Friday, April 1, 2011

performance anxiety (and yay! It's National Poetry Month!) Prompt One? (at bottom of page)

slipped up and started writing in private
as if I were writing public
so I write this in public
as if I were writing in private
which means
I can write badly
if bad writing is what falls
off my finger tips
as I type through the rest
of this sunny/cloudy/cool/warming


A few days ago, I was trying to shovel out my poor, disaster of a bedroom, which, much like this study, has become a storage room. In my study, it's stacks of various papers ranging from bills to mutual fund statements to file folders full of poems in progress or things I share when I give the occasional (for free these days - sigh) poetry workshop. My bedroom suffers from random articles of clothing or bits of linen with no mates. I've piled things in laundry baskets because this little house where I've lived for nearly seven years doesn't have enough room for all my stuff.

OK, that's not true. I'm just messy and disorganized and seem to find other things to do when I probably ought to be putting away the laundry I wash and fold.

(Aside: It just occurred to me that I've never lived in a single house as long as I've lived in this one, not since I was born, not even those twelve years I lived in Temple, Texas. There's a poem in this, I'm sure. Maybe I will write that poem this month. Maybe I will write it later today.)

I emptied out an old laundry basket that held clothes I meant to donate, rackets from some kind of swimming pool game I don't remember buying and don't think we ever used, a set of credit cards from an account I forgot I have and never activated, a birthday card from 2004, an old "don't kidnap my daughter" ID card, a couple of her old stuffed toys, and a small slip of paper about the size of an index card.

The paper intrigued me. I always hope I'll stumble across some stranger's secret letter to a lover tucked between the pages of a library book, but I rarely discover more than a bookmark made from a JC Penney's ad. I flattened the little bit of paper on top of my thigh and laughed. Of course I'm not going to find some stranger's secret correspondence in my laundry basket, but this was almost as good. It was a poem I'd typed out, printed off, cut to a tiny size, folded up and tucked into the back pocket of my jeans a few years ago on Poem in Your Pocket Day (on April 14 this year in case you were wondering).

This poem is sort of like a secret love letter.

The Lights in the Hallway

The lights in the hallway
Have been out a long time.
I clasp her,
Terrified by the roundness of the earth
And its apples and the voluptuous rings
Of poplar trees, the secret Africas,
The children they give us.
She is slim enough.
Her knee feels like the face
Of a surprised lioness
Nursing the lost children
Of a gazelle by pure accident
in that body I long for,
The Gabon poets gaze for hours
Between boughs towards heaven, their noble faces
Too secret to weep.
How do I know what color her hair is? I float among
Lonely animals, longing
For the red spider who is God.

James Wright
(from Above the River: The Complete Poems, Farrar, Straus and Giroux (1992))


I like to keep my books in pristine condition, though I'm easing up on that "like" because my daughter manhandles her books, and I'd rather her read and bend spines and dogear pages than not read. My James Wright collection is loved so much that I've cracked the spine. Not on purpose, of course, just from use.


A bunch of sites out there offer daily prompts for National Poetry Month. I know I won't write a poem a day, 30 poems. I'll write a lot of poetry this month, though, partly because I'll read a lot of poetry, and that always inspires to me to write, partly because I always write a lot of poetry. I want to write a poem soon that has a line I love as much as James Wright's "...longing/For the red spider who is God." I think, "My Girl would like that line, would like the idea of God being a spider."

She is fond of me as eccentric poet-mommy, but I think sometimes rolls her eyes when I start to go off. My babbling helps her to concentrate, I think. She knows she doesn't have to listen to me when I babble the way she doesn't have to listen to reruns of Family Guy she has playing quietly on the television when she does homework.

I've gotten distracted.

I think I will steal a prompt from myself from last year (that I probably subconsciously borrowed from someone else and my apologies if that's so) that I made up for the first day of national poetry month.....

No. I'll make up a new one. What the heck?

This is silly, but here you go:

Dive into your email inbox (unless you're the kind of person who deletes messages as soon as you read them, and then I can't help you). Click on the sixth email from the top. Highlight the first sentence in the email and copy it into a file or write it down on a scrap of paper (you can cheat. If the first sentence doesn't appeal to you, use the second or the third. Who will know?). Use that sentence in a poem. Can be the first sentence of the poem, somewhere in the middle, the title, the last line.

So you'll know, my sentence is, "Greetings from Guatemala." I seriously have THE coolest friends.

(If you don't like the above prompt and want one from me, though you can probably find better prompts from real teachers and better poets, here is last year's:

In celebration of the first day of National Poetry Month, write a “first” poem, a poem about the first time you did something or saw something, maybe think of this as a "never before poem." You can write about the usual – first kiss, first love, first word, step, concert. Or you can write about something a little less expected. I started to write about the first time I visited/lived in a country where I didn’t speak the language. And the first time I tasted liver. (happened the same week))


ps - I thought about participating in Script Frenzy, which begins today, but I'm getting weary of these monthly challenges. I can pound out 50,000 words in November and sort of reflect daily on my year in December. National Poetry Month isn't about production for me; it's about celebration of this thing I love more than ... well, sex or even coffee. Als0, I haven't written a script since before 2000. I've forgotten how to do it.


  1. Sounds like our house! Yes I wanted to do something to mark National Poetry month but am already so far behind with my Mindful52 prompts and have just joined in worthy wednesday! I must stop gathering! Maybe I'll play with your prompts in my journal. You inspire me with your writing, whether it is meant to be private, "bad" or otherwise.

  2. I also wanted to do something to mark national poetry month, but don't like the idea this year of having to pound out a poem a day - it feels disrespectful somehow. So I'm reading a poem a day instead and who knows, maybe some poetry will come out of it. (Oh, and I like your email prompt idea, might try it!) Thanks by the way for reminding me of James Wright. I read the poem you posted years ago and remember it knocking my socks off.