When You Have No Power You Go Swimming in the Dark

This line has been going through my head all week.  It’s been a mantra.  Over and over it plays, demanding to be taken places from innocence to tragic. 

It’s the creative process.  A word, a phrase, a sentence can all mean different things to different people and at different times.  If you let a thing, have more than one meaning or project more than one image, that thing can become bigger than it was before.

In every day life there are things that can be expressed as a poem – that strange language that compresses words, creates images, and builds feelings.  Not all poems have to be about the great truths of the world – sometimes the great is in the mundane.  In skilled hands a flower or a child running through the grass, can impart more truth than all the words of all the philosophers who’ve ever lived.

The title above was actually a Facebook post and I’m stealing it.  It was posted by a friend who’s power went out on a hot night and the whole family just went swimming in their pool.  A simple scene.  The power fails, the A/C stops, the house heats while mom, dad and the kids don swimsuits to jump into the cool water in the family pool.  When the power returns, suits are hung, bodies dried, A/C restored and it’s bed time for a happy modern suburban American family.

There’s a poem in there about the joys of family life – about turning discomfort into fun – about adapting and coping.

Knowing the family involved, I envision this scene and feeling, without having been there.

When you have no power you go swimming in the dark

Let’s set reality free and image other situations. 

Perhaps a single mother has lost her job.  She can’t find another and the unemployment checks run out. She receives the eviction notice on her small apartment and just before moving to live in her car, she takes her children swimming one last time …

Or perhaps in the dark we spy two young lovers camped by a remote lake.  In the heat of the evening, a touch, a kiss, clothes drop, bodies swim, love, lust — all swirl as the grasshoppers sing …

Or a man is in a car desperately driving and looking for a way out of town.  Smoke chokes the sky as the flames start to rush past as his town of Paradise is consumed in flame.  When the road becomes blocked and his car starts to burn he runs for the small creek and the little water there that might protect him …

Or it’s a war and the teenage girl has made it as far as the river.  On the other side, the hope – the possibility of refugee camp and being out of range of the guns – out of the hands of the enemy and certain rape.  Bombs, fire, and gas have killed her family.  Mother and father dying to get her away. Crouched on the river bank she has no weapons, no friends, no safety and little strength left.  As the sun goes down she slips into the water hoping to either reach safety or drown.

In the many poems and stories that could be built from the title, there are Three basic things: Powerlessness, darkness, and water.  Power can either be physical or metaphorical. Think of a time in your life when you faced these.  Was it happy? Was it scary?

Given the title above: What picture would you draw? What story would you tell?

What poem would you write?

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Friday Stolen Quote

Allan over at Ohm Sweet Ohm this quote from Bill Vaughn.  It just too good not to steal and repost here.

Quote of the Day


`If there is anything the nonconformist hates worse than a conformist, it’s another nonconformist who doesn’t conform to the prevailing standard of nonconformity.
—Bill Vaughan`

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Poetry Stuff and Publishing Stuff

I came across a great title for a poem this week:

When the Power Failed We Went Swimming in the Dark.

I know! Brilliant! If I just had a poem to go with the title – it would be perfect.  One of the many things we discussed at the workshop was how to come up with things to write about.  Its a common problem for writers – where to start.  The title above is a rewrite of a Facebook friend’s post.  She had posted that their power was out, it was hot and family just went for a swim in their pool after dark.  Often, ordinary things can lead somewhere.

Swimming in the dark is an interesting metaphor and could lead any number of places.  Perhaps a poem about teens at a party, a world falling apart, or two lovers in the pool.  Maybe it’s a war and the people in the poem are escaping by swimming over a river.

Another exercise is to do a bit of free writing and then look for interesting lines you’ve just written.  Sometimes you need a prompt to get going.

Our workshop teacher gave us one, “I’ve never told anyone that …”  Start with that phrase and add to it (and no you don’t have to let out your deepest, darkest secrets, just stuff you don’t think about much). Here was my first attempt at that exercise:

I’ve never told anyone that I like lithium iron phosphate batteries.

II’ve never told anyone that I had an ingrown toenail that had to be removed.

I’ve never told anyone that the burn mark on my hand was from a burning plastic rope.

I’ve never told anyone that I once kicked a door open and chased the kids away from a warehouse.

I’ve never told anyone that it was me who called 911.

I’ve never told anyone that I was disappointed there wasn’t a nuclear war.

I’ve never told anyone that the dent in my bumper was me backing into a chainlink fence.

I’ve never told anyone that I deleted the file.

I’ve never told anyone that I’d really like to be published in a lit journal.

I’ve never told anyone that when I took my brother to the emergency room all I could think of was my father dying alone in the VA hospital.

I’ve never told anyone that I let father eat cheese after his heart attack.

I’ve never told anyone that I didn’t want to scatter my father’s ashes at sea.

I’ve never told anyone that I wish I could visit his grave.

From that exercise came my yet unpublished poem, Grilled Cheese.

These are the starters for a poem, the spark of imagination that leads the poet on.  Then comes the difficult work of filling in the rest of the poem and editing it until the poem becomes what the poem wants – needs to be.  At some point in the process the poet stops working on the poem and releases it to the world.

Some might call this publication and the question is why publish poetry?

It’s not to make money.  Poetry has always been art and except for a rare few poets and song writers, money is not part of the equation.  There are other motivations such as wanting others to hear our words, hoping to inspire, inform, disturb or motivate others.  There is a bit of ego here as the poet assumes that poem is important or deserving of an audience.

It’s complicated, but some of it also has to do with the question, “Is this any good?” or “Is it just crap?”  If a publisher accepted your poem for their magazine, then you’d know that your poem was good, so validation is another strong motive.

There are many ways to publish.  I’ve self-published a poetry collection and sold a few copies.  I’ve published some poems here on this blog and received generally good feedback.

But …

At workshops I’ve attended, poets I respect, have encouraged me to submit my poems to literary magazines, journals, etc. 

It’s a daunting prospect.  Even the editors will admit that the process is part luck.  Did your poem arrive on the day they were looking for a poem just like that?  Nearly all poetry publishers will tell you that they receive far more poems than they could ever publish and often turn down very good work simply because they only have room for ten poems this quarter.

This last week I started the process of researching places I might send stuff.  I checked out the database on the Poets and Writes Magazine web site and wow – the list is long. Thousands of places.  Some better than others and way too many to sort through so I’ve decided on a bit of a cheat.  I have a list of current poets I like and have styles similar to mine.  A little checking of their books and a few web searches and I now have a list of 20 publications where I might do a little submitting.

Next week it’s writing a short bio, simple cover letters and continually telling myself, “It’s not crap, send it.”


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Friday question: Bank Drive through

Why do they put Braille on the drive-through bank machines?

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