So Old and Yet So New (Poetry)

This is some poetry inspired by my current re-reading of The Tale of Genji.

From ink-treasures.com
From ink-treasures.com

The brush at rest, she sweetly shed
her kanji burden in black rain.
Told it slant, but all refrain
from advice or like
on poetry’s thin frame.
Safflower and cicada shells linger on pages
but nothing compares
to the shy violet blush of
crocus beneath dried leaves.
How could I forget
the persistent folly of men
and how quickly sleeves are

dampened by the morning dew?

 

And, in the spirit of Royall Tyler’s multiple footnotes: kanji are the Chinese characters or ideograms used in Japanese (alongside the syllabic hiragana and katakana), safflower and cicada shells are nicknames used for certain ladies to whom Genji has shown some affection, while the wet sleeves are a recurring motif in all of Classical Japanese and Chinese literature and represent mourning, regret, suffering.

Multiple Choices

For Open Link Night over at dVerse Poets Pub, I was inspired by this wonderful poem about Persephone by A. E. Stallings, written as a multiple choice quiz. Political indignation is all my own.

She pitches forward

  • in darkness
  • under cover
  • haunting waking hours
  • with mocking laughter

He wonders quietly

  • at her tangled shyness
  • how such a vamp could
  • where to shut her in
  • why she’s so cold

Their children hesitate

  • on brink of teendom
  • always picking the other side
  • which game to play next
  • to pick up weird vibes

We are so convinced

  • we have motley choices
  • our minds are our own
  • there is a right answer
  • we’ve the right to stun
www.thewhitepalace.com
http://www.thewhitepalace.com

Entitled in title and privileged, created in our image,

we sit back and enjoy

picking over the poor choices of others.

 

 

 

 

To all heads of department who’ve never raised their brow above the parapet

The art of dialogue is not hard to master:

you shout top-voice above prevailing storms.

The fittest lungs pierce lint-fuzzed matter.

Your ground-hugging pessimism forever warns

them off fangling a-new what has not worked in the past.

It’s this storming of brains got us in a mess in first place!

Time to rant, hone your leadership skills and craft.

Mind not the barbarians nor bigots at the gates.

Good luck, hugs, in fellowship,

your HR team, who’ve taken refuge ashore.

What? Don’t you like the cut of our jib?

 

We are reviving the lost art of letter writing over at dVerse Poets. Mine is a tongue-in-cheek corporate newsletter, ostensibly asking for leadership courage. But we all know what that means in corporate speak…

 

My First Attempt at Villanelle

Apologies for the rather obvious rhyming and prosaic language. I’m attempting a vilanelle for the first time for dVerse Poets, in the spirit of being brave and trying out new forms. Join me there for some (far better) villanelles and a great sense of community.

I’ve been reading a lot of media stories lately about cyber-bullying, trolling and other cruelties of our online world. Not that there isn’t plenty of pain that we can cause each other in ‘real’ life, but wolf pack attacks are so much easier when we are anonymous.

P1020292You crawl into the bush to hide

Arrows quiver on your flanks

Lick your wounds, stem the black tide.

 

It’s such an easy slope to slide:

their office cheer, their thoughtless pranks.

You crawl into the bush to hide.

 

Cracks start spreading, fissured pride,

from dream to hell it rudely yanks.

Lick your wounds, stem the black tide.

 

You ventured forth, ignored and lied –

pretended words were toothless blanks.

You crawl into the bush to hide.

 

But something inside has surely died

as foaming waves erupt over banks.

You crawl into the bush to hide –

Lick your wounds, stem the black tide.

However, I don’t want to spoil your Passover or Easter holiday, so let me wish you beautiful weather and a relaxed, peaceful time!

 

Waiting for Fireworks in Windy Chill

Image courtesy of srboom.com
Image courtesy of srboom.com

Much ado about nothing.

Let the wind find an occasion, any will do.

It’s bitter: we draw close to escape the freezing bite.
But then, the magic. Each time the lights are flung upwards, we revert to child’s stares, gasps of pleasure, chorus of ‘Aaaahs’. The last two minutes impossible to fathom in gathering of smoke-clouds.

I’ve never been without them.

At first they were empty ritual, a sweetener to parades. Post-prandial cognac to stadium choreography to mark the soporific afternoon of a people so inured to bread and circuses they could gasp no longer.

So I suppose resistance would best describe me – indifference… until…

A chill descends on the city one night in December.
Machine gun rhythms in streets howling with wind, with sirens, with rage.
Walls came tumbling down, words recaptured meaning, crying for happiness seemed normal and fear disappeared for a while. Crowds gathering, kissing strangers.

Then more popping sounds. Not fireworks these: snipers. Each sound could bring you to your knees.

I shiver in my nest of contentment.
So now I put those darker fireworks most firmly in a box. And go out with my children to mimic their awe.

I’m posting this as a response to the prompt over at dVerse Poets, where Kathleen Everett has us writing wind-inspired stories. In my memory, fireworks are not summery displays of gaiety, but hanging around waiting for something to happen, wind-chill factor rising and rising.

Poetic Experimentation: The Reduction

At dVerse Poets today, Anna is encouraging us to experiment with poetic forms and language. I’ve chosen to ‘minimise’ or ‘reduce’ the unyieldy sauce of an old but previously unused poem.

I found my old lovers on Facebook.

They all had wives and kids>

Remarkably unpining after my charms,

nor did they realise what my fecund ideas

might have done to their lives.

Instead of world creation

bland holiday snaps.

Instead of creativity, those endless quiz results.

One had gone to seed

cow-like in pasture

happy in his ruminations,

aside from the fray.

Once angular faces now rotundly benign,

with eyes that flashed danger

now dulled by routine

and contentment.

 

The reduced form of this is as follows:

Old lovers on Facebook,

all partnered, with kids,

no pining for my charms,

or fecund ideas.

Creativity reduced to quizzes.

Rumination in pastures.

Dangerous angles rotundly benign.

Routine contentment now ruling their world.

 

 

 

 

Editing Poetry: Some Examples

Each poem is only as good as its last (or should that be ‘latest’?) incarnation. Elizabeth Bishop would spend years polishing her poems, making them briefer in the process, packing them with hidden meaning and memorable imagery.

But do we sometimes over-edit things? To test out this hypothesis, I’ll share some of the transformations one of my poems has undergone. I’m still not quite happy with it, but really do want to/need to  write it.

The first version of ‘Who Am I? (Third Culture Kid)‘ appeared quite early on in the life of this blog. I was initially quite proud of it, felt it was honest and heartfelt, and it got some positive comments. Then I took it to a poetry workshop and received lots of comments and suggestions, which made me realise it was not as clear or as precise as it might be. I felt it needed more ‘explanation’, so instead of cutting, I added to it. Here is the second version:

Moving on, I think –
what a blessing!
Head down, prepare
for exit, re-entry, again and again,
glad to stay moss-free,
rolling past the moved-upon
with a wave, a whoopee!

But ultimately revenge is theirs:
for they sprout roots, link up, form tissue
richly alive with shared hours and tales.
Shortcuts roll glib off their tongues,
always creating and leading their own trend,
while the mover is running to catch up,
to fuddle in the language of past generations,
never quite getting the nuance or slang.
I fear we are a shade disappointing:
we stammer, we marvel at the wrong thing.
Our plumage exotic, not enough erotic,
our glamour too alien when you want to preen.
Askew, inefficient, never quite sufficient,
alignment and meekness passed us by.
So easy to shoot at, never enough time
to grieve. Nor find reason or season to rhyme.

So I’ve learnt to hide my real thoughts
my own thoughts
my solitude

Who am I?
I am all that is half-forgotten,
all the places in which I’ve left my heart,
all that is preserved in the mud.
I’m done with digging!
I dare not show you all my layers
for fear the rubble may bury you.

See that flying line of geese? There’s one just off,
destroying the symmetry…

But it too has learnt.
Above all, this:
a short answer to the question:
‘Where are you from?’
just enough humour to colour it harmless.

Unsurprisingly, this was too verbose, too prosy, forcing things down the reader’s throat rather than startling them with an unexpected insight. I tried to experiment a bit with lines and punctuation, in a vain attempt to ‘spice it up’. I suppose I was also aiming for a contrast between cultures – the more oral, ‘hip-hop’ verses alternating with calmer, almost erudite verses. Here’s that opening stanza again in this version:

Moving on                                          what a blessing!

Head down/ prepare

for exit, re-entry                              again and again

glad to stay moss-free//

rolling past the moved-upon

with a wave                                        a whoopee!

Thanks to my poetry tutor, I began to understand some of the poetic bad habits I had picked up along the way. It wasn’t the layout on the page that was the problem, nor the topic itself. There was a kernel of truth there that people could connect with, but I needed to find a way to ‘tell it slant’.

My current attempt has reduced the poem to just the following lines:

Who am I?
I am all that is half-forgotten,
half-mourned, misunderstood.
I am all the places in which I’ve left my heart.
All buried deep inside,
calling halt to excavation.
I am all I dare not show you
for fear you will drown
in my impure
clinging mud.

Not sure that this is going to be the final version, though…