Just make a left

Do you ever just wish you could stop following all the rules?

I know I do. I see other people doing it. In the carpool lane when it’s obvious there’s a faster way than the long line of cars leading to the proper exit. Just make a left instead of a right. You’ll get out a lot faster.

Forget the rules.

Who’s gonna care?

Ah, but I’m a rule follower. It’s about honesty in my opinion. There are no shortcuts. No legal ones, anyway. No honest ones.

It’s like that in my writing as well. If I’m writing a haiku, it’s going to have the proper number of syllables in each line. I know even haiku master Matsuo Basho said if it’s better with the wrong number of syllables, it’s better to write it that way, but I’d rather write and rewrite and rethink and restructure until I’m happy with it. Because I have to follow the rules.

I was considering entering a poetry contest with some of my villanelles. (I’m that pleased with how they’re coming out.) This contest had a section for traditional rhyming poetry, something few editors have an appreciation for. I was encouraged, so I looked up some of their past winners. One of them was a “villanelle”. I pulled it up and read it.

It broke all the rules.

There were no rhymes where there were supposed to be rhymes.

There were no repeated lines or even words.

It was written in paragraph form.

What’s the fun of that? It’s like writing a short story and calling it a haiku. There’s no challenge. I remember my father saying something that has stuck with me for most of my life, “You can call it whatever you want, it doesn’t make it that.”

Hey judges, it’s not a villanelle if it doesn’t follow the rules.

I’m going to keep plugging along writing my haiku and villanelles and following rules. I have no idea why. I could break the rules and write a paragraph and call it a villanelle. I could write a novel and call it a haiku. I might even win some contests that way. But I won’t.

It’s just that I’m a rule follower.

Villanelle #21

Just make a left instead of right!
It'll get you there much faster,
and your schedule's really tight.

Nobody's gonna care if you take flight
and look for a greener pasture.
Just make a left instead of a right.

I don't mean to make light;
I'm certainly not your master,
and your schedule's really tight

No one can really know your plight.
It can't possibly lead to disaster
if you make a left instead of a right

Rules are not always right.
They're not molded in plaster,
and your schedule's really tight.

Perhaps you'll never feel Karma's bite
graze rear skin of alabaster.
Just make a left instead of a right—
after all, your schedule's really tight.

—Michelle Garren-Flye
Fall is around the corner. Photo by Michelle Garren-Flye

Still enjoying villanelle: #16

I just finished judging a poetry contest. It was fun. Nerve-wracking because I’ve been on the other end of the judging too often. I know how it feels to have so much faith in your little work of art, to send it out to be judged…and then to find out it failed.

I will say this about this contest. I was blown away by the entries. Mine would have been left in the dust by these, and I say that knowing full well I would have entered if I hadn’t been judging.

With that said, I think this one is pretty good. If you think I’m talking to you, I’m probably not.

Villanelle #16

By Michelle Garren-Flye

Whisper it to me when we are alone,

this (truth) secret you can’t seem to hold.

After it’s out we can decide to atone.

I can tell it eats you down to the bone,

aging you long before you are old.

Whisper it to me when we are alone.

I can’t believe this thing can’t be known

or that others will judge you or scold.

After it’s out we can decide to atone.

Just words, set them free to be blown

away by the wind, let the Truth be told!

Whisper it to me when we are alone.

Better to choose than to chance moan

a sentence you can’t take back—too bold!

After it’s out we can decide to atone.

Come, then, escape the chaperone

who’s kept you in a stranglehold.

Whisper Truth to me when we are alone—

after it’s out we can decide to atone.

Fallen Orchid Blossom with Cat Hair. Photo by Michelle Garren-Flye

Challenge Accepted: Learning something new

I’ve been a bit directionless recently. No idea what to do with my creative energy, so I’ve been shoving it down and watching Netflix instead (I’m rewatching Longmire, and it’s better than I remember from the first time around). (Side note: I need a Lou Diamond Phillips in my life.)

Back to learning something new. I decided I needed a direction, so I posted on social media and Twitter (Twitter is not social media, imo), asking for suggestions for my next poetry challenge. I didn’t promise to write, illustrate and publish another poetry book in less than a month, but I did indicate I might try.

Well, the challenge I got and accepted after some thought was a bit more complex than I’d anticipated. I don’t think I’ll manage another book in 30 days. It’s a whole new form to me and I’m loving it, hating it, cursing it—and learning it.

A villanelle is a sort of song poem with a rigid rhyme scheme that utilizes repeating lines, unlike most poetry. The best known one is Dylan Thomas’s “Do Not Go Gently Into That Good Night.” I have always loved that poem. I love the rhythm of it. I love the passion in it. I love the way you can almost unconsciously sing it without even meaning to.

The one thing I never loved because I never even noticed it was the rhyme.

How is that possible?? In multiple places “night” literally rhymes with “night”, “light” with “light”. How the heck did Thomas make his rhyme so invisible? It’s awesome that he did, because a poem with too heavy a rhyme will be singsongy and irritating. It may sound contrived. How did Thomas manage a poem with such a rigid rhyme scheme and make it sound natural?

The answer, of course, is that so much of the rest of the poem is more important than the rhyme. The passion, the theme, the message, the rhythm. All the things I’ve noticed that I love.

So that’s my new challenge. Write villanelles that don’t sound like they have a rhyme scheme. Or at least write villanelles where the rigid rhyme scheme doesn’t interfere with the message and passion of the poem.

Random picture of a perfect mushroom. Photo by Michelle Garren-Flye

Poem 25 (National Poetry Month): when you don’t feel the rhyme

Sometimes the words flow easily and sometimes not so much.

when you don’t feel the rhyme

by michelle garren flye

you say you’re down and just can’t

feel the rhyme

the world off its axis and fallen aslant

you haven’t the time

and life’s hours seem too scant

let the pain flow away instead

to hold us in sway

while an unjust world continues to tread

unless you stay

your hand and find the rhythm instead.

Photo by Michelle Garren Flye

Poem 16 (National Poetry Month): Lost Days (For the Seniors)

Like many I fell for a Facebook trend recently which consisted of posting your senior photo in support of this year’s graduating class. I don’t actually have my senior photo anymore because it was a few years ago, but I do have my old yearbook, so I pulled it out and took a pic of my old photo. And posted it with some encouraging words for this year’s seniors who are basically missing out on a pretty fun part of their lives while we take our corona break.

But I started thinking. Was that post more about me than it was the seniors? Probably. I mean, I looked good at 18. We all looked better than we do now, let’s be honest. I got a lot of nice comments on the photo, too, and those are always good. But how in the hell was it supposed to make today’s seniors feel better?

So, as an act of contrition, I wrote a poem, and not just any poem, either. An Italian sonnet, which is widely regarded as a difficult form. Here goes:

Lost Days (for the Seniors)

By Michelle Garren Flye

Just a worn out page in an old yearbook,

A memory captured in a photo.

Days gone by in years long past, but lo!

Posted here now for you to take a look—

To show you we know what you forsook.

Has anyone ever been dealt such a blow?

Taking your freedom, knocking you low.

But we’re here with you, do not be mistook.

Wait! Is it possible we are in the wrong?

What is an old photo but a memory kept,

An experience savored in celebration?

This is what you’re denied all along.

These lost days are what you have wept—

While we make posts of self-congratulation.

A more appropriate photo for quarantine. Enjoy the little things. Photo by Michelle Garren Flye

Poem 14 (National Poetry Month): How to Write a Sonnet

How to Write a Proper Sonnet

By Michelle Garren Flye

First, find someone whom you can pledge your heart;

Second, you’ll want to make sure you can rhyme;

Next, make certain you’ve perfected the art

Of striking the beat and staying on time.

Taking the next step is a bit tricky—

Into your feelings you’ll need to dig deep.

Telling us how you feel can get sticky,

But trust me, get ready to take that leap.

Fill your lungs with all the air and desire

You are able to rouse on short notice.

Holler out your emotions with fire!

Then postpone to see who reads your opus.

Instead you could do what I have done here:

Follow the steps without getting too dear.

Photo by Michelle Garren Flye

Poem 10 (National Poetry Month): World of Fire

World of Fire

By Michelle Garren Flye

It’s hard to inspire

In a world of fire.

It’s best to prevent

Such a common event.

If day to day life

Is uncommon strife

The world fails

To hear your wails.

In a world of fire,

Down to the wire,

Very little impresses.

Even your caresses.

Every day a travail

No way to set sail

No way to escape—

This is your fate.

Photo by Michelle Garren Flye

A Poem for My Daughter

When she was born, I finished the process of becoming a mother of three.

For My Daughter

By Michelle Garren Flye

 

You’re my heart and my soul,

You’re a star in my sky.

You made our family whole,

When the stork dropped you by.

 

You are loved, my firefly,

Never doubt your self-worth.

No one else could satisfy

Your place on this earth.

Happy May Day! (Poetry Summary)

Happy May Day! I remember one particularly happy May Day in elementary school when our art teacher arranged for us to dress up in white and perform a maypole dance. I loved the pretty dress I wore and the colorful ribbons we wove around the maypole (which was actually a flag pole, I think). I’ve always thought it would be fun to do that with my kids, but I guess—like many fun things—the maypole dance is actually sort of a pagan ritual.

May Day and pagan rituals aside, I have completed my own ritual of writing a poem a day in April, and I am actually quite happy with the results. I learned a lot about poetry. It’s a totally different style of writing than writing prose, and especially different from writing a novel. I think my sense of rhythm improved this month and I know I got better (or at least more daring) at rhyme. But what really surprised me was the sense, when I completed a poem, that I’d created a piece of art. Like a sculpture or a painting. Much more so than when I write novels.

I don’t think it has to do with the length of the story. I believe it’s the skill required to combine rhyme, rhythm, structure and story all in a compact nature. Though I can write a poem in a matter of minutes, it requires more thought and planning than you’d think. So, in a way, it’s like sculpting words.

As it happens, I didn’t love every poem I wrote last month, either. But I am happy to note that I only resorted to a simple haiku three times, one of those being Easter. I chose haiku style for the three stanzas of “Headline Design” on purpose, but I don’t think it was a simple haiku. I’m not sure which is my favorite. Possibly “Living in Eden” or “In Over Your Head”. It’s hard for me to like “Self Portrait” because it feels sort of—too revealing. But at the same time, I think it is good. I really like “Beverly Cleary 101”, too.

So that’s it for my poem-a-day-thon. But I think I’ll still post poetry on here from time to time. And I definitely plan to keep writing it. That sense of accomplishment at the end of each poem is too satisfying to give up!