Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Adjective Happy

Old Sac Band
Photo by Michelle Kunert, Sacramento

—Patricia Hickerson, Davis

I just fucking don’t want to get up
because this is what
I’ll have to do:

wash face (maybe)
brush teeth
dress myself
comb hair
put on lipstick (maybe)
turn on phone
check for messages
leash dog
take him for a walk
stop occasionally
pick up after him with baggie
check mailbox
return dog to house
unleash him
check his bowl
put phone in purse
close windows
leave house
find keys
lock door
start car...

maybe I’ll stay in bed
till noon;
it’s okay

isn’t it?


I used to be adjective happy. Now I cut them with so much severity that I find I have to put a few adjectives back.
—Frank Yerby

When you catch an adjective, kill it.
—Mark Twain

This week’s SOW (write a poem without using any adjectives) finds some of our poets scrambling around in the wings a bit. First of all, you have to identify what an adjective is, which I thought was obvious (modifies a person, place or thing). But when the actual poems started coming in, I was surprised to discover that it wasn’t as easy as I thought. Carol Frith writes, for example: I did a quick check here to make sure I had this straight: traditional grammarians consider articles to be adjectives, while a few modern ones classify them as determiners (what's the diff, I ask??). So I'm wondering: are the poets allowed to use "a," "an," or "the?" in their adjective-less poems? And how about "my," "his," "her," etc.?

Well, I think we shall eschew such correctness, and don’t be surprised if you find a few of the little beasts lurking in today’s poems (colors, for example). Nobody does an exact chin-up, after all; the point is to mess around with your work a little, look at it through different eyes. Why pick on the pretty adjective, you ask—isn’t the point of writing to describe? We’re always telling the beginning writer to “be specific”: a flower by the road comes to life if we call it a fading wild rose by the highway. But how much is enough? Maybe adjectives (and adverbs) are an area where we tend to drift into telling, not showing—maybe we need to leave a little to the imagination sometimes, lest “rooms” that are too ornate become a distraction. How about you? Let us know if you came to any discoveries while you were doing this week’s poetic chin-ups. The best poets are also ace editors of their own work, yes?

I believe more in the scissors than I do in the pencil.
—Truman Capote

Surprise Valley Writers’ Conference still has space:

William O’Daly, one of the presenters, writes: Particularly if you have never visited Surprise Valley, one of the most interesting and beautiful inland landscapes in northern California, please join us for the upcoming “Surprise Valley Writers’ Conference: A Rural Setting for Serious Writing,” September 16–19 in Cedarville, Modoc County. Ray and Barbara March of Modoc Forum, the sponsoring organization, will host a casual evening reception on Wednesday, 9/15; registration, the workshops, and other activities will commence on Thursday morning, the 16th.

Just a few spots remain open in William O’Daly’s newly expanded poetry and translation workshop, so even at this late date Modoc Forum is accepting applications for the conference and for this workshop in particular. In O’Daly’s workshop, “The Two-Fold Path: Writing and Translating a Life in Poetry”, the group will explore the art of poetry writing and the art of translating poetry as symbiotic partners in a poet’s practice, and will critique both “original” poems and translations. Attendees may bring their own poems, their translations of poems, or a combination of each for supportive and perceptive review of strengths and areas for improvement. O’Daly, a well-published and highly regarded poet, is the authorized English-language translator of the late and posthumous poetry of Chilean Nobel laureate Pablo Neruda; he has published eight books of Neruda translations with Copper Canyon Press. This workshop will be filled on a first-come, first-served basis.

Other presenters will include Sacramento’s Julia Connor, UN Reno’s Chris Coake, and Keynote Speaker Ida Rae Egli. Please see for details, including fees, faculty roster and bios, keynote speaker, schedule, and accommodations. Or call Ray March at 530-279-2099.


—Patricia Hickerson

the husband was leading her to
an apartment in Paris
where he had taken the kids
where Marie Antoinette had once lived
he was leading her up steps
up to the guillotine
where she expected to lose her head
watch it roll along the Seine

oh, she had already lost it
over this man
you know
the one she
spent nights with at the Tuileries?
he was home now with wife and kids
near Montmartre

and she was led back
by the husband

whom she summoned
but only after
she saw someone’s head
roll into the gutter


—Taylor Graham, Placerville

clogs to locomotion
—Elihu Burritt, Walks in the Black Country

Just look at the man. From a furlong
you can tell he’s a farmer. The clodhoppers
he wears—iron and leather—the pair
outweighs a set of horseshoes.

How it burdens the gait! There’s no spring
to the step. How could the man dance,
or give way to a flash of inspiration?
He’ll be a plodder to the end, lumbering

behind the team—if you could call it a team—
of grays who struggle in harness
up the hill. They straggle, leader to shafts,
satellites to the whole, all against gravity.

A Yankee knows better. Let’s apply
mind to matter. If we lighten
the load of man and beast, won’t it
lighten the soul?


—Taylor Graham

[Kings] never knew how to talk and walk and
act with the majesty
that befitted a king until
[Shakespeare] taught them.

—Elihu Burritt, Walks in the Black Country

You duck under the lintel, step into the room
where Shakespeare was born. A house in skeleton:
bones of the frame show through the flesh.
But it bore a man who created, for the ages,
worlds of imagination.

Why, even kings didn't know how to behave
like kings, until a man of vision penned the lines.
It takes imagination
to show the world how to act.


—Tom Goff, Carmichael

We wander off the map, breathe
and stamp dust, dust whose color
whispers of iron (or gold?).

Nora spots bevies and bevies
of quail. These darken the air
with sound: rotors, fanning

the flyway into brush. What creates
this effect where thistle
springs, as if liquid, not silk, drapes

the stalks with white? Thistledown,
I decide, basing my guess on
childhood, on books (snatches

of The Wind in the Willows?)…
Rise, you stars and stars, novas
thinning, upfloating in silver and white,

shining, hairs, hairs, hairs of the cosmos.
You flee, lest you become succulents,
seeds the American goldfinches

lustily devour, pecking at thistle,
at pommels brandishing crests of purple,
pecking, for all we know,

at Scotland—or at the Godhead?…


Today's LittleNip:

It is a constant idea of mine, that behind the cotton wool (of daily reality) is hidden a pattern, that we—I mean all human beings—are connected with this; that the whole world is a work of art; that we are parts of a work of art.

—Virginia Woolf (“A Sketch of the Past”)


—Medusa (Thanks, D.R. Wagner, for the LittleNip)

And, lest we take It All too seriously...

...Meet Mr. Switchdick!