The Imagisterium

Post-NaPoWriMo 2016: How was it for you?

I was off my game this month. I felt it every day. Pitifully few of the pieces I produced in April are worth even revising.

Usually NaPoWriMo is a productive time for me. I'm not sure why this year was different.

Possibly burnout. Last year I took part in a 365-poems-in-365-days project, writing at least one poem every day, sometimes up to four. I chose not to participate this year, needing a break. Maybe it was too soon to jump back in, or maybe I should have warmed up in March.

Possibly depression. Not just that depression makes the effort of writing seem immense: it makes every topic seem trivial. I manage my depression, I'm actually very disciplined about self-care, but it's been a tough year. Three people I cared for died in the first three months of 2016.

Perhaps there is no particular reason. Maybe the magic just didn't happen this time.

Still, I'm glad I did NaPoWriMo. I have -- maybe three? -- poems I didn't have before, once I revise them. I met my goal of writing a poem every day, and feel good about that.

And as somebody once said, the only way to write good poems is to write a lot of bad poems.


NaPoWriMo 2016, Day 30: “Wonderful Works”

Wonderful Works

"Depart from me, ye workers of iniquity.
I never knew you." That's what Jesus said,
or said he'll say, not to sodomites, junkies and thieves,
but to those who shout that they are his,
and in his name exorcise demons,
prophesy, perform miracles.
All the while, millions of people,
believers and not,
face down addiction one more day
or cast loneliness out of another;
interpret the signs and warn co-workers,
layoffs are coming; find money
where none is to pay bills, or make dinner
for eight from food for three.
They don't have energy to boast,
after, or time. It's on to the next
damned miracle.

-- Carl Bettis


NaPoWriMo 2016, Day 29: “Dog Opera”

Dog Opera

There's Young Dog (not so young, but she used to be),
a snappish, food-obsessed border collie mix
who earns the name "bitch." She was kept in line
by little Old Dog, the corker spagi* who thought she was a cat.
Then Old Dog died.
Seeking a replacement, or at least consolation,
we wound up with Grampa Dog, a lumbering, incontinent ginger
(chow mix?) whose human was dead, who'd returned
twice to the shelter from failed adoptions,
a dog of strong separation anxiety and obnoxious
Intestinal noises. Young Dog was jealous, but eventually accepted
this dolorous codger who mostly left her alone.
We stopped there. We thought. Then my wife's widowed father
became unable to take care of -- let's call him Spry Dog,
an elderly but energetic ridgeback mutt
who, three days ago, came to stay with us.
Turns out, three dogs is about four times as many dogs
as two dogs. We humans are all dog-tired. Never again, we said.
Spry Dog quickly made himself at home, hanging with the people, mostly oblivious
to the other canines. Young Dog snarls and snaps, realizing
she'll never be an only. But Grampa Dog --
Oh, Grampa Dog!
When he saw that lanky, cocky blonde stroll in,
he felt twenty dog years drop away.
Follows him around, sniffing and nudging and licking and sniffing.
Watches through the window when we take Spry Dog out.
Lurks in the hall, hoping for a glimpse. Whines
over being ignored. You're great, we tell him, he's just
not into you. Give him some space,
stop being a stalker. Try to eat something, you've barely touched your dinn--
never mind, Young Dog stole it.
Poor old fellow.
Don't worry.
We'll find you someone.

-- Carl Bettis

*corker spagi: a cocker spaniel/corgi mix


NaPoWriMo 2016, Day 28: “Vogarell’s Love Song”

Vogarell's Love Song

I'm revising myself to be less human
I am your smiley face
I am your hall of unconditional horrors
Your seething happy place

I'm deleting the lessons from all your sorrows
I am your eye of stone
I am the fountain that waters your sins
Your practiced midnight moan

You are the bloodstain of early love
The other angel, the slippery strife
You are the omen of innocence
That takes its own life

I'm inserting myself into your past
I am the playground jeers
I am the nectar that withers the tongue
Your father's useless tears

-- Carl Bettis


NaPoWriMo 2016, Day 27: “Playtime”


My childhood was cluttered with toys
made of the seventies.
I pulled apart a couple of clones
of Stretch Armstrong. I think I remember
that he bleed some toxic goo,
but I might be making that up.
My memory's more interested in what's interesting
than in fact. As was my father's, if I recall correctly,
but at least I know it. Now, what
was I talking about? Right, toys.
Etch-a-Sketch, which I was never good at.
Rock-em Sock-em Robots, where I rocked.
Green plastic soldiers: the snipers were my favorites,
not stuck to the green land under them -- more realistic.
Hot Wheels, Superballs, Slinky, Silly Putty, Clackers, Play Doh
and that Wham-O Magic Window sand art thing.
Vibrate it with a tuning fork, or your mouth and a deep voice,
for magical effects.
If I had one now, I'd give it a week
before shelving it and returning to Tumblr.
In memory, I spent my childhood
creating wonders with Tinker Toys and Lincoln Logs.
Probably I watched TV.
Not much has changed.

-- Carl Bettis


NaPoWriMo 2016, Day 26: “Outnumber”

The structure of this one ain't right yet.


Of what flame are clouds the smoke?
Count the clouds. You can't.
Not even one, that's too many
and won't stay still.
On the surface of my eyes,
if I was up too long -- fumes
of consciousness burned too far down.
Scratch of matchstick, schtuk of lighter, wilt
of dying sparks.
It was the wrong childhood, dolorous,
trembling and a little bit mad.
Fulfilling dreams of madness,
but not fulfilling.
Scrumble of milk in coffee,
steam-lidded, in a boat
that floats on mist.
Sun walks out of Mother's shadow,
setting the day alight.
Count the days. You can't.
One dandelion among a platoon of violets
outnumbers them all.
Most of them.
All but one.

-- Carl Bettis


NaPoWriMo 2016, Day 25: “The Opaque Dreaming (fragment)

The Opaque Dreaming (fragment)

From The Book of the Gliding Web,
circa 176,000 BCE. Translated by the
late (one hopes, given the manner of
his disappearance) Dr. Julian Vértes.

... and when the old prayers bead in sweat
on skin swaddled in thousands of years,
in fragrant resin and spices, then, O Student,
I stretch my subterranean wings, made
of blue bones and lidless eyes
and the shadows of each person's individual eternity
(whether of blood and laughter,
or of apples and silence).
On these wings, each one bigger than nine men,
I push through sand, mud, clay, rock and lava.
At a dead sun's noon, I reach
The Opaque Dreaming, that tangle
of skinny islands scrawled upside down
over the ocean on the bottom of the world,
where the gods hang like bats
in atheistic sleep. Having brought with me

-- Carl Bettis


NaPoWriMo 2016, Day 24: “Economy”


Productivity grows
like kudzu, choking
what was native.

-- Carl Bettis


NaPoWriMo 2016, Day 23: Charlotte Dostoyevsky

I normally write a Shakespeare-related something on April 23rd. However, later today I'm going to a memorial service for my friend Davina. In her memory, I've created a mashup of two of her favorite authors, Fyodor Dostoyevsky (as translated by Constance Garnett) and Charlotte Brontë. Some spackle by me -- a word added here, a pronoun changed there, a bit of punctuation -- to smooth things out.

Charlotte Dostoyevsky
(Assisted mashup of Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre and Fyodor Dostoyevsky's The Brothers Karamazov)

Drink to life, dear brother. Who can be
ashamed of his riches before the poor?
And people could get up, move about, exchange
birds. Forgive me, for I have sinned against
Bessie, I knew well enough. But he did
life with her himself, at his own expense,
crushed as he was by his own sorrow, his
"foot within a wee bit," as many
of the pious neither think nor say lightly
without father and his fear. Old times
crowded fast back on me as I was doing.
But they were not allowed to come from
some awful disease. I am convinced that
"Here is her note." Alyosha took it
out of Pavlovitch's to make a post-mortem.
Some have whispered to you that she is
the pity native to callous, selfish hearts.
Her appearance always acted as a damper,
without exception, convinced of his guilt.
Into the world, I must marry. I know that.
Fellows are shrewd and intelligent
when it ceases. On sleeping, I continued
to gaze at his blood-stained face and the line
of action--"Let it be right. There are only
specialists and they all understand it!"
Alyosha cried suddenly in some water.
"Oh, make haste!" The peasant sat watching him
and grinning. I took the book again,
opened it. Pyotr Ilyitch found himself
obliged to come away, and is alive now.
As soon as he arrived, he had brought nothing
in the whole world to make men love
but an abrupt deficiency. The suave
Mitya asked for a rest. His request was
your presence--Dmitri, who had never seen
you. And it would be a strange thing if I
never call you aunt again as long
as I live. "You do despise me, though!
It's simply that." "No, Lise, it's not contempt,"
Alyosha said. Come to him rather
by inheritance than by the backstairs.
Bolt the ironing-table to the nursery
hearth, she strains--

-- Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Charlotte Brontë and Carl Bettis


NaPoWriMo 2016, Day 22: “Controlled Stall”

Controlled Stall

The gentleman succeeds in being my most morbid day.
The night contains unexpected conclusions.
The gentleman leads me into pits and brambles.
The night craves the difficulties I enjoy.
Both say they can live without me, but they are
two right answers to my mistaken question.

-- Carl Bettis