Alden Nowlan, Alliteration, Down River, Haiku, Hamza al-Khateeb, metaphor, PAD, rhyming, Sonnet, Voice
This post is about my experiences at the Writer’s Digest blog Poetic Asides; where each April Robert Lee Brewer runs a poem a day (PAD) event. In 2016 I posted every day with my poem and thoughts. It was too much, and I didn’t want to invest that effort this time. It becomes pretty dull after only a few days of mediocre poetry. Sorry bloggers, but reading our unedited, off-the-cuff poetry is too often a painful exercise.
This season I want to write about what I have learned, with examples. I don’t know how many of the 54 poems I wrote this month I will post, but it will not be double digits.
April is National Poetry Month, and for me, it has become a month to focus on poetry. Not entirely. I met with an editor this month about my novel. In my mind it is finished and ready to go, but what does ready to go mean? I am not sending it off in queries, yet, as the forces are telling me to self-publish, and do it NOW! Including my wife who has finally read my work. More on that later.
I read one complete book of poetry this month and about 30 pages of another. I picked up a copy of Alden Nowlan’s Early Poems for $8. A steal as other shops are charging $30-$40 for this 1983, posthumous publication by UNB’s Fiddlehead Press.
Nowlan writes earthy poems of simple life-events and often adds a dramatic twist. His rhyming can be forced, and he willingly strays into the dirty areas of life. You will not find a light, airy, emotional Alden Nowlan poem. I sympathize with the style and it has influenced my poetry this month. Here is one example of his work.
Down River by Alden Nowlan
In cities the embittered ones are cunning;
anguish sharpens their wits, I’ve seen the eye
glint in whoresons and beggars, its approach
quick and malicious as a common fly.
But here persistent misery endures;
growing thick-headed like a cow, it chews
thistles in mute protest against the rain
of innocence it cannot lose or use.
This poem I wrote is about a man in a funeral procession carrying a casket, upset at others, his tailor who screwed up his pants is sitting in the back of the church and the guy in front of him wearing jeans, yet he cannot see the irony of himself wearing boots. Most definitely Nowlan-influenced.
It is so disappointing when people don’t show respect,
forty dollar dress pants too long, and the haberdasher knew Tom;
he sits at the back of the church, head bowed, embarrassed
as I step on the cuffs with the heels of my boots
afraid I’ll fall while hauling this casket
the weight of Tom’s miserable life on my shoulder,
and the guy in front of me who pretended to cry
while buddy spoke of friendship and sadness and told lies
is only wearing jeans.
Nowlan uses simple rhyming but more complex and subtle alliteration: In, cities, embittered, wits, glint in, its, quick, malicious, persistent, misery, thick, it, thistles in mute, innocence, it, cannot. Fantastic when you look for it and read it a few times. And as I sit in this down-river city with the painting of Nowlan on a brick wall along Canterbury St., look at the persistent fog and drizzle outside my office window, and walk among the thick-headed denizens, oh, do I feel this Nowlan poem beating!
I attribute the following to Nowlan Influence, especially the simple rhyming scheme.
Platinum 3776 Century SF
The sound of this fine gold nib
an this smooth, heavy paper
is the sound of a clean sheet of ice
being etched by a smooth figure skater
It traces ornate twirls as it glides
through the jungle of imagined words
jumps and spins as it writes attacking
the loudest clashing of swords
The following is in many ways concrete and earthy but the conceit is abstract: sitting in a coffee shop wondering if you fit in.
The Sound of Youth
I try to sit in silence
sip my coffee
read my book
the pages won’t lay flat
but keep closing
my eyes wander the rows
tables full of chatter
incessant social banter
not looking at faces
straining to decipher
the deafening sound of youth
I also worked through In The Palm of your Hand by the late Steve Kowit out of San Diego. I read this with some trepidation as Steve called a friend of mine illiterate after she submitted poetry using Canadian spelling. American exceptionalism? Myopia? I can’t comment, but she was not pleased. Anyway, while this book has issues with generalization, examples you have to track down in back pages, and editing snafus, this is actually a stunning read. I highly recommend it.
I am also working through the book Studying Poetry by Matterson and Jones. This is another stunning book. It is advanced and assumes you understand the basics of poetry. These authors dig deeper and discuss how poetry actually works. This month, some of this text has led me into exploring alliteration and forms of metaphor deeper, such as in the following poems.
Clothes hang from the line
strung-out lives, histories dancing
in the cold, spring wind
And this poem combines Nowlan subject matter and twist with alliteration.
Their 54 Plymouth, festooned
with Green Giant corn cans
and full Cracker Jack boxes
rambled down county road one
scaring the deer and raccoons.
I tried not to, but I also strayed into politics again. I have often made statements such as, “America will never be able to change its ways; it can’t even adopt the metric system.” And when Robert gave a prompt of ‘metric’, I knew what I had to write.
When hicks talk in klicks
you can bet they’ll accuse
the country of Bolshevik
influence and interference
calling the president a lunatic
and march on Capital Hill
with night sticks and booze.
The following poem hurt to write. When you write a poem, the emotional impact is many times that when you read it. I spent half a day reading about Syria; because I didn’t understand it. I stumble across this article in Al Jazeera and decide I needed to write a poem about it. It put me in the darkest mood I have ever been in. Ever! After dinner my wife and son went out and I was home alone. I couldn’t take it, so I went to my favorite pub and played trivia a night early with friends. Oh the beer went down fast!
You loved it when the rains came
filled a simple irrigation ditch
a makeshift swimming hole; you weren’t to blame
for giving your family’s money to a boy without a stitch
The Arab spring promised freedom
a loner, you joined the protest
an easy target, young and without wisdom
al’aman, security; we all assume it protects
They whipped you with steel cable
shocked your knees, elbows, hands, and face
left your tortured body on a table
a bullet in your belly, they cut off your penis
Hamza al-Khateeb, what have you seen?
you were an innocent boy; you were only thirteen
Yeah, a tough one.
Of course I also had some fun this month. Some of my poetry was light and airy and even made me smile 😉
This aphoristic poem in response to ‘in <blank> of love’
Laws of Love
There are no laws of love
no rules or conditions.
There is no bad love
and there is no good love
no rolling of the dice
no depending on tossed rice.
The only love that matters
is the love you live to make.
And another metric poem.
I waited for you
until the parking meter
ate all of my coins
It was a very good month for me. I wrote 54 poems in 30 days, learned a lot, and I explored much. I took another baby step towards learning my poetic voice and becoming a confident poet, if there even is such an animal.