Thursday, April 23, 2015

Day 23 ... NaPoWriMo / Poem-a-Day 2015


Day Twenty-Three. I don't know what to say about 23. I think last year I pointed to that surreal Jim Carrey movie, The Number 23. Year before that, I pointed out that 4/23 is Shakespeare's birthday . . . that's pretty cool. Okay, on to the prompts.

Robert Lee Brewer's PAD prompt: "write a historic poem. It could be a poem about a landmark event, specific battle, an era in time, or whatever you consider a historic happening."

Maureen Thorson's NaPoWriMo prompt: "Today, I challenge you to take a chance, literally. Find a deck of cards (regular playing cards, tarot cards, uno cards, cards from your Cards Against Humanity deck – whatever), shuffle it, and take a card — any card! Now, begin free-writing based on the card you’ve chosen. Keep going without stopping for five minutes. Then take what you’ve written and make a poem from it."

A couple of years ago, Kathy gave me an "Authors Card Game," which you can see in the photo below. The card I happened to choose at random was Washington Irving, author of "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" and "Rip Van Winkle" — two of my most beloved stories as a child.

I gotta say, though, I had hoped for Nathaniel Hawthorne (really, I wanted Herman Melville but he's not one of the authors sanctified by this deck). I thought I could write a historic poem about the moment when Hawthorne and Melville first met. Hawthorne wrote his wife that Melville was "rather heterodox by way of linen"; I’ve never forgotten that phrasing, which meant, I'm pretty sure, that Melville could have changed his underwear more often. Of course Hawthorne could only have known that by sense of smell, I would guess, so Melville’s underwear must have been pretty ripe.

I also wished I had drawn Louisa May Alcott, the only woman in the deck, pretty surprising for a game from the late 1980s. Did we learn nothing from the Equal Rights movement? I also kinda hoped for Shakespeare, simply because it's his birthday today, and he would be a half millennium old if he were still kicking. Well, I’m not sure he’s not kicking, though he’s probably nothing but bone fragments by now, if that. Sir Walter Scott would have been a good draw too because as a child I loved Ivanhoe almost as much as "Sleepy Hollow." Well, maybe more, actually. You gotta love good swordplay in a story. There’s only bowling — nine-pins — in "Rip Van Winkle" and crazy horse riding in "Sleepy Hollow."

There would have been plenty of possibilities for a historic poem with those writers, other than Irving. (By the way, those author cards are depicted in the photo . . . from left to right, Irving, Scott, Shakespeare, Hawthorne, and Alcott. Still annoyed at no Melville.)

Anyhow, Washington Irving was the card I drew and so Washington Irving it is. Here we go.

The Birth of the American Short Story
Washington Irving inspected an artillery
battery in 1814 when he was serving as
aide-de-camp to the Governor of New York.

Walking behind the line of cannon pointed
through gaps in the heavy earth fortifications,
Irving flinched each time the cannons fired.
He fought the strong urge to duck his head.
The army captain in command of the battery
took Irving’s elbow, smiling. “Come closer
to this piece, sir,” he said. “Nothing to fear.”
As they came up behind the 6-pounder brass
howitzer, artillerymen swarmed around it,
ramming gunpowder and a 6-inch ball
into the muzzle, then touching off the fuse.
Again, Irving ducked and then looked over
at his companion to see if his momentary
weakness had been noticed. The soldier’s face
was surrounded and obscured by smoke,
his blonde hair lit red by the setting sun.
For a moment, Irving thought the man’s head
was gone, supplanted by a nimbus of fire.
Then the moment passed. Irving asked him,
“Please tell me your name again, sir?”
His blue eyes glowing in the brassy light,
the officer said, “Ichabod Crane, sir,
at your service. Captain Ichabod Crane.”

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

Irving never admitted that Captain Ichabod Crane was the namesake for his hero in "Sleepy Hollow." An anti-hero, actually, because Irving's character was no soldier. The real-life Ichabod Crane served almost 50 years in the American military, both the Marines and the Army, and died while still on active duty as a Colonel. I surmise that while the bookish schoolteacher inherited the Captain's name, perhaps the Captain's personality might have been the model for the schoolteacher's rowdy competitor for Katrina Van Tassel's hand. That's the premise for my poem, anyway.

Incidentally, Colonel Ichabod Crane was the great-uncle of Stephen Crane, author of The Red Badge of Courage. Since his great-uncle would have been well-known as a soldier in the Crane family, the younger Crane's novel was surely influenced in some way — even if negatively — by the storied military career of his great-uncle. The protagonist of Red Badge is himself also an anti-hero, not at all like the Colonel, who served and fought in four wars.

Moving on to Alan's poem for today . . . he tells us, "I'm attempting to combine the card prompt with the history prompt."

Four of Cups

In August, 1996, I sat
among my unpacked books and pulled a card
from some tarot deck given me by friends
I’d left to take this job; this card, the four
of cups, was drawn in such a way that it
alluded to Manet, a lunch where men
in gentlemen’s fine clothes are served
by women dishabille, the foreground one,
leg curled in such a way that we can see
her bare instep, as intimate as eyes
as she is turning to our gaze. The card
suggests a restlessness, that one engaged
in contemplation might dismiss what joy
or temporary respite from the world
might lie so close at hand. And while I know
Manet’s men have the women there, I think
the foreground woman’s gaze invites the thought
that she wants more and dares us all to want
much more as well, not sit and wait for some
to get some appetite for what we have
but make them yearn for what we will not give.

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

Here's that very card. Alan, I like how you drew the card not today but almost 20 years ago. Good play with the prompt.
And the matching Edouard Manet painting, Le Déjeuner sur l'Herbe (The Picnic). No Speedo for the guy on the right.   

Friends, won't you comment, please? Love to know what you're thinking. To comment, look for a red line below that starts Posted by, then click once on the word comments in that line. If you don't find the word "comments" in that line, then look for a blue link below that says Post a comment and click it once. Thanks!

Ingat, everyone.   


NAPOWRIMO / PAD 2015 • 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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