Category Archives: Poetry
Blogs about poetry
But every poem does.
Don’t be fooled by the peach fuzz:
I swear like a sailor,
Still scarred like a failure.
The sacred won’t always do,
But the profane sounds perfect.
Because sometimes life stinks like shiitake mushrooms.
Sometimes, you fudge up.
Guillotine’s pressed against your neck.
Everything’s darned to heck.
Everyone you know is a bloody boat-licker,
Lick-spittled, tarnated butt-kicker.
Language shapes thoughts which forms actions
Which reflect reactions, cause gee wiz
Ain’t those rules just Cheez n’ Crackers?
Egad! The moral pressures of Catholic school
Have us screaming in the streets, wondering
What the Dickens we should say
In polite company, in a polite way,
Around the dinner table.
Sometimes, we’re not able to express ourselves
But by thundering blasted obscenities
At the top of our lungs.
Confound it, I’m done with the doggone bull-hockey!
Nothing you can say will shock me.
Just tell me your stories and your truth,
And it won’t matter what buggered words you use.
“A Savage Yawp” happens to be the first poem I ever published (in the 2011 Poetry Matters anthology). After looking through old poems, I decided to rewrite it in my modern style, a more spoken-word-laden piece concerning the public education system and the notion that tests can determine futures. Listen to both versions and give your thoughts below.
I hope this offers some insight into particularly the philosophy of education expounded by South Carolina public schools.
By the looks of this blog Word Salad, I either died or was captured by Russian spies, but I am still alive and kicking, only with considerably less free time than I would like to have. Generally, the little I do have I contribute to professional projects rather than penning funny, sad, and weird columns for this blog. My output, however, has been tremendous, and I want to share with you some answers to the question posed in the title.
I have been churning out thousands of words a week, no doubt. One class I have enrolled in this semester requires at least one, sometimes 3, papers each week, as well as a book a week. Even for such a prodigious reader and writer as me, this class has taken a toll on me. It has also, however, taught me a lot and made me think about elements of politics I have never before considered. The semester is winding down (or rather accelerating toward the brick wall Dead End named Finals), and I am looking forward to a summer of fun, excitement, and scholarly activities (SIKE!, says the nineties teenager).
Two writing projects currently are still in the works. After months of sending query letters, I have received interesting critical feedback on my novel The Heathens and Liars of Lickskillet County. Firstly, not many people feel comfortable reading about the Ku Klux Klan, even a comical modern version of it, and after extensive research, I have decided that I too find it distasteful. I expected to find a group of confused southerners emphasizing southern heritage, but mostly the organization is still quite racist (no surprise there). This couple with other problems have spurred me to begin working on other projects while seriously editing the book.
I ain’t no stranger to editing– most of a book’s life is spent in the dreaded editing stage, in my experience. Certainly, I won’t give up on the story, because it’s a story I find compelling: teenagers discovering themselves while encountering the pitfalls of adulthood in a small southern town. It’s a juiced-up, funny-as-hell, exaggerated version of my own experience and the experience of many of my friends. I spent nearly three or four months away from the manuscript and have now returned to engage in editing, and I’ll share some of my favorite passages:
“I had electric veins and ionic eyeballs. Like my heart was hooked up to a car battery, except the energy kept flowing the wrong way.”
” Some of the cities we lived in were actually less like modest hamlets and more true-to-the-core, redneck Nowhere’s. Towns where orthodontists went bankrupt on account of there being only so many teeth per capita.
The sorts of towns where no one had ever heard of smart phones or the Democratic Party or anal sex.”
“Boredom: our natural state, our default. For our entire teen lives in Lickskillet, boredom was true evil, our archenemies, the Darth Vader to our Luke Skywalker. We the free rebels fighting for sacred liberty from this, our mortal enemy we called “boredom.”
We tried everything to absolve ourselves from this carnal sin. Most drank heavily, even idiotically. Which was the best way to drink, with the high possibility of death. Most of the boys drank beer, challenging each other to gulp down more until all had passed out. Girls preferred liquor, mixed or straight. And then everyone, roaring drunk, would smash boredom against the walls. Would take off our boredom’s clothes or pass out on boredom’s lawn.”
Another project I have been vigorously working on (in the months Lickskillet lay dormant in my mind) is The Choke Artist, a story about bare-knuckle fighting, illegal immigration, obese hand models, Alabama lesbians, drug kingpins, murder, Walt Whitman, and time travel. Perhaps when I feel more comfortable with Lickskillet, I’ll post more information about this fascinating, bizarre work.
Essays, novels, and late-night scribbling have accounted for much of my weekly word count, but I have also re-delved into poetry. Last Wednesday, I came away from a school poetry slam, snagging first place. I won an incredibly awesome pen (made with wood from Ireland and GOLD), and it’s probably the best writing utensil I have ever owned in my life. Perhaps I’ll post a picture up next week with a video of me performing the winning poems?
Now you know “Where the Hell” I went and what I’ve been doing. Check in again soon for further shenanigans.
You are King of the Sea, I said
and I King of the Sky.
Don’t you see me, see my wings?
See how I soar? See how I fly?
See how I launch myself from pedestals,
flapping wings of wax, of ambition and manmade edifice.
See how I can fly?
And he I imagine is an underwater king
though he spends most of the time
gliding across the tide on a battered surfboard.
I imagine him peaceful, innocent, yet fierce
like a sea turtle clutching a trident.
He sits aloft coral reefs, sprints across the backs of Great Whites
and can communicate with sea horses like Aquaman.
It was Sunday, the waves unsure, the sky cold and clear
Later, I could see the stars, and I pretended I could name each one
as if I had named them myself.
He explained, in his childish manner, about the rap industry and then
his theory of art
For a quiet boy from Long Island, a placid surfer dude who wanted to become a doctor,
you do not expect for him to care so deeply for art.
But on that Sunday, we reeled him into our nightly chaos
into our vices, into our storytelling.
And he explained, how art should asymptotically close to nature.
That Art should be a reflection of reality, of one’s perception.
Then we pretended to be great artists too, boldly shaping faces
sketching dinosaurs in top hats in the margins of our biology notes.
I drew an illustration of he and I
He the King of the Sea
Me the King of the Sky
See how I fly? I asked
And you’re in the waves, exploring the deep
as if in dreams, in sleep, you’ve been talking
searching for something to say, whether it be just a word or a sentence
See how I fall? I asked. See how I fall?
I don’t see nothing at all, you said, nothing at all.
And I said, keep searching, just keep seeking.
Sometimes, I feel my soul forgets its immortality
and I try pouring concrete into my chest to make myself whole again.
I’m afraid my veins will abandon me, that I’ll stop seeking the stars,
that I might stop wondering how many licks it will take to get to the center of a Tootsie Roll Pop.
My bells must forgive their clappers,
and my trees allow mushrooms to feed on their decay.
Sometimes, I stick out like King Kong clinging to the Empire.
I burn like an angel on fire.
I could snowball similes until they’re sluiced with slush
Or I could mix metaphors mighty as meteorites missing the Earth by a minute margin
I could sandcastle stanzas and repeat a relentless rhyme
But poetry perpetuates only half of the heliocentric equation
Like we’re missing the bigger picture.
My life ain’t just a house to tear down
Give me the hatchet, I’ll cut off all the things holding me down
I’ll strip my walls and paint murals on them with my fingers.
I’ll try wearing my heart around my neck, so I don’t forget it’s there
or that my veins know me better than a lover’s touch.
I don’t tell sob stories, just stories. Sometimes, I can’t tell the difference.
You wake up, your chest bursting open
your ribcage splayed across your bed, bleeding unto the morning
These words will rip you apart, will climb from your heart
there’s been a poet living there all along
When the sea mangles my soul
when I study its current nightly
I want to write poems
but the lines remain water-logged
watered-down versions of the truth, like the imprint of a wave
wet on the sand
long after the sea has retreated.
The memory of an idea persists
the feeling you’re missing something important
something painful as a missing tooth
I want to write poems
but all I can put down is the feeling that something important happened
that a portal opened and through it came a mental message-in-the-bottle
scribbled on the back of a receipt in a language I can’t read.
When the sea mangles my soul, I try to write poetry
but it never turns out right.
So you think your son or daughter or older brother is a writer? Is he or she exhibiting signs of seclusion, spending an inordinate amount of time reading literature, or making hieroglyphic and mysterious marks in a notepad of any kind? It is possible that a writer might have been born into your family, which can sound quite shocking at first.
Either, you’re not sure if you’ve been gifted a genius or should you rush the little scribe off to the orphanage immediately.
After all, writers’ lives are spotted with calamity, and rather he/she be a supposed orphan than you soon die of cholera and he/she become a true orphan. That’s what happens to writers’ families right? They’re always being murdered or killed in storms or dying of some Victorian-era disease.
Don’t fear. There are simple steps you can take to usher the scribbler onto glory without being inflicted by biblical plagues or suffering sudden and coincidental depression. Remember, you’re dealing with a crazy person. As in, someone who hears voice in his/her head, someone who maps out entire separate lives “for the fun of it.”
Certainly, do not take this task lightly. Writers are given to madness, bouts of emotions only word-minced poems in middle school will fix, and terrible vices ranging from alcoholism to drug abuse to Wikipedia surfing. It ain’t no easy path to hear the incessant scribbling of pen to paper, like the hand is making a bad dash for life or limb. The pendulum swings ever closer down, slicing at the knuckles as the modern-day quill moves.
Simply, allow them their crazy.
Let them scream through the house, sobbing because a character died (in the most epic way, but still).
If the door is closed and fingers whizz at the speed of antelopes, do not interrupt with trivial stories or requests to clean the
dishes. The writer is a violent creature, prone to creative paroxysms of rage when wrenched from the writing process. They may attack when called upon, caught up in the carnal need to tell stories. Seriously, blood could be spilled.
And indulge them their rants, their vast explanations. Before writers can ever make a story make sense to an audience, we must make it make sense to ourselves. Ignore us if need be, but pretend to listen like an overpaid therapist. Allow the writer to think aloud all his craziness, he’ll eventually shut up and begin writing again.
He will ask for your advice. Probably best to lie to him and tell him you don’t know diddly squat about writing or books, though your opinion might be good or bad. Writers are brash, foreign people who won’t really take your advice or criticism seriously. And if you scrutinize a character, remember that for the writer, the character is a real person and– “how dare you? She has feelings!”
But most of all, let him fail and fail again, and let him climb the grueling ladder of learning to tell stories, from the mechanics to the finer methods of sustaining suspense in a story about stationary sea crabs. Every writer fails at writing, but those that give up there don’t become writers. They become people who wish they had become writers. So encourage them no matter what drivel they produce, because eventually they’ll churn out something decent and then later on something incredible. Only with time can a person understand life and death, the only two things a book can be about.
Seriously, don’t freak out. They’ll write weird stuff, but they’ll probably end up fine unless, you know, they don’t. But a lot of people don’t end up fine, and that’s most people, so maybe they’re doing better than we thought. If you have any inclination to help them, give them your favorite book and leave it at that. The universe, generally a fan in my opinion of human success, will do the rest.
This is a video of a performance in Charleston at the East Bay Meeting House. Hopefully, you’ll like these poems “Ode to W.W.” and “A Southern Voice,” and soon, I can upload more videos of my performances. I perform nearly weekly at this venue and others. Keep a look out for further videos.
Share your thoughts in the comments below.
I read a poem today in which two boys played in the backyard, a deceptively simple poem. The more I pondered the two stanzas, the more concretely I realized how little the poem was about—childhood innocence, friendship, etc. Should poetry be so hushed, so calm, so unobtrusive?
Having grown used to brass, dramatic poetry, this caught me unawares. Why be so calm and cool and collected? Two boys running and throwing balls and pushing toy trucks around in the grass, all things I’ve rarely seen. Because childhood is rarely as innocent as we assume.
Why not write about two boys playing video games (we often played videogames), about how they shout at each other as each wins? Write about throwing the controllers at each others’ faces, knocking out teeth, bloodying their noses. Childhood is rarely flowers and sunshine and playtime before supper. It’s a constant war.
Children, in fact, are sufficient evidence that we as the human race descended from savages. They are cruel, selfish, and conniving.
And no one is as guilty as a child is. When a child steals, they spend the next few hours fretting over their sin, their black crime. When they lie, they burst with the need to say the truth. Adults do not share this tendency: we do not feel guilty about much past infidelity or murder.
I closed the book of poetry and put it away, thinking about times I might have played in the grass. Surely not as many times as I argued with friends over Pokémon cards or whether or not a certain Mario Kart race victory was considered fair. Do poems need to shout, to demand change, to radicalize, or can they fall light as clouds on your brain, invoking nothing serious, only the fabled innocence of children.