Playing With a Poem

I’ve been shuffling some of these ideas around for a week or so. I finally committed them to paper tonight. Because I haven’t been very good about writing every day, I decided to drag myself up from my prostrate position diagonally across my bed in order to type it.

Late November into early December has been a rough time for me since I was nine. That year there were two life-altering events within two weeks of each other. Not to be outdone by 1991, life has thrown a lot of shit at me in the same weeks many years, so memories kind of pile on. It’s sometimes hard to be in the here and now during this period. This year seems a bit different though.

“Muddled November Thoughts”
~LJD November 27, 2017

the intangible autumn quality
of afternoon sunlight
a peaceful end is near
nothing to be afraid of
embrace it with calm

the riotously joyful colors
of the leaves
they too know the coming
sleep is nothing to fear
a matter of course
therefore unlamentable

a warm sweater in soft blue
cable knit
sleeves long enough to cover my wrists
relief that this November
has offered a reprieve of some kind
not a promise, per se, but
a cease fire in the war
we annually wage

will December be as diplomatic?


Repeating Purple

As I mused about this entry, I kept saying purple in my head… you can do it too and see how quickly the word makes you laugh.

So purple…. I watched the first episode of Outlander last night and I’m in Texas where there are bluebonnets (wrongly named, like blueberries, because they are more purple than blue), so we have that to thank for today’s post. For those not familiar with Outlander, she’s picking purple flowers when she passes out and falls back in time. Yeah, I could still be watching it now if I didn’t have any self-discipline.

I wrote the poem below before Tom Petty died, but I think it’s a fitting tribute. I loved the album Wildflowers in high school and was a fan long before that. I could title the poem Tom, but Karl seems more fitting for reasons that make me chuckle.

Many of my friends say purple is their favorite color.

The first and only cubicle I ever worked in was painted purple and orange.

NYU, where I went to grad school and worked for a while, has the color violet as its mascot. (Yeah, my undergrad was repped by a color too… who knew? Go Maroons. Go Violets. WTF?)

Purple is the American Cancer Society’s cause color, and I advised student-planners for Relay for Life for the last several years.

I was introduced to purple shampoo when I was a teenager. It’s usually for old ladies who have silver, grey, white hair. It removes the yellowish build up on light colored hair. I don’t use it very often, but it sure does make my hair that much whiter.

Lavender is said to have relaxing/calming properties, so of course my bathroom stuff is an array of purples because I’m hoping that even the placebo effect will help.

And “Purple. Planted. Ponderous.” is one part of something I wrote that I haven’t changed the many times I’ve fiddled with the words to make the thing (is it a poem? Is it a confession? Is it crap?) purer.

Enjoy. Or not.

~LJD September 27, 2017

Any purple wildflower
number of petals…
I hear your voice behind me
“What are you doing, woman?”

Any rocky coastline
green or grey…
I see your hands rubbing your eyes
hoping to find the right words

I yearn for days of wind
so I can wrap myself in soft wool
close my eyes
be in a field at dawn
The dewy grass tickling my legs
mist rising
Right where you knew I’d be
where you should have been next to me
where purple wildflowers grow

Where Ideas Come From

I’ve had a lot of only slightly connected thoughts recently, so I didn’t bother trying to string them together in a coherent way. I’m getting back on track, so that’s good. During today’s walk, I thought of a comparison that isn’t quite worthy of being called a conceit – it’s no Donne’s “The Flea,” which is a genius poem and something I aspire to at least once in life – but it is something I’m proud of. I can also recognize the immediate influences not only of Donne’s conceits, but also of some of the music I listen to, so it dovetails nicely with the lyrical analysis I did for five days in a row.

In addition to Donne, three other clear inspirations for this poem are: the saying “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome.” (Not sure that’s the -exact- phrasing, but hopefully you’ve heard something of the sort before.) The next is John Mayer’s “In The Blood” as I use those three words in the second line not only because they work as words of my own, but also because it’s perfect if they bring the song to mind as you continue to read. The final is Lauryn Hill’s “I Used To Love Him,” evident in the use of “bleed until the poison was gone.” In her song that has always meant something a little different to me than she intended, she sings, “Last night I bled ’til the poison was gone, / And out of the darkness arrived the sweet dawn.”

I’m not sure I’m keeping the title, but here it is…

“Snake Pit”
~LJD, August 20, 2017

Born of a snake bite,
Some poison in the blood.
As it diluted, the pain become clear.
The snake kept biting,
Injecting new venom,
Causing new suffering.
Only when agony begged for an end
Did the child of the pit
Try to clean the wounds,
Bleed until the poison was gone.
A slow process:
crawling up and out,
finding each of the cesspools
draining them dry,
learning to love the scars
to forgive the fangs that left them.
But even healed, the venom gone
Memory remains,
And the snake is still toxic,
still biting.
Scarred skin is not enough armor.


Poetic Incubation

When I was a teenager, I wrote a lot of poetry. It was an emotional activity more than an intellectual one. I cared about imagery, metaphor, and other poetic devices, but I cared more about getting the feeling out. As I read more poetry in college, I experimented with different styles and techniques, trying a little more for artistry than raw emotion. It was always important that I stay true to the idea or emotion that inspired the poem. Even though I took more time to think about craft, there was still an immediacy. The time between thinking of the poem and getting it to paper was minimal.

Since my early twenties, I haven’t written very much poetry. There have been a few pieces here and there, but nothing compared to how prolific I used to be. I’ve also noticed that there’s less urgency when I do get an idea. One brewed for months before I got it down. The result is a poem I’m very proud of, though I don’t know if I’ve ever shared it with anyone. Last year, I took about two weeks to get down seven or eight lines that were an unconscious and unintentional homage to Yeats. Today, I worked with an idea I wrote down months ago but only now finalized in a way that I’m happy with.

The time it takes to nurture a poem is so much longer now. I have to let them sit, brew, stew, marinate, simmer… I’m not sure what word is best to describe it. Of course, there’s also the fact that I write them so infrequently that when I do, I feel an internal pressure to make them good – not for anyone else, for myself. And I’m my harshest critic.

“Myers Briggs”
July 30, 2017

Bound by the binary,
There are only two ways:
My needle floats,
Never drawn too far toward
Always hovering perfectly between;
A level placed on a picture
The bubble centered in the sights.
Seesaw on a fulcrum,
I can move to either side,
But balanced on my scale is always a counterweight
To find the middle.
A stasis that allows me to
See the kaleidoscope of possibilities
But paralyzes me
Because there is no third dimension.
I do both equally,
Somehow managing to do
          Nothing completely.
It’s one axis of the matrix,
But it reveals
My strongest weakness,
My weakest strength.


I wrote more pages about Hannah and Jeremy. I’ll post it later this week depending on how far I get, but it got me thinking about the poems I have bouncing around in my brain too.

The way I get at a poem is different from the way I’m getting at Hannah’s story. I’ve written some short stories, I’ve outlined a few novel ideas, I’ve scribbled a ton of poetry, and I’ve definitely vomited a volumes of personal journals, but how I go about each is starkly different.

I have to write poetry by hand. It doesn’t feel right if I do it any other way. Last year when I was in Ireland, I got a little lost in Galway around sunset. It was after dinner, and I’d only brought my phone and a clutch with some money, my credit card, and my ID. I didn’t mean to take a wander. I meant to get to a pub that had been recommended. So much for plans. As I walked, a poem, or something like a poem, was bubbling up inside me. In the last rays of light, I sat on a stone wall and composed it the only way I could without even so much as a receipt to write on. I used my phone. I needed to get the words out before I lost them, but it felt all wrong. Later that night, I copied the poem from my phone into my journal. The wrong was righted.

A few weeks ago, I was forced into a similar situation because I didn’t have anything to write with or write on and the idea was bursting. Again it felt wrong. I sometimes use my phone to remind myself of phrases or ideas, but the full composition of a poem has to happen with pen and paper or it doesn’t feel pure. Maybe that’s because my poems have frequently come from an emotion that was overwhelming me. Maybe it’s because the things I usually create electronically are academic in nature, whether they are analytical papers I used to write or assignments I construct for students. Typeface seems too impersonal for my poems. The whimsy of having little bits of paper scrawled with lines hidden away in the pages of something else or tucked into a corner of my wallet seems more poetic than notes saved on my phone or files on a flash drive.

When it comes to fiction though, especially Hannah’s story, I rely on Microsoft Word. I can’t imagine trying to piece Hannah together by hand. Maybe because I imagined this story a hundred different ways for at least a year before committing to write any of it. Maybe because it’s going to be longer than anything I’ve ever written before. Maybe because it isn’t one of the first three novel ideas I have, two of which I’ve vaguely outlined by hand, one of which I’ve written a short story version of by hand but then typed. I don’t know, but as I go along, I cannot fathom trying to hand write any of it. I am dependent on seeing it on screen as I write and revise and reread and reach for the right way to tell the story playing in my mind.

Personal journals can go either way, which kind of nullifies my theory about my poetry being too emotional to type. If nothing else, my journals are emotional or at least thoughtful about my emotions. I’m just as comfortable writing down my personal reflections as I am typing them. Typing them usually means I’m going to make them available for public consumption, so there’s some self-censoring that happens, but less than you might think. What’s the point in self-examination if you aren’t doing it honestly? Whether I make that public or not, it has to be worth my time, so why hide something? That said, there are always things that I know about myself that I don’t publicly reflect on, not because I don’t think them but because either they are too painful or I don’t give a shit what anyone else might think about them or both. Those kinds of things I might hand write or keep inside my skull for me and the voices (ha ha, I don’t actually hear voices in a schizo kind of way).

If I want these brewing poems to make their way out, I guess I have to step away from the computer. Who says kids are the only ones who need limited screen time?

Inspiration On Screen

I haven’t watched the season 7 premier of Game of Thrones yet. I needed to remind myself of what happened in seasons 5 and 6, so I’m still playing catch up. I’d watched all six seasons before going to Ireland last summer, but I didn’t realize how much of it is filmed in Northern Ireland, where I was for two days. Looking out at the sea, I wrote, “Northern Ireland’s rugged coast line owns a piece of my soul.” Now I drool at scenes and say “That’s Northern Ireland.” Because he’s just too pretty, Jon Snow is less of a draw than the scenery.

Later during the trip I was sitting in St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin. I wrote two pieces while sitting across from Joyce’s bust. I don’t know if they are poems or not. Prose poems? Are they complete? Are they terrible? I don’t know. One of them, the one I’m not sharing, is something that I’ve gone back to often because it begs to be better, for me to express the idea better because the idea is so important, so pure. I don’t think I can do it justice, so I keep picking at it, knowing that it’s something I could be very proud of.

This piece, written moments before the one I’m not sharing, doesn’t demand perfection from me but is no less true. And every time I see Northern Ireland on Game of Thrones, I think of it.

No Title Yet ~ LJD August 28, 2016

I have words but not the power to use them. I set them down, examine them, feel how they roll around in my mouth, how they might echo in your brain, which way they may twist your heart. I combine them, trying to convey the brimming energy in my veins when I see something glorious and ache so badly to share it with others. I shuffle the phrases and re-deal them, still falling short of the song in my soul that swells with each blade of grass, every rocky coastline, the shale faces announcing mountains that rise to the ever-changing sky. 

Not surprising that the next thing I wrote is something that I’m still shuffling because I can’t get the words right. If you’ve never been to any part of Ireland, you should go. It’s more beautiful than my words and the GoT cameras can capture.

Siren Song

So, I could have accomplished a lot in the last few days, but sleep, when I can get it, is an enemy of productivity. It also happens that my niece is likely starting her sleep regression period, so she wasn’t really having anything more than a few 15 minute naps at a time. More on baby time later. For now, a poem.

“Siren Song” ~LJD July 7, 2017

Sleep is a siren song;
Dreams demand and distract.
All the shouts that consciousness bottled up
Come out when anxiety peaks.
Decades of anger overflow as objects shatter against walls,
Finally expressing the buried rage,
The swallowed pain.
Subconscious reveals the cracks.
Desire unfettered,
Building to a fever so real the sweat clings to my legs even in the waking.
Tearing away what I want,
Discovering what I need.
No wonder I want to return.
I resist, my body and mind trained to fight the temptation.
Tricks of the trade to lure me back,
I’ve tried them all.
They are unnecessary;
I give in to the dreaming eventually,
And never want to wake,
To walk away for too long,
For sleep is a siren song.



I have something in the ol’ brain baker (no one has ever referred to a thought that way, have they?) for later this week, but one of my goals is to write something every day. I’ve already fucked up because I didn’t think anyone wanted to read about the menstrual woes of a 35 year old woman. Maybe I’m wrong. Anyway, today I’m explaining things because one of my identities is EXPLAINER.

That picture up there? That’s the Cliff’s of Moher in Ireland. It is, appropriately, followed by a Joyce quote about aesthetics that makes reference to the Cliff’s of Moher. Stephen Daedalus, the protagonist of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, has been my literary lover since I was introduced to him at seventeen. In fact, he inspired my second as yet unwritten novel (stay tuned in the coming months for how that comes to fruition). Stephen has a lot of questions for the world, and in the quote, one of his professors is pointing out how dangerous it can be to delve into all the questions he has. I’ve always been right beside Stephen, asking similar, if not identical, questions. Stephen also fueled the fires of my passion for Ireland, so when I was able to go for the first time at twenty, it was … spiritual. When I went again last summer, it was something even more. So another identity is IRISH.

This blog is kind of like Stephen asking the questions, diving off the Cliffs. I’m searching, and I’m worried that I’m not well trained enough to come up from the depths. I immediately think of another Dubliner I am in love with – Oscar Wilde – and his “De Profundis.” But I’m also reminded of John Mayer saying, “Yeah, I’m really deep except for when I’m watching porn and lighting fire crackers.” (That may not be a completely accurate quote, but you get the idea.) Identity: BOOK WORM.

Which leads me to explain (see, I like to explain e.v.e.r.y.t.h.i.n.g.) the name I’ve given myself here. Frail phrases comes from a poem I wrote in 2002 about John. I chronicled that part of my life in a blog too ( and as silly as you might think I am, I don’t regret being a soupah fan because it brought some wonderful people into my life and certainly got me into some awesome music. Identity: FAN GIRL.

All of these identities spring from times when I was prolific as a writer. When I was twenty. When I travel. When I read. When I listen to music. It leads me to an identity I am reluctant to embrace now but would have absolutely accepted as a teenager: POET.

So, here’s an excerpt:

No title
~LJD, September 30, 2002

The same hope for you filled my heart.
You stood before me, full of sound,
Never failing to play your part.
I spoke, again, some frail phrases
Handing you a piece of my soul.
You placed in me a grain of joy,
Taking me in, becoming full.

Yeah, it’s not good. I was working with rhyme and meter because I was taking a Nineteenth Century British Poetry and Prose class while I lived in Central London. 2002 was a magical time.

Nowadays, I don’t write a lot of poetry. The products of my time in Ireland last summer are prose poetry, reflections, uncategorized pieces. I teach about poetry more than I write it. One prompt this year was simply a poem titled “I Am.” My inspiration for the prompt was a professional development workshop at a publisher where I came up with what is still unformatted but has to do with identities. Here it is in full.

“I Am”
~LJD, December 13, 2016

I am a clumsy progression of chords
rising to the clouds.
I am a unicorn,
Marks on my haunches,
Hair that shimmers.
I am full of love undiscovered,
Searching and fearless,
My mother’s daughter.
I am crazy smart, emphasis on crazy.
I am inimitable, irreplaceable,
No one can do what I do.
I am indomitable, except by my own doubt.
I am breakable but fixable.
I am the glue.
I need the glue!
I need to be who I am, full of love for who I am.

Like I said, I’m still working with the formatting. Very clearly rhyme and meter were not a consideration, but that’s part of what’s fun about poetry – it can be so stringent or fluid. It’s why I have trouble labeling some of what I’ve written over the last two years. Is it a poem? A prose poem? Prose? Drivel?

To recap: Explainer, Irish, Book Worm, Fan Girl, Poet.