Poem-A-Day: William Shakespeare

I like to post something by Shakespeare to commemorate the anniversary of his birth and death every year. It was yesterday — both his birthday and his deathday — and I missed the date, alas. But I’m just not on top of things as well as I’d like to be this week. My school and writing loads are both, at the moment, heavy.

I’ve been thinking about middle school lately, since I’ve got a daughter in the thick of it and my son will embark upon it next year. Middle school is such a traumatic time of life, for nearly everyone. That’s just developmentally where humans are. (I might, in fact, be concerned about someone who didn’t find it awful in at least some ways.)

One monologue that I always come back to is Helena’s indignation from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Like many young person social dramas, a great deal of hurt follows a great deal of misunderstanding. I’m not trying to celebrate that. However, I find this monologue particularly poignant.

In the wonderful film version of this play from 1999, Calista Flockhart makes what might be one of her greatest performances ever, as Helena. She does an amazing job of portraying a young lady with not nearly enough self-respect but a fire in her belly.

***

Injurious Hermia! most ungrateful maid!
Have you conspired, have you with these contrived
To bait me with this foul derision?
Is all the counsel that we two have shared,
The sisters’ vows, the hours that we have spent,
When we have chid the hasty-footed time
For parting us,–O, is it all forgot?
All school-days’ friendship, childhood innocence?
We, Hermia, like two artificial gods,
Have with our needles created both one flower,
Both on one sampler, sitting on one cushion,
Both warbling of one song, both in one key,
As if our hands, our sides, voices and minds,
Had been incorporate. So we grow together,
Like to a double cherry, seeming parted,
But yet an union in partition;
Two lovely berries moulded on one stem;
So, with two seeming bodies, but one heart;
Two of the first, like coats in heraldry,
Due but to one and crowned with one crest.
And will you rent our ancient love asunder,
To join with men in scorning your poor friend?
It is not friendly, ’tis not maidenly:
Our sex, as well as I, may chide you for it,
Though I alone do feel the injury.

***

Ah, youth. As they say, it is wasted on the young.

Poem-A-Day: Marie Marshall

You’ve seen the poetry of Marie Marshall here before. She’s a poet whose work I admire, in part because she pushes boundaries and experiments with it in ways that other writers might shy away from. Perhaps she isn’t afraid to ignore her comfort zone? Perhaps she’s just too filled with creativity to worry about it. Either way, her work challenges as well as fulfills. I highly recommend you check out her blog and her books. (More on those below.)

The poem she’s sharing with us this time stretches us in part by its visual form. There are six stanzas here in a contiguous poem, but they are meant to be seen discretely. On paper, each stanza would appear on a different page, but since I can’t easily do this on the blog, I’ve included blank space between the stanzas. Imagine, please, that you’re turning a page, and remember that the post isn’t finished until you get to the bio at the end.

To better explain what you’re about to read here, I’ll let Marie, who is “currently very manic and creative, and monkeying about with [her] poetics,” tell you about it in her own words:

***

  • I have tried to move away from being “the great poet whose innermost thoughts and feelings the readership will hear expressed.” I am moving to an idea first mooted in the 1970s by poets like Lyn Hejinian and Barrett Watten, that the prime creative force in poetry is the power of the reader rather than of the writer. I am trying to open up to the co-creative, co-initiative reader. So it’s not really a new idea, but I’m just poking it into life again.
  • I’m influenced by poets like Hejinian, Susan Howe, and Lisa Jarnot, but I’m doing my own thing.
  • I use a lot of repetition, letting words and images circulate and re-form. Again this isn’t new. Jarnot did it in her famous poem ‘Ye White Antarctic Birds’, and I did it a lot in my 2010 ‘Lithopoesis’ experiment. Lyn Hejinian says that repetition forces re-assessment and the application of new meaning.
  • I don’t give my poems in this current cycle any title in words, because I think that a title is the first point at which a poet forces a meaning on what’s going to come after. I have been numbering my poems lately, and this poem is ‘62’. Although a number is not without its own semiotics, as a simple numerical or mathematical expression it has less of the chameleon quality of a word or a phrase.
  • I have lately written several poems in six regular stanzas of six lines each. This breaks up what is basically a free-form poem, creates a tension between regularity and irregularity. I have tended to allocate a separate page for each stanza. This is to add tension – what came before / what comes now / what will come later. It does, however, leave the reader free to consider a stanza alone, a stand-alone poem if you will, even to the extent of uplifting it from the whole. Once given out, I make no insistence about my poems!
  • I also sometimes (as in this case) appear to begin in medias res and end without a resolution. This suggests (but does not insist) that on reaching the end of the poem the reader may begin again, or even that there is no set beginning/ending point. I would like readers to read it over and over again, as this would facilitate their association of new ideas and meanings, newer each time as each reading is a new phenomenon, but of course I do not insist.

***

a torn down sign on a bent pole points

at a cloud; your lover has called, her

voice betraying blind joy, you estimate

she is somewhere with half-an-hour of

air left and this becomes a puzzle; from

carr to carse, alder to grass, there’s a

.

.

population of paper animals paired seeming

to feed on buds, shoots, and blades; a

plane’s shadow passing overall; from

above the animals make geometry; the sign

of a downed C L O U D whose shadow

dwarfs the alder and willow, whose downdraft

.

.

unsteadies the animals, whose air breathes

in your lover, whose voice is a sign, whose

pole is a constant, whose joy is a puzzle,

whose alders are torn down, whose hour is

halved, whose B E T R A Y A L is blind,

whose blade is pointed, who is budding

.

.

who is estimating, who is shooting, who

is S H A D O W I N G, who is feeding,

who is grass, who is love, who is torn,

who is passing, bending, blind, plane,

somewhere, bent, betrayed, clouded,

becoming puzzled overall geometry

.

.

paper animal above S I G N down from

populationofpaperanimalspairedseemingto

make the sign of a downed cloud half

an hour and estimate a blade, carr, carse,

willow, alder, call, voice; thus your lover’s

joy , to which the torn down sign as though

.

.

at a cloud in the sky, a passing plane, a

G E O M E T R Y in the grass, whose

population is paper animals, paired,

feeding on that grass, your lover is blind,

your joy, half an hour of air, carse to sky,

hoc signo aenigma est, bud to your lover

***

AUTHOR BIO:

I shall be sixty this year, and I was already middle-aged when I first started writing stories, poems, and novels. My primary mode is poet, and I think that feeds into my other writing. I’m what Angélique calls a ‘page poet’ — let’s face it, as a virtual recluse I could hardly be a performance poet! Since the invention of printing — writing even — the first physical manifestation of any poem, even one intended for performance, is on paper. Thus it is the medium most familiar to people, and I believe that even YouTube won’t damage its primacy. I started writing free verse and graduated from there to writing sonnets. I was glad of the discipline that gave me. After having written shedloads, I stopped, and looked to start experimenting again; I’ve tried lots of ways of handling language, and I like to keep pushing.

I was born in England, where my life was unremarkable. I moved to Scotland, where my family originated and where my life was equally unremarkable. I have an unremarkable university degree and an unremarkable job. I’m happily gay, but am in a long-term opposite-gender relationship which has proved comfortable and supportive, the reasons for which and the details of which would be too tedious to explain, so I’ll keep them private. I live near Dundee on the East coast of Scotland. I like people to get to know me by what I write.

I have published three novels, Lupa, The Everywhen Angels, and From My Cold Undead Hand. I didn’t set out to be a writer for older children and young adults, but that’s what the second and third novels show me to be, I guess. The Everywhen Angels was written because people told me to shut up criticising JKR unless I could write a fantasy set in a school. From My Cold Undead Hand was written because my publisher asked if I could write a teen-vampire novel, and so I dashed one off in the space of a month. It’s rather good, although I say so myself. I have written the sequel, KWIREBOY vs VAMPIRE, but a tragedy struck the publishers and it might not see the light of day. I have other novels in a work-in-progess file, but I am in the midst of a long sabbatical from novel-writing at the moment. I have had two collections of poetry published, Naked in the Sea and I am not a fish. The latter was nominated for the 2013 T.S. Eliot Prize. My books are on Amazon except for I am not a fish, which is available direct from Oversteps Books. Some of my individual poems have won prizes, but I generally don’t put them in for competitions.

I have also served as associate editor on a handful of magazines and anthology projects, and am currently the editor of the zen space, an online showcase for haiku and in-the-moment short poetry.

The poem I have given to Angélique for you is fairly typical of what I am doing at present. It’s 100% me, but I’ll acknowledge the influence of writers such as Lisa Jarnot and Susan Howe and the ‘Language Poets’. I want to step down from my plinth as The Poet and give (though it isn’t actually in my gift) the authority to assign meaning, over and over again, to whomever reads and re-reads my poetry, to allow you to be co-creators. Originally each of the stanzas of this poem were presented on a separate page, to encourage fresh creativity each time one was encountered. But it’s an interesting experiment to see them all together.

***

Here are some more Marie-related links you might find interesting:

her poetry blog
a walk in space — poetry she created for New Orleans Mardi Gras ‘parade throws’
Lady Wot Writes — an occasional blog for humour and semi-serious political satire and point-scoring
Lithopoesis

Poem-A-Day: e.e. cummings

I don’t remember whether I’ve posted this poem before, but even if I have, I don’t care. It’s one of my absolute all-time favorites, “Me up at does” by e.e. cummings. It would be redundant to say that cummings plays with language conventions in ways that are conspicuous and interesting. So did Emily Dickinson, whose work I also love. (So does Marie Marshall — but more on her poetry tomorrow.)

“Me up at does” is one of those poems that I like to splash up on the board in class when we’ve got fifteen or twenty minutes to fill and want to do a little analysis work that can be contained and stretchy and fun, and that can make my high school students feel perhaps a little more accomplished after they’ve done it. (If anyone wants the lesson plan for this assignment, let me know.)

***

Me up at does

 

Me up at does

out of the floor
quietly Stare

a poisoned mouse

still who alive

is asking What
have i done that

You wouldn’t have

 

 

Poem-A-Day: Christine Heppermann (once more)

All right, I have one more poem by Heppermann I want to share with you this year. Previously appearing on this blog were some of her poems about sexism and the beauty myth. Today, we’re looking at a feminist reimagining of a fairy tale, “Rumpelstiltskin.”

And I have a question for you at the end. I’m fascinated by what your answers might be. Please leave your response in the comments.

***

Retelling

 

What the miller’s daughter should have said
from the start
or at any point down the line is,
no.
No, you can’t drag me to the king.
No, I can’t spin that room full of straw into gold.
No, not that room, either.
Or that one.
Quit asking.

No, I won’t give you my necklace.
No, I won’t give you my ring.
No, I can’t give you the child;
the child will never exist.
End of story.

Once upon a time
there was a miller’s daughter
who got a studio apartment,
took classes during the day,
waited tables at night,
and when customers asked
what’s in the gravy
on the rump roast sandwich,
it’s the best thing they’ve ever
tasted, she winked and said,
Guess.

***

So I’m curious: what do you think is in the gravy?

***

This poem has been posted here with the permission of the author.

***

Christine’s writing for children and young adults includes fiction, poetry, and narrative nonfiction. Her books include the highly acclaimed book of poetry, Poisoned Apples: Poems For You, My Pretty; the novel-in-verse Ask Me How I Got Here; the nonfiction City Chickens; and the Backyard Witch series (with Ron Koertge).

Christine has been working in the field of children’s publishing for more than twenty-five years. Her essays and reviews have appeared in The Horn Book Magazine, The Five Owls, and The Riverbank Review of Books for Young Readers. She has been a book reviewer for many newspapers; currently she writes the young adult roundup for the Chicago Tribune.

Christine lives in New York’s Hudson Valley with her two daughters, two cats, and one husband. Find her online at christineheppermann.com. She can be reached via email at info@christineheppermann.com.

 

Poem-A-Day: Christine Heppermann (again)

Yesterday I posted a poem by Christine Heppermann about the evolution of the dominance problem inherent in the inequity between men and women.

Today I’m posting one by her about the tragedy of the beauty myth, about how people can become conditioned — brain-washed — to pick themselves apart. Is there any more insidious oppression than the constant pursuit of perfection? What a curse to never be able to see one’s own value.

***

The Wicked Queen’s Legacy

 

It used to be just the one,
but now all mirrors chatter.

In fact, every reflective surface has opinions
on the shape of my nose, the size

of my chest, the hair I wash and brush
until it’s so shiny I can see myself

scribbling notes as each strand
recommends improvements.

I make sure to write them all down
when all I really want is to stop

at the market and flirt with the butcher,
ignoring his critical knives,

haggling, for once, over the cost of
some other poor creature’s thighs.

***

This poem has been posted here with the permission of the author.

***

Christine’s writing for children and young adults includes fiction, poetry, and narrative nonfiction. Her books include the highly acclaimed book of poetry, Poisoned Apples: Poems For You, My Pretty; the novel-in-verse Ask Me How I Got Here; the nonfiction City Chickens; and the Backyard Witch series (with Ron Koertge).

Christine has been working in the field of children’s publishing for more than twenty-five years. Her essays and reviews have appeared in The Horn Book Magazine, The Five Owls, and The Riverbank Review of Books for Young Readers. She has been a book reviewer for many newspapers; currently she writes the young adult roundup for the Chicago Tribune.

Christine lives in New York’s Hudson Valley with her two daughters, two cats, and one husband. Find her online at christineheppermann.com. She can be reached via email at info@christineheppermann.com.

Poem-A-Day: Christine Heppermann

When the Poem-A-Day series meets Women Writers Wednesday series meets Whom I’m Reading series…

My friend Sarah gave me a book of poems for Christmas called Poisoned Apples: Poems for You, My Pretty by Christine Heppermann. I love this book. The first time I read it, I did so all in one sitting.

Heppermann has written a collection of smart poems that investigate the intersection between fairy tales and gender roles, and that also explore the toxicity of the anti-feminist culture which is the fruit of those loins. E. Lockhart’s blurb on the front cover calls Poisoned Apples “[a] bloody poetic attack on the beauty myth that’s caustic, funny, and heartbreaking.” I don’t think I could have described it better myself.

Paired with these sharply witty poems are black-and-white photographs, by a variety of artists, which communicate the ideas of the poems without being too on-the-nose, and which are standalone pieces of art in and of themselves. I highly recommend this book.

***

A Brief History of Feminism

 

Simon says touch your toes.
Simon says turn around.
Simon says touch your toes again.
Now wiggle a little.
Simon says he is not a pervert.
Simon says hop on one foot.
Simon didn’t say stop hopping!
Hop closer.
Simon says hop closer.
Simon says is that a push-up bra?
Geez, honey, calm down.

Simon says calm down.
On second thought,
Simon says you’re pretty cute
when you’re all worked up like that.
Wanna hop your sweet self into my office
and see my sofa bed?
Simon says, we were just playing, Officer.
Simon, anything you say
can be used against you in a court of law.

***

This poem has been posted here with the permission of the author.

***

Christine’s writing for children and young adults includes fiction, poetry, and narrative nonfiction. Her books include the highly acclaimed book of poetry, Poisoned Apples: Poems For You, My Pretty; the novel-in-verse Ask Me How I Got Here; the nonfiction City Chickens; and the Backyard Witch series (with Ron Koertge).

Christine has been working in the field of children’s publishing for more than twenty-five years. Her essays and reviews have appeared in The Horn Book Magazine, The Five Owls, and The Riverbank Review of Books for Young Readers. She has been a book reviewer for many newspapers; currently she writes the young adult roundup for the Chicago Tribune.

Christine lives in New York’s Hudson Valley with her two daughters, two cats, and one husband. Find her online at christineheppermann.com. She can be reached via email at info@christineheppermann.com.

Poem-A-Day: Outspoken Bean

Last month I had the genuine pleasure of reading my work as a feature in the Poetry FIX reading series here in Houston. The basic set-up is that the night has two features and also open mic opportunities. It was one of the best venues I’ve ever read in: large enough for a good crowd but intimate enough for them to fill the place, and a gorgeous coffee bar environment. I don’t read my work in public often, and it was a real treat for me to do so as part of this series.

I’m what I suppose many people would call a “page poet,” in that my work translates well on the page. Much of my work can read well at a microphone, too, but I’ve never been able to create the kind of energy and presence that performance poets do. This is a mild regret of mine. I think I might have somehow enjoyed being a poetry rock star in my twenties. (Slam poetry is still quite popular in Houston, by the way, along with two or three other established poetry scenes, because our fair city is big enough for all of us.)

The other feature that night was a local slam poet who’s very much admired and respected here and elsewhere. He goes by Outspoken Bean, and you can find several videos of his performances online, but I want to share this one in particular. This video is not of the night we shared a stage, but it is of a poem he performed the night we did. I admire his perspective.

If you ever get a chance to see him perform, take it.

***

Emanuelee “Outspoken Bean” is a performance poet, writer, compassionate mentor, electric entertainer, and an educator. Bean travels the country performing his original works and inspiring creative minds. Bean is a military brat, but calls San Antonio, Texas, home, and since high school Bean has been producing shows and performing continuously. That work ethic has taken him to Trinidad to Miami to South Dakota to Off-Broadway New York City and across the vast Houston Metropolitan where he inspires people from all walks of life to find and claim their voice. He is a 2011 Texas Poet Laureate nominee, ranked 9th in the Individual World Poetry Slam 2013, ranked 2nd in collaborative poetry at Group Piece Finals 2013, and ranked 11th at National Poetry Slam 2014 (both with Houston VIP). He started performing spoken-word in 2005. In his senior year at Prairie View A&M, Bean founded and coached the University’s first poetry slam team. In their first year, they won the title in their region and grabbed the 8th place ranking in the country at College Union Poetry Slam Invitational (CUPSI ’08). Bean has also worked with the Harris County Department of Education, Houston’s Young Audiences: Arts for Learning and Texas Commission for the Arts, Houston Grand Opera, and coached Miami’s youth poetry slam team, Tiger-tail WordSpeak in the summer 2016.  He serves as the Project Coordinator, Lead Coach, and mentor for Meta-Four Houston, a project under Writers in the Schools’ WITS Performance program, where professional performance/slam poets encourage self-expression and literacy among Houston’s youth through creative writing and performance. Fins him online at http://outspokenbeanpoetry.com.