, but we’re giving a wink to the fact that we’re pretending that it is random.  In the facebook/cell phone age, when, as I was told once, “no one needs to plan” everything has the appearance of randomness, but if we all know what each other is doing all the time, it’s really all connected in some way and, however instantaneously, planned, not random.

All this philosophizing as a way of saying thank you to Sue Ann Bowling, Atmospheric Physicist, former dog trainer extraordinaire, animal color genetics expert, and science fiction writer, for choosing this blog for the Versatile Blogger Award, though it’s not clear where this award originated or what it means other than a chain-mail style means of linking readers to blogs and blogs to each other.  Still, it’s nice to be appreciated, and it gives me a chance to note five other blogs on this site.

As part of the award, I’m supposed to note seven random things about myself.  If you read this blog, you know some of them already, but here are a few bits that come to mind.

Astounding Beauty Ruffian Press has let me know that they only have a few copies of my chapbook, We Tempt Our Luck left and that they can no longer afford to keep their publications in print for more than a few print runs.  You can order the remaining copies through their website.   I only have one or two left, myself!

Fall is coming on here, though at a reasonable pace.  The birch leaves have gone from bright yellow to tan and line the roads, blowing up like confetti in the slipstream behind cars.

I almost have my voice back from two weeks ago.  I have been teaching by writing on the board and putting my students in groups to tell me what they know about writing.

Paragraph one is random number four.

Paragraph two is number five.

Sam is perking up with the addition of vitamin E to his diet.  He seems to have more energy and has regained some muscle tone, though I’ve been wrapped up with school, illness, fall preparations, and he’s had to self-exercise.  Mattie, as always, has a velvety winter coat coming in, pure black.  In summer, she’s dark bay.  That’s number six.

This weekend, we’ll harvest the potatoes from their buckets and the long raised bed.  We have purple skinned, red skinned, russet, Yukon gold, French fingerling, and some I-don’t-remember-what potatoes.  I’m guessing we’ll get nearly three five-gallon buckets of them.  We’ll pack them in spruce shavings and keep them in the new tack room, which is unheated but stays above freezing from heat leaking from the boiler room of the house.  It’s actually an arctic entry, but I’ve claimed it for my horse equipment storage and food storage.  OK. Seven.

Then I have to name five more blogs for the award.  Take a look at them, if you haven’t already.  They’re all friends of mine—a versatile bunch.

Alayne Blickle of Horses for Clean Water http://www.horsesforcleanwater.com/  Besides having lots of good information on her site and blog, she’s trained as a photojournalist and educational media specialist.  Her website is a model of good design—as is her farm.

Jamie Smith of Nuggets fame http://inksnow.blogspot.com/ Cartoonist and friend and former and future art teacher.  He posts daily on the art of cartooning, on place, and on the comic traditions of beavers and moose.

Karen Douglas, another writer with a love of horses http://kdsbookblog.blogspot.com/ Good tips on writing and publishing literary nonfiction and poetry.

Steve Parker, Ph D http://jungcurrents.com/ A Jungian on Jung.  A dreamer on dreams.  Randomness.

Emily http://wildrootshomestead.blogspot.com/ my neighbor and small homesteader.  Recipes and tips on gardening and kid rearing of the human and goat kind.

Enjoy.

http://homecomingbook.files.wordpress.com/2011/09/versatileblogger1.png

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.


%d bloggers like this: