Getting psyched about ModPo

Once upon a time there was an online poetry course called ModPo. And inside of ModPo forums there came to exist a discussion group known as The Breakfast Club where some really cool and creative ModPo students hung out. And yes, I joined that group, attracted to its coolness.

In ModPo’s second year, remnants of The Breakfast Club took the course again and renamed themselves Second Breakfast. More coolness and more creativity. And there was spillover into social media, into ModPo Alumni groups, into Coursera Cafe, into affinity groups observing NaPoWriMo, NaHaiWriMo, Postcard Poetry Month, DiGiWriMo, and countless others. Some formed unstructured groups that followed each other on Twitter. Some formed more professional writing groups. And blogs. Many had blogs where they showcased their own poetry. Some even became teachers of poetry. All spillover from ModPo forums.

Many original members of The Breakfast Club and Second Breakfast became community teaching assistants. They hung out in a new forum group called Coffee and Tea.

In 2014-2015 I worked as a librarian and a teacher of library instruction to freshmen, sophomores, and business students. That was quite a scope-widening experience, I can say in retrospect. But it was my lowest participation year in ModPo and I really missed it.

By 2016, some groups took on a slightly political persuasion, mostly in support of the Democratic candidate. And a few went to the opposing end of the spectrum. Poetry is like that, you know.

It was in 2016 that I completed docent training at the Library of Congress. And it was in conducting tours of the Jefferson Building that I discovered what poetry really was/is. In explaining the gaps between the John White Alexander murals that make up the exhibit, The Evolution of the Book, I had the following epiphany: Poetry began as the first manifestation of the oral tradition, a by-product of the mixture of ritual, religious experience, and human brain evolution. It was carved or inscribed onto walls of human habitations, just like Facebook or Twitter, then clay tablets, and finally, paper. But mainly, it was recited out loud, at parties and ceremonies and religious events. It was committed to memory and passed down through generations, each level adding value and depth and richness. Think Homer. Think Virgil. Think Psalms and Ecclesiastes.

Extending the metaphor, poetry arose as the original transcript of the sacred conversation (Google that one!) and the meeting minutes of the Beloved Community (look that one up too!). At an even higher level, poetry is the language of the demarche, a conversation between princes that became the structure and the art of diplomacy (you can’t look that one up because I haven’t written the book yet!).

I have given you a lot of homework. It’s another election year in America, after all. Perhaps I’ve invited you into my echo chamber, my parallel universe. But ModPo is not a cult, it’s a way of thinking about life.

p.s. Here is the link to ModPo: https://www.coursera.org/learn/modpo

Lockdown sonnet #10

The volunteer activities I cram into my weekends
Bring me great joy and fulfillment, satisfaction.
Even with the requirement to juggle things
From one Saturday to the next, I thrive on it.
But today, in the midst, we hope, of the lockdown,
The chores that once occupied my mind are absent.
So I am doing a binge on Amazon Prime selections
Since we terminated our subscription to Netflix
To avoid the social programming therein.
What’s in store for today? A friend recommends
Counterpart, Cold War spy thriller, supposedly,
Though we know what that deal was. And then
There is Star Trek – Discovery, not quite my cup of tea,
Although I was an early saint to outer space’s devotion.

ModPo Week 4 – Gertrude Stein

That was many poems ago, rivers crossed.
At least that’s when it was written, expressed,
Verbalized, spoken in words and recorded.
I had the best English teachers in school.
I loved languages and all their expression.
But there didn’t seem to be money in teaching,
And plenty of good opportunities
In science and math. So that’s where I made
My home. Later it came as no surprise to me
That Gertrude Stein cut her writing teeth
On stories about Negro women recently freed.
There was money writing Negro stories –
From millions newly taught to read and write –
After ages being denied those skills by law.

my contribution to the rape culture discussion

Rape Culture

The newest birth defect to emerge from the depths
of our collective DNA has long and intricate roots –

passed down from father to son – from mother
to daughter – like some unique, sacred inheritance,

the beast whose marks we bear. The conquistadors
had their way with the natives they “discovered” –

no slave was safe from the raging hormones
of the master and his sons – the ladies of the house

turned their heads and hoped it would be contained –
now it’s an epidemic​.​ ​A​ syphilis​. Killing us ​slowly.

from the archives: sonnet

I was a runner in my hapless youth:
two times, four times, eight times around the track;
running to things, running from things, always
in a haste, never taking time to smell
the fragrance of the roses, know the truth.
In time, life slowed me down. I changed my tack.
I learned to walk, to circumspect, unfazed
by every shiny thing my eyes beheld.
But then the boundless sea became my Muse:
Her hidden wonders and her ways seduced
my every thought. Yet she was just a phase,
a short poetic phrase and a malaise.
This sonnet owns no ending, just a star,
to capture our attention from afar.

from the archives – If I Were a Sculptor

If I were a sculptor
I’d carve in stone
The face of my beloved –

I’d sand the surface
Of the stone
To smooth perfection:

Because art should represent life
As it is, and as
It ought to be.

But I digress
At a moment when discipline
And precision are most required . . .

I’d chisel her perfectly
Centered nose, on her perfectly
Symmetrical face –

With care and concentration
I’d reproduce the mystic
Contours of her forehead –

I’d round out her chin
And save her lips
For last.

Then I’d compare
Her sculptured features
To my own:

A grotesque genetic mixture
Of master and slave
Of Native and Negro –

My weathered face
Overexposed and
Burned to a deep dark hue.

Then I’d ask her:
Is black still beautiful
My African queen?
My Goddess of the Nile?

Or has that fashion changed,
That style gone out of style?

But I digress again –
And I am not a sculptor
I am a poet:

And these words are
All I have to preserve
In time, for time,
The beauty of my beloved.

ain’t i got rhythm?

broken wrist
is on the mend
but the arrhythmia
that brought about the fall –
we now know –
is a different story
i’m black –
ain’t i got rhythm?

********************

background blog post

 

https://thisismypoetryblog.wordpress.com/2015/12/12/my-myopathy/

Getting ready for the Beats next week

October 10, 2014

I remember the music and the old men:
drinking cheap scotch and soda water,
huddled around the record player,
heads bobbing softly to the rhythms.
Second-hand smoke filled the living room,
smoke layers lined up with the sound waves
burned my own anxious lungs.
I remember first meditations, and
giant steps, and blue train, and love supreme.
Sometimes the old men would argue
about what the sounds, the music really meant,
about where it all came from, deep inside.
I never fully understood their talk –
but the music, the music I remember.

Open letter to a MOOC doubter about ModPo

April 25, 2014 #NaPoWriMo14

I can’t explain
the spirit closeness –
as poets –  we share.

Which are the magnets
that draw us to the center?

A double violin concerto
soothes the soul.

Might we build a house
with words? A shelter
from the outside crass
and craziness?

Outside – the spin,
the winds of idiots’
howls and screams
beckon our exchange,
our participation.

But we resist,
and carefully lay
each level of bricks –
these words.

A Friday poem is
fragments,
an accident,
an oversight,
a second thought –

until I get some matching verse –
in a message from afar –
from you.

April 22, 2014 #NaPoWriMo14

I know that tree from Bafata,
I know her well –
as a child I watched the old men
meet with her and harbor in her shade,
and whisper in dark, low tones –

we ran circles around her
in Bafata, year in and year out,
and the women took her fruit
and drew a chalky powder
from her brown-green pods
to make a tarty drink – cabaceira!

The memory of the taste of it
still lingers, still soothes me. 
Ah! Cabaceira!

And the ju-ju men in Bafata
worked magic in her shade,
shaking the bones and reading
eggs and guts of chickens slain,
sacrificed to forestall the future.

That tree has seen generations
come and go.  Mostly go.
She keeps giving up her fruit,
and witnesses everything.

April 19, 2014 NaPoWriMo

Today’s project task is the writing of
a compelling introduction for the
project report.  It is the final step.
Strange practice, one might think, saving for last
the introduction, like ending a website
construction process with the homepage.
Maybe a better analogy is icing
on a cake, a cherry in the middle.
Dare I deliver them poetry?  A sonnet,
perhaps, or rubaiyat? Some terza rima
or octava?  Of course it will be prose,
of course: conventional, traditional,
paragraphical but purposeful prose,
with maybe an occasional hidden rhyme.

new poem

Today was the running of the Rock N Roll Marathon.
I had no idea, for me it was just another Saturday morning walk.
The first three runners zoomed past as I turned up Rock Creek Park.
Dark, Kenyans, no doubt.  A fourth zoomed, a definite Ethiopian.
And then the masses, throngs of runners, minutes and miles
of runners, marathoners of all shapes and colors passed me by.
I had a momentary flashback to the USA/Pan Africa Track Meet
I attended in Durham in ’71.  A recent middle distance devotee,
I was in awe of the American runners I saw, Frank Shorter,
Steve Prefontaine.  But I was in triple awe of the African runners
who dominated the field that weekend:  Kip Keino, Mirus Iftar,
Ben Jipcho, Robert Ouko.  Kenyans, Ethiopians, black like me.
African. And I so wanted to be African like them at the time.
Key Bridge was full of runners, crossing over to Virginia
and returning to Chocolate City.  I stayed on the DC side
and did repetitions up and down the Lincoln Memorial steps.
All 41 of them.  My legs wearied and my knees ached as I recalled
the speech at Gettysburg and thought about a new birth of freedom.

A Splendid Wake, Friday, March 21, 2014, 6:30pm.

A splendid Wake, Friday, March 21, 2014, 6:30pm.

http://splendidwake.blogspot.com/

Invitation

An audio of a poem I wrote a year ago this week.  https://soundcloud.com/ray-max/audio-recording-on-friday

Benghazi Quartet

#1. Invitation

“Many others did go and there was a sacrifice, of what shall we, a sheep, a hen, a cock, a village, a ruin, and all that and then that having been blessed let us bless it.” – Gertrude Stein, Idem the Same – Let Us Describe

The Queen’s Henchmen
request the pleasure of your company
at a Lynching – to be held
at 23rd and C Streets NW
on Tuesday, December 18, 2012 –
just past sunset.

Dress: Formal, Masks and Hoods –
the four being lynched
must never know the identities
of their executioners, or what/
whose sin required their sacrifice.

A blood sacrifice –
to divert the hounds,
to appease the gods,
to cleanse our filth and
satisfy our guilty consciences.

Arrive promptly at sunset –
injustice will be swift.
There will be no trial,
no review of evidence,
no due process, and
no accountability.

Dress warmly –
a chilling effect will instantly
envelop Foggy Bottom.

Extrajudicial.
Total impunity at the top.
A kangaroo court
in a banana republic.

B.Y.O.B.
Refreshments will not be served
because of the continuing resolution.

And the ones being lynched?
Who cares? They are pawns in a game.
Our game. All suckers, all fools,
all knaves who volunteered to serve – us.
And the truth? The truth?
What difference at this point does it make?

In case of inclement weather,
or the Queen’s incapacitation,
the Queen’s Henchmen will carry out
this lynching – as ordered, as planned.

****************************************

#2. The Wizard of Oz

The wicked witch of the East?
The old, decrepit, ancient East?
She dead.
House fell on her ass during the storm.
Feet all shriveled up.
That witch ain’t going nowhere!
Ain’t gon bother nobody!

But the wicked witch of the West?
The new, modern, amoral West?
She’s alive and kicking.
Causing all kinds of trouble.
Done signed a deal with the Wizard –
the lying Wizard.
Dorothy has her hands full with those two.
And the lion ain’t got no courage.

****************************************

#3. Trapped in a purgatory…

“The top of the pyramid – the organization is composed of Technologists who only pretend to have power, although they are only actors in the theater of mirrors. When the mirror is broken they die, because the internal drive of their actions vanishes.” – Svetislav Basara, The Cyclist Conspiracy

Trapped in a purgatory
of their own conceit…

The web of lies they weave
gets tighter and tighter
in its deceit
until it bottoms out –
at a very low frequency –
and implodes.

It may be just
a matter of perception –
they can’t undo their wrongs
for fear it’d undermine their
perceived authority –
an authority they think
they require to stay in charge.

Yet all the while,
the more they talk,
the more they lie,
and the deeper down
the hole they go.

There’s nothing I need
to go back to –
nothing to re-litigate –
nothing to defend –
and certainly nothing to prove
to the unworthy.

Just wait . . . . just wait
and feed them rope.

**********************************

#4. Man and the expanding universe: art

moral courage dies
and corruption’s stench prevails –
lies erase the truth –

my LinkedIn friends keep endorsing me
for Government. But me and Uncle Sam

are a shrinking universe. I’m leaving
the troop that errs, the team that lies,

leaders who destroy lives for sport, as art –
themselves a crime, a sin, a plague. Farewell.

 

Today’s Gwendolyn Brooks selection left me breathless: “Medgar Evers”

Medgar Evers
For Charles Evers

The man whose height his fear improved he
arranged to fear no further. The raw
intoxicated time was time for better birth or
a final death.

Old styles, old tempos, all the engagement of
the day–the sedate, the regulated fray–
the antique light, the Moral rose, old gusts,
tight whistlings from the past, the mothballs
in the Love at last our man forswore.

Medgar Evers annoyed confetti and assorted
brands of businessmen’s eyes.

The shows came down: to maxims and surprise.
And palsy.

Roaring no rapt arise-ye to the dead, he
leaned across tomorrow. People said that
he was holding clean globes in his hands.

January 31, 2014 #smallstones

Van Gogh’s repetitions:
dude must have been stoned –
painting that same postman
over & over & over again –

like Stein, repeating a phrase
repeatedly, each time with teensy
weensy alterations, a word portrait
of a Napoleon or a Picasso –

I have been known to write a poem
twice, three times, each time a little different,
four times if I really meant it –
so I know where Vince is coming from…

but I always get told to tighten
the top of my favorite ink bottle…

January 30, 2014 #smallstones

to capture the attention of the market,
we need something dramatic,
something that seizes its imagination:

then enslaves it, then anesthesizes it,
putting it in a deep sleep, the deep sleep
of brain death, the un-dead.

Then they will buy whatever we sell them.

The core product is fear – the actual
product is the security they think they prefer
to protect themselves from feeling the fear
they already bought –

the augmented product is all the images
we show them on the TV to make up
for the freedoms they lost, the birthright
they gave away, the un-born.

January 29, 2014 #smallstones

MegaBus
departing Washington
approaching Baltimore
en route to Philadelphia
dawn softly breaking
on the eastern horizon

muted green lights above each seat
not enough to read by
too much to sleep by
could it be kryptonite –
draining me
of all my super powers –
slowly?

January 28, 2014 #smallstones

Ray, pathway, today
Mandalay, DNA, Monterrey
Passion Play, Lady Day, protege
mayday, naysay, melee
dapple-gray, Santa Fe, rhymes with Ray

January 27, 2014 #smallstones

In Philadelphia I sense the spirit
of the Founder, his iconic image
everywhere, his ghost haunting
the back streets and alleyways
of this City of Brotherly Love –

always in awe of his foresight,
his vision, of the principles
which built this great nation:

and I am baffled –
we have fallen so short:
how the f— did we get it so wrong,
drive so far off track, so wrong?

January 26, 2014 #smallstones

It’s my favorite part of a concert:
the tuning of the instruments –
a cacophony of horns and strings
a single piano & light percussion –
warming up, tightening the bow
just so, sharpening the flats
of sound:

my favorite part.

Then the first violin walks in. And just
like a beehive where the queen
has been absent, the random buzz
of tuning stops and a calm descends
on the collective:

she strums a C-note & all join in.

January 25, 2014 #smallstones

Dvorak
not as pretty as Brahms
nor as majestic as Beethoven
nor as finely textured as Mozart –
but goddamned triumphant

a well-balanced, futuristic synthesis
of the rhythms of Native American dance
and the melodies of Negro Spirituals
and the bassline of joyous Bohemia –
a new world still is coming:
triumphant, indeed.

January 24, 2014 #smallstones

full days:
road trip to Westminster
(how I hate those six-lane highways!)
to meet new clients/outline new work –
locked up inside all Friday studying –
classes and work all day Saturday –
road trip to the City of Brotherly Love
Sunday for work and for poetry
(wonder how far is it from
the conference site to the Art Museum?) –
bus up at the crack of dawn,
(go MegaBus, and leave the driving to us!)
Amtrak back at midnight.

January 23, 2014 #smallstones

neighborhood public library patrons –

half wandering homeless:
seeking refuge from environmental elements,
seeking refuge from boredom/ignorance,

reading books –

half wandering retirees like me:
seeking refuge from boredom/ignorance,

reading books –

both have rights to public space