Monday, March 24, 2014

EB's Response to "Fast Break" by Edward Hirsch (Poet-to-Poet)

Four Square
Elyse Brownell

For Jadee (1983-2011)

She hit the ball out of turn,
sending it past the boundaries of the chalk drawn lines,

she was out, and Melinda was up next,
making her wide stance known, her large hands hanging

at her side, I spun the rubber skin on the tip of my finger,
called out the rules: “no returns” I said, pointing to Beth,

who is the smaller of the four of us, with less hand-eye coordination,
with a fear of Melinda’s hands, with a fear of returning the ball,

beyond the lines, a falling of hands pushing the ball began,
back and forth, one bounce in square one,

another in square three, and onto Melinda, in square four,
in the upper right-hand corner, fully intentional, fully knowing

she is left-handed, she reaches out across the line and taps
the ball to square one, where I am standing, I lunge forward

to prevent the second bounce in my square, but miss
causing the ball to roll off of Beth’s foot and tumble

into the brick wall behind us, which responds
back to the rubber ball, and sends it out across the street

rolling down the hill, jumping up from hitting rocks,
and the tires of the cars lining the street,

ending in a gutter near the stop sign and wobbling into
the dip, until Beth retrieves it,

“Nice one, Liz,” Melinda’s hands say,
I exit the squares to take my place at the back of the line,

“you’re out,” she insists, just as Beth
returns with the ball, dribbling it a few times with

a new sense of confidence since before she left
to retrieve the ball, “I’m in square one, now” Beth announces,

Jeremy jumps into square four, and I stand off to the side,
“black jack” Beth says, “you can’t do that” Melinda says,

“watch me,” Beth says, and calls “game on” before bouncing the
ball to Jeremy in square four, who sends it to Cheryl in square two,

back to Beth, who twists her hands to throw off Melinda,
in square three, but Melinda sends it back to Beth, who catches it,

the sound of the ball in Beth’s hands echoes against the brick wall
silence falls over every mouth in line, waiting their turn to beat Melinda,

“black jack,” Beth smirks, “no way!” Melinda cries,
“sorry, those are the rules, I called it,” the rest of the kids

standing in line ahead of me cheer, as Mega Melinda has been defeated,
but this time she seems smaller, her back hunched over as

she crosses the boundaries outside of the game, I watch her
kick a pebble into the grass as her head hangs low, her hands

in her pocket, I feel a pull toward her and place my hand on her shoulder
“it’s okay, Melinda, it’s just a game,” she looks up from the ground

shifting her focus onto me, she begins to cry, and hugs me,
our bodies pressed into each other, not realizing the ball

is rolling around us, has stopped against my heel, and stays there,
as time stands still and I am left with the news of her death

fifteen years later, trying to recall a single memory that occurred
after four square, like our prom, or sitting in her room

surrounded by posters of boy bands, declaring which of the five men
were our boyfriends, thinking, at the time, that no other moment could possibly

be worse than finding out that one of the boy band members has a girlfriend,
or nothing could possibly get any better than finding out that the yellow-haired boy

that sits in front of you in math class, thinks about you too,
but all I can recall is the sound of the ball on the concrete that day

the way she hugged me, and stopped being Mega Melinda,
but rather a friend, a teammate, to someday become a wife, a mother, and now,

merely, the dust kicked up by a ball bouncing somewhere, without a sound.

Elyse Brownell

for Jadee

Even now, after thinking about you for days,
I am no closer to finding you.

I stand in a room and summon your memory
but come up empty-handed, left with

carbon copies of your face in photographs
left with a still-frame of us in the basement,

the lower ceilings we resided under,
your father in his recliner with the volume on the TV

too loud, the walls of your bedroom covered with
posters of our favorite bands, your carpet, matted,

stains of make-up, nail polish, and paint chippings,
the threshold to the back room, burgundy concrete floors,

the full-length mirror, the lighting in your bathroom,
the sound of the front door, the smells in the kitchen,

and your bedroom floor, rolling cigarettes,
drinking wine coolers, trying to decipher the day’s problems.

did we ever talk about death (?) after we heard that statistic from
our guidance counselor about the 1 and 4 odds of making it to our ten year reunion.

I wore black that day.
I said your name at least twice.
I wished the red wine

was actually a wine cooler and we were back in the basement
hiding from the outside world, together.

But the room I stand in isn't at all a place where I can ever find you,
even if I hold 1,000 photographs and try to talk to each one,

I can’t hear your laugh in my ear, or the sound of you knuckles
each one cracking louder than the next.

I can only hope that the sound of the heater turning on,
or the blinds against my window sill swaying for no reason,

is the passing of our memories, a passing that can only
be captured by the smallest glimpses of your light;

that’s all anyone is after they’re gone.

In response to:
"Fast Break"
Edward Hirsch

Thursday, March 20, 2014

EB's Responses to "Five Directions to My House" by Juan Felipe Herrera (Poet-to-Poet)

To prepare for National Poetry Month, we have decided to partake in the Poet-to-Poet challenge.  Though the guidelines specifically indicate the challenge is for grades 3-12, we can't miss an opportunity to be inspired.  Rather than enter our poems (since we can't), we will post them here!  More about the challenge here.

Visiting Lake Superior
Elyse Brownell

  1. Return, again, to attend the ballet of Heliades across the blue-stained glass floor.
  2. Walk along her shoreline, her softness pulled up around your toes as you sink into her body.
  3. Feel the openness of her, an endless space, waiting beneath the curve of the Porcupine Mountains.
  4. Rest, face her, watch the memories play back on reels of your father's fishing lines: late baths on warm summer nights; a plunge through her shell with the other polar bears; the Northern Lights (she welcomes them new again each time); her vacancy, after the fall, so many times.
  5. Leave her as you found her, like an infinite lover you’ll always return to.

Directions to a Memory
Elyse Brownell

  1. Return to the playground where someone threw rocks at your brother after he told them to leave you alone.
  2. Leave the park, there, your brother, standing still holding another pointed rock in his palm.
  3. Reach the top of the hill, just enough to see the boys standing still, like Risk pieces before the war began.
  4. See your brother fall, like the wind knocked him over, as sudden as a picture frame falling down.
  5. Run down the street, further away from water, though every direction you are standing closer.
  6. Enter through the white screen door, calling to your mother, to hurry, to come see, to forget her purse, for now.

    Can We Return?
    Elyse Brownell
  1. She is waiting for you on the porch where you stood kissing your first love.
  2. Mother, I have come home again, so you can take care of me, if but just for one week.
  3. Lover, when I walk these streets I don’t think of you, for the first time, since we met.
  4. I am standing near the railroad where we crossed the rails just months before the ink dried.
  5. Silver spawn, flock to me, land on a branch, nibble on some berries, I will be there soon.
  6. Remember the playground where we were stuck for hours? Remember the tether ball?
  7. I still remember the way the icing tasted on my pink ninja turtle cake after the goose hunt.

In response to:

"Five Directions to My House"
Juan Felipe Herrera

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Frozen Dead Poet Society: One Grand Poem Howling Off the Mountain

This year at the annual Frozen Dead Guy Days (FDGD), held in Nederland, CO, March 7-9, something new was offered: poetry. The idea for poetry was formed after a night of readings at the Very Nice Brewing Company’s Open Mic, when fellow-conspirators, Elyse Brownell and Chris Shugrue, us, we two crows, were approached by Amanda Macdonald, FDGD Event Coordinator. Macdonald was impressed by our original work and the energy we brought to the crowd and quickly offered us a spot on the bill at this year’s FDGD. We agreed, and the Frozen Dead Poets Society (FDPS) was born.

Though not a soapbox in sight, as the newspapers exclaimed there would be, we stood on 3 cinderblocks on First Street. On the first day, Saturday, we stood in the shadow of the Mountain People’s Co-op and competed with the Zimmerman’s (a local band that only covers Bob Dylan songs, fittingly) playing inside the Brain Freezer Tent. We had a list of 5 or 6 poets who offered to read from original poems or that of their favorite dead poet. Brownell beckoned to the people walking by:

Elyse Brownell

“We call to thee, dead poets, we call to thee upon this mountain, sing with us, poets, sing!”

Earlier in the day, to stir up the words, two ghosts haunted the town, handing out flyers to patrons at local bars: flyers of blue sheets with quotes from dead writers printed on them with the time and place in the bottom corner. Sometimes we mentioned what the flyers meant, other times walking mute, feeling nothing but the openness of the room and the curiosity. As the flyers floated down on table tops landing near someone’s hand, word was getting out: the poets were ready.

The wind picked up and more people started surrounding our cinderblock stage: the dead poets had arrived. The crowd was small but attentive, and their willingness to stand on the stage and call to the writers of the past was astonishing. We stood back for a moment and said to each other: “This is beautiful; this is what poetry should be about.”

Shugrue stood up there and read “Father Reason” by Rumi, a phrase from which he has tattooed on his right forearm: “Humble living does not diminish. It fills. Going back to a simpler self gives wisdom.” When he reached that part in the poem, he lifted his arm, pulled down his sleeve, and called to Rumi. The audience stood in awe at a man who believed so deeply in what he was reading, in what someone wrote, Rumi, that he had it etched into his skin for his daughter, for it is what comes after that is already within him: “When a father makes up a story for his child, he becomes a father and a child together, listening.” The audience stood together with him, listening, and together we all understood again the depth of our connections to each other.

Chris Shugrue

We ended the first day of FDPS with a young girl reading Shel Silverstein, after the loud hums of the crowd encouraged her to read it. It was a moment of pure innocence, reminding us that poetry should be the future; whether you write it or just stand up for it, poetry allows us to see the connections to our past, present, and future. Poetry sustains. What we witnessed reminded us again of the words of Anne Waldman: “Keep the world safe for poetry.”

On Sunday, just before 3PM, we decided to move the cinderblock stage further up First Street, in the sun, out in the open, and in the middle of the walkway, so there was no way to miss us. When forming FDPS, our primary mission was to bring poetry into a space where it would not be expected. In Nederland, and Colorado as a whole, poetry is very present, and while FDGD has something for everyone, what we felt was missing from the event was a performance space unique to poetry.

Before our final performance of the day, we sat at a picnic table at the Very Nice Brewing Company with piles of books by Kerouac, Rumi, Whitman, Lispector, Yeats, Ginsberg, Kabir, and Plath, the books that had been weighing down Shugrue’s backpack for days now. When asked what he was carrying on his back, Shugrue replied, “There’s thirty pounds of poetry in there.” When asked why we don’t get a Kindle, Brownell said, “You need to feel the weight of the poetry to truly appreciate it.”

We wrote exquisite corpses with the dead poets, taking turns to pick a quote and write on it, two notebooks switching back and forth between hands, mugs of beer, the banter of before-noon locals, and background music from string bands. It was an exercise in collaboration, but not just collaboration between two living writers in the present penning phrases over beers: by plucking phrases from the pages of past poets, we were conjuring the dead, summoning ghosts from thin mountain air and spinning their words into a present patchwork quilt that continued the thread of our own writing.

This was collaboration at its finest and most pure. Our collaboration with the poets of past was set, and we would use this piece to kick off the Sunday edition of the FDPS.

So yes, back to our cinderblock stage, 3 PM, the middle of First Street, Nederland, CO, with the wind howling straight down from snow covered Divide, we poets gathered again. In that gusting wind, we began the proceedings by reading our exquisite frozen corpse, with the ghost of ol’ Jack rising in air:

“I’d better be a poet
or lay down dead.”

We took turns reading from those two notebooks passed until all the ghosts were swirling about. With our incantations done, we turned the stage and the mountain over to the poets who came to share their words. What followed was one of the more inspiring events we’ve ever witnessed. Our position in the very middle of the street meant people could not pass without hearing songs fill the air, and the poets who took turns standing atop our cinderblock stage did not disappoint. The gathered were blessed with readings of original work, of the work of poets known and newly introduced, of mash-ups of poetical presence that left all smiling and laughing in a Rocky Mountain gale. A crowd of writers and witnesses in turn became one, and the wind kept roaring and shaped all the words bellowed into one grand poem sent singing down First Street. We all knew something new had been born.
Mark Curci
Phillip Bright
Sandra Erwin
Natalie Doerre
Matthew Clifford
James Steele

 And finally, as the sun headed towards the Divide, Brownell finally stepped upon them blocks to finish off the first-ever meeting of the FDPS. And the ghost she decided to conjure, the words she decided to roar against wind, couldn’t have been more perfect. With the ghost of Walt Whitman dancing around her feet, she blew the assembly away with a reading of “On Crossing Brooklyn Ferry”, the perfect ending to a perfect collaboration between poets alive and poets dead:

It avails not, time nor place--distance avails not,
I am with you, you men and women of a generation, or ever so many generations hence,
Just as you feel when you look on the river and sky, so I felt,
Just as any of you is one of a living crowd, I was one of a crowd,
Just as you are refresh'd by the gladness of the river and the bright flow,
I was refresh'd,
Just as you stand and lean on the rail, yet hurry with the swift current, I stood yet was hurried,
Just as you look on the numberless masts of ships and the thick-stemm'd pipes of steamboats,
I look'd.

Just like Whitman, we stood refreshed; we stood as one of the crowd:  our thirst quenched by poetry, community, and good old-fashioned fun.  We stood as one as we ended our first meeting of the Frozen Dead Poets.  After all the words were spoken, all the songs were sung, we realized something greater about this collaboration, and the realization is humbling and equally inspiring in its simplicity:  poetry never dies, and the poet who writes doesn’t either.  On a couple of beautiful mountain days in March, a group of living performers communed with the words of poets past.  In this act, a new voice had been created, and this new voice beckoned to the poetry of the future, and it also called back to our collective pasts.  The dead poets conjured never die, for we are constantly in collaboration with them.  Words still matter and poetry still has an important role in this world. 

To all those who gathered with us: thank you. We couldn't have pulled this off without your presence and your words. In the end, we are all ghosts in search of words to make us whole.

-Elyse Brownell & Chris Shugrue
Tweet: @elysebrownell; @cpshugrue
Bouldering Poets

All photos by Jeffrey Spahr-Summers