Friday, July 1, 2016

Poetry Friday: In the style of Kay Ryan

     Our last "in the style of" challenge was e.e. cummings, a poet of invented words and experimental forms, a writer who easily charms me, and often transports me. This time, our poet model is Kay Ryan, U.S. Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner, who says in this Paris Review interview:

     "Prose is practical language. Conversation is practical language. Let them handle the usefulness jobs. But of course, poetry has its balms. It makes us less lonely by one. It makes us have more room inside ourselves. But it’s paralyzing to think of usefulness and poetry in the same breath."

     And yet, I find it amusing that when I read Kay Ryan's poetry, she seems to be playing with this idea of usefulness. Her poems are often skirmishes with well-worn phrases---she calls herself "a rehabilitator of clichés"---and she deploys flatly-voiced "advice" so wryly you have to read her poems over to see where the joke is. It's like she's saying: why, here's a good (useful) idea---whatever the haha hell that is. 

In the same interview, in fact, she says:

 "what interests me is so remote and fine that I have to blow it way up cartoonishly just to get it up to visible range."

Yes. I see that. And I found reading the entire Paris Review interview a pleasure and a learning experience and very welcoming. Climbing inside a poem of hers, in order to "echo" it, however, was damn hard. 


The first fear
being drowning, the
ship’s first shape
was a raft, which
was hard to unflatten
after that didn’t
happen.

There is slant, internal rhyme there---unflatten and happen---and repetition of words---first fear, first shape---and of course, that arresting phrase "the first fear being drowning."  Okay, I could work with that. Or so I thought.

To begin, I tried to riff off that opening phrase, and immediately foundered on the rocks of "drowning." Every kind of "-ing" that meant death seemed to already be a form of drowning---asphyxiating, choking, strangling---because breathing is the foundation of life, and anything that stops it is death. So...drowning seemed the plainest, most Ryan-like word to use, and death, obviously was the "first fear" and I had no interest in writing about second or third ones, and yet---I couldn't use her opening exactly, could I? She had laid her planks so precisely that if I did, I didn't know where I would stop copying and start riffing, and I might just end up with the same poem, word for word. Upon reading---and re-reading---her poem, it just didn't seem like it could be written any other way. (Read it here, now, and see if you agree.)

Then, thank goodness, I recalled the part of the interview in which Ryan talks about her time working with prisoners at San Quentin.  She says:

"I’m rather shocked to look back at the way I thought of the prisoners at that time—as people with a lot of experience. Just because they’re killers and robbers and whatnot doesn’t mean they’ve had a lot of experience. It doesn’t take very long to kill somebody."

Well, I thought, the same could be true of my foundering effort: it doesn't take very long to kill a draft, either. Especially when the well-experienced Ryan has drowned every word you could possibly use. Haha. 

That did it. I decided to go another way to echo this poem: fear of emotional death, or to put it plainly, shame, or fear of failing. 

This is a very long lead up to a very short poem. But echoing Kay Ryan will do that to you. No wonder she chooses to only write poetry. It is usefully sharp and murderous. 


"It doesn't take very long to kill somebody"

The first fear
being shaming, 
the poet’s first line
was a circle, which 
was hard to deflate
after that didn’t 
take. It’s cumbersome 
to have to scrub one’s blood
from words, so hard to
hide later, 
drubbing one’s thumb
into a nose—
making things
more lovable.

---Sara Lewis Holmes, all rights reserved

My Poetry Sisters each chose other Kay Ryan poems to "echo"---and pulled the challenge off much better than I did. Go see:




Poetry Friday is hosted today by Tabatha Yeatts




Friday, June 3, 2016

Poetry Friday: A Pantoum Fit for a Harpy

This month's image comes from Tanita Davis, who photographed this magnificent sculpture of a harpy at the Kelvingrove Museum in Scotland.



"The Harpy Celaeno," by Mary Pownall Bromet*


Her name is Celaeno, which means "storm-cloud," as the harpies were originally that: female weather spirits. Later, they became known as agents of justice and revenge, often with an ugly streak and potent stench, but I see no foulness here---only focused power. Power that challenged me to do it justice.

It took me several tries to meet her challenge. At first, I wrote this creature a free verse poem, but she was having none of that. Choose a form! she cried. Let me breathe my fury into a known shape, like wind into sails!  Chastised, I began again, this time with the repeating, swirling lines of a pantoum to guide me.  I got lost, several times, but she steered me true to the end.

I'm particularly happy with the title. Women, unlike winds, are "nor fair, nor foul" as legends try to make us. Why not just be magnificent?


Nor fair nor foul
(a Pantoum for Harpies everywhere)

In her naked marbleness she’s stern knots,
 even to her stomach’s creases—She’s a woman
-tall instrument, stroking a blood tune from
wrong-doers. Celaeno wrings life from life;

Even to her stomach’s creases—she’s a woman.
With wings close to her ears, furiously beating
wrong-doers, Celaeno wrings life; from life she
tears justice; squeezes her breast until it cries milk;

With wings close to her ears, furiously beating
clouds, fingernails like tractor screws, she harps
tears. Justice squeezes her breast until it cries. Milk
and honey people the earth but women are storm

clouds. Fingernails like tractor screws, they harp
at naked marble. They’re stern, not
honey, they people the earth. Women are storm
instruments, stroking a blood tune.

----Sara Lewis Holmes


My poetry sisters also wrote to this image, and yowza! We stirred up some powerful poems:

Laura
Liz
Tanita
Andi
Tricia
Kelly


Poetry Friday is hosted today by Jone at Check It Out.


*Tanita passed along the following information about the artist:
 Mary Pownall Bromet was an English-born Lancashire lass, b. 1890, d. 1937. She was a pupil of the great Rodin, and studied with him for four years around 1900... Much of her work ended up in private collections, or smaller British galleries so there's not much record online. She was known for her technical prowess (which netted her the Watford War Memorial job) and was commissioned to do a great many bodies/faces.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Poetry Friday: A Tritina for Dickey Chapelle

The challenge this month was to write a tritina. It's a form with no end rhyme; instead the last words in each line repeat in a compact, cyclical way.  All three words appear again in the last, stand-alone line. Like this:

A
B
C

C
A
B

B
C
A

A B C (in any order)

The only restriction was that we had to draw our three end words from this common pool: stone, cold, mouth, hope, thread, sweet. 

Other than that, the poem could be about anything. (Which, frankly, only makes things harder. Where to begin? What to say in such a short form?)

Fortunately, I was being haunted by an idea already. It was a story I'd read in the Washington Post about Dickey Chapelle, the first American female photographer killed in action.  She covered Algerian rebels, Fidel Castro, the Vietnam war, and WWII, including Iwo Jima, Okinawa, and Guam. She died in Vietnam, accompanying a Marine patrol.

I could've written a poem inspired by any one of her photographs in the Post article, but the picture of men digging a grave on Guam sparked an opening line first. It made me think of how she lived, photographing death over and over.

I'm honoring Chapelle's copyright by not posting the photo on my blog without permission. So...

Please go look at the photo here before reading the poem. (Thanks.)



A Tritina

There’s nothing cold
on Guam, even the mouth
of a grave sweats, my sweet

boys; shutter the body, tout suite;
Dip the film in chemicals, cold;
It’s death to fill LIFE’s glossy mouth

but do not swear, when your mouth
burns mine, caramel sweet,
that it’s easier to die from a cold

than sweet rot, cold fame, war’s mouth.


---Sara Lewis Holmes (all rights reserved)



Here's the full piece in the Washington Post.

Many more photos are here in the archives of the Wisconsin Historical Society.

And this story--which rings true, but lists only two books as source material-- reveals what a complicated person she was.  

***One note on the poem: as far as I can tell, Chapelle may never have sold a photo to LIFE. Still, I believe the use of the magazine's name here is accurate because she submitted her work to them (and was rejected) several times.

My poetry sisters wrote tritinas pulled from the same set of words. Wow. The interlinking themes and images and ideas are as good as the stark differences in how we each used those words.

Go see:



Poetry Friday is hosted today by Sylvia at Poetry for Children. 

Friday, April 1, 2016

Poetry Friday: Drs. Sora and Swallow






This month's inspiration was provided by Poetry Sister Laura Purdie Salas. She says "These are two parts of a 7-part ceiling fresco at the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis. I spoke at a children's literature conference there a couple of weeks ago and loved huge, colorful ceiling in Terrence Murphy Hall. The art is by Mark Balma (markbalma.com) and is called The Seven Virtues (it's a Catholic university). I loved the colors, the surrealness of the images, and the fairy tale oddness of them."

Yes, me too, Laura! I was also curious about frescos, so I read up on their construction at the University of St. Thomas website. Then I took a gander at the seven sins, and the seven virtues---especially, Temperance, which is the subject of this fresco, and in the end...

...my eyes were caught by those realistic birds in the corners of each fresco. WTH?

Turns out all the birds depicted in the seven frescos are species who take sustenance from the Mississippi River.



Analysis (expositors of sacred writ to the ignorant*)

Drs. Sora and Swallow
don’t know what to make of it

Neither does Herring Gull
called in to consult

nor Golden Plover
(a solid second opinion)

The birds need the river
to flow wrathfully 

slicing the land before snaking,
sloth-like into silty deltas

They envy those who consume
art; not shad or lice

They lust for full communion, 
not half-bodies, imploring

They cannot eat stones
glutton-fed paint by boar’s hair brushes

What of greed? they pick
at the edges. What of pride?

Every stroke is permanent
What is temperate about that?

---Sara Lewis Holmes (all rights reserved)


*By the way, the title comes from the article on the University site, which explains that ancient fresco makers took their art very seriously, as they were the “expositors of sacred writ to the ignorant, who know not how to read.”


To see what my Poetry Sisters made of this fresco (or the other choice, a fresco about Hope), follow these links:

Liz
Laura
Tanita
Andi
Kelly
Tricia


Poetry Friday is hosted today by Amy at The Poetry Farm.


Friday, March 4, 2016

Sedoka: Two Halves Make a Whole

Whirling head poem.  

That's how one site translates the ancient Japanese poetry form, the Sedoka  (旋頭歌)  

Don't you love that?

The idea of Sedoka is that two poems (each of the syllable count 5-7-7) are put together, and the whole is a more complete picture than either half.




Bowl of cherries, ripe.
Best to eat them, one by one
By oneself, with attention.


Bowl of cherries, ripe.
Best to pie them, all in all
Before you get too mind full.

----Sara Lewis Holmes (all rights reserved)


The Sedoka can also be used as a form of dialogue, with one poem talking to the other. That includes head-whirling joke-telling, right? (Please forgive me.)


Waiter, there’s a fly.
There! in my soup, back-stroking!
Put him back in the punch line.

Doctor! There’s a joke
There! In my coffee, sinking!
Milk it, my dear one. Milk it.

Mortician! There’s no
brevity in my wit; could
rigor mortis have set in?

Scribe, a eulogy!
There! in my plump thesaurus!
It’s dying a thousand deaths.

---Sara Lewis Holmes (all rights reserved)




My Poetry Sisters all played with Sedoka today, too. Go see what wonderful wholes they made:

Liz
Laura
Tricia
Andi
Tanita
Kelly


Poetry Friday is hosted today by Linda at TeacherDance.