Friday, September 2, 2016

Poetry Friday: Cake and Clogyrnach

We got married in August, 1984. The heat it was hot, even for a ceremony at 8 PM. But we didn't melt, and neither did the cake:

Carrot cake, my husband's favorite


I'm sure there was a toast given, too. Which brings me to this month's poetry challenge: the clogyrnach, a traditional Welsh ode with a decreasing syllable count and a simple rhyme scheme:

8 syllables - x x x x x x x a
8 syllables - x x x x x x x a
5 syllables - x x x x b
5 syllables - x x x x b
3 syllables - x x b 
3 syllables - x x a 
(you may combine last two lines into one line)

When I did a light Googling of the form, I learned it's used at weddings and funerals (I haven't confirmed this beyond the Internets, however.) I also gleaned that you may repeat the rhyme scheme for as many stanzas as you like, creating a longer story--or perhaps, an ornate toast to a happy couple. Something sweetly humorous, perhaps dolloped with archaic language---and yet filled with well-wishes. Something a Bard (or Bardess) might compose to earn his/her supper--or a slice of cake.



A Clogyrnach to be recited before Cake

Dearly beloved, gathered here,
witness this cake, built tier by tier:
may layers of sponge
shallacked with mauve gunge
flaws expunge, and endear

bride to bridegroom; bridegroom to bride;
grant stomachs for swallowing pride
and spleens to filter
rivals’ false philter;
Ne’er jilt her—but abide;

ne’er salt his cutting grief, but fold
each into each; thus love raids old
age of bitter rhyme;
cake dissolves in time;
naught left fine; but behold:

Dearly beloved, gathered here,
witness these lives, built tear by tear:
pray layers of sponge
give strength for the plunge;
fear expunge; knots tie dear.

                       ---Sara Lewis Holmes (all rights reserved, but hey, yeah, sure---I'll let you recite it at a wedding, no charge. Just email me a picture of your cake.)


My Poetry Sisters attempted the clogyrnach, too, both in short and long forms. As usual with this brave crowd, after a tad of griping and floundering, some fine poems stepped onto the page.  Here's a toast to that!
Liz
Tanita
Kelly
Laura
Andi
Tricia

Poetry Friday is hosted today by Penny at Penny and her Jots.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Poetry Friday: WONDER

It was an Instagram darling during its run. People couldn't stop posting pictures of themselves with the re-constructed trees, walls of bugs, glass marble-encrusted waterways, index card mountains, and hobbit-ish nests that had been installed inside the newly-renovated Renwick Gallery in DC.


Me, wondering


Each artist had a whole room to work with. No other art was displayed. It was a playground for both creators and viewers alike.





No wonder the exhibit was called WONDER.  I was lucky enough to catch it before it closed in June, and shared a few photos with my Poetry Sisters to inspire our poems this month.

For my poem, I chose to be look closer at In the Midnight Garden, created by installation artist Jennifer Angus. She works entirely with bugs.



Yes, bugs. (Her fascinating website is here.)

The Renwick Gallery puts it this way: "By altering the context in which we encounter such species, Angus startles us into recognition of what has always been a part of our world."

And that is exactly what I'm interested in: that moment of being startled by art.
Because as much as I love art, I love watching people interact with art even more. I love eavesdropping on their comments and watching them tilt their heads and contort their limbs as the art invades their head space.

I mean, look at this guy...he really, really wants to take it all in, but the room is too small, and soon, he'll figure this out and walk through that next door and look back, but at the moment, he's doing what we do when we're trying to take art home in our pocket.



Okay. After I took that photo of him taking a photo, I slipped through the archway and and took these two photos, trying to take some piece of the experience home in my pocket, too.


Viewing In the Midnight Garden
by Jennifer Angus







Then I wrote a poem about them. To extend the wonder, of course.



Wonder

Are they real? a child
asks. In answer, a woman looks
through the eyes of her cell phone.


Above her, a hot but bloodless red
backs death, the pixilated-eyed
watcher over her shoulder.


What do we capture of art, to port
tidily home in our pockets? Do mandalas
like t-shirt designs, fit into our hive


of possibilities? Look! A compass
rose points the way, as bugs flock
over other bugs, posed for family portraits—


or are they circled in therapy, masticating
unhealed hurts? In an aerial photo, I’ve seen
twenty-five thousand human bodies form


a blurry-edged Liberty Bell, but these flat-backed
bugs, so perfectly symmetrical, so aptly suited
for display, with their fine-wire legs and boldly


faceted bodies, could be fastidiously sewn
to a contessa’s dress. Snap. Snap. Snap.
The woman takes pictures. The child asks


again: Are they real? Yes. They are real—-
and clean, and desiccated, repulsion
removed so we can wonder


at wonder, at a museum within
a museum, at a body of bodies,
wing to wing, our mandibles open.

----Sara Lewis Holmes (all rights reserved)



NOTE:

If you're curious about that fantastic magenta color of the walls, according to the Renwick website, "The pink wash is derived from the cochineal insect living on cacti in Mexico, where it has long been prized as the best source of the color red."

And that Liberty Bell made by 25,000 human bodies? Here.


See how my Poetry Sisters wondered and wandered through the exhibit with their poems:

Liz
Tanita
Laura
Andi
Kelly
Tricia

Poetry Friday is hosted today by Tara at A Teaching Life.


Friday, July 1, 2016

Poetry Friday: In the style of Kay Ryan

     Our last "in the style of" challenge was e.e. cummings, a poet of invented words and experimental forms, a writer who easily charms me, and often transports me. This time, our poet model is Kay Ryan, U.S. Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner, who says in this Paris Review interview:

     "Prose is practical language. Conversation is practical language. Let them handle the usefulness jobs. But of course, poetry has its balms. It makes us less lonely by one. It makes us have more room inside ourselves. But it’s paralyzing to think of usefulness and poetry in the same breath."

     And yet, I find it amusing that when I read Kay Ryan's poetry, she seems to be playing with this idea of usefulness. Her poems are often skirmishes with well-worn phrases---she calls herself "a rehabilitator of clich├ęs"---and she deploys flatly-voiced "advice" so wryly you have to read her poems over to see where the joke is. It's like she's saying: why, here's a good (useful) idea---whatever the haha hell that is. 

In the same interview, in fact, she says:

 "what interests me is so remote and fine that I have to blow it way up cartoonishly just to get it up to visible range."

Yes. I see that. And I found reading the entire Paris Review interview a pleasure and a learning experience and very welcoming. Climbing inside a poem of hers, in order to "echo" it, however, was damn hard. 


The first fear
being drowning, the
ship’s first shape
was a raft, which
was hard to unflatten
after that didn’t
happen.

There is slant, internal rhyme there---unflatten and happen---and repetition of words---first fear, first shape---and of course, that arresting phrase "the first fear being drowning."  Okay, I could work with that. Or so I thought.

To begin, I tried to riff off that opening phrase, and immediately foundered on the rocks of "drowning." Every kind of "-ing" that meant death seemed to already be a form of drowning---asphyxiating, choking, strangling---because breathing is the foundation of life, and anything that stops it is death. So...drowning seemed the plainest, most Ryan-like word to use, and death, obviously was the "first fear" and I had no interest in writing about second or third ones, and yet---I couldn't use her opening exactly, could I? She had laid her planks so precisely that if I did, I didn't know where I would stop copying and start riffing, and I might just end up with the same poem, word for word. Upon reading---and re-reading---her poem, it just didn't seem like it could be written any other way. (Read it here, now, and see if you agree.)

Then, thank goodness, I recalled the part of the interview in which Ryan talks about her time working with prisoners at San Quentin.  She says:

"I’m rather shocked to look back at the way I thought of the prisoners at that time—as people with a lot of experience. Just because they’re killers and robbers and whatnot doesn’t mean they’ve had a lot of experience. It doesn’t take very long to kill somebody."

Well, I thought, the same could be true of my foundering effort: it doesn't take very long to kill a draft, either. Especially when the well-experienced Ryan has drowned every word you could possibly use. Haha. 

That did it. I decided to go another way to echo this poem: fear of emotional death, or to put it plainly, shame, or fear of failing. 

This is a very long lead up to a very short poem. But echoing Kay Ryan will do that to you. No wonder she chooses to only write poetry. It is usefully sharp and murderous. 


"It doesn't take very long to kill somebody"

The first fear
being shaming, 
the poet’s first line
was a circle, which 
was hard to deflate
after that didn’t 
take. It’s cumbersome 
to have to scrub one’s blood
from words, so hard to
hide later, 
drubbing one’s thumb
into a nose—
making things
more lovable.

---Sara Lewis Holmes, all rights reserved

My Poetry Sisters each chose other Kay Ryan poems to "echo"---and pulled the challenge off much better than I did. Go see:




Poetry Friday is hosted today by Tabatha Yeatts




Friday, June 3, 2016

Poetry Friday: A Pantoum Fit for a Harpy

This month's image comes from Tanita Davis, who photographed this magnificent sculpture of a harpy at the Kelvingrove Museum in Scotland.



"The Harpy Celaeno," by Mary Pownall Bromet*


Her name is Celaeno, which means "storm-cloud," as the harpies were originally that: female weather spirits. Later, they became known as agents of justice and revenge, often with an ugly streak and potent stench, but I see no foulness here---only focused power. Power that challenged me to do it justice.

It took me several tries to meet her challenge. At first, I wrote this creature a free verse poem, but she was having none of that. Choose a form! she cried. Let me breathe my fury into a known shape, like wind into sails!  Chastised, I began again, this time with the repeating, swirling lines of a pantoum to guide me.  I got lost, several times, but she steered me true to the end.

I'm particularly happy with the title. Women, unlike winds, are "nor fair, nor foul" as legends try to make us. Why not just be magnificent?


Nor fair nor foul
(a Pantoum for Harpies everywhere)

In her naked marbleness she’s stern knots,
 even to her stomach’s creases—She’s a woman
-tall instrument, stroking a blood tune from
wrong-doers. Celaeno wrings life from life;

Even to her stomach’s creases—she’s a woman.
With wings close to her ears, furiously beating
wrong-doers, Celaeno wrings life; from life she
tears justice; squeezes her breast until it cries milk;

With wings close to her ears, furiously beating
clouds, fingernails like tractor screws, she harps
tears. Justice squeezes her breast until it cries. Milk
and honey people the earth but women are storm

clouds. Fingernails like tractor screws, they harp
at naked marble. They’re stern, not
honey, they people the earth. Women are storm
instruments, stroking a blood tune.

----Sara Lewis Holmes


My poetry sisters also wrote to this image, and yowza! We stirred up some powerful poems:

Laura
Liz
Tanita
Andi
Tricia
Kelly


Poetry Friday is hosted today by Jone at Check It Out.


*Tanita passed along the following information about the artist:
 Mary Pownall Bromet was an English-born Lancashire lass, b. 1890, d. 1937. She was a pupil of the great Rodin, and studied with him for four years around 1900... Much of her work ended up in private collections, or smaller British galleries so there's not much record online. She was known for her technical prowess (which netted her the Watford War Memorial job) and was commissioned to do a great many bodies/faces.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Poetry Friday: A Tritina for Dickey Chapelle

The challenge this month was to write a tritina. It's a form with no end rhyme; instead the last words in each line repeat in a compact, cyclical way.  All three words appear again in the last, stand-alone line. Like this:

A
B
C

C
A
B

B
C
A

A B C (in any order)

The only restriction was that we had to draw our three end words from this common pool: stone, cold, mouth, hope, thread, sweet. 

Other than that, the poem could be about anything. (Which, frankly, only makes things harder. Where to begin? What to say in such a short form?)

Fortunately, I was being haunted by an idea already. It was a story I'd read in the Washington Post about Dickey Chapelle, the first American female photographer killed in action.  She covered Algerian rebels, Fidel Castro, the Vietnam war, and WWII, including Iwo Jima, Okinawa, and Guam. She died in Vietnam, accompanying a Marine patrol.

I could've written a poem inspired by any one of her photographs in the Post article, but the picture of men digging a grave on Guam sparked an opening line first. It made me think of how she lived, photographing death over and over.

I'm honoring Chapelle's copyright by not posting the photo on my blog without permission. So...

Please go look at the photo here before reading the poem. (Thanks.)



A Tritina

There’s nothing cold
on Guam, even the mouth
of a grave sweats, my sweet

boys; shutter the body, tout suite;
Dip the film in chemicals, cold;
It’s death to fill LIFE’s glossy mouth

but do not swear, when your mouth
burns mine, caramel sweet,
that it’s easier to die from a cold

than sweet rot, cold fame, war’s mouth.


---Sara Lewis Holmes (all rights reserved)



Here's the full piece in the Washington Post.

Many more photos are here in the archives of the Wisconsin Historical Society.

And this story--which rings true, but lists only two books as source material-- reveals what a complicated person she was.  

***One note on the poem: as far as I can tell, Chapelle may never have sold a photo to LIFE. Still, I believe the use of the magazine's name here is accurate because she submitted her work to them (and was rejected) several times.

My poetry sisters wrote tritinas pulled from the same set of words. Wow. The interlinking themes and images and ideas are as good as the stark differences in how we each used those words.

Go see:



Poetry Friday is hosted today by Sylvia at Poetry for Children.