Showing posts with label poetry. Show all posts
Showing posts with label poetry. Show all posts

29 June 2018

North to Alaska

by Thomas Pluck

Thomas Pluck
By the time you read this I will have been eaten by bears.

Or moose. A Møøse once bit my sister.

Remember Monty Python? Ah, those were the days, discovering off-kilter comedy on Public Broadcasting, brought from overseas. Now I scroll through cable and everything looks like a commercial. Maybe I'm just old and cranky, I just turned 47, which is the new 29, but still old. I am frightened for my country. We have a taste for war and little empathy, because we have never been invaded. Well, the South knows war better than we do. They're still bitter over it, even though they started it. War leaves scars. And the last person to get hit always thinks they're the victim.

In a few days I'll be visiting Canada, and after the President's foolish comments, I'm wary of meeting strangers. Usually when I travel, I like finding a pub to meet the locals. When I visited Ireland during the Bush II Presidency, I drank a lot of free pints from people who wanted to ask why we elected that buffoon. Now I'm more concerned that I'll have a beer splashed in my face, or worse.

Yuppie problems. Boo hoo, my country's harmful policies might ruin my vacation.

What does this have to do with writing? Nothing, and everything.

I haven't been writing. Not as much as I'd like, or at all, depending on the day. I have trouble seeing the point.

Then I find some motivation and chunk along a bit, editing the crap I wrote the days before, and adding some more to it.

The dance band kept playing on the Titanic. People need entertainment more than ever.

When I feel this way I am reminded of a wonderful poem by Maggie Smith, called "Good Bones."

Good Bones

BY MAGGIE SMITH
Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine
in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,
a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways
I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children. I am trying
to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.

Or if you'd rather have it in a snappy hardboiled patter, the final lines from the movie Seven, written by Andrew Kevin Walker: "Ernest Hemingway once wrote, 'the world is a fine place, and worth fighting for.' I agree with the second part." Hemingway's full words are, "The world is a fine place and worth fighting for and I hate very much to leave it." But he did, when he felt useless. And he left so many cats behind. I can't imagine doing that. The cats survived, as they do. They even survived Hurricane Irma, when cat lovers fretted over the 54 six-toed felines. They weathered the storm in Hemingway's villa with its 18 inch thick limestone walls, as did the curators of the house. He built something with good bones, that outlived his own despair.

And we all do, when we write with our hearts in it.

I'll keep fighting.


24 November 2016

Messages in a Bottle, or Notes from the Pen

For the next several days, our band of authors will be writing about writing— for magazines, especially non-mystery magazines. We’ll have a couple of surprises and a lot of expertize. Thanks to Eve for kicking off the program with non-traditional penmanship. You'll see.
—Velma
by Eve Fisher

I just got back from a weekend workshop at the local penitentiary, which (as always) was full of interesting moments, hard work, and definite characters.  If nothing else, the weekend confirmed (even if I do say so myself) that I really nailed the young meth-head who's the centerpiece of my latest story, "Iron Chef", in the November, 2016 issue of AHMM.  ("He thinks he's a lady's man because he wants to get laid," and more here...)

I did not tell the guys that.  Actually, I don't tell them much about my writing, because (1) That's not why I'm there (I'm there to facilitate an Alternatives to Violence Project Workshop, not talk about myself all the time) and (2) most of them don't really want to hear it.  Including the writers.
(Sometimes especially the writers.  Recent dialog between myself and an inmate:
Me: "There's a place on-line that lists publishers and -"
Inmate (interrupting): "I HAVE an agent. Or I will soon."
Me: "Okay."
Inmate: "Yeah.")
And there are a lot of writers (and artists) at the pen.  Interestingly, I haven't met one yet that writes mystery or crime stories.  I'm not sure if that's because it doesn't interest them, or they don't know how to do it, or if they're afraid if they put anything in writing, it might be held against them in a court of law.  Like a confession or a plan for future criminal activity...  Anyway, most are poets and/or songwriters.  Some write sci-fi and/or supernatural/horror. And a few write autobiographies.

Getting prison writing published is easier than you might think, thanks to the internet.  Here are just a few of the on-line resources for magazines, newsletters, anthologies and e-zines dedicated to prisoners' writing:

From South Dakota, The Prisoners for Prevention blog.
The Prisoner Poetry Page.
The on-line Prison Poetry Workshop podcasts.
The Prisoner Express which publishes poetry, journals, essays, etc.

One of the main problems, of course, for prisoners is that these days so many places only accept on-line submissions, and access to the internet is hard to get in the pen.  And sending out ms. in hard-copy is expensive when you only make 25 cents an hour.  (Not to mention that getting access to a typewriter is hard to come by, too.)  And almost all of the markets specifically set up to publish prisoners' work are non-paying.

In the search for paying markets, Writers' Digest is invaluable to prisoners:  I'd bet there's a (more or less) old, battered copy in every prison library.  I know inmates who've sent stories to Glimmer Train, Analog, Asimov's Science Fiction, and Playboy.  (No, I don't know any who've been accepted yet, but at least they're trying!)  I've read a couple of the stories, and even given a critique here and there. When I am specifically asked.  Again, not every inmate wants to hear any opinion other than that it's a great poem/story/song.  For that matter, not every writer OUT of the pen wants to hear anything else...

Doing Time: 25 Years of Prison Writing from the Pen ProgramAnother place where inmates writers can get published is with the PEN Prison Writing Contest. Prizes and publication in an anthology make this very prestigious.
And, for all of us, let's not forget sites like Angie's Desk and My Little Corner, both of which list anthologies and markets of all genres (although primarily mystery and science-fiction/fantasy).  Thank you, ladies!  Your hard work has opened up markets for us all!

Most of the work the inmates finally do get published is and has been edited by someone outside for content.  What gets passed around in the tier, chow hall, and our sharing circle is unedited, raw, and cannot be reprinted on this family blog.  Besides the poems of suicidal despair (since this is NOT the Gingerbread House of Corrections)

http://rhymeswithorange.com/comics/november-20-2016/
gangsta rap is HUUUUUGE.  Personally, I get bored with gangsta rap, because they all say pretty much the same thing:  ultra-explicit rap symphonies in F Major on drugs, bling, fights, arrests, killings, and sex.
(It's like the prison tattoos:  the first few times you go in the pen, you see these guys who are absolutely COVERED in tattoos, and it's hard to look away.  But after a while, you realize that they're mostly skulls, naked women, snakes, names, etc., in endless repetition, and the only reason you study them is to figure out what gang they're in.)
But there are those stories that show real creativity and thinking, and poems that take your breath away, like the following from PrisonerExpress.org/?mode=poetry

The thirteenth amendment, Amended

by Name Withheld by Request
A coffle of state slaves shuffles
Slowly into the radiant rays
Of dawn's early light.
Spartacus nowhere in sight.
Flight scarred all, and bone
Weary from strife and stress,
Destined to toil under the sun til
Twilight's last gleaming brings rest.

The tools are issued:
One hoe per man, each
Dull the blade, each
Seven pounds of sweat-stained misery,
Each, in proper hands,
Seven pounds of peril.

Let there be no peril today, we pray:
No quick and vicious fights, where, sweat stinging,
Fists flying, we cull living from dying:
No riots fought for fast forgot reasons__
Swinging steel scintillating in sunlight,
Blood gouting from the too slow heads__
Brown, black, white___
Our blood ruby red and thick with life,
No respecter of color or creed.

Let there be no peril today, we pray;
No dry crackling reports of leaden soldiers,
Chasing wisps of smoke from forge fashioned barrels,
Speaking the ancient tongue of Authority;
Guns guardgripped fast by bossfists,
In confederate gray cloths,
Their fire felling friends, freeing foes.

Let there be no peril today, we pray:
Today only__hard work, for no pay.

"Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except
as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall
have been duly convicted, shall exist within the
United States or any place subject to their jurisdiction."

So let it be rewritten.
So let it, at last, be done.


23 December 2014

A Very Tom Waits Christmas

by Jim Winter

I pulled on Santa’s sleigh
Christmas Eve was dark, and the snow fell like cocaine off some politician’s coffee table
Rudolph looked to the sky. He had a shiny nose, but it was from too much vodka
He said, “Boys, it’s gonna be a rough one this year.”

I pulled on Santa’s sleigh
The elves scrambled to pack up the last of the lumps of coal for deserving suburban brats
And a bottle of Jamie for some forgotten soul whose wife just left him
Santa’s like that. He’s been there.
Oh, he still loves Mrs. Claus, a spent piece of used sleigh trash who
Makes good vodka martnis, knows when to keep her mouth shut
But it’s the lonlieness, the lonliness only Santa knows

I pulled on Santa’s sleigh
And the workshop reeks of too much peppermint
The candy canes all have the names of prostitutes
And Santa stands there, breathing in the lonliness
The lonliness that creeps out of the main house
And out through the stables
Sometimes it follows the big guy down the chimneys
Wraps itself around your tannenbaum and sleeps in your hat

I pulled on Santa’s sleigh
We all line up for the annual ride
I’m behind Vixen, who’s showin’ her age these days
She has a certain tiredness that comes with being the only girl on the team
Ah, there’s nothing wrong with her a hundred dollars wouldn’t fix
She’s got a tear drop tattooed under her eye now, one for every year Dancer’s away

I pulled on Santa’s sleigh and
I asked myself, “That elf. What’s he building in there?”
He has no elf friends, no elf children
What’s he building in there?
He doesn’t make toys like the other elves
I heard he used to work for Halliburton,
And he’s got an ex-wife in someplace called Santa Claus, Pennsylvania
But what’s he building in there?
We got a right to know.

I pulled on Santa’s sleigh
And we’re off Off into the night
Watching the world burn below
All chimney red and Halloween orange

I’ve seen it all
I’ve seen it all
Every Christmas Eve, I’ve seen it all
There’s nothing sadder than landing on a roof in a town with no cheer.

05 November 2014

Sinking in the Amazon

by Robert Lopresti

About a bad habit (one of many) new authors can get into.  For a tune: think sea chantey.

I'm so proud I can hardly speak
My new novel came out last week
At the web I took a peek
To see how the sales went on
    They were low but began to rise
    I thought I was in for a sweet surprise
    All of a sudden, right before my eyes
    I was sinking in the Amazon
  
Sinking in the Amazon!
Sinking in the Amazon!
Where have all my readers gone?
I was sinking in the Amazon

My friends swore they would buy my book
Critics said it was worth a look
These sales figures have got me shook
This duckling should be a swan
    Some bad novels are doing well
    But my little masterpiece does not sell
    And while it drops toward the pits of hell
    I am sinking in the Amazon

Sinking in the Amazon!
Sinking in the Amazon!
Fiction should outsell non-
I am sinking in the Amazon

I stared so hard I began to squint
I wished these numbers would take a hint
I act like the sales race is a sprint
When I know it's a marathon
    Buy my book and the numbers lift
    Pass me by and the patterns drift
    Maybe my Uncle Ed needs a gift!
    I'm sinking in the Amazon

Sinking in the Amazon!
Sinking in the Amazon!
Is my career a con?
I am sinking in the Amazon

I know that I should be writing more
But now I really can't tell what for
If my books just squat in the big e-store
When they ought to fly hither and yon
    How can I make  my brain gears mesh?
    The spirit's weak and so's the flesh
    I slip to that site and I hit refresh
    And I'm sinking in the Amazon

Sinking in the Amazon!
Sinking in the Amazon!
Deader than Babylon
Sinking in the Amazon


07 July 2014

Sometimes

by Robert Lopresti


Sometimes when I'm writing well
All the world can go to hell
There's a tale I have to tell
Fiction front page news


Sometimes when I'm in the zone
I just want to be alone
Shut the door and cut the phone
Mingle with my muse


Sometimes when I'm deep in plot
Striking when the iron is hot
Eat or sleep, I'd rather not
Glued into my chair

Sometimes when the words flow through
Every scene is something new
Every word is bright and true
Writing's like a prayer

Sometimes dialog's a dream
Action thunders, settings gleam
Heroes dare and villains scream
Lovers meet and kiss



Sometimes when the muse won't play
I can't find a thing to say
Still I sit here anyway
Writing trash like this

25 March 2013

SleuthSayers, SleuthSayers

by Robert Lopresti



In today's advanced poetry class we are going to deviate from our continuing examination of post-Plutarchian limericks and contemplate, instead, the form of verse known as the double dactyl, or higgledy piggledy.   It is so rigidly structured that it makes a Shakespearean sonnet look like free verse, and so devoid of meaning that it makes a knock-knock joke look like bomb disposal instructions.

A double dactyl has eight lines; most of which consist of two dactyl feet (LONG-short-short, LONG-short-short).  LInes four and eight consist of one choriamb (LONG-short-short-LONG).  The first line is always nonsense.  The second is a proper name.  The sixth is a single word.  And the fourth and eighth lines rhyme.  Easy-peasy, no?

To make it more of a challenge each of the examples I created below relate to mystery fiction. I encourage you to put your own contributions in the comments. Unless... you're chicken.

Higglety Pigglety
President Kennedy
Told a reporter he
Liked to read Bond.
007 gained
Marketabiliy
Boosted by Camelot's
Magical wand.


Higglety Pigglety
Gilbert K. Chesterton,
Raised as an Anglican
Under the crown,
Made a conversion most
 Ecclesiastical
After inventing that
Clergyman, Brown.




Higglety Pigglety
Sitt Hakim Peabody
Solved all Elizabeth
Peters' wild schemes,
Murders and mysteries
Egyptological,
Aided by Emerson,
Man of her dreams.



Higglety Pigglety
Indianapolis,
Michael Z. Lewin writes
Books about you,
Starring a private eye,
Humanitarian,
One Albert Samson, un-
Lucky but true.

10 January 2013

Hello, My Lovely

by Robert Lopresti

Agatha Christie
said it was a myst'ry
what in the world you see in me.
Dashiell Hammett
said Goddamnit
you won't solve this one with a pot of tea.

Dorothy Sayers
turned to prayers
hoping for clues from worlds divine
Raymond Chandler
and David Handler
said oh lord, I wish that she were mine

Even Rex Stout
couldn't figure it out
so he turned the whole case over to Nero
Robert Parker
took a view much darker
and mumbled 'bout the state of the modern hero

Edgar Allan Poe
said he couldn't know
'cause all of his love affairs ended gory
Walter Mosley
says this ends coz'ly
but I prefer a hardboiled story

Ed McBain
and Mickey Spillaine
muttered some words about physical attraction
Ngaio Marsh
said don't be harsh
It's probably just an artistic reaction

Arthur Conan Doyle
said no need to roil
I'm sure that the answer is elementary
Amanda Cross
said who made you boss?
You're a dead white male from the nineteenth century

Then you come in
wearing a grin
and give me one of those looks.
There's method I see
and opportunity
but the motive doesn't show up in one of those books


What you see in me
that's a mystery
and I don't even have a clue.
But it would be a crime
if I'm
not glad you do.


25 May 2012

Poet Lariat

by R.T. Lawton

For nine years, I rode with the Custer Trail Riders along portions of the route Colonel Custer took on his 1874 mapping expedition through the Black Hills of South Dakota, roughly two years before he rode into history at the Greasy Grass over in Montana. Some historians say he rode for glory, others contend his big ego had him in a state of denial. Either way, the boy appeared to have trouble doing his estimations when it came to math.

Each of our rides brought along a local historian to talk about points of interest, such as the wagon wheel ruts still visible in some spots, or the large stones used by the cooks to bake bread, or the exact places the expedition photographer placed his old tripod to take photos of the landscape and expedition members. Ours was a four day camp with about 150 horses and riders, plus for authenticity, a few members brought along some mules, which usually brayed all night, and if you rode up too close behind them, they would quickly send some rear hooves in your horse's direction. That made for a few impromptu rodeos, which could be amusing as long as it wasn't you sitting on that particular horse.

In Custer's time, there were three types of mules. Some were for riding, some for pack animals and some for pulling wagons. When the muleskinners got up about three in the morning to start sorting out the mules, they had to be able to distinguish in the dark which mule went where. Thus a system had been developed in which each mule's tail was cut in wedges of one, two or three cuts to tell the muleskinner which was a riding mule, etc. The skinner would run his hand down a mule's tail, count the wedges and know whether to saddle him, hitch him to a wagon, or slap a pack on his back. Them boys obviously had more guts and sense of adventure than I do, cuz there's no way I'm running my hand down a mule's rear end in the dead of night. That type of action could definitely lead to a short career with livestock.

Since Custer allegedly didn't have any women along in the expedition (actually, history says there was one black female cook), the organization is restricted to members of the male sex. (That's me on the light grey, Danny in the middle and Eddie standing far right.)

Naturally, being all male means there is a certain amount of horse play (pun intended), rough housing, card playing and liquid libation in camp. Like the time a bunch of us were sitting around a table playing poker and waiting for the cook to ring the triangle for supper, when here comes Danny. He's returning from watering his mare down at the creek. With just a lead rope for reins, he's riding bareback and has a tumbler of Crown Royal in his other hand. Seeing that friend Eddie sitting at the table has his back turned, Danny rides his mare up close so that the mare's wet nose is slobbering all over the back of Eddie's neck. Without turning around, Eddie calmly takes off his cowboy hat with one hand, throws a two dollar bet into the pot with his other, and then quickly slaps the mare across its nose with his cowboy hat. Startled, the mare commences to crow hop. Not wanting to spill his Crown Royal, Danny rides it out one-handed until the mare catches him short with a sudden spin. Danny ends up flat on his back in the tall grass, staring at blue sky. The lead rope is still clutched in one hand and he appears not to have spilled much of his Crown Royal in the other. In recognition of his expert abilities, our poker table crowd gives him a standing ovation. At evening campfires, these were the type of tales that got related in the years to come. To commemorate some of these events, I started writing cowboy poems about particular incidents. Here's one that got published.

For the Rypkema Ranch ride, Dub Vannerman borrowed a horse from Ray Fuss. Ray claimed that his wife rode this horse often and it was quite gentle, but when Dub went to mount, his right boot caught on his slicker tied behing the saddle, at which point he quickly had a rodeo on his hands. This one's for Dub.


GONE TO GROUND (published in the Rapid City Journal, August 5, 2001)

I took that old red roan
and snubbed him to a post,
cuz it was getting kinda hard
to tell who hated who the most.

I blinded up his eyes
with a kerchief from my neck
and cursed myself for paying cash,
shoulda bought him with a check.

I threw the saddle on
and the jughead bit me from behind.
Just tightening up the cinch
took all the strength that I could find.

I stuck my boot into the stirrup
and swung high upon his back,
while he bunched up all his muscles
with all the power he could pack.

I rubbed my glove with rosin,
gripped the saddle with my thighs,
reached down beside his head
and ripped the blindfold off his eyes.

He kicked and bucked and hollered.
I screamed and prayed and cussed.
And when we both were done,
he throwed me in the dust.

Lyin' there spread-eagle,
agreein' man's not meant to fly,
I saw that roan go rearing up
with the devil in his eye.

That's when I lit out a runnin'
and things got really tense,
cuz I was just one step ahead
when I ran right through the fence.

Yessir, that horse was crazy,
tryin' to stomp me into goo,
but when I made it to the house
I knew just what I had to do.

So now Ithink about them dogs and cats
caged up at the county pound
and I know they're happy with the butcher
cuz that old roan has gone to ground.

On later rides, after Alan Platt's paint took him out into the middle of a pond when he was trying to water her and he then had to swim ashore, chaps and all ("The Painted Lady"), and Danny Warren's mare, with hobbles on, broke through the lunch line scattering cowboys up and down the hillside ("The Horse that Came to Lunch"), campfire attendees started requesting these poems to be recited so they could relive past events. It was a rough and tunble, but fun time. The Old West almost lived again.