Tag Archives: Poetry

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

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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.

 

 

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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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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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