Sunday, November 11, 2012

Poppies and Dumplings

And there it is - nine days into Nablopomo we scuttled our own best efforts to achieve optimal success. (Failed)

But we're going to push forward here at Righteous Polka. Just because we're no longer in contention for a wreath of laurels - or jpg Badge of Completion - doesn't mean we give up. We have nothing if not a fighting - some might say combative - spirit.

Which brings us to today, Veterans Day in the U.S. and Remembrance Day in British Commonwealth countries.

A little background for the history-averse: On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month an agreement, The Armistice, was signed by The Allies and Germany, signaling the end of World War One.

"At 11 a.m. on 11th November 1918, the guns of the Western Front fell silent after more than four years continuous warfare.

Originally the day was known as Armistice Day but was renamed Remembrance Day after the Second World War." A war, you'll remember, also lost by Germany.

The strange thing is that I'm in Germany today, where St. Martin's Day (Martinstag/Martinmas) is celebrated on 11 November, and the focus is on goose and dumplings, not on poppies and wreathes and memorials.

And that feels surreal.

It isn't strange because I usually walk around with a paper poppy tucked into my coat lapel (Americans appreciate the tradition but don't follow it) or because I'm Outstandingly Patriotic.

It's the sitting here, with and among the descendants of the Other survivors and casualties of both World Wars. The soldiers whose military lives we watch, dramatized and reenacted on The History Channel.

Those Guys. The Bad Guys. Who, in reality, were not bad. The vast, vast majority of them were scared kids, following orders, just like our guys, The Good Guys.

Here I sit and watch children, grandchildren, great-great grandchildren go about their Sunday business presumably oblivious to the non-goose-related meaning of today and I wonder: When do they venerate their war dead? I have no idea. Just as they, probably, have no idea.

Yeah, completely surreal.

The City's Oldest Known Survivor of the Great War
By James Doyle
marches in uniform down the traffic stripe
at the center of the street, counts time
to the unseen web that has rearranged
the air around him, his left hand
stiff as a leather strap along his side,
the other saluting right through the decades
as if they weren't there, as if everyone under ninety
were pervasive fog the morning would dispel
in its own good time, as if the high school band
all flapping thighs and cuffs behind him
were as ghostly as the tumbleweed on every road
dead-ended in the present, all the ancient infantry
shoulder right, through a skein of bone, presenting arms
across the drift, nothing but empty graves now
to round off another century,
the sweet honey of the old cadence, the streets
going by at attention, the banners glistening with dew,
the wives and children blowing kisses.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Alabama Poet Laureate

This week Governor Robert Bentley commissioned Andrew Glaze, former Pulitzer Prize contender, as the state's Poet Laureate. Glaze will serve a 4-year term beginning in 2013.

About him, Robert Frost wrote, “I have high hopes for Mr. Glaze.” 

You see? Not all Alabama poetry is set to music...unfortunately Mr. Glaze is actually (shhhh!) a native Nashvillian, but graduated from Ramsay High School in Birmingham.

I wanted to post one of his poems, but cannot location one online.

And I can't hold my eyes open. So this is it. The lamest post of Nablopomo. 

You knew it had to happen eventually.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

With Me

It seems that every hobby, passion and special interest is shared and supported by a community.

Either online or in person, fighting beetle breeders, carved egg shell collectors and noodlers congregate and compare notes. They share tips and tricks, war stories and rare finds.

People who play with words are no different. Loathe as I generally am to get involved with organized anything, I find that I love spending time with other word people. Word people who are better with words than I am. Wordsmiths.

One of the loveliest, kindest, most generous and clever wordsmiths I know is Brooke. She recently married a truly good guy and wrote this poem for their wedding ceremony - and she has deigned to share it with us.

Brooke is a colleague and a friend, and this is her submission to Righteous Poetry Month.

by Brooke Bullman

Come walk with me
by the low unbroken fields
up the trail to wild wood
through the sand on gray rain beaches.

Be with me
in the light of every morning
in stony rivers cold and pure
in mountain balds of laurel, azalea, and sun.

Talk with me
while dinners are made
gold buttons are stitched
and children are held and soothed.

Stay with me
beneath dark new moons
down dim and lonesome roads
and through adventures lost.

Go with me
to the places on our lists
off the pale and sleeping maps
to thresholds of unimagined dreams.
Together we’ll go.
Places new, old, dark, bright, misty, unknown,
Go with me there—
together we are home.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Election Day Prose

Everyone is busy watching exit polling this evening - present company included - so  let's take a quick look at a poetry format that doesn't require much explanation.

Free Verse is the great equalizer of poetry. It demands no meter, no rhyme and no specific pattern. Even if you have a tin ear and can't dance you can write a free verse poem.

Free verse is not my favorite format, but as a fan of the pragmatic I appreciate the straightforward way it tells a story...especially on Election Day when everyone is looking for  little less B.S.

My Mother Goes to Vote
By Judith Harris

We walked five blocks
to the elementary school,
my mother’s high heels
crunching through playground gravel.
We entered through a side door.

Down the long corridor,
decorated with Halloween masks,
health department safety posters—
we followed the arrows
to the third grade classroom.

My mother stepped alone
into the booth, pulling the curtain behind her.
I could see only the backs of her
calves in crinkled nylons.

A partial vanishing, then reappearing
pocketbook crooked on her elbow,
our mayor’s button pinned to her lapel.
Even then I could see—to choose
is to follow what has already
been decided.

We marched back out
finding a new way back down streets
named for flowers
and accomplished men.
I said their names out loud, as we found

our way home, to the cramped house,
the devoted porch light left on,
the customary meatloaf.
I remember, in the classroom converted
into a voting place—
there were two mothers, conversing,
squeezed into the children’s desk chairs.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Poetry Rock Stars You Should Know - Part I

“What you have to realize when you write poetry, or if you love poetry, is that poetry is just naturally the greatest god damn thing that ever was in the whole universe” - James Dickey

Southern poet James Lafayette Dickey (Lafayette gave him away as a Southerner, didn't it?) was the eighteenth United States Poet Laureate - then known as Poetry Consultant to the Library of Congress.

He was the kind of poet college football fans could really get behind. According to The Great Online Repository of all Things Mostly Accurate:

In 1942 he enrolled at Clemson Agricultural College of South Carolina and played on the football team as a tailback. After one semester, he left school to enlist in the Army Air Corps...Between the wars he attended Vanderbilt University, graduating with degrees in English and philosophy, as well as minoring in astronomy. He also taught at the University of Florida.

Dickey was invited to read his poem "The Strength of Fields" at President Jimmy Carter's inauguration in 1977.

"The Strength of Fields" is not what anyone would consider an entry-level poem, so I leave you with an except from his work "The Hospital Window" to which many of us - unfortunately - can relate.

by James L. Dickey

I have just come down from my father.

Higher and higher he lies
Above me in a blue light
Shed by a tinted window.
I drop through six white floors
And then step out onto pavement.

Still feeling my father ascend,

I start to cross the firm street,
My shoulder blades shining with all
The glass the huge building can raise.
Now I must turn round and face it,
And know his one pane from the others.

Each window possesses the sun

As though it burned there on a wick.
I wave, like a man catching fire.
All the deep-dyed windowpanes flash,
And, behind them, all the white rooms
They turn to the color of Heaven.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Dragon Poems

A confluence of random things conspired to bring me to today's poem about a dragon:

1. Season 5 of Merlin on BBC.
2. A t-tiny soft spot in my cold, black heart for light verse.
3. ....and Ogend Nash
4. I finally watched "How to Train Your Dragon."

Today's poem is brought to you by the letter D.

By Ogden Nash

Belinda lived in a little white house,
With a little black kitten and a little gray mouse,
And a little yellow dog and a little red wagon,
And a realio, trulio, little pet dragon.

Now the name of the little black kitten was Ink,
And the little gray mouse, she called her Blink,
And the little yellow dog was sharp as Mustard,
But the dragon was a coward, and she called him Custard.

Custard the dragon had big sharp teeth,
And spikes on top of him and scales underneath,
Mouth like a fireplace, chimney for a nose,
And realio, trulio, daggers on his toes.

Belinda was as brave as a barrel full of bears,
And Ink and Blink chased lions down the stairs,
Mustard was as brave as a tiger in a rage,
But Custard cried for a nice safe cage.

Belinda tickled him, she tickled him unmerciful,
Ink, Blink and Mustard, they rudely called him Percival,
They all sat laughing in the little red wagon
At the realio, trulio, cowardly dragon.

Belinda giggled till she shook the house,
And Blink said Week!, which is giggling for a mouse,
Ink and Mustard rudely asked his age,
When Custard cried for a nice safe cage.

Suddenly, suddenly they heard a nasty sound,
And Mustard growled, and they all looked around.
Meowch! cried Ink, and Ooh! cried Belinda,
For there was a pirate, climbing in the winda.

Pistol in his left hand, pistol in his right,
And he held in his teeth a cutlass bright,
His beard was black, one leg was wood;
It was clear that the pirate meant no good.

Belinda paled, and she cried, Help! Help!
But Mustard fled with a terrified yelp,
Ink trickled down to the bottom of the household,
And little mouse Blink strategically mouseholed.

But up jumped Custard, snorting like an engine,
Clashed his tail like irons in a dungeon,
With a clatter and a clank and a jangling squirm
He went at the pirate like a robin at a worm.

The pirate gaped at Belinda's dragon,
And gulped some grog from his pocket flagon,
He fired two bullets but they didn't hit,
And Custard gobbled him, every bit.

Belinda embraced him, Mustard licked him,
No one mourned for his pirate victim
Ink and Blink in glee did gyrate
Around the dragon that ate the pyrate.

Belinda still lives in her little white house,
With her little black kitten and her little gray mouse,
And her little yellow dog and her little red wagon,
And her realio, trulio, little pet dragon.

Belinda is as brave as a barrel full of bears,
And Ink and Blink chase lions down the stairs,
Mustard is as brave as a tiger in a rage,
But Custard keeps crying for a nice safe cage. 

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Monday's Child

I was seriously surprised to learn that very few of my coworkers have heard this rhyme; since that conversation I've been asking random acquaintances if they know it.  While I've found a few people who are vaguely familiar with it, I haven't found anyone yet who knows Monday's Child - any of the versions - by heart.

This is curious to me. Hmmm - a puzzle!

 I don't think it's generational because just as many Gen X-ers as Gen Y and Millennials are unfamiliar with it. And I don't think its a Northern Thing because half the people I've polled are from north, or west, of Louisville.

Maybe it's only known these days in the Great Lakes region or around Chicago? Maybe only my people remember it. My grandfather's family is from northern England (Derbyshire) and Monday's Child originated in Devonshire...which is in the opposite end of the country, so that's a pretty leaky theory.

Most likely only rhyme-nerds with a fondness for English history can recite it on cue....

Monday's Child is actually considered a nursery rhyme, not a poem, but what's the difference? The meter repeats and it rhymes, so it's a poem says I.

To prevent this from becoming a nutrition-free junk food kind of post, here's a bit of history courtesy of Wikipedia:

"This rhyme was first recorded in A. E. Bray's Traditions of Devonshire in 1838, although the tradition of fortune telling by days of birth is much older. Stories told to young people in Suffolk in the 1570s included telling what luck one should have by the day of the week on which s/he was born."

Monday's Child (aka Saturday's Child)

Monday's child is fair of face
Tuesday's child is full of grace,
Wednesday's child is full of woe,
Thursday's child has far to go,
Friday's child is loving and giving,
Saturday's child works hard for a living,
But the child who is born on the Sabbath Day
Is bonny and blithe and good and gay.

Friday, November 2, 2012

And Miles to Go

Photo Credit: Valentina Ceccatelli

I used to hate poetry.

More accurately, I was too lazy for poetry. I didn't deserve poetry.

"It's not you, Haiku, it's me."

Do you remember that time in your life when you  were just too self-centered to really be useful to anyone? Maybe it started when you became a teenager and lasted until you graduated from school at...whatever age.

For me that period lasted, basically, from age 12 until 35. It was during this chunk of time that I just couldn't be there for poetry, you know?

So despite exhibiting signs of sheer poetic genius at an early age, and borrowing a book of  Shakespeare's sonnets from the library SO many times over the summer break between fifth and six grades that the librarian finally told me, "Just hold onto it until you're through" I didn't take much notice of poetry after age 11.

Except, of course, in high school where you really can't avoid things like essays and novellas and poetry. I remember an in-class exercise, with all the accompanying moaning and groaning, wherein we deconstructed "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening."

We'd dragged our desks into a circle and gone around the room talking about the contrasts in the poem and the real meaning behind the words.

All the while I was thinking, "Jesus and all the Saints, who cares about the contradictions? Why can't we just read the poem? It's about snow! And a horse! Leave it alone!"

As it turns out, my adolescent reaction was not unique. At least, that's what Billy Collins says.

The explanation of how I finally - and very recently - came around to poetry is a story for another day.

In the meantime, read this funny little poem.
Enjoy it and try not to read too much into it - sometimes rope is  just rope.

Introduction to Poetry, by Billy Collins

I ask them to take a poem   
and hold it up to the light   
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem   
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem’s room   
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski   
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author’s name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope   
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose   
to find out what it really means.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

National Poetry Month

...isn't until next April.

In the meantime we here at Righteous Polka are celebrating our OWN Poetry Month and syncing it with with National Blog Posting Month to create:

Thirty Righteous Poems in Thirty Righteous Days

Just imagine it! Thirty days of epic-ish poetry delivered directly to your Facebook page or RSS feed! For free! And look! Six exclamatory statements in one paragraph! It's madness!

Let's get the party started with a slam poem:

Definitions -  by Rudy Francisco

Envy is when someone walks around with a pocket full of “that should’ve been me”
Hate is what happens when you put a shotgun to the face of understanding and it cowers in the corner
Truth  is everything you tell yourself when you realize that no one is looking
Courage is ripping your heart from your chest and saying “here…hold on to this for me”
Trust is when you jump into someone’s arms knowing they would never let you hit the ground
Love is a tablespoon of hemlock I’ve been dying to try
Faith is doing what you love for a living and watching the bills pay themselves
Failure is when you talk yourself out of becoming something amazing