Blizzard 2017 Is in the Books

“Let’s read ‘Snowbound’ together” – Kenneth Koch

Or it will be. Someone should write books about it. I imagine there will be some epic poems coming out of what the Weather Channel was calling “Stella.” Apparently, the National Weather Service is not involving themselves in the marketing scheme of naming winter storms, though. They’re sticking to hurricanes for that kind of treatment. I did hear someone call it Stormageddon 2017. Still, it was not the end of the world even if it did nearly suspend Northeast Pennsylvania in time for a few days.

Twenty-six inches of snow fell here in my neighborhood and Continue reading “Blizzard 2017 Is in the Books”

Dad Libs: Throwback Thursday

My son Jonathan and I trying not to lose it.
My son Jonathan and I trying not to lose it.

This has been a scary week, the first week of a certain presidency that pushes my family and me way past the uneasy mark. But rather than give that blowhard, narcissistic, buffoon any more press today, we’re going to jump back to some old Dad Libs, our twist on the classic Mad Libs game.

Micah is spending the week with the old man here and he mentioned to me that he’d like to record some new versions of these, so as we warm up for new Dad Libs episodes, here are three of our favorites from over the years. The first is from 2010 when we recorded the very first Dad Lib on my old Acer laptop, so pardon the poor quality. The next two are just, well just favorite examples of the most fun a family can have indoors without alcohol.

Oh, and we seem to have a thing for butchering Robert Frost poems and great political speeches.

Summer Birds, Some are Poets

Reflections on Robert Frost’s “Ovenbird,” and “First Song,” by Matthew Murrey
English: Illustration by Louis Agassiz Fuertes...
Illustration by Louis Agassiz Fuertes of a Wood Thrush (Hylocichla mustelina) and an Ovenbird (Seiurus aurocapillus) from The Burgess Bird Book for Children (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“There is a song that everyone has heard.” That is how Robert Frost begins his unique sonnet, “The Ovenbird.” Of course, you’d be right to protest; not everyone has heard the bird. But a lot of the North American continent has. The little “mid-wood bird,” as Frost calls her, ranges as far as Florida, the Caribbean, and the tip of South America when the North gets cold in winter.

So I suppose if Frost wanted to be exact, as poets rarely do, he could say that the bird’s song is one that many of us in the “New World” may have had opportunity to hear. But I don’t think he was going for a scientific approach here. First of all, the poem is thought by certain critics and scholars to be a response to some discussion or argument, possibly in poetry itself to which we are not privy.  And further, in that way the bird becomes symbolic of something else, of poets perhaps, of those who sing in the dead leaves of pre-autumn woods, wondering, “what to make of a diminished thing.”

But you’ll have to follow the links above to learn about the Ovenbird, and read Frost’s poem, along with the literary discussions that have surrounded it these many years. Tonight I am more interested in another poet, and quite probably an entirely different bird. I want to introduce you, if you haven’t met them already, to poet Matthew Murrey, and the bird outside his window.

American Robin -- Humber Bay Park (East) (Toro...
American Robin — Humber Bay Park (East) (Toronto, Canada) — 2005, by User:  Mdf (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I discovered Matthew earlier today while researching journals, contests, and publishers, plotting my submission goals. I first found his poem “Coyotes” in Tinderbox Poetry Journal. And from his bio I moved on to his website, where I saw tonight’s poem on his home page.

Let’s not get involved in the discussion of symbolism, or the speculation about just which species of bird is singing. If it were carrying on outside my window at five in the morning, it would likely be the local and loud American Robin, but even if Matthew’s poem is a response to Robert Frost’s, the species hardly matters.

What matters is how this poem gave me the little shiver that I long for when reading poetry. How about we let it speak for itself this evening, without further commentary. Or better yet, and I hope Mr. Murrey doesn’t mind, I’d like to read it to you. Please click here to read along.

“First Song,” by Matthew Murrey.

First published in Poetry East #66, Fall 2009 (reprinted in #70, Spring 2011)

Fun with Metrics? I Certainly Hope So

10380318_700248176706148_3589674976662403112_nOops! I just noticed as I looked two posts back that I had promised to share the poems we went over at the last Cross Keys Poetry Society gathering, and already the next one is upon us tomorrow night. So I’ll be brief and just share a few notes that I sent out to the group as a review and to catch up a couple people who couldn’t be there. In this version I give all the links I can. I hope you enjoy exploring!

So here is what we’ve done and what’s coming up:
Next Meeting is this Tuesday, August 19th (Always on the 1st and 3rd Tuesdays)
Last time we finished up the sections on Sound and Sound Devices.
For this week if you haven’t yet please take a look at her chapter on The Line, pages 35-57.
If the metrical stuff seems overwhelming, don’t worry, we’ll talk through it on Tuesday and have some fun with it.
Prior to last meeting we had each made our private lists of 25 (or up to 50) words that we like, especially based on their sound.
If you haven’t yet, there is still time. Choose words particularly if you associate their sound with their meaning.
We didn’t share those lists yet, but I asked you, keeping in mind Oliver’s section on imitation, to use as many of your words as possible to write a short piece in a style or form similar to one of the many poems we’ve read so far.
If you missed last time we read (If you don’t have the handouts, most of them I think can be found online):
And I passed out copies of two rhyming “nonsense” poems, though we didn’t get to read them together yet. Feel free to use them in the imitation exercise.
  • Jabberwocky,” by Lewis Carol
  • and “Counting Out Rhyme,” (which you might already have a copy of from our first meeting) by Edna St. Vincent Millay
Have fun! And I hope to see you this Tuesday. If you know of any friends who might enjoy reading and experimenting with poetry, please invite them to come along.

The challenge I’ve been facing this week is to make a study of metrics a fun evening for adults of various experience levels. I’ve found only a few somewhat helpful guides online to supplement Mary Oliver’s. If you have any suggestions, please mention them in the comments!

I did not include the following videos in the Cross Keys meeting, but I can be more self-indulgent here on my blog and share with you a couple of readings from four years back when I was really starting to record poems on YouTube with full-force enthusiasm. The “Bean Eaters,” by Gwendolyn Brooks really should be re-recorded with a better microphone, but I’ve had some good comments on it, and it does show up on page one of google search for the piece, so I think I’ll leave it for posterity. The recording of Meinke’s “Advice to My Son” is of much better quality. Thanks for indulging me.


A Thursday Love Poem, “The Four Moon Planet,” by Billy Collins

Cover of "The Notebooks of Robert Frost"
Cover of The Notebooks of Robert Frost

I don’t know what Robert Frost was thinking when he jotted those words in his notes, “I have envied the four moon planet.” Or maybe he never wrote them at all. Maybe Billy Collins just made the whole thing up. I’ll have to read The Notebooks of Robert Frost to find out for sure. But it’s a lovely poem that Billy created from Frost’s idea.

And since aliens and outer space are sometimes subjects of scary movies and costumes (I’ve dressed as an alien for Halloween, haven’t you?), then maybe it’s not too much of a stretch to make “The Four Moon Planet” by Billy Collins our October 31st Thursday Love Poem. You know, it being Halloween and all, and we bloggers feeling this market-driven need to relate everything to everything else.

Come to think of it, isn’t that what poets do? I recall Billy saying as much in another poem. “The Trouble with Poetry,” I believe it was.

Aside: And while I’m thinking of it, if you managed to miss the former Poet Laureate reading, quipping, and doing poetry tricks with Stephen Colbert on the Colbert Report Tuesday night, treat yourself by clicking here.

But what’s a Thursday Love Poem, you ask? Well, let me quote myself from last Thursday, when we enjoyed the first ever Thursday Love Poem. Last week we were dumped unceremoniously by Edna St. Vincent Millay via the Thursday Love Poem feature’s flagship poem, appropriately called “Thursday.”

. . . And what should a Thursday Love Poem be here on The Dad Poet? Well, let’s face it, it’s got to be a bit unconventional. No Hallmark cards of course, and none of Shakespeare’s Sonnets. Not that your sweetheart doesn’t deserve a nice greeting card, and not they the Bard’s love poems are not a delight (come to think of it a few might actually fit in here) . . . But we have already read Robert Burns’, “my luv is like a red red rose.” Here I want to share something different, off-center, unexpected, something that resonates, but may not be what you expect from a love poem.

. . . I do not wish to act as if true love and romance in a poem is “dishonest,” as some writers claim. But for a poem to be a Thursday Love Poem it will have to look at that tenderness squinting sideways, maybe standing on its head, in order to give us a unique view, one other than what the masses have come to expect of a love poem.

In other words a Thursday Love Poem isn’t your grandmother’s love poem, baby.

And so for this Thursday Love Poem we go galactic, but subtly with the master of wit and winsomeness, Billy Collins. Perhaps I’ll make a brief comment or two below the poem’s text.


The Four-Moon Planet

I have envied the four-moon planet.
-The Notebooks of Robert Frost

Maybe he was thinking of the song
“What a Little Moonlight Can do”
and became curious about
what a lot of moonlight might be capable of.

But wouldn’t this be too much of a good thing?
and what if you couldn’t tell them apart
and they always rose together
like pale quadruplets entering a living room?

Yes, there would be enough light
to read a book or write a letter at midnight,
and if you drank enough tequila
you might see eight of them roving brightly above.

But think of the two lovers on a beach,
his arm around her bare shoulder,
thrilled at how close they were feeling tonight
while he gazed at one moon and she another.

From Ballistics
Copyright © 2008 by Billy Collins
Random House

Alright then. You have heard me defend Collins, as if he needs defending, from those who criticize his “simplicity,” using the word “accessible” as if it were a bad thing, as if erecting an electric, barbed-wire fence around an art museum were a good idea. You have heard me say a hundred times that accessibility does not equal simplicity. Neither does complexity, ambiguity, or depth of thought require linguistic word puzzles meant to lose the reader and prove how very clever and intelligent the poet is. Collins is certainly accessible, but he’s anything but simplistic.

And this poem is a prime example. It may also serve as an illustration of why I love poetry so much.  Prose might have simply told us, “In matters of love we are so unknowably different from each other that we are doomed to have wildly divergent views of what our relationship actually is.” Or, “We never see each other for who we are, and nobody could ever truly know the other’s thoughts.”

This is probably all true; it might even be a revelation, but how beautifully Collins sets us up, not to tell us this, but to let us discover it ourselves in the final line, “while he gazed at one moon and she another.” He says it without ever saying it. And the result is that tiny gasp, maybe not the freezing, headless sensation Emily Dickinson described, but a tug in the gut that makes me feel something true. And it comes about from a carefully laid trap that I am glad to have fallen into, the way I am glad when Agatha Christie brilliantly shows me why I should have known all along what Miss Marple understood about the murderer. This is why I can’t get enough good poems in my life, getting slapped in the gut, liking it, and asking for more.

Poem on.

Flashback Friday: More Dad Libs for Family Fun

My son Jonathan and I trying not to lose it.
My son Jonathan and I trying not to lose it.

Last Friday I reblogged as a flashback an old post called Dad Libs, a Mad Libs Alternative. This week I’m including one that never made it from the family YouTube channel here to the blog, so I know it will be new to most of you. I’ve decided to include our very first Dad Libs recording as well, to offer up a bit of history on the art of our family’s twist on an old game. I’ll post that one below the newer one for comparison (the old webcam gives it a real historical feel).

Like Mad Libs, the game that inspired us, which was created in the late 1950’s by the team of Leonard Stern and Roger Price, our twist, “Dad Libs” is a language game. It operates on the same principles as the original, but it calls for the whole family to be creators, not just to fill in the blanks of someone published by someone else.  A blind panel of friends or family members are asked to give seemingly random parts of speech to fill in the blanks of a text.

The creative-ish part is that we take turns deciding what the text will be, a poem, a famous speech, an obscure news story, whatever you think will be fun. Then you copy and paste the text, and proceed to choose which words to blank out, words that will be filled in by the rest of your merry band, who have no idea what text you’ve chosen.

Then the really fun part is that you turn on the camera, and make someone read the newly altered text for the first time, and save for posterity the giggles and gaffs. If you don’t have kids, don’t worry, your friends will enjoy this as well. Honestly this has to be better than sitting around the kitchen table playing bridge.

If you’ve never done Mad Libs and are still confused, you might want to google it because the explanation I give in the older of the two videos below is pretty feeble and fumbling.

This newer video was recorded last Summer (You can thank the Monkey for his editing) and in it we are mad-libbing Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken,” followed by Tom Hanks’ award-winning grave-side monologue from the movie “Forest Gump.”

The second video was actually our first one back in 2010, and my son Jonathan aptly named it “The Gettysburg Massacre.” In the clip’s description (on YouTube) you can find the whole text, which you are free to copy, but trust me, you’ll have even more fun if you do this from scratch. If you have even more time to procrastinate on this Flashback Friday, you can watch the whole playlist here. I hope it inspires you to try something creative like this with your clan.