Fun with Words from Twitter, Part II

A couple weeks ago (wow, has it been that long?) I posted an idea I thought I might use in the poetry class I'm teaching. I made lists of the nouns and verbs I found on my Twitter news feed with the intention of making a found-poem out of them, then had the students do the same with their Twitter/Facebook/Myspace (okay, not even the kids use Myspace anymore. Google Plus? Too soon). I wrote mine while the students worked on theirs. The lesson was a hit. Here's what I came up with:

8 Hours of Twitter

In my Newsfeed
Butterflies sing commandments.
Cyberpunks apply for immigration,
And farts retweet pain.

Accountants weigh corruption.
Insects transform islands.
Families prolong their vacations in sandboxes,
While cookies threaten leadership.

Photos forget portraits.
Music gropes for affairs.
Paper-dolls tote cancer.
And sluts prefer reading.

All the babble googles gibberish,
While dementors smooch sleep.

My Greatest Professional Triumph is Anonymous

Perhaps it's a bit hyperbolic, but among an English teacher's dreams, the idea of having a student become a published author or poet ranks pretty high. Well, thanks to one of my creative writing students, I've now accomplished this dream.

Note the focus. She has an accomplishment. I talk about myself. This is intrinsic to the profession; her accomplishment is mine, even though I played a tiny role. A whole lot of other teachers taught this student to read and write, and clearly she has a great deal of innate talent, but when she becomes a published poet, I get to brag.

After hearing about her publication from a colleague (who deserves just as much or more credit, but this is about me here, right?) I asked the student if I could brag about her tonight. I hope she felt proud in that moment, because I'm certainly proud of her.

But she chose to have the poem published without her name! When you read the poem, you'll understand why. It's quite personal, and though it might not be her actual experience that she's expressing, it must hit close enough to home to make her hesitant to share her identity. Fine. I still get to claim my little piece of credit. I do wish she'd put her name on it though, because, separate from her emotional experience, it's a fine work of craftsmanship. When I link to it, you can see that she has skill which goes beyond the considerable power of the content.

My other reason for wanting her to get credit is that it messes with my own. Instead of being able to say, "I taught ---- --------, the one who had that powerful poem published a few years ago," I have to say, "I taught Anonymous."

On second thought, that's plenty poetic. So, thanks Anonymous. Thank you for the inspiration to me, as a teacher, and thanks for your courage in sharing your work, even if your name isn't attached. You'll be known (if only to the few readers of this poem, but they will remember you) by your work alone, and there's a special dignity to that which is rare in our world of people obsessed with taking credit. I'm glad you didn't learn that particular impulse from me. Your poem is wonderful.

So, without further ado, I give you Anonymous' "No Lollipop."

Now just try and tell me that didn't kick you in the gut. Yeah, she was one of my students.

New Poem from OWP about Noah: "Keeping the Fire"

Today, at the Oregon Writing Project, we were asked to read "The Lightkeeper" by Carloyn Forché and write about who keeps the light on for us. I wrote this poem about my son.

Keeping the Fire

We’re the good guys.
We’re keeping the fire.
The man and the boy used this sacred mantra
To carry them down McCarthy’s Road
And when I put down the book
I hugged Noah fiercely
Then waited till he slept
Kissed his forehead
And thanked him.
He once needed me
To change his diapers
To keep him warm
To feed him
To sing, sometimes for hours, until he slept
To wake in the middle of the night to make sure his chest rose and fell
But I always needed him more.
I will always need him more.
He makes me keep the fire.

New Poem: "Strange Defense"

This is a product of a guys-only camping trip my friend Paul invited me to. Paul is the friend in the poem who tried to stick up for me. The antagonist was very drunk when this incident took place. I know that's no excuse, but in vino veritas. I was equally compromised when I wrote this, but I'm pretty satisfied with it the next day, at least enough to post it.

Strange Defense

Don't jew me, the guy says.
My friend points a thumb in my direction
Jew at the table, it says.
Oh, no, I mean like the Jews back in Jesus times.
I see.
He's not an anti-Semite
'Cause he only hates the Jews
Responsible for killing Christ.
I'm not cheap.
They were.
What a relief.

Oregon Writing Project: What Color Are You? Poem

As I do my homework to prepare for the Summer Institute of the Oregon Writing Project at Willamette University, I thought I'd post my attempts here. I'm pretty pleased with this one. Today's prompt:

Assignment #12
What color are you? Write a poem using similes and metaphors to compare you to colors.

What Color Am I?

“The thoroughly well-informed man--that is the modern ideal. And the mind of the thoroughly well-informed man is a dreadful thing. It is like a bric-a-brac shop, all monsters and dust, with everything priced above its proper value.”

-Oscar Wilde
The Picture of Dorian Gray

There is a small bookshop in my town,
Where tall shelves, eight feet high
Stand shoulder to shoulder, leaning over thin aisles
And each is nine months and two weeks pregnant with books.

Used, tattered, their spines lined from over-reading
Pages dog-eared, dust jackets missing,
Cardboard peeking through the corners of the covers
Or paperbacks, bent by back pockets
Their artwork lined and faded.

In this shop a book is hiding.
From some Paleozoic era before glossy jackets
It’s covered in fabric.
Most was once bright red, now sickly pink
But the spine was gray, is gray, shall be gray.
The pages were once white, now yellowed.

Outside, I am the colors of that book
Pale pink and yellowed-white and gray
But inside, in the darkness of the closed cover
I am monsters and romance and heroes and tragedy
Or a biography of a forgotten poet,
Or do-it-yourself carpentry projects,
Or a collection of essays on semiotics and post-modernism.
Perhaps there are full color photographs.

A cover does not know the colors of its pages
And when I think I am black and white
Symbols ordered into words, sentences, paragraphs, chapters
I fear
A rainbow of Greek and Sanskrit
Straining to describe colors that have not been named.

Oregon Writing Project: "I am the one who..." poem

As I do my homework to prepare for the Summer Institute of the Oregon Writing Project at Willamette University, I thought I'd post my attempts here. This one is a bit long, but I like the way it coalesces. Let me know what you think! Today's Prompt: I am the one who…: make a list that portrays the details of your likes and dislikes, idiosyncrasies and crotchets, beginning each line with “I am the one who…”

I Am the One Who Is Trying to Be Better About That

I am the guy who considers Ritz crackers and Tillamook extra sharp cheddar cheese a meal.
I am the guy who sometimes forgets to eat for two days straight.
I am the guy who drinks too much Mountain Dew and has the triglyceride count to prove it.
I am the guy who hasn’t heard a clever or original bald joke in a long time.
I am the guy who doesn’t like the way he looks, but is too lazy to work out.
I am the one who’s trying to be better about that.

I am the son who wishes my family lived closer. But not too close.
I am the husband who buys a new song and listens to it over and over until my wife hates it.
I am the husband who says he will do the dishes, forgets, and then says, “I was going to do those.”
I am the father who Noah is allowed to punch in the chest but not the face or the crotch.
I am the father who gave Noah that awesome Mohawk haircut when he was into reciting Mr. T quotes.
I am the father who cuts Noah’s hair, and always wants to cut it a little shorter around the ears.
I am the father who has cut Noah’s ear with the clippers. Twice.
I am the one who’s trying to be better about that.

I am the teacher who likes to be in front of his students more than behind his desk.
I am the teacher who likes books better than movies, but watches more movies for sheer expedience.
I am the teacher who keeps a jar of creamy peanut butter in my desk and eats a spoonful during third period to keep my energy level up.
I am the teacher who, on bad days, wonders if I should have gone to law school.
I am the teacher who shaves less and less frequently as the school year goes on.
I am the one who’s trying to be better about that.

I am the guy who actively wishes ill for douche-bags like Bill O’Reilly and Glenn Beck.
I am the guy who does not romanticize ages past when men beat their wives, whites lynched blacks, gays were considered mentally ill, and books had to be written by hand or typed on typewriters.
I am the guy who used to be religious and is now a reluctant agnostic who misses the certainty.
I am the guy who often can’t understand the Red State point of view.
I am the one who’s trying to be better about that.

I am the writer who tries to set aside at least one night a week to write until dawn.
I am the writer who smokes a pipe because I’m an addict and I enjoy it, not because I’m professorial, contemplative, or cerebral.
I am the writer who overwrites. Who has to add just one more idea. Which should be edited out. But isn’t.
I am the writer who posts political rants online and delude myself that somebody out there gives a rat’s ass what I think.
I am the writer who powerfully, passionately, solemnly, resolutely hates the overuse of adverbs. Especially in dialogue attribution, I might add laconically, ungrammatically, and unnecessarily.
I am the writer who writes novels but gives up on each one after only a handful of rejected query letters.
I am the one who’s trying to be better about that.

I am the guy who does not handle embarrassment well.
I am the guy who stopped feeling guilty about watching good TV shows.
I am the guy who is embarrassed to admit how much I love singing karaoke.
I am the guy who is still self conscious about the length of my pants because kids made fun of me for wearing “highwaters” one day more than twenty years ago.
I am the guy who is always wearing two clashing shades of black.
I am the guy who assumes strangers are laughing at me.
I am the guy who still imagines what my NBA career will be like, despite the fact that I’m too short, too slow, can’t jump high, can’t shoot the ball well, almost never play, and am now getting near retirement age.
I am the guy who wishes he lived in New York City, and wishes he could afford to.
I am the guy who is never happy where I am.
I am the one who’s trying to be better about that.

Rotting on the Vine

They asked me where poems hide.

Standing out on my back porch
(generous name for a slab of concrete
surrounded by the summer's overgrown garden
rotten tomatoes wrapped in weeds)

listening to music
through earbuds that enjoy bungee-jumping out of my ears

smoking the pipe I bought
because it looks like the one Grandpa smoked

and sometimes a fragment of a lyric sticks awkwardly

or some small frustration of the day
an irritant like sand under a contact lens
is coated like a pearl with the bile of a dog-eared thesaurus

and poems come out of the fetid earth.