Saturday, May 30, 2009

Fairground Attractions

This week is the annual Spring Carnival in Lowell.  

Just one dollar admits you to the tiniest, ricketiest carnival of all time--

pure candied heaven,

sweet melancholy,
the promise of reward,

and the scent of grass and diesel 
as day slips into night.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Five Easy Pieces

I want to share a writing exercise that I do with my poetry workshop students.  It is not one that I invented, but it is one of my favorites, partly because I borrowed it.  It's like a good recipe for blueberry cake that you've borrowed and made your own, adapting for your fussy oven, your particular love of cinnamon, or your passion for an extra crumbly top.  It's also one that I wait to spring on students until the last week or so of class because it takes some trust to make it work--trust in oneself, in the process, in the person who is asking one to do it.  Even then, some students think it's pretty crazy.  Others, though, create something magical from this foundation.  It works well for writing poems, but it can work for other kinds of writing, too.
The exercise is called "Five Easy Pieces," and it was created by the poet Richard Jackson, one of my graduate school professors.  I actually never did this exercise with him.  Instead, I found it in The Practice of Poetry, a collection of writing exercises edited by Robin Behn and Chase Twichell.  Robin was my MFA thesis advisor, so this book is near and dear to my heart, but it is also just a fantastic book for days when one is stuck or needs a new direction to try.  So here goes:
"This exercise, " writes Jackson, "attempts to tell a whole story in a quick scene.  It is to be written in five sentences. . . . There are two preparation steps.  The first step is to remember a person you know well. . . .  The second step is to imagine a place where you find the person.  Then you are ready for the five easy pieces."
  1. Describe the person's hands.
  2. Describe something he or she is doing with the hands.
  3. Use a metaphor to say something about some exotic place.
  4. Mention what you would want to ask the person in the context of 2 and 3, above.
  5. The person looks up or toward you, notices you there, gives an answer that suggest he or she only gets part of what you asked.
About the exercise, Jackson writes, "it is useful in showing how a poem can condense narrative and characterization, how it can quickly shift focus like a photographer going wild with a zoom lens, how images reveal stories behind them simply by knocking against other images and perspectives, how you can use dialogue in a poem--each time I use it I've found different uses."
And I have found my own uses for it, too, but I'd love to hear from other folks about it.  If you try it, please let me know how it works for you!

Monday, May 25, 2009

This Week on My Street

I was photographing these wildflowers in the vacant lot across the street from my house yesterday when a National Park ranger drove up in his golf cart and gave me a talking to.  I should explain that much of downtown Lowell is a national historical park, and even some of the ratty old lots are part of the park, as they often run alongside the canals that were used to power the textile mills.  The rangers give boat tours--which are pretty wonderful, I might add--on some of these canals.  
The ranger wasn't scolding me for photographing on park property.  He was explaining to me that this is a pretty dangerous neighborhood and I might not want to be wandering alone around here taking pictures.  "Don't venture out into the tall grass, Miss," he said.  "There are homeless people and all sorts of bad news out there." 
I told him I appreciated his concern, but that the front door of my house was fewer than fifty feet from where we were standing.  I also had no intention of wandering into the grass, but I didn't tell him that this stemmed mostly from my fear of ticks.  
In fact, the lot, to all intents and purposes, is my front yard.  

I had just experienced another of what Todd and I have taken to calling a "Lowell Moment."
The flowers in the lot, I might add, are lovely right now--sometimes (not always, I know) a weed is just a wildflower looking for a home.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Another Love Moment

The swans at the Boston Public Garden are about to be parents.  To watch them care tirelessly for nest, eggs, and each other in the sunshine of a sweltering hot day is a gift to cherish, indeed.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Two Thoughts

This morning, as I grade final portfolios for my poetry workshop, two thoughts from William Stafford keep coming to mind.  Both are from "The Door Called Poetry," a chapter in his amazing book You Must Revise Your Life:

"Sometimes it seems to me the best equipment for being a teacher of talking and writing and reading--of communication--would be a wonderful rubber face that would register every nuance; my role would not be that of approving or disapproving, but simply (and it's not simple) that of realizing, realizing everything, all those amazing, miraculous connections that language and the mind make with each other."
and this sparkling bit:
"If an alert student would look at a page of poetry and say it is fat or skinny, I would feel better than if the student said it was iambic hexameter."

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Simple Gifts

We walked and walked again yesterday, and saw sights we'd never seen, and other's we've seen, but not in quite a while.  We spotted the nest and heard the call of a marsh wren, but he was hiding in the cattails, busy making a whole series of fabulous potential nests for his mate. Apparently, she gets to choose the one she likes best.  Lucky girl.  

We heard, then saw, a moorhen, which the birders we ran into told us is pretty unusual around here.  My friend Melissa can tell me if this is true or not.  I snapped photos of the moorhen in the cattails, but none good enough to show.  They have fantastic red bills and a truly audacious call.   

Saw the lovely lady slippers above.  When I was growing up we had a lady slipper right in our back yard under a small stand of pine trees.  These two were all by themselves in a pretty spot of dappled shade.
We saw a million (not much of an exaggeration) new Canada Geese out swimming and eating and sunning with their parents.  The grown-up geese were amazingly patient with the babies, and very protective in a quiet (for geese) way.  We were careful not to bother them, but they often surprised us by walking right next to us along the path.

This turtle was hanging out in the brush and poison ivy, and no, I didn't get near the ivy.  I am in love with turtles.  We always see many of them in the water, but I am particularly charmed when I spot one in a shady hideout like this.
It should be obvious by now that I am in love with herons, too.  How can I resist such beauty?  

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

White Rabbits "Percussion Gun"--a Gift for Cate, Especially

My sister-in-law Cate always keeps me up on music. In fact, she is my music goddess. This past week she gave Todd and me tons of new stuff to listen to on these great CDs that look like little albums. So, this video is a thank you to Cate. I really love this song; it makes me wish I could play the drums. Hope to see you soon, Cate! xoxo

Sunday, May 17, 2009

This Week on My Street

There are days when the trash-strewn streets in my neighborhood make me want to weep, and there are nights when the endless parade of crime dramas (I'm talking cops with their guns drawn--please don't read this part, Mum) that occur here becomes almost too much to bear.  Some mornings when I see the crowds of folks on the sidewalk outside the transitional living center, I am angry with myself for how accustomed I have become to this sight and to the sight of the long line of people waiting for the liquor store to open in the morning.  Our building's dumpsters are the closet and cupboard for many, many people.  Still, I chose to live here, and it can be a place of great beauty and joy, too.  I've been taking lots of photos of people and places in the neighborhood lately.  It's amazing how much easier it can be to talk to people when you have a camera in your hand--easier for the person taking the photos as well as those being photographed.  

I'm working on a fictional story right now that takes place in a neighborhood much like my own, so I'm taking photos to help me with my writing.  Today I thought I'd share a few pictures from my street.  No people--just buildings.  I'll share people photos sometime soon, too.  Oh, and dogs, too.  So many dogs!

This old ruin above is an amazing place to go digging for treasures.  I've climbed around it many times.  These days it's pretty much fenced off, but where there's a will there's a way . . .

The mills here were all for textiles.  They are laid out along canals that crisscross the city.  The shot below is of the canal across from the mill where I live.  

This old mill is what I see when I look out my windows.  An acquired taste perhaps, but I LOVE this building.  It is going to be redeveloped, which I know is good for the city, but I will truly miss the ruins.  

The shot below was taken looking through a doorway that leads from one mill to the next.  I love how the old randomly boarded-up windows look almost like stained glass.
The two photos below are of sunset from my living room window.  At this time of day we watch swifts race in and out through the old gaping windows.  The number of birds in our neighborhood is awe-inspiring.  I had taken several photos of the blue heron at the nature preserve the other day, but this morning as I walked by the canal, a lovely blue heron flew right past me here on my dirty, bedraggled street.  My whole day was blessed.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Craig Ferguson 5/13/9B Late Late Show MONOLOGUE

As someone who "majored in poetry" in grad school and who has sat through more than her fair share of poetry slams, and who has more than a teensy crush on Craig Ferguson (there, I said it), I thought I'd share his monologue from last night's show with you. I laughed--probably much more than I should have--when I watched it. Be forewarned, it has a little bit of adult (or exceedingly juvenile, depending how you look at it) humor in it.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Once More to the Meadow

Todd and I took a break from writing,
spent a lovely afternoon at Great Meadow in Concord, MA. 
Saw lots of our old friends the red-winged blackbirds.
Saw snakes a plenty.
Frogs, too.
Saw more snakes.
Saw geese on the wing over the Concord River.
And the best--saw a great blue heron.
He saw us, too, and let us watch him fishing.
Here he is scaring off a blackbird.
Frogs went a-leaping, fish went a-swimming . . .
but the mighty heron found plenty of food.

The longer we walked, the less I could tell water from sky.  
That's when you know it's been a good day.