Friday, July 08, 2016

Departures and Arrivals

Gypsy moth caterpillars parade by our tentative feet
in the short term parking lot, a long walk
from your international flight. Oh how I love
and have loved the sky that was television blue
that day in September when you were in second grade
and unaware. Fear painted us all bright as a game.

Parts of fire ladders and stairwell remain. Today the game
is departure. Let’s go, let’s go, say your ticking feet,
steps ahead of mine, ready for a fresh grade
of landscape, centuries old and embryonic, a walk
through operatic pastures, a kiss under blue
club lights in Spain. I let you go to love

the world and all its stories of love —
slurred, deferred, the ones we made into a game
to conquer, look how old they are, how blue
the bruises are, still. I hope that your feet
only have to handle the glamour of dancing, a walk
through mountains with windy arms. I grade

what I haven’t seen by what I’ve read. You’ll grade
nothing, live in corners without banners, love
and remember streamers and lamplight, a walk
far from the sea, from me, your mother’s game,
a showcase full of worried birds. Their dusty feet
a bunch of pitiful rakes that gain no flight, no blue.

This is just how it is, it’s how far I can go with you, the blue
is yours. For now. Take it. The panoramic view is a grade
of empire without a ruler, no one ever owns it. Clamorous feet
have tried. Our country always marches in the name of love
while chanting inside a courtyard of dead bodies. The game
is not to look too American. To understand our walk

has the look of daggers and nostalgia. I’ll wait to recognize your walk
at the arrival gate, your stride thistled by growth. So much blue,
red and white in this open space, round crimson seats like game
pieces, drops of blood. Come home! Stay there! Grade
the fancy aching pain of experience against the love
of your unequal family, exchange your money, wash your feet

in the happiness of those walks that blotted all grade,
laundered everything to blue. Here you are, yes, the love
I made, game spirit, who won’t even crush a caterpillar under her feet.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Body of Memory

Every day your body of memory,
string art of neurons, the center pulled taut.
Here you are again, a chain reaction

of catastrophic perfectionism,
trying, trying, trying as you drive the car home.
Every day your body of memory

dances the stories you thought you forgot --
the time a wren thwacked against the windshield.
Here you are again, a chain reaction,

nerve bundles at the side of the road,
feathers and wires of feet in your hands.
Every day your body of memory.

The car is a symbol for the body
in dreams, but this death is yours for real,
here you are! Again, a chain reaction,

your hands pulled the strings, stopped flight,
wrung out song. Your own fire of fingers,
every day. Your body of memory --
here you are again. A chain reaction.

--
A somewhat villanelle, written after taking a dance class.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

How Many Poems Have You Sold, If Any At All?

Well, don’t be shy. Let me check the tally here,
under this stack of poems that I spilled tea on the other night.
The stain spread across lines about a bird that notices
the loose string of a clip-on tie. It’s not even my poem. A girl
about your age wrote it. She said, “I am not the whole.”

I am not the whole either. I am parts, many parts, a cobweb
that someone tried to relocate from an oak to a porch.

The girl leapt metaphorically from herself
to a bird in a class I taught. There’s that triumph.
Pay for that work covered the water, sewer,
and trash bills this month.

But you asked how many poems I’ve sold.
A specific question.

A boy in the sixth grade classes I’m teaching now
scrunches up his forehead at me and asks,
“When you’re not here, what do you do?” I tell him
I wait outside all night until I hear the door unlock.
Not too much of a lie.

“No, what do you REALLY do?” Hungry for the precise
answer too, that kid.

Are you supposed to sell poems? After 30 or so years
of writing them, I’m pretty sure no one wants
to pay for my truths. They prefer the news,
or reality television, the steady  thrum and throng
of here’s-what-you-should-think,
and ads that promise there’s a medication
for the way you’ve been staring out the window all this time,
instead of making money.

My truth is free.
So here it is.
I’ve sold no poems.

At least I don’t think so. Books of them, in a way,
but people always want to barter, or I end up
paying to ship them overseas. My poems
are better traveled than I am.

I’ve written as many as there were moths
on my bedroom ceiling at night when I was your age
and I couldn’t get to sleep in the black hole
that was the end of every single day.

I’m not sure what they are for in our world today.
Moths, or poems. They disappear.
A moth’s body —
have you seen it?
It is feathered dust.

If at all. You’re ruthless enough
to be the next one
to wait outside until you hear
the door unlock,
reverse your fame,
become the richest poor
woman alive
in her own
private
empire.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Are You Sure You Want To Delete All Files?

Poems are spoken, heard, felt, perhaps forgotten. Or in some instances, the words find their way onto a page that yellows, becomes brittle, and decays. You may spend three sleepless nights stringing 800 carnations for a one night event. Plays take shape for a few nights on a stage, and then the set is torn down, the props and flats packed up to build some other reality later.  The dialogue and nature of the character lives on in the actor only as long as the next role they play.

Performance is constantly changing as it is being created, and even as it has its run. It is fleeting. Miss it, and well, you've missed it. Entirely. There's no file recovery for missing the opportunity to see your friend Nick perform with his band because you opted to sit on the sofa and eat Oreos instead.

Yesterday a student in one of our classes lost all of her work. We've written self-portrait poems, and for the past week or so have created animations of the lines using iStopMotion on iPads. She deleted, accidentally, or possibly on purpose, all of the animation she created. Tears welled up with the realization that all of her work was gone. She left the room, collected her courage somewhere in the hallway, and returned to redraw. She learned one of the hard lessons of creating. Hearing "It will all be alright," or "I appreciate that you've gotten back to work," doesn't really help when you're mourning a loss. You're alone with empty hands. We'll discuss what happens when you lose all your work in class on Tuesday when some time has passed.

We've experienced all sorts of "All of my files are gone!" in this residency as well. The iPads have a function engaged on them that allows the user to delete files by shaking the device as you might shake an Etch-a-Sketch. It first prompts the user with "Are you sure you want to delete all files?" but short attention spans, or a desire to have a virtual dog gobble it all up, often ends in a click of the "yes." Then regret. Or delight, depending. Some people like starting from scratch. Others think deleting it all will be an excuse to get out of rewriting. That's a whole other lesson.

When the cat pees on your painting (this happened to me once - a critic!), or you break a bit of pottery, or even burn up your origami, you have pieces and parts (or ash) to work from, but when you work digitally, what is left? File recovery, if you're lucky.

All creation is ephemeral. Whatever you make will be gone through decay, erosion, explosions, deletion, including you and your beloved patterns, someday. Hit save all you want, you're on your way out. For now, go out in the hallway to find your courage to come back. Do something, anything, to add rather than subtract before you go.




Saturday, April 23, 2016

You Don’t Get To Know Us Here: an Abcedarius of Loneliness in America

Angles everywhere, our pictures
burst into smirking. You have to give
credit to the walls, so ivory, so
dull they bore the next door neighbor’s
even thatch of lawn, while yours yawns
fists of weeds. So much is disguised, a
guise of “fine” and “great” and “ok” in your
hello, and you know yours isn’t the only house
iced with doors that look like slammed exits.
Just have a look at all the fences, keen in their
keep aways, keep backs, keep outs, keeping
love at length, love that spills its foreign
mortar shells at low and consistent velocities.
Niceties make it hard to visit, we can’t be
open, look each other in the eyes. Are we
protecting the holes already blasted into our chests, their
quarries of guns and valentines? There is that poem by
Rukeyser that lives inside you, and anytime you
stand in a crowded superstore you want to
take a stranger’s hand in yours, link the
unforgiving seconds of your life to theirs, add
value among the shelves bricked against us all
with fat free crackers and ziplocks of terror,
x-treme white breads that make us dizzy and forgetful.
You don’t get to know us here, standing in our lines at the
zero hour, riddled by our unfilled and overflowing baskets.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Building Up and Celebrating the Self through Visual Poetry and Creative Movement

It can be difficult to be open, to let yourself be vulnerable and at risk. Ready to fail. Open to criticism. Especially when you're young, and learning who you are, but it's even difficult as we age and are subjected to the droning messages of perfection. But when you are vulnerable, you are also open to moments of beauty. Moments of connection.

I've had two day-long sessions recently with students where we had the time to explore creative movement, writing, and our unique selves, both fragile and strong.

The second group, toward the end of the week, was with non-public middle school students. I introduced myself and the session, and let them know that we'd be writing some individual self-portraits. We'd also write countless group portraits by creating a kinetic poetry sculpture.

First we created anagrams from the letters in our names. I asked everyone to choose their favorite word from their name and then invited them to join me in a large circle in the back of the room. Each student created a movement to go with their name and word. As each person said their name and word and made their accompanying movement, it was repeated by the group, and then the next student took their turn, until we made it all the way around the circle. This never fails to illicit laughter, and is a great way to recall names.
  
We answered a series of open-ended questions, each student working on his or her own, and then we grouped up to discuss and report out some of the ideas and thoughts that were shared.


We read a self-portrait poem written by an 8th grade student, titled "The Strange Kid with the Red Face," and discussed the mood and tone of the poem, as well as all the different points of view the author used. 
We looked at some examples from the "This I Be" project, by photographer Steve Rosenfield, which explores the ideas of insecurity, vulnerability, and confidence.

We discussed some of our own insecurities, and then I modeled the trust fall with a friend who was in to audit my session. A couple of volunteers came up to give it a try. 

Whew! It's a little scary, letting yourself fall into a new friend's arms. Makes you feel open. A little vulnerable.

We wrote some of  our own "I am" and "I am not" statements, then shared them. I asked students to write an insecurity and a confidence on each hand. My insecurity is that I am clumsy. My confidence is that I am an encourager. My eyeliner pencils got a lot of sharpening this day, as everyone wrote and re-wrote, and shared.



There was a brief break in here to learn a circus (and life) skill -- balance! In particular, the balancing of feathers. We circled up, and everyone got a peacock feather and some instruction on keeping it balanced on the palm of the hand, the back of the hand, the chin -- there were a few who got their feathers to balance on their foreheads, too.

Credos, statements of belief, and creating metaphors and similes were our next bit of writing. We kept adding to our freewriting so we'd have enough content to work with when the time came for crafting a poem.



After reading another example of a self-portrait poem, we got to work writing our own, choosing the point of view, and spreading out all of our writing from the day -- the anagrams from our names, answers to the questions, I am/I am not statements, credos, and comparisons.

When the first drafts were done, we broke for lunch. Afterwards, we edited a bit, chose a few lines we wanted to use for the text transfer, and then we read a few poems out loud.

I showed the text transfer technique, and a few options for adding color to the blocks. Everyone set to work doing the typesetting of their phrases, adding layers of color to the blocks, and transferring their phrases to the blocks.


We gathered at the end of our session to arrange our blocks into different structures, and read what text appeared each time we rearranged. I asked everyone what they noticed about it.  

"It's a poem no matter where you read."