NaPoWriMo #19: Why A New Car Is More Dangerous Than An Old Girlfriend

Chevy Nova SS
Originally uploaded by bcostin

Day 20 is the real crunch time for the 30/30 challenge as far as I’m concerned. It feels like the time when my ideas are running dry and it feels like I’m stealing from myself. It also feels like a good time to dig into my own personal toolbox of writing prompts and see what I can find in there.

I’m thinking that the hardest part about writing poems is the actual mechanics of poetry: line breaks, distinct syntax, metaphor and simile. If I can’t find those things in the first three lines, I just start to give up. What to do? Write what comes to mind while telling my internal editor to go out and get me a burger. Most times this leads to me writing prose (a very dangerous prospect for me since I don’t claim to be a prose writer), then worry later about shaping the poem. I’ve written at least two good poems with this technique and credit Patricia Smith for first putting me onto it.

Here’s the story which will become a poem:

Why A New Car Is More Dangerous Than An Old Girlfriend

[Poem was here.]

NaPoWriMo #17: Eulogy – For Guru (1966-2010)

Originally uploaded by Pieter Baert

I’m still workin through the deaths of Guru and Malcom McLaren. Two hip-hop pioneers with very little in common except for their desire to broaden their art. McLaren came to NYC to add some concrete to what was already a sensational (literally) career. Guru took it from BK to le Champs-Élysées to give hip-hop a deeper taste of jazzmatazz and did it with no apologies. Words manifest, indeed.

To help my figure it out on the page, I’ve created this collage poem from the titles of the Gang Starr and Jazzmatazz singles plus the names of the man himself. Peace.

For Guru (1966-2010)

[Poem was here.]

NaPoWriMo #15: Poem That Begins With a Line From My Spam Folder

Ya know I’m playin’ catch up here and tryin mah damnest to get this 30/30 challenge done.

For those looking for a writing prompt, try this: Before hitting delete, peep some of the titles of that random spam that hits your inbox. Some of it is high-la-ree-us and comes with a little bit of musicality to it.

Here’s my riff off one of my spam folder titles. For an added flavah, feel free to click the embedded YouTube at the bottom to give this poem a soundtrack to go to.

Poem That Begins With a Line From My Spam Folder

[Poem was here.]

NaPoWriMo #12: Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy

port authority
Originally uploaded by Ralph Hockens

The following poem comes from a writing exercise where I had to “interview” one of my classmates about a serious life event. We were given a couple of topics we could talk about: early sexual experiences, when we were born or near-death experiences. We weren’t limited to those topics but they were the main ones. I asked my classmate about their near-death experience and got a whopper of a story that went off on a few tangents but that’s ok cuz I do the same with my own stories.  I think part of the exercise is to listen attentively but I skipped that part and started jotting down notes since I do that in the real world anyways.  After we finished, I told my classmate about the time I was born which I traced back to leaving Ecuador and arriving in the loving arms of Idlewild Airport.  A good story with (you guessed it) a ton of tangents including an Ecuadorian diplomat, a Code Pink, deep in-law beef, and one confused little kid in a powder blue 70s tux complete with wide lapels and ruffle shirt. I’m still waiting for the poem to come back to me.

Once again, for those keeping score at home, the exercise goes:
• Find a person to interview
• Ask them to relay a story about their life
• Listen attentively
• Craft into a poem

Here’s the poem (with residual tones of the insistent cop from the last NaPoWriMo joint) for today.

Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy

Are three words loaded with meanings
The simple truth is that it’s a dull ache
Set to rest in the corners of my bones
Another way to look at it is it’s a squatter
Who put up camp in the trenches of my nerve endings
But that would set this story in a political direction
And that’s not how I cross the street

Which is how we got into this mess to begin with
I was on my bike navigating the smog soup of Jersey
When a random hit-and-drive became my call
Into a manhood where the questions don’t matter
As much as the canned soup responses

I digress but only to give you perspective
Let’s view it from a poetic lens

The ring of insistent questions lives in my marrow
My face pasted together with forget and numb
This message of pain travels from the brain
With no rush hour schedule to speak of
Not so much the vehicle of my enlightenment
More like a backseat driver with an expired map
Or an expired license but now promoted
Passenger seat status with all the privileges
And deniability that office and title carries

Another version, courtesy of an unreliable witness
Claims I was riding my bicycle in the wrong direction
150 miles an hour in a slow your role zone
Coming and going at the same time

This is not a cool story or an appropriate way
To signal the onset of puberty
This is about lessons learned with a crushed
Windshield as my blackboard and an IV needle
Scrawling testimony on the edges of my spine

This is old news, at best, but to keep it modern
I will switch the channel and put on COPS
Shot on location in my memory with real life
Officers dedicating themselves to protecting
Me from harming myself in an attempt to grow
As a person and get past this recollection

We join our scene already in progress:
  Were you in the crosswalk or street?
    The crosswalk.
  Were you in the crosswalk or street?
    The crosswalk.
  Were you in the crosswalk or street?
    I was in the cross, saying prayers, then I walked.
  Were you in the crosswalk or street?
    I was walking towards a cross. Yes.
  Were you in the crosswalk or street?
    I was the cross, not walking, more floating
    on the chorus of my prayers and moans.
  Were you in the crosswalk or street?
    The crosswalk.
  Were you in the crosswalk or street?
    My parents can attest to the validity of my character
    and the quality of my education and assure you
    I know the difference between a crosswalk and street.
  Were you in the crosswalk or street?
    1’m 99% percent sure-the crosswalk.
  Not entirely sure?
    Sure as history.

The leap in the story involves how I learned
To walk on crutches without touching the ground
A modern Passaic Messiah with no congregation
To say “Flock off” to but of this Earth
And in a Heaven of my own making

I cross streets with an eye on the road, street,
Crosswalk and above so I know I earned
A Guardian Angel in all this
One who walks the righteous PATH train
To all the dead end stops and busts a cul-de-sac
Turn whenever Port Authority rears its head
Out it’s own assumptions of who I am
And where I’m finding myself

Splay Anthem – Live (Plus- Follow up to Writing Assignment #6)

Friday night was spent at the de Young which is apparently doing their best to make a night at the museum an experience for everyone with what looked, felt and was dressed up like a rave.

Luckily, we were at the other side of the museum where the music of choice was the jazz instrumentation of Hafez Modirzadeh alongside selections from Nathaniel Mackey’s Splay Anthem, which I have heard great things about and seen on many a bookshelf for quite a long time but never got a chance to get to.

This reading was perfect in every way. Mackey got straight to business and delivered a seamless (no banter) set that started off with the “soon come” and ended with “the word kept coming up.” In between was a cyclical journey going back and forth between Mackey’s “We” (more on that in a sec) and their experience with place and how that translated into language. Mackey’s We could be either from “Egypt or Tennessee” but it didn’t matter since the “cement sky” they were under provided little or no fruit (“bread we broke with hammers”). From there the persistent question popped up: “What if am?” Not an examination of the self – as in What if I am? – but another examination of situation and whether the We was in danger (“gas, we’d sworn it was”) or out of danger (“singing, some called it”) and whether that even mattered at all (one of my favorite lines of the night: “that we were there, but not there, was no relief”).

Mackey then swept into a Biblical undertow (citing both “the apocryphal she” and “the he they sang of”) that brought us into a Babel-ish moment (where “translating the song” and “the motion of tones” was key) and then finally bringing it all together (“room and world meant the same,” a line I keep reading as room & word but that’s just me). Mind you, all this was only one movement from Splay Anthem.

Now, I could be off on some of these lines since they are all from my personal journal, which I was scribbling into all the way through, and I could be off on my interpretation, since this was the first time I have heard any of Mackey’s work, but this is what I picked up on this beautiful live reading. This just reinforces some of my thoughts on live reading and its affect on audience.

Hafez Modirzadeh
Originally uploaded by bjanepr

Modirzadeh’s music was spot on and blended perfectly, not only with Mackey’s poem but also his pauses.

The Q&A that followed was equal parts about process and mysticism, two terms that may be incompatible but both Mackey and Modirzadeh explained that the two do not have mutually exclusive.

“It has been a real challenge to be a person in love with language but on to the fact that language misleads us in many ways.”
— Mackey

“We are all in the state of becoming one another.”
— Modirzadeh

I was able to ask Mackey a little bit about his use of We and what of his relationship with the poetic “I”.

Nathaniel Mackey
Originally uploaded by bjanepr

“Reluctant” was his response when talking of the “I” and then he proceeded to explain how the We is his pronoun of choice and how it affected his work. “We spoken here. Aqui se habla we,” was how Mackey summed it up.

I love readings like this, where so much care goes into the poems, presentation and process to make it seem almost effortless but then to know that there is effort and that lesson effort can be extended from one artist to the next. Readings like this make me say “I want to know what that poet knows.” “I want to learn from this writer.” “Damn, I wish I wrote that.” And, even better yet, “You know what? I am going to try to write like that.”

I’ll end with a final quote from Modirzadeh and a poem (which is my response to Writing Assignment #5) celebrating the We.

“This is a continuation of the conversation we were having.”
— Modirzadeh

Poem was here. Can now be found in BorderSenses-Summer 2008.