Sunday, March 30, 2008

Weekend Workout / Monday Train: Wishes, Lies, Dreams #6 of 6

Yes, I'm cheating, I'm combining my Weekend Workout (cuz it's late) with my Monday Poetry Train. But since I used this new exercise to write a new poem, I figured it counted as both.

This is the last assignment for the Wishes, Lies, and Dreams portion of the Weekend Workout. Thanks Puget Sound Community School, for playing along.

Calling Out

"Calling" is a form of wishing. We call for help. We call for something larger than ourselves, to connect with something larger for ourselves. Sometimes our calls are simply pleas to something beautiful, something simple and pure, because we know we are flawed.

I think this exercise is best done outside. A quiet spot is better, but I did this one on my back porch with the traffic outside and all the telephone wires hanging like laundry lines.

In this exercise, you just get quiet for a few minutes, and then look around you and find something in nature to be "in awe" with.

After having a few moments of "awe," call out to this thing. When you call, speak on behalf of yourself as a human existing on the planet. Think about your time on the earth compared to its. Think that you can learn something from it. Listen to what it teaches you.

You literally start this poem with "I call to..." and then ride the call like wind and see where it takes you. This is a very "stream of consciousness" kind of poem and I'm looking forward to seeing where you all land with it.

Lost Flock

I call to the snowcapped blue
mountains Tuesday morning the
river of cars buoys ex-pedestrians
to the city
my muse
of politics
each vying for some heart
as if there weren't enough
to go around

Black crows on the wire
identify each other by instinct
while we do by hairstyles and
familiar arguments

I call to my people
follow through on your dreams
head forth
look the squeegee kids
in the eyes say
hello and thank you
like the magic you do
without fear
of losing your flock

Monday, March 24, 2008

Monday Poetry Train #20

Hello Poetry Trainers.

First, some most excellent news... I finished the first draft of my second novel. Sure feels good. And it doesn't totally suck! Sure, it needs some love, but for the most part, I'm just glad I've got a full draft to work with. I think the real magic is in the editing...

So, tonight, in celebration, I wrote an original poem. This is about as hot off the press as they get.

It doesn't even have a title yet.

The dramaturge sits in his oafish chair
beard in breath
wrangling his metaphors
he wants demonstration not simple words
the bee bigger than life
just because you say a red bird
represents death
doesn't mean it can't speak

The puppeteer, too, wants a larger role
and the woman behind the bar
the audience in a slow suicide
of soliloquy
wanders home past the
midnight beggars
the bearded critic
stuffs himself
with himself
and goes to bed
dreaming of the speed of light

And speaking of dreaming... I should get to bed myself.

Happy Monday!

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Weekend Writing Workout - Wishes, Lies, Dreams #5 or 6

I've been having a blast writing these weekly exercises for Puget Sound Community School poetry students. If you have some time, please do check out some of their work. They've done a great job with the exercises (as a matter of fact, I may need to borrow some of their examples for a book I'm writing on teaching poetry).

I've been spending more time on wishes and dreams, so I though it was time for some more lies. Or, at least not exactly the truth... How many of you have been in a situation where you don't know the answer to something, and rather than admitting you don't know, you make something up? Little kids tend to do this a lot, but I bet adults do, too.

Then again, some questions are simply unanswerable...


I decided this week to take one of my favourite writing exercises and give it a little bit of a twist.

For this exercise, everyone in the class/group needs to put a few objects on the table. I like a balance of natural objects and man-made objects, so perhaps each students could get one of each. I've used bricks, rocks, tree bark, glasses, pens, shoes, keys, flowers, a bottle of water, anything will work, really.

Exercise #1

Pick three objects that you will use for this exercise. Pick at least one natural object and one man-made object.

Write a question at the top of your page. It is important that the question be open ended rather than yes/no or answerable in one word. Examples would be:

Why is the sky blue?
Why does rain make people sad?
What is space made of?

How do birds stay in the air?

What is fame? love? war?
Why must we grow up?

What you will do is ask each of these objects your question and they will answer you in the form of a list poem. Keep in mind, though, that your object doesn't really know the answer to the question, so it makes the answer up.

Why would the object make up the answer? I suppose it depends upon the personality of the object. It's too egotistical to admit it doesn't know, it's afraid to tell you it doesn't know, it's ashamed it doesn't know, it thinks it should know, etc.

The challenge is in keeping the object's perspective in mind as it answers your question. Remember, it has a skewed and limited view of the world.

Set a timer for 3-5 minutes. Have the first object answer your question. Start each line of the poem in the same manner to give it repetition. You will do this with each object so that at the end you will have 3 stanzas.


(objects: bark, popsicle stick, brick)

Why Can't I Sleep at Night?

Because you dream of chainsaws
Because you worry about nesting birds
Because your grandparents are sleeping next to you
Because the seasons make you tired

Because you dream of teeth
Because you are disposable
Because you have forgotten your childhood
Because you aren't finished yet

Because you dream of wild oceans
Because you want to grow arms, legs, or vines
Because there is something blocking the door
Because grey isn't your favorite color

I like that this one repeats the "because" each line and each stanza begins with the same idea, that there is some dream involved.

Exercise #2

Now you can turn it around and have the objects ask YOU a question. Meaning, each object asks you the same question, and you answer it for them. You can use the same objects in the first exercise or different ones. You can ask the same question, or try a new one.

Why would you make up the answer or lie to this object? Maybe you are teasing it, maybe you have an attitude. You can decide to tell the object what you think it wants to hear, what it needs to hear, try to convince it of something, or assuage its fears.

(objects - pen, leaf, shoe)

What is love?

It is straight lines and no smudges
It is unmailed letters in a drawer
It is being both right and left handed
It is learning to write your name

It is straight branches and no bird poop
It is unwritten graffiti in someone's mind
It is having branches on the east and west side of the trunk
It is leaning to fall

It is straight lines down a car-free road
It is unopened boxes of fluevogs
It is having socks for every occasion
It is learning to walk

Have fun with this! I've always gotten really interesting results from this exercise.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Monday Poetry Train - Toot!

I haven't done much writing of original poetry lately... and I'm still without my laptop, working off my ancient PC pulled out of the garage. It's an adventure every time I start exploring my old files.

I tried to find the oldest unpublished poem on this computer that was worth sharing.

This one is 10 years old, when I was traveling in and out of a very long "broken-heart-dark-night-of-the soul" phase in my life. Yeah, we all have at least one of those. I'll spare you from any of the overly-maudlin or overly-philosophical ones.

I've always kinda liked this one, though, not sure why I never published it.

beautiful sonnet

I have never held breath like your intake silence
how can I not love you in your way that
Gemini arm’s-length seduction
eaten with one cannibal cry
how like you to slide between the remains
renaming parts of me turned to dust

1:37 AM won’t stand in front of you
won’t beckon the curtains
draw runes from a black bag
everything about the air rings warning
this is my life this is my life this is my life - but
mantra is weak logic with you fresh on my skin

your passing fancy held onto for lack of better touch
leaves no tomorrow to teach you interpretations of such

Feels good to be back on the train, even if it has been regurgitated material these past two weeks.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Weekend Workout - Wishes, Lies, Dreams #4 of 6

The Dreams of Small Things

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.
~William Blake
Often times in my workshops I ask my students to go "small." What I mean is that picking large, abstract topics to write about (like love, loss, war) can lead to cliche and vague poems. When you focus on the details of life, and think in concrete images, the more abstract will emerge. You can start off writing a poem about a snail and get to a poem about love. The poem's meaning will come through the objects themselves.

When you want to write about loss, don't try to explain loss, don't tell me what loss is, show me loss. Think of images of loss. And start small.

Part #1
- Find a small moment

In my adult workshops I ask participants to go outside and find the smallest "political" moment they can. There are a lot of politics in small things. Politics means the use "of intrigue or strategy in obtaining any position of power or control." Do the cats in your neighborhood vie for control? Do the leaves? Does the wind?

If you find the idea of the "politics" of things too difficult, simply watch small things in action. Watch the wind blow the seeds off a dandelion. I like watching the pigeons gather on the roof of the tallest house on my block.

In the first part of this exercise, go outside and find this small moment and describe it. This can be done in poetry or prose. DESCRIBE and don't judge or try to make it mean anything. Then, after you've done that for a few lines, look around the object and see how it interacts with the other things around it.

(Thanks to one of my Creative Writing for Children (age 14) participants for the below examples)

The Top Leaf

The top leaf hides in the gray sky with a sigh
above all the other leaves, pointing to the sky
in between winter and spring it beats
its own drum, no wind, no rain, no tide
A plane buzzes overhead, a gull cries
the leaf stares straight up, holding a bud
that no one will ever see, except me
writing in my blue notebook, looking
for the mystery of small things

Part #2 - The Dreams of Small Things

Now that you've made friends with your leaf, or dandelion, or spider, or bird - go one step further and put yourself in the place of your object. Live like the object, and dream what the object dreams. Remember to use its surroundings.

If you'd like, you can use the start line "In my dreams..."

The Dreams of Leaves

In my dreams, at the top of the world, I open
my bud and bloom all year round, soaking the sun
up and never getting wrinkles
The gulls flock overhead in V-formation, calling down to me
an invitation to the beach
One plucks me in its beak and we fly to the shore
the wind laughing in my skin
as airplanes soar, caring for
passengers traveling to distant lands
I fall to the sand, as the gull gets bored
The waves tease slowly and grow
lifting me up to float
through the night by the moon's glow
through the day by the sun's gloat
I am golden and lost, like a delicate

NOTE: I did not make rhyming a necessity for this poem, my student discovered that herself. I like the way it moves in and out of an unpredictable rhyme pattern.

Have a great weekend!

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Monday Poetry Train - I'm back! (again)

Hello Poetry Trainers... boy have I have a few crazy weeks. As you know, I was producing the annual Women In Film Festival, which ended last night at our Spotlight Awards Gala. This on top of my day job, made for a string of 14, 16, even 18 hour days. Whew!

In the middle of all this, my computer went KAPUT! I thought all my poetry was lost, but a friend saved my hard drive (NOTE: backup your hard drive on a regular basis, people!)

I dug my old PC out of storage and am writing on that now. Feels so archaic, haha. It's about eight years old.

In honour of my old 'puter, I dug up an eight year old poem, never published (never happy with it I guess), written while I was living in Prague. I was writing poetry pretty much everyday while I lived there. Wow, it all seems a lifetime ago...

Prague, CZ
July 28, 2000

i’ve attached myself
to the way space
opens up

when everything flames

carries you away to burn

in a new direction for a while

last night we cooked fancy meals
veggie burgers rice wine greek salad ice cream
with blueberries strong coffee
in the morning omelets with creamed spinach
for late lunch blueberry pancakes and
in that determination bought bus tickets for Split
craving at least one day of sun and beach
for all the dark rainy days July has brought

suddenly i’m on vacation
or pre-writing as Bernadette calls it
which is anything you do when you’re
not writing

it's all about mortality
or why we need to love
i’ve become afraid of flying
smoking cigarettes instead
there is so much smoking time here
it passes the meantimes between rational fears

Have a great week, everyone!