Wednesday, July 08, 2020

Sunny weather... and sleep

Finally the sun comes out.

Yet for all it's been a cool and cloudy spring and early summer, it has not rained all that much. Almost the entire state is still in drought, except for the Blue Mountains and a thin strip along the Idaho border. I have to hope that the cooler temperatures and drizzle that we've had mean that soil and vegetation aren't as dry as usual, and that will help keep fire season down.

I cannot picture an evacuation-- from fire, or hurricane, or anything else-- under these conditions.

Oh yeah, conditions. Infection rates spiking across the nation, and still nothing but stupidity and denial from the federal government. I'm increasingly convinced that we will not have in-person school-- even the "hybrid" model-- by fall. Maybe not any part of next year.

It's awful, but it's better than having children dying. Or surviving, but suffering some of the weird sequelae that are now being uncovered.

The economic havoc that is being wreaked worldwide has barely begun to be felt.

Lots of people are reporting having trouble sleeping. Some of it may have been due to less exercise associated with not commuting: even for people who drive, there's an irreducible amount of physical effort involved in getting to one's car. My normal commute by bus involves several blocks of walking. And of course, lots of people (used to) bike to work.

Most of it seems to be stress.

I have an atypical stress response: I sleep more. When we first went on work from home, I was sleeping an extra couple of hours per night. It's now down to only a little more than usual per night most nights, but I am prone to take long naps on days I'm not working. I'm definitely one of the lucky ones.

Todd got a blanket that has massively reduced his insomnia. It's weighted. I was skeptical, but my God the thing works-- it's like magic. It's like a quilt filled with tiny glass beads: I imagine each one painted with a closed eye.

Books Available
Country Well-Known as an Old Nightmare's Stable
High-Voltage Lines
Knocking from Inside

Sunday, July 05, 2020

Rise, My Generation

I turned fifty-six today. Who is my generation?

We were born on the cusp between the Baby Boom and Generation X. We were under-represented, overlooked, stranded in a demographic dip.

We are the children of terror. We grew up in the shadow of the Bomb. We lay awake at night listening for the sound, the sound we knew we wouldn’t hear, wouldn’t live to wake up from. What did we care about Cold War ideology? All it meant to us was death, death, death. Our fiction was a panorama of planets nuked to nothingness.

We are the children of the backlash. We saw the seventies roll back everything the sixties promised. The hand on the wheel shifted grips but did not change its course.

We came of age under neocon whips. We came of age during the war on drugs. We saw the start of mass incarceration and the militarization of police. We saw the black and brown bodies of our generation broken on the streets and chained in the forever jails.

We came of age into the constriction of the middle class. Squish, the money shot upward into the hands of the already wealthy. Squash, the people were forced down into poverty. The song of our age was the sound of doors closing.

We came of age in the great plague. We learned that lives are not created equal; we saw how to blame sickness on the ill and contagion on moral deficiency. We were told there was a difference between the innocent victim and the guilty one. We came to blame ourselves for everything bad that happens to us.

This is how we learned to internalize oppression. This is how we learned to excuse the system.
They tranquilized us with the myth of meritocracy, the sedative of self-determination. They sold us the story of a post-racial society.

We saw the Berlin Wall come down. We learned the world could change.

We got tax reforms that crippled public education, public health. We got private prisons built by billionaires in the making. They took away our music and replaced it with the Song Machine. We began to see strange weather round the world, but we did not yet know what to fear. We celebrated the defeat of the Y2K bug and welcomed in the new millennium.

What was slouching toward us but a new and never-ending war? That’s where this century began for me: the wrong fight for the wrong reason, the price too high and built on lies. My age-mates, we were old enough then to know better, old enough then to fight back.

What was slouching toward us wrecked a city when it came ashore. We saw hundreds left to die in the flood, thousands homeless in the aftermath. We began to know: it was only the beginning. In the next decade we would learn new words for weather and new colors for disaster.

We saw a Black President elected. We learned the world could change.

We rode out the Great Recession as the first generation to learn we could never afford our parents’ standard of living. We knew permanent employment was a myth and a life-long career was a chimera. We lived the reality of multiple part-time jobs and shared breadwinning, though we women still worked an unpaid second shift.

They tell us mindfulness will solve all our troubles, that positive energy will fix the world. Look to your own inner state, ignore everything outside you: the hand on the wheel, the hand on the whip, the man behind the curtain. Siblings of my birth years, aren’t we tired of the same old lies?

The average age of Members of the House at the beginning of the 115th Congress was 57.8 years; of Senators, 61.8 years. I am fifty-six today. My generation, our time is now. Let us not fail of our promise. Let us remember everything we’ve learned.

Age-mates, I prophesy: We are the last generation where only white hands will hold power. We are the last generation to deny the truths the planet tells us. If we are not fit to lead, beloved siblings, at least we know whom we ought to follow.

Rise, my generation
Rise, my generation
Rise, my generation, rise!

Books Available
Country Well-Known as an Old Nightmare's Stable
High-Voltage Lines
Knocking from Inside

Friday, July 03, 2020

Long haul: bits and pieces

Infection rates are spiking coast to coast: it's clear that the partial re-opening was premature in most places. My school district is trying to plan for multiple scenarios for the fall, but it looks more and more like we'll be all-in on distance learning. At this point, the only way I see that not happening is if an effective vaccine appears in the next couple of months-- and all indications are that we're a long way from that kind of breakthrough.

Quality of instruction? Best we can provide. Good enough? Hardly.

******************

Meanwhile, the city of Portland passed some budget cuts to the police bureau, which responded by tear-gassing a peaceful protest around the police union office. It's become clear that they are much more likely to use force around anything they regard as their "turf," i.e. the Justice Center, the North Precinct building. Excuse me: those buildings are public property, not "turf." I don't know about the union office, but I assume it's rented by the force. With public funds.

******************

Chatting with fellow poets, I realize that I have a very great luxury in not questioning my purpose. It is as it always has been: Communication. Connection. Evoking in my audience the ability to connect: with themselves, other people, the natural world, ultimately God. The how shifts from time to time, of course, but the why doesn't go anywhere.

These times call for the best that my craft can offer. At the same time, I feel the urgency to write something, anything: "Lower your standards and keep writing," Bill Stafford told us so long ago.

Books Available
Country Well-Known as an Old Nightmare's Stable
High-Voltage Lines
Knocking from Inside

Monday, June 29, 2020

Made myself another chapbook

As if I didn't have enough publishing going on: I made a chapbook out of most of my plague journal poems. It's available here.


Why now? Well, as I just wrote, it won't be over until it's over, and that's looking like a long time away. The collection was long enough to make a decent chapbook. And I felt a little bit of a pause, for no real reason-- infection rates are climbing again, police reform doesn't seem any closer despite the PPB budget cuts, and the Oregon legislature will probably stall out on statewide legislation.

So-- enough for now. It'll be over when it's over.

Books Available
Country Well-Known as an Old Nightmare's Stable
High-Voltage Lines
Knocking from Inside

Thursday, June 25, 2020

It'll Be Over When It's Over

Oh, show me rain when I'm feared of fire
Show me peace in the face of strife
Show me the road to my heart's desire
Write me a line in the Book of Life.

It'll be over when it's over
Not when they say that it's done.
It'll be over when it's over, Lord
Not when I walk away from the sun.

Every day snatched from the Bone Man's jaws
Every life saved by a doctor, a nurse
Every step into fairer laws
The Book of Life grows by a verse.

It'll be over when it's over
We won't get to declare the win.
It'll be over when it's over, Lord
Some time we'll remember where we've been.

So much struggle to save the dying
So much work to build a just land
We write a few lines and we keep on trying
The Book of Life needs every hand.

It'll be over when it's over
You know all I can do is my best.
I don't have to wait for it to be over
To give myself just a minute's rest.

Books Available
Country Well-Known as an Old Nightmare's Stable
High-Voltage Lines
Knocking from Inside

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Playing the Odds

I went up the hill to talk to the Bone Man.
He leans on the stone fence and grins:
I haven’t taught you anything you don’t already know.

That we starve for the sight of another human face.
That we struggle and die for lack of breath.
That we’ll fight for the right to breathe.

The Bone Man’s teeth are pipped with scarlet.
He spits a handful and rattles them. Go to the protest.
Go on and play the odds
.

We all got to die some time, Bone Man.
Roulette’s just a fancy name for losing slower.
That wheel’s been spinning since the day I was born.

Books Available
Country Well-Known as an Old Nightmare's Stable
High-Voltage Lines
Knocking from Inside

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Solstice

Summer solstice today. In ten days, we'll officially be halfway through the year; by school and financial calendars, into a new year.

It seems like 2020 has already lasted forever. We are so tired. And there's no letup in sight. COVID-19 is spiking in many of the states and cities that are re-opening, we're desperately trying to figure out what school is going to look like for the fall. It turns out that Multnomah County's re-opening was based on inaccurate data, and we may get backed down.

Every night, the cops are shooting at people downtown. There've been serious injuries. It's only a matter of time until someone gets killed. City Council made some cuts to the budget, and eliminated a few really egregious programs, but everyone agrees that's not enough. Still, a year ago, I wouldn't have said this much was possible.

I may live long enough to see major police reform, in Portland if not nation-wide. (I'm increasingly doubtful that "nationwide" will be a thing after the end of this year.) Will I live long enough to see the end of capitalism? God willing.

Books Available
Country Well-Known as an Old Nightmare's Stable
High-Voltage Lines
Knocking from Inside

Friday, June 19, 2020

RIP, Sir Ian Holm

A far green country under a swift sunrise.

Books Available
Country Well-Known as an Old Nightmare's Stable
High-Voltage Lines
Knocking from Inside

Poetry Box to publish a chapbook (by me!)

The Poetry Box will be producing a chapbook by me, titled The Day of My First Driving Lesson. It's a collection of poems about my parents. Expected release date winter 20/21.

For interest's sake: The vast majority of the poems I've written have been stand-alones. I have only ever written a few sequences. The Musketeer sonnets, and of course the sonnet sequence that began (ended) with Lifeline, and now forms the core of my chapbook Country Well-Known as an Old Nightmare's Stable.

But very shortly after my mother's passing, I had the good fortune to attend a workshop by the incomparable Penelope Scambly Schott, on writing series poems.

I don't know why it never occurred to me before. Of course I tried to write about my father's death, and then my mother's final illness and death. But how to? Where to even start? It was clearly too much for one poem-- especially since I did not want it to be all about grief. Of course there is a lot of grief expressed. But my parents deserve so much more than that.

A poem series was the perfect solution. I incorporated some older poems (including the title poem), reframing and rewriting in the process. I worked on it for pretty much the rest of 2019, and around the end of the year, put it into submission in a couple of places. The Poetry Box picked it up.

We haven't yet discussed production steps. I'm hoping the book could incorporate some of my parents' wedding photos-- poor quality images, alas-- or their wedding license...

Books Available
Country Well-Known as an Old Nightmare's Stable
High-Voltage Lines
Knocking from Inside

Friday, June 12, 2020

Tell My Breath From the Wind

I went for a long walk in the rain
I walked until I couldn’t tell my sweat from the rain, the rain from my tears, my tears from blood
Until I couldn’t tell my breath from the wind, my mask from silence, my feet from the marching thousands
Until I couldn’t separate my soul from the injustice, my soul from the search for justice
I walked to turn my soul into a prayer for justice
My soul into a demand for justice
We all marched to turn our souls into a demand for justice
We are the demand for justice
We demand justice.

Books Available
Country Well-Known as an Old Nightmare's Stable
High-Voltage Lines
Knocking from Inside

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Field Guide to Meter in English-Language Verse

Meter in English verse is a difficult subject. As I've blogged before, English meter is a hybrid of pure syllable-count meter, inherited from Romance-language verse traditions, and accentual meter, drawn from Germanic verse traditions. Thus, we English-writing poets are stuck with having to count syllables and control the stress pattern. Lucky us.

Explanations and classifications of meter that I've seen tend to be less than intuitive. One of the issues is that it's easy to lose track of meter in the middle of a line, when using traditional scansion techniques. Another is that even strict rules of meter allow for some exceptions. But the allowed exceptions can completely destroy the sense of the definition, without destroying the metrical sense of the line itself. Examples include allowing an extra unstressed syllable at the end of an iambic line, to accommodate a two-syllable rhyme; or skipping a syllable at the start.

You can find plenty of technical definitions of meter online, including Wikipedia. The below is more of a field guide to common meters than a scientific taxonomy.


Notes:

This assumes a consistent meter throughout the line. It will not help you with mixed meters, or meters that by design have changing stress/nonstress patterns, such as sapphics.

Promotion: Technically, a word can have one and only one stressed syllable. However, in normally spoken English, there is a strong tendency for stressed and unstressed syllables to alternate, and a string of three or more unstressed syllables feels uneasy. Hence, in a word with four or more syllables, it's likely that besides "the" stressed syllable, one or more other syllables will be spoken with a noticeable stress. This can even happen in a three-syllable word, such as "consequence." If "consequence" occurs at the end of a line with alternating stressed and unstressed syllables, the "quence" will frequently be read as a stress.

Most of the suggested scansion methods I've seen start analysis from the first syllable. In my experience, the last syllable of a line has much more impact on the listener, and therefore leaves a stronger impression of the overall rhythm.

"Marching" and "swinging" are my own terminology. and my attempt to capture what I consider a crucial distinction among meters. Many people of my acquaintance either genuinely can't tell the difference between iambic and trochaic lines, or feel that the placement of one syllable is a silly and trivial way to try to understand rhythm. But almost everyone feels a strong difference between the alternation of stress and unstress in iambic/trochaic and the "dah-dit-dit-dah-dit-dit" of the swinging family.

Argue that this family could just as easily be represented "dit-dit-dah" (repeat) or "dit-dah-dit" (repeat)? That's exactly the point. To me, the defining characteristic of a meter is the rhythm experienced in the middle of the line, less so at the end of the line, and not at all at the beginning. So it doesn't matter where you start your scansion.

The flowchart makes this clearer:



Feet
The simplest way to think about "feet" is that the number of feet equals the number of stressed syllables, including promoted syllables as above. Five = pent, as in iambic pentameter. Four = tetrameter. Six = hexameter. Longer or shorter meters are pretty rare in English.

One type of foot not covered here is the spondee. A spondee consists of two back-to-back stressed syllables. Spondees are rare, and emphatic, in spoken English. Correctly speaking, a line made up entirely of spondees would be termed "spondaic"-- but it hardly seems possible to construct such a line in English, any longer than "Hey! Ho!"

I tend to think of the spondee less as a meter and more as a structure that can be featured within a line of any meter. There are several ways to scan this line...

“No Pa, I thought that corpse's toes were worms.” (consistently iambic)
No Pa, I thought that corpse's toes were worms.” (turning the first foot into a spondee instead of an iamb)
“No Pa, I thought that corpse's toes were worms.” (turning the second pair of syllables into a trochee, and creating a spondee in "Pa, I" In this case, the spondee straddles the last syllable of the first foot and the first syllable of the second foot.)

If reading aloud, you get to pick. The second reading here seems the most natural to me. Which sounds good to you? Oh, in case you want to read the rest of that poem-- here.

Books Available
Country Well-Known as an Old Nightmare's Stable
High-Voltage Lines
Knocking from Inside

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Silly town

Not every city can turn out a skateboard protest march.

Do you call it a march, even?

Books Available
Country Well-Known as an Old Nightmare's Stable
High-Voltage Lines
Knocking from Inside

Change?

It's hard to even say right now. It feels so fragile.

So many movements have come and gone and left no real change in their wake. The WTO protests. Occupy Wall Street. Earlier iterations of Black Lives Matter. Earlier anti-Trump protests.

But this feels different, and hope has its claws in my heart.

I'm not holding my breath for results at the federal level. A better legal framework for police accountability is necessary, but it's not sufficient. Change has to start here, everywhere, every city block. From the ground up, like how grass grows. Monday night we joined the march on Alberta and followed it down to Knott-- all along the route, people from the neighborhood were leaving and joining.

The City Council votes on the PPB budget tomorrow. They've scheduled hours of public comment. I think we're guaranteed a substantial reduction, and the elimination of certain named programs. It's a long way from complete defunding, but it's something.

We've had a bunch of citizen oversight/review structures in Portland, and all of them have pretty much died in their tracks, with citizen members resigning in frustration and disgust. Maybe it was always the wrong approach: too case-by-case, too one-bad-apple narrative, not systemic enough. Maybe punishing the system, by withholding funds, will be more effective.

Hope, you are a cruel thing. If you are the thing with feathers, as ED called you, you also have talons and a flesh-tearing beak.

Books Available
Country Well-Known as an Old Nightmare's Stable
High-Voltage Lines
Knocking from Inside

Sunday, June 07, 2020

Fearmongering

So here's the thing: The Trump campaign and the Trump administration have been based largely on fear. But selling fear only works when the fearmongers can sell the illusion of security, of protection, to go with it. And that's easy to do when the fear itself is imaginary to begin with.

See? The caravan of rapists and criminals from countries where brown people live failed to materialize. So did the army of Muslim terrorists streaming into our airports from Somalia and Yemen. And the monster under the bed failed, yet again, to eat you in the middle of the night. Aren't you grateful to me?

But what happens when there's real danger? When people you know are dying of a disease that pushes buttons we've had since medieval times? When the economy is in shambles, and there's serious civil unrest? (No matter if you're for or agin.)

Who feels safer now than they did in 2016?

Books Available
Country Well-Known as an Old Nightmare's Stable
High-Voltage Lines
Knocking from Inside

Saturday, June 06, 2020

Who’s Afraid of the Bone Man?

Here comes the Bone Man wearing thunder like a serape.
Flash-bang lightning fills the hollow sockets of his eyes.

He sucks on his cigarette and blows clouds of pepper gas.
Screams sonic mayhem. Spits a hail of rubber bullets.

His hand on your shoulder. His knee on your neck.
Your concrete-bruised ribs strain for a breath of dirty air.

In spite of it all they’re marching across the bridge now.
They’re kneeling in traffic with their hands raised.
They won’t go home when told.

Books Available
Country Well-Known as an Old Nightmare's Stable
High-Voltage Lines
Knocking from Inside

Wednesday, June 03, 2020

Only the Rosebush

The sky is full of white clouds like feathers.
They frame the sun in a rainbow ring.
My backyard is drenched in hazy sunshine.
A pair of cabbage whites flutters over the grass.

The peonies are faded and droop to the ground.
All the spring bulbs are done flowering.
The last camellias are falling from branches.
Only the rosebush is blooming now.

The Bone Man stalks in the wake of protest.
I’m afraid for what summer may bring.
Faith is my comfort, and blooming roses
and my beautiful city shining in the dark.

Books Available
Country Well-Known as an Old Nightmare's Stable
High-Voltage Lines
Knocking from Inside