Monday, May 26, 2008

Concrete poetry

I've been trying to write a poem in the shape of an oar. It has kept me pretty busy.

Although I've known about concrete poetry for many years, I haven't every really tried it (except for a very old poem about a staircase in the shape of stairs going up, but how challenging is that?). Then for my last National Poetry Month prompt ("write a poem about endings"), I ended up with this:

Not Such an End

Like an anchor in a sea
of dirt, it stays, resists
all my pulling, my
implements, red
handles and rust.
I hold the green
and leafy top
while, no bigger
than my thumb,
the end of the tap
root weds the wet
ground, its plant
to grow,

How about you? Have you tried writing concrete poems?

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Start laughing now

I have gone off the deep end.

I have planted corn.

From seeds. Hard golden nuggets.

I have little hope that any of them will grow.

I have no room for them in my garden, anyway.

All the prime real estate (good soil, good sunlight) was filled in by starts that I bought while that packet of seeds sat on my kitchen corner. So now the corn is tucked in the corners, and a few meager that seemed to poor for any plant I wanted badly.

As I hunkered down in the dirt and troweled out short trenches, a handful of seeds in my hand, I felt like Jack, or like Jack's mother—as though I were planting magic. And after I found as many places for the corn as I could, I planted some beans.

If any of it grows—and that's a mighty big if—I'll take a picture. It really will last longer!

Time to punch down (gently!) the bread, if it has risen. I may not be writing so much today, but I'm feeding something.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

A rose is a rose is…

a menace?

or a way of life?

My grandmother had a rose garden tucked away on the side of the house—prim tea roses edged by a small hedge of columbine. I always knew that I, too, would have a rose garden—in her memory and also because it's what women do (as when my daughter informed me that all girls should know how to play the piano).

Size is not the defining factor. The rose garden can contain one shrub to (name your number). At my previous house, I dug the yard up and planted, many, many roses: Linda Campbell, Thomas Lipton, Gruss an Aachen, Reine des Violettes, Peace—at one time I could have told you all of their names, but there were many others.

We moved here to a yard that was half deck and half grass, with large laurel hedges on either side. Nothing else. Again, I dug the yard up and planted roses: Butterfly, Paul's Himalayan Musk, Rosa Rubrifola, Cecile de Brunner, and the Gruss an Aachen that I brought with me.

My grandmother's garden was the picture of pretty—and orderly. Mine has become a bramble, a ramble of roses each competing for more space more room, more bloom. Roses crowd out the wisteria, the honeysuckle, the hibiscus (rose of Sharon). The Californica Plena sucker that started as a stick would take the entire yard. The Agnes rose (Agnes was my grandmother's name) is surrounded by the Butterfly that spreads its canes with abandon.

Abandon. Perhaps that is the key. Only constant attention can keep this garden from growing its own way, and I tend to let it grow until it's entirely out of control. Princes would sooner ride away than hack through its thorns and canes.

This morning, I started the chore of cutting back. I thought about what Nance Van Winkle said at the poetry class I took last week: "Ruthlessness." And it's easier to for me to be ruthless in the garden than in my poems.

Then again, the roses are starting to bloom. And I don't want to cut too much until after the show.

What does this have to do, really, with poetry and writing?

Perhaps I need as much abandon in my writing as in my back yard. (If I start with more, it might be easier to figure out what to cut away.)

How do you let go—and go?

Thursday, May 22, 2008

More from letterpress class

This is where we set type. See all those drawers?

The presses are so beautiful.

This is the Iron Hand press that we'll print on in a couple of weeks.

Tonight, we set more type, and the design people started working on their designs for their wood blocks, wood engravings, and linocuts. Because they are in a different room, I'm not always sure where they're at in the process. We just pop in to make sure we have enough room for our type (12 pt. Kennerly, with a 36 pt. Goudy Handtooled front cover).

We also needed a colophon, and somehow I ended up with that task, so I need to finalize the text (it's a lot of text) and then we'll split up the type setting. I remember a wise person telling me what a wise person had told him: When you're settting type, you become very aware of extra words and extra-long words. It's easier to cut when you know that anything you keep, you will have to set.

I didn't set so much type tonight, but I was able to proof what I had set and have my technique corrected (that's why I'm there), and use the big tweezers to swap out worn type and a weird italic n (how did that get in there?) and a small-cap L.

Next week: More type, and we begin lockup.


P.S. Speaking of type, I remain flummoxed by the blog fonts. If I set it at Georgia and it says Georgia in the list of fonts, why won't it show up as Georgia? (It gets so messy!)

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

More time management

I need to learn how to write at night

so I can work on all this in the daylight.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Set that type

People have been asking, so I thought I'd say a little bit about letterpress class.

It was fantastic!

I thought about bringing my camera to class and taking pictures, but I was afraid that people would think I was not a serious student.

I signed up because I wanted to set type and learn more about printing, especially the kind of quality checks and tweaks that you do after you proof the type the first time.

When I arrived, I immediately recognized someone who went to my high school, and my middle school! (I wasn't positive, so I didn't say anything until after we did introductions.) I wandered around the studio and looked at the presses, including the giant Iron Hand that our class will print on.

Class began, and our instructor, Carl Montford, outlined our class project: a button-hole book. Then he started to talk about designing it.

I would love to think of myself as an artist, but I do not have that design sense. I do not have that eye. I do not have that visual imagination. I'm so much more about words. I kind of doodled on my notepad and pretended to be getting ideas until Carl split us into two groups: the people who wanted to design graphic elements and carve them in wood or linoleum cuts and the people who wanted to set the type. I exhaled and knew exactly where I belonged.

Next, we typesetters looked at different options for type, and we discussed different ways we could add emphasis (yikes, more design!). We set up single words to run through the proofing press so that we could see what the typefaces looked like when printed.

We made a decision, and then we talked about measurements with the designers, and then we began to set type in earnest. For me, earnest means three lines before we ran out of time. I have five left to do. But it was so much fun. I love the place I go when I'm picking up type from the tray and building words on my composing stick. It's the same way I feel when I bike or when I ice skate. I'm not particularly fast or good, but I'm so happy!

Then class was over, and now I'm trying to figure out how I can arrange my schedule to get back into the studio before the next class. And maybe I will take some pictures.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Riding my bike, way behind

It's bike-to-work month and so I'm back on my bike some of the time, but a lot of the time, mostly because I am very slow and it is a long ride (17.5 miles one way).

This is supposed to save energy and make me healthier and maybe even make me thinner (it won't, though) and it's supposed to be fun. And it is fun, except for that hill, oh, and that other hill. Now I am a little short of breath.

The downside is that I have less time for reading (I can read on the bus, but not on the bike) and less time for writing (I'm spending it all on the bike, and then I'm kind of spent).

I distinctly remember riding along yesterday and having one of those delicious aha! moments. I thought, "I know what my next poem is going to be." Wonderful. But that's all I remember. What was my next poem going to be?

I could stop and jot down a note, but then it would take me even longer to get to where I'm going. It may be all about the journey, but not so much when it's the commute.

All this moaning! And you should hear me when I get off my bike at the end of the day! But seriously, if you haven't cycled in a while, use this month as an excuse. (Joannie says...) Haul the bike out of the shed or the basement. Pump up the tires. Get on and go. It'll make you feel like a happy puppy with its head out the window. It'll make you feel like a kid again.

And tonight, after my long pedal home, I'm going to go to my first letterpress class!

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Post Po month, it's still all about the food

Here is another prompt-based draft. The idea was to write about someone who is a fanatic or otherwise meticulous about something. I don't know if this fits the bill exactly, but it's what I came up with. And while I'd like to work on some other projects, I figure that any impetus to write about food is probably good for me.

Sleeping It Off

At night his dreams taste of lavender
shortbread or lemon curd laced
with thyme while sunlight spreads
through steamed glass, a bright glaze
on the counters, the bread boards
and the marble slab, the slack bag
set beside its row of pastry tips,
each shape its own language.
One block holds the knives,
another stores flat spatulas.
All the shiny cups and spoons line up
by their sizes—so many ways to measure.
Simple syrup simmers in a pan.
The chocolate ganache is as dark as night.
The cupcakes are small pillows
of almond and orange.
So many flavors to make.
Each sugared rose petal, each fondant leaf
becomes a world in itself,
a morsel of heaven.
As much as he rushes and stirs,
he is falling behind the heat.
Hurry, the oven timer clangs.
The edges of the madeleines are singed.
But oh, the meringue, how it floats
in the custard, a lake—no, an ocean
and now he is drowning.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

It's all about the food

Continuing the wrap-up from my NaPoMo poem-a-day effort, I found myself several times finding a way to turn the prompt into an fine reason to write about food. That was fun!

Here are those rough efforts:

After the Whole Day

Let me feed you
cheeses on a plate.
Let me roll for you
raviolis of gorgonzola,
swirled in a cream sauce
with walnuts, tarragon.
See how the water simmers.
See how the windows steam.
Let me serve you a salad—
frisee and pear,
delicate curls of pecorino,
a whisper of truffle oil.
I have in my kitchen
scallops to sear,
chicken to roast,
and a medley of roots
tossed with oregano, balsamic,
and then a little lemon tart.
When you come home
with the sound of the saw in your ears
and mahogany dust in your hair,
let me pour you a glass of Champagne,
let me take your hands
and lead you to the table you made.
Let me feed you, fill you.


The Job I Could Not Keep

March darkness patches window panes black
and the kitchen settles, sinks a little deeper
into early morning chill. Any step seems too loud,
an intrusion at this hour, but I measure flour,
warm the water, soften the yeast. I pare
fruit for a pie, cut butter for scones
to sell at the pizzeria down the street.
I stir and and I knead—quietly.
I lie down on the linoleum floor, stretch
to the back of the oven with a match,
but the brioche don't plump up into pillows.
The pastries are reprieved, mostly uneaten
in the clean glass case, and my dream of being a baker,
my solo roll into business,
rises only a couple of weeks
before I succumb to the market's reality,
my own lack of math, the stress
of silence, and a flat exhaustion.
Now the nurse who works swing shift
and lives in the basement
can finally get some sleep.


I Am So Over Dinner

On Sunday night, it might
be an extravagance, an event
prepared with attention
and the seven flavors of love,
but Monday I'm back to slinging hash,
fixing chicken or pork chops,
harried after a day of work
and a long bus ride,
the stop at the store,
heavy bags to carry home,
the television's yelling,
persnickity palates to please,
no meat for one, avoid avocados,
olives, and eggs for another,
a third prefers no broccoli.
The knife slides through an onion.
The oil heats. A sizzling begins.
The cops make an arrest
or the doctor makes
a diagnosis. I made
a mistake, but the show must go on
until I can set a plate
in front of each critical eye,
sit myself down
with a glass of wine,
eat quickly because I do,
while the pans wait to be washed.
This could be a ritual,
but it lost its mysticism
back in the last century.
Instead let's eat salads.
Let's just eat cake
or take-out. I've got
a drawer full of menus.


Time to Hit the Ground Growing

Try the cherry 100s.
That's the whole reason to grow your own tomatoes.
The Romas don't taste as good—but those cherry 100s.
That's what you want.
Saute them in a little butter
with some almonds and fresh basil.
You can't get better than that.
You can put the lettuce and chard in now.
For basil, you need to wait
until it's hot. Grow it in a pot
now on the window sill,
but don't sink it in the ground
until high summer—July.
The cilantro will bolt but sow itself
and then it will grow on its own time
like gangbusters.
You can grow potatoes now,
but wait for the carrots and beets.
Plant them in the fall.
I need to start some parsley.
We use up a lot of thyme.

Post-April wrap-up

I spent April writing a poem a day based on the prompts at Poetic Asides. A while back, Mr. So-Cal made the comment that I always say I'm going to write X amount, and then a few days later I say that I didn't or I haven't yet (he's right, by the way).

But in April, I did it, and some of those draft poems might be worth revisiting (and some I've already posted in draft form here). In the meantime, these are my titles from the past month:

1. First House, on First Ave.

2. Icarus's Mother

3. (a haiku, but it was about plumeria)

4. Briefly (okay, that's a pretty short title)

5. Her Usual (a Woman Who Is Afraid of Everything poem)

6. A Day of Resting

7. After Dinner

8. If I Must Paint You a Picture

9. When the Whistle Blows

10. Up on Kail Road

11. Spoon

12. Always

13. Water Also Flows Downhill

14. How the Mother Behaves (this title was required by the prompt)

15. Taxing, 1985

16. Tenderly

17. Sunday Visit

18. Schism

19. In the '60s

20. After the Whole Day

21. Dealer's Choice

22. Where Is the Nature

23. Crockery

24. Yellowstone, Already Years Ago

25. The Job I Could Not Keep

26. I Am So Over Dinner (another title required by the prompt)

27. Time to Hit the Ground Growing

28. At the End of a Winter and a Day

29. Trying to Keep Up

30. Not Such an End

I've learned quite a bit, including the insight that I need to work a little harder on my titles!

Happy May!