Just a reminder–here in the US, it is national Poem in your Pocket day. You should all print out your favorite sepielle, or something to annoy your co-workers with, and carry it around just in case.
If any of you run into me today, this is what I’ll recite to you.
Twice today, students asked questions that I had previously examined on this blog, such that my immediate thought was “oh, I’ll just recite this verse”. Which, of course, I did not. I gave a nice, thorough, completely prose response.
I need to get more people reciting my verses as answers to classroom questions, so that I can do so without raising suspicion.
In the future, anapestic tetrameter will replace powerpoint as the go-to presentation format.
Ok, this is really beautiful. Via Matthew Hendley writing for the Phoenix New Times blogs, we read that a second humanist representative, Juan Mendez, has had the chance to deliver the opening prayer for the Arizona House (the first was last May). Monday’s prayer wonderfully combines William Cleary’s “Grace to Shout” with Audre Lorde’s “Litany for Survival”, and it is, to my ear, a far more appropriate opening message for a legislative body than any supplication to a deity could possibly be:
In keeping with the spirit of the Opening Prayer during which we make a petition honoring our most sacred beliefs, I share with you a poem I adapted after hearing it from someone I respect — a prayer from my Humanist worldview that appeals to all our common humanness.
Today I ask for us all
the grace to shout
the grace to shout when it hurts,
even though silence is expected of us,
and the grace to listen when others shout
though it be painful to hear,
the grace to object, to protest, when we feel, taste or observe injustice
believing that even the unjust and arrogant
are human nonetheless
and therefore are worthy of strong efforts to reach them.
Do not choose a path that leads to the heart of despair
but choose to fill yourself with courage and understanding,
Choose to be that person who knows very well
when the moment has come to protest
I ask for us all the grace to be angry
when the weakest are the first to be exploited
and the trapped are squeezed for their meager resources,
when the most deserving are the last to thrive,
and the privileged demand more privilege.
I ask that we seek the inspiration we find inside each other to make our voices heard
when we have something that needs to be said,
something that rises to our lips despite the fear that was created in hopes to silence us,
to make us feel unwelcome
Audre Lorde, writer and civil rights activist asked us,
To remember that when we are silent we are still afraid
So it is better to speak
we were never meant to survive.
And so in closing I ask for us all to have the grace to listen when the many finally rise to speak and their words are an agony for us.
Beautiful and appropriate.
We can’t have that. Cue the obligatory commenter, reminding us that we are guaranteed freedom of, not from, religion, and suggesting that representative Mendez…, well, let’s let the commenter speak for himself:
This idiot athiest must be put shown the door and put on the next bus back to Mexico where he came from. His kind is not welcome here.
The good news is, the other commenters are not agreeing. The bad news is, you don’t have to look far to find scores who do.
Constraining one’s writing
Can make it exciting
Constraints make it better, not worse
It requires more thought
(Or, they tell me, it ought)
To express what you want, say, in verse.
But I’ve just seen an ode
Nearly written in code–
With multiple layers of constraints
Take a look, if you will,
At this beauty and skill…
And the literal picture it paints
So, yeah, I write with constraints. Often. Rhyme and meter are each constraining, and we can add to this the constraint of topic–my verses are usually commentary, first and foremost. Sometimes I am translating a real story into verse, and have no freedom to change crucial details. Choosing a particular verse form, like a sonnet or a villanelle (or even my own, still-unnamed, form) is a further constraint–and since today is Edgar Allan Poe’s birthday, I can also mention my verses based on The Bells and The Raven (both of which tell real stories in a very specific and recognizable rhyme and meter format). Poe also liked to hide names or phrases in the initial (or later) letters of his poems’ lines–I have done that on occasion as well (I can’t remember any examples I have posted on this blog, though)–it is a fun challenge. I’ve written (again, not here) sonnets that were constrained by having the same number of characters in each line. Verses where the number of letters per word just happened to match the digits of pi.
But (Cuttlecap tip to Pierce R. Butler via email) I’ve just seen an example of constrained writing (“The Extra-Constrained Anagram”, by Mike Keith) that puts them all to shame. And it is Poe-related, so it is perfect for today.
Consider. Take a poem written by Poe himself. Use the letters in that poem (and only those) to write an anagram (constraint 1), itself a poem (constraint 2), telling the story of the author’s pilgrimage to Poe’s grave (constraint 3), with the last 13 lines beginning with EDGAR ALLAN POE (constraint 4).
But none of these is the real constraint. Consider the following scheme for turning a piece of text into a grayscale picture:
(1) Break the text up into its sequence of words. This sounds trivial, but some rules have to be settled on to avoid ambiguity or illogical results. I decided on these rules as being the most natural:
(a) Apostrophes do not (of course) cause a string to be split. E.g., “love’s law” is a 5-letter word followed by a 3-letter word.
(b) The hyphen (“-“) is a delimiter. “Half-paid stone” is three words, not two.
(c) All other punctuation is ignored.
(2) Take each word of three or more letters and do the following:
First, sum up the values the letters in the word (with the usual A=1, B=2, C=3, etc.).
Then, reduce the sum modulo 9, giving a value in the range 0 through 8.
(Note that the second step is equivalent to continually together adding the digits of the sum until a single digit is left – i.e., “casting out nines” – except with that method, if the final result is a 9 it is replaced with 0.)
(3) Take the resulting series of 0-to-8 values and arrange them in a two-dimensional grid. The dimensions of the rectangle will in general be ambiguous, so it either has to be specified or you can just try various different possibilities and see if any of them are interesting. The one to try first, we suggest, is the rectangle with the largest possible size in X such that the X size is less than or equal to the Y size. For example, for 396 this would be 18 x 22.
(4) View the result as a gray-scale image, with 0=black and the other values evenly distributed up to 8=white.
That’s right, the entire poem produces a literal picture (constraint 5 through infinity). A very specific, very recognizable picture.
My commenters saw through my evil plot:
I think, for the year, I will write in prose only;
no rhyme and no meter, no scansion, no verse.
Iambic pentameter? Perish the notion!
We’ll see if my writing gets better… or worse.
A year without sonnets, or ballads, or limericks;
a year without couplets or bad villanelles;
a year when my thoughts must be written, unfiltered
by badly-forced rhymes jammed in metrical shells.
I’ve posted in quatrains; I’ve posted in couplets;
I’ve posted a few in a form of my own.
I’ve written more verse than I care to remember,
in forms more diverse than most people have known!
But now, for one year, I will change up my thinking;
I’ll curb my obsession with meter and rhyme.
Or maybe I won’t, cos this “try it a year” bit
is silly, and simply a waste of my time.
This was, in fact, a commentary on the pastor’s year of living godlessly. It seems an honest try, and not a con, but stranger things have happened. We shall see.
The odds of my ability to change, to see the world and not look first for rhymes, are small. I’d have to wholly re-arrange my thoughts (already strained enough, at times). We can, with practice, change our usual ways of doing things; we are not set in stone. But wow, it’s hard—a year’s a lot of days, and who’s to say it’s worth it, once it’s done? So, no, I think I’ll keep on writing verse, pretending it’s a blessing, not a curse.
I think, for the year, I will write in prose only; no rhyme and no meter, no scansion, no verse. Iambic pentameter? Perish the notion! We’ll see if my writing gets better… or worse.
A year without sonnets, or ballads, or limericks; a year without couplets or bad villanelles; a year when my thoughts must be written, unfiltered by badly-forced rhymes jammed in metrical shells.
I’ve posted in quatrains; I’ve posted in couplets; I’ve posted a few in a form of my own. I’ve written more verse than I care to remember, in forms more diverse than most people have known! But now, for one year, I will change up my thinking; I’ll curb my obsession with meter and rhyme.
Or maybe I won’t, cos this “try it a year” bit is silly, and simply a waste of my time.
… and all proceeds going to charity.
So checking the site stats today, I note that it is the beginning of the season for searching google for “atheist christmas poem”, “atheist christmas cards”, “atheist xmas” and the like.
So I just thought I’d link again, to the only collection you need. Some 17 verses, 32 pages, and all proceeds going to charity (given that I won’t see the money for a couple of months after you buy, I am not naming a charity yet, but I will be transparent.)
And yes, if you didn’t see it, my second collection of verses is out–profits from this one are going to me. It, and all other options (including some free downloadable ones) may be found here.
… ze’s gonna want to fill it up.
So while giving an exam the other day, I found an empty Blue Book in the classroom, left behind by a previous class. There I was, trapped for 80+ minutes in a room, with a whole 16 pages of wide-ruled notebook paper. And a dozen extra number 2 pencils.
It was too much to resist. I plan on filling the entire thing, then dropping it surreptitiously on the floor of the English Department. So far, it only has 2 verses:
I found an empty Blue Book
And I knew just what to do:
I asked it if it wanted
To explain why it was blue
“The emptiness inside me”
Said the book, “is hard to take.”
But it didn’t want a sandwich
And it didn’t want some cake
It didn’t want a candy bar
It wanted words, instead–
It said that ink tastes salty,
So I’m filling it with lead.
In English Departments
You’ll rarely find times
When the stuff they call poetry
Cos rhyme with your meter’s
A thing of the past
(Even meter is vanishing
Lacking form; lacking structure
We call it “Free Verse”
(It makes amateur poetry
It’s not worth a penny
I think you’ll agree–
Maybe that’s why they’re calling it
From fragments sifted from the dirt
We piece together what was here
An image forms, a poor mosaic;
Some details never will be shown.
The evidence of daily life—
A broken lamp, a shattered vase,
A stairway worn with countless steps,
The profile of a woman’s face—
These buried pieces, lost to time
We may discover, quite by chance
While off in search of something else—
An accident of circumstance.
So, too, it seems, with memories;
Forgotten, lost, for decades hidden
But then, while on another search
They spring to present mind, unbidden.
They feel complete, in every way,
As if no more than hours old
But how much is illusory?
It could be quite a lot, I’m told.
We reconstruct our precious past
And fill in gaps, the experts say,
To fit our present narrative
And lead to what we feel today
I found this verse—well, half of it—
I’d written several years ago;
I’ve reconstructed what I meant…
Or maybe not. We’ll never know.
So, yeah, I literally found the first half of this verse, in the back of a notebook I was using in Greece. I must have written it after visiting one of the many archaeological museums or digs we went to (the above image is, I believe, from Pella). The verse stopped after the word “Forgotten”, which (as you can see) is immediately after the shift from literal to metaphor, and a bit of an ironic place to have to reconstruct from. Some of the museums had pots that were considerably more filled-in than original shards; some were nearly complete. Sometimes you knew, or believed you did, exactly what the artist or crafter had in mind; other times, the effect was equal parts their imagination and your own.
Did I complete the thought I had started over 5 years ago? Probably not. Maybe. I’m a different cuttlefish than I was then.
Heh… if I were cruel, I’d link Schubert’s “unfinished symphony” as the autoplay music for this post.