Writing the Unspeakable

Congratulations to Yun Wei for moderating “Writing the Unspeakable”, a panel discussion among Asian-American women writers and poets. A timely, profoundly moving and insightful event, erasing taboos and courageously exposing abuse.

As always, Yun Wei brings her brilliant poetry and art of communication to necessary, urgent causes.

An important event with feminine voices celebrating the power of the word to raise awareness and change our world!

Thank you and congratulations to Yun Wei and to IWWG!

2021 NaPoWriMo April 27 A Cocktail

Prompt: Write a poem inspired by an entry from the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows. Describe a haunting feeling that you have. (Agnostesia) (Detailed prompt below.)

A cocktail

A cocktail
of cacophonous feelings
not in concert

what am I doing here
like a brick lost by
the wayside

in search of light
like a fluttering moth

like dandelion after a
spring shower

like a keychain
thrown thru the window
to let friend in

like weed sprouting
between flagstones

like a painting of
valley and mountains

like a wingless bird
fallen from its nest

at peace
like a lit Japanese
paper lamp

like fragrance of

feeling all of this I
wonder what holds it

* * *
In today’s (optional) prompt, I’d like to challenge you to write a poem inspired by an entry from the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows. The entries are very vivid – maybe too vivid! But perhaps one of the sorrows will strike a chord with you, or even get you thinking about defining an in-between, minor, haunting feeling that you have, and that does not yet have a name.

2021 NaPoWriMo April 25 Flash of Light I, II

Our prompt for today (optional, as always) is to write an “occasional” poem. What’s that? Well, it’s a poem suited to, or written for, a particular occasion. Maybe a discovery. A Eureka moment.

(Detailed prompt below.)

Flash of Light I

books tell you
things you can’t

such as there’s a
source of light
a tall tale you
don’t take in

if you did, you’d feel
like a thief
a silver spoon
not yours

yet leave a desire
to explore enquire
by a dreamlike

on a grey day
minding no one
no thoughts

you sit
on a weather-
smoothed rock
soft breeze
soothing scent
of rosemary

soles sense
soft ground
eyes closed
nothing no one
you sit breathe

your lids
your forehead
feel the touch
of light
the sun’s out!
you open
your eyes

grey sky
nothing no one
no sun

your senses
never mind
who cares

this time
so bright
it’s true
sun’s breaking

grey day
nothing no one
no sun

third time round
calls back
what sometime
you read


* * *

Flash Of Light II

So what’s the light
you tout

The new sheen
does it mean

Less fumbling
and stumbling
no more

Zest to share
a happy

A vow to be
no strife
no regret?

A reset
an upgrade
a bigger bet?

renewed romance
dance with life?

Ok then.
Sit down.

* * *

Our prompt for today (optional, as always) is to write an “occasional” poem. What’s that? Well, it’s a poem suited to, or written for, a particular occasion. This past January, lots of people who usually don’t encounter poetry got a dose when Amanda Gorman read a poem at President Biden’s inauguration. And then she followed it up with a poem at the Superbowl (not traditionally an event associated with verse!) The poem you write can be for an occasion in the past or the future, one important to you and your family (a wedding, a birth) or for an occasion in the public eye (the Olympics, perhaps?).

Or a moment of discovery. Eureka!

Happy writing!

2021 NaPoWriMo April 24 Guugu Yimithirr, Understood

Today’s (optional) prompt is a fun one. Find a factual article about an animal. Replace the name of the animal with something else. Rearrange and edit into a poem. (See detailed prompt below.)

Article: Wikipedia. Freely adapted.(Animal, see below.)

Guugu Yimithirr, Understood

Commandeered by James Cook,
the Endeavour was beached 7 weeks due to heavy leaks,
shook by a collision
with an off-course “understanding”, reports Cook, agog,
in his onboard log.

The word “understanding”,
in Guugu Yimithirr, depicts
an “understanding”, eastern grey, recorded in 1770, strictly in May, centuries ago, thanks
to a diary of Sir Joseph Banks, delivered, as he lay low,
on the banks of the River Endeavour.

As Cook and Banks
explored surroundings
they happened, confounded,
on their first “understanding”.

A native, not to blame,
asked for the creature’s name,
replied “understanding”,
the local Guugu Yimithirr phrase
meaning “I don’t understand”,
(which was the case),
which Cook understood
and sensibly took
to be the name.

The story makes plain,
why “understanding”, not in vain,
is a distinct, sought-after pet,
though some, reluctant to bet,
think the creature’s on the brink
of becoming extinct.

(You guessed it: a kangaroo.)

* * *

A Wikipedia article or something from National Geographic would do nicely – just make sure it repeats the name of the animal a lot. Now, go back through the text and replace the name of the animal with something else – it could be something very abstract, like “sadness” or “my heart,” or something more concrete, like “the streetlight outside my window that won’t stop blinking.” You should wind up with some very funny and even touching combinations, which you can then rearrange and edit into a poem.

Happy writing!

2021 NaPoWriMo April 22 Inside Out

* *. *

In a prompt originally posted this past February, Poets & Writers directs us to an essay by Urvi Kumbhat on the use of mangoes in diasporic literature. As she discusses in her essay, mangoes have become a sort of shorthand or symbol that writers use to invoke an entire culture, country, or way of life. This has the beauty of simplicity – but also the problems of simplicity, in that you really can’t sum up a culture in a single image or item, and you risk cliché if you try.

But at the same time, the “staying power” of the mango underscores the strength of metonymy in poetry.

Today’s prompt involves metonymy in poetry. I’d like to challenge you to write a poem that invokes a specific object as a symbol of a particular time, era, or place. (For detailed prompt, see below.)

Happy writing!

Inside Out

They wave their flag,
let it flutter, swirl,
a square piece of cloth
that resembles them,

square like law and order,
structure, grounding,
sense of security, home,

a flag, its color red like
a startled robin’s breast?
poppies at the edge of a field?

A mix, magenta and yellow,
to recall blood shed
serving in foreign armies
in medieval times.

The flag’s center linen-white,
shaped like a cross,
sewn on soldiers’ armor to
tell them apart from the enemy,

white, signifying
faith in the invisible,
belief in peace and purity.

In time the flag
spawned, in reverse, a twin,
a white square
bearing a red cross,

heralding an outgoing, caring, impartial compassion for the suffering,
relief for victims of disasters,
help for prisoners of war.

A symbol, turning itself inside out,
ushered in a new time,
changed the world.

2021 NaPoWriMo April 21 Mask-Over-Mouth Questions and Freshly-Laid Egg

2021 NaPoWriMo April 21

Two versions:

Mask-Over-Mouth Questions

And now for our (optional) prompt. Have you ever heard or read the nursery rhyme, “There was a man of double deed?”

Today, I’d like to challenge you to write a poem that like this one, uses lines that have a repetitive set-up. (See detailed prompt below)

Mask-Over-Mouth Questions

Why is it I, human, must wear a mask to constantly cover my mouth?

Is it that I devour life, hour after hour, never content, hungry for more? Sounds uncouth.

Is it that space isn’t enough to make room for all, black and white, prose and poetry, hawk and dove?

Is it that I need what’s distant, superfluous, absurd? Exotic food, extras galore? Is that right?

Is it that my greed got EverGiven squeezed stuck in the Suez canal? Far away, why give a fuck? Shrug shoulders, like it’s banal.

Is it that I forgot to be gracious, say grace for what nature will endlessly grow, ripen and lavish?

Is it that, grinning, I brandish whitened, capped teeth, signal rapacious aggression?

Is it that I moodily purse my lips, wonder about botox and repulping tips, a modish obsession?

Is it that I tell lies (all white, of course) without so much as a swallow, a gulp?

Is it that, irreverent, I yawn and gape, flout my ignorance like a zoo-weary ape?

Is it that words flowing from my mouth have lost meaning and depth, can’t tell north from south?

Is it that what I exhale is sick and putrid, a stale, old tale?

Is it that a gale must prevail to free me from hiding behind a tiresome mask?

Is it that a Herculean task of stable-clearing awaits that leaves me aghast?

Is it that I forgot the meaning of breath, the command switch between life and death, once equal to soul?

Is it that I must repent, remedy, amend? Perhaps cajole? Once more walk barefoot on glowing coal?

Is it that there’s at least one consolation: I’m not alone?

Is it that we’re all, humans, in this together? That we’ve zoomed our way out of exasperation, that together we struggle for liberation?

Is it that a flash of understanding prompts a feeling of relief, elation?

Is it that I, we all, need to assume our power? Like emerging umbrellaless, drenched, refreshed, from a crazy April shower?

Is it that this is a beginning?
Life’s new, fragrant, surprise flower?

* * *

and: Freshly-Laid Egg

Thought there’s a mouse
In the henhouse off course
Thought that would be fun
The chickens on the run
Thought mouse would take off
To the full moon over Rangoon
Thought of settling on a star
Some near-by, some far
Thought of hens far away
Of return to earth any day
Thought first tank up on light
Travel through cosmic night
Thought of hens’ welcome back
Found all well on track
Thought became a freshly-laid egg

* * *

Here is the detailed prompt. Have you ever heard or read the nursery rhyme, “There was a man of double deed?” It’s quite creepy! A lot of its effectiveness can be traced back to how, after the first couplet, the lines all begin with the same two phrases (either “When the . . .” or “Twas like,”). The way that these phrases resolve gets more and more bizarre over the course of the poem, giving it a headlong, inevitable feeling.

Today, I’d like to challenge you to write a poem that, like this one, uses lines that have a repetitive set-up. Here’s an example I came up with after seeing this video of . . . a bucket of owls.

Bucket List

Several owls can fill a bucket.

Several buckets can fill a wheelbarrow.

Several wheelbarrows can fill a truckbed.

Several truckbeds can fill a song.

Several songs can fill a head.

Several heads can fill a bucket.

Several buckets filled with heads and owls

Sing plaintive verse all night long.

Happy writing!

Day Twenty

2021 NaPoWriMo April 18 More Jam in Store

write a poem based on the title of one of the chpaters from Susan G. Wooldridge’s Poemcrazy: Freeing Your Life with Words. The book’s table of contents can be viewed using Amazon’s “Look inside” feature. Will you choose “the poem squash?” or perhaps “grocery weeping” or “the blue socks”? If none of the 60 rather wonderful chapter titles here inspire you, perhaps a chapter title from a favorite book would do? For example, the photo on my personal twitter account is a shot of a chapter title from a P.G. Wodehouse novel — the chapter title being “Sensational Occurrence at a Poetry Reading.”

Happy writing!

“gas, food, longing”

More Jam in Store

should have opted for the blue socks
dangling from the line
in the sunshine, almost dry

or picked “hi there, stars”
taking me into the cosmos, hifi
met the image angel

no wrangling for a heavenly PR gloss
on a tattered not so flattering CV
overgrown with moss like a tree

never reached there, stars take you
elsewhere, keep you on the move
in the groove, movie remakes

food part of recurrent surprises
black current or red, fresh jam flavors
aromas, textures, tastes to savor

save nothing ever satiates
restless remains eager for more
unexpected discoveried in store

in a never ending string of longings

2021 NaPoWriMo April 17 Mystery Moon

Our (optional) prompt. I’ve seen some fairly funny twitter conversations lately among poets who are coming to terms with the fact that they keep writing poems about the moon. For better or worse, the moon seems to exert a powerful hold on poets, as this large collection of moon-themed poems suggests. Today, I’d like to challenge you to stop fighting the moon. Lean in. Accept the moon. The moon just wants what’s best for you and your poems. So yes – write a poem that is about, or that involves, the moon.

Happy writing!

Mystery Moon

mystery moon
vital cocoon

sung in verse
in poets’ saloon

she’ll tersely immerse
in velvety swoon

sweep off the feet
like a typhoon

wherever you meet
Milwaukee Cameroon

born with a wood
or a silver spoon

she’ll surely loot
like a raccoon

hex wished-for rain
into monsoon

cast you as plain

or make you shine
like a Venice lagoon

decypher you fine
she’ll need no platoon

whether you’re titbit
or tycoon

she’ll float your wit
like a balloon

surrender, baboon!
she’s your sweetest boon

none too soon
let midnight loom!