Archive for January 2016
One of the final prompts in this year’s PAD Challenge was “write an open letter poem.” I had been thinking about those confounding dead trees I see each day at the edge of the faculty parking lot at school, and decided on a whim to address those trees in my letter.
Ah, hell! The truth is that I’ve been pissed at myself for a few years for not being able to find out what those trees really mean to me as a poet. I decided as a last-ditch effort to make them the subject of this poem, and if it didn’t work out I was going to surrender to the notion of not being able to write a poem about them. Thankfully, this one worked out pretty well.
Oddly, this is the second poem I’ve written that has taken the faculty parking lot as inspiration. Here’s the other one from two years ago: Faculty Lot, January.
For now, though, here’s what I got out of the trees.
An Open Letter to the Dying Trees at the Edge of the Faculty Parking Lot
Winter has gnawed off your bark,
leaving you vulnerable to rot
in the wet of April and blisters
and dryness in August. You creak
and crack against the wind. Now
your spines are splintered and
you’re falling onto each other.
We know institutional abuses
relentless as time. We know
the ground is fetid and soft
with decay, but you won’t loose
your roots—you stand
austere and defiant each day.
I once worked with a woman who told a story about how every Thanksgiving her family would wait for their grandfather to finish eating and scoot his chair out from the table. He’d pat his belly and look around at whomever was giving him their attention, and announce for all to hear: That’s another Thanksgiving shot in the ass. Seems like a fitting post-script to the PAD Challenge this year, so I stole it.
I turned in my chapbook last week, thus completing the 2015 Writer’s Digest Poem-a-Day Chapbook Challenge. I wrote about this last November as it was kicking off, and posted a few poems from last year that didn’t make the final cut. Right now, I’m feeling my way around that strange landscape of a just-finished project that took a long, long time and a lot of effort and leaves you with a big empty feeling once it is complete. Not having several poems right in front of me demanding my attention is a strange sensation; my poems have been on my person or close enough to my person so much lately that I can probably claim them as dependents on my income taxes.
Thus are the after-effects of the PAD Challenge. It takes a lot of your time when you commit to it, which is one of the perks. You spend 2.5 months of your year in the process and not really worrying about when the muse will once again shit upon you. That first month is all about responding to the prompts, even if it is a few scratches in a journal as your eyelids grow heavier and heaver at 10 P.M. The second month is all about rewriting and reshaping and weeding out the weak stuff from the strong stuff. And if you’re like me, those last two weeks are dedicated to formatting your chapbook.
I guess it’s safe to say that I have a method for the PAD Challenge. Perhaps that method is what led me to producing what I think is a damn fine chapbook given the time constraints and my standing as a poet. And hell, modesty aside, I think this year’s is a damn sight better than the one I submitted last year. So many of my poems last year hinged on clever word play that I’m almost embarrassed. Word play might be cool for a poem or two every now and then, but there are far more sophisticated and respected poetic devices one should develop. I think I got to some of them this year and took them for a solid test drive.
I started to experiment with forms, which is good. My poems are usually about one stanza long and are deductive in their logic. I abandoned stanza form in numerous poems, but not the deductive reasoning. Maybe that will be next year’s goal: to be more inductive. Anyhow, I have multi-stanza poems, one that is a set of couplets, and another that is literally all over the page because I felt it should be all over the page. The PAD Challenge gives you license to do those types of things since you’re producing so many poems so fast that you don’t really give yourself time to stop and reconsider or second-guess yourself. Add that to the list of advantages of accepting the challenge, right behind “turning off the inner critic.”
There was an all-around different vibe to the challenge this year, and I’m still trying to get my head around it. It felt last year like I was producing a lot more and having a lot more free-wheeling fun with what I was writing, but that may have been due to the novelty of the act. I caught on a few days in to the whole deal, and worked furiously and joyfully at catching up and then staying caught up. I think, too, that I was looking at the writing as an escape from some life issues and thus got more out of it. The build-up this year was intense for me, knowing as October broached the horizon that the challenge was but a month off, and then that month was spent on baited breath until it was time to cut loose and write-write-write. I expected to shoot off like a rocket on November 1 and produce all kinds of verse both elevated and profound. It didn’t quite work that way, and I had to get in my own head and remind myself to let things come to me. Glad I did, because boy did things come to me once the challenge was in full swing and I had been writing for a week.
One of the best things to come from the challenge is that I finally wrote a poem about the dead trees at the edge of the faculty parking lot at school. For years now, I’ve left the building at the end of each day and looked at those damn trees, thinking there is something about them that is speaking to me poetically; something greater than them being trees and me being a teacher. I couldn’t put my finger on it for the longest time despite several efforts to write a poem about them, but something clicked during the challenge and I found the poem that had been calling out to me from the nether regions of my psyche. I’ll post it later this week with some comments.
So, who wants to check out a chapbook produced by an up-and-coming poet? Text the phrase “you ain’t no Bill Shakespeare ” to 847-528-2873, and I’ll reply with a pdf of Everything You Should Know… . And hey—thanks for reading!
The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.
Here’s an excerpt:
A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,700 times in 2015. If it were a cable car, it would take about 28 trips to carry that many people.