Thursday, April 30, 2015

Thoughts About Poetry for the Finale of Poetry Month

So why write poems every day or at least once a week? Why bother to learn about archaic forms when it's so much easier to write reams of floppy emotive free verse, paying no attention to consonance, assonance, beats per line, never mind rhyming endings?

And how dare anyone, some prose writer yet, hang a one or two draft poem out to air in public when poetry is a mysterious mental alchemy conducted in secret by the high priests and priestesses of the craft? Why, demystifying the joy, the process and the mental work-out of writing a poem could open the floodgates to hordes of amateur poets!

Wait, now I want to research what the collective noun for a thundering herd of poets might be...I thought I had that wonderful book, An Exaltation of Larks, but a quick browse of my bookshelves in this writing room does not reveal it. It has the collective word for all sorts of creatures. Feel free to let me know your thoughts on the matter.

That's what writing, any kind of writing but especially poems, and especially trying out set forms, does for me. It makes me curious. Analytical. Forms compress words and therefore sharpens up and excises flabby vocabulary. It wakes up my ears. It opens my heart and mind. It forces me to think bigger. Think better.

Now I have to finesse an online workshop with six different classrooms with ages ranging from Grade 3 to Grade 10. I'm going to have the students in New Denver, Nakusp and Edgewood tackle the topics of Fear and Imagination. So I will, being a prescriptive type of teacher, spend the next days really homing in on those two entities. I like to reinvent my own workshops, keep them fresh, discover new things. I have the bones and the props but now I need to find the right words to help each kid find a way to tap into their own imaginations. And to write freely and without judgment.

Isak Dinesen (Out of Africa) said: "Write a little every day without hope and without despair."

I would add, write a little every day that is simply writing for the joy of it, for the writer needs to flex her muscles for the big projects ahead and, just as a runner or a hockey player does his stretches before starting to train in earnest, the writer needs to practice daily. Otherwise it's all talk, no action, no results.

Albert Einstein said it best: "Your imagination is your preview of life's coming attractions."

I'm not nearly as profound as either of those great minds but I humbly submit that growing plants from seed is a lot like planting a spark in my own mind. I nurture it and watch it grow, fend off any negative mildew and bugs, give it light and air and good soil to keep it grounded. Then everything, inside and out, grows. 

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Poem #28 for Poetry Month-Sicilian Tercet

                                               Sweet & Sour Endurance

                    Small tough tree, rising yet again, surprising me, that will to live
                    You survive us inept and bungling humans; drought, cold, aphids, heat
                     Little lemon, tree with ancient heart, you flower now, you forgive

This is a Sicilian tercet and a poetic and climatic sort of homage to my Meyer lemon tree which was once a graceful and balanced 3-D sort of plant but now strives for renewed life in a lopsided yet still graceful fashion. The label in the large pot it lives in says "Lazarus" and the implications are obvious. The tercet is a three line poem with an A B A rhymed ending pattern and iambic pentameter rhythm ~/~/~/. There are no set number of syllables per line.

If I can keep it protected from a killing frost inside the greenhouse and give it lots of light and enough air circulation, it will be grateful and do what it is doing right now, flowering and growing many healthy leaves. It also appreciates seaweed spray and as with all potted plants, enough nutrients and water to keep it thriving, not merely surviving. It is a plant with much to teach me. Ditto its neighbour, an avocado which somehow survived the winter outdoors under a black tarp and which Jeff spotted and rescued when he was transferring the compost (under the black tarp for many months) from one of the old wooden bins to his newly built barrel composting unit, a gift from the sea which he cleverly rejigged to become a thing of beauty that the folks at Lee Valley would endorse!

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Poem #27 for Poetry Month- Sicilian Septet

A Sicilian Septet caught my eye as the form to try out this morning with seven lines of ten syllables each and an A B A B A B A rhyme scheme. An iambic pentameter rhythm ~/~/~/~/ and so on for ten syllables is the plan, which is trickier than it seems of course. Songwriters are especially attuned to internal beats, rhyming line endings and modulating emphasis syllable by syllable. So are writers of most picture books, another genre which is much more difficult to compose successfully than adult fiction writers ever imagine it to be until they try it.

This poem was inspired by the lush crop of volunteer greens in our greenhouse, grown from seeds which the previous season’s mature plants let fly inside the greenhouse where dill and kale have taken up permanent residence for the last few years. The Chinese mustard, which may have hitched a ride in some compost which didn’t fully “cook” a clump or two of it containing its seeds, is a new indoor spring crop and a welcome peppery addition to salads and stir-fries. The dill is a reliable three-season source of fresh flavour to add to roast whole salmon, dill pickles, potato salad and dill pesto, which is probably our favourite pesto of all.  

Try three tablespoons of dill pesto with cooked farfalle or any compact pasta, six ounces of chopped smoked salmon, a tablespoon of capers and another one or two of finely chopped red onion. Add a dash of heavy cream or a glop of plain cream cheese or alfredo sauce to mellow it all out and you will be in your happy place speedily and forthwith. Fantastic warm or cold.

These photos were taken yesterday, April 27th, and our task is to eat all these greens before it gets too hot in the greenhouse for them because by late May, I will need their soil for the new crop of tomatillos, five kinds of tomatoes and the English cucumbers now growing in their starter flats on the potting bench. I will leave the dill in the main beds as we will continue to enjoy it during the summer and fall seasons ahead.

Gardening is absolutely my favourite hobby of all. Hope springs eternal and all that wise stuff. Growing green things is good for the soul. There, I said it with a straight face. Don't get me started on my Meyer's Lemon tree. It's worthy of a poem unto itself. Maybe tomorrow...

One Season’s Green Bounty Must Make Way

Here is the lush and lovely kale in spring
The dill and Chinese mustard volunteer
For long mild months of winter lay sleeping
But now April days bring Sun's heat to sear
And kale in every dish is appearing
Tomatoes and cucumbers hover near
Yearn for depth and breadth and summer’s blessing

Monday, April 27, 2015

Poem #26 for Poetry Month- Japanese Renga

This popular, and often collaborative, Japanese form consists of alternating stanzas of 5 7 5 syllables and the next with 7 and 7 syllables. Non-rhyming and non-metrical, each stanza is linked to the next by images or subject. With this one, I used the sound of human voices spanning hundreds of kilometres down the BC coast seven times daily as lightkeepers deliver "the weathers" to the Coast Guard radio staff handling communications.

The weathers are so-called because we primarily serve mariners and aviators with our dual-purpose weather reports, hence plural, the weathers. My photo is of Estevan Point Lighthouse, known for its graceful cement flying buttress architecture. It was twilight on a fine summer day with fair weather cirrus clouds backlit by the setting sun. 

Today's poem is dedicated to the stalwart men and women who served, until April 21, 2015, at the Coast Guard MCTS station in Ucluelet. They, as well as Vancouver and Comox MCTS stations have for years been handling may-days, pan-pans, marine hazards, lightkeeper weathers and foreign vessel transit through Canadian waters and much more.

Farewell, comrades of the airwaves. Prince Rupert, Comox (slated for closure in 2016), Vancouver (also on the chopping block) and Victoria MCTS staff will now handle the entire 27,000 km of BC coastline.

Weather Report Renga
For whom do we wait
without fail each third hour?
One voice: rushed or calm

The weather collector greets
us, wants our vital signs

One by one, we speak
of skies and seas and winds in
radio cadence

northwest three-five
fog bank distant south through west

Estimated wind
over sea five-zero knots
(seas three stories high)

Better someone stops, stays put
won’t drown for the halibut.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Poem #25 for Poetry Month-Japanese Somonka

Last night at the 2230 weathers, I saw a large ship on the horizon bedecked with lights. A cruise ship repositioning for the Alaska run? One of the elegant dark blue Alaska State ferries, the one which makes the journey to Seattle? Does it run at this time of year? So many questions...yet so little time to gather the data. I hustled my bustle to the radio room.

The sky was bedecked too, with a fine half-moon and many stars and Venus blazing love on her subjects but there was a blurred quality to it and the pervasive smell, not unpleasant, of wood smoke. The wind was light, barely there, whiffing in nonchalantly from the east, over the narrow Esowista Peninsula. I deduced the cause of the blurry atmosphere as campfires on Chesterman Beach, just enough of them with the wind coming from the right direction to helpfully blow smoke across the channel to our island. 

This got me thinking about fog. Summer fog. Fogust. I dug out this somonka from my Poetry File and hoped for just one more sunny day. The somonka form is comprised of two stanzas with the a syllable count of 5 7 7 7 7, unrhymed, non-metrical and typically (I disobeyed) the first stanza is a query/address from one lover to the other with the second stanza being the reply from the addressee. I guess I was addressing the Fog and reconciling myself to it versus getting all mushy and having a conversation with it!

Photo was taken at mid-day from the Estevan Point light tower (the highest on the BC coast) looking toward the radio room, workshops and the crew house, the Eagle's Nest, up on the hill. Visibility was approximately 1/8 mile in fog that August day.

One Fog Sedoka

Yes, my head is clear

while fog drifts about vaguely

doleful, sighing here and there.

I’ve learned to welcome

fog, let wind-stirred fog drops kiss

my upturned face, sweet water.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Poem #24 for Poetry Month-Japanese Katauta

We are on the home stretch to bona fide Spring indeed! I listen to the weather reports and forecasts from the Peace River region and Whitehorse, cheer on the Kootenays and Saskatoon, clap for soaring summer numbers in Winnipeg, and on it goes. Meanwhile we are easing forward in our moderate if soggy climate, making the most of the dry days for outdoor work, using the gale force and monsoon weather to finesse the indoor projects on the go. 

Spring brings more travellers to Tofino and Ucluelet on the west coast of Vancouver Island and with the resorts and restaurants hiring for the busy season ahead, lots of novice surfers from Canada and other countries (shout out to Australia). I wrote this katauta after a particularly memorable search and rescue operation which happened early in my life as a lighthouse keeper.

Meanwhile the Japanese katauta is a three line poem: unrhymed but with a syllable count of 5 7 7. It's a little like the mondo in that the first line asks a question and the next two lines "answer" in a seemingly spontaneous and intuitive fashion. Lots of possibilities!
Search & Rescue Katauta

When do we give up?
Black wetsuit on black water
Just pray she is tough, floating

Friday, April 24, 2015

Poem #23 for Poetry Month-Tibetan Gzha

Today, a Tibetan gzha, which is a poem meant to become a dance song. I would love to hear and see one, or many, someday. 

The form is a quatrain: five lines of six syllables and the fifth and last line beginning with a spondee (a word I’ve been keen to use somewhere and this is my first chance, rhymes with goatee) which are two strongly stressed syllables. The first four lines are spoken or sung in a trochaic metre of light and stressed syllables or (~/ ~/ ~/). No rhyming is necessary but as with any dance beat, parallelism in its content and a strong sense of internal assonance (vowels multiplying) and consonance (consonants repeating) is expected.

I imagined young girls in spring colours dancing in a circle, imitating the effects of April's brutal weather on their (flower) heads; covering, bowing, bending, bobbing and then the triumphant alert finale when they become irises, resilient to whatever the weather does to them, dancing in the rain and the wind.

Viva Iris! Brava!

Spring blossoms are battered
Ice pellets slice through leaves
Cold rain slams the lily
Drags the daffodil down
Hope holds iris heads high!