Twice in One Week: Poetry Overload

Twice in One Week?

As discussed last week, I’m putting up two poems. Yes, poetry is happening twice this week. Getting back on track with the poetry making.

OK, I said I was doing two poems last week and now it’s happening this week instead. I’ll get this worked out. I want to type all sorts of justifications and explanations, but what would be the point? Either I’ll keep writing poems or I won’t. The schedule is arbitrary and in my head so I’m mostly disappointing myself if I don’t keep to it. I’d like to keep to it, but I can’t beat myself up if it doesn’t happen. It’s not like publishing has a history of delayed projects.

Besides, there are so few of you reading this that I hope you’re just happy that content appears. I’ve enjoyed writing the poems although the pressure is something I could do without. But, without that pressure I don’t know that I would write them. The classic double-edged sword.

I have been working on my road-trip novel more frequently, too. I doubt that will ever see the light of day but it’s under my skin and I want to get it done. I would really like to get back into writing stories and this novel needs to be finished before I can do that.

So yeah, get working, don’t worry about others, just produce.

The Prompt

Since I didn’t get a double poem out last week I had my kids pick again. Man they are good at this.

  • Teenager
  • Musician
  • Surprise party
  • Secret meeting

The Poem

The Overheard Remark

Purchases of extra fuel tanks
Deflated her checking account
So the final payment
On the hot-air balloon

Leaving home behind
She decided she would never
Set foot on land again
Becoming homeless and free

The decision was made
Last night
When she overheard her mother
Remark about her foolishness
About balloons
About the need
To take life more seriously

She’d show her mother
Who was the fool
And who would be happy
Instead of miserable

Poetry Hiatus Unintentional

Hiatus: It Happens

I didn’t mean to take a hiatus. It just happened. The kids have started more extracurricular activities; my wife’s job has had a number of late nights; I had been sleeping poorly. I’ve not mentioned it, but I use a CPAP device to sleep. My mask had gotten worn and the filter needed changing so the machine wasn’t working properly. I knew I was keeping my wife awake so I reverted back to sleeping on the couch for long stretches. Which leads to bad sleep. And typically a few hours on the couch, a few hours in bed, which is not a full night of rest. We’ve sorted that out and I’m sleeping again.

As we rush into March and the month of birthdays (myself and both my kids) I didn’t want to fall further behind. I have last week’s poem written (it’s actually the one that’s in this post) and this week’s written (it’ll go up on Friday) and then I’ll get on track for next week. We’ll have another vote coming up and if it’s only Thom and I who vote, then hopefully the two of us agree.

The larger point is, take care of yourself. If you aren’t getting rest your work, your life, will suffer. You might be driven to write every day. But you also might need to take some time off. Don’t get to the point like I did where my body forced a break. I’m enjoying writing poems every week this year but I can’t make myself sick doing it.

Speaking of poetry, I’m a big fan of Nancy Hightower‘s poetry and she has an excellent book of poems out right now called The Acolyte. I published a few poems of Nancy’s in Electric Velocipede so I may have a bit of a bias but I’m ok with that.

My Prompt for Next Week

Just like last time I had my kids pick the prompt cards from the Storymatic for me. My daughter selected the situation cards (the first two prompts) and my son selected the character cards (the last two prompts). I’m excited for this week. Not that the prompts haven’t been fun before but these are really evocative to me.

  • Homeless person
  • Owner of a hot air balloon
  • The overheard remark
  • Bounced check

Seriously, how great are those? I’m having the kids pick every time from here on out.

My Poem from Last Week

One roll of film
Filled with wonder and beauty
Proof that he was the artist

For missing one step
That was not his fault
Others took his accolades

From former colleagues and peers
His life’s work
Used flashbulb dead

Neither happenstance or unwanted
Happier than ever
Since the decision to be alone

Not even the postal service knocks
His perfect solitude
Ruined like an opened darkroom door

An envelope and a small package
Signature required
Conversation optional

To receive past due honors
Apologies for old transgressions
In the package a roll of film

Selection Is In and a New Poem

Not much of a selection (Photo of Empty bread shelf at supermarket by Maksym Kozlenko from Wikimedia Commons)The Selection is In

There were two paltry votes (one of which was made by me!) to make a selection of which poem I’ll revise for an end-of-the-year collection. Thank goodness they were for the same poem or I’d have to flip a coin. No matter, we’ll do better next time I’m sure.

Our selection was from week three, the poem about the guest taxidermist. Obviously I’m fine with the choice since it was the one I voted for. When I revise the poem I’ll talk about the process and try to articulate why I select different words and phrases.

My Prompt for Next Week

This week for something different I had my kids pick the prompt cards from the Storymatic for me. My daughter selected the character cards (the first two prompts) and my son selected the situation cards (the last two prompts). I’m excited for this week. Not that the prompts haven’t been fun before but these are really evocative to me.

  • Trespasser
  • Recluse
  • Undeveloped roll of film
  • Long awaited invitation

My Poem from Last Week

All of the Children Are Grown Up

Yesterday Bobby was the servant
We made him get us lemonade and snacks
Under the hot sun
He spent the afternoon spritzing a cool mist
And adjusting umbrellas to block the blaze

Ours moms just watched
As they haggled
Over items priced for a quarter or less
Which they no longer wanted
But felt some value could be had

Today I am the servant
Making Kool Aid (grape)
With too much sugar
The twins like to feel grit between their teeth
Inside I missed the incident outside

Some baseball cards went missing
Aiden, one of the twins, calls Bobby a thief
Alyssa, the other twin, calls for a full investigation
The cards are sitting next to me
On the table were Aiden put them

I transition from comfort to heat
Drinks and cards on my tray
Innocently I ask if they are Aiden’s
Must have forgotten them inside
The twins look mollified and drink in silence

I whisper to Bobby that he’s now in my debt
To be collected at some future date
Announce to the group that I am the host
As it’s not appropriate to have servants these days

(Photo Empty bread shelf at supermarket by Maksym Kozlenko from Wikimedia Commons)

Discipline is Lacking or Why This Week’s Poem is Late

The journal I write my poetry long hand. Is that's not discipline, I don't know what is!

I Lack Discipline So the Poem is Late

I used to have discipline. At one time in my life I worked full time as a computer programmer in Manhattan. I also published a small but critically acclaimed speculative fiction magazine. On top of that I earned a Masters in Library Science. I completed the degree in three semesters plus one summer. I was working full time and going to school full time. I never fell behind in my reading, I was never late on assignments. I responded to story submissions and published two issues of Electric Velocipede each  year.

But lately I’ve had trouble motivating myself after I get done with the work day and do my share of the family duties/fun. Most nights I’m all alone by 10:30p. Plenty of time to get a few hours of writing/editing in and then off to bed for a full night’s sleep. What tends to happen is that I cannot create enough inertia to get off the couch and there is where I fall asleep for a very uncomfortable nap.

Which means I basically take two naps each night instead of one solid sleep. It’s not good.

This week all that poor sleep really caught up to me. During the day, during the evening, I’ve had trouble focusing. I’ve been fighting headaches. I feel exhausted all the time. My brain is trying to make me take care of my body and get some darn rest. My brain needs me to be more disciplined about sleep.

I’m not a good one for rest. I often say “Sleep is for the weak.” At this point in my life I have to admit that I am weak. I need sleep. I need rest. This week’s poem is done and now I have two days to get another done.

I can do it. I know I can. It just takes discipline.

My Prompt for Next Week

  • Servant
  • Subject of an investigation
  • Garage sale
  • Debt

My Poem from Last Week

In the unending quest for perfection
Time off isn’t a reward
It’s just stress with a view of the beach
Harder to be away
Only to return
Face the pants on fire pretender
Who made a shambles in your absence

Promises like shattered bones
The pain starts long before the break can be seen
The usurper sits on a throne of lies
Familial connections like an angry carapace
Preventing any chance of redemption

Best hope is a Pyrrhic victory
Your fading scars serve as a reminder
Battles are rarely worth fighting
To stay behind your desk
Only to wither and be forgotten

Revisions – First Drafts Need Help

Always give your writing a good revision or two (or three or more)Revisions Are the Rule

So I’ve been posting draft poems so far this year. As I admitted last week, they’re not very good. So this week I opted to write out my first draft on paper (see image) so that I could make revisions as I went. I purposefully did not erase text but rather crossed it out so that it was still discernible so that I could see my thought process.

It’s still not a great poem, but I think it’s better. Putting it down on paper made me think more about my word choices than if I had the unlimited virtual page in front of me.

I don’t know if that would work for me with longer pieces. The thought of writing a novel longhand makes me slightly ill. However, I could write out stories and scenes/chapters that were problematic so that I could see the work differently. It was also easier to isolate myself and eliminate distractions if I was working on paper.

Revisions Are Not Optional

Yes, that’s restating my original point, but I don’t want people to miss it. If you think you can write a perfect draft first time through, you’re wrong. If you think you can craft an acceptable draft the first time through, I’ll contend you’re still wrong.

Every piece of writing needs revisions.

Every piece of writing can be made better.

Your writing is not an exception to this.

Quick reminder if you missed the first week’s post:

  1. I’m using the Storymatic for writing prompts
  2. Posting new words on Mondays for people playing at home
  3. Previous week’s poem also posted on Monday
  4. At the beginning of the next month we’ll take a vote on which poem to revise for a small collection at the end of the year

My Prompt for Next Week

  • Liar
  • Person who should not be in charge
  • Vacation
  • Broken bone

My Poem from Last Week

Friendship blossoms
Between odd fellows
Divergent paths
One, a scholar
The other, a dropout
But the bond between
Grows strong

The scholar
Jibes, taunts, ridicule, curses, pushes, threats
It’s almost too much to bear

The dropout
Empathy exists
But the words really aren’t there to console

A ceremony
With cap and gown
Only one attends
Continues on the scholar’s path

There are few options
For the dropout
Watches his friend leave
And puts his back into his labors

The bond between them not broken
But communication withers
Drops into the deep hibernation of winter

Years pass
Marked by more ceremonies for one
Children and wives for the other
Despite his success
The scholar struggles
Can’t outstrip the razor’s sting of memory

A knock
Not a phone call
When the hour is past polite conversation
The night is pleasant
They enjoy a walk in the night air

The words still aren’t there for the dropout
Made worse by lack of common interests
But the scholar sees
His friend is content and satisfied
In ways he can never be

Writing Poetry is Difficult – Week #3

2016 Writing Resolution Week #3

OK, it’s week three of my resolution to write a poem a week and so far so good! This might be the longest I’ve ever kept a resolution. While keeping my resolution hasn’t been too difficult so far, I’m not exactly writing stellar poems so far.

Since these are first drafts (what I think of as proto-drafts) they sort of tell a story and don’t necessarily evoke any sort of emotion. They’re serviceable, but they need work. The word choice isn’t necessarily great and the imagery is virtually non-existent.

The poems I published in Electric Velocipede always evoked something for me. I think of Shira Lipkin’s “Wool and Silk and Wood” from issue #15/16. That’s probably the perfect example of what I liked in a poem. The poem is no longer online, but you can find in The Best of Electric Velocipede that was published by Fairwood Press a year or so ago.

It’s More Difficult Than People Might Think

Poem writing is hard, very hard. Anyone can string words together, but to write a poem that means something? You’re going to have to put some effort into it. I’ve thought about this a lot. It’s somewhat of a risk to put out super-rough not-very-great poems on my website but I’m hoping to be able to show a sort of process of editing and revision over the course of the year.

Quick reminder if you missed the first week’s post:

  1. I’m using the Storymatic for writing prompts
  2. Posting new words on Mondays for people playing at home
  3. Previous week’s poem also posted on Monday
  4. At the end of the month we’ll take a vote on which poem to revise for a small collection at the end of the year

My Prompt for Next Week

Got it? Good. Here are this week’s words:

  • Scholar
  • Person who is bullied
  • Long walk with an old friend
  • Knock on the door at two in the morning

I really am choosing these at random. This one feels like a set up, but it’s not.

The Poem from Last Week

Here’s last week’s poem:

Normally he was the last person we’d invite to the taxidermist’s guild
Years of requests signed ‘The Guest’ had gone unanswered
A new member taken in by the strength of ‘The Guest’s’ resume
Replied that ‘The Guest’ could be a guest at the next banquet

The new member was a legacy showing promise
Many of the guild’s awards and grants are named after his mother
So we assumed that he knew about ‘The Guest’
Or at least would be able to see through the deceptive façade ‘The Guest’ built over the years

But, the legacy’s mother had passed on and so we’ll never know
What was learned and was is a mystery
Still, even an untrained eye should see the shoddy work
So much glue instead of the true art of taxidermy

And so the banquet’s night comes
Everyone waits on tenterhooks for ‘The Guest’ to arrive
The legacy now regrets his choice but there is nothing to be done about it
Perhaps it’s for the best

There is the hope that ‘The Guest’ once inside
Will decide it wasn’t worth the effort
To sit and listen to old arguments over where the bodies come from
Or what the best filler material is

I’m certain that ‘The Guest’ will find everything ever so entertaining
And long for a second visit and an eventual membership
Once you are a guest at the guild
Becoming a member gets easier and easier

Imagine the delight of the crowd when ‘The Guest’ arrives
Fresh taxidermy in hand like a bottle of wine
No one brings gifts to the banquets
Least of all a mounted trophy

But the horror of it; the enormity of it all
Is the necklace of the legacy’s mother
Glued to the neck of the preening swan ‘The Guest’ struggles to carry
So large in life and so very awkward in death

A family heirloom thought lost for decades
The legacy remembers ‘The Guest’ visiting the home
Trying to woo his widowed mother
Hoping to gain access to guild through marriage

The taxidermy is ugly
There is nothing sleek or beautiful about the swan
It looks roughed up; beaten and worn
Like an old chew toy left out in the rain

Before ‘The Guest’ could present the swan to the crowd
He was ushered outside
The legacy tore his mother’s necklace from the swan
And banished ‘The Guest’ from ever sitting foot in the guild

‘The Guest’ lived out his days yearning to be accepted
But not understanding how to belong

Poem Resolution Week Two

2016 Writing Resolution Week #2

Here we are. On week two of my resolution to write a poem a week and I’ve done it! Only 50 more to go! Quick reminder if you missed last week’s post:

  1. I’m using the Storymatic for writing prompts
  2. Posting new words on Mondays for people playing at home
  3. Previous week’s poem also posted on Monday
  4. At the end of the month we’ll take a vote on which poem to revise for a small collection at the end of the year

My Prompt for Next Week

Got it? Good. Here are this week’s words:

  • Guest
  • Taxidermist
  • Glue
  • Mother’s necklace

The Poem from Last Week

That thing almost writes itself! OK, here’s last week’s poem:

You never daydream that you’ll fail
It’s always sunshine and fluffy clouds
Things you’d never admit to anyone
The confidence portrayed in your imaginary life
Success is a foregone conclusion
Fame, even, is a known quantity

So when you take a leap for those dreams
Because someone says you have talent
An undeveloped cynicism would save you
But people wouldn’t bother to say things
If they weren’t true

You leave everything behind and hit the road
Singing everywhere you can
Believing you are a step or two away from stardom
When in reality you are moving in the opposite direction
You’ve been in a freefall since you dropped out

Then begins a series of disastrous episodes
While in a diner restroom the band abandons you to the check
To start something else with a new singer
Somehow you are convinced this is a chance at a new start
Despite no money or transportation
So you take a ride with a stranger
Which ends in predictable ways you never considered

Still you consider all motion to be forward
Feeling that your goal is just around the corner
Perhaps in the next town or tomorrow’s show
You never were a good student
But life is changing that for you

A new band never materializes
And open mic nights don’t pay the bills
The one thing you feel qualified to do that earns money
Is not something you want to keep doing
Without a diploma it’s hard to get work other places

More than a year has passed since you left
And you’re back where you started
Further behind than if you stayed
Tomorrow is the last day of school
Everyone you know is taking the first steps of a new adventure
And yours might as well be over

2016 Writing Resolution: One Poem Each Week

My New Year's resolution: The Storymatic

My 2016 Writing Resolution #1

In the past, I made your typical New Year’s resolution. You know: lose weight, eat better, exercise, get more sleep, etc. Most of the time I failed to keep said resolution. I feel like they consist of things I should be doing anyway and I often fail at them only to make the same resolutions again and again. This year I’m taking a different tack. My resolution is to write a poem each week in 2016.

I’ve already been writing a poem each week for about four weeks now, so it’s approaching habit but I want to sustain it for the course of the year. Now, do I have ideas for 52 poems? Not really. That’s where the Storymatic comes in to help me keep my resolution.

The Storymatic

Often billed as a party game, I’m using the Storymatic as a series of writing prompts. The box contains two sets of cards: gold cards, which set who the protagonist is; and copper cards (I think they’re yellow and orange, but hey…) that set the scene/setting. You draw two of each cards (I draw them with my eyes closed) and there’s your writing prompt.

I remove the cards from the box so I don’t draw them again. There are hundreds of each type of card. There are also wild cards, but I ignore those.

Also, you’re supposed to abide by the Two Laws of The Storymatic:

  1. Your main character must change from the beginning of the story to the end of the story.
  2. You cannot kill your main character.

I’m not necessarily following those as I write poems. I generally spend some time coming up with an opening line and then I write until I’ve covered all four cards and it feels like I’ve got a complete arc written.

My Prompt for Next Week

For example, these are this week’s cards (also in the photo):

  • Dropout
  • Singer
  • Bad Directions
  • Last day of school

The poems will be published on Monday along with my new words if you want to play along. This week got away from me so it’ll be just a few days from now. Yes, I’m already veering towards failing at this resolution. Actually, that’s not true. I’ve been doing the writing, just not writing this post. But since getting the post up on Monday is part of the resolution, I need to get on it better. Things should get on a more regular schedule after this week.

At the end of each month I’ll take a poll as to which poem you think I should revise. These poems are first drafts. They are not rough drafts, i.e., I have not done any revising or editing on them. You’re getting what I put down on the page as it comes to me.

The Prompt for Last Week

Last week’s words:

  • Person who refuses to fit in
  • Aging clown
  • Restaurant
  • Attacked by squirrels

The poem:

There was a time when we weren’t pariahs
When the young and old looked forward to seeing us
We were a star attraction
Crossed over to television
Could find work at the drop of a hat
That was the world I wanted

Fourteen-year-old runaway looking for excitement
Learning from some of the best
The artistry of the makeup
The creation of a persona
Becoming someone else and becoming free

We were something to behold
Holding audiences in thrall at every stop
Whether it was under the lights
Or when the lights were turned out
We found something everyone could enjoy
Men, women, whatever, we never turned anyone away

They took us to restaurants
Invited us into their homes
Asked us to perform at their schools
We knew it would bring people to the main show
So we happily said yes
As did our audience

For a long time life was beautiful
Then people couldn’t tear themselves away from their screens
They’d rather watch a video of a squirrel attack
Than watch a genius create
New worlds whole out of cloth
Open their minds to amazing experiences

The show is filled with motorcycles
Extreme sports
Dangerous animals
There’s no room for someone funny
No need to bring a smile to someone’s face
When you can shock them instead

My mentor encouraged me to look into parties
And haunted houses
Trade in on the scary angle
Practically begged me to try something new
Afraid my path would mirror his
End in death and disease

Changing who I am won’t avoid death
Changing won’t avoid disease
Becoming something new to make more money
Isn’t better if it makes me less happy
Struggling is part of life
I won’t change just to make things easier