(By Richard Goodman, April 24, 2012)
April is National Poetry Month so a friend of mine has been posting poems on her blog. Well, let me re-phrase that: She has been posting more poetry than usual on her blog in celebration of this month. I never have to look around for poetry these days because in any given week I can just check out whatever she has posted lately. Last week she decided to have a contest to get people into the spirit of the month and she offered a book of poetry as a prize. The contest involved writing a haiku and she gave examples of how to do one although I suspect that anyone reading the post in the first place probably already knew how to do it because it is one of the more basic and most fun types of poem to write. If not, here is the contest page and I’ve included the actual text of it in italics below the link:
Haiku - You Can Do It!
It's as easy as five, seven, five.A haiku is a three-line poem that totals 17 syllables:
five syllables in the first line
seven syllables in the second line
five syllables in the third line.
It's actually kind of fun. In fact, one of my favorite books(excerpt below) is written in haiku:
There on the back steps,The eyes of a hungry dog.
Will she shut the door?
How about I sweeten the deal? If you send me your haiku by 11:30 pm April 17, I will give you a poetry book. I'll even publish your haiku. So go for it! The glory and the poetry can be yours.
Haiku, in fact, is the only type of poetry I have been attempting lately. I like that it has an established structure and a finite length. I don’t have to agonize over how much to write or which rhyme scheme to use. In fact, I’ll sometimes do one as a mental exercise to clear my head, to practice distilling my thoughts to the barest essence. I try to create an image, a story and a mood, all within those 17 syllables. The only tough decisions are which words to use, since I’m juggling a few possible options to find the ones that best convey my intent while still fitting the syllabic parameters for that line. That can actually get tricky at times, not because I can’t decide what word to use, but because I’m unsure of the syllable count. Websites that I use will sometimes provide conflicting tallies for my word and syllable counts. How does that happen? To settle those kinds of disputes, I use the old fashioned method- I slowly say the words to myself and hold up a finger with each thing I think is a real syllable. (One site I used tried to make me believe that my syllable count was less than the number of words I used. I’ve heard of silent letters but I don’t think silent words exist.)
Last month, I was fooling around with some haiku because I was trying to imagine what it was like to be a glove. Yeah, while you keep pretending you are a rock star or professional athlete, I am imagining I’m something used by lumberjacks or I’m the inanimate fashion accessory of a royal family member (or more creepily, an animated character from the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine movie.) There is a reason I was doing this though. Besides being crazy. Someone else I know takes photos of gloves that people lose. If she sees a glove on the street or maybe lying in a field, she snaps a picture of it and posts it on her Facebook page? Why does she do this? Besides being crazy? Because it’s interesting to think about how the glove came to be floating in a swimming pool instead of residing in the owner’s pocket. Was there a murder and forensics forgot to scoop up that piece of evidence? Was someone doing a polar bear plunge and they didn’t want their hands to get cold? Was a glider going by overhead and the pilot dropped it while adjusting his flight path? See- it is fun to imagine what happened to get the glove where it is now resting. (Here is her explanation of the photo theme: http://scribeinthecity.wordpress.com/2012/03/28/from-germany-with-glove/ )
I was on a trip with her in Germany and saw her looking for gloves so she had to explain why so I wouldn’t look at her like she was funny. She was only partially successful because I still thought it was a bit odd but idea lodged itself in my head deep enough that I now notice lost gloves and wonder how they got there. I saw one lying in the street this winter and took a picture of it. Eventually I decided to send her the picture because I wanted to let her know that I was now a conspirator in her imaginary world and I wasn’t sure if I should thank her or be mad at her. Previously, I’d been able to walk past abandoned clothes with nary a thought about how they got there. Lost hat? Some moron was in a hurry. Misplaced socks? Someone wanted to “Miami Vice” it today. Left behind panties? You need to check the dryer more effectively next time. Now, I am forced into further contemplation in this matter. How can you be wearing gloves and not realize one of them is not on your hand? Michael Jackson is dead so now there should not be anyone else who “one gloves” it.
Rather than send her a random picture, which would essentially be saying “Hey crazy lady, here’s another glove for you,” I decided to share my appreciation of this unusual perspective on life’s little mysteries. I decided to write a story to go along with my glove but since I didn’t want to spend an inordinate amount of time on something that is a bit frivolous and likely to be barely glanced at by the recipient, I decided to write a haiku. Mental exercise and homage all in one, requiring just 17 syllables from me. I eventually came up with three of them and passed them along. Here, in blue, is an excerpt of that email I wrote since it does a good job of explaining how the three haiku came about:
I was walking around the neighborhood today and thinking about how it was almost a really nice day. A few degrees warmer and it would have been just about perfect, crisp but not cold, sunny but not blazing. A few more weeks and I won’t need a heavy jacket. Then I thought about the gloves in my pocket and how I definitely wouldn’t need them which reminded me that I had a picture I’d been meaning to send you. I figured I should do so now before the temperature change ruined the proper context for it. So, attached to this email is a picture I took during the winter (proper winter, not the currently winding down winter which is just “near Spring”).
When I saw this poor glove on the street, I immediately thought about your odd photo theme and had to take a picture of it. Of course, I don’t mean odd in any disparaging way. I like the off-beat, unusual and provocative. My photo theme is much more pedestrian. My go-to is taking pictures through windows or doorways or taking them of windows and doorways. I think I know where that inclination comes from but no need for psychoanalysis right now. I just wanted to share this photo with you and “thank” you for creating the association of lost gloves with your glove stories theme.
If I see a random glove now, I can’t help but to think “I should take a picture of it,” and then wonder how it got there. I’ve never lost a glove so I try to imagine how it happened because the concept is foreign to me. Kind of the way I’ve always wondered how just one shoe ends up on the side of the road. Once I saw this guy and started thinking along those lines, an image popped into my head and then it turned into a poem. Well, a haiku actually.
A forgotten glove,peeking out from the tall grass
draws your attention.
Yeah, it may be the world’s first glove haiku. But then I realized the flaw with the haiku, aside from the fact that apparently no one cares about poetry anymore- there is no grass in my photo. It’s a street glove. I had to come up with another haiku that would be more appropriate so I tried to put myself in the glove’s place and tried to imagine what it must feel, sort of the glove version of method acting.
Hand in hand no more-misplaced or discarded.
Please come back for me.
This one didn’t work either because it seemed too depressing. Gloves don’t strike me as an inherently depressing article of clothing. Belts might be a bit sorrowful, and undershirts are made to be ignored but things like socks, scarves, hats and gloves demand attention. They ask to be noticed. They are the articles of clothing that seem to preen. Once I realized that, I had my proper haiku.
Five fingers waving.Jaunty greetings made by hands
of leather, fuzz, fur.
Now looping back to the beginning of my post, I decided to enter my friend’s haiku contest and I sent her this excerpt since it explained the basis for the entry (and passed the blame for insanity onto someone else- “I’m not wacky, I just enjoy the company of people who are. Really. I’m normal and dull and grounded.”) To be honest, I really enjoyed coming up with them and I think any creative endeavor is worthwhile. I’m only pretending to make fun of people who like poetry or shoot unusual pictures because in actuality I admire such dedication and I enjoy seeing things from a different perspective. (My real distain is reserved for people who want to get on reality television shows by displaying disorders like eating toilet paper, coming from the New Jersey shore or earnestly refusing to give someone a rose because that girl’s nose isn’t as perfect as the other girl’s.) I know people who are doing things like writing books, publishing articles, showcasing their art and creating Internet businesses. I applaud them for this (and I’m slightly jealous too.) I think that is the reason for something like National Poetry Month- to encourage people to start, to try, to please themselves, and- occasionally- to create something brilliant. My efforts weren’t brilliant but I think they were appreciated as an attempt to support the concept and share a bit of my perspective. I got a spot on my friend’s blog (http://hedgehoglover.blogspot.com/2012/04/worlds-first-glove-haikus.html), I got some nice comments and I exercised my brain for something fun. What a great thing!
Now I really should wrap things up right here, but since I’m feeling all warm and fuzzy inside, I think I’ll share a couple more poems- some haiku, some free verse, some rhymin’ simon. The themes are all over the place but so is my brain. Hope you don’t hate them.
DuckQuacking from a duck
loud, like he was expected
stopped by the chef.
EmeraldDew on a clover
emerald fires at dusk-
shining like your eyes
Dare to strike out.
Never wait for the blows to fall
nor fear what may strike back
Strive for your desire,face the forests of fear
To lie, to hide, is to die.
While all men die but once,some are born repeatedly.
They seize their days,
embrace their daily rebirth,
run with hands clasped to life’s
Resignation, desolation, desperation -these only affect the blind.
To really live means to never give in -
to say “I’m alive” instead of “I’m afraid.”
If all is hopeless,
take a step up -
a new perspective unfurls…
a new destination…
awaiting the captain’s cry to weigh anchor.
I.A quiet room,
a cold caress
at my look of distress
He rejects my pleasand punishes my body
with sexual love
calculated to bring me to my knees
I bargain for respectgrovel for communication
He welcomes my debasing
without a sign of regret
I’m free to leave,I need no permission
maybe someday I’ll be strong enough
to make that decision
For now, I’ll stay
II.What will he look like
what should I wear
is he my type,
how is my hair?
Flickering dreams merge into
I sit alone in the room-
full of people I know don't know,
surrounded by the babble chatter of small talk.
when I really want big talk.
all the faces are blank with animation,and the eyes reflect reflection.
the movements hint at possibilities
my body is parched by the vast array of nourishmentand then I see you, seeing nothing.
you don't dazzle with your charm,
or devastate with your wit.
you are graceless and unpolished,
and I adore you for it.
Endless lines tramp across my page
marching off the edge,
and crawling up my hand.
Along my arm, across my neck to my face
where they creep into my head –
line upon endless line
making my eyes bulge
and my head swell.
My neck feels like a string attached to an enormous weight,
and it wobbles as the words fill my head.
The words become shapes, meaningless blobs,
only their presence is notable – not their significance.
Eventually the lines run out
and I gain a respite,
but all too soon, a paper crosses my desk -
and the lines start forming, ready to reverse their march.
the ice beckons me,
toying with my soul
by offering promises
of clarity, and strength.
i want to be iceclear, definable,
but not transparent
because my woman-
she sees me
from a slightly different angle.
i would move as a glacier,slowly, coldly, and implacably.
but those below my surface
would stay warm-
their heat would fill a hollow spot,
and we would travel great distances
i will tear down the great mountains of mother earth,and in their wake leave vast lakes,
filled with the chill waters of my tears,
no longer needed, because i have you.
from the shattered rocks of our passingwould spring new plants,
not needing to struggle anymore,
for sun on the barren side of a slope.
and in a thousand years,we will have made our mark on the face of this planet,
a foot at a time,
The libido is a perplexing thing.
Should it be tamed
or given free reign?
If tamed, and broken,like an animal in captivity
it may lose its natural ability
for sexual activity.
A toothless beast paralyzedby a dimly remembered hunger.
Unable to survive
if returned to the jungle.
Yet a libido with no captormight be no better
if it is a remorseless predator;
A feral, stalking creaturewho hunts only for pleasure,
feasting hungrily on tender prey
leaving desiccated husks in his wake.
in the form of love he makes?
Does he go full throttle
or apply a choke collar?
What is the answer to whetherto deny yourself pleasure
or extract more than a full measure?
Neither species survives alone.Man is made to love and roam,
but in time, love is the tether
that joins these enemies together.
If for some reason you are still reading and made it all the way down here, this next (and last) poem is the reason I’ve moved to haiku. These first two lines came to me several years ago and I loved them and wanted to make a great poem out of them. I failed. I got five lines that I liked but somehow I felt there should be more. I’ve gone back and forth between keeping just the five lines as the final result, expanding on them with the next five and continuing to elaborate on the idea with where ever the last two lines were heading. I don’t think what I have is enough, but I can’t figure out what I want, so I’m stuck and move on to other distractions. Basically this poem is a metaphor for my life right now. Instead of coming up with a solution, I stop altogether. No more poems, just some haiku because they are easier, more fun and less revealing. Is it May yet? Can I stop thinking about poetry? April showers bring May movies, right? Bring on the summer brainbusters. Um, blockbusters. Well, anyway here’s the poem. That damned poem.
Devastationyou devastated me
with a single gesture
a small matter, really-
tucking back a stray hair
with utterly perfect grace
casual fingers tenderly coursingthrough rebellious flowing radiance
guiding the unruly ravens
with an unrealized elegance
that blithely swept me away
your hair suggested......those fingers promised......
More Glove Haiku
After my posting above about poetry and haiku and pictures of gloves, I couldn’t help myself when a few more pictures caught my eye a couple weeks later. I had to come up with some “fitting” glove haikus for the new pictures I saw on my friend’s Facebook page. Here are the new ones, along with the corresponding pictures.
Looking for my mate
Slimming black and stripes will help
I'm a good catch though
Man, I have, you know,
A real killer headache.
Hey, what was that noise?
Where did you go, kid?
Ya got no damn work ethic.
I'll do it myself.