Shel Silverstein, the Man Who Taught Me to Love Poetry

Shel Silverstein’s birthday seems like a good day to revive my blog that’s been hibernating for several months.

I was perusing Twitter earlier today and came across this article from Mental Floss about Shel Silverstein’s birthday and him writing Johnny Cash’s hit song, “A Boy Named Sue.” This wasn’t new information to me (though I had not seen the amazing video embedded in the article of Silverstein’s appearance on The Johnny Cash Show).

Reading the article led me to reflection, and I realized that Silverstein is the person probably most responsible for me loving poetry. I don’t know if Northwest Heights Elementary School library still has the old, stamped check out cards resting in little manilla pockets inside the back covers of books, but if they do, you would find my scribbled name over and over again in A Light in the Attic and Where the Sidewalk Ends (and probably several instances when I returned them past due).

I think second grade (maybe first) was when I first discovered these gems and added them to my heavy rotation that, at the time, was dominated by Hardy Boys and Encyclopedia Brown. I remember finding poems that were significantly more sophisticated (a word I didn’t know then) than the poetry I found in books by another favorite, Dr. Seuss. I felt refreshed by work that was more than smiles and rainbows and happy endings. I already knew that life included more than constant joy. I knew the pain I felt while bullied, the grief I felt when older family members passed away, the confusion of social awkwardness, and so on, and I knew that Silverstein knew those things, too.

Those difficult emotions were present but so was hope, beauty, love, and humor. He tied it all together in verse that was somehow both simple and complex. Isn’t that what all the great adult literary poets do, too? I could read his work lightly and take with me a surface-level understanding, or I could dig deeper (if you’ll forgive the worn out metaphor) looking for the gems he buried between the lines, in the puns, in the metaphors. I fell in love with his poetry and with the process of reading his poetry, and, though I didn’t know it at the time, I fell in love with poetry itself.

And, you know what? Not much has changed in the years since then about how I read or enjoy poems. I still look for work that catches me immediately by stringing together pleasant sounding language, work that evokes images that fire up my imagination and take me to new places, work that allows me to dig deeper or not. Regarding that last bit, I also learned from him that digging deeper isn’t a burden as it so often seems in English classes but a pleasure. I enjoyed then, and I enjoy now, both what I discover and how I get to that discovery.

Thank you, Shel Silverstein, for taking me to “where the sidewalk ends” and beyond.

Event: Reading at Tango Marron, 4 May 2012, with Mercy Teague

Local photographer and friend, Erin Whitson, is displaying his work throughout May at Shades of Brown Coffee & Art in Tulsa. His show is called Tango Marron. You’ll have to come check it out to figure out why it’s a brown tango. I might dance with you.

This Friday, May 4th he is hosting an opening reception from 7-?. He has asked Mercy Teague and me to give a poetry reading starting at 8. The reception details are here.

Mercy’s bio:
Mercy Gallagher Teague is a performing poet from Tulsa. She was the Tulsa City-County Library’s 2006 Unpublished Poetry Prize Winner, and was published in Write Bloody Publishing’s The Good Things About America in 2008. She’s been a featured reader at Heller Theater and the Southwest Conference on Literature and Christianity. She can be found at myspace.com/mgtpoetry and youtube.com/user/mgtpoetry.

April PAD (Poem-a-Day) Challenge: Day 30 “Death, an Echo”

Today is the last day of National Poetry Month. This is the first time I’ve participated in a writing challenge like this, and a challenge it has been. Whether or not any draft I’ve written this month is worth further development remains to be seen, but even if none is, I think that the practice will yield only positive results in a more general sense.

The last prompt is “write a fade away poem. I’ll let you decide how to interpret what a fade away poem might cover.”

“Death, an Echo”

As I stand at the edge
of his open grave, I hear
his voice from within and
know that he ceases not.

10 National Poetry Month Activities
April PAD Challenge: Day 1 “Scenes Shot in Super 8″
April PAD Challenge: Day 2 “Adobe Café”
April PAD Challenge: Day 3 “Confession Booth”
April PAD Challenge: Day 4 “100% Juice”
April PAD Challenge: Day 5 “Uncle Harry”
April PAD Challenge: Day 6 “Hide ‘n’ Seek”
April PAD Challenge: Day 7 “Political Discourse”
April PAD Challenge: Day 8 “Heart 2.0″
April PAD Challenge: Day 9 “Yoga Class”
April PAD Challenge: Day 10 “Holly Bushes”
April PAD Challenge: Day 11 “Spring”
April PAD Challenge: Day 12 “Something Wrong”
April PAD Challenge: Day 13 “Tough Luck”
April PAD Challenge: Day 14 “Sundays in Oklahoma”
April PAD Challenge: Day 15 “Persona”
April PAD Challenge: Day 16 “There’s Been a Mistake”
April PAD Challenge: Day 17 “To Boldly Go”
April PAD Challenge: Day 18 “Watermelon”
April PAD Challenge: Day 19 “Her Bra”
April PAD Challenge: Day 20 “Let’s Remain”
April PAD Challenge: Day 21 “Vast Universe”
April PAD Challenge: Day 22 “Judge Not”
April PAD Challenge: Day 23 “A Valediction Forbidding Morning”
April PAD Challenge: Day 24 “Memory”
April PAD Challenge: Day 25 “Tennis”
April PAD Challenge: Day 26 [wolf haiku]
April PAD Challenge: Day 27 “The Trouble is Within”
April PAD Challenge: Day 28 “Proxima Centauri”
April PAD Challenge: Day 29 “The Dance”

April PAD (Poem-a-Day) Challenge: Day 29 “The Dance”

Yesterday’s prompt was delayed because I spent my free time yesterday working on poems for a contest submission that had to be postmarked today (I got it to the post office at about 4pm). The prompt is “take a favorite line or image from an earlier poem this month and re-work it into a new poem. This is a fun exercise that I’ve used to successfully write new poems in the past.”

I’ve also used this method previously. Sometimes a line or idea just doesn’t belong where it was originally placed. I’ve decided to rework a concept from Day 13, correspondence. This correspondence is quite different than the one in that poem.

“The Dance”

The first letter is awkward. Materializing
through scribbles the framework of conversation.
Often stumbling, like learning to dance with a
new partner. The reply trades leading role and
adds new steps. Reply step reply step.

10 National Poetry Month Activities
April PAD Challenge: Day 1 “Scenes Shot in Super 8″
April PAD Challenge: Day 2 “Adobe Café”
April PAD Challenge: Day 3 “Confession Booth”
April PAD Challenge: Day 4 “100% Juice”
April PAD Challenge: Day 5 “Uncle Harry”
April PAD Challenge: Day 6 “Hide ‘n’ Seek”
April PAD Challenge: Day 7 “Political Discourse”
April PAD Challenge: Day 8 “Heart 2.0″
April PAD Challenge: Day 9 “Yoga Class”
April PAD Challenge: Day 10 “Holly Bushes”
April PAD Challenge: Day 11 “Spring”
April PAD Challenge: Day 12 “Something Wrong”
April PAD Challenge: Day 13 “Tough Luck”
April PAD Challenge: Day 14 “Sundays in Oklahoma”
April PAD Challenge: Day 15 “Persona”
April PAD Challenge: Day 16 “There’s Been a Mistake”
April PAD Challenge: Day 17 “To Boldly Go”
April PAD Challenge: Day 18 “Watermelon”
April PAD Challenge: Day 19 “Her Bra”
April PAD Challenge: Day 20 “Let’s Remain”
April PAD Challenge: Day 21 “Vast Universe”
April PAD Challenge: Day 22 “Judge Not”
April PAD Challenge: Day 23 “A Valediction Forbidding Morning”
April PAD Challenge: Day 24 “Memory”
April PAD Challenge: Day 25 “Tennis”
April PAD Challenge: Day 26 [wolf haiku]
April PAD Challenge: Day 27 “The Trouble is Within”
April PAD Challenge: Day 28 “Proxima Centauri”

April PAD (Poem-a-Day) Challenge: Day 28 “Proxima Centauri”

Today’s prompt is “write a problem poem. The poem could be about a problem the narrator is suffering through, or someone else’s problem. Or a math problem.”

I feel like having some fun with this prompt. My wife and I have been watching a lot of Star Trek lately (we’re beginning Season 4 of Voyager presently), which has me thinking about interstellar travel and the problem of e=mc^2. Star Trek, of course, solves this problem with warp drive, which creates a bubble that warps space time. Other science fiction concepts defeat the light speed barrier in other ways.

I’ve also been thinking a lot about my older daughter’s approaching 4th birthday. Our closest star (other than Sol) is 4.24 light years away, so today I’ll start a draft of a scientific birthday poem. It may not be my most literary work, but here is what I have so far.

“Proxima Centauri”

You turn 4 today, and soon
the light from Proxima Centauri
that shined that June day
you arrived will itself arrive.
I don’t know if your generation
will travel there, via rocket or
warp drive, but you should
always reach higher, always
look beyond, always break limits.

10 National Poetry Month Activities
April PAD Challenge: Day 1 “Scenes Shot in Super 8″
April PAD Challenge: Day 2 “Adobe Café”
April PAD Challenge: Day 3 “Confession Booth”
April PAD Challenge: Day 4 “100% Juice”
April PAD Challenge: Day 5 “Uncle Harry”
April PAD Challenge: Day 6 “Hide ‘n’ Seek”
April PAD Challenge: Day 7 “Political Discourse”
April PAD Challenge: Day 8 “Heart 2.0″
April PAD Challenge: Day 9 “Yoga Class”
April PAD Challenge: Day 10 “Holly Bushes”
April PAD Challenge: Day 11 “Spring”
April PAD Challenge: Day 12 “Something Wrong”
April PAD Challenge: Day 13 “Tough Luck”
April PAD Challenge: Day 14 “Sundays in Oklahoma”
April PAD Challenge: Day 15 “Persona”
April PAD Challenge: Day 16 “There’s Been a Mistake”
April PAD Challenge: Day 17 “To Boldly Go”
April PAD Challenge: Day 18 “Watermelon”
April PAD Challenge: Day 19 “Her Bra”
April PAD Challenge: Day 20 “Let’s Remain”
April PAD Challenge: Day 21 “Vast Universe”
April PAD Challenge: Day 22 “Judge Not”
April PAD Challenge: Day 23 “A Valediction Forbidding Morning”
April PAD Challenge: Day 24 “Memory”
April PAD Challenge: Day 25 “Tennis”
April PAD Challenge: Day 26 [wolf haiku]
April PAD Challenge: Day 27 “The Trouble is Within”

April PAD (Poem-a-Day) Challenge: Day 27 “The Trouble is Within”

Day 27, April PAD is on the home stretch. Since April has been a time of high production, I think May will be time for intensive editing. I feel good about several drafts I’ve written this month, so those may enter my personal cannon. There are some throwaways, too, but even so, this month has provided good practice and improved my writing habits. I need to do some selection and editing before the end of April, though, because Monday is the deadline for The 34th Nimrod Literary Awards contest. Are there any poems I’ve posted this month you would suggest for entry?

In other news, I have a reading coming up on May 4th at Shades of Brown Coffee and Art. My friend, Erin Whitson, is displaying photography throughout May at Shades and has asked Mercy Teague and me to read at his Opening Reception. Here are the details.

Without further ado, the 27th prompt is “take the phrase “The Trouble Is (blank),” replace the blank with a word or phrase, make the new phrase the title of the poem, and then, write the poem. Example titles may include: “The Trouble Is You,” “The Trouble Is Figuring Out How to End This Poem,” or “The Trouble Is What I’m Always Finding.”

“The Trouble is Within”

Blame, cast like stones against the body
of an adulteress, instead of at the source.
Lust forms within. Lust for power. Lust for
gold. Lust extolling self above others.
If we truly desire peace, prosperity, equality,
respect. If we truly truly desire good–out there,
externally, we must seek it first inside.

10 National Poetry Month Activities
April PAD Challenge: Day 1 “Scenes Shot in Super 8″
April PAD Challenge: Day 2 “Adobe Café”
April PAD Challenge: Day 3 “Confession Booth”
April PAD Challenge: Day 4 “100% Juice”
April PAD Challenge: Day 5 “Uncle Harry”
April PAD Challenge: Day 6 “Hide ‘n’ Seek”
April PAD Challenge: Day 7 “Political Discourse”
April PAD Challenge: Day 8 “Heart 2.0″
April PAD Challenge: Day 9 “Yoga Class”
April PAD Challenge: Day 10 “Holly Bushes”
April PAD Challenge: Day 11 “Spring”
April PAD Challenge: Day 12 “Something Wrong”
April PAD Challenge: Day 13 “Tough Luck”
April PAD Challenge: Day 14 “Sundays in Oklahoma”
April PAD Challenge: Day 15 “Persona”
April PAD Challenge: Day 16 “There’s Been a Mistake”
April PAD Challenge: Day 17 “To Boldly Go”
April PAD Challenge: Day 18 “Watermelon”
April PAD Challenge: Day 19 “Her Bra”
April PAD Challenge: Day 20 “Let’s Remain”
April PAD Challenge: Day 21 “Vast Universe”
April PAD Challenge: Day 22 “Judge Not”
April PAD Challenge: Day 23 “A Valediction Forbidding Morning”
April PAD Challenge: Day 24 “Memory”
April PAD Challenge: Day 25 “Tennis”
April PAD Challenge: Day 26 [wolf haiku]

April PAD (Poem-a-Day) Challenge: Day 26 [wolf haiku]

The Day 26 April PAD Challenge prompt is “write an animal poem. The poem can be about an animal, just reference an animal, or well, however you’d like to handle writing an animal poem.”

I’ve decided to take a straightforward approach with this one and write a haiku about a wolf. Why a wolf, you may well ask. Randall is derived from the Germanic name Randolf, which means “wolf shield.” Commentary I’ve read suggests that the name either signifies the shield wolf in a pack, which leads and protects the pack, or one who is shielded by wolves. Both interpretations seem pretty badass to me. I have a wolf tattoo on my upper left arm (pictured below the poem), the first in a tattoo series I’m doing for each of my names. I have ideas for my middle name and surname, but those shall remain secret until I have enough disposable income to get the tattoos.

[wolf haiku]

standing mountain wolf
calling the lonely moon in
the dead dead night

20120427-140646.jpg

10 National Poetry Month Activities
April PAD Challenge: Day 1 “Scenes Shot in Super 8″
April PAD Challenge: Day 2 “Adobe Café”
April PAD Challenge: Day 3 “Confession Booth”
April PAD Challenge: Day 4 “100% Juice”
April PAD Challenge: Day 5 “Uncle Harry”
April PAD Challenge: Day 6 “Hide ‘n’ Seek”
April PAD Challenge: Day 7 “Political Discourse”
April PAD Challenge: Day 8 “Heart 2.0″
April PAD Challenge: Day 9 “Yoga Class”
April PAD Challenge: Day 10 “Holly Bushes”
April PAD Challenge: Day 11 “Spring”
April PAD Challenge: Day 12 “Something Wrong”
April PAD Challenge: Day 13 “Tough Luck”
April PAD Challenge: Day 14 “Sundays in Oklahoma”
April PAD Challenge: Day 15 “Persona”
April PAD Challenge: Day 16 “There’s Been a Mistake”
April PAD Challenge: Day 17 “To Boldly Go”
April PAD Challenge: Day 18 “Watermelon”
April PAD Challenge: Day 19 “Her Bra”
April PAD Challenge: Day 20 “Let’s Remain”
April PAD Challenge: Day 21 “Vast Universe”
April PAD Challenge: Day 22 “Judge Not”
April PAD Challenge: Day 23 “A Valediction Forbidding Morning”
April PAD Challenge: Day 24 “Memory”
April PAD Challenge: Day 25 “Tennis”