Category Archives: Poetry

The Empty Bee Box

I’m worried. What will happen when Global Warming, Big AG and the pharmaceutical companies kill our pollinators? Here’s my sextina in protest.images-2

 

The sun a spotlight on my metal chair warming
my face tilted up to soak the afternoon’s silence
as sun and land secretly conspire to riotous disorder
sprouting and blooming and bringing forth bees
and ants, gopher snakes and the pair of crows to forage
to mate; my garden their abundant future.
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Yet politicians scupper Earth’s viable future
the creatures too busy living to anticipate global warming
as habitats shrink and humans mismanage the forage
and the crops, poisoning for profit the natural world to silence,
unconcerned with topics of little interest like bees
and their Honey Bee Colony Collapse Disorder.
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pbs.org

Children of Earth—all affected by this disorder.
Without our pollinators we have no future.
With every bite of dinner remember the bees
industrious from blossom to flower that teem in the warming
spring after the sluicing winter, their tiny buzzing silence
shrinking, a muted reminder of loss of nutritious forage.
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Honey bee in blooming blackberry

Incomprehensible and cruel this throwing off of forage
this dismissal of reality as Earth spirals to disorder.
The presidential request of scientists’ silence,
the denial we have nothing but a bright future
making America great as global warming
dries farmlands to dust and starving the bees,
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nytimes.com

already confused by neonicotinoids, bees
losing their way, unable to fly from forage
to hive. Monsanto, Dow, Bayer aiding the warming
with aggressive pesticides that cause disorder
to the natural cycle. Only super viruses survive the future
as Varroa, the destructor parasite sends bees to silence.
We must tabulate the evidence and fill the silence
with the real news. Gone the clover, the alfalfa. Our bees
are starving and the almond crop is dwindling. In our future:
the memory of honey and butter spread on hot toast as we forage
the cupboard for a remnant of natural food, but find disorder
of empty plastic containers, the leavings of the Earth’s warming.

 

I offer the other beings my acre of forage.
My bees and I are saving seed for the coming disorder.
To plant a field of wildflowers—my policy of warming.

 

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When Will We Ever Learn?

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Novelist Nathaniel Robert Winters shares a poem today. Find his work at Amazon.

 

 

 

Custer Died For Our Sins

Western train throws a loud whistle

but bison won’t be moved

car screeches to a whiplash halt

 

Buffalo hunters emerge

bringing down great beasts

too many to count

a hole appears

showing the endless tracks beyond

 

Locomotive belches black cloud

starts slowly, picking up speed

white way west

 

Lakota Nation weeps

 

One hundred fifty years later

it is not tracks that scar Dakota land

but a pipeline

oil way south

 

Lakota Nation still weeps

 

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Green Grass, Yellow Mustard

27872250-Napa-Valley-Vineyards-and-Spring-Mustard-Stock-Photo

Thank you 123rf.com

 

Now and again I like to showcase the wonderful writings of my Upper Napa Valley writing workshop attendees. The following poem is by Theresa Cordova Ortez, a member of our Napa Valley College class, Autobiographical Writing, held at Rianda House, St. Helena’s Senior Center. Theresa writes Flash Memoir, scenes of her life and family. This is her first poem and it captures the beauty I’m blessed to experience every  day as I drive to work. I hope Theresa’s poem inspires you to visit the Napa Valley this spring.

The Cycle

Blue skies

Sunny days

Yellow mustard swaying in the fields

Grassy green hills

Beautiful grape vines stripped of their fruit

Standing tall in tidy rows, waiting for their time

When once again they will bear grapes

The color of deep purple and gold

the color of sun

This world-renowned jewel that sparkles like a diamond

This beautiful Napa Valley, which we are so fortunate to have

To visit, to work, and for me

To call home

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Thanks Abe K. via Flickr

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Piece Me Together

images-1I’m the proverbial chicken without a head—running thither and yon, trying to catch up while I’m on semester break everything that has fallen behind. Do I have too many directions, activities, pursuits—hats? Sometimes I feel like a mosaic. Fit the pieces together and I might be surprised to find—me.

The following is a poem by Sonia Milton read in our Autobiographical Writing class at Rianda House this past semester. Apparently I’m not the only fragmented soul wishing for time and cohesion. I hope you enjoy it!

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Slices

I live in the slices
Segmented blocks of time and space
That come in-between the interactions
Actually, I get a lot done in my slices,
It’s part of the waiting
Waiting for someone: Hal, Lauren, Peter
          To show up
                       Finish
                              Be ready
                                            Call
Come over
         Meet with me
                  Demand of me…
And I must be ready.
All the edges cleaned up
Starched and available
All the crumbs swept up, even if under the rug
READY
Heaven forbid I’m caught up in
               my own life
                            my own process
                                       my own becoming
And caught off-guard
What if someone catches me at THAT?
What if someone else SEES?
What if I see?
I want the whole orange, the entire pie, the whole loaf
Ah, now that would be a wonderful piece of time!
I would
                breathe fully
                            stretch completely
                                           sigh contentedly
I would have room to read the entire book, fantasize an entire dream
I would have room and time to be ME

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Sonya Milton grew up in New York and Miami and has lived in Napa Valley 20 years. She’s particularly interested in the inner journey and has written her memoirs intermittently over the past couple of decades. Partly retired, she spends time with her 4-year-old great nephew and making lunch for her husband.

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Want Some?

By Dina Corcoran

 

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Her name was always Blossom.

But the young lad had a tricky tongue,

When he spoke her name he garbled it,

So it became “Want some.”

 

He lived in a castle, hardly squalor,

Where he ate watermelon with his thumb.

One day she swayed by; it made him starry-eyed,

He called out, “Want some?”

 

A trickle of hope arose in his heart

As the red juice dripped down his chin.

“I’ll volunteer,” she said on a whim,

Going out on a limb, holding back a grin.

 

 

images

thanks to coetail.com

 

Prompt: from the (printed) list pick 10 words at random and fashion a poem, memoir or fiction.

“garble, squalor, always, volunteer, sway, trickle, watermelon, starry,

tongue, blossom”

 

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The Prose Poem

The Prose Poem: “Just as black humor straddles the fine line between comedy and tragedy, so the prose poem plants one foot in prose, the other in poetry, both heels resting precariously on banana peels.”

~Peter Johnson, Editor The Prose Poem: An International Journal

Prose poems lack the line breaks associated with poetry but maintain a poetic quality, often utilizing techniques common to poetry, such as fragmentation, compression, repetition, and rhyme. The prose poem can range in length from a few lines to several pages long, and it may explore a limitless array of styles and subjects.

I attended a workshop in October 2010, Outside the Box: Memoir, the Prose Poem, and Flash Fiction led by the past Sonoma County Poet Laureate, Terry Ehret.  While I can’t reproduce this excellent workshop for you here, I’ll try to comment on what I took away with me.

Terry Ehret  tells us that there is a form of poetry that uses:

Imagery

Metaphor

Rhythmic patterns and repetition

Dream imagery—what she calls “dragon smoke”

and is written in a block of prose.

Thinking back to a discussion  on June 9, 2011 in my writing class, we determined that poetry is comprised of: imagery, metaphor including simile and comparison, rhythm, sound, emotion, message, and specific formatting. A prose poem, we determined is imagery, metaphor, rhythm, emotion, message, story arc, in prose format.

Looks like we’re right on track.  Terry suggested that when you are writing and you’ve got a poem that doesn’t have natural line breaks, try writing it as prose. Or  you might want to write only a vignette and therefore leave out the characterization and plot and turn out a prose poem.

I love Terry’s collection of quotes on “what is a prose poem,” especially the Robert Bly quote:

“Its mood is calm, more like a quiet lake than a sea. The fact that the critics have not yet laid out formal standards for the prose poem is a blessing…. When relaxed and aware of no rigid patterns, the mind sometimes gracefully allows itself to play with something equally graceful in nature, and the elegance of the prose poems appears in that play.”

History (from Poets.org)

The form is most often traced to nineteenth-century French symbolist writers. The advent of the form in the work of Aloysius Bertrand and Charles Baudelaire marked a significant departure from the strict separation between the genres of prose and poetry at the time. A fine example of the form is Baudelaire’s Be Drunk which concludes:

And if sometimes, on the steps of a palace or the green grass of a ditch, in the mournful solitude of  your room, you wake again, drunkenness already diminishing or gone, ask the wind, the wave, the star, the bird, the clock, everything that is flying, everything that is groaning, everything that is rolling, everything that is singing, everything that is speaking. . .ask what time it is and wind, wave, star, bird, clock will answer you: “It is time to be drunk! So as not to be the martyred slaves of time, be drunk, be continually drunk! On wine, on poetry or on virtue as you wish.”

The form quickly spread to innovative literary circles in other coutries: Rainer Maria Rilke and Franz Kafka in Germany; Jorge Luis Borges, Pablo Neruda, and Octavio Paz in Latin America; and William Carlos Williams and Gertrude Stein in the United States. Each group of writers adapted the form and developed their own rules and restrictions, ultimately expanding the definitions of the prose poem.

Among contemporary American writers, the form is widely popular and can be found in work by poets from a diverse range of movements and styles, including James Wright, Russell Edson, and Charles Simic. Campbell McGrath’s winding and descriptive “The Prose Poem” is a recent example of the form; it begins:

On the map it is precise and rectilinear as a chessboard, though driving past you would hardly notice it, this boundary line or ragged margin, a shallow swale that cups a simple trickle of water, less rill than rivulet, more gully than dell, a tangled ditch grown up throughout with a fearsome assortment of wildflowers and bracken.

There are several anthologies devoted to the prose poem, including Traffic: New and Selected Prose Poems and Great American Prose Poems: From Poe to the Present, as well as the study of the form in The American Prose Poem: Poetic Form and the Boundaries of Genre all available on Amazon.com.

 *****

 Try it:                    Topic         As the Solstice Passes

(or pick your own topic)

Terry Ehret

Terry Ehret former Sonoma County Poet Laureate

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Stripping the Veil—The Modernists

Poetry strips the veil of familiarity from things. ~Shelley

What is poetry? Poetry can be “prosey” (think of prose poems) and prose can be “poetic.” There’s an enormous range of mood and approach within each. So?

Definitions are as numerous as poets. I can think of several things to say to describe poetry, but in the end, poetry is words. Robert Frost defined poetry as “what gets lost in translation.” John Hall Wheelock put it well, “A poem will result when the genius of a language—its words, their sound and their sense—offers the genius of a poet an opportunity to perform a miracle. That masterpiece of coincidence, that achieved miracle, the poem, with its unique syllabic patterns, its unique consonantal and vowel music, its seemingly inevitable cadences (partly the result of skill, partly the result of sheer good luck), is not translatable.”

Some claim poetry is a way of knowing. Language is human’s greatest achievement. We can use words to symbolize, or stand in for, complex experience. A poem is a “constellation of such symbols, representing a poet’s rediscovery of some phase of reality.” (Wheelock) It’s a rediscovery because as we become familiar with things we lose sight of them; we take what we know and experience for granted. Poetry, like any of the arts, is a revelation. It gives the poet’s world back to the poet. Poetry reveals what we know to ourselves. However, poems often require imagination and familiarity with the conventions of the art to be understood. In fact, to some poets, the more obscure and erudite the poem, the better. They want to keep the reader in the dark. It isn’t surprising that poetry often has a bad rap. Goethe’s advice, “Don’t tell it to anyone except the initiated, because the multitude will only jeer at you.” More than obscure, modern poetry has been accused of being cerebral, and empty of feeling. Wordsworth might define poetry as “emotion recollected in anxiety with distaste.”

Poetry might be considered a form of communication, or better, communion within a universal fellowship. The poem doesn’t come as a desire to communicate, but is what happens when a poet rediscovers some part of her lost reality, because it has “been overlaid by the veil of familiarity.” (Shelley) The poem is part of the rediscovery—through it the poet learns what she has forgotten. You might say the poet is talking to herself, established communication with herself, and through that with others. “What was subject has become object. What was on the inside is now on the outside.” (Wheelock)

Poetry changed radically over the last century. T.S. Eliot’s and Ezra Pound’s work began a revolution. They shifted focus from the  Romanticism of Coleridge and Wordsworth. Perception began to overtake emotion in poetry. Poetry shifted to a more observational style with less searching for meaning. Mid-century poetry has been described as analytic, precise, and emotionally uninvolved, rather a scientific method. Poetry left the realm of common knowledge and imagery and moved into a private system of reference, essentially: classical references have given way to intensely personal experience. This isn’t surprising as not all readers and poets share the same background of knowledge anymore, but some lament the loss of feeling. Elizabeth Jennings puts it, “We only move it through the mind…/Perhaps the deeper tragedy/ Is then the inability/ To change a thought into emotion.”

We’ve all heard the many opinions of modern verse. One complaint, it’s lost its music. Free verse can be “disjointed, episodic, and staccato.” (Wheelock) But look at the world that is producing modern poetry. If poetry has become more objective recording and less feeling, it has also become more accessible with the use of common speech.

Wallace Stegner nailed Modernist poetry in his:

“Of Modern Poetry”

The poem of the mind in the act of finding
What will suffice. It has not always had
To find: the scene was set; it repeated what
Was in the script.
Then the theatre was changed

To something else. Its past was a souvenir.
It has to be living, to learn the speech of the place.
It has to face the men of the time and to meet
The women of the time. It has to think about war
And it has to find what will suffice. It has
To construct a new stage. It has to be on that stage,
And, like an insatiable actor, slowly and
With meditation, speak words that in the ear,
In the delicatest ear of the mind, repeat,
Exactly, that which it wants to hear, at the sound
Of which, an invisible audience listens,
Not to the play, but to itself, expressed
In an emotion as of two people, as of two
Emotions becoming one. The actor is
A metaphysician in the dark, twanging
An instrument, twanging a wiry string that gives
Sounds passing through sudden rightnesses, wholly
Containing the mind, below which it cannot descend,
Beyond which it has no will to rise.
It must
Be the finding of a satisfaction, and may
Be of a man skating, a woman dancing, a woman
Combing. The poem of the act of the mind.

The Modernists changed the definition of poetry for better or worse. The next post will look at  the further evolution of poetry: Postmodernism.

T. S. Eliot

T. S. Eliot

(Don’t hesitate to comment with your definition!)

Adapted from What is Poetry?, John Hall Wheelock, 1963, Charles Scribner’s and Sons

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Some Knowledge of Poetry Will Sweeten Your Tongue

May 31st: Happy Birthday Al!

This past April I had the pleasure of hearing Al Young, California Poet Laureate Emeritus, speak at a Poetry Night dinner and was reminded of the notes I took on his talk from Poetry Night 2009 where he describe a poem as “words confused with breath of Spirit.”

This is what we are looking for in our writing: the breath of Spirit. When “Spirit” breathes life into our work, be it a poem, a short story, a novel, an essay, or a memoir, we’ve got something that captures the reader’s attention—something that can’t be pushed aside for re-runs of CSI.

Poetry is to the rest of writing as piano is to the rest of music:  a single voice—complicated, layered, melodic—poetry blends with and lends beauty to all forms of writing. But poetry isn’t solely about pretty words, and flowery phrases. It’s a system for arriving at the essence of experience, the emotion of experience, that is captured in image. People have lot of definitions of poetry, but I want to emphasize :

Poetry is an imaginative awareness of experience expressed

            through meaning, sound, and rhythmic language choices so

            as to evoke an emotional response.

Poetry has been known to employ meter and rhyme, but this is by no means necessary. Poetry is an ancient form that has gone through numerous and drastic reinvention over time.

            The very nature of poetry as an authentic and individual

            mode of expression makes it nearly impossible to define.

This is what I want us to bring to our writing including our prose writing—the nature of poetry—that nature that evokes an emotional response.

Keeping in mind that “the reader will bring something you can never imagine to the page[i],” craft each sentence to maximize the images you wish to convey to allow the reader to unlock his or her experience. This is where emotional response comes from.

Young cautions us to “be careful what you say…your words will float and come back so you’ll have to buy them.”

(Adapted from a talk by Al Young Oct. 2009) Listen to Mr. Young’s poetry.

Prompt:   Write a poem, prose poem, flash fiction or scene in the voice of your ancestor. Observe how the nature of language is illusory, that all kinds of things are going besides the language. Dig deep into your collective ancestral memory. This isn’t something remembered, but something stored in your DNA! You have to feel this one, and you have to make the reader feel it. Don’t get caught up in the U.S. penchant for subjective personal experiences. “The I can be so underfoot.[ii]

Clarification:  this is going to be personal, but it isn’t going to be about you—it’s going to be a piece that transcends your experience and becomes everyperson’s. Make sense?


[i] Young 10/23/09 talk at Redwood Writers Poetry Dinner

[ii] ibid

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