November PAD – Day 8

The prompt today called for a “thing” poem  — an ode of sorts to an object. The first thing I thought of was the very thing  (and people) supporting me while I write.

8.

The back is made of honey brown slats that cross over one another. A number sign, hashtag dining room chair. Cushion stuffing crushed and pushed to the side after several years of wear. We chose these chairs for the forgiving upholstery. The kind of nondescript mottled brown and burgundy that can hide squashed tomatoes, glops of spilled yogurt and marks left by tiny, greasy fingers. Our  daughters have spent many hours on these chairs, and I’ve spent much breath telling them to sit, not stand, because it’s time to eat. Time to be together. Reinforced by your handiwork — extra wooden blocks supporting the bottom, though it still cracks and wobbles when we sit down, fragility forgotten and confidence heavy. Not built to last, but we are.

 

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November PAD – Day 7

Today’s prompt asked for a “days of the week” poem, or a “weak” poem. I may have inadvertently written the latter by trying to write the former. But I was inspired by goddesses, as I often am. Thinking about them always makes me feel powerful.

7.

We’ll meet on Friday. Frigga’s day. ‘Oh, Odin’s wife?’ you might ask, if you dig that Norse mythology stuff, and I’d bristle, lip pulled into a sneer. The default, still, to define the her by the him. Male adjacent. And it bugs me. But it might not bother Frigga, love goddess and all. ‘It’s unity, not hierarchy,’ Frigga might whisper in my ear, weaving my hair as she wove the clouds. ‘Love is perfect balance, do you see?’ And I might. The feathery breath of divinity warm and soft on my neck. And did she see, with her powers to do just that? Her own future, a uniform unfolding, one day into the next and the next? What good is precognition if you’re powerless to move? When you’re destined to sit, spin at the wheel, know and know you can do nothing? Friday is on the cusp, the end and the start. For Frigga, I open to you all I was and hope to be.

November PAD – Day 6

Today’s prompt called for a poem of “praise.”  This is where I went:

6.

It’s hard, I know, to keep your muscles loose, your teeth unclenched. So hard to hear the news over and over and over –  insert city and number of dead here.  Stop it from painting layer after layer of rage on top of you. It’s a wonder we’re not all shellacked in place, fists up and mouths open, mid-anger shriek. How do you stay soft? How do you keep from popping your Ps on impossible words like prayer, peace, protection? How do you say you’re a pacifist and mean it? It used to be so easy. Remember raising two fingers, like you saw the long haired rock stars do on the covers of all your Mom and Dad’s records? The number two, you said, and your dad smiled, throwing two fingers back. There’s a plaque you still have in your living room: PEACE, LIKE CHARITY, BEGINS AT HOME. You’ve believed it for a long time. But lately you worry it ends there too. Praise be, to all those brave souls, who still turn on the TV, refresh the news feed, open the front door, wave to the neighbour— their bodies as supple as a yogi’s. Belief cushioning their red, red hearts.

November PAD – Day 5

Five days in already! Time flies when you’re working words. Today’s prompt was to write a “self-destruct” poem. Hard not to go to the big picture of humanity place with the state of things, so I rolled with it.

5.

There are reasons to be hopeful. At this exact moment, a man in California is hearing his child laugh for the first time. Better, he’s the one making the child laugh. A woman is being pulled from the Mediterranean Sea, and will live. People are dancing in Helsinki. Imagination burns. Someone is inventing new ways to be or not to be at all. Lighting the slow burning match that sets off the self-destruct. The end of everything — except. Radioactivity subsides. Fauna revives. Flora grows. Winds blow. It lightens the heart, really, this universal resilience. Take a sip of tea. Dip your cookie. It all goes on just fine without us.

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In other poetry news, I am so excited that my first ever haiga has been chosen as an honorable mention in the Second Annual Jane Reichhold Haiga Competition, photography category.  I took this photo at the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village just outside Edmonton, Alberta. The poem didn’t come immediately, but I could tell those old gloves had a story or two. Please take a moment to read all the winning entries in this issue of Failed Haiku magazine, and see my haiga, as well as the judge’s comments below.

 

Comments from contest judge Linda Papanicolaou:

If senryu is about the human condition, old age can be an endless source of humor. This is a warm poem in the way it depicts an old man who retains the charisma of his younger days despite decrepitude. The image reinforces the poem nicely, illustrating line two with an image of boxing gloves. Its pale coloration evokes elderly skin while the empty space between the hanging gloves evokes missing teeth.”

November PAD – Day 4

Today’s prompt called for starting a poem with the title “Whosoever ___________”  I haven’t been titling my poems so far, so decided to make it be the first line instead. First place the word took me was to a Biblical quote, and the sinful words just took over from there.

4.

Whosoever is just a formal way of saying whoever, but it sounds so much better with that extra “so” popped in for grandeur. You like to speak this way — in this manner, I should say — and from anyone else I would think it pretentious, but it suits you. Your rod straight spine, good posture from years of piano playing, you once told me, and the perfect part in your hair. And who other than me has seen the wild heat in your eyes, felt your body slick with sweat, heard guttural grunts from the very same mouth that quotes gospel with perfect diction? I want you to tell me it’s been many. L-words are such sweet burden on the heart.

November PAD – Day 3

The prompt today called for a “triangle” poem. My mind went to both geometric and romantic places.

3.

I don’t want to believe in mystery. UFOs, Bigfoot, a certain magic triangle in the Atlantic Ocean that transports sailors and pilots to a different dimension. I don’t want to know the feeling of your open hand on my bare thigh, the pinch of your teeth on the back of my neck.  I want to believe that drawing three lines in the sand will stop us from going any further. Creates borders we dare not cross, angles that let us see distinctions. There is a center, in even the most imperfect triangles. Vertex to midpoint, crossed and measured three ways. A place that is either a beginning or an end. A question or an answer. Something more than a vortex, sucking us down to somewhere.

 

November PAD – Day 2

I totally cheated today. The Poetic Asides prompt asked for a “disguise” poem, and I thought of something I wrote this past weekend while at an amazing JustWrite workshop in the Rockies. It was from a prompt given to us by one of the instructors, the awesome novelist and poet Thomas Trofimuk. Normally I really do try to create something brand new that grows from the prompt, but I felt this one was fitting (and recent enough) to give myself a pass. It’s still a meandering prose poem, or kind of “prosetry” as one of the other workshop attendees said. Maybe writing in that style is cheating too. Or maybe it’s just poetry wearing prose clothes. A delightful disguise.

2.

Imagine this: you’re standing at the edge of a mountain lake. All your clothes are at the shore and you step one foot into the water. You’re surprised to feel warmth. Not the shock of cold you were expecting. The water feels like perfect bathwater, a comfort, and it reminds you of something from your childhood you can’t name or explain, but feel tickling at the edge of memory. You  wiggle your toes and take another step in, then another, until the water is up to your waist. You feel the smooth rocks beneath your feet and look down to see your legs, your toes, slightly shimmering. You hear a small splash and watch to see what has made the sound. But there is nothing, or nothing that wants to be seen. You crouch down, water to your neck, your long hair begins to float and spread around your head. You continue down, warm water to your lips, your eyes, until your whole self is submerged. Submerged, you think, what a beautiful word — below and with the water. You keep your eyes closed and imagine your skin, translucent. For what is it really except a lifelong disguise? Your whole body becomes clear liquid, until there is no body at all. And as long as you remain still, you do not need to think or breathe. You do not need anything.

 

 

November PAD – Day 1

I thought about trying NaNoWriMo this year. I even have an idea for a novel that I’m rolling around in my brain, but it’s sort of at the marble in an empty bucket stage. I can’t imagine what the full bucket looks like just yet.

But, I remembered that the Poetic Asides blog on the Writer’s Digest site does a Poem-A-Day prompt in November, with the goal of producing a chapbook by the end of the month. What would this be called…NaChaWriMo? NaPoWriMoCha? I’ve decided to write prose poems, so maybe NaProPoChaWriMo? What ever the abbreviation, the challenge seems more do-able for me this year. And also keeps me writing. Even if it’s just stream of consciousness that I can trim and polish later.

The prompt today was to compose a “New Day” poem.  Here’s what grew:

1.

C’est un nouveau jour. It always is, but today I stretch my tongue with unfamiliar words. Grind fresh coffee beans. Press my finger along the crease of a new notebook, the possibility of one blank page after the next. We woke up to snow, wet and conscious of its own arrival. A confident declaration, je suis là. Our daughter pulled on her new winter boots, still a little too big, but everything needs space to grow. I used to think the winter stopped that — flourishing. The season of pause. But that was before I forgot to kiss you goodbye. Missed the tickle of one day’s growth on your stubbly chin.

Gratitude for public poetry – especially now

Something quite wonderful happened to me this summer. I was lucky enough to be one of four poets to have a poem featured on Edmonton transit as part of the Edmonton Poetry Festival’s Poetry Moves initiative. Knowing how many creative and talented writers there are in our community, I was surprised and flattered to be picked. Of course it’s great to have your work recognized, but the real reason I am excited to be part of Poetry Moves is because I believe so strongly in the value and need for poetry to be displayed in public places.

People are often skeptical of poetry because it can seem mysterious, elitist and even scary. How it scares and who it scares can differ.  Someone may dislike poetry because he or she has been made to feel, for a variety of reasons, that poetry is too intellectual or elusive. And then there are those who fear what poetry — and what all art — is capable of doing: inspiring hope. Public poetry is necessary both to welcome those who might not otherwise have access to poems, and to stick it to those who would rather not have poetry at all.

If you call yourself a poet, you’ve surely had the opportunity — I’d even say the pleasure — to defend poetry. Devoted as they may be to words, the poetry lover is still a  bit of a rare beast. So questions like, “What is the point of poetry?” or “Who really needs poetry?” or “Does poetry matter anymore?” do come up, even from fans of other forms of art and literature. A quick “poet quote” search provides countless examples of famous poets of the past, and not-so-famous-poets of the present, providing answers to these questions. Some of my favourites include:

“A poet’s work is to name the unnameable, to point at frauds, to take sides, start arguments, shape the world, and stop it going to sleep.” – Salman Rushdie

“Poetry is the lifeblood of rebellion, revolution, and the raising of consciousness” – Alice Walker

and perhaps my very favourite:

“Poetry is an act of peace. Peace goes into the making of a poet as flour goes into the making of bread.” – Pablo Neruda

These quotes have been especially resonant for me lately. Never before in my lifetime has the world seemed more in need of awakening, activism and awe. I do believe, as I always have, that exposure to poetry — and all forms of art — is one of the surest ways to spark the brain, open the heart and move the soul. It’s the reason art is so often hated and feared by those who possess, or strive to achieve, absolute power. Art promotes understanding and connects us, and for those seeking to divide and conquer, nothing is more dangerous than empathy and unity.

Though I am Canadian, a recent news story has caused me to spend a lot of time thinking bout that gigantic American symbol, the Statue of Liberty. During a White House briefing, one of Trump’s senior advisers,  Stephen Miller, got into a heated exchange with a CNN reporter about the meaning and importance of the Emma Lazarus poem “The New Colossus” which is inscribed on Lady Liberty. Many of us are familiar with the poems famous lines welcoming the world’s “tired … poor … huddled masses yearning to breathe free” to American soil. It’s easy to see why such a poem would be so threatening to the current US administration. And I was thrilled to see The Guardian newspaper publish smart, heartfelt and sometimes funny responses from 21 current poets.

As I began to read more about this story, and the origin of the poem, it was unsurprising to learn that self-described “alt-right” members have been calling for the poem’s removal for years. And I couldn’t have been more tickled to know that one sonnet — one public poem — was so very threatening to white supremacists. This is an example of a very famous poem inscribed on a very prominent symbol, but the potential exists for any public poem — even the seemingly non-political — to move people to action, understanding and hope.

This is why I am so grateful for programs like the one the Edmonton Poetry Festival continues to support. For many people riding the buses or the LRT this summer, the Poetry Moves picks might be the only contemporary poem they read this year. It might even be the only poem by a local writer that they ever read. There might be a line or a word that sparks a memory, an emotion, a bit of imagination in a reader that then ignites a desire to consume or create more art. That is how a poem can keep us all from going to sleep. That is how poetry can be an act of peace.

PAD 2017 – Day 30

The last day! Unfortunately, also a day when I am feeling quite under the weather, so didn’t have as much time and energy to devote to the final poem as I would’ve liked. Today’s Writer’s Digest prompt was the very wide open suggestion to write a  “The ____” poem. I decided to narrow it down a bit with the NaPoWriMo prompt to write about something that happens again and again.

 

The Sun & You

 

the sunrise

missed

when you’re in my bed

 

hot on my neck

the midday sun

your breath

 

the sunset

always better

next to you

 

My last Alberta poet of the month is Edmonton writer and artist Laurie MacFayden.  In keeping with the “The ___ ” theme, I thought of Laurie’s stunning poem “The Last Night,”  from her book Kissing Keeps Us Afloat. It resonates with me especially well, as it reminds me of things I’ve written (or tried to write, perhaps less successfully) about dealing with my Mom’s death. Listen and watch Laurie give a wonderful reading of it here.