Prompt for RWJ, Prompt 252

How do you guys get inspired to write? Unlike in my callow youth, where the desire to write corresponds with some dire relationship issue, these days, I write at the drop of a hat. Well, a metaphorical hat. I get influenced a lot by what I read. Say, I read a line that references the sun as spectator. Then I read another line about Erica Jong. Or whoever. Then I kind of put the two together. Strange bedfellows but that’s how art works I think. Anyway, that’s how quirky it is. And unpredictable, this writing stuff. I like it a lot. I like how the unexpected comes together. How slices of life make it into a poem too. Yea your real life. Those of you who do this stuff, alright, you “either get involved/or go play with yourself.” I’m still reading Julio Cortazar, so yes my poem borrows from one of his poem titles, “Get A Move On”. So the prompt is to put together two or more different things in your poem, get slices of life in between, and turn it into something else. On that note, I quote from the final stanza of Cortazar’s poem (which he apparently wrote in Nairobi in 1976):

“This is turning into something else,
it’s time to fasten the seatbelt:

Prompt for RWJ, Prompt 251

Hey guys, it’s World Poetry Day. So have you steeped yourself in a poem? Have you written a poem? Is there time enough left? I almost did not. But pulled up my socks
at the last minute.

Poetry has power, has it not? It is prized because it articulates our soul, our collective soul and individual souls. It is soulful. What are we but souls, you tell me? And if we’re souls, then there’s the overhanging question–what is the afterlife? What is God? It’s all our hearts bleed about. Then there’s love, but that’s a whole other story. Or is it?

I’ll leave you to read a poem then, if you didn’t manage to write a poem…about the afterlife or whatever. It’s from a book of poems I’m currently reading by an amazing Argentinian poet.

Dream On Fearlessly, Friend
by Julio Cortazar

Our heart would have little left if we took away its poor
hand-held night where it plays at having a home,
food, hot water,
and a movie Sundays.
We have to leave it its little vegetable garden,
since we took away its angels, those gilded paintings,
and most of the books it liked,
and the satisfaction of believing in something.
We cut the hair of its grief,
trimmed the nails of its feasts, the eyelashes of its dreams,
we toughened it, made it good and funky,
so the cat won’t eat it
and the ladies from Accion Catolica
won’t come looking for it in between prayers.
So that’s that: its aches
won’t even send a goodbye card,
we fashioned it in the image of its time and it knows as

Fair enough, but leave it a little
of what’s left over when we tie
our well-shined everyday shoes;
a little starlit square, some colored pencils,
and that pleasure in stooping to get a good look at a toad
or a blade of grass
for no reason, for the pleasure of it,

at precisely the moment of Hiroshima
or the government in Bonn
or the Viet Minh offensive
in Vietnam.

Prompt for RWJ, Prompt 250

The theme of our current issue is…grief. Here’s what Julian Barnes said about it:

“Early in life, the world divides crudely into those who have had sex and those who haven’t. Later, into those who have known love, and those who haven’t. Later still–at least, if we are lucky (or, on the other hand, unlucky)–it divides into those who have endured grief, and those who haven’t. These divisions are absolute; they are tropics we cross.”

If life is a maturation process, then these are tropics we cross. I could think of another one: parenting. These crossings are into another continent.

And of course, what is grief but the work of memory? Even if sometimes it tries to obliterate it, the weight has only shifted elsewhere.

Julian Barnes had lost his wife, a literary agent, in 2008 to brain tumor. He had married her in 1979.

He said, “It took a while, but I remember the moment–or rather, the suddenly arriving argument–which made it less likely that I would kill myself. I realised that, insofar as she was alive at all, she was alive in my memory. Of course, she remained powerfully in other people’s minds as well; but I was her principal rememberer. If she was anywhere, she was within me, internalized. This was normal–and irrefutable–that I could not kill myself because then I would also be killing her. She would die a second time, my lustrous memories of her fading as the bathwater turned red. So it was, in the end (or, at least, for the time being), simply decided. As was the broader, but related, question: how am I to live? I must live as she would have wanted me to.” (Julian Barnes, Levels of Life, 2013)

Do you have a story about grieving?

Prompt for RWJ, Prompt 249

The other day I turned my head and there against the night sky was the full moon. It shocked me a little. And you know guys, where the expression “lunatic” comes from. It’s a mystery really. Why madness? Why the moon? Is it that each soul has a path to follow, and that’s where the meaning of one’s life lies? And what about love? Is it a kind of madness that would give us answers? And the answer is: we don’t know; we feel. That’s kind of the stuff that affairs of the heart are made of isn’t it? Said one Englishman in Paris, who had fell hook, line and sinker for a French actress, knowing his comrades too sought out such maidens but thought that “they would return home and marry Englishwomen of good family for whom the practicalities of the heart were no more complicated and mysterious than the practicalities of the kitchen garden.” (Julian Barnes, Levels of Life) Aren’t we all entranced and repelled both?

The Ceremony
by Julio Cortozar

I took off your clothes amid trembling and tears
on a bed that was open to infinity,
and if I had no pity on your protests
nor on your begging nor your flushed face,

I was a potter at the dawn of time,
inside the clay I could feel being born
the slow ritual risk of the live flame,
the mythic return to flowers and to the source.

You wove in my arms the rustling locks
of time’s hair linked like a chain
to its eternally recurring fire;

I don’t know what you saw through your complaint,
I saw eagles and moss, I had become
that side of the mirror where the serpent sings.

Of course it all turns to ashes in the end. Englishwoman or Frenchwoman, regardless. Write a moony poem of course.

Prompt for RWJ, Prompt 248

Hello poets! I’m so happy to see the ones who practice writing poems submitting. And nailing them down. How does one nail them down? I mean, a poem is kind of an assembly line, and you choose what to assemble. Only it isn’t a McDonald’s assembly line, so each one carries with it a uniqueness of perspective. But as with an assembly line you need to give your reader, your client, a takeaway. What does the reader take away? I’m reading poems where there isn’t a sense of a takeaway. Yea you have assembly but you end up with a crumbling takeaway that flakes to nothing. So try again, will ya? Think about what you take away in this powerful poem by Argentinian poet, Julio Cortazar.

To A God Unknown

Whoever you are
don’t come.
The seeds are mixed with tiger’s teeth,
an endless fire pours down on the helmets,
nobody knows when the grimacing will stop,
the erosion of a time in pieces.

Obeying you we have fallen.

–The tower went up straight, the women
wore bells on their ankles, we enjoyed
strong fragrant wine. New routes
opened like thighs to the happy greed,
to the insatiable holds of the ships. Glory!
The tower defied all caution,
like a strategists’ celebration
it was its own reward.
Gold, time, destinies,
thought, treaties, violent caresses,
agonies, races, tributes,
they rolled like dice, with their fiery points.

Whoever you are, don’t come.
The record is legend to these timid eyes
with their focal and bifocal, polaroid, nonglare glasses,
to these hands coated with cold cream.
Obeying you we have fallen.

–The stubborn professors make ratlike faces,
they vomit up Gorgias, pathos, amphictyoies and Duns
councils, canons, syringes, skalds, trivets,
how tranquil is the life, the rights of man, Ossian,
Ramon Lull, Pico, Farinata, Mio Cid, the comb
for combing Melisendra’s hair.
That’s how it is: preserve the legacies, worship you in your
eternalize you, the lightning flash.
Turn your living rage into a precept,
codify your free laughter.
Whoever you are
don’t come.

–The whiteface fiction dangles from its monkey,
the alarm clock gets us out of bed on time.
Come at two o’clock, come at four,
too bad we have so many commitments.
Who killed Cock Robin? Because he didn’t use
deodorant, yes ma’am.

As for the rest, the H-bomb, the musical comb,
detergents, the electric violin
lighten the passing time. The waiting room
isn’t so bad: it’s carpeted.
–Consolations, young anthropologist? Supplied:
you see them, you try them on and you take them away.
The tower went straight up,
but we have Dramamine.

Whoever you are
don’t come.
We’d dump you, garbage, made
in our nylon and orlon
image, Jahweh, oh my God.

It’s an assembly alright, but it’s very powerful discourse isn’t it? Whichever discourse you decide on, let your assembled poem give a clear takeaway. What? That “something is rotten in the state of Denmark”? What? Think about what a line like “The waiting room/isn’t so bad: it’s carpeted” says. Why does it sing with irony? Does yours sing? And of course, the repetition, “Whoever you are don’t come”, said so many different ways now. So yea, assembled poem, clear takeaway, said so many different ways.

Prompt for RWJ, Prompt 247

The thing about vintage stuff is that they die. I’m thinking about one of those old school coffeeshops that I’d go for dim sum and congee, and reading that it’d be closing end of the month. You know how it is. The people get old. There’s no one who’ll take over the business. So each generation that dies off carries off with it a trade that, if it doesn’t get passed on, die. It’s poignant really. Used to be that the generations passed it on. No longer. I really like my old coffeeshops.
In somewhat the same vein, I’m sharing with you a poem by an Argentinian poet called “The Future”.

And I know full well you won’t be there.
You won’t be in the street, in the hum that buzzes
from the arc lamps at night, nor in the gesture
of selecting from the menu, nor in the smile
that lightens people packed into the subway,
nor in the borrowed books, nor in the see-you-tomorrow.

You won’t be in my dreams,
in my words’ first destination,
nor will you be in a telephone number
or in the color of a pair of gloves or a blouse.
I’ll get angry, love, without it being on account of you,
and I’ll buy chocolates but not for you,
I’ll stop at the corner you’ll never come to,
and I’ll say that words that are said
and I’ll eat the things that are eaten
and I’ll dream the dreams that are dreamed
and I know full well you won’t be there,
nor here inside, in the prison where I will hold you,
nor there outside, in this river of streets and bridges.
You won’t be there at all, you won’t even be a memory,
and when I think of you I’ll be thinking a thought
that’s obscurely trying to recall you.

by Julio Cortazar, translated by Stephen Kessler

Hope you’re inspired to write something.

Prompt for RWJ, Prompt 246

In looking at your storyline, you might want to include births. Every life begins with a birth. A lot of stories begin with “I was born on (this date).” They normally don’t say “I died on (this date)” unless it’s a posthumous narrator. So I’m suggesting to you to write a birth story. Whose birth story? You get to decide, since you’re the omniscient narrator. Or the other option is to think of the beginning of stories. How does one begin? Here’s one example from Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, which is an all-time favorite story of mine.

“My father’s family name being Pirrip, and my Christian name Philip, my infant tongue could make of both names nothing longer or more explicit than Pip. So, I called myself Pip, and came to be called Pip.”

Include some kind of genealogy detail if you feel like it.

In case you missed it, please check my previous post. You know, so I don’t have to repeat myself. Search Prompt 244.