50 States of Generosity: Wyoming

Published March 19, 2021

Children’s Book Club: nursery rhymes remix

Published March 12, 2021

National Poetry Month’s Tour de Tania (Runyan), pt. 5

Tania Runyan’s book How to Write a Form Poem saves haiku till last. I suspect she does that because haiku is among the simplest and most complicated of poetic forms. She writes: “Haiku are not a mode of travel, roadside attraction, or even a depiction of such. They are the vibrant spaces between.”

Tania also encourages us to “cultivate the daily practice of reading or writing haiku.” I cannot second this recommendation heartily enough. Even when your haiku doesn’t reach the ideal. Write one anyway. It’s a practice I’ve been following since May 11, 2017, almost four years ago.

I write my daily haiku in my One Line a Day: A Five Year Memory Book, along with a note about what tea I’m drinking. Writing my daily haiku is foundational to who I am. Many, if not most of my haiku do not reach purist standards. I don’t care. They are for me, to record what I want to keep from each day. Like this one from The Joy of Poetry.

Winter Sunrise

orange and pink rises
above our snowy cabin
brighter than cancer

– Megan Willome

I’m spending National Poetry Month celebrating Tania’s new book and my old one. To learn how to write a haiku, what Tania’s haiku journey has entailed, and whether your really need to count 5-7-5 syllables, pick up a copy of How to Write a Form Poem.

Reading Generously: Black stories

Published March 5, 2021

National Poetry Month’s Tour de Tania (Runyan), pt. 4

In The Joy of Poetry, I write that as soon as I saw a clump of red poppies at mile 37 of 42 on the Red Poppy (bike) Ride, I knew I had to write a poem about them. But “Each attempt to write the experience failed, until I attempted to follow the form.” Why chose the rondeau form? Because there is a famous rondeau about the red poppies of World War I: “In Flanders Fields” by John McCrae. I decided to imitate the best.

In How to Write a Form Poem, Tania Runyan includes McCrae’s poem and mine as well (in the More Stops: Examples and Prompts to Inspire Your Journey section at the end).

At Mile 37

At mile 37 red poppies do abide
near fields of what we think will soon be corn,
past horses pale, their hearts held close inside
thin skin. Today is not a day to mourn
though if I say I am not sad I lied.

You’re gone. We rose and took it in our stride.
We pedaled hard and spied white poppies worn
from drought. Until we reached a red clump wide.
At mile 37.

Only then the red blooms promised for our ride,
sought at every pickup truck’s loud horn
that blared at us for forty-two May miles,
to the right, beneath a black mailbox beside
the road we found red poppies newly born.
At mile 37.

– Megan Willome

In chapter 7 Tania writes, “even without a melody, the rondeau sings.” That’s what the form is supposed to do, to sing. She then talks about her own journey with the rondeau, specifically, about one she wrote in college that her professor criticized. She later learned that a classmate “never forgot the poem’s refrain, and even today, more than a quarter century later, quotes it to me.” That’s the power of this song-like form.

We’re spending National Poetry Month celebrating Tania’s new book and my old one. To learn how to write a rondeau, what Tania’s rondeau journey has entailed, and what is the Scrabble-worthy plural form of rondeau, pick up a copy of How to Write a Form Poem.

By Heart: ‘blessing the boats’ by Lucille Clifton

Published February 26, 2021

National Poetry Month’s Tour de Tania (Runyan), pt. 3

Even poets get to have favorites. For Tania Runyan, author of How to Write a Form Poem, it’s the sestina. She writes, “I’m not even going to try to be unbiased. I adore sestinas. They’re my favorite poetic form, hands down. And they’re kinda nuts.”

Sestinas don’t rhyme — instead, they repeat. The pattern of end-words is a little bonkers, but there is a definite method to the madness. Tania compares the pattern to the spiral staircase in a lighthouse: You wind up, and then you wind down. The steps and words are “never leaving, always changing.” (I really like Tania’s “Seventh Grade Sestina, in chapter 3, because of the way it changes and the way it doesn’t.)

Here is a sestina I wrote in The Joy of Poetry that was entirely built around the word horcrux, of Harry Potter fame. It seemed the only word that could hold the experience of looking in the mirror and seeing my mother in my own face, long after she had passed away. It felt magical, and not in a good way. It deserved nothing less than all 39 lines of a sestina.

Who Am I?

“Let’s go for a walk,”
she’d say, and then my mother
would circle the block. I’d question
why we couldn’t go farther. My body
could handle it. But Merry
Nell’s couldn’t. She needed a horcrux

Or, perhaps, more than one horcrux.
To figure that out, she’d need a longer walk
through the neighborhood. She’d be merry,
as she always was. I am a mother
who likes to push her body.
There’s no question

about it. But every day I question
why I am her horcrux.
Why everybody seems to think I am walking her walk,
that I am mothering like my mother.
It’s true. My name is also Merry,

and I also chose to marry
at 21. That is not the question.
I need to know how to mother
without one. All I have is a horcrux,
one I bring with me each morning I take a walk:
my own body.

But it’s acting strange, my body.
It’s give me signs, as yours did, Merry
Nell. Oh, it can still walk
up actual mountains. But I do question
because it doesn’t feel like mine. It feels like a horcrux.
I feel like I am you, my dear, dead mother.

And I’m not, am I? Holy Mary, Mother
Of God. Pray. You’re not here in body.
Neither is my mom. She’s only a horcrux.
She wasn’t into you, Mary. She didn’t even have a question
about you. Not even when she couldn’t walk.

Like Harry, I am the horcrux. I am not my mother.
I can still walk, and I still dwell in this body.
But I am Merry Megan. No question.

– (Merry) Megan Willome

I’m spending National Poetry Month celebrating Tania’s new book and my old one. To learn how to write a sestina, what Tania’s sestina journey has entailed, and a little bit about lighthouses, pick up a copy of How to Write a Form Poem.

50 States of Generosity: New York

Published February 19, 2021

National Poetry Month’s Tour de Tania (Runyan), pt. 2

Like Tania Runyan, I would not describe myself as a sonneteer. But in How to Write a Form Poem, she writes this:

“Until this year, I’d probably written ten sonnets at most. That may sound like a lot if you’re just starting out, but remember, I’ve been at this poetry thing for decades. The majority of these sonnets were required for my prosody classes in college and grad school. While I’ve liked some of them okay, I haven’t bonded with them …. But as I’ve increased my attention to form in recent years, I’ve learned that limitations are my freedom. Structure is my muse.

My own sonnet education came from reading Angela Alaimo O’Donnell’s poetry collection titled Still Pilgrim, from which she read selections at the TS Poetry Retreat in 2019. I soon realized she was playing with form, which let me know I could play with it too. I journaled through the whole collection, then wrote my own sonnets, each one modeled after hers in form. That practice imparted a bit of the sonnet’s structure muse-like power. Now when a poem isn’t going well, I’ll experiment with sonnetizing it.

I wrote more about Tania’s sonnet chapter over at Tweetspeak Poetry).

Here is a sonnet by Helena Nelson from The Joy of Poetry, which turns five years old this month. Although the mother in the poem is nothing like mine, I love both her and the speaker/daughter. Reading it again, I am struck by the desire to “make the great train wait.” I’ve always read that line simply as a big train — and maybe it is — but this time I read it as if death were a train that takes people away. That’s the thing about a good poem: Each time you read it, it offers up new gifts.

With My Mother, Missing the Train

She was always late. At the final minute

we’d run for the city train, which roared right past,

its line of faces scanning us not in it.

The world was turned to terror by the blast

of hot departing wheels. Air seized my mother,

crushing her flustered skirts into a flurry

with me there clinging. Hush, there’ll be another,

she’d say to keep me calm. No need to worry.

But there was a need. The speed of things was true

and rushing traffic urged us both ahead.

I wanted to race again, to burst right through

and make the great train wait. She never said

that missing things was serious, till I grew.

She held my hand more tightly than I knew.

 – Helena Nelson

To learn how to write a sonnet, what Tania’s sonnet journey has entailed, and what the heck is an iamb, pick up a copy of How to Write a Form Poem.

Children’s Book Club: ‘Hello, Numbers! What Can You Do?’

Published February 12, 2021