You’ve Got A Friend #CaroleKing #ShaniaTwain #CelineDion #GloriaEstefan

A classmate in my online course, Literature and Mental Health (FutureLearn) shared this YouTube video with me. I love, love, love Carole King and love, love, love this song.  Just have to share it with all my friends.

Taking It to the Limit #MondayBlogs #LaborOfLove

Hello, dearest Reader.  I feel like I’ve fallen far off the grid, and yet it’s only been a week and several hours since my last post.  The real difference is I haven’t visited any of my friends’ blogs.  I’ve been busy, which is quite fitting since today is Labor Day in the US.

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Guernsey style infant sweater and hat. Yes, the buttons are cat faces 🙂

I still have the baby blanket to knit, but at least I’ve completed the sweater and cap.  I have my doubts about this pattern, though, and it’s the second time I’ve knitted it.  I used to knit sweaters a lot, adult sweaters for friends, me, and my husband.  The baby things have only come about in the last 14 years, since my nephews started having children.  Then a good friend gained a granddaughter and coworkers started having babies.  For a long while I was knitting baby blankets, occasionally throwing in a sweater or socks or a dress.  The thing is … I hate sewing the pieces together, especially when the stitch pattern is anything other than stockinette stitch.  I recall only one time in my knitting life when I sewed up the seams of a cardigan so well they were almost invisible.  (And when I say “sew,” I mean taking several inches of the yarn and a large blunt needle and weaving the seams closed.)

Knitting is much like writing for me.  I love the process.  I love seeing the pattern unfold through my fingers as much as I enjoy seeing a story take shape on a page.  I love the feel of soft wool against my skin as much as I love the intimacy I develop with my characters.  But I don’t love having to put the pieces together as much as I don’t love having to revise and rewrite.  The problem is self-doubt.

Whenever I knit for someone else, I’m more critical of my work than when knitting for myself.  I will rip out a finished sleeve and start over if I find a mistake.  Even when I’m convinced I’ve done the best I could, I still find “defects” in my knitting:  a slight gap where I twisted a stitch one way instead of the other; a telltale seam along the back of the hat.  It’s the same when I think of other people reading my writing:  Melissa’s breakdown is too melodramatic; the setting too vague, too Anywhere, USA.  Typos and grammar can be fixed by an editor.  Poor revision cannot (well, not unless I’m willing to spend $$$$$$$$$$).

So it goes.

Shortly, things will be even busier.  I’ve managed to register for two free online courses:  (1) Modern & Contemporary American Poetry offered by the University of Pennsylvania; and (2) How Writers Write Fiction with the University of Iowa, the same folks who offered the poetry course I took a few months ago.  The poetry course will start on Sept 12 and the fiction course on Sept 24.  And I still have my day job.

Am I insane?  Is there a padded cell in my near future?  I keep taking things to the limit.  Cue The Eagles.

 

 

Prose Poems: A Question and An Answer #poetry #MondayBlogs

For my online poetry class last week, we discussed the “prose poem.”  Now I remember from (way) back in the day when I was intrigued by prose poems because they seemed less intimidating than the usual poetry forms.  Prose poems seemed more like writing flash fiction or flash nonfiction.  Something I could do without having to worry about meter and foots and stuff like that. 

One of the discussion forums presented three examples of prose poetry as a “slippery bean”: too far one way and it becomes flash fiction; too far the other way and it may become a lyrical essay.  Then the question: “Is the prose poem’s proximity to other genres the danger of the prose poem or the benefit of it?”

Those who know me well know that I don’t care for how (any) writing is categorized.  Read on for the three examples and for my response.  Finally, if you’re still with me, read to the end for my own “prose poem.”

***

Prose poem by Charles Simic:

I ran into the poet Mark Strand on the street. He immediately challenged me by drinking a glass of wine while standing on his head. I was astonished. He didn’t even spill a drop. It was one of the bottles Baudelaire stole from his stepfather the Ambassador in 1848. “Is this what is known as subjective reality?” I asked. Years ago this same Strand translated a famous Quechua poem about a man raising a fly with wings of gold in a green bottle, and now look at him!

An excerpt from a piece of flash fiction, “Continuity of the Parks,” by Julio Cortázar:

He had begun to read the novel a few days before. He had put it aside because of some urgent business conferences, opened it again on his way back to the estate by train; he permitted himself a slowly growing interest in the plot, in the characterizations. That afternoon, after writing a letter giving his power of attorney and discussing a matter of joint ownership with the manager of his estate, he returned to the book in the tranquility of his study which looked out upon the park with its oaks. Sprawled in his favorite armchair, its back toward the door–even the possibility of an intrusion would have irritated him, had he thought of it–he let his left hand caress repeatedly the green velvet upholstery and set to reading the final chapters. He remembered effortlessly the names and his mental image of the characters; the novel spread its glamour over him almost at once. He tasted the almost perverse pleasure of disengaging himself line by line from the things around him, and at the same time feeling his head rest comfortably on the green velvet of the chair with its high back, sensing that the cigarettes rested within reach of his hand, that beyond the great windows the air of afternoon danced under the oak trees in the park. Word by word, licked up the sordid dilemma of the hero and heroine, letting himself be absorbed to the point where the images settled down and took on color and movement, he was witness to the final encounter in the mountain cabin.

A lyric essay (section of a book-length one) by Maggie Nelson from Bluets:

Some things do change, however. A membrane can simply rip off your life, like a skin of congealed paint torn off the top of a can. I remember that day very clearly: I had received a phone call. A friend had been in an accident. Perhaps she would not live. She had very little face, and her spine was broken in two places. She had not yet moved; the doctor described her as “a pebble in water.” I walked around Brooklyn and noticed that the faded periwinkle of the abandoned Mobil gas station on the corner was suddenly blooming. In the baby-shit yellow showers at my gym, where snow sometimes fluttered in through the cracked gated windows, I noticed that the yellow paint was peeling in spots, and a decent, industrial blue was trying to creep in. At the bottom of the swimming pool, I watched the white winter light spangle the cloudy blue and I knew together they made God. When I walked into my friend’s hospital room, her eyes were a piercing, pale blue and the only part of her body that could move. I was scared. So was she. The blue was beating.

My response:

I’m reading The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver which is a long read not just because it’s a long book, but there so much poetry in the language of the narrative.  I don’t like “pigeon-holing” writing:  this is a poem, this is an essay, this is flash fiction.  I think prose poetry’s proximity to fiction (or nonfiction) enhances the read, at least for me.  Must it be one or the other?  If each of the three pieces Mary shared “works,” does the genre matter?  I’m not trying to argue.  It’s the lowest common denominator effect of classification that troubles me.  I work with data at my day job, and see daily the loss of information (poetry?) when we produce aggregated results, that data that speaks only to the largest groupings of people; for example, Hispanic, Non-Hispanic White, Non-Hispanic Black.  It’s a necessity in my line of work (public health), but it doesn’t help the people who don’t fit neatly into those categories.

My prose poem (submitted assignment):

I felt the staccato snap of each vertebrae in my spine as I lengthened and then twisted my torso in Trikonasana, Triangle Pose, and wondered how much longer I could keep looking up at the ceiling before I lost all feeling in my neck.  The yogi urges me to take two more waves of breath and then release—slowly—back up to Virabhadrasana II, Warrior Two.  Pause.  Then I am exhorted to drop my right arm down and behind, grazing my hand against the back of my left thigh, and lift my left arm, shining my heart to the ceiling for Reverse, or Proud, Warrior.  I inhale, then exhale, then inhale and slowly straighten my left leg for Stargazer, my favorite pose because it reminds of you.  I imagine us both reaching for the stars, me metaphorically and you literally with your fancy camera and telescope.  The shutter of your camera snaps in time with my spine.

A Long Slog #poetry #MondayBlogs

As some of you may know, I am taking an online poetry writing course through the University of Iowa (FREE!).  Just finished Week 3.  Being that the course is FREE, students have the option to do as little or as much as they want.  But if you want a certificate of participation, you have a lot to do:  post a minimum of 1 writing assignment per week; post feedback to 5 of your peers’ writing assignments; and post comments to 5 forum discussions.  So that’s 11 posts a week that I have to write, and the feedback/discussion posts have to have more content than just, “Hey, I really liked your poem” or “Hey, I’m really enjoying this discussion.”  And the certificate is NOT free.  It’s 50 bucks.  I’m not complaining about the cost.  Just wish I didn’t care/wasn’t trying to be qualified to pay it.  The long slog is me trying to keep up with this class while working a day job and having the heavy weight of other projects looming over me.

I have books to read and book reviews to write.  If you’re someone who is expecting a review from me, I’m doing the best I can.  If you’re not, then good. That gives me more room to breathe.

It doesn’t help that I was “conscripted” to contribute my crocheting “talents” to making something for someone I work for.  It’s doesn’t help that the deadline for that project is really looming (casting a shadow over what was to be a sunny weekend).  I only hope that by the time this post publishes, I’ll have met that deadline, which will give me more room to breathe.

So what am I getting out of this course that makes me willing to push aside all my other commitments for a few weeks?  Besides that the fact that it’s a good excuse for writing?

I can count the number of poems I’ve written in my lifetime on two hands.  But I feel pulled toward poetry for some reason, and so I slog on.

Here’s one of my assignments from Week 2:  making a poem out of a word cloud, as discussed by Carol Light.

My word cloud: assault fault naught caught brought bring brung rung dung human no-man ampersand neverland broken spoken forsaken waken waking breaking bleating repeating deleting meeting maker baker tailor mender contender relentless dauntless gauntlet junket monkey loving doves roves moves grooves moods fissures tissues issues

Here’s the “poem”:

Not my fault the assault caught
the mender, the contender
with his relentless bleating.
The junket monkey
moves in grooves
and fissures of moods,
meeting then deleting
the broken forsaken
human ampersand from Neverland.

One of my peers suggested I edit the poem to read like this:

Ignore the relentless beating

It’s not my fault
The junket monkey
moves in grooves
and fissures of moods,
meeting then deleting
the broken forsaken
human ampersand from Neverland.

I like this:

Not my fault.

The junket monkey
moves in grooves
and fissures of moods,
meeting then deleting
the broken forsaken
human ampersand

from Neverland.

Another peer suggested I look up calligram and maybe write the poem as an ampersand … wouldn’t that be a hoot?

Poem: She Burned Bright #Mondayblogs #poetry

The following poem was published on The Community Storyboard way back in June 2013.  I confess this re-post is in part because I’m at a loss for new material.  The well runneth dry at the moment.  But another reason is because I’m preparing to take a free online class on how to write poetry.  The course is through the University of Iowa International Writing Program.  You can find more information about by clicking here.

This poem is in memory of Wendy BishopShe was my mentor when I began my master’s in English program back in 1990.  I had a teaching assistantship and she was director of the teaching program, so we had frequent meetings.  I recognized a kindred spirit in her: we had both lived on the West Coast, we both had liberal views relative to those in the region where we now lived, we were close in age, and we were introverts.  But I was intimidated by the depth and breadth of her ever-growing portfolio and shied away at times when I should have been close at her heels.  We kept in touch off and on over the years until she died from leukemia at the young age of 50, in November 2003.  She was always incredibly busy, but always, always smiling and writing.

I miss her still.

***

They laid their hands side by side

She marveled

At how much alike they were

The one near death

The other nearest life

The one near death

Burned bright

With beach-bleached hair

Sandy skin

A smile an ocean-wide

She burned bright

And hummed through

Dot-matrix printers and laserjets

A low constant hum of life in words

Paper cascading from their mouths

Laid end to end they would circle the earth

And wrap it tight like a silk girdle

She burned bright

Writing more in her one-half-century

Than most could have written in two

She burned bright

The one near death

And marveled at her daughter’s hands, so like her own

She burned . . .

. . . out

And grown men cried

And grown women sighed

And I

who so wanted to be like her, she who burned bright

Stopped breathing

***

 

May Wonders Never Cease to Exist

Although I occasionally write poetry, I don’t make a fuss about it because I so rarely do it.  And because I’m never quite sure if I should call it poetry.  My poems don’t rhyme.  They don’t have a recognizable meter or structure (and I don’t even know what I mean by that, either).  They don’t measure up to the poetry of Luanne Castle or Pamela Beckford.  But I write them anyway.

And sometimes I actually submit a poem for publication.  On a lark, as it were.  As I did with this one poem, When I Said Goodbye.  I submitted it to Tipsy Lit, an indie publisher founded by novelist and poet Ericka Clay.  To my happy surprise, Ericka accepted my poem and recently published it in Volume 1 of the Tipsy 10, available free on Wattpad.

Tipsy 10 Vol 1 Cover

If you want to go directly to my poem, here’s the link:  http://www.wattpad.com/112392439-the-tipsy-10-volume-i-when-i-said-goodbye.  But be sure to read the other poems.  I am honored to have my poem among them.

A Different Kind of Book Review: Doll God by Luanne Castle #MondayBlogs #bookreview #poetry

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Mary closed the slim volume of poetry and leaned back against the stiff cushions of her couch.  She never was one to read much poetry, except occasionally Emily Dickinson and Shakespeare, whose works had stayed with her all these years since high school.  What was it Dickinson once wrote in a letter?  “If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.”  And that was how Mary felt after reading Doll God by Luanne Castle.

Mary gazed at the cover, an antique doll, face down amongst some weedy flowers, as if it had been tossed by a child and then forgotten.  Maggie, her cousin and a former English major, had given Mary the book that afternoon.  “Take your time with these poems,” she had cautioned.  “Some of them make you feel like you’re falling. There’s a sadness in them, but like a forlorn kind of sadness.  Like missing the childhood you can never get back, or that you never had.”

“Gee, thanks, Maggie.”  Mary had watched her cousin let herself out of the house, a knowing smile on her face.  And then a wink just before the door closed.  It was a dreary day, gray and wet and cold.  The perfect day for a pot of hot tea, a woolen lap blanket, and a book.  Not necessarily poetry, Mary had thought, but she picked up Doll God anyway.  The wonderful thing about poetry collections was that you could just pick up and start reading wherever you wanted, unlike a novel where you tended to start at the first page, not in the middle.  So Mary opened the book at a random page and began to read.

Now the room was dark except for the reading lamp.  Mary hadn’t even moved to close the drapes and she sat staring at her reflection in the picture window.

Of all the poems she had to read first: “Calculating Loss.”  It had given her chills at the realization, the recognition of the presence of loss.  A missing chair.  One less car in the garage.  A half-empty jar of pebbles that, to the poet, seemed overflowing.  Things missing should imply a vacuum, empty space.  But Mary thought about those first few horrible months after Christopher was killed.  How long it took her to remove his clothes from their walk-in closet.  And how she couldn’t bring herself to hang anything there for she felt there was no room.  The closet was full with her loss.

And then “Marriage Doll” and that exquisite image of the Hakate marriage doll with it’s hand upraised but empty, juxtaposed to a husband, flesh-and-bone, in the same pose but not empty-handed.  Marriage Doll: 1 of 2, the poet wrote.

And so many other poems that evoked feelings in Mary that she couldn’t quite articulate.  She didn’t feel sad after reading Doll God, but she felt changed somehow.  Like someone pointing out the homeless guy huddled in a doorway on a dark, cold, rainy night, and then telling her a story of the man’s childhood (“Vagrant”).  Like reading notes from someone’s diary about a day in October in the southwest and the shift in the habits of both wild and domestic creatures (“Sonoran October”).  She is changed.  She knows something, feels something new.  The words are in the poetry so she really doesn’t need to find her own.

From “Repetition”:

Daylight burns brighter, scrape

deteriorates into amputation until day

is here and there is no yesterday.

From “Calculating Loss”:

Every day the world subtracts from itself and nothing

is immune.

From “American Girl”:

I am the wait.

By the time Mary finished reading the poems, she did feel as if the top of her head had been taken off.  But, as if she were in a Frida Kahlo painting, she also felt images and words tumble from the half-empty but overflowing cup that was once her head.  She gazed at her reflection in the black glass of the picture window and saw dolls and children and feral cats staring back at her.  She felt cold and knew that no fire or freshly brewed pot of tea would warm her.  She had just read poetry.

***

And now, dear Reader, if you would like to have that Dickinsonian experience of reading poetry, do go now and purchase a copy of Luanne Castle’s poetry collection, Doll God.  And, while you’re at it, visit her blog at Writer Site where Luanne writes about poetry but also about memoir.  She is writing her own memoir, which I can’t wait to read once it’s published, and her blog often features book reviews and guest bloggers.  It’s never half-empty, but always overflowing. She also has a beautiful website to showcase her writing:  http://www.luannecastle.com/

I know you will enjoy her works as much as I do.

Reblog: Top Ten Things Not to do If You have Spring Fever #MondayBlogs

Has Spring Fever finally come to your neck of the world? If yes, well hopefully you’re not already guilty of any of the mishaps on Monday’s list from John Howell. If not, then here’s a list to help you plan ahead 🙂

Fiction Favorites

Okay for the most of the United States I’m rushing this list a bit. I have always thought of spring as a matter of the mind and not necessarily how the weather is behaving (or not as the case may be). Spring here in South Texas has definitely arrived. I can tell because when I walk on the beach I’m almost run over by big ole pickups filled with overserved youngsters all yelling “woo woo” at the top of their lungs. Last year one even said to me “Hi old man.” She said it in a kindly manner so I didn’t take offense cause after all I am an old man. So on to the top ten things not to do if you have spring fever.

a spring feveruntitled

Ten Things not to do If You Have Spring Fever

10 If you have spring fever, do not fall in love with everyone you…

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You’re Now a Raging Success

The Paperbook Collective is back and Hallelujah to that 🙂

The Paperbook Blog

I don’t even know how to begin this post…

The last time I typed words into this blog was one day before my birthday, all the way back in April.

Two days later, I ended my four and a half year relationship, and all the words disappeared.

It has taken me close to seven months to actually open up WordPress again, but here I am. About a month ago I dug out my battered original copies of The Paperbook Collective, and started again. I hadn’t actually realised how much I missed it, and how happy it made me feel. My life is now filled with work and events and committees and obligations, but I am determined to make time for The Paperbook Collective once again.

So I have been working hard, and Issue Seven is now officially a zine!

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If you had ordered a copy of Issue Seven before I…

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Experimental Poem/Prose: Bonita’s Song

This “experimental” “poem” (feel like I should put both words separated in quotes because I rarely write like this) was previously published on The Community Storyboard.

* * *

She called me her little Puerto Rican.

I was too young to remember, she said.

 Not until I was an adult,

and she lay on her bed, her white hair spread like a fan on the pillow,

her wrinkled, spotted hands folded on her chest,

her opaque eyes fixed on the bluebird outside her window.

(more…)

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