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When I write – especially poetry – I always seek to use “power verbs” wherever possible.  It’s never, “I was angry.” I’d wait for words like froth, seethe, frizzle, clench, etc. to come to me.  After listening to a TED talk while out on a walk today, I recognize that verb tense – especially the subjunctive – can wield great emotional power.

Think of the line, “I coulda been a contender.”  Sure, Brando’s intense delivery iconized it.  Brando2But imagine that same line if it had been written, “I was never a contender,” or “I wasn’t a contender,” or “I never saw myself as a contender.” Even tripping from Brando’s lips, they don’t have the same power.  There’s no wistfulness, no regret, no loss, no ‘what might have been’.  That emotion all comes from the world “could” (the subjunctive tense) in there.

In the TED talk, I learned there are many languages that have no subjunctive and it likely influences those cultures and their beliefs.  Since we (English-speakers) do have the  woulda-coulda-shoulda, what has that done to us? I wonder if I were to keep my thoughts in simple tenses, will it affect my ability to stay present?  Ha!  pun.

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Last weekend a writing group friend, Bob Kralapp, and I did a poetry reading at Clare Bridge in Middleton. Clare Bridge is a “memory care facility” and, from what I could tell, a very nice, caring one. When you’re buzzed in, the front room has a fireplace burning, comfy couches and wing chairs. There are framed photos of residents in various activities in perched on tables and the mantle. Also very obvious was the lack of smell I’m going to just call “disinfectant” — that smell is what actually kick-starts the fear in your lizard brain. That smell transports you back to the time when you were little and went to visit Grandma in The Home, or had to go to the hospital when you broke your collar bone or sit in the waiting room while your Dad went to visit Uncle Bob at rehab. . . It was so not there, that I noticed it.

Some residents were waiting for us in the activity room when Bob and I came in. Most were ambulatory and sat in chairs with walkers parked at hand. A few were in wheelchairs. Most of the women were dressed specifically for Valentine’s Day in pink or red, with heart-shaped jewelry.

As we read, they were (mostly) quiet, but sometimes commented randomly. Not all that different from a coffee-shop poetry slam now that I think of it. One resident did call me “ornery,” though. I’ve tucked that away for some future poems.

Here’s a poem I read for them:

 

This Winter

This winter is the winter I catch him.

What? You don’t believe that old myth, do you?

 

I’ll layer up and slog through snowy drifts.

Zillions of snowflakes dizzying down around me.

Everyone else will be inside cupped around cocoa

and melty marshmallows, but they’ll miss the clues.

 

This winter I finally know when to catch him.

It won’t be during an early November or even December snow.

This winter, he’ll wait until late,

when our backs are achy and

even the snow angels have gotten up, dusted off,

and left for choir practice. Read the rest of this entry »

“Don’t scorn your life just because it’s not dramatic, or it’s impoverished, or it looks dull, or it’s workaday. Don’t scorn it. It is where poetry is taking place if you’ve got the sensitivity to see it, if your eyes are open.”

Philip Levine, describing what he learned from William Carlos Williams

NPR aired a story this morning about Philip Levine, who died this last weekend at 87. As I heard listened to the story, I re-opened my eyes on my drive to work. Here are just a few of the things I saw:

A big red garage door, vanity on long beige metal building

A license plate that read HUG after the numbers – did they do that on purpose?  or lucky?

The cars driving around me, their shiny colors muted by dried salt and grime

Three men statued on the sidewalk in front of the building, heads bent over their phones as I walked by -They’re missing stuff! What if I had been young and pretty?

Read or listen to the full story here: http://www.npr.org/2015/02/15/384096472/philip-levine-who-found-poetry-on-detroits-assembly-lines-dies-at-87 . Then go notice something.

 

stylish poet catI’m going to facilitate a poetry workshop!

Waunakee Poets Workshop

February 18, 2015 6:30 pm

Waunakee writers! Let’s celebrate the writing, reading, performance and appreciation of poetry. Whether you see yourself as the first to sign up to perform your poem or the shy scribbler in the corner, you are welcome!

We will encourage your unique expression, and create a safe place to share and experiment with poetry. We will watch/listen to a Poetry Slam champion, do a writing exercise, discuss, and end with poetry readings.

Who can attend?  Any age, any writing skill level

Where?                   Waunakee Public Library

When?                     February 18, 2015 at 6:30 pm

Cost?                       Free

Bring?                     Poems in any state (spiffy or misshapen; ideas and feelings) or just a desire to write

Use?                         Writing utensil and paper, laptop, etc.

Who is leading?   Me!

For more information on the location visit the Waunakee Public Library site.

I could not resist re-posting this Discover Magazine blog post.  Enjoy!

Is there a relationship between poetry and psychosis?

The idea that ‘genius’ is just one step removed from ‘mamentaldness’ is a venerable one, and psychiatrists and psychologists have spent a great (perhaps an inordinate) amount of time looking for correlations between mental illness and creativity.

Now a new British study has examined whether poets exhibit more traits of psychosis than other people. One of the authors is a published poet, Helen Mort.

The researchers recruited 294 poets in an anonymous online survey; 92% of them had published their work. On the O-LIFE questionnaire, a self-report measure of psychotic symptoms, the poets scored above average on the “Unusual Experiences”, “Cognitive Disorganization” and “Impulsive Nonconformity” traits.

Furthermore, poets who described their work as ‘avant-garde’ scored even higher on “Unusual Experiences” and on a questionnaire of mood disorder symptoms.

Rates of self-reported mental illnesses were also high.

two poets (0.7%) reported schizophrenia, 15 reported bipolar disorder (5.1%), 152 reported depression (51.7%) and 80 reported anxiety disorder (27.2%).

Although actually these percentages are not that much higher than we see in the general population.

So it seems as though poets are more prone to psychosis – or at least, they think that they are [emphasis mine]. All of the traits were self-reported. Could it be that poets, having internalized the ‘mad genius’ archetype, are more prone to describe themselves in those terms?

Read the entire post at http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/neuroskeptic/2014/12/11/poetry-psychosis-linked/#more-5761

Last night I watched a filmed production of the play, The Belle of Amherst.  It’s a lovely, amazing, and heart-breaking portrayal of the poet, Emily Dickinson.  Julie Harris performs the one-woman play in front of a live audience for a 1976 TV-movie.  Even from the back of the audience’s heads I could tell it was the seventies. When you’ve lived the hairstyles, you remember.

IMDB gives the movie a solid 8.5 rating.  I loved how it showed Dickinson’s play with words and playful personality.  Often the character spouted poem after poem melded into the plot, performing the poems ecstatically at times. Her interpretation made me run for my Collected Works copy.

I’m going to watch it again.  Highly recommend it.

I wrote two poems last night. Sometimes a piece comes almost perfectly formed and other times a piece will take ages to get it to the state I feel comfortable with review. After the fact, I think it was because I immersed myself in some of the best writing ever. In this case it was poems and songs, but I don’t think the medium matters. Read really good writing, listen to really good writing, visit art – that’s the key to pulling your own muse out from under the basement stairs.

I watched Tavis Smiley’s interview with Joni Mitchell on the PBS Roku channel. (Thank you inventors of the technologies that make “internet TV” possible!). Joni looked so amazingly cool still – she’s 71. After the interview I put on her music, cranked it up, and sang along for an hour or so. I can do that. “I am a woman of heart and mind with time on her hands, no child to raise.” Or is it, “Just another silly girl when loves makes a fool of me”? Probably both.

Here is one of the poems from last night. 

The Arts

I thought I was a play

the simple story of a life

wherein the actor

survives the shifts, the plots

in the scuffle for the front of the stage Read the rest of this entry »

Just as I could spend hours in a library, I can do the same with a great online database.

From The Getty’s Tumblr account, this wonderful collage made with Open Content materials:

Whispering Muse

http://thegetty.tumblr.com/post/67487799884/can-you-identify-the-4-getty-open-content-artworks?utm_medium=email&utm_source=html&utm_campaign=weekly_top_posts_subject_5&utm_term=post_67487799884

Exploring The Getty’s Open Content database is a library lover’s dream.  http://search.getty.edu/gateway/search?q=&cat=highlight&f=%22Open+Content+Images%22&rows=10&srt=a&dir=s&pg=1

The Getty makes available, without charge, all available digital images to which the Getty holds the rights or that are in the public domain to be used for any purpose. No permission is required.  http://www.getty.edu/about/opencontent.html

Search or browse and find some wonders:

A Basilisk illumination

http://search.getty.edu/museum/records/musobject?objectid=305961

An 1874 photograph of Sarah Bernhardt

http://search.getty.edu/museum/records/musobject?objectid=62674

A William Henry Jackson photograph of “Old Faithful”.  You can’t get that close any more! http://search.getty.edu/museum/records/musobject?objectid=56705

There are also sound recordings like:

Recording by Dr. Joe Kamiya of Alpha brainwaves

http://primo.getty.edu/primo_library/libweb/action/dlDisplay.do?vid=GRI&afterPDS=true&institution=01GRI&docId=GETTY_DTL5715593

I don’t know why that would be useful, but I like knowing it’s there.

I read a great line in Kathleen Tessaro’s book, The Perfume Collector. In the scene, the character has been trying to hold off drinking.

“That doctor understood nothing.
He didn’t know what it was like to live between memory and regret with nothing to numb it.”

Not only is this a very well crafted line, but fascinating in a book with perfume as a key character. It is well accepted that smell is the fastest route to a memory of all the senses.

I’m a bit of a perfume collector myself. I can’t use just one. My favorite perfume of all time is Deneuve, which is no longer made. I used up my hoard of boxed up bottles last year. I got one of my favorite words, chamade, from the name of a Guerlain perfume. The word means “a signal by drum or trumpet inviting an enemy to a parley.” It can also mean the unique trumpet sound made by a band of knights as they came in view of another. This way you would know from a distance, if they were friend or foe. I think the perfume designer meant it to be that when you smelled this, you would think of the woman who wore it. You would be aware of her even before you could see her.

Perhaps a poem about perfume is in the air.

Writing with structure and rules is always a challenge for me.
I took some pieces of poems I haven’t been able to finesse yet and make tanka with them. The challenge is both the syllable count and the turning point line. Poets.org describes it this way,
“The Japanese tanka is a thirty-one-syllable poem, traditionally written in a single unbroken line. A form of waka, Japanese song or verse, tanka translates as “short song,” and is better known in its five-line, 5/7/5/7/7 syllable count form.
In many ways, the tanka resembles the sonnet, certainly in terms of treatment of subject. Like the sonnet, the tanka employs a turn, known as a pivotal image, which marks the transition from the examination of an image to the examination of the personal response. This turn is located within the third line, connecting the kami-no-ku, or upper poem, with the shimo-no-ku, or lower poem.”

http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/5793

Kentucky Warbler
trills and sways the coneflower
calling paler girls
and the memory of a boy
too pretty for me to keep

October that year
I missed the leaves turning gold
and never noticed
corn ripe for the harvester’s slice
just your cool breath on my neck

Coyote trots alone
her red bird meal softly held
limp now in her mouth
nodding our heads as we pass
dawn clocks the start of my shift