Tag Archives: Poetry

The Inescapable Nevering

THE INESCAPABLE NEVERING

Close to the half-century mark
I will likely never

Climb Mount Everest
Spend a night in the International Space Station
Star in a Hollywood picture

And I’m okay with that or mostly okay
But there is another never
Far more subtle and harder to accept

Hundreds of beloved books on my bookshelf
that will never be reread
Thousands of favorite songs in my collection
that will never be heard again
And millions of pleasant thoughts in my head
that will never be thought again

Not so much forgotten or ignored
As simply not coming to mind
Buried in the vault of me

That keeps on acquiring
new books to read
new music to hear
new pleasant thoughts to cherish

iTunes tells me I need
(right now)
215.4 days to listen
(to everything)

one      time      through

Music plays while I write this
The whole of it on shuffle

Week 17 Thoughts

Time Keeping

It’s difficult to know how to use
this limited time we got.

Better to be a mayfly
searching for a one-day stand
then drop.

Or maybe be a soap bubble
expanding its breath a glorious once
then PoP.

Better to be a rock
enduring millenniums
with stony laughter.

Or maybe an island
keeping to itself a million years
before going underwater.

A human life is only long enough
to realize it’s not.

————-

Notes on poem:

Poets and Writer’s The Time is Now e-newsletter came today. Number 17. It is also week 17 of my second year being underemployed.

The big toenail of each foot has come off during those 69 weeks due to separate cases of being in the wrong spot as I pulled a heavy load. The left one seems to have grown back to semi-normal. The right one, not so much.

I wonder if it will heal. Or if I will see it. I wonder if week 32 will find me in a better place. Or homeless. Or maybe an aneurysm at week 31 will make thoughts of week 32 moot.

At week 17, I still have power to type this. An Electric Disconnect letter makes having such a luxury at week 18 uncertain. I meet with someone today to request assistance. If successful, I can spend week 18, lights on, worrying about week 19 Food and Shelter.

Maybe week 20 I will find a better job. Maybe week 25 I will find Tin House liking the story I sent them. Maybe week 45 I will get a book deal.

Or maybe week 18 is week number 1 in another 69 weeks.

Marking Our Territory

playground, Lakeside Park

playground, Lakeside Park — Erin Dupuis, photographer

MARKING OUR TERRITORY
JD Fox

Is that a gator from the bayou
ready to take a bite?
Or is it a friend tried and true
standing by your side?

Maybe it’s your faithful steed
waiting for you to take the reins.
Maybe it’s just what you need
to cross uncharted terrains.

Brush off the snow and climb aboard.
No one is rejected.
Let your imagination soar
in ways unexpected.

Turn a stick into a sword
and slay the dragons around you.
Paint the grass in checkerboard
and play a game of chess or two.

Turn a vacant lot into a town square
and see potential in a wall.
Gather all the artists there
and beckon them to draw.

Have the poets write their lines
on sidewalks of the neighborhood.
It doesn’t matter if they rhyme
(though of course they could).

Have the musicians play all day
keeping music in the air.
May each contribute in their own way
and be heard everywhere.

Such suggestions might seem unsound
when we get down to brass tacks.
But the world is our playground
and our actions are our tracks.

Courtesy Burlington Writers Workshop and PlanBTV South End, I had a wonderful opportunity to work with photographer Erin Dupuis on a mixed media project. The idea was to capture some aspect of the South End that we found inspiring. She took a photograph and I wrote a poem to go along with it.

We had some logistical setbacks, both scheduling-wise and with subjects declining at the eleventh hour. We had originally envisioned the photograph and poem being of a person in action in the South End, but when that fell through, Erin sent me a batch of photographs she had taken at the start of the project.

All the photographs were stunning and inspiring, despite the lack of people inhabiting them. Or maybe more so because of it.

For one of the pictures she sent me was a stark closeup of an empty swing. My mind started whirring with the twin ideas of how sad it is to see a playground not in use and how a playground is full of potential. What was I Iooking at? An abandoned swing, slated for deterioration from apathy? Or something just currently — and temporarily — dormant until kids came out to play.

I thought it looked more like the former and my poetic train of thought turned bleak, as I thought of budget cuts, empty playgrounds, and childhood cut short. But at the same time, my thoughts went a different route, thinking how what things are and what they can be are both up to us.

As I looked at the picture included in this blog, this more affirming, second thought took over. I imagined joyous kids of unlimited potential climbing onto this creature and it becoming whatever they wanted it to be.  In the same way, our reality — our future — is never fixed; we have the power to change it for the better; to make it what we want.

In the picture, notice the tracks in the snow. Someone was there. What did they do? Where did they go? The tracks are evidence; a record of their passing through. What kind of record are we leaving?

Life outside the Rose Garden

So keep your eyes set on the horizon
On the line where blue meets blue

Life outside the Rose Garden

Sick at Thanksgiving, it’s hard to be thankful
for fever, fatigue, and loss of productivity.
At times like this, I feel the virus
mutating my immune system cell by cell.

The next day, today, same bills still to pay
make staying home a pretend thought
stolen from others with sufficient means;
possessors of dreams that do not stay frozen.

How do you keep your eyes on the horizon
when fog banks keep rolling in?
I drink coffee, write bad poetry, and try
to keep things in a less jaundiced perspective:

I have my spouse of nineteen years
plus our dog, two cats, and a fish.

Courting our Thoughts

This post is about words

More specifically, a word: court.

So if you don’t give a fuck about words and/or the word court, don’t read. But then again, even if you do give a fuck, go ahead and read but please don’t give your fuck to me. I’m not sure I even know exactly what you would be giving me, but I’m pretty sure that I wouldn’t want it. I’m also fairly certain that I already have a sufficient supply of fucks of my own to give or not give.

Ah, beautiful language. Beautiful fucking language.

I attended a cool mixed-media performance last night at Buch Spieler, a record store with records. Owner Fred Wilber — of the band Madman 3 — laid down some nifty electronic sequences to accompany the ever provocative spoken word of VT Poetry Slam Champ Geoff Hewitt.

One thing good art does is lubricate the brain and heaven knows that my rusty brain perpetually needs a squirt now and again to remind its more creative neurons to stay on their axons; not something easy to do when your paying-bills job reminds you of the machine room in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis.

As I watched, listened, and zoned in to the show, I thought I need to write more poetry.

I also thought I’m hungry, as I had worked all day at the aforementioned job and had yet so far only had a couple of muffins several hours ago. But I mostly thought about poetry, as I can go longer without food than without creativity.

Fast forward to the next day, this morning actually, to after I fed our cats and was out walking our dog, both those things needing done before I’m off to my own version of Lang’s world.

WORD ALERT — the word COURT ahead —- WORD ALERT.

The above is for readers who might either be skimming or bored or both, wondering when the hell is he going to talk about the word court. So now you to know the hell is soon forthcoming.

I walked us up State St to the Vermont Statehouse, then through the parking lot, spilling onto a street I thought I’d never been on before. It turned out to be Court St, which I had previously traveled — though I hadn’t walked that part of it — when walking to Hubbard Park.

To get to the Park, I went up School St and turned on Hillside Ave; that intersection where Court St angles off to go its own northwest way. I absently registered the name and idly thought about the word Court in the context of names like Fowler Courts at Purdue University, where I lived for a couple of years. I tangentially thought of how roads are called streets, avenues, lanes, boulevards, courts, and so on, and wondered about the distinctions.

I also thought holy mackerel, Hillside Ave and especially the Cliff St that it becomes is friggin’ steep; this is tiring. But that’s unrelated to the promised Court discussion, so we will say no more about it here.

Walking southeast from the State House down the unfamiliar street I came upon the Hillside Ave signage which also informed me I had been walking on Court St.

This time I thought, “Oh, duh, that makes sense.” The name of the street, that is. Before the Statehouse, is the Vermont Supreme Court. So a road leading to Court being called thus isn’t exactly head-scratching. But it is fascinating from a philosophy of mind viewpoint.

The duh, that makes sense came about because I automatically, and effortlessly, drew the “logical” connection of their being a judicial court and the road to it being called Court. Previously not realizing the presence of such a building, my Court thoughts were different.

To me this illustrates two important mental points.

The first should be obvious: that thoughts are always about something; that is, attached to something. I mention it here because sometimes in philosophy you’ll hear goofy ideas about Pure Thought, as if we can strip away the mental from the physical and thus better understand it. But that would be like cutting down all the trees so you can have a better look at the forest.

The more sublime — and amazing — point is how its aboutness and its attachment changes along with our experience. We never think in a vacuum; in a space devoid of content. Our interactions with the world — and what we are doing at any given moment in time — influence it.

What is altogether neat — or spooky — is that most — practically all — of this type of processing occurs at the unconscious level; our brain continuously processes — and reprocesses — the inputs we feed it via our senses and our ongoing mental activity. Its “conscious” output is thus heavily — primarily, really — influenced by the Un, even though it feels otherwise.

I have a lot more to say on this, but unfortunately I have to go to my non-thinking-about-thinking job. But I want to end with this illustrative thought:

When you read the first two words here in this little blog — “This post…” — what did you think “post” referenced? You likely didn’t think of fence posts or flag posts or bulletin board notices or daily mail or any other usage of post except for an entry like this.

But the two words — This post — give no clue on their own as to which meaning of “post” is intended. Yet you did not need to have anymore than those two words to have an expectation of a blog entry.

You consciously read the words, but it was your unconscious that gave the otherwise vacuous words meaning.

In the not so Present

This is why events unnerve me

It’s early morning. When am I?

I am currently sitting on our couch with a laptop and a cat – Amber – on my lap (making a fairly crowded lap) with a cup of coffee close at hand. But I’m only partly located in this most curious currently; this collective fiction of now.

Instead I am thinking ahead to my shift at Shaw’s grocery store, which begins in a few hours and will be day number six of eight-hour-plus shifts. I am thinking ahead and beyond that, looking forward to Thursday when I have time off (which is weird expression when you think about it).

Time off, or maybe more accurately time on, to provide feedback on a poem in my mailbox from a professor of English I met; and also review his feedback on a poem that I sent him. I plan (another non-now word) on doing so tomorrow morning.

In the morning before I go to the afternoon orientation at the library for volunteering there. Which will be before The Vermont Cares board of directors early evening meeting. Which will be before the later evening Montpelier Conservation Commission meeting.

I’m thinking to the next days as well. Friday with another Shaw’s shift. Which will be before the Montpelier Friday Night Group, where I’m co-facilitator. But also Saturday, which is another day off (and another strange phrase when you think about it), where I wil be volunteering at the Vermont Queer and Allied Youth Summit.

I type these words, this list of upcoming, as Amber makes a little half-purr noise indicating life is good on JD’s lap and closes her eyes. My eyes are open, but I’m only partly seeing the screen and her, most of me looking back to recent events that I had hoped to have blogged about by now.

Such as the wonderful film by Kubrick I recently saw called Paths of Glory. Or before that to the wonderful poetry reading I attended where sixth graders from Main Street Middle School read their poems alongside seniors (senior as in elderly, not grade) on themes of adolescence (Looking Back, Looking Forward). Or after that to a wonderful birthday party a friend had where – and this seems very Vermont to me – a recitation of Four Quartets by TS Eliot was given.

A lot of wonderful deserving to be written about. And I want to write about the not so wonderful, too. And write about the in-between wonderful as well.

Some things somehow do get written in the oh so limited now space that doesn’t even really exist, forever falling away out of our grasp.

I didn’t write about the sixth grade poets, but I got inspired to write a short story about a queer sixth grader trying to get his older sister in trouble and things not going as he had planned. Wrote it and submitted it. I haven’t yet written my response to the poet on the poem he sent me. But a dystopian poem of mine we had recently discussed has been accepted for publication by Cactus Heart.

Two, four, or six degrees of creative separation, maybe?

Daylight stirs Amber. She decides her now is better spent on the condo by the window and currently stares out into a reality that for her is happening one tick and tock at a time.

My own ticks and tocks are a jumbled mess. Past and future clicks of the clock blur together as they’re drenched in present worry of there not being enough of them left; soaked in the realization there were never enough to begin with.

I type here as I.C. Water by Psychic TV plays on ITunes. The song is dedicated to Ian Curtis, the lead singer of Joy Division. His temporality ended abruptly with a rope.

I type in this ambiguous space of when I am as the now dissolves and brings me ever closer to the far less ambiguous when I’m not.

Tick.

Tock.

Tick?

What Do You Meana Sestina?

I had a wonderful conversation at La Brioche with Rick Winston yesterday about art, movies and the Sestina, which is his first choice for writing poetry. I also groused about my current underemployment, where I am neither earning enough to live on nor using my skills. Here I don’t mean my poetic skills, although that would be really cool if it ever came to pass that I actually earned money with them, but I mean my more job marketable skills like Microsoft Office proficiency, records and information management, and administrative capacities.

He suggested that in the meantime I could write a poem about stocking shelves at the grocery store. So I went home and did so, using his preferred poetic form. What I thought I would do is share what I wrote, and then follow it with some notes on its formation and where I will go with revising from there.

—————————————————

Grocery Store Lament
JD Fox

My features blank, I am nothing
as I open boxes all day to stock
the shelves. There is so little time
to spend outside of it trying to create
a decent piece of art, a memorable work;
the great American novel or perfect story.

It all makes for a sad story.
Sure I started out from nothing
making life seem like a divine work
but as I take middle-age stock
of my life, I think, what did he create
and why the hell did he spend the time?

Surely no god would waste their time
on such a run of the mill, same old story.
After all, he’d have the means to create
something brilliant from that nothing.
But at the end of the day I just stock
grocery items for the masses; mindless work

that makes it very difficult to work
up the desire to continue my time
here on Earth. I think if I were a stock
I would have crashed long ago, my story
done, the selling price reduced to nothing
with no shareholder value left to create.

Am I doomed to watch others create
while I’m forever stuck performing work
that at the end of life amounts to nothing
but a squandering of this limited time
to give a happy ending to my story?
Am I blood from a turnip: vegetable stock

for the soup of someone else? My stock
in trade compels me to create
as if I might write a breakout story
that would allow me the luxury to work
on my art in something resembling full time
before my American Dream reduces to nothing.

But if this nothing is the lock, stock
and barrel of my time, I hope others create
this epigraph of my work: end of story

————————

The sestina can be an intimidating form. End words of the stanzas are repeated in a specific pattern that at first glance may seem incomprehensible. Even second glance. Hell, even after third glance and reading the Wikipedia entry on it, with its tables and algorithmic charts outlining the intentionally complex form, I’m not sure I truly grasp the mathematics behind its design. But that’s okay, as like electricity, one doesn’t need to fully understand it in order to use it.

I planned on using a table to keep track of my end words, but then I found this helpful Writer’s Digest article on the Sestina. The author, Robert Lee Brewer, mapped out the structure by line numbers, identifying the end words he used and providing a convenient skeleton of the form.

I first picked my six words, ones that seemed to go together thematically for me: stone, stock, time, create, work, and writing. My original first line was I’m a blank state, I am stone, with the thought that I would use later Am I fated to be crumbling stone or maybe Am I slated to be crumbing stone to have a dual meaning of slate. I toyed around with this, even writing a first couple of lines, but decided stone wouldn’t work (nor would writing), and changed them to nothing and story.

Here it should be said that since you will be repeating words, the most useful ones are those having multiple meanings and can be used as different parts of speech (noun, verb, etc). Doing so opens up more creative possibilities and minimizes the chance that you will write yourself into a corner where the line becomes forced by the demands of the form rather than supported by it.

And yeah, admittedly, nothing and story may not seem like much better choices than my original words, having limited definitions and parts of speech themselves. You can use story as a verb, but it is not common. However, the new words felt right, which is sometimes the best gauge for such things, so I went with them.

I Copy/Pasted the poem skeleton into word. Then I used Find/Replace to put my six chosen words into that skeleton. This allowed me the freedom to construct line by line, knowing readily what end word I needed without having to leave the poem to refer to a table. I wrote each line next to its guide:

Line 1-nothing (A) My features blank, I am nothing
Line 2-stock (B) as I open boxes all day to stock
etc.

Then when I finished, I simply deleted the guides, which might be akin to erasing initial sketch lines in a drawing. And voila: sestina!

During revision I will likely change the title to Grocery Clerk Lament, making the title more specific and accurate. I dislike that in this first draft I have both reduced to nothing and reduces to nothing, the repetition here seeming lackluster. Maybe for the first instance I should change it to something like fallen to nothing, or closing at nothing, which seem to go more with stock prices anyway.

Or I could instead change the second instance to crumbles to nothing, or maybe rewrite the line so I can use the verb form crumbling. Both crumbles and crumbling seem to go with American Dream, so either one should work.

I will definitely go through and tighten the lines, though I have read different thoughts on the rules for the form regarding this.

One guide has said the initial line in each stanza should be seven syllables and the other lines ten syllables. Even more specifically, the ten syllables should ideally be in Iambic Pentameter. For those who don’t know, Iambic Pentameter is just a highbrow way of saying each line of ten syllables should sound like da-DUM-da-DUM-da-DUM-da-DUM-da-DUM.

I’m not much of a counter and probably won’t be that anal. I’ll go with the school of thought that contemporary sestinas do not have to strictly adhere to that specificity of meter and syllable. But nevertheless, there can be a fine line between intentionally not adhering and just being lazy.

Is the line off meter because it really is the best way the line can be written? That is, to write it any other way would do a disservice to the poem.

For such determination, counting and meter manipulation can be extremely useful even if they do not result in a line meeting such specification. Such focus often reveals weak phrasing in the initially composed line. But one can also achieve that end sans counting just by playing around with the line, reading it aloud, and so on, which is more my tendency.

A tendency I would love to indulge more. So if there are any patrons of the arts out there reading this, please consider making a karmic donation to me.

Slammed

I attended last night’s poetry slam at Kellogg Hubbard Library and read a couple of poems. Although I could have done a better job (i.e. I gave a horrible reading), I’m glad I went. I met some new people, heard some cool poems, and received some nice encouragement, like that from slam meister Geoff Hewitt who also recommended a book of poems by Aram Saroyan he thought I would enjoy (from Black Sparrow Press, incidentally, which published much of Charles Bukowski‘s works, all of which I have read and have been influenced by).

But mostly I’m glad I went because I did horribly. I hate “failing,” but I hate “not progressing” more and the two are unavoidably linked. My goal isn’t to “not fail,” but to “fail better.”

So now in the aftermath (or afterglow) I’m thinking of how I can improve such failing. I’m thinking I maybe should have read the sonnet I’d written instead of the beat-inspired poem about abortion. Or maybe just read the latter better.

I’m thinking Warren (WMRW Radio Annual Call-in & Live Poetry Slam!) is too far for me to travel tonight since I have to do my eking grocery clerk gig until 6:30 pm, but I might be able to do the call-in thing, where I would have another wonderful opportunity to fail.

I’m thinking the second poem I read was better received, despite my flawed performance.

And I’m thinking I’ll share that second poem below:

NORTH BY SOUTHWEST

1.
Ah, Christ, when did the road
to Purdue University become so paved? Did I miss
a memo, a leaflet, a constitutional amendment
that would have given me better directions? Or maybe,
I just cannot read so well, the coffee
and tear-stained map unfolding into social hieroglyphics
foreign to me.
Eighteen years old and already lost at sea,
I watch
in my hindsight mirror as my best friend
takes a bite of an apple
I can’t taste. Don’t want to taste, actually, the snake in me
having an altogether different purpose as my desires surface,
but still, I clutch the wheel like I’m in control and don’t feel
anything inside me. I see
the sign saying 465 Exit Straight Ahead.
Like
an arrow going the wrong narrow way, I think,
but take it, anyway. I always do. Sometimes
you have to go a little South, after all, in order to fly North,
and in 1987 leaving Anderson is no exception.
The bypass
wraps around Indianapolis like intestinal machinery
and craps us out onto I-65.

2.
Weren’t there horses before machines? Wild
hopes running, roaming free? Full of fever
I reach
over to touch my best friend’s knee, but instead catch
myself and turn
the radio also on. So many stations, but all I get
is static. My friend hand’s me a cassette,
saying, “Why don’t you play
this?” I
oblige
and the greedy tape deck takes it. How great
it is to be inserting something somewhere! Rush
ushers Tom Sawyer in. I look in the backseat for Finn,
but all I see is a backpack containing my paint
by number SAT scores
promising the future is yours,
if I do what I am told.
But I grow old, I grow old,
whether or not my trousers are rolled
and I want the goddam brass ring
Oh, I don’t mean bling
You can have that sort of thing
I mean the luxury to be me
To have that kind of clarity.
But instead I have a welcome packet and a half-filled casket as dumb
and dumber academic junk remind me I was sunk
before I had a chance to swim. Over
to my right, a Deer Crossing sign warns me to watch out. How
odd. For the headlights are always on me,
and I think that I must be
the only one frozen.

3.
Still
You can make good time going nowhere.
Like ice, high school wore thin.
It had been a motionless affair.
Yet locked in place I fell through,
with a poker face pocked with rue.
And oh, it was so irrelevant.
All hail holy Thomas Covenant. I was, I am, a bloodguard beyond repair
with little worth protecting, the predetermined physics
of my body only outwardly observing the laws
of organic chemistry prevalent in the halls.
But the need to heed the societal call
to be a cookie cutter
made Engineering seem full of bitter
sweet butter.
But I wonder,
as I take us off the highway,
to gas up at a red and yellow Shell station
offering a free car wash, what
the real catch is. My friend
comes out of the washroom as, my tank all filled up,
I pull the nozzle out, careful not to let it drip,
and slip it back into the slot where it belongs, where it’s supposed to go,
the right hole being so very important you know.
“Do you have to go?” he asks.
Things left unsaid I shake my head
and get back behind the safety of the wheel,
thinking,
Where in the world does someone like me
have to go?

Spark of Gratitude

Today kicked off Montpelier Poem City, a month-long celebration of poetry.

Part of that celebration includes poems posted for the duration at various businesses and part of that posted includes two of my efforts: “Father and Son” at Kellogg Hubbard Library and “My Personal Town” at Heney Realtors.

Normally I would be excited. And I am excited. Of course I am. How could I not be?

Writing is my passion and is something that I do on a daily basis, regardless of whether or not any of that daily makes its way to readers. And here are all kinds of fun-sounding, writing-related things happening that should-would fuel my excitement. And they do.

But.

It’s been a difficult year. Is a difficult year.

When adding no results
Times a shallow digging through the mud

The kind of difficult where the time demands of eking out something falling far short of a living will make it impossible to attend many of the events. The kind of difficult that makes the non-eking time spent in a funk of despair that is an obstacle all its own to attendance. The kind of difficult that leads to large gaps of time between blogs; time that is filled with being stressed, overwhelmed, and otherwise not in a good frame of mind.

And sure, I know that is when I probably should be creating the most, turning that difficult into art; god knows there are many things therein to write about.

And I think about writing – blogging in particular — about such things, but then I get too depressed about such things to put word one on the page; it being a fine line between adversity firing up one’s creativity and its burning one alive.

I felt pretty burned up today after working all day; like a walking pile of ash.

But I stoked the coals of my soul enough to get me to tonight’s event, where David Budbill spoke about poetry and read some poems, both components worth listening to. Enough so, I ended up purchasing one of his books. Enough so, his remarks should be blogged about.

However, this particular blog isn’t about that. It’s about after that.

A reception followed the kickoff.

I have always admired sculptors who install their work in the public square for anyone to view. Art should be shared; is meant to be shared. The displayed poems are a vast literary installation that is pretty darn nifty.

So I went over to thank Rachel Senechal for putting on the event and say my little sculpture comparison remark. She called me by name, remembering me from the spelling bee. As if this didn’t surprise the hell out of me enough, she mentioned the poem I wrote also by name (Father and Son).

This touched me more than anyone could possibly know, happening at a time when I’m feeling fairly hollowed out most of the time.

I can’t say my soul is fully reconstituted.

But, upon that touching, its ashes have coalesced enough for me to write this, which I will now put up as a blog, thus ending the most recent large time gap.

I should probably thank her for that.

And I hope this blog does so.