Forces of Nature: Earth Day and Pastoral Poems

Happy Earth Day, children of Gaia! Just kidding, I’ll try not to make this too weird. Sure, I’m obsessed with nature, but in a completely self-aware way, with a sister who will tell me when I’m wearing one, or five, too many flowers at a time. I did my part today by wearing earthy colors and shoes with big flowers on them. Yes, I can’t resist celebrating holidays, even Earth Day!

Speaking of nature, we’ve been having some crazy weather in the Midwest. Last week, we had 70° F one day, torrential downpour and epic flooding the next day, and snow the following day! I think our weather makes us hearty. 😉

We are still dealing with the effects of the flood. I was visiting Jeremiah’s farm when it hit, and luckily, the house and animals are OK, but the surrounding fields and forested area had quite the challenge.

No one in the area, or back home, had ever seen flooding so bad before. I guess, if I were to think of it as an author (which  I always do)…maybe the rain was washing away the tragedies from earlier this week (the bombing in Boston and the explosion in West, Texas) and refreshing the earth, the people…The plants certainly got a drink, and I saw flowers blossoming today around the campus at Marianjoy.

Today’s NaPoWriMo prompt was in keeping with the theme:

In honor of the occasion, I challenge you to write a poem in keeping with Earth Day — it could be a reflection on what’s growing in your garden, a modern pastoral, or a Marianne-Moore-style poem about an animal. Anything to do with the natural world is fair game.

Because I am so inspired by nature, I was happy to see this prompt. In fact, I have presented and published a few of my favorite nature poems. I was selected to read these poems by the English Graduate Student Association at their second and third annual conferences, while I was a graduate student, myself, there. This, along with my selection for Radio DePaul, was one of my most rewarding experiences at DePaul. The conference was a celebration of select students’ work, organized by category, and we read our work aloud to our fellow students, faculty, family members, guests, etc. After the conference, a selected number of presentations were chosen to publish in the conferences’ proceedings. For tonight’s poem, I will point you to one that I wrote about my relationship with nature, which was pubilshed in the 2011 DePaul EGSA Proceedings. It is in blank verse, and I wrote this while I was at Jeremiah’s farm one summer night (pre-flooding–if I were to write it right now, it would have a decidedly soggier note to it). That’s one of my favorite things about going out there–it’s like a different world, where the only sounds you can hear are alive, where the air feels fresh…well, you can read the rest in the poem. 🙂

Please click here to read “Country Nocturne” on page 159 (you can “search” the title and it will take you there).

Enjoy the last few moments of Earth Day! You might consider hugging a tree, planting a flower…or just shutting off a light a few minutes early. 🙂

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Blossoming Fortune

Dear readers, I must apologize for my spotty posting the last few days! I haven’t forgotten about you, I promise, and I will make a longer post soon! I have been very involved with my memoir project for my upcoming presentation luncheon on May 9th. Click the event on the calendar widget on the sidebar if you’d like to RSVP; there’s still time!

Today’s NaPoWriMo is short but sweet–literally! You’ll see why:

Today I challenge you to re-write Frank O’Hara’s Lines for the Fortune Cookies. The ideal fortune is a one-liner, and one-liners thrive on a very poetic compactness of expression.

I felt this prompt had an especial importance to me, because I love cookies more than is good for me, and because I am always outraged at sloppy excuses for fortunes (I quell my rage with more cookies). After all, a cookie is not a place for a truism or a complaint–it must be a forecast of the future, the only thing more exciting than a cookie itself! Maybe that’s a bit dramatic of a reaction, but I think fellow writers understand being upset over a wasted writing potential. 😉

Readers, this is for all of you–effective immediately!

“Blossoming Fortune”
By: Amanda K. Fowler

You are a bud, with beautiful and tender potential–you will blossom this spring, if you take the time and care to nurture yourself.

Meeting You: Poems of Greeting; Love Heals Grief

Reblogged on 6-24–made some edits on one of my most popular posts ever.
This post has been edited to include a text version of the poem below, since some readers told me the .jpg was hard to read. To view the intentional line endings, please do refer to the image version, which you can click on to expand.
I also realized I was remiss in not including a picture of my other baby referred to in the poem, Chad–so he now joins Oreo in the photos below. : o3

Sorry if you were counting on a post yesterday for NaPoWriMo– I had an early morning meeting yesterday, and by the time I sat down to write my post last night, I was drifting off! I figured I’d be better off just posting today, especially because I wanted to do this topic justice.

Yesterday’s NaPoWriMo prompt was this:

Early on in the month, I asked you to write a valediction — a poem of farewell. Today, let’s try the opposite, and write poems of greeting.

What a cute potential! Poems of farewell make me think of deaths, in general, even though my poem wasn’t exactly a literal death–but needless to say, unless they are satirical, they are usually sad and mournful. In case you missed it, you can see my blog post about poems of farewell and thoughts about writing about grief here. So conversely, a greeting poem makes me think of birth and happiness.

…and that made me think about when we met our son, Oreo. I call him my “son” because I don’t think “pet” adequately describes the relationship. Jennifer and I were in our twenties when we got our first “pet” (besides fish), Chad, and I think we skipped that whole childhood stage of knowing what it’s like to have a pet right to the adult stage of what it’s like to have a child.

I wanted to write this poem about the happiest moment of my life: when we met Oreo. Falling in love with Chad was a more gradual process, though no less happy–but it was too gradual to be described as a “moment.” My thoughts about it naturally took the form of telling the story to Oreo directly, almost like a letter. The thoughts flowed strongly and were large and sweeping, directing me to put this into a prose poem format.

You couldn’t see this with my last prose poem posting, because it was recorded from the radio, but the form is a blend of standard narrative and poetry. There are a few differences between straight-up narrative and prose poetry, though, especially in the sentence structures and vocabulary. Keeping a natural voice is not as important as creating images and feelings, for one. Also, my poetry teacher taught us, to our chagrin, that it is important to end each line with a strong, deliberate word, just like other poetic styles, but that because it is prose poetry, you should aim for a block-like shape. This combination of requirements is quite difficult, and you find yourself playing with rhythms and lengths of words just as much as other poetic styles.

I am posting this poem as an image, so that no matter what size of screen you are viewing this on, you can see the shape of the poem and the line endings as I meant them to be. (You can click on the image for a more clear display.) I did try to keep it in a block shape, but the three words that stick out farthest (and the inner-most one at the end) are meant to be the most significant.

To view the poem as text, scroll past the image. The line endings won’t be intentional, but I’ve heard it’s easier to read (not as bright).

"Meeting You" Prose Poem of Greeting

“Meeting You”
Prose Poem of Greeting

Meeting You
By: Amanda K. Fowler

When people ask me what my happiest memory is, I tell them about you. But the story doesn’t start with you, or maybe it’s that your story began before I met you. I think the happiest times in our lives are the upswings from sadness; the cups of our hearts can fill with the most bliss once they have been emptied. My cup was a leaden void, a great black hole encompassed by despair, starting in August 2011 when our first baby died. I knew I would never heal, would never be happy again. I felt my grief was proof Chad had ever existed, that he still existed, somewhere. The grief became my happiness, my new mission, until September 19th. From somewhere unknown, I felt a guiding push—I called every single Petco within 50 miles to ask if they had any guinea pigs who loved to cuddle. It was crazy, and I could hear as much in the receptionists’ voices as they told me there was no way to know, but that guinea pigs were animals with soft coats. “No,” I said, “no.” I mean, yes, of course they were soft. But I wasn’t looking for an animal or a texture. I was trying to find my son, a baby boy, and then I realized that push was Chad; his paw was guiding us from Heaven to find you. I said “thank you” and hung up, because how could I explain any of that? Finally, one of the stores put me on hold, maybe to look up a number to tell me to get help, I thought, but actually their guinea pig expert wanted to talk to me. “There is one who loves to cuddle more than anything,” he said. “He’s the biggest, because he’s been here awhile, but he’s really sweet.” Our baby had been waiting for us to find him. And though we hadn’t really discussed bringing another life into our home, hadn’t decided if or when, we all knew it now, and we inhaled our dinners and sped off to meet you. The car ride felt like forever, and Jennifer didn’t even wait for the car to stop before running out of it, didn’t even close the car door, was halfway across the parking lot before the car was parked. My hands shook with excitement as I asked the front desk for the “guinea pig expert,” and he smiled when he saw us and put his hands gently inside the glass tank where you had been standing, uncomfortable with your size versus the others’, and you felt us watching you and tried to hide, suddenly shy, but eventually decided you were ready. Then they put you on my lap and you walked across the plane of my denim skirt, tentative at first, and we were shocked you didn’t look like Chad, shocked at your crest, which was white and sprung out from your grey crown in a heart. But you weren’t Chad, weren’t meant to be, and I cried in relief, because the guilt I didn’t know I’d had was melting away with every step your feet pattered on my legs, and it was nearly gone by the time you curled yourself into a soft loaf shape in my arms, nuzzling your face into the crook of my elbow. For the first time, I realized my grief wasn’t keeping Chad’s memory alive, it was our love, our love that he wanted us to feel again, with you. Jennifer was already paying for you before I realized you were ours; you were sent to heal us, to love us, and to show me how wrong I’d been—because not only would I be happy again, but I already was. The cup of my heart was full of love for both of my babies: Chad and Oreo.

Baby Oreo, 4 months old, 2 days after we brought him home.

Baby Oreo, 4 months old, 2 days after we brought him home. ❤

One of my favorite pictures of Chad. It captures his mischievous side. <3

One of my favorite pictures of Chad. It captures his mischievous side. ❤

Phoenix in Boston: A Tribute

It’s been a somber day for America today. In case you hadn’t heard, two bombs exploded (and two more were found that didn’t go off) during the Boston Marathon today, killing three people and injuring 140. For a good recent account of the event, click here. We were all in shock today at Marianjoy, following the story, watching the gruesome videos…it was so tragic. I was also shaken because I was just there a month ago, on that very street, in those very spots, taking a silly picture outside of a grilled cheese truck (the one I just posted a few days ago). I’m not trying to compare myself to any victims, because I can’t even imagine what those poor people and their families are going through right now. It’s just frightening how narrowly you can escape disaster and then feel awful for the people who couldn’t.

But I saw a news article today that reminds us of the good in humanity. The pure kindness in these simple acts took my breath away–just look at the pictures of people bringing drinks to the injured, the stories of comforting–so beautiful. This is why I continue to have faith in humanity. No matter what evil people will try to do to poison the good in others, it has the opposite effect: strangers band together to help each other. Good rises from the damage of the evil, and good will always win.

My heart was too heavy today to follow the NaPoWriMo prompt, but the pantoun format definitely intrigues me, and I think I will use it later this month.
Today, I wanted to write about the Boston tragedy, as a tribute to those who fell and the heroes who stepped up to help.

Phoenix in Boston
By: Amanda K. Fowler

237 years ago
amidst gunfire and parchment,
our country was born.
Today, in one of those revolutionary cities,
amidst explosions and pain,
our country was wounded
but did not die.
From outstretched hands
to the fallen,
Boston will rise again.

It is the kindness of strangers
made family by tragedy,
the bravery of our officers and bystanders
running into danger
to help the wounded—
these are the strengths,
the invisible glue
that holds our people together.
Out of the ashes of destruction,
a phoenix will rise in Boston,
and it will be beautiful again.

Phoenix

 

 

 

 

 

————

If you’d like to lend aid to the victims, here is info on how you can help, besides prayers, of course. My thoughts and prayers are with all the victims and their loved ones, and God bless the heroes who have risen to help.

 

 

Persona Poem: Villain’s P.O.V.

There are only a few minutes left of the weekend, so I will make this quick!

Today’s NaPoWriMo prompt was interesting and daunting:

“Write a persona poem — that is, a poem in the voice of a particular person who isn’t you. But I’d like you to choose a very particular kind of person. How about a poem in the voice of a superhero (or a supervillain)? Comic book characters are very much like mythological characters — they tend to embody big-picture values or personality traits. Good or bad. Loyal or disloyal! (Heck — some comic book characters are mythologial characters — think of Thor). And like mythological characters, superheroes and supervillains let us tap into deep-seated cultural tropes. So go for it. Whether you identify with Batman, Robin or – gulp – the Joker, let’s hear your poems in another voice.”

As a fiction author, one of my biggest challenges is to write in a voice dissimilar to my own. (Many of my characters match my own self much more closely than I realize, to my chagrin and my workshop mates’ amusement.) Another of my challenges is in creating a villain. That’s why, for today’s prompt, I thought it would be good for me–if not particularly easy–to write a persona poem in the P.O.V. of a villain in a Y.A. fantasy trilogy I’m writing. It’s especially difficult to capture him in a purely villainous train of thought, because he is pretty complicated–at least, I’m trying to make him that way. 😉

“Rise”
By: Amanda K. Fowler

This has always been the way of things:
The strong will rise,
The weak will serve,
The most clever of all shall rule.
I have no room for mercy,
So it’s best for you to join me.
With my strength and your passion,
We’d blaze so brightly
The stars would envy us.
Don’t you see
This is all for you,
For all of us,
The chosen ones?
This has always been
Our destiny,
And it’s not easy,
But it’s right.
The gods abandoned us,
Their children.
They are weak,
too busy
roiling in their precious balance.
It’s up to me,
To us,
To set things the way they are meant to be.
You’ve been hurt–
I see the hate burning
In your eyes,
I feel it
In your heart.
You’re the brightest flame of all;
I’m only asking you
To help me set the worlds afire.
Light the darkness,
Be your true self,
Let them see you as you are,
And gain the respect you deserve.
It will be a spectacle for the ages,
And I’m asking you to join by my side,
To rise with me.

One Hundred Miles, One Hundred Years: A journey in poetry to tea

Did you all pick up on lasT nighT’s hinT? Get iT? The hint was “T”–because today was a day for tea!

Jennifer found an ad in Tea Time magazine about a special tea event–“The Ladies of Downton Abbey Fashion Show and Buffet Tea!” We were very excited, because it was combining two of our favorite things. We’ve enjoyed formal tea ceremonies in the past–both Japanese and English–and we love both styles. It’s so fun to dress up and go to high tea, but when we get to dress up in historical styles, that ups the “fun” factor immensely! (“You’re driving 100 miles away…to drink tea?” Jeremiah asked me. Haha. Oh, Jeremiah, it’s so much more than that…)

Jennifer and I decided to take our mom to this tea event for Mother’s Day, and despite the distance, my dad volunteered to drive us so we could relax. We even played word games in the car. 😉 We all dressed in Downton-era styles, and I was impressed with our efforts, especially considering we already owned all these pieces. (It does help that we gravitate towards historically inspired clothing in general.)

The food was amazing! My favorite item was the apricot cheesecake, but everything was delicious. They also had a wide offering of different teas and punches, all served on antique-style crystal trays and matching crystal tea cups. The mansion itself was gorgeous, preserved in 19th-century styling with original furnishings–even the light bulbs were original! Wow, I guess they just don’t make them like that anymore…

The fashion show was also delightful. As you can see from the program below, the event was extremely well-organized. We got live music as we got our food, followed by an overview of the mansion. Then the fashion show began, divided by period/Downton season, from 1912 through the 1920s. The outfits were beautiful! Some of them were even originals from the time period. We took lots of pictures, but here are a few samples.

I thought about today’s NaPoWriMo prompt in the car:

Your prompt for today is simply to take a walk. Make notes — mental or otherwise — on what you see on your walk, and incorporate these notes into your poem. A bit more serene and observational than yesterday, and hopefully a nice, calming poem to begin your weekend with.

I realized the spirit of the prompt kind of reflected the journey we were taking today. (I also realized I probably wouldn’t be fitting in a walk with my 1910s-period clothing today.) The whole journey seemed symbolic: we were traveling 100 miles away, 100 years back in time to take part in a custom we loved as much as our ancestors probably did. We were traveling away from the urban into the rural, away from the developed into nature.

“100 Miles, 100 Years”
By: Amanda K. Fowler

Draped in pearls,
hair covered
with feathers and sequins,
we begin our journey.
100 miles away
from everyday congestion,
buildings and people
shoulder-to-shoulder,
the road stretches out,
inviting us,
and the horizons turn
to brown strips
awaiting buds,
flecked with hard wildflower stalks
napping in the sunlight.

And by the time we arrive,
we haven’t just traveled
100 miles,
we’ve traveled 100 years,
sipping tea like our ancestors,
sitting in their chairs,
wearing their styles,
surrounded by family
and new friends
on a Saturday afternoon.
Maybe some things
never change.

Friday & Butterflies

Happy National Grilled Cheese Day! This was another holiday I was shocked to learn about on Facebook (courtesy of Whole Foods, my favorite grocery store), and I couldn’t resist celebrating it. You’ve probably already deduced that I LOVE holidays (including NaPoWriMo!) more than most things, but what you may not know, unless you know me personally, is my addiction to cheese. I’ve never tried a cheese I didn’t like (unfortunately), including all the *weird* kinds. I get extremely excited about cheese. Allow me to share this unflattering example.

Really excited about this grilled cheese truck in Boston!

Really excited about this grilled cheese truck in Boston! Apparently, grilled cheese is a staple food there. I felt like I’d found home.

So when I heard about this holiday, we just had to celebrate.

I visited Jeremiah’s farm after work this week, and we went to our favorite diner. We always get the same thing, and I would say our items are grilled-cheese variants, so, we considered this sufficient celebration. I love this place, because they make all their food–including their pita bread and gravy–from scratch. It’s simple but delicious. I know this seems like blasphemy for a health nut, but…at least it’s all-natural…and it’s only once in awhile, as a treat. 😉 I always get the turkey pita, which has mozzarella cheese, green peppers, and onions (bottom), and Jeremiah gets the chicken or patty melt.

Delicious comfort food made from scratch at Gene's

Delicious comfort food made from scratch

On my way out of town, I stopped to get gas at Tiana’s station. She was just tickled when I told her I’d written a poem about her. I told her that was a relief, because writers sometimes have to be in hiding about their craft. People start to recognize themselves in your stories and poetry, sort of like the Taylor Swift syndrome I mentioned in a previous post. Tiana told me more about her past, and I was shocked to hear the sadness she’s overcome, because she is such a sunny, radiant person with a beautiful perspective. She told me she feels God put her there, at that gas station, to help people, even if it’s just a smile to brighten someone’s day. She was taken aback when she heard about my poem, and she said she was so proud she’d helped to inspire me. This is one of the best rewards a writer could want. 🙂 I think Tiana will find herself in more of my poetry in the future.

By the way, I thought you might like to see a picture of the gas pump I use at that station. All the grades of gas are separated into different pumps, and you have to use a lever to start the gas flow. You can’t use a credit card outside. Even the sign on the edge of the road uses manual printed digits, not electronic.

Old gas pump at Tiana's gas station

Old gas pump at Tiana’s gas station

When I got home tonight, Jennifer gave me this beautiful present:

Silver angel bracelet with diamond accents

Silver angel bracelet with diamond accents

I was so touched! Angels have a very special meaning to me, after my spiritual experience with my traumatic brain injury (TBI). I will explain that more at length in a future post.

This was today’s prompt for NaPoWriMo:

Today’s offering comes to us from Charles Bernstein’s list of poetry experiments. In particular, today I challenge you to “write a poem consisting entirely of things you’d like to say, but never would, to a parent, lover, sibling, child, teacher, roommate, best friend, mayor, president, corporate CEO, etc.” Honesty is the best policy, after all, so get it off your chest! And if you’re interested in the complete list of experiments, you can find them all here.

I hate to be a spoil-sport, but…I felt like I couldn’t do this one. I’m one of those people who always says what they’re thinking (often to my awkward and hilarious detriment), so I literally could not think of one thing I’d like to say to someone but haven’t already, except for the post I made a couple of days ago. And if I could think of something, I think it would defeat the purpose to post it online! Haha.

Trying to keep at least a little in the spirit of the prompt, I did take a list at the list of Bernstein’s poetry experiments they posted. I settled on this one:

17. Alphabet poems:  make up a poem of 26 words so that each word begins with the next letter of the alphabet. 

I liked this prompt because it reminded me of word games my family and Jeremiah used to play with me while I was recovering from my TBI. They were designed to strengthen short-term memory when you repeated back the alphabetic list of story items. (One example: pick a category, go around the circle listing an item within that category from A-Z, and everyone has to repeat the entire list up to that point. Another example: make up a story about a person with a name starting with that letter, put them in a town with that letter, give them a spouse with the same letter, pick their favorite food with that letter.) They were silly games, but very effective! I still enjoy playing them whenever possible.

I also started backwards with this poem, starting with vocabulary. I wondered what animals started with “b,” and I immediately thought of one of my favorite animals: butterflies. Butterflies are also special to me because of my TBI experience. Jennifer used to play a little game with me in the hospital where she would make her hand a butterfly and flutter it around my face. I had severe palsies in my eyes that made my vision cross-eyed and weak, in addition to the near-sightedness I’d had since being a kid. Without even knowing it, Jennifer was helping to train and strengthen my eyes again. I also felt like the whole experience was a metamorphosis for everyone involved, but especially for Jennifer and me.

In thinking about butterflies, I also recalled a memory about a pair of butterflies my family saw in Hawaii. They would flutter around by the bushes right outside our  hotel room every afternoon for a long time. They were so pretty and heartwarming. Tonight’s poem is about them.

“Butterfly Sweethearts”
By: Amanda K. Fowler

A
butterfly
couple
danced
eagerly,
frolicking
gaily
hither
into
jasmine,
kissing
lightly,
making
nice
overtures;
purely
quixotic.
Romantic
sweethearts,
they’ve
unearthed
veritable
wonderland,
Xanadu:
young
zeal.

———-

That was really hard! I think I found a new game to play with my family. 😉

I will leave you with this song; it’s one of my favorites ever, for all of the above reasons about butterflies. I was surprised to discover I love the “band” (one-man) Owl City, because it’s not the usual style of music I listen to–but his lyrics are so gorgeously poetic. Here is the song “Butterfly Wings” to listen to; you can buy the MP3 on Amazon or iTunes.

Now, I must get to bed; we have an exciting day planned tomorrow! I don’t want to give iT away, buT here is a small hinT in This senTence. 😉