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Archive for April, 2013

With the light at the end of the tunnel in sight, it feels like this month has gone on far longer than it has. It probably has something to do with me working on these poems for the Pulitzer Remix as far back as mid-January, so three solid months of focus is at play here. No excuses; writing is hard work, even the simplest, goofiest of found poems can be unusually taxing. Not taxing in a bad way (is there such a thing as good taxing?) but simply…

Well, work.

I am beginning to see interesting patterns in Cheever’s work, little quirks of mechanics that have had a tendency to force a certain voice to appear in the poems. He isn’t fond of first-person, nor is he fond of conjunctions, and he is awfully fond of showing off his vocabulary. His themes of suburban unhappiness and the desire of his characters to simply get away speak volumes about the author more than they do about the characters. Some days, some poems, it was a real chore to deliberately not let his darkness through, to create alternate worlds and narratives that serve as antidote to The Stories of John Cheever.

Here we go with this week’s roundup of found poems.

April 20: the type
Like a foodie insisting on using every part of the animal, I considered every printed page possible fodder for a poem, and this one came from the colophon. The subtle rhyme of “designed” and “bind” was only discovered after the fact. I probably shouldn’t admit that, it makes me sound so much smarter otherwise.

April 21: mondo-ku
Originally titled “haiku” because I couldn’t find an anagram with a unifying theme, these four little ku were constructed in this order, with their lines consecutive within the text. One of those exercises where I hoped I could show a variety of styles and themes contained within a single story.

April 22: s/w/him
A second poem created from the interweaving of pages from two separate stories, with a title that means something to me but I don’t know how it tracks with readers. Anyway, Cheever’s dark world wins out in this one.

April 23: Stilettos
Knives or shoes? A personal favorite, mostly because I liked having the interrupting format. And the last lines. Oh, hell, it was a lot of fun all around.

April 24: Tableau
My first ever attempt at a pantoum, with its unusual patterns of repetition. After seeing others in the Pulitzer Remix use this form I was determined to give it a go when the moment presented itself. This story was the first where entire lines jumped out at me. The fact that I was able to lay them down in the order in which they appeared in the text was pure luck. Not as subtle as some pantoum I’ve seen, but I’m happy with the results.

April 25: arroyo
I wanted something short, but heavy and suggestive with meaning. I limited myself to two pages, wrote a much long poem, and then whittled away at it until it was merely a whiff of itself. That mysterious promise at the end – even I what to know what it was!

April 26: Err
To err is human, but as these distorted images collected I discovered perhaps human error has been rather destructive. I jokingly refer to this as my “climate change poem” and if I’d been thinking I’d have posted it on Earth Day. This poem also has some very strong resonance with one of the first found poems I ever wrote near 30 years ago. I wish I still had that poem about dog college…

Next week, the final roundup, including my found poem taking from one of Cheever’s best-known stories, “The Enormous Radio,” which managed to make itself the perfect summation of Cheever, his stories, and the poems his stories inspired.

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Five unsettling days here in Boston, and somehow I didn’t feel as anxious as I could have. I’ve spent the weekend mulling this over in spare moments and I’ve come to the conclusion that, somewhere along the way, I decided I simply refuse to let fear rule me.

If there’s one thing terrorists, politicians, and the media have excelled in since 9/11 its been the increase in peddling fear for their own gain. It doesn’t matter to me if its an improvised bomb set off at public event or a pundit deliberately spewing slanted opinion or a politician trying to rationalize the sanctity of gun ownership in this country, these are all terrorists utilizing the language of fear for their own purposes.

And I’m done with all of it.

It sounds simple, to say you won’t be ruled by fear, and the amazing thing is that it is simple. I grew up in California and when I would tell people from other parts of the world where I grew up they would inevitably tell me that they couldn’t live under the constant threat that an earthquake could come without warning at any minute.

You know what? So could getting hit by a car crossing the street. Tripping and falling down a flight of stairs. A gas explosion. These things, and millions of others, could happen at any time. Maybe it sounds like a false sense of security to say that when you live under the constant threat of danger you become enured to it, but how could a person truly call it “living” to be in such a constant state of fear wondering when “the big one” is going to send your home state sliding into the sea?

Accidents happen. Tragedies occur. Horrific acts of violence are committed. Yes, there are ways to prevent and mitigate them, but should we fear them? Should we allow ourselves to live in fear?  Of course not. And there’s medical evidence to suggest that it can be both physically and psychologically damaging to your well-being to constantly worrying and living in fear.

In short, fear itself can kill you. How’s that for something to be afraid of?

I know people who were down near the Marathon last week who were fortunate enough to not be harmed; hell, my younger daughter was planning to be within a few blocks from there before her plans fell through. And later in the week, on Thursday night, I walked past the location where the MIT security officer was shot less than two hours before it happened. There was actually a moment where I almost had to double-back to work while on my way home which would have put me in Cambridge right when the convenience store up the street was being robbed by the alleged bombers. These are the “close calls” with recent events that were on my mind on Friday while I watched (as did the rest of the world) while the metropolitan area I lived in was shut down for an unprecedented manhunt. I went through a range of complicated emotions as the events unspooled but in the end, as eerie as the entire week was, I didn’t find myself once afraid.

Fear is the currency of those looking to hold power over our emotional well-being, and I’m no longer interested.

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Welcome to my third roundup of my participation in the Pulitzer Remix project, wherein 85 poets are turning Pulitzer Prize-winning works of fiction into found poems. Daily.

As with adopting any habit, getting to and through the three-week mark is the hardest. Writing daily isn’t a problem, but pushing to get through the third week’s worth of poems is/was a bit of a struggle. Actually, in anticipation, I had written the first, second and fourth week’s worth of poems for the project prior to the beginning of the month, because I wanted to save this third week as a sort of additional challenge. Call it “deadline found poetry” if you will.

I picked a hell of a week to make things harder for myself.

I won’t pretend that living in Boston this week hasn’t been oddly unsettling. I’m fine, my family is fine, my friends and co-workers are fine, but I know this isn’t a universal truth. It’s also a qualified “fine” because I know that sometimes traumatic events have a way of worming their way inside our heads to deliver unexpected or unconscious consequences.

Would it change the timber or tone of my found poems?

April 13: methane melee
Okay, I promised with the limerick in the first week that potty humor was bound to return. But I swear, I don’t go looking for these things! And once I was finished the title was, and most of these anagrams have been, a happy treat of coincidence.

April 14: Neu Noir
My tip-o-the-hat to Bukowski. There is a story about me as a teen having a conversation with a wino on the street back in 1979 who I swear was Bukowski before I knew who Bukowski was. Honest. A face like his wasn’t hard to forget. Anyway, as the poem started coming together I suddenly felt like perhaps, just perhaps, Buke was raising a bottle of rotgut from the beyond and saying “Eh, nice try, kid.”

April 15: Warm People
Hunting through the original story I wasn’t coming up with anything cohesive. Everything seemed so disjointed and in lumps. Finally the word “happy” jumped out at me and I started making connections with different clumps as miniature portraits. I also realized how miserable Cheever must have been, so many of his characters seem driven by sadness and compromise.  Write what you know?

April 16: matinee
And here we are, the day after the bombing, and I’m in Rome. I wanted something simple, and simple I got. It’s best to conjure up an Italian Neo-realist movie before you start reading this one for the full effect.

April 17: whim-sea
This was an “assignment” to take two stories with connected themes – “The Swimmer” and “The Ocean” – and blend them to see what came up. This roiling result came from the first pages of each story. It wound up darker than it seemed while I was culling words and phrases initially. See my “about me” page for the personal significance of swimming pools.

April 18: old toy fever
Where the heck did this come from? I was playing with structure and didn’t even see the possibilities of parallel narrative with a shared “sigh” between them. I’m leaving it stand for now, but if I decide to do anything with this poem in terms of future publication I will probably reformat it. Your thoughts?

April 19: Euclid’s Dry Cleaning
In the original story a sign on a truck (which became the title) prompts the protagonist to ponder his life as a geometric fantasy. I was much more interested in Euclid, and what would it be like if he were a dry clearer in our modern world. Or at least in Cheever’s world. Cheever didn’t make it easy, but he never made it easy for his characters. Still, I think I managed to make it work. At least Euclid sleeps well.

It’s a bit of a long home stretch for the rest of the month, but I have the last three days already set so there’s just this coming week to sort through and decide which things are working and which just don’t make the cut.

In the meantime, there’s plenty of other poetry out there. Why, just look at the Poetry Friday postings over at Live Your Poem. Irene’s got the roundup from the kidlitosphere.

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Well, the Pulitzer Remix is humming along and there’s just so much great stuff everyone is producing that I’m finding it hard to even skim through them all! It’s possible I’ll wind up spending the rest of this year casually reading all the participants’ submissions because I’m sure I’m missing real gems.

Of course, I’d love it if you discovered my gems first. Here’s what I’ve posted since last Friday, with notes about the poem’s origin or construction following the link.

April 6: The Babe of Clancy Tower
Yup, I went with a bawdy limerick. It was impossible to resist. The original story’s main character was a crusty old Irishman from County Limerick, so I just had to try! But in hunting out rhyming words I found that I had to shift the focus. The results are, well, what came together. (This will not be the last time bathroom humor appears in my found poems).

April 7: Halt
This one I think of as my dystopian poem. The source was a dark suburban tale that felt like Cheever exorcising some sort of inner demons. What I found within that were two clans of people engaged in some power struggle.

April 8: Cafe Rep
This was taken from the Preface to the collection, and as I was reading through it I wanted something that felt like a tone poem about Cheever’s New York. The duality of it – the “public” embedded within the “private” – surprised me when it was finished because I didn’t see it at first. One commenter called it “cinematic” and that probably best describes how it felt at the time I culled it.

April 9: untruths
One of the exercises I tried was to pick a page at random and limit myself to what was on the page. Page 341 being 90% dialog pretty much forced my hand: I had to find some new or different meaning in what was on the page. This mini play turned a domestic dispute into an absurdist farce.

April 10: geld
Another single-page-limited poem, and this one came together only after I started playing around with the original title. “The Pot of Gold” contains the word “geld” which is an old English word for “tax” and a German word for money. It’s also the root word for “gelding,” as in, to castrate a horse. Suddenly I saw the possibility of a poem set in the bedroom of a play by Moliere…

April 11: Withholding
Cheever used the word “cupidity” twice within two consecutive sentences, and I had to look it up because I’d never encountered it before. Excessive desire; greed, avarice. Huh. I was going to find a way to use the word when I then found Jupiter and realized I needed to extract Cupid and see what happened.

April 12: idle taste
Perhaps the most “poetic” of my found poems, simply because I wanted to find the best imagery to match the “dream.” I struggled for a long time trying to make a smoother transition between the wave and the mountain, then decided that in most dreams such transitions don’t exist.

This coming week, this is going to be a bit rough. In the past for National Poetry Month, while putting myself on a schedule to write three-plus haiku a day I found that there comes a point where the brain just starts to rebel. Things start to feel forced. Or at least they did for me. As I pushed along to get over the hump it started taking longer and longer to “see” poems within the text, and I started having doubts I could finish what I started.

How’d I do? check back next Friday and see!

In the meantime, Poetry Friday is happening elsewhere on the interwebs. Many fine people writing and sharing wonderful stuff. Check out the roundup over at Random Noodling.

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For the past couple-three years now I’ve celebrated National Poetry Month with a personal challenge of tweeting upward of three original haiku or limericks a day for a month; a fun way to play a little and keep my wordsmithery focused. I usually followed this up by rounding-up the week’s tweets in one place to share with those who might have missed them in my twitter feed.

This year I decided to take myself and my writing a little more seriously and joined Pulitzer Remix, a month-long project where poets use a Pulitzer Prize-winning work of fiction as the basis for creating found poetry. Each of the participants — 85 of us, or 82, 80-something — has committed to creating and posting a new poem daily for National Poetry Month, which is going to yield an insane number of new poems when it’s all over.

My source book is “The Stories of John Cheever” from 1979. When choosing a book I wanted two things: a book published during my lifetime, and a collection of short stories where I could use each as the artificial confines from which I had to choose my words. The process I used in approaching each poem varied. For some I would glance through the story looking for interesting words or phrases to latch onto and see what they suggested. In other cases I went in with an attempt to try a particular form, structure or style — some less successfully than others. And sometimes I started with a title and tried to build from there. I should note is that the titles of all my poems are taken from the original stories themselves, near anagrams. I say near because I don’t end up using all the letters but I tried to use as many as would make sense.

Our agreement with the project is that we not repost our poems anywhere else until after the project is open, so with my weekly round-up I’ll be giving some background to the poems I’ve composed along with links to the full poems so you can check them out.

And while you’re there you should check out all the great work my fellow found poets are up to as well.

April 1: come monday

This was an early poem and took a while to coalesce. I wasn’t actually sure what, if anything, it was building up to until I came upon the phrase “the noise” mirrored at the beginning and end of the original story. It then became a question of contrasts that were bound by another mirrored word – want/wanted.

April 2: truce

For this poem, I had underlined some sections I liked and then, as I read them straight through, felt they both had the feel of a fever dream mixed with a sense of urgency. I formatted it a couple different ways before I finally settled on the tight column. I wanted it to look rigid and stiff (like the narrator’s flesh) and yet running down, running dry.

April 3: cohorts

The final structure of this poem owes a debt to Maurice Sendak’s book “Alligators All Around,” one of the tiny books in the Nutshell Library. I was actively hunting down adjectives, not really sure what I wanted to do with them, and they started to pair up nicely. In Sendak’s abcadarian the Aligators are doing things that start with one letter of the alphabet — N, Never Napping, O, Ordering Oatmeal, etc — and the resonance of that scheme just popped out at me. Not a perfect fit, but once I found the word “cohorts” in the original title, and then the phrase “fond models” I felt I’d gotten as close as I could.

April 4: Mutineer

This is actually one of the last poems I wrote, and it was because I was having problems whittling down all the material I had uncovered. As with most “lost” things, sometimes in order to find what you’re looking for you have to stop looking. After a few weeks put aside, I opened the story to a random page and found a section offset from the rest of the story that had everything I needed. The title was a happy gift.

April 5: to grieve

It took a while, but I finally found a story with a line that worked out as an ending but at the beginning, and so I pulled an e.e. cummings. Or rather a cummings-lite. With this story I started to get bugged by the way Cheever treated female characters, so I wanted something a little less… hysterical?

But enough about me, there is literally a sea of poems over at Pulitzer Remix, so if you really want to sink your teeth into a whole mess, I mean a monumental passel of poetic goodness, just head on over and jump right in! And in case you weren’t aware, there’s another whole roundup of poetry happening over at Robin Hood Black’s blog Read. Write. Howl.

 

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