Sunday, May 29, 2011

Limerick for a Mail Thief

As some of you saw, I had some mail stolen last week, which was pretty upsetting for me.  I hate how it is making me mistrust other members of my community.  Anyway, it has been weighing heavily on my mind, so I'm afraid that it will be the topic of my poetry for this week (also, sorry I didn't post last weekend!  I was in Montréal, hence the stolen package).  Anyway, here is my angry Limerick for a Mail Thief

There once was a thief who stole mail.
But instead of him going to jail,
When he was caught
Some postage we bought
And mailed all his fingers to Vail.

NEXT WEEK: Hopeufully something less gruesome and more positive!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

TOLT Poetry Exercises 19 and 20!

Okay, this week I have the last two exercises from The Ode Less Traveled.  First was exercise 19, in which I had to write some sonnets.  First I had to do a petrarchan sonnet, named after Francesco Petrarca who first popularized the form.

I guess the main idea with a petrarchan sonnet is that the speaker is debating something internally.  So the first eight lines are called the "octave," which rhyme abba abba, and which show one viewpoint of a topic.  Then the ninth line is called the "volta" which is the turning point.  The last six lines collectively are called the "sestet" which can either rhyme cde cde (which I chose) or ccd ccd, or cdc cdc.

For the first part of exercise 19, Fry suggested I write a Petrarchan sonnet about voting.  In the octave I was to talk about how lazy and uninterested voters are, and then in the sestet I was to decide that apathy is probably the best response.  This isn't exactly how I feel about voting, but here's what I came up with just the same:

In 2012 the time will come to vote,
  But many voters will not heed the call
  Of TV ads and signs in yards and all
The names of candidates they've learned by rote.
These lazy people, to their friends will gloat,
  That they're too busy shopping at the mall
  To visit a polling station booth or stall,
As if they were protected by a moat.
Maybe there's a reason for this 'tude.
  It's easy to be sick of politics
In modern times of mudslinging and lies.
  At first the candidate's an awesome dude,
But post election, promises are nix
  And trust that took so long to build, then dies.

For the second part of exercise 19, I was to write a Shakespearean sonnet, which is formed a little differently.  There are three quatrains, which rhyme abab, cdcd, efef and then there is a couplet to wrap it up rhymed gg.  Again the topic was voting, but this time I was to spend the first four lines talking about the apathy of voters, the middle four giving complaint against this fact, the last four admitting my own apathy and then the couplet saying it makes no difference anyway.  Again, these aren't necessarily my views, but it helped me to have a clear idea of what I had to write.  Here's mine, with apologies to Shakespeare!

On voting day, a lot of people don't
Attempt to use their democratic right.
It's not because they can't it's 'cause they won't.
For politics, they've given up the fight.
Come on, you folks!  Let's get out there and vote!
Help steer the course our country's set upon.
It takes all hands to keep this ship afloat.
It does no good to stay at home and yawn.
I know that politics can be depressing,
Corruption spreading up and down the hill.
And often, casting votes can feel like guessing,
Who knows if yours will pass the proper bill.
I know the voting system needs improving.
Just hope there are no plans for its removing!

The last section of the book is devoted to some pretty weird poetic forms, including pattern poems, which were the subject of exercise 20, which was the last one in the book!  I was to write two, one about the letter "I" (with serifs) and one in the shape of a cross.  Here's what they look like:

The Magnetic Fields
Which was called "I"

I never
Went to
When I was a child growing up
In Seattle, so I don't know a thing 
About Christianity or religion.
To each
Own, I
Say.  If
It helps
Good for

The very last thing I had to do was to write a rhyming acrostic verse, spelling out my name with the first letters of each line.  

After many months of struggle
Lines have finally all been written
Elevated, I hope, above a poet muggle.
Certainly, by the poet bug, I've been bitten!

Well, that last poem says it all.  It took me two years to get through this book, and it was one of the most challenging things I have ever read, but I'm glad I did it.  Honestly, it felt like taking a really good college course about poetry.  So if you'd like to learn more, I highly recommend The Ode Less Travelled by Stephen Fry.  

I'm still working my way through The Best of Ogden Nash (and still loving it) and I guess I'll try to keep posting some poetry in here on the weekends.  It'll be fun to dive back into it, armed with new knowledge!  

Sunday, May 8, 2011

TOLT Poetry Exercises 16, 17 and 18

The next section of The Ode Less Traveled focused on even more poetic forms.  For exercise 16 I had to write a triolet about my love (Claire Sanders) and then a rondeau redoublé about any topic of my choosing.

A triolet is an eight line poem, with two rhymes, in which the first (A) and second (B) lines are used thusly:  ABaAbbAB.  I guess since the A line is used three times, that's where the "tri" comes from.  Here's mine about Claire, sorry it is so mushy.

Of all the girls I've ever met
I love Claire Sanders the best.
I'm lucky she's the one I'll get
Of all the girls I've ever met.
We'll set out on quest after quest
And build ourselves a little nest.
Of all the girls I've ever met
I love Claire Sanders the best.

I wrote all of these on the train from White River Junction to New York.  When Mr. Fry said I could write a rondeau redoublé on any topic, I asked Claire and she said I should write it about our pet rabbits, Patty and Selma.  Rondeau redoublé is another one of those really complicated forms.  Like the triolet, it only has two rhymes, and it reuses the first four lines, one line in each of the subsequent stanzas.  It looks like this:

Stanza 1: A1 B1 A2 B2
Stanza 2: b a b A1
Stanza 3: a b a B1
Stanza 4: b a b A2
Stanza 5: a b a B2
Mini Envoi: repeat the first four words of the poem

So the key here was to write the first four lines very carefully, and to pick end words that had lots and lots of rhymes.  Here's what I came up with, which is also kind of mushy...  sorry!

We own two bunnies who love to hop.
Patty is white and Selma is brown.
They are cute from bottom to top.
Watching them washes away any frown.

Up they'll go, to sniff the air, then down
To bound around until they drop.
If napping was a country, they'd have the crown!
We own two bunnies who love to hop.

Patty cleans herself all day, the fop.
But give her lots of hay and she'll act the clown.
Selma peed again, grab the mop!
Patty is white and Selma is brown.

Once Claire made them each a gown,
But neither liked the extra prop.
Bunnies' fashion sense is not renown.
They are cute from bottom to top.

After a long day, down they plop.
To them "cage" and "home" are the same noun.
They'd still be cute if they tried to stop.
Watching them washes away any frown.

We have two bunnies.

Okay!  If you've made it this far without barfing, you should be able to get through the rest with no problems.  The next chapter of TOLT was all about comic verse, including the Limerick!!!  Alas though, the exercise was not to write some limericks of my own.  Oh well, I'll get back to those as soon as I'm done going through this book.

For exercise 17, Fry first suggested that I write a parody of my favorite poet.  I knew right off the bat that I would not be able to do that.  As I mentioned a few weeks ago, my new favorite poet is Ogden Nash.  I have been steadily plowing through The Best of Ogden Nash (as of this writing I'm on page 244 of 438).  But still, I don't think I could write a poem in his style.  So instead, I decided to attempt Fry's second option, which was to create a cento.

One creates a cento by pulling real lines from various poems by one poet, and then rearranging them and trying to make them have a different meaning.  Luckily, I had my collection of Nash with me on the train.  I flipped through randomly, trying to come up with lines that were somehow related.  Here was my fist false start:

The citizens of Oklahoma
Their water has a chlorine aroma

Of course, this was cheating, because I took two different poems where Nash had rhymed the word "Oklahoma."  Oh well!  Then I tried to get something going with water-based imagery:

The fisherman, oh the fisherman,
I'm hoping not to see one.
On the shores of Lake Michigan
Slumbered a princess waiting to be won,
That whales are mammals, just like us
A shrimp who sought his lady shrimp,
We laugh at how he looks at us.

Hmmmm... as you can see, that stopped making sense pretty quickly.  It's too bad I couldn't find some way to turn those first two lines into a story told from a fish's perspective.  Oh well!  The only couplet I built which I didn't scratch out, was the very simple:

I'm only waiting for my cue,
That's how much I love you.

Good enough for me!  And apologies to Mr. Nash, who is probably rolling over in his grave right now.

In the next section of the book, I was very excited to finally, properly learn something about haiku, and some other forms of poetry from far away lands.  It turns out, according to Fry, that haiku are traditionally about a season and have a "kigo" word, which focuses on the weather or atmosphere.  For exercise 18 I had to write four haiku, one for each season.  As you have seen elsewhere on this blog, english versions of haiku usually have 5 syllables, then 7, then 5, which I have used here:

"Shluf" the sound of snow
Sliding off the roof next door
New snow collecting

April showers
Bring May flowers, but not here
Instead we get mud

Homesickness is worst
In the hot humid summer
I miss Seattle

The crisp autumn air
Red, orange, yellow and brown leaves
My favorite season

Well, that's it for this week.  Next week I will post the LAST exercises from TOLT and then I'll finally dive back into writing some poorly-crafted limericks, just for the fun of them!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

TOLT Poetry Exercises 13, 14 and 15

Okay, these three exercises from The Ode Less Traveled each focus on a different poetic form.  For exercise 13 I had to write some heroic verse (iambic pentameter with AA BB CC DD rhymes, but using enjambments and caesuras, in a modern sort of way).  As for the subject manner, Fry suggested "a short dramatic monologue... in which a young man in police custody, clearly stoned off his head, tries to explain away the half-ounce of cannabis found on his person."  I'm not super proud of how my effort turned out, but here it is nonetheless:

Oh officer, why don't you hear my plea?
In any other country I'd be free!
You locked me up because of pot?  As if
I'm out to sell.  It only took one whiff
Of me for you to start your search.
My lousy luck, it happened by the church!
Would you have thrown me in this cell, if all
Those god damn catholics hadn't left the hall
Exactly during your discovery
Of the ounce of pot I had on me?
I know you're quite devout they say, but had
We been alone that Sunday morn, a tad
More leniency, perhaps?  The USA
Has such a rigid stance on "Mary J"
I'm sure the Europeans'd let me free
Including Rome, the heart of Italy!

Yes, well.  Good practice anyway!  Next up was exercise 14, in which I had to write a villanelle, which is extremely complicated.  It has six stanzas, the first five with three lines, and the last with four.  Each line either ends with an A rhyme or a B rhyme,  but also entire LINES are reused thusly:

Stanza 1: A1 b A2
Stanza 2: a b A1 (where A1 is the entire first line from Stanza 1)
Stanza 3: a b A2 (where A2 is the entire first line from Stanza 1)
Stanza 4: a b A1
Stanza 5: a b A2
Stanza 6: a b A1 A2

Got it?  Fry gave permission to write on any topic, so I chose one of my favorites: sequence.

All things in life are sequence.
No moment stands alone.
Someday this all will make sense.

Maybe thirty-five years hence,
Or when your children are grown.
All things in life are sequence.

You're hired to paint a picket fence
'Round a house with a lawn that's mown.
Someday this all will make sense.

You grow so weary of monthly rents,
You work your fingers to the bone.
All things in life are sequence.

So you save your dollars and your cents,
And buy a house of your very own.
Someday this all will make sense.

You mend and fix and paint the dents
With skills that took ten years to hone.
All things in life are sequence,
Someday this all will make sense.

Exercise 15 required an even MORE complicated poetic form, the sestina.  Now let's see if I can get this right...  There are six stanzas and an ending "envoi" and this form is all about the end words of each line, or "hero" words.  The numbers below represent the hero word at the end of each line (or rich rhymes, or homonyms), which are reused throughout the poem.

Stanza One: 1 2 3 4 5 6
Stanza Two: 6 1 5 2 4 3
Stanza Three: 3 6 4 1 2 5
Stanza Four: 5 3 2 6 1 4
Stanza Five: 4 5 1 3 6 2
Stanza Six: 2 4 6 5 3 1
Envoi: 2-5 / 4-3 / 6-1

Is that complicated enough for you?!  In the book, Fry's father comes up with a mathematical algorithm which explains how the order is arrived at for the hero words.  It's very complicated.  Anyway, for my sestina, I started out by trying to figure out six words that each had multiple meanings, including an old confusion that used to arise from the possessive of my name, "Alec's" and the name of my best friend in high school, "Alex."  Then I started to weave a little story, using Alec and Alex as characters, not me, or my real friend Alex, mind you!  I think I was more focused on the hero words than the meter, so I apologize if this doesn't scan well.

The sit inside the dingy flat,
Alec, Mark and his roommate Alex.
Each of them, at the wall now stares
At the newly hung poster of Karl Marx.
"That's that," says Mark, the the A-L-E pair.
"It'll give this place a revolutionary air!"

But when they move out, who will be the heir
Of this poster, hanging on the wall so flat?
Alex bought it, but he's been known to pare
Down his belongings.  Maybe he'll make it Alec's!
Or Maybe Alec won't want it and it'll be Mark's,
If it leaves this apartment at the top of the stairs.

It's a well-worn path, up the steep, creaky stairs
With the smell of factory smoke thick in the air
And names scrawled on the wall with spray paint marks,
But the rent is cheap, so it's not a bad flat.
Like the poster, the apartment was found by Alex,
Then Mark moved in, an unlikely pair.

Each morning Alex begins to munch on a pear
As he heads out to work, down the steep, creaky stairs.
A few blocks away, he swings by Alec's
And the two go to work in the cold morning air.
Meanwhile Mark sleeps on his back, dead flat.
He used to be a student, but he had bad marks.

They still send him money, those parents of Mark's.
They think he's still in college, that unknowing pair.
Mark drinks gin all day, with tonic that's gone flat
and waits for the sound of Alex coming up the stairs.
When he enters, Mark begins to throw ideas into the air.
But a long day of work has made a weary man of Alex.

If there's a knock at the door, they know that it is Alec's.
He comes to talk to Mark about the philosophy of Marx.
They talk and smoke and talk and smoke, 'til both do fill the air,
While Alex sits there quietly, munching on a pear.
At last a final silence falls, their eyes all in stares
Looking at Karl Marx on the wall, whose ideas spin 'round the flat.

Someday Alex will move and retire, he'll eat his daily pear.
Less certain is the path of Mark's, who'll always live upstairs.
Alec moves in and the fill the air with ideas that just fall flat.

Okay, next weekend we'll take a look at a Rondeau Redoublé, a pathetic Cento I whipped up, and my first proper Haiku!