Doing An Improv

I’m thrown, as in never ever been
on stage. Never ever? Only once
actually but hush don’t tell.
I’ve never ever done acting,
or singing, that’s a first.
A ragged terrible truth.

Never ever done improv so why
now? Why never? That’s true.
So why not now? Are you going
round in circles, a spinner
in some labyrinth of your own
making, a certain oppression?

I like it: the elegance, the
je ne sais quoi, the artistic
creation, having to inhabit
a persona so it’d make me less
self-absorbed, and finally
still bring me to myself.

Prompt:

I don’t know about you guys, but a lot of what I write is improvisation. It’s written on the spot, at one sitting. I’ve had the chance to witness how it’s done in theater too. Improv theater: “in which most or all of what is performed is unplanned or unscripted: created spontaneously by the performers. In its purest form, the dialogue, action, story, and characters are created collaboratively by the players as the improvisation unfolds in present time, without use of an already prepared, written script.” At least that happens at the collaborative stage of creating a script out of nothing for theater. There’s something to be said for randomness, and how that contributes to the final product. So show me how you incorporate random things into your poem.

(Random note: I’m still catching up on my emails, so do not fret if you’ve not heard anything about work submitted. Life is kinda busy right now so give it some time please.)

Omakase Dining

Ah, little did I imagine
what the meal would be–
Italian omakase menu like
tomato ice cream, an appetizer,
iced lardo (that’s lard), with roasted
polenta, foie gras inside a faux
purple potato–you get the drift.

Chef Simone showed his house
overlooking the sea in Sardinia.
The beach, the beach!
His son Mario called to say.
In love as deep as the sea,
the birth date tattooed onto
one arm in Roman numerals.

Across the cultures we talked.
In a gallery of faces passing through
the hall’s Corinthian columns yet
bless our souls, in a familial
language thick through Italian accent,
a father’s love was simply not
lost in translation.

Prompt:

In case you’re not familiar, Omakase is a Japanese phrase that means “I’ll leave it up to you”, you meaning “the chef”. To quote Wiki, customers ordering omakase style expect the chef to be innovative and surprising in the selection of dishes, and the meal can be likened to an artistic performance by the chef. Dining like this comes with an element of surprise because you don’t know what’s on your table next. I just had my first omakase experience and it was like a total dining experience because the chef popped by our table in between courses “to chat”. That turned out to be totally delightful and personal. Anyway you guessed it, the prompt is to write about a food experience.

Is “omakase” a new word to you? Then you might like to try out another word. As an alternative, we have a dictionary prompt brought to you by my guest prompter, Josh Medsker. This is from Josh:

Dictionary Entries at Random

If you ever feel yourself stuck in word patterns with your fiction, and especially poetry, try this: Go to a dictionary and flip to a random page. Point to any entry, and force yourself to use that word in your piece. If you don’t have a dictionary handy, for god sakes, go buy one.

Contrary to what many may think, inspiration isn’t something you wait for–it’s something you practice. This constraining exercise will force you to think on your feet and challenge you to find new ways of communicating.

You can find Josh here.

Tying The Knot

She’s all motherly solicitude
straightening up his tie.
Her son’s all resplendent
in happiness, bride glowing
by his side. So we’re assured of
progeny, passing of the baton.

All the jewels in the world
cannot be substitute for
the kingdom of heaven.
Everyone flickered with
this awareness, wondering where
we will go next. Or when.

So much form and ceremony
contingent on following
a script. Who could remain
cool as a lettuce? The trial
begins with pride, wearing
a corsage, wishing well.

Prompt:

Still on writing, guys. I was just listening to Anne Lamott’s Ted Talk, “12 Truths I learned from Life and Writing”. She urged one to write “your truth, your version of things, in your own voice” and “that’s really all you have to offer us, and that’s also why you were born.” Whoa. And she also said something about trying to get your work published, to be legit you know (wink wink), to plug all the cheesy holes in your soul (I am paraphrasing) and you know what, it doesn’t matter, it doesn’t plug those holes, it’s your writing that does it. Pretty much how I feel about writing. I mean, writing is so phantasmagoric, know what I mean, that it’s pretty much its own reward. So is there value in what you write, you’ve got to ask yourself that. I like this quote from Lamott too.

“I try to write the books I would love to come upon, that are honest, concerned with real lives, human hearts, spiritual transformation, families, secrets, wonder, craziness—and that can make me laugh. When I am reading a book like this, I feel rich and profoundly relieved to be in the presence of someone who will share the truth with me, and throw the lights on a little, and I try to write these kinds of books. Books, for me, are medicine.”

So can you write a poem like that…like medicine (gulp)?

Why I Write, Revisited

I was under a spell, and wanted
to be. It catapulted me to
the wonders of the world,
and so we wandered through
statues, gardens, the
coloration of trees.

Why not choose lyricism for
a journey? Though it be called
farce, or even philosophy,
it’s a quest close to heart–
I’d become my own Don Quixote.
Preposterous I know.

Through poems I’d grown,
paid homage to our collective
souls and my own. O the incense!
And here I am marooned
nonetheless. But I love
being here with you.

Prompt:

I know I’d asked for a writing poem. You know, a poem about writing. (Oh I see poems in a bucket, so this is real.) Often it’s language that’s steering us. It shapes a world view. There’re so many competing world views. And yet we own only our own. And believe it to be the true one. What’s your prevailing world view, that’s what I’m asking now, and relate it to writing if possible. Surely when we see the creatures in the world, and how amazing each is (for instance, think of a kangaroo, whose world view must surely rests on those powerful legs), and how different (contrast it with a snail who has a large and very flat foot), wouldn’t you begin to see how just writing names something for us? But do things exist because we speak of them? Of course not. Ultimately everything in the physical world is outside language, is “silent”. The poetic realm tries to address this “silence” too.

Anyone Writing Yet?

What’s this writing, you asked.
To get totally inside you put
heart and soul into it, pressed
on with overwhelming will.
The sense of conviction’s
sometimes absent, and you’d
might as well be gone.

What about technique, you asked.
That which comes easy, isn’t
much. And too much vagueness
like in between spaces.
When you made up a thread
for a breath, like this I’d
hold then push it out.

Prompt:
I imagine a poem being spoken sometimes. By anyone I fancy, like Bob Dylan for instance. Then it becomes like a song. It’s like the words going through someone’s vocals get communicated in a very personal way. Dylan had spoken in his Nobel speech about meaning. For Dylan a song doesn’t have to have a meaning, or he doesn’t need to know its meaning. How often have you read or listened to something, music especially, not knowing the meaning and yet it has such emotional power, fills you with some ineffable longing? I don’t think though if you’re a student of literature you can get away with not knowing the meaning of a work. You have to put your own meaning into it. You interpret it. That’s your work, as opposed to the work of the author. Sometimes I write a poem and I don’t even know its meaning. Yet I know it expresses something…ineffable. Think about writing in your poem.

What Writing Is

Right from the track one felt
reasonably adept to write,
back up what’s to be said.
But language unfurled in one’s
mind then clumped up–so ugh.

Channeling a Robert Bly poem,
I transcribed words; they become
ghostly limbs. Meanings clambered
out as some newly formed,
inalienable fey creature.

Petering out, boy they’re hollow.
Substantial? One would wrap their
lean bodies up in in heavy cloth,
till their souls flew; one saw
a sari flapping into wind.

Prompt:

I’m drawn to Robert Bly’s poems. They have a clean, meditative quality like a Chinese painting. Imagistic and anti-intellectual, spiritual but not religious.
Do you gravitate toward this kind of style? Write a poem that’s inspired by a Robert Bly poem. Here’s one, which to me reads like “What Solitude Is”.

Winter Privacy Poems

I
About four, a few flakes.
I empty the teapot out in the snow,
Feeling shoots of joy in the new cold.
By nightfall, wind,
The curtains on the south sway softly.

II
My shack has two rooms; I use one.
The lamplight falls on my chair and table,
And I fly into one of my own poems –
I can’t tell you where –
As if I appeared where I am now,
In a wet field, snow falling.

III
More of the fathers are dying each day.
It is time for the sons.
Bits of darkness are gathering around them.
The darkness appears as flakes of light.

IV On Meditation
There is a solitude like black mud!
Sitting in this darkness singing,
I can’t tell if this joy
Is from the body, or the soul, or a third place!

V Listening to Bach
Inside this music there is someone
Who is not well described by the names
Of Jesus, or Jehovah, or the Lord of Hosts!

VI
When I woke, a new snow had fallen.
I am alone, yet someone else is with me,
Drinking coffee, looking out at the snow.

Hear Robert Bly reading it.

Not That Again, He Said

He had grown thinner.
Hirsute legs, and bony wrists.
How does he manage his life?
You’d tried asking a question,
and he’d muttered sulkily.

Is there something like
inoculation against maternal
showy feelings? It’s as if
life there is finished,
and one looks on as at
some pageant.

How does one feel except
likely self-approbation?
Oh, a son grown. The strenuous
physicality of it over; now
a reed thin air in which
you drew deep breaths.

Prompt:

Hey guys I’d just come to the end of a book and it’s like coming to the end of the road. In Alice Munro’s stories, typically you get a sense of a full life lived. The characters’ fates are intertwined, and really you get a sense of how their lives were by the persons whom they settle down with and the persons who had crossed their paths and then leave. And the strange twists of fate that meet some characters. You get a sense of poignancy when a partner dies, for instance, or when a daughter abandons a mother. Like all the props changed, know what I mean, and you become a different person almost. Transformation…that’s what life is about. So that’s what your poem’s about.

Seeking God

So much godliness, you’d thought,
would have calmed us down,
turned us to the Lord’s Prayer,
a certain sparkling, abstaining
from sticky horror or
the lion in the lair.

That iron-clad, you’d said,
it’d have moved us up a notch,
a gain in evolution–still what
does it mean, I had to ask, when
all is a feeling, an unshaken belief
in doing the right thing.

And rightness lies about in
a few words of prayer? We’d keep
watering the garden, playing hose.
Careful in the arrangement of rooms,
assailed by doubt, sticking our
necks out, seeing the rainbow.

Prompt:

It’s been a while. My mind’s focusing elsewhere obviously. Yet I do return. Why? For clarity, for discovery, for connecting. Is that what writing does? Does writing serve that kind of purpose? Yes obviously. It clarifies the mud, even if the proposal is …mud itself. Yes. If you’re not muddy you’re not being real. If you’re downright dogmatic, you’re…a stick in the mud. But clarity is a wonderful thing, is it not? Like for days, for years, for decades you’re stuck in some quagmire, and then one day you feel lucid, and the sun is sparkling. It’s a little exaggerated perhaps, but maybe you’re discerning what I’m talking about. And writing? Perhaps it’s a bit like that. That’s something for your poem to address.

Keep Tuning In

I don’t know if you’d call it
a fruiting, that surge of bliss
that made exquisite sense.
Our love, what had become of
all the rickety stuff?
What made us scowl at
each other, did that
diminish us at all?

Perhaps love calls for us
to be broad-minded, don’t
take lies to heart,
that inept ticker that’d
sucked up to a whisper,
or to nothing, a wariness,
a dubious cry. Regardless,
keep tuning in.

Prompt:

So what has been obsessing you these days? Surely there is something you’re obsessed with? Like what do you keep thinking about? I confess, I have a new obsession with instagram stories. It’s kind of like following different characters as they go about their daily lives. The locations are all over the globe. So there’s Iceland, Paris, London, etc etc…and these stories unfold as things happen. Is it a waste of time you ask? You can of course answer it both ways. But I like that the stories take place elsewhere, and you get to see intimately what these characters see and experience, even if it’s just an instagram moment. I was just talking about stories in the last prompt and these seem to be the real, undramatic stories that happen everyday to everyday people. Cinematic in their own way. So like say, you’revisiting a new place, how would you document it in your poem? Or if you’re at home, what kind of moments do have you in a day?

We, The Witnesses

I’m fine without it
but grew green-faced again,
a cavernous hollow,
needed the euphoria
which came with words
echoing through trees.

You’d given me a reprieve,
so mild and common,
and now I’ve returned to
making marginalia, account for
(what do I call this)
nameless, wispy things.

All the storying that goes on,
in whatever form it took,
piling up as posts, appearing
as praise, or grievance,
pouring with light every
time you looked.

Prompt:

So I took my mind off poetry for a bit. It’s like a reprieve. The pressure’s off, isn’t it, till it’s back on. Back on? Who says? What gives this inner compulsion to write fiction? What gives, you tell me. Is it like having to say what you’re thinking or feeling, in a story form? Check out this quote: “After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.” ― Philip Pullman. Think about storying in your poem.