Sunday, February 27, 2011

Poetry Goes [re]Public

The student literary organization I help out with at Little Town U. just pulled off its annual Poetry Festival. It’s a single jam-packed day of poetry slendiforousness. This year, we brought in three amazing visiting poets – Patrick Hicks from Sioux Falls, Sarah McKinstry-Brown from Omaha, and Elliot Harmon from San Francisco. The day includes poetry writing workshops, readings, and an evening poetry slam. The readings and slam are free, and the workshops range in price from $3 - $15.

We had over 150 people total attending the 5 events, which is awesome for a late February event in the upper Midwest, where people are tired of sliding into town on a sheet of ice. But VERY few people participated in the workshops. I wondered why someone wouldn’t want to work one-to-one with a brilliant, published poet, in an intimate setting, where no poetry writing experience is needed, and I decided it’s the fear factor…

People seem split into two broad camps where poetry’s concerned: Camp A – poetry is Shel Silverstein, Hallmark cards, and Dr. Suess. It’s fluffy, rhymy, and often silly. If it doesn’t fit this image, it isn’t poetry. Camp B – poetry belongs in the dark, musty graduate classrooms of academe. It’s erudite, impenetrable, precious & private, and we can’t know what it means. These people are terrified of poetry.

One reason for the misconceptions about poetry may be that few people are exposed to poetry during their K-12 education. At most, they get a week-long poetry “overview” that starts with one Robert Frost or Emily Dickenson poem (rhyming, metered) and ends with writing a haiku about their goldfish.

Maybe we need to yank poetry out of its cozy hideout in dusty lit textbooks and toss it, naked & screaming, back into the streets from whence it came. Poetry was MEANT to be public, utilitarian. It dates back to 3000-4000 BCE, predating EVERY other kind of literature. Here’s a link to a cheesy Wikipedia history:

Poetry was originally sung or recited in town squares—to spread news, honor achievements, collect and distribute a community’s history. It was an integral part of life-events such as births, weddings, funerals. We need poetry on park benches, sides of buildings, sidewalks. We need to sneak it onto menus, into public restrooms, onto MLB hotdog wrappers. New shoes & handbags should be stuffed with poems printed on tissue paper. Skywriters?

Poetry is the perfect literary form for the Newest Age, too. The rapidly-diminishing attention span of the average adult is now about 15-20 minutes – much too short for a play, novel, or even a short story, but ideal for a poem. And c’mon…what could be more perfect for a 140-word Tweet?

I’d like to strap some electrodes on modernist poet Ezra Pound’s poetic triad and raise it from the dead: logopoeia (what a poem means), phanopoeia (how it looks on the page), and melopoeia (how it sounds), in order to remind the world that poetry was never meant to be locked in books read only by grad students and other poets. It was meant to be picked at, examined, touched, seen, heard, spread around…read & written by YOU.

And here’s a little poem of mine for the Newest Age…

You Will Want to Watch This Poem

First, I’ll slap you hard with a scream—alarming volume.

Next, I’ll stand nearly naked in a funky plastic fountain,
golden arches on my head like fat dead bunny ears,
my skin painted shimmering cathode-grey;
the glow will be visible from any window.
I’ll leave my breasts untouched,
the color of skim milk; it will do you good.
Droplets of sugary cola will rain down,
meet the cleft of my navel, make you thirsty.
Some movements I’ll exaggerate. Others, I won’t.
I’ll hold a placard in bridge-black spray paint:

            Will work for whole-grain flakes
            fat free
            lightly frosted on one side.

The letters will be large, visible at high speeds,
but you! You’ll be right here, chin dropped,
breathing through your mouth.
I’ll lull you with the universal mantra—
my lips pouty, full, red,
wrapped around six sultry iambs:


You’ll be frozen rock hard,
dripping sweat.
You’ll want more.

Then, when you’re fixed and grinning,
I’ll plug in, turn on, burn
for one uncomfortable moment &
go up in a quick, sizzling, electric


of smoke and cinder
that settles finally
on the oil-slick cola surface.

now you will listen
now you will listen
now you will listen

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Offerings on the coffee altar...

Cleo Coyle is my newest Zen master. I’m on book 4 or 5, Decaffeinated Corpse, in Coyle’s series of light-hearted murder mysteries (“cozies”) called the Coffeehouse Mysteries. They’re set in or around a Manhattan coffee shop and feature a female protagonist (resident expert barista), who runs the shop with her swarthy, international coffee-buyer ex. I like cozies as a kind of “tai chi” for the brain—focused but gentle movement, predictable but meditative—compared to the “calisthenics” of the more analytical, 4-color-highlighter reading I do for school throughout the semester.

I like this series in particular because the novels center around one of my favorite rituals—the making & drinking of coffee. And interspersed with a character’s occasional swan dive off a balcony, “accidental” stumble in front of an oncoming subway train, or trip down a flight of stairs, the books offer coffee lore, history, tips, recipes and fun facts. Like, did you know you can tell if coffee’s fresh when you add milk or cream? If the milk “blooms” (rises and spreads across the surface of coffee) immediately, the coffee’s fresh. Or, did you know you should store bulk coffee beans in the fridge, with about a week’s worth of daily beans in an opaque container on the counter—not in the fridge or freezer? That’s because taking beans in & out of the cold daily causes condensation inside the container, which can spoil the beans. And seriously, who DOESN’T wanna know how to make a perfect Frangelico Latte? We have so much to learn, Grasshoppers…

Ray indulges my cafetheism; for our anniversary, he bought me the new Keurig Mini Brew for my office. It’s a departure from my staunch Chemex/French press/Bialetti purist snobbery, with its new-fangled, drop-in coffee “pods” (he even bought me extra bold, fair trade, organic coffee pods). And I haven’t tried it yet, so the jury’s still out on the all-important aroma & taste. Still, I like the idea of a fresh, hot, instant oneness with the java gods in the middle of the day—a tiny little epiphany between triplicate form-filing and panicky student consultations.

So don’t tell my prairie neighbors there’s no Folgers or Mr. Coffee in the house. Don’t tell them I cross myself with a dab of fresh brew, leave a bean in Buddha’s dish, smudge the kitchen with smoldering coffee leaves, toss glass coffee mugs over my left shoulder, kneel toward Brazil (ahem…the only country with seasonal snow that produces Arabica beans)—they wouldn’t understand these stones on my path to coffee nirvana.

And when they ask about the chanting…mochajavakenyasumatra…ohm…ohm…ohm…just tell them it must be the hum of the brooding lamps in the barn.

Monday, February 7, 2011

French Kisses & Kismet

A rare convergence of celestial forces must be taking place. Last week, I foresaw a somewhat open weekend coming, Mom was willing and able to farm/dog/cat/parrot/fish/peacock sit, and our grandson had an upcoming soccer tournament in Spearfish, where our good friends live. So Ray and I, in as spontaneous a move as we make these days, decided to drive to the Black Hills for the weekend.

Friday’s drive across the state on I-90 west was blissfully uneventful. We ambled out late morning and rocked our way to the Hills by early evening, thanks to Ray’s 16K-song iPod. 

We ended up in Deadwood, where friends were playing music for an Adams House Museum benefit that night. So we hung out at the Deadwood Social Club, above the No. 10 Saloon. I got to sit in on a couple of songs (my gratitude to the boys for that much-needed Song Therapy), we passed bruschetta and artichoke dip, Wildman Ray sampled the French Kiss martini, and we caught up with more old friends.

The evening was yet another mystical confluence of kismet. February 18 is our anniversary (22 years), and we got to spend that Friday night of our anniversary month (1) with the minister who married us, (2) with one of the folks who sang at our wedding, (3) with Ray’s best man, (4) in the town where we had our preemptive honeymoon. AND, we will have a full moon on the 18th. Bam. Completely cosmic.

On Saturday, we lollygagged around Spearfish with our son and his family, where we also got to watch 2 of our grandson’s games in the SD Indoor Soccer Tournament. I’d made everyone “Official Fan Club” t-shirts with the poor kid’s name & photo on them because, well, if a grandma can’t totally embarrass an 11-year-old kid, who can? His team ended up winning their division championship, thanks to those good-luck shirts. Okay, the team’s talent, hard work and sportsmanship may have helped a little. But it was mostly the shirts.

We’re back home now. And IF the Universe is truly aligning in an unprecedented configuration designed to release me from daily burdens, honor our anniversary, and remind me that there is goodness in the world, then these to-do piles I ignored over the weekend will go up in a quick puff of magical smoke any minute now...

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Groundhog Day

According to Punxsutawney Phil and his missing shadow, we’ll have an early spring. I wonder what Phil’s been sniffing down in that den, ‘cause I think his shadow was just too freakin’ cold to show. It’s 11 below on the Row today (wind chill of -33), and we’ve been snowed in for two days. And like the Bill Murray movie, it just keeps happening over and over and over...

This round of snow started last Sunday, then the drifting and brutal cold set in Monday afternoon. By Tuesday morning, our driveway looked like the rolling hills on the Arctic tundra. Tractor Fairy, our neighbor down the road, drove his Monster Cruncher up this morning—a snow-shooting tractor with a toothy chopping drum on the front straight out of a B horror film—and plowed out our driveway. But while Monster Cruncher can get down the road on its tires the size of small wading pools, our wimpy little VW bug and MiniPearl aren’t going anywhere until the county plow scrapes the road. And he doesn’t go by until he’s good & ready. So if it’s windy, too cold, or he has chicken-fried steak and mashed potatoes waiting at home, we may as well hunker down.

We lost a peahen somewhere along this winter way, so we’re down to 17. And for the past two days, the flock hasn’t left the loafing shed rafters. This means I’ll be trucking out to the shed today with corn. Word must be getting around about the cat food (the peacock version of Butterfingers) I sometimes toss out on the patio, because rabbits, a feral cat, and a few pheasants have been spooking around the house. The dogs won’t go farther than the bottom of the back porch steps, and our resident cat, Rickie Lee, won’t go out at all. I’m keeping the bird feeders in the yard full, so a raucous gang of bluejays, a bazillion juncos, sparrows, a pair of cardinals, downy and hairy woodpeckers, and one fat black crow have been keeping us company. We have a possum perpetually curled up in the hay trough of the barn. I’m starting to feel like Twisted Cinderella, in that scene where all the little eyelashy, smiley animals gather around her to sing pretty songs, except we’re all mange, broken feathers and pointy teeth, and we’re singing whiny blues.

We have two batches of homemade wine fermenting, Australian Shiraz and German apfelwine made from our own fresh-pressed organic apple juice, and it’s probably a good thing the wine isn’t ready to bottle, or Ray and I would be stuporous, drool running down our chins as we stare at another lousy made-for-TV vampire movie. I’ve knit, oh, maybe a dozen silly hats, and I’ve read two James Burch novels. My arse is now shaped exactly like the seat of my Laz-y-Girl, and my skin is the color and texture of butcher paper. It’s probably a blessing I can’t get to the store to stock up on Doritos.

So if spring doesn’t come soon, you can bet Ray and I will be chopping up fenceposts for firewood, so we can slow-roast a hope-dashing, lying little groundhog…