Tag: creativity

Summer, the Death of Childhood, and Arranging Lines of Poetry

Well, there’s a post title that’ll draw folks in…or repel them. Either way, it would get my attention.

Being summer and all (or close enough), I’ve been taking my kids to the pool twice a week. I’m not terribly keen on water, whether it be in the ocean or the pool, and would rather just avoid it…but that’s not possible with my children. After taking them to the pool three or four times—and when it was time to do so again—I sat down on the sofa and said, “Look, we need to talk about this.”

My ten-year-old rolled his eyes. “We know, you don’t like going to the pool,” he said.

“It’s more than that,” I said. “Going to the pool entails a whole host of things, none of which I look forward to. And the so-called reward at the end of the preparation is getting in the water. I know you two like it, but I don’t. So when it’s time to go to the pool, I have to get myself in a mental state of–”

“You don’t have to get in the water,” my six-year-old chimed in.

“Yeah,” his brother said. “Just bring a book and your computer. You can write.”

I felt anxiety loosen its deathgrip on me. I can write. Hmm. And so we got ready, I put up with the squabbling on the way to the pool, slathered sunblock on the kids, put a life-jacket on the little one, got in the water with them for fifteen minutes…and then got the hell out, dried off, opened up the Surface, and started writing.

Here’s one of the poems that came out of a writing session. After I finished it, I began playing with the lines on the screen. I don’t normally format my poems in unusual ways, but this one sort of demanded that I do so. I’m posting the poem as a PDF, which I hope works. The poem itself can be taken in different ways, but when I finished it, it reminded me of moving from childhood to maturity and the sadness (and horror) that goes along with it.

The next time, I’ll post the poem I wrote about my feelings regarding the pool. It’s…uh…not very nice. Until then, I give you:

War

Russell Edson and the Blue-Pencil of Consciousness

I was going through some boxes of my old writing and came across The Tunnel: Selected Poems by Russell Edson.  I had been searching off and on for the book. Like Charles Simic and Stevie Smith, Edson had and continues to have a huge influence on my poetry. I don’t  usually write prose poems, but I follow a strange Muse similar to the one that whispered in Edson’s ear. Here’s one of his poems, posted on his Poetry Foundation page:

The turtle carries his house on his back. He is both the house and the person of that house.
But actually, under the shell is a little room where the true turtle, wearing long underwear, sits at a little table. At one end of the room a series of levers sticks out of slots in the floor, like the controls of a steam shovel. It is with these that the turtle controls the legs of his house.
Most of the time the turtle sits under the sloping ceiling of his turtle room reading catalogues at the little table where a candle burns. He leans on one elbow, and then the other. He crosses one leg, and then the other. Finally he yawns and buries his head in his arms and sleeps.
If he feels a child picking up his house he quickly douses the candle and runs to the control levers and activates the legs of his house and tries to escape.
If he cannot escape he retracts the legs and withdraws the so-called head and waits. He knows that children are careless, and that there will come a time when he will be free to move his house to some secluded place, where he will relight his candle, take out his catalogues and read until at last he yawns. Then he’ll bury his head in his arms and sleep….That is, until another child picks up his house….

I love how Edson create his a little world in this poem, replete with its own logic. I’d like to think I do something similar in my poems. I also agree with what Edson says about the creative process:

My job as a writer is mainly to edit the creative rush. The dream brain is the creative engine… I sit down to write with a blank page and a blank mind. Wherever the organ of reality (the brain) wants to go I follow with the blue-pencil of consciousness.

Abso-freaking-lutely.

To end, here’s an odd little poem that came to yesterday while my children cavorted in the pool:

Creepy Peter Licks His Last Cloud

“Listen,” the cloud said, “we’ve all
had a meeting and decided the licking
has to stop. No hard feelings, okay?”

Creepy Peter shot out his sensitive,
nib of a tongue and muttered mea culpa,
but the cloud wasn’t having that.

“Okay, actually, we’re in the mood
for a sacrifice,” the cloud declared.
Behind it, the other clouds grinned.

Creepy Peter deflated himself and made
for the farthest coast—somewhere near
Purgatory—and licked lazy flies instead.

We Spin On (word vomit)

Since I ended my job as a middle-school English teacher (I would love to say never again, but I know better), writing has been sporadic. Actually, that’s not true–I show up at the page every day, but the quality has been sporadic. On the last day of my job, I had cleaned out my room but couldn’t leave until the principal gave me the all-clear, so I had plenty of time to write. What came out was garbage. Granted, it was a lot of garbag (nearly three thousand words), but there was nothing salvageable. 

Perhaps, as my wife says, my brain needed a break. It’s only been a week since school got out, and my writing is still mainly junk. What follows is an example. It isn’t so much poetry as it is word vomit. I’m sharing it to encourage other writers to get out on the page whatever needs to come out, even if you look at it and say, “By Jove, that’s a mess.” A mess is better than nothing.

That being said, there’s still hope (I know I make it all sound dire, like I’ll never write anything I’m happy with. EVER AGAIN). As an editor told me once:

I dig the weirdness in [your] poems, but weirdness would be a bit of an understatement. It’s as if you’re using this idea of weirdness/strangeness to explore irreparable longing – perhaps irreparable longing is the glue that holds today’s world together.   – Justin Karcher, Ghost City Review

These words mean the world to me because that’s what I try to do in my poetry. It burbles up from my subconcious, fueled by the Great Cosmic Signal, and I do my best to convey the feelings inside me. My work is often dark and sad, and I do feel a sense of irreparble longing; it’s part and parcel of the human condition. Two things alleviate some of that longing: writing poetry and writing music. 

So…here’s some word vomit.

We Spin On

The vampire flowers made her sad,
and I ate another plate of fear salad.
This isn’t helping anything, said the erstwhile
Martian as he clung to the last thread of life.
The boulders of Colorado made a rodeo.
Eggs beat in rhythm to the veins of ocean.
More likely, the face of autumn.
The fan blew on the mighty moon, and
the tail of escaping steam was moody.
We spin on, the stars murmured. We spin on.

Ignoring the Summons

Poems often drift into my head as I drive to work, and I suspect they’re colored by the music I listen to on my short drive. Today was a mix of Fleet Foxes, Radiohead, and Iron and Wine. Here’s the result:

Ignoring the Summons

The demented dwarf of your anger
runs down the hill to ring the bell
wildly, and I stop chopping wood
a moment to listen. True love waits,
the crow, that dark-suited comedian,
laughs above me, perched in the tree,
surveying all. The peals of the bell
roil on, filling the valley and alerting
all that you summon me, but I learned
last time, so I plug my ears like Odysseus.
I pick up my ax as the crow flies away,
done with the valley, judging me as always.

2017 Writing Goals

I don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions, but I do tend to set goals for myself when it comes to writing. My first published poems appeared on January 1, 2016, and I kept up a steady stream of submissions throughout the year that slowed somewhat when I began teaching middle school English (actually, a lot of things stopped then). I hope I’m on more solid footing now going into the second half of the year and that I’ll make time to write and submit. I can’t control the publishing aspect, of course, but I can put my poems out there and hope they find good homes.

I received an encouraging personal rejection email the other day from Boxcar Poetry Review that read, in part:

Please keep writing, keep sending work out there, keep finding ways to build empathy and connections with others. While we’re passing on these particular poems, somewhere out there in 2017, someone needs your voice and your poems.

I learned long ago to view personal rejections as incredibly encouraging. The editor of Boxcar didn’t have to take the time to send anything except the standard rejection, but he chose to type a few words to me. I take these words to heart, and I believe them. There is, in fact, someone who needs my voice and poems, the same as I need fellow voices and poems.

I submitted to three markets yesterday, and today I hope to submit to at least one more and make some time to write. There are always a few voices buzzing in my head that make it to paper (or screen) and a few of them go on this site, a few are filled away, and some take deep breaths and fling themselves into the world of submissions. It’s the way of the writer, and I plan to continue throughout 2017.

My goal for this year is simple: keep writing and submitting when I can. I’m going back to a system that worked well for me before, which consists of me writing throughout the week and then taking Saturday morning to look everything over and decided what to do with various poems. Keeping an eye on the market and certain journals, to say nothing of revision and final edits, is time-consuming but worth it.

I wish my fellow writers a prosperous New Year. Let’s get our words out there.

 

Hideous Beauty

This is a change from my normal posts, which are typically poems and the occasional story tidbit. This is an actual blog entry, which feels strange. This is about writing and my writing process, which is a bit unusual for me.

My poems are not…pretty. They’re just not, or so I feel. Don’t get me wrong–I love them, and I have no plans of changing the way I write or the dark themes of my poems. I don’t believe I could  change even if I wanted to. I sit down at the keyboard and out comes the work. I channel it. Some call it tapping into the unconscious, though I prefer to think of it as tapping into the Cosmic Signal. It’s just the truth that comes through the Cosmic Signal isn’t for everyone. Say, my mother. I think my poems would needlessly worry her. I have no clue what my father would think. My wife reads them and comments on them sometimes, though she confesses that many poems simply don’t make sense. That’s fair; sometimes they don’t make sense to me.

But I think truth and beauty can coexist and don’t fall under anyone’s specific guidelines. Truth isn’t often pretty, but it can still be beautiful. Death can be beautiful; a poem that renders the experience of human suffering can be beautiful.

I’m not sure why I’m trying to convince myself that it’s all right–more than all right, it’s perfectly fine and what I’m supposed to do–to write a poem about a man eating a blood-filled cake. Or a poem about a man contemplating suicide. Or a couple walking through a ruined marketplace, getting drunk, with the man telling the woman he’s deciding whether or not he should kill her. There’s terrible beauty in the words, and I feel comfortable saying that because I stand back when I finish writing (most days) and say something like, Fucking hell. That was unexpected…but BAM! Truth!

I write a lot about women dealing with depression and addiction and lost loves and abuse…why? I’m not sure, and delving into that might be rich territory for my therapist. Adopting the persona of a woman in my writing often feel natural. I usually play female characters in video games, too. The feminine side of my spirit is perhaps dialed a little higher than in some men, and that’s fine.

I suppose this entry serves as encouragement to keep writing truth as I receive it and then (the part I’m struggling with now) submitting to markets as I did last year. I have 130 poems at the ready…I just need to take the time to find good markets for them, send them out with love, and hope they find good homes.

With so much hate and anger in America right now, I guess I wonder if my poems (dark, twisted, often pain-filled) can combat the hate and anger. But maybe they’re not supposed to. Maybe my poems can serve as avenues for people to say, “I resonate with that.” Perhaps it’s the same as when I feel depressed (which, even though I take medication, is often) I listen to depressing music and feel a connection.

I fear this entry is terribly rambling, but I felt the need to share it. I also wanted to thank everyone who takes time to read my poems. We don’t know each other personally, but our spirits recognize each other.

Or so I believe.

Many Happy Returns

Nothing says holiday spirit like a blood-filled cake.

Many Happy Returns

I grip the edge of the sink and reason
with my reflection, telling it, You know better.
You can’t have that blood-filled cake, you bastard.

Well. My reflection can say all it wants,
but I did the cooking and I’ll do the eating.
You don’t know everything. God.

I settle down at the small, oval table,
the one shaped like my mother’s soft head.
I pull the cake and knife toward me.

As I take the first bite, red blurts out
of my mouth, soaking my chin and shirt.
I smile into the warmth, the saltiness.

In Honor of Cowboy Wayne

I have an odd fascination with cowboys and the American West and in my poetry (which doesn’t translate to my non-writing life). Perhaps this is because my maternal grandfather came from Oklahoma to Alabama on a covered wagon in the early 1900’s, and he maintained an interest in the West. He loved the show Gunsmoke and Louis L’Amour books. He could also rock a bolo tie. In many ways, he was a hard man to get to know, though he was always loving and perched me on his knee and told me stories. He was also an amazing visual artist.

Both my grandmother and the heroic (or, in my case, usually anti-heroic) cowboy figure appear in my work. The following is a recent example:

In Honor of Cowboy Wayne

I can’t countenance what I don’t cotton to,
says Cowboy Wayne, in love with his scruff
and the tin alloy of his voice, the blue smudge
of life in his veins, the chalky cliffs of his teeth.

Li’l dogies burst into flame rather than incur
his wrath, which stretches from barbed-wire
to unsettled valley, old homestead to bloodied hearth.
When he coughs, mermaids boil in distant oceans.

In a closed theater, a talkie runs backward,
a great feat to the projectionist who whistles
past the graveyard in his memory, the black
and white grain of Cowboy Wayne’s gaze.

On the blasted prairie, the man of the dismal hour
bakes his supper to death, gurgles a hymn through
a cup of black cider procured from the medicine man
who warned him to lay low, avoid people, eschew praise.