December 27, 2021

Submission Deadline Extended to January 4

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
   Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
   The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.
-- Alfred Lord Tennyson

The holidays and the year end are busy times. I'll (hopefully) be traveling at the end of 2021 and (hopefully) returning a few days into 2022. As such, I won't really be looking at poems in this last week of the year or doing much on a computer.

So, I will extend of December call for submissions from our prompt by a few days to January 4, 2022.

We all need a little extra time. And maybe when the year is actually over, your thoughts on the end of 2021 or the end of any year will be different.

I hope all of you are well, and well cared for, warm and safe and writing poems. And maybe one will come our way.

Image by Engin Akyurt from Pixabay

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December 21, 2021

Enter Winter

Stonehenge on a Winter Solstice

The Winter Solstice has just slipped into place and it may look and feel like winter where you are now or it may be the start of summer if you are in the Southern Hemisphere.

In years past, I have usually posted something about winter and poetry. Around the start of December, my analytics usually show that people search and find posts and prompts about winter. So, this year I'm going to start the season with this anthology post of past winter posts.

Do you ever have a mind of winter? I posted once about that idea and Wallace Steven's poem "The Snow Man"

I have created mini-winter poem anthologies too. I posted a few winter poems by Mary Oliver and others in 2016 and some poems to move you into winter on the solstice.   

There are some thoughts on winter by Williams, Thoreau and Shakespeare and Emily Dickinson's poem about the snow that never drifts - which I will admit to still not quite figuring out, though I enjoy rereading it.

I think I have written more than once about Robert Frost's solstice when he stopped in the woods to watch the snow fall. That is one of the best-known American poems. I found it interesting that he sat down to write it on a warm June day.   

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

Somehow winter haiku always seems very appropriate to the season - spare and quiet like the day after a snowstorm.  

You should not forget in this time when some people, due to holidays, the new year, and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) fall into a depression that tending your inner garden in winter can be aided by reading and writing poems.    

You can browse all my posts about winter at my tag for"winter."

I hope you have a good winter season filled with health, joy, and poetry.

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December 10, 2021

Emily's 191st Birthday

“We turn not older with years, but newer every day.”

Hailee Steinfeld as a modernized Emily on Dickinson (Apple+)

Emily Dickinson, the middle child of Edward and Emily Norcross Dickinson, was born on December 10, 1830, in the family home on Main Street in Amherst, Massachusetts. 

Wild nights – Wild nights!
Were I with thee
Wild nights should be
Our luxury!

She celebrated 55 birthdays before her death in 1886. After her death, her family members found her hand-sewn books, or “fascicles.” These fascicles contained nearly 1,800 poems. 

I heard a Fly buzz - when I died -
The Stillness in the Room
Was like the Stillness in the Air -
Between the Heaves of Storm -

The Eyes around - had wrung them dry -
And Breaths were gathering firm
For that last Onset - when the King
Be witnessed - in the Room -

I willed my Keepsakes - Signed away
What portion of me be
Assignable - and then it was
There interposed a Fly -

With Blue - uncertain - stumbling Buzz -
Between the light - and me -
And then the Windows failed - and then
I could not see to see -

While Dickinson was extremely prolific as a poet and regularly enclosed poems in letters to friends, she was not publicly recognized during her lifetime. The first volume of her work was published posthumously in 1890.

I'm Nobody! Who are you?
Are you – Nobody – too?
Then there's a pair of us!
Don't tell! they'd advertise – you know!

How dreary – to be – Somebody!
How public – like a Frog –
To tell one's name – the livelong June –
To an admiring Bog!

She admired the poetry of Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning and John Keats. She was dissuaded from reading the verse of her contemporary, Walt Whitman, because she was told that his poetry was disgraceful.

Because I could not stop for Death –
He kindly stopped for me –
The Carriage held but just Ourselves –
And Immortality.

We slowly drove – He knew no haste
And I had put away
My labor and my leisure too,
For His Civility – 

We passed the School, where Children strove
At Recess – in the Ring –
We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain –
We passed the Setting Sun – 

Or rather – He passed us –
The Dews drew quivering and chill –
For only Gossamer, my Gown –
My Tippet – only Tulle – 

We paused before a House that seemed
A Swelling of the Ground –
The Roof was scarcely visible –
The Cornice – in the Ground – 

Since then – 'tis Centuries – and yet
Feels shorter than the Day
I first surmised the Horses' Heads
Were toward Eternity – 

Emily lost several close friends and several family members, including her mother in the 1880s which seemed to have a negative effect on her health. She also reported severe headaches and nausea in her letters. Her deathbed coma was punctuated by raspy and difficult breathing. This has led researchers to conclude that she died of heart failure induced by severe hypertension.

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December 2, 2021

Prompt: Year End


As a year ends, we often look back on what we have experienced. That review may bring to mind what we have accomplished and good memories. It may also include regrets, things undone, and things we wish we could forget.

In a poem from 1784, "New Year’s Verses" by Philip Freneau, he blesses whoever came up with the idea of a year.

Blest be the man who early prov’d
    And first contriv’d to make it clear
That Time upon a dial mov’d,
    And trac’d that circle call’d a year;

I'm not sure if all of us would bless that calendar maker. Some might instead curse.

December is filled with holidays that mark the Winter Solstice and the end of the year. Though some of us in the North might be sad to see winter arrive, since ancient times both solstices were viewed as a celebration. Starting on the winter solstice, the days get longer moving to the vernal equinox and the start of spring.

From the Scandinavia Yule, to Hanukkah, to a bonfire on Mount Fuji and the Hopi tradition of Soyal with its Sun Chief,  the day of the "sun's rebirth” is often marked with fire and light.

For this month's writing prompt, we look at "Burning the Old Year" by Naomi Shihab Nye (from Words Under the Words: Selected Poems) which seems to follow these fire traditions. In her short poem, "Letters swallow themselves in seconds" and notes "sizzle like moth wings" in a "swirling flame of days." 

Read the full poem. Is Nye is actually burning something or is this a metaphor using the idea of burning? What does she mean when she says, "I begin again with the smallest numbers?" Why is it that "only the things I didn’t do" are what will finally "crackle after the blazing dies?"  (If you have thoughts on this poem, please post a comment below.)

The end-of-year celebration that seems closest to Nye's poem is from England. The modern-day (and possibly short-lived) “Burning of the Clocks” festival in the seaside town of Brighton takes fire as a necessity for lighting the dark days of winter. People wear clock costumes and carry paper lanterns to the beach to put in a bonfire. Do they symbolize wishes, hopes, fears, or Time itself?

In ancient cultures, marking time for farmers planting crops and tending animals was important and treated at times as religious. Winter was dangerous and the return of light and warmth was critical to their survival. The Neolithic who constructed Stonehenge did so to monitor movements of the sun and seasons and it probably had religious uses too. At the winter solstice, where the tallest trilithon at the monument once stood is where the sun would have set between in its narrow gap.

Our prompt for December is to write a poem to close the year, but this is not "a happy new year" poem prompt but more of a look back at a year - this one or some past one. Would you burn some or all of it? Do you see the light of the solstice? How do you close "that circle call’d a year?"

Submission deadline January 4, 2022.     Please view our submission guidelines.


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November 12, 2021

Who Is Rupi Kaur?

A friend who is not a poet or a poetry reader asked me what I thought of the poet Rupi Kaur. I said I had never heard of her/him. She said she was surprised. "I saw her on TV and she has sold millions of books and hits the New York Times best-seller list." 

I had to find out more. 

Rupi Kaur by Baljit Singh.jpg
Image by Baljit Singh - rupi kaur inc., CC BY-SA 4.0, Link

Rupi Kaur is an Indian-born Canadian poet, illustrator, photographer, and author. Born in Punjab, India, Kaur immigrated to Canada at a young age with her family. She is 29. 

She began performing poetry in 2009 and got popular on Instagram, eventually becoming one of the most popular "Instapoets." She has three collections of poetry.

After completing her degree in rhetoric studies she self-published her first collection of poems milk and honey in 2014 and it sold more two million copies and was on the NYT's bestseller list every week for over a year. It has been translated into over thirty languages. Her second collection the sun and her flowers was published in 2017 and debuted as a #1 NYT bestseller. 

Performance and social media savvy is a big part of her popularity. She has performed her poetry across the world and she is also known for her illustrations, design and art direction.

Bestsellers and poetry are not usually connected. Fame for poets can be both a plus and a minus. Popular poets are often dismissed as less than serious writers.

Her poetry has been described as "bite-size, accessible poems. Their free verse poetry eschews difficult metaphors in favor of clear, plain language."

On Wikipedia: "Her popularity has been compared to that of a popstar and Kaur has been praised for influencing the modern literary scene, although Kaur's poetry has had mixed critical reception and been subject to frequent parody; she has been dogged by claims of plagiarism by fellow "Instapoets" and harassment by internet trolls. Kaur has been included on congratulatory year-end lists by the BBC and Elle; The New Republic controversially called her the "Writer of the Decade"."

November 3, 2021

Prompt: From Shakespeare

Ophelia by John Everett Millais - Google Art Project

The plays of William Shakespeare continue to be relevant because his characters' motivations, problems, and emotions are universal. 

When I retired, I felt like Prospero at the end of The Tempest. In one job I had as an administrator, there were some days when I was in a scene from Julius Caesar.  In college, I had a number of young Hamlet moments. In high school, I identified with Juliet and Romeo depending on the relationship. 

I read a poem - Ophelia's Technicolor G-String: An Urban Mythology  - about a reimagined modern-day Ophelia. In that poem, the sad, naive, and mistreated girlfriend of Hamlet is launched into modern times. She became quite different in our time and seems much happier. 

Oh Hamlet, if you could see me now
as I pump and swagger across that stage, cape dripping to the floor,
me in three-inch heels and a technicolor G-string—
you would not wish me in a convent.
They’ve made me a queen here, married me off
to a quarter bag and a pint of gin.

It could be our model poem, but I started reading more about Ophelia and looking for other poems about her. My search turned up a few allusions to Polonius' daughter but no other model poem candidates.

So, for this prompt, I chose only to use Shakespeare's own words. It is the abridged love letter that Hamlet wrote to Ophelia that is intercepted by her father. Polonius reads it - well, some of it - to his wife Gertrude in Act II scene ii. 

“To the celestial and my soul’s idol, the most beautified Ophelia”

“In her excellent white bosom, these...
(here Polonius interrupts his reading and "spares" Gertrude the sexy stuff)

  Doubt thou the stars are fire,
  Doubt that the sun doth move,
  Doubt truth to be a liar,
  But never doubt I love.
  Thine evermore, most dear lady,
  whilst this machine is to him.

Before I get to our prompt this month, some more about Ophelia.

She is a naïve girl who wants to please both her father and her boyfriend. Shakespeare couldn't write about there being pre-marital sex between his two young aristocratic characters, but there are reasons to believe that they had sex though her father had warned her not to do such a thing. For instance, Hamlet says "Shall I lie in your lap, my lady?"and "Do you think I meant country matters?” (The latter generally interpreted to mean "Did you think I was talking about sex?. It is also a pun on a C-word expletive) A more definitive piece of evidence comes when Ophelia "goes mad" after her father's murder. One of the mad songs she sings includes the line "Before you tumbled me / You promised me to wed’” (IV.v.). 

Ophelia is usually seen as a symbol of femininity and Hamlet unfairly takes out some of his aggression toward his mother on her. There is plenty of evidence that Hamlet is the cause of her madness. Modern-day feminists view Ophelia as trapped in a patriarchal society that requires subjugation to her father and her brother -at least until she is married, 

Another interpretation bringing her into more modern times is that Ophelia's madness is really that she suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and deserves empathy rather than our pity.  

In "Speaking of the future, Hamlet," Mary Jo Bang imagines the character's future, though not so far in the future to be in our time. 

...My mother, the Queen, will want only
my father, the King. All will be want 
& get. And I will be me. And O, O, 
Ophelia—will be the essence of love. 
The love of a sister. Or, the love of the
brother. Compassion. Forgiveness... 

In "Wild Bees," James K. Baxter briefly imagines our own Ophelia not drowned but  "...on a tarred bridge plank standing / Or downstream between willows, a safe Ophelia drifting / In a rented boat."

In Meghan O'Rourke's "Ophelia to the Court," we wonder why she is in court and saying "First he thought he had a wife, then / (of course) he thought he had a whore."

For our November call for submissions, we are looking for poems where a character(s) from Shakespeare is brought into our time or the voice of the poem identifies with some aspect from the character's life. Make it clear which character (play?) you are alluding to, and if you use lines from the play indicate that with quotation marks or italics.

Need to brush up on your Shakespeare?
Wikipedi has a list of characters from the plays to get you started.

Submission Deadline: November 30, 2021

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October 27, 2021

Why Does Some Music (and some poetry) Stick in Our Brains?

Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

I listened to an NPR episode of Shortwave on why music sticks in our brains and it made me think that some of the current research on music also applies to poems. The connection is emotion. Emotions are important to memory in general and songs - and I believe many poems - can make us feel a range of emotions that help our brain encode information better in our brains.

It was about the neuroscience behind those moments when you surprise yourself by still remembering a song.

Some elements that aid memory are rhyme, repetition and rhythm, which are important because they help us encode information better. 

Music always has an auditory stimulus. Poems sometimes have an auditory memory helper when we hear them read aloud. 

They found that we tend to learn the chorus of a song first - because we hear it over and over in a song. 

In school, children are often given a song memory hook - for example, learning the alphabet "song."

When a song enters your brain, neural activity in your brain stem and into the primary auditory cortex where the music gets processed. Lyrics mean that the language center of your brain will also get involved and tone and fluctuations in speech are also being processed.

If you are also reading the lyrics or following sheet music - or reading a poem as you hear it spoken - then the visual processing center of your brain also gets activated. 

Music also activates your motor cortex, which coordinates body movements. Do you ever tap your feet, sway with a poem, or dance? Probably not.

We know that when we enjoy music, our brain releases dopamine in the pleasure centers of our brain. I'd like to know if that happens with some poetry. With no research to back me up, I think sometimes it does. Deep brain dopaminergic systems like the basal ganglia get activated by narcotics and a great meal. And some areas of the brain, like the amygdala, attach those emotions to our memories.

The part of the research that really connects for me is how music and poems can help us retrieve other memories. Music may be able to connect those bits and pieces of other memories because our brain is able to pull that information from all types of stored spaces because we encoded it in different ways by listening, singing, reading lyrics and dancing.

Some people with Alzheimer's disease who played an instrument when they were younger can still play it, even if they can't remember other simpler things from their past. 

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October 9, 2021

Lennon and Carroll

Today is the birthday of John Lennon. I love The Beatles' music and I love a good song lyric, but I have never really been totally comfortable with the idea that song lyrics are poetry. There is "music in poetry" but poetry read aloud to music doesn't really enhance either form for me. That is odd because in my teen years even my English teachers were using Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, and The Beatles lyrics as a way to get us into poetry. And it worked. I first tried writing poems then and I tried putting words to music with my newly-acquired guitar and a few chords.

I have written elsewhere about Lennon and how critics reviewing his two books of stories and drawings sometimes assumed he was influenced by James Joyce and Lewis Carroll. Joyce was not an influence but Carroll definitely was an influence starting at an early age.

His 1967 song "I am the Walrus" was inspired by Carroll's poem, "The Walrus and the Carpenter." 

Carroll writes:

The time has come,' the Walrus said,

     To talk of many things:

Of shoes — and ships — and sealing-wax —

      Of cabbages — and kings —

And why the sea is boiling hot —

      And whether pigs have wings.'

"To me, it was a beautiful poem," Lennon has said. "It never occurred to me that Lewis Carroll was commenting on the capitalist and social system. I never went into that bit about what it really meant, like people are doing with Beatles' work. Later I went back and looked at it and realized that the walrus was the bad guy in the story and the carpenter was the good guy."

In Lennon's song, after the "Everybody's got one" lines at the end, you hear some spoken lines. I found the lyrics online and you can play detective identifying the sources and meaning of the "gibberish" as the song fades out.

Thou hast slain me
Villain, take my purse
If I ever
Bury my body
The letters which though find'st about me
To Edmund Earl of Gloucester
Seek him out upon the British Party
O untimely death
I know thee well
A serviceable villain, as duteous to the vices of thy mistress
As badness would desire
What, is is he dead?
Sit you down, Father, rest you

The first poem we know of by Lennon is "The Land of the Lunapots." It is fourteen mostly nonsensical lines (not a sonnet) and clearly imitates Carroll's "Jabberwocky" particularly in the word inventions like "wyrtle" and "graftiens." 

"Jabberwocky" begins " 'Twas brillig, and the slithy toads..." John's poem begins:

T'was custard time and as I
Snuffed at the haggie pie pie
The noodles ran about my plunk
Which rode my wrytle uncle drunk

Bot of Lennon's books and songs such as "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" show Carroll's influence and even straightforward imitation. Here is a bit of his poem "I Wandered." t

Past grisby trees and hulky builds
Past ratters and bradder sheep...
Down hovey lanes and stoney claves
Down ricketts and stickly myth
In a fatty hebrew gurth
I wandered humply as a sock
To meet bad Bernie Smith

Back in the day, John sometimes was described as the serious Beatle, but he was really perhaps the silliest and funniest Beatle. It is so very much the bad-boy-prankster Lennon that the third part of his song "I Am the Walrus" was something he wrote after he learned that a teacher was having his students study Beatles songs for their meanings. He decided to include nonsense lines such as “elementary penguins”, “sitting on a cornflake”, and “crabalocker” and he later said, “Let them work that one out.”

I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together
See how they run like pigs from a gun, see how they fly
I'm crying

Sitting on a cornflake, waiting for the van to come
Corporation tee-shirt, stupid bloody Tuesday
Man, you've been a naughty boy, you let your face grow long

Mister City p'liceman sitting, pretty little p'licemen in a row
See how they fly like Lucy in the sky, see how they run

Yellow-matter custard dripping from a dead dog's eye
Crabalocker fishwife, pornographic priestess
Boy, you've been a naughty girl, you let your knickers down

He did care about his lyrics. A song like "Across the Universe" shows a more poetic rather than nonsensical approach. 

Words are flowing out like endless rain into a paper cup
They slither wildly as they slip away across the universe
Pools of sorrow, waves of joy are drifting through my opened mind
Possessing and caressing me

Images of broken light which dance before me like a million eyes
They call me on and on across the universe
Thoughts meander like a restless wind inside a letterbox
They tumble blindly as they make their way across the universe

Sounds of laughter shades of life are ringing
Through my open ears inciting and inviting me
Limitless undying love which shines around me like a million suns
It calls me on and on across the universe

In a 1970 interview, he said, "It's one of the best lyrics I've written. In fact, it could be the best. It's good poetry, or whatever you call it, without chewin' it. See, the ones I like are the ones that stand as words, without melody. They don't have to have any melody, like a poem, you can read them." 

It is sweet that in 2008 NASA transmitted the song as part of an interstellar message to the star Polaris, to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the song's release, the 45th anniversary of the Deep Space Network, and the 50th anniversary of NASA itself. It was the first time a song was deliberately transmitted to deep space to travel across the universe.

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October 6, 2021

Prompt: Menu Poems

When you hear the word "menu," your first thought is probably about a restaurant's list of the dishes available. "Menu" does have other usages including almost any list or set of items, activities, etc., from which to choose. A friend might ask, "What's on the menu for the weekend?" Websites almost always have a menu of options available to a user. Screens of all sizes have menu options, such as those for Netflix and streaming services. 

The word "menu" is mid-19th century French and it meant any small, detailed list. It came from Latin minutus meaning "very small." Lists of prepared foods for customers go back much further to the Song dynasty in China. The original French menus were presented on a small chalkboard. In French, that chalkboard was "a carte" so foods chosen from that bill of fare are described as "à la carte" or literally, "according to the board." Today, à la carte items are generally specials not on the main menu.

I tried to find a menu poem to use here as a model without success. That surprises me since menu language is filled with hyphens, quotation marks, puffery, and foreign words that might appeal to poets. The majority of foreign words are French and so we have menu items such as "spring mushroom civet," "pain of rabbit," and "orange-jaggery gastrique.

The closest I found to menu poems are list poems (sometimes called catalog poems). A list poem can be a list of single words, or it could be a list of similar sentences. But a list poem should not be just a list. The best of them use items that have a relation to each other, or tell a story or perhaps offer commentary on a subject.

Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself" and Allen Ginsberg's "Howl," are list poems. I found Anne Porter's "List of Praises" and James Tate's "The List of Famous Hats" but they aren't what I imagine a menu poem to be. I found "A Little Menu" by Don Mee Choi, but it is still basically a list poem.

A list poem is a good form for young and new poets since it is an easier form to follow. I found a collection for young readers, Falling Down the Page: A Book of List Poems by Georgia Heard. I like the poem by the editor which uses a recipe for its list.

"Recipe for Writing An Autumn Poem" by Georgia Heard

One teaspoon wild geese.
One tablespoon red kite.
One cup wind song.
One pint trembling leaves.
One quart darkening sky.
One gallon north wind. 

Another poem that takes the list form a bit further is "My Love Sent Me a List" by Olena Kalytiak Davis. It is also a "found" poem as it uses lines from Shakespeare's sonnets. It begins:

O my Love sent me a lusty list,
Did not compare me to a summer's day
Wrote not the beauty of mine eyes
But catalogued in a pretty detailed
And comprehensive way the way(s)
In which he was better than me...

Since menus usually have some explanation of each item, I thought that "Objects Used to Prop Open a Window" by Michelle Menting comes closer to the menu form I imagined. 

The poem moves from literal objects, 

Dog bone, stapler,

cribbage board, garlic press

     because this window is loose—lacks

suction, lacks grip.

to objects that can't literally prop open a window.

Velvet moss, sagebrush,

willow branch, robin's wing

     because this window, it's pane-less. It's only

a frame of air.

So what kind of menu poem are we looking for this month? You can start with a list of some kind be it names, places, actions, thoughts, or images. Since a menu is about options, that should be a consideration. The grand language of the restaurant menu can be employed. The branching sub-menus we find online are also a possible structure. Most list poems don't rhyme, but that might be something to consider. You might also use an additional form, such as it being a sonnet, found poem, etc. Again, what makes a list or menu poem more than just a list is what the poet does with the items beyond mere listing.


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October 5, 2021

2021 National Book Award Honorees for Poetry

The 2021 Longlist for the National Book Award for Poetry has been announced.

Nine of the ten poets on the 2021 Longlist are first-time National Book Award honorees. Two of the poets have been honored by the Pulitzer Prize, and two have received Whiting Awards. Other prizes that have recognized the Longlisted poets include the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, the Shelley Memorial Award, and the Pushcart Prize. One of the books comes from a university press and nine come from independent publishers, including Parlor Press, with its first title recognized by the National Book Awards. The list features poets in all stages of their careers, including four debut poetry collections.

  • Threa Almontaser, The Wild Fox of Yemen, Graywolf Press
  • Baba Badji, Ghost Letters, Parlor Press
  • Desiree C. Bailey, What Noise Against the Cane, Yale University Press
  • CM Burroughs, Master Suffering, Tupelo Press 
  • Andrés Cerpa, The Vault, Alice James Books 
  • Martín Espada, Floaters, W. W. Norton & Company 
  • Forrest Gander, Twice Alive, New Directions 
  • Douglas Kearney, Sho, Wave Books 
  • Hoa Nguyen, A Thousand Times You Lose Your Treasure, Wave Books 
  • Jackie Wang, The Sunflower Cast a Spell to Save Us from the Void, Nightboat Books

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September 28, 2021

Eating Salad Drunk: Haikus for the Burnout Age

Here's a poetic oddity. Eating Salad Drunk: Haikus for the Burnout Age by Comedy Greats is a collection of haiku written by comedians. The contributors include Jerry Seinfeld, Michael Ian Black, Aubrey Plaza, Margaret Cho, Maria Bamford, Ray Romano, Aparna Nancherla, Ziwe Fumudoh, Chris Gethard, Sasheer Zamata, Colin Mochrie, and Zach Woods.

I’m huge on Twitter.
―An ancient proverb that means
Lonely in real life.

   ~ Joel Kim Booster

The forward to the book points out that posts on Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok and probably most social media tend to be short. A few words, possibly devoid of "proper" grammar and structure or seconds rather than minutes of vide. Brevity rules. So, one might expect that short poetry forms, like haiku, would also be popular. 

Jokes are also typically something funny pared down to its essence. Asking comedians to write haiku sounds like it might work. I'm not sure about the "burnout age."  

My girlfriend and I
have a lot in common

   ~ Martin Urbano

The book is nicely illustrated with black and white drawings by New Yorker cartoonist Emily Flake.

I limit myself
to one cup of coffee each
five to ten minutes.

   ~ Alyssa Limperis

The book is probably more of the kind you buy as a gift, only semi-serious about the peotry, for poetry friends. All the author proceeds go towards Comedy Gives Back, a nonprofit that provides mental health, medical, and crisis support resources for comedians. The collection was curated by Gabe Henry, manager of the popular Brooklyn comedy venue Littlefield.

Unicorns are loved
But narwhals really exist
And nobody cares 

   ~ Liz Magee


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September 22, 2021

An Ode "To Autumn"

Just before the equinox in 1819, a 24-year-old John Keats wrote the ode "To Autumn." There is a good chance that you read it in some English class. It appears in almost every literature anthology. 

He wrote in a letter about the day that inspired the poem. "Somehow a stubble plain looks warm — in the same way that some pictures look warm — this struck me so much in my Sunday's walk that I composed upon it."

Keats did not consider 1819 to be a great year, particularly for his poetry life. He wrote to his brother, "Nothing could have in all its circumstances fallen out worse for me than the last year has done, or could be more damping to my poetical talent."

That's ironic because now most critics call that year his "Great Year," or "Fertile Year" because Keats wrote almost all his great poetry that year. In the spring and summer, he had written "Ode to a Nightingale," "Ode to a Grecian Urn," and "Ode to Psyche."  The last of the odes was "To Autumn.

Keats died from tuberculosis less than two years later at age 25.

"This grave contains all that was Mortal of a Young English Poet Who on his Death Bed,
 in the Bitterness of his Heart at the Malicious Power of his Enemies
Desired these Words to be engraven on his Tomb Stone:
  Here lies One Whose Name was writ in Water. "

To Autumn 
by John Keats

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,

   Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;

Conspiring with him how to load and bless

   With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;

To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees,

   And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;

      To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells

   With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,

And still more, later flowers for the bees,

Until they think warm days will never cease,

      For summer has o'er-brimm'd their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?

   Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find

Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,

   Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;

Or on a half-reap'd furrow sound asleep,

   Drows'd with the fume of poppies, while thy hook

      Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:

And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep

   Steady thy laden head across a brook;

   Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,

      Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.

Where are the songs of spring? Ay, Where are they?

   Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—

While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,

   And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;

Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn

   Among the river sallows, borne aloft

      Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;

And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;

   Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft

   The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;

      And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

more about the poem

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September 13, 2021

Two Americans in Paris

I had lunch recently with friends outside at Bryant Park in New York City and we sat near a statue of Gertrude Stein. The statue portrays Stein looking quite Buddha-like, which might be because she was a philosophical touchstone for the group she dubbed "The Lost Generation" in Paris in the post-WWI days.

I have been reading about Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas since that lunch visit with her. Stein was born in Pennsylvania and grew up in Oakland, California. Alice was born in San Francisco and grew up in Seattle, Washington. They met in 1907 in Paris and moved in together three years later becoming lifelong friends and lovers.

I believe I only learned about the couple back in the late 1960s when people talked about Alice B. Toklas brownies. I remember seeing the film I Love You, Alice B. Toklas in 1968. It is a mostly-forgettable romantic comedy starring Peter Sellers and very much a Hollywood version of the 1960s counterculture. The title refers to Alice's recipe for hashish (cannabis) brownies and the film doesn't get into the lives of Alice or Gertrude, but that allusion led me to look again at some of Stein's writing, particularly the poetry.

I knew of Gertrude Stein only as someone who mixed in with Hemingway and the other Americans in Paris back in that time. I discovered some of her writing in college, but her poetry baffled me. Avant-garde was not for me.

Here's a poem of hers.

A Carafe, that is a Blind Glass

A kind in glass and a cousin, a spectacle and nothing strange a single hurt color and an arrangement in a system to pointing. All this and not ordinary, not unordered in not resembling. The difference is spreading.

A longer poem of hers, such as "Stanzas in Meditation," was just more lines of confusion. It is the kind of poetry that often makes people feel stupid and makes them not want to read more poetry.

Here is the opening of "Hotel François 1er." 

It was a very little while and they had gone in front of it. It was that they had liked it would it bear. It was a very much adjoined a follower. Flower of an adding where a follower.
    Have I come in. Will in suggestion.
    They may like hours in catching.
    It is always a pleasure to remember.
    Have a habit.
    Any name will very well wear better.
    All who live round about there.
    Have a manner.
    The hotel François Ier.
    Just winter so...
I just don't know what to do with those lines. And having read a pretty good number of her poems, I recognized how much she loved repetition and playing with words and phrases (and hated commas) and didn't seem to see much of a separation between poetry and prose.

Here is the start of "New."

We knew.
    Anne to come.   
    Anne to come.   
    Be new.
    Be new too.
    Anne to come   
    Anne to come   
    Be new
    Be new too.
    And anew.
    Anne to come.   
    Anne anew...

But Gertrude Stein was certainly central to the Parisian art and literary world and Alice B. Toklas, her lifelong companion and her "secretary," became the people to know. Expatriate American and English writers and artists from far and near attended her soirees. Hemingway, Fitzgerald, T.S. Eliot (Did he wear a suit to the parties?) and Sherwood Anderson claimed influences from her. James Joyce wrote his stream-of-consciousness Ulysses after meeting with Stein. Coincidence? Perhaps, or perhaps a meeting of like-minded writers. Stein also helped launch art careers for Henri Matisse, Juan Gris, and Pablo Picasso.

More than Stein's writing, I think her legacy will be around those who came to her at  27 rue de Fleurus in Paris. Tourists still visit the location in the 6th arrondissement on the Rive Gauche. ("La Rive Gauche pense, et la Rive Droite dépense”). 

Their relationship is an interesting story and I read a long time ago the "autobiography" and enjoyed that much more than her poetry. But maybe I would have to hear her read her poems aloud in that Paris apartment surrounded by Eliot, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and the others to get the full effect. And a few of those fudge brownies might have helped my comprehension too.

Alice was not as outgoing as Gertrude and she was much less famous, but she was there for everything that went on in that apartment and with Stein. 

In 1933, Stein published The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. It is an odd memoir of her life in Paris in that it is written in the voice of Toklas rather than her own. Whose autobiography is this? The book was a bestseller and Stein - and Alice to a lesser degree - become well-known figures.   

When Alice B. Toklas was asked to write a memoir, she refused. But she did agree to write The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book. I'm not a cook but I paged through the book at the library and it is at least partially a memoir of the people and the times when those recipes were used.  

Alice's recipes are not only Parisian but are inspired by her travels. The section titles suggest what you will find. “Dishes for Artists,” tells about her trying to find the perfect recipe to fit Picasso’s peculiar diet. And yes, her “Haschich Fudge” is included. She says that eating it often means “ecstatic reveries and extensions of one’s personality on several simultaneous planes.”

Stein was supposed to have said as soon as she met Alice that they would be together forever. And they were, in fact, they lived together until Stein’s death in 1946 and are buried side by side in Paris’s Père Lachaise Cemetery.

Kathy Bates as Gertrude and Owen Wilson as time-traveling writer Gil
getting some feedback on his novel in Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris.

In my ADD, stream-of-unconsciousness, and generally enjoying the adventure of going down rabbit holes, all this led me to rewatch Woody Allen's film Midnight in Paris (It is on Amazon Prime - free if you are a Prime customer.). It is such a beautiful film and it is the closest I will come to seeing Hemingway, Scott and Zelda, Gertrude Stein, and all that artsy crew back in time. I've heard Woody talk about the film and he admits it is more nostalgic than historic. Hemingways was much more boorish and Zelda was not as crazy day-to-day, but he went with our impressions of them and that time that has become an alternate reality. Movies do that. 

I suspect that if I was there in the 1920s, it might not seem like such a moveable feast. But maybe if Gertrude was reading her poetry aloud with Zelda at my side and a few of Alice's brownies inside me her poems might have made a very different impression on me. 


An earlier version of this article appeared at One-Page Schoolhouse

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September 5, 2021

Prompt: Letter to the Future

Writing a letter
Photo: Petar Milosevic

There are a group of poems collected at about climate change, rising global temperatures and natural disasters. We are in the season of tropical storms and hurricanes in North America and recently an earthquake in Haiti. The poems collected there all try to humanize the climate crisis. The poem that caught my attention was “Letter to Someone Living Fifty Years from Now” by Matthew Olzmann. It is about climate change but it is the title that made me think of this prompt.

Write a poem addressed to a person or the people of the future. It doesn't need to be about the environment. The topic may not even be global. It might be personal. It might not be 50 years in the future. I can imagine writing a poem for my one-year-old granddaughter when she turns 21. It might be a letter to your future self.

Whatever your focus, some other poems in that collection might be inspiring. “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Glacier (after Wallace Stevens)” by Craig Santos Perez borrows Stevens' structure. Another poem by Matthew Olzmann also uses the epistolary form. An epistolary poem, also called a verse letter or letter poem, is one in the form of a letter (epistle) His poem "Letter Beginning with Two Lines by Czesław Miłosz," is a letter to now and the future. Its topic is clear from its opening lines:
You whom I could not save,
Listen to me.
Can we agree Kevlar
backpacks shouldn’t be needed
for children walking to school?

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August 26, 2021

A Former Free Verse Poet and a Cat

Archy and Mehitabel (styled as archy and mehitabel since they couldn't use the shift key on the typewriter to make capital letters ) are two fictional characters created in 1916, by Don Marquis, a columnist for The Evening Sun newspaper in New York City. Archy is a cockroach. Mehitabel is an alley cat. The characters appeared in hundreds of humorous verses and short stories in Marquis’ daily column, "The Sun Dial". 

Don Marquis said that Archy the cockroach was a former free verse poet who "sees life from the underside now." Mehitabel was a friend with questionable morals. She said that she had been Cleopatra in one of her former lives.

His columns were humorous but also had social and political undertones. Archy said, "a louse i used to know told me that millionaires and bums tasted about alike to him.” 

Archy produced free-verse poems which I read in seventh grade when I discovered a book of them in my school library. I was not a big reader of poetry and I'm sure that most poetry people don't rank Archy's writing very highly, but I was attracted to the oddness of it and the satire.

Archy tried punctuation after being criticized for not using it and  I liked this poem's start:

say comma boss comma capital
i apostrophe m getting tired of
being joshed about my
punctuation period capital t followed by
he idea seems to be
that capital i apostrophe m
ignorant where punctuation
is concerned period capital n followed by
o such thing semi

Both characters had been reincarnated at the low end of the social scale. They roamed the streets of New York City in that time between the world wars. Marquis wrote the columns with them for 10 years and then collected them in book form.

Archy used the newspaper boss' desk to write in the after hours.

i climbed upon my boss his desk
to type a flaming ballad
and there i found a heap grotesque
of socks and songs and salad

Read more about Don Marquis and read some of his work at


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