Sunday, February 27, 2005

The Word Ladder

A word ladder is formed when you take a word like CAT, and transform it to another word, such as DOG, by changing one letter at a time: CAT- COT- DOT- DOG. You can use the word ladder to make a poem using each of the words, or rungs, of the ladder. Below is an example of a poem, made from the word ladder FOOL to WISE (fool-wool-wood-word-wore-wire-wise):

How a Fool Becomes Wise

The fool shears a sheep
of all its wool, carries it
to the wood, where a nymph
puts him under a spell
with a single word. All
the garments he wore
turn into barbs and wire,
and he cries for the time
before he became wise.

Exercise: Choose two words to be the ends of your word ladder. It is helpful for them to have the same number of letters, and to be words that have a relationship between them, such as opposites, synonyms, commonly linked words. Some examples: LOVE/HATE, STONE/HEART, WEEK/YEAR, CHAOS/ORDER, FLOUR/BREAD. Create your word list by changing one letter at a time, until all the rungs of the ladder are complete. Then use your word list to create a poem. The word-rungs don’t have to be end-words, or be in order. Experiment!


What Gay Childhood Icon Are You?

OMG: this is so Dean & I

You Are the Very Gay Bert and Ernie!

Two grown puppets living together, sleeping in the same room?
They've even got coordinating striped shirts!

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Medicine & Metaphor

Medicine gives rise to many of the poems I write. But people often ask: Does it work the other way? Does poetry ever enter into your practice of medicine?

Certainly, when I am with a patient, I am with them totally. I am not jotting poems on a prescription pad and stuffing them in my pocket; or thinking up a set of rhymes for a sonnet while Mr. Z is telling me about his back pain. And though I do occasionally mix a poetry journal or literary magazine in with the issues of National Geographic and Smithsonian in the waiting room, I am not one to push my favorite poems on patients (at least not yet).

However, one way I think that poetry enters into my practice of medicine, is in the use of metaphor. For instance, if a patient has a chief complaint of chest pain, or chest pressure, I must first do a complete and thorough medical work-up (because it could be a potentially fatal condition, like heart disease). But if this work-up is negative, and there is no “organic” explanation for the patient’s symptoms, then we need to consider if his chest pain has an emotional basis. And this is often difficult territory to broach. They sometimes feel as if I am telling them "it's all in your head.” When the truth is I am not saying that at all. I don’t believe the mind and body are separate — I think they are one in the same, and physical symptoms are part of the mind and emotions and vice versa.

So I might use a metaphor as a way to connect mind and body for this patient. I might say to him, regarding his chest pain and chest pressure: “Maybe there is something you are needing to get off your chest?” And if I am lucky, a light will go on in his eyes. And he will stop for a second, and say, “You know, I am really angry at my boss. He has been very unfair to me the past few months. And it is causing me a lot of stress. I can’t take the pressure anymore. It’s driving me crazy.” And hinged to this metaphoric leap, the first tentative steps toward healing may proceed.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Breaking the Glass

I was thinking today about writing and perfection, and how I sometimes spend way too much time polishing and polishing a poem; trying to make it perfect; until the life is revised right out of it. I am reminded of a line from Chase Twichell's poem, "Architecture" (in The Snow Watcher):

"Poetry's not window-cleaning.
It breaks the glass."

I said to one of my poetry-group friends last night that her poems were like "broken glass." I mean it as the highest compliment.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

My father, Arthur Pires Pereira b.1929 Hong Kong;
picture taken circa 1949? Posted by Hello

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Dean and I, San Diego Wild Animal Park. 15 years ago. Ah, good times . . . Posted by Hello

Voices in Wartime

I have seen clips from the documentary, due out this April, and it is stunning. (The info below is from the Voices in Wartime website.)

Voices in Wartime is a feature-length documentary that delves into the experience of war through powerful images and the words of poets – unknown and world-famous. Poets around the world, from the United States and Colombia to Britain and Nigeria to Iraq and India, share their poetry and experiences of war. Soldiers, journalists, historians and experts on combat interviewed in Voices in Wartime add diverse perspectives on war’s effects on soldiers, civilians and society.

You can join the effort to help millions of people learn about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other consequences of war by hosting a House Party for Voices in Wartime.

I plan to host a House Party . . . but it might be a somewhat serious & somber affair.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Blog Anagrams

This was just too silly and fun, I had to share it (and please nobody be offended: it's just the letters talking.) :

Asleep Inside an Old Guitar: Odd Pleasures in Genitalia
Avoiding the Muse: Anguished Motive
Book of Kells: Elks Boo Folk
Box of Birds: Oxford’s Bib
Chanticleer: Eternal Chic
Ironic Points of Light: Tight Opinions Frolic
Land Mammal: Madman Mall
Library of Babel: ‘Ol Arab Fry Bible
Lit Window Pane: An Open, Wild Wit
Radish King: Sharing Kid. Darkish Gin.
O Radish King!: Shark Indigo
Sea Camel: Calm Ease
The Virtual World: Devout Raw Thrill
Therapist With a Dream Inside: I Am the Pirate’s Hardiest Wind


Sunday, February 20, 2005

Abecedarian: Night Nurse

I guess it's not fair to suggest an exercise, unless I am willing to try one myself. Here goes:

Night Nurse

Awakened by
crying: diaper
emptied, feed-time.
God, how it just keeps
latching-on! My
nipples open,
puckered, quite
red, stretched
to unending v
with x.
Yawn, zzzzz.


Saturday, February 19, 2005


Also known as an alphabet poem. Below is an example from Paul West, who is said to be the inventor. As you will note, his is not a strict abecedarian ("Xenodocy's" made-up, and Z is missing). It's a tough form in which to write something that flows: but I think this one works. Try it today!

Artichokes, Bubbly,
Caviar, Dishes
Epicures Favor,
Gourmets Hail;
Ices, Juicy
Kickshaws, Luxurious
Mousses, Nibblesome
Octopus, Pheasant,
Quiches, Sweets,
Treats Utterly
Vanqish Weightwatchers;

PS: Carolyn Forche has an incredible 24-page long line-abecedarian in her book Blue Hour. It is freakin' amazing.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

More Kay Ryan

The Kay Ryan reading was terrific. She is a very handsome woman, and so funny. She mentioned during the reading that she wanted to be a stand-up comic when she was young. As I listened to her delightful in-between poem chatter, I thought: Oh My God! She is the love-child of Bea Arthur and Ellen DeGeneres!
She read a few poems each from her first book, and from Elephant Rocks and Say Uncle, and some new work from a forthcoming book called The Niagra River (the wonderful title poem is funny, and grim, all at the same time; how we are all floating along on the river, not even thinking of the falls). I had not realized it before, but her work is very much akin to that of Emily Dickinson, in it's concision, density, philosophical bent, and musicality.
The brief after-reading interview was actually pretty good this time (thank god the interviewer seemed to at least be familiar with the poets work, for once). Kay is very self-deprecating, doesn't take herself too seriously, but is out and proud of what she has accomplished. I love how she is not an academic in the negative sense (she teaches basic English skills to immigrants, if I am not mistaken).
A group of us went out after to Ten for salads and martinis: a perfect end to a wonderful nite of poetry! Here's a poem she says has been read at several weddings:

A Plain Ordinary Steel Needle Can Float on Pure Water
-- Ripley's Believe It or Not!

Who hasn't seen
a plain ordinary
steel needle float serene
on water as if lying on a pillow?
The water cuddles up like Jell-O.
It's a treat to see water
so rubbery, a needle
so peaceful, the point encased
in the tenderest dimple.
It seems so simple
when things or people
have modified each other's qualities
we almost forget the oddity
of that.


Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Death by Fruit

Kay Ryan is reading tonight at the Seattle Arts & Lectures Poetry Series. I love her narrow simple witty poems, and her book Say Uncle is one of my all time faves. Can hardly wait to hear her read them live. The vivacious Rebecca L. is my date for the series (we have so much fun sitting together and trying to behave!). There is also a large group of poets from both reading groups going. And the funnest part of all is going out after, for a drink and a bite and catty chat-up of the reading.

Death by Fruit
by Kay Ryan

Only the crudest
of the vanitas set
ever thought
you had to get
a skull into the picture
whether you needed
its tallowy color
near the grapes
or not. Others,
stopping to consider
shapes and textures,
often discovered that
eggs or aubergines
went better, or leeks,
or a plate of string beans.
A skull is so dominant.
It takes so much
bunched up drapery,
such a ponderous
display of ornate cutlery,
just to make it
less prominent.

The greatest masters
preferred the
subtlest vanitas,
modestly trusting
to fruit baskets
to whisper
ashes to ashes,
relying on the
poignant exactness
of oranges to release
like a citrus mist
the always fresh fact
of how hard we resist
how briefly we’re pleased.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

O, the places you'll go!

This was too fun, I couldn't resist chiming in. But does just being in the airport count?:

Alabama / Alaska / Arizona / Arkansas / California / Colorado / Connecticut / Delaware / Florida / Georgia / Hawaii / Idaho / Illinois / Indiana / Iowa / Kansas / Kentucky / Louisiana / Maine /Maryland / Massachusetts / Michigan / Minnesota / Mississippi / Missouri / Montana / Nebraska / Nevada / New Hampshire / New Jersey / New Mexico / New York / North Carolina / North Dakota / Ohio / Oklahoma / Oregon / Pennsylvania / Rhode Island / South Carolina / South Dakota / Tennessee / Texas / Utah / Vermont / Virginia / Washington / West Virginia / Wisconsin / Wyoming / Washington D.C.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Apricot Martini recipe

I invented this martini for Valentine's Day, using the Apricot Nectar from France that Lynn Noordam (my nurse at the clinic) had given me a few weeks ago. Dean said it was the best he'd ever had. The orange color is translucent and velvety as mid-February sun:

Apricot Martini

1 oz Apricot Nectar (Alain Milliar, Product of France)
4 oz Vodka
2 oz Cointreau
1 oz Lemon Syrup Natural Flavor (Seattle's Best Coffee: SBC)
several large ice cubes
shake well in a martini mixer
strain into chilled martini glasses
(enough for two large, or four small, martinis)



Sunday, February 13, 2005

It's About Time

The It’s About Time Writer’s Reading Series Thursday was fun. I especially enjoyed hearing John Marshall’s reading: from his new chapbook-length poem “Taken With,” about his mother, her dementia, admission to nursing home, death. The poetry isn’t confessional at all; the language is smart and playful and full of variety; which is quite a feat, considering the subject matter. It will be coming out from WoodWorks Press in a few months. Anitra Freeman read this wonderful pair of “Credo” poems; one written about 20 years ago, and another now. Not necessarily an ars poetica, but more her life philosophy (aren’t they one in the same anyway?) and how it has changed/not changed/matured. Pesha Gertler gave a fine reading; I especially enjoyed her poem about being at a kibbutz, as a Jewish woman, and working with Palestinians, hoping for peace amid all the bloodshed and loss there. Very moving.
My craft lecture was ok. I talked about “Finding Your Subject” (and how I really believe your subject finds you). The talk is posted on the It’s About Time website. It’s pretty lame, if you ask me (my talk, not the site). But if you visit, make sure to check out Rebecca Loudon’s craft lecture. It’s much more enlightening.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Dante's Inferno Test

Discover which level of hell you will spend eternity in (if you have not already):

"Welcome to the Dante's Inferno Hell Test. This test, sponsored by the community (the fine people who brought you the famous Personality Disorder Test), is based on the description of Hell found in Dante's Divine Comedy. Answer the questions as honestly as you can and discover your fate. Based on your answers, your purity will be judged and you will be banished to the appropriate level of hell. Abandon all hope."

I, of course, will be spending eternity with the sodomites. But I hear the music is good there.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Lettuce Weather

Lettuce Weather

We scratch a tiny furrow with a stick,
pinch in our favorite mesclun mix,
drizzle in clear water from a hose, then
lightly pat the soil with bare palms.
Such springy ritual, showing faith in
a world returning to life. Forsythia
branches cast yellow petals. Two blue jays
scrummage in the white lilac for twigs.
Our elderly neighbor feels spry enough
to climb a ladder and wash her windows
(we rush over to help!) while her grandson
wheels out his motorbike for ride. Yes,
that vacant lot up the street’s for sale again.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Foothills Writers Series

I had a wonderful time reading at Peninsula College in Port Angeles yesterday, for the Foothills Writers Series. Thank you again to Alice Derry for inviting me, and to Kate Reavy and Carmen Germaine, who help direct the series, which has been in existence for over 30 years.
The drive out was amazing: the Seattle to Bainbridge ferry shrouded in fog, the fir trees rimed with frost. By the time I crossed the Hood Canal bridge the sun had come out, the skies were blue and clear, and the Olympic mountains were glorious! Covered with new snow and seeming so close that I could almost reach out and touch them.
Alice Derry was telling me before the reading about how Billy Collins, Yusef Komunyakaa, David Guterson, and Sherman Alexie had all read in the series in the past, when they were not "well-known;" and that within a year or so their writing careers took a "meteoric rise." She joked that it was the "Peninsula College magic," that set things off for them; and I am hoping the Peninsula College magic will work for me too (lol). Thanks again Foothills Writers for having me.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Posting in Spanish

I couldn't imagine anyone giving C Dale Young a hard time (blush) for posting in Spanish! I don't speak or read Spanish, but if I ever need to translate what somebody has posted, I just cut and paste it into the handy-dandy online AltaVista Bable Fish Language Translator. It can instantly translate (with variable accuracy) over 20 languages! For instance, C. Dale's post on Alberto's blog the other day:

Alberto, amé tan su poste que hice un poste entero mis el propios para responder. Usted tiene que encontrar una copia de la quinto sinfonía de Mahler. Después de que usted escuche el cuarto movimiento, déjeme saben lo que usted piensa.

Translated on the Altavista Babel Fish language Translator is:

Alberto, I loved so its post that I made a post whole my the own ones to respond. You must find a copy of the fifth symphony of Mahler. After you listen to the fourth movement, déjeme knows what you think.

It's not hard to get the gist. Can't we all just get along (lol)?

Monday, February 07, 2005

Possessed By Words

He thinks it all began with
Begin the Beguine — those pleats
of petals like Ecclesiastes. Now,
whether it’s hearsay or heresy, who’s
to say? Whether it unites or unties,
this word illness leads to silliness,
then stillness. How reverse the spell?
He remembers the mother
smearing her breast milk
into the baby’s eyes. The doing
of one thing the undoing of another.
How they said it was too late,
by the time they got to the hospital —
it was too late, the infection
was florid: meaning, like flowers.

Sunday, February 06, 2005


I like to play with anagrams. One of the exercises I do is to make a list of dictionary definitions, based on the anagrams that can be found in a given word. It is amazing sometimes, the hidden meanings that appear! This list-poem owns a debt to Ambrose Bierce’s The Devil’s Dictionary, and is (I hope you will agree) a playful look at the "dark side" of Medicine.

The Devil’s Dictionary of Medical Terms

Allergies: Large lies. Eager ills.
Antibiotics: Is it botanic?
Antidepressant: President Satan.
Appendicitis: Septic ‘n’ I paid.
C-section: Nice cost.
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: Oh, my secure grand fiction!
Depression: Snide poser. Person dies.
Dementia: I’d eat men. Detain me.
Dermatitis: Am dirtiest.
Diabetes Mellitus: Diet abuses met ill.
Erectile Dysfunction: Lucifer’s indecent toy.
Flatulence: Clean flute.
Gastroenteritis: Rattiest regions.
Gall stones: Lost angels.
Heart Attacks: That’s a racket.
Hepatitis: I spit hate.
Hypertension: Shy inner poet.
Lower Back Pain: Incapable work.
Manic Depressive: Impressive dance.
Migraine: I’m in rage.
Neurotic: Unerotic.
Night Sweats: Things waste.
Nocturnal Enuresis: Encounters urinals. In unclean trousers.
Prostate Cancer: Crap! Not as erect. Procreates? Can’t.
Renal Failure: Funereal lair.
Surgery: Guys err.
Tension Headache: Death’s inane echo.
Uterine Prolapse: Plenteous repair.
Vasectomy: My octaves!
Whiplash Injury: Shh! I win jury, pal.
X-ray Department: Darn pretty exam.
Yeast Vaginitis: It’s a nasty I give.
Zoonotic Diseases: Societies and zoos.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

New Poetry Press

According to The Seattle Times, a benefactor named Charlie Wright is planning to start a new "for-profit" (or at least not not-for-profit) poetry press in Seattle. Joshua Beckman has been hired as the editor. And they hope to publish 10 books of poetry a year! Read all about it here.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

What the Skin Cutter Feels

And now for something a little more serious . . .

Some people, because of past trauma or abuse, turn to cutting on themselves. The wounds are usually superficial, not life-threatening, and are made with razor blades, pins, knives, glass, jagged metal edges, upon the arms, legs, or thighs. The motivations for this self-harm are many and often conflicting. It is common for the cutter to report a sense of overwhelming compulsion.

What the Skin Cutter Feels

Nothing but numb, the world’s
pitch and yaw groaning inside her,
tense as an edge, a strange
smell liked singed wires
everywhere, this deafening
silence, her mind a hive.

She reaches for a clean towel,
caresses the gleaming razor
between fingertips, imagines
the blade gliding over her cheek,
the hairless expanse of a wrist.

How she wishes this
inside wound were
outside — where
she could feel it,
watch it heal.

An urge that won’t go away
until she lets it out —
a trickle of blood marking
her stunned flesh, as if to say: this
is where the world ends.

The Six Minute Sestina

The keys to this exercise are contemplation and brevity.

1) Think of someone or something you are obsessed with (3 min).
2) Write a six word sentence that captures what you are feeling (1 min).
3) Number these words 1 through 6 and place them in the standard sestina format, one word per line (2 min):
4) Read what you have written, and discover the interesting and many-layered dis-orderings and re-orderings the magic of the sestina has wrought!

Here is one I wrote using this method. It’s for Valentine’s day (Will I get chocolate, or roses? . . . Hmmm, that’s another six-word sentence. Another sestina!).

Valentine Sestina







I will
always love
you so.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

The 20 Minute Villanelle

The 20 Minute Villanelle

1) Think of something you are obsessed with. (2 min)
2) Write an interesting rhymed couplet about it. These will become your repeating A and A’ lines. (2 min)
3) Divide the above A-A’ couplet in two, and quickly write 5-8 new rhymed partners for each one. From these you will choose your “a” lines. (5 min)
4) Divide these new a-A and a-A’ couplets, and in between each one quickly write an intervening line. These lines should each have the same rhyme. From these you will choose your “b” lines. (5 min)
5) Put your A and A’ lines in place below (1 min):







6) Now experiment with different placements of your most interesting “a” and “b” lines. Use enjambment and variation of the repeating A and A’ lines, as needed. (5 min)
7) Simmer uncovered, stirring constantly.
8) Season to taste.