I’m so happy to have my poem “Ghosts of Home” included in Gnarled Oak‘s 2016 Pushcart Prize nominees. Thank you to editor James Brush for the recognition, and for working to make Gnarled Oak the wonderful journal that it is. If you have a moment, please check out the journal, and the other excellent poems that were nominated this year.
My Breakup With The Walking Dead
CAUTION: SPOILERS AHEAD
Ya, I know this is normally my spot for poetic stuff, and the occasional dark story, but forgive me today for using it to talk (rant) a little TV. I used to work for a TV magazine and I miss the days when 10 raised-on-80s-sitcoms nerds would stand around every morning rehashing, trashing or praising whatever happened to be on the night before. It was a long time ago. Netflix wasn’t even a thing. But I still miss the TV babble. My hubby indulges me a little with the incessant post-watch analysis, and I love him for it. But last night he wanted to sleep, while I kept spinning my feelings — or lack of feelings — about this show around in my brain.
Then, this morning, my dear friend texted me that the episode gave her mild PTSD. An understandable reaction shared by many fans. When I admitted my boredom (yes, boredom) with an especially graphic, gore-filled episode that killed off two very beloved characters, she was a little stunned. And then she made me laugh, heartily, by saying, “Maybe this is how Donald Trump’s friends felt when they realized he was a psychopath?”.
It does feel a little crazy to give up on a show that I’ve invested six years in. I am usually quite loyal to my shows. I’m one of those seven people who actually liked the Lost finale. There was once a deep love in my heart for The Walking Dead, too — even as I could admit that every season had its share of silly writing and plot holes you could drive a semi-full-o’-walkers through. EVEN AFTER the “Them” episode in Season 5 when the miraculous tornado kills off a horde of zombies but, of course, spares our plucky gang of survivors. EVEN AFTER Rick’s supposedly impassioned speech to rally the troops included the ridiculous line: “We are the walking dead.” I mean, c’mon! But, still I stayed, because of the characters. I loved those characters. Well, most of them — I cheered inside when Lori and Andrea died. But I still miss Hershel. And I think the performances on this show are, for the most part, stellar. If anyone could ALMOST pull of the cheesiest line ever written for cable television, it’s Andrew Lincoln.
But last night, the super anticipated episode….who will the big boogeyman Negan kill? What will be SO SHOCKING in this episode that made that ridiculous Season 6 cliff hanger worth all this wait? For weeks leading up to the premiere there was chatter about who was and was not safe, contrived remembrances of what all our heroes have gone through so far, articles every fricking week in EW promising us that Season 7 is SO RIVETING and OOO….NEGAN IS THE WORST. VILLAIN. EVER. And I tried to go along with it because “Ya! This is The Walking Dead! I love this show!” But instead I started ignoring all the hype. Instead, I sighed in annoyance at how long it took to delete all the TWD marathon episodes that showed up on my PVR. Instead, I woke up yesterday and saw all the anticipatory chat about the season premiere on Twitter and was like, “Oh yeah. That’s on tonight.”
But still, I sat down with my snacks, about to hit play after the kiddos had fallen asleep. I told my hubby that I thought it was Abraham who’d be the goner, or maybe Glenn or Maggie, because the show never likes to let people be happy for too long, and then I realized that I didn’t care. At all. I didn’t care if it WAS Glenn, or Maggie, or even Michonne, who has always been my favourite character. I found myself hoping it would be Daryl or Rick (even though I knew that would never happen), just to shake some stuff up. And as it played on I thought to myself, “Hmm, this is interesting…I am completely ambivalent about this show now.” I am totally repulsed, but not all emotionally stirred, by this villain brutally bashing the skulls of two characters I used to be so fond of. I know he’s supposed to be terrifying, so why do I find him sort of folksy? I see Glenn’s disgusting, bulging eye, and his heartfelt last words to Maggie, and I think, “OK, then. Maybe this means Steven Yuen can be in some other cool roles now!” I watch the snot dangle from Rick’s nose as he pleads with Negan not to make him chop off his son’s arm, and I think “Get on with it.” I actually laughed a little when Carl said “Just do it, Dad” because yeah, just do it. Just do it, Rick. Just do it, show. Just do it, AMC. Just end it so I can go to bed. Maybe this is sorta how people feel when they roll over one morning, look at their long time partner and think numbly, “I just don’t love you anymore.”
Raising the stakes is essential in any good story. When you can do it more than once, and keep the viewers moving right along with you, that’s awesome television. Breaking Bad did this. My current favourite show, The Americans, does this. In this age of super-amazing-creative-tense-superbly acted television, many shows do it. Who has time for the ones that don’t? The Walking Dead doesn’t do it for me anymore. It hasn’t in quite some time, but the loyalty outlasted the emotion. Maybe it was just one cheap plot device or death-tease too many. Or maybe it’s because the “real world” we’re all witnessing right now is a million times more tense and terrifying, and I want to invest my hope for redemption in real world heroes. There are many reasons why this affair should end.
But honestly, I will probably let it drag on for at least a few more episodes, just so I can read the hilarious love-to-hate-it TWD recaps every Monday on FunnyOrDie.com. It’s like going to couples therapy, falling in love with the therapist, and keeping the relationship going just so you can get some thrill out of those weekly appointments. A terrible reason to stay in a loveless union. But after six years, it’s something.
Wiping the dust off the old blog with a quick response to today’s Poetic Asides prompt to write a “bulletin board poem.”
Poem For Rent
Small, but clean,
affordable and close to all
Pets welcome, if they
come in like the fog.
Layers of meaning
by previous tenants,
so it’s yours
Happy Canada Day to all my fellow Canucks! It was (is) a beautiful one in my neck of the woods.
July 1 also marks announcement time for the CV2 2-Day poetry contest, and I was excited and surprised to find out that my poem, “Medusa Rides the Greyhound,” nabbed a third place finish. It was the first time I’ve ever used the word “furuncle” in a piece of writing, and probably the last. I believe the winning poems will be posted online sometime next week, as well as the nominees for People’s Choice, so if you have a minute you should check it out and vote.
I’m also excited because I get to go to camp tomorrow, and I don’t even need to bring insect repellent…just a pen and paper. It’s the second year that the JustWrite camp has been held in Edmonton, and I’m heading back for my second year too, thanks to some generous funding from Strathcona County Arts & Culture. The camp is a great opportunity to work with knowledgeable instructors and energetic new writers in an intimate and creative space. Plus the food is really good! Yay to writing and eating!
Lastly, I was very lucky to spot an announcement by Ottawa poet Amanda Earl offering to read and critique the work of new women poets. I sent her five of my poems — two oldies that have been revised umpteen times and still weren’t working, and three new ones that I wanted some feedback on. She is an experienced poet who runs her own press, so I knew any comments would be helpful. However, I was completely impressed by the attention she gave to the poems, and just how thorough and insightful her comments were. The lady knows her stuff, and I think she’s still accepting people to take advantage of her FREE and excellent service. Details here.
Happy summer, peeps. Bring on the fireworks!!
All week I wanted to stop listening to, reading about and watching coverage of the horrific Orlando shooting, but like many people, I am transfixed by these now too-familiar stories, always looking for the why. Then I heard this woman talking on As It Happens about the discovery of a massive hunk of butter preserved for millennia in the Irish bog. It was a fascinating story, and I couldn’t help but imagine how our world might be different if we gave up all our assault rifles to the earth.
Out of the Quagmire
The Irish woman on the radio relives the moment
she touched a 2000-year-old,
22-pound hunk of odorous bog butter.
An offering to the Gods to protect
a man’s family, his fields, his livestock,
now here again in mortal hands.
A wish kept whole in the earth.
I’ve seen photos of bodies, pulled from the same peat,
their bronzed skin stretched across sharp cheekbones,
leather men and women with red, acid-stained hair.
Ropes around the neck, holes in the skull,
even ancient corpses tell how
but rarely the why.
Weapons too, preserved by the bog —
hammers, swords, spears, shields.
Iron-age artillery. Basic.
Not high capacity, quick-reload,
reliable, user-friendly, efficient.
Not marketable, profitable, stock shares soaring
before the dead have been named.
The Irish woman talks about what the bog can sustain,
but what will it grant? Prayers or amnesty?
Is there room enough for so many mistakes?
If we offered, would it keep our rifles
for another thousand years?
Until some future human’s hands
might pull them from the quagmire,
and note how primitive. How uncivilized.
How simple they were
to think love
could be so easily silenced.
I’m taking part in the flash fiction challenge over at Terrible Minds to write a “Knock Knock, Who’s There?” piece. Half-cheating with this, as I had the opening few lines written before Christmas and didn’t know where to go. Still not sure where to take it if I were to make it longer, but sometimes I like ambiguity in a small package.
They had the package delivered to the home of Pastor Ben Merrit, at 6:15 p.m. on December 24th, minutes before the pastor and his family would leave for service.
There was a knock on the door and the good pastor answered. No one was there, but on the step sat a small, red box, and a white tag that said “Peace.” He flipped it over and read: “To Pastor Merritt & Family. Love, The Devoted.”
They had no real understanding of love. But They did observe how that particular human emotion seemed to spread at Christmas.
“Who’s it from, hon?” his wife asked.
“Not sure,” said Ben. He opened the box to find a metal cylinder with three holes. “Not sure what it is either.”
As he held it up, a puff of green mist floated up his nose.
“What …?” he said, and instantly felt a warm tingle in his face, spreading through his head. Then he heard a voice, speaking from within.
“Greetings, Ben. We are one with you now. Embrace your beloved so we may grow.”
“Ben? Are you alright,” his wife asked.
“It’s the angels! Angels!”
He hugged his wife tight, his breath seeping out his mouth and up her nose.
“I feel them! It’s glorious!” she said. “Kids, come!”
Joe, the eldest, was the last to join the embrace. He’d never been a true believer, and when the voice inside spoke, he shrieked, “It’s not angels. It’s something…else.”
But it was a lost warning. They had already begun.
I hope that title put Bay City Rollers in your head, because, fun! Speaking of fun, if you’re in the Edmonton area tomorrow night, why not come down to Robertson-Wesley United Church (10209 123 Street) at 7:30 p.m. for Five New Alberta Voices, featuring wrap-up readings by the apprentices of the 2016 Writers’ Guild of Alberta Mentorship Program. I am so fortunate to be one of those apprentices, and excited to share a few of the poems I’ve been working on over the past few months with my stellar mentor, Sue Sinclair. But if poetry’s not your thing, don’t despair. The evening will also feature wonderful readings by fiction and non-fiction writers Bruce Cinnamon, Shannon Cleary, Susan Carpenter, and Katherine Koller. Plus, wine and cheese! For details, click the Facebook event here. Love to see you there!
The End. Finito. The Final Day. I feel both relieved and rueful that today marks the end of the April poem-a-day challenge. It’s been fun, frustrating and enlightening, as so many of the prompts I’ve followed have allowed me to try new things. And I hope it’s not the end for some of the poems I’ve written. From revision comes afterlife.
Addressing the Road
The mystery is too inviting,
so we choose you, trackless road
with your shadowy mouth,
and moss-coated branches
that crook and join
their sisters on the other side.
And we do hear the crows calling
deadend deadend deadend, but
crafty as they are, what do they
know about adventure?
It’s a gamble, we know, but
we’ll take our chances, road.
We’ll know when
we’ve found the place.
We’ll hear it in the swish of leaves,
whispering, where you end
is where you start.
The NaPoWriMo site has been celebrating poets in translation all month long. It’s been wonderful discovering the work of poets who write from a voice and experience outside the North American one I’m so often exposed to. And it’s been a great reminder that the best poets create images that are universal. Because it’s “the end” of the PAD journey for this year, I was reminded of this stellar poem “After a Death” by Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer.
And a final note: to anyone who’s read even one of my posts this month, thank you so very much. I’ve been writing all month to stretch my own poetic muscles, and posting to keep myself on track, but to know there are readers out there who’ve joined me in the experiment is extra sweet icing on the cake.
Today’s NaPoWriMo prompt asked for an “I remember” poem, in the vein of poet and artist Joe Brainard’s book-length poetic memoir I Remember. This Is Not A Literary Journal asked for another “word salad” prompt incorporating a list of random words. I decided to write a memory sentence for each word, to see if any theme emerged. I had twelve meandering memories, that I then pared down to this, using the words pocket, weep and lump from the list. I don’t think it’s complete yet, but it was an interesting exercise. I might even be able to grow other poems out of the discarded memories.
The brushed velvet softness
of the crumpled tissues
my Mom pulled from her coat pocket.
Once, I watched her weep without a sound,
after the call about the suicide, and wondered
how the deepest pains could be the quietest.
Later that year, visiting my uncle’s farm,
I poked a lump of hard dirt with a stick,
and stood rapt as dozens of sow bugs
erupted from its core.
The end of the poem-a-day challenge is near, and I realize I’ve been avoiding the “form” prompts all month. So today I decided to give it a go, combining the tritina challenge at This Is Not A Literary Journal with the Poetic Asides suggestion to write an “Important ______ ” poem. Got a little sappy with this one, as is often the case in my first drafts, but in the spirit of the PAD challenge, I’m posting it anyway.
Important Moments in History
Starting small in a city so big,
bachelor suite, in a muddle of buildings that blocked the sun.
My hand-carved table and your vintage Pepsi cooler, sharing the room.
From the dirty window of the hospital room,
you looked for proof of something this big.
A photo of the rising sun.
We bulged like the sun,
finding ways to make a little more room.
The space a child fills is infinitely big.
This house isn’t big, but there’s sun in every room.
Today’s emphasis on what’s important reminded me of the wonderful, tongue-in-cheek poem, simply titled “Poetry” by Marianne Moore.