Coyote Mercury

words, birds and whatever else by James Brush

Category: poetry (page 1 of 15)

Poems, thoughts about poetry and links to places that have published my poems

“A Ghazal On Birth Of The Buddha” Videopoem

This is a video I made based on Uma Gowrishankar’s “A Ghazal On Birth Of The Buddha: Bardo 3″ from The Poetry Storehouse.

I had recorded a reading of the poem the previous week (along with a few others) with no intention of making videos because I didn’t have any time or ideas. But then while searching for some footage on Videvo for something else entirely, I came upon that clip that imagines an approach to the Milky Way. I’m an astronomy nerd and ever since traveling with Carl on the Ship of the Imagination, I’ve always liked this sort of thing.

I watched the clip a few times and started thinking about the poem, about the soul approaching the womb and how the stars in that footage move so fast that (I would think) the clip could encompass millions of years and so the whole thing started to seem like something that was completely outside of time and space. That reminded me of a line from the finale of Lost (which I’m re-watching): “There is no now here” which made me think of souls outside the body and outside time and space which led me back to Gowrishankar’s poem.

I had the reading and the footage so I put them together, but thought I needed something less spacey and metaphorical, which is why I added the audio of the fetal heartbeat. It seemed to ground the thing and make it more earthly, which is one thing I really like about the original poem.

It’s funny to me how things like this just kind of happen, and maybe this is the main thing I have to say about my creative process: I don’t always intend to write a poem or make a video, but then one thing leads to another: experience, image, something I read, something someone says and then the next thing I know there’s a poem or a video or something waiting to be written or made. I guess it all comes down to being open and willing. And then, as Stephen King says, showing up at the keyboard.

On Reading for The Poetry Storehouse

Recently, I spent some time learning and reading poems from some other poets whose work I admire. I found the poems at The Poetry Storehouse (where a few of mine can be found too) a site created by Nic Sebastian and dedicated to bringing poetry off the page and into new venues. There’s a bunch of work licensed under the creative commons license, and it’s all available for remix–audio, video, whatever–so long as it’s for noncommercial use.

So, I went and did some looking and read the following poems:

A Ghazal On Birth Of The Buddha: Bardo 3
 by Uma Gowrishankar
Skimming by Janeen Rastall
Horses by Kristine Ong Muslim
my days are flocks of starlings by Nic Sebastian

I recorded a couple last spring and again, this was a cool thing to do. It is one thing to read a poem, even read it over and over again to oneself, but to say the words, over and over and then to hear yourself say them and then to say them again (the repetitions required to get a satisfactory reading) is to go farther into the poem than you might have imagined was possible. Suddenly, you start to see the things between the lines and letters. Sometimes, you stop in your tracks mid-read and realize you have to start over. That’s a good thing.

In each case, I started by just recording the lines in my classroom while I have it to myself during lunchtime. But with each subsequent reading, I found myself feeling the poems more as the speaker rather than an outside reader. I suppose it must be a bit like this for an actor learning a character, moving from reader to this other self that exists in the lines of the poem.

I don’t know if this is how poetry reading should be done, but it makes sense to me to think of a poem as something that is said or told as if letting the audience in on some secret rather than recited or pronounced (in the sense of pronouncement). When I read to my students, this approach seems to work best for them. They actually listen.

The best thing about this is that by the end, when I sit back and listen, I feel like I’ve come to understand the poem in a way I hadn’t before. As if now, I’ve really walked that mile in the other’s shoes. This came about most especially when I was working on Gowrishankar’s poem. It’s one thing to get the idea of reincarnation of the soul as an outsider, but reading the poem aloud and then listening to it helped me feel it in a more personal way.

So, thank you to Nic for creating the Storehouse and to the poets who’ve posted their work for others like me to experiment with. And if you’re reading this, consider paying a visit and listening or watching what’s been done, and perhaps even add your own contribution.

Ripping Off Langston Hughes

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams depart
Life is a worn-out athlete
With a failing heart

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams vanish
Life is an iron prison
Bleak walls and anguish

NaPoWriMo #8: Rewrite a famous poem

I like to have my students analyze “Dreams” by Langston Hughes and then write their own stanzas following his pattern. When we’re finished, everyone reads them aloud following the original. If it’s done right, if sounds like one long poem. The kids usually have fun with it, and some come up with some really cool metaphors. Much better than my weak attempt above, which I’m sharing in response to NaPoWriMo’s prompt to rewrite a famous poem.

Made or Just Happened

They say Voyager crossed the heliopause
last summer with thirty thousand years to go
to clear the sun’s gravity. Our plutonium
spark, a flicker of human warmth returning
to the stars like that first purple martin
returning again in the spring to the place
where he was hatched or the salmon
swimming up blue streams. We are called
home to where our atoms first began,
the water, the sky, the stars. The silent iron
in our blood aches for the supernovae
and so lying on our backs beneath
the wind-swaying oak trees, we hold
hands and watch the stars, imagining that
long journey whose end we’ll never know.

PAD 2014 #2 | We Write Poems: We Wordle #12

In the Kettle, the Shriek by Hannah Stephenson

I’ve been enjoying Hannah Stephenson’s blog, The Storialist, for several years. She posts a poem every day, usually inspired by someone else’s artwork. They’re quite good, amazing really, when you consider she does this every weekday. So I was happy to read her collection In the Kettle, the Shriek (Gold Wake Press, 2013).

These poems are full of warmth, wit, and so many questions. I really like the way she asks questions in her work. I found myself stopping in my tracks, sometimes doubling back after a few pages as I realized my thoughts weren’t keeping up with my reading. Go slow, with this book. Too fast and you’ll miss something. I suppose many books are like that, but In the Kettle, the Shriek rewards that doubling back.

Many of the poems seem to throw a bunch of vivid images and intriguing ideas out there, and I wonder what will stick, where is this going, and then I think, who cares, I’m enjoying the ride. But at the end, the poet often manages to both tie it all together and reveal something new in a single line that is often a question. This is the genius of the work, I think, and what I found so compelling, so interesting.

This is a very positive book. There is darkness, death, panic, extinction, in these pages, but there is light too. A gentle reminder that things will often work out if we are strong, if we are brave. I was especially struck by “Pressing Ghosts,” in which the speaker shares her own fears that her work is unremarkable and dull (it isn’t!) and concludes with:

Even so, I keep creating, I am capable.
I will calmly allow its heaviness
and stand when it goes. It will.

Strong work here, and I look forward to rereading In the Kettle, the Shriek one day. In the meantime, I will keep reading Hannah’s work at The Storialist.

Weaving a New Eden by Sherry Chandler

Weaving a New Eden Cover Image

Weaving a New Eden by Sherry Chandler

Deep roots fascinate me. My siblings and I grew up following the whims of the US Navy. Being of a place, deeply rooted, is foreign to me. As far as I know not many branches of my family have generations-long roots to any particular place either. We’ve always felt a little bit like tumbleweeds.

So books like Sherry Chandler’s beautiful Weaving a New Eden (Wind Publications, 2011) really interest me. I’ve known Sherry online for a while now, and I don’t know why it took me so long to get around to reading her fine book, but I do think books tend to come up in my pile when they are supposed to and this one came up when I needed some inspiration, and, boy, did it deliver.

The poems tell the tales of the women who settled Kentucky, Sherry’s home state, from Rebecca Boone to Sherry’s own family members whose stories are so movingly told in a section called “The Grandmother Acrostics.” (By the way I’ve never seen acrostics so well done).

There follows a long sequence of poems about Rebecca Boone, famed frontiersman Daniel’s wife, that had me going back to Wikipedia to read some of the history behind the poems, but I always found Rebecca’s voice as written by Sherry more compelling than anything I’ve ever read about Daniel. There’s something in Sherry’s work that honors more than celebrates or mythologizes these people and so while Daniel Boone seems as mythic as ever, Rebecca is real, and her sacrifices, her losses, hurt.

Weaving a New Eden is an exploration of place as told by and for the women who built it. Beginning with a meditation on personal loss and carrying through a fragmentary poetic history of the settling of Kentucky and circling back again to “The North Yard,” a sonnet crown, in which Sherry writes eloquently of the cycles of life and death in her own settled yard, often with a scientific understanding of the world that would have been alien to the frontierswomen we met earlier in the book.

This is a wonderful, beautiful, book, worth taking your time with. It took me two weeks to read because I kept going back, rereading, and then letting the poems rest in my mind for awhile before moving on. I look forward to her next book. In the meantime, I will enjoy her twitter feed, rich with her micropoetry.

Check Out the Poetry Storehouse

The Poetry Storehouse is a very cool new resource for bringing new life to poetry:

The Poetry Storehouse is an effort to promote new forms and delivery methods for page-poetry by creating a repository of freely-available high-quality contemporary page-poetry for those multimedia collaborative artists who may sometimes be stymied in their work by copyright and other restrictions. Our main mission is to collect and showcase poem texts and, in some instances, audio recordings of those texts. It is our hope that those texts will serve as inspiration or raw material for other artistic creations in different media.

A few of my poems are there too, along with a reading of my 2010 poem “For the Goddess of the Empty Sea” by Nic Sebastian. Do check it out, and maybe even create something new from what you find there.

On “The Tyger”

Something I’ve always liked about Blake’s “The Tyger” (one of my favorites) nicely stated by The Pathology Guy:

Although Blake was hostile (as I am, and as most real scientists are) to attempts to reduce all phenomena to chemistry and physics, Blake greatly appreciated the explosion of scientific knowledge during his era. But there is something about seeing a Tyger that you can’t learn from a zoology class. The sense of awe and fear defy reason. And Blake’s contemporary “rationalists” who had hoped for a tame, gentle world guided by kindness and understanding must face the reality of the Tyger.

Baobab Girl by Nic Sebastian

There was a beautiful sunset, the kind we get in Texas, all sky and cumulus clouds outside the window of animal emergency a few Fridays ago. Once again Joey and I were back for fluids to cope with an episode of bloody diarrhea. While there, I read Nic Sebastian’s Baobab Girl, a short collection I downloaded a long time ago before I got a Kindle and last Friday, I finally read it.

Stunning.

Sebastian’s Dark and Like a Web is one of my favorite short collections, and this one didn’t disappoint either. Baobab Girl takes the reader all over the world through experience, myth and legend. The language is pure delight: fresh and often startling. Lines like “Ivar’s silver eyes / are moon-lure, his voice / honey of ash sap” have played in my head for days as has the imagery and story told in “Under the Yew.” These 12 poems are to be savored and at some point reread.

Great poetry transports us, and this collection certainly did that. As I finished the last poem, the vet came into the room to tell me Joey would be fine. I was startled. I had almost forgotten I was in the EC with a sick pup and night falling all around.

Leap by Heather Grace Stewart

After reading Where the Butterflies Go, I was interested to read more of Heather Grace Stewart’s poetry and so next up was Leap, a shorter collection than Butterflies and interesting for the way it moves between the real and online worlds. There are a number of poems in which the author seems to be wrestling with what it means to live in such a socially interconnected time, but as with her other collection my favorites are the poems inspired by parenting since that’s the focus of my life right now. It’s good to read poems that capture parenting and the way it changes marriage with such insight, wisdom, humor and well, yes, grace. A good read all around especially “Autumn Will,” “Beautiful Chaos,” and “Valley.” I look forward to reading her third collection Carry On Dancing, which is coming up soon in my reading pile.

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