In the style of Lucile Clifton, My Poem, Come Celebrate With Me

 
Today’s model poem is Won’t You Celebrate With Me by Lucile Clifton.  You can click the link to read the original poem.

I have a lot of energy wrapped up in this draft and I need to let it set before I rework. This came out in a white, hot heat.   Here’s my first draft of poem modeled in the same style.

 

Celebrate With Me

won’t you celebrate with me
what I have become
a woman strong and brave
enough to speak her mind,
usually,
a wife, a lover
daughter, mother
a friend to few
I hold dear
a non-friend
to some
for reasons I don’t understand
born into confusion
about how to become
myself
how to trust I had
arrived
in all my glory
before barreling past
my destination
forgetting
not knowing
I was enough
I am enough
I AM ENOUGH
come celebrate
with me that
I have climbed
my mountains
cheered the sunrise
knowing, knowing
yes
I am stronger
at all the broken places.

—Susan Taylor Brown

Happy National Poetry Month and William Carlos Williams

Yay, it’s National Poetry Month! That wonderful time of year where poetry loves gather and share original poems, favorite poems, anything poetry related.

This year I am going to use the month to work on poems modeled on other poems. This is a great exercise in the classroom, especially for students (or adults) who are intimidated by the idea of writing poetry. What you do is pick a model, or mentor poem, and then write your own version of the poem. I hope you’ll give it a try along with me.

Let’s start with an easy one,  This Is Just To Say by William Carlos WilliamsYou can click the link to read the original poem.

Here’s my first draft of poem modeled in the same style.

 

This is Just to Say

I have taken
the letters
you threw
away

and which
you said
were full
of lies.

Forgive me
but there was
a love story
waiting to be told.

—Susan Taylor Brown

 

Your turn!

 

Looking for more poetry events in the Kidlitosphere? Check out Jama’s round-up of all the fun.

Monday, April 1, 2013|Categories: National Poetry Month 2013, Susan's Original Poems|Tags: , , |16 Comments

March Madness 2013 – Round 2

For round 2 of March Madness Poetry battle I drew the word JOSTLE

At the Base of the Flaming Cliffs

By Susan Taylor Brown

Searching for things not alive anymore,
Roy Chapman Andrews went off to explore.

The great Gobi desert held secrets beneath,
some skulls and some bones and rhinoceros teeth.

“Don’t jostle that fossil, this find is stupendous!”
The eggs he discovered were truly tremendous.

But that leaves a question we just can’t ignore,
which really came first, the egg or dinosaur?

Monday, March 18, 2013|Categories: Susan's Original Poems|Tags: , |0 Comments

March Madness 2013 – Round 1

I drew the word ESPOUSE for round 1 of this year’s March Madness Poetry battler.

Loaded Verses at Dawn
By Susan Taylor Brown

Beware the skirmish just begun, poetic lines are drawn,
my dictionary and thesaurus whimper on the lawn.

Broken pencils surround my bed, red ink stains all the sheets,
I need to channel Dr. Seuss or Silverstein or Keats.

My garbage bucket overflows with pithy paper bits,
while bloody blisters fill my hands like rows of zombie zits.

For the poetry I espouse I’ll make myself the clown,
I’ll wrestle any word you want and take that big wolf down.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013|Categories: Susan's Original Poems|Tags: , |0 Comments

A Snippet from my WIP

Because dear and inspiring Beth Kephart asked to read a snippet of my WIP, here’s a little teaser from my YA verse novel-in-progress.  You can read a snippet of Beth’s current WIP here.

 

My best friend Emmet
is posing for me.

Okay, so maybe he’s just sprawled on the floor
ignoring me
while Mozart kneads his chest and purrs
but he’s laying there, hanging out and I’m sketching him.

I’ve got the outline done
his nose and ears, easy enough even his lips,
slightly open while he recites Ogden Nash to my cat.
I’m working on the eyes
trying to capture
the secrets I know are there

Look at me, I say.

So he does
and he grins that smile that fills his face
with the kind of glow you see on a movie star
after they’ve spent three hours in makeup
only with Emmet, it’s completely natural.

I could fall for him hard
if he liked girls.

 

Monday, February 18, 2013|Categories: Writing Life|Tags: |8 Comments

Of Dogs and Writing – Just the Right Word

Each dog brings a certain set of gifts to the family that welcomes it into their home. It also brings certain behaviors that may or may not be quite as welcome. If you are raising a puppy you have many opportunities to train them right from the start. If you adopt an older rescue dog you get behaviors that might have been encouraged by previous owners but that you find unacceptable. Stopping some of those unwanted behaviors might be easier than others. It’s a lot like writing a book- some books just seem to write themselves, entire chapters come out with very little revision needed, the plot falls right into place and the characters are so interesting that you can’t help but turn the page to see what happens next. Other books come out in bits and pieces, starts and stops, where we often think it is the worst thing that was ever written and can’t possibly be fixed except for those days we think every word we write is tinged with gold.

Zoey came to us at about 15 months old and with no known history except being found as a stray and spending a few weeks with a foster mom. She was loving and playful and responded well to verbal corrections from the start. The first night we had her, she jumped on the bed, the only piece of furniture our dogs are not allowed on, but when I told her off  she jumped right down. The next morning she put her front two paws on the bed and I told her off and again, all four feet on the floor. She tried the same trick with sniffing food on the counter but a simple “leave it” was enough to discourage this behavior. Now we can be working on dinner with raw meat on the counter and she is happily sprawled on the floor, not even trying to counter surf. (Not that I would trust her with the meat on the counter if we left the room.)

But all bets were off when she decided she wanted to play. Zoey has no bite inhibition. Previous owners likely thought it was “cute” to have a little snowball puppy mouthing on them. The trouble is that once those adult teeth come in and a dog hasn’t been taught not to clamp down on hands and arms and legs, someone is going to get hurt. In this case, it was me. The first month we had Zoey, every time she wanted to play she would nip at my legs or jump up and nip at my hands and arms. She would get into this manic mode where she was all fired up and nothing I said or did would stop her. My arms and legs were covered with bruises because she didn’t know to not to bite down on me. And of course I made it worse because I didn’t want her to bite so I pushed her away and that merely made her think it was okay to keep playing with me. My hands were just another set of paws tapping her on the shoulder and inviting her to chomp on me. I tried turning my back on her so I could ignore her but it just gave her free access to nip me.

I’ve tried to turn my back on books that didn’t want to be written but the characters haunted me, begging me to keep trying until I got their story right. Some of them are still begging because working on them is more painful than ignoring them. I do not know that I will ever be able to write the essays I want to write about my life in New Orleans. I don’t think Flyboy’s story will ever be finished. And I am starting to think that a particular essay I started on friendship will remain unfinished. It just hurts too much to go on with it.

Our trainer taught us to teach Zoey to “get a toy” so she would always have something in her mouth. That has worked nicely for when Zoey wants to zoom around the yard. She grabs a toy off the porch and runs with it in her mouth. As long as she has the toy in her mouth she can’t nip as she is going by. But as soon as I  walked across the yard to the glider to sit for a while she took that as an invitation to nip. And if I forgot to bring a toy with me it was very painful trying to make my way back across the yard and into the house where I could do a time out, leaving her on the other side of the patio door. The same thing would happen in the house, when we would sit down to eat. Zoey would nip at our feet or legs, ripping clothes (and, sigh, skin) in an effort to get us to play with her.

We started working on the “stop” command, which worked great for our trainer who had perfected the necessary low voice to get Zoey’s attention. (Our trainer can also stop her with a stare. I haven’t mastered that yet.) So I tried working with “stop” in less frantic moments, in the house, and it seemed like it was kinda worked. Except it didn’t. Because when I needed it most was when Zoey was in frantic, manic mode. That was when she was hurting me the most, so in pain and frustration, my already high voice rose even higher in pitch. The more she nipped me, the higher my voice went until “stop! stop! stop!” sounded like a really bad falsetto in a really bad song. (Plus I couldn’t seem to keep from repeating the command which is confusing to the dog.)

I tried practicing lowering my voice but I just couldn’t get it low enough to sound more like a command and less like an invitation to play. So  I parked myself in front of the mirror and practiced saying “stop stop stop” in a bunch of different voices until they all ran together and then, finally, something different came out of mouth. Instead of STOP I said STOOP.

That second “O” makes a difference. My voice automatically dropped lower. Go ahead and try it yourself. I’ll wait.

Impressed? I was. I tried “stoop” with Zoey in the house and it seemed to work. We went outside and I got her riled up then asked her to “stoop” and she did. I think she was a little surprised at herself. Now I can play tug with her (one of her favorite games) and ask her to stop (stoop) then sit then to out the toy before we do it again. And she is doing it!

Here’s my theory. Zoey is a heavy mouthy dog with no training. When a dog (or a person) does something we don’t like, we ask them to stop. I’m guessing that Zoey has heard the word STOP so many times, in so many different voices, that it ceased to have any meaning to her. I needed a new word to communicate to her what I wanted her to do. And I needed a word that would allow me to naturally lower my voice so it would register with Zoey as a command.

The right voice makes a good story great. It’s the difference between finishing a book and remembering a book. Sometimes a character comes to me, whispering in the voice that I know rings true. But other times  finding a character’s voice is a battle, a battle that has to be won in the beginning because I can’t write a bunch of crappy lines to be revised later if I can’t hear the character’s voice. The current work-in-progress isn’t easy. I write a poem I love and realize it doesn’t work in the plot. I dink with the plot and realize it doesn’t work with the characters. But the hardest thing to nail down has been the voice for each of the two main characters. I started off thinking in simple terms, one girl in a good situation who was nice and one girl in a bad situation who was bad. Then I flipped it, good girl in bad situation, bad girl in good situation. That felt better and one of the girls immediately started speaking to me but the voice of the bad girl in a good situation never sounded true and believable. It was forced because I was freaking out about writing something that cut so close to the bone of my own life story. The closer I got to me, the more “off” the voice sounded. I had to force myself to try a lot of different voices, which meant throwing away thousands of words that didn’t work, until I found the pulse of this girl who was me but not me. Until I could hear her whispering to me, begging me, to get her story down.

Zoey has made amazing progress with her nipping in just the last week. I’ve continued to use STOOP as my stop command and it continues to work for Zoey. That’s not to say that all nipping has disappeared. But when it starts, I can stop it with just one word, the right word for me to get my message across in the way that Zoey needs to hear it.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013|Categories: Of Dogs and Writing|Tags: , , , |16 Comments

Of Dogs and Writing – Doing the Hard Work

Love might be the first ingredient needed for training a dog or started to write a new book but all too soon the love of starting something new fades and reality hits you, this is not going to be easy.

When I first fall in love with a story idea, deeply enough that I have a rough idea of the plot and how it is all going to end, I can almost see the finished book on the shelf. In my vivid imagination it is simply a matter of showing up at the keyboard or notebook every day, putting in a good day’s work, and voila, in no time at all, I have a book I can be proud of, a book my agent can sell, a book my friends and fans can buy. A brand-new book.

But of course there are no places to stumble when I am just writing in my head. The trouble starts when I sit down and start to type.

Zoey has two personalities. When she first wakes up in the morning she is a lovebug who gently nuzzles my head and neck, pushing her body close into mine as if she’s trying to merge with me. I eat it up. I’ve waited so long for a dog who wanted to be mine as much as I wanted it to be mine that if that was all she did all day, I’d probably be happy. But of course that’s not the way it works out.

When we go outside and Zoey wants to play, her other personality comes out. The one that was never taught that you can’t play with humans the way you can with other dogs. She nips at my calves and my hands. She jumps high enough that she could nip at my face. My arms and legs are covered in bruises. Some fading to the yellow green. Some fresh and blue from earlier today.

We are working with a trainer to curb this habit by teaching her the “stop” command. We play tug with a toy, tell her to “stop” and “sit” and then she gets a treat. The fact that she is food motivated helps a lot. I do this many times with her throughout the day but sometimes she doesn’t want to stop. It’s like a switch gets flipped in her brain and she is in manic puppy mode (albeit a puppy who weighs 65 pounds with steel-clamping jaws) and she doesn’t hear the word stop. All she sees is my hands and she is jumping, nipping, pouncing, ignoring the word “stop” or “no”, ignoring the toy I am holding out for her to take instead, ignoring my internal pleas for a magic fix to make this all stop once and for all. But it doesn’t stop. Still she tugs on me, on my clothes, on my legs and arms and hands and skin. And it hurts, it really hurts, and part of me wants to just turn my back on her and crawl into a ball and cry because doggone it, IT HURTS, and I don’t like getting hurt and just half an hour ago, this dog loved me so much she was melting into me.

All this happens in a period of a minute or two. Maybe three. Never long. And I do eventually break the mania, get her to stop, get her to sit. Reward her. Exhale. And it is done.

Later, in the house, with Zoey snoring at my feet, I can count up my battle scars. I can recognize that I got her to break the cycle sooner than the last time. I can give myself credit for staying calm (at least outwardly) and for making progress with this wonderful, slightly wild dog we brought into our lives just three short weeks ago.

But when it is going on, in the midst of trying to not get hurt and trying to train her to stop and trying to stay calm, it seems utterly impossible. In those 2 or 3 minutes of Zoey’s most important training, I think I can’t do it. I’m not a good enough dog trainer to curb this habit, I don’t have the skill set to bring Zoey to her full potential, I don’t know what to do next.

Yet somehow I do. I get through it. I am building my own muscle memory with teaching “stop” and getting her to do the puppy zooms with a toy in her mouth, another safe way for her to release all that energy she has wound so tight. The time for thinking and planning what I am going to do needs to happen before we go outside and engage. In the middle of a tornado there’s no time to think. I need to build the habits that will allow me to act.

It’s the same thing with writing. I face the blank page and I think I have no idea what happens next. I’m not good enough to pull off this intricate plot. I don’t have the skill set to make this the book I envision so clearly in my head.

And yet I do. I’ve been building my writing muscle memory for years. You sit down. You show up to the blank page and you move forward. Sometimes in little baby steps that don’t seem obvious until you are out of the writing session and looking back at how far you have come.

Training a dog or writing a book both come down to the same thing, a willingness to do the hard work. The kind of work that makes some people give up writing or other people throw away a wonderful dog.

Let yourself get lost in the moment. Trust that you know what to do next.

Thursday, January 10, 2013|Categories: Of Dogs and Writing|Tags: , , |8 Comments

Of Dogs & Writing – First Comes Love

Saying goodbye to our last wonderful dog, Cassie, was heartbreaking. But it was also heartopening because it mean we could go rescue another dog, another German Shepherd, who needed a home.

I contacted Cassie’s foster mom, PJ, who works with German Shepherd Rescue of Northern California.  After I told her about Cassie I asked her to keep an eye out for another dog for us. She said she had one  right then that she thought would be a good match. It was a female white German Shepherd that hadn’t been posted to their website yet. I made an appointment for us to go meet her right away.

Cassie had totally bonded with my husband. This time we were looking for one who would bond with me. And if I were lucky, my heart dog.

Two weeks before Christmas we drove about an hour away to meet PJ and this new dog they were calling Noelle in a parking lot. I had seen one picture of her and been told she had a sweet personality. That’s all I had to go on. The picture was okay but it didn’t capture the essence of the dog.

When PJ and Noelle got out of the car, Noelle’s tail was wagging and she looked up at PJ as if to say, “Time for fun?” My husband stayed back, even though I knew he was dying to pet her, and let me touch her first. As soon as my hand stroked her back, Noelle leaned into me, pressing against my legs and wagged her tail even faster.

I looked back at my husband and told him, “I love her.”

He smiled and said, “I can tell.”

We did our due diligence and walked her around the parking lot, pet her some more, and then, too soon, I handed the leash back to PJ. We started the hour drive back home to discuss the possibility of bringing this particular dog into our home. (No matter what we wouldn’t have been able to take the dog home that day since the rescue group needed to do a home check to make sure we were set up to live with a GSD.)

As a writer, I never run out of ideas of what to write. I have 7 novels waiting in the wings, a list of 23 potential essay topics and a notebook full of snips of poems-yet-to-be. But before I can sit down and actually dig in to do the work I have to have one idea that obsesses me. One character that has me head-over-heels in love with it, so in love that I am willing to follow it through the pain of outlines and crappy-first-drafts, the frustration of writers block and the joy (tempered with frustration) of multiple revision. I have to love a story a lot to be willing to go through all of that.

It’s a lot like making the commitment to bring home a new dog. Not just any new dog, but a rescue dog where you have no idea of the history of the life she has led before becoming a part of your family. Would she like other dogs? Would she chase cars? Would she dig hundreds of holes in the garden? It’s a gamble. The foster parent can give you a general idea of temperament but most dogs don’t show their full personality until they are in a new home for 2-4 weeks. This is what we were told about Noelle: she was found wandering as a stray in Monterey. She had ears full of foxtails. She had no tags, no collar, no microchip, and she hadn’t been spayed. (All marks of an irresponsible owner.) She appeared to be sweet-tempered but PJ had only had her a couple of weeks so there was still much of her personality to uncover.

But I knew. I felt that tug on my heart the same way I do with a story idea. I wanted this dog. I needed this dog and she needed me.

Halfway home I asked my husband if I should call PJ and tell her we’d take Noelle. He said we should at least make it appear that we had spent some time discussing it and I should wait until we got home. An eternity later (okay, an hour) when I called PJ to tell her we wanted Noelle, she said, “What took you so long?”

In just a few (oh-so-long) days, after the home visit, Noelle, whom we decided to call Zoey, came home to her forever home with us.

I can’t start a new book without a title that I feel has a pretty good chance of sticking with the book after it’s published. I can’t write a story without the right names for the characters from the start. And I can’t write at all if I’m not feeling the love for the book or essay or poem that is waiting to be written.

I’ve been in the writing business over 25 years. Along the way I’ve written and sold, greeting cards, short stories, essays, picture books, educational books, poetry, newspaper articles, magazine pieces, and novels. I’ve even done some ghostwriting. I love the act of writing. I love it so much that I often took writing jobs that came from a heart other than mine. Those were always the most difficult and least fulfilling projects to work on. On the flip side, there was a time in my life that I was working three stressful jobs just to try and make ends meet, worrying about my kids who were fighting some hefty battles, and dealing with some health issues of my own. Yet somehow, in the middle of all that, I managed to write Hugging the Rock. How? I loved the story I was trying to tell. I loved the characters. I didn’t mind giving up sleep in order to squeeze in a bit of writing. I wrote poems on scraps of paper while sitting in the parking lot at work trying to find the energy to go inside. I brainstormed plot complications on my lunch hour. I even called myself to leave messages on my answering machine with ideas I didn’t want to forget.

Love gives you the energy to do things you think you can’t possibly do.

Experts often say that it takes 30 days for a rescue dog to bond with their new family. I feel like it took about 30 minutes. The hour long drive home, up and over the Santa Cruz mountains, didn’t phase Zoey at all. She stretched out on her comforter in the back seat and rested. (Poor Cassie never really enjoyed riding in the car and serenaded us with high-pitched barking everywhere we went.)

At home at last I walked Zoey around the house on the leash and then let her go. She took off to sniff and then kept coming back to check in with me. She ate her dinner and took care of business in the backyard and when I invited her up on the couch to sit with me (something I have always wanted but never had from any dog I have ever owned) she didn’t hesitate a second. She folded her body like a noodle to fit into the space next to me on the couch, plopped her head on my thigh and one paw over my leg, and went to sleep.

And just like that I felt the love swell inside of me and overflow.

I know training Zoey won’t be easy. I already know she is a mouthy dog who was never taught that it is not appropriate to play with human hands and feet like they belonged to another dog. I have bruises up and down my arms and legs. But I understand. She is still a puppy, even at 15 months. She is sweet and loving and has had absolutely no training. This is the challenge. This is the fun. She is smart. Oh so smart. And food motivated. The combination makes her a joy to train. I’ll spend the next six months or so getting to know Zoey’s personality and the rest of her life working with her, training her, and loving her just because she deserves to be loved.

I’ve taken some time off from my current WIP, a young adult verse novel. This week I am ready to go back to it. I never fell out of love with my characters or their story. I had just fallen out of love, a little bit, with being me.

But Zoey has changed all that. She won’t make writing any easier. In fact, she will cut into a lot of my writing time and reading time and sleeping time. But what she gives back to me is priceless. Her unconditional love and her belief that I am the center of the universe give me the confidence to be okay with being me, the best and only Susan I can be.

Like I said, love gives you the energy to do things you think you can’t possibly do.

 

Sunday, January 6, 2013|Categories: Of Dogs and Writing|Tags: , , |20 Comments

Of Dogs and Writing – The End of a Chapter

I have been trying to write this post for several days. Many of you, over 250 of you, have already read about this over on Facebook but because Cassie was responsible for the start of my Of Dogs and Writing posts, I wanted to write about her here on the blog at least one more time.

Last week, at the all-too-young age of 5, we had to make the difficult decision to put Cassie down. I will not go into reliving her many medical issues right now. All I will say is that her quality of life had fallen to such a low point that it was kinder, to her, to let her go. It is never an easy decision to make but I am firm in the belief that it was the right one. Still, that doesn’t mean the experience was easy. My husband and I have cried a lot of tears.

Cassie was a special dog, a heart dog. Even though I have had dogs all my life Cassie taught me how much I didn’t know about having, training, and living with a dog. And I loved every minute of it.

Cassie wasn’t that interested in other dogs. She was polite enough to wander over and say hello.

But she wasn’t interested in playing with them and couldn’t see much use in chasing them around the yard.

So she was an only dog. A spoiled, only dog who had her own Lazy Boy chair. It was good for presiding over the kingdom.

And it was good for napping.

Cassie took her naps very seriously. It was always a good time for a little shut-eye.

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Her favorite TV show was Pitbulls and Paroles and she would come into the library and hop in her chair whenever she heard Tia’s voice. She also loved anything with horses or chickens in it.

But she was terrified of the movie The Hurt Locker.

She was very smart.

And very brave.

And willing to try anything I asked of her when I said the words, “Trust me.”

She loved being up on things for the best view. Like guarding the patio.

 

On the chest guarding the library.

 

Keeping an eye on what’s happening in the kitchen.

 

Pretending to be invisible on the antique settee.

She didn’t even mind if getting up on things made her look silly.

Or got her dirty.

She was the official inspector of all boxes that came into the house.

She was also the home improvement building inspector.

 

She wasn’t very good at playing hide and go seek.

But she knew exactly which door held the leash, and which door hid the high value treats.

And she was sure the water features in the yard were just big doggy water fountains.

Her favorite toys were a giant orange gorilla and a little blue ball.

And her favorite place to be was in the garden.

In the garden is where I learned many of my life lessons and writing lessons from Cassie.  It’s where she taught me to be still, to be in the moment. Which is why I am not going to grieve forever for Cassie, although there will always be a Cassie-sized hole in my heart. To grieve always is to allow yourself to be locked in the past. That’s not what Cassie wanted. That’s not how Cassie lived.

So we have opened the door of our hearts to a new rescue dog, a white German Shepherd named Zoey, who will have more lessons to teach me and more love to give me. We’ll pick Zoey up in just a few hours. And she will sleep in Cassie’s bed and play with Cassie’s toys and wander in Cassie’s garden. And she will bring me back to the here and now, in the moment.  And I think that will make Cassie happy.

For those of you who have asked, donations in Cassie’s name can be made to the German Shepherd Rescue of Northern California which is where we adopted Cassie. As an all volunteer run non-profit, they can use all the help they can get.

Farewell my wonderful friend. You will be missed by many. Thank you for the lessons. Thank you for the love.

 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012|Categories: Of Dogs and Writing|Tags: , |50 Comments

Start Close in by David Whyte

I recently organized all my digital folders and finally gathered the poems that were scattered all over the computer into one place.  When I did, it was fun to see how many poems of certain poets I had saved in my favorites file. There were a lot of them by David Whyte. This is one of my favorites because it reminds me that to be a poet, to be a writer or an artist of any kind, you must first learn to be an observer of things that other people take for granted. For many years I bemoaned my lack of productivity and pushed myself to race back and forth doing things that I thought, for sure, would open the floodgates of my writing. How silly of me. The secret was to start where I was in that moment. I have this poem pinned up on my bulletin board near where I write.

 

START CLOSE IN

Start close in,
don’t take the second step
or the third,
start with the first
thing
close in,
the step
you don’t want to take.

Start with
the ground
you know,
the pale ground
beneath your feet,
your own
way of starting
the conversation.

Read the rest of the poem here, on David’s website (left column of page)

The oh-so-talented Robyn Hood Black has the Poetry Friday roundup today–enjoy!

Thursday, December 6, 2012|Categories: Poetry Friday|Tags: , |22 Comments

Learning to See

Many readers here will remember the story of Lily, the hummingbird who built a nest in my backyard this past spring and set me off on a new life journey with my camera. I wrote some poetry about her at the time but then, after the tragedy with her eggs, I found it hard to go back and revisit the story. Now enough time has passed and enough new hummingbirds have crossed my path that I feel I can begin to try and capture more of that wonderful experience in word to accompany the many photographs.

Today’s poem actually had its beginning back in April when I was doing Kick the Poetry Can’ts for National Poetry Month. You can read the first draft which had its beginning in a poetry exercise that eventually led me to this poem, Learning to See.

 

 

LEARNING TO SEE

Outside my office door
an aging Japanese maple begins the garden
her dress trimmed in deep green
lady ferns and soft baby tears
edged with purple violets,
yellow-eyed grass
a wetlands wonderland bordered
by bubbling water rocks.

Beyond the maple tree
a toyon waits to grow.

On stormy days its stick-arms
bend, break, then bend again
like a skeleton
shadow dancing  against the fence.

Within the bush
(no tree itself, at least not yet)
branches zig zag toward the sun
a modern highway for ants and aphids
a picnic place for spiders
a sunny spot for birds to perch, to preen
after a midday bath.

Along the branch
dark green leaves cluster like a fan
protect the jewel nestled
oh so carefully
in the vee that meets the trunk
hiding a secret I could not find
without the help of a friend.

Behind all the leaves
there sits a tiny nest
woven with bits of spider webs
scraps of dryer lint
white downy feathers
a so-soft bed newly made
waiting to hold the tiny eggs
from the tiny dancer.

Now I understand
all those days
the dog refused to budge
from her post on the path
all those days she watched
the coming and going
of the ambitious architect
all those days she knew
something magical was happening
right before our eyes
when all I saw was her stubbornness
that made her refuse to come
when I called her name.

–Susan Taylor Brown, all rights reserved

 

Amy Ludwig VanDerwater has the whole great big Poetry Friday roundup today at The Poem Farm.

Also a reminder that over in my Etsy shop, Poppiness,  (which has hummingbird calendars, prints, notecards and more) you can get a 10% discount on everything in the entire shop today just because you are a supporter of Poetry Friday.  Just be sure to use the coupon code PF2012at checkout.

Friday, November 30, 2012|Categories: Poetry Friday, Susan's Original Poems|Tags: , |29 Comments

Begin by Rumi & More!

One of the nicest things about being a part of the Poetry Friday community is that it doesn’t matter if you drop out of the loop for a while and then step back in with a fresh post weeks or even months later. Poetry lovers are always welcome. But that mean getting back into the habit is easy. This poem from Rumi reminds me that the first step to anything is just to start.

Begin
This is now.  Now is,
all there is.  Don’t wait for Then;
strike the spark, light the fire.

Sit at the Beloved’s table,
feast with gusto, drink your fill

then dance
the way branches
of jasmine and cypress
dance in a spring wind.

The green earth
is your cloth;
tailor your robe
with dignity and grace.

~Rumi

To be honest, beginning is something I’m pretty good at. It’s that finishing of things that often gives me trouble. One of my newest beginnings was setting up Poppiness, a shop on Etsy to offer my nature photographs and greeting cards for sale. Funny thing about trying to sell photographs and art, it’s just as intimidating as facing the blank page for a new poem or novel. Luckily I discovered I am not the only poet/writer/artist. My first day on Etsy I reconnected with the lovely and talented Robyn Hood Black who has a delightful Etsy shop of her own, artsyletters, which features many wonderful gifts for literary lovers. This week Robyn is also offering a fun giveaway over on her art blog Art Break Wednesday. All you have to do is leave a comment on her blog for your chance to win a cute little portable light to help you create your next masterpiece during those long, late, and oh-so-dark nights.

To celebrate Poetry Friday and the opening of my new shop, and well, lets just celebrate the fact poetry lovers are some of the nicest people you ever want to meet, Robyn and I are both offering  a Poetry Friday discount for holiday shopping. From now through Dec. 31, just visit either of our shops – Poppiness or artsyletters – and type in the Coupon Code: PF2012 for a 10 percent discount!  You can also find us on Twitter @poppiness, @susanwrites, and @artsyletters or “like” our Facebook pages, Poppiness on Facebook and artsyletters on Facebook.

But wait, there’s more! To help me celebrate even more, Robyn is sharing some of my hummingbird poetry on her blog for Poetry Friday.

Anastasia has the complete Poetry Friday round up.

Friday, November 16, 2012|Categories: Poetry Friday|Tags: |19 Comments

Of Dogs and Writing – When Things Have to Change

I am watching Cassie dream. She is in her chair, her head hanging off the side at such a funny angle that it looks like it should hurt, except she does it on purpose all the time. First she thumps her tail, slowly then with more force. Then she whimpers and yips and her feet start to run in place.  Her entire body shakes and shivers in her sleep the same way it does when she spies a squirrel on the  fence in the backyard.

In the past, every time this would happen, my husband and I would watch with indulgent doggy-parent smiles, imagining Cassie chasing squirrels in wild open places.

That was before.

A couple of weeks ago Cassie begin having seizures. Watching an animal you love (or a person) have a seizure is one of the most terrifying things you can imagine. It is like a scene out of The Exorcist and the helplessness you feel is all-consuming. The first one sent us racing to the ER to have Cassie checked out. Between the ER and assorted friends and research we learned how very common canine seizures were and how some dogs were able to live a long and happy life without medication and others needed the help of some kind of drug. The ER vet said she would have another seizure, there was just no idea when that might be. It could be a few days, a few months, a few years.

For the next week my emotions ran full spectrum. First I cried. My writer’s imagination was unable to break free from the thought of my life without Cassie in it. I had not had enoguh time with her yet. Later, as the seizure-free days began to add up, I let myself think that we were one of the lucky ones, that it was a freak thing that wouldn’t change our lives and more importantly, wouldn’t change or threaten Cassie’s life very much at all.

I was wrong.

Last weekend Cassie had a cluster of Grand Mal seizures that sent us back to the ER and had her in the hospital overnight. After meeting with her regular vet and discussing options, she is now on anti-seizure medication. Just like that, our lives and Cassie’s life, has changed. Having a dog in our home is no longer an easy thing to do. There is medicine to take at the same time of day, twice a day, every day, for the rest of her life. That means if we are going to be out late, we need to make arrangements for Cassie. There are blood tests to monitor the drug levels and her liver functions. There is the month-long adjustment to the medication, during which time Cassie is constantly whining for food because her body thinks she is starving. There is the ataxia, the wobbly back end that has her walking drunk. We need to monitor her going up and down the stairs of our two-story house. There is incontinence.

There are some books that are easier to write than others. I wrote a picture book (that sold and stayed in print for many years) across a single weekend. Granted, it had simmered beneath the surface for years but the first draft was very close to the final draft. Hugging the Rock wasn’t easy to write (many times my husband would find me crying while I was drafting poems) but once I found the form for the book, it came out pretty fast. Flyboy is a novel I worked on for over twenty years before putting it away and deciding that maybe I didn’t need to finish it or if I did, it would be later, down the road.

The book I am writing at the moment isn’t easy. It isn’t my story of my relationship with my dad (or lack of one) but it is inspired by it. It isn’t the story of me and my newly-found sister, but it is inspired by that as well. When I began the book the ideas came fast and furious, like one of Cassie’s dreams, and I filled my virtual index cards (aka, Scrivener) with the ideas as quickly as they came. For the first time in my life I had an outline before I had a finished book. I gave myself a bit of a break and then settled into writing the first draft. I thought the outline would make it easy – I just had to pull up the next card and write the next poem. Repeat again and again until the book was done.

But of course it didn’t work out that way. I would write a few poems and I would lose the voice which made me think I had never had the right voice for the character to begin with. I would add a new character or a plot point and suddenly I would have to revise the outline to make everything fit. Another day I would pull up a card and have absolutely no idea what I was talking about and what my intentions had been at that place in the plot. And of course on those days I convinced myself that I had no business writing this book at all. That my best writing was behind me. That I couldn’t do it again, had lost my touch, you name the self-abuse, I heaped it on myself.

But there were also those days when I pulled up a card thinking it was just a snippet of what I should write next and I would discover a poem nearly fully done and filled with such vividness that it made me gasp or cry. The ones that are filled with characters so real that I am sure if I saw them walking down the street I could call out their name and they would turn around. Those are the days, the poems, I hold onto when the writing gets tough.

As I am typing this, Cassie is sitting beside me whining for the mini-meal I have promised her in another ten minutes. I fear she is going to go hoarse with the constant whining but I know she will survive. We are adjusting on many levels. We are breaking her meals into smaller ones through-out the day. We are taking her outside for potty breaks more frequently rather than waiting for her to ring the bells. We are walking with her up and down the stairs and blocking her from them when we have to leave her home alone. We are making lists of people who could help us if we need to be gone at a time when she needs her medication. We are revising our lives around this very special dog we love.

At the same time, we still do the same things we have always done with her, play ball, wrestle with her big orange gorilla, and go for walks

When you make a decision to bring a dog into your home and make it a part of your family, there’s no guarantee that it will be a perfect fit. There are always adjustments to be made of one kind or another. Cassie’s first year with us was filled with a different kind of medical concern as we worked to diagnose the auto-immune disease she had and then, eventually, find the correct medication to keep that under control. We made that work. We will make this work too.

When you commit to writing a novel there is no guarantee that the story you first start to tell will be the same story when you finally type “the end” and close the book. You have to be willing to make adjustments along the way as your characters come into their personalities and begin to take over, as mine always do. You have to be willing to fight your way through the multiple garbage drafts and revision and spend a lot of time gazing at the screen or the blank pages of your notebook and asking yourself, okay, what happens next and how can I make it work?

Some days are easier than others.

You don’t give up on dog or the book just because things get tough. A mountain in your path just means you need to find another way to get to where you want to go, whether that’s to the end of the book or to a happy dog chasing squirrels in the backyard.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012|Categories: Of Dogs and Writing|Tags: , |7 Comments

The Poetry Friday Anthology

First my confession. It’s been a long time goal of mine to be in a poetry anthology. And now, at last, I am! I have a poem in The Poetry Friday Anthology.

This beautiful book is the brainchild of poetry champions Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong with a nod to Kelly Herold who started the internet sensation of Poetry Friday years ago.

Teachers who want to bring more poetry into the class AND tie it to the curriculum standards will love this book.

From the announcement flyer:

“The Poetry Friday Anthology brings the Poetry Friday concept into the classroom or library and makes it easy to take five minutes every Friday (or any day) to share a poem.

Explore a poem, connect it with children’s lives and capitalize on a teachable moment. Pausing to share a poem – and reinforce a language skill – on Poetry Friday is a simple and effective way to infuse poetry into your own current teaching practice or routine.”

This anthology is available in both print and e versions. Go to amazon.com and type “Poetry Friday Anthology” into the search box and check it out!

Friday, August 17, 2012|Categories: Susan's Books|Tags: |18 Comments

Dear Teen Me

I wrote a letter for the Dear Teen Me website.

It was both harder and then easier than I thought it would be. By the time I was done writing the letter (and staying within the word counts) and then sorting through the photos, I had ideas for at least another dozen letters.

I think it’s a great exercise for writers trying to bring up some youthful memories.

You can read the letter here and see some funny old photos of me and my sense of “fashion” too.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012|Categories: Writing Life|Tags: |8 Comments

By the Light of a Hummingbird

I am reading Truth and Beauty by Ann Patchett. I do not know why I haven’t read it before unless it was because I knew that it would hurt me in the way that some beautiful writing does. Beautiful writing coupled with a powerful story that just happens to be true can bring me to my knees. Each reading excursion with this book leaves me feeling less than everything I want to be while, at the same time, fuels my belief that writers are the most powerful people in the universe. I dole out the pages, a few at a time, just before bed, hoping that filling my brain with Patchett’s beautiful words will fill my subconscious with the ability to the same.

It has been seven days since I took a photograph. I’ve picked up the camera, again and again, but each time I do I feel like I am holding something I’ve never seen before. It feels awkward in my hands and I struggle not to drop it. It has been seven days since the two eggs being warmed by the mama hummingbird I named Lily were stolen, then found broken and empty on the ground beneath her nest. It has been seven days of me questioning myself, could I have somehow prevented nature from taken this path to destroy something I hardly knew yet something I knew I loved?

I hear a bird and for a split-second, before that high-pitched chirp turns into something else, I forget. I grab the camera and race to the window only to be disappointed, again, at the chestnut-backed chickadee playing on the water rock. Still, of their own accord, my fingers fumble for which button to push turn the camera on. I flip a few dials, zoom in, but I’m out of step, too late. I can’t focus. I miss the shot and I just don’t care.

My dog Cassie mopes around the house and I’d like to think she is grieving too though I know she’s probably just having one of those days when her many medicines upset her stomach. When she rings the bells to go outside, I follow, half-heartedly and empty-handed. I wander down the path and sit on the glider at the far end of the garden. I have to walk by Lily’s nest to get there and I try, oh how I try, not to look because I can’t bear the emptiness I know I will find, the emptiness that will only echo how I feel.

Cassie does her usual garden patrol, down dogwood alley and back again. Shoves her head into the verbena, chasing bees, pauses to squat and pee in the carex meadow, sneaks a drink of water, even though she knows better, from the bubbling rock.

I don’t catalog what’s blooming for my garden log. I don’t pull the chickweed tangled in the coyote mint. I don’t worry about the wasps building yet another nest up under the eaves. I don’t check the growth of the madrone or pinch tip the ceanothus or even check to see if the lacewings are still laying eggs on the pipevines and monkeyflowers.

This garden I’ve built to be a sanctuary for me as much as for wild life isn’t working its magic on me. Not today and I wonder, in the way that an emotional writer wonders to extremes, if it ever will again. I kick my feet and glide back and forth until I can’t stand to be outside anymore.

In the kitchen I wash my hands out of habit, not because I’ve done anything outside to get them dirty. I look out the window above the sink and wonder, absently, how long it will take for the manzanitas to grow up above the courtyard fence and give us the privacy we want from people peeking into the kitchen as they walk by. There’s a bubbling rock on the other side of the fence. It’s hidden from me inside the house but sometimes I see birds, crows and finches most often, as they come and go for a drink or a bath. Today a hummingbird hovers window high, stares in at me the same way people passing on the sidewalk do before diving down, I assume, to the water rock. A minute later she is there again, dancing in place, staring right at me. I am the one who turns away first.

Of course I do not know, for sure, if it was Lily. My writer’s imagination can conjure up any number of stories around the experience but the truth is, I will never really know for sure. Anything I want to believe, I will have to take on faith, a faith of my own creation.

In Truth and Beauty, Patchett tells a difficult story made more painful because it is the true story of her decades-long friendship with Lucy Grealy. It is a story about loving someone you know you can never save, not from the rest of the world. Not even from themselves. As I knew it would, reading this book makes me fold my soul into a tiny piece of nothingness until it nearly fades away. I feel two things at the same time: incapable of ever writing again and a hunger to tell a story so true that it slices the reader into little heart-sized pieces.

I damn Patchett for making me feel so much at once. I feel like I haven’t really lived the life I have been given. I feel like I haven’t experienced anything big enough, strong enough, raw enough to be able to craft a story that will split you wide open and leave you and your emotions scattered, shattered, all around you.

These are not sentences I write to elicit emails and phone calls from people who want to soothe and assure me of my own unique abilities. I write these down for anyone, including myself, who has ever felt they were not enough of anything to do whatever it was they wanted to accomplish.

Because whatever it is, you are enough. You are enough right now to be a writer, a poet, an artist, a sister, a mother, a friend or whatever it is that you want to be. You don’t need to travel the world. You don’t need a special education. You don’t need fancy equipment or approval from some committee. You don’t need to experience and overcome a catastrophe. Anything and everything you need, you already have, inside of you and because of the life you have already lived in the way that only you can live it.

If this were a novel I would tell you how, after watching that hummingbird dive down and dance back up again, several times, to watch me watching it, I would tell you how I picked up the camera, filled again with confidence, went outside and took shot after shot of beautiful photographs of the bird I felt sure was Lily.

But this is not a novel. This is real life. And the truth is that when I saw that hummingbird outside my window I felt nothing. No desire. No connection. Yet later that night, when I crawled into bed and picked up Truth and Beauty I started to cry. And instead of reading, I finally reached for my notebook and a pen and I started to write.

The things that break us are often not what we would expect. And the things that open our eyes to who we really are often small, sometimes no bigger than a hummingbird.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012|Categories: Essays|Tags: , , , , |12 Comments

Kick the Poetry Can'ts #30

Well we’ve made it though the month with daily poetry exercises that I hope will take some of the intimidation factor out of playing with poetry. For this last day, I’d like to share another poem modeling exercise that never fails to surprise me when I use it with a class. Take a moment to go read this poem IF by Rudyard Kipling. In the classroom we dissect this poem line by line and we don’t go on to the next line until we’ve talked through the one before. I have the kids tell me what they think Kipling meant and then I have them talk about it as it compares to their lives.

Then I ask them to write their own poem modeled on this one.

Here’s my try at one.

If you can learn that your value comes from being yourself,
not who the rest of the world thinks you should be

If you can recognize that no one person
sits in judgement of you

If you can lean into the understanding that difficult people too,
carry their burdens

If you can not cause pain to yourself, to others

If you can freely share your knowledge
knowing it will just increase your wealth
and manage your wealth so that the
seeking of it doesn’t manage you

If you can let go of hate and anger and fear
and all the useless emotions that hold you back
while at the same time filling yourself
and the world with love and laughter and compassion

If you can encourage dream following in everyone you meet
while nurturing dreams of your own

If you can let yourself believe
in yourself

There is nothing you cannot do.

–Susan Taylor Brown

Your turn.

Kick the Poetry Can'ts #29

Another great poem to use as a model for a poem of your own it This Is Just To Say  by William Carlos Williams.

It has also inspired a few books including the wonderful, This is Just to Say: Poems of Apology and Forgiveness by Joyce Sidman  and the equally fun, Forgive Me, I Meant to Do It: False Apology Poems by Gail Carson Levine.

Here’s one I wrote.

I HAVE TO TELL YOU

I have taken
the blank paper
you kept in your desk

and which
you were probably
saving
for masterpieces
of your own

Forgive me
there were colors
beautiful colors
waiting to escape.

–Susan Taylor Brown, all rights reserved

Your turn.

Kick the Poetry Can'ts #28

I usually introduce this form early on in my teaching sessions and I just realized I missed it. It’s called a cinquain, which like haiku, is a counted syllable form of poetry. A cinquain is 5 lines long and the syllable counts are as follows:

Line 1 = 2
Line 2 = 4
Line 3 = 6
Line 4 = 8
Line 5 = 2

Sometimes a cinquain helps me develop an idea further and it turns into a longer poem. Sometimes it stays as it is. As always, the challenge of finding the right words to convey what I want to say in a constrained form often take me places I didn’t expect to go.

Here’s my cinquain.

airdance
ballerina
twist twirl hover dip dive
glidinggreen gracefulness
awestruck

–Susan Taylor Brown, all rights reserved

Your turn

Saturday, April 28, 2012|Categories: National Poetry Month 2012, Poetry Prompts, Susan's Original Poems|Tags: , |4 Comments

Kick the Poetry Can'ts #27

It’s Poetry Friday and I decided this was a good day to introduce the concept of using a more well-known poem as model for a poem of your own. I have a selection of them that I like to use with my students and one of my favorites is Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird by Wallace Stevens. I like this because really, it is just another list. Make a list of thirteen different ways to look at something. It can be something as simple as your dog, your car, your bedroom. Or maybe you want to get fancy and try thirteen ways of looking at your job or a friendship. Just pick a topic and give it a try.

I decided to use this poem as an opportunity to say goodbye to Lily, the hummingbird who has built a nest in my yard but who did not get to see her eggs hatch. I’m sure I’ll be dinking with this poem for a while but it felt good to get a draft of this out. (You can click on the photo to see it larger, if you like.)

13 Ways of Looking at a Hummingbird

1
wings whirl
in place
my face
smiles
swivels
tiny dancer
chirps
cheeps
chitters
hello

2
greengold glitters glides
lands atop the waterfalls
shimmy shakes
a water dance

3
spider silk
blades of grass
lichen
moss
one gray hair
two red threads
building blocks
a mini mansion

4
picture pose
turn left
now right
chin up
hold still
I’ll keep my distance

5
in out
out in
tall wall
soft floor
ready wait
wait some more
egg one
egg two
soon
each morning
each evening
I check
just in case

6
the plum tree a
perfect preening place
ruffled nest feathers
bugs picked flicked
feathers smoothed
stretch once
stretch again
bask in the sun
before babies come

7
stormy days
stormy nights
quivery
shivery
forgetting generations
that came before
I worry
flashlight in hand

8
she disappears deep
within the overgrown honeysuckle
seeking bugs
protein power
for motherhood
alone
I measure
one nest
one half a walnut shell
one egg
one jellybean
one miracle
waiting to happen

9
my days equal
part
inspection
observation
research
photographs
my days equal
bliss

10
camera ready
I await her homecoming
hidden only slightly behind the fence
fifteen minutes
two hundred photographs
my mini model
is a star

11
morning comes
empty
no mama snug atop her nest
no tiny eggs safe and sound
no babies waiting
to say hello world
sometime between
the darkness and dawn
disaster

12
overcast and gray
rain soon
but I am stubborn
searching beneath the bushes
until I find evidence
until I find a tiny white shell
until it hits me
miracles don’t always come true

13
crying
crying
crying
camera clicks
shot after shot after shot
most will be out of focus
unable to capture the pain I feel
at all the days that should have been ahead
suddenly suspended beside me
close enough to almost touch
no chirp
no cheep
no chitter
she hovers there
ten seconds maybe more
just long enough
to say goodbye

— Susan Taylor Brown, all rights reserved

Your turn.

Tabatha Yeatts has the round-up for all the Poetry Friday posts. Take a look at some of the terrific poetry posts other people are sharing. And if you don’t have time to visit them all today, be sure to bookmark them to go back and visit later.

Kick the Poetry Can'ts #26

It’s been a hard day today. If you’ve been following my posts on Facebook or on my garden blog about Lily, the hummingbird who built a nest in our backyard, you know what I mean. If not, here’s

So I’m pulling out an easy card and am suggesting that we do a five senses poem, like we did on Kick the Poetry Can’ts #1

The word I’m choosing for this one is GOODBYE.

As always, I start with a list. What does goodbye sound like? Taste like? Smell like? Feel like? Look like? Here’s my brainstorm.

sounds like the closing of a door, silence
the moment of a hold after a note is played

tastes like peanut butter stuck to the roof of your mouth
something that makes you want to rinse your mouth out
like mud

smells like something burning
something that makes you want to hold your nose
garbage when the bag breaks

feels like you’re riding up in the elevator and the cord breaks
drowning
you can’t catch your breath

looks like gray mist covering anything that was beautiful
ashes
a shut door, a closed gate, the blinds being lowered
an empty place at the table

And here’s my first draft of a  poem.

Goodbye sounds like
the last note of the trumpet frozen
in time
in my mind
silence shuts the door
on what use to be.

It fills my mouth with mud
stuck to the roof of my mouth
grit between my teeth
I can’t floss it away
I can’t rinse it out it
sits
settles
festers

stinky smells slither
up through my nostrils
down to my toes
out of my pores
goodbye explodes like a busted bag of garbage
covering me until I feel like I’m drowning
can’t catch my breath
can’t face that empty place
can’t believe
after all this time
goodbye wins again

ashes, ashes
we all fall down

–Susan Taylor Brown, all rights reserved

Your turn. Try your hand at a five senses poem around the word “goodbye.”

Thursday, April 26, 2012|Categories: National Poetry Month 2012, Poetry Prompts, Susan's Original Poems|Tags: , |2 Comments

Kick the Poetry Can'ts #25

Ancient poets wrote many odes to celebrate great events in their lives and to pay homage to magnificent people. Many of the students I teach have difficulty believing that they are worthy of having an ode sung to them. So we write our own.

While there are traditional forms of writing an ode, with specific patterns and rhyme forms to follow, for this exercise I don’t worry about that. The key here is to write about yourself in a way that celebrates all the ways that you are good. Show the world the very best of you. This is not a time to be shy. This is your time to shine.

Start with a list of things you do well, things people compliment you on, things you know are your strengths. Work that into a poem.

Here’s one I’m working on about me.

Happyhearted
observer of
littlelife moments
bugs on blossom
birds in bushes
dog snoring in the sun

feelingfriend
hurts when you hurt
notices something is slightly
notquiteright
gentle listener of
undertones and overtones
hughanderouter

talented talker
believes in possibilities
yours, mine, ours
spreads sparks
of what could be
wherever she goes

–Susan Taylor Brown, all rights reserved

Your turn.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012|Categories: National Poetry Month 2012, Poetry Prompts, Susan's Original Poems|Tags: , |5 Comments

Kick the Poetry Can'ts #24

When I work with incarcerated teens they are always talking about their girlfriends or boyfriends who are usually on the outside and who they usually don’t get to see very often. This inevitably leads to them wanting to write love poems. So this is a fun exercise to do because it makes them think about the various ways we can show our love for people.

I ask the students to give me ways they know someone loves them, or ways they can show someone they love them, without using the word love. (Truly, they never see this exercise coming which is so much fun.)

They are usually really good at coming up with ways to show someone you love them. Here’s a partial brainstorm from one of my classes:

tell them they look hot
buy them candy
do their chores
offer to babysit
clean your room without being asked 100 times
cook their favorite foods
let them pick what you watch on tv
buy them presents

You get the idea. After we have filled the board with this sort of brainstorm I tell them we are going to write love poems but there’s one catch – they can’t use the word LOVE anywhere in the poem but we should be able to feel the love anyway.

I truly thought this would be one of the hardest exercises for my students but time after time, it has proven to be one of the most popular ones.

Here’s a partial draft of one of my poems that fits this exercise.

Normally I get the sheets changed on time
more or less
laundry kept up
more or less
clutter under control
more or less
but this week less wins most of those battles.

Maybe it’s the way
I barely make it to the bathroom in time
but he notices something about me
and asks are you okay?
I shake my head no and he holds my hair
away from my face,
and I lean over the toilet
while my stomach rebels.

I camp on the couch and
he brings me clear liquids
soda crackers
makes sure the bucket
the remote control
and the phone
are close at hand when he has to leave.

He comes home carrying every comfort food
he can remember I’ve ever mentioned,
alternates his day between letting me nap
and bringing me more foods
to tempt my lack of appetite.

He keeps the house running quietly in the background
lets the dog out
the back in again
ten times a day
while I do battle with the flu,
rubs my back,
tucks the comforter up under my chin,
and encourages the dog
to camp nearby, close enough for me to pet.

When he blows me a final kiss goodnight
I look into his eyes
dark starsparks telegraph a message
straight to my heart until it swells with happiness
and I count my blessings
lucky to be married to him.

–Susan Taylor Brown, all rights reserved

Your turn.

Kick the Poetry Can'ts #23

Last year, Laura Salas and I worked our way through the book WRITING THE LIFE POETIC by Sage Cohen. We took turns hosting the conversation on our blog and we shared some insights from a chapter we chose to read that week. Then we ended it with doing one of the exercises from the book.  One of them was about using song lyrics as models for poems. This works great because we all know those songs that get caught in our head for one reason or another, the same way we want a poem to be imprinted in our minds. In the classroom this can be a lot of fun to have the students bring in copies of the lyrics of their favorite songs and then watch a video of the song on YouTube before settling in to right.

For the exercise I chose a  favorite song of mine called SECRETS by One Republic. When I first heard the song on Pandora, I burst into tears. When I watched the video, it didn’t mesh for me because in my brain I was hearing a different story, the story of a writer trying to find their way in the world.

Here are the lyrics by Ryan Tedder.

I need another story
Something to get off my chest
My life gets kinda boring
Need something that I can confess
‘Til all my sleeves are stained red

From all the truth that I’ve said
Come by it honestly I swear
Thought you saw me wink, no
I’ve been on the brink, so

Tell me what you want to hear
Something that were like those years
Sick of all the insincere
So I’m gonna give all my secrets away

This time don’t need another perfect line
Don’t care if critics never jump in line
I’m gonna give all my secrets away

My God, amazing how we got this far
It’s like we’re chasing all those stars
Who’s driving shiny big black cars

And everyday I see the news
All the problems that we could solve
And when a situation rises
Just write it into an album
Singing straight, too cold
I don’t really like my flow, no, so

Tell me what you want to hear
Something that were like those years
Sick of all the insincere
So I’m gonna give all my secrets away

This time, don’t need another perfect line
Don’t care if critics never jump in line
I’m gonna give all my secrets away

Oh, got no reason, got no shame
Got no family I can blame
Just don’t let me disappear
I’ma tell you everything

So tell me what you want to hear
Something that were like those years
Sick of all the insincere
So I’m gonna give all my secrets away

This time, don’t need another perfect line
Don’t care if critics never jump in line
I’m gonna give all my secrets away

So tell me what you want to hear
Something that were like those years
Sick of all the insincere
So I’m gonna give all my secrets away

This time, don’t need another perfect line
Don’t care if critics never jump in line
I’m gonna give all my secrets away
All my secrets away, all my secrets away

After listening to the song two or three or, okay, maybe a dozen times, here is the poem I came up with.

 

I NEED

I need to know
that getting up in the morning
matters to the world
to someone other than the man
who matters so much to me,
the man who may not understand
why I need to know
that I matter at all.

You can tell me
it shouldn’t matter
but it does.
You can tell me
I matter in ways
I may not understand
in so many ways I can
only hope to believe

But I need to know
the kind of knowing that comes
from some place deep inside
some place I don’t reside
I want to run and hide because
what I fear is the world
discovering
uncovering
pieces of soul
I don’t want the world to see
what I fear
is that what I need
matters too much to me

–Susan Taylor Brown, all rights reserved.

Your turn. If there’s a song you feel drawn to, search for the lyrics online and then try to model a poem based on that song. Good luck!

Kick the Poetry Can'ts #22

It’s the weekend and I’m going easy on you today. I decided to go a little retro so this might look familiar to a few of you from last year. You already know I love saving phrases and words from magazine and then taping them on index cards to use as prompts. Another thing I do, because I love to doodle, is glue phrase prompts to a card and then create some doodle art around them. For some reason seeing these decorated cards gets the kids excited (sometimes) and I’m all about using any trick in the book. I have a stash of about 50 of these cards and when I teach I always have some in my back pocket to hand out when someone comes in late and needs a quick assignment or even when they are asking for extra credit. I laminated this (with packing tape) so they hold up well to being passed around a bunch.

What I do with the students is let them pick a card and tell them they can write any kind of poem they want, a haiku, a 5 senses poem, free verse, an acrostic, whatever they feel motivated to do once they get the card.

Here’s the card I picked for us today.

And here’s my poem.

You took
my self-esteem
my laughter
my pride in how I dress
my ability to trust
and to see the good in most people

You took
my dog, my cat
my good credit rating and almost,
my car

You took
my trust
my friends
my music

You gave back
a broken heart
a shattered dream
and finally, freedom.

–Susan Taylor Brown, all rights reserved

Your turn.

Kick the Poetry Can'ts #21

When I am teaching poetry I often start off with an acrostic poem. We do easy ones that begin with the students names and allow them to tell me things about themselves. It’s a good ice breaker and it gets them familiar with the poetic form right off the bat. An acrostic is a poem that spells one word vertically and then uses the first letter on each line for a line in the poem. So if I were doing an acrostic ice breaker with my name, I might do something like this:

Sometimes a little bit scatterbrained
Usually reading or more books at a time
Stressed out when there is too much noise
Always wishing there were more hours in the day
Never going to stop believing in my dreams

Now that’s not much of a poem but you get the idea.

Here’s a draft of one I did tonight with the word hummingbird. It’s not a great poem yet but it’s a nice way of getting my brain churning around on some ideas. And here’s another thing about acrostics, sometimes they are a good way to get a rough draft of a poem down and then you can take the phrases and play with them until you come up with a poem in another form that you like even better.

High off the ground(not really)
Under scraggly leaves
Mama knits a nest and
Mends it daily with garden gifts she
Ignores my visits (not really)
Needlenose beak tipped high in the air
Grand dame of the toyon tree with
Babies not yet born her
Iridescent feathers fan a
Rainbow blanket she
Decides I have seen enough for now.

Your turn.

Saturday, April 21, 2012|Categories: National Poetry Month 2012, Poetry Prompts, Susan's Original Poems|Tags: , |4 Comments

Kick the Poetry Can'ts #20, My Poem How to Be a Good Dog

 

How to poems are a fun way to share your knowledge (if you are writing a truthful poem) or have some fun if you are playing with your imagination.

You can write a how-to-do-it poem about making a sandwich, dancing with your great Aunt Agatha, climbing a tremendous mountain, learning how to drive, or anything else you can dream up.

As usual, I start with a brainstorming list. Sometimes these poems stay as list and sometimes they morph into something else.

Here’s a first draft of my how-to poem.

HOW TO BE A GOOD DOG

Learn how to beg
it is the foundation for all future lessons.
Start with the poor pitiful me face
perfect droopy ears
sad eyes (bonus points if you can sigh)
and the art of balancing your head on your outstretched paws
in a way that makes them go “awwww.”

Race around the house like a maniac
when people you know come to visit.
Bark like a monster dog
when strangers knock on the door.
Teach your humans that you know the difference between the two.
(Note: some humans are harder to train than others.)

Learn how to ride in the car without getting sick.
Continually expand your vocabulary of cute noises.
Be willing to do embarrassing tricks
for stinky treats
to make your humans look good.
Practice being aloof
but remember to let them pet you
sometimes.

Ask to go outside
a lot.
Ask to go on walks
a lot.
Ask for treats
a lot.
They might think you’re being difficult
but really you’re giving them important
breaks in their busy day
helping them to relieve stress
and learn how to be in the moment.

They should thank you for this
but they probably won’t.

Don’t chase the birds.
Really, don’t chase the birds.
It only makes them mad
(the humans and the birds.)
Drink out of all the stinky water places
and then give wet kisses
which will gross them out and make them happy
all at the time time.

Don’t dig.
Ever.
I mean it.
For some reason they really have a problem with that.

At the end of the day
find your place in the room
you share with them
and fall fake asleep
with one eye still open
watching them
until you see their eyes close
until you hear them snore
until you know
for sure,
you’ve done a good day’s work
keeping the family safe.

Good dog.

–Susan Taylor Brown, all rights reserved

Your turn.

Kick the Poetry Can'ts #19

I started with an article from the newspaper. (click on the photo to see it larger.)

newspaper poem2

And then I looked for the poem inside the article. I think the official name for this kind of poem is a black-out poem, though there might be other names for it as well. What you do is take a marker and cross out all the words that don’t belong until you find the poem. (Click on photo to see it larger.)

newspaper poem1

Easy as pie, right? Every article has at least one poem in it, maybe more. Kids like to do this

 

magic

humble
excited
a happy lesson
weathered passion
delicious sun-drenched plants
soaking up the warm light
sunflowers intoxicated with the sun
share the secret
rich clods of organic soil
perfect compost
the neighborhood reaps
meditative joy and a harvest of lessons
relishing the heart and soul
of an unspoiled earth

–Susan Taylor Brown, all rights reserved

Now here’s how I got there.

because it feels like graffiti.

Your turn. Even if you don’t post your poem give this a try and let me know what you think.

Thursday, April 19, 2012|Categories: National Poetry Month 2012, Poetry Prompts, Susan's Original Poems|Tags: , |5 Comments

Kick the Poetry Can'ts #18

Writing letters is another great way to find the poem within a certain situation. For today’s Kick in the Poetry Can’ts, write a letter to someone who is dead, it can be someone you knew or a total stranger, and then turn it into a poem. I find this easiest to just write out the long prose version first and then go back and revise it with a poetic eye.

Here’s my letter poem to a girl who died when she was sixteen.

We were never friends
but I knew who you were
that long, black hair you refused to cut
that cigarette you popped in your mouth as soon as the bell rang
that purple backpack you carried everywhere
that boy you glued yourself to,
not caring who saw you swapping spit
and playing touchy feely games under the bleachers

We were never friends
but I followed you once
not on purpose, okay, maybe I meant to
but I didn’t mean to see him hit you
I didn’t mean to see you cry
I didn’t mean to run away
knocking over the garbage can next to the snack shack
making him growl at me the way he growled at you
making me so afraid
that I forgot about him hitting you
and only thought getting away
before he hit me too.

Later
after
much later
after so much
later I wondered
if I could have saved you

Now
even later
I wonder if I can save myself

–Susan Taylor Brown, all rights reserved

Your turn.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012|Categories: National Poetry Month 2012, Poetry Prompts, Susan's Original Poems|Tags: , |5 Comments

Kick the Poetry Can'ts #17

This next exercise is similar to the spine poem we did the other day. It’s easy peasy. It’s a horoscope poem. All you need is a horoscope, for either one day or a few days. Here I have included a picture of two days worth of a horoscope. (Click on the picture to see it larger and be able to choose your words/phrases.) If you don’t get the newspaper with horoscopes in them you can search online for any horoscope of the day.

Here’s the rule. You can only use the words or phrases in the horoscope. If two words or more are next to each other, you have to use them in that order but you can move things around however you like after that. You can’t change the tenses of any of the words. If you cut out a few horoscopes from the newspaper you can go through with a highlighter and mark the words you like and then rearrange them to make your poem.

Here are the two horoscopes I used.

And here’s the poem I came up with:

explosive change
emotional confusion
spend time with an old friend
trust
someone is in your corner
don’t be shy
be true to you
push back
proceed with your eyes open
follow your heart

Now you can stop there or, you can do a second poem using this one as a jumping off point.

Your turn.