Reading Frank: Sonnets by Diane Seuss

Reading Frank: Sonnets by Diane Seuss, I recall my life in Athens, Georgia in the early 80s and the punk rock/new wave scene there.

Seuss’s poem, [I can’t say I loved punk when punk was contagious], brought me back to the times my friends and I drove to New York for a weekend to hear our boyfriends open for bigger bands at CBGB, the Mudd Club, and the Peppermint Lounge.

[I can’t say I loved punk when punk was contagious]

Unlike Seuss, I was more of a voyeur of the punk scene, a curious suburban college girl who wanted to graduate from university and study in Spain. For a while, I got sidetracked by punk’s promise of anarchy and rebellious art making, but I never had the need to “escape from punk’s thesis.” That was a forgone conclusion with my conservative, Catholic father hovering in the background of my psyche.

Seuss, raised by a single mother, was the real deal.

The 80’s in Athens at UGA was steeped in systemic misogyny that I bumped up against in my creative life, although at the time, I thought this bumping up was due to my own failures as a writer and human being.

I tried to get into Coleman Barks’s creative writing poetry class, but when I approached him at his office he practically shut the door in my face.

Instead, I tagged along with the boys in the band, read their chapbooks, gathered at their art openings, and attended theater presentations at the Rat and Duck, named for the rats running along the ceiling above and having to duck from falling plaster.

We slam danced and pogoed at the 40 Watt Club, went to parties on Barber Street, and picked through steamy piles of musty clothes dumped in the back of the thrift store.

We had a lot of fun in the early 80’s, but I was an outsider on the periphery of cool, while many of the *boys* were hipper than thou, making pronouncements about art and music as though they were the arbiters of all taste.

I appreciate Diane Seuss’s critique of the New York punk scene, especially her lines:

the rest was the same old white boy song

and dance, unaware of its misogyny and convinced its dangers

were innovational … .

April Erasure Poem

April

My enormously generous and gifted friend Georgia Writer [my name for her on this blog], invited me to an actual community poetry workshop and open mic, in person!

This declaration warrants an exclamation point considering I read two new poems as well as an erasure poem that Georgia Writer guided us to write. I got so emotionally charged during the outdoor reading that I grew flustered and tripped over the mic cord on my way back to the seating area.

Of course, I warned everyone that I had retired from teaching this year and have been pretty much in lock down since Thanksgiving. I’ve barely seen my own family members, including my 81-year old mother, who, I’m grateful to say, is very healthy because of an active lifestyle, good fortune, and lots of time outdoors in the garden and on trails.

Georgia Writer is a longtime university librarian, poet, and natural historian, a true polymath. Several years ago, when I visited her university office, it was like entering a cabinet of curiosities: sculptures, drawings, birds’ nests, wasp nests, animal skeletons, plants and plants and plants under lights and in terrariums. Of course, there were towers of books everywhere, and yes, she really does read them all.

In the past, she has bequeathed me older but still completely gorgeous poetry journals. She has also inspired my love of making books by giving me decorative paper scraps from former poetry chapbooks she has hand sewn and designed through her poetry press, La Vita Poetica. I still have the paper she gave me even after sharing the bounty with summer camp kids and my own art projects.

I admire her so much and consider her to be a poetry and art mentor. Her own poetry is some of the most beautiful poetry I’ve read. Although not a strict formalist, Georgia Writer’s craft of poetry is sublime.

The librarians provided packets with post-its sharpies, and pages of old magazines or discarded books–– the one that caught my eye was from a Victorian garden periodical. My packet came with a green sharpie, which struck me as an instance of synchronicity, so I went to town with the green.

G.Writer gave a brief lecture on surrealism and Dada, and then we created a spontaneous exquisite corpse, the only constraint being that half of us began our lines with “Either” and the other half with “Or.” Our collective poem became so beautiful as we uttered our phrases and images into the dome of blue sky above.

A full pink moon rose over the tree line as I drove home.

 

A goddess bathes her hands and face in butterfly waves

A goddess of nature bathes her hands and face in butterfly waves

Starting in January of 2021, I joined Daily Sketch, a Zoom drawing class that meets three days a week.

The teaching artist is Meagan Burns, who, in the before times, led art workshops in Mexico and other places around the globe.

My friend discovered these daily sketch classes last year, and her enthusiasm for the experience motivated me to try my hand at watercolor sketches myself.

Meagan is a patient and upbeat instructor. She allows light banter during our warm ups, and after each 20 minute sketch, she gives us time to share our drawings. She asks where we started, what materials we used, and at the end shows us her work and how she approached the subject.

The drawing I posted above is a combination of two references, a photo of two hands opened up like a book, and another of a large butterfly that looked like it was superimposed with a layer of neon pink.

Since my drawing skills are limited at best, I always add an element of imagination to camouflage mistakes I make or to get my ego out of the way.

I love surrealism and the techniques the surrealists used to jettison conditioned thinking about art and to let chance operations and stream of consciousness come to the foreground.

So if I make a mistake with the lines, I go with the mistake and improvise with color or context. Then my imagination takes off and I start musing about scenarios and settings that are based in myth or folklore.

The poet Anne Sexton is known to have experimented with her typing mistakes by keeping them in the poem and allowing them to change the direction of her writing. In this way, I can see how my playing with watercolor sketches influences how I write and the kinds of poems I hope to create in April.

Pandemic, Pandemonium, Panic, and Poetry

Crystals, flowers, and fear

The word “pandemic” derives from the Greek words “pan,” meaning “all” and “demos,” meaning “people.”

The etymology of “pandemic” is different but somewhat related to the word “panic,’ which traces back to the French, “panique” and the Greek god Pan, the deity with goat legs, the torso of a man, and goat horns growing from his man-like skull.

According to the Ancient History Encyclopedia, Pan became an exceedingly popular god whose name soldiers invoked in the heat of battle. Later, the terror and chaos that arises during war was also associated with this god.

During Roman times, Pan increased in importance, becoming “known as the All, a sort of universal god, which was a play on the other meaning of the word pan.

My husband, a medical news journalist, began covering daily coronavirus reports the last week in January, after our return from the Palm Beach Poetry Festival.

By mid February, we saw how the virus was spreading like a panic. February 18, the stock market crashed in a virus-related scare, and I began to wonder if AWP would be canceled. But at that point I thought it would be fear mongering to ask my friends if they still planned to go.

Two weeks later, the conference went ahead as planned, but by late February and even into the first week of March, many of my friends decided not to go because they didn’t want to inadvertently bring the virus back to their own communities.

It wasn’t until the first week in March that the pandemic arrived in the county where I live. That week we were already doing “chicken wings” and “foot bumps” as greetings at the yoga studio where I practice. We were spacing ourselves at least six feet apart. The YMCA where I swim laps closed its group exercise programs, swimming lessons, and their child care hours.

The new coronavirus pandemic has also caused pandemonium, Latin for “the place of all demons.” It created “panic buying” among the people, as we raced to stores to buy cleaning supplies, hand sanitizer, and pantry items.

On Thursday, March 5, I pulled into a Trader Joe’s parking lot after a blissful yoga class. Even under ordinary circumstances, it’s inadvisable to enter a Trader Joe’s parking lot after practicing yoga, just because of the parking lot squeeze.

But I braved suburban car frenzy to buy some wine and a few other items for dinner, and was shocked to find almost the entire store depleted of bread, milk, frozen food, and staples like rice, pasta, and canned goods. (Plenty of beer and wine remained!)

It turned out that while I had been supine in savasana in a state of relaxation, the county school system had announced that schools would close and would transfer to an online platform.

One man in the county had been hospitalized and died, and several school staff members had come down with covid19. Apparently, many individuals had traveled to Italy during February and thus were exposed at airports or at their destinations.

Like “pandemic,” and “panic,” the word “poetry” comes to English from the Greek and Latin. Greeks used poesis and poeitis to denote a maker, an author, a poet.

We are all makers now. We are pan-artists. Some will make songs and stories to express their longings, their fears, their loneliness,

Others will bake bread, make yogurt, and grow gardens, domestic work that many have now recently embraced if they have the privilege of staying home.

I’ve written only two poems so far this month. The concept of April as poetry writing month has lost urgency for me. Poetry and art and all forms of myth-making and meaning-making are a means of spiritual survival now. It’s an ongoing practice that continually renews and sustains me.

Yoga, poetry, painting, long walks, and chopping vegetables are my way of loving the world and loving life. I hope all beings everywhere can look within and find what makes them whole, what heals them.

First Tarot Reading

I received the Oceanic Tarot by Jayne Wallace as a Christmas present from one of my sons. It’s a beautiful deck that appeals to my love of water and swimming, and it provides simple, positive explanations for each of the cards. This morning I did my first reading with it.

In fact, it was the first reading I’ve ever done. Even though the tarot has always fascinated me, I’ve only used individual cards as writing prompts, and I’ve never taken the time to learn the symbolism or history behind them.

My interpretation of this three-card reading, which pertains to past, present, and future, is the following:

I need to let go of the guilt I feel about taking a semester off from teaching English. Devoting time to healing from depression, regaining my energy, spending time with family and friends, and completing my current poetry project are more than worthy endeavors–following this path is lifesaving, at least for now.

Time for reflecting on my relationship with my father and also with all the people I met on the Camino will help me finish the poems I’ve been writing for the last three and a half years.

Time for practicing yoga, reading about Ayurveda, balancing my doshas.

Time for writing in community with fellow poets online–

Thank you to Dave Bonta and Kelli Agodon for continuous motivation and opportunities for building online friendships.

NaPoWriMo Day 1!

Today I’m  continuing the pattern I set up earlier, where I follow this rhyme scheme: ABACCBCA. I’m using near or slant rhyme in many lines. Go to this link to read the entire prompt and the first two stanzas: Getting Ready For April and National Poetry Month.

3.

On the side of the path a pony skull
Picked clean as a bleached sheet
Sinks into the grass, eyes dull.
On the hill they prance and bleat,
Unaware they are alive only to be killed–
Viand de cheval, a delicacy in this ville.
For dinner we ate small pieces of duck’s meat,
but didn’t imagine it swimming, alive, whole.

Inspirational

Peeking at 2018

Conventional wisdom holds that the way to begin a productive new year is to set goals, but I’m loathe to do so because I have a rebellious nature.  I even rebel against my own goals.  How self-defeating is that?

Some of my writing friends have set benchmarks such as accumulating 50 or 100 rejection notices so that they maintain a steady stream of sending out poems for publication. Last year I agreed to shoot for thirty, but I think I only sent work to five or six journals. I did receive two acceptances, though–

“Letter to My Father at the Winter Solstice” at Heron Tree, one of my favorite online journals. They publish one poem a week and then gather all of them together and publish them in one volume. Here is a link to volume 5, which is ongoing: Heron Tree, volume 5.

The other poem I published in 2017 is a contrapuntal poem, a specific form I learned about in a workshop led by talented poet and teacher Amy Pence.  I wrote this poem, “Dependent Co-arrising” from a prompt based on the writing of Gaston Bachelard’s Poetics of Space at Switched-on Gutenberg.

Amy had already led a contrapuntal poetry workshop based on ekphrasis, where we described an image in one column and then wrote from the perspective of a single individual in the next column.

In the second workshop we used intertextuality as a springboard. I wrote four or five contrapuntal poems last year, and found inspiration from this technique for revising other poems I had abandoned.

I took two other poetry workshops in 2017, one with the poet and teacher with Jenn Givhan on narrative poetry and the other with Ada Limón at 24Pearlstreet.  In both of these workshops, I wrote about the pilgrimage I took to Fisterra this past summer.

I have written many new poems in the last year, but I don’t like sending them out into the world because they all feel like works in progress. Maybe once I complete the project I’ll feel better about trying to publish individual pieces.

I suppose when I look back on what I did and did not accomplish last year, I will say that my intention (not a goal), is to continue writing. I find inspiration from reading poetry, walking in nature, practicing yoga, just from being alive, really.

But motivation to write comes from discipline. It requires daily practice. That’s where the workshops factor in for me. The deadlines to write, read, and comment on other poet’s work helps me stay focused.

For more concrete guidance on goal setting for 2018, read “Poetry Action Plan” by January Gil O’Neil at Poet Mom.

For inspiration, take a look at poet Dave Bonta’s erasure poems based on the Diary of Samuel Pepys–this one is titled “Gusto.”

Writing in Community

IMG_7747

Pyrenees Mountains, Vierge d’Orisson

Led by Kelli Russell Agodon and Donna Vorreyer, a group of poets who used to blog together in the mid-2000s has gathered once again in an effort to revive our blogs and our communal writing space outside of Facebook and Twitter. 

I’m not sure about everyone’s motivations, but I find that if I have a community of writers to turn to, I stay motivated to write and share my process with others. The 2016 elections and the onslaught of trolls and bots has left me fatigued with and leery of other social media outlets, and so I return to my own private Idaho on the web–my blog!

Of course, blogging is another form of social media, but on my site, at least, I don’t have ads popping up.

My project for today is to begin writing a sonnet crown based on the seven words the current occupant of the White House has banned from the CDC budget papers. I’m going to begin with the word “vulnerable.”

For more inspiration, I recommend this podcast interview with U.S. poet laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner Tracy K. Smith–American Masters: The Poet: Tracy K. Smith.

 

 

Poems about Pilgrimage

After finishing another online poetry workshop with fabulous writer, poet, and teacher Jenn Givhan, I find myself still steeped in the creative process.

Jenn’s narrative poetry prompts at Poetry Barn gave me the nudge I needed to start writing about my experiences this past summer on the Camino de Santiago.

I had started writing a prose travelogue about my first pilgrimage in 2015, and had gotten almost three quarters of the way done, but the project derailed after my father’s prolonged illness in 2015 and his passing in April, 2016.

And then the 2016 elections took place.

I found that I couldn’t go back to my prose writing after these personal and societal upheavals. So I returned to Spain to take another long walk, this time with a portion of my father’s ashes in my backpack. These are the poems I’ve been writing.

Because I’m in a poetry writing mode, I’ve stayed quiet on my blog and in my personal life, but in an effort to be a part of a literary and writing community, I’m going to post here more frequently, sharing the books, paintings, and travels  that inspire me.

Dad in Spain

My dad in Spain, 1984. My parents came to visit me at the end of my year of study in Madrid. My mom took the photo. I’m in shadows. All you can see are my legs.

Open Water Swimmer’s Collage

IMG_6186

The Stockbridge Bowl, one of my favorite places to swim.

To get myself back into writing, I decided to compile different thoughts about the ocean by female swimmers, most of them open-water swimmers, and put them into a single poem, a kind of collage.

Open Water Swimmer’s Collage

To be in the azure blue as if
You’re breathing. The body, immersed,
Amplified, heavier and
Lighter at the same time.
Looking down miles and miles and miles,
The sea is like a person–like a child
I’ve known a long time.
I never feel alone when I’m out there.
You will forget who you are,
What you did in your life,
And which country you are from.
There’s a knowledge that you
Really are on edge here,
And that you can push yourself too far,
All the way across that vast,
Dangerous wilderness of an ocean.
When I swim in the sea I talk to it.
No matter how rough, cold, or deep,
The water is your friend.
We go in the pitch black of the night.
When we’re in the water,
We’re not in this world. You are a swimmer,
And whoever is next to you
Is a swimmer, too, all of us in the water.

 

During the Olympics, I paid close attention to the swimming events, especially to women swimmers. Yusra Mardini’s story and words inspired me. She’s an eighteen year-old Syrian woman who swam in the Rio Olympics for Team Refugee.

She and her sister , when Mardini was still seventeen, swam in the open sea from Turkey to the Greek island of Lesbos for three hours in 2015, pulling a dinghy, and saved themselves and twenty other people.

The other swimmers whose words I have included are:

Diana Nyad, first person to swim nonstop from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage;

Gertrude Ederle, first woman to swim across the English Channel;

Lynne Cox, open water swimmer, and author of  Swimming to Antarctica;

and Leanne Shapton, swimmer, writer, and author of the new memoir, Swimming Studies.

This kind of writing is called found poetry. As the Poetry Foundation explains, “Found poems take existing texts and refashion them, reorder them, and present them as poems.”