Last week I challenged myself to come up with ten first lines of a sonnet, which traditionally contains fourteen lines of ten syllables and five beats each.
And so I did do a bit of writing this week– I made this challenge public to nudge myself and maybe others to stop thinking about writing or not writing and to simply write. My inner Yoda prodded me to get my creative mind back in gear.
Not all of the lines below contain ten syllables, and probably not even one of them is iambic pentameter, but if anyone would like to use one of these to write their own poem, I leave it to you to revise and make it suit your purposes.
For more inspiration, as well as a reminder that you can forget prosody and meter, I suggest you check out “Notes on Walking Poetry” by Dave Bonta, who says, “To hell with the metrical foot. Free your verse and your mind will follow… at a walker’s pace.”
Ten Eleven First Lines
Some of these are found texts that I pieced together, others come from old diary entries.
O love! O chaos! O wind in the trees!
The instability of honey bees
I snatched a snippet of joy on the fly
A harsh light seeking some pallid shape
I opened my eyes to a blur of leaves
A ghost in the barely breathing silence
Walking through a cloud–droplets beaded my black wool
Today, I painted a tropical bird
I cried in the parking lot, my friend as witness
A family of deer stepped along a creek bed
Thunder shook the rain loose and then it cleared
If you decide to use one of these lines above, please let me know! Feel free to share in the comments section, or leave one of your own lines here and we can write a collaborative poem. If you drop me a line, I’ll respond in kind.
Diary entry, Madrid, International Pride Weekend, 2017
Tourist lunch at three o’clock on the terrace, but I’m not alone—a Russian to my right speaks to me in Spanish–Rusia es un infierno, allá a no se puede ser gay. He tells me of sinister ears that listen for echoes of forbidden love, their switchblades ready to shiv a body. But all of this is far away. Today, we pilgrims dine on scallops in their shells, watercress salad, and peach gazpacho as the sky parades across the Gran Vía, an awning of cobalt blue over buildings white as wedding cake, cornices creamy as flan. Love’s on all the billboards and gold armored Super Woman straddles the bus stop, so much iridescence, I forget my fractured foot. We mambo through rainbows laced along the Retiro and two-step into the Garden of Earthly Delights, where swallows burst through pink eggshells and Adam plops down as though stupefied on the grass. God, dressed in red velvet robes, stares at us as he holds Eve’s wrist and takes her pulse. We shed our clothes— drag queens expose their statuesque torsos, and I reveal my pale potbelly, my breasts like empty soup bowls. Here, shame has drifted out to sea in a soap bubble. Naked together, we are whippoorwills circling fountains frothing with limonada, sangría, tinto de verano. We are owls with pineapples on our heads, symbolizing nothing, fizzing with delight.
In honor of Pride Month, I’m posting this poem that I wrote a few years ago after returning from my second camino in Spain.
The poem is based on real life events in Madrid, and also the painting by Hieronymus Bosch, a tryptic that encompasses heaven, hell, and earthly paradise.
If I can ever get myself to focus and complete this project, the plan is to place this poem at the end of my manuscript about the camino. It’s shaping up to be a nice size for a chapbook, about 28 pages of poems written in the epistolary style and consisting of letters, messages, notes, and diary entries.
I love the poems in this manuscript, and I really need to finish the project and bring it to fruition. It’s more fun to keep making new poems, but it’s not fair to the work to keep it squirreled away in drawers and on my laptop.
I hope you like this poem. It’s central message is to live with delight and for shame to “drift out to sea in a soap bubble.”
Be proud of your way of loving. No one can tell you how or who to love. And know that if you’re reading this poem and identify as LGBTQIA, which is probably most of the entire world, I am sending you love through this poem!
Look here, the tree says. There is a path, a road Winding toward a cabin Deep in a shadowy forest. Finding the glowing pine Is not enough. I need to travel Down the winding road To the decrepit cabin Full of cobwebs, broken boards. Even deeper, I need to go, Below the foundation, Down to the level of packed dirt, Down to the damp, dark place Where memories sleep in fits, Pushing like roots in the soil.
I’ve kept a log of my dreams for years and years, ever since I was a teenager, but lately my nightly visions have slipped away from my conscious mind.
As is my custom, I keep a notebook next to my bed where each night I write, “I want to remember my dreams tonight,” or something to that effect.
If no dream is in my mind when I wake, I write, “No dream tonight.” I have a long list of many nights in a row with not even a fragment to hold.
I’m wondering if my inner dream maker is feeling neglected, because I have had several vivid images come to me in dream form during the last year, but I haven’t really paid them any mind.
So now I’m breathing life into the dreams (at least I hope), by drawing and writing about them. This particular dream came to me in the winter, before my mother-in-law died.
I have a recurring image that includes this cabin in the above drawing, and often this place is *Katherine’s cottage* in the dream.
In life, every summer we used to go to her house in the countryside of West Stockbridge, Mass. It was tucked into a sort of tree-lined grotto at the end of a circular gravel drive, a short distance away from a brook.
But this dream cabin always appears as a secret place my husband and I had forgotten about. It sometimes shows up as *Katherine’s first cottage* where she has been living far away in the deep forest, like a fairytale witch.
I don’t like to over analyze my dreams, but it does give me a sense of wholeness when I invite the dream images into my art. I’ll leave it to the reader to decide what the cabin would mean if it were your dream, or the tree, as well.
I wrote this poem in 2019 after the Georgia State Assembly passed a law that would criminalize all abortions after a so-called fetal heartbeat was detected in an ultrasound.
Camatkarasana, roughly translated as Wild Thing, is a sort of one armed backbend that one of my yoga teacher enjoys guiding us toward.
She has a unique way of describing what is going on inside the body and how to harness that energy toward achieving greater strength in the pose. It’s a difficult pose to achieve and requires strength, flexibility, and confidence, but once you do achieve the pose, the body becomes flooded with energy.
My heart is very heavy with sadness for women now that the leaked draft opinion to overturn Roe v. Wade has been published. We ARE wild things, strong and capable of determining what happens to our own bodies. I’m filled with fury that forces in our society want to take this right away from us.
In his book about the Buddhist concept of impermanence, the late Thich Nhat Hanh tells a story about how his mother was pregnant before him but lost that pregnancy. He asks, “Am I that same baby, or am I someone different?”
In keeping with the Buddhist concept of impermanence, he reasons that he is the same but also different, just like a bulb that blossoms, and then withers, and then blossoms again the following year.
Thich Nhaht Hanh’s teachings are not so different from the story of a Chicago abortion rights organizer and NGO administrator who told her twin seven-year-old boys that she had had an abortion before being pregnant with them. They interpreted the story in their own way by saying, ”Mommy was pregnant before us and then she made herself unpregnant so that we could be born.”
The activist’s words resonated with me, as she explained that the abortion she had when she was not ready to have a child made it possible for her to give birth to her twin sons. Is it really anyone else’s business what choices she needed to make? I’m beyond exhausted that we are still having to explain ourselves to men and to justify the decisions we make for our own physical and mental wellbeing.
My heart is heavy that I live in a society that does not value women in equal measure as it does men. I’m a poet, not an activist, and my nervous system is not prepared right now to take to the streets. But I will support everyone who does!
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.