Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Paranoia

I wrote the poem below a long time ago. I lost it and now have it again thanks to my friend. The port which gives charge to my first laptop broke somehow, so it's been sitting dormant for two years now. I've been putting off getting the information taken off until recently. Since applying to graduate schools, I realized it would beneficial if I had the entire arsenal of my academic work: essays, poems, homeworks, and whatever else I can tweak to supplement my applications.



I got the idea for the poem from the movie I Am Legend which frightened me the first time I watched it, perhaps because one of my greatest fears is being abandoned. The movie just brought the fear of abandonment to an extreme, and I think it helped me sympathize with Smith's character that much more. The original version of the poem which I submitted to my undergrad poetry workshop did not include the reference to the movie, and interestingly enough only one person from my workshop got the connection even though the majority of my classmates had seen the movie.



In the original I included a line "...writing poetry convoluted with too many languages?" which has nothing to do with the movie. It was only caught by one person. It made me wonder what would happen if I pulled in more obscure details not taken from the movie. I suppose the poem wouldn't need the movie reference anymore, and furthermore would no longer be a poetic ekphrastic.

I would like to try and revise this poem but I no longer have the individual comments from my workshop. I do though remember one thing my classmates said about this poem. Who are the demons, and why are they stalking the speaker? Viable questions, I have not figured how to give this information without losing the fearfulness the reader feels for the speaker. I suppose I'll open up the Poet's Companion and try to find an exercise to open up the poem a little more. In the meantime, "Paranoia" as of present.







Paranoia



--From I Am Legend




What if my demons are not gone but waiting



for light to lift and let darkness? Foraging



pass dilapidated cars, abandoned streets,



crouching behind dull red brick buildings beside



a lone dumpster in a narrow alleyway -- waiting



for me to look back one before I enter



and bolt my door. What if all night they labor



making booby traps because they know I'm still



here? What if they know that I'm insane for my



psyche's sake: talking to mannequins, watching



reruns of events 7 years past, living in a ghost town?





What if they know I'm the reason they hunger for more human



flesh, gnash their heads against glass, roar like beasts?



What if they catch me, will they rip my lithe flesh



mercifully as I do a Sunburst tangerine? Or if they



hear me whisper a prayer, will they burst into doves?



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Friday, December 18, 2009

Attempting a Villanelle

So I decided to attempt a villanelle. Villanelles are poems I always start and stop, mostly because it gets to be a lot of work. I must admit though that they're much simpler, in my opinion, than sonnets which I have trying to do successfully since I began seriously writing poetry. As an undergrad, I took a Renaissance Prose and Poetry course and remember how painstaking it was trying to scan the sonnets of Petrarch, Spenser, and Wyatt. And you think because it's a sonnet you can automatically assume it's written in iambic pentamenter, right? Wrong. I found myself questioning if I was pronoucing these words correctly. Nonetheless, besides being difficult, it was also very interesting as the way we scanned the poems seemed to more or less coincide with the mood being expressed in the poem. Thus, I came away from the course noting that tone and intent are key elements to note in scansion.

But back to villanelles. Villanelles only interested after I discovered paradelles, a parody of villanelles thought up by former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins. One of my favorite poets Kim Addonizio wrote a paradelle, "Ever After," that I thought was just about the coolest thing I'd ever read.

All this aside, the form of the villanelle goes as follows:

a1
b
a2

a
b
a1

a
b
a2

a
b
a1

a
b
a2

a
b
a1
a2

I was taught by my creative writing professors to respect form and tradition, even if it isn't particularly your personal style or taste. The values of form are multifaceted and I don't think I'm going to get into them here. What I am going to admit is that I find that form is the true test of your skill and focus as a writer. Everyone can write free verse, and in fact many people admit to writing poetry but form is definitely something that delineates the more serious writers. Writing in form is the culmination of all that serious writers do: the mulling, the rearrangement, the excessive time spent trying to reach the poem's max potential. The same is done for free verse poems but when dealing in form, every writer -- serious or not -- has to succumb to this laborious effort for the sake of the poem. And I suppose that says a lot considering that many an occasion I've started poems in form only to abandon them later. But today, not so. All this said, here is my attempt at a villanelle.


AFTERWARDS VILLANELLE

i watch my man gather to go
it's like fruit too fat for its bough. ripe;
the layer bruised from a blow

to the ground. no echo,
only the sun's sucking and trite-
like i watch him gather to go.

flies hover, circle, pitch low.
there is no fight. never a fight.
the layer bruised from a blow.

i skin the bed of its sheets, throw
them to wash. i flip on my porch light.
i watch him from the window as he goes.

the flies gnaw hollows; now full, they slow
their haste. fruit: dulled and blight-
racked, its layer still bruised from the blow.

who will call whom tomorrow?
who swallows the dried fruit for tonight?
i watch my man gather to go.
the layer bruised from its blow.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Pioneers! O Pioneers!

I've been really impressed by the newest Levi's brand jeans' commercial only because of the poem recited in the background of the flashing images of youth. I'm embarrassed to admit that I did not recognize it was Walt Whitman. But now again when I think on it, perhaps this is good thing. The fact that I was drawn by the words alone indicate that it is not merely the celebrity of Whitman that I am appealing to but the actual words, which I believe any poet -- known or obscure -- would appreciate. The poems included in the commercial are "Pioneers! O Pioneers!" and "America." Below, I've included the poems recited in the commercial, the specific parts included are bolded.

Whitman is lauded for pioneering American poetry. Before he came along, many poets were still convinced of poetry that looks and sounds like that of the English. Breaking with tradition, he created extremely long-lined, free verse poems. It was truly innovative at a time when people thought poetry had be in some sort of rhyme scheme or form. Moreover, Whitman took pride in making everyone subjects in his poem; in doing so, he aimed to create a space where Americans, all Americans, were identified and characterized even if the landscape or conditions of America did not necessarily allow for it to be so, (Whitman volunteered as a nurse during the American Civil War and was despaired by the plight of blacks and Native Americans during this time). In this view, he may be considered an idealist as he wanted the term American to identify a people who though different in physical make-up were similar in terms of their wants and needs -- that they all strove for a common American dream.

Pioneers! O Pioneers!

COME, my tan-faced children,
Follow well in order, get your weapons ready,
Have you your pistols? Have you your sharp-edged axes?
Pioneers! O pioneers!


For we cannot tarry here,
We must march my darlings, we must bear the brunt of danger,
We the youthful sinewy races, all the rest on us depend,
Pioneers! O pioneers!


O you youths, Western youths,
So impatient, full of action, full of manly pride and friendship,
Plain I see you Western youths, see you tramping with the foremost,
Pioneers! O pioneers!


Have the elder races halted?
Do they droop and end their lesson, wearied over there beyond the seas?
We take up the task eternal, and the burden and the lesson,
Pioneers! O pioneers!
All the past we leave behind,
We debouch upon a newer mightier world, varied world,
Fresh and strong the world we seize,
world of labor and the march,
Pioneers! O pioneers!


We detachments steady throwing,
Down the edges, through the passes, up the mountains steep,

Conquering, holding, daring, venturing as we go the unknown ways,
Pioneers! O pioneers!

We primeval forests felling,
We the rivers stemming, vexing we and piercing deep the mines within,
We the surface broad surveying, we the virgin soil upheaving,
Pioneers! O pioneers!

Colorado men are we,
From the peaks gigantic, from the great sierras and the high plateaus,
From the mine and from the gully, from the hunting trail we come,
Pioneers! O pioneers!

From Nebraska, from Arkansas,
Central inland race are we, from Missouri, with the continental blood intervein'd,
All the hands of comrades clasping, all the Southern, all the Northern,
Pioneers! O pioneers!

O resistless restless race!
O beloved race in all! O my breast aches with tender love for all!
O I mourn and yet exult, I am rapt with love for all,
Pioneers! O pioneers!

Raise the mighty mother mistress,
Waving high the delicate mistress, over all the starry mistress,
(bend your heads all,)
Raise the fang'd and warlike mistress, stern, impassive, weapon'd mistress,
Pioneers! O pioneers!

See my children, resolute children,
By those swarms upon our rear we must never yield or falter,
Ages back in ghostly millions frowning there behind us urging,
Pioneers! O pioneers!

On and on the compact ranks,
With accessions ever waiting, with the places of the dead quickly fill'd,
Through the battle, through defeat, moving yet and never stopping,
Pioneers! O pioneers!

O to die advancing on!
Are there some of us to droop and die? has the hour come?
Then upon the march we fittest die, soon and sure the gap is fill'd.
Pioneers! O pioneers!

All the pulses of the world,
Falling in they beat for us, with the Western movement beat,
Holding single or together, steady moving to the front, all for us,
Pioneers! O pioneers!

Life's involv'd and varied pageants,
All the forms and shows, all the workmen at their work,
All the seamen and the landsmen, all the masters with their slaves,
Pioneers! O pioneers!

All the hapless silent lovers,
All the prisoners in the prisons, all the righteous and the wicked,
All the joyous, all the sorrowing, all the living, all the dying,
Pioneers! O pioneers!

I too with my soul and body,
We, a curious trio, picking, wandering on our way,
Through these shores amid the shadows, with the apparitions pressing,
Pioneers! O pioneers!

Lo, the darting bowling orb!
Lo, the brother orbs around, all the clustering suns and planets,
All the dazzling days, all the mystic nights with dreams,
Pioneers! O pioneers!

These are of us, they are with us,
All for primal needed work, while the followers there in embryo wait behind,
We to-day's procession heading, we the route for travel clearing,
Pioneers! O pioneers!

O you daughters of the West!
O you young and elder daughters! O you mothers and you wives!
Never must you be divided, in our ranks you move united,
Pioneers! O pioneers!

Minstrels latent on the prairies!
(Shrouded bards of other lands, you may rest, you have done your work,)
Soon I hear you coming warbling, soon you rise and tramp amid us,
Pioneers! O pioneers!

Not for delectations sweet,
Not the cushion and the slipper, not the peaceful and the studious,
Not the riches safe and palling, not for us the tame enjoyment,
Pioneers! O pioneers!

Do the feasters gluttonous feast?
Do the corpulent sleepers sleep? have they lock'd and bolted doors?
Still be ours the diet hard, and the blanket on the ground,
Pioneers! O pioneers!

Has the night descended?
Was the road of late so toilsome? did we stop discouraged nodding on our way?
Yet a passing hour I yield you in your tracks to pause oblivious,
Pioneers! O pioneers!

Till with sound of trumpet,
Far, far off the daybreak call-hark! how loud and clear I hear it wind,
Swift! to the head of the army!-swift! spring to your places,
Pioneers! O pioneers!

America

Centre of equal daughters, equal sons,
All, all alike endear'd, grown, ungrown, young or old,
Strong, ample, fair, enduring, capable, rich,
Perennial with the Earth, with Freedom, Law and Love,
A grand, sane, towering, seated Mother,
Chair'd in the adamant of Time.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Ishtar


I've been doing some research on a goddess known as Ishtar, goddess of fertility, sex, war and love in the Babylonian pantheon. She is often compared to the Greek of Roman goddess Venus or Aphrodite. But of course, many civilizations have their own equivalent, such the Sumerian goddess Inanna, who I became familiar with in the novel The Red Tent. Ishtar is particularly interesting because even though she represents all these good things (save for war), she is essentially a very volatile character. She is spoiled, bad-tempered, and not to mention all of her lovers she comes to scorn. When she appears in the Epic of Gilgamesh trying to win over Gilagamesh, this is what he has to say to her:
"Listen to me while I tell the tale of your lovers. There was Tammuz, the lover of your youth, for him you decreed wailing, year after year. You loved the many-coloured roller, but still you struck and broke his wing [...] You have loved the lion tremendous in strength: seven pits you dug for him, and seven. You have loved the stallion magnificent in battle, and for him you decreed the whip and spur and a thong [...] You have loved the shepherd of the flock; he made meal-cake for you day after day, he killed kids for your sake. You struck and turned him into a wolf; now his own herd-boys chase him away, his own hounds worry his flanks."

The poem I wrote today is a recanting of Ishtar at the underworld gates in her own voice. I debated whether to retell the entire story and ultimately decided that I wouldn't, at least for now. Also, I was further inspired to write this after reading "Medusa" by Patricia Smith.




ISHTAR AT THE UNDERWORLD GATES


I came to the gates and demand they let me enter.

I am not the kind of woman who stands in line by the street. I

have places to be seen at and people to screw.


I told them

they had one more minute to act like they didn't know me--

before I got Big Bad Wolf in here. I'll huff and puff and blow this

shithole to the ground. Do you know who I am?


I'll call up the dead and have them gnaw you lifeless. I'll

call up the dead and have them take all this over. What

choice did they have? Of course they let me in.


But they were still hating on me, talking about I had to take off

one article of clothing each gate I passed though knowing I'd be

naked by the time I even reached in there.


Joke was on them though. I live in the nude. Nobody's body

talks as loud as mine does. I mean, anybody who sees me

wants to touch me, that's how shiny, how sweet I am.