Why Poetry

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I read poetry

Because of lines like Stein’s

All this and not ordinary

A line just distinguishes it. And

Frank’s Hum-colored Cabs

That bring me elsewhere

Only to gasp from knowing

I have been here before.

Poetry is slow

-writing that asks for

Slow reading.

For meaning not easily teased

For brevity that strikes its heart-mark

For the now and now, this,

That you and I share

That was nothing before this.

Poetry by Scribblerbean©

As a former writer for hire, I would discharge words like cheap bullets that more or less hit their marks.  My brain ran on a loop, a Dickinsonian groove, stuck with language as habit rather than craft. Over time, dissatisfaction over crappy writing jobs morphed into illumination, as I tired of the language in my possession and my cavalier use of it. I decided it was time to relearn English, but set my bar as high as I could. Poetry, I knew, was the highest form of language. So I pursued it by going back to university, but that wasn’t enough.  Image

From September through to mid November this year, I shared a virtual classroom with about 35,000 poetry learners around the world, who ranged from teachers with advanced degrees to eager and nervous novices. Devoting myself to a fast-paced syllabus, the study of poetry shaped my mornings, infused my afternoon half-naps, kept me up until my entire household was fast asleep. But this was a class unlike any I had ever signed up for.

Offered through Coursera, Modern & Contemporary American Poetry (ModPo, lovingly) boasts of both passion and bold, cutting-edge pedagogy. Meticulously designed and taught by University of Pennsylvania’s Al Filreis, ModPo is an intimate, no-lectures-given, community-driven, tech-enabled village of multitudes brought together by a love of language. Given my unconventional academic path and my physical distance from institutions offering the rigorous training I craved, I have been thankful for the accessibility of MOOCs and online learning. But ModPo is an experience as extraordinary as Al himself, sprung from an ecosystem of webcasts, readings, and live events open to all lovers of poetry. And quite unlike my online classes with their forums and uploading of course content, one is present “in ModPo” truly and holistically. Al and his brilliant, captivating TAs are, safe to say, ever-present both on- and offline, through weekly webcasts, in near-synchronous online exchanges, and on campus, real-life/real-time meet-ups at the Kelly Writers House. Al and the ModPo team offer presence, accessibility, and enthusiasm, and immense generosity with both material and insight. ModPo gives its students more than a deep engagement with poetic texts and ideas; it cultivates an uncommon community that jumps borders. Image

Nearly two weeks after its official end, ModPo’s forums are still abuzz with students-turned-online friends. The poetry talk rages on, hearts and minds urged wide open anew to receive and make meaning of Whitman, Dickinson, O’Hara, Stein, Kerouac, Ashbery, Goldsmith.

It was the right decision to pursue poetry because there is much fulfillment in it. Whether I evolve towards poetic practice that involves writing and publishing remains to be seen, but I am hopeful with this, my renewed relationship with language. Today I am more than content chatting with newfound poetry friends around the world, and unraveling newfound favorites, like Whitman and Stein, and O’Hara, Ashbery, and Silliman. Thank you, Al; and thank you, ModPo community.

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Cut & Paste

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I’ve spent the past few weeks immersed in silent dialogue with a few modernist and post-modernist poems. I tell myself it’s for fun (which it is, for the most part) but this is so I remain calm and collected in the few weeks before finals. The fun arises from stumbling on ordinary things with unexpected poetic value: fragments cobbled together with the softest of glues, found texts, other people’s status updates, song lyrics ripped out of context.

When exams are over I hope to swim in the most forgiving and warm waters of Free Time, to put aside grownup talk so I can exercise my other voice. In the meantime, as a complement to the first paragraph, here’s a bit of cut-and-paste cheekery.

bing is a Poet (and Didn’t Know It)

Morning sun ahead of holiday

Skies falling rain.

Corner of the wind up, naughty, blow hair.

It does not affect the Friday caper.

Rain on umbrella shades, tick-tock

Interweaving into notes.

Drops of rain on the ground

Moments into one small flower

Tick rain the beat

Spa system generative. Forces clouds,

Float like a cloud

That is the best suited to drain

When it rains.

 

– adapted from an advertisement in Mandarin, as translated by Bing

Awards Season

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Being in transit over the holidays meant we had no tree in our flat. I wrapped a total of three presents (small ones). It’s quiet work, waiting for the holiday spirit to visit.

But I came back after Christmas to find that fellow wanderer becomingmadame.wordpress.com had nominated Scribblerbean for two awards: the Beautiful Blogger Award and The Reader Appreciation Award. Mme’s sweet little note was probably one of the best presents a writer writing alone could receive: encouragement, and a quick little wink across continents that said, you’re doing ok. Merci beaucoup, Madame!

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As if that wasn’t enough, Josh Lattimer, who creates dazzling posts on fictionalmachines.com had also sent me a nomination for the One Lovely Blog Award.

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In turn, I wish to nominate Jmkhaprawannatellyouastory.wordpress.com

She produces wondrous little stories and illustrations that move me with their honesty and boldness.

Now these may just look like colorful little badges, but I haven’t been blogging for very long. Encouragement goes a long way! So for that, thank you ever so much. I resolve to write a little more everyday in emulation of bloggers I’ve admired over these past few months.

In the spirit of Oscar Fever and the Awards season, I’m passing along nominations for the Beautiful Blogger Award and Reader Appreciation Award to 15 blogs. These writers inspire me with their dedication to the craft, their brave, writerly ways, darling geekiness, and wanderlust.

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Marousia.wordpress.com

Bottledworder.wordpress.com

Jilannehoffmann.com

Ambientehotel.wordpress.com

Marcusspeh.com

Jarofsalt.com

Onthehomefrontandbeyond.wordpress.com

Tigergroves.wordpress.com

Catherinejohnson.wordpress.com

Poetrynotesandjottings.wordpress.com

Ayearinmyshoes.wordpress.com

Thirdculturekidlife.com

Gregorygcollins.com

Reddirtlattes.com

Anilbalan.com

If you wish to, here’s what you do next:

  1. Link back to the person who nominated you
  2. Post the award(s) on your page
  3. Nominate 15 other blogs
  4. Share 7 random facts about yourself.

Here are my 7 random facts:

  1. I can’t do rollercoasters or tequila.
  2. One of the seven fish in my aquarium is missing an eye.
  3. The monster under my bed was a zombie. Of this I am sure.
  4. I draw pictures with paint in my other journals.
  5. I wish I’d worked harder to do better in math class.
  6. My bedtime is 2 am.
  7. I have never been to New York City.

Thank you for letting me into your strange and beautiful corners! I look forward to your wonderful musings in 2013.

The Value of Solitude

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I’ve overturned a log in the forest and out scurried colorful little creatures that were hiding in the crevices. Not really, no. But it’s been a little like this, over the past 48 hours. Just the other day a friend of mine posted this infographic, about living with introverts.

Putting it on my own wall, I wasn’t expecting the flurry of responses. From other friends and their friends (strangers to me) came a collective sigh of relief after holding one’s breath for too long. The nervous laugh of recognition continues to ripple across my little cyber-community. I love how we’ve all come out of the woodwork, I wrote in a comment.

I am an introvert.

I’ve never announced it before, and doing so now feels strangely counter-intuitive, a paradox. But I felt such a warm sense of approval from my fellow silent observers, over the sudden claiming of a voice (usually we keep our stories to ourselves; this is why many of us are writers). It appears that I am not the only one left to drift to the edge of a crowded room in an extrovert-dominated world.

As the hours passed more friends came out to confess they too were introverts. One of them reposted my original post, which generated another round of confessions on her wall. Another (her friend, a stranger to me) then shared this, a list of common misconceptions about people like us.

So now I thought to share it here, and my amazement over how much of it rings true. Such as how we need solitude like we need air; how we are often mistaken for rude or weird.

I value my solitude and need it. When I turn down an invitation to hang out, it does not mean I’ve stopped being your friend. Believe me when I say I value you, more than I can express.

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Sometimes I disappear, as those closest to me can attest. I don’t mean to be rude, I am just desperate to recharge. Most times, I am exhausted; sometimes I’m just lost in my own head. And other times, being around too many people means I’m in danger of losing myself.

What I have also lost are a few friends, who probably took my withdrawing ways as an affront. This pains me but I have no clue how to fix it. Others (who I now suspect to be introverts too) respectfully and quietly hover just out of my periphery. I feel their warmth even though I don’t see them, and am grateful and comforted.

To those who haven’t quite figured me out, know you are one of a handful of carefully selected friends. You’re important to me so please stick around. Know that I always come back and may even invite you out for coffee, so we can talk. Thanks for waiting, and for understanding.

How To Choose A Place To Live

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1. Open the newspaper and find the Classifieds.

Feel overwhelmed, as you usually are when faced with too many choices. Temper passions with an eye on practical considerations, such as food preferences and limitations based upon budget. Once you find the Classifieds, pore over the many categories. Be distracted by ads selling antique typewriters, Labrador puppies, raw farmland. Make a mental note that the farmland you really want someday is the kind with soil to grow coffee in. Indonesia?

2. Find ample storage: an attic, basement, or walk-in closet the size of a small warehouse.

Lose sleep over what to do with the ceramic zebra’s head sculpted by a daughter (now a junior at art school), another daughter’s complete Chronicles of Narnia. Wool coats put away because where you live now has only two seasons, wet and dry. Boxes of photo albums (2001-2006). Consider the long-term value of memories.

3. Go online to apartmentherapy.com and stalk the interiors of other people’s houses.

Here is where you begin to understand what drives your choices. Not envy, but where you came from, stirred by jpegs of shag carpets or mid-Century aesthetic:  glass tile for your kitchen backsplash, the mahogany desk and leather chair that remind you of your granduncle, the one who served as cultural attaché to Burma in 1958. That extra bedroom to serve as a writer’s garret, because sloped ceilings and natural light will help you write better. Hardwood floors to showcase your mother’s collection of Tibetan prayer rugs, the only thing she left behind, apart from the empty seat at your daughter’s high school graduation dinner.  

4. Consider the proximity to public transportation.

Walk to El, steps to Starbucks and minutes to the Loop! Short drive to beaches and Ocean Road; easy access to Tanah Merah Terminal Ferry. Dream of someday having a personal driver, a necessity and safety precaution in cities where roads are dusty, worn, or imaginary. Rik drove up in a white car after breakfast everyday, to take you to Banteay Srei, Ta Prohm, wherever you wanted to go until he suggested less touristy places. “You must visit the Killing Fields,” he said. You aren’t ready, you told him. Look into a house’s history, especially if it’s very old, and make certain it isn’t haunted.

5. Expand your search. Is climate a consideration?

Realize you miss snow at Christmas; not so much the rising ragweed count in April. But do exclude regions with extreme weather, such as neighborhoods located along the path of monsoons or around the Ring of Fire. Volcanos are fine as long as they are extinct. Reconsider retiring to a small coffee plantation in Danau Toba, Sumatra.

Invasive Procedures

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Sometimes in my father’s house the doors of the upstairs bedrooms close on their own. My sister, before moving away to Omaha, used to say she saw things that weren’t there. Still, I never believed the house was haunted, so it didn’t bother me to take a nap in my sister’s old room (“the blue room” for its walls of robin’s egg blue). It was the middle of the morning of a very warm day.

Lying in the blue room, fighting the urge to stem the sleepiness with caffeine, I calculated twenty minutes before the inspection at 11:00 am. I should have just gone for the coffee. As I dozed the sleep was shallow, and I awoke hearing the wind chimes that I had just hung on the door to the family room downstairs.

This hand-painted wind-catcher captures the beauty of the reefs without
robbing them of their wonderful resources. Sand Dollars, Starfish, and Scallop
Shells are treasures of the ocean, and Bali is surrounded by a vast ocean full of life.
The musical tuning of this chime is from the exotic instruments of the Indonesian gamelan.

The specialist who came to check our house for termites arrived early and smiling too widely. I was upset by the interrupted nap, and the fact that his red shirt was too red for so early in the morning. I concluded that he was clumsy as well as too eager to take my money. But I did not want termites.

“Oh, they’re out there,” he said, clicking his drugstore-bought ballpoint pen. “The mound over by the bamboo trees, we’ll have to remove that. And poison the soil.”

So he had stepped out through the back door into the back yard, sweeping through the property in the short time it had taken me to come down the stairs. We walked through my house and up the stairs, his eyes running across my ceilings, into corners. All wood, yes. No, not antique. Yes, we just installed it. The termites, he informed me, had invaded from the empty lot next door.

“We’ll line the perimeter with poison so they can’t penetrate,” he said, clicking and scribbling with his ballpoint pen, sweat pellets forming on his temples. “Is there a trap door in the ceiling our people can crawl through?” I pointed at an outline in the ceiling of my children’s bathroom, a square tile hidden from view unless you happened to crane your neck in unusual angles. It was muggy and still up here, where the hot air rose into the sloping eaves.

“Will the…poison…kill my frangipani?”

“No,” he said, “it’s botanical. Citrus-based. Not likely to kill anything but termites.” I pictured a liquid murk seeping into the soil to find the queen termite, a thermal missile traversing its kill zone while leaving its orange-scented wake.

I signed the contract, ensuring monthly visits without my having to think about a thing, evaluations like a military review to rid my home of termites, ants, mice. All in. Sign now and cut a check to avail of the end of month promo. And just like that, I could worry less about stove-scurrying mice, termites emerging from their lair in the dirt to chew through my walls (sometimes at night I could hear them), ants on my dining table disrupting dinner with their rivulet-shaped processions down the tassels of the tablecloth my mother had crocheted by hand.

Then I heard it, after the termite man left on his motorbike. Echoes of blissful Bali breaks, yearly each summer when the girls were little. The wind chimes mimicking a fairy-sized gamelan. Disks of bleached teak tied together by black string, cat’s cradle style; slender steel rods suspended and, when brushed with a fingertip, made a sound like the tinkling of glasses. Or like spirits trailing bells through the trees, on nights lit only by the moon and candles on dinner tables. At the end of the string, a real starfish, a fragile pentangle the color of beach sand. Of five points, I counted four-and-a-quarter. It looked like a thing dead, scavenged off a dying wave, one of its limbs missing.

©Scribblerbean 2012