Writing Advice: Play Pirates

Thoughts that come to mind: we listen to finished songs. Not sure anyone would show up to see a concert being written. And if they did, they would not enjoy it. There is a stark, and I mean deeply entrenched divide between finished product and resource. As different as a meal is from the oven that burnt it. The privacy of the laboratory. The invisibility of the tremendous roots of trees. Not the brain or the heart or the fingernails but the bowels of the body. Where the real ugly radioactive work gets done.

I don’t know your substance, subject matter, agenda, your poetry. But I believe I can aid you in the pursuit of entertainingly recording ideas and stories. I’ll start by reiterating cliché writing advice you’ve already heard. Write first. Edit after.

But let me clarify.

The little kid who turns a playset in the backyard into a pirate ship more detailed and bombastic than a movie set, is doing absolutely no editing in the real time of this imaginary event. I know they worked it out of you, school, work, all authoritative structures do, but try to remember the exhilaration of being a kid and believing the bullshit you made up in your backyard to pass the time, pass the setting, past every portal others hold the keys for, and playing.

Play first. Make yourself giggle. Over-write. Cry for your characters. Write the wrong. Write corny jokes out and take a flat head screwdriver and pry the backspace key clean off the keyboard. You cut and paste that stuff at the bottom of the page. You delete nothing. Not while the game is on. Not with the continental navy at your stern and a belly full of stolen gold in your hull.

Edit after. You’ll sit down to edit the way you show up to work. Cup of coffee. Cynicism in check. Emails to check. This is how you edit. You won’t ever have editor’s block. School prepped us for it. All your jobs demanded it. Every position you’ve ever held is some form of customer service for some form of company, and it required you constantly to edit yourself. Please don’t argue me on this. They paid you to bite your tongue clean through. To show up to work and remember to bring everything except the real real you. Editing is not the problem. It never was.

The problem is you stopped playing make-believe.
You let the continental navy sink the pirate ship in your backyard.

Fortune-Teller School

Life is frightening or boring. Seldom in between. 

We grow up educated into fortune telling. 

Preparation, expectation, share the quiet part 

both are predicated on prediction. 

Gambling, just, the pessimistic edition. 

Track all the ways shit goes sideways 

and put money down. Preempted. Ensured.

Guaranteed duck nine times out of ten 

just not the one time God calls Goose. 

Ten bucks says today. That’s all it takes. 

Today is the price tag on tomorrow. 

To Breathe

Trees like still-frames of fireworks. Palm leaves off golden white.
Pink pom-poms on ends of sulfurous smelling stems.
Lone doves on frowning powerlines.
Trucks with cracked windshields in teacher’s parking lots.
Surgical masks rotting in the gutter. Rocks and robins
and cracked orange clay in places grass won’t grow.

We were six weeks in outside for a mask-break and I could not recognize them.
They all had different faces than I ever could have imagined. It’s the damnedest thing.
I’d known them for weeks. Yet I had never seen their smile.

We loitered on green grass until the birds grew bored of us.
I didn’t like it. I wanted to tell them they had their faces wrong.
Before I could, thank God, they’d stuffed them back under masks
sighing to their self. Smelling their own breath. Confidential grin.

Spied on by the birds and the trees
who have waited a long time
patiently eagerly
for all of us
to take a mask-break
and step out
to breathe.

Empty plates in place of thanks

Salmon patty pinto beans cornbread salt like sand against teeth
green beans boiled potato quarters day old macaroni with calluses for cheese
short cakes topped by strawberries and whipped cream and powdered sugar
the dull metallic taste of a spoon that has known a hundred tongues
last night’s dinners dried in groins between forks
butter knife clean as a salad plate.

Fruit flies by bananas on the counter food-stained tower by the sink
tea that has sugar in it and was cooked on the stove
half moon watermelon runes and cans the salmon came in
on the back step for a one-eyed cat to lick clean.

The bathroom smells like a whole can of hair spray and half a cigarette.
Chase me the child screams. Got you, he types in an email.
Compliments are the pallbearers of criticism.
Empty plates in place of thanks.
Something to sit and sip in front of fire
and nurse our old winter desire until we retire
and our bowels sing us to sleep
melodies we were never meant to keep
raise us like lazarus in the morning
to roll the stone away
or so they say.

Catch me daddy, catch me.

First Humans

First light. First coffee. First music. Is something reset overnight while we sleep. When did eight hours later suddenly become tomorrow. First rain in three weeks. The wetted lips of clover speak, the beaded blades of grass are weak, they curtsy with tear drops on point. First gardens. As if winter was asleep. The world wakes spring. Wishy-washy. Watch birds to tell the weather and soak every last drip of cold. Summer is coming. Like never seen before. First summer. All other summers were sleep. This summer will wake, break, make, remake, spade, spate and stake us up like tomato vines. Next fall, we won’t be the same. We’ll be new ones.

First humans.

while you are alive, no matter how many answers you find, there will always be at least one more – Left to Write.

Writer Actor Farmer

Have you ever seen the world go purple through the window? Or clouds break back against gold birthed black traced like little goat kids diving hoof first out from within their mothers? Have you ever truly questioned the definition of every word steaming up in piles from the dinner plate?

Have you ever quit, truly just given up, stopped, done, dead, and then picked up your pack and kept walking because you actually had no other option? Measured just how much effort goes into something as reductive as quitting. Or quit, and been better off for it.

There is no single answer.
There are no rhetorical questions.

We, our species, humanity, not one of us, or two, or a group of people, or a nation, or a few, invented language. It is our one real magic. And without our belief and understanding, there is no such thing as tragic.

Have…

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John expresses doubts on the first day of his hike…

What I wouldn’t give to drop down and hike on all fours like a dog. Or push off each step like that young woman ahead of me. I’m trying not to look at her backside. But she is young, and strong, and bold, to be out here almost all alone. A girl and her dog. Disappear into a fog. And I follow. A fire to sit beside and dry my socks and blur my mind in a sip of whiskey and a cup of wine and speak for a few minutes with company of like-mind and listen to problems like mine and sleep as if no morning will ever come again. Wrapped tight like a mummy, no plan for resurrection. Not only is tomorrow going to be a new day, it is going to require a new John.

This old one isn’t cutting it.

Annotation – The Poem You Asked For by Larry Levis

This is a more prosaic toned poem, but chopped up in stocky, poetic lines. The work functions for me as a hybridized experience, an offspring of the overlap between fiction and poems. Ascribing a poem a personality, giving it action, physical description, played out brilliantly in this piece. “…I offered it all my money, my clothes, my car with a full tank. But the poem stared at the floor.” Not just ‘my car’ but a full tank. One can’t entice a poem out from hiding with a vehicle empty of the fuel that makes it move. The poem is a journey. It gets hungry. Tired. And then inspired, and fat and full. Greedy.

We don’t get rhyme. We don’t get flowery language. The poem really lacks in most archetypal elements of poetry except for having that exact subject as its theme. Which is in and of itself a very poetic thematic twist. A literary contrast, examining lofty, often put up on a pedestal subjects with pedantic tone of voice. The reader sits somewhere in the middle pulled in two separate directions by the same detail. “…beat me and took my money, tore the faded clothes off my back, said Shit-” This really is a poet’s poem. Haven’t we all been beat up by a piece or two of our own writing? Not that we had much to begin with anyhow, but it takes what we do have, the abusive poem likes our faded clothes and running cars and greasy hair. Prefers it, because it was needed once, worn. The shine has almost always worn off the preferred. And the poem of Larry Levis is coming for all faded things.

Almost everyone who pursues this craft can relate in one way or another to this poem. I would also feel comfortable stating that anyone who pursues intentionally creative endeavors of any kind on a daily basis can relate to the all too often overly familiar, needy, and abusive habits of the muse. Being a poet is like keeping a pet bird. It’s like sliding a sleek silver bit in the crotch of a horse’s jaw. It’s a lover you struggle to shake. In spite of both your sakes.

All of that to say what poetry is not: a thing connected to a remote control, mindless or incapable of revolution and resistance, a thing to do to pass the time. Not an object. Not a skill. Not a subject. “And the poem…Said it was going over to your place.” The ultimate mystery and power of inspiration is that it has a will of its own. And it will leave you when it wants to. And it will refuse to leave you when it wants to.

from Fathers and Sons – Springer Mountain

We told ourselves if he put his name on that list then there was a part of him that wanted us to come. To be found. Not disappear. At least not entirely. We agreed if his name was there, I’d take up this pack I had prepared and go after him. Well there it was. Here I am. Cursing every single decision in existence that led me here. I was not prepared. Not ready. The very bread and water of this adventure is footsteps, and my appetite can’t handle the most pallid aspects of my calling. I can’t stomach the bread. Haven’t touched my water. I believe at least one of my pinky toes has a blister on it already. My pack is overweight. I am overweight. This stupid walking stick my dad made. My original Boy Scouts of America external frame hiking pack. What the hell was I thinking. No. No. This is on Jeremiah. That ridiculous, rebellious, nothing whatsoever in the world can be easy, son of mine. That spry little asshole is probably jogging downhill fifty miles ahead of me where it is somehow actually cool yet sunny and the whole trail lies resting like a well-fed snake in the shade of so many humpback mountains. Sliding where the water on the trail has frozen, he is somewhere it is so comfortably cold he can see his breath. Two thousand feet. Eight point eight. Springer Mountain Shelter. Uphill. Stairmaster. His adventure. My disaster. Dry sleeping bag. Hot noodles. Sodium choked broth. Two thousand miles of mountains on the other side of one. More days than I care to count that will come up to me early and introduce themselves all the same. Tomorrow. Will never truly meet today. But the razor thin line between the two actually lies physically in existence in a spot or two. One of them is called Appalachia. It knits the whole east coast of America together like it was a spinal column, statewide vertebrae along the way, marked up scarred places where each regional disc herniates against the next.

I predict at the end of this whatever I imagined separated time from distance will be utterly ruined in me.

Hyperbole

I am a teacher. One part courtroom jester. One part dunce. One part dad and one part mom. I am the voice of books, and the ears of reason. I love it when they confess, what I am about to say might be wrong. And I get to tell them. There’s no such thing. Not here. Not in this classroom, in this group of peers. The most important part of recognizing right is the memory of being proudly, loudly, defiantly wrong. My most important lesson. Make a mess. Make mistakes. Fumble my words. Forget the definition of hyperbole. ‘How can you be our teacher and you don’t know what hyperbole means?” he says. I’m no saint. On the inside, I’m eighteen years old again and I want to embarrass him into the ground for having done so to me. But, on the outside, I’m thirty three, on the clock, first year in a new job, honesty is maybe an incentive they add one to two years before retirement, but for new hires like me it’s improv. I laugh at myself and agree. I tell him the most important thing you learn in school are directions to the nearest library. No one, no matter what they tell you, remembers everything. Every time hyperbole comes up in discussion from then on I sound it out slowly and ask them what it means. We laugh. Adults mess up. Forget. Lose track. First and foremost, we’re teaching them how to handle that.

I am a teacher because I was hired and presented to them as a teacher but I never earned them calling me Mr. Homesley, it’s required. Even in lectures I often use my life as my example and I keep wanting to call myself Jeremy. I am a teacher so I am Mr. Homesley and I had never met that man before and I still don’t always recognize him as me. Like hyperbole. Some great exaggeration of my maturity and capacity. One of those teachers who likes to say I am learning just as much as you are. And I am. But that’s a secondary lesson. Secondary to the next six to eight years of sure to be harder than we ever imagined life. I’ll get an email one day. Just shy of a decade. One of these kids will reach out and tell me they heard that great deafening click I spoke of hearing right around when I turned twenty six. It’s eerie, and inescapable, and undeniable. I called my dad, my mom, I apologized to them. I felt my weight, finally, my age, my height, my mortality, everything, all the sudden like that. Hit me.

You don’t grow up. You don’t graduate. You don’t stop learning and gain some wisdom and maturity because you hit a hand-drawn checkmark on a coffee-stained desk calendar. Speaking hyperbolically now, just kidding, that isn’t a word, oh wait, it is? Well anyway. I am a teacher. And as a teacher, the greatest piece of information I really have to offer, is directions to the nearest library.

Life may as well be called school. And while we’re here, all of us, on equal terms, students.