© 2008 -- 2011 the Grandpa at The Word Mechanic. All rights reserved.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

More signs of the times and an apology

Strange, but it seems the swine flu is actually good for the economy. I saw this sign next to a gas station yesterday as we were driving along:

"Hand wash--$10"

Now for the apology. I've not been able to do anything in the blogosphere this past week, not even get to any of your blogs. And I am sincrely sorry for that and know it's my loss. But I'll be back in a few days, and I hope we can pick up where we left off.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

More on poetry

Kringle from A Poetic Journey Through Life left a comment on my post about free verse and traditional form and asked to hear my thoughts about what she said. Here's what she said:
I found your post interesting... though I am no expert, I have done a fair amount of studying on the role of poetry and journal writing (I call it personal writing), in the development of the self. In my research I have found there are many reasons persons write... and yet too some of the poetic musings you discuss are related to semantics and syntax. Yet too, for many, poetry is merely an exploration and expression of self that leads to a transcendent place. Common themes I have found are the personal exploration and creation of selfhood through the personal writing. So perhaps part of all of this relates to the writer, the skill, and the purpose by which it is written? I'd appreciate your thoughts..

I think the points she makes are really good. Having taught writing for more than 20 years before becoming a full-time freelancer and having continued over the years by developing new writers as an editor and teaching as an adjunct faculty member, I'm well aware of the role writing plays in self discovery and development. And as a poet, I know the power of exploring poetic expression. One way we create and discover new knowledge is through metaphor, and metaphor is at the very heart of poetic expression.

I know that many people use poetry to both "explore" and "express" self. And there is a very long history and strong tradition of poetry being used in multiple settings as a form of therapy. And whether someone uses poetry as a form of private journaling or in a more formal therapeutic way, there is nothing "mere" (in the sense of limiting or simple) about the act. And anything that helps us achieve some level of transcendence is certainly outside the critical arena I intended that earlier post enter.

But we need to make distinctions. Poetry written as part of a therapeutic program and the lines and metaphors that you and I and millions of other people all over the world scribble into our journals at the end of a day or while sitting with a cup of tea in a coffee shop is not the same as poetry printed or posted on line in literary journals and zines or as poetry in even more mainstream publications. Poems in journals and poems that come out of a course of treatment are private poems. They are not and should not be subject to the same rules and expectations that poems presented as art are subject to. That doesn't mean that poems written in journals and written as therapy can't also be artistic and good. Some are excellent examples of the poetic art. But poems written for publication and for an audience are by definition an art form and can be expected to do certain things. There is a tradition they belong to. There is an ancient history of poetry as art and a history of theory just as ancient. Somehow the poems that are presented as art must carve out their place within that tradition or fall by the wayside. Those were the poems and that was the poetry I was referring to last Monday.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Another signs of the time

Went to eat at a new Japanese restaurant today a couple of miles down the road from the house. This sign was on their door:

To our patrons:

We closed between 2:30 and 5 o'clock during the week

The message is clear. But come on. Someone could make a lot of money rewriting signs.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


I recommend that you find the book Love That Dog by Sharon Creech. I'll blog about why in a day or so. But it's worth finding first.

In the meantime, watch and enjoy. S found it for me. ILY, S.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Some thoughts about free verse and traditional form

I've looked at a number of "literary journal" web sites over the last few days reading "sample poems" that reveal the editors' taste. I have to tell you I'm not overly impressed with a lot of what I see. And here is some of my thinking.

First of all, poetry should be something more than prose, or at least something different. And new poetry should do something more than old poetry, or at least something different.

Taking bad prose and breaking it into lines that make it resemble a poem doesn't change the fact that it's still bad prose.

Free verse is not prose broken into lines. Good free verse has structure of some sort and rhythm of some sort.

Free verse means verse that is genuinely "free" to explore language in interesting ways. It should use language in a way that prose doesn't and in a way that traditional form doesn't. It should explore new syntax.

Formal verse and free verse share the same grammar but not the same syntax. But some poets approach free verse as syntax without grammar.

Unless free verse genuinely explores the nature of rhythm of both language and image, it is a lazy approach to writing poetry.

When a person encounters a poem--either through writing it or reading it--that person should ask and attempt to answer -- what is exciting about the poem's language? what is exciting about the way the words are working together?

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Seasons

I New Orleans

The blues the man plays
Are like the early flowers
At the end of our walk —
Fragrant, perennial,
And eternally sad.

II Lake George

The lake was exquisitely cold.
The day unbearably hot.
The water like crystal. And you,
An apparition,
A memory, a promise.

III Cleveland

The night in the upper boxes smelled of sulfur
From homerun fireworks exploding at eye level
Then hanging above the field like gray clouds
Because no wind would push them over the lake.

IV Wolfeboro

The incredible silence of snow
Beneath the pine and birches. Only the whispering
Skis telling secrets to the groomed surface
And you disappearing ahead where the trail turns.
A premonition. A secret fear.
Dispelled an hour later at a table
Looking out over the sun glossed ice of the lake.

Originally published in A Matter of Mind, Foothills Publishing, 2004.
© copyright 2004, 2009 the Grandpa at The Word Mechanic Blog.
All rights reserved.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

To be in the moment

This post is in response to a post on ....45 and Aspiring's blog.

I was reading the other day about a shared concept of time in physics and in certain philosophies. I'm not a physicist or cosmologist, nor am I a Buddhist. But I'll try to summarize what I understood and how I interpret it.

Time is an illusion.

There is no past. What we call memory is only a construct that currently exists in our mind in the now. It doesn't matter what we've done or what we might have done. Neither can change the now that we have. What the construct called memory can do is constrict the way we experience the now, limiting our ability to fully participate with the now that is.

The future is no more than an infinite array of possibilities. And none of them is predetermined. And none of them is actually real until we perceive it. But here's the catch. The only thing we can perceive is the now.

Mindfulness is a Zen concept that means to be in the moment, also known as the now. And Christ gave the same advise in the parable about the lilies of the field and birds of the air when he told his disciples to not be concerned about their future. There is no point to it. As long as you are in the now, as long as you are mindful, you have what you need. He also said to become like a child. I found this on a site called Zen habits in a post called 5 inspirations for being in the moment.

Children. There’s no one better at being present than a child. I love to watch my three-year-old son, Seth, as he plays. He’s not thinking about what happened to him yesterday, or what he’s going to do later today. He’s Spiderman, and he’s fighting the bad guys, and nothing else in the world exists. If he gets mad about something, he overreacts, and nothing else in the world matters but what has upset him. But he’ll cry about it, and then soon return to normal, happy again, the offending situation forgotten without a grudge. He has no cares about tomorrow, and for that, I love to watch him. We need to use children as inspiration, and try to be like them sometimes. Jesus instructed us, “Be as a child,” and those were wise words.

That makes sense to me. Being in the moment is not easy. And sometimes the moment feels painful. But when you accept the moment and become part of the moment, fully conscious of your being--your breathing, your thinking, the light and darkness around you, the sounds, smells, and tastes--everything seems to be in place. And what lies ahead are infinite possibilities. But you can't get to them if you insist on letting the "past" shape your perception of the now. I know. My own gets in my way all the time. And sometimes just being mindful feels as if it requires too much effort. But it is worth doing. Letting go of the past and letting go of the attempt to shape the future is a source of strength that makes any of those infinite possibilities possible.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Thoughts on Being a Freelancer Supplemental

Writer and Editor

A couple of week ago, I said a writer is "someone who knows words and knows language and gets turned on by using both well (and by seeing other people do the same thing). A writer is someone who is curious about a lot of different things, and knows ways to satisfy that curiosity--how to research, who to ask, and what to ask in order to get the right information to share with readers."

An editor is a lot like a writer but different. While a writer's passion is words, an editor's passion is text. A writer uses words for a lot of different reasons--to convey information, to explore ideas, to persuade, to incite, to define the world the writer inhabits, to create meaning. Text is what results from the effort to do those things. But text usually is not an end in itself.

An editor understands there's a special relationship between text and its intended audience. Text without readers, that is text that exists outside a community, has no power. It can't inform. It can't incite. It can define nothing. (Just an aside here. A writer can also be the sole audience for what is written.)

The editor is like a bridge between writer and reader. The editor's first task is to make the effort to understand exactly what the writer is saying and what the writer is trying to do by saying it. And the second task is just as important. The editor needs to understand how the audience is going to respond to the text and whether or not that response is going to be the one the writer wants. Then it becomes the editor's job to bring the two things -- the writer's intent and the audience's response -- as close together as possible.

The jobs are different. But one quality identifies both -- a passion for language, including a passion for using it well. It's no surprise that the best writers and the best editors often do both tasks very well.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

From the Choir Loft

Singing is twice praying.

On alternating days we sang the Mass
At seven, boys, then girls, then boys again.
Sometimes the only ones who'd show
To sing were me and Hal the organist,
And I could barely hum a note. Refrains
Eluded me, so Hal would sing it solo.

Now Hal had music in his hands and feet;
The organ's pipes were a part of him.
But when he tried for music from his throat,
Well, Father said it sounded kind of sweet
If sweet meant scratchy, hoarse, and thin
And not unlike the bleating of a goat.

From Kyrie to Agnus Dei, Hal
Sang all the parts, sang treble, alto, bass
And never worried what the music said.
The words were all that mattered. Still somehow
He'd hit the final note then turn his face
And wink at me and proudly raise his head.

Hal quit the church when Kyrie became
The simple English Lord and anyone
Who wanted stood and strummed communal chords
For Masses where the singing was the same
As elevator sap, and Hal seemed stunned
To learn that music is in deed the words.

Originally published in Birmingham Poetry Review, Summer/Fall, 2005.
© copyright 2009 the Grandpa at The Word Mechanic Blog.
All rights reserved

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Who would have guessed?

I did a search on my name and it turns out that I'm in a very exclusive crowd. (One of them is my son and one is a competitive cyclist.) You might want to try it yourself. (And, no, I did not use the Grandpa. Why would I name my son the Grandpa?)

LogoThere are
people with my name in the U.S.A.

How many have your name?

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Open Journal

I appreciated the comments that some of you left on yesterday's post. And I have to agree that I like the images and generally like the feel of the lines. But I don't think there's enough there yet to call it a poem. There are some possibilities but no way to bring them to life. That means the sentiments remain private--between the speaker and his/her love. In that equation, there's no room (or there's too much room) for the reader. And there's no way in to the poet's vision.

The thrust of this fragment is toward a statement on art and passion. But the lines have no context. And without context, as plesant as they might be, they become cliche. The poet needs to push them beyond that to make them push -- or invite -- the reader to participate in the making of meaning. [Music is the purest art form (or perhaps it's dance), and poetry is the art of meaning.]

So where does that leave me as the poet. Sometimes changing one or two words can make all the difference. It didn't tonight. My sense is this IS a fragment. It's a part of something bigger. And I have a sense of a good poem coming on.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

I missed it

I didn't know. Yesterday's post was post number 200. I wonder if that's significant.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Morris Dancing (May Day 2009)

The morning and the evening glimmer.
Heaven turns and the earth's heart swells.
Dancers in their ribbons shimmer.
Peepers sound like Morris bells.

These people have their drums and horns.
They have their song and watchers' eyes.
Callers tell them of their forms.
And with their simple faith in earth and sky

The dancers' feet repeat the sounds
Of new life stirrings underground
And with their steps and song awaken
Ancient legends the world's forsaken.

They dance for Demeter's cyclic plight,
And the earth responds with green delight.

Originally published in A Matter of Mind, Foothills Publishing, 2004.
© copyright 2004, 2009 the Grandpa at The Word Mechanic Blog.
All rights reserved.