Desert Equinox: Pantoum by Serena Rodriguez

Desert Equinox

The red dirt falling through fingers
Reflecting rainbows of the orange sun
And spirits in the sand
Spreading their wings on the desert beach

Reflecting rainbows of the orange sun
The blue and pink clouds shelter
Spreading their wings on the desert beach
Sinking driftwood of cholla skeleton

The blue and pink clouds shelter
The boulders lay sleeping below
Sinking driftwood of cholla skeleton
Ravens dressed in obsidian, gliding along silhouettes

The boulders lay sleeping below
Children of the pitched Ortiz mountain
Ravens dressed in obsidian, gliding along silhouettes
Through the shadows, between the desert’s sacred moments

Children of the pitched Ortiz mountain
Cradle the coyote’s call
Through the shadows, between the desert’s sacred moments
And the moon’s eminent light

Cradle the coyote’s call
Spirits in the sand
And the moon’s eminent light
Red dirt, falling through fingers.

Serena Rodriguez has lived in Santa Fe NM for 14 years. She has been married for ten years and has a wonderfully feisty three-year-old girl. She is now pursuing her dream of writing through the SFCC Creative Writing program.

Bad BAD Poem by Devon Miller-Duggan

Earlier this year, I wrote about reading slush, and set up a list of reasons I’d reject a poem.

1. A dull underutilized title, often one word, like “Love.”
2. An opening that over sets context: I was in the kitchen, it was snowing, on Tuesday I went shopping.
3. A simplistic metaphor carried all the way to the end.
4. An unambiguous emotion—I’m depressed, suicidal, happy I won the lottery.
5. An ending that reiterates context and wraps up already wrapped emotion.
6. No form, structure, or technique except for some predictable rhyme.
7. A self-satisfied, melodramatic, or cutesy tone.

Looking at it later, though, I realized it might actually be a weird kind of writing prompt—a challenge. This idea had already occurred to Devon Miller-Duggan, contributing writer at “Miriam’s Well.” Below is the hilarious outcome.

by Devon Miller-Duggan

For M.S.

There was blood soaking the feathers
In the bottom of the cage of my heart.
The cage followed me everywhere.
It tried to climb into the La-Z-Boy with me
When I tried to settle my soul down with a sandwich and a glass of tepid milk.
All the feelings of this ilk
Wrap around me like silk
Ropes, you know, the ones you saw once in the tattoo parlor book
With pictures of ladies, naked or in flapping kimonos,
Tied way more elaborately than
Trussed fowl and looking pleased about it. Even
More elaborately than that chicken recipe of Julia Child’s
I made once
Back when I had
Energy for that sort of thing,
Anyway, you could just tell those ropes were silk.
I’m so sad all the time now.
I always see the feather in that
Poem about hope,
Which I have none of,
Always see them as black and shiny.
Now I even see them bloody
In the bottom of a dog cage
That follows me around
Getting blood everywhere.
Bad poem! Sit! Stay!
Stop rolling in the bloody feathers of my hope!
No treats for you!

Monday Feature: Michaela Kahn Writes A Villanelle

–A Writing Exercise …

I was coming up with some writing exercises for a workshop this week and thought I would challenge myself to a few. For this exercise I used 2 things as a starting point. First the quote was an inspiration for the theme. And second I used a villanelle for my form (though without the rhyming). Five stanzas: four tercets and one quatrain at the end. The 1st and 3rd line of the 1st stanza are used alternately as ending lines of the next 4 stanzas, with those lines then used as the last two lines of the whole poem in the ending quatrain.

It comes at the strangest times …

“Perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us once beautiful and brave.” –Rainer Maria Rilke

It comes at the strangest times:
a shock, a scent, a dream that won’t
let go. There is nothing in your hands.

Last night the dogs chased you through
endless forest until at last you reached the sea.
It comes at the strangest times —

The knowing that what was hidden so carefully
is yourself. Tiny now, a seed, thistledown, the part
let go. There is nothing in your hands

to save you from the dog’s teeth and the sea
up to your knees. No escape but waking.
It comes at the strangest times.

In the car, a song reminds you of childhood.
Smell of lunchbox bologna, the day you sat alone and
let go. There is nothing in your hands

but a book, some dandelion petals.
Waking is harder than dying –
It comes as the strangest times.
Let go. There is nothing in your hands.

How To Write A New York School Poem
Thom Donovan
1. at least one addressee (to which you may or may not wish to dedicate your poem)
2. use of specific place names and dates (time, day, month, year)–especially the names of places in and around New York City
3. prolific use of proper names
4. at least one reminiscence, aside, digression, or anecdote
5. one or more quotations, especially from things people have said in conversation or through the media
6. a moment where you call into question at least one thing you have said or proposed throughout your poem so far
7. something that sounds amazing even if it doesn’t make any sense to you
8. pop cultural references
9. consumer goods/services
10. mention of natural phenomena (in which natural phenomena do not appear ‘natural’)
11. slang/colloquialism/vernacular/the word “fuck”
12. at least one celebrity
13. at least one question directed at the addressee/imagined reader
14. reference to sex or use of sexual innuendo
15. the words “life” and “death”
16. at least one exclamation/declaration of love
17. references to fine art, theater, music, or film
18. mention of genitals and body parts
19. food items
20. drug references (legal or illegal)
21. gossip
22. mention of sleep or dreaming
23. use of ironic overtones

I Did Not Go To School in New York To Write This Poem

I was born on the edge of Spanish Harlem, Mt. Sinai Hospital
on the border between many things:
black people and white people, winter and summer, east side and west side,
daylight and the womb
just after the shifts change at 3:35 pm
under the sign of Taurus–that much was fixed.

I grew up dreaming of a Manhattan I would not return to
of getting lost in the woods by the hippie commune
and coming upon the directional street signs of upper Broadway
on the border between many things
Caribbean islands and cold borough winters, my mother and father, my first and
my middle names.

Little sisters, sitting with you at the Nutcracker
while the music of Jew killing Russia
trickled through the air above the stage
like the confetti snow falling and
falling on the Snowflake Queen
I can’t say if I was happy or sad
just that my velveteen dress over the crinoline itched.

Fuck me! That’s what I learned to say
all those years in Bergen County, New Jersey
an exclamation of surprise or even of affection
as in “fuck me, it’s raining”
but not, as my second husband once hoped,
the imperative, a demand.

Are you paying attention at all to what I’m saying?
On the border here between wanting something
and getting it, between labor and delivery and lying to those in hospice care
between pretending to like Mozart
and actually liking it.

I love you, city of my birth, of hot chestnuts from the chestnut man’s burnt worn
fingers, of deli patrons with concentration camp tattoos on their flabby arms
hanging out of summer blouses, on the border
between survival and a syringe and an all night rave
between standing on the subway platform
in a mini dress that resembles a Frito’s bag
going to a Mothers of Invention concert
convinced nothing will ever happen to me.

On the border between sex and annihilation, a girl coming out of a cocoon, went
in a caterpillar and came out needing tampax
delighted to discover the word Psyche
means butterfly in Greek
delighted to realize
I don’t have to apply to the job
of being a caryatid
that unlike the statue of Atlas carrying the world
at Rockefeller Center
I can walk away, walk away
and no one will care or even notice.

Year In Review

It has long been the custom of me and my friend Ana that we do a year’s review each fall. Since we don’t live in the same city any more we don’t do a monthly coaching session, but we manage the review. This year is a bit earlier than autumn, but we’ve got a lovely weekend at the beach so we’re doing it slowly.
I think anyone or pair of friends could benefit from these questions, courtesy Ana:
The number one lesson I learned last year was…
Aspects of personal relationships that worked well for me last year were…
Aspects of personal relationships that didn’t work well for me last year were…
Things I would like to chage this year related to personal relationships are…
We ask the same set of questions for:
Prosperity and finances
Living Environment
Career and work related aspects
Creative Expression
Aspects of care of my soul
It is always a rich process–hope you can use some of it.

What Are the 10 Most Important Things In Your Life?

What are the ten most important things in your life?

I thought up this writing/thinking prompt because I sometimes found myself in confusing conversations where other people assumed I didn’t care about things like home decorating, money, or beauty treatments. As in a family member saying something like “you’re such a hippie, you don’t care about money.” I started listing things in order of importance and found out I did care, just that these items weren’t that high up (well, not beauty treatments, I obviously never care).
When I was young, writing was number one–the top of the list. It has dropped as the years have passed, less important than other people. Interestingly, though, after a recent lecture someone said “well, you’re selfish” in response to a statement about prioritizing writing. My feeling has always been more accepting of the ebb and flow of priorities. Who wants to appear unselfish enough to give up creating art? But I was never one to feel I’d save a poem from a burning house instead of a baby!
So–what are the ten most important things in your life?
The next ten?
The next?

Writing Prompt: Poetry Floorplan

Miriam Sagan
A Floor Plan for Your Poem: How to Use Stanzas, Titles, Endings

Moving from Room to Room
A first draft of a poem may just be a blurt on the page–but as you revise, you want the poem to make more of a distinct impression. One of the best ways to do this is to use stanzas–and to use the stanzaic arrangement that is tight for your poem.
The word “stanza” in Italian means “room.” This is a fascinating spatial or even architectural way to look at a poem. It means that each stanza is intact, and has its own flavor in terms of both meaning and music. Poems can be written in various traditional stanzaic forms. The choice of stanzaic form is important to each poem–it gives structure, and even mood.
Here are the possible stanzaic arrangements:
0. No stanza. The poem is just arranged as a whole on the page. This is fairly common. It simply uses other techniques to create its flow.
1. One line stanzas. This is difficult, as each line needs to be strong and individual. Chinese-American poet Arthur Sze does this to good effect, perhaps because he is influenced by Chinese poetry which is written in intact vertical lines. Sze writes:
nine purple irises bloom in a triangular glass vase–
a pearl forms an oyster–
she folds a prayer and ties it to a green cryptomeria branch–
(from “Dudyma” in Quipu, Copper Canyon Press)
His use of one line stanzas allows images and thoughts to stand alone, and yet feel connected to a larger whole.
2. 2-line stanzas. Couplets are basic, and solid. They can rhyme or not. Think of them as half of 4–not just obviously, but as doing half the work of a quatrain.
3. 3-line. These are triplets, or tercets. Like tripods, they are stable but also less obviously solid than 2 or 4. Use them for a more tripping or musical effect of flowing from line to line.
4. 4-line stanza. This might be considered the basic unit in English and in other languages as well. Ballads, which are a pan-European form, work as 4-liners. Like a table with four legs, quatrains are solid. They are a good choice for a longer poem or one that tells a story. A classic quatrain opens a traditional ballad. :
Come all you fair and tender ladies
Take warning how you court your men
They’re like the stars on a summer’s morning
First they’ll appear, and then they’re gone.

5. 5-line stanza. You can look at this as a combo of a 2 and a 3. It allows for a lot to happen. Japanese poetry is based on the 5-line stanza–the tanka form. The 3-line haiku is broken out of it. The 5-line stanza feels complete, it can make its own poem. Here is an example of a 5-liner by Elizabeth Searle Lamb:
there is a music
in the fall of white petals
from the peony
onto the camphorwood chest
a bride’s gift sixty years ago

6. 6-line: The sestina is built on 6-line stanzas. You can also consider it as 2 threes or 3 twos. Longer stanzas tend to be built on modular units of shorter ones. For example, 8-line stanzas might best be understood as 2 fours.
An Architectural Plan
To summarize, in English, the most important stanzaic arrangements are 2, 3, and 4. Longer ones tend to be built on shorter ones. To give a poem you are working on an immediate sense of structure, pick one of these and see how you can arrange the poem on the page. Some poems of course are in free verse. Free verse stanzas are just that–stanzas broken for sense or musical quality wherever you like. However, it can be useful to play around with various arrangements–try ending on a couplet, for example, or pairing up quatrains and triplets as if they were geometric shapes or colors of a quilt.
Look at this short poem by Philip Whalen:
Sitting home
Drinking wine
Writing pome
“What do you want
done with that?”

Here a series of funny aphoristic one-line stanzas end on a more solid couplet.
Enjambment is a very useful technique that is often ignored by beginning poets. It simply means that the sense or sentence run over the line and into the next. That is, not every line is a complete thought or grammatical phrase, and you can put a period in the middle of a line. In an example from the Spanish poet Antonio Machado, enjambment in the last two lines lets the poet create a sense of emotional urgency:
The fire coals of a violet twilight
leave smoke behind the black cypresses.
In the shaded summerhouse a fountain
with its stone Eros winged and nude.
He sleeps, silent. In the marble basin
the dead water doesn’t move.

(from Border of a Dream: Selected Poems, translated by Willis Barnstone. Copper Canyon)
Open Field
In arranging your poem physically on the page, there are various options. The old fashioned method is to use left hand margins, and keep the poem flush. Each line can be capitalized, or in a form more favored by contemporary poets, the start of each sentence is capitalized. Some poets like a free form approach, with lines scattered any which way on the page. If you do like this, make sure there is some meaning to the arrangement so that it doesn’t look completely random. For example, indent for emphasis, or to introduce a list or change of mood.
The End and the Beginning
The end of a poem is like the end of a piece of music–after it is silence. The last line is always an important one, but don’t necessarily wrap up the poem’s meaning in a too obvious way. It can be an echo of the meaning of a whole. And happy or sad, the last line is always a little bittersweet because the poem is over.
Titles may come first, but are often written last. Avoid cliched one-word titles that are too abstract, like “Life” or “Soul.” A title can function as a first line to the poem, or can be a contrast to it. Titles can be aphoristic or proverbial, or they can create an impression, like the title of a painting.
A. Write a poem in a particularl stanza form. Decide first what you want to do, and then try it to see if it works. You can take an old poem and revise it this way. What pattern might be best?
B. Use enjambment, or run the lines over, to keep the lines an even length. You can even run syntax and sense over from one stanza to another.
C. Settle on what left-hand margins you will use, and standardize where to capitalize.
D. End on a note that works with the mood of the poem.
E. Pick a title that adds to the poem rather than constricting it.
You have now “built” your poem, not just room by room but with a front porch and basement as well! It is ready to hospitably invite in your reader.

This article first appeared in WRITER’S DIGEST. Copyright Miriam Sagan.

Writing Prompt: Pantoum

The pantoum starts as an oral form–it may have
been composed as a work song for people who were hauling nets. The French
poets picked it up from Malaya, and then it came into English. I learned it
from poet Jane Shore who learned it from John Ashbury. By the way, many of
the forms of poetry in English were spoken or most likely sung before they were
written down. This oral root of poetry is really important–never forget
that people used to sing and dance to poems, and in some societies still
do. While we may feel isolated in contemporary society as poets, poetry
does have a communal root.

The basic form of the pantoum is the four-line stanza or quatrain.

1. Write a four line stanza. Highly imagistic or emotional lines work
because the pantoum is a cut-up–you can’t tell a strict story with it.

2. Now let go of your sense of control!

3. The pantoum is based on repetons–repeating lines. Lines 2 &4 of a
stanza become lines 1 & 3 of the next.

Case in point:


A comet above my house LINE 1
I wear a dead man’s coat LINE 2
I can’t see the comet for the haze LINE 3
Clouds, snow, a waxing moon. LINE 4

I wear a dead man’s coat LINE 2 REPEATED
A Chinese merchant’s of finest wool NEW LINE 5
Clouds, snow, a waxing moon LINE 4 REPEATED
The night we said farewell NEW LINE 6

A Chinese merchant’s coat of finest wool LINE 5 REPEATED
Or the poncho you gave me second hand NEW
The night we said farewell REPEATED
For the first time, or the last time NEW

The poncho you gave me second hand
Wraps around me like a lover
For the first time, or the last time
I watch a movie about astronauts

Wrap around me like a lover
Men in a capsule hurtle towards earth
In a movie about astronauts
I’m crying about something else

Men in a capsule hurtle towards earth
This comet appears once a lifetime
I’m crying about something else
Everyone else has seen it

This comet appears once a lifetime
Above my laundry frozen on the line
Everyone else has seen it
Rising in the quadrant of Arcturus

Beneath my laundry frozen on the line
You say I have a presence
Rising in the quadrant of Arcturus
And the dead I can’t speak to

You say: the comet is a presence
I can’t see for the haze LINE 3 FROM FIRST STANZA, VARIATION
And the dead I can’t speak to

When I write a pantoum, I need to start numbering as I go. The great thing
about the form is that half of each stanza is already written–magic free
lines–so it truly overcomes writers block. If the numbers are confusing,
you can use a grid with letters.

medium length lines will work best
go on for as long as you can–this make nice 1-2 pg. poems
the form is good for obsessive, dreamy, unconscious subject matter
YOU CAN VARY the repetons a tiny bit for effect. Just don’t do it too much.


Note in the last stanza you are left with two new lines, but also two lines
that have never been used–Line 1 and Line 3 from the first stanza. This
ending is to flip those lines and end with the first line of the poem,
which gives a great feeling of unity. I prefer this, but a variant is
equally good which is to end with Line 3.

Use whichever works best for you.
TIP: Make that first line a great one if you also end with it!

If you write a pantoum, feel free to send it to me or just post below.

Writing Prompt from Ana Matiella

This is one of my favorite writing prompts because it is a bit wild. It was created by Ana Consuelo Matiella when she was teaching fiction at SFCC.

Her book of short stories is THE TRUTH ABOUT ALICIA (U of Arizona Press).

By the looks of Elena’s bottle of pills, Larry knew that she had stopped taking her medication.  He also knew, and told her so, that if she left the cat on the roof-top terrace, the cat would jump. The cat died when he hit the top of Dr. Varela’s car below. Larry now had to dispose of the cat, clean Dr. Varela’s car and wait for Elena to get home from work to give her the bad news.  Elena was beside herself and blamed Larry for the cat’s inevitable demise.  Larry told her that if she didn’t stay on her medication, they would have to break up.