Friday, June 20, 2014

Olvyer Currant: a Novel in Verse


olyver currant: "to have a favorable wind"

Burlesque Press has published the first two sections of Olyver Currant, my first novel in verse. The final section, "Palm Sunday," was originally published at Strong Verse. Now you can read the entire novel online.

Follow the links to read Olyver Currant:

Part One: "Olyver Currant"

Our narrator withdraws from life as he recovers from the loss of his first love.
Told in twelve double sestinas: 2,700 lines: "si dentro impetrai"

Part Two: "Leaves"

Our narrator goes on an adventure with his friend Lisi only to discover the real reason for his journey.
Told in decasyllabics: approx 500 lines: "Love is a rose but you'd better not pick it..."

Part Three: "Palm Sunday"

Reconciled and delighted, our narrator and his wife await the birth of their first child.
Told in eight rhymed sestinas: 312 lines: "Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages, / And palmeres for to seken straunge strondes..."

Poem! Palm Sunday, originally at Strong Verse

Palm Sunday

Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licour
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
Whan Zephirus eek with his sweete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the Ram his half cours yronne,
And smale foweles maken melodye,
That slepen al the nyght with open ye
 (So priketh hem Nature in hir corages),
Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages,
And palmeres for to seken straunge strondes...

1 (Sunday)

Seven nights before the day of my birth
I am driving to the ocean, set free
from the cares and worries of spinning Earth.
My frenzied soul, through torment finally calm
I can, for the first time, begin to see
my ravaged face and the sweat on my palm.

The ocean, with driftwood, sea oats, and palm,
is ripe and heavy with the scent of birth;
the waves pour over me and I can see
the fishes, birds, and starlight dancing free,
playing underneath a sky that is calm.
Spreading out widely I enjoy this earth.

As the meteors rain on all the earth
I look at the now clean lines in my palm
and lay down in the sand. The sea, strangely calm,
touches my soles and the sky has no birth
of new stars tonight, but the winds blow free
with scents of change over the changeling sea.

I am silent and in my mind I see
Christ, Jesus, on his donkey, on the earth,
entering Jerusalem, feeling free,
smiling in wonder at the leaves of palm;
and I wonder about our coming birth;
when it is received, will I be as calm?

The ocean assures me, its motion calm;
purity flows in from across the sea
telling me this celebration of birth,
this rising to a new status on earth
is no more change than a crease in my palm,
and no less change than the spirit set free.

I think of the veil, rent to set us free,
disrupting everything, and am not calm.
My same rending, your body in my palm
and I in you, has allowed me to see
the beauty of everything on this earth
is perfect and wonderful through this birth.

A week before my birthday I am free,
touching the earth, expecting life with calm,
waiting to see if the child has my palm.

2 (Monday)

It is Monday, and there are things to do.
I have returned from the sea to be near
to your side, to the birth, to home; to you.
When I see you shining, I kiss your head,
missing you too much for one night, I fear.
You smile as I bring you breakfast in bed.

You say to me I am sick of this bed
I tell you that there's nothing we can do,
we can't allay or change the doctor's fear
that you need your rest as the birth draws near.
You sigh, smile, and nod your beautiful head;
I know what a pain this must be for you.

Trying to make this easier for you
I buy soft and silken sheets for our bed,
bring you down feather pillows for your head,
I ask is there anything I can do?
You tell me just be near me, just be near,
tell me you love me, there's nothing to fear.

I can't help but think of everyone's fear,
everything so close, thoughts of losing you
crowd in like lepers as the day draws near
and I can't save any from the death-bed.
I feel so helpless, there's nothing to do
except touch your hand, laugh, and kiss your head.

I wonder what direction we will head
as we bring in joy, forgetting all fear.
There are many things before then to do
and I can't spend every moment with you.
When I have to be away from our bed
I am glad that the birth is drawing near.

Now that the morning of our birth is near,
thoughts of my birthday fly far from my head.
I can only think of you, in our bed,
that everything will be fine. Have no fear
that, as I work, I do not think of you;
waking or sleeping, it's all that I do.

There is much to do now, with Easter near;
we say I love you, you lie down your head;
we've nothing to fear, I hold you in bed.

3 (Tuesday)

We sit, warm and naked in the water.
The water is hot, the bubbles are mild
as I wash you I think of our daughter,
the two of us becoming one,
think of how it will be to have a child
and if it will be a daughter or son.

Our skin is white from the Winter's pale sun,
wrinkled and pruned we stay in the water,
discussing the life and name of our child.
The name is an argument, and not mild.
We never agree on just the right one,
we'll fight for years if we have a daughter.

We have thirty-five names for a daughter
and eleven more if we have a son.
I wish we could decide on any one.
We are both pruny clean and the water
is starting to chill, but your touch is mild
and besides, water is good for the child.

I cannot believe we're having a child,
the wonder of holding our first daughter,
I'm singing peace on earth and mercy mild
in March! the joy of a child, of a son
or daughter! I kiss you in the water;
our happy family's increasing by one!

Straining for names for our daughter is won,
Joy! I exclaim if she is a girl child!
I'm so giddy I'm spilling the water
on the floor, but I don't care, our daughter
is named! Smiling you say I'll name our son.
Beaten, I concede, outsmarted and mild.

I have to keep myself sated and mild,
for I know that from eleven there is one
name and only one you want for our son:
Joshua will be his name if our child
is a boy, and Joy if she's a daughter.
Frustrated I get out of the water.

The water is cold and turbid and mild.
The fight for our daughter's name lost and won
by me. We know our child will be a son.

4 (Wednesday)

We dread the coming of your family,
the dull nagging of your mother.
I don't see why it can't be just us three,
you, me, the baby, or why your father
and mother have to make us feel smothered.
It's just all such a very large bother.

Your parent's gripes are my greatest bother,
I don't know where you got your family,
how growing up you weren't smothered
or how you breathe love, unlike your mother,
cold and angry woman, or your father
who drinks straight bourbon from three until three.

They are here now, and it is four, not three,
they just do not seem to want to bother
with our child; they are here for your father
and the warped feeling he calls family.
You will not speak to him or your mother
and I'm the one in the end who's smothered.

I tell you that I am feeling smothered,
you tell me that soon it will be us three
alone, happy and free without mother
or father or family to bother
us at all. You say we, our family,
will be perfect; you mother, me father.

You say that I'll make such a good father
and kiss me, at least our love's not smothered
by the thick presence of your family.
You tell your folks to leave at half past three,
you say that to have them here's a bother,
you give hotel numbers to your mother.

I say that you'll make such a good mother
and kiss you, waiting to be a father,
hoping that when I'm old I won't bother
our children, and won't make them feel smothered.
You laugh and say it will soon be us three.
We can always ignore my family.

A family! You my wife, his mother,
three of us! I get to be a father!
He won't be smothered, or be a bother.

5 (Thursday)

You and I sit down to eat our last meal;
you tell me you're beginning to get sick.
I say tell me if I can make you feel
better. You say I wish this were all done.
You are not eating, you just pick at the quick
of your nails and watch the blood start to run.

I get up from the table and I run
to the bathroom interrupting our meal;
I grab a band-aid to put on your quick,
you say that you are going to be sick
and I suppose that our supper is done.
I wish this was over is all I feel.

You lean over and I reach down to feel
your head. It is warm and I think you've run
a fever. You say this will soon be done
in-between the heaves of losing our meal.
You tell me slowly as you're being sick
that we should get to the hospital quick.

You say the contractions are coming quick
and all night you have been able to feel
them growing; the approach has made you sick
with anticipation. You tell me run
to the car, get ready, and bring our meal.
Soon now, all of this labor will be done.

Though the words of your speech are barely done,
I have already packed the car as quick
or more than lightning and have brought a meal
for you and for me, because you'll soon feel
better. I pause, but you tell me to run
and get a pan, you're going to be sick.

We're finally in the car. I feel sick
now, that all our waiting is over and done.
I'm flooring the car, but it will not run
any faster, though there is no speed quick
enough we can drive now to make me feel
safe. All you say is did you bring the meal?

I say I brought the meal, you say you're sick.
You say you feel we've left something undone,
but now quick to the hospital we run.

6 (Friday)

As we're reaching the hospital you cry,
the beginning of all your birthing pain
is too much; you say you're going to die
and you just want them to put you to sleep.
Then you see that your new dress has a stain;
this is all too much. You collapse and weep.

I tell you please darling try not to weep
but all you can do is shudder and cry,
while your ragged quick is leaving a stain
on your dimpled cheek. You cry out in pain
dammit! Just knock me out, put me to sleep!
You grab me and shout I'm going to die!

I tell you don't be silly, you won't die.
Be strong, just breathe, hold me, and please don't weep.
This will be over soon; then you can sleep.
You just wince and tell me there's too much pain.
You dig into my arm. You scream and cry.
Your nails pierce my arm. The blood leaves a stain

on my shirt. You say sorry about the stain.
Between gasps you scream you want me to die
for giving you all this torture and pain
and now I am the one starting to weep.
You say forgive me for making you cry.
On the table now they put you to sleep.

We say I love you as you fall to sleep;
our child comes out fine but the bloody stain
does not subside. Frantic and lost I cry
Father in Heaven, please don't let her die.
as the doctor walks up I start to weep.
Nothing he can say will erase this pain.

You, love, are no longer in any pain;
you've got your wish. You can finally sleep.
Wholly alone now, all I do is weep;
the sun is now rising but the midnight stain
of your death will not rise until I die.
I can't hold our child 'till Sunday. I cry.

I cry out to God for bringing this pain,
for letting you die, not letting me sleep;
I look at my shirt stain, break down, and weep.

7 (Saturday)

With one night before the day of my birth
you are gone and all the world is a dream
made dead. Nothing now has any worth.
My spirit has fled far beyond the pale
and driving into the evil night I scream
out. As I look up I see the stars fail.

The stars fail just as God in you did fail,
snatching sacrificial death from a birth;
exchanging your breath for our child's new scream.
I prick myself to pray this is a dream.
I see in the rearview my face is pale;
I hope that God knows how much you are worth.

I can never be repaid for the worth
of you. All attempts forever will fail,
anything in comparison will pale
to the bright hour in the skies of your birth.
You, my beloved, were my only dream.
As the engine's howl grows louder I scream.

I hope my voice is loud enough to scream
at God's face everything that you are worth
to me, how he has shattered our one dream,
how all life in me, as you, will now fail,
how I curse every moment since my birth,
how his chaotic order leaves me pale.

I see before me the moon, low and pale.
I hear the motor whine and the cold wind scream.
I remember this is a night of birth,
one day after our child came and all my worth,
you, my love, were stolen, and God did fail.
I vainly pray that this is all a dream.

I awake out of my horrific dream
to see my face, my shirt, my heart all pale;
I cannot run from this, I know I'll fail.
From four hundred miles I hear our child scream
and hope that with the sun's rising some worth
I'll finally see from this deadly birth.

Hours before and after birth, death, I dream:
I hold you, my worth, in the moonlight pale,
and then scream, for the dream can only fail.

8 (Sunday)

It is morning on the day of our son.
Holding him I can touch a part of you.
I am waiting to hold our little one,
or mine now rather, and I am not calm.
I start to cry, there's nothing I can do;
I wish you could wipe my tears with your palm.

I begin to dry my eyes with my palm
and as I blink the doctor brings our son.
I am not really sure now what to do.
I would be sure if I only had you
to guide me, comfort me, and make me calm.
Your eyes are shining in our little one.

I cannot believe we're no longer one,
torn from my touch and the sole of my palm,
you, now absent, you, eternally calm.
To you, everywhere, I hold up our son,
I say that I will love him more for you,
I say that he and I'll somehow make do.

I try to be strong, but nothing I do
can make me forget I am alone, one,
half of a soul, empty and without you.
Our child's hand fits snugly in my palm.
I can see your beauty in our bright son:
he is like the morning, silent and calm.

I do not notice that I in my calm
am no longer weeping. All that I do
is translated to joy now in our son.
You are not gone, your face and his are one.
You are in everything now, and my palm,
as it touches his soft face, touches you.

I will still never be whole without you
but the joy of our son can make me calm.
I feel triumphant, my streets lined with palm
and the wonder of you. All you and I do
or have done was meant to bring this small one
into the world; Joshua, our bright son.

By holding our son I can still hold you.
Joshua, our little one, is so calm,
he knows just what to do, clasping my palm.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Poem for Margaret on the last day of her first and only year.

Margaret

I don’t regret this year
of joy and pain, the laughter
stilled by silence. Though
I cannot know, I hope
that Love loves you and you
love those who live unbroken
but broken, holding each other
because we cannot hold you.

Pray for me, my daughter,
my Pearl, that I live through
these empty years to find
my family always loving
and life less cruel than kind.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Olyver Currant Serialized at Burlesque Press

The good folks at Burlesque Press are lovingly serializing one of my long poem: Olyver Currant, a 12-poem double-sestina (douzina?) cycle, that explores each month as our speaker recovers from the end of love.

Keep watch at Burlesque Press on Thursdays for updates:

January: "Airplanes rip bright, white wounds across the sky. . ."

February: "The moon will not be full this month. . ."

March: "Stony and broken, I taste the Spring."

April: "I run for shelter and the sunshine leaves."

May: "Time is God, the destroyer of all life. . ."

June: "The rains come now, every day, at four."

July: "Summer’s Hell is a caustic, boiling dream. . ."

August: ". . .the map of the world should no more be read. . ."

September: "Hurricanes have taken over the skies. . ."


Wednesday, May 21, 2014

What I'm Listening to: Ex-Ween (does he hate that?) frontman Freeman gives good song.

I like Ween. Do you?

You probably should. Chocolate and Cheese and 12 Golden Greats are two of the best albums of the 1990s.

I mean like they broke up a couple of years ago but apparently Aaron Freeman (Gene Ween) is dropping some new trax:

"The English and Western Stallion"

It's lyrically a bit goofy but sounds great. Looking forward to the rest of the work.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Poem! Olyver Currant: August at Burlesque Press

It is hot now, and it has been that way
for far too long; the days and nights each blend
into one tremendous strain of endless
drenching heat; I wish for the Summer to
end, finish itself in a fit of rain,
wind, and hurricane wiping Florida
from the cartographer’s hand, so the map
of the world should no more be read having
me at any point, latitude or line
of longitude that stretches across far
and vast reaches that are connected fast
by wires and words, where, if someone looked

they would not find me...

Read the rest at Burlesque Press!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Poem! Olyver Currant: June at Burlesque Press

The next installment of our speaker's journey is full of memories and rain and is yours for the reading at Burlesque Press:

The rains come now, every day, at four.
They tell me that you will be flying in soon,
for a wedding which we were to attend
together, stealing kisses inbetween
vows spoken and lost in the humid air
on empty ears. I will not be there, heat
and your presence are just too much for me
at the end of June, water threatening
with clockwork accuracy, clouds swooning
and black in the too blue sky, and hanging
thunderheads high, glinting golden shadows,
foreshadowing the lightning that will come.

read the rest here!

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

April is a Silly Month: A Twitter of Poems from #NPM14

I figured this year I should try my hand at daily writing on Twitter. Here are the results (with titles and edits and a few bonus poems):

April 1: National Poetry Month

April is a foolish month:
bleeding poetry for thirty days,
pretending calendars matter;
hoping to scatter verses
in masses to the masses.

April 2: A Pilgrim's Love Song

Mere doubt cows you
Fouled in fair skin
As if sin could rend
Or wend you away
From love. Still I pray this
Palmer's kiss is clear: stay.

April 3: 140 Characters of Fame

Were I famous
like @JamesFrancoTV,
I'd pen my poems
and folks'd read me.
But unknown
no one cares
so I write for free
and hope for shares.

April 4: Held in the Hue

I see
Through leaves
Traced lines
In vines
Of veins,
Green skeins
That shift
To lift
The light;
A rite
Not quite
Sacred
But led

By love.

April 5: A Generic and Substandard American Haiku Which Doesn't Really Have Anything To Do With the Japanese Tradition and Is Probably an Insult To It, If Not To All Of Poetry, But That's Okay Because I Know You've Felt This Way

8:30 A.M.
Saturday slumber ruined:
Hedge-trimming neighbors

April 6: Reality Tells a Vision

Desperate
Disparate
Housewives
Write lies
To husbands
Whose bends
Turn youth
From truth
To bills
And pills.
American't
Drama can.

April 7: Pertentatus Gratia Pertentati

There's no contention
In contention
When it's everyone's
Intention.
At some point
Defying convention
Becomes convention.

April 8: Ars Poetica

This ragged hangnail
fails here; the pencil
still rubs where words fall;
call the rollers: roll
stolen lines to steel
feelings into file.

April 9: Cynical and Calculated

(Poetry is important)-ra+e=
(Poetry is impotent)
ANS-im=
(Poetry is potent)
ANS/poet=
(try sin)
ANS+(line break)=
Try,
sin.

April 10 (somehow this one didn't make it over here): "On My Arrest" by Don Draper as Written by Gwendolyn Brooks

The fuzz
they was
the cause
of pause
my flaw
my buzz
and these
car keys.

April 11: Preparation

Spy specks
Flick flecks
Lift lint
Stare spent
Face face
Grieve grace
Dodge death
Breathe breath
Pick page
Seize stage

April 12: A Fascinating Exercise

My desk a mess,
I confess my best
Investments miss
What this insists:
Dark cysts of sense
Intense words pinch.
I inch my pen
Again to sing.

April 13: Kintsugi

When the form firms
to formality

When the dream dims
to reality

When the song sinks
to banality

Break it
but repair it

beautifully

April 14: Waiting For the Storm

breezes bat
wide window
screens sift silt
rich rivers
clouds carry
I spy sky's
meek meaning
know nothing
still searching

April 15: April, Still Cruel

Taxing to
keep climbing
Parnassus
as if class
were what you
wished for when
closed eyes kissed.

April 15 BONUS: It's Always Raining Here

Rain
Drain
Pain
Again
Pin
Skin
Down
Crown
Sound
Round
Hand
Banned
Man
Plan
Reign
Pain
Rain
Again

April 16: A Poem for Ashol-Pan

In Mongolia
a girl loves her eagle.
I wish my poems
had wings and claws
so you would love them.

April 17: Supplies

Playing with paperclips
like I was ten again:
friendless in an office,
bending something,
anything to my will.

April 18: Spring Lightning

Wet parking lot
Get barking hot
Let larking not
Jet harking got
Bet farking zot
Het jarking tot
Hzzzzkzzzgzzt

April 19: Broken Shells

Holidays
Are hard:
The shard
Of family,
The haze
Of pretended
Love
Is never
Enough.

April 20: The Good News

This is
Easter:
I still
miss her.

April 21: I Didn't Need Mick Jagger and Keith Richards to Tell Me This.

I saw him today
at the resurrection
my salvation
in his hands
I hoped we would make
a connection
but I couldn't
even stand.

April 22: Like Old Love

Swished memories
of your mouth
and our youth
will always tease
me when I look
at your Facebook.

April 22 BONUS but not really a poem: Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Poet

Poet
Poeterritory
Poeterrorist
Poeternal
Poetemporary
Poeterrrific
Poeterrible
Poetruth
Poetale
Poetimid
Poetemerarious
Poetenacious
Poetry

April 23: Given Half

 I wish that
You had long
Hair so when
I touched it
No one else
Would notice.

April 24: To the Celebrity Whose Book Sells Out

Film Flam
Poet-
Aster
Hipster
Huckster
Twitter
Twit. Your
Selfies
Show how
Shallow
We are.

April 24 BONUS: Moby Dick

Whales are awesome
Life is confusing
Catching whales is hard work
My boss is a jerk.

April 24 BONUS II: ELECTRIC BOOGALOO: Is Poetry an Art or an Attitude?

I'm scared for
Poetry 
becoming
nothing more
than pobiz:
an in-joke
everyone 
laughs at but 
not with.

April 25: The Poet Dreams of You

Tea-colored thoughts
spin arabesques
about my desk
and what I ought
to do is not
what they suggest.

April 26: Stop Expecting Poems to Replace Experience, #NPM14 (for Anthony Robinson)

At the sea
I see waves
Like something,
Something else,
And birds too.

April 27: Missing the Hallmark

Fresh flowers I found
alive in the ground
then killed them for you
and dumped them into
your favorite vase
to brighten your face.

April 28: I'm Reduced From Life to Verse

How long was I hungry
before I knew love?
I'm still starving
but smiling
here with
you.

April 29: Because Philosophers and Neuroscientists Agree We Only Understand Things Metaphorically

I'm bound
to write
around
the truth.

April 30: Always Be Writing

There is no time
to create. Kill
the calendars
and plow their bones
into poems.
Verse's season
is always now.

#NPM14: Poem! Final Day: Always Be Writing.

Always Be Writing

There is no time
to create. Kill
the calendars
and plow their bones
into poems.
Verse's season
is always now.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

#NPM14: Day 29 Poem!

Because Philosophers and Neuroscientists Agree We Only Understand Things Metaphorically

I'm bound
to write
around
the truth.

Monday, April 28, 2014

#NPM14: Day 28: Poem! I'm Reduced from Life to Verse

I'm Reduced From Life to Verse

How long was I hungry
before I knew love?
I'm still starving
but smiling
here with
you.

#NPM14: Day 27 (make-up) a Poem about Flowers

Fresh flowers I found
alive in the ground
then killed them for you
and dumped them into
your favorite vase
to brighten your face.

#NPM14

#NPM14 Day 26: Poem! Stop Expecting Poems to Replace Experience, #NPM14

Stop Expecting Poems to Replace Experience, #NPM14

At the sea
I see waves
Like something,
Something else,
And birds too.

Friday, April 25, 2014

#NPM14: Day 25 Poem! The Poet Dreams of You

The Poet Dreams of You

Tea-colored thoughts
spin arabesques
about my desk
& what I ought
to do is not
what they suggest.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Sad Men Slamming Doors: Mad Men Season Seven: A Day's Work

Sad Men Slamming Doors: A Day’s Work Ends With Hope


There. That was nice, wasn’t it? In an episode full of slamming doors it was good to close one with hope.  Actually, pretty much everybody in this episode ended things well.

You know, except for Peggy (1)

But let’s forget about the gloomy masturbator (2) for a few hundred words and focus on happier themes.

Pretty much everyone is saying that “A Day’s Work” is the best episode since Season Five (3). While I’m inclined to disagree with regard to the “since” (4), I’ll agree it’s a great episode.

Part of what makes everyone say it’s great is that it has so many feel-good vibrations, especially after “Time Zones” ended so bleakly. Great things happen:  we see Dawn helping Don. Pete and Bonnie seem to be happy. Shirley, Dawn, and Joan all get promotions in status if not in pay. Sally and Don reconcile.  But sunshine and rainbows don’t themselves make for great television, they make for “feel-good” television and “A Day’s Work” is by far the happiest episode of Mad Men (5).

An episode of only bubblegum and lollipops wouldn’t be worth watching. What makes “A Day’s Work” great is how it balances all that good with often subtle bad and some obvious trouble and slamming doors (6) that turn into opportunities.

Speaking of trouble. . .

We start with Don in disrepair but lucky for him, Dawn comes at night to fix him up. We can be a bit worried that he’s paying Dawn (she certainly is) but I think it’s lazy to equate every transaction that involves Don, women, and cash with prostitution. This is a nice continuation of Don freezing on the porch just three weeks prior (7).

Then Sally & Co are discussing her roommate’s dead mother—another kind of closed door. Sally makes a funny joke about wanting Betty dead (8) and we wonder what’s happened to their relationship in the five months between the smoking car ride of October 1968 and February 1969 (9).

Meanwhile in California, Bonnie and Pete are getting their freak on atop some paperwork when Ted slips by to say good night. I’m not sure if this scene was hilarious or weird or both. Either way, Ted doesn’t give a shit about anything.
You tell ‘em, Teddy!

Back in New York, Peggy forgets it’s Valentine’s Day and then steals Shirley’s roses. Roger tries to joke with Lou Avery but you can’t joke with an idiot (10).

Sally & Co are on a train, dishing about shopping instead of funerating and Sally realizes she’s lost her purse with her address book in it. If she doesn’t have that, she can’t call Glen to beat the crap out of kids who try to make fast moves on her. Can’t have that at all (11).

Then we are treated to the Dawn & Shirley show (12) with the darkly comic misapplication of names, hinting at their co-workers’ collective inability to tell them apart.
Hint to workers at SC&P: Shirley dresses better (13).

I’d like to note here that Dawn is right. If Shirley didn’t immediately say that the flowers were hers then she should have never said anything.  If your boss claims something and you don’t take it back right away, you’re kind of SOL.

After this is a great scene sandwich. Don and Dave Wooster are having a bit of lunch (14) and Sally goes to find daddy at the office. Oops. Remember how I wondered back in the first “Sad Men” if Don had told anyone about his work situation? Guess he hadn’t. I mean who was going to find out, right? It’s not like his daughter who got suspended from boarding school for buying booze was going to sneak away for a jaunt in NYC, right?

So Sally, unable to find her purse or a good way home, discovers Lord Lou the Ignorant in her dad’s office and tries her hand at some epic Betty Hofstadt Draper Francis bitchface:
I said "Don. Draper. Bitch."

Only to be shot down when she realizes Don isn’t there. Then Joan’s not there either and Lou starts the aforementioned slamming of doors (15).

Back to lunch with an unsuspecting Don who is surprised by Jim Hobart who, always wanting to add to his collection, wants to know if Don is taking lunches (16). He’s not but Hobart pays anyway.

We’re briefly treated to an escalation in the misadventures of Petty Peggy before retiring to the bicoastal partner’s meeting. Pete, like always, gets shut down even when he’s right. This time it’s because Bob Benson is Jim Cutler’s man and Jim Cutler is scheming for complete control of SC&P (17). Roger blows up, Joan storms off, and Bert looks like he’s on death’s door (18). The simmer has begun.

Don finds Sally in his apartment where she catches him in a lie but doesn’t call him out on it because that would be even more embarrassing. Instead she instructs him to “just tell the truth” on her excused absence note. Luckily, Dawn saves the day (again) with a heads-up phone call.

Unfortunately, this phone call and Dawn’s loyalty to Don in general, brings down the wrath of Lord Lou who, not missing a racist beat (19) casts Dawn into the darkness and takes time to get snippy with a partner (20).

Not wanting to give us respite from upset, we go back to California where Pete tells off Roger (21) who has already hung up and then waxes philosophical (22) to an entirely indifferent Ted who delivers the best terrifying line of the show so far: “just cash the checks; you’re gonna die one day.”

In a lovely bit of vengeance, Joan assigns “Mind of a child” Meredith to Lou and puts Dawn up front as the face of SC&P.

Don and Sally are driving up to her school and have perhaps the best verbal exchange of Mad Men. It’s set off by the Turtle’s song “Elenore (23),” specifically the lines from the chorus: “can I take the time / to ask you to speak your mind.” Speak her mind Sally does:
“Do you know how hard it was for me to go to your apartment? I could have run into that woman. I could be in the elevator; she could get in and I’d have to stand there wanting to vomit while I smelled her hairspray.”
This is in response to the most unfair thing Don has ever said to anyone, let alone Sally: “just like your mother.” He is broken by this reply. All he can do is apologize. Sally tells him to stop talking and Kiki Shipka pulls this scene off with perfect anger and disgust. I’d watch it more times just for her acting if it weren’t so hard to watch. In fact, I’d be tempted to make the argument that this scene, along with the rest of “A Day’s Work” (24) is the climax of Mad Men. Not the most exciting part (that’s not a climax anyway) but the most important part. Everything afterwards is likely to be denouement (25). This confrontation between father and daughter is what breaks Don so that he can be healed.

Not to be outdone in brokenness, Peggy lets her confrontation with Shirley get the better of her (see the second picture), Cooper notices that there’s (gasp) a negro working at reception (the horror!), and Pete, facing redundancy, tries unsuccessfully to distract Bonnie from her work (26). Ever full of light, Bonnie gets another great line in an episode of great lines: “our fortunes are in other people’s hands and we have to take them” (27).

Then we’re taken back in structure to our previous scene sandwich of food, SC&P, and back to food. Sally and Don are at a diner (28) and Don is desperately trying to fix what may be irreparable damage. He does this by telling the truth and as a result he and Sally have one of the show’s most open and frank conversations (29).

Then we go to the heart of SC&P: Joan’s office. Bert knocks, Peggy bursts in, and Jim knocks. They all want something different but only Jim’s request makes Joan pause.
Back at the diner, after Sally ditches her friend for her dad, Don makes a great joke about doing a dine and ditch (30) which makes Sally smile for once.

The final three scenes are all scenes of triumph but only two are scenes of hope.

The first is the glorious reshuffling of ¾ of the great ladies of SC&P (sorry Moira and like, um, the other ones): Shirley becomes a more important secretary, Joan gets her own office in accounting and Dawn becomes head of personnel (31). What on earth is Bert Cooper going to think of that?
Note: Dawn does not care what he thinks.

To keep a lid on all that joy and hope dawning (32) in SC&P, we get to see the elevator ride between Roger and Satan—I mean Jim Cutler. I’d like to take a moment to glory in the costuming here:
Roger has a grey coat and suit; Jim has a blue coat and suit. Roger wears no glasses; Jim does. Roger has a patterned tie and vest; Jim has a solid-colored tie with a clip. Roger has a point collar; Jim has a wide collar. Roger has a scarf; Jim doesn’t. Roger has regular cuffs; Jim has French cuffs. Roger has a black hat he is wearing; Jim has a grey hat he is holding. Roger has a pointy nose and white hair; Jim has a blunt nose and brown hair.The coats are different styles. Even the hats are different styles. Jim has a fedora and Roger has a Homburg which is the fanciest had one could get away with wearing in public at the time. These two men couldn’t be presented as being any more dissimilar. But we know that. What makes the scene is Jim turning to Roger and saying “I’d hate to think of you as an adversary. I’d really hate that.” That is some cold dinner, man. Cutler reminds me of the guy in the Godfather trilogy who killed a wiseguy with his glasses. I wouldn’t want him to consider me an adversary either. In that scene Roger is both surprised and a bit scared. But what can he do (33)?

Finally we are back to the car with Sally and Don. They pull up to Miss Minchin’s Boarding School for Naughty Rich Girls and Don wants to make sure everything is okay. It’s a fairly standard exchange and you can see in Don’s face that he’s worried he’s blown everything. Until Sally turns around and says the best line in all of Mad Men: “Happy Valentine’s Day. I love you.”
Don’s face in response is perfect:
That’s a man who just found out he hasn’t lost everything. A man of hope.

The only question that really remains is will Mad Men end with landing on the moon or the massacre at Kent State? Hope or despair? What measure of each?

Old and new predictions:

Old business:
1: Sally showed up. She was fabulous.
2: No Megan. Ah well.
3: Bert showed his death-mask of a face.
4: Nothing going down here. Peggy’s gotta reach out to someone, though.
5: Lou’s still around, the bum.

New business:
1: It’s time for some Francis family drama. I foresee yelling.
2: Don will get some offers of real employment: SC&P or elsewhere.
3: Some LA stuff will happen and we’ll probably see Megan.
4: Harry will screw the pooch in a big way.
5: Margaret Sterling Hargrove and Roger’s house of orgies will reappear.

Endnotes

1: First of all: SAD BOW! Second: this is a throwback to the penultimate scene from last week’s “Time Zones.” But instead of crying, Petty—I mean Peggy—is head-bashingly mad at herself for overreacting to Shirley’s faux pas (and really, Shirley—tell the boss they’re your flowers when she takes them or don’t tell her at all). Can “Not That Girl” catch a break in 1969? Also: did you notice That Girl playing at Don’s apartment? Boo yeah!

2: What the actual fuck, Michael Ginsberg? Rude!

3: Which had the best episode of the series (and perhaps all of television) so far: “Far Away Places.”

4: “The Quality of Mercy” is very good and everyone who hates on Season 6 in general and Sylvia Rosen in specific has no idea what they’re complaining about.

5: Unless, of course, your name is Peggy Olson.

6: I don’t have time to look right now but how many doors had been slammed on Mad Men prior to “A Day’s Work”? It seemed to be a pretty clear motif, what with the modular walls shaking and everything.

7: The roach was a bit much. We get it.

8: Where is January Jones as Betty? There’s only so much love we can get on her Instagram.

9: For one: we know that Don not only showed his kids the brothel where he grew up but told at least Sally the truth about who he was (revealed at the end of “A Day’s Work” when he tells Sally he didn’t say anything to the Hershey people she didn’t already know—good for you, Don!).

10: Seriously, the internet tells me they killed this guy. Can’t we drop Lou out of a window or something? Isn’t Manolo Colon available?

11: Too bad Sally didn’t have a smartphone or something.

12: Yes, I will also watch this inevitable spin-off along with Peggy’s Apartment or whatever.

13: Is it me or were Coffee-Mate and Sweet’n Low everywhere Dawn was this episode? I don’t even know what to begin to make of that. Both products were over a decade old by 1969. I suppose it could go along with her advice to Shirley: “keep pretending; that’s your job” but I wouldn’t say for sure.

14: Of course they can’t hire Don, can they? Not unless SC&P is dumb enough to fire him—note: Jim Cutler: not that dumb. It’s worth paying Don’s salary to keep other firms from using him.

15: How hard is this, Lou? “Your dad’s not here right now. He’s working on several projects outside of the building and I’m using his office for the moment. Let me get him on the phone for you. Do you want a sandwich?” Jeez.

16: Do your research Jim. If Don’s not an actual millionaire, he’s pretty close by now.

17: Even though his initials are JC, I’m pretty sure Cutler is the Devil.

18: Speaking of initials, did you ever notice that his are “B.C.”?

19: Though the relevant Civil Rights Act had been around for five years at this point, it wasn’t really until the CRA of 1968 (and, ironically to us younguns, the Nixon administration) that such laws really took hold of the public consciousness.

20: I mean it’s just Joan, right? What can she do?

21: Note: Pete is right.

22: The bit about being dead is an old saw for Mad Men.

23: The story of the creation of “Elenore” is pretty fantastic.

24: Specifically the ascendency of the working women in the show.

25: That doesn’t mean it’s going to be boring, you know.

26: Does Bonnie like this little distraction? We know she likes Pete.

27: She says, with two handfuls of Campbell ass.

28: Though I noticed it when Don and Sally were at the apartment, it’s easier to point out now: they match perfectly:
Sally:

Don:

Father and Daughter:


Their grays match. Their blacks match. Even the gold in Don’s tie matches Sally’s jewelry and hair. As always, Janie Bryant is incredible.

29: Can you make a mountain out of the molehill of Don looking down and to his left when he says “of course I do” in response to Sally asking if he still loves Megan? Of course you can!

30: To the internet dummies who thought the $5 Don pulled out of his wallet wouldn’t cover the tab, remember that $5 then is about $35 today. That’s not only paying the bill—it’s leaving a good tip.

31: If there are any labor historians out there who can answer this question, I’d like to know how radical Dawn’s status would be: a black head of personnel at a large New York white-owned company.

32: I will not apologize for that pun.

33: During the conference call scene Bert and Joan give similar looks when Jim refers to Don as their “collective ex-wife.” One assumes that the old guard fully intended to bring Don back and Jim’s attitude is the first they’re considering he isn’t coming back.

#NPM14: Day 24: Poem! To the Celebrity Whose Book Sells Out

To the Celebrity Whose Book Sells Out:

Film Flam
Poet-
Aster
Hipster
Huckster
Twitter
Twit. Your
Selfies
Show how
Shallow
We are.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

#NPM14: Thirteen Ways of Looking At a Poet

Poet
Poeterritory
Poeterrorist
Poeternal
Poetemporary
Poeterrrific
Poeterrible
Poetruth
Poetale
Poetimid
Poetemerarious
Poetenacious
Poetry

#NPM14 Day 22: Poem! Like Old Love

Like Old Love

Swished memories
of your mouth
and our youth
will always tease
me when I look
at your Facebook.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Sad Men

I've been writing a series I'm calling Sad Men on Mad Men's final season. The first two were published at  Trop where I'll be writing a monthly column on TV. Please enjoy, share, and discuss!

I'll update this post when each article appears.

Post one, Overview: "Selling Mad Men"

Placing Mad Men in modern American culture.

Post two, Episode One: "Sad(der) Men: 'Time Zones'"

A critical recap, with a focus on music and Peggy.

#NPM14 Poems! Days 18-21

You can always catch these poems live on Twitter!

Day 18:

Spring Lightning

Wet parking lot
Get barking hot
Let larking not
Jet harking got
Bet farking zot
Het jarking tot
Hzzzzkzzzgzzt

Day 19:

Holidays
Are hard
The shard
Of family
The haze
Of pretended
Love
Is never
Enough.

Day 20:

This is
Easter:
I still
miss her.

Day 21:

I Didn't Need Mick Jagger and Keith Richards to Tell Me This.

I saw him today
at the resurrection
my salvation
in his hands
I hoped we would make
a connection
but I couldn't
even stand.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Poem! Olyver Currant: April at Burlesque Press

View the entire 12-part series as it is published at Burlesque Press!

April is the cruellest month, its rainstorms
bleed and mix cold earth with warm rain, churning
dead soil to create bright new life, growing
strong and furious with Spring’s impatience,
prying the sleeping dead from their stone homes,
thunderstorms fixing the air with changes
wrought by flashes of brilliant golden lights
that tear their way through the green of trees,
sparking deep golden flames that sizzle loud
with the falling, pounding, malicious rain,
broken up, cold and hot, by the sun’s shine,
illuminating the manuscript leaves

read the rest!

#NPM14: Poem! Day 17: Supplies

From my NPM series on Twitter:

Supplies

Playing with paperclips
like I was ten again:
friendless in an office,
bending something,
anything to my will.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

#NPM14 Day 16: Poem! A Poem for Ashol-Pan

As always, you can follow the poems on Twitter!
HT to Ernest Hilbert of E-Verse Radio & William Kremer & Asher Svidensky & Ashol-Pan


A Poem for Ashol-Pan

In Mongolia
a girl loves her eagle.
I wish my poems
had wings & claws
so you would love them.


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

#NPM14: Day 15 Poem! "April: Still Cruel"

A poem for tax day:

April: Still Cruel

Taxing to
keep climbing
Parnassus
as if class
were what you
wished for when
closed eyes kissed

#NPM14 Day 14 Poem!

Posting today but wrote yesterday on Twitter; I think I'm going to reline the poor thing one day:

breezes bat
wide window
screens sift silt
rich rivers
clouds carry
I spy sky's
meek meaning
know nothing
still searching

Monday, April 14, 2014

#NPM14: Day 13 (catch up) Poem!

Untitled on Twitter because of character limits.

Kintsugi

When the form firms
to formality

When the dream dims
to reality

When the song sinks
to banality

Break it
but repair it

beautifully

#NPM14 Day 12 (make up) Poem!

I rather like this one. Working with the limitations of Twitter is a fascinating exercise.

My desk a mess
I confess my best
Investments miss
What this insists:
Dark cysts of sense
Intense words pinch
I inch my pen
Again to sing.

Mad Men 7: Post 01: Broken Peggy: She's not That Girl

It ain't Diamonds and Daisies for Peggy Olson, y'all.

Look at this picture:


Peggy's all fresh and lovely in her cute powersuit. Does she look familiar? She ought to.
She's "That Girl":


Now this is 1969, January 20th to be exact, so That Girl has been on TV for three years. We know Peggy watches it. That's the image she's giving off here. Girl about the world, high on life, joydeeveevree, all that jazz.

But Peggy knows a lot of things that ain't so. She's stuck with this jerk of a boss (please, please, please get rid of this cardigan wearing jackass by episode two, preferably in Bert Peterson fashion) and everyone she's ever loved: Don, Pete, Ted, Abe: all gone. She's alone as an incapable landlord in an undesirable part of town, pretending she knows what she's doing. While I'll admit that sounds a bit like this show (and Peggy could really use a competent Super), the whole point of dressing Peggy up like Marlo Thomas is to let us know that she doesn't have it going on. If we haven't picked up on that by the end of the episode, Weiner & Co let us know:

 
Here's Peggy, broken and alone in a scene that makes Janie Bryant cry. What this season will hold for Don, Pete, and Peggy is a bit unclear. We know Pete seems happy in California. Don seems happy back at work (even though he's Cyrano). Peggy is miserable. How will all of that change? How will these folks learn to live with who they are by the end of the 14th episode? Will they? Can they?

Do they have time to improve their lives?

Friday, April 11, 2014

#NPM14 Day 11: Poem! Preparation

from Twitter

Preparation

Spy specks
Flick flecks
Lift lint
Stare spent
Face face
Grieve grace
Dodge death
Breathe breath
Pick page
Seize stage

#NPM14

Thursday, April 10, 2014

#NPM14: Poems I Teach: Sumo by Gabriel Spera

Check out Gabriel Spera's work!

Sumo

Such a figure must confound and torment
the shrewdest tailor. Better simply to go swaddled
in next to nothing, a loin cloth, a bath garment.
And forget shoes--that pendulous waddle

would defeat them. Even the flagstones seem depressed
by their near failure, and benches sulk
beneath those buttocks, exuberantly fleshed.
What fool would hurl his will against such bulk?

To try is to be rebuked, repulsed, mocked
as something trifling, a mere pinch, a penny's worth,
deluded to believe oneself a man of stock
and substance without such gravitas, such girth.

Will those limbs find rest in any spot?
Do they even build bedframes so vast, so strong?
How does one person grow so huge? Ah, but she’s not
one person, now is she. Not quite. Not for long.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

#NPM14: Poetry is Important: How to Teach It

Before you commit to reading 2,200 words on how and why to teach poetry, this is way teaching poetry looks in my class:
  • The students sit at their tables to find page with a poem in front of them. 
  • At the bottom of the page, there are a few questions about either form, sound, or image. 
  • I read the poem to them.
  • Then I give them 8 minutes to talk with their group and fill out the answers to the questions.
  • Then they get up and go to another table with a different set of questions and get another 8 minutes to answer questions. 
  • Finally they move to the third set of questions.
  • After they've answered the questions on their own paper we discuss the poem in the light of the questions.
Interested? Read on!

I don't know if you've seen it but there's an impotent article over at The Atlantic titled "Why Teaching Poetry is So Important".

It's impotent because 1) the author doesn't actually teach poetry to high school students (or anyone) and 2) he doesn't give you a bit of an idea how you should go about doing this, though he at least tells you why you should. Let's start there, shall we?
Poetry enables teachers to teach their students how to write, read, and understand any text. Poetry can give students a healthy outlet for surging emotions. Reading original poetry aloud in class can foster trust and empathy in the classroom community, while also emphasizing speaking and listening skills that are often neglected in high school literature classes.
This meshes very well with the thoughts of those crazy standardized testers over at The College Board:
Readers of the AP English Literature and Composition Exam continue to believe that close readings of poetry in AP classes--in teachers' presentations, in class discussion, in students' group presentations, in written assignments, and on exams--are the single best preparation for success, not only on Question 1 specifically and the AP Exam generally, but also in college course work.
Philosophically, both Mary Midgely (Science and Poetry) and Iain McGilchrist (The Master and his Emissary) would tell us that poetry exists to help us make sense of our vision of and relationship to the world. Surely children and adults alike need this skill. For a continual updating of the ways that poetry improves us on a mental and physical level, just keep up with Helen Mort's blog: Poetry on the Brain.

So yeah, teaching poetry is important. But most teachers (like Mr. Andrew Simmons) have no clue how to teach poetry. Imma learn y'all:

1) Teach poetry. Decide to teach poetry and teach it. That may sound stupid and obvious but we've got to start somewhere. You're a teacher of literature. Literature is poetry, prose, and drama. Where do you get off neglecting one third of literature? What kind of teacher are you, anyway?

2) Find poetry. Do you have poems you loved once? They're probably on line. Use them. Print them out for the kids. Make them look them up on their smartphones. If you don't know where to start or want to see an example, check out the site I use for my classes here. It's got contemporary (21st century) as well as canonical poetry.

3) Recite poetry. Not a confident reader? I find that hard to believe because you're a teacher but PRACTICE and become one! Even adults enjoy hearing "high language well-spoken." Kids love it. But give them the text so they can read along as you're reciting the lovely words. And make sure you know how to pronounce "concupiscent" when you read them "The Emperor of Ice Cream."

4) Discuss poetry. Here's where folks get terrified. And here's where I'm going to spend the bulk of this post.

Let's get some things straight: poetry is not in need of a secret decoder ring. Everything that you need to know is in the poem. Now, what poetry doesn't have time for that prose always does is context. If there is an allusion to Athena or, Homer help you, Astarte, you're probably going to need to look that up for the kids (or better, have them look it up--they're all carrying the Library of Alexandria in their pockets--make them use it for something more than snapchat and plagiarism). That's okay. Poets are always going around assuming that folks know what they know because what they're trying to do is evoke emotion in the audience. Sometimes you've got to build background knowledge. Poets aren't generally writing for children. But all that means is that, sometimes, to love poems you've got to learn more. Learning is great!

I would caution you, however, from giving too much information. No one needs to know Sylvia Plath and John Berryman committed suicide to understand and love their poems; let the kids find that out later. You're teaching poetry, not The Lives of the Poets. Stick to the words.

Finally, assume that everything the poet did was on purpose and contributes to the meaning of the poem. Students often balk at this. Even poets sometimes do. I prove my point through music. I play the kids a minor chord progression on my guitar and ask them how it sounds. They say sad. Then I play a major chord progression and ask the same. They say happy. I ask them why this is so. They have no idea other than "that's how it sounds." I tell them that poets work in the same way. Words and structures and images "read sad" or "read happy," etc. An excellent poet (and of course, all the poets we teach are excellent poets, aren't they?) either consciously or instinctually uses these constructions to evoke the emotion they intend to in the poem. So even if the poet isn't saying "I'm going to use this image because it is sad" that is what they are doing because they're good at their art. So it is on purpose.  This is an easy and quick lesson to teach and you absolutely must teach it. Tell the students to take each poem on good faith that it is a great poem and something worth studying. That's just a good attitude to have.

So once we're comfortable with the idea that sometimes you've got to look up vocabulary words or allusions in poetry, we can forge ahead with how to discuss poetry in the classroom.

Poetry has three dimensions: Form, Sound, and Image. Discuss poetry in these terms. This is how a discussion can go:

1) You've picked a poem, given it out, and read it to the class, giving them the allusion/vocabulary knowledge they need to understand the poem.

2) Ask them what they think the poem is "about." That is, ask them something along these lines:
What's the theme?
What's the emotion the poet is trying to convey?
Why does the poet want us to read this poem?
What does the poet want us to know or understand?
While there are absolutely wrong answers, there can be more than one "theme" or a variation of said "theme" in a poem. Students might say "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" is about the terror of social anxiety or the exhaustion of being around uninteresting people or about the dangers of escaping into fantasy. All of these are good themes for Prufrock. What they say and how they say it isn't nearly important as the fact that they are making statements about the poem and that these statements make sense.

3) Ask them about the form of the poem. I'm not talking about meter. Don't expect them to know the first thing about prosody if you haven't taught it to them. In fact, you probably don't ever need to go into the mechanics of meter unless you're really giving them the full Monty. But if you yourself are uncomfortable with prosody, you can start here.

Ask questions like these, following each one with "how" and "why" and always point the discussion back to your "essential question: how do each of these things add to the experience of the poem (discussed above in point 2):
What does the poem look like on the page? 
That is, is it "skinny and on the left"? Is it a prose poem? Does it look like what it's talking about? For instance: E.E. Cummings' grasshopper poem jumps all over the page; the stanzas of "The Red Wheelbarrow" look like tiny wheelbarrows. "Mending Wall" is itself a wall of text.
Is it in stanzas or strophes?
Stanzas are groups of lines that are consistent in number (couplets, tercets, quatrains, etc.). Strophes are lines separated by spaces that are not consistent in number.
Does it use enjambment?
Enjambment, besides being an awesome word, is the breaking of meaning over more than one line of poetry. Most poems do this and frequently the result is awesome. "The Lifeguard" by James Dickey is a master class in enjambment but all you have to do is see how he breaks the meaning with the broken child in the final two lines to understand why enjambment gets its very own question.
Is it in a fixed or regular structure?
While kids don't necessarily need to know their trochaic trimeters from their iambic hexameters, they should probably be able to recognize sonnets, villanelles, sestinas, ballad stanzas, terza rima, and the like. A great example of why this matters is how Frost uses terza rima to evoke the bleakness of Dante's Inferno in his sonnet "Acquainted With the Night."

4) Ask them about the sound of the poem, using questions like this, following up with how and why, and always returning to a discussion of the overall theme:
Does it use rhyme? 
Internal? End? Slant? Please tell your students about slant rhyme. If you don't know what this means, read "Blackberry Picking" by Seamus Heaney or 428 by Emily Dickinson or "A Whippoorwill in the Woods" by Amy Clampitt or "Here" by Philip Larkin or "Easter" by Jill Alexander Essbaum.
Does it use repetition?
Repetition is for emphasis. Repetition comes in alliteration, both assonance and consonance; the repetition of phonemes (rhyme); the repetition of words, the repetition of phrases, and repetition of repetition. Sylvia Plath is the queen of repetition and "Daddy" is a pile of fun to teach.
Does it sound pretty or ugly?
I use the terms "cacophonic or euphonic" because they are awesome words but the point in asking is to get the students to think about why the poem sounds one way or another and how that reinforces the poem itself.

 5) Ask them about the images in the poem. It should be stated first that, in literature, an image is a concrete representation of a sensory impression, feeling, or idea. It's not just daffodils and pretty girls. Using questions like this, following up with how and why, and always returning to a discussion of the overall theme:
What are the images in the poem?
Again, this may seem like an obvious question, but it gets the students thinking about what's right there on the page. Don't worry about "unpacking" the images yet. Just have them answer what's there and why.
Which image is most meaningful, striking, or important to you? 
While Mr. Keating overstates this by a mile in Dead Poets Society and there absolutely is such a thing as a bad or wrong answer, it is still important that students engage in analysis on a personal level and knowing you're going to ask this question in advance forces the students to do so.

Like I said, this is way teaching poetry looks in my class:

  • The students sit at their tables and there's a poem in front of them. 
  • There are a few questions about form, sound, or image at the bottom of the page. Each table has questions about one of the three. 
  • I read the poem to them.
  • Then I give them 8 minutes to talk with their group and fill out the answers to questions that are very much like the ones above.
  • Then they get up and go to another table with a different set of questions and get another 8 minutes to answer questions. 
  • Finally they move to the third set of questions.
  • After they've answered the questions on their own paper we discuss the poem in the light of the questions.

You don't have to have them get up and move but I find it keeps them thinking about one aspect of the poem at a time.

This method has been incredibly successful. After modeling this method for a few poems, I've had seventeen-year-olds who have I-am-serious-never-before-they-got-to-my-class-analyzed-poetry understand and intelligently talk about Canto 1 from Paradiso and "The Emperor of Ice Cream" and "Morning Song" with little-to-no prompting on my part, other than frontloading some historical information, allusions, and vocabulary.  And with every poem they analyze their reading skills, both analytic and epicurean, markedly improve, even to the point where kids who groaned at the prospect of reading poetry in August look forward by September to reading new poems.

#NMP14 Poem! Day 9

Gettin' a little crazy for Number Nine Number Nine Number Nine Number Nine Number Nine Number Nine Number Nine:

(Poetry is important)-ra+e=
(Poetry is impotent)
ANS-im=
(Poetry is potent)
ANS/poet=
(try sin)
ANS+(line break)=
Try,
sin. 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

#NPM14: Poems I teach: Thick as Thieves by Emily O'Neill

Because oh God yes.

Thick as Thieves

You fall asleep in the middle of a party.
Not an invitation to most girls, but I buckle
under the weight of stillness. Hover. One stolen
moment given wings. Would’ve been easier keeping
sunlight on my tongue than not touch. You,
Puck spilling flowers into eyes. Call the beginning
apple core. Beneath that beard-softened jaw,
a clutch of teeth. You are still unbruised: what
the snake gave, the one I dream most often, doorway
in my sleep. A dare rises in our throats. I cast a girl off a cliff,
skin the neighbor’s cat, leave my scarf at the bar, handprints
on your car’s hood, fingers hooked in each buttonhole.

The dream shifts—weather strips the tree line, each limb an avenue
of blood. We run though corn on bare city feet, syrup season
long gone, die naked as the branches. You kiss me under
Dickinson’s window—the Amherst spook blushes waxed,
sacred as sin. Only place I still find you naked,
sleep. That cruel tyrant feast: rich, rotting.
Before I can eat, some will spoil. How can I
wrap you in lip like a secret? You change
from a plug of tobacco to a skipping
rock to a handful of seed. The places you’re harbored
spin through me like a zoetrope. You are not a man
but an idea, a flicker. I am a silly young thing
asking after answers. The trees remind me of nothing
when they bloom. We abandon fire like criminals.

#NPM14: Poem! Day Eight

An Ars Poetica for National Poetry Month.

See 'em born on Twitter!

This ragged hangnail
fails here; the pencil
still rubs where words fall;
call the rollers: roll
stolen lines to steel
feelings into file.

Monday, April 7, 2014

#NPM14: Poem: Trebuchet originally at Loch Raven Review

Hi folks! Here's a poem that appeared back in 2006 at Loch Raven Review. Enjoy!

Trebuchet

What castle rises bone above black bone
from solar fields of wheat and barley-grain
where poor men flee the breath of wars that hone
their great white teeth on profit, death, and pain?

What tower climbs the hill with such a glow
that peasants, blinded by its brilliant rays,
grope naked-armed in valleys far below
where darkness falls to greyness for their days?

What wall impregnable stands around the world
with stretching arms that span from sea to sea
where children crouch in holes with fingers curled
'round rocks that crack and crush skulls easily?

O Trebuchet! Swing high with all your weight
and match them, stone for stone and hate for hate!

#NPM14: Poems I teach: Church Street by Ernest Hilbert

Check out Ernest Hilbert's other amazing work!

Church Street 

My friends quietly dropped out of high school.
It seemed each week we had parties for some guy
Going into jail or getting released.
It’s not that anyone thought this was cool,
Only good wishes that the time would fly,
And after twenty beers he might find some peace.
Now that I look back, with no emotion,
We needed parties. We liked company.
We hardly needed a reason at all:
Never sweet-sixteen or graduation,
But funeral, fresh hitch in the army,
Baby soon for the sad girl in the hall.
We’d vent, catch any reason to not grieve,
Revel down days torn from the years we’d leave.

#NPM14 Poem! Day Seven

There's no contention
In contention
When it's everyone's
Intention.
At some point
Defying convention
Becomes convention.

#NPM14 Weekend 1 Twitter Poems

I don't know about y'all but it's awfully difficult to carve out writing time during the weekend, miles away from any desk.

Ah well. Here are my two National Poetry Month poems from this weekend. As always, you can see them first on Twitter!

Saturday, 4/5:

8:30 A.M.
Saturday slumber ruined
Hedge-trimming neighbors

Sunday, 4/6:

Desperate
Disparate
Housewives
Write lies
To husbands
Whose bends
Turn youth
From truth
To bills
And pills
American't
Drama can

Friday, April 4, 2014

#NPM14: Poems I Teach: Foreclosure by Tara Skurtu

It's hard to overstate how much I love this poem. Read more Tara Skurtu here.

Foreclosure

Thigh-high weed grass in the front yard.
Scarves of Spanish moss, a spray-painted
anarchy sign on the trunk of the thickest oak.

Through a window, crusted dishes in the sink,
stacks of records, a high school watercolor,
blanket on the couch. Everything the way it was.

Through another, the giant happy face
Dad drew on the bedroom wall in Sharpie
to cheer up Amber, still smiling in the dark.

The backyard pool, full of gurgling frogs
and larvae under a land-like sheet of algae.
Mosquitoes humming, thick as dust motes.

#NPM14 Poem! Day Four

A nature poem for the Spring. As always, see the poems as they come to life on Twitter.

I see
Through leaves
Traced lines
In vines
Of veins
Green skeins
That shift
To lift
The light;
A rite
Not quite
Sacred
But led

By love.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

#NMP14 Poem! Poseidon & Medusa originally at E-Verse Radio

From my book With Rough Gods available in paperback and on the Kindle.

Originally at E-Verse Radio.

Poseidon & Medusa

On this wet rock you come,
my hair around your waist
in streams like ocean foam;
the pressured salty taste
rests upon my tongue.
As we swallow the night
the morning rises stung
and stained with our delight.
Here in this temple crows
are swelling from the altar
screaming the holy vows
I promised I would keep.
I have done much more than falter
and vengeance never sleeps.

#NPM14: Poems I teach: Warming Her Pearls by Carol Ann Duffy

Warming Her Pearls 

Next to my own skin, her pearls. My mistress
bids me wear them, warm them, until evening
when I´ll brush her hair. At six, I place them
round her cool, white throat. All day I think of her,

resting in the Yellow Room, contemplating silk
or taffeta, which gown tonight? She fans herself
whilst I work willingly, my slow heat entering
each pearl. Slack on my neck, her rope.

She´s beautiful. I dream about her
in my attic bed; picture her dancing
with tall men, puzzled by my faint, persistent scent
beneath her French perfume, her milky stones.

I dust her shoulders with a rabbit´s foot,
watch the soft blush seep through her skin
like an indolent sigh. In her looking-glass
my red lips part as though I want to speak.

Full moon. Her carriage brings her home. I see
her every movement in my head.... Undressing,
taking off her jewels, her slim hand reaching
for the case, slipping naked into bed, the way

she always does.... And I lie here awake,
knowing the pearls are cooling even now
in the room where my mistress sleeps. All night
I feel their absence and I burn.