Cascading Home

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I learned about this form of poetry, the Cascade, from Kat Myrman. With a three-line stanza, and capital letters representing repeated lines, the form is ABC deA fgB hiC. (I have also seen this done where the repeating line is the first line of the following stanzas rather than the last, now that I think of it.) Naturally, I chose a seven-line stanza because I am a bloody showoff. Don’t go there, people, or at least not without stretching out first.

 

Home is the place where you write your name

In the dust and it remains your name,

Your dust, your cat’s pawprints telling the tale

Of small peregrinations, domestic pilgrimages.

All the books are yours. You have read them all.

You make your way from room to room in the dark

And as day recedes, your bed embraces you.

 

In other places, you wander, a stranger

Unremarked and nameless, a cipher

To those you pass by, who do not think

To wonder about your loves and dislikes.

They have their own shopping lists of worries.

Out in the world, you are ever nameless.

Home is the place where you write your name.

 

The geography of naming is such that

Your name points the way back to your birth

Or rebirth. Tell me who you are and I will

Point you toward the river whose water runs

Through your veins, calling itself blood.

Drop your name down a well or toss it

In the dust and it remains your name.

 

The story of your life would require volumes

Or a skilled raconteur with a very long string

Tied end to end and woven into itself,

A cat’s cradle of intention, obstacle, outcome,

And the serendipities that every life engenders.

Come to the window. Trace out your tale in

Your dust, your cat’s pawprints telling the tale,

 

Which would include a heroic company of friends,

Sister travelers, the wise one, the warriors,

A ring to find, a cup to destroy, some evil

To overcome, and now and then a resting place

Like this homely place, a place to pause between

The small battles and the long weariness

Of small peregrinations, domestic pilgrimages.

 

Returning home to your bed, your armchair,

Your cat sleeping on all the notes you took

On your travels, you settle in almost as if

You had never left. But now you see it

Anew: You have chosen every picture that hangs

On the walls. You have sat in every chair.

All the books are yours. You have read them all.

 

All of it is as familiar as your own hands:

Small and compact peasant hands that belie

The spectacles and teeming brain, the sword

Hanging over the fireplace. You can lay your hand

On any book you want at a moment’s notice,

Predict the pattern of new spring leaves in the window.

You make your way from room to room in the dark.

 

At dawn, both sun and cat pat your face,

Clamoring for your attention. As the sun passes

Overhead, the light turns this way and that,

Caressing doors and bookcases, chairs and the cat

Who stretches out in the bright patch of carpet.

In the afternoon, he ambles over to welcome you back.

And as day recedes, your bed embraces you.

 

Art by Laura Wilder.

Footnote Poem

Texas Falls

Thirty years ago, right around now, when the spring had announced itself in birdsong and melted snow, my friend C. and I jumped into his red* convertible and headed for the mountains. Damp air enhances scents, like the fertile musky smell of cowshit** that tells you that now, now, finally, winter is over. The pale grey road wound uphill. The trees were in bud, all the pale greens stepping out to wave hello to us, and goodbye. We drove onward, with neither map*** nor plan, but only a sense that spring requires a journey and a breeze ruffling your hair. On the edge of the road, a brown sign proclaimed “Texas Falls” even though we were deep in Vermont. We left the car, strolled among the trees, every footstep sending up a waft of dead pine needles. Our feet made no sound**** so the waterfall never heard us coming over its quiet splashing roar. The sun, so golden between the leaves, came through them with emerald light, both water and sunlight spraying us with blessings.

*Was the convertible red? Was it black or blue? Do I recall it as red because of the intensity with which the mountains were painting themselves green?**Herbivores’ doings smell like grass and wildflowers and the mud that comes from mixing summer and snow and the long grey of January and February, and then adding sunlight and warmth.***When they tell you the map is not the mountain, they are right. Maps are conquistadors of the fallen, flattening and denaming the things that know for themselves what they are. The worn folds also erase the world in lines that intersect like a****Sounds in the forest are hushed, like a library whose books are stones and birdsong.

More on Formatting in Poetry

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Concrete poetry is the practice of making a poem look, on the page, like its topic. In the days of the typewriter, this took a lot of time, but when published, it has great appeal. On the interwebs, where everything has to be left justified, concrete poetry is pretty much just a silhouette. But there are ways to get around that, if all you are going for is the idea of the topic rather than an actual illustration. Here is one from a group of poems I am trying to put together about the dailiness of my life.

7:40 a.m.

BASE   BASE

color    color

liner    liner

lashes lashes

 

 

BOTH

LIPS

 

coffee coffee coffee

coffee

 

coffee

Pinterest Poem

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I am not sure whether this is a cento or a found poem. I saw something crazy about lasagna on Pinterest and decided that my writer’s block merited strong measures and immediately stole it. Astute readers will also recognize lines from Ernest Hemingway, Emily Dickinson, and Patrick McDonnell’s cartoon Mutts.

 

Writers are desperate people, just the way we want

Them to grace the cover of Life Magazine: somewhere

Between torture and fun and blasting it out

With charges that will rock your readers’ world.

Ten rules fit women use to stay fit. One: Exercise

Hypergraphia, an overwhelming urge to write,

To truly rest up, to stop in at my favorite place

For drinks and comfort food that leaves me

Impressed without fail, in gender reversals

We need in our stories, a great example of why

This is absolutely true, in a slightly more mystical light.

 

I think it’s fairly common for writers to be afflicted

With two simultaneous yet contradictory delusions:

I can always live by my pen, until not writing

Makes you anxious. It’s the one and only thing

You have to offer. Well, that and nineteen lasagna recipes

That will change your life: so flavorful, everyone’s bound

To have seconds. Now, I’ll be unstoppable. Yahoo!

Yippee! Woo! Woo! To keep a love story from being

Boring, you need, when asked about romantic chemistry

On the show, to write about the things you wish

You had the courage to say. Only death can stop it.

The Problems of the Epic Fantasy Fan Poet: Reportage, Character and Style

 

As I mentioned on Saturday, the big motivating questions behind so much fan fiction are when did the two characters finally get together and how. But for me as a poet, the question is more about who gets to “report” on these matters, and how do I do it with style, finesse, dignity and just a tiny bit of steam?

First, I set it after Gabrielle’s (brief) marriage to Perdicus. That gets the whole virginity thing out of the way, and it also gives me another chance to see Xena’s Hopeless Yearning (which is something that, as a writer, I have a whole lot more experience with anyway).

Alone on Her Wedding Night, I Think of the Past

 

Once upon a time, an innocent village girl

Left behind her village, parents, sister, even

Her betrothed, to seek adventure on the open

Road. Always ready to talk her way onto a farmer’s

Cart or out of a fight. Talking, stalling for time:

She has a real knack for using words. It’s as if

The words come to her, begging to be said

By her lips, molded to her uses by her tanned

Hands. If I could be a word, I’d come to her

To be said, over and over, like a litany

To Artemis the Huntress or Athena the Wise.

 

Why are all the best goddesses virgins? What is it

That men do to take a woman from her truest self?

Before I stood with her, I braided the garland

Of white flowers for her to wear. She should have

Had a laurel wreath, a crown to tell the world

Of her mastery of words, and the mystery of it:

How she reaches out her hand to touch

The stars, caress the waxing moon, and when

Dawn breaks, a scroll lies next to my pillow.

Perhaps she will write for him now. I promise you,

He won’t know enough to appreciate it any more

 

Than I did. If I had a heart to break, I would cut it

Out of my chest, leave it to beat its last on some

Flat rock, garlanded with a discarded wreath

Of small white flowers, fading as night falls hard.

It doesn’t take a blinded Cyclops to see where this

Night is headed. There is a storm on the horizon,

Purple clouds rolling in with the flash of lightning

Piercing the repeated booms of thunder. And I,

I stand in the pelting rain, oblivious, cold,

Alone again. Once upon a time, foolishly,

I had thought it would be me.

 

I have some poems where I show Xena letting Callisto die in the sandpit, and then I made a bunch of poems set during the Athenian games, which shows all the characters (including Joxer, Salomoneus and Autolycus) dealing with Gabrielle’s grief and mourning. Xena gets (briefly) killed and comes back with her friends’ help and then the ladies get back on the road.

I chose to have Xena be the one to tell what happened, but in an indirect format. Since Gabrielle is usually the bard/poet, I though I would have Xena try a shy love poem. Because beginning poets almost inevitably lean on rhyme, I knew I had to use some rhyming elements, but because I wanted the poem to be dignified and not sing-songy or trite, I used a stanza form with endings ABCDEFGH, so the first line of every stanza would rhyme, etc. Also, in the first two stanzas I used end-stopped lines, which means that the line either ends with a comma or period, or it ends at a fairly sensible place in the sentence. I only start using enjammed lines in stanza three, where a sentence ends in the middle of a line and a new sentence begins right after. So, similar to the events the poem recalls, she starts out shy and awkward and gradually gains confidence and speed.

Xena-and-Gabrielle_article_story_large.png

Shyly, X. Tries Her Hand at Poetry the Morning After

 

Four hundred nights I must have watched you sleep,

The dying fire catching the gold in your hair.

Your sweet breath rose and fell and rose again

With the rhythm of your dreams I was not in.

I did not see you clearly, not at first.

Experience makes innocence seem weak.

Not until you fought beside me did I see

That you had steel in you and your own light.

 

You were a secret I felt I had to keep.

I could not ever let you catch me stare

When you, eager, scratched the parchment with your pen

Or dutifully cut our dinner, gill from fin.

But it was the long spring nights that were the worst,

As I lay by the fire, cold and bleak,

Knowing my desire could never be

More than a whispered dream of warm delight.

 

I could not know how time would make you weep.

The violence of my life you chose to share

Would take your light and heart and try to rend

Them apart, a battle you could not win.

Your pain, my fault; because of my past, cursed.

What changed it all was tragedy. We are Greeks.

We never take life easy. You and he

Married, deflowered, widowed: one day, one night.

 

The poets say that what we sow, we reap.

I had to make it right. I could not bear

To see you in such pain, my more than friend.

My vengeance had little glory, was messy, thin,

A deed I had to do, although perverse.

And after, it was hard for us to speak

Of any of it. The silence between you and me

Crashed through the trees behind us like a kite.

 

It took a few more months for you to steep

In your grief, to face the morning air

Without mourning his reaching of life’s end,

His power over you and its long romance.

You threw large stones into the watercourse.

You say you did not dream. Tears on your cheek

Kept my hand from touching your knee

To “comfort,” a self-deception I had to fight.

 

Then, one evening I heard you moaning in your sleep,

Crying out my name, demanding more!

You were tearing at your clothes and then

Reaching for me. I felt my whole world spin.

I touched your face. I thought my heart would burst

As your eyes flew open, blushing that I could see

All of you now seeing all of me

Finally! At last! And then, all night…

Elevating Experience avec Tous Les Mots Justes

I just had half a discussion about why we read poetry and I am thinking at the same time about why I write poetry. I think during the Teenage Angst Years, I wrote for the same reasons a lot of kids write: to Express My Inner Turmoil. This is not a bad reason for writing, and if you can also make money off it (which some novelists and pop singers do manage to do), that’s even better.

Sometimes I write to experiment with sound, as I did when I wrote a dozen poems about Jack of the Beanstalk with tons of internal rhyme to get a bit more of a constant rhythm going, or when I wrote twice that many about flamenco, using staccato short lines to try to convey the percussion’s feeling.

Sometimes I write to tell stories, as I do when I unpack what I think is going on in a Japanese woodblock. Sometimes I write to take a story that already is out there—Jack of the B, Xena Warrior Princess, the Wright brothers—and go deeper into it, looking at it from a few sides.

But sometimes it seems just a matter of elevating experience, giving dignity to our joys and sorrows as Marge Piercy might say, through finding all the exactly right words to make Truth happen.