Poetry

Driver Three

I’ve been taking an online poetry class from the UK’s The Poetry School. The tutor is Leah Umansky (@lady_bronte on Twitter), author most recently of The Barbarous Century (Eyewear, 2018).

The class, called “Only Love Studio,” is ostensibly about love poetry, but love is interpreted broadly and includes romantic love, platonic love, and love of place so the subject matter for the poems has been quite far-ranging.

It’s been a joy to be in Leah’s class. Her assignments have pushed me to write in ways I typically might not, and her feedback has been generous, encouraging and insightful. Time will tell if I get any keepers out of this class, but most assignments have produced at least one poem worthy of sharing in one form or another.

Our class of 18 students is diverse, and it’s been inspirational to see the depth of expression possible by poets of different levels. Based on my first experience, I would definitely recommend The Poetry School.

I made an audio recording of last week’s workshop poem called “1982.” It was a bit of retrospective on the experience of American high school when you’re a bit of a nerd. You can hear an early version of that poem below:

This week, I wrote “Driver Three” in response to a prompt related to “love of place.” On the surface it’s a 15-line story about a car ride (well, technically 3) that I had during a work trip to China last week. But more importantly, it’s about the necessity of trusting even in a world with plenty of evidence you should do otherwise. I struggled with it for 4 days while traveling, but when I got home my wife immediately gave me the feedback I needed to figure out how to end it.

It’s a work in progress, but you can see what I’ve got in the video below.

The Rainbow-Colored Gorilla Plays Foosball

Just for fun, here’s an ekphrastic poem inspired by a photo my friend Ed Ackerson posted to Instagram the other day. The photo seemed to urgently want to tell a story so I had to make one up around it.

The Rainbow-Colored Gorilla Plays Foosball

We were down 10 points when
boom! The rainbow-colored gorilla
sat down on the foosball table. Maybe

he was wound up after the pride
parade. Or maybe he was just angry.
Oooo oooo oooo, was all he said,

but that’s all he ever said. We had
to abandon the game after that
due to the smell and carry the table,

gorilla and all, out to the alley behind
the house. He didn’t budge, and soon the
weeds grew up around him. To this day,

he patrols the penalty arc, rain or shine.
Best goalie I’ve seen in Uptown in years, one neighbor said.
Greatest of all time! Insists another.

Guy Lombardo and Champagne

Our grandparents knew
Guy Lombardo and champagne
are the keys to New Year’s Eve.
Hours before midnight, in the shoe store,
I could not keep my big mouth shut about the boots you found
which you were terribly excited about.
I just had to say I had bought that same brand last year,
and the heel came off
within weeks. Don’t you remember?
Your excitement faded. Your smile dimmed.
You no longer wanted the boots.
From that moment on, nothing I could say would convince you to buy them.

So what if they might fall apart in 3 months?
What right had I to take away the pleasure you might have found
from your first new pair of boots in 3 years!
At midnight
my foolishness almost forgotten
I asked you to dance to “Auld Lang Syne”
when it came on the music player. And then
“Enjoy Yourself (It’s Later Than You Think).”
It was intimate, exciting,
just the two of us,
dancing in the candlelight
to Guy Lombardo.
Who knows what the new year holds in store,
for us, or our shoes.

Reflections on the Day After Thanksgiving Abroad

There was no turkey, no dressing,
no jellied cranberry sauce, can-shaped and sliced.
There was no pumpkin pie.

There were mashed potatoes, lingonberries,
and meatloaf, but no day off work. It was just a Thursday,
and we might have been thankful

the stores were at least open,
so there was no rush to complete the shopping
for wine and last-minute ingredients for dinner.

We might have wished (had we thought of it)
that our youngest wouldn’t wake in fever
at 1 a.m. and need to be kept home

on Friday, causing a missed day of work
that in America would have been a day off anyway.
Still, these frustrations bring up in me

a thankfulness such a day as Thanksgiving exists,
one day each year we are reminded to be thankful
(as we so easily forget), thankful

we have any days at all, whatever they might be full of.
But next year, for heaven’s sake, let’s make a pie.