Our House

They tore down our yellow frame house today
The bulldozers and wreckers came
And ground their tires where we wanted lilacs.
We never lived there.
As we sat, side by side,
We watched the walls shatter and reveal
The anatomy of the shelter
We had planned to share
The bedroom – we placed it right
But it was blue, not green.
A steel bared the kitchen
Just as we had imagined.  Another blow
And that dream crumpled.
Finally the living room
Just as the we of us went:
The house collapsed.
We gazed at the heap
And watched the old foundation falter, sigh, then fold.
We parted.
They put asphalt where the house had been.
In place of love we put a cool hello
If we spoke at all.

© Julia F. Varnell-Sarjeant 2011

Mother Earth

Ah, mother Earth I see you in your youth so like me
Passion burning, hot, now spewing as ash
Spraying skyward, landing randomly,
Now slowly flowing as lava burning forests
Baking rock, shaking and trembling, now quaking
Creating, forming, thrusting, squeezing
The ranges, the valleys, formed in untouched desire

Now as mid-age mothers
Dependable, strong, quiet snow-capped peaks
Chortling brooks, waves kissing the beach as children
Wise whispering breezes over gentle prairie
Serene to all who look and I wonder
Whether you, like me, in your core
Still seethe?

© Julia Varnell-Sarjeant 2011

I’m Writing Again Farewell

I’m writing again farewell.
I’ve written it before, each word
Burning like your cigarette in the tray
The hours we sat; the syllables tinkle
As ice in a glass as it melts
And is swallowed
Into dark nights leaning on the rail,
Staring at the water slipping under the bridge.
The commas breathe, as our gasping for air
When the musicians paused and we twirled
To a stop, a goodnight kiss, a wave, and a
Closed door.

© Julia Varnell-Sarjeant 2011

Poems From the Left – How Writers Change

I used to write a lot of poetry.  In my senior year of college, I wrote a poem every night.  At one time, I had over a thousand poems.  Most have found their way into a landfill through various episodes of spring cleaning.  It was my dream to become a poet.  But the year I graduated, my number one audience, my grandmother, died.  With no audience, there was no reason to write.  Life intervened, stuff happened and the poetry went by the wayside.  I did a few poems over the years, but you could count them on one hand.  People say you should not write for an audience but for yourself, but that is not how it works for me.  Poetry is meant to communicate, and when no  one is listening, it is hard for me to write.  When I saw the poetry here on Kos, I decided to pick up writing again.  Then ulookarmless and Asterkitty said they wanted to start a poetry community.  You have no idea how excited I was.  They are both inspiring, and the idea got my creative juices started.

The poems below are a progression of my poetry, as well as a bit of insight on how I come up with the poems.   The first poem was written about thirty seven years ago, the second was about ten years ago.  The third was originally written about thirty seven years ago but I refactored it last November.  Finally, the last one was written about two weeks ago.  You can see how I have changed or not changed over the years.

I begin with a poem I wrote once about words.

Words
For words to do what they do best
They cannot state the unexpressed
If language gives the deepest thought
Its greatest part remains untaught
If dreams are spoken, not implied
You can be sure the speaker lied
Or he has been some gift denied
For every human heart is wrought
Through finding what no other sought

© Julia Varnell-Sarjeant 2011

Because of the aforesaid difficulty in conveying whole concepts in words, I often look for something everybody can relate to and compare with that.  Below is a simile (uses like or as) that compares me to the earth as it was forming:

Mother Earth
Ah, mother Earth I see you in your youth so like me
Passion burning, hot, now spewing as ash
Spraying skyward, landing randomly,
Now slowly flowing as lava burning forests
Baking rock, shaking and trembling, now quaking
Creating, forming, thrusting, squeezing
The ranges, the valleys, formed in untouched desire

Now as mid-age mothers
Dependable, strong, quiet snow-capped peaks
Chortling brooks, waves kissing the beach as children
Wise whispering breezes over gentle prairie
Serene to all who look and I wonder
Whether you, like me, in your core
Still seethe?

© Julia Varnell-Sarjeant 2011

Sometimes I use what everybody can relate to and try to blend the two so you can’t tell where one stops and the other begins.  I don’t use a comparison but personify the relationship, as in a metaphor.  Below is a poem I have previously diaried about battered women as merged with a violent storm:

I saw the sun come up this morning
I saw the sun come up this morning
And found myself wishing
That things were simple and easy so
Like they used to be
I watched the early light tint the clouds
As litter scattered across the skies
Leaves wrenched from branches thrown randomly on the lawn
Papers, a broken glass hurled around my room
I still felt the storm of last night
The house shaking in the wind’s fury
And in the rage in your voice
The slapping of rain on the window
And your hand against my face
The branch from the spruce beat the roof
While your fists beat my shoulders and arms
And an unknown object hit the outside wall
As I hit the dresser and fell
The thunder did not quite drown out
The slamming of your car door or the tires raking the gravel
As you drove away
I watched the fire-orange-that –hurt-my-eyes slip the skyline
Illuminating the red blotches on my face as reminders of your anger
And Jesus knew I ached and throbbed with all your hurts and empty cups, and missed (oh, god) I missed what used to be
And then the all over blue washed the sky
Saying, hoity-toity like, it always goes this way and drops of water
Don’t care if it’s streets or cheeks they spatter

© Julia Varnell-Sarjeant 2010

Sometimes I take a vision or dream and try to describe it.  I did that in the poem I wrote to the blessed mother.  It is too long to include this week, so this poem will be presented another week.

Sometimes, I just rant, as here:

Not about the babies
It’s not about the babies
Although they are compelling
With their tiny fingers
And curling toes
And soft cooing voices

If it was about the babies
They would care what happened
Once they took that first breath
Or at least past
The doctor’s slap and that first cry

If it was about the babies
It would also be about the children
Hungry or homeless or cold or beaten
Until they couldn’t sit
Because their parents were annoyed

If it was about the babies
It would be about the mothers
Carrying those precious souls,
About keeping mothers well
And safe and fed

If it was about the babies
Someone would ask the unaskable question
Is it really less kind to terminate life in the womb
Than to make a child grow up
Unwanted?

© Julia Varnell-Sarjeant 2011

Whatever vehicle you use to write your poem, what is important is to make what you are seeing or feeling available to the reader.  Rather than telling the reader how to feel, you tell him/her what is, and let him/her (I hate this correctness stuff) decide how to feel.  In other posts, I discuss use of form to help tell the story, the advantages of form and the disadvantages, and various forms.

Writing Poetry: The Epigram

How many of you have written an epigram?  Probably most of you.  Maybe you didn’t realize that is what you were writing.

Many years ago, when I was in college (just after the stone age and well into the stoned age), I took a course in poetry.  My excellent professor, Dr. Drummond,  informed us that there were two ways to teach poetry:  first, to start students out with just writing so they would get comfortable with the doing of poetry and work to define their voices from that, and second, to start students out with the discipline of form and gradually loosen as their voices became better defined.  He preferred the latter approach.  He believed in discipline as a foundation for good art.

Our first assignment was the shortest form of poetry (perhaps next to the Haiku, which has already been covered), the epigram.  There are several definitions of the epigram out there, from any witty, ingenious, or pointed saying tersely expressed to a short, often satirical poem dealing concisely with a single subject and usually ending with a witty or ingenious turn of thought definitions here.  Some define it as “A statement, or any brief saying in prose or poetry, in which there is an apparent contradiction. A very short, satirical and witty poem usually written as a brief couplet or quatrain.” link.  I use the first definition, a short poem with punch or irony to it.  To me, an epigram is like a leather glove to the face.  Some examples of epigrams include (from here):

Discontent is the first necessity of progress.—Thomas Alva Edison

Men seldom make passes
At girls who wear glasses.
—Dorothy Parker

If you can’t be a good example,
then you’ll just have to be a horrible warning.—Catherine the Great

There is no glory in outstripping donkeys.—Marcus Valerius Martial

As blushing may make a whore seem virtuous,
so modesty may make a fool seem sensible.—Jonathan Swift

Questions are never indiscreet, answers sometimes are. —Oscar Wilde

Epigrams are not always harsh, they can be tender:

The births of all things are weak and tender,
therefore we should have our eyes intent on beginnings.
—Michel de Montaigne

Or wise

The births of all things are weak and tender,
therefore we should have our eyes intent on beginnings.
—Michel de Montaigne

Some are puns.  Some take known phrases and twist them.

Epigrams today can be found on bumper stickers, advertisements and grave stones.  Whatever they are, they look easy but require much discipline.  This is how you write an epigram:

1)  Put the idea down on paper (or on CRT)
2)  Apply a tourniquet

So how do you apply a tourniquet?  (I do this with all my writing.  Perhaps it is because my professor started with the epigram, but it seems to work.)
1)  Find and replace all the weak words.   Weak words are auxilliary words, passive voice (unless the point of the poem is to be passive), adjectives, adverbs, etc.  Never use a noun and an adjective when a more colorful noun can work alone.  Same with verb and adverb.  I try to eschew both adverbs and adjectives unless forced to use them.  To me they are second class words.  I also write in present active voice whenever possible.
2)  Find and replace unnecessarily complicated words.  My pet peeve is “utilize.”  I find that in almost any situation where utilize shows up, use would have worked just as well, without the pomp.  Another word I hate is “provide,”  unless I am talking about food on the table or clothes on the back.  It is a word that has been so overused it no longer has a firm meaning.  There is almost always a more concise word.  See what words you can replace with simple, precise words.
3)  Remove any word or even syllable that is not absolutely required.  In multisyllabic words, see if there is a word that serves with fewer syllables.
4)  Listen to the mood your words create.  If a word does not create the mood by its very sound, replace it with one that does.  Sibilants suggest wind, snakes, whispering.  Short a’s suggest flatness.  P’s and t’s pop, k’s smack. Long e’s make you smile or grimace.  And so on.  The sound of the words goes a long way to create the picture.
5.  Listen to the rhythm.  Rearrange the words or lines to evoke the cadence you seek.
6.  Put it away and return a few days later.  Something will stand out to you when you are not in the throes of writing.

Here are a few of my own epigrams:

Dilemma
I do not tell you our love is gone
Not because I’m afraid it will hurt you
But because I’m afraid it will not.

© Julia Varnell-Sarjeant 2011

Invocation
To my kinsman the mallard
Because it is our lot to choose
Between being the game and the prey

© Julia Varnell-Sarjeant 2011

New Beatitude
Blessed are the rebellious spirits
For they shall be agents of change

© Julia Varnell-Sarjeant 2011