Punctuation

Semicolons-and-Colons-2_720x370…or lack thereof!

One thing I notice about my draft poems is that I often ignore punctuation. Sometimes that lack remains in the final draft, if I think that the ambiguously run-on approach works for the poem or that line breaks alone serve the purpose; but more often, punctuation is something I work into the revision process. Billy Collins tells an anecdote attributed to Oscar Wilde about proofreading a poem, and how he spent all morning deciding to remove a comma, and then spent the afternoon deciding to put it back in.

I do not devote quite that much time to commas. I do think that punctuation matters as an aspect of poetic craft and can convey more than we realize. The draft below, if I decide it is salvageable, will probably require some punctuation.

~
Down Will Come Cradle

She rocked you to soothing in her
warm young arms
do not forget how young she was
you so new
to the world you felt safe unquestioning
but look back
from yourself as you are now and
think of her
embracing your small body with her fears
and with love
she barely understood herself saying to you
what she’d heard
from her mother until she could confirm
in herself
secure against her novice worries as she
rocked you both
warm and soft and young in the
darkened room
where you now attend to her no longer
young neither
you nor she young but the mutual
comforting
continues the lifetime of strain and slack
you so new
to the process of soothing her how
easily
you rock beside her holding her hands in
your warm hands

~

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Idea or memory

Revising a draft, for me, means returning to the poem from several perspectives. I might change the speaker from first person to second or third person, or change the poem so that there is not a clear speaker at all–no longer “lyric.” I may alter specifics, such as place names or seasonal references. Or fictionalize with invented crises, persons, time periods, or events. Take on a persona, for example. Add or delete dialogue. These are interpretive and point-of-view considerations: How can I broaden the poem’s reach?

I might then revise for stanza patterns. Or find a vague meter going on in the piece which I will decide is worth pursuing, if it will enhance the poem; sometimes it does not work that way.  If an image intrigues me, or puzzles or frustrates me, I’ll devote some revision effort to that. Play with alliteration or assonance, rhyme or off-rhyme, line lengths. Those are craft considerations, mostly.

When I work on a draft, my approach is that craft should hone perspective, and should be a silent partner in the poem. Early drafts, if promising, possess something inherently interesting. Otherwise, there’s nothing to work on or work with–the poem never really happens. Maybe all it manages to be is an idea, or a memory.

~

Sarasota

During the recession
laid off and without
even an old car
I lived in Sarasota
red tide gulf waters
slew of small fishes
dead on the beaches
where I went shell
hunting for lack of
other purpose.

Lizards on my walls
everything that mattered
blotted in moist air
novels and notebooks
drew mildew my hair
haywire the boy I loved
brown eyes & panic
sea at sunset gulls
and palmettos.

Once weekly I’d bike
to Unemployment
and wait in line to prove
I couldn’t get a job
but that I’d tried
& after my humbling
before government
agencies I’d stop at a
coffee shop on Fruitville
Road and order two
eggs over easy home fries
brown toast coffee &
blueberry pie.

There was something
so filling about that
meal I still think of it
silky blueberries in my
mouth the tip I left
the blond waitress who
kept my coffee cup full
and always called me
Darlin’.

~

blueberry-pie-horiz-a-180011

Prompts

Teachers of creative writing have mixed views about the use of prompts (a prompt is an image, phrase, visual, question, or anything else meant to get a poet started in lieu of–or in addition to–“inspiration”). I have found them useful for practice; in my experience, occasionally a random prompt does result in a serviceable, or even good, poem. But I do not tend to use them regularly.

During this month of writing and posting a poem draft each and every day, I haven’t turned to prompts. I notice, though, that the drafts are perhaps more personal than I expected them to be.

This one doesn’t have a title yet:

~

Today there’s pain
opening with every blossom,
the pain of others
far from you, and also
those nearby. Even yours.
You see the world
as it is, how each bloom
attracts tiny ants
and the industrious bee,
later transforming
into hard green fruit.

Today you suffer the way
all things suffer
although you breathe
sweet air, although you
see the constant sun
now and then appearing
between dense, mobile clouds–
joy, flickering, brief,
but always possible.
Isn’t that also how
the world is? The cat’s
fur, soft beneath your
stroking thumb. Thrushes
uttering melodies for
anyone who will hear.

IMG_5953

Three days

I took a short journey north, during which there was a great deal of rain; and when I returned, the redbud trees had bloomed and the goldfinches had molted into their bright yellow plumage.

So I have three days of poem drafts to post.

~

Passover

The first holiday without,
grief burns like anger.
Irritant. Tough fibers
scraping at skin raise a rash,
sore during celebration.
Empty ritual this year.
Empty place at the table–
bitter, bitter herbs.

~
~springblooms
Visual Trick

Along tree line’s haze
of new growth, the blur–
lichen-covered boughs,
white-flowering branches.
Sky’s cloudy, grass strewn
with petals might almost
be snow, but goldfinch
perches yellow on beech’s
recalcitrant twigs.
Not snow but Spring.

~
~

photo of windshield during rainy weather

**

The drive isn’t always pleasant:
too much traffic, too much rain,
too many miles between friends,
but I will accompany you.

Mutual miles, mutual acquaintances–
though much impedes marriage,
true minds admit true friends into
the equation, complex and contradictory,

at which we work consistently;
they are our common denominators.
~

 

April blossoms

Easter and Passover are late in April this year, which rather complicates the semester breaks of the university; the weather remains unsettled, and at present (6:30 pm, Eastern Time), I look out my north-facing window at bright evening light, lengthening shadows, and the narcissus and shadblow trees in bloom.

I have some visiting to do and may not be posting for a day or so–but will manage to do so if I can; and I will endeavor to at least compose one (I can at best promise one) poem per day even if I don’t get to this blog to post it.

[Note: This is more a reminder to myself than to my readers, who I’m sure have more  significant things to do than to keep track of whether I am holding to my discipline for National Poetry Month.]

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Aesthetic Potential

In her yard stood a large quince
which was her favorite flower, she said
though she admitted the bushes
ill-shaped and far too thorny,
the blossoms, though early, unscented
and often sparse or inward-facing,
simple in form, not good for cutting.
The fruits sour, useful only in jelly
which she never bothers putting up
anymore, the branches susceptible to rust.
It looks both forlorn and nasty all winter.
I like its tenacity, she told me, but also
its tenderness. For no other shrub
bears buds with such multi-colored
promise, that might open into anything—
sweet, complex, showy. Though it
doesn’t deliver, April’s bees indulge.

photo by Ann E. Michael

Distractions

I know that many social critics these days, and many educators, complain that there are too many distractions in human lives. Social media, pop-up ads online, brief click-bait “articles” and screamer headlines, visuals that cause decreased attention spans, too much audiovisual stimulus brain noise.

I think I agree with them, but there are days I need distraction. My distraction tends to be of a non-electronically-mediated variety, but it is distraction all the same.

~

Diversion

It’s the hawk crying
or the crows vying
for territory
in the overstory,
maple trees and ash
and pine awash
with pollen and dew.
It’s the long view
the ache that underpins
what some call sins
as though pain’s earned.
Unconcerned
with absolution
the birds have won
my attention–
birds, and one
ray of sun.

redtail

 

National Poetry Month poem-a-day challenge for day 17.

Burning

letter I t’s fascinating to me how memory and associations work; this weirdly human cognitive process (or set of connective processes) seems to wire us for poetry, for art, for metaphor, analogy, and symbolism–for dreams and the surreal, and for curiosity and wonderment.

I visited the Cathedral of Notre Dame when I was in Paris at age 16, an experience indelible in my mind. And yet, what arrived when I sat down to write my poem for this particular April day is a different, though related, image and experience. One I had not thought about for many years, not since this post, probably.

~

Cathedral, Burning

In a work of fiction, the church aflame would act as symbol; in a sermon,
as analogy, something metaphorical in both church and fire; but listen,
my childhood church, First Presbyterian of Yonkers, burned to the ground–
steeple towers, bricks, stained glass, oak pews–in 1968, faulty electric
wires, not an act of God, nothing symbolic about it, no medieval art, no
gargoyles, no rose window; and I can attest to fire’s brute facts, the physics
of heat, the combustion chemistry my father’s brother studied for years, how
even stone can change in fire, transmute, char, chip, and timbers light up
like a droughty forest, glass fused into new-made forms and smoke erupting
to chorus its own pronouncement louder than prayer; and there is no alleluia
yet there is no satan, only what the earth is made of changing its form
(molecular re-arrangements) but not its substance, which is earth, and ours.
~

Archival photo here.