The Big Horse

NaPoWriMo 4: A Lune Tune

Beatles forty-five
Something; flip side: Come Together
smell of vinyl

NaPoWriMo 3: charmed I'm sure

charm against a hard frost

burning ember from the goddess Pele
rosewood splinter from my ukulele
(how d’you take yer mornin’ java
cream or milk — or molten lava?)
a golf ball found in rough as high as hay
(don’t move the ball — just play it where it lei)
a diamond mined from Diamond Head
and we will put this charm to bed

been sitting here all evening tryin’
to wish our weathers was Hawaiian

The Trip to Echo Spring

The Trip to Echo Spring: On Writers and DrinkingThe Trip to Echo Spring: On Writers and Drinking by Olivia Laing
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The UK subtitle of the book is Why Writers Drink. The US edition has On Writers and Drinking instead, an acknowledgement of the impossibility of explaining with any great satisfaction why the six authors in Laing's book — or any others — were alcoholics. We would suspect it if she were to give pat or conclusive answers to such a complex condition. But she comes as close to answering the question as you imagine anyone could, by virtue of her close reading of medical study, scholarship, and most importantly, of the history, letters, and literature of her subjects.

Some have taken issue with how little space she gave one writer over another. I can't agree. Berryman gets extended treatment (so to speak); Williams does as well, and so forth. Naturally, one might wish more information about a favorite writer, but the distribution is fair.

Others have taken issue with her inserting the narrative of her own (literal) journey, describing it as self-indulgent. I understand the criticism: I directed a similar one at Cheryl Strayed's Wild. But here it works, I suspect because her travels are a straightforward context for examination of these writers. Her trip across the US is not some high concept attempt to find herself. It isn't driven by a personal need to fix real or imagined hurt through the tortured lives of Hemingway or Fitzgerald. In fact, it comes across as somewhat dispassionate, at least until the end — a counterpoint to the passionate vapors of the writers themselves. And in that sense it is, I think, not misplaced but an actual necessity. As we cringe at the mind-boggling pain her subjects inflicted on themselves and others we take some comfort and clarity in her own evenness of tone, and the sincerity of her effort.

I have one genuine reservation. A key characteristic of alcoholism, as Laing points out, is denial. It seems odd then that she gives only a cursory account of the role of alcoholism among women in her own life. It is, and she admits it, the reason she writes about men and not women. Against the paradoxically brave self-examination of Berryman's unfinished and largely autobiographical Recovery, her retreat here seems — I hate to say it — evasive. I would have preferred that she had not mentioned it at all, rather than broach it and effectively disappear.

But that's a minor quibble. The last chapter on Raymond Carver, where the Pacific Northwest shakes Laing into extended, achingly beautiful descriptions of river and rock, attests to the wells of redemption all around us and for the worst in us, a long snaking coach ride of goosebumps to the last page.

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NaPoWriMo 30: Reverse a short poem

Getting the hell out one morning

I have no clue who owns these trees
Bet it's the neighbor retirees
They'll see me soon and throw a fit
I better go before I freeze

My SUV is cool with it
It's still thinking 'bout the deer we hit
Avoiding Mr. Willard's pond
(The sunlight blinded me a bit.)

They all wish I'd get a Honda
At least Jake, Joleen and Rhonda
It's not as loud as my old Hog,
But who am I, Jane frackin' Fonda?

These woods still suck, unless there's fog
But you can smell the stink of bog
Soon we be sleeping like a log
We be sleeping like a log, Braah!

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
[Robert Frost]

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village, though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Prompt: Find a shortish poem that you like, and rewrite each line, replacing each word (or as many words as you can) with words that mean the opposite. For example, you might turn “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” to “I won’t contrast you with a winter’s night.”

NaPoWriMo 29: Five foreign words

Il a mis le café dans la tasse.
"What are you doing?"
I'm translating our breakfast into French!
"I wish you wouldn't," he said,
Sans me regarder.
Oh, come on, we'll never learn.
"What were you going to do today?"
Maybe Les Invalides? Montmartre?
He made a face, sans me parler. Then,
"I have to go into the office —
they want to get some work out of me."
Salaud! Un vrai salaud.
"They're paying for this trip."
Of course, shall we meet later?
"I'll be tied up with Jean-Claude.
I might have to do some stuff at the hotel."
Il s'est levé.
"Stop it. You're acting like a kid."
Il a mis son manteau de pluie.
"Really, I didn't have to bring you."

Et il est parti.
And I smiled the rest of the morning
right through the chocolate croissants
and Hermès store.
He left his credit card, after all.

Prompt: Try writing poems that contain at least five words in other languages. You could perhaps write a poem that takes place in a foreign country or write a poem based on overheard conversation (inclusive of foreign words).

NaPoWriMo 28: Pick a color

three gold angels

those are the three angels he said
hosted by Abraham, painted by Rublev
around fourteen hundred
you see how their wings arch
like storm clouds punched clean
by each gilt halo, by each halcyon feather
such a treasure! and yet some say
this is not the original here in the Tretyakov
but that a duplicitous docent
(Larisa! how she loved the south of France)
put up to it, who knows?
by a handsome benefactor arranged
to have it brought out at night, between shifts

a moonless night, gentlemen
the streets wet, silvery wet
the discriminating collector waiting in a black car
smoking black Sobranies with gilt foils
the slim ones, made for women but
preferred by him; he tapped the window with a cane
and the driver, after we — after we, ha! absurd!
after they, I should say
received the package, sped away

the streets were silver wet, the stubs
of cigarettes on the ground only metres
from the Kremlin, think of it, the gold foil
the gold spires, under the paper
the three angelic auric heads still shining
after all these years of soot and smoke

and the sound of the Chaika
the rumble of that perfect engine
on the cobbles fading exquisitely
into the night — but I rattle on, eh?
to coffee! a short break
before we return to the bank perhaps?

Pick a color. How many synonyms are there for your color (e.g., green, chartreuse, olive, veridian)? Is your color associated with a specific mood (e.g., red = passion, rage, blue = hope, truth). Look around the room, take a walk — note everything you see that is your chosen color. Then start writing, using the color as a guide.

NaPoWriMo 27: Proverb by Internet

A fish always rots from the head down

they found a dead whale by the sea
and dined on it for more than twenty days
preferring not to slaughter the sardines

the water was shallow, clear, and teaming with fish
but Erasmus said they appeared bloated
feed them only boiled peas for a day or two
whether they wish it or not
it works as laxative, he said

otherwise the guts of the fish rot and stink
peas will do it! remember when you snap
and pull on the head, the entrails will follow
then wash the fish in cold running water
as soon as possible after shaking it from your nets

using your thumbnail or spoon
remove the blood vein and
rinse the fish one last time

otherwise your fish may go into shock
from the sudden change
have you always wanted to fly like a fish?
leave the whale, take your sardines underwater
and experience the oceans in a way
you could never have imagined

I challenge you to think of a common proverb or phrase. Then plug the first three words of the phrase into a search engine. Skim through the first few pages of results, collecting words and phrases, then use them as the inspiration for a new poem.

NaPoWriMo 26: Erasure poem

gray brown bird, filling the night

in the pines and cedars 

in the perfume here in the night

my sight closed, noiseless red unloosing
the song of the hermit bird

ever-altering song

low and wailing the night

fainting, bursting the spread of heaven

powerful psalm

leave heart leave, blooming, returning

silver face in the night

keep the chant gray brown bird

chant my soul, drooping star
call bird, keep the dead I loved so well

sweetest of all my days

and for this
dear bird

chant the pines and the cedars dim

Erased Walt Whitman’s “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d”,  last two sections. Got rid of all the guff about Lincoln. He may have freed the slaves but let’s face it, he was no hermit thrush.

NaPoWriMo 25: Ballad

In Montreal where I got lost
there was a strange maid cookin
"I'll try her food, what e'er the cost!"
she was Italian lookin

O, Nadia G, that was her name
she ran a bitchin' kitchen
in short webcasts she won her fame
just gorgonzola pitchin

She had a place in St Leonard
that looked quite like Gepetto's
that is of course if that woodcarver
wore cherry red stilettos

I said, "Hey Nadia, waz for lunch?"
she turned and said, "Who's askin?"
I said, "C'mon I had a hunch
ya didden tink we're fastin!"

"No, shkoff," she cried. "Now break some bread!
My nonna is a queen."
we eat until we're over-fed
on knock, knock gnocch poutine

Today, let’s try another musical form — the ballad.

NaPoWriMo 24: Anagram Portrait

Edwin A. Robinson

adios renown nib
eonian snowbird
abed in rosin now
now sin, debonair
swoon, inn abider

obsidian renown
indonesian brow
aborn in wines, do
own brained ions
debonair in snow

seabird, win noon
win bread, onions
no inboard sinew
no obsidian wren
O! rawboned in sin

noon, rabid swine
band noisier now
band winier soon
rainbow dines on
bards, onion, wine

soon widen brain
brain wooed inns
own ideas inborn
inward be onions
inward be onions!

Edwin Arlington Robinson, three-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize, one of the great American poets few non-writers have ever heard of, wrote "Richard Cory"; he also wrote about awkward marginal folk who populated the Tilbury Town of his fabulous imagination.


April 2014

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Recent Posts

  1. NaPoWriMo 4: A Lune Tune
    Friday, April 04, 2014
  2. NaPoWriMo 3: charmed I'm sure
    Thursday, April 03, 2014
  3. The Trip to Echo Spring
    Wednesday, January 08, 2014
  4. NaPoWriMo 30: Reverse a short poem
    Tuesday, April 30, 2013
  5. NaPoWriMo 29: Five foreign words
    Monday, April 29, 2013
  6. NaPoWriMo 28: Pick a color
    Sunday, April 28, 2013
  7. NaPoWriMo 27: Proverb by Internet
    Saturday, April 27, 2013
  8. NaPoWriMo 26: Erasure poem
    Friday, April 26, 2013
  9. NaPoWriMo 25: Ballad
    Thursday, April 25, 2013
  10. NaPoWriMo 24: Anagram Portrait
    Wednesday, April 24, 2013


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