…have caught up with me today. Sorry! Two poems tomorrow.
Since conquering death is sort of the theme of the weekend, and so is holiness, here is another wonderful poem by John Donne, though not, this time, one charged with erotic imagery or the darkness of a disappointed love affair.
Holy Sonnet X: Death, be not proud
It might be tempting for someone over the age of maybe thirty to read the dust jacket of Katharine McGee’s The Thousandth Floor and dismiss it as a story about entitled rich kids and their #firstworldproblemz.
Don’t do that. This book is really well written.
Here’s more information about this Saturday’s exciting festival!
I’ll be at the Gulf Coast Indie Book Fest, a Houston tradition, showcasing Finis., The Milk of Female Kindness — An Anthology of Honest Motherhood, and my new poetry art cards (which are gorgeous and frameable, by the way).
I’m also going to be sharing a table with YA sci-fi writer Adam Holt. Come see us!
Click this link to find out about the full day’s various activities. There’s something for the whole family, and for a diversity of tastes.
If you’ve been following this blog for a while you know that during National Poetry Month I like to do some sort of month-long celebration of verse. Sometimes it has taken the form of a poem contest. The last couple of years, I’ve curated a Poem-a-Day series, which has been hugely fun. This year I want to do a little of this, a little of that, to reflect the enormous variety of things to appreciate about poetry. I will never be able to present everything in a month, but that’s okay.
Today will be the first of probably a fair few Book Spine Poems, because I love them. If you’ve not heard of this phenomenon before, BSPs are found poems made by putting the titles on the spines of books together. Every year at my school, the librarian and I sponsor a Book Spine Poetry Contest for the high school students, and frequently one of our teachers, IT wizard Harlan Howe, “primes the pump” on the first day with a BSP of his own. They’re usually really, really good and so entertaining, and this year’s is no exception.
I’d love to know what you’re doing for National Poetry Month, if anything. If you’d like to share your own poems with me and possibly have them show up here on my blog (I still have a few spots for this month left open), please email me at email@example.com with your poem and the subject line “Poem-a-Day series” so it doesn’t get lost in my inbox or spam filter.
Happy Poetry Month!
This morning before classes started I had a lot of tech to fuss with because of a guest speaker Skyping in (which was great), and my kids and I were late getting out of the house this morning (which wasn’t great but wasn’t too bad either), and there was just a lot of stuff to do and people to talk to and things to deal with, and so the long and short of things was that by five minutes before class started, I still hadn’t gotten any breakfast.
That’s not good, especially since I wasn’t going to get a break until lunch.
My students told me, “Go get some breakfast!” It was Waffle Wednesday in the cafeteria, my favorite. My very favorite. The only breakfast I love.
I’d like to get some breakfast.
“We can start class ourselves. Go get some food!”
I thought about it. Okay, sure, you probably can. Here’s what I want you to do. Yesterday each of you wrote about one of five analysis questions. Find the others who had your question and talk about what you came up with. When I get back, each group will present their analyses to the class. Sound good?
“Yes, go eat! Get a waffle! Don’t skip the whipped cream!”
Oh, don’t worry, I never skip the whipped cream on anything.
I went. Got a waffle. With whipped cream. When I came back ten minutes later, they were all doing just as they were supposed to. I sat down and ate my waffle while they regaled me with some really good ideas about the stuff we’re reading and the moral questions it poses and how those themes relate to other elements of our culture.
Sometimes, my students are the best.
Some excellent common-sense commentary from Russ Linton, author of Crimson Son.
Several weeks ago, I backed a Kickstarter for Kill the Freshman, an awesome looking graphic novel written and headed up by my friend, Alex Langley. (You may know him from his successful and ultra geeky, Geek Handbook or the follow-up Geek Lust.) As a reward, his brother and project artist, Nick Langley sketched a hella-cool White Beetle, Black beetle’s own bizarro world mirror character.
They sent it scanned upside-down because they’re badass like that.
One reason I wanted to mention this worthy project is because of the recent flap about an alternate Spider Woman cover. I realize this has faded a bit from the news, but in case you missed the debate you can read up here.
Essentially, an alternate cover for Spider Woman came out that was more porn star than superhero.
Of course, anyone who buys comics is probably scratching their head and wondering “what’s new”?
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School has started, and I’m teaching again. My tenth grade English classes and my grades 9-12 Creative Writing class have not yet begun to look at me with abject skepticism, but then I haven’t asked them to write a lot of poetry yet.
When I was in high school, I detested poetry. My instruction had been confined to the episode in The Odyssey when Odysseus outwits the Cyclops by telling him his name is Nobody, “Dover Beach” by Matthew Arnold and a few other poems about World War I, some Shakespeare, and maybe a little Emily Dickinson. While all those things are great, there wasn’t really a sense that poetry was something still-living people did. Poetry itself did not live. The most contemporary poet any of my friends knew of was Sylvia Plath, and her caché was having tried so many times to kill herself. And by the time we were aware of her, she was also already dead.
Is it any wonder I considered myself a fiction writer only? In stories, for me, there was peace. There, in stories, was the world as I dictated it, a haven for a girl who felt invisible more often than not, silenced not by malice but through the daily machinations of the 20th-century Texas in which the accident of her birth had placed her.
And, much like the progressive French women authors who write comte de fée (fairy tales) centuries ago were able to make female characters into empowered heroines with agency and active motivations by couching those characters in the realm of children’s fancy*, stories allowed me to reshape the reality of the world as I knew it.
When I got to college, I knew I would be a fiction student. (I went to the University of Houston for Creative Writing.) And then halfway through my degree, I had to take some cross-genre classes. Poetry workshops were my new experience: I made friends with other student-poets; learned from living, breathing, author-poets; tried writing poetry myself. I read the works of the poets of my own time, I learned how to see the world around me in short bursts of lyric. The rain-drenched courtyard outside my dorm became leaves “on a black, wet bough.”**
I wrote nothing but poetry for several years, and through this practice what I learned about language, about the relationships among words and between word and meaning, completely changed the way I worked. When I came back to fiction afterward, my writing style was wildly different, dramatically improved. My stories had become worth reading, all because poetry had taught me language.
When my students tell me they don’t want to read or write poetry, when they confess it freaks them out, I remind them that poetry is all around us. We practice with short form debriefs about mundane things, focusing on turning a single image into two or three sparkling lines of metaphor and comment.
My friend Chris Noessel, who lives in the San Francisco Bay area, takes Casual Carpool to work and sometimes posts on Facebook his impressions of his varied carpool experiences. One day this summer a line from one of his posts caught me, felt like it had rhythm, and I turned his post into a poem. Not a great poem, by any stretch, but something fun to work with for half an hour while I sat, otherwise unfocused, procrastinating my novel revisions.
In this immaculately aging sedan, my feet intrude upon
a floor mat bedecked with red and pink hearts, a riot of
affectionate color in a gray, gray mechanical world.
A plastic key fob boasts a picture of the driver and
children, witnessing a moment of joy on a roller coaster, but
. now fastidious,
. brake – accelerate – brake – like
dressage. A full ten car lengths separate us from the white van
ahead. The driver’s back, ramrod, doesn’t rest against her seat,
stiffens against the radio’s latest testimonial: a man lamenting
his thug life full of guns, dope, and, oh yes, bitches.
. The driver taps
her index fingers – da dum, da dum – in time on the steering wheel.
doot doot do do, doot doot do do, doot doot do do, doot doot do do…
Find the lyric in at least one moment of your day, every day.*** It’s like meditation without having to meditate: this forced daydream of language, your moment of Zen in a chaotic world.
* For more discussion of this idea, see Jack Zipes’ When Dreams Came True.
** This line is paraphrased from the imagistic poem “In a Station at the Metro” by Ezra Pound.
*** I currently have a contest running on Twitter: the first three people to reply to me with a one-tweet-long poem about school starting up again will win a free copy each of my new ebook FINIS. You won’t be the first winner (that spot has already been claimed this morning), but will you be the second or third?
Read this lovely essay from my friend and colleague Casey Fleming. And then consider following her blog. When you read more of her work, you will be so glad you did.
I first crossed the U.S.-Mexico border in 1996, at 19 years old.
I took an airplane.
No passport required then, I presented my Texas Driver’s License at customs in Mexico City as documentation of my American citizenship. My purpose: to help run a day camp for the summer through a YMCA exchange program called Mano a Mano Sin Fronteras. Each day, I walked a mile from my host family’s apartment in the city center to the metro station, rose out of the subway system 40 minutes later to catch a bus that dropped me another mile-walk away from the community center in Naucalpan, an outlying barrio of the federal district, where I spent my days with Kristy and Luis, my peer volunteers, building a program from scratch.
For weeks I fought off back-to-back cases of dysentery as well as a buzzing terror that lived in my ribcage—everyone spoke Spanish…
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Another review of the anthology I was recently included in, The Milk of Female Kindness: An Anthology of Honest Motherhood. A very honest review.