Today is Memorial Day, a day to honor those who sacrificed their lives in our military. I am sharing a poem from my chapbook Kin Types about a sister who awaits word from her brother who is a soldier in WWI.
Once and Now
His letter, once wet and now dry, once
wrinkled now smoothed against her breast,
once a receptacle for all he could not say,
the lone poppy in the field, the striped sky, not
the mud, men, horses, bullets, shovels.
Definitely not, but she suspects as much.
She listens to her husband outside the church
door, reads the casualty lists, hovers around
those waiting. Now her big brother’s letter
like his touch on their dying mother’s cheek,
is enough. He’s been long a soldier, the bachelor
patriarch. In the early days he wrote pages
of the trembling sweep of the Pacific,
ancient trees and reeds poking like magic
sticks from the water, a field of buttercups
near the Presidio, a borrowed horse he rode.
Given their immigrant circumstances, the career
had seemed wise until now, with Huns like red
devils leering down from propaganda posters
jeering them with their German names,
a town friend’s Dachshund ripped from her arms,
his brains smashed on the pavement, onto
her shoes. Shoes she showed Clara, pointing,
See, see how dangerous they are in their hate!
The knock sneaks up on her from behind.
She has turned to put the letter in the ribbon-
tied stack, so standing between fourteen years
of letters and the knock, she knows that this
is not the paperboy coming for his coin.
She knows what a ridiculous leap her mind
has made, but still she is certain about the paper,
and it is a paper telegram. Without opening it,
she slips the Western Union under the grosgrain.
Once busy, she has all the time in the world now.
Clara Mulder née Waldeck
Caledonia, Michigan, United States
Clara has received the dreaded telegram that will validate her worst fears--that her laughing, vibrant brother will not be coming home.
I chose a very mild–in this case British–stamp with WWI propaganda.
Where did the poems come from? What I mean is, how did I come to be a poet? The beginning goes back to infancy.
It all started in my little bedroom on Trimble Street. We moved there before my first birthday, and we didn’t move away until I was 8 1/2, mid-way through 3rd grade. Some of my earliest memories are in that bedroom–in fact, in my crib in that bedroom. I would have been younger than two.
I had a little blue music box that my mother would wind up and play before she put me down for a nap or bedtime. When it wound down, sometimes I would fall asleep. More often, though, I would call to her and beg her to rewind it. The music was haunting and dare I say addictive! Two years ago I wrote about the music box, which I still have, and asked if anyone could identify the song it plays. Nobody could at that time, but the other day a reader found the post and told me that the music is “La Paloma,” composed in 1863 by a Spanish Basque man named Sebastian Yradier. It might be the most well-known tune in Spanish-language countries, especially Mexico!
Here is “La Paloma” (the Dove) as played by a fancier antique music box.
And here it is played as a guitar solo:
Here is my little music box:
Hearing that music over and over again was the foundation for poetry. The next layer, added over the few years before I began school, was nursery rhymes, folk songs, and picture books that used poetic devices such as rhyme and repetition. These were all found in my room. The books were not expensive–merely Little Golden Books from the grocery store. The records were little 45s played on my plastic children’s record player. Probably the biggest influence after that music box tune was the lullaby lyrics in a picture book my mother read to me: “All The Pretty Little Horses.”
Hush-a-bye, don’t you cry,
Go to sleepy little baby.
When you wake, you shall have,
All the pretty little horses.
Blacks and bays, dapples and greys,
Go to sleepy you little baby,
Hush-a-bye, don’t you cry,
Go to sleepy little baby.
Hush-a-bye, don’t you cry,
Go to sleepy little baby,
When you wake, you shall have,
All the pretty little horses.
There were layers after this that included a children’s poetry anthology my mother gave me, teachers who let us recite poems without analyzing them, and eventually I discovered Edna St. Vincent Millay reading her poetry on a record which I found as a teen at the public library. I was mesmerized by the poem “Renascence.” Here is a recording of the poem she wrote at age 19!!!! although, alas, not recorded by Millay. I sure wish I had that library record as Millay reading it herself was phenomenal.
I know that poet XJ Kennedy wrote the following:
The goose that laid the golden egg
Died looking up its crotch
To find out how its sphincter worked.
Would you lay well? Don’t watch.
Nevertheless, now that it’s come to me what the greatest influences were in making me a poet, I can’t “unknow” them.
I’ve put my memoir on the back burner again, but feel I am so much closer with it. Now I am writing a poetry chapbook that explores the “Red Riding Hood” stories.
Did you hear or read fairy tales when you were a child (besides Disney)? If so, which ones influenced you the most?
Main Street Rag just published their latest issue, and in it is my review of Nancy Miller Gomez’s chapbook Punishment.
I’ve had a lot of friends who have taught in prisons around the country, and so when I heard her collection was based on her own experiences teaching poetry writing in a prison, I eagerly signed up to review it.
Here is a copy of my review (starts halfway down the page). Click on the image to read more closely.
Punishment is a Rattle Chapbook Series selection, and you can find links to poems and how to purchase the chapbook here:
Today is the last day of #NaPoWriMo and National Poetry Month. I have kept up my share of the bargain (the bargain with myself: I will write some version of a poem each day and in return I will not think I missed a good opportunity). I have one more poem to write today. Then I can relax on that count. I’ll wait a few days before I look at what I have and then start to revise.
Yesterday, I stopped and asked myself what my goals are for May. I can’t keep up the pace of April’s poetry, but certainly I can aim for a few goals. I think I’ll work on creative nonfiction in May, with the idea that I complete at least one short project or do some significant work on my long project. Additionally, I can play around with April’s poems.
I think it helped me not to post my poems every day because rushing to “complete” a poem is not a good idea (something I mentioned last week).
On the cat front, I had to take in a couple of my seniors for checkups. Felix’s heart murmur is stable and his poo is bugless. He continues to have IBS symptoms, but that is probably caused by the parasites he harbored in the past. Eighteen-year-old Pear Blossom’s bloodwork is like that of a “two-year-old cat,” according to the vet, but she has another UTI. Sigh. So tired of her getting those things. I worry about the quantity of antibiotics she has to take.
Tiger will be next. Then Kana. Then Sloopy Anne. Yes, all seniors and all with issues. But I need to wait for another credit card billing cycle :/.
As for Perry, he still does that rapid breathing thing sometimes.
Did anybody try writing a prose poem? I find myself falling more and more in love with the form.
In yesterday’s #NaPoWriMo prompt, you can find an essay about prose poems. Listen to this cool quote:
A prose poem is a poem written in sentences. It appears as a block of text without line breaks. You could think of a prose poem as a bowl or a box with poetry inside.
OK, I can’t help but see a glass fish bowl with a poem inside, pressing it’s wacky little face up against the side of the bowl, its feet and arms all squished in around the face. The poem is confined, but I’m drawn to the bowl and what’s inside as much as the creature inside is wondering what in the world is outside the bowl.
Sorry, but I cannot unsee this image. If it helps, imagine it’s a cat inside the bowl!
I feel as if I am writing more and more prose poems. There are two in Doll God and six in Kin Types.
This poem was originally published in the October 2013 issue of A Narrow Fellow and then included in Doll God.
This is from my copy of the book that I use for readings, so the binding is getting overused!
This past month I’ve written at least six of the poems in prose poem format. There is no telling what will happen to form in the revision stage, but it does show me how useful I find the prose poem.
Go forth and have a productive week! Or, if you prefer, have one where you pamper yourself, even if it’s for fifteen minutes a day. Who am I kidding? Let’s go for both!
Arizona spring means that the saguaro cacti have flowered with bridal wreaths on their crowns.
SHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH. I can’t get a pic just yet, but a mama hummingbird has set up shop in the oleander right outside my door. The gardener saw three eggs in it, and I saw Mama sitting there looking busy.
Today I want to introduce you to Robert Okaji, poet and the writer of the new Finishing Line Press chapbook From Every Moment a Second. Robert’s poems are relatively short and seem simple. I said seem. Each polished gem is the kind of poem you fall into, without worrying if you will “get” it or not, and an array of meanings will wash over you without effort on your part, but the reward is great –an emotional and intellectual payoff.
Robert is published regularly in literary magazines. So I asked him for advice for readers about submitting to magazines. This is what he wrote for us.
Newer poets occasionally ask me for advice on how/where to get published. What follows expands a reply I made to a comment on my blog in August, 2014. I can speak only from my experience, thus any advice I offer should be taken with a huge grain of salt. But here goes:
Determine who you are as a writer, and where your work has a realistic chance of being published. What, you say, how do I do this? Think about your favorite living poets, those poets you’d most like to be associated with, whose work has influenced your writing, and with whom you’d like to “converse” through poetry.
Where does their work appear? Look at their lists of publications, choose the smaller, lesser known literary journals first, and read them cover to cover. When you find in these same journals other writers whose work appeals to you, examine their publication lists. After a while you’ll notice that certain journal titles repeat. Compile a list of these, and consider them your “targets.” Read them. If your sense of aesthetics meshes, send them your best work.
This is not a quick process, but sending your poetry to publications that publish the poets writing the type of poetry you like is much more effective than haphazardly scattering your work across the poetic landscape. In other words, be selective. Think. And always read submission requirements. If a journal says “no rhyming poetry,” don’t send them any. You get the picture. Don’t waste your time. Don’t waste theirs – most lit mags are labors of love. The editors earn no money, often, if not usually, bearing all publication costs. Be kind to them.
Also, look for newer publications calling for submissions. They may be more amenable to your work, and the competition may be a bit lighter. How do you find these? Read Poets & Writers. Check out New Pages‘ calls for submissions. Facebook’s “Calls for Submission” group is worth joining. Follow Trish Hopkinson’s blog. Join various writing communities on social media. Look around!
You might also consider subscribing to Duotrope, if only to determine what certain publications’ acceptance rates are. For example is it worthwhile to submit to a publication that accepts only 1/2 of one percent of submissions? Or would your time be better spent submitting to publications accepting 5% to 20% of what’s sent to them? One can over-think this, of course, but knowing the odds can increase your chances. Of course ego comes into play, and sometimes you just have to send your work to one of the “unattainables.” And hey, nothing ventured, nothing gained. Duotrope‘s “News” tab also provides links to new markets or those that have recently opened or closed to submissions.
When your work is rejected (and it will be – everyone gets rejected), look closely at it. Was it indeed as ready as you originally thought? If so, send it back out. If not, revise it. Keep writing. Keep revising. Keep sending.
I submit my work cautiously, as if editors are looking for excuses to NOT publish me. This means that I take my time and ensure that every piece I send out is flawless in appearance – no typos, no grammatical errors, etc. Unless a publication specifically requests more, my cover letters are brief and say very little but “thanks for the opportunity” and might at most contain a sentence or two regarding biographical details or previous publications. Anything else is superfluous – I don’t want to give them any reason to not accept my work.
Again, this is just my approach to getting published. I’m sure that other, more successful writers have better processes. And of course I ignore my own advice from time to time. Send out those poems. Good luck!
From Every Moment a Second can be found on Amazon.
The son of a career soldier, Robert Okaji moved from place to place throughout his childhood. He holds a BA in history from The University of Texas at Austin, served without distinction in the U.S. Navy, lived the hand-to-mouth existence of a bookstore owner, and worked in a library and as a university administrator. He lives in Texas with his wife, two dogs, some books and a beverage refrigerator stocked with craft beer.
He has never been awarded a literary prize, but at age eight won a goat-catching contest.
Recent publications include the chapbooks From Every Moment a Second (Finishing Line Press), If Your Matter Could Reform (Dink Press), two micro-chapbooks, You Break What Falls and No Eye but the Moon’s: Adaptations from the Chinese (Origami Poems Project), a mini-digital chapbook, Interval’s Night (Platypus Press), and “The Circumference of Other,” a collection appearing in Ides: A Collection of Poetry Chapbooks (Silver Birch Press). His work has appeared in Taos Journal of International Poetry & Art, Boston Review, Hermeneutic Chaos, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, Panoply, Eclectica, Clade Song, Into the Void, High Window, West Texas Literary Review and elsewhere. Visit his blog, O at the Edges, at http://robertokaji.com/.
I hope everyone who celebrates has a person or persons to be with tomorrow for Thanksgiving. Here’s a photo of another woman in Kin Types, my paternal grandmother–with her son, my father’s twin brother, at our house for Thanksgiving in the early 70s. She is the one who owned the mailbox marker in A Sign to Remember
As a child, I loved reading about times past. Biographies of famous women like Lucrezia Borgia and Annie Oakley let me experience life in the periods in which they lived. Historical fiction lent a sense of adventure to realistic depictions of old England or the American colonial period. Time travel became my favorite fantasy. But […]