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Category: Writing / Craft

big poem, small poem / new poem sure / longer poem, brighter poem / birds birds birds

 

Hello all! It’s been a while again, I know. I’ve been missing writing in the worse way but otherwise wrapped up in my new job, writing a new bio: McKenzie lives and writes in South Bend, where she works at Indiana University, etc. It’s been a blast, but I’ve only been writing what I call “snippet poems” lately: small snapshots, quick thoughts, that I can get down on the page and keep going. I miss meandering through a longer poem, perfecting an image, an ending, the title, working on my full-length. Below, you’ll find three new snippet poems, from a selection of poems I’ve been working on about nighttime and the truths of home, as well as my very first “spam poem,” invented from, you guessed it, creating erasures out of spam messages—mostly from the ones that pollute my website space (but goodness, they’re fun). I hope you enjoy these, and I promise to post more often—and get back into the reviewing rhythm—very soon.

Also, P.S. You know how sometimes a song gets stuck in your head? Yep, it’s “Soft Kitty, Warm Kitty.” Now in poem-form. Help me.

Until Later, Best ~ from me.

 

RITUAL

 

Come night, every night

is the same : I close the shades, tuck

the bed sheets tight at the head

against our night noises, loose

at the foot so he may slip

from the covers : foot bare

in the afterglow.

 

SLEEPLESS

 

Dear child, close your eyes—

my heart, my limbs

are tired. Your tears wake us

in our separate cities & at times,

yes : I get lost in the haze.

In you, my fog. Go to sleep.

My love, my rest, I promise:

all will be better with the light.

 

THE GIRL YOU NAMED ME FOR

 

dies in a fire in a movie

from the ’80s. Hardly enough

to search & discover the movie’s title

but there it is : my sake. Her hair color,

her age, I do not know, but this

is how I imagine the story ends : black smoke

or at least the froth of it, cries choked out

on what I imagine black sky : fires never rise

in the middle of the day, unable to compete

with the sun. I ask you again the name

of the film & again, you falter, say it was

a good one, strange, its focus

on family : my name spelled to reflect

the one Irish branch of our family tree, that which

I have fostered long after you left

for more Grecian- & Sioux-like skin, how strange :

this focus on family roots.

 

SPAM #1

 

now I am completely full

of honey—sometimes

I drink beer

in public. others cannot

do this: fireflies. what light.

what nonsense.

 

 

Hey!! A New Feature is Coming to My Blog Very, Very Soon!!

 

Yesterday evening, I wrote a sort of long-time-no-see post, followed by a post that very well may have opened a huge door for me. I shared how a poem from my earlier writing life had hugely intersected with a specific incident from my day yesterday, and I came to a realization after sharing that post: I had known before that being pregnant and becoming a mother were changing me as a writer… but I had failed to realize that I also have something to say about that process. Something that may be entirely worthwhile to write about and, ultimately, for you to read about.

11751772_10153427067727118_1443220781355402859_nThere are many secrets involved in being and becoming a mother—many misconceptions, many questions left unanswered (until experienced), many details left unnoticed, despite how beautiful and raw they can be. Becoming a writer first and a mother later in life gave me the opportunity to re-explore what it means to be sentimental, what it means to write about passion, joy, and what it means to be gentle or angry or vulnerable. I wanted to push the limits on what it meant to write about these experiences, and write about them well, and honestly. I wanted to thoroughly explore what it meant to be pregnant, and a new mother, and many of the resulting poems made their way into my circulating poetry manuscript.

These are the sorts of things I want to talk about, and how they became involved in the writing process. Not only how we write about these things, but the ways in which they change how we write. How I’ve changed as a writer in becoming a mother… and perhaps even ways in which being a writer has challenged my thinking as a mother.

Now don’t worry, if these subjects aren’t your “thing,” because you won’t see these posts all the time. Rather, every once in a while, in-between the rough draft poems and the book reviews, I might post something like, “Hey, here is something I just learned as a mother, and here’s what it’s got me thinking about as a writer.” I’m tentatively thinking of titling these posts “First She Was a Poem” or “Cadence on the Swings” (both of which feel fitting, to me). I hope this interests some of you as much as it interests me.

Until Later, Best ~ from me.

 

 

First, She was a Poem: Cadence on the Swings

 

11742658_10153453969622118_953100391710070779_nI had a bit of a moment today, and I really have to share. In the picture to your left is my beautiful, nine-and-a-half-month old daughter, Cadence (yes, like the title), and she had her first turn on a swing today—one of those little, infant-safe ones on a backyard playground set. And then it hit me:

I wrote a poem about this.

Now, that may not sound like much to you, but here’s the thing: I wrote “Cadence on the Swings” during my second year of my undergrad, back when “Cadence” was just a name I was madly in love with, back when I didn’t even know my husband existed yet… and back when my mentor first took me really, really seriously as a writer.

I originally handed this poem in as my final poem of the semester, before handing in a portfolio two weeks later of new and revised work, and I got this poem back, only with parts underlined that he loved and a note that said, “This poem is so dense! You need to be in graduate school.”

And so there it was: my future, laid out for me.

And now I have a beautiful little girl to share it with: my Cadence on the swings.

Thanks for listening, all.

 

CADENCE ON THE SWINGS

 

She peeled away the web between
her toes. The skin seemed to stretch,
transparent, and finally break,
lying in her fingers like a
used rubber band. Her throat was tight
then, forcing gills to grow at her
neck, stubble on her chin. The
water would swallow her lips, her
lungs, as her mouth opened in wide
gulps, street salamanders, a salt
water lake. She couldn’t
understand why her mother would
turn on the defrost at the same
time as the heat, as though to glimpse
the driver behind her, planning
to pour its lights in a
triangle around her as her
legs wrapped around one support of
the swings. She recalls she screamed when
she realized she couldn’t untie
her legs, the accordion knees,
her finger-trapped body.

 

 

Writing My Summer Away: In the Early Days after My MFA

 

10985421_989606764925_3672885219015003963_nHello, everyone!

Needless to say, it’s been a while—sorry for the radio silence. As some of you know, I graduated this May with my MFA in Poetry from Western Michigan, and my life since then hasn’t quite been what you would have expected. As my younger self, I would have expected myself to have a full-time job lined up, to still be working in publishing, and to have long-since figured out these routines of writing-every-day and getting-things-published. But that is not the deck I was actually given.

Some things have been better, though unexpected, and some things have been, yes, disappointing. Despite the title of this post, I have not been writing my summer days away; in fact, I have not written a full, revised poem since the last I wrote for my thesis (granted, that poem was written two days before my graduation reading and was added at the last minute). In part, this has been because I simply needed a break away from deadlines—finishing and revising a thesis, knocking out a book review every week, writing other articles to build up a portfolio, etc—but it’s partly because I have been the b-word: busy. Traveling (to Croatia, finally), settling into my house (yes, making it a home), finishing up my job at my previous press position (so part of my summer was dedicated to publishing, at least), and “simply,” well, being a mom.

Now I know some of the writers out there are cringing, and before being placed in my current shoes, I would have cringed, too, when someone said the above things. How could there not be time and inspiration and motivation and all the other tools we need to write while traveling or simply being at home? And how do you not have energy and time while caring for a child? Well, since Cadence was born, I have had to put my foot in my mouth, repeatedly. I am not going to go on and on about how difficult and time-consuming it is to be a mother, or to move into a home and fix it up, but I will say that my life has grown to be different and unexpected from what I had originally envisioned for myself. Am I disappointed that life didn’t go my way? I have my days, my moments, small things I wish had gone differently. But I am growing into myself, and my surroundings, and what I have been given. And you know what? It’s all turning out to be okay, and fulfilling. I’m reaching the point where I’m happy enough that I want to write again. I haven’t been able to say that for a long time, admittedly. I was writing, but rather mechanically, and I’m beginning to feel that burn in me, a sort of ache, that has me chomping at the bit to write something down. I’m going to hold out a little longer, a few more days, until the itch buries itself a little deeper and then I’ll probably knock out a few poems in one sitting, grab ten collections off the shelf to read, and then I’ll be back in my old rhythm. I’ve just needed some time to settle into my own skin, outside of the deadlines, to figure out what I want and how I’m still going to be someone I want to be without getting the original things I wanted in the sense of location and vocation and what have you.

So I guess what that means for you, dear readers and friends, is that you’re going to start hearing from me again—very, very soon. I have several books sitting out waiting to be reviewed, and there are books I want to read, just because, and I really need to get back to writing—both poetry and research. And maybe, just maybe, when I send work out this round, I’ll have good news to share with you all about issues to check out that have my name in them.

Until then, All Best ~ from me.

 

 

My Attempt at a Definition Poem while Reading Allan Peterson

 

This is why I love reading: it opens so many doors.

While reading Allan Peterson’s Precarious (published by 42 Miles Press, 2014), I began to consider less-than-common terms, synonyms that are so interesting and unique that we often do not use—for instance, why use the term “precarious” when we could just as easily say “dangerous” or “unsafe” as they are more commonly used in the mainstream?

Intrigued by this thought, I looked up the definition of “precarious” in my old, old, old dictionary and loved what I found—so much so that I wanted to write a poem, and not just a poem, but a series. I began to consider those less-common, lovely synonyms of words we so often use, looked them up, and began to write a set of dictionary poems that each begin as definitions and then spin off.

Anyway, this is not revised, but it is the first from the collection, all of which are titled “DEFINE” and then open with the word researched.

 

DEFINE

 

                precarious          —to be

not securely          (surely)              held

or in position        —dangerous

likely to fall; collapse; dependent

on chance; uncertain

uncertain; insecure; unpredictable; risk-

y; hazardous; dangerous; un-safe un-settled un-stable un-

steady; (I’ll bleed the wine right out

of you);              shaky; (both bees

and limbs like trees, left falling

left falling—collapsing        across

your driveway, lightning          struck, or is it

the other way around, your chimney

smoking,          like birds—the raven—left calling

left calling;          return)

 

 

Insight from a Dreamscape

 

“One day when I was really pushing through, writing every last word, it occurred to me there is nothing more wholesome than having great knowledge in literature. You are pure, and insightful, and brave in ways you never imagined when you are intelligent in books; and look how much more beautiful you are when you can also be the one writing it all down . . .”

 

This came to me, in somewhat different form, in the middle of the night, apparently as a quote by Albert Einstein. When I woke, I relaxed, because I firmly believed in that moment that this quote already existed, out there in the world, and that it was generated by none other than a scientist—and how beautiful could it be that someone from a discipline other than English could fathom the beauty of such an involvement with words?

But then I really began to wake up, and the words were going away, and I knew they were mine. So I sat down and kept writing the same sentences over and over again, searching for the exactness of “Albert Einstein’s” observation; and while I’ll never have them back verbatim, these lines feel overwhelmingly true to the originals, and I am happy with them, at peace with them even, and more and more, I realize how beautiful they are.

 

 

Jericho Brown: A Poem

 

Like hail from a blind sky,
the body falls. He drinks wine from broken
shot glasses and wears a goatee. This
is his appearance to some. For others, he continues
on his way in bare feet and white robes.
In either world, he takes his time.
Whether or not his words contain the rush
of truth and hard business is, for some,
debatable. But what we cannot ignore is this:
the woman floating down the Byway,
the healed cancer patient, turned vegan, and
our fascination with the Afterlife, put to the test
by all those mouths—gnawing and chewing
and somersaulting in the search of rest.
Whether or not all this meat ends in a place of
fixed healing or soiled bone
is yet to be answered. On his quest, this man
gathers what is left of all these bodies
and places them in a cellar, gives them the time
they need to age, to cure. What we know is this:
when he opens the door again, it will be light
and dirt-bodies, with eyes and open mouths
looking up.

 

*

 

“Like hail from a blind sky” taken from Jericho Brown’s poem, “Prayer of the Backhanded,” published in his collection, Please (2008) from New Issues Poetry & Prose. Thank you for the inspiration, Jericho.

 

*

 

Throughout the month of November, I’ve been participating in the challenge of writing daily with a few of my colleagues and friends. At the beginning of the month, I offered to start a privatized blog, November Daily, on which our group could post the poems we were writing for the sake of accountability and potential feedback. I decided, additionally, to include daily, optional writing prompts that might challenge us to push our writing in new directions—from writing in a form to using particular words to finding new inspiration. We’re nearly a third of the way through the month already, and I’m happily back to writing every day, and it’s been a real ride.

My purpose in telling you all of this was for the sake of sharing what I believe to be an important issue: the inspiration from and conversation with other writers. For today’s (November 9’s) writing prompt, I asked everyone to choose a writer they were not familiar with yet—whether it was an old great they felt obligated to know, or a writer they kept meaning to check out, etc.—and use their name as the title of today’s poem. Then, I asked that they select one whole line from one of the writer’s poems and use that, either, as an epigraph or as the first line of their poem. From some of the feedback I received via email for this prompt, I expect my cohorts will not complete the prompt, or will simply cut the title and first line as soon as the day is over.

But for me, that presents an interesting question—Why?

I’m not worried about my cohorts disliking the prompts I present; they’re optional for a reason, and they’re obviously not going to work for everyone. But since when is borrowing a line from a writer you appreciate a demonstration of laziness, a lack of inspiration, or worse, disrespect?

In my mind, if a young writer were to read one of my poems and end up being so fueled by one of the lines that they started a poem from it? To be frank, I would be down-right flattered. To know that I had inspired someone into their own poem, to know that they were starting a conversation with me about what a line, a word, can mean, and then turning my meaning on its head to begin their own—I would become greedy and would want that to happen more often.

Our writing should never experience a time of stasis or complacency; it should always be breathing, thinking, adapting and changing. If that means completing an unusual prompt, then do it. If it means using a thesaurus or writing a dictionary poem (which, to this day, I love to do), then do it. If it means writing a poem backwards and rearranging the lines, to see what happens, then do it. AND FOR GOODNESS SAKE, experience your favorite writers’ works. If that means writing a poem that stems from a word or line or concept from one of their poems, as long as you give them credit where credit is due, then you are doing nothing but being innovative: you’re reading other writers’ works, you’re thinking while writing, you’re open enough to be inspired by their work, and you’re ending on a note of creation . . . and going so far as to start a conversation with that writer by including their name as the title.

I’m a young writer, and I have a lot to learn. For some of you out there, you may be asking why I feel I can speak to this subject, without having my work formerly published as a collection, and without having the experience of having someone borrow from my work. But maybe it’s because I am a young writer that I feel I can speak to this particular subject—I’m at a time in my life when I want to be as open to change and new ideas and criticism as possible, because I want my poetry to do everything. Including compliment writers I appreciate and love.

So in this particular case, this is my really long-winded way of talking craft, at least off-the-cuff, and it’s my time to say:

Jericho Brown, I really appreciate your writing and your collection, Please; and if you ever happen to (somehow?!) see this blog post, then know that I’ve written this poem as the highest respect, and from a deep, gnawing inspiration found in your poetry.