Saturday, June 22, 2013

Closet Poet

I love writing poetry but I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not very good at it, especially when I compare my work to that of my most admired masters, like my literary husband, T. S. Eliot, who pounds his rhythm of time into my bones:
 there will be time, there will be time 
to prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet...

and then (’s my nemesis) e. e. cummings, rev-
erently break-
                     ing every    g.r.a.m.m.a.t.i.c.a.l.   rule
I have so   r-e-v-e-r-e-n-t-l-y   
                                        tried to force child-
ren to o- (for the love of god with an uppercase G) bey.  


                                                  Robert Frost warms me.

And Emily Dickinson is…well…Emily Dickinson.   

Then there’s my Maya Angelou with
            The span of [her] hips,
                        The stride of [her} step,
                                    The curl of [her] lips. 


So as a humble closet poet who has posted only a few of my verse attempts online, I know that most likely I will die outside of their poetic kingdoms. But what keeps me poeticizing is when I have no prose to express myself properly.  It’s like shifting into a second language—one that puts stifling syntax and mundane mechanics on a high shelf somewhere temporarily out of reach—freeing me to turn off the nagging voices of my grade-school language Nazis who always rebuked me for my frivolous fragments, rampant run-ons, and for using way…too many...ellipses…. 

Yes, poetry frees me, albeit momentarily after midnight usually, to let it all hang out…

All of this poetic freedom, however, does require some user responsibility. Consider poetic license.  Back in high school, I used to think it was a real license I could carry in my wallet along with my driver’s license.  I remember asking my poetry teacher Ms. Gerber how I could apply for one.  She laughed, but I was serious because even though I struggled with prose writing back then, I was compelled to experiment with poetry.  While many of my classmates were experimenting with marijuana and speed, I was hiding in a corner behind the band room rolling up metaphors and smoking similes.  It was sometimes lonely there, but rhythm, tone, and rhyme could keep me high for days.  

Sometimes I wrote without thinking much, coming up with original phrases like “Cookies in love” and “Gear shifts forever”, but other times I went into what felt like forced or overly academic fluff…stuff Ms. Gerber would cross out and write in the margins next to it: Blah, blah blah!   She was right.  The obscure references I made to my favorite gymnasts or my lame attempts at using Greek mythology to prove I was intelligent only proved one fact—that I was trying too hard and had come close to committing what I now call a PLV (Poetic License Violation).

PLV consists of three major infractions.  The first and most criminal is being so cryptic that even the above-average reader has no idea what is going on because the jargon is too thick and the message behind it, too thin to create an effective image in the reader’s discombobulated mind…
            I look to Socrates’ interminable sagacity
            With self-defeatist tones
            Of an irretrievable Handelian sonata
            Untouchable, like the Pariahs of Calcutta
            Both ephemeral and emphatic and…yadda, yadda, blah, blah, blah…
Can someone please pass the barf bag while I give myself a citation for creating this overly cerebral piece of schlock?

The second PLV infraction is trying to disguise dry and banal prose by setting it up in poetic format.  Anyone can do this.  Just open up a sports magazine and find a poorly written article about some obscure athlete, and then type it up as follows:
            News of Donovan                                              
            being forced to sit out
            after too many fouls
            made fans overly

The third and final PLV infraction is what I call word abuse.  Many inexperienced poets get hung up on a new word that they feel is worthy of using too many times.  For example, the word “slither”.  It can be very poetic if used to describe something that is not obviously sneaky, like Robert Cormier does in his novel I Am The Cheese:  “The wind, like a snake, slithers into my jacket…”  Brilliant.  But when a “poet” fixates on the word and uses it to describe a hand moving across a table or a foot playing with a person’s leg, that becomes a serious case of word abuse and must be punished. 

There is a poet from New Mexico who has my name.  A friend of mine found her a few years ago and asked me if I ever lived in New Mexico.  And as Johnny Cash would say, “I been everywhere man…” but unfortunately I’ve never been to New Mexico.  She gave me the link to this poet’s website, and I was intrigued.  This Debra Tenney woman was pretty good, better than me, that’s for sure.  I wanted to contact her to tell her that she had a namesake in Hawaii who also writes poetry, but by that time I had found out from a post made by her daughter that she had passed away from a battle with breast cancer.

I especially like the piece Ms. Tenney wrote called “Hot Java” because it captures the magic of the mundane.  Here are two of my favorite stanzas:

Early morning crisis
caught between sunny side up,
and scrambled egg imperatives.
Yesterday's burnt toast dressed
in lumpy oatmeal
has found its way into
a trash can, over-full with 
coupon madness,
milk cartons,
unpaid bills
and Tuesday's
on a suicide mission.

The tube chants
Regis and Cathy Lee mantras,
garbage disposal humor
grinding its way
through the early morning chill.
Pop Tart commercials and Barry Manilow
render their greatest hits,
assaulting the mind like
a Waring Blender set on puree.
Rescued to the trash,
finds new meaning to life,
slithering again to the floor,
vowing to change its ways.

See?  She even uses the “s” word in an original way: 

Tuesday’s eggplant finds new meaning to life...slithering again to the floor, vowing to change its ways.  


Maybe one day I’ll be more confident, like my namesake, to post more of my poetic endeavors on the World Wide Web.  For now, though, I’ll keep living my life within the security of my poet’s closet, where you will find me musing, like I am right now, after midnight.

1 comment:

  1. Time to come out of the closet, lol I am sure your poetry is as good as your blogs!