Friday, January 28, 2011

Poetry Friday - Another Double Abecedarian

Aren't some of these upside down??  The N, the S, even the Z.

I'm just going to continue the fun I've been having lately with restrictive forms, whether or not people want to call these experiments "poems" (see comment from last Friday.) Maybe I'm not sure what a real "poem" is. I'm not sure many poets would be willing to tackle that definition. But these experiments/poems end up having a life of their own, and I just love watching them wriggle. Or, as someone else might say, they "have legs" even if they don't always have heads or arms or a torso.

If you know me, you know the drill with double abecedarians: the first word of each line starts with the next letter in the alphabet - first with A, then B, then C, etc. The last words do the reverse - they end with z in the first line, then y, then x, etc. Here, I get a bit alphabetty explaining the hardest letters of the form within the form itself, but I do manage a one-word line following the rules. That's always a triumphant moment in a double abecedarian.

Don't worry whether or not it's a "poem." Just enjoy.

Double Abecedarian

Alphabet poems doubled aren't E-Z.
Basically, you have to go A to Z, B to Y,
C to X, etc. And you hit that X,
Don't forget, coming and going. That's raw.
End a line with a V? Do anyEnglish words  end with V?
Figure our next what ends with U. Ugh. I mean U-
Gh. Some letters are just
I guess for
Jugular-vein, you've got the final Q.
Kills me every time, trip-trap
Little goats, the big troll is singing, O!
Meanwhile, the easy ones like D and N--
nice, numerous, dull, dim.
On the other hand, I love every opening vowel:
Plump a-e-o's, i's thin, u's thick.
Quick now, jump over the Q. Find a DJ or a raj
Ready to help you solve the mini-
Situation with the final J. Then look for a bush
That burns, and see if you can find a dog
Under the table. By the time you get to a final F,
Very late in the game, you'll have committed the
Worst possible mistakes & gone mental, you'll have had
X slap you down twice, you'll go to bed with that ABC
Yacking away inside your head, you'll be ruined, you'll be gob-
Zacked. Gob-sacked? Gob-smacked? As in l-m-n-oh-oh, oh. Mama!

The Poetry Friday round-up today is being hosted by Elaine Magliaro over at The Wild Rose Reader (Thanks, Elaine!) Head over there to see what other people are posting.  

Friday, January 21, 2011

Poetry Friday - A VCFA Poetry Challenge!

Summaries of the rest of the Vermont College of Fine Arts' Winter Residency will have to wait until I've recovered fully from the relentless pace on campus for ten days - "Ouch" and "Yikes" and "OMG" come to mind. Brilliant but tyrannical schedule we follow in the Writing for Children program. 

For now, since it's Poetry Friday, I'll post the results of a quick "poetry challenge" I issued - the results are from some brave students who took on the restrictions & rules & simply engaged in the fun of it. Here is the challenge I issued:

Choose a vowel and write a poem using only that vowel throughout, along with any consonants you like. If you choose "a," for example, no other vowel but "a" may appear in the poem. Since I read several of my own "counting songs" during the Faculty Reading, I told students there would be extra points for doing the same (numerals were acceptable as 1,2,3, etc. but not as one, two, three....unless the written number had only the chosen vowel.)

I got samples of every vowel other than "a." Interesting. 

Some of the poems were turned in to me a little sheepishly, with no names on them. People do get shy! Some are serious, some are playful. Some manage to follow the rules, but...let's to say this? The sense suffers? Some take the idea of "counting" a bit loosely. But that's okay - quality varies, but good-sportsmanship was in plentiful supply. In that spirit I am posting everything submitted to me, and if I've forgotten who put the poem into my hands (as I said, the pace was "Yikes") please forgive me. I've put "by Anonymous" on all unsigned poems. And please forgive also if some of the very creative formatting doesn't hold. I'll try to put Editorial Notes in when that happens.

I want to give a tip of the hat to student Sandra Nickel, who not only turned the poem into a counting song but made sense of it all. She conjured up some excellent images and controlled the sound qualities in a masterful way - it's a terrific poem, one where the rules of the challenge don't narrow it down but open it up. You know, looking back over them, there are quite a few here that work within the restrictions well....

At the end, I'll add one that I wrote, if I can find it in the mess of papers I call my "study" - I should call it my "study-not"! 

Sun's dun 
by Sandra Nickel

Sun up
10 bugs thrum
 9 ducks pluck
 8 gulls hubbub
scud punch-drunk

Sun lulls
 7 bucks run
 6 bulls rut
 5 cubs dust fuzz
run 'muck

Sun rusts, turns up trumps
 4 pups rush, suck
 3 skunks gust musk
 2 urubus turn, tuck, hurl
 1 runt succumbs
nub's hum
dusk's dun

First Kiss
by Sarah Cramer

This is it I think.
First kiss. 

In this ink-spill night,
In this blinking light,

His wrist tickling

This is it. 

Lips slick with lipstick
Pinch tight.

Is this right? 

Lids wrinkling,
Skin pricking,
Lips link.

I'm sinking in this
Thinking, This is it. 

Rez Fest  
by  Maggie Lehrman

Here, we set elements
(we clever keepers)
squeeze letters
eke essences
edge free newness
deemed mess --

We exert tenses
speed pens
respect elders
(neglect self)
peddle jests, yes!

Then: Rest.
Flee, lest we

[Ed. Note: Oh-oh, I see a "u" in there along with the e's. But since it's connected to a "q," maybe it's more like a "q-u" unit, and not a separate vowel!][Further notes: In the comments, Maggie suggests replacing "squeeze" with "wedge" - great choice. Extra points, too, for making it be about the residency!]

by Jessica Leader

locks of womb shorn?
don't hold to cold comfort.
no honor to scold trollops
for solo loons won't coo --
nor scorn poor grooms or sons who woo
for sons grow old too soon.
throw off gloom.
drop tons of roots.
Five Poems   [Ed. Note - I'm pretty sure these are discrete (i.e. independent) poems.]
by Lori Steel

Crowns of thorn do mock,
God's son, forlorn not forgot,
Cost of blood born.

Owl hoots, flocks blown down,
From cool to cold, drops form snow,
Town plows work, school stops.

Fool plots,
Clock tocs,
Shop loots,
Words drown,
Glock cocks,
Crook robs,
Cop stops,
Mob knows,
Town's loss.

Mood                               World's top
      drops                                         slows
      flows                                                  form                                       
          down                                                  cold
                from                                                   rocks.


[Ed. Note - that last one is a concrete poem in the form of a teardrop - couldn't figure out how to shape it!]
by Alyson Whatcott

Twins: Ling, Ting,
In swings,
Slip, tip,
Skip, dip,
Zing, wing.
"In! In!"
Ting spins,
Ling wins.
In swings,
Ling, Ting--twins.

Holy Pop
by Anonymous

Oh, roll on.
On to tock
     of Holy God
     who took hold of sod.
On to tock
     of good hooks
     born oh so long,
     Holy Pop.
On to tock of
     Hop on Pop?
     Hold on to two
     So good
Oh, roll on.

by Anonymous

He tells me,
"We tell every Steven
they'll never be
even whenever
they're seven"

Me tells he,
"We seel every Ben
the secret seek-seeker
whenever they're ten."

Oh, Plot!
by Maggie Lehrman

Oh Plot!
Oh Plot Forgot! 
No jot to top
Oh Plot Forgot! 
Go on
To stop
on bottom
not cool. 

Big thanks to everyone who participated - I love the adventurous spirit that guided you all!  Here's my own single vowel poem, written awhile back - not a counting song, but fun to do:


knows how

to go
slow now,

to fool Doom,
to bow down -

to grow

knows not

how to grow
cool, nor cold,

knows not

to stop,
poor sot.
Today's Poetry Friday round-up is being hosted by Tara Smith over at A WRITING LIFE. Head over there to see what other people have posted.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Day What?? of the VCFA Residency

David Macaulay in his Vermont studio....

Yes, I'm asking, "Day What??" I've reached the day when I don't know what day it is. I think it's Friday. NO, it's Thursday. I think it's Day 5, because wasn't Day 2 just 2 days ago? Day 5 - I do think that's right. Which is a problem, because it means I have 6 days to go, and already I need a personal assistant to keep me from losing the following: my keys, my gloves, my hat, my notebook, my pink schedule, my miscellaneous papers, my VCFA portable coffee cup. my pen, my mind.

Here's a meager wrap-up for the last couple of days:

Class photos - big group, same sweet photographer trying to round up the barnyard full of crazy chickens.

Workshops going full swing. All I can say about Writer-in-Residence David Macaulay visiting Uma's and my Picture Book workshop is OH MY GOD - he brought his sketchbooks (all the way from 1973 to current project) and all the re-done art for the completely revisited/redrawn version of Cathedral (which is contained in its entirety within his book BUILT TO LAST, along with Castle and Mosque. ) The man is so generous. He talked with the PB workshop members for the full 2 and 1/4 hours, and he's meeting with three different groups of students over in Dewey Lounge for three different meals, and he's visiting Laura Kvasnosky's small workshop (focused on writer-illustrators) and he's given a reading and a slide show...and tomorrow he talks with Grace Lin in a Q&A session - he just seems completely available, attending lectures, etc. Not a fussy guest; he's not the kind that only come out to join the group when they have to!

Wednesday was technically "Revision Day" - both Franny Billingsley and Mary Quattlebaum lectured about revising work (Franny's used the over-arching theme of a car tune-up and Mary talked about basic poetry tools and using them when revising fiction for rhythm and sound.)

Grad lectures have begun - and so has the speed-dating (aka Faculty Interviews.) I'm sitting in on them even though I can't take any students other than my Picture Book people. I heard some wonderful ideas today from students about possible Critical Thesis projects.

Faculty Readings continue - Leda read, for the first time accompanied by full screen illustrations, her wonderful Ballet of the Elephants. Oh, I think it is glorious - great pictures for a text that knows exactly how much is right - not too much, not too little. I read, too - included among some counting songs I wrote were five Valentine poems to my husband based on the five faculty lectures we've heard so far. I'll post one below.

David's reading was based on the Introduction to BUILT TO LAST - reading, also, the entire pub. data page, delivered very seriously. Later, in the Faculty Lounge, he joined in with all the rest of us, singing our hearts out as Laura Kvasnosky played folk songs and Rock & Roll on her ukulele. You haven't lived until you've sung (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction with someone strumming the ukulele. Sorry, students over in Dewey Hall - you have nothing on us. And speaking of Dewey, the NECI cooks apparently have LOTS of cans of tomatoes to use up.

Thursday - very disappointed that the bookstore has run out of David's books - that's a shame. There are many people still wanting them. Honestly, the MacArthur "genius" grant he got was well-deserved. I could listen to him talk forever.

Grad lecture highlights for me: Kate Hosford gave us a wonderful presentation called Returning to a Place of Wonder: Reconnecting with Poetry, using examples of experiment-poems written by Sarah Cramer, Terry Pierce, Amy Rose Capetta and Cori McCarthy. I was so glad to hear it - nicely done! - but was sorry to miss Eric Pinder's lecture titled "Animal Attraction: Engaging the Reader with Realistic Animal Characters."

Scholarship winners were announced - Melanie Crowder got the Houghton Miflin/Harcourt prize (Honorable Mentions for Amy Emm and Skila Brown) and Maggie Lehrman got the Nutshell Short Story Award. Erin Barker won the Critical Thesis Prize. The Candlewick people split their scholarship between two people - Erin Hagar and Erin Barker. Hmmm...I'm forgetting something. Oh, the Norma Fox Mazer prize (her family attended the ceremony) and the Marion Dane Bauer Award. Miriam McNamara won one of those but...hmmm - no, sorry I can't quite remember everyone that won. There were other Honorable Mentions for different prizes, too. I'll fill those in later. Oh, I hope I've gotten all this right.

Grace Lin arrived on campus late this afternoon and participated in the faculty reading with a section from her new middle grade novel, not out yet, called Dumpling Days.

Alan, Martine, Jane and I went into town tonight to see TRUE GRIT - the new Coen Bros. movie - wonderful, of course. We got a private showing - we were the only people there.

I haven't been able to issue any Poetry Challenges, sorry! Too busy. Snow is building up on the grounds, which just turns the world white. Ice skaters yesterday on the temporary ice rink in the middle of the green.

Tomorrow: I'm looking forward to Cori McCarthy's lecture about Nuances in Naming. That sounds intriguing. And Uma's Picture Book people deliver their presentations. Oh - and Faculty Preference Forms are due. 

End of day - off to bed. Oh - here's one of my "Valentine to My Husband" poems, based on Alan's lecture about How Makes a Good Story II:

Sweetie, like a good story, you pack a punch.
No doubt about it, your upper cut
gets me in the chin, turns my pages,
burns my cheeks, makes me blush.
Gosh, when your action rises
I'm all, like, kapow....
and down I go. Technical knock out.

...and in the field.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Day 2 - Residency: Post-It Notes and Upper Cuts and David Macaulay

Not a free minute today! There were two wonderful - and I mean wonderful - lectures this morning, one by Laura Kvasnosky about how to think visually and sequentially (via Post-It notes!) and the other by Elizabeth Partridge, about her sense that non-fiction is getting a little more respect these days. In the afternoon, Alan gave us his third look at What Makes a Good Story (teaching us, at the beginning of the lecture, how to perform an Upper-Cut - maybe you had to be there to understand.)  After the opening workshop sessions and end-of-semester reviews, five faculty gave readings of new work. David Macaulay made it to campus early - we've all been thrilled to begin our conversations with him.

Can't post more. Off to bed.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Sweet Rita and Wonderfully Funny Katherine Paterson

Rita in the morning....
...and Katherine in the evening.

Monday at the VCFA Residency:You can imagine how we all felt this morning, watching the Live Feed of the ALA Award Announcements. Our own sweet RITA WILLIAMS-GARCIA's book, ONE CRAZY SUMMER, wins the Coretta Scott King award and is named a Newbery Honor Book!!!!!!!! The noise in the room was wild - imagine the combination of many champagne corks popping and a REALLY LOUD marching band going by - that's what it was like in Noble Lounge. RI-TA, RI-TA, RI-TA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! We found it hard to stop clapping and listen to the rest of the announcements. 

When I'm back in Seattle, I'll have to find a copy of the Newbery winner -MOON OVER MANIFEST by Clare Vanderpool  (her debut novel) -  that was a surprise. I'm looking forward to reading it, but I don't remember that title even coming up in the Mock Newbery discussions/lists I read through. Glad to see Joyce Sidman's book DARK EMPEROR AND OTHER POEMS OF THE NIGHT get a Newbery Honor, too. I wanted so much to see Kathi Appelt's story, KEEPER, make the list, so I was disappointed about it not getting a nod.

In the evening, Katherine spoke to us over in College Hall/The Chapel - a speech about "How to Make a Speech." You can just imagine how wonderful that was - Katherine at her funniest and best. She is a national treasure, and we are very lucky to have her on our Board of Trustees. 

There's snow on the ground, but we're not freezing. NECI seems to be going with lots of root vegetables this time around. 

Quite a Kickoff-Day for our Winter Residency 2011.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

VCFA Winter Residency 2011

Here they are - ten crazy, glorious days at Vermont College of Fine Arts in Montpelier, where I teach in the Writing for Children and Young Adults MFA program. It's our winter residency and I cannot wait to see people. I'll try to post a few summaries about what I'm hearing and seeing (faculty and grad lectures, workshops, Katherine Paterson's opening speech, guest readings and lectures - David Macaulay, Grace Lin, anf Tobin Anderson, who is bravely offering up a mini-course in literary theory)  in addition to NECI food and the ghost in College Hall.  Coming on to campus tonight in the airport shuttle, Uma and Laura and I saw Christmas lights all over College Hall, including quite a display in one huge tree on the snow-covered grass not far from the fountain....

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

New Year, New Mood?


All photos by Weegee - from the collection of the International Center of Photography

I'm surprised to see these cheerful photos by Weegee, since his work was so often focused on grisly crime scenes. But look at the delight he's captured in these faces! This photo comes to you via the website of the International Center of Photography, a place I never fail to visit whenever I'm in New York City.  Their museum is listed in my "Worth Reading" sidebar. If you don't know it or have never browsed through it, definitely click on it and take a few minutes to do so. Did I say a few minutes? More like an hour...or a morning ..or a day...or two....and it might just lighten your mood as it did mine.