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Category Archives: Writing

I want You to fill Me

I want you to fill me.

It is not that I am empty,
but I want you to fill me
so that our essence
is of the same truth
and our eyes
of the same vision
and our hearts
feel of the same blood.

I want to have my eyes filled
with your soul
and my ears filled
by your music
and my hands filled
with all the stars have lent
to be your body
and my mouth filled
with your sweetness,
able to speak only
your name.

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Posted by on October 8, 2012 in Poetry, Writing

 

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Video

Bud the Spud – The Video!

My newest book, “Bud the Spud,” is available now on Amazon and at your local bookstores. Here is a video for the book and, soon, an audiobook with music by Brevard Busking Coalition.

 
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Posted by on August 12, 2012 in Books, Writing

 

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Leaving

It is possible there is a perfect time to die. A time when the stories told of you would be of kind compassion and rambunctious joy. Those are the times. When you are filled with love.

Not when you are alone. Not when you are filled with despair. A time when people think of you and smile, not shake their heads and ask why. Not too late when you have been lingering. But when you are active and happy. Die dancing. Die walking the beach. Not in front of a TV.

But most people don’t get to pick their time, it seems to me. And those who do often pick the time of despair and loneliness, leaving more despair behind them.

The perfect time would not have been the time that I picked. And, realizing it in time, pulled back. No, that was two weeks too early. The prefect time would have been as I lay on my wife’s body, having just heard her last heartbeat and felt her chest fall with her last breath. That would have been the time. Hearts and minds. My broken heart for her broken brain.

That would have been understandable. That would have been beyond reproach. Something worthy of writing about.

When people ask me how I am doing, I say I am ”integrating.” I can’t take credit for that. Unena said that. Right after she beat me at a word game. She is one of the people who saw me disintegrate, fall apart, helped keep me alive, gave me reasons, motivations for staying, put me back together, kept me together. She knows. I know. There is no healing. No moving on. None of that. It is integration. Synthesis. She is correct.

Leaving. It causes such pain. Such emptiness as can be understood only by those who experience it. And then, each relationship, each love, feels different. Yet  we do reintegrate.

And so, now, there are moments of joy. Much of it, actually. There is laughter and love. So much love. So many reasons to be here. Yet, I can’t help but feel my reason for being has passed. Come and gone. And it is just now a game of waiting.

I haven’t written much since then. I try but there is nothing there. So there is that. I started writing about the last year, the discovery and treatment and loss, assistance, love, frustration and loss, but got bogged down, torn up. So I set it aside. I am not ready yet. I might never be.

I have lost so much of my drive. My get-it-done-yesterday-ness. I walk. I exercise. I ride my bike. Sing. Play my ukulele. I actually watch some TV which is new for me. I am contemplating fishing. I actually bought the lures and hooks and I got a pole at a garage sale. There are six-pound bass a hundred feet from my house, so, hey, why not? I am relaxing for the first time in, well, I am not sure. But it is new to me.

My ambition? Studying for the GRE seems silly. Maybe it was an ego thing. I can imagine myself with my PhD and still just wanting to find the time to write. So that must be what I should do. Which makes not being able to write at the moment feel particularly distressing.

My ambition? What to do? Why? The only reason to stay is for the joy one can create in our own lives and the lives of others.  To enjoy the ride. To see our loved ones happy. To love. To bring love. To be loved. Getting things done is secondary. Only as much as it allows time and energy to love the people around me.

It is cliché to say we could all be dead tomorrow. But it is also true. The idea that we live on is delusional. It is a functional delusion. One I no longer have. So I want to treat people like, when I see them, it could be the last time. Tell them I love them before they go because it might be the last time. Deny no impulse to charity, no matter how small or large, because why not give what I have. And why not sit and watch the fish?  And play with my granddaughter. Why not? I could not be here tomorrow.

And any time would do. Today. Tomorrow. A week from now. Ten or fifty years. One day or the next. Dying any day is still dying and I will still live up to that day. Because you never know.

Lee didn’t. I didn’t. And look now.

All is well with the people I love. Or at least all is static. Some have grown so they can move on without help. Some thrive. But all are getting along without Lee. Even me.  And so, what of the stories of the devastation left by a death.  Pain, suffering, sure. But devastation?

I was told how horrible it would be if I died. The suffering it would cause. The pain. The ongoing emotional trauma. But, if I left now, my book would still come out. My son would still buy his house. My daughter will still be in medical school. My friends will still work day to day, care for their children, plant their gardens. They will reintegrate.

Maybe they said that because suicide is different than an accident or disease. Truly, I am not sure. But the thoughts I go to bed with, the love and joy, that would be gone. But so too would the day-to-day cares. IRS, money owed, fixing the car, all those things. Rebuilding the business, eating right. All gone.  Personal needs and drives. Gone. Gone the joy and delight in their satisfaction but so too their frustration.

Loneliness. Gone.

And I know now people would reintegrate. And go on. The only thing missing is that perfect moment. It passed. It passed. And I am still here.

 

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My Poetry Dollars (not) at Work or How Elizabeth Alexander Destroyed Poetry in the United States

Where were my poetry tax dollars on inauguration day? I want to know what we’re paying a poet laureate for if we are not going to use him or her on important state occasions such as, but certainly not limited to, presidential inaugurations. If the job of Poet Laureate is “to raise the national consciousness to a greater appreciation of the reading and writing of poetry” then it is also his or her job to not allow actions which will decrease the appreciation of the reading and writing of poetry. Therefore, I must suggest it would have been an appropriate action by the poet laureate to have offered Ms. Alexander a stiffly spiked drink before her reading of the inaugural poem, just enough to send her sleeping silently while the poetic moment passed, so we may all have been spared the experience of everything poetry is at its worst and what people who do not like poetry are sure it always is: dreadful, banal, trite, pedestrian, boring and bad. And, in keeping with our expectations, Ms. Alexander read it badly as well. Ms. Ryan, where were you? Why did this happen on your watch? Why did you not protect poetry?

As I listened to her read the inaugural poem, “Praise Song for the Day: A Poem for Barack Obama’s Presidential Inauguration,” (32 pages), the camera cut away to show the masses leaving in what appeared to be an exodus from tragedy. Within ten minutes this arrived in my email:

God, what an audible THUD to a great speech by Obama when that poet came out and started reading her poem “Deer in the Headlights” from her collection “I Am A Robot: Emotions are for Ethnic People.”

I was asked if I were moved by the poem. I answered, “Yes, indeed I was. I moved to the kitchen.”

The poet laureate is paid $35, 000 a year for his or her services. When I was paid less than that as a teacher, I was busy all the time. When the school needed English taught, which was, strangely, every school day, I was there doing my job. Where was Kay Ryan?

While I agree this is a terribly petty salary to pay a poet (though much more than most poets make as most are paid nothing at all) Ms. Ryan is, nevertheless, a public employee paid with my tax dollars and, on that special occasion I expected the Poet Laureate of the United States to offer her well-crafted professional artistic services. I paid for it. I want it. My tax dollars at work.

But I do not blame Ms. Ryan. I do not know if Mr. Obama chose Elizabeth Alexander or if the chair of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, Senator Dianne Feinstein, chose her or if having Alexander read was the result of someone calling in a marker, but surely, someone must take up the gauntlet of repairing the damage she has done to poetry. Someone must pay.

Kay, I’m sorry, but your job just got harder.

 
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Posted by on January 22, 2009 in Culture, Education, Poetry, Social, Writing

 

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Poetry as Power: From Spellcraft to Statecraft

I have been asked by Craig Smith, he of “Notes from the Dreamtime” fame, to post my notes for a workshop I often teach.

He posted a blog entry called Poetry’s Power and thought of my workshop, which I am proud to say he has participated in twice.

These notes are designed not to be read at the workshop but as fodder for discussion. I tell participants that I am happy to read for an hour or two, but it is my desire I be interrupted at every turn with question, comments, poetry of their own. It is meant to create interaction and creative thought on the state of poetry, past and present. It is meant to open a few eyes and a few ears to the place of poetry in our culture.

So, imagine yourself in a group of ten, twenty or thirty people, all eager to listen and share.

These are the notes we never get through.

* * * * * * *

Poetry as Power: From Spellcraft to Statecraft
A workshop by Adam Byrn Tritt

It is difficult
to get the news from poems
yet men die miserably every day
for lack
of what is found there.

(William Carlos Williams, from “Asphodel, That Greeny Flower”)

From as far back as there are records, poets have been by the side of the monarch in court and in battle. The words of the poet were known to be magic and an insult from the poet could sway a battle. This post was often called the Jester. He spoke the truth, did so without fear and did so in rhyme. His words had power.

Words have meaning, rhythm and sound. Their power comes from the vibration of these three. But, sometimes, the rhythm and sound are all that is needed as these impart their own meaning.

Prayers are in the form of poems and songs. A rabbi taught me . . . if you don’t know the words, hum. There is power in the tune, in the rhythm and sound.

The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between the lightning and the lightning bug

 

(Twain)

Poetry is just the right word, the right sound, the rhythm that conveys just the right feeling. In a spell, we want to create just the right vibration, at a state event, at a prayer, we want just the right meaning and to leave no room for a meaning other than what is intended. Poetry is meaning, sound distilled until there is no doubt left. Anything that is unsaid is as carefully crafted as what is said. Hence, poetry becomes powerful in its economy, its concentration and its intention and all of this is built on carefully constructed meaning and sound.

Spells are often placed in the form of rhymes. Poetry has power in the natural and supernatural realm. But as important as the poetry is, the poet is a position of even greater mystery. Our Monarchs and presidents have poet laureates. Chaucer was paid in wine. Our own national poet laureate is paid less than a beginning school teacher but is expected to compose and appear at affairs of state and the position so contentious an anti-laureate is voted upon as well. Only three US poets, Piercy, Walker and Angelou, make a living from their art. Yet, despite this, poets have honours of which other artists can only dream.

We will explore the power and place of poetry and rhyme in ancient and modern culture and religion and leave you exploring for yourself how we can use poetry in both our magical and ordinary lives, as though we should be able to tell them apart.

Poetry has power. I once taught at a public high school where poetry could not be taught without permission slips being signed. One child became upset about one poem. One parent called.

I was asked to head up a poetry reading at a book night at Barnes and Noble to benefit the school. I wrote this and dedicated it to our Principal.

Gather your permission slips, parents, teachers,
All school activities possess the possibility of danger, always
An unsuspecting student may come back broken,
Different, changed or
Not come back at all. Some tender child
May come back
Not a child at all.

Children know some activities possess danger,
We cannot wholly shield them. These are undertaken by
Brave students must have permission slips during
Such activities may result in loss, or gain
Unknown results.

Read the fine-print
Parents, your children may not come back
The same tender child may not return to you
As you remember.
Sign to state your contrition
Your baby might grow up different
Than you had anticipated. Beware.

(Adam Byrn Tritt)

Poetry is not to be taken lightly. It is not for the faint of heart.

Obviously, poetry is political.

The Chinese word for poetry, shih (詩), is composed of two idiograms. One, yan (言), means “word; language” & the other, szu (寺), means “temple, monastery.” Hence, poetry is a “temple of words.” Yan itself is composed of t’ou (頭) “above” (heaven, Tao), erh (二) “two” (earth, duality), & k’ou (口) “mouth” (pass). The mouth, the sound that connects Heaven and Earth. Poetry, The Temple of Words, the Great Connector. Shakespeare must have intuited the Chinese ideogram for poetry in A Midsummer Night’s Dream V.1.12 (1595):

The poet’s eye, in a fine frenzy rolling,
Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven
And, as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen
turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.

The Chinese words for culture is wen hua (文化) meaning “literary” or “transformation.” We see the Chinese looked at words, at poetry, as a definer of culture and civilization. They connected poetry to change, transformation and alchemy.

Muriel Rukeyser spoke of this as well, in her writing about the two different kinds of poetry: the poetry of the unverifiable fact, love, art, feelings, and the poetry of documentary fact, literal accounts of strikes, wars, barbaries. She said, in 1974:

The poet today must be twice born. She must have begun as a poet, she must have understood the suffering of the world as political, and have gone through politics, and on the other side of politics she must be reborn again as a poet.

And so, we have a calling. We have an art and talent with which one is born, a born magic, a way of seeing the world and words which is shaped—forged and tempered—by the world and then set out again. A natural skill honed. It is a synthesis of the gift of the gods, heaven, and the practices of men, of Earth. It is an alchemy.

As for alchemy, the poet Gary Snyder tells us:

As for poets
The Earth Poets
Who write small poems,
Need help from no man.

The Air Poets
Play out the swiftest gales
And sometimes loll in the eddies.
Poem after poem,
Curling back on the same thrust.

At fifty below
Fuel oil won’t flow
And propane stays in the tank.
Fire Poets
Burn at absolute zero
Fossil love pumped backup

The first
Water Poet
Stayed down six years.
He was covered with seaweed.
The life in his poem
Left millions of tiny
Different tracks
Criss-crossing through the mud.

With the Sun and Moon
In his belly,
The Space Poet
Sleeps.
No end to the sky—
But his poems,
Like wild geese,
Fly off the edge.

A Mind Poet
Stays in the house.
The house is empty
And it has no walls.
The poem
Is seen from all sides,
Everywhere,
At once.

Power has often been associated not with words, certainly not with Poetry, but with physical might and control over others. Again, Snyder tells us:

We all know that the power of a great poem is not that we felt that person expressed himself well. We don’t think that. What we think is, “How deeply I am touched.” That’s our level of response. And so a great poet does not express his or her self, he expresses all of our selves. And to express all of ourselves you have to go beyond your own self. The Zen master Dogen said, “We study the self to forget the self. And when you forget the self, you become one with all things.” And that’s why poetry’s not self-expression in those small self terms.

A poet is indeed a priest in a temple of words, that power is a voice linking heaven with earth. That is a poet’s real work. A poet’s work is to show us the ordinary in a way that makes it new and fresh, perhaps, even alien and to take the alien and show us how it is familiar.

Poem
by William Carlos Williams

As the cat
climbed over
the top of
the jamcloset
first the right
forefoot

carefully
then the hind
stepped down

into the pit of
the empty
flowerpot

And we value this. We value this after it is done, though we neither value the effort of the poet him or herself. How may poets make a living from poetry?

Williams still had to practice medicine. Most poets teach, or work at drug stores, newpapers. Few even work in the arts. E.E. Cummings, a staple in the cannon of American poetry, could not get his work published even. His mother had to self publish his first collection.

We honor poetry after the fact.

 

For the Young Who Want To

by Marge Piercy

Talent is what they say
you have after the novel
is published and favorably
reviewed. Beforehand what
you have is a tedious
delusion, a hobby like knitting.

Work is what you have done
after the play is produced
and the audience claps.
Before that friends keep asking
when you are planning to go
out and get a job.

Genius is what they know you
had after the third volume
of remarkable poems. Earlier
they accuse you of withdrawing,
ask why you don’t have a baby,
call you a bum.

The reason people want M.F.A.’s,
take workshops with fancy names
when all you can really
learn is a few techniques,
typing instructions and some-
body else’s mannerisms

is that every artist lacks
a license to hang on the wall
like your optician, your vet
proving you may be a clumsy sadist
whose fillings fall into the stew
but you’re certified a dentist.

The real writer is one
who really writes. Talent
is an invention like phlogiston
after the fact of fire.
Work is its own cure. You have to
like it better than being loved.

Part of this is because we forget how powerful words are. People only faintly recall the worth and power words once possessed. Words gave order and shape to reality: To know the name of a thing was to perceive its essence and therefore to master it. To name a thing not present was to summon it into being, so that the thing itself existed in the words for it.

“I was many things before I was released, ” sang Taliesin, a man thought by many to be the Merlin of lore. “I was a word in letters.” A name could be moved and manipulated and placed in new arrangements, and all of these activities would affect the object named.

The outward sign of the inner powers of a wise woman or man was the knowledge of words and names and the songs made from them. This was true of the celts and of the native American. That is why so many shamans and workers of magic prefaced their spells with transformation songs—verses that claimed they had taken the shape of everything in creation, from raindrops and starlight to bubbles in beer, and thereby had gained infinite understanding. Words were the bricks of all charms and incantations, all spells, riddles and conjurations. Look at the words we use. Spell from the German Speilan, or story. And Incantation from the word chant. In Hebrew, the one who says the prayers is the cantor, the singer the enchanter, the one with the incantations. He binds us to god with words even if the words are unknown to us.

Our own King Authur, JFK, had this to say about poetry and the Poet Laureate at his inauguration:

Robert Frost coupled poetry and power, for he saw poetry as the means of saving power from itself. When power leads man towards arrogance, poetry reminds him of his limitations. When power narrows the areas of man’s concern, poetry reminds him of the richness and diversity of his existence. When power corrupts, poetry cleanses. For art establishes the basic human truth which must serve as the touchstone of our judgment.

Poets have had the power to affect culture even while they are outside of culture and even when part of a despised minority.

Pope. Swift. Catholic, diminutive, sickly.

Mr. Pope

Mr. Pope did not demur
To attack a poet he’d scarce endure.
His whetted wit exposing flaws
With metric feet and raptor’s claws.
This wasp would sting at authors dim
Even those who feared not God, feared him.

(Adam Byrn Tritt)

Not respected. Not paid even when feared.

Not paid. But certainly valued even when reviled. Right up to, but, it may seem, no including present time, poets were outside rebuke. It was the poetry of Wilfred Owen and Sigfried Sasoon that helped bring what WWII was really like home to the masses and was as instrumental doing so as the verse of Phil Ochs was during Vietnam.

Suicide in the Trenches
by Siegfried Sasoon

I knew a simple soldier boy
Who grinned at life in empty joy,
Slept soundly through the lonesome dark,
And whistled early with the lark.

In winter trenches, cowed and glum,
With crumps and lice and lack of rum,
He put a bullet through his brain.
No one spoke of him again.

You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye
Who cheer when soldier lads march by,
Sneak home and pray you’ll never know
The hell where youth and laughter go.

Disabled
by Wilfred Owen
(First and last verses)

He sat in a wheeled chair, waiting for dark,
And shivered in his ghastly suit of grey,
Legless, sewn short at elbow. Through the park
Voices of boys rang saddening like a hymn,
Voices of play and pleasure after day,
Till gathering sleep had mothered them from him.

About this time Town used to swing so gay
When glow-lamps budded in the light blue trees,
And girls glanced lovelier as the air grew dim,—
In the old times, before he threw away his knees.
Now he will never feel again how slim
Girls’ waists are, or how warm their subtle hands.
All of them touch him like some queer disease.

There was an artist silly for his face,
For it was younger than his youth, last year.
Now, he is old; his back will never brace;
He’s lost his colour very far from here,
Poured it down shell-holes till the veins ran dry,
And half his lifetime lapsed in the hot race
And leap of purple spurted from his thigh.
One time he liked a blood-smear down his leg,
After the matches, carried shoulder-high.
It was after football, when he’d drunk a peg,
He thought he’d better join.—He wonders why.
Someone had said he’d look a god in kilts,

That’s why; and maybe, too, to please his Meg,
Aye, that was it, to please the giddy jilts
He asked to join. He didn’t have to beg;
Smiling they wrote his lie: aged nineteen years.
Germans he scarcely thought of; all their guilt,
And Austria’s, did not move him. And no fears
Of Fear came yet. He thought of jewelled hilts
For daggers in plaid socks; of smart salutes;
And care of arms; and leave; and pay arrears;
Esprit de corps; and hints for young recruits.
And soon, he was drafted out with drums and cheers.

Some cheered him home, but not as crowds cheer Goal.
Only a solemn man who brought him fruits
Thanked him; and then enquired about his soul.
Now, he will spend a few sick years in institutes,
And do what things the rules consider wise,
And take whatever pity they may dole.
Tonight he noticed how the women’s eyes
Passed from him to the strong men that were whole.
How cold and late it is! Why don’t they come
And put him into bed? Why don’t they come?

Dulce et Decorum Est
by Owen
(Last verse)

 

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! — An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime . . .
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.
“The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner,” by Randall Jarrell, was published in 1945. What did it do? Listen.

From my mother’s sleep I fell into the State,
And I hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze.
Six miles from earth, loosed from its dream of life,
I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters.
When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose.

Prior to this, most people actually did not know how the B-17s and 24s fought and protected themselves. Jarrell, himself, thought it was necessary, but also that the people in the war with the shortest life expectancy deserved to have their fates understood by the people for whom they fought. He did this in an obvious, yet amazingly poetic and political way. It was widely distributed. Poets enjoyed an immunity.

That immunity seems to be waning. In 2003 First Lady Laura Bush canceled a White House poetry symposium in fear of finding poetry and poets critical of the administration and its policies. She feared the invited poets would recite poetry against war. Laura Bush defended her actions citing her freedom of speech. A spokesperson for the First Lady said, “While Mrs. Bush respects and believes in the right of all Americans to express their opinions, she too has opinions and believes that it would be inappropriate to turn what is intended to be a literary event into a political forum.”

Poets around the world have cried foul. Two former U.S. poets laureate, Stanley Kunitz and Rita Dove, have criticized the cancellation. The result was, instead of a symposium at the White House with one hundred poets, a backlash, anti-war symposium with over 3,600 and a collection of poetry assembled on the topic of which I am delighted to be a part.

Far from showing a waning power, this demonstrates the power of poetry is still quite understood and, in some cases, feared. Kings, and would be kings, know what a poem can do.

“What are big girls made of?”
by Marge Piercy

The construction of a woman:
a woman is not made of flesh
of bone and sinew
belly and breasts, elbows and liver and toe.
She is manufactured like a sports sedan.
She is retooled, refitted and redesigned
every decade.
Cecile had been seduction itself in college.
She wriggled through bars like a satin eel,
her hips and ass promising, her mouth pursed
in the dark red lipstick of desire.
She visited in ’68 still wearing skirts
tight to the knees, dark red lipstick,
while I danced through Manhattan in mini skirt,
lipstick pale as apricot milk,
hair loose as a horse’s mane. Oh dear,
I thought in my superiority of the moment,
whatever has happened to poor Cecile?
She was out of fashion, out of the game,
disqualified, disdained, dis-
membered from the club of desire.

Look at pictures in French fashion
magazines of the 18th century:
century of the ultimate lady
fantasy wrought of silk and corseting.
Paniers bring her hips out three feet
each way, while the waist is pinched
and the belly flattened under wood.
The breasts are stuffed up and out
offered like apples in a bowl.
The tiny foot is encased in a slipper
never meant for walking.
On top is a grandiose headache:
hair like a museum piece, daily
ornamented with ribbons, vases,
grottoes, mountains, frigates in full
sail, balloons, baboons, the fancy
of a hairdresser turned loose.
The hats were rococo wedding cakes
that would dim the Las Vegas strip.
Here is a woman forced into shape
rigid exoskeleton torturing flesh:
a woman made of pain.

How superior we are now: see the modern woman
thin as a blade of scissors.
She runs on a treadmill every morning,
fits herself into machines of weights
and pulleys to heave and grunt,
an image in her mind she can never
approximate, a body of rosy
glass that never wrinkles,
never grows, never fades. She
sits at the table closing her eyes to food
hungry, always hungry:
a woman made of pain.

A cat or dog approaches another,
they sniff noses. They sniff asses.
They bristle or lick. They fall
in love as often as we do,
as passionately. But they fall
in love or lust with furry flesh,
not hoop skirts or push up bras
rib removal or liposuction.
It is not for male or female dogs
that poodles are clipped
to topiary hedges.
If only we could like each other raw.
If only we could love ourselves
like healthy babies burbling in our arms.
If only we were not programmed and reprogrammed
to need what is sold us.
Why should we want to live inside ads?
Why should we want to scourge our softness
to straight lines like a Mondrian painting?
Why should we punish each other with scorn
as if to have a large ass
were worse than being greedy or mean?

When will women not be compelled
to view their bodies as science projects,
gardens to be weeded,
dogs to be trained?
When will a woman cease
to be made of pain?

 

 
1 Comment

Posted by on November 30, 2008 in Culture, History, philosophy, Religion, Social, Writing

 

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Mr. Tritt’s Parent-friendly Guide to Why Teaching Didn’t Completely Suck

I taught for a long time. I don’t want to get into it. It depresses me. Yes, all you students who still write me, call me, see me, visit me – it depressed me. It affected my voice, my habits, my health mentally, spiritually and physically. Hell, I even ended up with a bladder infection because we, students too, were thought so much as mechanisms that we had to pee by the bells. See, that’s how much I hated it. You have never heard me use the word pee before. Now I’ve used it twice.

It’s ok the students know that. The students who still write me, call me, see me, visit me were generally depressed too – thoughtful, curious, intelligent, sharp and kind. People like that tend to get depressed when treated like mechanisms.

I have written about it before. Suicides, mementoes, workshop trips, field trips, those special students. I have taught classes of one hundred and thirty at a time, had an attempt on my life, been told by a principal he was tired of teachers who thought they were artists and our job was to surround, capture kill and destroy (Yoo-hoo, Mr. Johnson, how come the website blurb next to your picture, as of this publishing, is outdated by three years? ) and by other principals that Shakespeare and Homer were being removed from the curriculum because a classical education would do the students no good if they could not pass a standardized test. You have to be able to run a frialator.

I once had a high school principal, Andrew Taylor of Piper High School in Ft. Lauderdale, mandate all poetry being taught needed to have parental permission slips. Seriously. He would call teachers to stand during faculty meetings and dress them down using such language as “coward” and “useless” coming withing inches of their faces with his wagging finger. Seriously. Not long after, he abruptly resigned after the married fellow was found to have several “inappropriate” relationships with members of the faculty. But I’ve written about all that. I’m much better now.

You see, it was never the students who I had problems with. Not even the one who tried to kill me. Administrations, on the other hand, that’s another story. Really, that’s the whole story. The only story.

Still, after a while one begins to doubt oneself. This one did.

Once in a while I peruse the Internet looking for folks who have co-opted my writing. I find bits of me here and there and usually let them know they are using it without permission (which they know) and what the copyright rules are (which they usually don’t know) and that I could sue them (which I have never done but that is also something they don’t know) unless they remove it or send me something or say please and thank you. Sometimes I even find my work non-cited. I ask for that to be removed. Fair is fair.

This week I found the work copied below. It is from a school at which I taught eighth- grade Honors English. This was the school at which I taught six week workshops to the entire eighth-grade and then the entire seventh-grade all while teaching my normal classes. State assessment scores went up remarkably. I was told I could no longer do this as it was not duplicatable. It upset the department head who could not write an essay even if she were being paid to do so which, essentially, she was. When I asked her for one, to share with the students as an example that everyone writes, she balked. The principal caved. You should have seen their scores the year after that. Flushhhh…

So slow is their movement, so high their inertia or so great their apathy, I still have my web page there even though I have not taught there in two years. In the midst of state assessments, we were required to learn to make web pages on Macs. Stop everything. Build a page. And so I did. Prostitution is prostitution. They want a page, they get a page.

And it is still there. So I read through it. It was good for me. Very good for me, in fact. I’ll let you read what I found before I tell you what it means, as far as I am concerned.

Mr. Tritt’s Parent-Friendly
Field-Guide to 8th Grade
Choice team Language Arts

Ok Mom and/or Dad/and/or Legal Guardian, you are confused. No problem there at all. I understand. Like you, I’m a parent too so I spend a fair amount of my time confused as well. My son is fifteen so I also find myself addled, perplexed and confounded. Some of this is just because he is fifteen. Much of this is over his classes and what their requirements are. While I can’t belay my own confusion, maybe I can alleviate some of yours.

In the next few minutes we can answer most of your questions as long as those questions are about writing and Language Arts in the Eighth Grade Choice Program at Stone. If your questions are about anything else, we’ll see what we can do but I won’t make any promises.

First of all, let me introduce myself. I am Adam Byrn Tritt. I have a bunch of initials after my name. Some are of consequence to teaching, like my masters in Education and my masters in English and in Communications. Others aren’t. I am a writer who teaches and am a published author, essayist and poet so you know and, more importantly, your student knows I practice what I teach and teach what I practice. This adds up to an authentic workshop and class experience for your student where they learn how it is really done (no matter what the ‘it’ is we are learning).

Books. We use plenty of books. But we don’t use textbooks very much. I prefer the students pick books they are interested in and get as deeply into those as possible. I’ll check them for difficulty and appropriateness, of course. We want subjects that can be discussed openly and have literary merit. We also want to make sure the books will develop the students ability to recognize the use of literary devices and themes, have a vocabulary that will allow your student’s minds and brains to stretch and grow, question and reach.

I provide ample opportunity for this with novel suggestions as well as shorter works. Your student can choose among essays old and new, collections of short stories, plays and poetry. Many of the more meritorious of them are worth more points. When I say that I don’t mean the longer ones. Some short essays are worth extra points as well. Have your student ask.

What are they to do with these? Read them, examine them, enjoy them (we hope) and struggle with them. Most weeks they students will prepare a reading log. It consists of five entries and each entry has what book was read, how many pages, plot summary (Colonel Mustard was killed in the parlor with a candlestick. Scooby Doo is on the trail.) New vocabulary, what the student thinks it means from context and what it means when your young’n looks it up in his or her favorite dictionary. The last part is a small portion for notes of whatever your student found was of interest or even a statement of how much they like or, sometimes, dislike the book. Perhaps it mentions writing style, devices used or word choice. In the end, this reading log makes the creation of note cards and the literary analysis a breeze.

I give the students some suggested forms but they make their own. If typed, I give them extra credit for them. If they are for an extra credit book, they get even more credit on top of that.

Five entries per week from whatever novel or essay or collection he or she is reading. If there are no new words one day, this happens. If it happens more than a few times we know the book material isn’t stretching your student. Time for harder material.

Once a month we’ll be doing a literary analysis using the material your son or daughter read. We’ll start off oral with note cards. Oral presentation is mandated by Sunshine State Standards. After a few the students will have a choice to do this orally, on video, by PowerPoint, in writing or in any other creative way s/he can think of as long as the points on the rubric are covered. Of course they have the rubric and we practice hitting each point first. All this gets them ready for the FCAT and Pre-AP English.

Speaking of books, we don’t make great use to the Literature textbook, which most students appreciate. We also don’t make great use of the Grammar text. Do we use them sometimes? Sure. When we see specific difficulties in the writing we address them in small groups or mini-lessons.

We study grammar in a real-life context; in the context of writing and communications. Studies show we can give grammar instruction and tests but, when given a writing assignment, the tested material does not translate into correct use in writing. So we learn grammar while writing.

If your child doesn’t need help with comma use, we aren’t going to waste her or his time with work on comma use; we’ll save that for the students who do need that instruction.

Likewise, the Literature text is used selectively when we want a specific story or poem to illustrate a point or device.

So what will your child be bringing home? Writing and plenty of it.

We will be working on the ability to format our typed papers in any number of ways. The ability to follow a format means your student will learn his or her way around a word processor and will be able to fulfill the requirements of any class. It means he or she will be able to follow directions, enter contests, publish in the newspaper, submit essays.

Your student will also be learning how to revise and proofread and we hope we can count on your help to support this. Please read your child’s essays out loud so s/he can hear them. Help with grammar is you are able. Look at transitions and check of elaboration, organization, clarity. I have one hundred and twenty little darlings and I could sure use you to check their work at home since we often can’t check them as thoroughly as we’d like in school.

I have provided plenty of guides for your child to use as tools and add to his or her notebook. Don’t throw these away at the end of the year. I assure you your student will find these of great use next year and the years after. You can use these as well when helping your son of daughter proof essays. He or she will have sheets on transitions and transition use, on words to use instead of ‘very’ and other weak words, sensory words, color words, words to use instead of “said.” Verbs to use instead of adjectives and adverbs. S/he has rubrics and evaluation guides so you an look at the work and see, ahead of time, what sort of grade it will get before the paper is turned in. In other words, your little one has tools-a-plenty and, at home, you can help make sure he or she uses them.

Reading the essays out loud to your son or daughter will allow him/her to hear what the writing actually sounds like to the reader. This is invaluable. I assure you, if that is all you do it will be an immense help.

What will your student be writing? Essays to start. Essay after essay after essay. FCAT mandates essays. Our school has the students write at least one every week. Many of these are timed and check as first drafts.

We’ll be writing essays on surprise prompts, essays on literature, essays for Science, essays for Social Studies. Some essays will be for contests in English and we’ll be writing essays for Science contests as well. We write for FCAT and we write for real life.

We practice many kinds. We write some which are descriptive to get use to describing carefully and accurately, we practice using verbs to describe instead of adjectives and adverbs, just alike Twain did. We practice sentence combining and transition use.

We write expository essays to explain, expose and express. We write persuasive essays to convince and persuade. And all the while we practice better writing overall.

We have a monthly week-long writing workshop where the students learn not only to write, revise and proof better, but why we do this. We learn techniques, we learn reasons and we practice again and again. We even learn about the brain and how words affect us physically. We are, after all, a science program.

Students also learn the essay was, originally an art form and we treat it as such, rewarding chances taken and skills learned, creativity as well as accomplishment.

We also do journals. The students will have specific topics and will have to answer, in writing and within a short timeframe, specific questions or write to a prompt or quote. No help is given. This is graded on how well they applied themselves and stuck to the instructions (just like the FCAT) not content.

Let us have a word about homework. I dislike homework. I have to give some. After all, our classes are just 45 minutes long. But it will be minimal. If you help your student with time management and organization, it will be a breeze. We have our reading logs. That means reading a few nights a week and filling in the log.

Sometimes they will have an essay to revise and proofread. As I asked before, please help them with this even if that means only reading it so they can hear how it sounds. Rarely will homework be something they must have back the next day. Most assignments are long-term. I expect about an hour to hour and a half of homework a week.

And speaking of homework and assignments, the work due is listed on the board in our room often more than a week in advance. The work is also listed on StudyWiz so it can be accessed by your student or even by you from any Internet connection. Since your child is probably on the computer typing away in IM, just ask him or her to pull it up for you.

If there is ever a problem with an assignment, please write an email note (best) or send a note with your student. I know things happen and emergencies come up. Late work can be accepted with a note as well. If there is even a problem with a printer at home, just bring the work to me (in the morning) on a disk, flash, thumb, floppy or send it in an email and I’ll happily print it out for your darling.

In the end, no matter what your student chooses to do academically, she or he will be better of, will have the skills to write what he or she needs to, the flexibility to do so for and under any circumstances and the confidence to know he or she will do it well. With your help, we can make their grades reflect the new skills and confidence.

Holy cow. This was the teacher I wish I had. At any point. Middle school, high school, college. Anytime.

I was told once we teach the way we learn. In this case, I taught the way I wish I had the opportunity to learn. And I did my best to bring that to my students. Among them are many in Harvard and Yale and other ivy league school, the youngest Discovery Award winner on record, several students who published in magazines while still in my class instead of just writing for a grade.

Reading this I remember something important: I did good. I did the best I knew and then worked to do better than that – for my students. Because they deserved much better than just ok, deserved better than I got, deserved the best possible and I worked to the end of my strength and ability to give that to them.

I was the teacher I always wanted.

Bless them for that opportunity.

As far as Stone Middle School and their still using my material on their webpage, I get five cents a word standard. You know where to send the check.

 
3 Comments

Posted by on November 27, 2008 in Culture, Education, Poetry, Social, Writing

 

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Fugue State: Fugue on a State Memo for Four Voices and Dog Barks


Long ago, in another lifetime, in a land called Gainesville, Florida, in a time called the mid to late nineties, I worked for HRS (Health and Rehabilitative Services, not the House Rabbit Society). During my tenure as a social worker (food stamps, AFDC, Medicaid), it became DCF (Department of Children and Families, which we called Decaf, same lousy service but half the caffeine), bosses came and bosses went. My caseload grew, diminished, morphed into other caseloads, but no matter what changes, the job remained the same. I swear, one of these days, I will write about it. Maybe a book. You’ll laugh. You’ll cry. You’ll stop paying your taxes.

Once, my supervision (I was a Public Assistance Service Specialist, or PASS, and my supervisor was a Public Assistance Service Specialist Supervisor or PASS II) went from Susan Einman, a woman any of us in her “unit” would have killed for, to a fellow whose name I cannot remember and any of us would have killed. My boss went from a literate polyglot who manifested the very essence of understanding and compassion to an obsequious, smarmy, condescending chimpesque proto-human pencil pusher. There was little to do but retaliate. For the next five years that is exactly what we did, myself, W.D. and A.C., (no, you can’t know their names yet) in prank after prank of falsity, forgery and fun.

Some day, I swear, I’ll write about it. Maybe a book. You’ll cry. You’ll laugh. You’ll be glad you paid my salary.

One day, a memo, one I did not forge (I really should check the statute of limitations on the falsifying of federal documents before I publish this) came across my desk. It was from my new boss, the obsequious, smarmy, condescending little proto-human pencil pusher we called Monkey Boy for his habit of hanging bright red Eisenhower jackets on his bony bod—a vestment that would have been more at home on an eighties dance floor under a flashing disco ball but still a bit over the edge even for Disco Duck. He looked like an organ grinder’s monkey. Monkey Boy.

Susan was always afraid I would call him that to his face. I think she almost did once. I hope so.

The memo was horrible in all the ways writing can be: awful, terrible, atrocious, worse. It was badly worded and those same badly worded bits were repeated again and again and again. It pressed a point Monkey Boy didn’t need to make to already disempowered, demoralized “workers” (that was what we were called) who didn’t need the point pressed.

I was, at the time, studying fugues. The musical kind. Not the kind where one realizes, after twenty years in St. Louis, raising a family and having a meaningful life, that one is really from Des Moines and has (or, to be fair, had) an entire other family, life, job and name. Not that kind. But, for longer fugues, one can see the relation.

The memo passed my desk. The pattern of repetition looked like a fugue to me. I was caught up with my work, as usual, and had nothing better to do. Even if I had, art called and it was time to write. The memo was deconstructed and reconstructed. Barely re-written.

A fugue is meant to be performed and this was no different. After a few readings, it was set. It was scheduled for the Gainesville Spring Arts Festival. Time to get cracking. We had a fugue to perform. But we was still me. I needed people. Four of them. I needed a clock. One of them. I needed a dog.

I had none of these things but I did have Moon Goddess Books, my own store. A book store with lots of unconventional arty types. A Pagan store with folks who would be delighted to do something to slam The Man. A café where people got buzzed on caffeine and, in their mania, could be convinced to take on nearly any manner of whacked-out project. A fugue of a government memo. A fugue of clocks and dogs. Yes, this fit.

We found our folk and set about arranging the vocals. We had a month to prepare and rehearsed as often as bi-weekly. Grueling.

Four voices. Some parts were done together and some parts separately. Some by two and some by four. How did we choose? The performers did so by how it felt. One German Shepherd, whose bark was downloaded from a sound effects recording, barking randomly, or so it seemed. I wanted the barks to stand out as jagged jolting. A recorded clock getting louder and louder as the fugue progressed, the voices getting softer as the fugue came to an end, the barks harder to hear through.

The performance time came and I am gratified, still, that it went without a hitch—or at least none that anyone but myself and our four performers, two guys and two gals, would have noticed. At the end the applause hesitated. Perhaps because the audience was stunned silent or perhaps they were confused. I was happy, and still am—either or both being a desired result of the piece.

Strangely, wonderfully, the person who wrote the memo, Monkey Boy himself, was there, and did not talk to me for quite a while. Those were a great few weeks. Eventually he had to speak to me though. But never was the fugue mentioned.

No recording exists. Not yet.

________________________________________________

Fugue on a State Memo for Four Voices and Dog Barks

Most of you already do this, and I thank you. Customer service is the key and one of our values is PEOPLE. Thank you for your assistance in this matter and see me if you have any questions.

Most of you do this. Customer service is the key. One of our values is PEOPLE. Thank you for your assistance in this question.

Most of you do customer service. One of our key values is PEOPLE. Thank you for this question.

Most of you do this key value. PEOPLE thank you for this.

Most of you do this.
Most of you do this.
Most of you do this customer service.
Customer service.
Customer service.
Most of you do this customer service.
Customer service
Customer service.
Customer service is the key.
Most of you do this.
Most of you do this.
Most of you do this.
Most of you matter.
Most of you matter.
Most of you matter.
Most of you question.
Most of you question customer service.
Customer service is the key.
Customer service is the key.
Customer service is the key.
This matters.
This matters.
Customer service is they key.
The value is the key.
They key matters.
PEOPLE matter.
PEOPLE matter.
PEOPLE are one of our values.
PEOPLE are one of our values.
The key is the value.
We value the question.
Value the question.
Value the question.
We value the key.
Value the key.
Value the key.
Value the key.
Value the key.
Question the key.
Question the key.
Question the key.
Question the key.
We value the question.
Value the question.
Value the question
Value the question.
Key question.
Key question.
Key question.
We question the value.
We question the value.
We question the value.
Question the value.
Question the value.
Question the value.
Question the PEOPLE.
Question the PEOPLE.
Question the PEOPLE.
Question PEOPLE.
Question PEOPLE.
Question PEOPLE.
Key PEOPLE.
Key PEOPLE.
Key PEOPLE.
Key.
Key.
Key.
Key.
Key.
Key.
Key.
Key.
Key.
Key.

Values

PEOPLE


 
4 Comments

Posted by on September 23, 2008 in Culture, Fugue State, Gainesville, Poetry, Social, Writing

 

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