Monthly Archives: April 2014

Story Telling

Steven

In the backseat of a minivan,
strapped by seat belts, I sit
between two neighborhood boys.
Mrs. D- drives us home
from school this afternoon.
Steven whispers
in my ear asking
“Can you sound out
this word?” Billy nods,
“He can’t read.”
Although younger,
I am smart I am
the most advanced
reader in my class
thanks to drills of
alphabet flashcards
led by bored parents.
It is not hard to
flatter a nervous
seven-year-old girl
so I examine the letters
carefully,with intent
to impress.
The word is unfamiliar.
Remembering that C and K
float into one another
seamlessly and two S’s
side by side sound
just the same as one,
I pronounce
“JACKASS”

with pride.
Steven laughs loudly
and his mother,
driving, screams
my name. I am
furiously embarrassed
to learn this word is not
one I should say and
that I have been
tricked by Steven.

At the Drive-In Restaurant,
I lean against the waitress station
in the carport, examining my 16 year old legs,
pale and pink with sunburn, barely covered
by the mini skirts we wear.
It is a Friday night in July before the rush
of young families, excited to eat in their cars.
A summer job serving “Wild Animal Special”
hamburgers to sandy-skinned tourists is a rite
of passage for Wall High School girls.
I am the youngest waitress this summer
Only a few of the other girls take me seriously
Steven works here too, in the kitchen, he’s the
soda jerk and ice-cream guy. We call orders
of root beer floats to him. Tonight is busy and
after the shift he is throwing a party, at his roachy
apartment in Belmar. The cooks and waitresses
in their twenties will all go. Hundreds of hotdogs
later we’re closed. With cash folded thickly in my
apron, my father comes to drive me home.

In the dimly lit venue in
Asbury Park Meg and I
wait for the set to begin.
Perched on barstools in
sundresses we scan
the crowd. I see Steven.
“That guy is a jackass.”
He is in his late twenties now he
has a beard and I think he works for
his father’s tree services company.
He passes by and looks me in the eye
approvingly as if my presence at this show
renders me valid. He says hi with a smile.

Wordlessly I smile and feel strangely reconciled.

******

*******

*******

circus drive in 2

The carport to the Circus Drive-In, where I spent a lot of time leaning against the waitress station, hiding my cell phone from my boss, and serving hamburgers and milkshakes to customers in their cars. It was at this restaurant where I worked my first summer job waitressing, and  made enough money to buy my first car, a Volkswagen Cabrio. I was at least one year younger than everyone else who worked there that summer and always felt like such a nerd, but I had more money than I knew what to do with.

 circus 1960

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Readings

Tonight I will be taking the train into Manhattan to see my poetry professor, Susan Miller, read her work at Fordham University. I am looking forward to hearing her poems, especially because I have not yet read anything of hers.

I have participated in many “readings.” My first was for English class my senior year of high school. I read a sultry Villanelle I wrote for my boyfriend at the time. I began shaking and almost crying half way through. My emotional reaction had nothing to do with the content of the piece, I was just FREAKED OUT by reading it out loud.

After that, I practiced reading for my close friends in my dorm room freshman year of college, but never could shake my nerves over reading for more than a few friends.  Fall semester of my Junior year I took performance poetry with Evan Rehill completely because of a mistake by the WebReg Gods. I registered for the class under the impression that it was just a 300 level poetry workshop. Instead, I spent the semester memorizing my poems and performing them to the class. It was very theatrical. While I didn’t really write anything that I loved that semester, (I was too busy planning and fantasizing about the next semester, Spring of my junior year that I spent in Spain) I grew way more comfortable with reading my own work in front of other people. In September I began frequenting Huntington Poetry Club. I read there for the first time in October, and still felt a little nervous. I actually forgot to breathe a few times. Now I make an effort to read my newest work every time I go, and with the help of some wine, I feel that my readings have become more confident and fluid.

Poetry Club took place at Tent state on Tuesday night, and I read this to a crowd of about forty students.

 

Wax

 

Winter’s four o’clock sun
washed the pale wall orange.
Sitting at her desk
she mapped possibilities
and wished
on loose eyelashes
beside nesting dolls,
and desk plants
to be watered.
She had an eye
for dorm room
decoration.
Light filtered
through Depression
glass jars and collided
with a reading lamp.
She watched it all
with calm.

 

Rarely did she
attend her evening
class. Her choice,
hidden in the
privacy of home
at the state
university
felt deceitfully authentic.

 

As daylight dimmed gradually
the tennis courts disappeared.
Atop the wooden nightstand
was a notebook of plans,
most pages were blank
or stained
or dusty.
The clock
insisted it was
too late
to change
her mind, so
she remained
window-side
observing the sky.

 

She dropped a candle
and spilled liquid wax
on the floor,
while spreading
pumpkin butter
across crackers.

 

With the room
and notebook
empty
she left the wax
to harden and dry.

 

Months later
it came right up,
and off the
linoleum floor
just by
chipping at the
hardened puddle
with the
sharp point
of a pen.

 

So while reading this on Tuesday I was surprised to find myself short of breath and almost shaking. I kept my cool and took a few steps while reading, a little technique I have to avoid obvious quivering. Also, my roommate called me while I was reading this off my iPhone, which led to a pause that I think I executed well on the spot. I smiled while still glancing down, pressing ignore to her call, and made a little extended eye contact with the audience in the two brutal seconds before my poem reappeared.

Perhaps because poetry club was outside rather than in a basement on Huntington St., with a different crowd, I got a little nervous. Either way, reading out loud is something I will always need to practice.

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Mondays Are For Editing

I am working on a poem that I wrote this weekend, and I workshopped in class today.

I wanted to write a poem grounded in a date. I wanted some certainty. I wanted a milestone feel. I wanted something tangible. Instead, all I could write were lines that felt floaty and light. In this poem I work with yearning for some grounding while also basking in uncertainties.

I first wrote it with long lines, as a first draft… here it is.

 

Birthday Poem

 

It is not easy to weave between the real and unseen.
Today is temperate and breathing keeps begging at bay.
Throwing open the window to air out the place always helps.
The street below is last night’s litter manifesto.
Shards of glass are the tulip of Easton Avenue.
Watching the city creep by from the trap door
I am vapor,
passing through the window.
We met the neighbors yesterday, they stole our recycling bin.
We threw a party on the deck and things got rowdy.
Nick angered the activists with his British flag shirt.
A Russian girl kissed me while I tried to clean.

I see the month as an indigo blur.
My legs wander in imprecise strokes.
My friends are mere impressions.
Days like these are ideal for making mistakes.
The lease is almost up.
I could carve myself into these rented walls
If only to make up for the permanence that I cannot offer or find.

 

 

So a few students and poets who I admire recommended that I be more deliberate in my line breaks, to end and begin with stronger language. So I took their advice into consideration and here are my edits. Here’s another draft. I also changed and added a few lines, I didn’t just rearrange.

 

 

 

Birthday Poem

 

It is not easy to weave
between the real and unseen.
Today is temperate.
Breathing keeps begging at bay.
Throwing open the window to
air out the place always helps.
The street below is last night’s
litter manifesto.
Shards of glass are the
tulip of Easton Avenue.
Watching the city glide by
from the trap door,
I am vapor,
passing through the window
sieving through the screen.

 

We met the neighbors yesterday
they stole our recycling bin.
We threw a party on the deck
and things got rowdy.
Nick angered the activists
with his British flag shirt.
A Russian girl kissed me
while I was trying to clean.

 

Today is for painting visions,
and watercolor images
of something to believe in.
I see the month as an indigo blur.
Legs wander in imprecise strokes.
Friends are mere impressions.
Days like these are ideal for mistakes.
The lease is almost up.
I could carve myself
Into these rented walls
If only to make up for
the permanence
I cannot offer or find.

 

I think the short lines are stronger. I want my language to punctuate the image I’m attempting to conjure. Word placement is a big deal. I might want to take out “And things got rowdy” after the party but I want to replace it with something else and I am not quite sure what it could be. Or maybe the line is good where it is. Or maybe it is unnecessary and silly. I intended for it to be “dialect-y” to describe a haphazard  college party. I don’t know if it’s effective. Any comments on edits are always appreciated.

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Getting Freaky With Free Verse

 

Wilt

 

by kate devine

 

There is a fern perched on the windowsill in a white pot
beside a bowl of pennies and it looks as calm as I’d like to feel next to an ATM.

*

All of my idealistic young friends have either grown boring or sold out.
There were songs we used to play while driving to Vermont
We used to say, “I never want to not be here.”

 

The June that we were seventeen, Ali confessed to me
“Adam gave me money for plan B, I don’t need it.”
She treated us to pancakes the morning after instead.
Meg, Ali and I laughed and swore never to do this again.

 

Meg does not feel that she deserves her BFA.
“Bachelor of NOTHING, BA in BOYS IN MY BED.
My mom works her ass off so I can be wasted in this cab.”

 

Is this moment romance? Candle lit, with debt mounting guilt?
It was easier when we just dated whoever worked at Gee-Gee’s Pizza.

*

I ran the red light in front of
Asbury Park High School and the policeman
didn’t really mind. Driving and writing a poem on
my iPhone beside New Jersey Transit’s North Jersey coast line.
That was today.

 

Today was lucky, catatonic, surrounded by
carefully selected props and noises to embellish
the feeling I am reaching for and missing.

 

 

 

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Ghazal

This week in advanced poetry workshop our assignment was to write a ghazal. A ghazal is a poetic form originating from Arabic verse that consists of couplets. These couplets typically involve a rhyme scheme and a refrain. They can also stand alone as their own poetic unit. The couplets need not be unified by one subject, rather they evoke an mood. Traditional ghazals are about love, longing, and spirituality. Also, the final couplet of the poem usually refers to the poet and includes their name. Rumi and Hafiz often wrote in ghazal.

While I strive to inspire a mood in my poems and sometimes bounce around in chronological time rather than illustrate a specific subject, I actually wrote a series of couplets that tells somewhat of a story. I might edit this out of ghazal form and just make it free verse. I’m not sure yet. Let me know what you think in the comments, if you’d like.

Here is a ghazal by a master of the form, Agha Shadhid Ali. He is able to do amazing things while keeping within a strict rhyme scheme. Of course, that is always a challenge. I tend to not to rhyme in my poetry.

(disclaimer) This is my first draft.

 

 

Imprecise Roamer

The imprecise roamer seeks a technique for survival.
She deciphers the voices that critique survival.

A daughter considers whom to follow. Hopeful, she peers inside.
Mother, grandmother, artist, idol, all hold the mystique of survival.

They articulate bliss, which is not wholly proven, but sensed.
When her muse gets mugged, how will she bespeak survival?

Wise men say there is only love. She knows not what kind they speak of.
Was her escape an attempt so weak at survival?

There once were loose layers of space between her beloved’s bones.
She hid nicely in there. His physique offered her survival.

The woman who wanders navigates prophecies and lies.
She labors to rid her body of blame. Her skin weeps survival.

She looks inside. Long enough this time to close her eyes.
With breath in her chest she reaches for survival.

 

As you can see, the couplets could stand on their own but they also work together to tell a story. I think I’m going to try again to write a more traditional ghazal, in which the couplets are more disconnected. I wound up writing a bit of a feminist ghazal, (I really can’t help myself) illustrating a woman who roams alone and the spiritual guides or misguidance she may receive along the way. Woman fed a lot of misinformation about their bodies, their rights, their choices, and their lives, and it can be difficult to find what feels authentic and good. We all, as humans, strive to find that way of life that feels right for us whether it comes in the form of a religion, a life path, a relationship, a new location, or a change of attitude.

 

On an unrelated note, the other night I woke in the middle of the night with the urge to write down what I thought was a brilliant line.

When I woke up for real in the morning, I had written “I dreamt that your daughter was a grape vine.”

I should probably have just stayed asleep.

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