the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Tag: poetry (Page 2 of 2)

Driving in LA – In Two Parts

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Part One — Car Poetry

This week’s Poetry Thursday assignment was to be inspired by a single line from another blogger’s poem. I picked “A Morning By the Sea” by Susannah of Ink on My Fingers.

The line that inspired me was:

The computer hums,
the kettle rumbles.

Why this line? Her poem is wonderful, filled with wonderful images. This is probably — content-wise — one of the least important lines. But that’s exactly what inspired me about it. Its importance is more than just the content, or the onomatopoeia of “hum” and “rumble.” I like the way the line rolls off your tongue, like a good song lyric.

The computer hums,
the kettle rumbles.

I think one reason I find it poetry difficult is because I’m always focusing on the “meaning” of the words. Poetry, more than fiction, is about the music of the words themselves.

I have a comedian friend who is always rewriting his material to make it funnier by using “funnier” words. These are words that start with a “hard” letter. So, a “Crazy Cat” is theoretically funnier than a “Weird Worm.” It’s his own way of using the “poetry” of words to enhance his routine. In a way, Susannah’s poem helped me to remember my love of words — words for their own sake.

In my ideal world, Elliot Yamin would have won “American Idol,” not because he has the best voice, or a doting Jewish mother, but because he has the coolest sounding name.

Elliot Yamin.

Taylor Hicks? Not poetry.

As I was driving on the 10 Freeway today, I thought about how much the big auto companies must spend to come up with their “poetic” sounding names for their cars.

I wonder if they hire poets.

Chevrolet Cabriolet
Toyota Corolla
Ford Focus
Hyundai Santa Fe
Mercedes
Rolls Royce

I like the way all of these car names “sound.”

I’m driving on the freeway
In my Hyundai Santa Fe
Zooming past a Corolla
and a Chevy Cabriolet

I know my car ain’t a Mercedes
Or a beautiful Rolls Royce
But it’s better than that Ford Focus
Now that was one BAD choice.

I know, I know. A fourth grade poem. But it was fun.

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Part Two — Overheard in LA

As most people know, Los Angeles is a driving town.  What you drive matters.  Since I first met Sophia, she’s had four completely different types of cars — each one evoking a wildly different negative response from some other driver. 

1) 1996 —

As we entered the parking lot of Campanile Restaurant, an upscale restaurant, a friend told Sophia, who was driving a five year old Honda Accord:

“I’d be embarrassed to give this piece of junk into the valet.”

2) 1999 —

After a motorcycle cut us off in Beverly Hills, Sophia blinked her lights at him.  The motorcyclist turned to Sophia, who was now leasing a Infiniti i30, and yelled:

“Screw you, you rich bitch!”

3) 2001 —

As we left a coffee shop in Redondo Beach, an environmental activist was putting a flyer on a windshield of Sophia’s new Hyundai Santa Fe SUV:

“Do you morons know what you’re doing to the environment with this monstrosity?”

4) 2006 —

As (Republican) Sophia pulled away from an IHOP, after having breakfast with me, in her new Toyota Prius Hybrid, I heard two men talking about the special DMV stickers that allow some hybrid owners to drive alone in the carpool lane:

“What gives these liberal treehugging assholes the right to use the carpool lane when we can’t?!”

Moral of the story:  You can’t win driving in LA.

A Year Ago on Citizen of the Month: 90 Million Women Wear Wrong Size Bra

Clock and Crow

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I think I made a giant step forward in my appreciation of poetry today (as a participant in Lynn and Liz’s Poetry Thursday).  I was asleep this morning; it was about 6AM.  The morning light drizzled through the blinds and rested on my naked body sprawled across my bed like the Roman God of Virility announcing to the world, “I am Man.” 

“Damn alarm clock!” I said, as this annoying sound pounded into my ear.  I slammed the alarm clock into “snooze” mode.  But the sound continued.  It was not my alarm clock.  It was some stupid bird outside in a tree (a crow, perhaps?).

To me, this crow sounded like an alarm clock.

Now, what does this have to do with poetry?

On Monday night, I went to the Beverly Hills Library and skimmed through some poetry books.  I noticed that poets are always using nature as a way of describing their lives.

“She was as angry as a tornado.”

“Her green eyes were like leaves of grass.”

Etc.

Now, I grew up in New York, and spent much of my adult life in Los Angeles.   I love nature as much as the next guy (despite being allergic to most of it).  I’ve seen the greatness of Yosemite — and even got a cool Ansel Adams poster at the gift shop.   I love the sound of rivers flowing.  I’ve enjoyed Vermont and her colorful Fall.  

But I’m not really at home with nature.  It doesn’t really feel natural for me to describe Sophia as “a tiger in the bedroom,” because I have no idea what a real tiger would do in a bedroom.  I’ve seen tigers in the zoo.  I’ve seen tigers at the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus. I know a tiger mauled Siegfried — or was it Roy?

So, as I woke up this morning, I gave some thought to the statement:

“That annoying crow sounds like my alarm clock.”

I’m sure if Yeats was alive today and living in my crappy apartment instead of me, and the alarm clock would go off, he would have look over at the clock and say:

“That weird clock with a smiling face sounds just like a crow!”

He knows about crows, but nothing about alarm clocks.  I know about alarm clocks, but nothing about crows. 

Maybe I would enjoy poetry more if I can find some poems that related to me in a more personal way — more about how crows sound like alarm clocks rather than how alarm clocks sound like crows.   You know, the way women eat up all those chick lit novels because it relates to their own lives. 

So, today I searched around for poems that focused more on the urban experience, and I found quite a few.

I particularly liked the following poem by Amy Lowell (February 9, 1874 – May 12, 1925).  Lowell, was an American poet of the imagist school, who posthumously won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1926.  Many of her poems have lesbian themes, but this poem focuses on the darkness of Industrial Age New York City.

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New York at Night by Amy Lowell

A near horizon whose sharp jags
Cut brutally into a sky
Of leaden heaviness, and crags
Of houses lift their masonry
Ugly and foul, and chimneys lie
And snort, outlined against the gray
Of lowhung cloud.  I hear the sigh
The goaded city gives, not day
Nor night can ease her heart, her anguished labours stay.
Below, straight streets, monotonous,
From north and south, from east and west,
Stretch glittering; and luminous
Above, one tower tops the rest
And holds aloft man’s constant quest:
Time!  Joyless emblem of the greed
Of millions, robber of the best
Which earth can give, the vulgar creed
Has seared upon the night its flaming ruthless screed.
O Night!  Whose soothing presence brings
The quiet shining of the stars.
O Night!  Whose cloak of darkness clings
So intimately close that scars
Are hid from our own eyes.  Beggars
By day, our wealth is having night
To burn our souls before altars
Dim and tree-shadowed, where the light
Is shed from a young moon, mysteriously bright.
Where art thou hiding, where thy peace?
This is the hour, but thou art not.
Will waking tumult never cease?
Hast thou thy votary forgot?
Nature forsakes this man-begot
And festering wilderness, and now
The long still hours are here, no jot
Of dear communing do I know;
Instead the glaring, man-filled city groans below!

A year ago on Citizen of the Month:  A Letter to Diane Keaton 

Archives now here.  Links now here

Poetry Scares Me

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Denise Levertov – poet

My blogging pal, Lynn, from Sprigs, and Liz Elayne, of be present, be here,  have started something called Poetry Thursday.   Poetry Thursday “is an online project that encourages bloggers to read and enjoy poetry, as well as sharing it with others.”

I’ve never been a big fan of poetry.  It’s embarrassing to say, considering I was an English major in college and I like to read.  I think one of the reasons is that I feel most comfortable with traditional A-B-C storytelling.   Poetry is often about mood or language itself and it doesn’t always have the forward thrust of a narrative.  When Lynn asked if I was interested in getting involved, I sent her this email:

I’ll think about it.  To be quite honest, I do have an interest in poetry.   Maybe you can help me understand why this is, but I avoid poetry, because reading poetry frequently makes me feel nervous — almost anxious.  Is that weird to admit?  Maybe because I’m so used to words and sentences having a structure and making a concrete point – providing information in a story that I can focus on —  I’m not really sure what to do with just words and emotion?  Maybe it’s a male thing, like not asking for directions.  I mean, does poetry have tits I can play with?

Her response:

It depends on the poems. Some have tits and ass that don’t mind being played with, but others are terribly prude.

I don’t know how fully I’m going to participate, but I thought I’d take a cue from Sophia, and be brave.  Look fear in the eye.  And actually read some poetry.

I went to the Index of Modern American Poets and spent the next couple of hours just reading different poems. 

I wish I had the literary skills of an arts critic.  I’m terrible in explaining why I like one piece of art better than another.  Why do I love watching “24,” but fall asleep watching “CSI?”  Is there a specific reason I like one book over another?  Why do I relate to one blogger’s writing more than another, especially when I don’t know really know any of you.

Maybe if I keep on reading poetry for a while, I’ll be better prepared to explain why I liked this following poem the best out of the dozens I read.  It’s not particularly a “big” poem, or about anything dramatic.  It’s written by Denise Levertov, who died in 1997.  This is supposedly the last poem she ever wrote.

Aware

When I found the door
I found the vine leaves
speaking among themselves in abundant
whispers.
My presence made them
hush their green breath,
embarrassed, the way
humans stand up, buttoning their jackets,
acting as if they were leaving anyway, as if
the conversation had ended
just before you arrived.
I liked
the glimpse I had, though,
of their obscure
gestures. I liked the sound
of such private voices. Next time
I’ll move like cautious sunlight, open
the door by fractions, eavesdrop
peacefully.

(Denise Levertov. “The Great Unknowing: Last Poems.”

Copyright 1999 by the Denise Levertov Property Trust. 
Publisher:  New Directions.)

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