Earl Gray

Earl Gray
"You can argue with me but, in the end, you'll have to face that fact that you're arguing with a squirrel." - Earl Gray

Friday, August 28, 2015

The Novid

     Do you know any young, aspiring actors or actresses who would be interested in auditioning for a feature film?




Earl the Squirrel's Rule #72
     We don't know if it was the writing, the idea, the format, not being among today's "admirable websites" (whatever that means), or a question of relevance (i.e. a novel on a poetry blog), but response to the first chapter of our wholesale script-tease, "Love is a Weakness - Chapter I", was tepid.  We were about to abandon the demonstration when something happened.

     "Kemla's Farewell", slapped together for the tale's finale, was released on social media.  It didn't go viral but it was very well received, even by those who didn't know the back story.  For this we are very grateful.  Among these responders was a film producer who, if funding can be found, might want to turn the project into a movie.  (The irony here is in prose intended to resuscitate poetry being resuscitated by poetry.)

      Assuming this movie doesn't come about, we've thought of the "novid" (pronounced "NAW-vid"), a multimedia novel paralleled in whole or part by a video.  Typically, the text would be a complete novel with embedded videos of key scenes.  For example, when the key characters, Todd and Kemla, perform onstage the online reader would have the option of clicking on videos of performers depicting this.

      Actors wishing to play the role of Todd can post their rendition of "Studying Savonarola" to a site like YouTube or Vimeo.  Actresses vying for the role of Kemla can do the same with her departing message (below).  If they start the title of their entry with the title, "Studying Savonarola" or "Kemla's Farewell", as appropriate, interested producers will have no difficulty finding them.

      This modest speech is what revived interest in "Love Is A Weakness":


Kemla's Farewell from "Love Is A Weakness" here on Vimeo.


You showed me how to wait
in Capistrano.

You showed me love
is a weakness,
stronger than power.

You showed me grace
is the present
tense of sorrow

but what time
can take from us
was never ours.

---------------------------------------------------------------

You showed me home
is a person
not a place.

I watch the time 
collapsing
in your wake.

My hands retrace your touch
across my face,
along my breast,
toward the next mistake.

---------------------------------------------------------------

You said there cannot be a little candor;
the truth, once trimmed, can never last.
I swore I wouldn't flatter,
wouldn't pander.
I promised you an unregretted past.

If chance is kind you'll understand
this vow, this wish,
a thousand happy nights
from now.

===============================================================

Monday, August 10, 2015

Love is a Weakness - Chapter I

Chapter I - Meetings

     "Stop staring, Audy!" chided Maude.  "It's impolite."

      The old man ignored his friend.  It was a full minute before he turned to Maude, nodded towards the object of his fixation, and observed:  "She's got a book in front of her but isn't turning pages.  Her eyes aren't moving.  She's come to a theme restaurant dedicated to meeting new people but she sits alone.  Her coffee is untouched.  No food.  No purse.  Bag ladies wouldn't wear those clothes.  She has the marks on the bridge of her nose but isn't wearing her glasses.  What does this tell us, Watson?"        

     "You know I don't like this game."

     "Play along, please, Maude.  It's important."

     "Well," sighed the lady, "I guess she has a lot on her mind."

     "Exactly," concurred Auden, "and nowhere else to take it."

     "So...?"

     "So we have to help her."

     "What do you mean 'help her'?  And when did you become a philanthropist?"

     Auden's tone moved from insistent to pleading.  "She needs us.  Maude, this may be the most important thing we ever do.  Please!"

     "But why her?  Why now?  Why here?"

Wystan Hugh Auden (1907 – 1973)
     The old man turned toward the girl.  After a pause he muttered  "...about suffering the masters were never wrong."     

     "Stop quoting your namesake," sighed Maude, "and tell me what's so different about this girl."

     "Don't ask questions you don't want answered."

     "I do want it answered.  That's why I asked."

     The man scratched his pointed nose, then folded his arms in front of him and cleared his throat before delivering the verdict.

     "She's The One."

     Maude's eyes popped open and her hands flew up.

     "Oh, my God!  Not this again!"

     Her friend nodded.

     "Have you lost your mind?  Again?  Don't you remember what happened last time?"

     "Well, that didn't work out well..."

     "Audy, Chernoble 'didn't work out well.'  The Hindenberg 'didn't work out well.'  The Titanic 'didn't work out well.'  This was a cataclysm!"

     "We can't let a little setback--"

     "A 'little setback'?  That's like calling World War II 'those last unpleasantries in Europe.'  You lost your job, your house, your wife, your friends.  This is the first time you've been out in almost three years!"

     "This isn't about me."

     "Then make it about you!  Forget this wild goose chase.  Sit back.  Enjoy things for a change.  You've retired.  It's time to start acting like it."

     Auden smirked, shook his head, leaned toward his companion and said "You know that isn't going to happen."

     Maude sighed.  Auden gave her a few moments to process and accept the inevitable before adding that he'd need her assistance.

     "Well, there's a surprise," she muttered.

     "Okay," he continued conspiratorially, "now we need someone with enough grace and charm to get her to join us."

     "Preferably someone who hasn't been staring at her for half an hour, you mean?"

     "Exactly.  Got anyone in mind?"

     "Well, I could get my son.  Todd would--"

     "No," Auden interjected.  "I said with grace and charm."

     "Nope.  Can't think of anyone."

      The old man looked indulgently at his friend, waiting for her to relent.  Eventually, she let out a sigh and nodded.

     "I suspect she'll need a place to stay," Auden prompted, peering expectantly at his peer.  "Not mine, obviously."

     "Who would guess that a young woman wouldn't want to go home with a sloppy, leering sixty year old geezer from a café?"

     "And his sarcastic sidekick, let's not forget."

     "It's funny that you think I'm the sidekick here."

     "Touché."

     "Of course, if she stays with me Todd will have to move in with you."

      Auden winced.  "Hmm...maybe I haven't thought this through..."

      Maude approached the girl's table and invited her to join them.  The girl raised her gaze slowly, pausing to take in the aerated bluejeans, the shock that people could still find beaded belts, and every disturbing surprise in the woman's printed shirt.  On hearing a response, the lady turned around for a moment, laughing in Auden's direction.  When she recovered, she pointed to the wall clock while mentioning something.  With no luck so far, the woman leaned forward to make one last plea before retreating.

     "How did it go?" asked her partner anxiously.

     "Well, at first she said she doesn't do threesomes.  When I stopped giggling I told her we weren't even a twosome.  I mentioned the open mic in half an hour and how they'd need all the tables fully occupied.  She said she'd move on.  I asked her to stay, that we had a job that might interest her.  She wasn't sure...and I don't see her budging yet."

     "So...no go?"

      Before Maude could answer, her buddy saw the girl flip a page in her book, pretend to read the last page in that chapter, close up, get up and trudge toward them.  Spotting this movement, Maude batted her eyes and drawled theatrically:  "Audie, do you know anyone able to resist me?"

     "No," Auden conceded, rising to pull out a chair for their visitor, "but I know hundreds who wish they had."

     "Your gratitude overwhelms."

      Only as their guest come close to earshot did Auden whisper:  "Thank you."

     "Bite me."

      As Auden got the newcomer settled Maude made the introductions:  "Kemla, this is Professor Auden Willard Niloc.  I am Maude MacKinnon.  My son, Todd, will be arriving later, once he's done with his lesson."

      After an awkward lull, she expanded.  "They call us 'The Odd Squad':  Aud, Maude and Todd."

     "'Kemla', is it?" Auden wondered, eying the tome she was carrying.  The girl nodded.

     "Can I ask which of your parents is the book collector, Kemla?"

     "Both," replied Kemla, blushing.  "How did you know I brought this from home?"

     "You don't find that book in libraries," the Professor asserted.  "Or book stores.  Have you read it?"

     "Yes."

     "What's your favorite part?"

     "When she turns the priest away, saying 'My life is epilogue.'"

     "Am I missing something here?" Maude interjected.

     "It's nothing," Auden assured her.  "Kemla, please, tell us about yourself."

     "Not much to tell, really.  College dropout.  No job, no prospects."

      The Professor continued peppering her with questions. 

     "Live at home?"

     "No."

     "Boyfriend?  Girlfriend?"

     "Like I said, 'no prospects'."

     "Cowboys or Seahawks?"

     "Chiefs."

     "Beatles or Stones?"

     "Who?"

     "You mean 'The Who'."

     "No, I mean 'Who?'"

Actor Avery Brooks as "Captain Cisco"
     "Okay.  Shatner or Brooks?"

     "That's a choice?"

     "I mean Captain Kirk, played by William Shatner, or Captain Cisco, played by Avery Brooks."

     "I know.  And those are my choices?"

      Auden thanked her and asked Maude if she had any questions.  No.

      After a moment's rest the girl brought up the offer of employment.

     "When will you be interviewing me for the job?"

     "We just did," came the response.

     "Really?"

      Auden nodded.  Maude shrugged her shoulders.

     "Did I pass?"

     "Like a Beamer behind a boat."

      Kemla turned to Maude, whispered "Is that a yes?" and was answered by two thumbs up and a wide-eyed nod.

Margaret Ann Griffiths, born May 23, 1947
     "Listen, it's May 23rd.  We're celebrating the birth of an old friend.  Will you join us in a traditional bowl of Butterbean and Bacon soup with leeks?  We can order our main course after the open mic."

     The girl seemed about to decline when her host applied a full court press.  "The chef here prepares it only once a year, especially for us.  It would be a shame to waste it.  This may be your only chance to taste it.  And everything is on the house."

     "Okay, then.  If you insist."  After a moment, Kemla inquired about the person being honored.  A young waiter appeared, carrying the coffee she'd left behind.  It had grown cold so he offered a refill.  Maude suggested everyone switch to tea because it was "more British".  She smelled baking and inquired if the latest batch of buns was ready yet. 

     "Just out of the oven now," the boy responded.  The woman convinced everyone to "cheat" by having dessert after the soup and well before the entrée.  She ordered daily special soups, tea with crumpets, and fresh cinnamon rolls for everyone.  The waiter, "Rick", left. 

      Maude observed with a smirk that the chef had the hottest buns in town.  Her companion was more serious, though.

     "Kemla, can you describe the server who was just here?" he wondered.

     "Polite.  Efficient.  A kind voice."

     "Physically.  Can you tell us what he looked like?"

     "No," she confessed.  "He was behind me.  I didn't turn around to look."

     "We'll work on that," the old man declared.

     "Speaking of 'work'," Kemla countered, "what exactly would I be doing for you?  I really don't have any particular skill--"

     "You have a talent," the old man interjected.  "It'll be our job to make it a skill."

     "And what talent is it that you think I have?"

     "You really don't know, do you?" Maude asked.  Kemla looked back blankly.  Auden could only shake his head in amazement.

     "We'll see soon enough," he assured her.

      Suddenly the older woman stood up, waved her right arm and shouted:  "Todd!  Over here!"  A young man let the door close behind him and joined them barely long enough to announce that he was going to sit at a greenie instead. 

     "A 'greenie'?" Kemla wondered.

      Maude explained how, here at "Meetings", stations with red placemats were for old acquaintances;  if interested in making new ones a person sat at a table with green placemats.  They had poems on them.  The reds catered to the less adventurous with maps, news, stories and jokes.

      Maude introduced Todd to their new friend.  The young man said "Pleased to meet you" before excusing himself.  He stopped after a few steps, though, returning to warn Kemla:  "In case you're wondering, no, they don't have filters.  Or 'OFF' switches."  Then we was gone.

      Embarrassed by her offspring, Maude joked that Kemla was forbidden to fall in love with him.  Auden snorted as the two companions continued to tease each other.

     "That shouldn't be a problem.  He has the sex appeal of an Edsel."

     "That's my son!"

     "Everyone has their cross to bear."

     With this the man stood up, pulled his wallet out and placed his credit card on the table.  He explained that the position didn't involve a salary, per se, but she could put whatever she needed on his card.

     "Hold on," the girl sputtered as she paused to process the offer.  "Do you normally give out your plastic to strangers you've just met in a café?"

     "We aren't strangers anymore."

      Auden pulled out his cell phone, announced that he needed to run off a page, and asked to use Maude's printer.  The woman pointed down the street and bellowed "Kinkos!" to no avail, as the man was already closing her office door behind him.

     "You're the manager here?" Kemla inquired.

     "Floor Manager and co-owner, along with the chef, Lucy.  I'm also the Events Coordinator, as you'll see in a few minutes."

      The waiter returned with their soup.  Seeing the credit card on the table he asked if they were paying for everything now.  His boss shook her head but changed her mind, muttering that "it'll serve the bastard right."  Pointing to Kemla she added:  "Give her the card when you're done."

      The girl stopped sipping her tea and soup, gestured toward the empty chair and asked:  "What's his story?"

      "Nothing special.  He's 62...no, 63 now.  English professor.  Retired and divorced three years ago.  Bit of a nerd."

      "Does he always act this way?"

      "No.  He's never this excited.  Hasn't been out in years.  Running into you was an incredible fluke."

      "I still don't understand what he sees--"

      "Don't worry about that.  He's made a lot of mistakes in his life.  I'm beginning to think this isn't one of them, though.  I may not see it.  Hell, you might not see it, but he does...and I suspect the world may see it soon enough."

      Maude stopped, put down her tea and spoon, and wrung her hands together thoughtfully.  She turned to Kemla and spoke gravely:  "Don't worry about breaking his heart.  That is inevitable.  Just know that you've made an old man happier than I've seen him in years."

      "That is him happy?"

      "Oh, yes.  When you decided to join us he was beaming like a lighthouse...whose ship just came in.  He's usually not this charming."

       Auden returned, complaining about the printer.

      "You jammed it?  Again?"

      "I had to write in freehand on the back of a placemat."

      "Poor baby!"

       The Professor ignored the restaurateuse. 

      "Kemla, I need to ask a favor."

       The girl nodded.  Setting the sheet down, he continued.

      "Will you do this poem at the end of the open mic?"

      "What?"

      "It's an elegy, commemorating--"

      "But I've never done that before."

      "I understand.  We're hoping everyone will take part, though."

       When Kemla hesitated Auden pushed the sheet toward her and pleaded:  "Humor an old man?"

       Before the girl could answer Maude rose and proclaimed "Showtime!"  Upon confirming readiness with a tall lady at the next table, she strode onto the tiny platform in the corner, turned on the microphone, checked the volume, and thanked everyone for coming.  After a few announcements, she introduced the guest speaker, Caroline Marek, who would be reading from her latest poetry volume, "Dead or Alive, Get Me Out of Here".  As usual, her biography made her sound like the next Elizabeth Bishop.  The towering woman was waved onstage and welcomed with polite applause.

      These readings were sponsored by the regional Arts Council as community outreach, featuring grad students and teachers from the local university mingling with the masses.  Maude and Auden saw it the other way around:  an opportunity for instructors to learn the value and basics of presentation.  Needless to say, both sides failed miserably but the process invariably yielded a few laughs.  For example, everyone remembered the academic who, after anaesthetizing his audience by "monodroning" gibberish for half an hour, asked the dozens of experienced performers there if they had any questions about writing or presenting poetry.

      As always, the speaker overexplained everything before delivering it with a voice, enunciation, pausing, pace and accenting that was peculiar to poetry readings of that epoch.  The material itself was also typical:  self-absorbed, artless, whiney text that could have been written as email from rehab.  Half the crowd, including all of the smokers, braved the cool evening air while the others stayed slouched in their chairs, waiting patiently for the ordeal to end.  The poet's three attending students clapped much more enthusiastically than others.  (The rest of the college faculty let their absence speak for them.)  To her credit, this particular guest did stick around to watch some of the open mic before slinking out at halftime.  The only thing these "townie" and "Ivory Tower" artists had in common was the pride they took in having nothing in common with each other.

      As MC, Maude called for a fifteen minute break with her trademark phrase:  "So mingle, already."  Meals and drinks were served.  Habitués conversed.  The open mic commenced after collecting the "smokers, tokers, evaders and evokers" from outside, herding them back to their seats.

      Maude thanked the speaker not just for the reading but for donating two copies of her latest publication.  As she gestured toward the bookcase against the rear wall, the MC explained that one copy would be featured on the top shelf, along with those of other guest authors in chronological order, while the other would be for customers to enjoy.  She then pointed at the two cameras, a closed circuit one behind her and an event camera directly in front of her.  She explained that anyone who didn't want to be included in the video of the open mic should put an "X" beside their name on the signup sheet.

     Then she introduced the theme of the night.

     "Tonight we celebrate the birthday of  Margaret Ann Griffiths, whom we know as 'Maz' or 'Grasshopper'.  We honor the life of that great poet with a first-ever performance of her signature work, "Studying Savonarola", by my darling son, Todd MacKinnon."


Studying Savonarola (by Margaret Griffiths) from Earl Gray on Vimeo.

      The young man stepped onstage to warm applause, announced the full title and began the poem.

Studying Savonarola, he considers his lover as kindling


With your amber eyes, yellow and red
of you, sun-sign heart like a blood orange
suspended in a porcelain cage, say you burn

in a courtyard and your ichor drips like honey
on the firewood, on the branches bound in fasces,
flesh fumed in the air, dark as molasses,

     Todd struggled slightly during these opening strophes, as the writing does, but from here on his pace and passion continued to rise to the crescendo at the end.

but what you are hovers as mist, as the spirit
of water is invisible until steam makes the sky
waver. Say you die, scorched into ashes, say

you pass from here to there, with your marigold
eyes, the garden darker for lack of one golden flower,
would bees mourn, would crickets keen, drawing long

blue chords on their thighs like cellists?
Say you disperse like petals on the wind,
the bright stem of you still a living stroke

in memory, still green, still spring, still the tint
and the tang of you in my throat, unconsumed.

     As soon as he finished shout-whispering "unconsumed" enthusiastic clapping began, especially from longtime patrons who hadn't seen him perform in years.  One yelled "Good to have you back, Toddler!" 

     Ms. Marek might have felt upstaged or ambushed, but any hard feelings would have been assuaged when the MC retook the stage, shook her head at her son and teased:  "Geez, child, you could have mailed it in."  The gathering chuckled. 

     Maude announced the first name on her list and the open mic began.  When she returned to the table only Auden and his credit card were still there.

     "I'm sorry, Audy," the woman whispered.  "I know how much you were hoping--"

     "It's okay.  She'll be back."

     "Did she say she would be?"

     He tried changing the subject, asking why Rick hadn't cleared the table yet.

     The open mic was the usual parade of regulars, the "Three Minute Men and Women", along with an occasional newcomer.  Every aspect of the spectrum was well represented:  droners, slambasters, messiahs, corazoners, thumpers, whiners, and narcissists.  One of the two comedians was actually funny.  A girl with a guitar showed up.  No one had the heart to tell her that Monday, not Tuesday, was Music Night.  Maude let her play a song, handed her a schedule and graciously invited her back in six days.  There was a 15 minute intermission at half time.

Margaret Ann Griffiths (1947-2009)
     As the names dwindled, Maude turned to her old friend and asked if he would do the elegy for Maz at night's end. 

     "No," he answered.  "Kemla will."

     "But she's gone."

     "She'll be back.  You just call her name, okay?"

     "Alright, but if she's not here I'm calling yours next.  Got it?"

     "She'll be here."

     At the evening's end, the MC spoke about Ms. Griffiths' untimely death in 2008 and how the next speaker would do the elegy.  At Auden's insistence, she called out Kemla's name.  Once.  Twice.  Pause.  Three times.

     "Well, in her place we have another volunteer--"

     Suddenly, a voice from the entrance called out:  "I believe I'm the girl you're looking for."

     "Kemla!  You made it!  People, let's give warm 'Meetings' greetings to a first time reader:  Kemla!"


Grasshopper from Earl Gray on Vimeo.


     At this point the Professor switched on his old, 1080 dpi camcorder and focused it on the girl mounting the stage.  Kemla approached the microphone timidly.  Stopping in front of it, she looked down and began to read from the placemat she'd been given.  The girl spoke in a tentative, wooden voice, similar to that of Ms. Marek.

The world won't change for one so small
that teardrops wound with gravity.
We braced ourselves with weights and walls.
You faced strict winds with levity,
with your coat buttoned tight, still green
and brown with Dead Sea mud and kelp.

     The crowd became boneless in their seats, sprawling as if to avoid detection.  They shaded their eyes to avoid witnessing the train wreck onstage.  As the girl finished the first stanza, some patrons glanced at each other and grinned indulgently.  Others rolled their eyes.

When what was whole is lost we lean
on rain, on roots and suds for help.

     What happened next changed the world.


Love is a Weakness

Prologue

      In ""Writing The Great Modern Novel?" we discussed "wholesale script-teasing", of which this is a prototype.  It is a multimedia romantic novelette about a young woman who ends a dark age.  Please let us and others know what you think of this draft.  If there is sufficient interest we'll continue publishing chapters.

Chapter 1 - "Meetings"

Chapter 2 - "Ysodorp"

Chapter 15 - "Farewell"

     We can be reached via Twitter ("Earl Gray" @EarlEsquirrel), Facebook ("EarlTheSquirrelPoetry"), email ("EarlGray" at "mail.com") or via comments below.

      Thank you for your participation.

Signed,

Earl Gray, Esquirrel


Sunday, August 9, 2015

Sydney Seau

Tiaina Baul "Junior" Seau Jr.
     Between 1990 and 2009 Linebacker Tiaina Baul "Junior" Seau Jr. (1969–2012) played in 12 ProBowls and 2 Superbowls as a San Diego Charger, Miami Dolphin or New England Patriot.

     On May 2nd, 2012, Junior committed suicide by shooting himself in the chest.  An examination of his brain tissue revealed that he suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a progressive degenerative condition associated with concussions.  

     His final wish was that his daughter, Sydney, might introduce him at his Hall of Fame induction, which took place this weekend.




     Relevance?

     Leaving aside the text, compare Sydney Seau's stage presence to those performing poetry or running for office today.



   Your feedback is appreciated!

    Please take a moment to comment or ask questions below.  Failing that, please mark the post as "funny", "interesting", "silly" or "dull".  Also, feel free to expand this conversation by linking to it on Twitter or Facebook.  Please let us know if you've included us on your blogroll so that we can reciprocate.

    If you would like to follow us, contact us confidentially or blog here as "Gray for a Day" please befriend us, "Earl Gray", on Facebook.

    We look forward to hearing from you.

Coming Soon"Love is a Weakness", Chapter 1




Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Facebook



I heard ten thousand whisperin' and nobody listenin'
I heard one person starve, I heard many people laughin'
Heard the song of a poet who died in the gutter

   - from "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" by Bob Dylan performed by Jason Mraz



Earl the Squirrel's Rule #15

     In "Does poetry still matter?" by Brandon Griggs we read: 

     Polito, the Poetry Foundation president, argues that poetry's reach shouldn't be measured merely by sales of books or literary journals. As it has with everything else, the Internet has democratized poetry by making it free and instantly accessible to everyone, he said.

     "There's clearly a paradigm shift going on," he said. "A lot of people experience poetry¹ not through printed books ... but online and through social media."

     In our first post on the topic of social media we showed how this is done, combining text, graphics, video and/or sound.  Before we return to that, let's look at the Who-What-Where-When-Why aspects of recreating--in both senses of the word--an audience for verse.

     "Poetry," said poet and associate professor Kyle Dargan of American University in Washington, is "not the kind of thing people are going to run into on their own. It's not 'Jurassic World'."

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #158
     Actually, poetry's condition is very much like "Jurassic World".  Think of who is presenting verse¹ on social media:  the authors, their friends and, occasionally, their editors.  It is never an arms-length member of the 99% who aren't involved with the production of poetry.  That is because nobody reads poetry.  Yes, 7% of the population has read poetry in the last year but what percentage of that is contemporary?  Given the choice between one of today's versifiers and "Homer, Rumi, Dante, Shakespeare, the Romantic poets²," what choice do you think the vast majority of those readers are making?  Is it possible that fewer people are reading poetry³ than writing it?  It seems so.  In any event, we have "ten thousand whisperin' and nobody listenin'."

     We cannot breed dinosaurs because we don't have any stock.  Similarly, there isn't a significant population online who were alive when poetry was.  It's not a matter of poetry being dead;  the problem is that we can barely imagine it being alive.

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #171
     As in "Jurassic Park", we need to use preserved material to reanimate something which once reigned supreme. Then, like "Jurassic World", we need to use technology to process and present it.

     We start with the DNA and the amber in which it is caught.  These are genetically coded predispositions encased in the resin that binds all of us together.  Throughout history, the two most significant of these have been Humor and Love.  This isn't confined to bawdy limericks about a man from Nantucket or protestations like "Sonnet 43".  If you've been online for more than 5 minutes you know that the sole purpose of all human technology endeavor is the appreciation of adorable puppies and kittens.  The reason is as subtle as a double-barrel shotgun:  using cuteness and cuddliness, these critters appeal to both of our main interests.  (Of course, to paraphrase "Kemla's Farewell", romance in the past perfect tense is sadness.  #elegy #RainbowBridge)

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #72
     Now that we know what people will click on, we need to put it in a palatable format.  If people were interested in using their own imaginations they'd be writing poetry, not reading it, so "palatable" means "video", with or without text.  If you have Windows 7 or higher you have or can download Movie Maker, watch a short tutorial, and be ready to go.  For Mac users a similar program is available or you can use IMovie.

     Upload your final product to a site like YouTube or Vimeo and then post links to it on Facebook or Twitter.  We assume you know better than to mention the word "poetry" in this process. 

     Let us know how it goes!

Coming Soon"Love is a Weakness", Chapter 1



Footnotes:

¹ - Unless stated otherwise, "poetry" or "verse" will refer to contemporary poetry other than religious (e.g. Quranic, Biblical, etc.) verse or song lyrics.

² - i.e. the examples the article uses.

³ - i.e. other than the quid pro quo skimming of poems in the venue to which they contribute.


Friday, July 24, 2015

Critique - Twins and Triplets

Amber Rambharose
     Tim Green of Rattle magazine critiques submissions from his subscribers as part of a popular feature.  This is helpful to potential contributors since it shows precisely defines the editor's aesthetics and prosodic interest (if any).  This, the first in a series, examines "Portrait of the Second Wife as Understudy" from Rattle #47, Spring 2015, written by Amber Rambharose.  Please take a moment to read it now.

      What we have here is an excellent story with a fine, crisp ending. 

      Is it a poem, though?

      You tell me.  As you read it can you imagine yourself "owning" it?  Memorizing, performing or quoting it, as you might "High Flight" or a passage from "Hamlet"?  Can you imagine anyone else wanting to?  More to the point, is it written in a manner that would facilitate this?  How does it compare to others of its ilk?  As an attempt at a climactic poem, it aims to start slowly and gain in momentum, pace, intensity, sound and rhythm as it goes along.  How does it compare to the modern archetype, "Studying Savonarola" by Margaret A. Griffiths?  What is missing?  What could be trimmed?      

Stages

     Every poet we know keeps a notebook or file containing random thoughts gathered over the course of time.  For "avante garde" types the next step is to assign a meaningless fake generic (e.g. "conceptualization", "ideational", etc.) name to the inchoate scratches and find someone naive enough to publish them.  (The latter task is alarmingly easy these days.)  By contrast, an experienced poet will often record these musings in rhythmic strings.  This is a function of habit, permeating everything the educated verser writes.  We'd wager that there are fewer rhythms and sound repetitions in most "poems" today than in Derek Walcott's shopping lists.  Or this blog, for that matter.  Such raw material is often overwrought, as these throwaway lines attest:

...retrace the echo of your fingers.  Let us be
a bright mandala in the waves.

...as hunger is the opposite of death.    

...as if you print your words on apple blossoms.

     The second stage is to cull many of these lines thematically into one piece, and then into individual paragraphs or strophes to form an outline.  Then the work of adding the actual poetry begins, culminating in a first draft.  After considerable fine tuning we have something worth showing an editor.

     Notes -> Outline -> Draft -> Revisions => Submission + Audience = Poem

     "Portrait of the Second Wife as Understudy" is a draft, one that exhibits two serious problems and two blinding flashes of genius.

 Sonics

     Compare:

    "If even, I'm leavin'"

     ...to...

     "Veni.  Vidi.  Vici." ("I came. I saw. I conquered.")

     The first is a boast by NFL Wide Receivers to CornerBacks trying to cover them.  It means that, while the CB thinks he has the WR in check, the fact is that the latter is about to use his superior speed to get clear and catch a pass.  It is a contrast between belief and reality.

     The Latin phrase, on the other hand, is a process:  three things Julius Caesar did in the order that he did them.

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #173
     When repetitions are not for dramatic effect, as in "Oh, please. Please," they follow this same Rule of 2 and 3.  If the same word recurs in pairs, like "I sighed my sigh" and "believes what it wants to believe", the mind expects a comparison, especially given that poetry is an acerbic form and "I sighed" or "believes what it wants to" (especially after "believable" much earlier) would have sufficed.

     This applies to repetitions of phonemes, too.  Throughout the poem Ms. Rambharose uses proximate, conspicuous assonance and alliteration isolated in pairs far more often then in triplets (e.g. "for months, fine-tuning the flutter") or multitudes¹.
    
the way the script dictated. I threw my pupils
up as wide as windows. The orchestra swelled

     The long "u" sounds in "threw" and "pupils" stand out as the only occurences in the strophe.  By contrast, the "w" from "wide as windows" is nicely presaged in "way" and later confirmed in "swell".  The rest of the poem exhibits far more pop-up pairs ("tell by scent", "sock slide down around", "her heart") than integrated iterations.  All of this said, it is far more encouraging to see slightly off-kilter sonics than the typical prose with linebreaks. 

 Concision

     When poems have two major deficiencies the first is usually sonics and the second is rhythms.  Not so here.  This piece has long strings of binaries, starting with the iambic first sentence and ending (with little tweaking) at the appropriately imperative trochaic coda:

Tell the stage director to place a pair
of Prada espadrilles [beside] the front door.
Size eight. Dark blue. Exactly²
where she left them.

  The trinaries need considerable work, as do the transitions, but these touches of mastery can wait.  For now, the piece's obesity requires attention.  It's more than removing the rhythm-killing pronoun, "my", in line 2.  Redundancies range from (S3-L4) "brought to me" to (S2-L4) "at precisely the right moment" (do orchestras normally swell at the wrong moment?).  There is a flabbiness in the manipulative first and third entreaties here:

Tell me I am better
than she was. Tell me my breasts are higher.
Tell me I am everything
you ever wanted.

     These would benefit from being more concrete and, perhaps, sensual.  Think Michael Ondaatje's "Cinnamon Peeler" here. 

     Strategic decisions need to be made in order to pare this down to size.  As it is, I'm guessing that many who started this offering didn't read the whole thing.  (Did you?)

     Amber Rambharose is something rare among poets, young or old:  she gives a damn about her audience, not just her readers.  She studies the craft and will be worth watching sooner rather than later.

Coming Soon"Love is a Weakness", Chapter 1




Footnotes:

¹ - e.g. the scintillating "n", "d" and "a" sounds of:

     "into the dance she had abandoned. If I...",

     ...culminating in all three together for the third time in this single phrase:

     "hadn’t".

     This comes right after the word "changed", no less!

² - Ignore the faintly enunciated "E" in "Exactly".  Treat it as anacrusis.



Thursday, July 23, 2015

"Pandering"?

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #181
     What is the difference between "pandering to" and "pleasing" an audience?

     Many are dismissive of popular writers like Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Charles Bukowski because they catered to young, disaffected politicos [many of whom have since grown into old, disaffected politicos].  Their writing has no appeal to other demographics or constituencies.  It excited the base and bored everyone else.  That said, to criticize poets because they serve their audience is nothing more than criticizing the audience itself.  Of course Ferlinghtetti's writing was jejune;  look at who he was writing for!  Of course Bukowski wrote long-winded misogynistic prose;  look at who he was writing for!

     The fact that a jumper can clear a one-foot hurdle doesn't prove they can't overcome a six-foot bar.  It is ridiculous to insult these authors because they succeeded exclusively with audiences who had little or no experience with verse.  Hey, wouldn't it be ironic if the critique were coming from the very authorities who failed to educate that demographic in the first place?

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #5
     Edgar Guest and these carnival barker wannabes weren't awful authors because of who liked or disliked their output.

     They were bad writers because they wrote badly.  Pure and simple.

     They were bad as poets because their fans don't care to memorize, quote or perform what they wrote.  They were bad because their fans could see the same thing at nightly open mics, then and now.  They were bad because their fans subsequently encountered the same things being said much more eloquently and succinctly by others.  They were bad because, in an hour or less, anyone could be taught to do better...if only their products were given similar exposure.  This, incidentally, is why we don't have such iconic messes in the Internet Age.  If someone were to show us such a hack today sixty seconds of web searching would allow us to counter with a dozen examples who are better aren't quite as terrible.

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #85
     On another front, an academic poet was recently lambasted on Facebook because her verse was "very precisely calibrated for her intended market."

     WTF?

     When did poetry pleasing its market--in this case a sophisticated one--become a bad thing? 

     I'll bet it happened at about the same time poetry lost its market. 

     The difference between "pandering to" and "pleasing" is jealousy.  In my experience, only failed poets use the previous expression.  If we had to point to one reason why poetry is dead this contempt for audiences would be it.

Coming Soon"Love is a Weakness", Chapter 1



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Earl Gray, Esquirrel