The Den of the Half Far To Go Hemline

NaPoWriMo Day 30: Because we’ve spent our month looking at poets in English translation, today I’d like you to try your hand at a translation of your own. If you know a foreign language, you could take a crack at translating a poem by a poet writing in that language. If you don’t know a foreign language, or are up for a different kind of challenge, you could try a homophonic translation. Simply find a poem (or other text) in a language you don’t know, and then “translate” it based on the look or sound of the words. Stuck for a poem to translate? Why not try this one by Nobel Laureate Wislawa Szymborska? Or here’s one by another Laureate, Tomas Transtromer. Happy writing!

Models abbreviate its course
Angst abbreviates its course
A game, short of a sin, to flick (lop) off a “P

The urge of the jet set’s inner frame
Even spoke of it as a clunky signature

Oh every manager should eat ice cream
It is as satisfying as the rose de jour

All “oms” bore mixed up smoke rings
Vigorous solar by the hundreds

Half mannequins blocked the door
Some limbs filled with rum for Allah

The ouija board marked under us

A vast net of melancholy trading

Enjoying our fondue and Jordan almonds.

~Just L (April 30, 2016)

This may be the silliest poem I have ever written. I simply looked at each line, chose phrases that appeared familiar or looked at the shape of the words, didn’t think beyond to its connection to the next thought, and this is what I got! It was a good way to the end the month as April of 2016 proved to be much more serious, beyond foreign, and at times extremely trying than I ever imagined going into it.

Original Text:

Den halvfärdiga himlen

Modlösheten avbryter sitt lopp.
Ångesten avbryter sitt lopp.
Gamen avbryter sin flykt.

Det ivriga ljuset rinner fram,
även spökena tar sig en klunk.

Och våra målningar kommer i dagen,
våra istidsateljéers röda djur.

Allting börjar se sig omkring.
Vi går i solen hundratals.

Var människa en halvöppen dörr
som leder till ett rum för alla.

Den oändliga marken under oss.

Vattnet lyser mellan träden.

Insjön är ett fönster mot jorden.

Ur Den halvfärdiga himlen, Bonniers 1962
Copyright © Tomas Tranströmer 1962
Återgiven med vänligt tillstånd av Tomas Tranströmer och Bonniers

Dikten vald av Svenska Akademiens Nobelbibliotek.

A Memoir This Does Not Make, But It Tells a Tale

NaPoWriMo Day 29: Poet and artist Joe Brainard is probably best remembers for his book-length poem/memoir, I Remember. The book consists of a series of statements, all beginning with the phrase “I remember.” 

I remember…

  1. “Here she comes, here she comes, oh she slipped back in,” as her 8-year-old brother greeted his baby sister into the world.
  2. Believing that having a signature perfume scent, a Volvo station wagon, and a California bungalow of my own meant I was “grown up.”
  3. That the women I most admired growing up were my mother and aunts, and that while I thought they were the most sophisticated women in the world, they were barely 30.
  4. Rolling the Toyota Forerunner over twice on black ice in very slow motion. One passenger screaming bloody murder and my two children quiet as mice.
  5. After reading a poem that my son wrote for me instead of the “Dear John” letter he was likely instructed to write from Iraq, I could have died happy right that moment.
  6. Feeling incredibly angry upon being betrayed by someone whom I had committed my life to, and how every once in a while that anger still stings nearly a decade later. And surprisingly it wasn’t a boyfriend or husband who cut me that deeply.
  7. One summer day riding the Honda 350 into the foothills of California with my dad, the wind in my hair, my arms wrapped around his waist, and stopping to get an ice cream cone feeling like the best day ever.
  8. Lying on the floor of the urgent care puking my guts out, my migraine headache pain level off the chart for the nth day in a row, a blanket over my head to block out the light, crying babies piercing my skull, and not caring what I looked like at all.
  9. Realizing that there was nothing I liked better than the smell of my boyfriend on my hands and clothes. It had nothing to do with cologne, and I hoped I would still smell this and smile in years to come.
  10. Being at a wedding when my son was nearly three months old, and I not yet 19, and the exact words that were spoken to me by this man before he hit me that spurred me to leave him forever and get my Bachelor’s and Master’s degree.
  11. My parents always let us play in the fire when camping. Many a burnt stick used for sky writing, flaming marshmallows, and many melted Adidas shoes later, I am surprised they still allowed it.
  12. The day I looked at my journals I had kept since fifth grade and thinking to myself, “Oh my God, I have to burn these… I can never allow my children to read the contents!”
  13. Being pregnant with my daughter and walking through the talking trees on the UCSD campus high above the ocean, and feeling the most incredible peace and joy in that moment.
  14. Looking into a coyote’s eyes in the canyon and feeling for certain he was going to steal my soul.
  15. The last time my adult daughter slept in my bed, and how lucky I felt that we can share our hearts as women, and yet how her face still looks exactly like my little girl.

 ~Just L (April 29, 2016)

 I decided to write down 15 memories in less than 15 minutes. No editing, no overthinking. Interesting what stays with us.

From Found to Lost


NaPoWriMo Day 28: Today I’d like to challenge you to write a poem that tells a story. But here’s the twist – the story should be told backwards. The first line should say what happened last, and work its way through the past until you get to the beginning. Now, the story doesn’t have to be complicated (it’s probably better if it isn’t)! 

Setting up camp, I kept that inside.

Arriving at our destination, I did a little happy dance of elation.

The first mile in was rough going until we hit our stride.

I’m sure he had his doubts how this was all going to work out.

After all I had never hiked a trail, let alone wore a pack.

I was determined not to be a burden and began weighing this and that.

My head began to spin with the preparations that must be made for this future.

I, on the other hand, couldn’t think of a more glorious way for a week in June to be spent.

“Darlin’, you make hiking up a dirty trail sound so romantic!”

I very much liked the idea – a beautiful trek between the aesthetic and literary appreciation.

“You gotta hit the PCT with me this summer! That’s IF you still like me,” he ventured.

The seed was planted with a text and ended with a tent.

~Just L (April 28, 2016)

Author’s Notes: Inspired by Cheryl Strayed’s “Wild” and real events with Allen on the Pacific Crest Trail..

#abouthim #pct #pnwwonderland

“Lordy Help ‘er!”

MatthewNaPoWriMo Day 26: Today, I’d like to challenge you to write a poem that incorporates a call and response. Calls-and-responses are used in many sermons and hymns (and also in sea chanties!), in which the preacher or singer asks a question or makes an exclamation, and the audience responds with a specific, pre-determined response. (Think: Can I get an amen?, to which the response is AMEN!.). You might think of the response as a sort of refrain or chorus that comes up repeatedly, while the call can vary slightly each time it is used.

I got trouble, trouble, trouble —
“Everything’s gonna be alright.”

I got man troubles, girl —
“Everything’s gonna be alright.”

I loved everything about him —

The heaven in his eyes —

The devil in his hands —

Got me going out of my head —
“Everything’s gonna be alright.”

Left me with nothing but questions —
“Everything’s gonna be alright.”

I need me a real man –- Can I get a witness?

Matthew McConaughey?
“Alright, alright, alright!”

Tatum Channing?
“Preach it!”

[women wipe their brow with white handkerchiefs and wave them in the air]

Charlie Sheen?
“Oh hell no!”

~Just L (April 26, 2016)

A tongue-in-cheek mash up of an N.R. Hart poem, traditional responses of the African-American women in my former church, a bit of the blues, and a lot of fun.

An Unusual Pairing With Beautiful Results

NaPoWriMo Day 25: Today, I’d like to challenge you to write a poem that begins with a line from another poem (not necessarily the first one), but then goes elsewhere with it. This will work best if you just start with a line of poetry you remember, but without looking up the whole original poem. (Or, find a poem that you haven’t read before and then use a line that interests you). The idea is for the original to furnish a sort of backdrop for your work, but without influencing you so much that you feel stuck just rewriting the original. For example, you could begin, “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day,” or “I have measured out my life with coffee spoons,” or “I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster,” or “they persevere in swimming where they like.” Really, any poem will do to provide your starter line – just so long as it gives you the scope to explore. Happy writing!

Not anyone who says, “I’m going to be
careful and smart in matters of love,”
who says, “I’m going to choose slowly,” ever does.

For love is a beautiful mind trick — a shimmering invitation

We sincerely proclaim, “I’m just going to water
the love and only play around the edges,”
then we exclaim, “Let’s jump into the pool naked!”

The truth does not necessarily lie — exactly halfway between them.

~A Mary Oliver Twist by Just L (April 25, 2016)

“Not Anyone Who Says” by Mary Oliver (b. September 10, 1935)

Mr. Bubble Frets Not Who He Touches

NaPoWriMo Day 23: Today, I challenge you to write a sonnet. Traditionally, sonnets are 14-line poems, with ten syllables per line, written in iambs (i.e., with a meter in which an unstressed syllable is followed by one stressed syllable, and so on). There are several traditional rhyme schemes, including the Petrarchan, Spenserian, and Shakespearean sonnets. But beyond the strictures of form, sonnets usually pose a question of a sort, explore the ideas raised by the question, and then come to a conclusion. In a way, they are essays written in verse! This means you can write a “sonnet” that doesn’t have meet all of the traditional formal elements, but still functions as a mini-essay of a sort. The main point is to keep your poem tight, not rangy, and to use the shorter confines of the form to fuel the poem’s energy. As Wordsworth put it, in a very formal sonnet indeed, “Nuns fret not at their convent’s narrow room.” Happy writing!

Mr bubble

Mr. Bubble frets not who he touches
With his fresh signature bubble gum scent;
Mom’s trusted bath-time buddy, made much is,
Forming foam bikinis, her childhood spent;
Resistance to stay dirty, assuages,
“Too many bubbles, there’s no such thing.”
The perfect playtime pal for all ages.
Surprise, Mr. Bubble is adulting!
Soaking, contented to turn the pages,
Turning bathing into quality time;
Showering, a lip sync battle rages,
Mission getting clean is more fun than grime.
Hidden in the guest bath, he won’t admit —
Sweet scent of nostalgia, his favorite.

~Just L (April 23, 2016)

A Sweet, Sappy, Soapy Sonnet for Allen.



NaPoWriMo Day 22: Today’s prompt comes to us from Gloria Gonsalves, who also suggested our prompt for Day Seven. Today, Gloria challenges us all to write a poem in honor of Earth Day. This could be about your own backyard, a national park, or anything from a maple tree to a humpback whale. Happy writing!

Opening her eyes she saw not just the trees but the whole forest – Perhaps for the first time.

Under this canopy of protection and beauty, she rested on the earth, and closed her eyes.

She felt the gravity caressing her body, solid and without fail.

Imagining all that can be. Thankful for all that is.

She rose and ran toward all that was to come.

And the earth followed her. Smiling.

~Just L (April 22, 2016, revised from “Uprooted” July 29, 2015)

The Sky is Not Falling, I Simply Failed Physics

NaPoWriMo Day 21: Just as Rosa Jamila’s poems often sound like they come out of a myth or fairy tale (and not always one with a happy ending), today I challenge you to write a poem in the voice of minor character from a fairy tale or myth. Instead of writing from the point of view of Cinderella, write from the point of view of the mouse who got turned into a coachman. Instead of writing from the point of view of Orpheus or Eurydice, write from the point of view of one of the shades in Hades who watched Eurydice leave and then come back. Happy writing!

What are the chances that I would land on her little head —
Between September and November, in a two-second free fall?
And then this silly chicken runs around preaching dread!
I was simply diving for a warm place to sprout;
No intention of inciting an uproar of fear and doubt.
I should have planned my descent, been more careful;
Verified my method;
Paid attention to the height of the Oak tree;
Got a better grade in Physics than a “D.”

~Just L (April 21, 2016)

Chicken Little: The Folk Tale.

The Most Exciting Two Minutes In Sports

NaPoWriMo Day 20: Today’s prompt comes to us fromVince Gotera, who suggests a prompt very much in keeping with our poet in translation, a “kenning” poem. Kennings were riddle-like metaphors used in the Norse sagas. Basically, they are ways of calling something not by its actual name, but by a sort of clever, off-kilter description — for example, the sea would be called the “whale road.” Today, I challenge you to think of a single thing or person (a house, your grandmother, etc), and then write a poem that consists of kenning-like descriptions of that thing or person. For example, you might call a cat a mouse-stalker, quiet-walker, bird-warner, purr-former, etc. If you’re looking for examples, you can find one that Vince wrote here and a different example here. Happy writing!

Depending on whether you are attending or participating, you may don an exquisite large brimmed headpiece, or you can leave your hat on.

~Just L (April 20, 2016)

How to (almost) Kiss

NaPoWriMo Day 19:  Many years ago, “didactic” poetry was very common – in other words, poetry that explicitly sought to instruct the reader in some kind of skill or knowledge, whether moral, philosophical, or practical. Today, I’d like to challenge you to write the latter kind of “how to” poem – a didactic poem that focuses on a practical skill. Hopefully, you’ll be able to weave the concrete details of the action into a compelling verse. Also, your “practical” skill could be somewhat mythological, imaginary, or funny, like “How to Capture a Mermaid” or “How to Get Your Teenager to Take Out the Garbage When He Is Supposed To.” Happy writing!

There are volumes of works written on kissing
It has been many a poet’s favorite subject
The way it feels, the reeling, the heart palpatations
What he or she smells like when you catch your breath
Enough to eventually, after a long wait, make an inhalation
But for all of the romance of the first kiss,
Kisses desired, to kiss frank, even practicing*
The practical is often missed
So without further ado, allow me to instruct you
On “How to Kiss”

2016 Phil Draws

This is a lesson you don’t want to miss
A practical skill that may make her forget
If you forgot your anniversary or her birthday
I promise you surrender still yet
I offer you the codified secret of lip service
Start with a sincere compliment
And if you can’t think of one let alone many
Well, best you just get on your way
Leave her to a real man for some other day
If by now you have determined you are not a lout
Direct your admiring comments toward her pout
Then, caress her face; Move in slowly, and “Hey!”
“Are you paying attention?” Retreat
Yes breathe, take her all in, my sweet
With your eyes, silly
Appreciate her unique quality
Today’s women are strong and smart and capable
We want a man who can, and will, take the lead
Don’t be in such a hurry for your maws to meet
Hear me again: Hold the small of her back
Caress the nape of her neck (unless she has a weave!)
If your lips are chapped, you better have an A-Team distraction
And if you had onions and garlic for dinner, you might as well retire
For this lack of planning alone could ruin the attraction
She needs to be thinking, “Whoa whoa what is happening?”…
And when your mouths finally greet, do not consume her with greed
Find the balance between intention and anticipation
Every woman of every size wants to feel both delicate and desired
Master this and you will be ahead of the rest of your breed

But, let us return to the thick of the plot
If you’ve come this far you are ready for the lesson now…
There are no magic do’s and do not’s
There is nothing on this earth as impractical as kissing
Try as you might, it is not something that can be taught
Still, I’d sacrifice myself over and over anyhow
After all, I am simply another romantic poet
Not the kissing Tao.

~Just L (April 19, 2016)

*The First Kiss by Kim Addonizio
Kisses Desired by William Drummond of Hawthornden
To Kiss Frank by Dorianne Laux
Practicing by Marie Howe