Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Day 30 ... NaPoWriMo / Poem-a-Day 2014


Day 30. The last day of National Poetry Month in 2014, the last day of NaPoWriMo, the last poem of Poem-a-Day. But not your last day — one hopes — and not your last poem — one hopes again. Poems can last many many MANY days if one writes them down . . . so write them!   

Today's "official" prompts . . .   Maureen Thorson: "a poem of farewell" (NaPoWriMo). Robert Lee Brewer: "a 'calling it a day' poem" (Poetic Asides). Thanks, Maureen and Robert, for prompts that fit together so well, from those of us who are merging them. They fit together marvelously but are not at all the same, so brava and bravo.

Fare Well
                            for KL

Was it the ancient Romans who used to say
ave atque vale, hail and farewell?
From an ode, it seems, written by the poet Catullus.
Kathy, when you and I call it a day,
In your queen bed in New York or in my double
in Cedar Falls, or on the phone, with us

in thousand-mile-apart recliners, I say
farewell. Not as in goodbye, like we’ll
never meet again, but just good wishes:
May our life be evergreen, fresh. And may
                                                      we always love us.


—Draft by Vince Gotera    [Do not copy or quote . . . thanks.]

Kathy and I always look at the official prompts together first thing, and she was disappointed this morning upon seeing this last set. I knew she was thinking "no love poem today." Although a couple of my April poems alluded to our relationship sweetly, I hadn't written a proper love poem yet. So this poem is a surprise for my love; yes, I was able to write a love poem while also saying farewell and calling it a day. Hurray!

In terms of this curtal sonnet's craft, its sonnetly charms, I replaced the usual d rhyme with an a, so the rhyme scheme is abcabc/abcac. Aren't those three repeated abc's cool? Beyond that, in fact, the last line contains (accidentally) an internal b rhyme within it — "al" . . . in which case the rhyme scheme would be abcabc/abca[bc], with the brackets indicating two rhymes within a single line, the last. Thus, it's abc's all the way down. Ha! (Though maybe I'm stretching here because that "al" sound is in the middle rather than the end of a word.)


Okay, now here's Alan's final NaPoWriMo / Poem-a-Day sonnet. He says, "I believe I have combined Brewer's 'call it a day' with Thorson's 'poem of farewell,' if you can call a 'kiss off' poem a 'call it a day' poem. Why is it sometimes easier to write a poem when I'm ticked off?"

To the ’70s Era Avocado Refrigerator

I was not there when they wheeled you away,
although I emptied almost all your shelves.
I wish that we had rolled you out ourselves
and done it long ago, before that day
your coupling broke, permitting water spray
behind to saturate the floor and bow
our basement ceiling, water filled below,
until the drywall burst, God damn it. Say
goodbye, good riddance, thank you, go; but may
somebody find a use for all your parts —
your whole is worthless — and, with all our hearts,
we will be glad to meet with you someday,
converted to some lids on pickle jars
or stamped into a set of Hot Wheels cars.

—Draft by Thomas Alan Holmes     [Do not copy or quote . . . thanks.]


Ah yes, fridges can be infuriating, right? But sometimes they can be cool for the oddest of reasons. In the early '60s, we had a Fridgidaire that made a soft whirry, bubbly noise that sounded exactly like the Blob. You should google a clip from that movie to "hear" my childhood fridge.        Actually, here's a suitable clip; this link should start you up at 3:47 where the sound is pretty clear for the next while. Oh . . . uh . . . sorry about the bad pun on "cool" in the second sentence of this paragraph, regarding fridges.

In terms of sonnetly charms, Alan's is an interesting example of a Petrarchan sonnet: in the closing sestet's rhyme scheme of addaee Alan begins with a third envelope quatrain — so cool! — and then ends with a Shakespearean-ish couplet. Fun. The poem is fun in its content (if you don't think too much about the water damage) and in its bravura technique. Bravo, Alan!


Won't you comment, please, friends? To make a comment, look for a blue link below that says Post a comment and click it once. If you don't see that, look in the red line that starts Posted by Vince, then find the word comments and click it once.

Ingat, everyone.  

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Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Day 29 ... NaPoWriMo / Poem-a-Day 2014


Day 29. Two days to go. Or, at the time I'm writing this, one day and one hour to go in National Poetry Month!

Robert Lee Brewer has a two-for-Tuesday prompt in honor of Gabriel García Márquez: "Write a realism poem" and/or "Write a magical poem . . . Or write like Gabriel Garcia Marquez and do both!"(Poetic Asides).

Maureen Thorson's "prompt is called the 'Twenty Little Poetry Projects,' and was originally developed by Jim Simmerman. . . . the challenge is to use them all in one poem" (NaPoWriMo).

Twenty Little Poetry Projects     by Jim Simmerman

  1.  Begin the poem with a metaphor.
  2.  Say something specific but utterly preposterous.
  3.  Use at least one image for each of the five senses, either in succession or scattered randomly throughout the poem.
  4.  Use one example of synesthesia (mixing the senses).
  5.  Use the proper name of a person and the proper name of a place.
  6.  Contradict something you said earlier in the poem.
  7.  Change direction or digress from the last thing you said.
  8.  Use a word (slang?) you’ve never seen in a poem.
  9.  Use an example of false cause-effect logic.
10.  Use a piece of talk you’ve actually heard (preferably in dialect and/or which you don’t understand).
11.  Create a metaphor using the following construction: "The (adjective) (concrete noun) of (abstract noun) . . ."
12.  Use an image in such a way as to reverse its usual associative qualities.
13.  Make the persona or character in the poem do something he or she could not do in "real life."
14.  Refer to yourself by nickname and in the third person.
15.  Write in the future tense, such that part of the poem seems to be a prediction.
16.  Modify a noun with an unlikely adjective.
17.  Make a declarative assertion that sounds convincing but that finally makes no sense.
18.  Use a phrase from a language other than English.
19.  Make a non-human object say or do something human (personification).
20.  Close the poem with a vivid image that makes no statement, but that "echoes" an image from earlier in the poem.

Okay, here we go. Not trying to channel Gabriel García Márquez at all. Just trying to channel both real and surreal (which I hope evinces some magic) while trying to do the Simmerman projects in order. Thus mixing all three prompts.

Carnac the Magnificent & Dancing Cactus

The sun rises in the east like a bubble of lava,
streaking the sky with stripes of flowing magma
that smell like pine tar & taste of cinnamon,
loudly sounding red & white like candy canes
forged by Santa Claus & his elves in Hell.
Yes, the sky was riddled with Christmas suns,
riddled wth Easter grass, riddled with Chinese
firecrackers that sh-boom sh-boomed merrily.
The sky's blue was caused by the fireworks.
&, speaking of fireworks: "sis boom bah!"
The magnificent Carnac of happiness brings
us the Light of Truth: "Describe the sound
when a sheep explodes." Johnny Carson will
surely rise from the dead, just as Vince will
not. Incandescent water, the hard texture
of incense smoke . . . let's get real. Let's get
down & dirty. Johnny Carson lives in all
our hearts, a celebrity who was respectful
of all people & all cultures, who raised
a diseased camel from its egg to its coffin.
El camello enfermo de amor. Let's get back
to the real world. Where a saguaro cactus
pulls its legs out of the ground & dances
a poisonous tarantella, a lovely fandango,
bowing to the west like a man of green lava.


—Draft by Vince Gotera    [Do not copy or quote . . . thanks.]

I don't know how Johnny Carson came to be in the poem but when I was driving to Chicago last week (a five-hour trip) I heard a talk show about TV comedy and heard the Carnac the Magnificent "sis boom bah" bit. (That's when I actually heard this "piece of talk" recently.) I bet not many people know anymore that "sis boom bah" was connected in the late 1800s to fireworks watching and then later in the mid-1900s to cheerleading.


Now on to Alan's poem for Day 29. "I think that I have managed to merge Maureen and Robert's prompts for today. I am not certain what to make of this attempt, though."

Thomas Crofts and I Consider Haruspication
and Routine Examinations of Middle-Aged Men


Outside the English building, near the street,
I hold the map to my most inner self,
the pink and rounded corridor of flesh,
provided me when I awoke from dark
in digital, 600 dpi, my name
in bold across the top, results of tests,
the endoscopic plumber’s snake they probed
down my esophagus, to foretell all.
My printout prophecy provided me
and Thomas Crofts, medievalist, the chance
and welcome opportunity to mourn
the mystery of life, now mapped the way
an unmanned Google car can plot a town.
I told him how the sweatbee sting, a vein
on my right hand, felt nothing like the bland
green plastic guide they had me bite down on
so that the camera probe would never touch
my teeth, my swollen, bitten lips, my fog
and doubt of what I might have said as I
awoke from anesthetic sleep. “And yet,”
he said, “far more routine and comic goes
the colonoscopy, in through the out,
as Led Zep punned, another orifice,
another oracle, to the same end,
to read our guts and tell us times to come.”

“In times to come”—before us stand in scrubs
of rainbow hue to designate the role
of each, a surgeon’s staff encircling one
who lies beneath an arc of burning white,
his abdomen split open to reveal
the sum of what has been and what’s to come.
The surgeon speaks, “Let’s have a poke around.
He has a chance at twenty years, but see
his gut distended, tears in tissue here,
the liver knobbiness—just close him up.”
Supine, the patient turns to smile at us,
to gesture Blue Cross has o.k.’ed our turn,
extended palm of state-insured in full.

I smirked to mask my gasp of churning guts,
reminded of a vivisected frog
my fourth-grade teacher, Mrs. Freeman, flayed
in front of us, its spinal cord in two
from her deft ice pick plunge. Her thumb was black
from silver nitrate. She had stopped me once
when I was wiping off electrolyte
from naked wires my partner had plugged in.

“If diagnosis tells the future, I’m an ass!”
Regret I said it followed; here I was,
aware that part of me is mess and tubes, aware
Yossarian has learned the same, “There, there,”
a spoken breath as Snowden shows a truth
that I have printed on my desk, refute
it as I might, repeat, “Wo ist der Schnee
vom vegangenen Jahr?”
I taste that blank
white bitterness and nurse my ruptured lip.

Then Thomas said, “Entrance intransigence!” and laughed
that anyone would transfix on his frailty.
“I guess nobody told you, Cousin, why
it is that men die early? ‘Cause they can!”
I heard it echo from the science hall.
Then I fell hoarse from laughing, flecks of blood
sprayed on my wrist, and I took off alive,
relieved to have a rank companion free
to chide me, send me home to feed my kids,
to fall asleep turned on my side to grasp
my sweet one’s side, behind me the machine
that forces breath down through me as I sleep.

—Draft by Thomas Alan Holmes     [Do not copy or quote . . . thanks.]

Well, Alan, that was fun. Though I gotta say, I have no idea what to make of any of either of our poems. I certainly am not sure how to even come close to illustrating your poem with an image!


Won't you comment, please, friends? To make a comment, look for a blue link below that says Post a comment and click it once. If you don't see that, look in the red line that starts Posted by Vince, then find the word comments and click it once.

Ingat, everyone.  


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Monday, April 28, 2014

Day 28 ... NaPoWriMo / Poem-a-Day 2014


Day 28. We're 14/15 done with National Poetry Month. Crazy, huh?

"Official" prompts today. Robert Lee Brewer: "a settled poem" (Poetic Asides). Maureen Thorson: "Today I challenge you to find a news article, and to write a poem using (mostly, if not only) words from the article! You can repeat them, splice them, and rearrange them however you like" (NaPoWriMo).

I decided to create an erasure poem to satisfy Maureen's prompt, and it took up an inordinate chunk of the day. I found a "news" article and used only the words in it. So basically a found poem. The article is "Jennifer Aniston's Brief Romance Revealed!" by Jackie Willis, from the website Yahoo! TV. I've retyped the article below and circled the words I'm keeping. You should follow the red lines to get the sequence of the narrative. If you need to see the erasure poem larger, just click on the image. I was able, just barely, to mix in Robert's prompt as well, basically in the last sentence. It was very difficult to accomplish.

Hot Teenage Romance Settled


The poem is really the altered page above, but to help you read:

They dated back in the day, a romance based on 17-year-old
smoldering. To we immaturions the torrid romance seemed
extra hot. [N]ow married they can offer little dirt.

—Erasure Draft by Vince Gotera    [Do not copy or quote . . . thanks.]

I do want to make sure to point out, just so there's no misunderstanding, that the cool phrase "To we immaturions" is not mine. It was coined by Jim Nelson, editor of the magazine GQ. Of course, since it's a found poem, and more specifically an erasure poem, I didn't coin any of the language.


And now on to Alan's poem: "I got out early this morning," Alan tells us, "and looked around; I mowed grass all day Saturday, and the yard got a good drenching last night from one of the thunderstorms moving through the region this week. Being outside so early in the morning reminded me of being ready to go outside as soon as possible when I was smaller. I cannot recall seeing a mimosa here in my part of East Tennessee, but the further south I drive, the more I see them."

Mimosa

A forked mimosa grew some yards away
from our back porch; I never climbed it far
because its branches would not bear my weight,
but I could climb it high enough to see
its yellow gum ooze from the breaches torn
through outer bark, the stress from violent wind
or maybe me as I shinned in it. Late
most afternoons, I saw its fans of leaves
fold closed; some mornings, I might catch the sun
and watch the leaves respond to light. July
would bring the last of its red blossoms, puffs
of pink unlike most flowers everywhere. I sawed
its broken branches off; my fingertip,
like rays of light, could make its leaves fold, too.

—Draft by Thomas Alan Holmes     [Do not copy or quote . . . thanks.]

Ah yes, I remember getting leaves like those to fold up when I was a child. I like in your poem how the speaker's finger, the body, really, is likened to light. Bravo, Alan. Nice blank verse sonnet, by definition unrhymed.

Mimosa Tree
Won't you comment, please, friends? To make a comment, look for a blue link below that says Post a comment and click it once. If you don't see that, look in the red line that starts Posted by Vince, then find the word comments and click it once.

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Sunday, April 27, 2014

Day 27 ... NaPoWriMo / Poem-a-Day 2014


Day 27. Four poems to go, counting today's.

Robert Lee Brewer's prompt today: "a monster poem" (Poetic Asides). Maureen Thorson suggests a "poem from a photograph," providing four photos one could use, though one could also use a photo of one's own (NaPoWriMo). Here's the photo I've chosen.



Skeleton Talks to Pumpkin

I'm not so much articulate as articulated.
Though I can talk a goodly amount. Thank God

for museum techs and the colony of hide beetles
that devoured the flesh from my bones. It tickled

when the larvae crawled all over me and munched
munched munched. Then the techs reconnected my bones

with rods and screws. And so I became a meatless
zombie. But smarter and nicer than any zombies

you know. None of that pointless grunting and hissing,
that staggering and grabbing, mindlessly grubbing for brains.

I don't need brains. I get along fine without them.
And you, brother pumpkin, I know you feel the same.

Though you are stuffed with seeds and pulp and fiber,
and my skull is full of nothing but atmosphere,

We are the same. We are happy only to be.
We love the sun and the moon, the trees and the sea.

We desire nothing. We compete with no one else.
We love everything. We gladly brook all fools.

We only seek to please, help others delight.
Provide sweets and joy when they trick or treat.
And for that we need no brains, we need no meat.

—Draft by Vince Gotera    [Do not copy or quote . . . thanks.]

This poem was a joy to write because I had no idea where it was going to go and where it was going to end up. Just three lines from what is now the ending, I told Kathy I had no idea how to get out of the poem. And I'm still not sure how this ending came to me. I just had to empty myself of ideas and walk downhill, if you will.

I also enjoyed this process because I started off with rough blank verse and didn't know these were rhymed couplets — okay, slant rhyme — until I hit line 14 or so. And then I saw that indeed there were slant rhymes already there, though some were exceedingly distant, like beetles/tickled or munched/bones, which to some are probably not rhymes at all. From that point, I began to rhyme more consciously, as in be/see and else/fools. And really, it was trying to work the rhyme that got me to the end. Or that revealed, however mysteriously or impossibly, what might make an ending.

The zombie material came up because a few weeks ago, my friend Gary Beeler, who was my classmate in a beginning poetry writing class when we were first-year college students, challenged me to write a zombie poem. I tried to twist this poem in that direction, but it wouldn't go. So . . . sorry, Gary, this isn't the zombie poem.


And now on to Alan's poem. He tells us, "I am following Maureen Thorson's prompt inviting an ekphrastic poem for today. This poem does not describe anyone in particular; I see what, in my opinion, should not happen in promotional shots for writers, and I post this poem with the usual disclaimer (not intended to represent anyone you or I know in the entire span of human history) and with the hope that should I be put in the line of lens for having published something, I will remember this criticism. To be clear: I am not talking about the celebratory selfie/snapshot of when a person just gets hands on something newly released or has a friendly encounter with a reader somewhere. I am talking only about professionally produced promotional photos."

To the Poet Who Poses for Promotional Photos


I look at back covers, flaps
inside dust jackets, faces
at three-quarter, indirect
turn, in denial a photo
reveals any mystery,
keeping reserve behind eyes
almost always directed
at some potential readers.
You hold your book in the woods—
your own book. I look at you
and wonder, “Why your own book
in the woods?” I have taken
drafts into the woods to work
on them, to read them out loud
and hope for an echo out
there near the hollow, but I
find that your holding your book —
your own book — in the woods calls
for my projecting meaning.
You want me to think of you
bonded with nature, your book
an extension of kinship,
not to think that backdrop trees
or trees like them were cut down
to publish your new volume.
Mention to your publicist
the value of an inset —
separate published poets
from their published works, avoid
redundancy. The poet
stands a mere inspired corpus.

—Draft by Thomas Alan Holmes     [Do not copy or quote . . . thanks.]

I know exactly what you mean, Alan. There's such hubris sometimes in those promotional photos. I tried to find something to illustrate without portraying an actual writer. The closest I could get is this image.


This guy's pipe (Hemingway-ing, anyone?) and his bowtie and suspenders matching his typewriter's blue color are all over the top. And really, who uses a typewriter anymore? Actually, one of my most prolific writer friends still uses legal pads and a typewriter, and he's published something like fifty books, so I take back that snark about typewriters. But the rest of what's pictured is clearly faux writer schtuff. Almost as bad as Hef's satin smoking jackets and pajamas. Ya know? (Hef smoked a pipe too.)


Won't you comment, please, friends? To make a comment, look for a blue link below that says Post a comment and click it once. If you don't see that, look in the red line that starts Posted by Vince, then find the word comments and click it once.

Ingat, everyone.  


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Saturday, April 26, 2014

Day 26 ... NaPoWriMo / Poem-a-Day 2014


Day 26. Gettin' near the end, friends. Well, I shouldn't dwell on the ending but rather on the great 25 days we've had so far. Cause for celebration, don't you think?

"For today’s prompt, write a water poem," suggests Robert Lee Brewer (Poetic Asides).

Maureen Thorson's prompt today is one I suggested to her: the curtal sonnet, invented by Gerard Manley Hopkins. I wrote one on Day 20 for the "family member" point-of-view prompt (NaPoWriMo). Basically, the curtal sonnet is 3/4 of a Petrarchan sonnet. If you figure out 3/4 of 14, you'll get 10 1/2 lines. Fr. Hopkins split that line pattern into a six-line opening stanza rhymed abcabc and a 4 1/2–line closing stanza rhymed dbcdc or dcbdc.

I hope you won't think it vain that I'm posting directly below what the NaPoWriMo blog looks like today. If you click on the image, you'll see my name in the fourth paragraph. I'm such a fan boy, huh? I am nonetheless both honored and humbled. Thank you, Maureen!


Okay, on to today's poem, merging the two "official" prompts: a curtal sonnet on water, then.

Water

I fill my glass from the faucet, get ice from the fridge,
sit down to watch an episode of Swamp People,
who hunt alligators in murky, brown water
that makes the monsters invisible. How rich
the ways H2O affects us, both lethal
and harmless. Did you know we all can walk on water?

If it's white and crunchy. It can be unseen yet blue,
giving sky its tint. It makes Earth a marble
glowing aquamarine and pearl in outer
space. None on this planet can live without you,
                                                              our trusty friend, water.

—Draft by Vince Gotera    [Do not copy or quote . . . thanks.]

And now to Alan's poem. Alan says, "I attempted to follow both of the prompts today, and I was glad about the curtal sonnet assignment, and I though the water part would be easy. But, strangely enough, thinking about water made me think about chores for this weekend, and I was considering how wet grass requires more attention to mow.

"But the real problem, Vince, is Hopkins's 'Pied Beauty' for an example, because I was wanting to follow that model carefully, rhyme scheme and all. But look at that thing! It looks as if it is abc/abc/dbc/dc, because it's 'things/cow/swim//wings/plow/trim//strange/how/dim/change/him.' But, being from the Deep South myself, I was tempted to claim that 'strange' and 'change' almost rhyme with 'things' and 'wings,' claiming a slant rhyme or some such, but I figured that folks from other parts of the country would consider my claim specious or my rhyming lazy, so I decided to treat the a and d rhymes as if they rhyme with each other exactly.

"There are times when my Southern accent works to my advantage, given that 'guitar' can be either iambic or trochaic, depending on the need, but I want to play fair."

First Mowing after Easter

First mowing after Easter, moisture clumps
                new fresh-grown grass. My mulching mower slows,
                                and I, to clear the clogs, must leave the lawn
for pavement, banging wheels until the lumps
                extrude to free the blade. And, yet, I chose
                                this time to work, an hour after dawn,

for what, mown, this lawn brings, the bird that jumps
                from plainsight bug to bug, how wet grass goes
                                to new-mown pasture smell, the haying done
past family clearing timber, burning stumps,
                                                now gone.


—Draft by Thomas Alan Holmes     [Do not copy or quote . . . thanks.]

What a great poem, Alan. Such a fine ending when the poem goes to family memory. Beautiful.

In your poem, "clumps" and "lawn" (a and c) do rhyme distantly or, depending on one's dialect, more closely. I think it's perfectly defensible to claim what you claimed earlier about a rhyme between "strange" and "things" — not to mention the Deep South pronunciation, there is also the eye rhyme of "ng," don't you think? Quite a Hopkins-ish claim, actually. Remember how in "The Windhover" Hopkins used "-ing" for his a sound and "-iding" for b? That's pretty outrageous, bodacious even. So why not "strange" and "things" as emulation? Works for me, Alan.

Also, making a the same as d is not a violation of the curtal sonnet scheme. It's merely a tighter interpretation of the pattern. Again, works for me. Hopkins in "Windhover" has an a and b that could be seen as both a. Fun.


Won't you comment, please, friends? To make a comment, look for a blue link below that says Post a comment and click it once. If you don't see that, look in the red line that starts Posted by Vince, then find the word comments and click it once.

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Friday, April 25, 2014

Day 25 ... NaPoWriMo / Poem-a-Day 2014


Day 25. Now we're 5/6 of the way through National Poetry Month. It's been a nice run, don't you think? I'm enjoying writing a poem a day, even though it's been tough going a couple-three times. Hang in there, everyone!

"For today’s prompt, write a 'last straw' poem," Robert Lee Brewer suggests. "Everyone encounters situations in which they decide they’re not going to take it anymore . . . Write about the moment, the aftermath, or take an unexpected path to your poem" (Poetic Asides).

Maureen Thorson begins today: "Anaphora is a literary term for the practice of repeating certain words or phrases at the beginning of multiple clauses or, in the case of a poem, multiple lines." You might recall that in his famous speech, Martin Luther King Jr. begins several sentences with "I have a dream" and also "Let freedom ring" — memorable and powerful. Anyway, Maureen continues, "I challenge you to write a poem that uses anaphora. Find a phrase, and stick with it — learn how far it can go" (NaPoWriMo).

A wonderful recent example of anaphora is in my favorite song by The Police: "Every breath you take / Every move you make / Every bond you break / Every step you take / I'll be watching you." Love that because it's so cleverly creepy. And nicely apropos today because it also seems to be a "last straw" situation.

Okay, here we go. Mashing up both prompts.

Spring

I can't take it anymore,
cven though it's just started.

I can't take it anymore.
This morning I'm already stuffed up.

I can't take it anymore,
even if snowdrops and hyacinths are beautiful.

I can't take it anymore,
even if 30% of people are similarly affected.

I can't take it anymore,
even if there's no hay and there's no fever.

I can't take it anymore,
even if it's so happily sunshiny outdoors.

I can't take it anymore,
even if it happens again and again, every year.

I can't take it anymore,
even if everyone else just loves the nice days.

I can't take it anymore.
I can't take it anymore.

Alright, alright. I'll take it.
I'll just have to get shots. And try
to hold my breath until winter comes.

—Draft by Vince Gotera    [Do not copy or quote . . . thanks.]

I love light verse — don't you?

Here's an image of spring that Kathy found for me. To her this is extraordinarily beautiful. To me, well, I shudder. I like a flower as much as the next guy, but when they gang up like this, all I can think of is the allergic attack they bring on. I'd rather have the dentist drill. Shudder. Brrr. Sorry, Kathy. But thanks so much for finding such a perfect photo.


Okay, on to Alan. Or, to my dear Holmes, as Dr. Watson used to say.     I've wanted to make that joke all month!


Dr. Holmes tells us, "I think that I have covered both the 'last straw' and the anaphora prompts. Given that it is April, some of my 'last straw' feelings have to do with students who have neglected themselves all semester and who, nonetheless, believe that somehow they can wrangle a satisfactory grade out of weeks of neglect. Perhaps one of the first requirements for passing an English class should be the ability to read and comprehend the course policy statement. Now, back to grading . . ."

Exodus 20

And I wrote these words, plain as day, on your policy statement:

“I earned my doctorate in 1990, so it is appropriate for you to call me ‘Doctor.’ I became a member of the professorial faculty here in 1996, so it is also appropriate for you to call me ‘Professor.’ Know me by those titles and by my work.

“You shall go to no other authority when I have offered you explicit directions for completing class assignments. I do not care about the opinions of your roommate, your resident assistant, your parents, your siblings, your favorite English teacher from high school, your local newspaper editor who published your first poem, your pastor, or your significant other.

“You shall not offer an interpretation of text founded solely on the abstractions you associate with random thought occurring to you during your exposure to the texts. You shall not resort to flights of imaginative fantasy, to contortions of language, and to allusions to transiently relevant pop culture elements when I require you to develop literary analysis of our considered texts, for in doing so you place yourself before the texts and thereby neglect your assignments. I am a jealous steward of literature, eager to accept those interested and challenged by my discipline, impatient and scarcely tolerant of triflers, dilettantes, and grade-grubbers.

“You shall not mispronounce my name, even should you choose to curse it; I harbor no resentment for the vilification, but I hold in contempt those who neglect to curse well.

“Remember that a university class requires time outside of the classroom for preparation, including reading, contemplation of the reading, and writing. Not all of the answers occur inside the classroom, and not all of the answers occur inside the texts. Some of those answers have to occur in your mind, away from any distractions that may come between you and your understanding.

“Honor your father and mother by keeping them out of any conversations we may have about your classroom performance.

“You shall not offer repeated specious interpretation of a text just because you like your brainfart.

“You shall not give me an essay that you have already submitted to some other instructor for some other class.

“You shall not plagiarize.

“You shall not misrepresent what one of my colleagues has said about a text we teach in common.

“You shall not covet a classmate’s success in this class; you shall not attempt to exploit our class as a means to find a date; you shall not belittle a classmate because that person does not meet your provincial notions of propriety.”

When the students saw me standing at the lectern with the stack of essays I was about to return after having spent countless hours evaluating how well they have expressed their understanding of the texts, some trembled in fear, realizing that they had miscalculated how committed I am to the Word, and they said, “Who among us can pass this course?”

I said to the students, “Do not be afraid. I have come to prepare you, so that the appreciation of literature will be with you to keep you from despair.”

The students remained at their desks, while I resumed the next reading where God is.

—Draft by Thomas Alan Holmes     [Do not copy or quote . . . thanks.]

Amen to that, Professor/Doctor Holmes. I think you should actually use this in your future syllabi. Just to make sure there are no misunderstandings, since it is, as the text says, "plain as day." This is light and heavy verse. Just the right light touch and heavy-handedness of tone.

Lecturer at Syracuse University

I must confess that, as a student, I had bent and even broken some — perhaps more than some — of these commandments. But I have since seen the error of my ways, and as a professor/doctor myself only bend and break them when no witnesses are present.  


Won't you comment, please, friends? To make a comment, look for a blue link below that says Post a comment and click it once. If you don't see that, look in the red line that starts Posted by Vince, then find the word comments and click it once.

Ingat, everyone.  


POEM-A-DAY 2014 • Pick a day in April: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30


Thursday, April 24, 2014

Day 24 ... NaPoWriMo / Poem-a-Day 2014


We begin the last full week of National Poetry Month with Day 24. Yesterday's poem was so hard, really, and I'm glad for something a little easier today. Maureen Thorson suggests a poem about masonry: "a poem that features walls, bricks, stones, arches, or the like. If that sounds a bit hard, remember that one of Robert Frost’s most famous poems was about a wall" (NaPoWriMo). Robert Lee Brewer's prompt is: "take the phrase 'Tell It to the (blank),' replace the blank with a word or phrase, make the new phrase the title of your poem, and then, write the poem"(Poetic Asides).

On the University of Northern Iowa campus, we — the Languages and Literatures department — moved recently from our long-standing home, Baker Hall. I had my office in that building for almost twenty years. After we left Baker Hall, the university demolished it; in its place will be a "green space," whatever that means. I'm hoping for a little lake.

Here are some pictures of the Baker Hall demolition, courtesy of UNI's Rod Library.




Merging Maureen's and Robert's prompts again today. After the Baker walls were through a tumblin', I got a chunk of masonry from the rubble. Baker had brick walls with an interesting texture, and you can see that on the chunk I picked up, pictured below.

Tell It to the Brick

Baker Hall had been a men's dorm
in one of its avatars, before it became
an office building. Yes, the thing was crumbling,
white paint flaking behind the radiator
in my office. Yes, the old dowager, battleship,
was a dinosaur . . . no, a trilobite,
but Baker had class, panache: art deco
spiraling staircase and stained-glass windows.

So if you want to tell Baker Hall
goodbye, wish her bon voyage, good travels
on the oceans where vanished buildings sail,
crewed by squadrons of former residents,
like the elderly visitor who told me he had once
lived in my office . . . friends, tell it to the brick.

—Draft by Vince Gotera    [Do not copy or quote . . . thanks.]


And now moving to Alan's Day 24 poem, here's his set-up: "I am attempting to follow both Robert's and Maureen's prompts today." I'm glad both Alan and I are mashing up the two "official" prompts.

Tell It to the Block Wall Buckling East

Tell it to the block wall buckling east,
the one your uncle built to keep
the steep truncated slope he cut
with just a bulldozer from washing clear
across his newbuilt carport;
look at spots where half-grown kids
could pull it down to pieces.

Tell it to the silt fence
as the rain starts;
watch the topsoil spill.

Tell it to the high-gauge chain-link fence
intended to catch boulders loosed
by winter freeze from cliff faces
cut for high-country interstates.

Tell it to the shallow moat where tanks
of toxic chemicals may leak
and overflow upstream
from city water intakes
on the Elk River.

Tell it to the concrete containment cap
as the last remnant of the Deepwater
Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico.

Tell it to the Fukushima exclusion zone.

Tell it to the block wall for the good
it will do.

—Draft by Thomas Alan Holmes     [Do not copy or quote . . . thanks.]

Fukushima Exclusion Zone
The damaged nuclear plant in the background,
pieces of the broken seawall in the foreground.

Alan, you've written a powerful testament to humans' hubris against powerful natural forces. We think we can best nature, but instead we end up more like Percy Bysshe Shelley's King Ozymandias, whose huge statue lies tumbled and broken in the Egyptian waste: "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone / Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand, / Half sunk, a shattered visage lies," nothing but "that colossal wreck, boundless and bare." Bravura work, my friend.


Won't you comment, please, friends? To make a comment, look for a blue link below that says Post a comment and click it once. If you don't see that, look in the red line that starts Posted by Vince, then find the word comments and click it once.

Ingat, everyone.  


POEM-A-DAY 2014 • Pick a day in April: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30


Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Day 23 ... NaPoWriMo / Poem-a-Day 2014


Here are today's "official" prompts. Robert Lee Brewer suggests "a location poem," which might be "physical [or] emotional, psychological, metaphysical, or some other kind of word that ends in -al" (Poetic Asides). Maureen Thorson challenges us today to write "an oldie-but-a-goodie: the homophonic translation. Find a poem in a language you don’t know, and translate it into English based on the look of the words and their sounds" (NaPoWriMo). This is also called a translitic poem.

The phrase "Day 23" reminds me of The Number 23, a 2007 movie starring Jim Carrey. This psychological thriller portrayed Carrey's character becoming more and more obsessed with the number 23, believing that his life and all events around him are connected to 23 or some permutation of 23, and developing extreme paranoia. I'm writing this after struggling mightily for hours with Maureen Thorson's prompt (described below), and I'm feeling a bit like the hapless hero of that movie. Ack.

Theatrical Release Poster
I wrote that last paragraph several hours ago, and it's now 5:37 P.M. after an afternoon of dealing with proofs and meetings and poetry selection at the North American Review. I feel a little better because somehow the translitic started to flow, and here it is.

My translitic plays with Rainer Maria Rilke's great poem, "The Panther," given in German to the right. I'll also quote a proper English translation of the poem at the end of this blog post.

The Pain There
Where cutthroat business reigns
Shane's block-buying more bargains from Steve,
So mad Gabe warned Dave or Nick. More heat
in those tales of the thousand Steve gave
and hints at the thousands Steve can wield.

Dave's rich gang guesses might make Steve shit.
They're sick in all their claims. Shane, Christ, rat.
This way intense crap hemming more middle
in their business than Gabe will state.

Nick monkeys more shit that overhangs people.
Such a lot lost of Dave getting billed. Insane.
Good dirt there, gloating, and Gabe's plan for Steve
would hurt him personally and sue Shane.


—Draft by Vince Gotera
   [Do not copy or quote . . . thanks.]
       
     
Der Panther
In Jardin des Plantes, Paris
Sein Blick ist vom Vorübergehn der Stäbe
So müd geworden, daß er nichts mehr hält.
Ihm ist, als ob es tausend Stäbe gäbe
und hinter tausend Stäben keine Welt.

Der weiche Gang geschmeidig starker Schritte,
Der sich im allerkleinsten Kreise dreht,
Ist wie ein Tanz von Kraft um eine Mitte,
In der betäubt ein großer Wille steht.

Nur manchmal schiebt der Vorhang der Pupille
Sich lautlos auf. — Dann geht ein Bild hinein,
geht durch der Glieder angespannte Stille —
Und hört im Herzen auf zu sein.


—Rainer Maria Rilke (1902)
   [Translation into English below.]
I think I might have satisfied Robert's suggested "other" locations (emotional, psychological, metaphysical): the poem that arose out of the homophonic translation seems to hint at that metaphysical location where business takes place heartlessly, and the title suggests there is pain there, wherever that is. I feel okay about it how turned and I think I can claim to have mashed up prompts today.


And now to Alan, who says, "Heartsore today, folks, I haven't looked at prompts."

Applied Mathematics

When I was a senior in high school, I took
college calculus taught by a Benedictine
born in Belgium, and old Father John
kept a disciplined classroom and guided us
through calculations and problems
with high estimations of what we
could learn to achieve; to this day,
on occasion, when I see quadratic
equations and some old Greek symbols,
I think of his bad lower teeth
in his open content to show teenagers
how to find meaning in variables.

I don’t apply calculus now as I
average grades or I balance a checkbook
or figure which bill can be paid,
but it’s all algebra at the most
as I might help my kids just a bit
on some homework until they take off
as if they’d just learned how to ride bikes.
But when they were all small I would read to them
so much it never occurs to them now
that their dad, the lit prof who’s to elbows
in dishwater, would take it as quite an honor
to talk about novels they’re reading
at school, look at stories they write, recommend
a good play. Still, I’ve never been asked
to present on a parent’s day,
be the odd professor/poet sat
next to a firefighter, medic, and cop.

So, sums, mainly, I didn’t need to keep
calculus, don’t have it now, but I think
I should learn it all back. I don’t figure x
of a bully’s ineptitude making it more
economical to take away half the job
and to give it to someone who’ll get
a promotion, assuring that that job is done.

I don’t figure n of devoting
attention to something that matters
when fixing it is no concern of its maker —
my three hours of editing seems of more value
than one’s thirty minutes of cutting and pasting.

I don’t figure y of someone’s leaving home
but retaining a presence so that the new
quantity, less than, feels equal,
then only to have a return so that
what should be equal is now greater than.

I was once much more comfortable,
number two pencil in hand and the hard
sibilance of encouragement,
“Yes, Mr. Holmes, you’re correct!”

—Draft by Thomas Alan Holmes     [Do not copy or quote . . . thanks.]

Alan, this poem really speaks to me. When I went to the Jesuit high school in San Francisco, my 9th-grade Algebra teacher, Fr. Jacobs, sounds a great deal like this Benedictine calculus teacher of yours. He was a tough old bird, and the grumpiest priest who ever lived, Fr. Jacobs, but we could all tell he cared about us.


I also connect with your feeling here that life was simpler in those days when math would provide a clear answer with an elegant route to get there. But life, or living life, is probably more art than science, and as in writing poems or painting illustrations we don't always know where we're headed, and no one tells us when or if we're correct, but there's nonetheless beauty and reward in it.


Won't you comment, please, friends? To make a comment, look for a blue link below that says Post a comment and click it once. If you don't see that, look in the red line that starts Posted by Vince, then find the word comments and click it once.

Ingat, everyone.  



P.S. Here's the Rilke poem in English.

The Panther
In the Jardin des Plantes, Paris
From seeing the bars, his seeing is so exhausted
that it no longer holds anything anymore.
To him the world is bars, a hundred thousand
bars, and behind the bars, nothing.

The lithe swinging of that rhythmical easy stride
which circles down to the tiniest hub
is like a dance of energy around a point
in which a great will stands stunned and numb.

Only at times the curtains of the pupil rise
without a sound . . . then a shape enters,
slips through the tightened silence of the shoulders,
reaches the heart, and dies.


—Rainer Maria Rilke (1902)
   Translated by Robert Bly.
            Der Panther
In Jardin des Plantes, Paris
Sein Blick ist vom Vorübergehn der Stäbe
So müd geworden, daß er nichts mehr hält.
Ihm ist, als ob es tausend Stäbe gäbe
und hinter tausend Stäben keine Welt.

Der weiche Gang geschmeidig starker Schritte,
Der sich im allerkleinsten Kreise dreht,
Ist wie ein Tanz von Kraft um eine Mitte,
In der betäubt ein großer Wille steht.

Nur manchmal schiebt der Vorhang der Pupille
Sich lautlos auf. — Dann geht ein Bild hinein,
geht durch der Glieder angespannte Stille —
Und hört im Herzen auf zu sein.


—Rainer Maria Rilke (1902)

POEM-A-DAY 2014 • Pick a day in April: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30


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