Sunday Poetry: walking in a field

I am continuing my series of Sunday poetry posts this summer. Each week, I’ll post a poem that I’ve been thinking about, whether mine or someone else’s. Tune in for an exploration of how poetry can interrupt and enrich our lives when we least expect it to. 

Sunday Poetry: June 9

My poetry so often starts with what I’m doing, what I can see, what I’m hearing. I almost always think of first lines first, and then the rest of the poem happens from there. It’s brilliant that other poets also start with what is being in the moment, what is doing right now.

Here is an excerpt from Oliver Baez Bendorf:

Here I Am Walking in a Field

again, I think, while walking

in a field. Field thick with
snow, field of milk.

You can read the full poem by buying the Nov/Dec 2018 issue of  American Poetry Review.

 

It shows that what we do has value, even if it’s a little thing. I might write about waiting for my coffee to brew, or sitting at an outdoor cafe, or sweeping my floor, or a spiderweb on my balcony. Poetry, more than any other form of writing, has the capacity to be in the present (and to keep us there).

Sunday Poetry: weakness / strength

Sunday poetry is a new series beginning this Spring! Each week, I’ll post a poem that I’ve been thinking about, whether mine or someone else’s. Tune in for an exploration of how poetry can interrupt and enrich our lives when we least expect it to. 

April 28: weakness / strength

Sometimes I think my poetry is weak.

It’s not a commentary on the unique 21st century conundrums of technology and privacy. It doesn’t always deal with cutting-edge social controversies or current events or social justice. Sometimes it does. Sometimes my identity is relevant to the poem. But sometimes I write about waiting for someone to come home, or wanting someone to change; about being alone, about love, about seeing myself in nature. Sometimes I write about vulnerability and grief.

A while ago, I was talking to a friend about getting published. Kind of cool, I thought, to get recognized when all I do is write little love poems.

He stopped me in my tracks. “What could be more important than little love poems?”

 

I have to say I agree. We live in a world where too often simple humanity is seen as weakness, where kindness is seen as an absence of strength rather than an absence of tyranny, where talking about feelings is less important than talking numbers. I want so much to be in a world free of this toxic masculinity, but I still feel doubt that my softness is valuable.

This worry over weakness and strength is found in Elaine Equi’s poem, “Lazy Bones,” recently published in American Poetry Review:

Lazy Bones

Sitting in the waiting room
sucking on the sweet paranoia
of a Shirley Jackson story.

Sitting among silk tulips
and paper roses,

the frosted glass panels
and pale pink walls
of the radiology center.

Then led to a dark cubicle
(politely pornographic?)
for the imaging of my skeleton.

Dave, the tattooed technician
slips a pillow under my knees.

I want to tell him,
“My bones are shy.

I don’t exercise.
I love coffee.

They know they’re weak
and don’t like being photographed.”

 

I was intrigued by the word “weak”, and by the speaker’s advocacy for her bones. She identifies her bones as ‘shy’ as if they are actually humans who don’t like being photographed. The reason given: “they know they’re weak.” The speaker wishes to express this sentiment to Dave, the technician, who is in the position of looking at her (and her bones) and potentially judging them. To stave off the embarrassment of being seen, she wishes to reassure him that she already knows her weaknesses. It’s the same phenomenon of getting up in front of a class to perform a speech and apologizing first: “I know this isn’t very good, but it’s the best I can do.” But the bones do not speak in first person; the speaker wishes to speak on their behalf: “They know they’re weak” (emphasis added). This shows that she feels responsible for their weakness, as we can see from the lines that immediately precede this one: “I don’t exercise / I love coffee.” Here, the speaker is criticizing the actions in her life that have made her bones weak, and therefore critiquing her own character weaknesses as she notices her physical ones.

But she also uses the poem to establish sympathy. Weakness seems allied to softness, gentleness, in the feminine, gentile setting of the waiting room. And she is, after all, here to seek medical help, an act of bravery in my opinion. he speaker must admit that she is weaker than she would like to be, weaker than a healthy person should be, but why should she apologize for that?

This poem seems to suggest that we all have moments when we are weak– we are not always at our peak condition. Sometimes it is because of injury or disease, sometimes because of emotional distress. We also may have moments when we are seen as weak because of our identities, our ages, our gender, our class. We may find embarrassment or judgement in those moments, and may try to avoid it by apologizing or self-deprecating. Instead, we should sympathize with ourselves. It is okay to be soft and vulnerable, and when we feel tired and weak, we should accept the kindness of a pillow gently slid underneath our knees.

Writing about this weakness, these moments of humanity and need, is the role my poetry seems to be serving in my life right now, and in doing so, I think it is making me stronger.

 

If We Were Having Coffee…

If we were having coffee, I’d say “Sorry I’ve been away so long!” My last Sunday poetry post was on March 31st. You ask, “Why, what’s up? What’s been going on?” I’d look down and study the handle of my coffee mug and say “Nah, don’t worry about it. I’m here now. I’m okay.”

If we were having coffee, we would have to clink mugs and toast to TWO YEARS of writing poetry. Okay, so I wrote some poetry intermittently before then, but the style in which I write in now, my intensity of purpose, and my willingness to actually show my work to people– all of that was born two years ago when my heart was broken and I decided to write a poem every day for a month. I’m so glad I did.

If we were having coffee, we could take it to-go and walk through my neighborhood. Today I saw daffodils, abundant purple crocuses, a few snow drops, and some mystery stalks poking their heads out of the ground. I’m on a quest to find tulips; do you want to come with me?

April-dresses-in-all-its-trim

If we were having coffee, I’d speak to you of the benefits of self-care. All hail the bralette! All hail the scrunchie! It’s so important to hit the reset button sometimes, whether that means a massage (I got one of those this week and I feel more moisturized than ever before!), yoga, meditation, crappy romantic movies or a soapy TV show (I highly recommend Hart of Dixie), eating whatever you want, or extra sleep. Don’t forget, though, self-care can also be strengthening your will or getting stuff done (adulting! taxes!) and preparing for whatever challenges are going to come next.

If we were having coffee, the subject of the impending AP Test would come up — my kids have been working towards this all year, but now is the exciting time when they actually realize what they’ve learned, and go through the final push to make this big accomplishment! I’m nervous for them, but I’m also so excited. There’s definitely something to be said for a big culminating performance to celebrate the work that’s gone into mastering difficult material. Here we go, May 15th!

If we were having coffee, I’d do a little bit of self-promotion. You can read two of my poems in the Spring issue of borrowed solace (which, by the way, is currently open for submissions). And next week I’ll have another post up at The Aspiring Author Blog. You can read my last one here: Practicing Poetry in case you missed it. There’s a lot of great writing coming from the other contributors on the blog, too.

Have a wonderful rest of your April, Chag Pesach Semeyach to those who celebrate, and Happy Easter too! If you’re writing and living in this world, leave me your updates in the comments!

~ ☕️ ~

Friday Reading Rainbow

Happy March! I’m so glad we started off here in Rhode Island with tons of snow. No, I’m not kidding– my delicate “orchid child” psyche requires winter to thrive. I had been yearning for the snow we should have gotten earlier this year, and here it is! So delightful!

My reading life was strongest on our snow day this week, when I happened upon this little graphic:

So I’ll structure this week’s post around my answers.

Polygamist Reader 

Yes! The most promiscuous! It’s very unusual for me not to be reading multiple books. Sometimes I like to pair them together in ways that complement each other.

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Why Poetry (Matthew Zapruder) + Bright Dead Things (Ada Limon)

^ A book on how to read and enjoy poetry and a wonderful book of poems.

Other times I balance a thicker, more arduous read with shorter, more bouncy books. It helps me feel satisfied with the slower pace of the long read, because if I’m only reading one thing and it’s taking me forever, I start to feel antsy, like I’m missing out on other books because I’m stuck in one spot.

In addition to the two books above, I’m reading two books of fiction

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Joy in the Morning (P.G. Wodehouse) + A River of Stars (Vanessa Hua)
^ Two very different books! A River of Stars is an immigrant story (I’ve read a lot of those and can recommend some great ones) that has great character development and a compelling plot (I am really worried and wondering about what will happen. The Wodehouse is a farce, like all the Jeeves books, and I always love coming back to a Wodehouse to liven up my language and make me laugh.

And I’m reading a great teaching book, too, Write Beside Them (Penny Kittle)

Extrovert/ Introvert Reader 

I’d say I’m a little of both. On the introvert side, I am definitely analytical while I read (English teacher!), but that’s more about appreciating craft. I do read a wide variety of genres, but there are things I’m slightly closed off to: I don’t like horror or any apocalyptic, and I don’t usually read adult fantasty, despite being an enthusiastic fantasy reader when I was younger. One way I’m adventurous is reading diverse books — I choose at least 1/4 of my fiction each year from authors of color. This is not the same, by the way, as classifying “diverse” books as having marginalized characters. Representation is important, but I’m looking for varied perspective from different authors. It’s my job as a white person to step into other people’s shoes and learn about the world that I am often blind to because of my privilege. And, of course, writers of color are fantastic! There is so much great writing out there that doesn’t get enough attention and doesn’t get taught in schools. I love going to find it!

Altruist Reader 

You know this is me! Maybe a little too much. I try to tailor my recommendations to people’s specific tastes, but sometimes I get carried away about a book I’m reading and I just blab about it all the time.

Here are my top 5 most recommended books:

Peace Like a River (Leif Enger)
Sycamore  (Bryn Chancellor)
Like Water for Chocolates (Laura Esquivel)
We Were the Mulvaneys (Joyce Carol Oates)
Confederacy of Dunces (John Kennedy Toole)

Tell me about yourself as a reader!

Reading Rainbow: Saturday morning edition

Let me tell you about Saturday mornings. I treasure them.

pancakes with strawberry blueberries and maple syrup
Photo by Sydney Troxell on Pexels.com

Friday nights are usually the nights when I get the most rest; unlike many of my millenial compatriots, I’m a teacher, and Friday nights are when I’m most tired. They’re usually reserved for rest, recuperation, Indiana Jones movies on Netflix, and sometimes catching up on writing, especially if I’ve neglected my journal that week.

This means that Saturday mornings I am dreamy and sleepy after a long snooze, and I’m HUNGRY. Let me also tell you this: one of my seniors was quizzing his younger cousin, playing the “you don’t know Ms. Pace as well as I do – ha!” game, and the younger student reported: “Well, I remember you telling our class that on Saturday mornings you make your own big breakfast, you drink lots of coffee, and you  just READ.”

Dear readers, he’s correct. Saturday mornings are excellent for catching up on magazine reading, or looking through my favorite blogs, or reading poetry. Or for traversing more pages of whatever novel I’m reading. I rarely have as much focus to just read as I do on those mornings where I can push off all the to-do’s until later in the day. Mornings in my P.J.s can be lazy, but they’re also exciting, because I get to switch my attention (even if just for half a day) away from my work at school and towards myself, the care and keeping of my brain, and my reading and writing life.

So here are some things to entice you for your Saturday morning reading. 🌞

Poetry

A little cleverness here: The Quick Brown Fox, A Memoir, by Alex Boyd. (Little Dog Poetry) 

And beauty here: 3 poems by Roberta Williams  (I like “Drought Years” the best). (Little Dog Poetry)

And reality here: 2 poems by Amanda Laughtland (Dying Dahlia Review) 

Fiction

Currently reading: River of Stars, by Vanessa Hua

Next on my list:

20190224_140027
My to-read-next shelf