Sunday, January 30, 2022

2 Poems: Experiments in Creativity for Fun, Not Profit

Ghosts playing chess in New York City
Poetry is a monetarily thankless pursuit.

This past weekend in 1845 the New York Evening Mirror published "The Raven" by Edgar Allan Poe. "It was a huge sensation," writes The Writer's Almanac. "Abraham Lincoln memorized it, and Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote a fan letter to Poe. He was paid $9 for 'The Raven,' and it was extensively reprinted without his permission."

Yet as monetarily thankless pursuits go, I find poetry more rewarding than, say, sports betting (where seemingly all Internet advertising directed at me insists my interest should lie).

I must be the wrong demographic for poetry. I admire Emily-in-Paris Peyton Manning, and question the Caesars-Sportsbook Peyton Manning who shills for a business based on customers losing money.

Lately, I've stumbled upon poetry in unlikely places. Listening to music this past week, I'm been enchanted by Lin-Manuel Miranda's outstanding lyrics from Disney's "Encanto" and Taylor Swift and, an old favorite, Paul Simon.

"Miracle and Wonder," an audio book of recent Malcolm Gladwell interviews with Simon, examines the intriguing premise that there's a type of creativity that improves with age. Not to diminish the conceptual breakthroughs of young artists, another type of creativity requires experimentation over time based on an accumulation of knowledge. Writing earlier on this topic, Gladwell examines a study of how Picasso produced his greatest works at the beginning of his career, and Cezanne at the end.

I write poems simply to try to contribute something. Steve Jobs once said that people express their appreciation to the rest of humanity by creating something of worth and putting it out there.

Below are two latest efforts I've submitted to poetry contests. Which I never win. I'm like Charlie Brown running to kick off with Lucy holding the football. I always wind up flat on my face, but then I'll try again next year, against my better judgement. Perhaps, with more experimentation, someday I will create something of value.

I revised the following poem based on a prompt from Paterson, NJ's poet laureate Talena Lachelle Queen. During a virtual poetry workshop earlier this month, she read the poem "On the Other Side of the Door" by the late Jeff Moss, best known as a composer and lyricist on "Sesame Street." It's largely a young adults' poem, beloved by educators -- and, hey, Taylor Swift even wrote a song with the same name.

It inspired me to write a few lines that improved a poem I had written last year, based on a photo I took at the height of the pandemic lockdown (the image posted at the top of this page). Here's my submission to the 2022 Allen Ginsberg Poetry Awards, sponsored by The Poetry Center at Passaic County Community College:

100 Words (Exactly) About Writing 


On a blank page, 

I can do I anything. 


I am bold. 

The way you always wanted me to be. 

And I can make you love me. 

And you would never leave. 


You would never leave, 

And I would never wonder. 

Because I create new worlds, 

And conjure you at will. 


Here we are at dusk in New York: 


We are ghosts, 

Playing chess in a vest-pocket park. 

Phantom dogs roam at our feet. 

Occasional cars form shooting stars 

Along the FDR. 


On a blank page, 

I wait forever for your next move. 

On a blank page, 

I never lose.


Arno River, 50 years ago

Below is another experiment, based on something I wrote years ago. I submitted it to the "100 Days of Dante" poetry contest, sponsored by the Calvin Center for Faith & Writing with the Society of Classical Poets.

My original sonnet had stanzas loosely suggesting Heaven, Purgatory, and Hell. I was inspired to revise several lines last week when I discovered the first photos I ever took (now fading 35mm slides), from 50 years ago.

Dad had let me borrow his camera, and my little sister and I were with my grandmother and uncle in Italy.

One day we visited Florence, and I (unknowingly) took blurry photos of the Ponte Vecchio, where Dante, who began his own epic journey in middle age, saw young Beatrice in the late 1200s. He fell in love with her at first sight. She died soon afterward of The Plague, but she inspired his writing forever:

Dante in Reverse


Adam was a madman; and paradise,

a fraud. In only this do I believe:

the rhythm of your heart. Oh Beatrice,

your eyes alone could prove infinity.

It is our love that has unraveled all.

It haunts my sleep. At first, a stolen glance,

with stars beneath my feet. And then, I fall

from you toward earth -- my dream, a graceless dance.

Before I land, my senses gain control.

Alone in bed, I fear the rustling sound

of insubstantial leaves, like wind-swept souls.

My heart (alive or dead?) seems strangely bound.

This is the slow, uneven beat of Hell:

I have loved you always, but never well.

No comments: