Saturday, November 14, 2020

Prompt #364 – Giving Thanks in the Time of Covid-19

 

 

If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, 

it will be enough.

 

— Meister Eckhart

 

Thanksgiving will take place later this month and is a day set aside here in the United States (other countries have similar days) to remember and give thanks—it is a time when families and friends gather—a celebration of sharing, community, and gratitude. This year, our Thanksgiving celebrations will be curtailed and different because of Covid-19. Even in the best of times, it’s easy to fall into the habit of grumbling about what we don’t have, miss, need, etc. This year has been particularly challenging with the specter of Covid 19 haunting all of us. Many of us have lost family members and friends to Covid, many of us have lost jobs, and our businesses have failed. Our social lives are much less than they were, and meeting family members and friends is more often done via programs such as Zoom and Skype than in person. There may seem to be a lot less to be thankful for this year, but I’m going to ask you to dig deeply into yourself and to think about the blessings you have been given.

 

The challenge for this prompt is to write a poem that focuses on abundances rather than deficits—despite Covid-19.

 

Guidelines:

 

1. Begin by thinking about things for which you're grateful. Think in terms of particulars and details—not ideas, but specifics (i.e., not love, but an example of love that you've known; not friendship, but a particular friend).

 

2. Think of past places in which you've been especially thankful (the “geography of thanks”). Think of the people who were part of the story.

 

3. Write a few ideas for “thankful” refrains (repeated line, phrase, or word) before you begin writing the poem. You may want to use this refrain in your poem.

 

4. A form that lends itself to this prompt is the kyrielle. Once very popular, the kyrielle originated in France, dates to the Middle Ages, and takes its name from kyrie (found in many Christian liturgies). Many hymn lyrics were written in this form, but kyrielle content is not limited to religious subjects. A traditional kyrielle is often short, octosyllabic (each line contains eight syllables), and is typically presented in four-line stanzas. A traditional kyrielle also contains a refrain (a repeated line, phrase, or word) at the end of each stanza.

 

  • Begin by writing a quatrain (four-line stanza) about a particular thing for which you're thankful. Each line should contain eight syllables. If you wish, you may create a rhyme scheme. The last line, phrase, or word in your first stanza will become your refrain.
  • You may write about one thing for which you're grateful, or each quatrain may be about individual things that have inspired your gratitude.

 

5. Alternatively, you may choose to write another kind of formal poem. There are many from which to choose: sonnet, villanelle, haiku, tanka, haibun, etc.

 

Tips:

 

1. If you choose to write a kyielle or other formal type of poem, it is vital that the form does not “drive” your poem. If the form begins to feel forced or unwieldy, you may switch to something less deliberate (i.e., free verse, prose poem).

 

2. You might address or dedicate your poem to a person for whom you're thankful, or you might go to the flip side and write about a challenging time (this year, for example) that somehow led you to feelings of gratefulness (my mom used to say that good always comes from bad).

 

 

Examples:

 

Kyrielle by John Payne (1842-1916)

 

A lark in the mesh of the tangled vine,

A bee that drowns in the flower-cup's wine,

A fly in sunshine,--such is the man.

All things must end, as all began.

 

A little pain, a little pleasure,

A little heaping up of treasure;

Then no more gazing upon the sun.

All things must end that have begun.

 

Where is the time for hope or doubt?

A puff of the wind, and life is out;

A turn of the wheel, and rest is won.

All things must end that have begun.

 

Golden morning and purple night,

Life that fails with the failing light;

Death is the only deathless one.

All things must end that have begun.

 

Ending waits on the brief beginning;

Is the prize worth the stress of winning?

E'en in the dawning day is done.

All things must end that have begun.

 

Weary waiting and weary striving,

Glad out setting and sad arriving;

What is it worth when the goal is won?

All things must end that have begun.

 

Speedily fades the morning glitter;

Love grows irksome and wine grows bitter.

Two are parted from what was one.

All things must end that have begun.

 

Toil and pain and the evening rest;

Joy is weary and sleep is best;

Fair and softly the day is done.

All things must end that have begun.

 

Poems about Thankfulness and Thanksgiving:

 

“Te Deum” by Charles Reznikoff

https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/te-deum

 

“Thanks” by W. S. Merwin
https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/thanks

 

“When Giving Is All We Have” by Alberto Ríos (audio)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5UfdYjptIgg

 

“Thanksgiving Letter from Harry” by Carl Dennis
https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/thanksgiving-letter-harry


From “Mass for the Day of St. Thomas Didymus” by Denise Levertov
https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/mass-day-st-thomas-didymus-excerpt


“Thanksgiving Day” by Lydia Maria Child
https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poems/detail/43942

 

 

 

Dear Blog Readers, 

 

I wish each of you a blessed and healthy Thanksgiving! 

 Stay home, stay safe, and be well!

 

 

 

Saturday, October 31, 2020

Prompt #363 – Halloween 2020

 

When black cats prowl and pumpkins gleam,

may luck be yours on Halloween.

—Author Unknown

 

Today is Halloween, one of my favorite days of the year, and here in my place on the map, it’s autumn—a time filled with all the color and glory of the calendar’s last bright whirl. With October 31 come historical memories of Samhain (pronounced “sow-win”), the ancient Celtic festival that paved the way for Halloween as we know it. Samhain signaled the end of the harvest season, the beginning of winter, and the start of a new year.

This year on Halloween, there will be a special lunar treat—the full moon that will be seen tonight is called a blue moon because it’s the second full moon of the same month (following the harvest moon of Oct. 1 through Oct. 3). A rare and special treat is that the 2020 Halloween full moon will be visible to the entire world, not just parts of it, for the first time since World War II (the next global full moon won’t happen until 2039)

Sadly, this year many customary family and community Halloween events have been canceled or significantly altered because of Covid-19. And, right now, traditional Halloween thrills and chills seem less appealing while the pandemic continues to haunt and frighten us.

I feel especially badly for children who won’t be able to attend costume parties, Halloween parades, and take part in trick or treating; but, of course, at this point in the pandemic (with case numbers rising again), it’s best to err on the side of safety.

Although celebrations are changed, and the Cornoavirus equivalent of trick or treating won’t be the same, Covid can’t keep us from enjoying some Halloween poetry or from writing some of our own!

 

P. S. That’s me in the picture—I was four years old (in kindergarten) and dressed as “Mary Had a Little Lamb” for Halloween that year.

 

Guidelines:

1. Begin by reading some Halloween and associated poems to get into the “spirit” (some examples are offered below).

2. Then, write a Halloween poem that brings back the memory of a particular Halloween (from childhood or more recent), a costume you’ve worn or wanted to wear, or a mask that says something about you. Alternatively, you might write about what Halloween during the Covid-19 pandemic is like—and the wearing of masks every day.

3. Observe the usual poetry tips and caveats, and have fun with this.

4. Your poem can take any form: narrative, lyric, prose poem, haiku, haibun, tanka.

5. Be sure to evoke a mood or tone that’s compatible with your subject.

 

6. Include some “creepy” similes and metaphors.

 

7. Use language that’s appropriate to Halloween and your Halloween experience.

  

Examples of Halloween Poems:

https://youtu.be/DXAfoh-oRzQ

https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/halloween

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/44996/goblin-market

http://www.thingsthatgoboo.com/scarypoems/dphallowe’en.htm

http://www.thingsthatgoboo.com/scarypoems/dphollowman.htm

http://www.thingsthatgoboo.com/scarypoems/dponlyghostieversaw.htm

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/48860/the-raven

https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/haunted-houses

 

______________________________________

 

And, last, by way of sharing, here’s a Halloween prose poem from my book 

A Lightness, A Thirst, or Nothing at All 

(Welcome Rain Publishers, Copyright © 2015. All rights reserved.)


Halloween  

 

Trick-or-treaters come to the door repeatedly—little ones early, older kids into the night until she runs out of candy and turns off the outside lights. The wall between worlds is thin (aura over aura—stars flicker and flinch). The woman buttons her coat, checks her reflection in the mirror, and stands cheek to glass (eye on her own eye, its abstract edge). She leaves the house (empty house that we all become)—shadows shaped to the trees, crows in the high branches.


______________________________________

 

Did you know that the poet John Keats was born on Halloween in 1795? His last poem is an untitled, eight-line fragment that seems chillingly well-suited to Halloween:

 

This living hand, now warm and capable

Of earnest grasping, would, if it were cold

And in the icy silence of the tomb,

So haunt thy days and chill thy dreaming nights

That thou would wish thine own heart dry of blood

So in my veins red life might stream again,

And thou be conscience-calmed—see here it is—

I hold it towards you.

______________________________________

Happy Halloween, my friends!

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Prompy #362 – One Wish for Right Now


When we were children, wishes were part of our immediate reality, and believing that our wishes would come true was easy: “Star light, star bright, first star I see tonight; I wish I may, I wish I might have the wish I wish tonight.” What happens to our wishes when we grow up? We still have them, right? This prompt is about a wish that you have right now. 

 

Here are some “wish poem” ideas:

 

1. Your wish during this unsettled and challenging time of Covid-19, civil unrest, and “difficult politics.” What’s the one thing you wish for most?

 

2. A poem based on a wish to see or spend time with someone you lost touch with years ago.

 

3. A poem based on a wish to see/talk to someone no longer living, perhaps someone who didn’t survive Covid -19.

 

4. A poem based on a wish you had as a child.

 

5. A poem based on a wish to be a child again or to be past this time in human history.

 

6. A poem based on a wish that was realized and lost.

 

7. A poem based on a wish you know will never come true.

 

8. A poem based on the old caveat: “Be careful what you wish for…”

 

 

Example:

 

A classic wish poem: “He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven” by William Butler Yeats.

 

Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,

I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

 


 

 

 

 

 

Saturday, October 3, 2020

Prompt #361 – Five


It’s hard to believe that October is here. 2020 has been a strange and challenging year in many ways. This season, between October and the end of December, has always been my favorite, and I’m trying hard to not let that be diminished this year because of Covid-19. Poetry has always had the power to lead me to peaceful places, and I turn to poetry (writing my own and reading other poets’ work) more often than usual these days.

 

In certain symbolisms, five is a number of balance and harmony. During this ongoing and protracted pandemic, these qualities are important in our lives and not always easily achieved.

 

For this prompt, I thought something simple with just a few guidelines might be something you’d enjoy (and, hopefully, something that might elicit a bit of balance and harmony for you—with an eye toward whatever moments of peace we can find).

 

Guidelines:

 

1. Take yourself to place outdoors in which you can relax (your front porch or back deck, your backyard, near a lake or stream, the woods, a park). Take some deep breaths, let yourself become absorbed by the space around you. In this time of social distancing, we often feel isolated and alone, but find something peaceful in the place you choose and think about the balance and harmony in being alone (not lonely, but alone).

 

2. Once you’re settled and comfortable, look around carefully. Notice things around you (objects, trees, plants, water, stones, etc.), and write down five things that capture your attention. You might select five things that are similar or the same (five flowers, five birds, five clouds above you, five people walking by).

 

3. Now notice the details of those “things.” Jot down some notes.

 

4. Then write a poem that’s based on, about, or that includes the five things you selected. Are these things associated in any way? Look for connections among the five “things” you've chosen and yourself. How do they “speak” to you? What story might they tell?

 

5. Let your environment become the “landscape” of the poem. Write in the present tense—here and now. Let the objects direct the content of your poem. Describe them, define them, contextualize them, analyze them, repurpose them, recreate them. Play on the number “five.” Let your poem take you where it wants to go, but don’t let your five “things” get lost. You might even limit your poems to just five lines (some formal 5-line poems include the quintain, the limerick, the pentastich, and the tanka).

 

Examples of 5-Line Poems:

 

#25

By Emily Dickinson

 

A sepal – petal – and a thorn

Opon a common summer’s morn –

A flask of Dew – A Bee or two –

A Breeze – a’caper in the trees _

And I’m a Rose!

 

(From The Poems of Emily Dickinson, ed. by R. W. Franklin, 

Harvard University Press, © 1998. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

A Meditation in Time of War

By William Butler Yeats

 

For one throb of the artery,

While on that old grey stone I sat,

Under the old wind-broken tree,

I knew that One is animate,

Mankind inanimate phantasy.

 

(From The Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats, Scribner Paperback Poetry, 

© 1996. All rights reserved.)

 

 

 

Birds

By risë

 

Sounds of highway traffic

crash like waves

serenaded by

tunes of

seasonal snowbirds

 

(From Spy in da House, Author House LLC, © 2013. All rights reserved.)

 

 

 

What You See All Night

By Adele Kenny

 

The wild bird you catch and let go—what you see all night at

the corner of your eye (along the outline of unfolded wings)—

when the self gives itself up (a bell diffused into air)—more

idea than expression:

 

a lightness, a thirst, or nothing at all. 

 

(From A Lightness, A Thirst, or Nothing At All, Welcome Rain Publishers, 

© 2015. All rights reserved.)

 

 

 

 

 

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Prompt #360 – In Memory of vincent tripi

(Above Photos by Tom Clausen)

 

 A very dear friend of mine, vincent tripi (who always used the lower case when writing his own name) passed away on August 17th. I’d spoken to him on the phone about a month before—his passing was completely unexpected and, to my shock, I learned about it on Facebook. vince and I became friends in 1988 when he sent me a copy of his first book. We’d heard of each other through the Haiku Society and various haiku journals, and I was honored to receive an inscribed copy of his book.

 

A close friendship developed over the years that was uniquely special—a long-distance friendship of sorts because (for much of the time I knew him) vince lived in California, and I live in New Jersey. We only met in person once after he moved to Massachusetts. On that one wonderful afternoon, we talked, laughed, prayed, and ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. He was the only person ever to call me “Delly.” The inscription in one of his books reads, “Dearest Delly, You’re the gift. The poems are the wrapping. God is the Giver.” I came to know vince as a believer, one with a childlike sense of fun and enthusiasm for life.

 

vince called often, and many times when my mom was visiting me he would spend a lot of time talking to her on the phone. They, too, became friends. After my mom died, he dedicated his book somewhere among the clouds, poems from a year of solitude to her memory in the kind of loving and generous act for which he will always be remembered.

 

vince was a haiku poet with immense vision and superior technical skill. His expansive spirit informed his writing, and he left a legacy of haiku that bears testimony to his dedication to the form. His books (many from his own Tribe Press and meticulously designed and produced by vince himself) will continue to delight and inspire all who read them. There is so much richness in vince’s writings—they are filled with his love for literature and the natural world, his philosophy, and his faith.

 

Although most of his haiku and reflections are memorable, this one from paperweight for nothing took on deeper meaning in August:

 

 

And change is forever ... it will not leave me here.

                                                                                         —vincent tripi 

 


No, change did not leave you here, my friend—

but wherever you have gone, you remain with us in memory and through your words.

May your dear soul rest in light and peace.

____________________________________  

 

                                           Hereafter ...

                                                 pine cones falling

                                                       where i knelt to pray 

 

                —vincent tripi 

                       (from between God & the pine)

 

 ______________________________________

 

For this prompt, I’m honoring vince’s memory by revisiting haiku as a form for you to work with. So far, I haven’t been able to write a poem in vince’s memory, so I’ll be working with you on this one.

 

About Haiku

 

Haiku, a minimalist form of poetry, has enjoyed considerable popularity among modern poets. Allen Ginsberg and Pulitzer Prize winner Paul Muldoon wrote collections of haiku, and haiku-like poems are found in the works of such literary notables as Ezra Pound, Amy Lowell, Richard Wright, and Gary Snyder. During the 1960s, a haiku movement began in the United States, which catapulted haiku into popular consciousness. Since then, haiku has been widely taught in schools, and hundreds of haiku journals have published the works of numerous haiku poets.

 

The Haiku Society of America, Inc. was established in 1968 and continues with a membership of many hundreds. Although something other than “mainstream” poetry and very much its own genre, haiku are compact and direct, and are usually written in the present tense with a sense of immediacy (a sense of being “in the moment”). The natural world and our responses to it are integral to haiku. While haiku appear to be light and spontaneous, their writing requires profound reflection and discipline. Haiku are about spiritual realities, the realities of our every-day lives, and the realities of human and natural world relationships. Most importantly, haiku honor the inside of an experience through attention to the outside. 

 

Haiku inspire detachment. That is, detachment from self-interest or self-absorption. The best haiku are life-affirming and eternity-conscious. They are spontaneous and unpretentious but are entirely focused and either gently or startlingly profound. Through haiku, both the writer and the reader are invited to reflect upon minute details that lead to larger realities.

 

Haiku may even be considered a kind of meditation. Finely-tuned powers of observation reveal the haiku moments that happen continually in the world around us. A haiku is a way of seeing, a way of capturing experience, a kind of “aha” moment or instant when something in the ordinary captures our attention and leads us to a closer, more concentrated look at its connection to nature and humankind. 

 

The haiku’s origins have been traced to a form of Japanese poetry known as haikai no renga, a form of linked poetry that was practiced widely by Matsuo Bashō and his contemporaries. Bashō infused a new sensibility and sensitivity into this form in the late seventeenth century. He transformed the poetics and turned the first link in the haikai no renga (the hokku) into an independent poem, later to be known as haiku in the sense that we understand the term today. Following is one translation of Bashō’s most famous poem (certainly the best known haiku in Japan and possibly in the world).

 

Furu ike ya                            Old pond!
kawazu tobikomu                  frog jumps in
mizu no oto                           water’s sound

 

Traditional Japanese haiku were typically written vertically on the page from top to bottom. Each “line” contained seventeen sound symbols. These were usually divided into 3 sections, with the middle one being slightly longer than the others, and often with a pause at the end of the first or second section to divide the haiku into two thoughts or images. These thoughts or images contrasted or pooled to create a sense of insight or heightened awareness and uåsually involved nature. A kigo (season word) was used to indicate the season or time of year. 

 

While most traditional Japanese haiku contain 17 sound symbols, early translators were mistaken when they assumed that a sound symbol is equivalent to a syllable in the English language and that haiku should be written in three lines containing 5,7, and 5 syllables respectively. Although incorrect, these “defining” qualities of haiku are still adopted by many. 

 

A more acceptable standard for English-language haiku is 10-20 syllables in 3 lines having a longer second line and shorter first and third lines. Three lines have become the norm, but haiku of one and two lines are also seen, although less frequently. Typically, haiku contain two phrases (or images) that are inherently unrelated but are juxtaposed to show some commonality within a particular experience. That said, the parameters are often stretched depending on content and meaning, and successful experimental haiku of a single word have been written. 

 

A structural feature of the haiku is the kireji, or “cutting word.” In Japanese, kireji is a word used as punctuation, often signifying a question or an emotional subtext. It also signifies a break or pause at the end of a line. In English, cutting words are generally replaced by punctuation like exclamation marks, question marks, and dashes, or less often, commas or ellipses, depending on how sharp a “cut” the author wishes to achieve. 

 

Haiku describe things in very few words—they never tell, intellectualize, or state feelings outrightly. They never use figures of speech (similes, metaphors, etc.) and should not rhyme, nor do they have titles. Some haiku poets feel that one measure of a haiku’s success is its ability to be read in a single breath. Note: The word haiku forms its own plural; haikus is not correct. 

 

Guidelines:

 

1. Bashō said that each haiku should be a thousand times on the tongue. Before writing anything, read many haiku from a range of sources (there are lots of them online) to get a “feel” for the form. Be sure to read some haiku that have been translated from the Japanese, but spend more time on good haiku written in English. Read some of the haiku aloud.

 

2. After you’ve read some haiku and have a sense of what they’re about, think about an experience that you’ve had.

 

3. Remember the season in which you had the experience, and then think of a word or phrase that suggests that season. For example, peonies is a season word for spring; snow and ice are season words for winter. A simple phrase like “autumn leaves” can evoke feelings of loneliness and the approach of winter’s darkness (shortened days, longer nights). While many haiku appear to have a nature focus, they are more-specifically based on a seasonal reference that is not necessarily about nature.

 

4. Organize your thoughts into approximately three lines. First, set the scene, then suggest a feeling and, finally, make an observation or record an action. Use only the most absolutely necessary words. Write in the present tense, don’t use figures of speech, and keep things simple.

 

5. Be sure to include a contrast or a comparison. Many haiku present one idea for the first two lines and then switch quickly to something else in the third. Alternatively, a single idea is presented in the first line and a switch occurs in the second and third lines. Nearly every haiku has this kind of two-part, juxtapositional structure. A Japanese haiku achieves the shift with what is called a kireji or cutting word, which “cuts” the poem into two parts. One of your goals is to create a “leap” between the two parts of your haiku. Creating a haiku’s two-part structure can become a balancing act because it’s difficult to create just the right equilibrium without making too obvious a connection between the two parts or leaping to a distance that’s unclear or obscure. At the same time, you must work toward sparking the emotions (not ideas) that you want to communicate.

 

6. Try to think of haiku in terms of your five senses—things you experience directly, not ideas or your interpretation or analysis of “things.” Think in terms of sensory description and avoid subjective terms. 

 

7. In a nutshell—focus on a single moment (detach from everything else); recreate that moment in words.

 

Write simply and clearly,

forget about 5, 7, 5 syllabic structure,

start with about 10-20 syllables in three-line format,

include a season word,

make sure you create a two-part juxtapositional structure,

include a shift between the two parts of your haiku,

avoid figures of speech, rhyming, anything forced or contrived.

 

 

Making Connections—A Good Place to Start: 

 

1. Spend a little time walking outdoors. Then find a place in which you can relax. Stay close to your house if you wish or find a more secluded place.

 

2. Once you’re settled and comfortable, look around carefully. Notice things (objects, trees, plants, water, stones, birds, etc.) around you and write down several sets of two things that capture your attention (and, hopefully, your imagination). You might select two things that are similar or the same (flowers, trees, blades of grass birds, clouds). 

 

3. Now notice the details of those “things.” Jot down some notes. Remember, you’re working in sets of two.

 

4. Next, pick one set of two things that you especially like and write a haiku that’s based on, about, or that includes the two things you selected. Look for connections between those “things” and yourself. How do they “speak” to you?

 

5. Think about how you can link your two objects and switch from one to the other.

 

6. Let your environment become the “landscape” of the poem. Write in the present tense—here and now. Let the objects direct the content of your poem. Let your haiku take you where it wants to go, but don’t let your two “things” get lost.

 

7. When you finish one haiku, try another! You might just find that writing haiku is a little like eating your favorite candy—impossible to stop with just one!

 

 

                                        Write one,

                                             or maybe a thousand haiku

                                                    geese migrating

 

                                                                                 —vincent tripi

                                                                                 (from to what none of us knows)