Monthly Archives: April 2011

Zingara’s Poetry Pick: Manzano Sunflowers by Dale Harris

Dale Harris is an Albuquerque potter, poet and author of this week’s Poetry Pick. Her poem can be found in “A Bigger Boat” anthology as published by the University of New Mexico Press. I met Dale and heard her read Manzano Sunflowers at the volume’s book release in the summer of 2008.

Because this poem evokes images of sunflowers, which are as common in the Midwest as they are in the Southwest, it calls forth the character of both regions while yet focusing on the New Mexican landscape. Harris’ sunflowers, therefore, capture more than place and image, but the very essence of sunflower-ness. And while a Midwesterner may not fully appreciate the significance of the arroyo’s image, or never attend the Indian Market, or discern the difference between Manzano or Sandia, she does understand the way sunflowers amass – has seen them take the place of prairie grass – and can appreciate the truth of sunflowers as offered in this poem:

Manzano Sunflowers by Dale Harris

You missed Indian Market and of course, the sunflowers.
As usual they swept across August,
at first a few, a yellow trickle along the fence line;
then more, making pools in the pasture
and splashing down into the arroyo;
then incredibly many more,
dappling the distance as though
a giant hand had buttered the land.

 Yet with the entire prairie to expand into
they prefer crowds of themselves.
They mass along the roadsides line up
as though a parade were about to pass.
Here and there one stands alone but not for long.
Soon his kin will come and there will be
sunflower squalor, a floral slum.

 Once out they will not be ignored.
Stretching their skinny stalks, they top our roofline,
press against the window screens, peep in a the door.
Familiar footpaths to the outbuildings are obscured
and from the road we seem afloat,
our cabin an odd tin boat in a sea of sunflower faces.

 They are the most staccato of flowers.
I catch them humming snatches of polkas
and John Philip Sousa marches,
bobbing in the breeze to the Boogaloo,
the Boogie-woogie and the Lindy Hop.
I call their names, Clem, Clarissa, Sara Jane
to try and tame them.

My neighbor comes by, she has a field full.
They’re useless, she complains;
her horses won’t eat them.
I should hope not, I exclaim after she’s gone.

I don’t remember if you even liked sunflowers
but you like life and they are all about that.
Today I wrote to your family finally.
I expect they are occupying themselves
with beautiful gestures
in order to get over the grief  of you.
As for me, I have sunflowers.

Read more of Dale’s poetry and learn about her pottery skills at Dale Harris Pottery.

A copy of “A Bigger Boat” anthology is available from The University of New Mexico Press


Writing Exercise: Dream

For this week’s writing exercise, keep a pad of paper and a pen or pencil next to your bed and use them to capture the vestiges of your most recent dream upon waking. If you find the act of writing in the mornings a difficult task (or your eyes simply don’t focus that quickly in the morning) you can dictate your dreams  into a tape or digital recorder and transcribe them later. After a few nights of recording the images, themes and emotional texture of your dreams, try synthesizing them into a poem. Don’t worry about remembering every detail correctly. Instead, just make up the parts that are “missing.” No one will accuse you of getting the facts wrong.

Feel free to post your poem in the comments section below.

Rondeau Poetry Prompt

Today’s prompt comes from Frances Mayes’ “The Discovery of Poetry”

Write a a Rondeau:

A Rondeau is a poem consisting of fifteen lines arranged in a quintet (five-line stanza), a quatrain (four-line stanza) and a sestet (six-line stanza). The first few words of the first line act as a refrain in lines 9 and 15. These refrain lines do not rhyme, but repeating the fragments seems to imply the rest of the line, including the rhyme. The rhyme, therefore, acts invisibly. The roundeau’s usual rhyme scheme is aabba, aab Refrain. An eight-syllable line is traditional:

Here’s an example:

DEATH OF A VERMONT FARM WOMAN
(Barbara Howes, 1914-)

It is time now to go away?
July is nearly over; hayt winter lingered; it was May
Fattens the barn, the herds are strong
Our old fields prosper; these long
Green evening will keep death at bay.

Last winter lingered; it was May
Before a flowering lilac spray
Barred cold for ever. I was wrong.
Is it time now?

Six decades vanished in a day!
I bore four sons: one lives; they
Were all good men; three dying young
Was hard on us. I have looked long
For these hills to show me where peace lay . . .
Is it time now?

Share your poem in the comments area below.

The Name of a Tree by Catherine Anderson

Today’s Poetry Pick comes from Catherine Anderson’s second book  of poetry titled “The Work of Hands,” published in 2000 by Perugia Press, whose mission it is “to produce beautiful books that interest long-time readers of poetry and welcome those new to poetry.”

THE NAME OF A TREE

Right here on Ash Street, Ana says, she used to stagger
up the stairs like a drunk.
There was no light, so she patted the wall,
following hardened gum and kick marks.
Those were crazy days she tells me –
two kids, no money, no job –
when English made the sound of click, swish,
money gliding from a cash drawer,
and the only words she knew were numbers –
seventy-five cents ringing down the throat
of a soda machine, her soapy fingers counting quarters
to feed the dryer.

Some days I am Ana’s teacher, some days she is mine.
This morning we look through her kitchen window,
The one she can’t get clean, cobwebs massed
between sash and pane. The sky is blue-gold, almost
the color of home. Ana, I say, each winter
I get more lonely. Both of us would like the sun
to linger as that round fruit in June, but Ana says
it’s better to forget what you used to know:
the taste of fish cooked in banana leaves,
the rose color of sea waves at dusk,
the names for clouds and wild storms, and a tree
that grows, she says, as full
as a flame in the heart of all countries
south of here.

Catherine’s book is informed by her work with immigrants and refugees and explores the pathos involved in such work. Her poem “Womanhood,” which was chosen by Billy Collins’ “Poetry 180” project, can be read at poets.org

Writing Exercise: Listen

This week’s exercise requires the writer venture away from home and the writing desk to find an interesting public venue in which to work.

Find a comfortable spot in a busy location where you can to sit and listen to conversations of others around you. Naturally, restaurants and coffee shops can provide such a setting, but try to broaden your search to less obvious locals. For example, a classroom fits the bill well, especially if you happen to be student or a teacher. So does a work environment, the park, a long line or the waiting room at the tax preparer ‘s office. Be sure to bring your notebook with you.

As snippets of conversation float your way, take selective dictation in long-hand in your notebook. While there is no rule against using a lap-top computer for this exercise, the key here is to be selective in your dictation and try not to write down every detail – long-hand will lessen that temptation.

Alternately, and particularly if you are a techy, you could use a voice recorder of some sort, transcribing selectively when you later listen. This approach allows you to listen closely in the moment and focus on the texture of the conversation rather than the details of the words. Your note-taking can focus on intonation and other non-linguistic details that might help animate your later (selective) transcription.

Instead of returning to your transcribed notes right away, let time lapse and events intervene with your memory. When finally you return to your notes, it will be with fresh eyes (and ears). Hopefully you will have forgotten some of what you heard and your subconscious will have already begun to make up alternate explanations for the notes you have taken. Let your imagination fill in the parts you don’t remember accurately, or, better yet, let your imagination rearrange everything contained in your notes.

Create a poem from this experience and share it in the comments area below.

April is the Cruelest Month

Spring’s tumult stirs the air and moves the poet’s heart. It was T.S. Eliot who lamented:

April is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.

Centuries before Eliot’s angst Chaucer wrote this of spring:

Whan that Aprill, with his shoures soote
The drought of March hath perced to the roote
and bathed every veyne in swich licour;
of which vertu engendred is the flour

For this week’s prompt, write the beginning, or prologue, of an imaginary epic poem that evokes the feeling and imagery of Spring. Be wildly imaginative.

“How My Father Learned English” by Juan J. Morales

Cover by Oswaldo Guayasmin

This next Poetry Pick is pulled from Juan Morales’ book of poems “FRIDAY and the Year That Followed,” winner of the 2005 Rhea & Seymour Gorsline Poetry Competition.

HOW MY FATHER LEARNED ENGLISH
382nd Hospital, Japan 1952

The wounded who could not speak English
congregated around the bedridden every morning.
Manuel, the nurse from some other ward,
taught my father and others English
word by word. Sometimes, phrases, the sloppy
repeated English made sense — Because es porque.
Yo soy es I am.  I am.  Otra vez, diganme.–
Bee cause.  Pain.  I am in pain.

English moved my father’s tongue unlike Spanish.
It stuck in his mouth, stumbled past his teeth.
He dreamed he forgot Spanish and his tongue
withered away.  My father never told anyone
about this or the scratching fear of his legs,
under bandages and scars, never walking again.
He didn’t have words in English yet.

From its initial lines to its closing stanza, Morales’ book of poems are nothing short of compelling. Sometimes surreal, other times magical, these poems evoke moods akin to the visual art of Frida Kahlo. It is a staple for any lover of the arts.

Juan J. Morales is currently the Director of Creative Writing  and Assistant Professor at Colorado State University-Pueblo. He is curator of the Southern Colorado Reading Series as wells as the student literary magazine, Tempered Steel.

“Friday and the Year That Followed” (ISBN 9780977197354) is available for purchase at Amazon