right-thinking individuals

A quick couple things before I post up the latest set of lyrics.

My laptop may be dead. It might be the power cord, or the joint inside the computer to which the power cord connects. If the former, I've got a new one coming in the mail soon; if the latter, I am a very sad panda. XD

One of the quotes from the poem by Megan below:

Her writings back again, better than ever.
For a while there is had begun to wither.
Happiness had taken hold.
But now her heart is black and cold.

--reminded me of something I was discussing with Myke in our last email volley. It is a common misconception among writers, especially poets, and especially when they are first learning their craft. Namely, the idea that one has to suffer or be depressed in order to get artistic inpiration. Myke and I had agreed that while suffering is sometimes a catalyst to inspiration, it is not exactly necessary. Last night I was talking the subject over with Dave, and his opinion was, as usual, succinct and to the point: You don't have to be suffering or depressed "right now" in order to be inspired. But you have to have had the experience, in order to contrast it with whatever you're writing, in order to have a wide enough perspective to write well.

On to the song I'm posting today. I wrote it oh, perhaps a week ago, and for the life of me I don't know why I haven't posted it up till now.

There's an episode of The Twilight Zone called "He's Alive!" which I highly recommend to anyone, anywhere, but especially people living in America right now. The story is of a disaffected and fearful young man whose only real friend is an elderly gentleman who witnessed the horrors of Hitler's Nazi regime. When the young man begins to believe he is being counseled in his quest for political power by a mysterious stranger, the elderly man warns him repeatedly that he is traveling down a road towards evil, and that he will not find happiness there. I won't spoil the whole plot, but there are some fantastic lines in it--and some eerie echoes of some of the madness that's happening in our own country today. Evil grows out of irrational fears. Or even rational ones which have been twisted by opportunistic villains into the shape of the Other, the Foreigner, the [insert person of opposing ideology].

Last night, watching BBC news, I saw a story on a European country which was about to pass a law making full-face-covering burqas illegal. They interviewed a Muslim woman who said, "There are Taliban who say that one woman without a burqa is a woman too many. These politicians are saying one woman with a burqa is a woman too many. I see them as two different kinds of dangerous extremism." Well said, ma'am, well said. Playing on people's fears to make ordinary citizens suspicious and distrustful of one another is NOT going to help any nation in the world pull itself together in this time of worldwide difficulty. Right now, though, I just hope no other states of America follow Arizona's bad example.

Poetry might not help much, but at least if it's good poetry it isn't going to hurt anything either!
Here is a song about mob rule.

[right-thinking individuals]

right-thinking individuals
they crowd around your door
the first round left them drooling, darling
now they're back for more
the war you feared is actual
but you just pour on the charm
they're right-thinking individuals
you don't care enough to arm

right-thinking individuals
they dance to your design
their wild excesses aren't yours
say you who drew no lines
it was you who turned their soggy
mediocrity to wine
they're right-thinking individuals
you don't trouble to define

past I agree with you
and you agree with me
so let's go after everyone
who sees things differently

right-thinking individuals
march out against your foes
you wave your hands and smile at them
like you're the one who knows
what they'll do when they drop those signs
and bare their vengeful souls
they're right-thinking individuals
that nobody controls
unthinking individuals
that nobody controls

this is what passes for poetry these days

Okay. This is truly one of those "more in sorrow than in anger" moments. I haven't been back to Quizilla for several years and freely admit it was silly to spend so much time there. User-generated quizzes which ask you things like "Is your favorite color red, blue, yellow or green?" and then say "You are aligned with the element of earth!" if you answer green are...yeah. They're an incredible waste of time and mostly only tell you about the assumptions of the quizmaker.

Apparently, though, this site on which I wasted far too much time while in college has now expanded into another area: user-generated poetry.

These are the most popular poems on Quizilla. Here, for um...my edification, and your, ah...amusement? is the number one top rated poem on that website right now. It is entitled "The Dark Rain of My Miasmic Sou--" oh, wait, no. That's from the Kingdom of Loathing.

Inspiration: The Words Of The Broken Heart
by alexknight629

"Nothing is more powerful than the words of a broken heart.
The best inspiration is found when you truly fall apart. "
The heart of a shattered girl written out on paper.
Written at three in the morning under the light of a single taper.
The tears she sheds as thick as ink.
As her sanity is brought to the brink.
She may not cause herself physical harm.
But for anyone who cares there is still reason for alarm.
Inside, this girl, she's so sick of trying.
Wishing that only she could be dying.
Just read her words, they're written everywhere.
Can't you see she just wants someone to show they care?
But you'll never see the pain she locks inside
All the nights she stayed up and did nothing but cried.
She'll be with you all day,
Pretending everything is okay.
But if you look deep within,
You'd see what lies underneath her grin.
The heart of cold she does not show.
No one really has to know.
Her writings back again, better than ever.
For a while there is had begun to wither.
Happiness had taken hold.
But now her heart is black and cold.
Full of inspiration, Where to start?
Her words as strong as the broken heart.


I've run into poetry elsewhere around the blogosphere from time to time--poetry written by adults which was nonetheless not very good. Since leaving Gaia Online, though, I've never had an example of an unpolished work by a 14-year-old with which to explain why poetry is really important. Or rather, teaching people how to write good poetry is important.

People need poetry. We freaking need it. If a human being has sufficient grasp of any language by the time that human being reaches puberty, and has spare time between work, sleep and perhaps dodging bullets to compose it, there is about (guesstimating based on my own unscientific observations) a one in three chance that said human being will generate poetry. Even if they never show it to anyone else.

Poetry is used for taking mental states--the organized structures of emotion, memory, and expectation which provide the foundation for the formulation of thoughts--and altering them. Good poetry enables the writer and reader to do this efficiently, effectively and (I aver) to some worthwhile purpose. Yes, even if that purpose is taking a horrible thought and getting it outside one's mind so as to feel less helpless in the face of it.

This poem is, as I said, not very good. It is far from excellent. It is not, however entirely bad--it uses images somewhat, attempts to make rhymes, and displays a mental state with enough clarity that one can see it to poke at it.

There are times, though, when I wonder if American people who get into poetry writing really think this is all there is. As though the really good stuff written by poets of the times of old is gone forever--or as though there isn't any difference. Dangit, I know I could be better, I know I need to keep working at it. Even though it's a tool I drag out and apply to my mind whenever I face an especially tangly emotional problem, I pay attention to keeping its edges sharp. A scalpel which leaves a jagged edge is not the best thing for delicate surgery; it's likely to promote infection and leave scars.

Is Megan going to get older, though, and just keep writing the same sorts of thing over and over, believing it's good because no one ever says "you know, that pair of rhyme words is kinda boring, maybe also think about scansion a bit"? Will she try to get better, or get bored with poetry and just stop, robbing us of a potentially rather good poet? Would we notice?

I'm pretty sure that not noticing the fact that we don't cultivate our potential good poets or notice when there aren't many says something bad about America. This could, however, just be my personal bias. Also my desire to be paid enough to live off of in exchange for teaching people how to write good poetry. I would love to live in an America, in a Chicago, where this could be the case.

Who knows. XP It's past my bedtime anyway.

poetic rebuttal to a freestyler on the bus

Friday night was, unusually for me, an unpleasant day at work. Stuff that doesn't usually get to me got to me; I became flummoxed and cranky and was even emoting unpleasantly to my ladies. Very disappointed in myself. I was on my long bus ride home, trying to write a poem to work out my tension and get calm again, when a young man in the back started freestyling. This is something I've seen, or rather heard, before, and ordinarily it fills me with joy. "Poetry is not dead!" I think. "It's just here on the buses and in the streets where people can use it!" Friday, though, it mostly annoyed, because although he didn't mention me as such his words evinced a general disdain for his fellow passengers which irritated me, and was difficult not to take personally. So I wrote this rebuttal. Which I chickened out and didn't give or read to the fellow, but eh. XD At least I get to post it here. It's short as all get out, but in future if I revisit the form I'll go longer.

I have no idea what to do with line breaks, since it's freestyle style with very few pauses for breath. So don't pay too much attention to line breaks; I recommend reading aloud "for best results." ;)

so many words I heard in streets and buses
redefining who us is by the words, the verbs, they swerve
like wheels, you feel that they deserve
to flow, it takes a poet to bind the mind,
a speaker to see the weak speech
and turn it into strong, the meek gain the reach
to right the wrongs of the cold-blooded town,
old rain flooded down
into closed minds that should be open, I'm hopin'
that you find a better sound

the first slice

The first slice of a meat or cheese off a deli slicer has various fates. Most often it's either thrown away as misshapen, or given to the customer as a sample. Sometimes, if they wanted a very thick chunk, it's the entire order. Other times, if I've decided to refill a tray by hand and am feeling hungry, I'll curl it up in my palm to eat later while I heap up the rest of the slices in the tray in the appealing (but difficult to unpeel) little flower-like bunches which are standard for some reason.

Edit: Oo! I changed it around and completely re-wrote a stanza. It is much more focused now, and better I think. Yay for edits.

I prayed for knowledge many times, but wisdom once, and often
now I'll ask for wisdom, light that's clear when edges blur.
Let it bear up under me when my resolve would soften,
grasp and aim my actions, so that new new things occur.

Oh, I strive to think, emote and pray with great precision,
but precision's useless if I have no end in sight.
Every hand I shake, each door I open's a decision;
none of them are evil yet I can't say which is right.

Confident and humble--sugar water, bitter lemons,
worry and ambition barely balance with good taste.
Am I Rudyard Kipling, Leonard Cohen, Samuel Clemens,
or some upstart deli clerk who ought to know her place?

Time is razor-sharp, so best be careful how you spend it.
One main chance cut open lets ten others wilt, untouched;
each untasted fruit may cry that you did not befriend it.
What you make must answer what you did not want as much.

Do something! Find out if you're a good or bad example.
Move your weak flesh forward, even if it's a a crawl.
Push the meat across the blade, and carve yourself a sample.
Taste and see if your heart has blood in it after all.

this cheese procedure

What? Two posts--in one day? Something must be wrong with me. ...Or right, I supppose. You know what it was? I was feeling antsy this morning and decided to write instead of taking a book along to read on the bus. So on the morning ride I wrote this here poem, and on the way home I finished up the ballad of the RosaRing, below, the first half of which had languished unfinished in my notebook for quite some time.

Oh, quick poetry note. Rhymed quatrains fall into normal English speech patterns much, much more easily if you alternate between even and odd numbers of syllables per line. This poem goes 8-7-8-7 which is an extremely comfortable line length for your everyday poetry writing needs. Short enough that you never feel like you have to add in extra words to make it come out right, long enough that it takes only the most perfunctory vocabulary gymnastics to trim a long thought down to size.

This does not, by the way, fulfill my intention to write more poems about cheese. Certainly this poem *mentions* cheese, but it's essentially me complaining about sampling events. As such I don't think it's an especially good poem, only a couple notches above the little "buy some soup and a sandwich" songs I make up at the sample table. Hopefully, though, these are complaints with which others who've worked in retail or customer service can identify. Perhaps it will comfort or at least amuse!
Customers, bah! Who needs 'em? (Er...other than, y'know. Everyone.)

train up in this cheese procedure
hold the wheel against the blade
all those corporate sponsors need your
help to feed what they have made

to each doubtful, hungry shopper
who must lay some fruits aside,
skimp on cream, or simply drop her
list to buy what you provide

train up in this cheese procedure
you'll cast orange cubes like darts
customers, pierced through by greed for
flavor, will clear out their carts

fill them up with cheese, with crackers,
all the things you're charged to sell
retail jobs were made for slackers
as some two-bit public hell

where each wedge you slice, so careful,
is inhaled by passersby
who won't stop to get an earful
of your sales pitch, or who try

hard to get your phone and address
knowing fully well you're trapped
smiling, talking, standing at this
table strewn with spit and scraps

if you once should turn your back, slip
to the fridge to slice up more
they will swoop in to attack, strip
plates or knock them on the floor

but you stick to please and thank you,
loud, bright wit and quiet tact
or else people who outrank you
will read you the riot act

train up in this cheese procedure
act as though you have a choice
maybe it's fair trade--you need your
paychecks, and they need your voice.

the ballad of the RosaRing

In Sharon Lee and Steve Miller's novel Carpe Diem, there is a description of a song called "the ballad of the RosaRing". (Yes, yes, ring around the rosie. Good name for a place depopulated by a plague.) I'm pretty sure the following quote regarding the song doesn't spoil too much of the book, at least, not the really key plot points. The only lyric they write down is a couple mentions that the chorus repeats the phrase "fly on by", and we get this description of the subject:

"The audience, respectful, may have been expecting another set of rounds: what they got was the ballad, in Terran, of a pair of lovers separated forever when an experimental virus got loose on the RosaRing.
The translation they had given Hakan for the audience had the Ring a resource-rich island cursed with a strain of infectious madness--which to Miri's mind was as close as made no difference. The Ring virus had been deadly, the world it circled rich, and three rescue teams had been shot down by automatics before the fatcats had finally seen the stupid waste of it and quarantined the sector. The lover had been on the last rescue team. For Hakan--for the Winterfair--he escaped."

~Partners in necessity (3-book trade paperback) p.796

So I decided it would be fun to write the "ballad, in Terran" in its entirety. It IS pretty depressing (song spoiler alert!--everyone dies) but I'm pretty sure I stayed true to the description and kept it all Liaden-Universe-legit. :D So if Lee & Miller ever decide to do a Carpe Diem movie, this would go GREAT in the soundtrack. *bats eyelashes* Just sayin'.

the RosaRing, it circled round
a world where remedies were found
in plenty, so the Ring became
a hospital with wide acclaim
they researched every malady
from places 'cross the galaxy
so RosaRing always had need
for pilots with spare time and speed

fly on by, fly on by
fly on by

there was a woman and a man
flew side by side in one tin can
they struck it rich, but had a fight
each certain they were in the right
she took off in a single ship
he partied on the landing strip
without her, nothing felt the same
he sent a message, "I'm to blame..."

fly on by, fly on by
fly on by

she got his pinbeam at the port
she'd filed her flight and locked her coords
but sent back to him, all smiling
"come meet me at the RosaRing
you never know what we might find"
so he set off, three days behind
but coils all redlined, moving fast
felt each hour, slower than the last

fly on by, fly on by
fly on by

at RosaRing, a lone lab tech
pain in his head, crick in his neck
let slip, let break a piece of glass
that virus hit his system fast
and scrambled up his fine young mind
he ran, and left the lab behind
rushed madly out into the hall
so many heard his footsteps' fall

fly on by, fly on by
fly on by

the lady had stopped for a bite
she heard the sirens, saw the lights
that seared across the station
"viral contamination!"
she rushed to find the evac crew
but that's one thing they could not do
the plague had slid through all the vents
and would have come with if they went

fly on by, fly on by
fly on by

the guns were armed--the crew's last job
the lady ducked the panicked mob
and closed her mind to the alarms
remembering her lover's arms
which he wrapped round his chest and cried
he'd landed, learned two med ships died
to Rosa's automatics
screaming out into the static

fly on by, fly on by
fly on by

the stationmaster, planetside
said "we could give it one more try,
but who would go?" the pilot roared
"they lift off with me at the board!"
scraped up a fey and grim-faced crew
for each of them had loved ones too
aboard the cursed RosaRing
they signaled in an endless string

"if anyone's alive there still,
go power down the guns: we will..."

fly on by, fly on by
fly on by

when their wreckage spread across
the sky, all knew the Ring was lost
they pierced the hull and stopped the wheel
since then it's just a lump of steel

fly on by
fly on by
fly on by

graffiti philosophy

There are lots of things I probably could or should write about instead, but despite events in the lives of people I know as well as the larger world, I think I'm'a stick with what's been working lately. In other words, using my blog as a kind of glorified poem and lyric repository, when I don't have anything else to say that I think is really worthwhile.

Many people come to my store for many reasons. Several days ago, I had a conversation with a fellow who described himself as a graffiti artist, and though our conversation on the subject was brief I was oddly moved by it. We all struggle to communicate with each other--sometimes even people who are very close have trouble getting a particular message across. Even though some graffiti has a social element, people indicating that a certain area is within their gang's "territory", the vast, vast majority of it is just people writing their own names. Stealing the use of other people's walls, windows, vehicles, in the attempt to get across a single message;
I exist. It matters to me that you know this.
Who knows why I wrote a poem about this, rather than many other things I could just have easily written a poem about. XD I've half promised Amber I'd do one about cheese--it's harder than I thought to write a poem about cheese, but I'll get there! I guess I've been thinking about communication, messages, and social roles a lot lately. There's a reference in the ninth line to--oh, i forget who the famous dead poet was, but I'll google the quote: "My name is Ozymandias, king of kings / Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair."
XD Oh yeah. Re-reading that poem makes me acutely aware that I need to brush up my own skills.

As if the wall I wrote across looked back,
as if the stone and plaster said, "right on,"
as if storm winds could never peel or crack
this message, and you saw me. But I'm gone
to ground. I wear a bland, familiar mask.
You smile at me and do not ask my name,
our lives walled in by each familiar task.
Yet here before these stones, we are the same.
Look on my words. You might--but don't!--despair,
though yours, like mine, are scrubbed away too soon.
We still possess the hands to scrawl them there,
and eyes to read, by streetlight, sun or moon.
Go, walk your quiet halls. But when you see
a bland face smiling, wonder--is that me?

hey, "the unheard poet"? I heard ya. brush up your skills.

So yesterday, I was backreading a couple of the blogs in my sidebar--it'd been awhile since I logged in--and I came across this post over at Pleiotropy. Evolution is a touchy subject--"the unheard poet" (I believe that's his MySpace) and the career evolutionary biologist certainly disagreed--but what stuck in my craw was the actual, er, 'poetry.'

Yes, due to the fact that as Dad often said, art is what you like, this young man's typed-up wordpile does technically count as poetry. I could not help feeling, however, that if it had been me sitting at a farmer's market with a typewriter and a sign which read "Free poems!" (and don't think I haven't fantasized about it! because I totally have!) I would have written something better. Something which takes the trouble to
describe evolution, or at least, the poetic idea contained within the scientific ones. Namely, this!

evolve, to lift your neck above the grass,
to glimpse fresh fields that wave a brighter green.
the herd you sprang from alters as they pass;
stems gnawed to earth, trees scratched on till they lean.

to glimpse fresh fields that wave a brighter green,
your ancestors grew strong and wise, when thick
stems gnawed to earth, trees scratched on till they leaned
struck bedrock. then they learned another trick.

your ancestors grew strong and wise, when, thick
upon the ground, their cousins froze, expired.
struck bedrock, then, they learned another trick--
that beast which tames itself can conquer fire.

upon the ground their cousins froze, expired;
the herd you sprang from alters as they pass.
that beast which tames itself can conquer fire.
evolve, to lift your head above the grass.