7

Deb Kerry Gets Poetic in the Fall

A VAGABOND SONG

THERE is something in the autumn that is native to my blood—

Touch of manner, hint of mood;

And my heart is like a rhyme,

With the yellow and the purple and the crimson keeping time.

 

The scarlet of the maples can shake me like a cry

Of bugles going by.

And my lonely spirit thrills

To see the frosty asters like a smoke upon the hills.

 

There is something in October sets the gypsy blood astir;

We must rise and follow her,

When from every hill of flame

She calls and calls each vagabond by name. ~Bliss Carman

 

Normally I’m not much of a fan of rhyming poetry. In fact, most of the time I find it highly irritating and will go to great lengths to avoid. There are exceptions. I’m a huge fan of Tennyson, and also of Dr. Seuss. And there are a few poems from my childhood that have a special place in my heart as well. I was made to memorize A Vagabond Song somewhere back in elementary school, and for some reason it is still with me all these years later. And, if I’m honest, it moves me. Every fall, when the nights get frosty and the leaves turn to scarlet and gold, this poem starts to run through my brain. Carman managed to catch the restlessness I feel in the fall, the itchy feet, the feeling that my heart has grown a size or two and no longer quite fits in my chest.

If there are fallen leaves on the sidewalk or lying thick beneath a tree, I’m going to swish-crunch through them. Unless, of course, some industrious soul has spent the day raking said leaves into one of those inviting, multicolored piles just begging for somebody to…

Ahem. I am an adult now. I will walk by with nothing more than a wistful look. If I happen to catch the very edge of the leaf pile with my toe and send just a few leaves scattering delightfully, it is pure accidental clumsiness on my part.

Bliss Carman caught one of my autumn moods. The other one, quite different, runs more like this:

Spring and Fall: to a Young Child

Margaret, are you grieving

   Over Goldengrove unleaving?

Leaves, like the things of man, you

With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?

Ah! as the heart grows older

It will come to such sights colder

By and by, nor spare a sigh

Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;

And yet you will weep and know why.

Now no matter, child, the name:

Sorrow’s springs are the same.

Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed

What héart héard of, ghóst guéssed:

It is the blight man was born for,

It is Margaret you mourn for. ~Gerard Manley Hopkins

23

Deb Molly Wrote the WORST TEEN POETRY EVER

Send in the clowns.At this point in my life, I’m practically immune to embarrassment. I spent the first twenty-odd years of my life completely humiliating myself on a regular (read: weekly daily HOURLY) basis. Strangely, when I started thinking about this week’s topic, I drew a complete blank. “I don’t think I’ve ever embarrassed myself!” I said.

“What about the time you got hit by a car?” my wife asked helpfully.

“The time I hit myself with my own car? That was embarrassing, but I think I managed to push the car off me before anyone saw….”

“No, the time when you were little.”

“When I rode my bike into a parked car because I was looking at the clouds? Only it was Val’s bike, and she was in Europe, so I had to write her a letter and explain that I’d totaled her bike by riding it into a parked Buick?”

“No, the OTHER time you got hit by a car, when you fell down and then ran away.” (I think that’s what she said. She was laughing pretty hard at this point in the conversation.)

“Oh right. Or the time my ex-boyfriend’s little sister tied my shoelaces together so I fell all the way down the crowded bleachers, in front of the whole town, during one of the biggest basketball games of the season? Oh, or the time I fell out of my chair in the dining hall, in front of the entire men’s soccer team?”

“Or the time you took a long walk off a short pier and fell in the lake?”

“Or when I tripped going down the stairs and dropped a giant bowl of jello on the floor in front of the whole third grade?”

“Or when you tripped in church in the middle of your aunt’s funeral!”

Clearly the stories of Molly being a klutzy weirdo are basically endless. But I honestly couldn’t think of a single time I’d embarrassed myself in the writing realm. Maybe I’m finally growing up! Maybe I get to be the swan instead of the dumb duckling at last!

…maybe I forgot about all the embarrassing poems I wrote in my teens.

OH RIGHT.

So, for your cringe-worthy amusement, I offer (a very, very small sampling from) my (extensive) hall of shame.

The Cage (age 12)

I am a butterfly
and society is my cage
As I grow older
I am no longer able to stretch my wings
All I can do is sit here quietly and munch on my leaf
If I try to escape this cage of prejudice,
I will be extinguished.

Editor’s note: WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT, LITTLE MOLLY? “Cage of prejudice?” You mean middle school? I mean, it sucks and everything, but CALM DOWN. You’re in study hall, not a concentration camp.

Untitled (age 15)

I lost a poem
the chill biting frozen
wind, icy and crystalline,
stole it from me as I
stood knee deep in
tiny earth-stars
and stood transfixed
staring at Venus
bright and clear in
the stillness of
winter’s prison

Editor’s note: WINTER’S PRISON?? We get it, Teen Molly. Winter is cold, and you don’t like it. And apparently you have not yet managed to escape your cage of prejudice. Soooooo… good luck with that.

Untitled (age 17)

I remember you as you were last autumn.
You were the strong arms and sad soul.
In your eyes played symphonies under moons.
Your mask was of the sensitive poet.

Like some sort of alien fungus, you grew on me
You lived off my spirit, your voice slow and hypnotizing.
Bonfire of ego, the galaxies spun around you.
Deadly flaming hyacinth gobbling up my soul.

After traveling to Minnesota, the autumn is far off:
Strong arms, sad soul, voice of an angel, heart like a bomb
toward which all poetry flew
and my dreams curled up round your horrible passion.

Bastard from heaven. Snob from a farmtown.
Your memory is made from sawdust and ashes.
Beyond your eyes was never anything but you:
A sponge, a disease, a poison, that killed all poetry.

Editor’s note: Hate to tell you, honeychild, but Neruda you ain’t. Yes, your boyfriend was kind of a dick to you, but “a poison that killed all poetry”? You mean those long strings of adjectives and references to prison? That poetry? It’s not dead, it’s just… living on a farm, where it can play with the other poems. It’s happier now.

Untitled (age 18)

I.
Jesus is purple
skeleton-lady-
in-church said.
Mmmm, I think
you’re wrong, lady!

II.
That was
the most
stupidest poem
ever, said
the cranes.

III.
I love elephanties,
said Molly.
I do not care
what you think
of my poetry.
Especially
you — chair.

Editor’s note: Despite what you’ve read about the great writers and their rampant alcohol abuse, drinking a bunch of Boone’s Farm is no way to take your poetry to the next level. Also, you’re 18, you’re drunk, you’re at a party with your best friend — WHY ARE YOU SITTING IN THE CORNER TRYING TO WRITE POETRY? Go make out with someone!

Untitled (age 21)

I have fallen for all your mgic [sic]
You, who could make the trees
burn with a word
the valley fill up with smokey mist
when we couldn’t see the moon for the feames [sic]
And every word you said made
a different me — all those myths
were true in summer.
And you saw colors in shapes like new sight
trees full of lights, music
and all that romantic stuff.

Editor’s note: Dying. Dying! DO NOT DRINK AND WRITE. It does not work for you, child. Also, WTF is a “feame”??

 

Luckily for all of us, I stopped writing poetry. But in the fifteen years between my first poem (at 12) and last poem (at 27), I did manage to write a handful of poems that were, you know, decent. More importantly, I learned a lot about language and phrasing, line breaks, details, imagery, and not writing drunk. I started writing fiction at 19 or 20, and wrote a bunch of terrible, embarrassing stories (and a handful that were kind of okay), and along the way I learned a lot about narrative, character arc, tension, plot, setting, and language.

So even though these poems are completely embarrassing, I can’t dismiss them entirely, because the process of writing them taught me everything I know about writing today.

Just as falling down the stairs in third grade taught me everything I know about carrying Jello salads to this day.

 

Okay friends — I can’t be the only one with truly horrendous poetry in my past. Fess up in the comments! 

 

13

Fifteen Minutes of Shame, Five Minutes of Sonnets by Deb Danielle Younge-Ullman

Fifteen Minutes of Shame by Lisa DailyFifteen Minutes of Shame is a fabulous, funny, smart, tightly written book with a huge heart. It will grab you from the first page and drag you, will you, nil you, to the finish. I loved it, read it in a single sitting, and found myself thinking about it for days afterward because in addition to a compelling plot and charming heroine, this book delves into the meaning of family and the nature of love in a very interesting way. You’ll have to go buy it and read it to find out more.

In the meantime, I’m once again offering sonnets of great intention and dubious quality, inspired by (but not indicative of) Fifteen minutes of Shame, to Deb Lisa and all of you. I am also taking suggestions for titles for these sonnets as my muse seems to flee at the mere mention of a title.

#1

Oh Darby, you knew your man was busted
At the dumpster in your dirty sweatpants.
National TV, your ego dusted,
The bastard deserving no second chance.

Dazzler and charmer-cum-philanderer,
Ruins your life, breaks your heart, in one fell swoop.
More than a Dreamgirl can face with candor
With vultures circling to get the scoop.

A sexy lawyer uncovers the mess
Of lies and dinners and beds at the Ritz.
No clues and no warnings, you must confess,
And she! shallow harridan…and a ditz.

But dry your tears dear, and put on some Spanx,
Your heart will survive this unfitting thanks.
.

#2

The Dreamgirl has fallen from perfect life
To vomit, failure and national shame;
Yesterday happy and satisfied wife,
Today the sad pawn in a vicious game.

Will Darby fall down or get up and fight?
Can she manage to take her own advice?
To stomach Will’s ignominious flight…
Or consort with lawyers and roll the dice?

True love doesn’t always end up happy,
And happy love isn’t always so true.
Darby’s the first to admit, it’s crappy
And tell you to bid the cheater adieu.

Oh tell us quickly for the end is nigh:
Take him back, Darby, or kiss him goodbye?

Now go out and get Lisa’s book!

Thanks for reading.

Deb Danielle
fallingunder-11.jpg

10

If I had a nickel for every rejection letter… by Deb Jennifer

For me, it began in the third grade.  I wrote my first story, called The Haunted Meatball.  My teacher, Mrs. Brennan, told me it was wonderful. So wonderful, in fact, that she was going to send it off to have it published in a children’s magazine.  So off went my first story, into the world.  And we waited.  We waited for weeks.  Then months.  Then one day, she took me aside, put her arm around me, and explained that the magazine wasn’t going to publish it.  I was heartbroken.  Mrs. Brennan felt terrible and did her best to convince me that it was still a really wonderful story, and I should write more.

I was in college when I sent my first batch of poems off to a prestigious literary journal.  I got a form letter back.  Not even a form letter, but a small square of paper – more of a form note.  Clearly I was not worth the full sheet.

Over the years, I sent many batches of poems out.  I kept a submissions chart, and once I got a bunch back, I’d note it and the response (which was, more often than not, form letter) and then send the bunch out to the next place on the list.  I had quite a few poems published, all in small literary journals that most people have never heard of.  They paid in copies.  Once, I actually got a weensy little check.  But I wasn’t in it for the money, of course.  (If it was money I was after, poetry was a sorry ass way of getting it!)

When I wrote my first novel, I got a response from an agent in my first round of queries (amongst 8 or 9 rejection letters).  She asked for the first few chapters, then, a month or so later, she wanted the whole book.  Weeks went by.  I was sure she’d forgotten all about me.  Then, she called, gushing.  She loved my novel and wanted to represent me.  I really believed it was now only a matter of sitting back and waiting for the offers to start rolling in.

Long story short, she shopped my first two books around, and had no success. (Generating a nice, thick stack of polite and regretful rejection letters.)  I wrote another novel, shoved it in a drawer, then another (novel number four which ultimately became Promise Not to Tell).  She read Promise, and sent me a letter saying that it was time we parted company.  I was talented, but she just hadn’t had any luck selling my work.  And the new novel wasn’t for her, as she was not a fan of ghost stories.  Looking back, I understand that she just wasn’t the right agent for the book, or maybe for my work in general.  And it was the right thing for my writing career to find someone new.  But at the time it was just incredibly painful and made me feel like a worthless piece of shit – the ultimate rejection, not just of a piece of writing, but of me as a writer.  I spent a few months sulking, then revised the book, did some research and started sending out query letters – and the rest is history.

I have said before that I think success in this writing thing is all about perseverance.  But there’s more to it than that.  It’s also about finding a good agent (I’d be nowhere without mine!).  And developing a thick skin.  You’re going to get rejected – by magazines and journals, by agents and editors and then, when you’re happily published, there’s the sting of bad reviews.  For us overly sensitive types (I cry during heartwarming commercials on TV, people) that thick skin actually develops more like scar tissue.

But see, I’m proud of my scars.  They remind me of where I’ve been, of how hard I’ve struggled to get here.  Mostly, they remind me that the most important thing is to keep moving ahead, to believe in myself when no one else will.  We can’t all have our own Mrs. Brennans there to put a comforting arm around our shoulder, and say in the most reassuring voice, “It’s a good story.”

4

Me, Myself and Kate by Deb Jennifer

I’m one of those readers always looking for parallels between protagonists and the writers who create them.  The extent to which writers use autobiographical information (or not) interests me.  I know writers who take the “write what you know” advice to the extreme and write themselves into the story in a way that almost borders on memoir.  I’m not saying this doesn’t make for great fiction: it often does. 

Here’s my deal… I spent a lot of years writing poetry.  My style was very narrative, very autobiographical, “confession” style poems.   A lot of it was pretty dark stuff.   And very self centered.  I was mining the most difficult periods of my own life for material, going back and reliving them, and doing my best to turn these moments into art. 

So when I turned to fiction, the last thing I wanted to do was write about myself.  I found it incredibly freeing to just make stuff up.  To leave myself behind and enter this whole other world where anything goes.   I was sick to death of the me, me, me world that had been my poetry.  I wanted to inhabit someone else’s nightmares, broken love affairs and strange afflictions.

The protagonist of Promise Not To Tell, Kate Cypher, is clearly not me.   I’m not a school nurse.  I didn’t grow up on a commune.  My best friend wasn’t murdered.  There are a few things Kate and I do have in common: we’re ex-smokers who occasionally relapse; we need coffee to function; we have what some would consider a slightly dark sense of humor; we’re close in age (though back when I started the first draft of this book, 41 seemed old and far away — now it’s not nearly so far.); we are both haunted, one way or another, by our childhoods.

But the ways we differ outnumber our similarities: Other than the occasional cigarette and glass of bourbon, Kate is a bit of a health nut—she watches what she eats and jogs.  I, on the other hand, am eating homemade chocolate truffles as I write this post and the only exercise I’ve gotten so far today is chasing my daughter through the grocery store.   She’s straight, I’m a lesbian.  But perhaps the biggest difference between the two of us, the one crucial to Kate’s story, is that she is a natural born skeptic.  Me, I consult a pendulum and Ouija board when making major life decisions.  When Kate is confronted with the possibility that her best friend, who was brutally murdered in childhood, has come back as a vengeful little girl ghost, Kate refuses to believe.  She lives in a carefully ordered world of science and reason.  If something goes bump in the night, it’s no doubt a branch on the window, not a visit from the other side.   She is constantly finding rational explanations for things.

Me, I want the not so rational ones.  If I hear a bump in the night, I immediately start wondering which terrible thing it could be: ghost, demon or serial killer? 

Kate, with her logical problem-solving, makes a reliable narrator.   I, on the other hand, am not so reliable.   Kate is a skeptic.  A scientist.  I am a flake.  If it had been me in her shoes, I would have been having séances, pulling out the Ouija board, trying to make peace with the spirit world.  And you know what?  To make matters worse, the Kate-as-Jennifer character probably would have mined the whole experience for a poem or two.  Egad!