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Well, THAT happened!

Thirty days, thirty poems extracted from “The Stories of John Cheever” as part of the Pulitzer Remix Project. As we hit the final few days it seemed to me as if we all taking a final sprint for home. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that many of my fellow remixers might have been holding back their one final poem as a sort of send-off. For my part, I knew going in I wanted the last poem to be one of Cheever’s most famous: “The Enormous Radio.”

Here’s how the month ended for me.

April 27: hushed sect

To be honest, the was the sloppiest of all my poems. For the project I preferred to work from photocopies that could travel with me, that I could pick up and toy with while commuting or wherever I happened to have a few moments’ free time. For this particular poem I worked at home, straight from the book, trying to be as spontaneous as possible. I had edited and saved but failed to post this on the day it was due, only realizing it was still in “draft’ form the next day. As for the poem itself, I was intrigued by the portrait that emerged early on and felt determined to make the end line up.

April 28: Oy, Death

This is, I think, the very first found poem I completed back in January. I was looking for patterns in language to play with, repetition that I could bounce off of, and when “over” and its multiple meanings came into play I knew I had found what I was looking for. I had three different ways of formatting the poem in mind before finally deciding on a very measured approach.

April 29: the blow

Outside of dialog, Cheever wrote very little first-person narratives, so when I landed on his (and my) opening line I knew I had to use it. And when you look at that blunt line you realize there’s no flowery prose that you can hide behind; what follows must be equally terse. Again, I take no credit for Cheever’s dark demons.

April 30: hearts unmoored

I walked away from and came back to “The Enormous Radio” several times because I wasn’t able to make found poetic sense of it. Each time I thought I’d found something I could build on, only to have it diverge into a yellow wood and leave me at the fork. Then I realized the two-part structure, the first with its emotions and the second with its repercussions. The word “it” became pivotal and where I had been shying away from the word “love” throughout I realized I had to use it here. In the end it becomes a farewell to the project, a tribute to all who ventured along this journey, and a sad commentary about Cheever himself.

Where I had my fears about committing to so huge a project going in, I’m happy to see those fears we unfound… okay, I freaked out a little half way through. I had some gaps and doubts that I could keep pulling out poems of a decent quality. I was buoyed along by fellow remixers in the comments who, when i was sure I had just posted the worst dreck imaginable, were able to find glimmering facets I hadn’t even noticed. Though I wasn’t part of the facebook group I really felt like we were a solid clan, working the edges of our found efforts from ragged to crystalline. I’m proud to have been a part of such a huge and committed bunch of participants and to whatever comes next.

A chapbook maybe?

So here we are, post-National Poetry Month (or ponapomo, if you will) and as much as I’d like to keep going I do have some other pressing writerly deadlines and project to finish. I hope you’ll take the time to visit not only my links but to check out some of the other 2400+ poems at the Pulitzer Remix site and see what I’ve been talking about.

And in the kidlitosphere, Poetry Friday continues, hosted this week by Elizabeth Steinglass. Plenty of goodness there, probably none of it based on the work of John Cheever.

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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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May came, and for all the people it took with it, it couldn’t have left too soon. I was beginning to wonder if these people knew something the rest of us hadn’t figured out yet, perhaps getting an early start on the Mayan 2012 rush. Then Ray Bradbury left us and I had a strange feeling like there really was a connection.

The Transit of Venus.

It visits twice, eight years apart, with a century-plus in between pairings. Charging across the sun, I imagined the Greeks seeing the goddess flying across the sky, making a brief visit to check in and then departing on her journey across the universe. The hop-skip-jump of imagery made it all seem so logical: Venus was a tour bus dropping off its last group of passengers back in 2004, refueling, then picking up the next tour group this year. The announcements went out in May and those with tickets climbed aboard.

the transit of venus

dashing across the sun
first to off-board

returning eight years later
to pick up new travelers

a final boarding call
was sent out in may

collecting visionaries
for a galactic tour

writers and artists
musicians, teachers, dreamers

traveling time’s distorted rails
will return home refreshed

their brief two weeks
a mere century on earth

their visions rekindled
to guide us further

beyond the sun
beyond our imaginations

At the same time I realized all this Laura Purdie Salas offered up a nebula-sized bit of inspiration for her weekly 15-words-or-less challenge. I went with an acrostic I thought appropriate.

raygone
(22 august 1920 – 5 june 2012)

beyond

rockets
and spaceships

daring visionaries
birth entire
universes that become our
radiant

yesterdays

Godspeed, galactic travelers.

Bonus time! Found this awesome NASA video of Venus zipping past the sun. Stunning.

In a smaller universe called the Internet, it’s Poetry Friday. Head on over to Jama’s Alphabet Soup for more.

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For a third year (third, right? Not fourth?) I’m tweeting haiku thrice daily on Twitter. There appears to be less twitter poetry this year, perhaps the idea of 140 character poetry and stories has played itself out. But as much as I do it in celebration of National Poetry Month I find that taking a few moments during the day to think in such a highly structured format sharpens me up. When I need to take a break, sure, I could go snack, or take a nap, or read some blogs… or I could set the metronome to five-seven-five and see what sort of tunes develop.

I’m free-form this year, no grand theme or design to guide me. The results have been pretty funky.

Sunday, 1 April
despite my claims of not having a theme, food was clearly on my mind

like rolling thunder / my stomach calls for waffles / but they don’t answer

oh, frickadellen! / savory love child of / burger and hot dog!

double leftovers / when laziness trumps hunger / leftovers again

Monday, 2 April
okay, now we’re getting somewhere! nature triumphant!

burning, stinging eyes / itchy, inflamed sinuses / many joys of spring

the umbrella dies / a gust of wind, worn out seams / instant skeleton

tendrils of sunlight / gently caressing eyelids / late afternoon nap

Tuesday, 3 April
eh, not so focused today, with an ominous foreshadowing of a dental appointment later in the week

bear in a campground / scavenges through garbage cans / a potluck gourmand

in the roots of leeks / smell the damp, sandy soil / smell the birth of spring

like a sword in stone / hard kernels of popped corn trapped / between my molars

Wednesday, 4 April
garbage day, joggers, and the lottery. timeless themes of poetry

the sentries lined up / to be relieved of duty / curbside on trash day

laugh, but you don’t see / animals in mylar suits / trying to lose weight

to number the stars / is like counting grains of sand / or lottery odds

Thursday, 5 April
and now we get to it, the mundane couching the horror of the week

though called “rush hour” / a dog chasing his tail / would get to work first

eyes shut, aching jaw / hands and arms uselessly clenched / endless root canal

a biting rip saw? / a tiger’s labored chuffing? / no, a snoring spouse

Bonus-ku!
over at Laura Purdie Salas’s place, for this week’s 15 words or less poem (based on a photo of a horse in a landscape) I contributed the following:

in your haunting eyes / do we look as majestic / as you do in ours?

maybe it doesn’t work without the picture, but then again, maybe it’s a haiku of awe told by a child to an alien.

There are a couple in there I don’t mind. I have some favorites. Early in the week someone on twitter retweeted one of my twitku with a qualified “um…” suggesting that perhaps it wasn’t legitimate haiku because, I don’t know, it didn’t reveal some great truth of nature? Hey, this is the Modern World, people, and garbage cans deserve poetry as much as dead umbrellas and the lottery. Does a root canal deserve to be a haiku? That’s a tough call, but sometimes you don’t know what works until you do it.

So there it is, this week’s contribution to Poetry Friday. There’s probably tons of stuff happening this month, and a decent chunk of it is being rounded up by Robyn at Read, Write, Howl this week. Go on, take a peek. The poetry won’t bite. I can’t speak for the poets…

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#poetry friday: tools

Growing up I was taught that what separated man from animals was that man developed tools, and that this proved a sophistication and intelligence above all other creatures. This naive arrogance continues to be disproved as we discover more and more animals using simple tools in ways that show a level of intelligence that I think scares some people. This past week I heard about how bears use barnacle-crusted stones to exfoliate the skin around their face and neck. Add this to the Crows that drop walnuts on the roads to be run over by cars, the elephants that use bark to build sponge-like canteens to store water, and the octopi that use coconut shells as armor and I think it’s pretty safe to say that man’s only advantage is that we may ultimately end up only being the first occupants of the planet to evolve, and not the only ones.

a stick is a tool for a raven
a stick is a tool for a man
a raven will use it to forage
a man will club another man

a stone is a tool for an otter
a stone is a tool for a man
an otter will bust open urchins
a man will stone his fellow man

a voice is a tool for microbats
a voice is a tool for a man
a bat will call out for location
a man insults all that he can

a brain has the power of reason
for thought and invention of tools
the animals adapt for survival
while man adapts tools to abuse

With great brains come great complications. You would think that as our brains evolved that our inclination to wipe each other decrease.

Greg over at Gotta Book is hosting the poetry roundup this week. Lots of good stuff, including a link to the Poetry March Madness thing that’s going on right now.

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In 1975 Morris Albert had a number one hit with a song in the United States he originally recorded as a chart topper in his native Brazil the year before. The song, schmaltz of the highest order, was so damn popular it was covered almost immediately by a whole host of performers including Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone, Caetano Veloso, Frank Sinatra, Engelbert Humperdinck, Shirley Bassey, Glen Campbell, The O’Jays, Sarah Vaughan, and Johnny Mathis. Despite its success it is also considered one of the worst songs ever, probably because it seems so fraught with empathy and yet can’t manage to articulate that emotion.

But a funny thing happened on the road to creating a cento poem when I decided to strip away the nonsense in this melancholy love song: turns out the poem isn’t about lost love at all, its defiant, angry rebuff.

nothing more

trying to forget
love
for all my life

I wish
I never met you

never come again
never

again in my heart
again in my life
again in my arms

I may never hear the song Feelings again (please!) without this newfound respect for the kernel of truth hidden within. What I had assumed all these years was some poor simp whining over being dumped is actually a firm stance against them-what-done-em-wrong.

Bonus Cento Time!

I was curious to know if, in the original Spanish, the song was somehow less banal. I found the lyrics to Sentimientos, ran them through Babelfish, corrected for some obvious grammatical issues and… nope, just as sappy. But! There were different words to play with, and once I removed all those meddlesome “feelings,” discovered a more down-to-earth narration of love-gone-south.

tell me
how to forget

tears
suffering

tell me
because now I know
the idiot that I am

tell me
already

it’s not right
because, idiot that I am
I know

you will never tell me

Ah, the delicate torture that is the silent treatment once you’ve been spurned. You know you’re in the wrong, but you need to hear it! Okay, great. Now I can quietly go about forgetting all about the original (and the original original) for another good, long stretch.

Right, on to other Poetry Friday pursuits. Or, Right On! to other Poetry Friday pursuits! It’s all in the inflection. This week Gathering Books isn’t just the Poetry Friday host, it’s Myra’s birthday so its a poetic birthday party!

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Missed a week, but I had my reasons. I was busy writing and talking about writing and generally doing writerly things.

Okay, I forgot all about Poetry Friday last week.

In the meantime, I’d stumbled upon a sort of “test” that was given by an ad agency to prospective copywriters, designed to see how they think on their feet, word-wise. A number of the questions make for good writing prompts (“Describe toast to a Martian in 50 words or less”) but I was surprised that my instinct for answering the first question, “Give a short, persuasive argument on letting Pluto remain a planet,” wanted to come out in verse form.

the abandoned egg
nursed from a chick
to a full-grown sparrow

imprinted on our hearts
following us around
feeding from our merest crumbs

cannot be returned to the wild
any more than our dogs and cats
they are no less than family

which is why pluto should remain
part of our adopted solar tribe
our orbiting pet rock

What is a planet anyway? The dictionary says the word comes from the Greek and that it differentiates objects that orbit a sun from stationary stars in the sky. So what if Pluto is really nothing more than an orbiting asteroid following us ring-around-the-rosy like a happy Saint Bernard puppy? We couldn’t see it for millenia, and when we did we claimed it as one of our own. Let it stay, it’s doing us no harm.

Let Pluto be Pluto.

If you’re gonna fall down the rabbit hole on the internet, might as well do it with poetry. Dori has the Poetry Friday roundup this week at her site, Dori Reads, including a nifty interview with Laura Purdie Salas.

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