More Stuff I’ve Learned

So doing this long project of reading and writing fan fiction, I have learned a few things. First, I learned that stories have rhythms: action/inaction, noise/quiet, angst/fluff, questioning/answering, planning/executing. I feel like this is sort of like beats in a movie, but apparently there, a beat, according to Wikipedia, is an act or discovery that alters the way the main character goes about his/her purpose.

Second, people really love the word “smirk,” practically to a criminal extent.

Third, many, many people, people who consider themselves writers, are completely capable of having read fiction all their lives without actually ever learning the rules for punctuating dialogue. “This one bothers me most,” she said, smirking. I have probably left comments on this, encouraging people to look at their favorite novel to figure out the rules, maybe twenty times.



For three years, I studied flamenco dance at the local adult education center, mainly so I could write about it. (Writers are like that.) In the process, I discovered Spanish tapas, made friends, and realized that I liked darker colors than I had previously (cranberry, fir green, etc.). Also, kalamata olives! So, win-win.

As it happened, my teacher in real life is a florist, so I wrote this poem with her in mind, trying to capture the 3-3-2-2-2 rhythm of many of the different traditional dances, such as the allegrias (joy).


The Flamenco Teacher

for Malena, who is “just a florist”


The flowers are extravagant, unafraid,

brazen gypsies, holding nothing back

except their thoughts, haughty, bold

and sultry as a summer in Seville.

Their jade hips, clad in silken frills

blazing orange, purple, red, tilt

and turn toward the sun. They look

it straight in its single eye, like

matadors who challenge a golden bull,


like a flamenco dancer,

like two

who gaze

over their shoulders

at each other,




Petal, pistil, stamen, stem and root:

beneath your hands, these blossoms toss

heads, moody, beautiful, game for anything.

When you dance, your wrists become veined stems.


Your hands,

like yellow irises,






Twelve students cower, nerves jangling, filled

with doubt, try to crack through shells built

of concrete, tackle your taconeo, heelwork drills,

and, though tangled in our fears, leery of passion

and lacking the proper heat, feel the music, loud

and fast, hear the sad lyrics, enter the beat of










Something happens there, between one foot

and the other, with the keening, thrumming

guitar and the snap of castanets, something lean

and wary, beguiling, a trial by fire–

Uncomfortable? Yes, but vast and rowdy,

extravagant, filled with lust: just what we need

to travel out of our flustered selves, to become


tiger lilies

shot through

with fire,



at breaking inertia,


noses closer

to smell a faint perfume–


We trust you. Down to our roots,

where trembling buries itself in layer

upon layer, we strive to act proud,

new, we strive to fling away nine-to-five

inhibitions, hear the complaint of the driving

guitar as part of our everyday. You try

to turn our white carnation lives

patiently, into vivid play, create

a place for us to grow hardy

and come to no harm, be flamboyant,

joyous: gladiola gorgeous and sure.

Your arms draw broad circles in the air.

We mimic you grimly, well aware

of our flaws. Our own earnest arms only


stammer and

stutter those

moves that




until the music

we hear–


and you can see the difference clearly, in our faces–



the rambunctious

music clamors

through us,

proves your faith in us



Lightness follows, and grace, and, if it is not

consistent, if navigating gypsy space still

causes us to tighten our muscles and sweat,

if we still swallow our best instincts, if

our breath comes in broken, obstinate gusts–

still, we know we did it once, so we can.





our two



Bulbs do turn into buds, the beginnings

of burning color. And buds, though they may

wait a long time and bloom late, always

open and climb if they get enough sunlight

and cultivation. We are, each of us, not such

different creatures, our shut petals stirring,

finally, when we trust. You are a florist. Just

so. What you have learned from flowers,

you must teach.

Narratives for Survival #3


The first line of this poem comes from a poem by Trumbull Stickney. It got stuck in my head the other day, and since I was working on an oratorio or possibly musical about the Hanging Gardens allegedly built by Nebuchadnezzar, I thought I would play around with the ideas some more, and because I am a glutton for punishment, use blank verse (unrhymed iambic pentameter) to do it. If you are going to go classical antiquities, after all, go all the way.


“Be still. The Hanging Gardens were a dream,”

Just as Eden was a paradise

Where animals could frolic, never die,

And trees provided all the fruit for all

The hungry mouths who had not yet learned pain.

Such dreams are necessary for our hearts

To learn the blueprint of a truer world.


When Babylon, the center of the world,

Was young and shining in the desert sun,

The emperor, it’s said, once came upon

His consort, Amytis, just lingering

Alone and staring eastward toward her home

In far-off Persia–fair, beloved, and green–

And in that moment knew what pity was.


A moment only. (Though that moment was

Enshrined in history. Three thousand years

Have passed and carried with them this one tale,

The birthing of a wonder of the world.

We know such men as emperors do not

Amass empires in order to appease

The heartsick longings of a simple girl,


However regal her paternal price

In dowered lands.) A moment later, he

Envisioned legacy, his glorious name

Forever linked to this vast garden, tiered,

Wild, green and flower-blazoned (built by slaves

In exile, sons of Israel of old),

And fountains blossoming to ward off heat.


Herodotus recorded measurements–

How high the walls, how tall the topmost tree–

But archaeologists, who deal in truth,

The truth that lies in layers of dirt on dirt,

Tell us Herodotus did not see truth

The way we do, that history back then

Was story first and only afterward


A thing of facts. The poet was not wrong:

The Hanging Gardens were a dream. It’s true.

But then, what does it mean that this green dream

Has filled the sleeping minds of women, men,

A thousand generations sharing these

Wild, verdant tendrils of this single dream?

Through this, a need is answered, so be still.

Getting Lost, Getting Found


So I was reading Robert Frost’s poem, “Directive,” about getting lost in a small, old town. He mentions Panther Mountain, so it is probably set in the Catskill Mountains of New York. It is full of Frost’s individualistic syntax, starting out:

“Back out of all this now too much for us

Back in a time made simple by the loss

Of detail, burned, dissolved, and broken off

Like graveyard marble sculpture in the weather…”

My college freshmen would probably oversimplify this to “back in the day” but then we would lose the photographic detail and the lovely iambic pentameter (five feet of unstressed/stressed syllables) that is at the heart of much great poetry in English. He goes on to say:

“The road there, if you’ll let a guide direct you

Who only has at heart your getting lost,

May seem as if it should have been a quarry—“

And this reminds me of the irony of anyone who has ever given directions and insisted, “You can’t miss it!” when we all know that is almost never true. Also, it reminds me of dreams I have often had about places I have lived, Middlebury, Vermont, Matsuyama, Japan, used bookstores in Boston long defunct, and small, hilly towns in New England and New York, when you are on the way to someplace else and slow down to drive by the statue to the men of the town who served during the Civil War. Often there is a small Congregational church, white wooden clapboard and a tall pointed steeple. And then, in a moment, the village is left behind and once more you are on a road from somewhere to somewhere else, and a forest of a hundred greens lining either side of your road.

“As for the woods’ excitement over you

That sends light rustle rushes to their leaves,

Charge that to upstart inexperience.”

The urban soul hungers for green upon green: sprint, mint, old oak, malachite, jade, evergreen. The leaves overlap like Earth’s eyelashes, the whole forest flirting with you as you let the road drive you through and away, content to let it take more time than travel takes in even your small city.

“And if you’re lost enough to find yourself

By now, pull in your ladder road behind you

And put a sign up CLOSED to all but me.

Then make yourself at home.”

We think we travel to get to another place, to achieve something: to participate in a conference, a wedding, a family meal, a family fight, a game, a job. But such things are simply the excuse for being on the road, seeing the unfamiliar multitudes of green, the all-too-familiar tarmac stretching out before and behind. Ideally, if you let it, even such simple travel can change you.

“Here are your waters and your watering place.

Drink and be whole again beyond confusion.”


Frost, Robert. “Directive.” Beginning with Poems. Ed. Reuben A. Brower, Anne D. Ferry and David Kalstone. New York: Norton, 1966. 330-331.

In Which I Learn a Newish Thing, Possibly Again


So I was over at reading about Gerard Manley Hopkins, the great Jesuit poet, and one of the interesting facts about him that was mentioned was this rhythm he invented. According to Encyclopedia Brittanica:

Sprung rhythm, an irregular system of prosody developed by the 19th-century English poet Gerard Manley Hopkins. It is based on the number of stressed syllables in a line and permits an indeterminate number of unstressed syllables. In sprung rhythm, a foot may be composed of from one to four syllables. (In regular English metres, a foot consists of two or three syllables.) Because stressed syllables often occur sequentially in this patterning rather than in alternation with unstressed syllables, the rhythm is said to be “sprung.” Hopkins claimed to be only the theoretician, not the inventor, of sprung rhythm. He saw it as the rhythm of common English speech and the basis of such early English poems as Langland’s Piers Plowman and nursery rhymes such as: Ding dong, bell,/Pussys in the well.

Sprung rhythm is a bridge between regular metre and free verse. An example of Hopkins’ use of it, from “Spring and fall to a Young Child,” is: Margaret are you grieving/Over Goldengrove unleaving?

I think this is what I have been doing without knowing it when I say that I am using a loose version of iambic pentameter in the poetry project I have been working on. Gosh, and here I thought I had invented something. Who knew?

Sprung Rhythm. Encyclopedia Brittanica. 2015. Web. 20 April 2015.