Posted tagged ‘poem’

Retreat–After Some Time Spent Macrobiotic

May 22, 2014


Retreat–After Some Time Spent Macrobiotic

I wanted to control fate, tried my diet.
I wanted you to not be lying
when you said you loved me, so looked to yin
and yang for answers, as if the singing
of souls might be harmonized and made bright
simply by eschewing milk–it made one cry–
supposedly–even if not spilt–
just as other foods were dogma-bilked
to make one cold, hot, mad. So, I would eat
and not-eat myself to some high state
of calm you would adore. But then we stayed
where cheese was melted much, meditated
for days silently–yogurt–and I,
for reasons too painful to describe,
really needed it–your back, your profile
telling me even across still walkways, halls,
that I could not be your one and only–
I wept, sobbed, knowing it was not the dairy.

A drafty poem, written with slant rhyme (or imperfect rhyme) for my prompt on dVerse Poets Pub and for Kerry O’ Connor’s prompt on With Real Toads, about pathetic fallacy. Check out the prompts and the wonderful poems they’ve generated.

Process Note–Macrobiotics was/is a dietary program based very loosely/vaguely/dogmatically on ideas of yin and yang and balance, with the idea that certain foods (other than brown rice, and certain lesser amounts of beans, seaweed, locally grown vegetables, pickles) are best avoided for physical, mental and emotional health. The picture above is supposed to be brown rice in a cup/bowl.

Waxing Philosophical – The Framework of Now

January 19, 2010

One of the negative side effects of being a writer and blogger is difficulty being a “liver”.  (I do not mean here an organ that filters blood, but a person who does not filter experience.)

When you focus a great deal on ongoing narratives and commentary, it can be very hard to just be (as they say) in the moment.  The ongoing mental monologue (or dialogue if, like me, you are a Gemini) unfortunately leads to a lack of attention, also a lack of wonder.  This is terribly self-defeating as both attention and wonder are important tools in coming up with something real/good/unique to write about.

Of course, it’s not just writing and blogging that make for difficulties in being present in the actual ongoing physical world.  Modern life cultivates customs of pre-occupation.  Cell phones, blackberries, make avoidance of the direct physical moment seductively easy; a screen on which one can project one’s own narrative and constant commentary (whether texting, emailing, or simply identifying) is compellingly addictive.

There’s also the fear factor.   Turning your attention to the moment, to the right now physical world, can be scary simply because you are typically such a small part of that moment, such a teeny, transient, corner in that world.

Here’s a short poem about it, written while trying to take a walk.  (In short, it’s a poem written about being in the moment while avoiding actually being there.)

The Framework of Now

How hard it is
for the mind to fit
into the framework of now;
the reason may be
that ‘now’ is not ‘me’;
how the mind hates to see
how much goes on,
and will go on,
when it is gone.
Can’t rationalize the lack
of its active participation,
a bulwark
unto itself.

All rights reserved.  Karin Gustafson

P.S.  – the above poem is really a draft.  These are always especially hard for me if no formal verse structure, i.e. sonnet, villanelle, pantoum, is involved.  If anyone has any ideas, let me know.

Another Poetry Exercise Sample – Family Finishes

October 24, 2009

In the last couple of posts, I’ve discussed a poetry exercise for the inspirationally-challenged.  (See prior posts for the inspirationally-challenged for detailed instructions.)  The exercise basically involves choosing a craft or occupation, and listing the verbs associated with that craft or occupation.  These tend to be strong, particular, and colorful words and verbs.  These are then used in the drafting of  your exercise poem.

Here is another set of examples, which again, I’ve grouped as a single poem since they were all based on the same exercise.  This one involved the craft of carpentry.  (See e.g. “level,” “sand,” “smooth,” “measure,” “adorn,” “glue,” “hammer,” “file,” “nail,” “shape,” “cut,” “drill,” etc.)   I haven’t been able to locate the list of exercise nouns in my disorganized notebooks, but I know I included certain good generics like “mother”, as well as the nice specific tangible words “tulips” and “stickiness.”

Family Finishes


The perfect mother sands the child down to her image, or
an image, filing away the
unsightly, the angry, the unspeakable.
She drills in a face fit for a pageant, as
smooth as balsam, as modeled as
the keel of a canoe.
Cutting the child to measure, she
ignores the stickness of any unseamed tar.


A family levels itself to just folks with enough distance,
an occasional pageant – picnic or funeral – joins the blood again,
a bienniel application of glue.
The occasions are muddled with the stickiness of the blood, the
mother hammering away at the grandmother, the son
nailing the father, the family portrait gathering a  sullen patina.


Steeped in tradition, the young mother thought
to measure out love in spoonfuls,
smoothing away excess and screwing it into a tied-up sock.

Blasphemy to mount to ecstasy over your child.  No.  Passion
was to be hammered down to fit the furniture, adorn the home,
like a bowl of tulips shaped to
its interval.  But the small white
fist that gripped her finger leveled her training,
proper restraint transmuted from an aged wine to water,
casks burst to loose a stream, river, flow barely banked,
clear, sparkling.

All rights reserved.  Karin  Gustafson

Also, check out the updated page re ManicDDaily.  With a photo!  (Ha.)

Poetry Exercise For Those “At Sea”

October 23, 2009

Yesterday, I set forth the rules for a somewhat reductive poetry exercise for the inspirationally-challenged.   (

The exercise mandates the writing of a poem which is really an extended metaphor;  the tension in the poem comes from using a set of physically- charged, action verbs.  These are verbs which describe tasks performed in a particular occupation or craft (and are listed as Column B) .  The poem is put together from a list of these Column B verbs, and a random list of unrelated nouns  (Column A). The poem is put together by making lines which use a word selected from Column A and a word selected from Column B  (and, of course, other words.)

Here is a a poem (a connected pair of poems) which I did a few years ago using this exercise.   Unfortunately, despite spending some time looking through my very disorganized notebooks, I have not been able to find the full Columns A and B that I used;  however, I know that the chosen occupation was “sailor.”  (I’m not sure of the nouns except to be certain that “gutter”, “mother”, and, I believe, “burlap”, and “brick” were among them.)

The “sailor” words went fairly far afield from those that you might at first associate with sailor–they included words like “weigh”  (as in weigh anchor), “spy”, “navigate,” “haul,” “scrub” (as in scrub the deck), “run” (as in run up a flag), “tack”, “man” (as in man the deck), “cast”, “seek”, “spy”, among others.  (If you are doing this exercise, feel free to be similarly wide-ranging in your choices.)

The poem has been edited since the first iteration.  I’m posting it because I like it even though I’m not sure it’s the best illustration of the exercise.  (Tomorrow, I’ll post a less edited poem, that may be a better illustration.)  Still, I hope it gives a taste of how a “set” of verbs chosen as part of an exercise can direct your ideas if you are someone, like me, who is frequently “at sea.”

At Sea

I.  Brother

The boy hauled the roses like burlap sacking
that scrubbed his arms with prickle.
Navigating the bunch through kitchen door which he kicked
to the side for noise value,
he hated his mother.  What he wanted was to man
the road, casting his day by the side
of the long green wood where he
could lurk and spy and brick up
hideouts with clods of dirt and brush and never lean
to any whim or wish except
of sky and guttering stream
to whose wills he’d willingly tack
his whole young life.

II.  Sister

The girl rigged her skirt to
the base of her hips,
tacking the elastic waist
to her pelvis, a convenient gutter
for fabric that would run its own course.
Bottling lips into an appraising O,
she weighed her chances, spying out
navel and the smooth flat skin of her belly
like the long sought shore, distant
yet within reach.

All rights reserved.  Karin Gustafson


October 8, 2009


Her cheekbones, Cherokee, she’d told me
when we were younger, have
reasserted themselves.  Last visit
her face was swollen, foreshortened by
pink scarf, but hair has grown
what with the end of the chemo
into small feathery clumps,
and her features, that web of
intent-filled bone, have resurfaced.
You look so beautiful, I say.  Smile
flickers until she turns again to
trying to sit up, though we have
to catch and lift and
her husband
to support her,
which she cannot
bear for long. But
I have to get up, she says,
I have to get out of this place.

He talks of brushing her hair first,
fingering brief curls.  This
brings a nod.  She has been naturally
beautiful her whole life,
but also a beauty who brushed hair first.
But I’ve got to get home, she insists
suddenly, arching away.
You are home, he tells her, in
your own room, your own bed,
but she pushes now so hard
that we have to turn
her legs, gather her arms, lift and walk
her to a chair, its chintz print
roses on vines, then, when she can’t sit,
walk her back.

Did you call the car? Tell him
to come right now?  You’ve got
to call it.
I called it, her husband lies
as he holds her head close to slide down drops.
But I’ve got to go home, she cries, pulling away
from body, pain, still air.
Just stay for a bit, he whispers.



I originally posted this for National Poetry Day 2009 in the U.K. on a theme of heroes and heroines, but I am relinking to the Trifecta Writing Challenge on the topic of home.  Trifecta has very cool challenges that look to the third meaning of the word – here, “a familial or usual setting: congenial environment, also focus of one’s domestic attention.” 

This poem was published in my book GOING ON SOMEWHERE, (by Karin Gustafson, illustrated by Diana Barco). Also check out l1 Mississippi -counting book for lovers of rivers, light and pachyderms, or Nose Dive, a very fun novel that is perfect for a pool or beachside escape.



Beneath It All

October 5, 2009

After writing post yesterday about Roman Polanski and Beef Inspections, thought about some poems that might connect.  Here’s one:

Beneath it all

Beneath the red over blue sky,
she walked a beam, its wood dark
as charcoal; just below it, gravel.  Still,
she held arms out
to her sides
as if balancing on a narrow ledge, in
a harsh wind,
pretending.  Pretending too
that she was still a little girl, while
also pretending to be older.
To be younger and older both
felt cute, like wearing,
with conscious insouciance,
a too-short skirt over legs
that had learned allure.
Sure of the man watching, she
pretended to slip, then
caught herself, smiling in mock
relief, the feel of control surging through her
like growth itself.
She had much to learn and
would have a hard time at it.

(All rights reserved.  Karin Gustafson)

No Rest For The Weary – Metered Feet

September 24, 2009

Went to bed at one a.m.  and woke up at five.  (The way in which ten cups of strong tea remain in your system never ceases to surprise me.)

I am not someone who particularly touts the benefits of sleep.  It’s great stuff, but the fact remains that there are only 24 hours in the day, and, when you have a day job, only so many (other) hours can be spent unconscious.  (That’s a joke, boss.)

Nonetheless, I do think that, over time, sleep deprivation can put a serious dent in creativity.  Great swathes of the sleep-deprived brain are spent on questions such as what is your husband’s cell phone number again, and where did you just put your purse, socks, apple, keys, and, most importantly, that fresh cup of tea?   Under those circumstances, it’s hard to make space for new combinations of brain waves.

As a result, I decided today to write about something kind of technical, which is meter in formal poetry.  Ta Da!

Or rather:  taDa taDa taDa TaDa TaDa.

The above, by the way, is my version of iambic pentameter, probably the most common form of meter in traditional English verse.  (I base this statement on the fact that iambic pentameter is the form of virtually all the lines of Shakespeare’s  plays, other than the prose dialogue of his commoner characters such as the Rude Mechanicals in a Midsummer’s Night Dream. )

There are variations.  But before going into these, I want to take a break to thank another blogger, Patrick Gillespie, who writes Poemshape at wordpress  and who kindly wrote about my poetry and blog:  Gillespie knows a great deal about poetic meter.  And although he inspired me to continue with this subject, I had oddly already started writing about this morning on the subway.


If rhyme gives a kind of music to poetry, meter is what makes it dance.   Ironically, meter is measured in “feet” (sort of like toe-tappings.  Also, like the English system of distance measurement.)  A line which is written in “pentameter” has five feet.

A “foot” of poetry generally varies in length between one and three syllables.   (Two is probably the most common.)

There are various terms for the specific rhythm of a “foot” of a poem. An iambic rhythm is a ta-Da, with the emphasis on the second syllable.  A trochaic rhythm is the opposite of an iamb: Ta-da.  (A better example may be “Dada” as in Marcel Duchamps.)   A spondee is a foot with two syllables of equal stress as in “graveside”.  (Sorry for that one.)   Two types of feet which use one long syllable and two short unstressed ones are dactyls and anapests. (What comes to my mind is “Heidigger”, a dactyl, although a perhaps better, example is “Pattinson”.)

It’s all kind of complicated.  Which is why I tend to write poems using a syllabic count rather than using meter based on “feet.”  (Perhaps I should have told you this before the long explanation.)

Yes, it’s cheating.  And lazy.  But using a syllabic count is quite helpful to a striving poet, particularly when sleep deprived.

When writing formal poetry, I also aim for pentameter, because that length of line seems very natural.  To reach an approximation of pentameter, I try to keep the lines between 9 and ll syllables (though 12 can also sometimes work).

Keep in mind, if you try this technique, that a syllabic count really is not same as a count of feet.  You need to be careful that you are not reading the line in an odd or contrived way in order to get it to sound “right.”

I include below another example of a villanelle.  I chose this one because it describes the aging, sleep-deprived brain, although the meter is not that great and may not qualify as as “pentameter.”  The second repeating line: “as pink as dusk (not dawn), the half-light of the day” is a bit long but just about works because,  arguably, it ends with two “anapests.”

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, plan a tray,
and no matter how it 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,
lost 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.

(All rights reserved, Karin Gustafson)

Do check out1 Mississippi, my children’s counting book, Going on Somewhere, my book of poetry, and Nose Dive,  comic novel.

Also, I am linking this to The Purple Treehouse today, where C.C. Champagne is talking about syllables in poetry.