Friday, April 29, 2011

The Requisite Royal Wedding Post

First of all, I didn’t even know that the wedding was going to be last night. That is how much of a royal ignoramus I am. But there I was, up at 2:00 a.m. to hunt down a little snack. On a whim, I turned on the TV—something I rarely do on weekdays (I save the bad disaster movies for the weekends, when they always cheer me up). So I turned on BBC America, and damned if there weren’t a bunch of people wearing big hats and pastel clothes. And it was on every freakin’ channel. Well, I figured, I’m up and it’s on. I’m watching it.

So I sat there for the next hour and half. I got to see the Sultan of Brunei, along with his wife in her very colorful, very covering dress. 
I saw the king and queen of Norway. I saw Princess Grace’s daughter; I forget which one. Or maybe her granddaughter; somebody royal and Monacan. I saw Elton John and wondered what it would be like to have to sit next to him and sing a hymn.

And then, of course, came the main attraction—the British royals arriving in their shiny cars that looked like those cellophane boxes that corsages come in. There was Prince Charles and Camilla, and the Queen in butter-yellow, along with her husband, whose name I can never remember but whom I will always think of as James Cromwell. And then the young princes—William the Upright and Harry the Scruffy, looking as relaxed as if they’d just popped in to Westminster Abbey for a round of poker.

And then Kate herself. The veil killed me—so sheer, so clingy, even sensuous, in a cold, windy, British way. I’ll skip the details; you’ve seen the photos—the dress was great, she looked beautiful. Her sister, however, got stuck with the worst job: She had to rearrange Kate’s six-foot train umpteen times (into the car, out of the car, onto the red carpet, around the weird little font in the portico of the cathedral). And on top of it, Sis had to do it all in a skin-tight mermaid dress; I could only imagine they hadn’t realized she’d have to climb stairs in that thing. And she had to ride herd on all the little royal kids. ("Pipe down, now. There's a small island nation in it for you.")

And after that, there was the walk down the aisle, a quick exchange of vows, and then a lot of sitting around. Hymns were sung, Bible verses were droned, and  it all started to feel like a Catholic funeral—it just went on and on. The cameras rarely left Kate and William, and maybe it’s just a function of my age, but I found myself counting up how long it had been since either of them had had a chance to pee. And the more I thought about it, the more obsessed I became. I mean, if I were Kate, I’d be worrying that I’d faint, that I’d stumble and rip the dress, that I’d puke, that I’d have to go to the bathroom in the worst possible way, at the worst possible moment. My hat's off to her—she didn't look like she was thinking any of that, but how could she not be? Clearly, she's a keeper.

Speaking of hats, there were a lot of them. They were even better than the Kentucky Derby ones, and probably a lot more expensive. I was a little concerned for the bower bird population of the world, though—either that, or some hat maker has gotten very good at faking springy, spoon-shaped feathers.

And the black horses! We didn’t get to see enough of them. So many beautiful black horses. I wouldn’t mind being a princess just for that.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

NaPoWriMo Day 27: Kvetching, Cheating, Coasting

Al…most…done with the write-a-poem-a-day thing.

I hit a serious wall about halfway through the month, when it seemed like I was writing nothing but junk, and cranking it out only because I had made this obligation to write every day, not because I wanted to actually be writing every day. Oh, the kvetching! I even cheated one day, and dredged up something from a couple of months ago. I did at least revise it and trim its scary hair a bit. Then I felt bad and didn’t cheat again. Yet…

But even in the midst of that mid-month whinefest, I made a few discoveries. One was that I never knew what was going to come out of my pen on any given day or night. I would sit down with the simplest of intentions—usually, to write the shortest poem possible to hurry up and post it and get the damned thing over with so I could watch Being Human* and go to bed. And after the usual many minutes of staring into space, something would come to mind. Then something else, and something else. And an hour later, I often wound up with something I was not expecting to see—a poem about losing my mom, whom I still miss after 10+ years, or a poem about the evocative title of a fiddle tune, or one comparing house-hunting to boyfriend-hunting. Of course, writing poems is always that way, but it was happening pretty much every day.

During that tough going in the middle of the month, I was bolstered by a lecture I heard by animator Miles Inada. He talked about the dreaded “40% point”—on any given project, he said, there’s a period of despair that you hit when you’re about 40% done. You’ve done so freakin’ much work already, and there’s still so much ahead, looming in front of you like the Himalayas, and you’re standing there with your pitiful little ice pick and Clif Bar. And you just want to quit and drag your sorry ass back home for—what else?—a few more episodes of Being Human**. Well, Inada didn’t say all that, but he did talk about that 40% thing, which rang especially true right then, in the midst of the poetry marathon.

But for the past week or so, NaPoWriMo has seemed more like coasting downhill on a bicycle—not such hard pedaling, and the finish line is well within sight. I’ve also gotten into a nice groove of getting up at 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning and writing a poem then. I always get up in the middle of the night to eat a spoonful of almond butter (thank you, crazy blood sugar), and it’s my favorite time to write, when the skin of dreams still hangs over everything and seemingly random phrases dart through my head. Ideas come out at that hour that I don’t get at any other time of day.

So far, I’ve gotten maybe six poems out of NaPoWriMo that I think will turn into something usable. So that’s pretty good. About a half-year’s supply, normally. Well worth the kvetching.


* I’m going to be dropping this name a lot. I love this show. It was nominated today for a BAFTA (British Emmy) award, about which I am nerdily excited.

** I like the British version better, although the American version is pretty great too, and is more shockingly violent.

Monday, April 18, 2011

NaPoWriMo, Day 18: The Long and Short of It

Here we are, day 18 of the April poem-a-day marathon: 18 poems behind me and—well, I don’t want to think about how many ahead. The going has officially gotten tough.

What I’m finding now is that I miss writing long. It’s hard for me to write long poems when I’m cranking out one every day. Most of the time, I’m up against some deadline—I’ve got to go back to work, or I’m on the way out the door to a poetry reading, or the clock is ticking and bloody hell, it’s bedtime and I can’t think of anything to write about and maybe I could recycle some Coleridge and nobody will notice.

This past weekend, I had the great pleasure of hearing Rick Barot read at Southern Oregon University. Rick’s poems are exquisitely crafted, unfailingly poignant, and…well, long. Not too long, but long enough for the reader to really inhabit the story for a few minutes. That accounted for much of the satisfaction in his reading—that entering and staying and absorbing his measured, finely wrought lines and story arcs. He read for 20 minutes and, to my amazement, read only 4 poems. If I were doing a 20-minute reading, I’d have about 12.

And like the listener, the writer of a long poem has to stay and inhabit the story. You have to go down all of its blind alleys and find your way through to the end. Of course that’s also true with a short poem, but the alleys and roads of a long poem are simply longer. The process is longer; there’s a certain thoroughness about it. To me, it’s the antithesis of NaPoWriMo, or at least the way I do NaPoWriMo: The poem-a-day business has to be shoehorned in among a full-time job and freelance work and the month-long party that is National Poetry Month here in Ashland and the jillion other things I like to do. And as a result, I tend to write short for it. Or if I write longer, the lines are short and it’s some sort of stream-of-consciousness meander, anything but a finely tuned arc. And of course nothing can be edited much yet, or expanded upon; that will come later, if I decide it’s worth working on. Right now, there’s just no time because tomorrow it’s another poem.

Another reason I tend to write short for NaPoWriMo is simple fatigue. The tiredness creeps up, and now, past the halfway point, I’m running out of carbs. And as it gets harder to sit and write a serious poem every day, I tend to resort to joke poems. As it turns out, damn, they’re hard to write too. So they all count. But now I have to make a conscious effort to squirrel away ideas for future days; my notebook has little lines jotted at the tops of pages to remind me of things to write about later: “I am looking for a house that’s like my first boyfriend.” “This is not the motion that hurts.” “Sorry angel.”

But today is a good day in the NaPoWriMo marathon, because I was up at 3:00 a.m., writing today’s poem. Part of it came from a dream, so apparently my subconscious is also jotting down ideas. Keep ’em coming, subconscious. 

Thursday, April 14, 2011

NaPoWriMo, Day 14: The Dreaded Ending

So here’s what I’ve discovered, two weeks into NaPoWriMo: It’s not hard to write a poem every day. The hard part is finishing one every day.

I have no particular routine about this poem-a-day thing. Sometimes I’m up at 3 a.m., writing that day’s poem already; sometimes I start it at breakfast or lunch. Occasionally I don’t get underway until the evening, when I panic and make myself turn off Top Gear and for God’s sake write something because I have to post it by midnight and I’ve been a lazy slug and time is running out.

But no matter when I start the poem, the rest of it goes more or less the same: After a fair amount of staring into space and thinking that I’ll never come up with an idea, a few words find their way onto the page. And then the writing snowballs and seems to take on a life of its own. For a while, things are going pretty well—lines are coming and life is good and the radio station of the cosmos is transmitting loud and clear.

And then I start feeling like it’s time to end the poem, and the whole thing screeches to a halt. My Great Thought has petered out like a semi that can’t quite make it to the summit. I get out and pop the hood and stand there and stare at it. This goes on for a long, long time—often twice as long as it took to write the rest of the poem. I tinker with it and back it down the hill a ways—cut some lines to see if I can get a running start from someplace else. Sometimes I take parts out and rearrange them. Sometimes I have to unscrew entire stanzas and chuck them to the side of the road. Eventually I manage to get the engine going and drive it over the crest, but I’m not always happy with the ride.

Regardless, it’s done—for now—and off it goes to the Yahoo group, to the showroom where it pulls in alongside the poems of my friends and peers. Whether I ever drive it again remains to be seen.

Friday, April 8, 2011

NaPoWriMo, Day 8: Not So Warm to Your Form

Okay, that’s the last time I’ll attempt to write a sonnet on a workday during NaPoWriMo.

Sonnets just take too damned long. I usually have to hack my way through one over the course of several days. And this one yesterday couldn’t decide if it was funny or poignant or what, and then the last four lines wouldn’t come and wouldn’t come. I had to pick it up and set it down over and over during the day—in between tasks at work, while balancing a sandwich on my lap at lunch—and finally finished it late at night, as the pumpkin hour approached and I was too sleepy to wrestle anymore. 

Still, I love writing sonnets. In the past few years, I’ve been trying take the stereotype of the sonnet (that it is stately, elegant, and usually about one of the Big Three—death, love, or nature) and give it a good smack in the head. Though I have plenty of sonnets from my youth about butterflies and music, lately they’ve veered toward subjects like plumbing and barflies. This one yesterday was about cat litter. It was not a success, except maybe as the dreaded Light Verse. But the wonderful thing about NaPoWriMo is that it doesn’t matter how good it is—you just finish it, and you move on.

I had thought that I might try to do several of the major forms this month—pantoum, sestina, villanelle, etc. But after yesterday I’m rethinking that. A villanelle! Those things take forf***ingever! And I have yet to write a good one.

But then again, didn’t I just say that good doesn’t count? And, to quote The Great One (not Whitman, but Gretzky), “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

NaPoWriMo, Day 6: Heady Optimism

Six days, six poems. So far, more or less so good. I haven’t spent too long staring at the blank page, and I haven’t flat-out forgotten to write a poem yet (though the month is still young). And I haven’t had to rouse myself out of bed at 11:45 p.m. to dash one off and post it. I did have to break out the emergency haiku kit two nights ago, when nothing longer wanted to take root. When backed into a corner, I always say, write a few haikus. They’re short, they’re harder than they look, and they still count as poems.

Yesterday, in the interests of expediency, I even wrote a poem on the computer. I never, ever do that—the process of writing on a keyboard is too fast for my poet brain to work with. I need the slow pace of pen on paper—the extra milliseconds before the thought makes it out the end of the pen give the internal editor time to rewrite the line about to form. Consequently, the poem yesterday on the computer was sort of stream-of-consciousness. It was different. I liked it.

As often happens when I’m writing a lot, I’ve started writing a cycle—this time, it’s poems based on fiddle tunes. I wrote two before I realized it could be a cycle, and then I thought, “Hey, I’ll do that.” It seems like fertile ground, these songs steeped in history and hard times. Cycles are often a good way for me to get out of a writing funk, but it’s hard to find themes. But then, when I’m in mid-cycle, I can think of all kinds of other cycles I’d like to write, such as types of fences, parts of ant anatomy, or names of Caribbean islands.

Meanwhile, my cat Deja is dozing contentedly in his little blue cat tent, which I bought at Ikea about four years ago. He used to venture into it once in a while, but he would never stay. The other day, I finally figured out the key—I put a folded towel in there. I swear, if you put a towel on anything, Deja thinks it’s the best thing ever. So now he’s curled up in there, having claimed the Ikea tent for Dejadom. It’s a small kingdom, but he rules it with the power of snore.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

NaPoWriMo: The Case for Every Day

A few years ago at a local open mike, my friends Carol Brockfield and Dave Harvey announced that for April, Poetry Month, they were planning to write a poem every day. Not only that, they would post their new poems each day online where others could see them. It was all part of NaPoWriMo, they said—National Poetry Writing Month, a project where people all around the country sit down and write (and, what’s more, finish) a poem every day, and then thrust it out into the public eye.

I’ll be honest: I thought the idea was nuts. I am not a writing-on-the-fly kind of gal, and I am not prolific. My poems come to me at a maddeningly slow pace, and I don’t like them sashaying outdoors until I’m sure their shirts are buttoned and their faces are clean. And the other thing is, I hate routine. Having to do anything every day, no matter how fun, turns that thing into work—something I have plenty of already, thanks.

But in March of 2009, I was in a bad writing rut. Again, Carol and Dave mentioned this crazy NaPoWriMo thing coming up in April, and I thought, what the hey, I haven’t written diddly in months. Maybe this will at least make me write something. So I screwed up my courage, signed up for their Yahoo group, and embarked on a month of—well, I wasn’t sure what.

At first, it was weird. Every day, I got e-mails with poems—a lot of them from people I didn’t know. Our local group had maybe a dozen poets in it, and the whole thing seemed like a weird mixture of anonymity and publicness—who were these people flashing their poems at me, and where did I fit in? I scribbled down my poems each day and fired them off to the rest of the group. At first, it felt a bit competitive. Was I good? Was I bad? Did it matter? We were like a pack of marathon runners who’d just started a race, jostling each other as we sorted ourselves out and tried to find a rhythm that would take us through the long haul. Before long, that feeling of competitiveness morphed into camaraderie as we began to trade compliments back and forth and started little mini-discussions on the side. By the end of the month, I’d gotten to know and like these people, and I’d read a staggering spectrum of poems—dozens of unexpected topics, takes, styles, and forms.

But perhaps the best thing about NaPoWriMo was that it made me take ideas that had been rattling around in my head and put them to paper. And when I ran out of those ideas, I had to look at everything during the day—work, apple blossoms, frogs, fried eggs, wars, soccer—and think, How will I make this into a poem? Not would, but will—because I had to post a poem that night, good or not, come hell or high water. In the end, I had about 25 new poems (I missed a few days), and seven or eight of them were decent. That’s a very good number for me; normally a month might yield one good poem, maybe none. Bolstered by that first year’s success, I tried it again last year. But the grind of writing a poem every day proved to be too much—it’s an astonishingly hard thing to do, and after a few days it already felt like digging for gold with my fingernails in a deep, spent mine. That time, I flaked out after a week because a deadline at work overwhelmed me. Still, I got maybe five usable poems out of it—again, a good number.

So here I am again, kicking off another NaPoWriMo. This is my third year, and it’s Day 2. Already, two new poems have wandered out of my brain and onto the street, their clothes askew and their hair sticking up. And I see poems incoming from my NaPoWriMo compadres, and our glad conversation has begun. Welcome, spring, with your daffodils braving the rain. Here are some poems to add to all the new.