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Poems: The Coming Together of Words Without All The Useless Bullshit

It’s NATIONAL POETRY MONTH.

This is cause for celebration.

Poetry Foundation National Poetry Month Posters

Poetry Foundation National Poetry Month Posters

In my exuberance about National Poetry Month let me just explain to you why this is a cause for a giant party, that probably involves a lot of whiskey if we’re going to invite those fiction writers that DON’T stick their heads in ovens, coat themselves in blood from tuberculosis, jump from fifth floor buildings or straight off steamships after being beaten for making homosexual advances at a male crew member (because the world is not always tolerant or accepting), or lock themselves in the car in a two-door garage and die from carbon monoxide poisoning.  Ah, poetry.  What a beautiful blooming thing.

It caused Anais Nin to allow women the opportunity to have flaws, jobs, and multiple partners.  Sylvia Plath successfully compared a man to a Nazi and put real measure behind the phrase, “Off with her head.”  Not only that, but she wrote a poem that remains forefront in my mind when I hear the name “Ariel” instead of that awful Disney movie.  Beware. Out of the ash/ I rise with my red hair/ and eat men like air.  (Sylvia Plath). Billy Collins got named America’s most well known poet, for the seven hundredth time.  Joseph Bathanti convinced locked up criminals to fashion knuckle ink.  The proper study of mankind if man. (Alexander Pope).  Poetry took Dr. Seuss from WWII cartoon artist to Mulberry Street, the Zoo, and Hopping on Pop.  The sidewalk never ended for Shel Silverstein although I didn’t want to play hopscotch anymore after I listened to his adult poetry. Tupac wrote a collection of roses growing from concrete that cause the thorns in my students to wither away. O Romeo, O Romeo, Wherefore Art Thou Romeo (Shakespeare) To this day, everyone is still confused about Shakespeare, and Hamlet doesn’t know whether to be, or not to be.  That really is the question though, isn’t it?

Without poetry, Emily Dickinson would have never gotten out of the attic.  The time has come/ the Walrus said,/ to talk of many things (Lewis Carroll). Zelda Fitzgerald might have actually saved herself from F. Scott.  Robert Frost might have taken the wrong road, and Gertrude Stein would not have any tender buttons, just cloth covered homemade buttons.  Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold (Yeats). Milton wouldn’t have journeyed to hell, so we wouldn’t have either.  What you say, a frozen hell?  Not with a bang but a whimper (Eliot). Doesn’t that just open our minds.  Anis Mojgani wouldn’t have told us to shake the dust, stopping millions of teenagers from slicing their wrists open only to watch them drip.  There would be no petals on a wet black bough. None. Just people on a subway looking forlornly at the lights that alert them to the next coming train.  I would be searching for love in all the wrong places if I didn’t know that men would turn down immortality to be with mortal women, especially ones named Penelope.  That blind seer could tell a good story.

Poor Pablo, no odes.  Those lemons, those old, mismatched socks.  No women like cherry trees. Those odes hanging on my giant peach wall in my classroom made by students, one about their cat, gone.  Middle school love letters would be empty with just those simple boxes asking for simple check marks – no mystery, no guile, no Cummings. I carry your heart (I carry it in my heart). Dinner parties full of white people in smart dresses would have no American dreams if it weren’t for Langston Hughes.  We might not even have jazz, and holy shit, that’s a blessing. I wouldn’t be able to ask Oscar Wilde to my dinner of dead people.  Longfellow would not look cheeky down on me from his above the bookcase post, Cisneros would not teach my students how to write about their homes, themselves, their language that is different from the world because it is their own. Smith wouldn’t have snapped her fingers and TOLD BUSH about his Katrina stain. Sir Walter Raleigh might not have become interested in one of the queen’s ladies in waiting and survived to run his now ranked city instead of losing his head over a woman.  He is a poet though, after all. And Sappho. What history museum would be complete without your sculpted head.

Poetry has given so much to the world.  It is not prose, it is a whole other animal.  Poetry gives voice to the concise, the words you can fit in your pocket that can kill just as easily as the final fight scene in Moby Dick, or that time that George kills Lennie in Of Mice and Men.  People have been trying to make the claim (for years) that poetry is dead, or dying.

See these traitors here:

*Washington Post Blasphemies

*The Daily (wrinkled) Beast

*Salon fought back, thus why they have Megan Mayhew Bergman as a feature writer.

*Flavorwire bringing the spice with a list, as per usual.  They’re the magazine at the grocery store that has to call their editor to figure out which kind of turkey to buy.

It’s very much alive.  Today, I gave my students 15 words from Jamaica Kincaid’s poem, “Girl.”  They claim it’s prose, but let’s be honest here, it’s written in one very complete sentence, only a poet could do that.  The day before yesterday, I gave them 15 words from “Exile,” by Julia Alvarez.  This lead to poems about deception, the country lifestyle of clotheslines and calloused hands, NYC, and the Domincan Republic.  Through poetry, I can show my students the world at large.  How it feels to be lost and how it feels to be found again.  Because somewhere in a stanza, the paragraph of the poem, as I teach it, there is a little white picket fence that speaks only to the things that they want to plant there.  Without metaphors (from epic poems told as stories in arenas) our brains would not work.  Our whole function as people comes from making comparisons.  An apple is an apple because it isn’t an orange.  A friend is a friend because they don’t act like __________.  My heart beats, small pebbles thrown at a window.

When children are learning to read, science has proven that rhyming works the best, especially for learning disabled children.  It is the gateway to vocabulary, to phonemes, and phonics.  Unlike novels, you can collect poems, you can memorize their ticks, where it’s best to pronounce words with deliberation, and where it’s best to shout.  You can own them.  You can take them in your month and bite down.  Poems, those little monsters inside of our head, the words we write on foggy windows, the napkin stories in small diners, the inside jokes, the graffiti artist’s last words, the small print inside our tennis shoes, the beginning of rap music, the way Vietnam passes on storytelling, the coming together of words without all the useless bullshit.

Welcome to National Poetry Month at Books & Bowel Movements, it’s going to be a

a. happy union

b. complete ruin

c. production from a curly-headed human

d. something to make you loosen (your pants)

e. a magic illusion

f. a tiny nuisance

(See, what I did there).

It will be: Poetry everyday. 


Newsday Tuesday

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Book News:


Questions of Book Lust

Sophie from Her library adventures adapted these for a recent blog post of hers- these questions are the original questions for a bookworm.  And then after, it was stolen by bookgrrl, and I borrowed it from her.  It’s traveled a long way, my friends, feel free to spread it over the book nation.  It’s bloggers uniting, just imagine that picture of all the stick people holding hands around the world and let your heart “jump, jump, jump around.” (Yes, old school rap, and MC Hammer pants definitely go with book blogging, just in case you were wondering.  Also, those glasses that look like window shutters that Kanye wears – book blogging essential).  Lastly, random note, I just tried to spell “shutters” like “udders.”

Marco Polo - Favorite Tea. I don't quite look as shadowy as her though when I drink it.

Imagine you sit in front of a fireplace. You read and beside you there is a cup with something hot in it. What would that be in your case: tea, coffee or hot chocolate?

Well given that I waitressed at a tea shop in Australia (with Alice in Wonderland high tea’s, big bonnet hats and old women with lots of enourmous jewels on their hands) I want to go with tea.  Specifically: Orange Spice Tea in America, or Marco Polo in Australia.  However, I’m thinking this is in the evening and I have boyfriend sweat pants on (meaning they’re 9 sizes too big and I can fit all the cheese I want in them) and fuzzy socks adore my feet, so tea would be better than keeping myself up all night with coffee.  Then again, if this is the morning, and I have just finished the newspaper that I don’t really read – just scan, and there are sunny-side-up eggs on the side with an everything bagel, lightly buttered (I’m such a princess), then I would choose coffee.  I also choose coffee at the RR, when I’m sitting in an over-large chair (preferably leather), while I’m driving (because the chance of spilling is 1 in 1) and when I go to IHOP.  I do not like to drink hot things when I’m eating hot food though, and I much prefer to eat honey nut cheerios while I read, out of habit and dedication to the honey bee.

If an author gave you the chance to rewrite or to change the fate of a book character, who would you chose?

SPOILER: EASY.  Emma in One Day by David Nicholls.  (Well…maybe not easy because Bovary needs a few tweaks in Madame Bovary).  But, seriously…you’re going to write a book where the main female character waits twenty years for the main male character to get his shit together (aka dump the frigid blonde, take care of his kid, quit his rock star ways and sweaty drinking) and then you kill her at the end.  What kind of anti-feminist lesson are you trying to pull here, David?  I LOATHE this book…I would make it eat worms if I could.   So frustrated.  I haven’t even seen the movie because I refuse to give any more money than my seven dollars (for the book) to David Nicholls or anyone on his team of readers and editors.

Did your parents read stories to you when you were little? if yes are there any special ones you remember the most?

Little Golden Book: Dumbo Edition

My mom always tells this story of me when I was still crawling.  It seems I had a book shelf and while my parents watched television on the couch I would crawl back and forth from bookshelf to parent feet and pile up my books.  When I was finally ready and the pile was about my height, I would climb up on the cushion, sit patiently and point at the books expecting either parent to read every single one.  Some of the favorites were: The Giving Tree, Goodnight Moon, Love you Forever, and the Little Golden Books (example to your left).

What do you like more the smell of old antiquarian books or the smell of new fresh ones you just bought?

Oh my, nom-nom-nom, old books.  I could literally smell page one, turn the page, smell page two, turn the page, smell the spinal crack, turn the page, smell the left corner, turn the page…all the way through an antiquarian book.  It’s the dust, or the molding of the old wooden shelves, or the finger smears of everyone before me that makes it worth it.  It’s the book flower, the anti-daisy smell.  It’s more nursing home, than fresh baby.  More grandpa’s elbow-patched jacket than a thirteen year old’s Victoria Secret perfume.  An antique book is its very own smell…like the back of a Victorian closet, or a crawl space below Hemingway’s house.  If it’s not browned at the edges, it ain’t for me.  I would literally, if I could, smell like an old librarian.  Speaking of, if anyone is selling old librarian cardigans – send them to this girl.

Holden, swoon.

You get the opportunity to chose between two secret talents: either to be able to make things come to life through reading them or the gift to read yourself into a book. Which one would you like to have?

….Are you joking.  I would be on my way to the catipillar, or the walrus, or the tea ceremony….I would educate myself on croquet if I could read myself into Alice.  I would wear petticoats ALL DAY LONG.  You have no idea how many goosebumps, and how cold my fingers got when I read this question.   I would also be dating, saving, fixing, Holden Caulfield because I like my men baggy, and used…clearly.

Do you have a favorite children’s book or a favorite fairy tale?

Children’s book(s) would be Sweet Valley High books (which Diablo Cody is writing into a movie – YES YES YES YES).  But, fairy tale, I’m not so sure.  I have an attachment to Blue Beard, Hansel and Gretel, and then Red Riding Hood (mostly because I want to own a pine-smelling red cloak.  But, I would want to be The Little Mermaid...because she’s a redhead and a breathes in the sea.  I would also like to be Jessica Rabbit, but she’s not really a fairy tale character.  Give me a Grimm, and I’m a happy girl.

Someone would talk to your friends and ask them to compare you to a book character. With whom do you think would they compare you?

Alice, times one million.  But if I can’t be Alice….(am I pushing my opinions too much here?)…I would have to be…wow, I have no idea. Friends, I need your help.  (Make her witty, or else).  Miss Havisham maybe, if she would have had oodles of cats and sat on her porch more.  I could see where my husband would die and I would wear the same dress caked with dirt for years and years.

Anne Sexton

Tell me the name of a writer whom you would like to have as a friend.

There’s way too many choices.  I think Edgar Allen Poe would drive me insane, and Dickens would be so damn depressing and Dr. Suess would always be rhyming, so really…a woman.  My head keeps flashing, “Anne Enright” because she’s Irish, and I’m in love with the majority of her books, but I feel like I’m missing someone.  Oh, duh, Anne Sexton.  Rather than Sylvia, I’d love to be the lady on the other line of her twisted, corking phone cord.  I’d like to talk in metaphors over dinner, and paint our nails dark colors on the floor of a tiled kitchen.

You can hide in a written down world for only one night into which world do you escape?

Man, oh man….Odysseus’ castle when he returns from his journey and finds all of the suitors and the ladies-in-waiting and kills each one except Penelope (his wife).  What a scene, it’s like Hamlet on steroids with less sex-gone-wrong.

Arthur Rackham Grimm's Illustration

Something terrible happens: you have to flee to an unknown place and all you can take with you are three books of all the ones you own. Which three ones do you put into your bag?

Hm.

1. Grimms’ Fairy Tales because I’m sure I could always discover something new, and when they got old I could tell myself my own tales, curling up into the sand and palm leaves in which I lay.

2. Norton Anthology of Contemporary Short Fiction (same mindset as Grimm).  There are a lot to read and they can be read repeatedly with still fresh encounters.  I mean, just think about how many ways you can unwrap The Yellow Wallpaper.  Is she losing her damn mind?

3. Sylvia Plath’s Diaries.  I have been unable to complete them for some time now, although I’ve read most and she was a *ucking genius (pardon my french).  Plus, although I’m angry with Ted Hughes for publishing them without her knowledge especially due to the fact that they are deeply personal, I’m in total gratitude to him for letting us into a glimpse of her perfect diary.  I started to read this book and asked myself – why does anyone else write when this has already been brought into the world?  It’s like a creative writer’s bible.

In closing, I’d like to share this Conversation with B.H. Fairchild about poetry.

And also, the original writing and drawings of Lewis Carroll Alice’s Adventures Under Ground online.  Thanks to Beauty and Dreams I found this.


“Still Recognizable by the Girl Scout Gap in my Two Front Teeth” – Nikki Finney

Nikki Finney is a poet.  She lives in Kentucky.  She has youtube video interviews about how when the Native American company that made her pencils went out of business, she bought out all of their pencils and has cardboard boxes filled with the orange-yellow sticks.  Now, when I buy out Target’s “Green Room” journal section, I don’t feel like such a freak, even though the cashier still looks at me like a journal hog).

She writes (in my opinion) a lot about abandonment, but not like parental neglect,  more about abandonment from OUR Nation.  Her book, Head Off & Split deals a lot with the after-effects of New Orleans and the time it took the people of America to respond.  Yes, we can sit in front of our televisions, clutching at our hearts and leaving our eyes wide for the standard amount of time after seeing a disaster or a car wreck, but what did we really do?  How many of us donated five percent of our paycheck, plus our dues to Sunday Church (we are in North Carolina after all)?  How many of us got into our cars, in silence, rustling to God all our more trivial worries and drove down to New Orleans to feel the weight fallen limbs and beams on our backs?  Not many I don’t think.  (I’m no better…)  And this is what Finney deals with, the way New Orleans was left to its’ own saving and the political climate afterwards.  (That’s only part 1).

And I’m only so far into Head Off & Split but there’s this poem that uses the quote in the title of this blog, “Still Recognizable by the Girl Scout Gap in my Two Front Teeth” and it is going to be the first poem of 30 Days of Public Poetry.  

The entire reason I chose this poem dates back to 7th grade science class (insert foggy side dimensions now) where I was a sprouting pre-pubescent girl who just got her first awkward hair cut where her mother told her “we’ll just buy some clips at Target to make it all better.”  Exactly what you want to hear about your hack-job.  I had not yet been to a school dance (those don’t start until 8th grade) and I had just been told I wouldn’t get braces because they cost too much, and my smile was near perfect anyhow (quote from the faj).  All of my bad-yearbook-photos and awkward half-80s, half-Abercrombie outfits led to my eventual dorkdom.  AKA 7th Grade Science Class.

The kid who sat next to me is popular.  He on the one hand wanted to finger me and on the other wanted to pick on my bucked, and spaces-of-possibility teeth.  I have reason to believe his education suffered from the amount of girls he did eventually get his hands into, so it all worked out in the end, eh?

But this is all beside the point.   For the suffering of my seventh grade self AND the suffering of everyone in New Orleans who lost even an old family photo in the devastation of floods and Hurricane Katrina I have come up with my first day of 30 days of Public Poetry.

I work at a literary magazine, surprise surprise, since I’m always blaring poetry in your face.   Across the street is this wonderful old house, “2011 Fairview Road” and it’s magic.  (Not like Harry Potter, like fairy dust).  Every time I leave the loft there are always animals huddled around it like a Disney Princess is stuck inside the chimney tower and is humming to herself about all the flowers and bumble bees.

I mean, there are bunnies, and pigeons, and robins and hardly of them move when I skip down the driveway towards my car.  (Yes, I skip, it’s good exercise and it makes me feel like I’m carrying baskets of berries).    Sometimes, I hear them rustling in the bushes when they do run away (I’m thinkin’ that’s just the spazness of squirrels though).

There’s something strange going on inside this house.

However, inside my little cottage, there’s nothing.  Everything has been moved out and only the dust particles from the window shadows have set up homes in the corners of the wood flooring.  And to top it all off, it’s being demolished.  This is when you write your concern letter to the City of Raleigh about how we already have enough condo’s and the Princess House needs a second chance at life.

So, let me get to where this all comes together.  Finney is all about abandonment, and longing, and the stubbornness of living what you know and trusting the place where you’ve measured each grandchild against the kitchen wallpaper and drawn centimeter pencil lines where their heads reach.

“My Time Up with You” (Head Off & Split) and the poem I’ve chosen from her book ties in my seventh grade awkwardness (with the quote above) and Finney’s sense of abandonment with the magic house.

So, we have arrived.  I am … taping the poem, “Shaker: Wilma Rudolph Appears While Riding the Althea Gibson Highway Home” to the house and everyone in the man-made parking lot behind the house will be able to wonder about it.

And maybe the bunnies and birds who know how to read will get a little inspiration for their evening songs (but that’s just the Grimm Fairytale/Anne-Sexton-fairytale-rewrites Princess in me, whispering).

The back of the princess house.

The stairs I thought I might fall through.

More lovely, historical stair views.

30 Days of Public Poetry, Poem on a Stoop

I just thought this was an awesome window design. Like a doily or something.

Poem in a Window of a Stoned Castle



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