Tag Archives: poetry

Yen

On this day last week, I was up all night finishing up some new stories – an eleventh-hour push before an event.

I have no such deadline today, and it’s hard to tell what kind of thing I want to write.

So I’m musing instead on the oddities of the writing yen. It isn’t exactly mood-based: I can be in a goofy, zany sort of a mood, but want to write something mythic or poetic. I can be in a sentimental mood, but want to write something didactic.

Sometimes, I can’t quite sense what it is that I want to write. That’s how I am tonight.

I can tell enough to know that it’s more introspective. It’s not a desire to hook up my forebrain to another’s and jump-start it with information. Nor even entertainment. It’s definitely not a comedic mode. But whether that means it’d lend itself better to a thoughtful essay, a bit of short fiction, or some roleplaying, I’m not sure.

When I’m lucky, I have specific inspiration. I got An Idea out of nowhere, or I have a couplet lodged in my head. There’s some distinct conceptual particulate around which the writing can condense.

Though this isn’t a sure shot, either. If I let the idea sit too long, if I don’t at least start the process while the inspiration is live, it’s harder to build on. The confluence of mental processes that brought the idea into being may not be in play tomorrow, much less next month or next year. It may still be an interesting idea, but it feels distant. Relic-like.

Obviously, what’s changed is how I relate to the idea.

(This is also why any completed work has about a six-hour shelf life, at best, before it goes from “as good as I can get it” to “utter trash that proves my insufficiency as a human being.” Either you keep writing something forever, never finishing it, never being done, changing it as you change and refusing to show it to anyone… or you do call it “finished” at some point, consigning it to a fixed point in time, after which point you’re forever growing away from it. It becomes a snapshot that reflects the idea, your understanding of the idea, yourself, and your surrounding culture, at that one specific moment in time. Whenever your understanding of any of those things changes, the work is only as good as Past You could make it, but it’s going to reflect on Present You for as long as the work survives. Which may very well be longer than you survive. But I digress.)

That’s why I find it important to at least start on any idea as soon as possible after I get it. If I get a good start, then the nascent work itself can help cue me into whatever mental state I had when the idea first came to me. Not with the exact same fidelity, true. Already, by the second approach, it’s become a bit of a performance: me trying to mimic the thought-processes of a previous version of myself.

There’s a sense in which all writing, and all reading, is an attempt to reconcile the differences between the subjective and the objective, between the self and the other, and between the present and the past and (ideally) the future. The very act of writing can change how we frame an idea, an observation, a belief, or even a fact – and that change in framing can itself change how we engage with it.

It’s like trying to remember a dream, really. You may or may not remember your dream when you wake up in the morning – but it’s less likely you’ll remember it tonight, and very unlikely that you’ll remember it next week. But if you write something of it down – anything, even keywords – you probably have enough to cue yourself to remember it later on. The act of writing helps you encode it into memory; reading that writing again later on, obviously, helps you trigger those memories again. But you do have to keep coming back to it, keep reminding yourself, keep making your present self acknowledge the ideas of that past self. Keep making those past-ideas into part of today’s thoughts. Like a time capsule you never bury.

And there may come a point where you realize that you aren’t remembering the dream as such anymore – you’re remembering thoughts you’ve had about the dream. You’re remembering yesterday’s memory, which involved remembering the day before’s memory.

That’s part of why it sucks to have unfinished works. There’s one story in particular that I always wish I could finish – but, really, I wish I could have finished it when it was more relevant, when the wire was still live. I started it my sophomore year of college, after all, and even then it was a ridiculous, self-indulgent, post-adolescent paean to my high school theater days. But that stub of a story is still such a guilty pleasure, and while I hate to leave it unfinished, I’d hate to start it up again only to realize I’m just too old and too far distanced from that young Thespian self to be capable of finishing the job.

I’m not sure what’s worse, though: the fear I’m too old and too lost to share an artistic empathy with my past self and one of my life’s most cherished experiences… or the fear it would be all too easy, because I haven’t traveled far enough from that self –  because my maturity and sensibilities and skills all stalled out nearly two decades ago.

A week ago tonight, I was writing a poem. I used to write poetry a lot when I was younger. I like words, I like assonance, I have an innate sense of the rhythm and meter of words, and so poetry feels like a fantastic puzzle. “Hmm, I need a two-syllable word or phrase that rhymes with ‘eyes’ and has stress on the first syllable, and that ideally has some assonance or alliteration with this other part of the line…” There are rules and formulas, and while I might fudge things a little, the attempt to create something that’s simultaneously cogent, rhyming, and rhythmic is so much more fun and fulfilling.

And yet I feel that “doesn’t count” as modern poetry anymore. As if “real poetry” doesn’t rhyme, has no meter, and has no particular need for evocative language of any sort, but instead has to be “free verse,”

the coward’s form
where everything
no matter how prosaic
no matter how much its supposed rhythm sounds
like a running unbalanced washing machine
tumbling
down the stairs
becomes a poem
so long as you refuse to punctuate
or submit to the yoke of capitalization
and so long as you break
your ideas
up
onto multiple
lines
because
like framing a random stain on a gallery wall
this format of
bite-sized
easily-digestible
phrases
gives the reader
permission
to slow down
to reflect
to listen
for one goddamn moment
and when they
are amazed to hear
echoes
in their minds
they think
the depth
is in the words
and writer.

I already feel guilty about how easily poetry comes to me, relatively speaking. I come to it armed with a rhyming dictionary and thesaurus, often, but I can make it happen with relative ease. And if my insurance-company coworker’s arrhythmic, mangled, CC’d-company-wide “parody” of “The Night Before Christmas” was any evidence, that’s not something the average Joe has the same knack for. Much like how I can’t move my body rhythmically to save my life – literally; I can’t even coordinate my limbs enough to tread water.

But my regular prose can already trend toward the purple, and if all I had to do was chunk it up onto separate lines to make it “poetry,” then what the hell fun is that to write or to read?  Shouldn’t all of this be harder?  If it’s easy, if it’s enjoyable, doesn’t that mean I’m doing something wrong?

Still, I’d stopped writing poetry when I was 12 or 13 – shortly after I learned the word “doggerel” – and except for a couple required assignments in a Creative Writing class, I didn’t succumb to the temptation again until this past year. (Assuming we don’t count song parodies, anyway. …Which are even MORE fun, because they have even more constraints to fulfill – like rhyming, or at least having some assonance, with the original.)

But, now that I’ve written poetry again, I can’t help wondering if it’s remotely “better” than when I left off. I still like to do it, but isn’t this, too, something I should have grown out of? Is it any surprise I haven’t gained any skills if I haven’t let myself do it for twenty years?

It’s the same old Catch-22 as ever: you can’t get better if you don’t practice, but you’re not allowed to “practice” because everything you do counts and has consequences. Whatever I do is only as good as I can get it, and my instinct is always to sit on it and hide it away and try again sometime when Future Better Me is capable of doing things right.

I’m getting better about realizing that I can’t just quantum leap from here to there, and that I have to do things “well enough” and make mistakes and revise things over time. Though that still feels like a free-verse sort of life, one where I decide that rules and consequences shouldn’t apply to me if I don’t want them to, so long as I’m conceited enough to believe I’m doing something “meaningful.”

Still. If everything is a constant series of mistakes, at least I’m trying to make interesting ones and to err on the side of creation.

But now, tonight, I’m tired.  And while this doesn’t feel done, or interesting, or anything, nothing else compels itself to be said.

I know I should write other things here.  Better things.  More meaningful things.  Things that address all the political absurdity going on lately.  Not that I have anything worthwhile to contribute, but it’s a civic duty sort of thing.  I can emit words in a place where they can be read, so I should probably damn well say some things about some things that may need to be said, even though they’re things that should damn well go without saying.

But, at least I fulfilled that yen for vaguely-poetic introspection.

Tomorrow, most likely, there will be improvisational fiction, and possibly some technical writing, and maybe some life-sciences sci-fi, and a bunch of regular old conversations. And, who knows, maybe some strange synapse will fire, and I’ll end up scrawling something that all flows together, just the way I want it to, just the way it feels like it’s waiting to be, in a way that could practically make you believe in the Muses.

Or maybe it’ll be, like most other days, a day where I have the permanent drive to write, but no direction or focus in mind.  I just have to listen to myself, figure out what seems to be flowing best, and set myself on that task as long and as well as I can.

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Day 07 – A Song You Want To Dance To

Oh how I love the phrasing of this prompt.  Is it asking me what song I’m good at dancing to?  No sir!  Is it asking me what song I like dancing to?  No ma’am!  It’s asking what song I want to dance to — and that makes all the difference.

I’m not a very coordinated person.  I’m not talking “Our romantic comedy protagonist / audience proxy girl needs flaws, but nothing that would actually be unpleasant, so we’ll make her drop things sometimes” uncoordinated. It’s not a zany, gangling Rick Moranis kind of uncoordinated.  It doesn’t even ascend to the level of Martin Short.  My legs simply seem to have a fundamental dissatisfaction with the idea of being legs, and with doing the kinds of things that legs are supposed to do.  I literally have to watch my step to determine where my feet are, I’ve a tendency to lose my balance even while standing still, and prolonged spans of standing can themselves make my muscles feel like they’re going to snap right off my bones.  Practically speaking, dancing is a lot like gym class — it’s supposed to be fun, but I just find it painful and embarrassing.

However, if I’m shooting a wall’s worth of bricks from the two-point line, that’s terrible — but it’s an isolated kind of terrible.  A constructed kind of terrible.  It means my body is bad at playing certain invented and arbitrary games.  My body’s also bad at doing some of the unstructured, “natural” things like running and jumping and whatever, too; I recognize that if I’d been born a few thousand years ago, I’d be nothing but Smilodon Chow.  But dancing is a kind of art.  One that goes hand-in-hand with the art of music, as well. So it’s one thing to have a body that can’t run fast or jump high or swim, a body that can’t win competitions or contests of skill.  It’s another thing to realize that your body does not function as a channel for certain kinds of art.

So what kinds of dancing can I do?  It’s a short list.   I’ve been subject to brief fits of The Pogo, which I later immensely regret.  My Electric Slide could use a little WD-40.  And, yes, I am of an age such that the moves to the Macarena are etched into my brain.   Headbanging is probably my move of choice, though that’s less of a dance than a maneuver.  In my brief and unillustrious history of dancing, I’ve felt most at home at my college town’s Goth night.  We had only one actual dance club venue, so they rotated between hip-hop and techno and foam parties and whatever else.  But, once a month, there was a Goth night, usually with a theme of some sorts.  A Steampunk Night, a Zombie Night, even a wonderfully self-mocking 90s Goth Night.  I’d go, when I could, dressing up to whatever degree I was capable of, having a drink or two, and generally staying out of everyone else’s way. I was surprised to find that I felt comfortable there — I  overheard snippets of often-nerdy conversations, and saw plenty of other solo people drinking and dancing.  The dancing itself seemed to be my style, too:  the disjointed shuffling and inexplicably greater emphasis on torso and arm movements than leg movements made my traditional Stand In One Place And Sway more suitable there than it had ever been.

But what songs make me want to dance?  What songs most make me wish I could bust any number of moves?  To what songs am I liable to dance anyway, despite every reason to the contrary?

A good few of them would be Oldies, if just because there were a vigintillion dance crazes back then.  As a kid, I’d listen to 50s and 60s dance songs and wonder what these moves were, how they were done.  The name-dropping of dances sounded like a secret code — one weird word that could tell those in-the-know what to do, leaving the baffled outgroup to retreat to the walls and watch.  Even though I was aware enough to know that Oldies were no longer cool, I still thought it would be time-defyingly awesome to be able to do all those moves.  All, say, 1000 of them.

Which would make me more than capable of shaking a tail feather right alongside the Blues Brothers and Ray Charles:

Songs that are exhortations to – and therefore justifications for – dancing are perhaps the easiest things to dance to.  When the Ramones ask if you want to dance, you do not say no:

And if nobody asks you to dance, well, if Billy Idol doesn’t mind dancing with himself, neither should you.

Some songs don’t even ask, though — the beat alone makes me want to move.  I’m usually no big fan of dance music, but I’m a tremendous fan of mashups, so when the two overlap, I tend to have a pretty great time.  John Marr’s mix of Martin Solveig’s “Hello” with Michael Jackson’s “Black Or White” never fails to get me chairdancing:

As is the wonderful alchemy of mashups, it can make me want to dance to things that never move me on their own.  Disco?  Yech.  Rap?  Kindly no.  Rap mixed with disco? Clear the way to the dancefloor!  Daily Daze’s “Stayin’ Low!” mixes Lil Jon with De La Soul and The BeeGees, and it makes me want to dance every time I play it.  Which is a lot.  I can’t find it on YouTube and the Soundcloud link is down, so you poor souls will just have to get your very own free mp3 of it!

Of all the songs that have ever made me want to dance, though, one stands out.  I’ve heard it a billion times on the radio and at every wedding reception worth its salt.  I can’t dance to it, but I can always almost see myself dancing to it, with a whole big crowd.  Maybe at my own wedding reception someday, if that were a thing that ever was going to happen.  It might be its very overplayedness that appeals to me — a commonality that becomes tradition that becomes something nigh upon ritual.  Regardless, The Isley Brothers’ “Shout” will never not make me want to dance like an absolute goon.

So I envy the people who can dance.  Who can tell their bodies where to put their parts, and to have the movements be fluid and graceful and accurate.  The ones who can move in ways that impress others, or who can express a range of emotions just through wordless movements.    I envy the people who have the stamina to dance all night, even in ridiculous shoes, and still walk home afterward — probably with somebody. The ones who can be moved by a song and move themselves to it without doing an utter disservice to at least two different forms of art.  The ones for whom dancing is just as fun as it should be.

Maybe that’ll never be me.  But that’s all right — my body might not be able to move to the rhythm, but that doesn’t mean I can’t detect it.  I’ve got a sense of rhythm so deeply ingrained that I edited my college essays for spelling, grammar, usage, and meter.  I can write poetry that, instead of being a column of florid words, actually scans.  I can even wreak the occasional parody, coming up with lyrics that fit the original rhythms and rhyme schemes.   I can’t tell my physical feet what to do, but I know my way around another kind of feet.  Creating things like this is still often an utter disservice to art — but it’s just as fun as it should be, and then some.

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