Poetry Wednesday: Building More Sidewalk

National Poetry Month is Still with Us!

So give yourself a gift and whimsical up a poem.  Make it silly, make it stupid, make it about meatballs on spaghetti and ninjas on Mars.  About ants and queens and cabbages and Prime Ministers and digging wells with runcible spoons.

Steal rhythms, fake rhymes, have pirates dance the rhombus on paper plates with protractors, write a doggerel saga about a noble corgi’s Quest for the Golden Fleas, dance down the page with a three-legged gerbil who plays a mean sax in that rat hole of a speakeasy on the west side of Ferretburg on Saturday nights.

Forget form, forget reason, forget dignity.  Have a giggle, have a laugh, have fun.

Hoist the flag of Aunt Bertha’s bloomers and scar your psyche with who salutes. Scare those horses—make puns, not war.

Wrap your hair around your bare and build more sidewalk.

Revel in your own ridiculousness and throw the scansion out the window.

Here—I’ll go first:

I pledge allegianceCoffee
To the bean
That produces my daily coffee
And to the caffeine
Which helps me stand.
Large Americano
Under a lid
With fat-free creamer
and a double hazelnut shot.

Clearly, even poetry-loving non-poets can have fun with this stuff.

It obviously doesn’t have to be good, it just has to be fun to write.

Lied the Raven, “Nevermore,”
As he tossed pancakes
On my kitchen floor.
It’s only his way of keeping score
With the graymalkin who lives next door.

Dragons live across the street.
The friendliest creatures
You’ll ever meet.
Block parties with them? Always a treat—
Barbecuing with neighbors can’t be beat!

There’s a paddock down the roadMysterious Face
Who was warned twice
To keep his lawn mowed.
It’s right there in the Neighborhood Code:
“Violators will be toad.”

That pond’s home to a cute merman—
At home in water,
Not so much on land.
When the city pushed that piranha ban?
I gave him legs, so he could take a stand.

This neighborhood’s nice, that’s a fact
Close to good schools
And parks for your pack.
And if there’s trouble, I’ve got your back—
‘Cause I’m the Witch of the Cul-de-sac.

Showed you mine.  Where’s yours?


Poetry Wednesday: the Desires of Alpha Behn

National Poetry Month continues, ladies and gentlemen!

So give yourself a gift and think, really think, about something you’ve wanted with everything you have.

A place, a thing, a person. A self.

Something you should have, will have, do have, should never, will never.

Animal, vegetable, mineral. Rich man, poor man, beggarman, thief. That person at the bus stop with the biceps. Family.  Lunch. The place you know you’ll belong when you finally find it—the work, the garden, the house, the heart, the body.

Take up a piece of thick, rich paper and a felt-tipped pen.  Offer yourself a glass of wine, a cup of tea, lemonade, a cat, an afghan, a soundtrack.  Describe your desire in every way you can, black ink velveting the pale page.

The scents of spring, the sounds of summer thunderstorm, the touch of a comforting hand, the colors of your favorite pair of eyes, the taste of damp skin—his, hers, theirs—the ache of anticipation, the joy of fulfillment.

Whisper your words to yourself without embarrassment or fear.  Sing the song of longing, feel the delicious slide from attraction to necessity, suspend forever that single, unmasked moment of sharing heat, sharing breath, sharing everything you are—but not . . . quite . . . touching . . . yet.

You still have a couple of weeks to get it just right—or perfectly wrong, if that’s what you need.


Aphra Behn, circa 1670Aphra Behn— rich woman, poor woman, writer, spy*, and all around fascinating lady of mystery—knew how to do this.

Widowed** and abandoned,*** she literally wrote herself out of debtors’ prison with plays and novels that scandalized and titillated and enthralled, and made her one of the best-known writers of her generation, though she maintained that if she’d been a man, no one would have made such a fuss.

She also wrote poetry, as so many did, to fill in the corners, as it were.

After what she’d been through—and she’d certainly been through it, by most accounts—she refused to count on anyone to support her, and I think that might be why several of her poems are so scornful of the romantic ideals of love.

But that didn’t mean she didn’t know what desire was; she just understood that love sometimes has little to do with it :^

The Willing Mistress
(Aphra Behn)

Amyntas led me to a Grove,
Where all the Trees did shade us;
The Sun itself, though it had Strove,
It could not have betray’d us:
The place secur’d from humane Eyes,
No other fear allows.
But when the Winds that gently rise,
Doe Kiss the yielding Boughs.
Down there we sat upon the Moss,
And did begin to playmoss bed
A Thousand Amorous Tricks, to pass
The heat of all the day.
A many Kisses he did give:
And I return’d the same
Which made me willing to receive
That which I dare not name.
His Charming Eyes no Aid requir’d
To tell their softning Tale;
On her that was already fir’d
’Twas easy to prevaile.
He did but Kiss and Clasp me round,
Whilst those his thoughts Exprest:
And lay’d me gently on the Ground;
Ah who can guess the rest?

But she also understood that sometimes it does . . . but that guarantees nothing.

The Dream

(Aphra Behn)

All trembling in my arms Aminta lay,
Defending of the bliss I strove to take;
Raising my rapture by her kind delay,
Her force so charming was and weak.Perchance to dream
The soft resistance did betray the grant,
While I pressed on the heaven of my desires;
Her rising breasts with nimbler motions pant;
Her dying eyes assume new fires.
Now to the height of languishment she grows,
And still her looks new charms put on;
Now the last mystery of Love she knows,
We sigh, and kiss: I waked, and all was done.
‘Twas but a dream, yet by my heart I knew,
Which still was panting, part of it was true:
Oh how I strove the rest to have believed;
Ashamed and angry to be undeceived!


*For Charles I, who refused to pay her or supply passage back to England from Antwerp, thus leading to her financial woes.  As my husband said, “Yep.  That sounds like Charles.”

** See previous footnote.

***Probably.  All we really know is that they were seen together, she took his name, and he died, leaving her with nothing.  Which is presumably why she took the gig with Charles.

^ She also had definite views about consent and coercion. “The Disappointment” is either a poem about a woman being seduced beyond the point of her principles or a man who does not understand that no means no, even when his own body decides it does.  Either way, the poet saves her sympathy for the woman. Read with caution—it’s sensual as all hell, but triggering.

(And if you ever have to do a paper for 17th Century Lit, try comparing Aphra Behn to John Donne—I love the guy, but there’s no escaping his misogynistic tendencies)

Poetry Wednesday: Poetry is a Sickness

It’s still National Poetry Month, ladies and gentlemen!

So give yourself a gift and go to a public place that makes you feel comfortable—a coffee shop, the library, a park, the bench in front of your favorite painting at the museum, the cheap seats at the ballpark, the pew half-hidden behind the organ at church—and take something to write with, or on, or into.

Think about someone who has greatly wronged you in some way that might be forgiven, or not, but will never be forgotten. Or someone whom you hate or who hates you, for good reason, or stupid reasons, or no reason at all.  Someone you know well, or don’t know well, or whom you have never met at all. Doesn’t matter.

Write a poem to that person.  Sharpen your rhymes like knives, scorn with haiku, let the limericks fall like acid rain.  Burn holes in the paper with the strength of your righteous or self-righteous or indefensible anger.  Grin as you go, or let the tears fall wherever the hell they want.

Keep your words, or don’t.  Share them, or don’t. Send them to the object of your rage, or don’t. Doesn’t matter.

Because you’ve said them—and they’re all there on the page instead of impacting your wound.

That matters.

Think about it.  You have all month.

And while you’re thinking it over, read the rest of  this poem, which I don’t have permission to share in its entirety, but which I want to send to every poet I know, and also everyone who has read a poem and wondered what the poet was thinking:

 . . . Maybe the best poem is always the one you shouldn’t have written

The ghazal that bled your index finger
Or caused your sister to reject your calls for a year
The sonnet that made the woman you loved fear
That slam poem you’re still paying forH1N1_virus_particles
The triolet that smiled to violate you
through both ears

But Poet, Sucker, Fool
It’s your job
to find meaning in all this because
you are delusional enough to believe
that, yes, poetry is a sickness,
but somehow if you can just scrape together enough beauty and truth . . . 

—From “Poetry is a Sickness,” Whorled, Ed Bok Lee (© 2011)

Because if writing poetry can sometimes be a sickness, I imagine that  it can also be the moment just before the fever breaks and healing begins.

Poetry Wednesday: Snicker-snack, y’all

It’s National Poetry Month in the States, so I thought I’d post a favorite poem or two each Wednesday until we run out of April.  Which I suppose we have.

Decades ago, I took a college speech class— it was a requirement for education majors.  The first assignment was to memorize a favorite poem and recite it dramatically before the class.

I chose Lewis Carroll’s  “Jabberwocky” and performed it with hand gestures, teeth-gnashing, and a fencing saber.  I may have hammed.  A bit.

But according to the notes from the TA, I received a B solely because I’d chosen “a nonsense poem that  doesn’t make sense.”

I know.

So, for the first and only time in my academic career, I challenged a grade.  I argued my case in front of the Head of the Education department.

My point wasn’t that the assignment instructions were faulty, but  that the poem did too make sense.  In fact, the invented language was so deft and onomatopoetic and the structure so classic that the story itself was perfectly clear.

The Head, who was also an English professor, saw it my way.  My B was upgraded and I earned the enmity of the TA for the rest of the semester.

But it was so worth it.

(Lewis Carroll)

`Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!”

He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought —
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood awhile in thought.

And, as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! And through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

“And, has thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!’
He chortled in his joy.

`Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

Bravo, Mr. Carroll.


. . . A clerk came to the front, leading a jabberwocky by a pink leash and talking to a largish woman in a purple dress with a pink fur collar.  “Don’t worry, ma’am,” he said.  “Just keep her nails trimmed and make sure she’s got plenty of chew toys.”

The woman nodded.  “But what if she tries to climb on my furniture?”

He pointed to her shiny green shopping bag, the words Designer Pet World glowing on the side in fancy gold letters.  “Just show her the vorpal sword, and you shouldn’t have any problems.”  He handed her the leash.

The woman bent over and caressed the muzzled snout with beringed hands.  “Is ‘oo ready to go home, mama’s little pwecious?  Is ‘oo?  Kiss-kiss.” 

The beast burbled, and the woman led it away, her heels snicker-snacking in counterpoint to her new pet’s whiffling armaments.

“Home protection, I can see,” I said.  “But kiss-kiss?”

The clerk turned to me and beamed.  “Can I interest you in a pet, sir?  We’re running a special on cold-heat phoenices.”

“What’s a pheenicee?”

“Phoenices,” he said, drawing out the final zee.  “The plural of phoenix.”

I stared at him.  “There’s no plural of phoenix,” I told him.  “There’s only supposed to be one at a time.”

He turned up the sincerity in his smile.  “They’re very popular.  Hours of entertainment.  You can even set the rebirth cycle to suit your convenience.”

I shuddered.  “No, thanks.”

“Are you sure?  They’re solar-powered.”


“I can offer gryphons and manticores.  Or maybe a Vatican-endorsed unicorn?  Guaranteed virgin-sensitive.”

I turned to go.

“We just got in a sphinx,” he called.

“I know the riddle already,” I said over my shoulder.  What was the plural of sphinx supposed to be? 


 (“Bootleg Dog,” Sarah’s File of Shipwrecked Stories, page 3)

Poetry Wednesday: The Author to her Book

It’s National Poetry Month in the States, so I thought I’d post a favorite poem or two each Wednesday until we run out of April.

My favorite course in college was 17th Century Poetry and Prose—and not just because the professor had me pegged as a wiseass from the first class and then egged me on for the rest of the semester.*

I love this stuff, I really do—the couplets, the sonnets, the free-flow within the structure, the rhythm and the rhyme.  Plus, the seventeenth century was chock-full of cynical, mischievous, brilliant, and often libidinous wiseasses.

And some of ’em were women:

The Author to her Book

Thou ill-form’d offspring of my feeble brain,
Who after birth did’st by my side remain,
Till snatcht from thence by friends, less wise than true
Who thee abroad, expos’d to publick view,
Made thee in raggs, halting to th’ press to trudge,
Where errors were not lessened (all may judg).
At thy return my blushing was not small,
My rambling brat (in print) should mother call,
I cast thee by as one unfit for light,
Thy Visage was so irksome in my sight;
Yet being mine own, at length affection would
Thy blemishes amend, of so I could:
I wash’d thy face, but more defects I saw,
And rubbing off a spot, still made a flaw.
I stretcht thy joynts to make thee even feet,
Yet still thou run’st more hobling then is meet;
In better dress to trim thee was my mind,
But nought save home-spun Cloth, i’th’ house I find.
In this array, ‘mongst Vulgars mayst thou roam,
In Criticks hands, beware thou dost not come;
And take thy way where yet thou art not known,
If for thy Father askt, say, thou hadst none:
And for thy Mother, she alas is poor,
Which caus’d her thus to send thee out of door.

—Anne Bradstreet (1612-1672)

See? Amiright?


*Academics get bored, too.