Poetry

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!

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The Worst Fate

The Worst Fate

No one succeeds at a stand-still, waiting…
Waiting for Fate, for their dreams to come true,
for days significant and life-changing.
When life is no more than a scene to view,
it isn’t living, it’s just sustaining.
What another soul might have done with you!
The worst fate is the fate you do not make,
a life bound by chances you did not take.

This is my effort at the Ottava Rima, an 8-line ABABABCC stanza. I choose to go with 10 syllables per line, though the form most often suggests 11. Kind of like an abbreviated sonnet, Yeats’ Sailing to Byzantium is a good example of how the brevity and sing-songy-ness of the form in stanzas can contribute a sort of timeless, tale-like quality.

From Russia, With Love

“I don’t like people who have never fallen or stumbled. Their virtue is lifeless and it isn’t of much value. Life hasn’t revealed its beauty to them.”
-Boris Pasternak

I can’t pinpoint the reason, but there are some historical cultures I’ve just always been fascinated by, like Ancient Egypt or 20th century Germany. At any point in it’s timeline, I have a feeling surpassing curiosity about Russia. Though I’m no expert in Russian history, it’s difficult to ignore the impact of the country’s past on it’s artists. While I love the whimzy of The Nutcracker, I’m drawn to the dramatic minor chords of Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff. I read Atlas, Shrugged by the great Ayn Rand last year, and developed a major girl-crush on assertive Dagny Taggart. I’m recording the War and Peace TV miniseries adapted from Tolstoy’s popular novel, and I’m currently working on Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky, which I’m finding to be a pleasantly surprising page-turner even though I’m a slow reader.

With all of this Russian through my head (!), I thought a lame pun could be excused (?). Really, though, when I found out it was Boris Pasternak’s birthday today (1890-1960), it seemed fitting to pay it forward, and not in rubles.

Pasternak penned the novel that became one of my favorite films, Doctor Zhivago. In the story, Zhivago is both an upper crust doctor and love-torn poet at the mercy of the Russian Civil War. Wrongly labeling Pasternak a novelist, I learned that he only wrote the one, and is well-known in Russia for his poetry. I found the below poem at PoetryFoundation.org and thought first of a woman, then of the White army:

Fresh Paint
I should have seen the sign: “Fresh Paint,”
But useless to advise
The careless soul, and memory’s stained
With cheeks, calves, hands, lips, eyes.

More than all failure, all success,
I loved you, for your skill
In whitening the yellowed world
As white cosmetics will.

Listen, my dark, my friend: by God,
All will grow white somehow,
Whiter than madness or lamp shades
Or bandage on a brow.

Ill-anelle, or, The Hypochondriac

Do I feel warm? Put your hand on my head,
I’m burning up, but my hands are cold.
I think I’m coming down with something bad…

My neck is stiff and my eyes are red,
And look—-I never noticed this weird mole.
What do you think? Put your hand on my head.

I could have forgotten to take my meds,
and I ate some chicken that was getting old.
I may have caught something seriously bad!

Maybe pox? Or measles? Something that spreads?
You could have it, too, something out of our control.
Hold still; let me put my hand on your head…

Honestly, you seem fine… But I feel half-dead!
I read about this in Diseases, Foretold
You should always assume it’s something bad.

Don’t I seem woozy? I should be in bed…
And that incessant humming; it’s taking its toll!
I’ve got to get an ice pack on my head,
I’m in real pain here, and it’s worse than bad!

For 2016, A Villanelle

I like writing poetry because it’s like condensing the feelings that are slowly expressed in fiction down to a few raw lines. I like writing in forms because it’s like a creative puzzle. The villanelle is tricky, because by the fourth stanza or so I feel like I’m really reaching for those rhymes, but it’s still fun. This form repeats the same two lines with only one other rhyming sound (A1 b A2 / a b A1 / a b A2 / a b A1 / a b A2 / a b A1 A2). Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night by Dylan Thomas, or Mad Girl’s Love Song by Sylvia Plath are exemplary of how powerful the form can be.

2016

Last year’s “new leaf” was a broken promise
folded by April, might have been May.
Here I am, the same five sweaters in my closet.

From then to now, twelve bucks in my pocket.
Yesterday’s commitments abandoned today,
and I was so confident I’d keep my promise.

Wasting my life away in an office,
My peers are fulfilled while I wait for Friday,
wearing the same shitty sweaters in my closet.

Cynical, yes, but it’s at least honest:
The scale hasn’t budged, a full ashtray…
enough evidence to refute my annual promise.

I fantasize what could be—solid, flawless—
But it’s a dream. Temporary. And I’ll wake
with scuffed shoes and pilled sweaters in my closet.

“New Year, New YOU” is an advertisement. Word vomit.
Self-reflection, decisiveness—that’s the language of change.
To 2016, I make no guarantee and offer no promise
Except to buy a new sweater for my closet.

Explore the villanelle and other forms, or just read some good poetry.

The Best I Can

A Rondeau…

My mom said “do the best you can”
back when I was nine or ten.
It recently occurred to me
that my “best” is an anomaly,
something to strive for now and then.

Who works magic time and again?
Can’t I say I don’t give a damn
without flinching or feeling guilty?
I mostly do the best I can…

I work hard and I love my man,
I hold doors and I follow the plan.
I read books and I earned my degree,
I tell jokes and I’m drug free.
I eat fries and I drive a sedan.
I am doing the best I can.

***No, that is not me in the photo. That is a cool French girl photographed by Christopher Hue.

“One Slip” by Pink Floyd

A restless eye across a weary room
A glazed look and I was on the road to ruin
The music played and played as we whirled without end
No hint, no word her honour to defend
I will, I will she sighed to my request
And then she tossed her mane while my resolve was put to the test
Then drowned in desire, our souls on fire
I lead the way to the funeral pyre
And without a thought of the consequence
I gave in to my decadence
One slip, and down the hole we fall
It seems to take no time at all
A momentary lapse of reason
That binds a life for life
A small regret, you won’t forget,
There’ll be no sleep in here tonight
Was it love, or was it the idea of being in love?
Or was it the hand of fate, that seemed to fit just like a glove?
The moment slipped by and soon the seeds were sown
The year grew late and neither one wanted to remain alone
One slip, and down the hole we fall
It seems to take no time at all
A momentary lapse of reason
That binds a life for life
A small regret, you won’t forget,
There’ll be no sleep in here tonight
One slip … one slip

(Listen to One Slip )

Written by David Gilmour & Phil Manzanera
for A Momentary Lapse of Reason (1987)