Tag Archives: poetry

Poetry Keeps Knocking

When I was a kid I was sure I was going to be a poet. Or a bus driver. Or an FBI agent. Or a stewardess. Some of those ambitions faded away and others were squelched by reality.

Whenever I take one of those right brain/left brain test I always come out in the middle. Half my brain is scientific and half is artistic.

Mostly, the artistic side has expressed itself over the years. As far back as grade school I remember writing poems. As I got older my poetry tended toward the free verse and the depressing. As many teenagers do, I let my angst, fueled by undiagnosed bipolar disorder, take over. I studied creative writing in high school and took poetry classes as in college.

I even came in second in a poetry contest run by the local newspaper after I graduated. My poems were printed in the paper along with an interview in which I snarked at Helen Steiner Rice and Rod McKuen. I still have some of those poems – somewhere – and I still think some of them are pretty good.

But as life went on my writing changed. The more I wrote in free verse – without rhyme or meter (which Robert Frost famously called “playing tennis without a net”), the more my poetry came to resemble prose. Eventually I gave up on poetry and simply wrote prose instead.

This natural evolution of my writing proved to be a good thing, since everyone knows no one makes any money at poetry unless you’re Helen Steiner Rice or Rod McKuen. Prose has served me well. I have written for many magazines (including Catechist and Black Belt) and for textbooks and now for blogs. For some of these I’ve even gotten paid.

Also I have occasionally made attempts at longer pieces of writing – books. I wrote a mystery novel in which I killed off my Rotten Ex-Boyfriend Who Almost Ruined My Life. I had a proposal going around for a nonfiction book about Lisa Simpson. I have not given up the ambition of writing a book. I am currently 25,000 words into a mystery that involves no one I have ever known, and a memoir which includes the person I know best.

I find, however, that my desire to write poetry has not completely disappeared. Sometimes I find myself playing around with various poetic forms, usually in my blogs. Some of them are the kind of free verse poetry I used to write, but I have learned that I need structure in my life and now it seems I need structure in my poetry too.

I started out simply with a group of haikus – not that haikus are really simple. Later I had a go at a sonnet. I would love to write a sestina but I am afraid to jump into anything that large. I would love to write a villanelle but I am afraid to jump into anything that tightly crafted. And once you’ve read “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night” everything else seems – is – inferior. So I continue with my blogs and my editing and my book proposals and my novel and memoir, but poetry lurks at the back of my brain and now and then threatens to break free.

I think that’s the way of poetry. If you suppress it too long, it finds some way to knock on your brain until you answer.

Books, etc.: Remembering Suzette Haden Elgin

A few days ago a friend informed me that Suzette Haden Elgin had died. This was not unexpected. She was almost 80, and had been in ill health for a while, and suffering with dementia, along with other disabilities.

I never met her, except through her work, but I mourn her passing.

Suzette was a trained linguist, a language maven, and a writer. She is perhaps best known for her books in the Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense series. Though not as well-known as Deborah Tannen’s or John Gray’s works, Suzette’s are practical, straightforward, and supremely useful.

She was interested in many aspects of language. She thought and wrote about language and religion, language and politics (especially framing), language and women’s issues, language and perception, language and culture, and more.

For many years she kept up a Live Journal and two newsletters. Under the LJ name Ozarque, she stimulated thought and discussion of her many fields of interest. These were lively, educational, interactive, and fascinating forums in the way that Live Journal blogs are meant to be and seldom are.

She was a writer of science fiction novels, stories, and poetry. I was astounded by her Native Tongue series. (Who besides me could possibly be interested in feminist linguistic science fiction? Many people, it turns out.)

In the Native Tongue series, Suzette described a newly created “women’s language” called Láadan. She and others pursued the idea and constructed a grammar, a dictionary, and lessons available online – way before anyone tried to do the same with Klingon.

She worked on new fiction until the dementia descended. In her LJ, she would sometimes post poems and songs (particularly Christmas carols) and solicit feedback from her audience, sometimes incorporating their suggestions into the piece. The Science Fiction Poetry Association’s Elgin Awards are given in her memory.

She attended science fiction conventions, where she could meet and interact with her readers. One she often attended was WisCon in Madison, WI, the premier feminist science fiction convention, and in 1986 was one of their Guests of Honor.

On a more personal note, she once took the time to give me feedback on a piece I was writing about bullying, also a concern of hers.

She was a kind, humane, quirky, quick-witted, creative, varied, engaged, humorous, brave lady and a brilliant scholar and writer. I will miss her and her work. The world is poorer for her passing, but richer for her legacy.