March 9th, 2012

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The Relevance of Poetry

There's an article in the Atlantic, "Why Poetry Should Be More Playful," that talks about the split between humorous and serious poetry. 

What's really at stake here is not mood but relevance.  A poem may deal with whimsical or solemn topics, so long as it connects with the reader.  The mainstream of poetry has careened off the cultural cliff long since, to the point that most people don't even notice it anymore.  It's completely outside their sphere of experience, so it doesn't exist for them.

Yet people are still writing poetry that is lively and gripping.  They're just doing it in places that don't get a great deal of official attention.  Anyone who likes poetry can, with a little determination, quickly find sources that interest them.  There's quite a lot of poetry online these days, although of course much of it is crap; one just has to do a bit more digging to find poets with skill.  Outside of academia, people write poetry to express ideas, not to impress people.  Memorialize something important.  Play with language.  Tell a story, tell a joke.  Touch something in the reader's experience.  Then people will want to read it.

But hey, at least a major magazine admitted that academic poetry is boring and irrelevant.
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Poem: "Fool's Game"

This poem came out of the March 6, 2012 Poetry Fishbowl.  It was inspired by a prompt from Anthony Barrette and sponsored by Anthony and Shirley Barrette.


Fool's Game


In The Lone Ranger,
things were upside-down and backwards:
the black mask was worn by a white hat
and the Indian was a hero, not a villain.

What I remember is that
the sidekick often saved the day, and the hero,
Tonto darting in at the last minute
to protect the Lone Ranger's identity
or release him from bondage.

What I remember is that
a horse ridden lightly was more use
than the bandits' broken-down nags,
a horse-whisperer working his hidden magic
in a setting where the rule was force, not subtlety.
Silver was as precious as the metal for which he was named.

What I remember is that
these two men were friends,
Tonto and the Lone Ranger inseparable
beyond law and order and vigilante justice,
beyond what their societies thought of each or both,
a hint of fellowship that touched even the culture
telling their stories: for sometimes,
ideals are stronger than reality.

Perhaps what I remember is so,
perhaps not so much.
Perhaps I saw the stories
not as they were, but as I was.
Perhaps everything and nothing is true,
but what matters is less the story
than the ripples it leaves in its wake.

It wasn't until many years later that I learned
tonto  meant "fool" in Spanish.
It made me laugh,
a trickster's secret laugh,
for the Indian fool is not a figure of mockery
but a spirit-touched hero, a sacred clown

who does everything upside-down and backwards.

monster house

Poem: "Lending a Hand"

This poem came out of the March 6, 2012 Poetry Fishbowl.  It was inspired by a prompt from wyld_dandelyon and sponsored by Anthony and Shirley Barrette.  You can read more about the Monster House series on the Serial Poetry page.


Lending a Hand


The man who came to mend the roof
was gentle with the house.
My daughter and I stood the yard that afternoon,
listening to the steady beat of the hammer.
I kept a sharp eye on the house
but it never stirred, leaving him to his work.

He was nearly done when my daughter remarked,
"The temperature is dropping."
"Yes, the sun is going down," I said.
Then I realized the potential problem
of having a handyman on the roof after sunset.

"You can call it a day now,"
I hollered up to him.
"I'm almost done," he yelled back.
"No sense charging you for another trip tomorrow."

Just then the gargoyles awoke,
flapping and hissing to find a stranger so close.
One of the hatchlings flopped itself out of the nest
and began to plummet.

Without hesitating the roofer lunged to catch it,
scooping the chick out of the air with one huge hand,
the other scrabbling at the roof.
I ran to move the ladder underneath him,
then steadied it while he recovered his position.
He put the hatchling back into its nest.
Then he put the last few shingles in place
and climbed down.

"Must be nice having your own nest of raptors,"
the handyman said.
"They keep the pigeons down," I agreed.
Then he collected his check, and drove away.

"Does he have a destiny as a hero, or what?"
I asked my daughter as I
struggled to slow my galloping heart.
"No," she said quietly,
"he just does that on his own."

Fiorenza

Poem: "The Talk of Faggiola"

This poem came out of the March 6, 2012 Poetry Fishbowl.  It was inspired by prompts from e_scapism101 and Dreamwidth user jjhunter.  It was sponsored by Anthony and Shirley Barrette. It belongs to the series Fiorenza the Wisewoman, and you can find the other poems through the Serial Poetry page.



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The Talk of Faggiola


Giacinto is used to
walking through the village of Faggiola (1)
with gossip swirling around his ankles like streamwater.

Vitalia the baker hands over her extra buns
for Giacinto to take to his mother Agostina,
and asks if he will let his hair grow as long as a girl's.
Giacinto flicks his shoulder-length locks out of his face
and murmurs, "Not much longer than this, I think."

Silvano the woodcutter brings a load of logs
from the beech forest above the village,
then tips his hat as if Giacinto were a girl.
"There's a handsome lad come with the tinkers,"
Silvano says as he stacks the firewood.
"So I hear," Giacinto says,
though he does not care for handsome lads.

Delanna the shepherdess comes to Giacinto
with her herd of white Fabrianese sheep,
seeking a dip to relieve the fleas.
"I miss when your mother would visit me
in the hills," she says with a sigh.
"As does my mother," Giacinto replies.

The constant tut-tutting of villagers
is as familiar to him as the clucking of hens.
So long as they come to him at need,
he will abide it.  It is no one's fault
that a wisewoman is expected to be a woman
or that Agostina gave birth to a son instead of a daughter.

"Do not fret over it," the wisewoman says,
patting him with a wrinkled hand.
"You will grow into your place here,
and they will grow used to you.
When I was a girl, it was my mother they wished for!"
"I'm sure you're right, mother," Giacinto replies.

Then one day, Fiorenza comes to Faggiola,
towing an addled veteran along
to see if anything might be done
to restore the balance of his mind.

Agostina spends hours weaving a witch's subtle spells,
piecing together a path through the overgrown thicket
of his thoughts, a twist here, a turn there.
It will never be straight again, but it will have to do.
Giacinto and Fiorenza stroll through the gardens,
speaking of herbs and how best to soothe Ercole
on the bad days or the sleepless nights.

The villagers see them together,
Giacinto the striòs  and Fiorenza the wisewoman, (2)
not holding hands but close enough to do so.
Giacinto just smiles, knowing that
the gossips will have something new to talk about now.

* * *

1) Faggiola means "beech grove" and is the name of Giacinto's village.  Many Italian villages are named in this fashion, after notable local features.  Special thanks to Marina Bonomi for providing the name.

2) Striòs  means "witch-son" or "male-witch."  Although folkloric witches are often thought of as female, there are exceptions.

gold star

PetriDish: Crowdfunding for Science Projects

I was thrilled to discover this article about PetriDish, a new crowdfunding hub site specializing in science projects.  It's currently in beta with a handful of projects.  Among my favorites are a search for the first exomoon, gelada monkey linguistics, the wolves of Isle Royale, and interviews of climate refugees

Now you can fund the kind of science YOU want to see done!  Which is good, because the government has pretty much dropped the ball and big business isn't interested in picking it up.  Grab it and run like hell.

SO. MUCH. LOVE.
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Generally Sponsored Poetry Poll for March 6, 2012

This is the generally sponsored poetry poll for the March 6, 2012 fishbowl.  You have $125 to spend.  All of the poems except for the epics have sold out.  There are two epics currently in microfunding: "Call to Duty" needs $17 to be fully funded, and "Tunnel Vision" needs $146.  There are three epics currently eligible to be opened: "Crossing the Line," "The Hansom Knight," and "Starfather." 

"Crossing the Line" -- 152 lines, $76 (Gloryroad Crossing)
Per your prompt, goblins come to Gloryroad Crossing. Clearly they have picked the wroooong town to attack. The tale is told from the perspective of Hob the beggar, who gets swept into the action when an exhausted highway patroller collapses in his arms. Dron the barkeeper and Brilla the baker reappear, but much of the cast is filled by characters suggested by other prompters. "Crossing the Line" is free verse.

"The Hansom Knight" -- 74 lines, $37
Based on a prompt with the same phrasing, "The Hansom Knight" is a free-verse poem about a cabbie who finds a dead knight in his cab when he arrives at the dragon-infested manor house. Bit not good.

"Starfather" -- 172 lines, $86
You hooked me with the adoptive parent, although it went in a weird direction. Adjo Mubarak is a soldier, desperately trying to defend an alien colony against marauders. He finds a baby clinging to the fresh corpse of its parent, and picks it up. Some babies, once you've picked them up, aren't so easy to put down again -- and there's still a battle going on. "Starfather" is a free-verse poem set in my main science fiction universe.

You could finish "Call to Duty" and reveal most of "Tunnel Vision."  You could buy any one of the new epics whole, with substantial money left over for something else. You could buy "The Hansom Knight" plus either "Crossing the Line" or "Starfather" whole, with a little left over. You could buy either "Crossing the Line" or "Starfather" whole and a large chunk of the other one. There are lots of different ways to slice this very generous pie.  I'll try to frame the polling to let people fund the most popular poems, without creating choice paralysis.

Everyone is eligible to vote in this poll.  I will keep this open until at least Saturday evening.  If there's a clear winner by then, I'll close it; otherwise I may leave it open a little longer.  If you route all the money into currently open epics, this poll will settle it and I'll post the results.  If you divide the money between current and new epics, or route it all into new epics, further polling will be required.

Poll #1825309 Generally Sponsored Poetry Poll for March 6, 2012 Fishbowl
This poll is closed.

Do you want to fund currently open epics, or launch something new?

All $125 into "Tunnel Vision"
0(0.0%)
$17 to finish "Call to Duty" and $108 into "Tunnel Vision"
7(53.8%)
Divide money between currently open and new epic poetry
5(38.5%)
All $125 into new epic poetry
1(7.7%)
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Free Serial Poetry Poll for the March 6, 2012 Poetry Fishbowl

The March 6, 2012 Poetry Fishbowl met the $150 and $250 goals for free serial poems.  I've noticed that some people consistently vote for the smaller series but those never win against the big favorites.  So you get two separate pools of options, one for the small series and one for the big series.  First, vote for the two series that you want.  There will be more polling later for individual poem selection.  I'll keep this poll open at least until Saturday evening.  If there are clear winners then, I'll close it; otherwise I may leave it open a little longer.

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