Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Takes One to Know One (7/14/08)

"A horse gallops away
across the plains,

his flank and ass
glistening in the sun,"

she smiled,
the way a mule never could,

and clicks her spurs together
to go home.

I'm not totally sure what this one is about -- it started, as I think a lot of my better poems do, with a phrase or two that I considered more than I usual. The scene emerged later, and it was disjoint, hence the intrusion of the speaker halfway through. I think that was also what I was going for when I changed the last stanza to present tense. It's pretty subtle (just 'clicks' instead of 'clicked'), and I'm worried it just seems like a mistake.

But there's something I like about this one. It's kind of austere, and the setting and the texture I was imagining come through, I hope.

Monday, June 2, 2008

We Do (5/7/08)

We do
the unspeakable

which is covered over
like skin over a wound

by all of us
talking at once.

Some of us are pink and
shiny and still.

I feel sort of a return to form with this one, I think partly because it was formed partly by cutting words out, which I've said about some earlier poems.

The first line read, "We do pass through." Though I think those first two lines together formed the basis for the poem, "pass through" had to go because I don't think I really believe we pass through certain tragedies. The poem is, more than anything, my thoughts about going to a support group, which are complicated. But the results aren't pessimistic - the final stanza is ambiguous. It describes either a wound or a healed scar. It also makes me think of babies, which seems pretty optimistic.

The final line was, "shiny and still talking." Which, again, I liked on first thinking of it. But "still" by itself works on so many more levels. I hope it invites the reader to imagine another word following it. It also just means 'persisting,' as if we're just continuing to be here. It also, I think, means 'not talking,' which makes the final stanza seem as if it might be in contrast with the rest of the poem. What if some of us aren't able to heal?

I've never named a poem after the first line before. I just came up with the title for this post, but I thought it worked.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Lunar Eclipse in San Francisco (2/20/08)

Sitting on the left breast
we strained our eyes to clearly see
something deflatingly familiar.

As the city reached out
just to the bay
we could not tell if the moon
were obscured by clouds.

Again, I thought I should include something more recent on this blog. I'm still not sure about this one -- it feels very uneven to me.

The use of 'breast' in the first line for example, came from the joke that the Twin Peaks of San Francisco are very breast-like. You can navigate by thinking about a giant woman with her head pointing into the bay and then talking about her right and left breast. I feel like more of this story should be in the poem, or I should lose that word altogether.

It was really built around the final two lines, but even there I struggled a lot with the tense and mood. "If the moon was obscured by clouds" might be better, for example. It's just too early to say.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Untitled (5/30/07)

Each tick I wasn't with you
read off the time
until I could be again.

Last night I made them
the time since I had written
the measured fading of each idea
before the writing of it.

I drifted on that undulation
into sleep.

And then awoke mid-night
to a woman's catastrophic wailing.

Ran into the predictably blue light,
almost upstairs,
almost to an aunt in mourning.

But, pathetic,
the moans come from the basement.

The cat, wretched old Rosebud,
makes human noises. Still,
terrible, inelegant company.

She's always on about her loneliness.
I posted this one because a friend just pointed out everything else on the blog is two or three years old. This isn't much better, but it's the most recent thing I thought was worth posting. I haven't looked at it much since I wrote it -- haven't even given it a title.

It also seemed appropriate to my mood, since I've been trying to encourage myself to write more (rather than mope). I did some editing just now as I typed it. Added a whole stanza, actually ($10 if you pick which one and then make me pay you).

It has its moments, but hasn't been through that all-important paring down. Still has a lot of extraneous non-moments and whining that could go. I'm finding it harder and harder to be brief, and I'm not sure why.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Tautology (6/27/06)

In a sudden frenzy of sleep
you saw a parade of ex-girlfriends,
fat, and getting heavier.

Embarassed ever to have felt
toward something so gone,
you didn't introduce me.

Sit back.
I'm handling the introductions.

We took up the weightlessness of bicycles
and have become, as you would say,
perfectly proportioned.

I know because you said
you would rather be young
in here, with me,
than old, outside, alone.
I don't have much to say about this one. It's based on a dream and it's more successful than most dream poems, I think, because it's based on someone else's dream. In fact, it's all about statements the dreamer has made to me (the narrator).

I think the narrator starts displaying skepticism towards the dreamers utterances at that middle part (Sit back...). I like to think that stanza has some special meaning in the poem, since it sticks out so much in tone and rhythm. (Speaking of rhythm, I basically just made up the punctuation in an attempt to recreate the dramatic way I read it.) The statement in the last stanza isn't actually a tautology, but that word seems to capture the way it's almost meaningless because so obviously, a priori, true.

This one was considered for publication in the Brown undergrad literary journal at the same time as Untitled. I got to listen anonymously to the debate and, if I remember correctly, this one won out because it was considered more interesting, unusual and difficult to do things with weight than with colors.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Spring Cleaning (7/20/06)

Five peoople
in three rooms
and two words
between them.
They needed to discuss who
spoke first,
whether or not one wanted
mopped floors
too personally.
"You never knew this before,"
she said,
"But I'm a little crazy --
cant stop cleaning,"
which felt a bit forced
though very necessary
this season,
in a language
so small
and unforgiving.
This was written about two weeks before 'Meal Plan,' but revised a lot on the day I actually wrote that one. The previous title was 'Summer Cleaning,' since the poem is about a summer living arrangement. But that seemed, as is often my fear, clever and cheesy.

Actually, it's even hard now to tell what the final version of this one is. I'm not sure whether I've ever typed it out before. The last three lines, though, have been in tact for a long time. They're even bracketed and moved around as a unit in the very first, much-scribbled draft.

The gimmick of this one is that all the lines are either two, three or five words long -- the three numbers mentioned at the beginning of the poem. Each line, based on the number of words it has, supposedly corresponds to, or is about, the noun mentioned with that number (Five-word lines are about the people, for example.) But I'm not sure, now, whether this was part of the original idea, or whether I made it up part-way through, or after the fact, to disguise my bizarre line-break choices. Either way, it's hard to totally accept, since most of the lines could be 'about' rooms, words or people. Maybe that's a good thing?

Speaking of line breaks, I always read this one with more dramatic, abrupt pauses at the ends of the lines than most of my poems require. And the punctuation is fairly serious -- period is a fuller stop than a comma and so on. Probably one of my many emulations of Robert Creeley. Or maybe it's to emphasize the numbers of words. Creeley voice or odd line breaks? Chicken or egg?

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Meal Plan (8/6/06)

This is the age
of our convalescence
waiting for
and wandering attention
to soak in.

We are at an age
of re-absorption
of gauzy language
and forgetting how wounds heal.

In the age of
unnecessary procedure,
an unconsidered steam hangs
over exotic soup.

With those holes in your mouths
it is all you care to eat --
and isn't that a better deal,
at our age?

This one was written very shortly after I had my wisdom teeth pulled. I was away from home and, I think it's safe to say, feeling cranky during my recovery.

I was also thinking about the fact that our University's dining halls were "all you care to eat" facilities, not "all you can eat."

This is another one where several observations came together and seemed to give rise to a picture of the mood of a particular moment. In this case, in my self-pitying and possibly drugged state, that moment morphed into an entire age, a picture of a whole generation.

I don't think I've read 'Meal Plan' on stage since college -- I'm not sure it would make any sense.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Untitled (2/23/06)

Because of the wildfires
we waited for cigarettes
to burn orange to black
between the leaves
even after the rain.

Driving south to Texas
great black swaths
crossed the highway
but marked only the grass,
so yellow elsewhere, it was orange.

Now green near Houston,
"We got your rain,"
says Aunt on the back porch.
Dad's skin a pale orange,
twelve days in his memory
so dim, as not even to be black.

A title just never congealed for this one. I always sort of call it, 'After the Rain,' but I think that's pretty cheesy. In the margin of my journal here, I see that I toyed with titles that brought out the themes a little more clearly: "Potential Risk," "Fires on the Evening News," "Risk Horizon," but none of them sounded right.

It is about a couple of seemingly unconnected things -- illness, travel, wildfires -- that are all linked for me by a particular time and place. I felt the need to put them side by side to try to remember the strange feeling I had during that time. The colors, and the way the sounds work together (at least, I think they work pretty well), were almost coincidental.

The more I thought (and still think) about this one, the more they seem connected thematically too, though. All of the risky things move from far-off, potential risks to intensely personal, bizarrely real events. And I like to think the poem does the same: moves from the impersonal to the personal, from big, natural surroundings to dialogue and familial relationships.

Maybe. Again, there's a lot of coincidence in the construction of this one, and it doesn't feel as well-controlled as some of the others.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

After Dinner (7/17/05)

I feel like laying my face
on this slab of steak.

Will you bring up the recycling?
Will you mention the waste?

Its thickness is
the solace I deserve.

Fred would love this t-bone,

And who else could continue
to be so excessive?

The first stanza of this one did actually arise out of a moment after dinner, while I was staring at a leftover piece of steak. The absurdity of that image made me laugh.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Apology (6/05)

let me be quiet.

I will walk around,
baking pies.

I have to say, I laughed pretty hard after writing this one. The contrast between the melodrama of the first half and the absurdity of the second is definitely supposed to be funny.

But I had the privilege--and it was a wonderful experience--of listening some peers review the poem and consider it for publication in Brown's undergraduate arts journal, Clerestory. It was anonymous, so I basically got to hide and hear what they thought.

I was blown away by their ability to find meanings in it. Someone suggested, for example, that it was about the Jewish holiday of atonement, which apparently involves food.

I think (as much as I hate to paraphrase poetry) I originally wrote it to say, "I'm sorry, but I don't want to talk right now. The domestic actions I'm doing (both directed and flighty) are keeping me busy and taking the place of normal communication. I need you to read them that way." The reason I think the poem says this effectively is because it really doesn't say it. It's terse, abrupt and uncommunicative--very much my mood at the time.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

For Fred (6/05 and 3/07)

Man, Fred,
you are a furry furniture,

a french-fried
phantom feline.

Fat friend
with football physique,

a favored little fellow
for fetching.

Do not forget me.

rather rangy.

A rail-thin
ragamuffin, really.

Remember romping recklessly
when rewards were richer?

Rotund, rambunctious
and radiant?

You regret nothing.

engaged by my emergent expectation,

allow each utterance
to arrest your activity.

You acquiesce to our
accustomed understanding

as all vowels are allowed
to alliterate with each other.

Even unto the end.

Domestic decay
delicately descends.

Dust destroys.

Dander does damage.

Dogs do not deny death,
goddamn it.

But Fred
forgives everything.

Part I of this one was originally just the first two stanzas and its writing accompanied the writing of what eventually became 'Apology' (to be posted later). This was very early in my poetry-writing career--really less than two months in--and it's surrounded by some pretty bad stuff.

Not until February '06 did it become its current incarnation, originally titled, 'In Praise of a Schnauzer.' (I struggled a lot to decide whether Fred's dog-identity should be revealed at the beginning, and I still wonder this when I read it.) It was part of the spurt of writing that produced some of my favorite poems.

As I usually say when I introduce the last three sections, it became apparent, after I left home and came back a few times, that things had changed. Fred was a good barometer of that change for me, so his poem became this epic about communication and death.

The idea in the third stanza is that both our ideas of alliterative propriety and our communication with animals are conventionally determined--maybe sometimes surprising in the way they seem right but aren't logical or are messy and complicated but still work out.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Notes from Mom (Feb 07)

I'm beginning with this one because it seems to be the most universally liked of my poems. Also because my dad googled my name and found it listed as a 2nd-place winner on this site. And he wanted to read it.

It's borrows heavily from 'I am Offering this Poem' by Jimmy Santiago Baca, which I was contemplating around the time I went to a poetry reading at Brown early last year. Poets reading there seemed to be very into the written word. I'm not one for 'spoken word' poetry as a genre, but I was very opposed to the sentiment that poetry could be left to speak for itself, without the reader putting much of herself into it.

The frustrations I had reminded me a lot of some typical mom-isms: "Why don't they stand up straight?" "Make eye contact!" "Get confident." And the poem began.

'Notes From Mom on Offering this Poem (After Jimmy Santiago Baca)'

For God's sake, stand up straight!
You are not an S-curve.

You are offering this poem--
you have nothing else to give.

Make eye contact
when you say these words.

Ask yourself their meaning,
and I will answer, give you directions.

Remember, you are offing this poem
because I have no other way to give.

Imagine publication! Bound in my name,
like I ever read to anyone but you.

Keep reading for the pathetic anticlimax,
for whatever you're worth.

Keep raising the stakes.
Say, "I am dying to offer you this poem."

Make them listen to me
even if you don't want to.

Remember, the medium is the message.
I love you.

I am offering this poem.
It is what I have to give,

and all anyone needs to live
and go on living inside.
This is the longest single-part poem I've ever written. I think it succeeds--despite its length--because it builds tension pretty effectively. (It was a late decision to start with 'for God's sake, since it's so emphatic, and I'm still not sure it was the right choice.) Basically, my method for writing poems is to write and then cut out absolutely everything extraneous. But I thought this one needed the room to work out its actions, which I'd like to write a bit about.

The first thing it does is conflate the speaker's reading with the Mother talking to the speaker internally. Several lines ('ask yourself their meaning/and I will answer') use pronouns that are deliberately ambiguous between the mother/child and speaker/audience pairings. (It's a blessing and a curse of English that 'you' is both single and plural.) Even that ambiguity not strict--sometimes the mother voice might be speaking directly to the audience, and so on.

The Baca poem is not only used here, it's also mentioned as an external object. That poem was (the only, as far as I know) one my mom recorded in her own handwriting and left in her desk. And that poem is presented as a comforting object, but it also requires the tragic absence of the speaker.

Both leaving a poem in a drawer and leaving your voice in someone's memory--particularly a child's--are ways of communicating after death. I think 'Notes from Mom' takes out both the warmth and the overt reference to death from the original poem, leaving only the fact that it is a poem; that it's being spoken here and now and that writing (of which the poem is one example) do have some great, mysterious power when it's given physical existence.