Tag Archive | poetry

RED ALERT–a poem for the gloom-and-doom folks who think America’s never had it worse

I vowed that after the election, I’d stop writing about politics, but I’m afraid that’s a promise I’ll inevitably break. Last week I wrote this poem to read at the open mic at New World Home Cooking in Saugerties. The reading featured Therese Broderick and Alifair Skebe, both reading from their excellent new books, which I bought, since I believe authors should support other authors whenever possible. I recommend them both.

This monthly poetry event, held on third Thursdays, is organized by Leslie Gerber. He’s taking a winter’s break, but I hope the event will return soon. Meanwhile, there’s still Dan Wilcox’s Third Thursday open mic at the Social Justice Center in Albany.

Julie at Up the River launch April 2013

Reading at Poets Speak Loud at McGeary’s

If you’d like to hear me read this in person, come to Poets Speak Loud at McGeary’s next Monday night. My husband, Robb Smith, will be the feature.

The many open mics in our region provide a wonderful incentive to write new work, then come out and read it for a live audience and the instant gratification that comes from applause.

RED ALERT     

We’re on the verge of Armaggedon.

America’s on the edge ever since

Wisconsin tripped the scales to Trump in the electoral college

And plunged the country into red high-stakes alert.

Eggheads in the blue states are aghast.

Despite their computer-driven polls, their smug predictions,

They didn’t foresee this tsunami exploding

Out of the fly-over states and rustbelt cities

Of America’s heartland.

Me, I’m not surprised. I’m a Wisconsin cheesehead, after all,

McCarthy Laughing by Yale Joel

Senator Joe McCarthy (photo by Yael Joel)

Born in the state that spawned Joe McCarthy

And Jeffrey Dahmer. I remember scary grade school drills,

Sheltering beneath wooden desks with inkwells

And hinged fliptop lids, shielding our eyes

Against imagined radioactive glare

From mushroom clouds we watched in public service movies.

Fast forward to October, 1962, the Cuban missile crisis.

Fifteen days of panic. Sure we’d be blown to smithereens,

I begged my boyfriend to marry me, STAT. Day by day

We huddled by the tiny black and white TV,

Waiting for news of our annihilation. Already lovers,

We didn’t need to put a ring on it to make it real,

But marriage was the be all and end all in those cloistered years

Before the Beatles ushered in the Swinging Sixties.

Meanwhile in Flushing Meadows out in Queens,worlds-fair-1964

Robert Moses and his millionaire buddies

Were throwing up the 1964 World’s Fair atop the Corona Ash Dump

Immortalized in Fitzgerald’s Gatsby.

Crazy to plan ahead, I thought. The human race would be exterminated

Before the fair could open. And if by some miracle we survived,

I knew I’d never live past thirty.

Yet here I am at seventy-five. The human race has muddled through.

With any luck I’ll die of natural causes in a decade, two at most.

I won’t be here to witness the mass extinction

Brought on by human greed and folly.

Plagues, drought, floods, famines, and the battles that they’ll bring—

So many ways to trigger our destruction,

It boggles the mind, outstrips the imagination,

Puts the four horsemen of the Apocalypse to shame.

.

And so we meander on, blinded by our denial,four-horsemen-of-the-apocalypse

Until the media vomits up a demon.

Skin and hair of flaming orange,

Sprung from the towers of Mammon in Manhattan

To spew his venom and seduce

The denizens of the red-state heartlands into thinking

He actually gives a shit for their survival.

Everywhere I turn, everything I hear or read,

Proclaims America’s panic.

Look out! The sky is falling!

Disaster lurks at every turn inside the Beltway

Where all those monstrous politicians

Wallow in the swamp, gnashing their alligator teeth

And chomping down on liberals.

The true blue states on both our coasts

Will fall into the oceans

While the right’s red tide rolls forward,

Drowning those who dare to fight it.

But me, I’m much too old to panic.

Somehow we made it through the age of nuclear terror

And lived to tell the tale to those who care to listen.

I hope and pray our country will survive

The bloody red onslaught of the coming years,

And come out even stronger in the end.

I may wield my words in the coming struggle,

But our children and their children will have to bear

The burden of the battle.

As for me, as Phil Ochs sang before he killed himself,

I ain’t marching anymore.

phil-ochs-i-aint-marching-anymore

Slump-A-Dump: Rapping my way through a creative block

Writing as everyday spiritual practice was the topic of one of my recent blog posts, but writing mindfully and staying in the present moment is a lot more difficult than it might seem. Since I’ve been feeling creatively blocked lately, I decided to follow my own advice, switch genres and write a poem about my current state of mind.

Simple enough, right? Hardly. My inner critic kicked in big-time. I found myself playing with rhyme and rhythm as a rapper might, but my “umpire” kept telling me I was making a mess of things. No sooner had I come up with the first few lines than I began wondering if the poem would be appropriate for posting on my blog. I could envision myself reading it at the next open mic at the Social Justice Center in Albany, but how would it come across online? Would the constipation imagery turn people off?

Is the word “turd” too vulgar for my readers?

I decided I could care less. I’ll let you be the judge, and I’ll try not to worry what you think (although as always, I welcome your comments). I recommend the following exercise: write a poem, and make it as crass, corny and vulgar as you can. Have fun, and don’t worry about quality. Who knows what makes for good poetry anyway? 

So is this poem an example of everyday spiritual practice? Writing it, I found myself immersed in the moment, and I feel more centered and energized now than before I began, so I believe it qualifies.

Slump-A-Dump Poem

Humpty-dump-dump, I’m sure in a slump.

Got that internal ump telling me I’m no damn good,

saying to give writing up – hell, well, maybe I should,

but that leaves a huge hole where there used to be soul.

***

Hey, I sound like a rapper, with my heart in the crapper,

chasing rhythms and rhymes, trying to get through this time

of gloom and despair – came on me from nowhere,

snaking up through thin air, twining me in its grasp,

this rhetorical asp has its coils round my throat.

Now my umpire gloats as I strangle on words

hard and dry as old turds that refuse to come out.

The frustration’s so painful, I choke back a shout.

***

I blogged about writing as spiritual practice –

sure, that’s what my act is, but the matter of fact is

I feel like a fake, and that critic keeps raking me

over the coals, telling me I’m too old

to go on any longer. Sure, if I were lots younger,

I might join the dance, have a chance to advance

in this crazy charade of a writing career,

refuse to accept that the end’s far too near –

no, that just isn’t so – I’ve got decades to go.

(Yeah, right, if I’m lucky, and relentlessly plucky.)

***

So I sit on my rump in this bitch of a slump,

fingers clawed over keys, hoping for a fresh breeze

blown my way by some muse who might choose

to fill up my sails, lift me out of these doldrums,

stop me going insane from this sludge in my brain.

***

Maybe writing this doggerel will lift all the fog, or I’ll

stay in this slough of despond – but no, I don’t want

to give in to being mopey and dopey. Nope,

I must persevere. Tell that muse, “Hey, I’m here!”

Tell the ump she’s a chump, and soar out of this slump.

Country concert distilled as poem

Jack Ingram

Sometimes a poem’s the best way to capture the essence of an experience. Case in point: my excursion yesterday to “Country Throwdown,” a marathon country music concert in Saratoga Springs with many bands, including Montgomery Gentry, Jack Ingram, Jamey Johnson and Little Big Town. There was lots of excellent music, but maybe it’s time to face the facts: I’m not the music fan I was 40 years ago, either in body or spirit.

It’s fascinating how modern country musicians channel the musical styles of rockers of my generation, including Jimi Hendrix, Tom Petty and Crosby, Stills and Nash. Jamey Johnson was the only headliner who played what might be termed traditional country.

Here’s my poetic take on the dark side of the day’s happenings (it’s always easier to wax poetic about the shadow side of things):

 Country Throwdown Concert

“On your feet!” The singer screams the order.

The crowd obeys, fists pump the air.

A shirtless youth salutes with horny fingers.

Erratic heartbeat of the bass thumps in my chest.

Extrasystoles hammer, relentless, triggering fears

of cardiac arrest. Red searchlights swivel

through clouds of smoke, target band and fans –

the entryway to hell. Batted by the mob, enormous vinyl balls

with New York Lotto logos crash endlessly above. One hits me

on the head, sparking phobic high school volleyball flashbacks.

Yellow-shirt security patrol with eagle eyes and walkie-talkies.

Outside the music shed, the crowd queues up and funnels through

metal barricades in quest of precious liquid.

Blue shirts check IDs and brand us with plastic bracelets.

We’ve been stripped of private bottles at the gates,

so now are forced to pony up eight bucks a cup to quench our thirst

on the arid patch of chewed up grass

called a beer garden. Shades of Germany.

Outside, the ATM machine attracts long lines –

suckers in search of cash, desperate for food and drink,

cowboy hats and black skull-logo tee shirts.

I’ve come here trying to conjure up

that long lost summer of love in Sixty-Nine.

Crows feet around my eyes and fifty extra pounds

brand me an imposter among the lanky girls

in skimpy shorts and cowboy boots. Ten hours of music

is seven too many for my aging psyche and physique.

To my relief, the headline final act is crass and mediocre.

I steal away to beat the traffic jam, pass through metal gates

emblazoned with a banner overhead:

All exits are final. No reentry.

They’ve got that right – I can’t go back again.

 © Memorial Day, May 31, 2010 Julie Lomoe

Blogging trumps poetry: I’m so much cooler online

Tonight I’ll be reading my poetry at the Albany Word Fest, an annual event that’s a virtual orgy of the spoken word. I thought I should come up with at least one new poem for the event, but instead I came up with a severe case of writer’s block. I managed to confront it in the following poem.

Word Fest features a 12-Hour Friday Open Mic that kicks off at 7 p.m. I’m scheduled for 10:30 p.m., so by all means stop by to cheer me on (and buy my books, if you haven’t already.) There’s be dozens of poets and spoken-word artists there, and it’s always a festive night. It’s free, too! Come to the UAG Gallery at 247 Lark Street.

I’m still planning to cover more topics from the Empire State Book Festival, but today this poem took priority. By the way, I borrowed the phrase “I’m so much cooler online” from Brad Paisley’s megahit of the same name.  As an entertaining lyricist, he’s peerless in country music.

 I’VE BECOME A BLOGGER 

My fingers have stage fright.

Knowing I’ll have the floor

tonight at Word Fest, I sit paralyzed at my computer.

Picturing people perched on metal chairs in narrow rows,

faces inscrutable, judging my every word,

my brain slams on the brakes, then sputters out,

rolls over and plays dead. As a poet I’ve grown shy and tongue-tied,

probably because

I’ve become a blogger.

 

Blogging, I measure my audience in hundreds,

rack them up as hits on my stat counter,

check the numbers daily. Nearly sixty thousand now,

but are they human beings, or merely phantom ciphers?

Some are real people. I treasure comments

from Albuquerque and Australia, schmooze with friends

I know by photos from their books, mostly self-published.

We all look our best on line, young for our actual ages.

We spill selected secrets, shout in virtual keystrokes, 600 words or so,

enough for a few pithy points, stopping just shy of boredom.

I feel I know them better than folks I know face to face.

I’ve become a blogger.  

 

My words flow free and easy when I blog.

I keep it bright and breezy, mindful that readers can abandon me

with a single mouse click, never to return.

Still, I’ll never know the pain of their rejection,

never see their restless jiggling legs or condescending smirks.

Month by month I’m turning inward,

conjuring an adoring virtual audience,

withdrawing from flesh and blood communion,

leaving a minimal carbon footprint as I cleave to my computer,

swaddled in my fuzzy pink schmatta from WalMart.

I leave home less and less.

I’ve become a blogger.

 

My fictional career is on sabbatical. Why write fiction,

when I’ve living in the World Wide Web,

spinning my tales, creating my character, branding my name

in Musings Mysterioso. Racking up the readers,

watching my WordPress graphs spike ever higher.

Mystery novels grow redundant, slow the flow.

Who needs them, reads them anyway?

I’ve become a blogger.

                                                                        ©2010 Julie Lomoe

Seven reasons I love writing poetry

Sylvia Plath

Writing poetry is a wonderful way to jumpstart your creativity and hone your writing skills. A decade ago, I wouldn’t have dared write this sentence, much less declare myself a poet, but now I have no qualms about it. After all, who decides who’s a poet and who isn’t? Danged if I know.

I’ve written in many genres over the years, but poetry eluded me until the year 2001. As a member of the First Unitarian Universalist Society of Albany, I had the opportunity to submit my work to the Oriel, the congregation’s annual literary magazine, and I decided to give it a try. Since then, poetry has become one of my favorite means of expressing myself. I have no aspirations to fame and fortune as a poet; I haven’t even published a chapbook yet. But there’s something wonderfully satisfying about writing poetry. Today I’d like to share seven reasons I love this art form.

  • Poetry is speedy. On average, once the words start to flow, it takes me about an hour to come up with a reasonably polished first draft – about the same time I spend on a blog post.
  • Poetry’s a good way of catching ideas on the fly. Most of my poetic inspiration comes from immediate experience. There’s usually an “ah hah!” moment when I think “this would make a good poem.” If I’ve got a journal handy, I jot down a few preliminary phrases and ideas. This isn’t always possible, though. When I was skiing down Panorama at Jiminy Peak last week, the slushy spring conditions inspired me to think, “This would be a good blog post. No, on second thought, it would be better as a poem.” It wasn’t until later, when I was at the bar with my hot buttered rum, that I had a chance to capture the ideas on paper. You can read the results in Monday’s blog on skiing.
  • Poetry’s a wonderful way of processing your emotions. I

    Mary Oliver

    became intensively involved in poetry a few years ago, when I was depressed and discouraged about publishing my novels. Exploring my feelings through poetry became a vital way of coping with my depression. For many, poetry has been literally life-saving.

  • Poetry’s highly subjective, and hardly anyone knows what makes a good poem. It’s a lot like the cliché about visual art, “I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like.” That’s how most people react to poetry.
  • Poetry’s great for getting immediate feedback and applause. No matter where you live, there’s likely to be at least one poetry open mic near you. Many of my poems have been precipitated by the knowledge that there’s an open reading that night and I really ought to bring something new. Most poetry audiences are supportive and enthusiastic no matter what you read.
  • Poetry’s highly compatible with computers. I do my best writing in Microsoft word, editing as I go. Some poets prefer longhand, but I love the flexibility of diving in with the first phrase that comes to mind, then playing around with the words on the screen.
  • Poetry’s a good way to hone your literary skills in other genres. In poetry, every word counts. Part of the process lies in finding the best possible way to communicate your ideas in the fewest possible words, rooting out the clichés and discovering the most powerful images possible. The habit of writing this way carries over into other genres. 

What about you? Have you tried your hand at poetry?  I know quite a few readers of this blog are part of the vibrant poetry scene in New York’s Capital District, but what about the rest of you? As always, I’d love to hear from you. Please – come out of lurk mode and comment!

Windows on the World, World Trade Center

Stop by on Friday when my guest will be Roger Hudson, author of the historical mystery set in Athens, Death by Amphora. And click below to read “In Memoriam: Windows on the World,” my somewhat solipsistic take on the tragedy of September 11th and one of my first published poems.

  Continue reading

Poetic inspiration – Heavenly Blue morning glories

Heavenly Blue morning glory catalogMy Heavenly Blue morning glories are finally blooming for the first time this year – it’s about freakin’ time! They’ve inspired me to write a poem, which will give me something new to read at the “Poets Speak Loud!” open mic at the Lark Tavern tonight. But thanks to my work on the Poisoned Pen Web Con, I’m badly behind on my blogging. What to do? I know – I’ll write a blog post about my poetic process.

As usual, I walked out to retrieve the Times Union at about seven, before breakfast. As soon as I saw the few purplish blue blooms opening tentatively on the trellis near the mailbox, I realized I had the makings of a poem. Ideas began swirling around in my head, and once back in the house, I immediately jotted down this journal entry:

My heavenly blue morning glories are finally blooming – it’s about time! That’ll be today’s blog – parallel with me as late bloomer – how much time before the killing frost? Also a new poem for Poets Speak Loud tonight.

That’s all she wrote, folks – at least so far. Ideally, I would have headed right up to my computer and started writing, but there were several obstacles to barrel through. First, my cats Beep and Lunesta. My office doubles as their bedroom, so I had to let them out and feed them, then change the litter (Arm & Hammer Multi-Cat Extra Strength Clumping Litter with Ammonia Block – my favorite and theirs). Then came my own breakfast, and a quick scan of the paper. Ditto for my e-mail. A quick Facebook update about my inspiration, and then I began writing this post.

As a mystery writer, poet and blogger, I’m a blank-computer-screen type. Some writers do extensive journaling or outlining first, but the journal entry above is about as involved as I ever get in longhand. In high school, I taught myself touch-typing by closing my eyes and turning out stream-of-consciousness meanderings about Miles Davis and my other jazz crushes on my mother’s little black Smith Corona. Later, after earning a couple of Ivy League degrees, I supported myself as an artist by means of various menial secretarial jobs. So I’m a speedy typist, and my ideas flow much more freely when my fingers are on the keyboard.

If I were writing my morning glory poem instead of this blog post, I would open a fresh word document and begin typing, very much the way I did when I was a teenager with braces, musing about Miles. But thanks to the magic of Microsoft Word, I now edit as I go. If things are flowing well, it takes me about an hour to come up with a reasonably articulate first draft, something adequate for an open mic reading. Later, I may tinker a bit and make a few revisions, but basically the first draft is also pretty much the last. I’ve never formally studied poetry, I don’t kid myself about my poetic abilities, and I don’t have any professional aspirations as a poet, but it’s great therapy, and it’s fun, especially when I have the instant gratification of an open mic the same night.

Here are some of the thoughts I’ll be tossing around later today, more or less Heavenly blue morning glory closeupas they occurred to me:

Morning glories – are those actually the Heavenly Blue ones? I thought they’d never bloom. Yesterday’s rain must have finally done the trick. It’s been much too dry around here the last couple of weeks . . . climate change? It was much too gray and rainy for most of the summer . . . we practically had no summer at all and now it’s already fall . . . wonder how long these flowers will have before the first killing frost? Maybe a week or two at most . . . I keep thinking about Susan Wittig Albert and her posts about the Texas drought . . . the morning glories are a lot like me, flowering in the autumn of my life. How long will I have? We never know . . . what about that friend with pancreatic cancer, and he’s only in his fifties . . . “And now the days grow short, I’m in the autumn of my years” . . . beautiful song, Frank Sinatra, “It was a very good year. . . vintage wine from fine old kegs, from the brim to the dregs.” Wonderful lyrics, wonder who wrote them . . . Johnny Mandel was really great at that concert Saturday night, he did arrangements for Frank Sinatra . . .

 I could go on, but you get the idea. Many of these thoughts will never make it into the actual poem, but we’ll see what happens. However it turns out, I know I’ll get lots of applause at the Lark Tavern tonight. In my next post, I’ll publish the poem and let you know how the open mic went.

 Chances are my readers in the Albany area already know about Mary Panza’s “Poets Speak Loud” open mics on the last Monday of every month at the Lark Tavern. For those who don’t, you should check it out! The tavern is at the corner of Madison and Lark, and the readings start around 7:30. Tonight’s featured poet is Alifair Skebe. She’s an excellent poet, but I happen to know she isn’t particularly loud. Mary, maybe it’s time you feature me one of these months as well.

 

I know some of the local poets read this blog – why not leave some comments about your own poetic process?

 

Author of the Year! Unexpected but not quite out of the blue

Eldercide (2008)Tuesday night I got a totally unexpected phone call informing me I’ve been chosen by the Friends of the Albany Public Library to be honored for “Local Book and Author of the Year.” They want to showcase me and my mystery Eldercide at a luncheon on November 14th. What’s more, they love the title and don’t want me to change the name, at least not before the luncheon.

For most of this year, I’ve been planning to retitle the book Evening Falls Early and to tone down the cover illustration in hopes of attracting more readers. I’ve done quite a few panels and signings, primarily with the Mavens of Mayhem, our local chapter of Sisters in Crime, and I’ve found that while some folks love the title and subject, many more pass it by or react negatively. The blurb on the back begins as follows:

When quality of life declines with age and illness, who decides if you’re better off dead? Nursing supervisor Claire Lindstrom suspects a killer is making the final judgment call for the clients of Compassionate Care.

Some readers have told me the book’s theme hits too close to home because of their own experiences, while others – especially those over 60 – say they hate the word “elder.” One bookstore owner has refused to carry it because she finds it “ghastly,” but has said she’d carry it once I changed the title. I guess she’ll be out of luck, because I’m sticking with the original version after all. Committee chair Joe Krausman told me that one of the factors that gave me the winning votes was the book’s relevance to important social issues confronting the nation today, especially regarding health care reform and the treatment of the elderly.

The subtitle of my blog is “Mystery novels with a social conscience,” and that description is right on target. It’s a huge relief to give up the charade of masquerading as a writer of cozies. Besides, although I like the title Evening Falls Early, it sounds a bit too much like a vampire novel. As Rick Nelson sang, “You can’t please everybody, so you’ve got to please yourself.”

Although this honor took me completely by surprise, it didn’t come totally out of the blue. I’ve been laying the groundwork for several years, and I’d like to share a bit of the process in hopes it may prove useful to other aspiring writers.

I’ve been writing poetry since 2002. The initial impetus came from the chance to publish in my Unitarian Universalist congregation’s literary magazine, Oriel. Poet Therese Broderick was editor at the time, and I loved seeing my work in print. Before long I was reading my work at open mics throughout the Capital District, and especially in Albany.

Gradually I became a recognized figure on the local scene, and once I’d self-published my novels, I began bringing them to all my poetry readings. I didn’t sell many – people don’t tend to spend much at open mics – but some of the right people bought them. Four of those poets just happened to be on the Friends of the Albany Public Library committee, a group of a dozen or so people who chose from among ten or more possible contenders. Maybe  not so coincidentally, the same four – Dan Wilcox, Gene Damm, Joe Krausman and Sylvia Barnard – are friends of mine on Facebook, where I post frequent links to my blogs, so perhaps that’s helped keep me at the forefront of their minds.

Last year Gene became president of the library group, which has a weekly book discussion. Dan has an annual New Year’s Day open house, and at this year’s party I lent Gene copies of both my books, asking if they’d consider me for one of their weekly sessions. Months went by, and I heard nothing. With my usual lackadaisical approach to marketing, I didn’t follow up, although I did consider asking for the books back. Then came last night’s phone call from Joe.

The moral of the story? Persistent networking can pay off – especially if you’re enjoying the process of becoming part of an artistic community and not looking for immediate payback. I’m hoping the same will prove true in the online writing community. Meanwhile, “the future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades.”*

*Congratulations to Jane Kennedy Sutton, author of The Ride, for identifying the group that sang this as Timbuk 3. That’s such an obscure answer, it’s gotta be right, so I’m not even bothering to Google it.