Posts tagged ‘ponderings’

July 16, 2015

The Time for Warnings is Over

by lisa st john

“The Time for Warnings is Over”

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Watch out file cabinet. Here I come. Beware you unfiled pile of folded up receipts and reminders! I am coming for you. You push pins better get in line, and HEY! I thought I returned you Ethernet cables weeks ago. Hiding were you? Under the vocabulary lists and warranty registration cards, huh? We’ll see about that. There is a recipe for salad (yes, I need a recipe for salad) scrunched under a copy of Writers Digest and an electric bill cowering beneath a coffee-stained yellow legal pad. Enough. I can’t think with all this clutter.

And thinking really does need to commence as the summer runs (at breakneck speed) toward its apex. I have to stop thinking about doing things and start actually doing them. Easier than it sounds. I have to give myself some leeway though. I see three distinct pieces to an artist’s life. Number One is creating the art. This stage happens all over the place in any space and at any time. I love Elizabeth Gilbert’s description of a Tom Waits interview in which he describes the creative muse at work:

He just looked up at the sky, and he said, “Excuse me, can you not see that I’m driving? … “Do I look like I can write down a song right now? If you really want to exist, come back at a more opportune moment when I can take care of you. Otherwise go bother somebody else today. Go bother Leonard Cohen.”

Here we bless the beauty of technology. If I don’t have a pen or paper I usually have an iPhone that can take notes or voice memos. Super helpful. Number Two is editing and fine-tuning and making pretty. A bunch of scraps are just that—beautiful, lyrical scraps perhaps, but only scraps. Hemingway was dead on when he said that the first draft of anything is shit. Art is work. Art is not thinking about work. Number Three is getting the work out there—published, printed, talked about. Number Three is the least fun for me. Luckily, there are tools like Submittable and Writers Market. There are even markets for poetry. Who would-ah thunk it?

And so, cleaning out my writing space I came upon a pastiche I wrote sometime in the unknown past. I must remember to start putting dates on things. I almost must remember to thank Amanda Palmer for reminding me of the truth in these lyrics from Ukulele Anthem:

“Quit the bitching on your blog/and stop pretending art is hard…”

Thank you. Time to get back to work. And don’t forget to buy a copy of Ponderings from Finishing Line Press.

“The Time for Warnings is Over”

(with apologies to Jennie Joseph)

Since I am a middle-aged woman, I shall wear my Scrabble PJs,
with a comfy sweatshirt, to the car repair.
And I shall spend my paycheck on wine and overnight trips and concerts,
and say we’ve no money for cat food.
I shall lie on the couch watching Heroes when I am tired
and eat all the samples at Sam’s club on a Sunday and raise hell at work
and run my mouth at anyone who will listen
and try and forget the wildness of my youth.
I shall go out in socks and Crocs
and steal best practices from my student teachers
and practice growling.

You can wear rainbow tee-shirts and get fatter
and eat McDonalds three times a week
or only Chinese take-out
and squirrel away office supplies at home.

But now we must wear shirts without cleavage
and try to make the students do the same
and send them to the office when they are too naked.
We must talk to people and keep up with politics.
But I am beyond practicing.
So people who’ve just met me will not be traumatized
when my friends say, “She has no filter and loves Gertrude Stein.”

July 6, 2015

Doing Things

by lisa st john

IMG_2720I made coffee, fed the cats, drank the coffee, made the bed up with clean sheets, got dressed, paid two bills, did three dishes, started one load of laundry, put away one load of laundry (why this is my most hated chore next to cleaning out the kitchen drain is beyond me, but it is), took my vitamins, ate some cereal (with almond milk—“real” milk disgusts me), signed up for a short story writing class (online—obviously), put an open-mic reading in my calendar (just in case I actually decide to go somewhere), almost answered the phone when “no caller id” appeared, added my frequent flyer number to an upcoming flight to Colorado, renewed my subscription to The Academy of American Poets, began a children’s story about a sock, put stamps on envelopes to be delivered to companies who don’t use PayPal for some archaic reason, thought about typing out the latest poem in my head, chose to brush my teeth instead, and then the noon whistle went off. Yes. I live in a “hamlet” and the noon “whistle” (more like a sounding horn) goes off at noon every day except Sunday which is, presumably, a day of sleeping in past noon (or at least not caring that it is, in fact, noon).

Why the litany? Well, it’s occurred to me that of the many things we “do” on a daily basis the things we talk about are never the inside things.

“What are you doing?”
“Thinking.”

Shouldn’t this be a normal conversation? It’s not.

“What are you doing this summer?”
“Thinking.”
“Thinking about where you are going, huh? I don’t blame you I couldn’t decide if I should … [fade into meaningless babble].

I am thinking about thinking. I am thinking about writing and making new art and smelling fresh grass and wondering if color would exist as well without smell. Isn’t the grass a brighter hue of green when we smell the freshly mowed kind?
Time jumps and bobbles and I am writing a sequel to the sock story (that I haven’t finished yet) that begins, “Somehow the strawberries got involved…” I wonder, also, if it’s possible to live on fresh fruit pies alone. And then I am mowing the lawn writing a poem in my head that never ends.

A New Poem:

You would hate the way I mow the lawn—my line-ish things, my
lack of symmetry, my
desire to go over the same spot twice.

You would hate that I go right over the rocks you taught me to avoid. My
patterns don’t make sense and if I stop to flip a turtle or watch a baby snake periscope its new world, I can hear you asking. I can sense your puzzlement.

You told me once: “Lil, if there is an assbackward way to do something you will find it.” I smile, remembering running down the up escalator in the Paris Metro—you catching me in time for the free concert in Saint Sulpice. We made it. We always made it.

And now I hit the rock and it makes that crunching noise
and now I go over the rock
and over it
and let it make that crunching noise because something should be allowed to make noise.

You would hate the way I keep stopping the mower to get a drink or write a few lines.

You would hate the way I go over twigs of increasing size just to see how much the blades can take.

You would not understand why I keep it in first gear
only. And only you would understand why sometimes I mow the lawn more than once a week.

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Now I have poison ivy on my face and I am going to see Amanda Palmer at Bearsville anyway because I am supposed to do things. People are out there doing things. I am a person, therefore… .

Ponderings is still available at Finishing Line Press.

May 3, 2015

Tip the Scales

by lisa st john

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“Why do you like gardening?” she asked.

“Because I’m not serious about it. Because it’s my own tangible metaphor.”

When I feel like killing, there are weeds to pull.
When I feel like changing, there are shrubs to move.
When I feel like dreaming, there are seeds to plant.

When I feel like crying, there are seedlings that need homes.

And when I just feel like letting all the images of the days sink in, I sit around and look at it all. Then, hopefully, I write.

I dig out a nasty raspberry invader and see a sprouting bleeding heart and I am reminded of the girls on the beach last summer. Looking longingly at the older girls with bigger, prouder breasts the younger ones, with their newly shaved legs, saunter by trying to look aimless. But then the same longing look falls on the little girls building a sandcastle. Their shoulders are bare because the straps just don’t matter—the building matters. Their sandy, matted hair falls wherever it wants. They don’t need mousse. And the in-between girls want both. And I want to tell them they are already both.

When I feel like shaking people up…well, I haven’t found a gardening exercise for that yet. We take so much for granted. An amazing documentary about the feminist movement, She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry, shook me up—woke me up. I remember my older sisters burning their bras and going to rallies. My students and I live in a world paved by these women, and we forget.

My mother was very proud of having participated in suffrage marches around Chicago, and when I was a little girl she would always take me with her to vote. I decided later on that the two emancipators of women were the vote and birth control…” Virginia Whitehill

The feminists of the 60’s forgot the suffragists, and now we have forgotten the revolutionary women who forged Title IX (usually we think of Title IX in terms of sports, but it also ensures equal access to higher education like law school). The entire world is better because of the Women’s Liberation Movement. To paraphrase the film, “The Supreme Court didn’t hand us Roe v. Wade, individual women fought for it.” It’s 2015 and we are losing.

But somewhere along the road the word “feminism” got a bad rap, and our future is going to pay for it.

Now that I am all shook up—what to do? So I made a list.

Educate. Talk. The Equal Rights Amendment has not yet been passed. It’s three sentences long.

Check out places like:

Ms. Foundation for Women

Center for Reproductive Rights

List of Supporters of the E.R.A.

Women Organized to Resist and Defend

Feminist.com

Listen to more Aretha Franklin and Janis Joplin and Amanda Palmer and Adele and Ricki Lee Jones.

Love the men and boys around you and let them know that they are as necessary to this movement as any woman. Be proud to call yourself a feminist regardless of your gender.

p.s. (If you are male or female or non-binary and you are against abortion, then don’t fucking have one; just know that abortion is an equal rights issue, a health issue.)

PLEASE buy my first chapbook, Ponderings. In case you did plan to purchase a copy but haven’t gotten around to it yet– now would be a propitious time to do it.

If you have signed up for a copy already I THANK YOU and hope you enjoy it. They will be shipping in July 2015.

You can click this link, or go to the website athttp://www.finishinglinepress.com/ (new releases) or send a check to:
Finishing Line Books PO Box 1626 Georgetown, KY 40324

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April 30, 2015

Poetry is a Deserved and Necessary Extravagance

by lisa st john

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For women, then, poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our existence. It forms the quality of the light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change, first made into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action.
Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought. The farthest external horizons of our hopes and fears are cobbled by our poems, carved from the rock experiences of our daily lives. (
Audre Lorde)

The workshop guru said we must fight. Poetry is dying because we over-test the students. “Where is the short story? Where are the poems in your curriculum?” she demands.

I teach high school students. I try and also integrate the language arts. I cannot do a poetry unit for the same reason that I can’t really buy into Black History Month. Poetry is embedded in all my units. Black history is American history, isn’t it? Do I wait to teach the syncopation of Langston Hughes until February? Do I hold off on Zora Neale Hurston or Toni Morrison until “their month” arrives? How do you read Frankenstein without reading Percy Bysshe Shelley or looking at the paintings of William Blake? How do you read Tim O’Brien without writing collage and found poetry? I guess I m not good at separating the arts into little egg cartons. Eggs are too easily broken.

So I go to writing workshops like Nina Shengold’s Word Cafe, and rejoice in the publication and popularity of Chronogram (in print no less). And I nod in understanding when Gretchen Primack describes poetic form as a “lattice for your roses.”

I smile at the incredulity of teachers when they find out my oh-so-optional Poetry Elective (pass/fail—no credit) is full.

I laugh a full belly-laugh when a students says, “Look at that kid—he looks like a purple crayon!” And then I tell the student that he has the start of a poem.

I take them on field trips to hear poets like Tina Chang at SUNY Ulster. I am thrilled when they buy her book or want a picture. Who says poets cannot be celebrities?

When I Google the phrase “21st century poetry” I get 11,200,000 hits. That’s not so bad. Google used to be a number spelled googol and then it was a noun and now it’s a verb. Poetry used to be oral, sung; it changed to include the written, recited, slammed, recorded (audio and visual), animated, mashed, digitized. The word “poetry” comes from the Greek, meaning “to create.”

It’s not going away any time soon. I need poetry like I need cooked food. If I only ate grass, I’d be a sheep.

My first chapbook, Ponderings, is being published by Finishing Line Press. In case you did plan to purchase a copy but haven’t gotten around to it yet– now would be a propitious time to do it.

The number of copies sold before May 8th determines the size of the pressrun, which explains this gentle reminder.

If you have signed up for a copy already I THANK YOU and hope you enjoy it. They will be shipping in July 2015.

You can click this link, or go to the website at http://www.finishinglinepress.com/ (new releases) or send a check to:
Finishing Line Books PO Box 1626 Georgetown, KY 40324

I wrote the following poem at a Word Cafe Workshop with a collaboration of teaching and writing and not separating in mind.

“Sonnet for Adam: Denied Donation”

I would leave off a line for you,
not a whole couplet, obviously, but—
a line. Oh Adam, you are not the first.
So many bled—ahead—to pave this way.

At least you had the guts to tell the truth.
You say, “Heighten your attention. See Me.”
“Come back next year,” they told you yet again.
You say, “Listen to truth with wider eyes.”

To savor your story will take longer
than one Stonewall and a few thousand lives.
For you, Adam, for you—oh! Not the first.
For you, the blood will come around again.

See me. See me. Anapest just this once.

April 11, 2015

Persephone is Knocking

by lisa st john

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Persephone is Knocking

There is something so fragile about spring. The little kid part of me that believed in fairies also sometimes believes that spring will never come—that we are doomed to grey snowpiles and ice-cracked puddles forever. Maybe I just watched too much Twilight Zone as a kid.

But April is a fierce beast too, hence the paradox. I have seen crocuses and daffodils bust right through leaves and snow and winter and announce their arrival with bravado. But the cold breezes—right through the sunlight—still whisper winter in the air.

Everything that was covered up for months comes out to haunt and tease and say, “You thought you got rid of me? Ha.” There is no hiding from spring. Leaf piles that never got raked, dog turds and cigarette butts, broken glass and moments too resonant to stay buried come back in spring. IMG_4309

Jeffrey McDaniel said, “There’s something incredibly honest about trees in winter, how they’re experts at letting things go.” There is something sneaky about spring. She makes you believe in summer while letting winter’s frost in through the back door. Come on up Persephone. You must be starving.

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You can buy my first chapbook of poetry HERE at Finishing Line Press. It’s called Ponderings.

March 11, 2015

Buy My Book. Please.

by lisa st john

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I did it.

I finished a book of poetry, and Finishing Line Press is publishing it. BUY MY FIRST BOOK! This is real. This is me asking you. Ponderings is my first chapbook, and I need you to buy it NOW while it is in the advance sale stage. The orders that come in now will determine how many copies they publish.

PREORDER PURCHASE SHIPS July 3, 2015

Order online by clicking this link. It’s easy! They accept Paypal and credit/debit cards. Or go directly to http//www.finsihinglinepress.com/ and then to “preorder forthcoming titles” on the right side of the page.

Ponderings by Lisa St. John $14.49, paper

You can also order by post. Send shipping address along with check or money order made payable to:

Finishing Line Press Post Office Box 1626 Georgetown, KY 40324

Help a poet out, and RESERVE YOUR COPY TODAY!

Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you.

Here is a favorite poem from Ponderings.

ON WRITING

(With apologies to Stephen King and Francis Bacon)

Push it into a villanelle, or stretch it into a sonnet,

no. Chop it into a Tanka. A Haiku.

5 This poem is now here

7 with out struc-ture it floats like

5 a poll-u-ted fog.

“I have to be careful editing,” Alvin said, “Or I cut until my poems disappear altogether.”
Wordsworth said, “Fill the paper with the breathings of your heart.”

Colette said,” Destroy most of it.”

Julie said, “Why do we bother with it? Why?”

Summarily dismiss all critics.
Copy the masters.
Write what you know.
Imagine the moment.
Aphorize me no more!

Stereotype: Torture! Pain! Drama.
Drinking, smoking, crying writer wails, “If I don’t write I’ll die!”

Little Marquis de Sades running round writing with blood and excrement using their
fingernails. I need an emoticon here for rolling eyes.

There is no ghost in this machine.

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