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“In response to” all kinds of stuff, some barefoot

July 26, 2017

This is where many of my barefoot adventures begin:

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In the winter, all is muck and mire, but then the rainy season ends, allowing relentless mountain bike traffic to pulverize what briefly was mud to fabulous dust.

I respond with mixed feelings to the smooth trails.

Sure, fluffy dirt is fun to prance shoelessly through, but at the same time, I resent the ever-increasing busy-ness (and dangerous-ness) of “my” local trails.

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Bike tracks everywhere . . . but there’s a hidden sign: the “letter K” that shows a roadrunner also shares this trail.

How about a positive response to something, Gramma Grumpy-pants?

Let’s see . . . how about a recent “response” poetry exercise that resulted in a poem I was pleased to see take shape?

Background: Although I’ve never “done improv,” I do appreciate the art form, and had the happy idea to steal a basic improv exercise and apply it to poetry.

“Yes, and” is the ultimate “response” game; it forces players to follow whatever comment is made (no matter how crazy) with “yes, and” + their own impromptu sentence, thus continuing the play of ideas.

Last month, I hunkered down with some other writers in aspen shade (Grand Canyon National Park/North Rim forest), distributed poetry books, and began our “yes, and” exercise by extending the invitation to “allow your book to fall open and let a poem choose you.”

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Here’s the books we used for inspiration (by Kern County, CA, Poet Laureate  Don Thompson.)

Then we each chose a line from “our” poem, copied it at the top of a blank journal page, and followed the quote with the words, “Yes, and . . . .” followed by whatever images/ideas seemed to want to be a part of the party.

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Two pages of scribbles: in response to the last lines of Don Thompson’s poem “Drought.”

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I am a big fan of Don Thompson’s work; he seems like a most kindred of spirits, another dusty path wanderer (his trails wind around the San Joaquin Valley where he has lived all his life), who pays close attention to his local places, plants, critters . . . and then composes simple-but-never-simplistic poems about what he notices.

[Confessional tangent: after my review of his book Everything Barren Will Be Blessed was published four years ago, Don began sending me a lovely Christmas present each year: limited-edition chapbooks of his work in thematic arrangements, with both old and new poems resonating off each other in compelling ways. And, even though I was raised by a mother who was high priestess of the Prompt-Thank-You-Note cult, I have not, to this day, ever acknowledged these most precious poetic gifts. Sigh. Can such a gross omission be atoned for via a blog post? One can hope . . . ]

Those pages of notes began to tug at me this week, so I dug out my North Rim journal and started copying into a computer document any words/phrases that seemed interesting. It’s a comfortable composing method that bypasses any chance for writer’s block: I’ve already written a bunch of schizz, now I can just play around and see how things want to fall into lines/stanzas (deleting/adding words is part of the fun).

The resulting poem will end this post, but first . . . more photos from  recent wandering:

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You can bet I had an elevated-blood-pressure response to this 12-balloon mylar nightmare–perhaps it drifted over from the cemetery in the background? (Side note: running near a cemetery = highly recommended to help keep priorities straight. A few deep breaths; a prayer; some satisfying helium-releasing balloon-stabs with my trusty pocket knife = lower BP, stat.)

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Robber’s Peak: a high point for my local wanderings . . . and another place that makes me think of “big picture” ideas, such as, “Wow! I can run up and down this hill again, after so many years of injuries. Guess I better not take my strong legs & lungs for granted.” *truth in blogging note: that ain’t me in the picture.

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They seem odd/out of place, but there are four palo verde trees in brilliant bloom right now, just outside Irvine Park, far from the trees’ native desert habitat. A quick search uncovers two facts I did not know: it’s the state tree of Arizona, and it’s a habitat-destroying weed in parts of Australia.

Here’s the response poem . . . Happy (“yes, and”) Trails . . .

In response to

. . . their hooves pelting the road / more like rain than rain
(from “Drought” by Don Thompson)

Who has not mis-imagined
a sound? Tires crunching
down the gravel and you think:
finally, he’s home,
until the neighbor’s door slams?

Once a lovely cloying
perfume–Youth Dew–
caught me; I closed my eyes,
hoping for another hug,
but the cemetery
remained 2,000 miles
down the road.

Clouds on the boil
over faint mountains:
is it a thunderstorm
or the first roil of wildland inferno,
thousands of acres torched,
grandmother oak and her woodland
community scorched: woodrat, newt,
sister butterfly, lichen, oak
titmouse, mychorrhizae, acorn
woodpecker, all
our secret paths?

Who has not been tricked:
thirsty for rain,
desperate to wake
to the first hard drops
overhead, not the staccato
pop of gunshots,
desperate now
to go back
to dream time.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. July 26, 2017 9:28 pm

    Thank you once again for your insights on writing schizz and for including “newt” in your poem.

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