Lines that birth poems and haunt lives

There are certain poets who have the gift of creating that one line around which an immortal poem circles and without which it would be just an ordinary poem. Of all poets, Yeats is the master of this. Of course, Yeats is the master of many aspects of writing poetry. I often wonder why God didn’t select Yeats to write the Bible. I mean no sacrilege here…I just love Yeats that much!

One of the most beautiful lines ever written comes from the hand of Yeats in his poem “When You are Old and Gray.” Without this one line, the poem teeters too closely upon sentimentality. With it, the poem is timeless, fresh, brilliant.

Here is the line:             But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you

Wow. Does that not capture the way every woman wants to be loved? That one line, writ by W.B., summarizes the best love stories ever written. It is the whole world in one line. It catapults the poem off the page and into my heart. It’s also perfect iambic pentameter. It’s perfect.

Go find the poem and read it. Again and again. Reading Yeats makes me want to hang it up as a writer because I will never achieve such brilliance, but at the same time Yeats opens the lungs of my soul. Is there a better reason to be alive than you can read Yeats?

Routine

I have allowed myself to get into the routine of not having a routine. This happens. Life happens. Starting Monday, even in the midst of March Madness, the following WILL happen:

1. Exercise. I have written down a list of classes at the local YMCA that I will attend next week. I have been exercising, but not with others and I miss and need the social time with other girlfriends. I will attend one class every day next week.

2. Writing. This week I will work on finalizing a submission for a first book award that I am pursuing. I will research markets for the book proposal on worship resources and query. I will read at least one book of poetry from a new author this week, and get started on next month’s bookclub title.

3. I will somehow manage to make it through the impending snowstorm that is headed our way this weekend. It’s March, people! I am certain that my foul mood and laziness has something to do with the need for sunshine, shorts, running outside, and all things Spring.

Maybe if I write this all down in simple, declarative sentences I will intimidate myself into accomplishment instead of watching basketball 24/7. Don’t bet on me, friends. 🙂

 

 

Lack of….

I am thinking of changing the name of this blog to “Musings of the most undisciplined person on earth!”

Today, I started an essay that I plan to submit on the topic of gun control of all subjects. The challenge of this particular journal is that essays must be 750 words or less. For three years once weekly I churned out columns for the local newspaper and I developed the skill of almost thinking in a 500-word count. Give me any topic..go ahead to don’t be shy…and I can extemporaneously crank out 500 words on the subject. Since this journal is attempting to achieve a quality above filling blank space, I suppose I will have to work harder on this piece. The question is when? When am I planning to work harder?

We are taking a long weekend for Big 12 basketball so I won’t work on writing again until Monday. I am soaking up lots of solitude and sun rays today.

I have set my sights on another poetry contest with a deadline of April 1st and have written some poems this week which might work toward that goal. We’ll see…I am giving the poems some time and space so that I can re-evaluate with clarity. Editing one’s poetry is sort of like finding flaws in your own children. Even their pimples and scars you find adorable. Sometimes I make changes to the strengths of my poems while I worship the weaknesses, just like a good mother would.

I am packing lightly for our weekend. One pair of jeans, a supply of  KU Jayhawks shirts, my Kindle, fitness clothes, toiletries, p.j.’s.

In honor of basketball and my weekend I urge readers to find the poem “The Touch” by Judson Mitcham.

I hope to find a link to this poem to make the search easier.

“You miss one hundred percent of the shots you don’t take.” That can certainly apply to the publishing of poetry as well.

Poetry on Kindle

For the first time in my life…and this feels like a momentous shift in the tides of literature to me…I purchased a book of poetry for my Kindle. Having previously succumbed to the convenience and space-saving efficiency of Whispernet for novels and nonfiction, I still planned to always purchase the ACTUAL book when buying poetry. I revisit poems continuously and I  feel like the visual of the words on an ACTUAL page that a tree had to die for enhances the experience of reading poetry. Plus I love the look of all those poets’ names stacked on my shelves. Makes me feel brainy, and unique, part of some kind of other-worldly club. Plus my poetry books are my friends. Poetry books are like pets–they always accept me unconditionally and welcome me into their little heterocosms and no litter box is ever involved. But yesterday, the cheapo, instant-gratification side of me won out. I recently discovered the poetry of Maurice Manning and yesterday the price of a Kindle version of his book “Common Man” was four dollars cheaper than a soft-back book of the same poems. That, and I knew if I I-clicked the Kindle version, the poems would be at my disposal in a matter of seconds. The jury is still out on reading poetry on the Kindle. I will probably love this book of poems so much that I will go back to amazon.com and purchase the book form so the entire transaction will end up costing me more money. I am conflicted.

Teachable Moments :Davis McCombs “Lexicon”

This is a post for a friend of mine from back in the day who teaches junior high English in Oklahoma–home of my poetic soul. When you say the words “best friend,” she is still the first person who comes to mind, probably because she was my best friend at a time when adolescence-survival demanded that I have one.  I haven’t seen her in many years, but she is still a “bestie.”

Thank goodness for the Internet as we are able to keep in touch. She and I have been sharing back and forth sometimes about the teaching of poetry. I am going to post from time to time some introductions to poets or certain poems which would be good fits for the junior high classroom.

Davis McCombs is an obvious choice.  I am drawn again and again to his poetry because of the sense of place he creates in his work and the history he is able to capture. He is, in my opinion, the best younger, newer, fresh poetic face of our time, (whatever “our time” is in poetic terms).

Through words, McCombs builds not just pictures, I would say he paints haunted photographs, and the lyrical prowess of his work can be addictive, meaning, I return to his work again and again for the music of it.

Here is a link to two McComb’s poems. http://muse.jhu.edu/login?auth=0&type=summary&url=/journals/southern_cultures/v015/15.1.mccombs.html

I am most interested for classroom study in the poem “Lexicon” for my teacher-friend, Jess. In this poem McCombs reincarnates the technical language of the tobacco industry, but of course, a close reading will reveal so much about McComb’s technicality as a poet as well.

First things first, read the poem aloud. For several consecutive days, read the poem aloud. On day four or five or six or seven….approach with your students the lexicon of tobacco introduced in the poem. Have students write down the words in the poem which are unfamiliar and most of these words, of course, will be the technical words of the tobacco plant and the tobacco industry. Show them pictures of budworms, aphids and thrips. Other lexicon words in the poem: white burley, lugs, cutters, Paris Green, topping, side-dressing, setters, stripping rooms, pegs, float plants, tierpoles, blue mold, high color, sucker dope (my favorite), Black Patch, high boys, flue-cured, horn worms, buyouts.

I can see this poet as a little boy sitting on the counter at the feed store with his grandfather surrounded by the swirl of these words which meant life to the farmers and the families. I can see myself doing the same thing only the place was southern Oklahoma and the crops were different.

The next doorway into the poem is the lexicon of the poem itself which thrives mostly on verb tense. By using present progressive tense, McCombs creates a fluid action within the poem. The farmers performed this exact action in the past, in the present and through the future.  Have your students read the first line in simple present tense…”the people talk…” Observe what is lost when the tense of the poem is changed.The exclusive use of participles to complete the present progressive tense also softens the poem and serves as a downy landing for the harsh vocabulary to impact the sound and lyric of the poem.

The final line of McComb’s poem turns the lexicon on its ear. This is what they are really saying, isn’t it?  The previous lines in the poem are the specific sounds and words, the lexicon…what the poet heard, hears. The final line contains all the meaning, doesn’t it? The final line connotes what the poet hears that perhaps the other men in overalls did not, do not hear. This is the “why” of the poem. Great poems always contain a “why.”

After your students have sufficiently exhausted their tolerance for the reading and discussing of this poem (I never tire of it)…have them attempt to write a lexicon-poem of their own. Go to the grocery store and listen to the shoppers. Go to church. Listen to your family as you all eat dinner together. What are the teachers talking about in their break room?  I wrote a lexicon-poem one time as an exercise in poetry workshop about poetry workshop. Each place, each experience carries its own jargon. Use those words to recreate the experience and the place.

Have fun!