08 October 2009

Used To

I used to have mountain ranges inside my chest.
Now it’s smooth plain.

I used to think one day I’d learn to ski, then
I shattered an ankle on parking-lot ice.

I used to see myself in my mind’s eye
repelling sharp rock faces.
But instead I ran out of my shoe to save a cat
and fell and tore up my knee.

These days what I climb smiles back
with hazel eyes that see all the way into the center--
virgin prairie and waving grass so high
the girl I am now could get lost.

PROMPT: The first line--"I used to have mountain ranges inside my chest..."

Writing Poetry from the Inside Out

by Sandford Lyne
Sandy Lyne, who passed away just two years ago, was, perhaps, best known as a teacher of children and anthologizer of poems written by children in the workshops he gave at (mostly) elementary schools.

But he was also a writer of poetry directed at an adult audience, yet playful in the way children's literature and children themselves are.

And whether you see yourself as a writer of prose or poetry, you'll enjoy the exercises and the outlook in this book as play that stretches and hones your writing muscle.

Lyne sees the poem on the page as an outgrowth of the True You, with the voice you'd have in daily life if there weren't so many constraints. So you therefore have a duty to yourself to carve out a place where that voice can have its say.

I particularly like his idea of "poem sketching," detailed in Chapter 6, where he collects groups of four words that just seem to him to go together, though they could also be chosen randomly. Then he writes a brief poem using those words.

Although he encourages readers to develop their own word clusters in their journals as inspiration provides, the book comes with nearly 50 pages of such groups, 20 groups per page, to get you going. So if you photocopied all the pages of word groups, cut them apart and drew out one each day for inspiration, you'd be set for the better part of three years!

I've used poem sketching and Sandy's word groups in my workshops. Sometimes I pass out a double page photocopied from the book and have writers choose one group to start with, then keep going with another, if they like, until time's up. Other times I'll have them just draw one group on a slip of paper from a plastic tub I pass around. I keep the tub with me in case I need a backup or filler exercise.

Use them yourself to make your own personal word jar--pick a fun jar--and draw one out each day to write to. It will get your creative juices flowing, and you'll soon find yourself racing to your writing spot each morning.

 I can also see parents or grandparents using the word groups for a unique interaction with the children in their life. Adult and child could both write poems separately and then compare notes--what fun and what a wonderful page in the memory book!

Lyne admits not everything he writes in this way finds its way into an "official" poem, but many lines and phrases do, and others lead to something else that leads to something that leads to a poem. Everything goes into the journal for future mining. Follow the path, he says, the possibilities are endless.

Not a poet? Well, play will make your fiction better, too, or even just your outlook on life in general. You may discover you are more than you realized, that you have always been a poet and just didn't know it.

Setting Sail for Ithaca, Yet Again

I'm a long-time writer who lived up to everyone's expectations but my own. Oh sure, I have a hefty stack of published clips--from newspapers, magazines and slick, four-color corporate publications, some of which I designed as well. But I started in the fourth grade telling everyone I knew I wanted to write a novel, and so far, I've won one small-town poetry contest and had two poems published (both more than 25 years ago), along with one short story (in 2007).

I feel a lot like Odysseus who took 10 years to find his way home from the war, and I'm beginning to wonder if, like him, my name translates in some half-forgotten language as "trouble."

We tend to think of Odysseus as a hero and The Odyssey as a synonym for a great journey. But Odysseus' grandfather named him "Trouble," and as an adult he spent a good part of his life living up to that name. First, he pretended to be crazy to try to keep from going off to war at all. Then when the fleet was stuck in harbor for lack of a sailing wind, Odysseus was the one who suggested to Agamemnon that sacrificing the older man's daughter, Iphigenia, might appease the gods. It worked, but when Agamemnon finally returned home, his willingness to listen to Odysseus cost him his life.

It took 10 years to subdue Troy and return the beautiful Helen to her aging husband, Agamemnon's brother. Odysseus' ships set sail homeward, along with their comrades, but they made one last booty raid on an island en route. The mayhem he caused so angered the gods, who were by this time tired of warring, that they condemned Odysseus to wander the Mediterranean for another 10 years. When he did finally reach home, he found his estate plundered by suitors trying to marry his wife, Penelope. And though she'd remained true to him, he had missed out on a lifetime by her side, watching their son grow into adulthood.

You already know if you've read the story all those years of wandering weren't a total waste either. The tale we know is told, in fact, as a frame or nested story; that is, it's a story within a story. Odysseus washes ashore on Phaecia and relates his adventures to his hosts in grand style at a banquet before they transport him home to his beloved Ithaca. What he finds when he arrives incognito is yet another level of nesting.

Whatever my own detours have been, I have to believe they were meant to bring me here to this place, right now. Writing for me is a lot like Ithaca was for Odysseus. He paid it great lip-service by always contending that's where he wanted to go, but like me, he ended up somewhere else more often than not. He only finally made it all the way when those he'd entrusted his story to transported him on their ships the rest of the way home.

I'm entrusting my story to you. Every day I'll make a poem, and then I'll write about it and my journey. Each day, you can follow the "readcrumbs" I leave and in a way travel along with me. Where we both end up will be Home. I don't know what it will look like, but when we get there, I think we'll know it by its embrace.


Sing on, winter moon and incubate
cool shadow for a tongue-sweet summer!
This wind chants blue honey,
diamonds drunk on peach meat
and the juice of sleeping rock.
I shake beneath the forest of their storm.

PROMPT: Words chosen from my magnetic tile stash. However, I was trying to emulate the rhythm of the openings lines of Homer's Odyssey. I prefer the Fitzgerald translation but could not find a link to it on the internet.