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This month's inspiration was provided by Poetry Sister Laura Purdie Salas. She says "These are two parts of a 7-part ceiling fresco at the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis. I spoke at a children's literature conference there a couple of weeks ago and loved huge, colorful ceiling in Terrence Murphy Hall. The art is by Mark Balma (markbalma.com) and is called The Seven Virtues (it's a Catholic university). I loved the colors, the surrealness of the images, and the fairy tale oddness of them."
Analysis (expositors of sacred writ to the ignorant*)
Drs. Sora and Swallow
donâ€™t know what to make of it
Neither does Herring Gull
called in to consult
nor Golden Plover
(a solid second opinion)
The birds need the river
to flow wrathfully
slicing the land before snaking,
sloth-like into silty deltas
They envy those who consume
art; not shad or lice
They lust for full communion,
not half-bodies, imploring
They cannot eat stones
glutton-fed paint by boarâ€™s hair brushes
What of greed? they pick
at the edges. What of pride?
Every stroke is permanent
What is temperate about that?
---Sara Lewis Holmes (all rights reserved)
*By the way, the title comes from the article on the University site, which explains that ancient fresco makers took their art very seriously, as they were the â€śexpositors of sacred writ to the ignorant, who know not how to read.â€ť
To see what my Poetry Sisters made of this fresco (or the other choice, a fresco about Hope), follow these links:
Sheâ€™s pregnant, this cat or just given birth. Sheâ€™s muddy; her tail's been broken. Look at her neck, stiff
as a stanchion. Look at her compact head; so ill-made for big thoughts you fear her tail is pulling her backwards. She isnâ€™t curled
by contentment, or preying with merciless grace, or cagily sinuous. Stillâ€” she is Cat. She disdains
opinion. You can tell by the vainglorious shine of her ears, as if she is listening to an undivided convent
of cats chanting her name lapping up her blessing as she passes them. She has lived fully; they have been holy.
Picasso stretched time between sculptures; using his brush to pry apart skulls, turning to his hands only when the Muse purred to him. He was never trained
to mold clay or pour bronze but what he made, he kept close. They fattened his household. Did he speak
to Cat? Attempt to straighten her tail, even as she hissed? How do you feed a Muse who doesnâ€™t need you? Sheâ€™s given birth; he stirs mud.
----Sara Lewis Holmes (all rights reserved)
Thanks to Liz Garton Scanlon for discovering the intriguing Picasso sculptures, which provided the inspiration for this month's ekphrastic poetry challenge. (The Poetry Seven plans to respond to an image or piece of art every other month in 2016. I'm already researching which artist to choose when it's my turn...)
Here are the links to my Poetry Sisters' poems (each of us chose a Picasso sculpture from a select group, so there's some overlap in the inspiration images, but glorious uniqueness in the response!)
When people spark in each other's presence, and shine brighter than alone, we call that Chemistry. The ineffable, mysterious SOMETHING that arises between like souls. How fitting, then, that this Poetry Friday, the Poetry Sisters culminate our year-long poetry project with a Crown Sonnet about....
If you've arrived here, you may have already read the first two sonnets, and the story of how we came to write about the seven rows of the Periodic Table. If not, here are the links to read before you hear about my contribution:
Yes. That was about my level of comprehension of my task. Say what? I'm writing about WHAT?
Luckily, I was fortunate to have Tricia's lovely last line, "What other treasures will the chart reveal?" to launch my sonnet. Still, I had to make choices. Write about the entire third row? Feature three elements, one in each stanza? Throw up my hands and say: WHO picked this topic anyway???? (Answer: Laura)
In the end, I was seduced by one element: Argon.
I'm not going to lie. I picked it mostly because I liked the word itself. It sounded noble. Regal. Important. This was confirmed when I waded through cool Argon related trivia on the Internet...
Argon is: (according to the Internets)
a prince from very late writings of Tolkien
a defunct British automobile (1908)
a codename used for the KH-5 Argon reconnaissance satellite (At least 12 missions were attempted, but at least 7 resulted in failure)
a family of Soviet computers (â€śmilitary real-time computersâ€ť)
the fourth ruler of the Mongol empire's Ilkhanate (although it was spelled Arghun.) According to Wikipedia, Arghun "requested a new bride from his great-uncle Kublai Khan. The mission to escort the young KĂ¶kĂ¶tchin across Asia to Arghun was reportedly taken by Marco Polo. Arghun died before KĂ¶kĂ¶tchin arrived, so she instead married Arghun's son, Ghazan." (Well! There's a whole book of sonnets there, don't you think? )
Sadly, most of this didn't have much to do with the periodic table.
Happily, I found many more facts about Argon that did. I allowed myself one literary reference (to Portia, choosing suitors from "caskets" or decorated boxes in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice) and then I stuck to science.
Because, really, science and poetry are sisters. They allow us to look closely, to challenge our assumptions, and to boldly go where we haven't before. As sisters should. (Here's looking at you, Laura, Kelly, Liz, Tanita, Tricia, and Andi.)
A Sonnet Inspired by Row Three of the Periodic Table of Elements and AR (Argon) in particular
What other treasures will the chart reveal, in double-lettered gilded boxes, fine as Portia faced? AR has sex appeal, I think, and choose my fate by noble shine.
A lilac glow when placed in voltage fields! A barrier, so wine may age sans air! Unseen, from dust, our Constitution, shields! Argon, you worthy prince! you mighty heirâ€”
You cheat. Hypoxic in the blood, you dope to win; and ew! you asphyxiate, tooâ€” a â€śkinderâ€ť end to fowl. â€śInactiveâ€ť? NOPE. Those who search for matter (dark) target you.
Still, even the unstable can excite A science lover, choosing in the night.
Thankfully, Kelly was inspired by that last line, and picked up with Row Four. (Go! Read on!)
The Poetry Seven's assignment this month was simple: Write a poem inspired by an image. (Technically, it's called ekphrastic poetry.) We all used the same image, plucked specially for us from the magpie-marvelous collection of Tanita Davis.
Hold your tongue, they said. Unable to grasp how such a delicate hand as my own could hold such a large and dextrous muscle, I laughed.
First discovery: Laughter is mighty exercise for the tongue. Have a care, they said. But I could not nibble at careâ€”at the metallic whiff of the bit approaching, my tongue bucked words, flinging them upright and uncleft into the wild. Second discovery: Language multiplies the reach of the tongue. Quit jawboning, they said. But, by now, my headâ€”enlarged by the excavations of my tongueâ€”was naught but a bony bloom; the world, whispering back, unquittable.
Third discovery: I was not alone but one of many tongues.
Hush now, they said. Hear our prayers. Their too-small devotions brushed my skin, worms turning dirt. I shot to the sky, a hot-house flower, all of me muscled as my tongue.
Together, we made the
Fourth discovery: I knelt; they held my heart, thrumming.
---Sara Lewis Holmes (all rights reserved)
I tried not to look at what my poetry sisters wrote for the same image until I was done with mine, but OH! Wow. Go look now:
When I first heard the word etheree, I thought it was an old-fashioned name, the kind given to a girl who shucks peas on a weathered porch, with a Bowie knife strapped to her ankle, in case a rattlesnake gets to rattlin', or a rancher gets to raunchin'. Surely it wasn't a form of poetry, as my Poetry Sisters claimed?
I found out it was, indeed, both. Turns out that the Arkansas poet, Etheree Taylor Armstrong, invented a poetic shape in which each line has one more syllable than the one before, and while she was hardly famous, the form named after her has a growing following. Apparently, many people like it for its simplicity.
I kind of hate simplicity. It's darn hard to pull off. In fact, I couldn't pull it off. I had to resort to word play. Lots and lots of word play. (Old ee cummings may still have a grip on me.)
Anyhow, the poem was inspired by my mint tea, informed by some judicious Googling of the astonishing varieties of mint, and ultimately, built around this simple admonition to would-be mint growers that was stark in its advice:
Different varieties of mint should be planted far away from each other. On opposite sides of the garden, if possible.
Now there was a simple fact I could use.
Mint warning: tendrils left un-quarantwined can crosspollispear til, oh! calaminty-- licoricebasilpepper! scharp-scented, increeping vaders brandnewishing fresh varietrials demand mint conditions: no leaf unturned.
Remove nest of baby copperheads from under porch. Will pay $20.
I always wondered if anyone was desperate enough to answer. I mean, come on---they're BABY copperheads, right?
That's the thing about classifieds. They suggest (perhaps willfully) that if only you answer them, the full story will be revealed. More likely, the truth is that if you answer the ad, you become part of the story, too.
I think the same give and take applies to poetry. Which is good, because this month, the Poetry Sisters are playing with haiku/senryu in the form of classified ads. I wrote several because I couldn't help myself.
WANTED: rain, heavy
Must pelt/soak; no peevish squalls
Will pay in fresh corn.
LOST: my perspective
No reward; meet me for cake
FREE: to a good home:
One book, never read, but loved.
POETS: Start today;
word your way up; could capture
moon in fifty years.
----all poems by Sara Lewis Holmes (all rights reserved)
The assignment for the Poetry Seven this month was to write a poem in the style of ee cummings, taking one of his works as inspiration. Although cummings is one of my favorite poets, and I've blogged about him before (in relation to Frank Cottrell Boyce's fabulous novel, Cosmic) I did a little research anyway. And discovered this:
Between the ages of eight and twenty-two, cummings wrote a poem a day.
And here I am, trying to follow in his pen strokes.
First of all, I had a hard time naming what I was attempting to do. What did "in the style of" mean?
One more thing: we also decided to record these poems, as ee often did. Click on the sound file below to hear me read my work aloud.
Other echoes of ee cummings can be found at each of the Poetry Seven's blogs today:
Liz, echoing "i like my body when it is" Tricia, echoing "silence.is a looking" Tanita, echoing "the Cambridge ladies who live in furnished souls" Laura, echoing "Spring is like a perhaps hand" Kelly, echoing "maggie and milly and molly and may" Andi, echoing "a wind has blown the rain away"
Poetry Friday is hosted today by Katie at the Logonauts.
The Poetry Seven has a list: an agreed upon schedule of poetic forms we will attempt this year. And in which order.
But then, we get fancy. Throw around themes or a common word or two.
This month, we were due to tackle odes. Free-verse odes, so no one had to wrestle with rhyme if they didn't want to. The topic? Anything at all. The words? Up to us.
The only catch? They were supposed to be humorous.
It turns out that a funny ode---praising and pranking, both at once, you might say---is jolly hard. An Ode to---well, youâ€™ll see---I think
One wintry morn, waking to find my snow shovel absconded withâ€” brazenly taken from under the front stairs â€”and replaced by one with a cracked acrylic bladeâ€” why oh why would you steal my shovel and leave me your TRASH instead?â€” I will make, to re-boot (re-foot? re-shoe?) the day Frito waffles with mascarpone and warm strawberry compote (!!!) but todayâ€”having found this recipe now am deeply depressed for who can ode-alate corn chips better than such a dishâ€”certainly not this poem, which is why it is not about Fritosâ€”
although, in a way, the first stanza touches on but does not intersect with the subject of this odeâ€” or should I say, the object of this odeâ€” for we use the term â€śobject of my undying devotionâ€ťâ€” or perhaps the word is yet to be coined â€”the ode-ulatee? the ode-ified?â€” or perhaps it is â€”like an old cell phoneâ€”in the clutches of a different owner, and dialing it would yield a word like odoriferousâ€” which has nothing to do with odesâ€”
â€”still, there was this Danish mathematicianâ€”I know! I know! the Danes donâ€™t stink, but they are often confused with the Finns, so I rather think itâ€™s nearly as confusing as odiferousâ€”so, this Daneâ€” he thought nothing of writing a book called Geomietriae Rotundi, which might be funny if there were a photo of him, jolly and circular, eating waffles, but the year was 1585 and it was Denmark, so perhaps he was wan and thin, and mope-y in a Hamlet sort of no-snow-shovel way and really wouldâ€™ve annoyed you with his tons and tons of friends, despite his lack of social gracesâ€”or wafflesâ€” and this is whenâ€” it occurs to you, that he is a mathematicianâ€”
not a writerâ€”and yet, he has introducedâ€” as you wish toâ€”although not for the first time, as he did, but soon! yes, soon! the term you are gallantly ode-ifying if only you could stop thinking about Fritosâ€”an idea which should be by now all but parenthetical (which means enclosed) while the term you are praising is entirely uncagedâ€” like one of those European vacays, where you ricochet off borders like you were being Googled by a middle-schooler who mustâ€”in twelve minutesâ€” crib an ethnic costume indicative of her illustrious ancestors or else forfeit the extra credit needed to crawl across the finish (Ha! the Finns, again!) line of World History and yetâ€”
you cannot believe that in all thisâ€” not onceâ€”perhaps because you are certain that this mathematician, this Thomas Finckeâ€”- does that name sound Danish to you?â€” that he had a snow shovel AND friends, andâ€”despite having a son-in-law named Ole Wormâ€”perhaps he had a loving, round-ish wife who made him waffles â€”so maybe you shouldâ€™ve praised geometry, with all its useful anglesâ€”but insteadâ€¦ Sorry, Iâ€™ve lost my train of thought. What was I saying? Oh! Yes.
If you're like me, you had to look up a raccontino to know what it was. Or, more precisely, I had to scramble to Miss Rhumpius's blog to find out that it's a poem that is:
composed of couplets (any number)
even number lines share the same end rhyme
the title and last words of the odd numbered lines tell a story
The Poetry Seven had different approaches to this form. Some wrote their end line sentence first. Others came up with a theme first. Me? I wrote a non-rhyming poem, made it rhyme and then played with the odd numbered end words and line breaks to form a story sentence.
As one of our group said of my method: Impossible.
Heh. Well, I will admit that I didn't mind toying with the couplets or jiggering the rhyme scheme, but moving those end words around into a sentence was killer for me. It felt wrong to be messing with how I shaped the poem originally. I like my line breaks to be my line breaks!
But it all came right in the end.
at the fulcrum of the day
I watch my children as the tides, escaping,
inch by inch, until they are fanned
out, too far out; I call to them: mind the time!
Thin as a needle, I rise, slow to expandâ€”
How closely sliced are the minutes, as onions shaved
to transparency; I see them, as near as my hand;
I have only seconds before noon slips into
afternoon; blocks of hours eroded to sand.
Soon it is before supper; Beyond is the dusk
and the night; the tide I can withstand
But great God, let the sun balance, never-endingâ€”
Wait there, wait there! I call as l stand.
---Sara Lewis Holmes (all rights reserved)
Poetry Friday is hosted today by Amy at The Poem Farm. The other raccontinos--by each of the Poetry Seven--can be found here:
Specifically, I had a non-repeating line that ended with spiral and needed help. Lo and behold! The rhyme search turned up
On to Wikipedia, where, along with some impenetrable diagrams of molecules, I found THIS:
"Human hands are perhaps the most universally recognized example of chirality: the left hand is a non-superposable mirror image of the right hand; no matter how the two hands are oriented, it is impossible for all the major features of both hands to coincide."
Well, COOL. Our hands, although we think of them in pairs (like rhymes), they are, in reality, unmatchable. What a fitting subject for the villanelle, a poetic form built around the fiction that things can always be manipulated so they will line up, just so.
The only teeny problem with this lovely word, chiral, was that I could name but one other rhyme for it off the top of my head. (Besides spiral.) Did that stop me? Did that stop me from making it the REPEATING LINE?
No, it made me fling myself further into the Internet to see what other unmatchable words were out there.
In truth, though, I've always been this way.
I admire other approaches to poetry, of course-- I adore a well-tempered line turn, a gorgeously formal word choice, an exquisitely correct rhyme---I really do. I just don't know how to write that way.
To me, poetry is an excuse to play with words as hard as I possibly can. A way to be madly in love with world, one cool fact at a time. A chance to gyre and gimble over the fundamental strangeness of my own hands.
My poetry sisters all know this, of course. What a veneration of villanelles they've made: Tanita, Liz, Laura, Andi, Kelly, and Tricia.
Our hands, no matter how we rotate them, are chiral did you know that? theyâ€™re mirror images that never meet Look at them! Look at them now! Donâ€™t listen as I birle
(to cause a floating log to revolve by treading); I spiral on the surface of the Inter-bog, layered rich as peat; But my hands, no matter how I rotate them, are chiral
How did I find these facts? I was seeking rhymes more viral, to conflagrateâ€”OMGâ€”there is such a thing as gleet? Look at your hands! Look at them now! Donâ€™t listen as I birle!
I blame Ogden Nash, who could precisely match eye roll -ing end rhymes; no unruly corners on his fitted sheet! Yet, my hands, no matter how I rotate them, are chiral
Itâ€™s like trying to tame the Jabberwock, most gyre-ral but heâ€™s one-off; no need for gamete to mate gamete Look at your hands! Look at those doozies! Donâ€™t listen as I birle!
But if you must Google these words, seek out too: gyral (relating to the convolutions of the brain); how meet! Yet, hands, no matter how we rotate them, are chiral; Look at them! Look at them now! Donâ€™t listen. I birle!
Else we dry to salt, fleeing night-depths of the ocean;
The antidote to fear is honeyed in devotion
Why pillory our hearts, why gulp the unguent potion?
Why frack our veins to stir up courage quickly dead?
The antidote to fear is honey-slow devotion;
Yes, poetry, delivered deep, a draught of barmy mead.
This poem would not have been possible without the encouragement of the rest of the Poetry Seven:Liz, Andi, Kelly, Laura, Tricia, and Tanita. Each of these poets has a triolet posted today, so go and drink deeply.
You may recognize some of the themes I talk about (and even the actual words!) as drawn from this blog---but then, I see this blog as a kind of notebook in which to gather my thoughts for both now and later. It turns out there is a cumulative effect of reading, writing, and believing.
Poetry ought to be taught in schools as a game. I mean it. All the way up to high school and beyond.
We start this way---with hand clap rhymes, or raps, or silly jingles which we make even sillier, or perhaps, (gasp!) off-color.
And then...the bell rings and recess is over and poetry gets made "a subject."
PHOOEY on that!
In contrast, there's an old Japanese game called renku* in which poets build a linked chain of haiku together on the spot. Apparently, in ancient times, it used to get quite rowdy---even a little PG-13 here and there, perhaps like some modern day bouts of Pictionary tend to do...
It was about pleasing the crowd with a sly twist on theme. Or throwing in a tricky word. Or slipping in an allusion that tickled your brain until you had time to look it up and say: Oh, right! I should've gotten that!
So, in the spirit of going back to poetry's roots, the Poetry Seven are at it again with a pickup game of renku. Liz and Andi threw us the idea a week ago, and presto! by today, we have something that weaves and jinks and laces us all together. We have a game. Play with us.
*Renku: alternating verses of three lines, two lines (could be 17, 14 syllables) with a linked theme and a shift. Below, the initials at the end of the lines indicate which of the poets wrote it. lps=Laura Purdie Salas, aj = Andi Jazmon (Sibley), tsh=Tricia Stohr-Hunt, kf=Kelly Fineman, sh=Sara Holmes, td=Tanita Davis, lgs=Liz Garton Scanlon
fall leaf in April wearing last season's fashions-- shunned by the green crowdlps
The orange truck moves from block to block. Sometimes, kids watch. A cat slinks by. During the next storm, we'll be glad of the branches trimmed to limits. But sometimes, I want to tear down the signs that go up overnight: No Parking. Tree Service. Monday 8-5.
Last day; last haiku A tree dies in sawdust smoke Who will I tell now?
---Sara Lewis Holmes
Thank you to all my friends who wrote beside me, and to those who commented here. You made April poetry.
I wrote about the dog park earlier. One of the nicest things is how well the dogs get along, even with my grumpy pet, a miniature Australian shepherd. Naturally territorial and excessively protective, she makes me crazy at home. But at the dog park? She's Miss Social. She sniffs and greets and meets and generally schmoozes like she's at some fancy fund-raiser.
But nothing gives her more happiness than an escapee. Once, a small dog kept running off from its owner, and my dog kept zipping after it, grinning with glee when she blockaded his mad dashes for the grass on the far side. The other day, she had wild romp with a rescue dog from Mexico, which she was sure was making a break for his homeland, thousands of miles away.
blue-eyed cattle dog sunlight and torn rubber ball my dog shepherds all
---Sara Lewis Holmes
Here's a short video of her, herding a remote-control helicopter:
Last night, my dear husband and his age-mellowed guitar took it upon themselves to help me begin to learn to sing a song. A single song. ONE.
We aren't going for "teaching me to sing." No. This is going to be like those beauty pageant contestants who create the illusion of vast talent by pouring tens of thousands of practice hours into three minutes. At least that's what Mike says. It can be done.
I have no idea what can be done. I don't even know what my real singing voice is because it's always throttled by fear. I do best when I'm surrounded by deep, true voices in church, voices that I can lean on and hide behind. Singing on my own is like being lost in a vast, foreign city---I can't read the signs, I only know I've made a wrong turn somewhere, and everyone is politely looking away from the panic in my eyes.
The song is Kasey Chamber's "If I Were You." The occasion is that I'm forty-nine today. Don't you think forty-nine is a fine age to finally learn to sing one song?
Fingers shift on frets you easily hold my gaze I am deaf to fear
Forty-nine reasons to sing louder and longer than each year before
I wish each of you love today, and a reason to sing.
Every morning on the back patio, my dog, paws delicately crossed, keeps watch like a stone lion for the neighbor's cat. At least, so she says. What really happens is that she leaps for the first available squirrel.
Statuesque canine daily seeks SBS* To uncross my paws
*Single Brown Squirrel
Are you tired of haiku about my dog yet? I find her more interesting than flower blossoms.
Ha! That's not really a joke. To Mike's horror, I told him the accompanying chords he was so lovingly playing for me were a distraction. I know. Awful. But I've always sung with a crowd, and for me, what I listened to was them, their voices, so I wouldn't screech off-course. I had no idea what to do when the only thing I could hear was a steady beat of chords. What I really needed was to SEE how my voice was supposed to compete with lovingly entwine with that.
To help, my husband laid down a guitar track in Garage Band. Now the measures click by and the sound waves pulse in and out. I can see it. It's helping.
But it's also incorruptible. Tying to sing with music is thrilling in a way that trying to jump on a spinning carousel is fun. I keep mis-timing my leaps and winding up in the dirt. But the lights! Those prancing steeds! The hypnotizing spell of the notes pouring out and up and down and around and around...
Which brings me to the poem for today. It's one that's I've shared on Poetry Friday before, back in 2009. But I love it for how it can gush without being mush. How everything spins and stays hyper-still at the same time. And it's so much about timing. Love often is.
A Love Song
by William Carlos Williams
What have I to say to you When we shall meet? Yetâ€” I lie here thinking of you.
The stain of love Is upon the world. Yellow, yellow, yellow, It eats into the leaves, Smears with saffron The horned branches that lean Heavily Against a smooth purple sky.
There is no lightâ€” Only a honey-thick stain That drips from leaf to leaf And limb to limb Spoiling the colours Of the whole world.
I am alone. The weight of love Has buoyed me up Till my head Knocks against the sky.
See me! My hair is dripping with nectarâ€” Starlings carry it On their black wings. See, at last My arms and my hands Are lying idle.
How can I tell If I shall ever love you again As I do now?
Oh, April is speeding by! This weekend was gone in a flash, but that's because any time I have with the fabulous Loree Griffin Burns is always too short. Loree was in town for the USA Science and Engineering Fair, and I caught her presentation on Citizen Science. After writing about scientists who track trash and scientists who investigate honeybees, Loree decided to write about something powerful and simple: how any human being with alert senses and a willing heart can participate in the grand adventure of scientific discovery.
From listening to frog calls to hunting for lost ladybugs, each citizen scientist is asked only to be an expert in their own local community, and to observe and share the data he or she collects. It's a bit like Twitter science. (I hope Loree won't object to that description!) Just like Twitter has enabled millions of people to be on-the-spot reporters, observing and relaying what they see and hear, citizen science empowers kids, families, scout troops, classrooms, 4-H clubs, nearly anyone--- to take what they see and hear in the small square of their backyards and add that knowledge to the vast earth-wide pursuit of scientific knowledge.
Loree and I also talked about haiku----since she knew I was writing some for Poetry Month--and because she believes science and haiku have a lot in common. By focusing on the very small and the very particular, we gain access to the profound. She even recommended a poetry book to me that I can't wait to find: Seeds From a Birch Tree. For now, though, I'm paying attention only to what I heard and saw and learned from Loree today.
Shh! I'm listening Spring peepers caught on iphone shared sound grows louder
Red binoculars Held breath, sharp eyes, open ears One sky; many wings