All the world is queer save thee and me, and thee’s a little queer
Do strangers spontaneously approach you and make extraordinary revelations? Do way-out events regularly occur in your life? Are even your good friends a little queer? The signs are that your destiny is to be a writer. This month’s workshop tries to set up a few of the unusual encounters that are the stuff of poetry.
- Go sit somewhere. Park your car somewhere and sit: in the car park of a hospital, at a railway station, outside a sports ground. Or take a walk and find somewhere to sit: on a park bench, a beach, or in a hotel reception area. Let life come to you. Then write a poem.
- Go shopping and read the labels. Refrigerate and eat within two days of opening. Add sugar to taste. Serving suggestion. What would you write on your own label, if you were a package?
- Google Jules Renard and read whatever you can about him. Let Jules Renard’s words live with you for at least twenty-four hours (try to bring him into conversations). Then write a poem that springs from this experience.
- Spend a few days using the words “gay” and “queer” in their archaic senses. Then write a poem that comes out of your encounters.
- Any poem on any topic.
Dream journal entry #38
I woke up in the ice hotel
it looked like heaven.
Ice bed, ice windows, icy lights.
I went to the check-in counter
he looked like an angel.
I said Gabriel
Is this heaven?
He didn't say but
he handed me a map
a piece of paper with
tracks and roads and signs
it's a good hotel.
I made my way to the bar
a quiet barman in pelts and skins
poured me a blood red drink
into an icy, square glass
I drank to heaven.
There was an icy wedding chapel
complete with cold bride
and her angel
saying voiceless prayers and then
they flew away on their honeymoon.
I left the hotel for warmer weather
the hotel only appears in December
again, next year.
Kiruna, Sweden, 17 February 2011
Questions from a Park Bench
Sara P. Dias
"Look for the ridiculous in everything, …" Jules Renard
How many times do the derricks swing their
interference with the sky,
flinging birds outward into
scissored clouds – for whom this
segmenting of breath and air,
who will inherit such stark division?
For your children, you say, and look how
reflected light bedazzles the child.
But she cannot skip after her own shadow --
who will say where the sun is?
What a queer notion to entertain:
to pluck down a nest to raise a cage.
In the Park 2 – Old timer’s lament in quatorzain.
The paint is flecked like ancient skin
The metal bars shine dull within
The ball joint squeals as they go round
And good it does - there’d be no sound
The warriors here are way too old
Angolan vets now breach the fold
The younger ones have gone away
To pwn some friends in techno play
They’ll never know the battles fought
The shards once taken, all in thought
The glorious yes! of wars well won
The wondrous chills of hymns well sung
Please wake me up if they return
For surely now this once they’ll learn.
Shamim Omar Nassar
I love it when you smell the dust as my feet silently retreat
Yet you hold on, lean back and wait
You have known, it will resettle… as they gently walk back in
Again… you will smile, you will forgive, until the next time.
Shamim Omar Nassar
In your words, my mind is captured
I too am shipped back through the maze of time
Dancing once again in the constellations that were
In the linguistic rhymes that played our days
And dreamy tunes that soothed the nights...
How is it that it came to drown?
Transformed into abhorrent stares
Masking the endearing reminiscences
Do we still live? Beyond our shells of hate?
Can we ever re-find our ‘once-was’?
We talk about all the things
that are important to you:
your son’s first year at varsity
your mother’s death
your new house
your sister’s cancer
your latest holiday.
You ask me how I am,
what have I been doing?
This is my answer: ‘I think
my bum is getting flat
and all the fat has been
re-distributed to my waist’.
That makes you laugh.
What I really want to say:
‘I think there is a hole
in my brain, and it feels
as though a blanket is
covering my head‘.
And most of all what I really
want to say: ‘I think there is
a monster under my bed’.
Mystery of life
Sitting under the baobab tree
Thinking about the path to take
On this lonely desert
I saw a leaf danced sorrowfully from the tree
Tossing loosely before my feet
It was dry without life
Watching my face for a little while
The wind blew it to and flow
And finally dived into the sands
The next minute it was gone
This leaf had once been green
Providing shade for the wandering traveler
And getting praises without measure
But now gone without a wave
And neither left any trace
Such is the mystery of life
I went into the butchery,
said “Good morning”
to the lady behind the counter
and smiled pleasantly.
“I’m feeling very gay today,”
“I don’t suppose you have
half-a-dozen faggots for me?”
“Ai, jinne!” she exclaimed,
and leapt back,
knocking a tray of pork-bones
to the floor.
She indicated by a gesture to her colleague —
an enormous man with a meat-cleaver —
that he was to approach the counter
and attend to me.
Mark L Lilleleht
I can't help but wonder if
we are not all -- or many --
fast becoming slow-witted
caricatures of ourselves.
It is not so much
the slab of chocolate,
the bunch of flowers,
the pinch on the train,
the kiss on the cheek,
given to me suddenly
in public places,
that I remember,
but the words of a madman
in striped state pyjamas
as he touched my face
in the visiting room
of a mental asylum.
Three short poems
i long for colour laughing
juices from my fingertips
no feeble washes rather
the strong stubborn stroke
a bold cut over virgin
canvas the pigment
of desire is
i long for the intimacy of
a slow indian summer
sun kissing skin
stained with doves
footsteps like petals through
long cool passages
drowsy rooms speckled skin
pillows plump with sleep
Poetry: I too dislike it
Marianne Moore’s “Poetry” begins with that best-of-all-possible run-on lines: “I too dislike it.” I was a nineteen-year-old student of poetry, flipping through my spine-broken edition of the Norton Anthology looking for something – anything – I could understand at first glance. I liked that poem instantly. Now that I’m a poetry teacher, I love it. Yes, Marianne! There must be something beyond all this fiddle!
Though of course, beyond those un-fiddly first lines, Moore’s poem contains many elusive, ambiguous utterances. Does she mean that when we find a poem “incomprehensible”, the fault is not the poet’s, but ours, for not knowing enough to understand and therefore admire? What is an “insolent” poem?
Still, she has so caught us with that title and first line, that we keep reading. And she keeps luring us through the difficulties of her own poem with “the genuine./ Hands that can grasp, eyes/ that can dilate, hair that can rise.”
This month’s poetry submissions sent me back to Marianne Moore’s poem with renewed appreciation. In the worst of the submitted poems, there was no lure. There was difficulty without genuineness, which is, I think, a kind of insolence, an act of disrespect to both reader and one’s raw material.
This is all my roundabout way of saying that I don’t like polysyllabic poems, thickets of fog-indexed words clumped together. You don’t need to use unusual “poetic” words like “iridescent” or “vessel” to write poetry. “Bright boat” will do fine.
While I’m in a mood to complain, I might also add that I don’t like poems that pretend to be about great or sublime subjects but are just so many puffs of smoke. Abstraction leaves me cold. Yes, you can be complex, nuanced, ambiguous. But be, as Moore has it, “literalists of the imagination” – make it feel real.
I’d prefer to understand the poem. If that’s not possible, make me want to make the effort to understand.
I thought Charl Durand’s “Dream journal entry #38” did just that. I had to get over my dislike of angels to appreciate the poem, but the quiet barman in pelts and skins, pouring a blood red drink, got me.
Sara P. Dias’ “Questions from a Park Bench” is a poem that resists easy interpretation, but conjures such strong conflated images of play parks, construction sites and oil rigs, that one wants to pause and ask questions. Is this a protest poem, I wondered.
Staying in the park, JD Warner’s “In the Park 2 – Old timer’s lament in quatorzain” is very artfully constructed: tight, controlled rhyme that nevertheless didn’t make my teeth grind. I had to look up the meaning of “pwn”, and I’m still not sure how the Angolan vets, the playstation generation and war nostalgia all connect. Perhaps the lament is for the dream of peace that never was.
Of Shamim Omar Nassar’s two poems, I preferred the first, shorter lyric, because of its simplicity of phrasing and its intimacy. Simple though the phrasing is, there is much that bears interpretation here.
What I like about Kerry Hammerton’s poem is the way it exposes the superficiality of our normal discourse and insists on telling the truth. This is what poetry is for – it’s the place where we put the truths we are barred from putting anywhere else.
Phillip Adddo’s poem “Mystery of life” used real, concrete images, which I liked. He took me somewhere. The poem had mood and atmosphere.
After all this intense seriousness, I was pleased with Michael Rolfe’s ludicrous butchery poem that took up my gay/queer challenge.
I liked the fast/slow contrast in Mark L Lilleleht’s thoughtful poem; Annette Snyckers’ insight into the way we remember; and particularly the last of Anemari Jansen’s “Three short poems”.
Thanks to everyone for participating in this workshop. The next one will be posted on the last Friday of July.