Thursday, April 9, 2009

Poetry (found)

So it’s 5:15 am as I type this.

Damn. It.

I hate waking up so early. Toby needed a glass of water at 4:45, and that was it for me. I desperately tried to get back to sleep, but you know how it is when you can tell it‘s going to be a lost cause? Yeah. It was one of those times.

But on to bigger and better things. It’s National Poetry Month, didncha know? No? Well me neither, but luckily one of my readers did (thanks, Heidi!). I have crazy love for poetry, born within the first minute of my first college poetry course, but yes, I know that most people don’t. And I understand, I really do, because poetry is one of those mediums that can be really, really good or really, really bad, and sometimes, it’s even hard to tell the difference (or at least that’s what the writer is hoping). But despite that, or maybe because of it, I want to devote some blog space to it today, ok? Ok.

I'll even ease you into it, starting with something that's only part poetry. First, click here. I saw this woman at the Laguna Beach Sawdust Festival last summer, and only the price tag on her artwork stopped me from buying up a couple dozen to hang on my walls. As it was, I couldn’t afford one. I loitered for a bit longer than was reasonable for someone who clearly wasn’t going to purchase anything, and eventually felt the pressure to move on. I’m glad I’ve found her site, so that I can now stare at my leisure. She specializes in Found Poetry, which in my opinion, is the category of poetry most likely to be really good or really bad, with the possible exception of haiku (which is simply almost always bad). *ducks*

As you can see, she takes words and phrases found in the daily newspaper and gives them a nudge into a new angle (sometimes literally), and to me, that’s the essence of poetry: starting with the normal, linear way of saying something, taking it into your hands, and giving it a twist. Twist it too much, and you have nonsense (hello bad poetry). Twist it too little, and you still have something ordinary, like bread dough not kneaded enough to rise (hello dinner last night). But shift it just enough, and it has the ability to make your jaw drop and your heart soar (or plummet).

A good poem needs a purpose for every single syllable, details so nitty-gritty you can feel the dirt underneath your fingernails, a greater vision that leaves an as-yet-unmarred landscape, and a beauty of sound and cadence, all delivered with the lightest of touches. Needless to say, that’s not easy to do. At least I certainly don’t find it easy to do. The paradox however, is that if it’s done with skill, it seems easy to do, which doesn’t lend the genre any favors.

This, in my opinion, is a good example of a beautiful poem. It’s by the poet Josie Raney, and captures that essence of quiet simplicity coupled to poignant truth:


Fall Saturdays my father called me
down to the carport for the season's ritual chores,

we changed spark plugs, wiped and stacked the pegboard's tools,
and once a year climbed a ladder tilted to the roof

to free the gutters from leaves. My father would tie
a rope around his waist, then mine, tug-testing it twice,

and balanced by his steady counter-weight I would crawl
on my knees to the ledge, gouge out solid married leaves and sticks,

fling them to the ground where my mother's kerchiefed head
bobbed over roses, my sister spread pinestraw under the Japanese maple.

A lazy girl, I hated this chore above all others,
loathed how at night while undressing

I'd find a few spots at the hip where the skin had peeled back
under the rope's burn in a mark of my attachment.

If I had believed then what I half-believe now,
that everything we do is a gentle metaphor,

with every handful I would have cleared the closing paths
of my father's heart, and might have saved his life.

Those fast seasons on the roof I tripped just once,
my father lunging a few steps forward,

yanked by a weight that must have surprised him,
must have seemed to have grown overnight into the full

and real girl of me. I snapped my head up in time
to see the worried o folding creases up his face,

on my way down, a fall of full years before I understood
what catches and who holds.


This on the other hand, is a poem I wrote a few weeks ago. It's meant to be about identity and the loss (and discovery) of memory. As you’ll see, I’m still learning this art of gentle expression matched with powerful punch. I’ll say one thing though: I love the process of attempting it.

Missing since 1998


It happens just as they said it would:
in a crowd, on a corner, at a traffic light in the hairs-
breath of time before it turns, when
a sudden uplift of wind sends
leaves scattering
winter coats
stirring before heads duck under
hoods and I’m sure
I’ve spotted you.

After looking everywhere:
in bookstores and bars,
closets and the pockets of
overcoats stored
for summer, rummaging past
crumpled bills and buttons
as though I’m sneaking
peeks at presents long-


I startle with the swift
reflex of a newborn baby before
soothed, because you’re familiar
in the manner of an earliest
memory—a hand knotting
a scarf, a brush of fingers to up-
swept hair—nothing more than a
hint of an image with emotion attached
like a string. It carries the waft
of a scent—honeysuckle?—and tugs
at my wrist like a knot too tight, like the ghost
of a liberated balloon bobbing
on a breeze.


You’re well.
It makes me wish I could say
the same. You take a train into work.
You sit across from mothers holding
toddlers who give you gummy
smiles and offer goldfish
crackers from plastic cups that you
decline. Who dismiss you for their
snacks, their thumbs, their own
reflections in the glass.


Someday, we’ll make a clean
break, separate the sinew from the
bone and the body from the
blood. Only then will the urgency
of the message be lost, the reflexes
stilled, the memories lapsed, with
nothing remaining
but the hollow my hand carves
out for my temple
while I sleep.


And just for good measure, because I’ve touched upon the pairing of visual art and written word a bit in this post, I’d like to close with a very different sort of poem I wrote, which I was honored to match with the artwork of a very talented friend of mine. You can find more of her work at her website, here. (Not all of her art is worksafe.) In this poem, I diverted from my usual free verse format to try my hand at some whimsy, rhyme, and half-rhyme. It was fun (yes, I’m a nerd).

Green like Summer

nestled between night and
day, tucked like leaves

or stems of poppies pressed
into the pages of a book,
it is green like summer.

The world is molten gold, the blood-
red sun aglow behind closed eye-
lids, tangy to the tongue as

tangerine and lime
and mango and maize
fired under a ginger sky.

It smells of fresh paint drying
under clouds that look
like rain, a child out-

running the weather, a shadow
lengthening over grass cut crisp as

It can be traversed; on a dare, on a whim,
on a string of light stretched limb to limb
in polka-dot

apricot. The frame is your face.
The focal point a kiss, bubble-
gum pink.

There is a feeling of falling,
a breeze lifting
the tail of a white kite with a

tug that tells you: wake!
like a shake
to your shoulder.

It is blue like mid-
night, ribbons of indigo wrapping
around a sunset-world of rouge-

powdered clouds and holding
it fast, crimson and clover contained
within their lines like sighs.

The sky is a tide,
lazy and wide as you
lie by my side.


To close this post, if you love poetry, please comment and link me to your favorite work, or your own work if applicable!

(And I have to add a quick housekeeping detail: please note that there's a slightly new format to the comment section. You can read my note under the 'comment' button for further info.)