Archive for September 2011

Republicans Seeming to Look for Any Alternative To Romney

September 30, 2011


Republican operatives seem to be looking for any alternative to Mitt Romney (and yes, Perry) these days, without noticeable success. Chris Christie insists he’s not interested. The kitty cat (above) may be interested but has dubious experience. The Swiss Cheese (also above) seems per se disqualified (unless it can convince operatives that it was made in Wisconsin.)

An Egg is Still Not a Lightbulb (Crafting Poetry)

September 29, 2011

I have lately been following a terrific poet-inspiring blog called dVerse Poets Pub;  I’m a bit new to the pub, and in anticipation or what, last week,was a day to post “works-in-progress”, I posted, this morning, a draft poem  (Dolphin Dream).  But instead dVerse Poets Pub has requested poets to think  today about the craft of poetry!

The craft of poetry!  Thinking!  I don’t know which is more difficult for me.   Both take some measure of disciplined focus and wild abandon.  I do a lot of revision when I write;  at the same time, I rely a huge amount on unconscious leaps.   Increasingly, these leaps probably arise from synaptic gaps (or gaffes), as much as from inspiration.    I try to use these gaps as starting out places, and then, ideally, I go over and over them to iron out the rough edges.  Good to leave some rough edges though.  And, of course, to add music.

A form can help as it can supply some of the discipline and focus.  (As well as the music.)

And now, here’s a poem about it.

Villanelle to Wandering Brain

Sometimes my mind feels like it’s lost its way
and must make do with words that are in reach
as pink as dusk (not dawn), the half-light of the day,

when what it craves is crimson, noon in May,
the unscathed verb or complex forms of speech.
But sometimes my mind feels like it’s lost its way

and calls the egg a lightbulb, a plan a tray,
and no matter how I search or how beseech,
is pink as dusk (not dawn), the half-light of the day.

I try to make a joke of my decay
or say that busy-ness acts as the leech
that makes my mind feel like it’s lost its way,

but whole years seem as spent as last month’s pay,
plundered in unmet dares to eat a peach
as pink as dusk (not dawn), the half-light of the day.

There is so much I think I still should say,
so press poor words like linens to heart’s breach,
but find my mind has somehow lost its way
as pink as dusk (not dawn), the half-light of the day.

(Sorry to those who have read the poem before, a reposting.  It’s also in my book, Going on Somewhere, by Karin Gustafson, available on Amazon.)

Revising a “Dolphin Dream” (Slivers of silver, gradients gray.)

September 29, 2011


The poem below, Dolphin Dream,  is a revised version of a draft poem I wrote this past April as part of my effort to celebrate National Poetry Month.  (I try to post a new draft poem every day.)   I was planning on linking this revised version last week for the dVerse Poets Pub, “Meet the Bar”, event in which participants give each other helpful commentary to improve their poems, but because that event focused (in a very interesting way) on the subject of poetic craft, and this poem is not really very “crafty”, I did not highlight it.  At any rate, here it is for the dVerse Poets “Open Link” night.   I am very happy to get commentary from both dVerse poets and non-dVerse poets.  (Thanks much.)

Dolphin Dream

The hospital warned I’d have to cart
the scanner needed to test my heart,
my torso too, and abdomen,
the places growths had lodged within.

I carried the scanner in a bag;
still those who saw it guessed the sag
that weighed my spirit, slowed my walk,
and, only human, began to talk.

Upset, I left, broke for the sea,
though the waves that day were high for me.
To escape what seemed a crushing blow,
I took a dive far far below. 

The drop was so precipitate,
five fathoms deep I had to wait,
and watch above the wash of bubbles–
warning signs of deadly troubles,

’till, as my lungs used up my breath,
I saw a sight beyond the rest,
from my cerulean deep sea bed,
a paisley pattern over head.

Slivers of silver, gradients grey,
muscled curves as clear as day,
Sharks? No, dolphins. My heart took flight,
awe subsuming background fright.

Their ease, their grace, was palpable;
to wish them gone felt culpable;
though soon my lungs were so compressed,
wonder turned to harsh distress.

The need for change brought exhalation,
despite the lack of further ration–
no air down there–and so far down,
I felt that I must surely drown.

I woke up treading toward the light,
gasping, panting, in the night,
afraid to settle back to sleep,
though longing to re-spy that deep.

That I could watch those dolphins twist
without a clutch inside my chest!
That I could sink into that dream,
without a thought of scan machine,

or hospital, or sense of tumor,
hush of the half-murmured rumor.
But how could I return with ease
to a place I could not breathe,

where ocean salt still left its trace
inside my heart and on my face,
and dolphins swam as far above
as anything I’ve ever loved.

One query for commenters is whether the last line should read “as everything I’ve ever loved” rather than anything.  

P.S.  I’m reposting an old picture.  (Sorry!)   I don’t like to do this, but it was one of the first I did on iPad 2 so I’ve always had a soft spot for it.

Mea Culpa. Blown Sestina. (Feels Bad But Could Be Worse.) (No Casualties)

September 28, 2011


In the early years of this millenium, I used to console myself when I made a mistake with the thought that I hadn’t invaded Iraq. (The idea being that if even supposedly “expert” teams of ex-think-tank leaders can make extremely problematic and terribly consequential decisions, I should cut my self-acknowledged dim wits some slack.)

It feels flippant to use such a consolation in the case of a poetic mistake, that is, the omission of a line in a poetic form. I could perhaps look for solace in less bloody, and perhaps more current, comparisons, such as “Hey!  I didn’t invest in credit default swaps.” Or, how about, “I didn’t push Greek debt.”)

A plain old admission of “I blew it” makes a lot more sense.

So here it is–I blew it. My “sestina” posted yesterday is missing a line in the third stanza. This stanza only has five lines rather than the requisite six; the missing repeated word is “air.”

My only excuse is I wrote the poem in such extended scribbles (actually on a big index card while walking) that I scribbled over my little reminders related to the ordering of the end words. (I had posted them in pencil in the margin of my index cards.)

Of course, the poem is salvageable (if such a thing even matters). I can re-work the third stanza. I am also pretty sure that the additional line will make the poem better. My sense is that traditional forms became traditional because they have a certain ring–a kind of innate rightness, charisma.

So far, unfortunately, I haven’t had the time or the strength of mind to make the changes. (Embarrassment takes a certain hold, as in, that elephant up there is blushing.)

My apologies to all who complimented me on the good use of the form!

Another Sestina? Yes! “Seeking”

September 27, 2011


I have been thinking a lot about poetry lately. This is partly because I’m supposed to be working on a novel! But also because I’ve been in contact with a couple of very supportive websites for online poets. This poem is written for the “open link” night of dVerse Poets Pub, which also inspired the form.

The sestina, for those who don’t know it, is a form consisting of six six-line stanzas whose lines end with the same six words, repeated in a somewhat confusing cycle. The last three-line stanza, called the envoie, also uses all six words.


It was heat so hot it cut the air
into panels of swaying bend and warp,
her gaze into off-set swathes of view;
heat so hot that it blotted out the sun,
passing off white noise as summer sky;
heat as hot as any she’d not felt,

for the weather did not burn but lined with felt
her day, her lungs, her movements through the air,
enclothing its tight fist around the sky.
So very hard to breathe a weave and warp
that were weighted not with light but sun,
which, even as it seemed to hide from view–

only a smear in the red-orange view
of dusk, the pink of dawn–made itself felt
as a chemical ball of flame, a sun
of some far planet that in time/space warp
had circumvented the Earth’s true sky.

Oh where, oh where, she wondered, was the sky?
Its hue, its blue, the newness of each view,
the healing that could ease the twist and warp
that tugged at all she thought, at all she felt.
Oh where, oh where, she wondered in dull air,
was he who once was called her only son?

In truth, of course, he still was called her son.
The names of things not found under the sky
remain their names, like lyrics to an air
whose tune is lost, like paintings of a view
long since blocked out (by trees, let’s say, who felt
their limbs took precedence). In the warp

of her wandering mind, even the warp
of branches that curved and craned for sun
was conduct consciously planned and felt–
for all was sentient, live, under the sky,
while also dead. This special point of view
appears to the human for whom to err

has been divine, who’s felt the loss of sky
that held a son, a point of view
so sharp, it limned the warp of missing air.

P.S. For those interested in process–I did not have a clue of what I was going to write when I started only that I wanted to try another sestina. So I focused on a few good repeating words, and started out with a line (more or less) from the novel I am supposed to be working on (which does not have a story anything like this.) Oddly, I did not think about “err” as a homonym till the second or third draft.

(As always, all rights reserved.)

Mermaid Sonnet – “Different Tastes in Mythical Creatures”

September 26, 2011


I am reposting this poem and painting as an entry in the weekly links of another very active poetry site, Gooseberry Garden, which is focusing this week on mythology.   A dear friend had suggested the topic of mermaids for a poem, which I used as a writing exercise.   At first, I envisaged a poem about teenage girls diving into the surf on a tropical beach; but the poem that came out was somewhat different. (I’m afriad that I had a Robert Pattinson fixation at the time, and somehow brought the subject of mermaids around to vampires.

Different Tastes in Mythical Creatures

Some go for vampires; they like the idea
of sharp but elegant pursuit, the notion
that they personally are the cup of tea
of the ruthless.  Others look to the oceans,
scanning fantastic waves for a gleam of gleam,
twist of twist, the well-hipped curve of tail;
their magic’s found in the muscular seam
between breast and flipper, flesh and scale.
They love the submergence, dive to the unknown,
an elegance unclothed in its own wet skin,
Eve and the serpent combined, slicked hair let down,
the search for safety in the dare, plunge, swim.
Others—we’re too afraid to go in headfirst,
would rather wait, dryly, to slake another’s thirst.

For more on the mechanics on sonnets, check here.

Apple Picking! (With Elephant)

September 25, 2011


Repetition Raises A Villanelle (“Shattering”)

September 24, 2011


This is another post inspired by dVerse Poets Pub, a really supportive website for online poets. The prompt this time concerned poems that deal in repetition. As followers of this blog know, I’m devoted to the villanelle, a poetic form that is based on repeating line sequences. This villanelle is part of a pair–its companion piece, “Burned Soldier” may be found here, as well as a discussion of how to write a villanelle. Both poems were inspired by the ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Any thoughts or suggestions most welcome.


The shattering of lives should take some time.
It shouldn’t come in flashes, clods of dirt,
no moment for altered course, for change of mind.

The actual choice ahead should be well-signed–
pre-emptive smoke, perhaps a blood-soaked shirt–
the shattering of lives should take some time.

He knew that road was risky, heard a whine,
but in the end those warnings were too curt,
no moment for altered course, for change of mind.

Hard to foresee your own true body lined
with metal plates and plastic tubes of hurt;
the shattering of lives should take some time.

So many hours after to refine
what happened in that second’s blinding lurch,
no moment for altered course or change of mind.

Or was it fate? A studied path, not whim?
His heart tried hard to measure out the worth
of shattering lives. It would take some time,
with no moment for altering course or mind.

(All rights reserved.)

P.S. – I’ve posted a lot of villanelles, which is a favorite form for many years. I love the music- and yet, the repetition. They can be found by checking out that category from home page.

Another Sestina (Sigh….) “Vacuum”

September 23, 2011

(Supposed to be cigarette smoke)

This is a poem,  a sestina, that I’ve posted before, but I’m linking it tonight to the liv2write2day blog of Victoria Ceretto-Slotto, in which she asks for poems writtenabout the dark, or shadowed, self.  I’ve written a lot of dark poems lately, so could not quite bear a new one, but this poem deals with these issues, at least for its characters.

The sestina is a fairly complex form which uses six six-line stanzas, each line ending one of six repeating words, closing with a three-line “envoie” that uses all six repeating words.  (More about the form in yesterday’s post.)   It’s a challenging form; the  goal is to make the repeated words hypnotic, ironic, thought-provoking, meaningful rather than formulaic or forced.


I’ve posted another sestina called “Pink” which is really a better poem then the one below.  This one was my first attempt and, although it uses the form, it does so by using fairly generic repeating words.  So, it’s a bit of a cheat.  (See, I’m already going to dark places!)

The poem tells a story, but keep in mind that it’s a creative work, which, in my case, at least, means it has large elements of fiction, dramatization, exaggeration.


When my aunt came to visit, they talked
of old times, my aunt hunching over
her cigarette, her heavy breasts held up
by an arm across her middle, my mother
smoking as well, her cheeks like a vacuum
cleaner, puffing out.  She only smoked when

her sister came, then turned into a teen when
the folks are out.  Gestures sullen, she talked
the rebel, as if to fill the vacuum
of her youth, when she never thought she’d get over
all the obstacles they’d set, her own mother
not understanding, no wonder she got fed up.

She loved them, yes, but everything was up
from there–farm life.  Especially then, when
owning land was something, not, like her mother
thought, everything.  You were still talked
about, looked down on, passed over,
a farm not bringing cash to fill the vacuum

of nice clothes, furniture, rugs to vacuum.
Though what they remembered–that night they stayed up–
was when the government took their land, building over
their farm a munitions plant for the war, and when
their father went north to rawer land, and they talked
of joining him when their own grandmother

was “stronger.”  (So they said.)  Loved by my mother,
the grandma favored her in turn, filling a vacuum
in the heart of the middle child, the child who talked
of appearances, sticking her nose up
the others thought, the grandma protecting her when
they mocked, but sick now, her life nearly over.

They worked shifts at the plant, then each took over
the grandma’s care–aunt, their mom, my mother.
‘But who was with her,” my aunt asked, eyes round, “when
she died?”  My mother thought: “I had out the vacuum,
I remember that.  Pulled it out after ringing up
the doctor,” my mother smoking hard now as she talked.

“So it was you,” my aunt said, “when—” “I tried to vacuum
fast.”  But slowly my mother spoke, smoke rising up
like traces of what could not be done over, slowly she talked.




P.S. I am also linking this piece to Imperfect Prose for Thursdays.  in the hush of the moon

Sestina – “Pink” – and Little “How-To”

September 22, 2011


This is an old poem that I am reposting as part of dVerse Poets Pub formal poetry exercises and also for Jingle’s prompt re color. It is a sestina, one of my favorite forms (though I don’t do them enough.)

I’ve included a little information about my take on the form below.


Trees full of blossom, the night smells pink
though it’s black, a thick summer darkness
barely held back by window screen.
I hear dishes in the sink, a familiar clatter,
and think of the summer kitchen
of my youth (my grandma’s), where the women wiped

the dishes, too many for the rack, wiped
the oilclothed table too; the men, skin pink
from glossy food, escaped the kitchen
glare, slinking into the darkness
of the den, the chatty t.v. clatter
a sound fluorescence against the dim screen.

There too, we were protected by a screen
from bites, buzz, wing, and the wind that wiped
that stretched-flat land, a soft clatter
of night and grass and damp that blew towards the pink
edge of dawn, an engine of chill darkness
that was only truly blocked by the glow of kitchen

yellow. I watched one aunt in the kitchen,
amazed that she never even tried to screen
her keen sense of life’s darkness.
When she looked at my grandmother, she often wiped
her eyes, and sniffing, face too pink,
cleaned with a banging clatter.

Though she was always a center of clatter,
that aunt. She had a kind of two-walled kitchen
in her own house, open; and wore hot pink,
played jokes, charades, a half-hearted screen
of despondency, still, the good housewife, she wiped
the smallest speck from her counters. Her own darkness

seeming inevitable, it was a darkness
she hurried towards, smoking, drinking hard, the clatter
of uncertainty (as to timing) wiped
her out. In the meantime, she cleaned-—my grandma’s kitchen
after her death, and, at the Funeral Home, made a quick screen
of the corpse. “That lipstick’s way too pink,”

she hissed, then wiped my grandma’s lips like a kitchen
stain. Despite the clatter in my brain, I served as screen,
a guard in the blossomed darkness, as she rubbed off pink.

(All rights reserved. Karin Gustafson – from Going On Somewhere, available on Amazon.)

The sestina is an extremely “ordered” form of poem with a strict line structure that focuses on six repeating “end words,” (that is, the last word in each line.) Thankfully, these end words do not have to rhyme.

There are six six-line stanzas, and six repeating end words. At the end of the six six-line stanzas, there is a three-line stanza (the “envoie”), in which the six repeating words are used again, two per line.

The hard part is not just repeating the six words, but repeating them in the right order; each stanza turns itself partly inside out for the next one. The music of the poem comes from the shifting, and sometimes surprising, echo of the repeating words. If the meaning and tone of the words can also shift through the poem, a kind of irony can be found.

Here’s how the form works:

For notation purposes, I’ll assign each end word a number – 123456. That is the order of the first stanza.

The second is 615243. The third is 364125, the fourth 532614, fifth 451362, and finally 246531. You’ll notice that the last line of each stanza becomes the first of the next, the second- to-last line, the third, etc. It helps to think of the stanzas as interlocking or clasped hands, with the clasp between the fingers moving up the hands with each stanza. (I guess they’d have to be Anne Boleyn-style hands – six fingers.)

There are different forms for the order of the words in the last three-line stanza; my favorite puts the words in reverse of their original order, meaning 65,43,21.

The form is hard, yes. A tip: once you’ve decided on your repeating words, write them down in the prescribed order for the entire poem. (This means that you’ll have a nearly blank page or so, with just a column of numbers and words on one side.) This list will not only help you keep your focus; it will also avoid the frustration of having a nearly finished poem that, you suddenly realize, did not quite follow the rules. (If it’s a great poem as is, terrific. But if you wanted to write a great sestina, this can be upsetting.)

It is useful to pick end words with flexible meanings and usage (meaning words that can be either nouns or verbs, even homonyms). Commonplace words are easier, but less interesting.