A poem for my mother

•May 12, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Mom: do you get enough praise for what you do?
I don’t think so.
Maybe people are just too busy
or too afraid, too quiet to show
exactly how they feel.
Or maybe it’s the nature of what you do,
who you are
that makes this tough.

You push and pull us to look deeper
into ourselves, deeper outside of ourselves, to see
who we are meant to be,
our place in the grand scheme of The Earth.

But this is often a rough road for us to walk
and we resist, kick, and yell.
But that is your gift to the world:
to help us forward anyway.
You help us find richness in life.

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Tragedy in the factory

•May 12, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Steel toed boots make pinging noises in the
gleaming pipes twisting about the
factory. Lucky for him, production
is halted today, and no
warm milk on its way to curd runs
through this particular vein. Ahead, he sees,
a bend in this tunnel, and then, lights,
and then, yes, he finds them.
Perched above a vat
of whey are Pooh and Piglet.
“I think she’s pregnant,” he says.

Ode to Writing

•May 12, 2008 • Leave a Comment

I rise like a red balloon, untethered and vacant.
All of my shields, iron plates, bows and arrows
I have stripped and left in an urn named
yesterday. The fog of blurred progression
has retreated from above me and collects
in a plume, protecting what once was.
I am amok in the world, torn by immense
tensional forces, buffeted by stratopherical gusts
but delighted.

Learning to write poetry

•May 9, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Here is a word document of this entry. Poetry Portfolio

Studying poetry and how to write it has been as exciting as the other three units. I feel that I have been able to begin a crack into the shell of poetry over the past two weeks and understand what the poets are saying much more than I ever have before. I never approached a poem looking so directly at how it was written; I generally focused on the meanings, metaphors, similes and such. But looking also at things like form, meter, rhyme, line breaks, and the sounds of words, I was able to hear and see better the thoughts of writers.

My ability to write poetry has also come a really long way, I think. When we were told in the first class to write a poem, I remember thinking, do I make it rhyme? Do there have to be a certain number of syllables? When do I start a new line? Should I purposely make it vague and cryptic? Then I began to realize that there really were no rules or shoulds in poetry. All of these devices I just mentioned can be used to communicate different feelings or messages. The one overarching theme in poetry and perhaps a must for a work to qualify as poetry, is what we discussed in that first class – that poetry is a condensed, perhaps constrained, more heavily reliant upon sounds, rhythm, and music than are other forms of writing. It is like the concentrated pearl out of the center of the oyster of writing. Like all other writing, though, poetry must also have significance – one must be able to answer why this poem needs to be written and then read. It must have tensions at work, something must happen, something must end different from where it started.

I tried to implement these lessons in the poems I wrote. I revisited the poem I discussed in my presentation, Kim Addonizio’s Aquarium, making another attempt to read it as a writer, and think I found a few more lessons to be learned. As I say in my review (see “Reading as a Writer…”), I think the greatest lesson here is the power of form as a tool to contrast other, less structured traits. At the beginning of the unit, I wrote about a poem I loved and what poetry meant for me (see “Poetry for Me”). I feel many of the themes I mentioned there I still agree with, but now understand more fully.

I really started my dive into poetry with the first transfer of a prose snapshot into poetry. My first draft of the piece “Scales”, was hugely flawed; namely, I didn’t convey my intentions effectively. I thought I could simply be hazy and people would try to figure out what I meant on their own. As my workshop group quickly told me, though, I needed to help the reader with that. Other poems I wrote early on tended to be really short with really short lines: “On the Building of Boxes” and “Blackberry Bear”. I had the idea that short lines would give the writing a more poetic feel – detached from regular prose. The effect, however, was to make the poem very choppy and distracting. The “Re-appropriation into poetry” of the original prose re-appropriation piece was neat: it seemed more conducive to being told in poetry because it was discussing deep emotions and mythical themes. At the same time, though, I was tempted to bring too much prose into the piece at risk of not condensing the story into it’s most elemental meaning.

In the “Translation” poem, I was forced to rely on punctuation, capitalization, line breaks, and repeated words to glean meaning from the original. This was difficult – it felt like I was trying to fill in this frame with words that fit a set of requirements (much like writing form poetry). It was helpful in becoming aware of the power of these tools, though. I tried two list poems, the first one – “Things not to do in spring” – done in workshop and slightly meaningless; the idea of the list poem was so novel I focused more on that than communicating something. The second one – “The egg” – was a little more successful, I think, as I was able to use the bland, plain form to highlight the odd things I was saying. In “Free” and “Slide”, I worked on communicating meaning using sounds and images, respectively. It was interesting how the words I used, the rhythm, and the meter all changed when I focused on these two areas. I also focused on using sounds to show the widow’s changing mood in “Listen to the Widow on the Shore”. I tested placing the rhyming words in the lines instead of what I thought were more commonly on the ends in “Acid Rain”, and found the piece to flow more smoothly than it would with strong rhyming words ending each line.

Finally, I spent a lot of time on two poems at the end of the unit, trying to create a confluence of all that I had learned in my other trials. I wrote a free-verse poem and sonnet based on the painting “Rooms by the Sea” by Edward Hopper (one of my favorite paintings). The sonnet was incredibly hard to write compared to the free-verse poem. At first, each had its own strengths – the free-verse poem had better imagery and more beautiful language, but the sonnet had form, stronger rhyme and meter and was thus more fun to read. I revised the sonnet, though, drawing from the strengths of the free-verse poem. I am pleased with where that poem is right now. It can still use more work, of course, but I enjoy it. Also, I should note that by writing this piece, I had an epiphany about the painting “Rooms by the Sea” as well as all forms of art. I realized that what made me like Hopper’s painting so much was the tension he established with that one, overwhelming blank wall right in the center of the painting. It made me feel oddly lonely, and the strange blankness of this wall is why. This, it seems, is the goal of all art – to make the viewer see things by using tensions. I’m sure this idea will develop more, but it was really cool to have that realization.

I also spent a while on my free-choice poem, “Smell”. I’ve had this feeling about smells for much of my life and, honestly, I haven’t ever been able to communicate them in writing like I feel I did here. I wrote in free-verse because I wanted to let myself get all of the feelings out, but perhaps moving to a form would help the poem more. I was mindful of rhyme, line break, meter, and stanza break while writing, and am also pleased with what came out.

Poetry has been a wonderful journey for me. I think that of all styles of writing, this is the deepest, most able to communicate what I’m thinking in a short period of time. The challenge, though, is making sure the reader is able to pick up on these statements, since what I get out of writing a piece is only half of what writing is. Working in this type of writing will assuredly help me out enormously in other writing styles as well as other forms of art. A great unit!

Reading as a writer – Aquarium by Kim Addonizio

•May 9, 2008 • Leave a Comment

This poem first really grabbed my attention when I read the final line: “We find them there, eyes open in surprise.” This wrenching image, fish suffocating, their dream snuffed, brought me back to read the poem over and over, despite the sorrow I felt each time. I couldn’t get away from the contrast of the beautiful, eager platys and their dead bodies on the rug. And every time it happened, I was just as surprised as they were. Addonizio is able to create this surprise by speaking of the fish and what is going on in the same way throughout the piece up until the turn. Here we have a sort of hint that something is going to happen because the language changes – we see more specific actions and suddenly draw nearer to the characters when we hear that they “persist” and that they “can’t quite let alone a possibility”. Then, bam, there they are on the rug, looking up at us in astonishment. To me, this is such a beautiful and graceful way to describe something so horrid.

The message I think Addonizio is trying to convey in this poem is that those who aren’t satisfied with their aquatic existence and try to stretch limits outside of the aquarium, though their intention is a good one, often end up dead “on the rug”. Besides the meanings of her words, many other aspects of Addonizio’s writing helps to convey this as well. First, the form; the poem is a sonnet – fourteen lines, roughly ten syllables per line, though some are nine, eleven, or thirteen. Within this form, Addonizio doesn’t seem to follow any others. Meter, rhyme scheme, and word sounds follow an irregular path through the piece. She chooses rhymes or high/low sounding words at various places to give emphasis, such as “displays their slow progress from end to end.” There are a lot of low sounds here implying slowness, and “end to end” makes this trip they take to nowhere stick out. These instances, however, occur sporadically through the piece. So, the walls of the sonnet can be compared to the aquarium and within them are spots of intensity here and there (the fish) floating about aimlessly. Jumping out of the frame of form can be dangerous, especially when what’s being written cannot belong outside of it.

What I learned from this piece was the effectiveness of using form even when writing about something that wouldn’t be thought to need form (for example, fish ambling about an aquarium). Form can serve to contrast with fluidity and otherwise very loose writing.

Smell

•May 8, 2008 • 1 Comment

Can you smell it?
Yes you can.
 Right?

It’s beautiful, all over, engulfing trees, street lamps, sidewalks
   filling all the cracks.
Fill your lungs and all your cavities,
  it’s the smell of the sea.

Breeze carries me a message:
  salts of warm, buoyant and busy waters
   peppers of washed up fish.
 Breathe to the bottom, catch sounds and sights
  round and loving base lines and massages
    of happy toasts, clink.

 mmm it’s delicious, the humid nights of the summer,

 the space whose emptiness is filled
  by the smell by the light
    of excitement
       coming in off the bay.

Oh why does smell have to sit
so arm-in-arm with what just can’t fit?

out-the-window-haiku

•May 8, 2008 • Leave a Comment

line line line line line
gutters catch tributaries
sentinels rise up