oulipost 24: neighborhood boys

Getting my Oulipost on this lovely afternoon. Today’s prompt was to do a homosyntaxism, taking found text and converting words to other words with the same part of speech: nouns become other nouns, verbs become other verbs, etc. I decided to adapt the prompt a bit and call it a slow burn, where the poem applies these changes to the same sentence one iteration at a time, as you’ll see below. I’m sure there’s a better name for it, but I like “slow burn” because it applies to the content of the piece. The original sentence is the first one, and it’s from the Voice, and it’s a throwaway line whose provenance I can’t recall.

Neighborhood Boys Exchange Difference of Opinion

The conversation turned to us talking about the people and things that made our local spots great.
The conversation turned to us talking about the people and things that made our local spots deadly.
The argument turned to us talking about the people and things that made our local spots deadly.
The argument turned to us talking about the speedballs and things that made our local spots deadly.
The argument led to us talking about the speedballs and things that made our local spots deadly.
The argument led to us talking about the speedballs and switchblades that made our local spots deadly.
The argument led to us talking about the speedballs and switchblades that made our usual spots deadly.
The argument led to us talking about the speedballs and switchblades that left our usual spots deadly.
The argument led to us showing off the speedballs and switchblades that left our usual spots deadly.
The argument led to us showing off the speedballs and switchblades which left our usual spots deadly.
The argument led to us showing off the speedballs and switchblades, which left our usual day deadly.

poem-a-thon 13: next year in jerusalem

After writing a sestina for the Poetic Asides challenge first, this one was a friggin’ breath of fresh air for NaPoWriMo: the idea was merely to include some kennings in a poem. I did fudge them a bit, but I tried to play with the theme of shame and acceptance of self, in keeping with my Poem-a-thon theme. (The usual plug: please donate!) And then I went all Kay Ryan, which is what happens when I want some kind of structure but can’t think of what to do. So sue me.

(Kay Ryan, please don’t actually sue me, I heart you.)

Next Year in Jerusalem

Next year I will walk
out with the expectation
of being delivered.
Fear and predation and
the relatives’ talk
will thin like tea-breath
dripped in air. Next year
shame will be buried,
bobbing its death into
this city and its masculine
pearl-rivers. That same
boy who was sobbing
into his pillow at night
will have hurried to
an always holier land.
Its joyful embrace will be
plotted on my night-maps,
and a reason to be
desperate to get there.
Next year, my light will be
caught and sipped
from an ever gentler hand.

oulipost 12: local street artist

I did not really capture the essence of today’s Oulipost challenge, I think. The challenge was to do a sonnet using found lines in the paper, and when it comes to challenges like that, I get pretty purist. So while this has fourteen lines and what I consider a turn, more-or-less iambic with more-or-less pentameter, and some lucky rhymes… it doesn’t have a rhyme scheme, it’s not really a problem/resolution poem, and I really fudged some prosody.

But I kind of like how it turned out, nevertheless. Which is good, because I have no more steam in me tonight.

Local Street Artist Muses on Life Goals

A broken down, half-deserted city:
this visual flair for the dramatic is best.
Suggest that we move from house to house,
in every corner. (Not to mention our
home, it seems, is where the heart is this week.)
Redeem us, save us: we don’t really crave
“what would it be like to be evil?”
We always wanted to grow and do new things–
and almost all explode with color.
What we want is a new lease on life:
a muddled bowl of sweet crab, hazelnuts,
a convoluted friendship with John and his wife,
and Denzel Washington, who throws
himself into the role with reckless grace.

poem-a-thon 7: paraphernalia

I had trouble writing this one for a number of reasons. Obviously, the subject matter is pretty heavy and I don’t feel like I have a right to tell it, even though it connects with the other poems I’ve been writing for the challenge. I don’t want to get too preachy with said theme, even though I think I should. (I just don’t think I do preachy very well.) And I worried about pairing this with the NaPoWriMo prompt about love of an inanimate object, even though I think that’s the kind of twisted relationship that users have to their drugs, sometimes. But ultimately, it is a topic I want to address, and if I weren’t so tired/honestly kind of needing a pause from this month of writing, I’d try to project a bit more and do a better job. As it stands, consider this a preliminary, while I go pass out for eight hours.

In the meantime: please donate!


The headshakers avert their eyes
and wonder how someone so young started
doing what they do, courting undertakers
with a rubber round the elbow, as though they
had never been broken-hearted, too.
Maybe they hadn’t, for long, maybe they had
a place to wait while the welts faded
from where the belt kissed their bared backs,
while these ancient children with no such luck
fled into the night. Every needle starts
with need, and at least the venous pump
never tempered its love with the nosebleed,
the open hand and the motherly sneer.
The headshakers drop a dollar here and there
when they walk down the runaways’ gallery,
which will give them something to talk about,
quietly, for days. And their glimmer of love
refolds and returns, peeled back from these
kids called sinners whose hearts might burst
from the sudden drop in airborne pressure.
But the past is all cigarette burns
and the souring of pleasure. Who said
these kids mean to last?

poem-a-thon 4: plagues of egypt

Two poems done before 2:00, woooo! Now I just need to get the Oulipost one done this evening… for now, should probably get back to work, aye?

This one is for the Poem-a-Thon/NaPoWriMo combination; the NaPo prompt today was to do lunes, the “American haiku” in verses of 3-5-3 words. I tried to get a little bit Ryanesque with the sound, and a little bit preachy with the topic, and ended up with something that doesn’t really work as well as I’d like. I think I need to stop trying to force the prompts onto the subject matter, or vice versa; we’ll see how the weekend goes, when I have more time to consider how I want to craft these. I never expect wonderments to come out of the April frenzy, but anything generative is good; I’ve written more new drafts in the last week than the preceding month, I believe.

Plagues of Egypt

Even here– now–
there’s blood in the water.
How many hearts
could be hardened?
Broken needles for their sons
and daughters sleeping
along the streets–
then awoken into more darkness,
faces grown scabbed,
hands weak. Something
unknown has mistaken its purpose.
The lambs suffer
the slaughterer’s curse.
Shaking with cold, begging change,
their backs bending–
still these plagues
multiply. Strangers pretend to forget
this story’s ending.

renovation twenty-two: cityscape with hope

Here’s your fact for Fun Fact Friday: I sometimes pretend, while listening to music and walking down the street, that I am in a music video. I’ve had several songs stuck in my head this week, and each time I start humming to myself, it’s all I can do not to execute some crazy acrobatic attempt on the scaffolding lining Broadway which would probably get me in trouble. That kind of feeling today precipitated this poem’s content, though not the prompt; I expected it to go a lot more miserably, actually, given these:

1. “…like someone trying to light a smoke with an empty lighter.” (Adrian Matejka, “Mural with HUD Housing & School Bus (1980)”)
2. “That splendid city, crown’d with endless day…” (Phillis Wheatley, “To S. M. A Young African Painter, On Seeing His Works”)
3. “The constellations of faces, coming and going…” (me, “Book of Hours”)
4. a wheelbarrow full of cement
5. Point out a flaw in something you used to regard highly.
BONUS. Even if you don’t quote one of the lines directly in options 1, 2, and 3, try to use one of them as a skeleton for your poem’s lines, in terms of sound, rhythm, and structure.
ALTERNATE (5). Lie to make someone feel better.

Instead I seem to have on honey-dew fed, and drunk the Kool-Aid of Paradise, because I ended up with this giddy, hopeful poem. Maybe it’s a foolish hope, and that’s the subtext of the voice in it. Either way, it is what it is, it’s Friday afternoon, and I am booking it for the train in the near future. So this is what you get from me:

(cityscape with hope)

As long as children keep pressing hands in cement,
as long as chess players, old men, summer in parks,
I won’t believe that we’re doomed. The light in the blood
diffuses through all the colors of skin and escapes
to every corner. The youths play music and sing.
The beggars gather up plastic. Rainwater comes
to claim us all, and the city leaps, and I feel,
for several moments, that airborne thrill. That promise.

renovation seven: what blood

Sorry for the delay today, you guys; it was kind of a hectic Thursday. I’m a little bit paranoid about saying why on the blog, but if the near future goes well, perhaps I will be able to eventually. How delightfully cryptic of me, n’est-ce pas?

Anyway, here is today’s prompt:

1. “Beyond the carrots and blind white worms…” (Rachel McKibbens, “deeper than dirt”)
2. “Bloody hell, the world’s turned / upside down.” (Cally Conan-Davies, “Ace”)
3. “One of these houses cannot be found on maps.” (me, “Moving Day”)
4. a long, broken zipper
5. Describe as best you can the palpable feeling of nostalgia in a particular place.
BONUS. Make the poem a series of grammatically complete sentences, each of which is no shorter than four lines.
ALTERNATE (5). Describe the palpable opposite of nostalgia: the anxiety at confronting something from your recent past that you haven’t had to deal with lately.

And here’s what I came up with, which kind of keys off a discussion I had a friend the other day about going back to the first house you lived in and doing the whole “excuse me, I used to live here…” thing. I imagine this doesn’t happen in situations where people grow up in apartments, but I could be wrong. And what do people feel if their building is just gone? My mother and I were talking about nostalgia last night; that informed part of this too.

(what blood)

When the city children return with children
of their own years later, to spell their own prologue
over a sagged thing of brick and wire and
a butternut-colored jalopy, what must they think
to see the old corner lot wrapped in yellow
plastic tape and COMING SOON signs.
The porches have all been ripped off like scabs
and replaced with people flashing by
going from this place to that, and the doormen
will not let these children with children in.
What blood must rush to their head after coming
all this way to draw a line in the dirt with a sword
and upturn a wriggling narrative with the point
as if to explain, no matter how far you go, you leave
the littlest hairs of your roots behind– only to be
turned away from a place that is not theirs,
nor their children’s. The front matter is blanked
from their biography, hanging wide
like a mouth with puzzle teeth that, having
opened too far, finds it cannot shut.

I have a free and clear evening tonight. Perhaps I will cruise around the poetry blogs a bit, catch up on some more writing, practice some headstands… you know, the usual Thursday rubbish. We’ll see.