Monday, April 30, 2018

NaPoWriMo Day 28: Geneva, NY - Elizabeth Blackwell To Her Sister Emily

Prompt: Draft a prose poem in the form/style of a postcard.

I found this vintage postcard while doing research for inspiration, got curious and looked up Geneva, NY. It turns out that quite a few well-known people have either lived in, or passed through, Geneva - among them Elizabeth Blackwell, MD, who was the first woman in the United States to be awarded a medical degree. She studied at Geneva Medical College (now known as Hobart College), and went on to blaze a trail, both in the field of women in medicine, and in her commitment to social reform.

More about her remarkable story can be found here.  I used her story as a springboard for the prompt, in the form of a fictional postcard / letter to her younger sister Emily (who became the 3rd woman in the US to receive a medical degree).


Rain makes me think of Bristol, of Wilson Street, your dear old rag dolly leaking stuffing, your shrill demands of  Lizzie make her well! Back then all it took was a needle, thread, and patience. Now in this place, I am become the thread, squeezed through a needle’s eye and stretched into a shape not my own. I am a foot in a sea of eyes, feeling my way through the days. Where the men say, We can, I cannot – I must. The streets are wet black ribbons slick with dreams, under a phosphorous moon. I feel an overwhelming urge to run downstairs into the rain and roll in the puddles until I am drenched, black dress dripping and draggled. I want to go to sleep feeling the weight of dreams drying on my bare skin, to wake in the morning and put on the hopes which have soaked, with the rain, into my garments.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

NaPoWriMo Day 27: Queen of Swords

Prompt:  Following Lauren Hunter’s practice of relying on tarot cards to generate ideas for poems, we challenge you to pick a card (any card) from this online guide to the tarot, and then to write a poem inspired either by the card or by the images or ideas that are associated with it.

More playing catch up (the end may be in sight, but my sanity might be approaching zero too). As a swordswoman, it's not surprising I was drawn to the suit of swords!

I know there is a traditional tarot design for all the cards, but when I was hunting about for inspiration, I found this lovely piece by Danielle Meder, and her sketch of the Queen of Swords definitely grabbed me (because in general I wear black by default, and I've outfits that look exactly like that, stilettos and all, and it's so me, even down to the sitting.)

Artist: Danielle Meder

There's a nicely detailed description of the Queen of Swords here. And because the first thing I thought of when gathering ideas for today was a line from Sylvia Plath's 'Lady Lazarus' (I eat men like air), I decided to structure the piece in a similar form. 


Lady Lazarus’ sister
Has black hair, not red.
A sword

Issued from her mouth
At birth –
When I got older

They took it from me.
Broke it.
Gave me dolls with daisies instead –

So I buried them:
Chubby plastic bodies
Chaste, pink, and plump

With expectations.
Strewed daisy petals
Over their graves.

Sharpened my tongue
To cut like a longsword
Pierce like a dagger

Turned my broken weapon
Into words, edges
Slicing the page.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

NaPoWriMo Day 26: Etymology

Prompt: write a poem that includes images that engage all five senses.

I combined today's prompt with the SEAPoWriMo prompt, which was about reclamation - of words and phrases that are commonly used with a negative connotation. Not precisely on topic for that, but then I don't think it's precisely on topic here either.

It also turned out to be one of the most challenging pieces I've written, and required a complete overhaul both for lineation and for clarity. It's long (I hate writing long poems!) and it deals with many aspects of the languages spoken here in Malaysia, as well as the connotations that words can have.

Popo = Cantonese for maternal grandmother
Taugeh = Hokkien for mung bean sprouts
Taukwa = A type of firm Chinese beancurd
Mee goreng = Fried noodles
Kopitiam = A small Malaysian eatery, usually with various hawker food stalls in it.



I am the same word
       in different languages
       given different meaning
       by tonality and intent.

The boy on the street leers at me.
Ah moi[*], wei ah moi. 
2-tone whistle from pursed lips.
A bird call. Mockingbird call.     
. 妹子. Moi zhai [1].
Ngi keh moi leh? my Hakka popo asks my mother.
. Mui[2], xiu sam ah, my sister says.
Jiak moi[3], my Hokkien friend invites.

I am daughter
I am sister
I am a bowl of soft congee
           slurped and swallowed.


Her father fries mee goreng at a kopitiam.
Kelinga mee, they called it in the past
       a hybrid of fried yellow noodles
       with spicy sweet potato gravy.

       Yellow noodles, a handful
           of slippery ancestral strands
           from his father and
           South Indian grandfather

       Taugeh grown from
            the labour and sweat
            of building a nation
            that paves its  roads
            with the burnt stones
            of his ancestors’ dreams

       Chilli paste pungent
            with the bite and scorch
            of derogatory names
            and relentless sun

         Taukwa. Cuttlefish gravy.
         Sweet potato gravy.
         Fat teardrops. Potatoes.

         His wife’s hands slicing
              stars and ingredients
              into her wide metal tray
              hoping to birth a comet

         His love for his daughter
               a perfect boiled egg
               on her plate each morning
               while the rest he cuts up
               for garnish

Kelinga[4]. Kalinga[5].

A difference of one letter
       spanning the divide
       between a glorious kingdom
       and a derogatory taunt.


The walk from her father’s stall to the bus stop
       is 200 metres of narrow lane stretched out
       to 200 kilometres.

Ah moi, ah moi
The boys catcall and jeer at us
       mouths puckered  
       like wrinkled little anuses.

Beady gleaming eyes.
Rats’ eyes.

I want to spit HAM GAA CAAN [6]
       in ideograms of fire
       and pluck them from the air to hurl:
       a missile, a curse.

We are dead tigers, she and I, vanity kills
       stripped of our claws and teeth
       with knives forged from 


[*] Ah moi (n): Malaysian slang for ‘girl’.
      Context is all-important.

      The margin between ‘girl’ and ‘sex object’
              is a fine line 
not delineated 
              by the length of a skirt
              the dip of a neckline
              no matter what they say: 
              it’s all in the mind
[1] 妹子, moi4 zhai3 (n) Hakka: Daughter
      Ngi keh moi leh? : Where is your daughter?

      Where is the producer of heirs?
      Where is the iron warrior
       birthed from steel loins?
      The distinction is tonality
      and intent

[2] , mui2 (n) Cantonese: Younger sister
      Xiu sam ah: Be careful
      (but care is not always enough
       little sister
       be wise)

[3] , moi2 (n) Hokkien: Congee
      Jiak moi: Eat congee

      The sharing of a meal
       is community
       is love

[4] Kelinga: Said to derived
from ‘Kalinga’ (see [5]).

Formerly used to mean Indian
Tamil, or South Indian
Now a derogatory term
for Indians in Malaysia

[5] Kalinga:
Ancient Indian kingdom
in east-central India
corresponding to pre­sent-day
northern Telangana
northeastern Andhra Pradesh
most of Odisha and
parts of Madhya Pradesh

When did a noble kingdom
become a curse?

[6] , ham6 gaa1 caan2 (n) Cantonese:
May your whole family be dead
May your line wither, be barren
       as parched water holes
       and dead eye sockets

Friday, April 27, 2018

NaPoWriMo 2018 Day 25: May Be Hazardous To Your Health

Prompt: Write a poem that takes the form of a warning label . . . for yourself! 

Still in the process of catching up (I think I'm never ever going to catch up at this point). As for warning labels, I probably should have been plastered with them from birth, to be perfectly honest. Maybe I should print this one out and stick it on my forehead.


Take in small doses
       (her world runs at the speed of neutrinos
          thoughts racing behind her eyes like light
            shredding time in fistfuls to make room for more time)

Harmful if swallowed
       (a *swordswoman is never without a weapon
          words oscillate like over-wound springs in the cave of her throat
            trebuchet waiting to be launched in conversation)
Able to leap tall buildings at a single bound
      (only when friends, family, and students are involved
          otherwise it’s easier to knock them over sideways
            ‘woman’ is not a synonym for incompetent, helpless, or stupid)
May irritate eyes
       (get over yourself, resting bitch face is a thing
          looking pretty is not a requirement of life or intelligence
            will get up in your face if provoked. See * and **)

**Dangerous when provoked
       (see *
         reality runs on intersecting planes of books to stress ratio
            punctuated by felines, chocolate, and swords)

BEWARE! Non-Euclidean
       (disbelieves infinitely more than six possible things before breakfast
          world peace, pink elephants, no Infinity Wars spoilers
             catching up on poetry prompts
              a child that does not ask ARE WE THEEERE YET 
                every five minutes
                 in the car)

Thursday, April 26, 2018

NaPoWriMo 2018 Day 24: Requiem Mass

Prompt: Write an elegy – a poem typically written in honor or memory of someone dead. But we’d like to challenge you to write an elegy that has a hopefulness to it.

This was another humdinger of a prompt, not because it was any form of esoteric, but because my month started out with way too many elegies for departed friends. I think my brain just didn't want to face writing yet another one, so it stopped working (that, and having to write a second poem for the SEAPoWriMo prompts is taxing my writerly stamina to the utmost.)

I ended up writing an elegy to old ghosts, and a dead past that needed to be laid to rest.


Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine
-- Introit of  traditional requiem mass

Twenty-five and terrified of the black hole you called a house
Which was really a trap where a monster in the wall lay in wait
With poison darts in the shape of words
Aiming at you whatever chance he could get
And you, a mermaid struggling in a net of his weaving
Believing you were only a dumb fish.

The sea rolls, swells. The years swallow themselves
And you are no longer a mermaid but Ariel on land
Dumb by choice for what you thought was love
But in reality was narcicissm twisted
To seem like love instead.

To exorcise ghosts, we lay the dead to rest
So I’m laying you to rest, twenty-five
Scatter your ashes for the winds to carry
To the four corners of the earth and beyond.
My tongue loosens, legs merging into scaled iridescence
Ariel returns to the buoyant sea.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

NaPoWriMo 2018 Day 23: Travel Journal, Bali

Prompt:  Kate Greenstreet’s poetry is spare, but gives a very palpable sense of being spoken aloud – it reads like spoken language sounds. In our interview with her, she underscores this, stating that “when you hear it, you write it down.” Today, we challenge you to honor this idea with a poem based in sound. 

It just so happens that SEAPoWriMo, the Southeast Asian take on GloPoWriMo, started yesterday - it's a week long challenge to write a poem a day with a prompt by one of the moderators, each of whom hail from a different Southeast Asian country. I only got drafted in today, which sent me into a spasm of anxiety and spazz, because many of the poets are pretty well-known around this region, and I'm always uncomfortable in big groups (which this one is) until I feel at home.

It turns out that today's prompt for GloPoWriMo crosses tendrils with the SEAPoWriMo one - both involve sounds, so I thought hell with it, and wrote one poem for both (is that cheating?)

To hear what a Kecak dance sounds like, have a look and listen here.


She tells me about the waves (rshhhhhhh rshhhhhhhhh the amphitheatre by the sea rssshhhhhhhhhhh rsssssssshhhhhh rssssssshhhhhhhhhhhhh look at the crowd she says pointing at the photo on her laptop screen noise noise noise heat (peoplepeeplepeepulbabelbab bla b ((sei ruhig JENNYSTOPRUNNINGCOMEBACKHEREshhhhyttysiä! Inhoan hyttysiäWAI lei chor julaaaaxcusez-moiEH DUDUUUKplease sit down the show’s starting ohgod Nigel this heat)) heathumid birdskree seabreeze fffwwwwwhhh across sweatsticky neck)
krrshkrrrsshhk sandals dragging against rock
krrrrrshhhhk   kshk

and the dancers come

Cakcakcakcakcakcakcakcak cak  cakcak
Cakcakcakcakcakcakcakcak cak  cakcak shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh ts ts

Gliiiiiide (body through air moving a ripple at a time)
Tng tng tng the bells on Rama’s ankles ring

Isn’t it beautiful she says and I watch her drift like a wave (rssshhhhh rsssshhhh) into the moment of sunset she has frozen in the camera’s eye

Uluwatu ulu uuu uu u lu lu lu

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

NaPoWriMo 2018 Day 22: Perfect

Prompt: Take one of the following statements of something impossible, and then write a poem in which the impossible thing happens - 

The sun can’t rise in the west 
A circle can’t have corners
Pigs can’t fly
The clock can’t strike thirteen
The stars cannot rearrange themselves in the sky 
A mouse can’t eat an elephant.

Still catching up. The one that first caught my attention was 'A mouse can't eat an elephant', since I'd done the elephant previously. On second reading though, 'A circle can't have corners' started waving at me, and then settled in my brain to percolate, which led to thoughts of how glass blowers start with a round blob of glass, then press it into a mould that shapes it into something which could have angles. Which in turn led to serious problem solving of how a circle could still maintain itself as a circle but still have corners, and then everything sort of snowballed and here we are.

I'm not very happy with this, it feels lacking, but in the interests of catch up, it still gets posted.


The ring is a symbol of constant faith and abiding love
Precious as its material, a perfect circle with no end.

She felt its unfamiliar curve, cool as a damp leaf
As it slid onto the fourth finger of her left hand
Never dreaming that it would grow and swallow her whole
Until she was trapped within its golden arc
Or that he would force her into the narrow angles
Of his ideals - of love, of her.
Everywhere she looked there were shadows
Cast across the endless circle of her being
Corners where monsters came to hide and ghosts
Rose from the grave.

NaPoWriMo Day 21: Narcissus Reborn

Prompt: Try writing a poem that plays with the Narcissus myth in some way. 

I'm playing catch up due to travelling and doctors' appointments outstation, which means that while I had time to think about the prompts, it was pretty futile in terms of what to write. It took a good bit of time, after reading up on the Narcissus story, before it occurred to me that, barring wasting away for love of his reflection and remorse for causing Ameinias' death, the worst thing that could befall him would be to never be allowed to admire himself, or speak of his own perfection - like reflecting things in a mirror. 

And it sort of went from there, although I don't know how successfully that went.


No one tells the rest of the story, the part that came next:
That he was fated to be split in two
Body peeled from soul
Like a muscat grape slipping its skin
Fated to be reborn over and over as both flower
And the spirit of mirrors
Fated to feel the petals of his body wither and fade
While his soul could see the reflections of all others
Except his own, cursed by Nemesis
Nevermore to speak of his perfect beauty.

Who is the fairest of them all, the queen asks.
 The lie burns his throat like bile as he forces bitter words
From reluctant lips, glimpsing briefly, in the face before him
Melancholy Echo’s gaze, now touched by spite.
You, my queen, you are the fairest of them all.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

NaPoWriMo 2018 Day 20: Elephant In The Room

Prompt: Write a poem that involves rebellion in some way.

Writing and drawing are two separate things. Usually. Painting and writing are also two separate things, usually, but then there's word painting, where people 'paint' a picture using descriptions. I took that literally: I 'painted' a picture, with words, and I mixed writing and drawing up since a) I don't normally do it b) I decided to rebel by being non-conventional.  


Truth is an elephant in the room
Everyone sees it but no one knows
How to dispose of it gracefully
Either in word or in deed (elephants
Don’t lend themselves well
To being swept under carpets.)

NaPoWriMo Day 19: Not All Girls Play With Dolls

Prompt: Write a paragraph that briefly recounts a story, describes the scene outside your window, or even gives directions from your house to the grocery store. Now try erasing words from this paragraph to create a poem or, alternatively, use the words of your paragraph to build a new poem.

Once again, this was a surprisingly more difficult prompt than I'd expected - perhaps a pounding migraine had something to do with it. The hard part wasn't the poem, it was the paragraph that precedes the erasure of words.

I am a HEMA (Historial European Martial Arts) swordswoman in training, and earlier in class, my assistant instructor had brought in his buckler and new Regenyei arming sword. He let me play around with them both, much to my delight, and I ended up writing my paragraph about that particular little interaction. 

The poem ended up in two forms: the original erasure poem intact, keeping all the line breaks, and the one in more conventional form. I couldn't decide which one I like better, so I kept them both, although there's a certain movement about the first which I rather am taken by.


I have Farhan’s buckler in one hand and his new arming sword in the other. He’s right. The balance is amazing, and even on me – five foot nothing of temper, clumsiness, ambidexterity and chaos – it feels right. It’s exhilarating. Power, science, art, seamlessly integrated into a Regenyei blade that handles like an extension of my arm. The buckler’s heavier than I expected. A well-placed punch with it, and I could break someone’s face. That’s ok with me. It used to matter once, that I wasn’t flawless femininity and skin. Magazines, relatives, and friends all took turns reminding me how far short I fell from grace – later on, boyfriends beat it into me with words and fists. It doesn’t matter now. I’ve got Farhan’s arming sword and buckler, and the boys are pointing out that my light grey outfit matches my weaponry perfectly. Shield maiden, one of them says with a big grin. I’ll take shield maiden over princess any day.


                         buckler in one hand                           arming sword in the other       
                                          ambidexterity and chaos
                        exhilarating   power, science, art                                 a Regenyei blade
                                                                                 buckler’s                                                                     well-placed punch                                       could break someone’s face                                  
                                                                                                              flawless femininity and skin
                                               doesn’t matter now                                       
                                            the boys
                                                             shield maiden, one of them says                            
                  I’ll take shield maiden over princess any day


buckler in one hand     arming sword in the other
ambidexterity and chaos
exhilarating     power, science, art     a Regenyei blade
buckler’s well-placed punch
could break someone’s face
flawless femininity and skin
doesn’t matter now
the boys   shield maiden, one of them says
I’ll take shield maiden over princess any day