Wednesday Wonders: The Conceit of Blue Snake Poetry

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Warning: This post has reptiles. If slithering snakes give you the heebie jeebies, you may want to skip this one. 

For my birthday this year, I went to see the Reptile Zoo in Monroe, WA. From this trip with my husband and six-year-old, I managed to squeeze a poem.

I suppose I should start by saying that poetry has been haunting me lately. It started when my friend Lorie Ann Grover posted that she’d be teaching at a poetry camp in Bellingham this October. The idea of it intrigued me and reminded me that, once upon a time, I thought poetry would be my thing. I considered signing up and then poetry was suddenly everywhere.

When I went to Seattle, I even saw it on the side of a bus demanding that I “Write a Poem” in letters so bold and big I could not ignore them. I gave in to the universe and registered to go to that camp. (Apparently, poetry on buses is a thing. It even has it’s own website.)

Then a free online class popped up in one of my newsletters. I began the course with Douglas Kearney at the California Institute of the Arts.

In the third module, I came up against the assignment to write a conceit–a metaphor that makes the reader stretch into the ridiculous. An example of this is The Flea by John Donne where the poet compares a parasite to the marriage bed. It would embarrass me to explain the connection but here is a clear explanation of what that far-from-prude Donne was going on about.

I thought of how I would write my own conceit and what sort of ridiculous connection I could make of my own and decided to tie together reptiles with poems since they seem so far apart and since I knew I would make the trek to Monroe.

I let those ideas hang loose in my mind as we made the hour and a half drive from our home through some seriously traffic infested areas of our state. I don’t remember where but somewhere along the line, I came on the idea of skin shedding and writing a poem. By the time we got to the zoo, I was set to look for more information on snakes and how I could use them in my poem.

I’ve said it before but one of the best parts of the writing life is the way it brings meaning and focus to every moment of my life even when I am not sitting at the keyboard or with a pen in my hand. 

After my field study (which my six-year-old enjoyed even more than I did), I researched snakes geeked out on how they shed their skin.

Pasted far below you can see what I came up with. It’s still a draft and it scares me to post it here. Poetry has a personal exposure for me that my prose does not. But I like those snakes and this particular exuviae enough to take the risk.

May you find your own conceits in the adventures of your day-

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In the Blue

 

Skin dull

Spectacle covered

Opaque

Blue

 

Blind with nervous behavior

Not eating

(Or eating baked Cheetos by the pound).

 

Seeking rough surfaces

Like coffee

Or long walks

Or daydreams

In the red minivan

On the way to the Reptile Zoo

 

Molting at last

The exuviae

Shed on the page

 

Poem written

Ecdysis over

 

The poet’s skin

Shines vibrant now

Larger

More colorful than before

 

And the spectacle

Is transparent once more

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Wednesday Wonders: Curiosity is the Cousin of Art

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On Sunday, I drove across the Cascade Mountains to sunny Yakima for a three day teaching conference. In this city my grandparents once called home, I let the sun melt away my everyday stresses and felt my curiosity perk up.

While strolling the neighborhood, I discovered churches with large blocks of  dark stone rising above the city streets of downtown. One sits just outside my hotel window.

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Those churches make me wonder.

Where did the stone come from? Who built these churches? Many of them are up for lease so what happened to make the churches fail?

I bet there is a story or five in those answers.

And then in my session yesterday, I had the good fortune to sit next to a mathematician. (I began to suspect he knew more than the rest of us when he launched into a description of vectors and their relationship to area.)

When we started using manipulatives to demonstrate how a negative number multiplied by a negative equals a positive, he mentioned that there is a mathematical proof for that.

That intrigued me.

So I asked if he could do it. He began working on it and says he’ll bring it for me tomorrow.

I can smell a story in that answer, too.

I have no idea if I will comprehend the proof but just trying to grasp the puzzle of it brings me joy. If nothing else, the experience could lead to the story of the linguist who fell in love with numbers later in life.

Earlier that same day, a teacher who works in the prison system read a poem to us titled ‘I See Something in You.’ She tells us she reads it aloud to the inmates in her class and that these men she works with can see right through insincerity. She’s got to give them her honest self, or she will fail as only a teacher in front of a class like that could fail.

I wonder what it would be like to have her job and asked for a copy of the poem so I could adapt it for my own students. Right after that, I wondered if I would have the courage to read it to them.

Maybe I will write those stories and the poem.

Maybe I won’t.

Either way, I love the way life tingles when the stories all around me get to whispering. I feel like my black cat checking out the vacuum cleaner hose at the top of his cat post, pulling himself up to see what all the noise is about or teetering at the top of a ladder just to get a new view.

Like him, I know there is danger tucked into the moment but, also like him, I measure that danger against the intrigue and zing of a life chock full of curiosity.

I might look stupid to that mathematician, I might find stories that wound me underneath those churches, and I know, like only a classroom teacher can know, that a poem could be the start of painful humiliation in front of a class of forty students, criminals or not.

But I also know if I follow those leads to the stories and the people tucked into them, I might get the gift of an artful life. Most days the falls are more than worth the climb up that ladder.

May you see the stories of beauty and joy all around you,

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Stone Churches…

 

A quilt of the Fred Redmond Bridge crafted out of fabric and curiosity by the “Anything Goes Quilters”: Deborah Ann, Anna Assink, Sally Fitch, Barbara Green, Sue Grimshaw, Nancy Rayner, and Jeanne Strater. I love their group’s name! I think my writing group needs a name like this.

 

 

 

 

Pics and Poem for the New Year

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The blog revise is still in progress (maybe I’ll make it in time for the Lunar New Year).

In the meantime, I’m feeling brave on this first day of the year, so here are a few of my favorite Instagram moments from the past month along with a poem I worked with just because the cats needed some sort of ode for all the trouble they cause.

The inspiration came from Ogden Nash and an exercise in Writer to Writer: From Think to Ink by Gail Carson Levine.

“The Dog” by Ogden Nash

The truth I do not stretch or shove

When I state that the dog is full of love

I’ve also found, by actual test,

A wet dog is the lovingest.

 

Black Cats” by kzm

Black cats may well be best

I’m sure because of this one test

A lap full of their love

Lays my shredded yarn woes to rest.

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And then my favorite shots from the last week of December.

Happy New Year!!

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Mother Tongue Tuesday: Vietnamese

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Not too long after I started working with the Ukrainian welders, I began a class with Vietnamese studying Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC). This class was much smaller – about 5 instead of 25 -and much quieter. Many of them had come to the U.S. when the war ended in 1975 and wanted me to learn Vietnamese almost as much as they wanted to learn English.

They had great confidence in me and my language abilities, but I’m afraid their mother tongue flew beyond my abilities. When people ask, I say I speak English, a good deal of German, some Russian and a little of a lot of other languages. Of all my little of a lot of langues, Vietnamese is my most challenging because of its tones and because of the need for formality in its pronouns. It’s called a tonal language because each syllable has the potential for seven tones. The UCLA Language Project says these tones are: ” mid-level, low falling, high rising, low, rising after an initial dip, high broken and low broken.” 

If you’ve never tried a language with tones, it’s a little like singing to get the pronunciation correct. If you don’t sing a syllable right, the word may turn into another word or simply not be understood unless you have a gifted listener.

Vietnamese also blows me away in complexity because it requires a different pronoun depending on my age and status in relation to the person I’m addressing. I once heard a guest lecturer talk for over half an hour about the different pronouns for ‘you.’

One thing is much easier in Vietnam than for a person learning English, though –it only has one verb form so there is none of the English monkey business with past, present, future or (gasp!) future perfect continuous is necessary.

Vietnamese Tidbits

  • It’s classified as belonging to the Austro-Asiatic family along with many languages in southeast Asia.
  • For many years, it was written in a script based on Chinese characters and within a few hundred years adopted a Roman script originally created by Catholic missionaries.
  • Jonathon Ke Quan, the famous actor in the movie The Goonies, was originally born in Saigon.

I stumbled on this YouTube video to give you a taste of a Vietnamese poem translated after each stanza. “Jealousy”, a poem about a ridiculously possessive boyfriend, has everyone in the audience laughing, even the reader. I picked it for the sounds of Vietnamese but I can’t help but also wonder at what is under that nervous laughter in a high school setting. For me, it wasn’t all that funny. 

 

When No One Knows Your Heroine

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IMG_1955“Look!” I said when my contributor’s copies of the Alive Now Creativity issue landed in my mailbox. “I’m in the same book as Madeleine L’Engle!”

My husband looked at me and said, “Who’s that?”

A few hours later my son said, “Uh, I don’t know what that is, but I’m guessing it’s a famous author.”

My coworker said L’Engle’s name sounded familiar. Everyone thought her book A Wrinkle in Time might be something they’d read. Maybe. But they couldn’t quite remember.

I suppose I’m writing this post in hopes that someone out there does know one of the authors I most admire. I’m hoping others can appreciate the thrill of seeing her name on a devotional with my poem inside. And even if no one else knows of A Wrinkle in Time, I do. I also know of her non-fiction works that filled me with inspiration like A Circle of Quiet.

I love my husband and son. Sometimes it astounds me that our worlds are so different even though we live intertwined. But I suppose Madeleine L’Engle would say that she didn’t need everyone to know her in order to feel complete.  She was wise like that.

I’ll just keep on being happy knowing that her name is on the cover of that Creativity issue. I think she’d be okay with that.

http://www.madeleinelengle.com/madeleine-lengle/