DOUBLE-TALKING WITH THE DEVIL

Yippee!  It’s almost salsa season!  Thanks to a balanced mix of hot sun and plentiful rain, I’ve had homegrown jalapenos for a few weeks now, and my heirloom “watermelon” tomatoes are just beginning to blush.  I bought my seedlings in May from an organic farmer who started them in his greenhouse.  Anxious to get them planted, I spent that morning clearing a space in our raised bed.  Absentmindedly, I grabbed handful after handful of weeds and tossed them toward the compost pile, the dog snapping eagerly at the bundles as they sailed past.  I was having a (sort of) good time until I spied a coiled-up snake where my hands had been, just a second before.  Snakes aren’t common here—this was the first one I’d seen in twenty years.  I donned a pair of work gloves and grabbed a shovel from the garage and we had a chat, the snake and I.
I promised not to chop him in half if he would slither out of my yard
and go elsewhere.  It took some convincing (including a bit of sweet-talk and a wild ride on the shovel) but he left and has not come back.  The next day, after my heart rate had returned to normal, my one-way conversation became a pantoum filled with oblique “garden” rhymes:

NEGOTIATIONS IN EDEN

O, snake in the garden,
my cold-blooded find,
begging your pardon
but this parcel is mine

My cold-blooded find,
your life I won’t shorten
but this parcel is mine;
I offer a bargain

Your life I won’t shorten,
my motives are kind
I offer a bargain;
just leave it behind

My motives are kind
The soil here is spartan;
just leave it behind
for grass like a carpet

The soil here is Spartan;
relax and unwind
on grass like a carpet
Be free, unconfined

Relax and unwind
beyond my yard’s margin
Be free, unconfined,
go on now, get started

Beyond my yard’s margin
you’ve been reassigned
Go on now, get started,
you’re on a deadline

You’ve been reassigned
Begging your pardon,
you’re on a deadline,
O, snake in the garden

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BEYOND PING-PONG-PANTOOKAS

When we think of poetry, we think of rhyme.  Of course, poems need not rhyme, but it’s a connection our brains have been programmed to make, starting with Jack and Jill, Patty Cakes, and The Wheels on the Bus, and continuing through the classic poetry we read in high school.  That said, it seems strange that today’s editors rebuff rhymed poetry, regarding it as juvenile or unsophisticated; some magazines explicitly request that rhymed verse not be submitted.  Because serious poets shouldn’t sound like Dr. Seuss or the inside of a Hallmark card, right?  But skillfully executed rhyme shows mastery of both the art and craft of poetry.  Think Shakespeare, whose sonnets would not be nearly as compelling if they did not rhyme.  (Nor would they be sonnets, for that matter.)  Free verse may allow you to say precisely what you wish, but using words already in your lexicon to express yourself doesn’t force you to stretch, learn, grow.  Throw in a rhyme scheme, however, and a poem becomes a puzzle, one that compels the writer to seek out new words or reconstruct his lines.  All I am saying, is give rhyme a chance.

RHYME: JAM IT OR SLAM IT?

It seems, at this time, that a new paradigm
regards free verse as the height of sublime
a and b past their prime, worth nary a dime
Editors snub, wash their hands of the crime

Pained, drained by a scheme’s ball-n-chain
how well can a writer’s voice be retained?
He’ll soon ascertain if he retrains his brain,
he could gain one insane lexiconic domain

Rhyme may prove hairier, thornier, scarier
but get off your derriere, break the barrier
Consult a thesaurus, your synonym carrier
harvest fresh words, the more the merrier

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THROWING TOGETHER A PANTOUM

After chewing and digesting last week’s pantoum, one of my faithful readers commented, “I suspect this form is deceivingly simple.”  I had put a lot of work into it and was taken aback, but her words hummed
in my subconscious…  Perhaps she had intuitively grasped something
I hadn’t.  I wanted to test her theory by creating a “found” pantoum.  Currently in the throes of a summer reading frenzy, I borrowed two random phrases from each of the three books parked on my desktop
(The Pilgrimage by Paulo Coelho, Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg, The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron), and two more from my
go-to cookbook, a dog-eared copy of Real Thai by Nancie McDermott.
I typed and copied the phrases and went to work cutting and pasting, arranging and rearranging them according to the Pantoum Rule Book until they clicked in place.  The resulting poem is a bizarrely accurate picture of my writing life, the intersection of a soul and a notebook, a story told in the words of others but a wholly unique voice:  my own.

SUBMERGED

I’m mad for the smell of paper,
a habit I fell into of necessity
Without worry for things left undone,
I communicate only with glances

A habit I fell into of necessity,
connecting the dots into a mandala
I communicate only with glances
balancing sweet, sour, salty and spicy

Connecting the dots into a mandala
I must turn to face my own life
balancing sweet, sour, salty and spicy
alone with no one to guide me

I must turn to face my own life
without worry for things left undone
Alone with no one to guide me
I’m mad for the smell of paper

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LOOSEN UP!

Malaysian in origin, the PANTOUM is a looping poetry form made up
of two or more quatrains.  The lines overlap as they weave in and out, loose ends neatly tucking themselves in as the poem comes full circle.  Every line is repeated; lines 2 and 4 of the first stanza cascade down to become lines 1 and 3 of the next, a pattern that continues throughout.  The final stanza grabs lines 3 and 1 of the first stanza and recasts them as the third-to-last and final lines.  Word Karma comes into play here.  Rigid lines will double back and bite you – graceful in one context but awkward in the other.  Loose phrases, however, will pull together and tighten up as you work.  Rhyming is an optional mission.  Should you choose to accept it, the most common schemes are abab baba abab baba and abab bcbc cdcd dada.  Below, a pantoum about pantoums:

THE PANTOUM

An infinite design
looping quatrains
crisscrossing of lines
like links in a chain

Looping quatrains
free verse or rhyme
like links in a chain
as words intertwine

Free verse or rhyme
the writer’s domain
as words intertwine
reborn as refrains

The writer’s domain
crisscrossing of lines
reborn as refrains
an infinite design

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WHEN LIFE GIVES YOU ORANGES…

This week, I’m taking a detour from Form Street onto Rhyme Avenue.  Where that ends, we’ll follow the road less traveled, an unpaved trail called Oblique Lane.  Anyone who regularly writes rhymed poetry will wind up here sooner or later.  Oblique is an umbrella-term for rhyme that is close but not exact.  You might also hear it called slant rhyme, lazy rhyme, imperfect rhyme, half rhyme, near rhyme, off rhyme, or even assonant rhyme, phrases loaded with enough sorry connotations to make your best option sound like trailer trash.  Don’t let that scare you.  Oblique rhymes possess a jury-rigged cleverness that springs out and surprises the reader, a feat that turns predictable verse green (or maybe orange?) with envy.  The best excuse for using an oblique is the lack of a perfect rhyme, but who needs an excuse?  I adore them and encourage you to slide them into your poetry whenever and wherever you wish.  In that spirit, I’ve composed a LAI, an edgy attempt to prove that whoever said “nothing rhymes with orange” was only half right:

IMPERFECTLY PERFECT

End-words like orange
offer a challenge
quite unique
Rhyme must be foraged,
an assonant change
in technique
A lazy, half-knowledge
slanted in homage
to Oblique

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ONCE UPON A TIME…

Narrative and epic poems have been around for centuries.  These are usually book-length works that tell a tale.  I haven’t the fortitude to pen the next Iliad or Odyssey, but I do like to write STORY poems, a type of “bite-sized” memoir.  This one’s dedicated to all the underdogs, and my friend Lana, who introduced me to the story poem.  The jerk who tried to kill me with the kickball was named DONALD, by the way.  Go figure.

OUT IN LEFT FIELD

She is too klutzy for kickball, so
she spends recess
with a library book
But in gym class, participation is
non-negotiable
Chosen dead last,
she takes her place in the outfield
With bases loaded,
the class jock steps
smugly to the plate to run them in
BOOM!  A pop-fly
speeds toward her,
a red missile trained on its target
The ball strikes with
a resounding smack;
she reels, but clutches it to her chest
He’s OUT!  Red-faced,
cursing, he snatches
his cap, slams it to the ground, and
stomps on it, leaving
a big, dusty footprint
Seething with incredulity and rage,
his odious eyes bore
full-force into hers
but it is her moment to be a hero
and she flaunts the
burning imprint on
her cheek like a badge of honor

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WHEN ONE ART BEGETS ANOTHER

In my little village, art is highly valued and might be found anywhere.  Years ago, the painting below was on display at our local pizza parlor, part of a small art show.  Something about it spoke to me, and it was inexpensive, so I bought it.  I later learned the artist was a student in junior high.  It was the first piece she’d ever sold and she was elated.  Knowing that made it positively priceless.  To this day, that dandelion painting hangs above my desk, a testament to everyday beauty and a reminder that it’s never too early (or late) to indulge the creative self.

So I chose to make it the subject of an EKPHRASTIC poem.  These are vivid descriptions inspired or stimulated by a work of art, most often a painting or sculpture.  Additionally, the poet may use her imagination
to narrate, reflect, or otherwise amplify or expand upon its meaning.

TUFTS OF FLUFF

drift over the border
of a square blue world
devoid of breeze,
remaining aloft
on the singular power
of a fervent wish

Riding high on
the hopes and dreams
of a fledgling artist
whose stiff brush
dances across
her canvas trampoline

Amateur fingers
tracing the wild shape
of serendipity
visible only
to audacious believers
willing to imagine it

 

Here is another, a “wishful” triolet from last fall:

YELLOW SPRING

A dandelion gone to seed
can color spring with yellow
Packaged cleverly, indeed
A dandelion gone to seed
Make a wish and set it free
Aloft and soft and mellow
A dandelion gone to seed
can color spring with yellow

 

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WHAT’S THE CATCH?

Just Joan features yet another new form this week.  This one is rather gimmicky, and as such, presented a colossal challenge.  Read the poem slowly and carefully.  See if you can figure out what is special about it.

AFTERNOON NAPS

Spent, pate to toe,
far past espresso,
of a state apropos
for a nap

Afternoon frees one
to tap open season,
to reap for no reason
a nap

Star operator
of a potent sonar
senses fortress not far
for a nap

Sofas possess
apt erasers of stress
or so patrons attest:
Naps, naps, naps!

No opposer, no foe,
no trespasser – presto!
A safe spot for repose,
for a nap

A soft, serene nest
for a soporate rest,
or a profane snore-fest,
for a nap

Naps appease, naps sate
Naps restore, naps penetrate
Naps ease a tense state
Naps rate!

So snare a transport
free of fare, sans passport
to a far-off resort:
Port O’Nap

 

Give up?  “Afternoon Naps” is an ANAGRAMMATIC poem.  In this form, all of the words in the poem are constructed from a given set of letters, in this case, those in the poem’s title.  I allowed myself unlimited use of the sanctioned letters in each word, but no other leeway.  Point of the exercise?  Cutting out two-thirds of the alphabet might slow a poet down, but it will not stop her.  Somehow, she will still find a way.

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HAIKU – ENTITLED TO BE UNTITLED

My friend TJ McGuire recently released his first collection of poetry, Midlife Chrysler.  In a related interview, he held that poetry matters in modern America because readers like its compact format.  They want “to be able to ingest a high-quality gourmet meal in one sitting, put their hands behind their heads and feel completely satisfied… because of its brevity, one can revisit [a poem] and be wonderstruck as often as time allows.  If Time is one of humankind’s most precious commodities, then (as the arts are concerned) one could consider poetry as one of Time’s most valuable distributor of goods.  Poetry delivers.  It delivers fast and hard.  Therein lies its power.”

In the world of gourmet poetry, HAIKU would be a canapé, a gorgeous bite-sized morsel to be savored.  Traditionally, haiku are descriptive nature poems that aim to capture a scene in just seventeen syllables, divided 5 – 7 – 5 over its three lines.  Today’s more flexible rules allow
a variety of subject matter and slightly altered syllable counts, as long as the first and last lines are shorter than the middle one.

 

Pregnant orchid
swollen with fourth set of twins
may deliver today

 

A fuchsia sunrise
shimmers on slapdash puddles
from yesterday’s rain

 

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EL-EM-EN-OH-PEE!

ABECEDARIAN is an ancient poetic form based on alphabetical order. Generally, the first line begins with the first letter of the alphabet and subsequent lines begin with successive letters until the final letter is reached.  My friend Chevvy wrote a really impressive one last spring; click HERE to read it.  Mine is a simple list compiled from the pages of my gratitude journal.  Try one!  What inspires YOU?

abc-2

INSPIRATION A TO Z

Autumn, Apple Butter, Aurora Borealis
Blizzards, Baby animals, Baking cookies
Cloud formations, Candles in windows
Dandelion puffs, Dreams remembered
Earth and Echoes and Earflaps on hats
Farm markets, Fireflies, Freckled Faces
God, Gratitude, Guacamole with chips
Handwritten letters and Happy endings
Inner vision, Imagination, and Insanity
Jazz saxophones, Java, and Journaling
Karma coming full circle, playing Kazoo
Libraries, Life Lessons, and Loving arms
Muses, Memory, the Moon when it’s full
Nature, Naptime, and a New Notebook
Orchid blossoms, Oldsters with attitude
Pet antics, Prompts, and Practical jokes
Quiet mornings, Quilts stitched by hand
Rainbows and Random Acts of Kindness
Serendipity, Syncopation, Street Music
Teachers, Time alone, Thunderstorms
Underdog victories and Ugly Umbrellas
Volkswagen Busses that go Vroooom!
Wonder, Wood smoke, Window seats
X on a treasure map, XXX’s and OOO’s
Yoga in motion, Yakking with my sister
Zinnias flanking the Zigzag path of life

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