Thursday, 26 September 2013

When Your Brother Dies

Overheard: Insurance exec 1: Andy’s older than Rob, so they sort of have a father-son relationship. Like in Star Wars.
Insurance exec 2: I have a hard time seeing Rob as Luke Skywalker.  Are you sure he’s not Yoda?

Where it took me: I know slightly less about Andy and Rob (whoever they are) than I do about Anakin, Luke, and Yoda. The Internet, though, knows lots. I sat with the information from the online biographies for a few days. I knew I would write a poem about fathers and sons, but I wasn’t sure how. The death, in our family, of a cousin estranged from his parents and brother gave me a way in.

The poem

When Your Brother Dies

You are the only one left.
One man, an orphan, no spare.
But he was gone long before last night.
Over money, or power.

Or what an ass your father was.
This brother too big a personality for compromise.
This father too.
Each his own legend.

You are more Yoda than they ever were Anakin and Luke.
A diplomat. A humble man of practical jokes.
A speedy swordsman,
but not inclined to battle.

I exist outside the structure built
between father and son.
I don’t recognize its bricks,
can’t name the force that makes them crumble.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Channeling Jack

Overheard: Barista shouting out an order, three times: Bacon sandwich. Bacon on the side.

Where it took me: At first I thought I’d misheard. How is it a bacon sandwich if the bacon is on the side? But I heard it clearly by the third time he’d shouted it. I’ve been struggling to write for the past week; I just let this one take me wherever the associations led.

The poem

Channeling Jack

Less like a sandwich,
more like a Jack Nicholson bit.
Toast. Which cannot be made 
unless it supports chicken salad.
Between its knees.

It remains unclaimed.
Reminder of nicky nicky nine doors,
of prank phone calls —
Is your refrigerator running?
Well you’d better catch it.
A step up from the riddles we learned
to tell on an endless loop.
How our parents withstood this.

Now it’s fake names for the barista to shout
before he knows he’s been had:
Your Majesty. For my love.
The one where the first name is Mike.
You can figure out the rest.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Dating Jesus

Overheard: Dating her is like dating Jesus.

Where it took me: Full disclosure: this line was not overheard at Starbucks. My friend, D, heard it when someone walked passed her while she waiting in line at Toronto's Fringe Theatre Festival. Which meant she never heard the rest of the conversation. What on earth could this guy have meant? There is probably a long, theological, poetic exploration possible from this line, and maybe I'll get there one day. But I wrote a haiku, instead, which I think highlights the absurdity of the thought, and leaves the reader (and the writer!) with lots to ponder.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

One Line Five Ways

Overheard: Can you eat a smoothie?

Where it took me: My daughter texted this line that she overheard. Looking at it on screen made me wonder where the emphasis was supposed to go in the sentence: what had the person actually been asking? There is a poetry prompt that challenges you to create a poem by repeating the same line with different emphasis. This line seemed perfect for that construction.

Thursday, 12 September 2013


Overheard: Woman talking (loudly) into a cellphone: I’d go anywhere with you.

Where it took me: Well, the typical me would write some sentimental poem of loss and longing from this, and maybe when I’m in a more introspective mood I’ll do that. But I wanted to avoid that, wanted to try a different perspective. Which put me in mind of a prompt from a friend last month to write in the voice of something that doesn’t have a voice. Which then put me in mind of a very funny moment in a shoe store, and a promise to her to write a poem from the point of view of those shoes. Promise kept.

The poem


From the moment you requested
a size 9 and raised me from the cardboard box,
unwrapped the tissue
like a birthday gift saved for last,
understood the beauty
of my hand-stiched uppers,
exclaimed that my exact shade of butter
and sunshine was just what you had to have
in a shoe,
I knew I would go anywhere with you.

I had it planned.
I was perfect for the office,
for weekend afternoons in the hip parts of town,
even for movies on Saturday nights.
We would do it all, together.

You carried me home,
displayed me
on your shoe shelf,
went back
to your black flats.

I didn’t know you had a reputation.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Memory Talent

Overheard: Mother and her two kids, a girl about 8 and a boy about 5.
Mom: Will you remember two things for me?
Daughter: Yes! I have memory talent.
Mom: Apple sauce and grass seed.

Where it took me: I loved the phrase ‘memory talent.’ I’ve tried for a while to work it into a poem but so far, it’s not coming. As for memory, although I have a good one, I find more and more that I can’t keep hold of details in my mind. So that topic interests me. But I still needed a way to get into this poem. I searched online for poems about remembering things and found one called Failing Memory. The plan was to write lines in response to its lines. Instead, its first line ‘As the potato grows’ led me to begin with ‘Grass seed,’ and the poem took off from there.

Surprise Me (2)

Overheard: Customer to barista: Surprise me.

Where it took me: When I started to write from this prompt two weeks ago, I ended up with a long poem that I realized was actually two poems. I posted the first one 10 days ago; this is the second. I’m not yet sure it’s finished, but I’m happy with it for now.

The poem

Surprise Me

Tell me the names of the flowers
that grew in the yard of the house
where you were born.

Remind me what kind of car the neighbours drove,
the brand of cigarette your mother smoked.

Describe your first bike,
the sound of its bell.

Recite the street signs
that marked your path to school.

Show me where your family bought groceries.
Explain how it felt to live on the wrong side of town.

Read me the last page of your favourite book.
Tell me the most horrible thing
that happened to you at summer camp.

Sing me the chorus of your favourite song
from seventh grade, the one you waited to hear on the radio.

Tell me how you got that scar.
Tell me everything that scares you.

Surprise Me

Overheard: Customer to barista: Surprise me.

Where it took me: Although this line made me laugh, I chose to use it as a prompt, separate from its context. I think I’ve ended up with two poems; I’ll post the other next Tuesday.

A Long Day

Overheard: It’s been a long day.

Where it took me: I was recently given a prompt to write a poem that explains a cliché literally. Then I heard this line. Our lives are marked by how we remember time, and moments in time. What would it mean if we didn’t have a standard to measure time?

Maybe If She Gave Him What He Needed

Overheard: Maybe if she gave him what he needed he wouldn’t have to go elsewhere.

Where it took me: How little we know the truth about one another’s lives, how easily we judge, how easily we forget the grey areas. Life is complicated. Life is lived in the way we react to people and things around us. I wrote this poem using a scramble method: write a narrative, then break it into sets of three lines, then rewrite it using all the first lines, followed by all the second lines, followed by all the third lines. The result is very strong lines and unusual juxtapositions. Edit from there. I can’t find a title for this one, though.