Monday, April 10, 2017

A Poemaday for National Poetry Month

Last week I got an email from Rosemary, one of Lily's teachers (who also happens to live in my neighborhood), asking if I wanted to participate in something called, Poemaday (created in honor of National Poetry Month). Here's what the email said:

"Old people:Who's in this year? 
New people:A small group of us participate in what we call 'Poemaday' during the month of April for at least 12 years now. Occasionally, we grow our group by inviting others to join us. What the heck am I talking about?
Here's the invitation as sent out in 2011 by Shannon:
"Write a poem every single day in April and send it to other group members that day. Don't write two every other day, etc.  The daily writing and exchange is a large part of the fun. 
If you don't write a poem on a given day, you are not allowed to read the poems others have sent that day. Stone cold serious about this, people. 
*If you quit, do so openly. If you need to keep a poem private or to skip a day, I think that should be stated. Quiet quitters are a thorn in the side of poemaday participants.)* 
Only group members may read the poems. This is probably our most important rule. If you would like to share one written by someone else, ask for permission.  If you have a shared email account, you must make sure the other person does not read the poems. 
Read and delete. We are cranking out tries, not only sharing revised works. The poems are not meant to live on in other people's email accounts indefinitely.
Comments are welcome but certainly not necessary. Don't expect them. Group members sometimes send out challenges to the group. Take 'em or leave ‘em. 
Poemaday is one word.*
(*Added in 2015.)
Let me know if you have any questions, and more importantly, if you'd like to join. :) 
C'mon! You know you're intrigued, right?" 
In fact, I was intrigued.

I hadn't considered myself much of a poet since I was in high school - though I've attempted to write poetry over the years (much of it sad and related to some heartbreak or another. So, you know, pretty much unreadable). 

"On Being" frequently features conversations with poets from around the world – and listening to these conversations, I'm awed by how these writers are able to distill truths and cut to the bone of complex histories, relationships and situations. That's what I'd love to do more of in my own writing. And I want to read more poetry, because it stretches the way I think and it's beautiful and often it shares the stories of the things we don't or can't speak of  in our day-to-day life.

So I wrote back. 

"I'm in." 

I have to say I'm hooked. 

Poemaday has given me an incentive to be more present in my day-to-day. To always be looking at the world around me with an artist's eye. To question, prod and poke at the things that I'm confronted with. To bathe in the moments that bring me delight to make sense of the moments that cause me pain. It's like literary therapy.

Not only has writing poetry been fulfilling, but reading the work of the seven other participants has been a joy. Every day I look forward to notifications in my inbox that tell me another poem has arrived. They're like miniature dioramas of the lives of these women  – most of who I don't believe I've met. They write about experiences I totally relate to, share ideas I wish I had thought of myself, paint pictures with words I feel as if I can touch – on everything from the aches of motherhood to the pain of modern life to reflections on their lives years ago. 

Some funny, some poignant, all poignant. 

With permission from the poets, I wanted to share some of my favorites from the first week or so of Poemaday. Here they are: 

The first one is by a poet who asked that I note use her name, and who claims that creative writing is not her strong suit – an assertion I completely disagree with. I love this poem. Love it for all that it says and all that we're left to reflect on.   


After we're gone, our personal histories boil down to whatever partial set of facts those we leave behind know of us.  

This is what I know of him.  

His name was Seth. He was my brother. He was 40 when he died, the age I am now, of what we politely call a 'disease of despair'. He was curious, could be kind. He had girlfriends. He was magnetic. People cared about him. He felt lonely. He hurt himself. He died.

Between those facts there was a life. Real and rich. There were relationships and feelings and experiences. There was a fully realized man that I never knew. That now no one will know, because he is gone.  

What is left is what I remember, and some day even that incomplete picture will be gone.  Because I will be gone. What will survive then is data, raw: middle aged, White, unemployed, some college, suicide.  

Statistics in a spreadsheet. 

America in the twenty-first century.


This one is from Tina - I loved the imagery and how it reminded me of my own mother and my own childhood. I can smell the sheets on the line. Feel the warm sun through the fabric. Summertime. 

"The Clothes Line"

Hearing her hum the tune in her head
clothes pins tucked between her lips
the gentle sway of her hips
her rhythm as the sheets & towels
were stretched out, pinned up, 
to dry in the sun
the clothes line.

Our badminton “net” 
where we played all summer long
birdies soaring over
the clothes line. 

The place where we hid
between the billowing fabric
sharing our secrets
playing “Say Say My Playmate”
thinking we were invisible to everyone else
the clothes line.

The smell of crisp, bleached sheets
always bring me back
many fond memories
the clothes line.

Because I love Graham (of locked in the bathroom fame) Shel Silverstein and I have been Janna, oh so many times before. 

From Janna: A personalized adaptation of Shel Silverstein's "The Yipiyuk". In honor of my little guy who will not. get. off. me."

"The Grahammy Graham"

At the Patterson's months ago,
Where two other children grow
A Grahammy Graham saw his mother's toe ...
And climbed up to her hip, you know.
At first she kissed him
And cooed "Hello"--
The Grahammy Graham would not let go.
She wanted time to watch a show--
The Grahammy Graham would not let go.
The others cried, "Where's my grub, yo?"--
The Grahammy Graham would not let go.
Yes, that was several months ago,
And the Grahammy Graham still won't let go.
Though I gotta pee
Like a normal schmoe,
The Grahammy Graham will not let go.
I drag him 'round each place I go.
And now, my girls, at last you know
Why your grub is so freaking slow.

In just 12 lines, Rosemary kind of summarizes the questions and thoughts I've been mulling over the past year or two. She says in 12 lines what I can't say in a billion blog posts (though I've certainly tried). 


If I had to choose again
I don't know what I would pick
A different path perhaps
But which would do the trick?
I wonder now what would be right
For the girl I used to be
So much of what I used to think
Is foreign now to me
Is it too late to make a choice
One different from the last?
Or am I to live this present life
While questioning the past?


I'll end with one of mine. Not to say it's my favorite of the poems or whatever, but just that it's only fair to share ... 

“Tick, Tick, Tick, Tick”

Inside the car it’s tense
As seconds pass.
Tick tick, tick tick.
We’re wound tighter and tighter
Like the gears of the clocks
my father made.
Her tiny frame is stiff.
There’s worry in her eyes.
She doesn’t trust me
When I tell her
We won’t be late.
I know this because she tells me
“I don’t trust you.”
“But you have to trust me,”
I tell her.
Her face so taut
In the rearview mirror.
“I’m your mother.
I love you.
I look out for you.
You need to trust me.”
I’m so earnest it hurts.
But it’s dismissed.
Because she’s six.
There’s just no time.
No time for sentiment.
Tick tick, tick tick.
“I only trust my teachers.”
She tells me.
No trace of tenderness.
No reassurance.
“The busses are leaving!
We’re going to be late!”
I say again, we’re not.
Wanting to diffuse her.
As my temper rises.
It’s not personal I know.
But it still painful.
The way she punches the bruise
Of all my old hurts.
She’s forgotten so quickly.
How I carried her in me.
How I loved her first
When she was just cells
And the promise of a person.
Did she know even then?
That I couldn’t be trusted?
Does she realize now
That the hand
of her anxiety
Fits so neatly
In the glove
Of my anxiety?
Before I can tell her
Once more how I love her
And to have a good day
And all that
The car door opens
And she’s gone.
It turns out,
I was late.


So that's what I've been up to for the past week or so. Why I'll probably neglect my blog for a bit this month. Writing over-long poems instead of over-long blog posts.

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