#NaPoWriMo (National Poetry Writing Month)

If it’s April, it’s NaPoWriMo, that is, National Poetry Writing Month, a month when poetry devotees (like me and many of you) commit to writing at least one poem per day.  There are several blogs, sites, etc., that offer daily prompts, and folks are free to go off on their own and write “as the spirit leads them,” as my mother would say.

This year I have been pretty much in the latter category, drawing inspiration from things, events, happenings in the immediate environment.  As it happens, early in the month I attended three events that have had a huge impact on my April writing.  The first one was a writing salon at a local art gallery, a short, three hour “class,” that looked at one piece of art from various perspectives and encouraged attendees to write about the experience. The second was a poetry reading at a local library by three sonnet writers, who read and spoke about the “sonnet” craft.  The third was a lunch time exhibition talk about a single piece of art, which became the basis for my daily poetry submissions.

So, to ease your suspense, I’ll cut right to the chase. I decided to try my hand at a “crown of sonnets,” also called a “corona.” All the sonnet writers I saw at the reading talked about it!  Then, I decided to base each unique sonnet on a piece of art, implementing the tools we used in the writing salon.  Finally, I decided to use as the art work a series of paintings used as illustrations for poetry, and the exhibition talk I attended provided such an example, a series of paintings by the famed Harlem Renaissance painter, Aaron Douglas, used to illustrate James Weldon Johnson’s “God’s Trombones, Seven Negro Sermons in Verse,” one of which was on exhibit.  You can find the original, in electronic edition with illustrations, here.

OK.  Here is the thing about a corona.  The final line of each poem becomes the first line of each succeeding poem, and the first line of the first, the final line of the last.  Additionally, I tried as closely as possible to make each final line align with a line from the actual original poetry that the art work illustrated.  Finally, because the example I saw in exhibition was the illustration for the final poem in the series, I worked my way through the original poems from back to front, giving the whole thing a slightly different twist.

Enough chat.  I have posted the whole crown of sonnets on my poetry blog here (but you have to look for it). Please check it out and let me know what you think.

Blogging 101 – Weekend post. Just submitted a poem to Goodreads poetry contest: “about the poetry”

about the poetry

The things that are
fleeting, passing,
require and inspire
the poetry –
if only a line or two –
a word, a note, a tune;

formless and shapeless,
though still finite,
words are needed/
heeded to mark the memory,
to fix the experience
in time.

The infinite –
is poetry itself –
like meter and rhythm –
cycles that appear
and recede like ripples
of waves that touch

the shores of our dreams
from opposing sides,
across expanses
of timeless thought and
boundless space.

The form of our finite lives
is also the poetry –
poetry that endures –
beyond the borders
that surround us:
the horizons that beckon us.

p.s. Today’s quote from Epictetus

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Blogging 101 – Day 4: Identifying my audience – poetry lovers

I think this may be fun!

Today’s assignment is to publish a post you’d like your ideal audience member to read, and to include elements never used before.

My love of poetry is a bit of an obsession at times, so I am going to aim my post at blog readers who read, write, and enjoy all aspects of poetry. I’ve never embedded video clips, so I might just try it. OK, here we go!

Here are three favorites from the 19th century:

And here are three favorites from the Beats:

Hope there is something here for everybody. But just in case, more of my favorites are here on Pinterest:

Finally, Epictetus quote for today

Finally, Epictetus quote for today

#Rhizo15 week 5: completely mobile (invasive species and community learning)

In Chocolate City this weekend to march across the stage in cap and gown to receive my MSLIS at CUA (which I actually received last October by mail, but THIS is the annual ceremony). Several of us who started together in 2013 will be finishing together, a community of learners.

In this week’s submission we are to address, among other things, community learning as an invasive species from the rhizomatic perspective we have been discussing. My first thoughts go to my garden that I planted too soon.  Late frosts killed the early sprouts, but the weeds, some them actually quite beautiful, and possibly edible in a tossed salad, keep on sprouting and running and sending their roots deeply (and quickly) into the freshly turned topsoil mound.  Are these weeds the invasive species, crowding out the seeds I’ve planted and sucking all the nutrients from the soil, or are my heirloom seeds the true invaders?  We won’t push that too far because we know the answer to that question.


I live in a neighborhood called Foggy Bottom, so named because it was built on top of a malaria-infested swamp.  Many people say it is still a swamp, though concrete and asphalt cover all the traces.  But sometimes, late at night when everything is quiet and still, you can smell it, the swamp beneath us… So, is the swamp the invasive ecosystem, or are my neighbors and me the invaders?

But we digress.  One of our colleagues posted a link to a site explaining the relationship between the history of architecture and the future of website design.  This resonated with me, being an information architect by training.  A few weeks ago someone from a different learning community posted a link to an article about a person who wanted to live inside a Frank O’Hara poem.


Some architecture that would be! (I’ll come back later and install all the links.). Then, last week, it all came together for me with a post to a librarian list describing the significance of words to website design.

From architecture to website design to poetry, and from education to gardening, the true invasive species is the collection of words, in a different configuration than before, that sets off a thought mutation that replicates itself and creates a new and different ecosystem than before. I know, it’s all a gross over-simplification, and I have probably left off some important steps. But you see the pattern.  Maybe.  As a community of learners (and teachers), we may be the invasive species, or maybe more appropriately, we may provide the mutative spark that moves our students (and ourselves) to the next level of thought and thinking.

I am going to miss these weekly blogposts when #Rhizo15 ends next week.  Maybe let’s keep it going?

p.s.  This e.e. cummings poem seems somehow appropriate to this discussion, “when faces called flowers float out of the ground,” (best read aloud):

when faces called flowers float out of the ground
and breathing is wishing and wishing is having-
but keeping is downward and doubting and never
-it’s april(yes,april;my darling)it’s spring!
yes the pretty birds frolic as spry as can fly
yes the little fish gambol as glad as can be
(yes the mountains are dancing together

when every leaf opens without any sound
and wishing is having and having is giving-
but keeping is doting and nothing and nonsense
-alive;we’re alive,dear:it’s(kiss me now)spring!
now the pretty birds hover so she and so he
now the little fish quiver so you and so i
now the mountains are dancing, the mountains)

when more than was lost has been found has been found
and having is giving and giving is living-
but keeping is darkness and winter and cringing
-it’s spring(all our night becomes day)o,it’s spring!
all the pretty birds dive to the heart of the sky
all the little fish climb through the mind of the sea
all the mountains are dancing;are dancing)

postscript #2.  I traveled to Ramadi in 2008 with a CODEL as part of my supervisory responsibilities.  We had won the peace, or so we convinced ourselves, even though we on the civilian side all knew the “surge” was a crock.  Anyway, I am a bit saddened today that Ramadi has fallen to ISIS, though it has absolutely nothing to do with me or my life.  I am still saddened.

Better days,  Visiting the Ramadi Museum with a CODEL.

Better days, Visiting the Ramadi Museum with a CODEL.

On the good news side, I was happy to see so many of my classmates over the weekend, graduating together under the hot May sun.  Many have remained in the DC area, but many have returned home, or to their alma maters, all over.  We are spreading out like little rhizomes, tending to rhizomatic libraries that in turn spread out through books and things throughout the universe of information.  Here’s another image, feast your eyes!


…and this one ain’t too shabby (I say in my native vernacular for effect)….

….’cause poets are the original critical pedagogs…


Midwinter Day – Part Six (a)

Filomena has been on me for weeks to write this poem. We have discussed it in bits and pieces. I was a Navy machinist mate in a former life; that is what qualifies this submission as part of the overall transition.  Tell me your thoughts.  

Midwinter Day – Parts One and Two

Loving this passage from Bernadette Mayer‘s Midwinter Day, section II.

“If we’re all wrong about everything, the life so short and the craft so long to learn, the assay so hard, so sharp the conquering, the dreadful joy that passes so quick and then being left alone again, what I mean is love astonishes my feeling with its wonderful working so ardently so painfully that when I’m thinking about such certainty I don’t know like the earth if I’m floating or sinking.”

Happy Birthday, Emily Dickinson!

I can’t ignore that poetry (and my love for it) is a huge part of this transition.  It is the oil that lubricates, cools and cleans the gears and moving parts of my thinking and action (Is this a poem?).

So, we (me and two ModPo comrades) attended Emily Dickinson‘s birthday celebration at the Folger.  Peter Gizzi was the featured poet.

OK. So he started off with #1286, There is no frigate. Then #373, This world is not conclusion. Next was #124, Safe in their alabaster chambers, followed by #448, I died for beauty.  Here he mentioned that Keats was ED’s favorite poet (never knew that, makes me want to go back and check out Keats (think I have his complete works here in the bookcase)).

Next he read #883 (but my collection, edited by R.W. Franklin, says #930; that’s why I write down the number and the first line, or at least try to), The Poets light but Lamps, then #778, Four trees upon a solitary acre. Here he riffed about the “deep interiority.”Then #591, I heard a fly buzz – when I died. Here he quotes WCW and Wallace Stevens (but I can’t decipher my handwriting: “A poet always ### with her poems” quote from WCW and “A new poem is a new mind” quote from Stevens). Next #372, After great pain, a formal feeling comes.

Here I felt he was beginning the conclusion…

#508 (but my collection has it #383) I’m ceded – I’ve stopped being Their’s.  Here he mentioned the Civil War, and how ED wrote 1000 poems between 1860 and 1865.  #290 (but my collection has it as #319), Of Bronze – and Blaze, and he riffs on “An Island in dishonored Grass” which he says may have been about Whitman, whom he says ED detested, though it may have also been about the green grass of the battlefields. I was blown away by the line, “my splendors, are menagerie/ but their completeness show/will entertain the centuries/ when I, am long ago.” Reminds me a bit of the poetry of the Gettysburg Address. He also said ED was 30 at the beginning of the Civil War.

Then #1679, the ditch is dear to the drunken man. Here he mentioned James Schuyler, his mentor/professor in the 80’s (looks like he was there at the birth of the New York School, with Ashbery and O’Hara). And he concludes with that awe-inspiring 3rd letter to Thomas Higginson (that, I think I have located in Susan Howe‘s My Emily Dickinson, though the only reference I vividly recall is that to Carlo, her dog, so it might not be).

My last note is a mention of Jack Spicer on the difference between ED’s poems and letters.




Red Pill. December, 2012.

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Dear Breakfast Clubbers: I thought about you all as I poured the second cup of french-pressed goodness and decided to share in this forum some life reflections. I have had a lot of free time since my dismissal at State on December 18. Still on the payroll, but with no desk and no secretary to order my life, I have been free to take long morning walks, hit the DC think tanks after breakfast, and work on writing projects in the afternoon. The passage of time has given me a clearer understanding of the whole administrative process that envelops me.

It (this administrative leave period) was only supposed to last for a few days until Clinton could testify before Congress. But she got sick and had to postpone so my release was delayed until after her testimony, now scheduled for January 24.

My actual piece is this whole Benghazi drama is actually quite small. I was responsible for North Africa, but because Libya was so sexy, several more senior folks carved parts out, including people VERY well connected to the Clinton machine. Of course, they couldn’t be fingered, so it rolled down to me, unconnected me, in a most undignified and uncollegial way.

In a letter to the senior politicos who made this decision, leaked my name to the press, and executed this decision, I told them the way they treated and were treating me was shabby, thuggish and third worldly, and that I actually held the third world in a higher regard, having spent most of my career there. They didn’t like that. But my, wasn’t it poetic!? The whole thing is further complicated because my small part has become a chink in Clinton’s armor, and, consequently, in Obama’s armor, since they both “signed off” on the findings of the Benghazi ARB, whose official unclassified report, by the way, mentions neither my name nor my position as deputy assistant secretary for the Maghreb.

Unfortunately for me, any effort to extract me from this mess, to exonerate me, to clear my name, risks exposing Clinton and Obama managerial weaknesses, not to mention policy flaws that the political opposition would love to exploit.

The Clinton machine is focused on 2016, already. The Obama machine, as it has for the past four years, lacks any true foreign policy focus. This is Washington, baby. The buck never stops; it never even slows down.

I have decided to share with the Breakfast Club, and any ModPoers who lurk therein, this inside view of Washington policy making.

I will get through this: they use tough, resilient material to make the Maxwells and Hairstons down in piedmont North Carolina. There will be poems written, and memoirs, and maybe even a slick movie. Yeah, a Spielberg slick movie. “The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ, Moves on: nor all your Piety nor Wit Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line, Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it.” –Omar Khayyam


p.s. Keep up with the latest by occasionally checking out my poetry blog: http://poemsbyray.blogspot.com/ and my foreign service oral history blog: http://ray-theporch.blogspot.com/ .