Glad I Don’t Own a White Van

“Staring is considered impolite, but go ahead. Maybe study is a better word to use. Study someone you don’t know: a cafe worker or patron, a child playing on the sidewalk outside your window, your waiter or waitress or bartender, the post office clerk as you wait in line. Write down everything you notice about this person and what he or she is doing.”

– Kim Addonizio, “Ordinary Genius”

On my lunch break, I went to a nearby McDonald’s and scrunched myself in a corner seat. I tried really hard to not appear to stare but I think the guy caught me. He was slightly intimidating, so I’m glad he didn’t do anything.

This is very train of thought, as it comes it is said, so hang tight for this exercise.

Man in four person corner booth, orange and black baseball hat pulled low until brim almost touches his glasses. He wears standard headphones – small ear pieces – that wrap over the top of his head. He sits, not typing, not clicking, staring at his screen. Everything is plugged in behind and above his head, his phone, his computer. His backpack hogs the opposite seat. He drums his fingers on the brim of his hat. His face has a shadow of hair, slightly more than his shaved head. He wears a sleeveless tee, potentially cut by himself, and shorts. His legs stretch out across the space under the McDonald’s table. A medium (to me large) drink sits to the right. He might be a red-head, his arms have so many freckles that they may start to blend into one. He has a wireless mouse for his laptop (not a Mac) and mouse pad. His computer may be sitting on a cooling mat thing. He definitely intends to be here for a while. He stares at the screen with a look that makes me believe he is working. His laptop bag has wheels. He wears his cell phone outside his clothes clipped to his belt. His “beard” just takes up his chin. A square of hair on the part that juts out. He packs his stuff in less than a minute.

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A Picture Tells a Thousand Lies

“We conceal so much about ourselves. Like not really looking at other people, this is a necessary survival mechanism. But since poetry is about inner reality as well as outer reality, try this:

Choose a photograph of yourself, or of someone you know: parent, friend, sibling. Describe the external things the photograph shows, and the reality it seems to portray. Then describe why, and how, the photograph is a lie.”

-Kim Addonizio, “Ordinary Genius”

I didn’t write this as a poem. I just kind of let my feelings bleed out onto the page in whatever form they decided to take.

I don’t know how we ended up with a happy family picture. If you look at the photo, sister, brother, sister smile at you. Each wears a combination of red and black. Formal. Christmasy. A good looking family.

I don’t see that in the photograph. There is no beauty in the moment captured. My sister, upon seeing me in my “sexy” dress take my hair out of a ponytail and look cute, flipped off the deep end. All the comparisons between us and the pain it caused came flying out of her that night. She thought herself hideous in my shadow. I had always thought her the beautiful one. We barely got my sister downstairs to let the shutter click a few times.

I hate those pictures and I can’t wear that red dress.

Two in One

The following exercise has two parts, and I decided to split it between two different days of writing. However, I have combined them here for you to see together. Enjoy.

“When Rebecca Brown and I taught together in the low-residency M.F.A. program at Goddard College, she took one, and only one, photograph, each day for the twelve days of the residency. Try this yourself for, say, five days.

“Now using the five photographs, describe what is in them and why you took them. Even if you don’t know why, speculate.

“Write about a photograph you would have liked to have taken, but didn’t. Describe the picture that is in your head.”

-Kim Addonizio, “Ordinary Genius”

Before I read this exercise, I had already done half of it. For my sister’s wedding shower I took one picture a day of the preparations and posted it on Facebook for her to wonder about. I will use five of those photos.

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Looking inside a Walmart bag, it could almost be a tent. I know I was looking down but the package of 3 colors of tissue paper looks like a floor. The white bag – plastic walls. Perhaps then the orange ribbon is Daddy’s sleeping bag still rolled up. The smaller, purple ribbon, my bag. As for the bag of chocolate chips – it’s just delicious.

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So I was trying to keep the details of the party a secret from my sister, Lisa. This is a paper flower with three layers of petals. They were magnets with the bride and groom’s names printed on the leaves. This flower is purple with a green layer. It lies on a carpet, light reflecting off some of the fibers.

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Baking day! Stephen, in his Pikachu shirt, was a huge help. Behind him, on the counter, is a plastic container already filled with cookies. Behind him, on the right, the flour jar is empty. On the table chocolate chip cookies cool. Stephen uses a cookie cutter to shape blueberry scones. The white bowl holds more dough.

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I hate this picture. It’s lined up wrong and has awkward white space. I was trying to hide the flowers peeking out of the jars. This is what the center of the wedding shower tables looked like. Peeking out of the jar on the right is an ice cream scoop, disguised as a flower. The two mason jars, one wrapped with orange ribbon, the other adorned with bright green tissue paper. It stands out, bright against the white tablecloth and dark background. A beam of sunlight glares from between the jars. A solitary paper flower rests in front of it all.

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21 bottles of concentrated lemon juice for 3 gallons of homemade pink lemonade. The yellow bottles, Italia boldly printed at the top, are in three groups. A group per gallon. On a crowded, wooden table. Bread, papers and books line the background. Bottle caps are scattered between lemon shaped bottles.

 

 

I didn’t take any photos at the actual shower. I would have taken a wide shot, sucking the whole moment into one frame. All of Lisa’s friends clustered at a white covered table, Devon’s separate mom and step-mom. A long table is filled with snacks and desserts. Another table is covered by presents, many of them large. Each paper a different color and pattern.

And the Dish Ran Away with the Spoon

“List several ordinary objects around you. You can do this anywhere. Right now I can list these: towel, TV, dresser, vase of flowers, dropped shirt.

“Next, choose two of those objects.

“The first object is in love with the second object. Write about that love.”

-Kim Addonizio, “Ordinary Genius”

I have two different pieces for you today. I wrote the first in the form of the poem and afterwords realized that I didn’t do a lot of describing, so I tried again with the same two objects but wrote in prose. My two objects? A comb and a single earring.

I let her dangle from my teeth

She likes to swing from there

It’s quite similar to a lobe

And has the same smell of hair

Ever since she lost her mate

She has been left alone

“No one loves a single earring,”

She murmurs with a moan.

I love my single earring dear

We spend our days together

Lying beneath the mirror

On our lady’s dresser.

I used to see her all the time. I’d pass by and glimpse her through strands of hair. It was the way she twinkled that caught my eye. All the others shine or sparkle but she caught the light in such a way that I shivered up and down my teeth. I think it was the pink glaze that I fell in love with first. I want to touch that pink, feel her clasp around me, her body swaying gently with my movements.

I Love Ginsberg

“Select a poem by another writer, and map out for yourself what is going on with the line breaks. What’s happening at the ends of lines? What kinds of rhythms are set up in each line? How do those things intersect with what the poem is saying? What patterns can you detect?

“Once you’ve figured out at least some of what the poet is doing, try a poem of your own, borrowing those techniques. Copying has long been used by painters, so they can understand kinetically what the great artists were doing. It’s also a useful way to learn about how poems move.

“The point of copying this closely is simply to get a feel for the lines and rhythms of a strong piece of writing. The artists who copied Rembrandt did so to learn about painting, not to be lesser versions of the master. They imitated as a way of looking closely, and then used what they had learned to develop their own work, brushstroke by brushstroke.”

-Kim Addonizio, “Ordinary Genius”

 

Ever since I read my first poem by Allen Ginsberg, I’ve been hooked. There are a lot of times that I have no idea what he’s talking about and yet those moments still grab me. Something about his style has caught me and pulled me in. I chose Cosmopolitan Greetings to study.

As I started reading and rereading Ginsberg’s piece, I started thinking, “What have I gotten myself into?” I don’t know if I could have picked a harder poet to mimic. And then, over halfway through writing my “version”, it clicked. I understood what he was doing and what I was doing. I’m not going to tell you which part. Take a guess and tell me in the comments. If you guess correctly, then I think that means I really did reach a moment of oneness with Ginsberg.

 

 

24 Hour News Coverage

Stand up against injustice, against war.

Stay vastly aware.

Say only what you know & can prove.

Obsessions are avoidable.

Aversion is obsession.

Children’s words often prove wisest.

Change what’s wrong.

Fix what’s fixable.

Hope is self-completing.

If we don’t tell anyone, we’re free to think anything.

Remember your dreams.

Dreams come cheap in the U.S.

Reproach only myself.

Don’t cry yourself to sleep.

Every human interaction is a psychological study.

The notes determine the outcome of each experiment (post-Freud).

God is present.

Allen Ginsberg celebrated Whitman.

We are tool, carpenter, judge, victim, Human.

God is Human.

Inside life is hidden behind outside life.

What’s in between quarks?

Love is dark matter.

What do we say when we have no one, praying alone?

“Our Father, Amen, Amen.”

Woman is shapely, Poem is shapely.

Minimum information, maximum air time.

140 characters, sound is bytes.

Hashtag fragments of useless thought, like.

Forget rhythm, roll on the floor LOL.

Colons and brackets make sense.

Savour faces, appreciate time.

Subject is known by what she writes.

Others can measure their life by what we post.

Speech ends confusion.

New Poem!

“Write some poems that consist of very long lines. Get a feel for what seems to work in this particular form – for how quickly you need to release information, how the poem flows. Read poems by Walt Whitman, Robinson Jeffers, Allen Ginsberg, and C. K. Williams – all of them use the long line beautifully. When you’ve written something that seems to work pretty well, break the poem into very short lines.

“If the exercise is successful, you should feel that the short lines ruin the poem.”

-Kim Addonizio, “Ordinary Genius”

 

Long Lines

Our father sits like a tree with book in hand

only the slight wind rustles his leaves

He doesn’t move as we squirrels play

He is our solid, our roots

 

Mother flutters like a bee around the kitchen

She is never still – like a shark she might die if she stops swimming

Mother calls to us and catches the youngest for a kiss as we run by

She is our sunlight, our warmth

 

I adored my family as a child

It was perfect and unbreakable before I found my father’s secret

I am like a turnip, with secrets underground

No one will see this turnip and it will grow and grow and grow

its leaves will devour all the sunlight

its size break apart the solid roots

The secret, its keeper, will destroy all.

 

 

 

Short Lines

Our father

sits

like a tre

with book in hand

rustles

his leaves

He doesn’t move

as we squirrels play

He is

our solid

our roots

 

Mother flutters

like a bee

around the kitchen

She is never still

like a shark

she might die

if she stops swimming

Mother calls

to us

and catches

the youngest

for a kiss

as we run by

She is

our sunlight

our warmth

 

I adored

my family

as a child

It was perfect

and unbreakable

until

I found my father

‘s secret

I am

like a turnip

with secrets

underground

No one will

see this turnip

and it will

grow

and grow

and grow

its leaves

will devour

all the sunlight

Its size

break apart

the solid

roots

The secret

Its keeper

will destroy

all

I Only Like the End

“Use the line to create a surprise for the reader, a turn of thought, as in the opening of Sharon Olds’s ‘The Promise.’ We are introduced to a couple sitting together at a restaurant, holding hands, presumably having a romantic evening, and then get these lines:

we are at it again, renewing our promise

to kill each other.

The revelation of the nature of the promise dramatically reverses – or at least complicates – our expectations. Try something similar at the opening of a poem and go on from there.”

-Kim Addonizio, “Ordinary Genius”

So, I didn’t follow her instructions perfectly. I tried a couple twists throughout the poem but the best comes at the end, instead of the beginning. Enjoy.

 

 

 New World Symphony

Let the goosebumps rise on the back of your neck

Terror shiver down your spine

The crash of cymbals, tremolo of strings

Listen to the sound

of fear

 

Trumpets wailing at the death

of babes caught sleeping in the storm.

Timpani pounds the marching feet

People’s Liberation Army hunting

People

 

The whisper of unwanted children to unwanted mothers

Soft melody hiding in their voices

The beat kept by swaying hips

Of prostitutes, strippers

and children

 

The directors of the symphony?

Americans

asleep in beds