Author: ashleighmariebrown

crowded sidewalk

In Plain Sight

A Curtal Sonnet–I wrote this for a poetry competition with Writer’s Digest.

In Plain Sight

He wakes and works and does all in plain sight,
a simple man in unassuming scenes:
Father, brother, partner, player and friend.
But consider this man who seems alright…
Beyond the smile and amid the routines
lies a great, confusing, complex loose end.
I only know this because he told me.
In plain sight, everything is as it seems.
To a select few we wouldn’t condescend
and act as who we think we ought to be.
Pretend.

Woody Allen

Woody Allen Didn’t Make the Cut

I thought I’d donate some things to Goodwill in an attempt to start clearing out my spare bedroom of “stuff.” My general rule of thumb is to pitch things I haven’t used in a year. It’s different with books and movies, because you likely don’t want to hear the same stories once per year. So, I had to approach my DVD and book shelf a little more thoughtfully.

Though I don’t believe in getting rid of stuff for the sake of wanting to get rid of stuff, I also know I’ve lugged around the same DVD/book collection to multiple residencies without having even cracked some of the covers. It was easy to pull the 2000’s garbage movies that my husband probably inherited, like My Best Friend’s Girl and The Dukes of Hazzard, but it was far more tricky to get rid of any of the movies I had bought when I was “serious about film.”

I started with a book called 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die and it guided most of my movie purchasing in my early twenties. Anytime I saw a movie that was in my book, I bought it. I probably spent most of my disposable income building the ultimate DVD collection. It didn’t help that I was a film student at the time, drinking the Andy Warhol Kool-Aid at the UW-Milwaukee art school.

The sad truth is that, rather than watching the movies that I thought were interesting or reading up on writers and directors that I liked, I pursued the “art” that I was told was the best and most meaningful. Doesn’t that defeat the purpose?

I am not a fan of Woody Allen. I never have been. I think he’s annoying and whiney. I dislike it when a character, who the writer clearly favors, delivers some bulldozing rant that’s meant to sound off-the-cuff when the writer must have spent hours coming up with it. That being said, I just had to have Annie Hall because it was in my book. I watched it once and hated it. Needless to say, it went in my donation box.

Now, I have no problem not liking something that is “great.” I’ve never had a problem calling out my husband’s garbage movies and he’s never had a problem calling out my boring movies. We at least have an understanding and we both like what we like. And maybe someone is thrift shopping right now, eyeing up their favorite Woody Allen movie on the $1.99 shelf.

Mirror Mountain

Nine to One

Nine to One

I always thought I would change the world
with a Great Novel for my time.
So sure I was meant to be
a Great entrepreneur,
or a Great artist,
Great anything.
But instead,
I’m here.
Small.
Human.
And I live,
and I have love,
and I feel passion,
and I have confidence,
and I let my mind run free,
and I do not dwell on regrets,
and I savor moments of Greatness.

Keep It Simple, Stupid

I’ve been reading the stories of Flannery O’Connor in the order she wrote them. I picked up the book because I liked the cover: it’s an illustration of a peacock with elegant black text (I learned from the introduction that O’Connor kept peacocks on her property). O’Connor is a product of the Old South, and you can tell immediately, but I didn’t let that get in my way. Her writing doesn’t feel like it’s trying to escape you, which is exactly what I feel like reading right now. I’m picking up themes of morality and the danger of self-absorption, but mostly I’m just enjoying the unexpected experiences of these interesting characters. I can just pick it up, read a story or two, and put it down.

I wish I could say I’m working on a collection of essays, but I’m really only working on the first one, which for all I know could end up being the only one. I already had an idea for a collection by which each entry features a different moment of happiness, but I’ve been inspired by O’Connor that each entry can have a feeling like the others, but can also stand simply and on its own. When you try to make an idea too big, it’s tough to even get started. I wrote this poem to get the juices flowing for my first essay, which I think I will call “Champagne In The Pfister.”

Champagne in the Pfister

There’s a heat in my heart
Literally, a heat inside my chest
Flashes of the day blast across my head,
But all I can think about is how important this moment is
And I can’t waste it.

Wasabi peas and sesame sticks in a little silver dish
Perched on a low round table
Gold champagne to wash it down
My lipstick leaves a matte stamp on the flute
And i can see a crumb or two stuck in it,
Like dust marring a fresh paint job,
But it didn’t matter

A 3-piece jazz trio played a song about rain,
Maybe it was called rain,
But it made me cry.
Something without words
So i could make up my own words:
Something about how his left hand,
Now decorated with a sliver of silver,
Is the most wonderful thing i’ve ever seen.
And I’ll always have this moment.

wide rimmed glasses

Having Intellect Versus Being an Intellectual

Anyone who interacts with the creative world surely comes in contact with their fair share of Intellectuals. According to Merriam-Webster, an intellectual is a smart person who enjoys serious study and thought. For me, however, an Intellectual is a snob, a name-dropper, a smug and pretentious child who lives in an alternate reality. I’ve had a handful of Intellectual classmates, encountered a few Intellectuals in social settings, and have read a few books featuring Intellectual characters. It makes me crazy. Probably because I was raised Lutheran in the Midwest, but also because I can’t see the merit of intellect-by-association. These are people who appear to treat every day as a performance. Must be exhausting!

Sonnet for Intellectuals Everywhere: You Know Who You Are

He softly sips his Starbucks Fair Trade blend
swiping slowly across The Atlantic.
Pleased he can call the barista a friend:
His order memorized, his tips gigantic.
Tonight, he cooks. Not “cooking,” too domestic…
He curates flavors to challenge the palette.
A Veal Demi Glace that’s purely majestic!
Coltrane and vintage red strike the balance.
A little Safran Foer just before bed,
then it’s back to the grind at 10 a.m.
Theater professor or federal grant head,
something Necessary, but not layman…
He’s unshaken by a provincial like me,
and the words of a sonnet he’ll never read.

clock time hours minutes

Those Few Great Moments

The Hours is one of the best books I’ve ever read. I liked it so much, in fact, I read nearly the entire thing again. At times I would start to cry without recognizing my reaction right away, as if the story was in more control of my emotion than I was. It was definitely a book for me, because like most people, I’ve always tried to figure out what it is about life that makes people happy, what makes people persevere or strive, and why some people can never seem to find any satisfaction or contentment. Michael Cunningham condenses the life’s source of happiness (or pleasure, or contentment, or whatever you want to call it), in a way that’s neither too bleak to handle nor too optimistic to allow yourself to believe it:

We throw our parties; we abandon our families to live alone in Canada; we struggle to write books that change the world, despite our gifts and our unstinting efforts, our most extravagant hopes. We live our lives, do whatever we do, and then we sleep–it’s as simple and ordinary as that. A few jump out of windows or drown themselves or take pills; more die by accident; and most of us, the vast majority, are slowly devoured by some disease or, if we’re very fortunate, by time itself. There’s just this for consolation: an hour here or there when our lives seem, against all odds and expectations, to burst open and give us everything we ever imagined, though everyone but children (and perhaps even they) knows these hours will inevitably be followed by others, far darker and more difficult. Still, we cherish the city, the morning; we hope, more than anything, for more.

When thinking of my own life, there are memories that jump out at me–moments of complete happiness that I’m grateful I got to have. They belong to me, they are exclusive to me, and I will have them as long as I’m capable of remembering. Of course, I want more. I would risk spoiling one of these moments to try re-creating it, or topping it. With this, my destructive nature in mind, I want to honor those moments the best I can and dwell in them a little longer. It has given me a prompt for at least three creative non-fiction essays I should have already written.

Triolet for Robert Plant

Happy birthday to Robert Plant, who is 68 today. Robert Plant is (should I say was?) the singer and primary lyricist for my favorite band of all time, Led Zeppelin. I was easily sucked into the history of the band and haven’t yet read about Mr. Plant’s life before it, but he is an exceptional writer and singer and I can’t imagine any other voice in his place. It’s hard to read Zeppelin lyrics without the context of the music because they’re so recognizable, but to me his writing is accessible–a next-level understanding of things situated in reality. In that spirit I wrote this poem.

Triolet for Robert Plant

First find your gift; then exhaust its full extent.
These are the ones who live beyond their years.
You can never be too late, too old, too spent—
First, find your gift. Then exhaust its full extent.
Accepting less than best breeds spite and discontent,
and a mediocre life is not a life revered.
First find your gift; then exhaust its full extent.
These are the ones who live beyond their years.

This verse is a triolet, an 8-line repetitive stanza following an ABaAabAB pattern. Most examples I noted were also in iambic pentameter so I went for it, but I deviated quite a bit. I prefer to work with a syllable count and let the meter come naturally. It was a neat little exercise, anyways!