Tag Archives: Poetry

Making Up Horoscopes

I discovered the other day an assignment I had done for a poetry class. The assignment was to create a new Zodiac sign and write a horoscope for it. I present to you, Arugula.

Leafy green aruglua plant

Photo by Eric Bear Albrecht [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Characteristics of an Arugula:

Arugulas are healthy, earthy, and have a strong will to do what is right. They love the natural world and strive for harmony in their lives and actions. Arugulas love strongly and seek to better the lives of those around them, often with great success.

On the other hand, arugulas’ strong will often puts them at odds with others, and their desire to do the right thing can lead to a false sense of superiority. Arugulas are often tasteless to the point of boorishness, and though they naturally exert a strong influence on those around them, they can be heavy handed and overbearing. In addition, arugulas’ earthy nature may lend them a pleasant odor on first contact, but can quickly grow stale and moldy.

Horoscope:

Storms darken the horizon and may easily overwhelm you. Remember, snow is a natural part of the Earth. However, just because your life is drenched and stormy, it does not excuse you from bathing. A sudden frost is about to ruin your love life. My advice: Try adding some croutons to your salad, preferably garlic. Newly single people can afford to have horrendous breath. Maybe go watch The Hobbit and root for Smaug this time.

Watch for shooting stars. If you see one, run. Run far far away and contemplate the nature of a vast universe that is constantly trying to destroy you. Pray, if it makes you feel better. Nothing can save you in the end.

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Shhhh, Excuses and A Poem

It’s been quite a while since I last posted. I’d like to do more, but for now I’m not sure if that will happen. For the first time in my life I’ve been dealing with real, serious depression. It’s hard to understand and harder still to explain. The description I’ve found which best fits my experience is on Cracked.com “5 Facts Everyone Gets Wrong About Depression”, and I’ve also written before a little about depression on this blog. Anyway, that’s the excuse I’ve had for not writing more. For now I don’t want to write any more about it. Possibly I will later but not now. Now I just want to give an update, and because you deserve more than just a short little paragraph, here’s a poem:

Shhhh

I’ve heard rumor of a room
so silent,
you can hear electricity hum
through your own nervous system.

There the heart beats loud enough
to wake the damned,
and blood rushes through your veins
with all the gentle whisper of a freight train.

Visitors are not allowed
to remain in the room longer
than 45 minutes,
for fear they will go mad.

What secrets could we divine,
if only we had the patience to listen?

The Importance of Science Literacy in the Arts, or I have a bone to pick with Billy Collins

If you are not aware of Billy Collins, he is a famous and deservedly acclaimed poet. He acted as US Poet Laureate from 2001 – 2003. He is very good at his craft. Now my bone to pick.

The other day I was introduced to a poem of his titled, “Earthling.” I won’t post all the text of the poem here because I don’t know if I legally can, but the whole text is posted other places on the internet. Straight off I want to say this is a very good poem, and the part I have a problem with is very nitpicky and doesn’t actually affect the overall message or sense of the poem. But it bugged me, and what is the internet good for if I can’t declare nitpicky wrongness about well made works of art?

“Earthling” deals with issues of body image and weight, and it does so in a clever and unique manner. Right off Collins starts by commenting on the effect of scales commonly found in planetariums which show a person how much they’d weigh on other planets. I visit the Clark Planetarium in Salt Lake City fairly often because it’s fun and awesome, and as soon as the poem mentioned the scales I was hooked.

I particularly love it when science and poetry come together. The universe is easily as strange and rich and beautiful and amazing and incredible as anything the human mind can imagine. Sometimes even more so. As such, it lends itself perfectly to the imagination and invention of poetry. On the other side, poetry is perfectly situated to make people aware of the majesty of science often blurred by the math we don’t understand. This is the kind of thing you get when science and art inform each other:

Holy shit! Isn’t the universe amazing!? I don’t think you can look at that picture and not want to be a scientist and feel like a poet at the same time. They are a perfect match. And that is exactly why the poem’s fourth stanza irks me. It reads,

Imagine squatting in the wasteland
of Pluto, all five tons of you,
or wandering around Mercury
wondering what to do next with your ounce.

Did you catch that? It’s okay if you didn’t. We’re not all scientists, and that’s kind of the point. The problem here is that the poem seems to suggest that weight is directly proportional to one’s distance from the sun. In other words, on Pluto you’d weigh 10,000 pounds (1 ton = 2,000 pounds) because it’s so far from the sun, but because Mercury is so close you’d only weigh one ounce. This is so utterly false.

Weight is a measurement of the force of gravity on an object. This means higher gravity = higher weight. A quick internet search reveals Mercury’s mass to be about 38% that of Earth. This means in order to weigh one ounce on Mercury, you’d have to weigh a little less than 3 ounces on Earth. That’s less than a quarter of a pound. For anyone out there using metrics that’s about 0.08 kilograms or 80 grams. Now Pluto’s gravity is only about 6.7% that of Earth. Which means to weigh 10,000 pounds on Pluto you’d need to weigh a little more than 149,000 pounds, or about 68,000 kilograms.

Do you see the problem the poem presents?

Now, you may be saying, “But its a poem.” As in, “It’s not meant to be taken literally.” And you might be right. But here’s a counterpoint, I’m not a scientist. I’m not even that well versed in science. I got a C+ or something like it in Physics 101. But I did all that research and math in about five minutes with a quick internet search. You might say, “But this poem isn’t brand new. Maybe Billy Collins didn’t have all that information at his fingertips like we do now.” To which I say, this poem was first published in 2001. The speeds were slower, but we still had the internet back then. But maybe Billy Collins is a bit of a Luddite. Well, there are these places in pretty much every major city all over the US where you can get this information. They are called planetariums and he references them in this exact poem. And if none of those were in easy reach, there are these dusty old places called libraries. They’re basically the internet without computers. Except in 2001 most libraries had computers which connected to the internet and were free, or very cheap, and were set aside for public use.

The point here is that as a professional it’s your job to get it right, and if you have to do a little research then fucking do the research. It’s a small price to pay for science literacy and it won’t drive people like me to write crazy, nitpicky rants about fairly harmless mistakes and post them online.

I could go on about how scientifically literate language wouldn’t ruin the language or cadence of the poem. I could point out in depth the problem presented by an earlier stanza in which Collins seems to get the science right. But I’m sure if anyone is still reading this far in you just want it to end. Or maybe those who have stuck it out are only the crazies and want this to go on forever. Either way though, I’ll bring this entry to a close with a few short thoughts:

1. I don’t mean to attack Billy Collins’ character or claim he’s bad at his job. He is a terrific poet, but I feel he kind of dropped the ball here. Or maybe he wasn’t even holding this particular ball to begin with. But he should have been.

2. Science literacy is appallingly low among American adults (and probably elsewhere as well). It is especially important to get it right in venues where you can reach people who aren’t scientists and who may not have much to do with science in their day to day lives. People who read poetry in general tend to fit into this category. But there’s no reason it needs to be that way. In fact, science and literature can and should complement each other perfectly. When they do they improve each other, and the world is better off for it. And I want to live in that world.

The Butterfly

Sometimes when you write a lot, you need a break. Sometimes, for that break, you write something different. Here’s a short poem I wrote during a break from writing.*

*Yeah. I know that doesn’t really make sense.

 

The Butterfly

The smell was awful. The pain was intense. I lost control of my bike, and rode headlong into the fence.

My mood was besoured. I’d lost all my glee! I cursed the insolent God who’d let this happen to me.

I saw nothing but squiggles. My glasses were cracked. I tripped over the bike, and hit a rock with my back.

My ears were still ringing. My face was aflame. I knew without checking, it was one part injury and two parts shame.

My tongue was so dry. I tasted blood, dirt and grass. I picked up the bike, and rode away from the crash.

I rode swiftly for home. I felt the wind in my hair. I kept gaze forward, and avoided the stares.

I entered the parlor. Mom said, “How was the race?” I stuttered and stammered, “I caught a yellow butterfly with my face.”

Soap: A Poem

A splash of red, bright, crimson

The warmth of life spilled on my vest

Her name was Freggr

Even foul nomenclature makes a pretty dye

For the moment

 

Brown, gray, more brown

My tunic has lost all Freggr’s shine

Another voyage, another village

More color for my boots,

and I feel pretty again

For the moment

 

Screams, alarms, the watch is calling

The longhouse shakes, and I heft my blade

The Danes are so drab in the night

Cold pain in my throat

Blood stains my vest, and I am another man’s dye

For the moment

Book Recommendations

I really like doing book reviews on this blog, and I hope others appreciate them as well. Every review I do is also a recommendation, pretty much because I don’t want to put effort into reading and reviewing books I don’t like. Now, I’ve always been an avid reader, but in the last few weeks I’ve especially read too many to do a review on each, even when I really really want to. Here are a few books I’ve read that deserve a mention, but that I’m too lazy/overwhelmed to do reviews for.

Note: clicking on the pictures will take you to the amazon page for each book.

Agent to the Stars by John Scalzi

Agent to the Stars

John Scalzi’s Agent to the Stars is a captivating story of the Hollywood agent picked by the Yherjak, an alien species of smelly jello-like blobs, to represent them to the world. Along the way he struggles to find the way to introduce them without causing panic, as well as dealing with his own Hollywood stars and starlets as well as a relentless snoop reporter with a grudge. It’s a heartwarming, and sometimes sad, story that won’t leave you alone. Be prepared, if you start reading this, you may not be able to stop until its done.

Icarus at the Edge of Time by Brian Greene

Icarus at the Edge of Time

Icarus at the Edge of Time is a book I’d be surprised you wouldn’t finish in one sitting. It’s a picture book for children from renowned scientist Brian Greene. The pictures are all amazing space photographs, and the story is a delightful reimagining of the Greek tale of Icarus, who flew too close to the sun. Well in Greene’s story it’s not the sun you have to worry about. Icarus instead decides to become the first person to brush the edge of a black hole in his spacecraft. Only, he forgets about the effect the black hole’s immense gravity has on time. It’s a fantastic book for children, an delightfully fun for adults as well.

Skulduggery Pleasant: Scepter of the Ancients by Derek Landy

Skulduggery Pleasant

Skulduggery Pleasant is a skeleton mage detective trying to solve the murder of his friend. Along for the ride is the deceased’s niece Stephanie who has just learned about magic and monsters, and who may be the key to stopping the evil mage Nefarian Serpine from destroying the world. This is one of the most fun reads I’ve had in a while. Written for young audiences, it masterfully blends wizardry, horror and comedy in a way that will leave you on the edge of your seat without getting into anything too gruesome or adulty. Still, its themes include growing up, family, dealing with loss and defeat, good and evil; not the usual fare for young readers, but written in a way they can understand. I highly recommend this book to anyone and everyone with some kind of imagination.

Smoke and Mirrors by Neil Gaiman

Smoke and Mirrors

Ah, at last we come to Neil Gaiman, who for the moment seems to be my favorite author. Why? For his twisted sense of…everything. Smoke and Mirrors is a collection of, as Gaiman puts it, short fictions and illusions. The story topics range from a venereal disease one gets without actually having sex, and an amateur magician who makes a grandmother disappear, to an angel trying to solve the first murder. This is not my favorite collection of shorts from Neil Gaiman, but it is definitely entertaining and imaginative and well worth a read.

M is for Magic by Neil Gaiman

M is For Magic

M is for Magic is another collection of shorts from Neil Gaiman, and it is also not my favorite (that would be Fragile Things, which is not on this list because I read it some months ago). By not my favorite, I mean I loved it. Again, the stories in this volume are all twisted in a wonderfully charming way. There is a story about tourists from very far away, and one about the months of the year telling stories around a campfire (possibly my favorite Gaiman short of all), and a short story that would later become a chapter of The Graveyard Book, which we’ll talk about in a minute. Again, I highly recommend this. The wonderful thing about short stories, is they don’t take any commitment. These collections, as well as others, can whisk you away for ten minutes, one hour, days. The timing is all up to you. In my opinion, everyone should have at least one book of short stories by their bed or on their table at all times.

Coraline by Neil Gaiman

Coraline

One of the most famous Neil Gaiman stories, Coraline is the tale of a young girl who goes through a door in her house to another world just like this one except better in every way. There she meets her ‘other mother’ and ‘other father’ and makes a friend of the cat who prowls around her house. The world behind the door, although wonderful at first, is an evil place, and Coraline must play a game with her ‘other mother’ to rescue her real parents and the souls of children trapped there. This is a book I tried to read to fall asleep to. Then, I had to make myself put it down. Then I had dreams that didn’t scare me until I woke up and thought they might be real. Then I stayed up way too late again the next night finishing the book. Then more creepy dreams. It was all worth it.

It was made into a creepy, fun animated movie in 2009. I like the book better, but the movie is worth a looksee too.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

The Graveyard Book

Ah, The Graveyard Book. One of the best books I’ve ever read. Both this and Coraline were written for children, but I still enjoyed them better than most adult novels I read. In The Graveyard Book every chapter is a short story detailing a significant experience in Nobody Owens’ life. Nobody’s, called Bod for short, family was murdered when he was a baby. He was taken in by the spirits of the graveyard who raise and protect him. One day, the man who killed his family returns hoping to finish the job. Before I read this book, I was reading a lot of other stuff that just wasn’t holding my interest very well. Stories I enjoyed reading, but after half an hour I’d be done with them. I picked up The Graveyard Book and didn’t put it down. There is good literature, and there are fantastic, wondrous, captivating stories. This is one of the latter.

A film version is in the works by the same man who adapted and directed Coraline.

The Playground by Ray Bradbury

The Playground

Ray Bradbury is one of the all time greats when it comes to fiction. He excels in all mediums, but I think none quite so well as the short story. The Playground is a short fiction by Bradbury, released in this version alone for Kindle. It is the story of a widower who wants to protect his son from the evils of the other children on the playground. He’ll do anything to protect his boy, including making a deal with the Playground that might cost him his soul. This is a fantastic story, one of the best I’ve ever read. It’s intelligent, creative, unique and horrific. You cannot go wrong reading this.

End

I have lots more books I can recommend, but for this post we’ll stick to those I’ve read in the last month. Also, if this number of books in four weeks astounds you and maybe makes you feel like a lesser human being remember a couple things: First, you probably have more friends than I do. Second, many of these books are short books and many are written for children or young audiences. Third, I work as a security guard right now, which means I have LOTS of time to read. Probably more than you do. Now, if you still feel bad just visit your local library. You can even rent eBooks from most libraries now, which is such a perfect system when you’re laying in bed at 10:30 pm with nothing to read. Until next time.

Words in Tandem: A Poem and a Thought

Words are funny things, especially when they work in tandem. Last night I wrote a poem, and I let my wife read it this morning to judge if I should let anybody else see it or not. I wrote it with a specific scene in mind. My wife read it and interpreted it very differently from how I wrote it. I haven’t told her what I meant with it, and I don’t think I will. It’s really a terrible disgrace when readers aren’t allowed to draw their own conclusions.

 

To The Gods of GraceLess Escapes: A Toast

 

Vengeful! Vengeful!

Trick me with your merry ways!

Never a man did I meet before tonight.

Never a woman.

 

The night! It calls! It sings! It beckons!

Icy black fingers creeping out from beneath the pudding

Yes! I’ll go. I’ll come.

To you my blushing bride three years dead tonight!

 

I come! I venture!

Wait on me, young footman.

Be easy ‘til the Dawn, it breaks our night in twain.

Alas! No time! We haven’t the time to make a cordial farewell.

 

To bed! To sleep! To Death and then awakening.

Marjorine! Marjorine, my love I cannot repay you.

 

My host! How quaint, the Porridge of our evening.

No wonder, no excitement.

Yet it fills the belly all the same.

 

To sum! In short! The Port was excellent.

Away I fly! But not without thanks.

To the Hospital of your home! Adieu.