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.

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.

National Poetry Month’s Tour de Tania (Runyan), pt. 1

Five years ago this month — National Poetry Month — TS Poetry Press released The Joy of Poetry. That means my little book is off to kindergarten! And its new sibling on the library shelf? Tania Runyan’s How to Write a Form Poem.

Tania has shown us How to Read a Poem and How to Write a Poem. Now in her new book she shows us How to Write a Form Poem: A Guided Tour of 10 Fabulous Forms: includes anthology & prompts!

Most of the poems in my book are free verse, but there is a bit of form poetry, some of it written by yours truly. In fact, Tania chose one of my form poems to include in her new book.

I got to meet Tania Runyan at a TS Poetry retreat back in 2019. She’s a poet, a musician, and an expert navigator (not something she mentions among her accomplishments, but I am living proof of her skill). Her new book is just like her — welcoming and wise.

This National Poetry Month I’ll be celebrating my book and Tania’s together. If you’re new to poetry and aren’t sure it’s for you, The Joy of Poetry is a good place to start. I wrote it for never-poetry people. If you’re already a convert and want some guidance on how to write poetry (as well as the opportunity to try some fun prompts), then check out How to Write a Form Poem. I’m using it this month as my own private poetry workshop, experimenting with each of the ten forms Tania shares: sonnets, sestinas, haiku, villanelles, pantoums, ghazals, rondeaux, odes, acrostics, and found poems.

Happy Book Birthday, Tania! The tour and the party lasts all month, each Thursday in April. 

P.S. If you’ve ever considered becoming a patron of Tweetspeak Poetry, there are often discounts on the digital versions of the titles. This month Tania Runyan is guiding us through a poetry-filled book club discussion of The Great Gatsby, and the normally patron-exclusive book club is open to the public. Learn more about Patreon membership levels here:

Anniversary: a poem

Anniversary

She was red, and He was blue–
turquoise, like his eyes

She the color of joy, and He was
the color of ocean waves

in life and in death they
did not meld into purple

but met at warm white sand
the red beach towel
lapped by blue water

A Poem for this Pandemic

Reasons to Take a Walk During a Pandemic

there is a sea of blue by the deserted 14th hole

there are yellow flowers in the dry creekbeds

there are purple redbuds abloom outside quarantined houses

there are clumps of bluebonnets in unmown yards

purple verbena carpets the lawn of the locked church

and at evening pink primroses unfurl on the field by the school

beneath a sliver of orange moon

Spring is come. Spread the infection.

—Megan Willome

Finished, a poem

Finished

You have been diagnosed with Yesterday’s Disease

not Today’s, for which we have promising new therapies

not Tomorrow’s, which we are currently studying in a petri dish in an underground, sealed laboratory

but Yesterday’s, the one with quality pharmaceuticals (inexpensive, since the patents expired decades ago)

Yesterday’s Disease exists outside of time. Centuries old, it both narrows and widens the patient’s perception of hours.

It affects families, but everything does. Even weather.

No, there are no articles you can read. Yesterday’s Disease is passé. No title would generate enough clicks.

Quality of life is generally good, until it isn’t. There is no practical way to prepare. I suggest

you go outside, fire up the grill, put on some kabobs—You do have skewers, don’t you?

Open a bottle of wine and pour two glasses—one for you, one for someone else. Someone

who won’t ask you anything about Yesterday or Disease.

In Celebration of Joy Harjo

In June, Joy Harjo was chosen as the new U.S. poet laureate. I’ve spent the month getting acquainted with her poems, which are unlike any others I’ve read.

This poem was written after reading and journaling through her poem “She Had Some Horses.”

The Horse

He got some disease but before we could figure out what

it was he ran off, at the solstice. If he could’ve talked, he

might’ve said he’d had enough of us, was joining the wild

mustangs. But he was no mustang, and the mustangs knew

it.

He didn’t know how to find shelter, didn’t realize horses

don’t kill to eat, like raptors, or scavenge, like coyotes.

Found no pillows in the wild, no blankets either. Never

patient, always a runner, he ran on, through the sepia

landscape, learning absolutely nothing as his tail swished

behind him.

Back at home we debate: What could we have done?

What should we not have done? Each bit of news of him

pierces us. Not in the heart (it is long grown cold) but in the

retina, retelling ever thing we see and have seen of him.

‘Anniversary’

We never talk

We talk all the time.

No, I mean talk, talk

Well what do you want to talk about?

I don’t know, just talk to me

I been talking to you for forty years.

You don’t concentrate when you talk to me

How much do you have to concentrate to talk?

That’s generic talk. It don’t count.

You want name-brand talk?

No, just talk, health talk, horse talk, I don’t care.

You want to talk about the horse?

If the horse is important to you, then yes, I want you to talk about it.

Not really. S’just a horse. I could talk about my guns.

God no. No gun talk.

Well I give up then. I never talked so much at breakfast in all my life.

You been talking so much you’ve hardly eaten a thing. Want more coffee?

Sure, ‘m all talked out.

Fine..

‘Clean Up Good’

It’s competitive shower season

Now is the time for serious shower-ers only

Those who enjoy languorous strokes beneath the Whirlpool

waterfall need not apply

Contestants toil all year, alternating cool

with heat, daylight with moonlight

There are categories for outdoor bucket showers

shaving in the shower (men’s and women’s levels)

Extra points awarded for the dexterity needed to operate

a hotel shower

The forecast favors the adventurous. Leave behind

your lucky body wash, your ducky towel

Apply your industry to becoming the cleanest, speediest you

you can be

Tickets on sale now

Film at 11

The Cardinals

For the second time since we’ve lived in this house, cardinals made a nest in the mountain laurel.

Inspired by Kristine O’Connell George’s book of poems titled Hummingbird Nest, I’ve written a few of my own haiku about our cardinals. I didn’t notice every detail, so it’s an incomplete narrative.

April 22

cardinal in the nest

safe in the mountain laurel—

plans for motherhood

April 24

Mama cardinal sits

on her nest in pouring rain

all day—never blinks

April 28

“Some birds are people

watchers,” says Tony Hoagland.

Mama Cardinal is.

May 1

Male cardinal busy

back and forth—female sits tight

unmoving, umoved

May 4

three baby bird mouths

open, parents flit for food —

We watch from inside

May 5

Papa Cardinal feeds

gaping baby mouths and Mama,

who feeds chicks also

May 7

baby cardinal pokes

out his fuzzy head—does not

see the nesting snail

May 8

quietly, oh so

quietly, pull up the blinds—

Mama Cardinal’s there

Almost Mother’s Day

through thunderstorms, winds

(damaging), hail, tornado—

Mama Cardinal sits

May 10

baby cardinal stands

gray and fluffy in the nest—

“I’m self-sufficient!”

May 12

Cardinal family pecks

the grass and then flies away—

the nets is empty

June 23

When the cardinals left

I threw out their nest. They’re back.

Rebuilt in one day.

June 28

Mama Cardinal eyes

me from her new-built nest: You

can never stop me