Friday, April 15, 2011

A Plethora of Pantoums: Midway Mark

As of today, I am halfway through posting a poem of my own each day in honor of National Poetry Month. And I have to confess: it is hard. Harder than I anticipated when I took on this challenge.

It is hard putting poetry - my poetry, for God's sake! - out in the public sphere. I have had more than one bout with anxiety since starting this month. The Internal Critic has been a daily companion, particularly loud when the anxiety hits, but certainly audible most other times as well. The comments range from a snippy "this isn't real haiku, you know" to a hissed "what do you think you are doing?"

We all carry around Internal Critics. They are the ones who nibble away at our self esteem, take bites out of our confidence. Sometimes they are guests artists making a cameo appearance: the Hard-To-Please Parent, the Undermining Best Friend, the Callous Commentator. Sometimes we know the voice and the face because it is our own.

As I continue to post pantoums, one in particular seems appropriate at this halfway point given my anxiety. This was written in response to a writing prompt on Quote Snack. For those of you who are not familiar with writing prompts, they are simple to do. The writer is given a phrase or a line and a set period of time in which to write, without stopping, anything that comes to mind in response. E.A., the blogger at Quote Snack, sets her writing prompts up to last five minutes, reminding you at the end to "Get up and wiggle. Move. Laugh. Growl. Pat self on back."

The phrase in a recent Quote Snack prompt was "with the Past's blood-rusted key." After writing my response, I thought it had the bones for a pantoum, so I pretty much just cut and tweaked my response to fit the pantoum framework. The original pantoum was considerably longer; the one below is the revised version.

As much fun as I have with them, pantoums are a little freaky, especially if you are struggling with an anxiety attack. At those times, they remind me of the chain emails you used to see directing you to pick numbers, think of colors, write down three names, and then learn what your answers revealed. Those emails usually had the warning "DON'T SCROLL DOWN! YOU WILL BE AMAZED!" Because pantoums turn back in upon themselves - completing the circle, as it were - it sometimes throws me how neatly the first and fourth lines fit into and lock up the ending, even though I know they are supposed to do exactly that. This is one of those times.

This pantoum speaks to the anxiety this month's poetry challenge poses for me. As my brilliant therapist of years past would remind me, I don't have to unlock the door and let those anxieties enter. As the poem reveals and as even he would have acknowledged, it is not easy to discard the key. The trick is learning to carry it, but not use it.

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with the Past's blood-rusted key

The key is rusty.
The key is rusted red, ferrous red, iron red.
It is the key to my past.
I hold it in my hand.

The key is rusted red, ferrous red, iron red.
I study the key carefully.
I hold it in my hand.
I cannot clench my fist around it.

I study the key carefully,
I lay the key down on the counter.
I cannot clench my fist around it.
I try to remember where the key fits.

I lay the key down on the counter. 
What memory does it unlock?
I try to remember where the key fits.
My god, my head throbs, trying to remember.

What memory does it unlock?
Is it from years and years past?
My god, my head throbs, trying to remember.
Are we talking one decade or five?

Is it from years and years past?
What if I just walked away?
Are we talking one decade or five?
What if I just left the key and never came back for it?

What if I just walked away?
No one else can use it.
What if I just left the key and never came back for it?
They would just toss it.

No one else can use it.
It would follow me noiselessly through the air if I left without it.
They would just toss it.
I hesitate, my hand on the door knob.

It would follow me noiselessly through the air if I left without it.
The key is now curiously warm.
I hesitate, my hand on the door knob.
I sigh. I walk back.

The key is now curiously warm.
I pick up the key and pocket it. 
I sigh. I walk back.  
I walk out the door, locking it with a fresh key.

I pick up the key and pocket it.
It is the key to my past.
I walk out the door, locking it with a fresh key.
The key is rusty.

2 comments:

see you there! said...

Interesting. Since I do visual art not poetry it made me think of what I would do with that rusty key from my past in a visual way. Definately NOT hang it on a string and wear it around my neck like jewelry.

Darla

Terri said...

the form is PERFECT for the subject matter because it creates the effect of scanning your memory with the key in hand and captures that forgetful quality--is it deliberate forgetting or innocent?

As for the internal critic, we do an exercise in my creative writing classes where this critic is turned into an actual character in a story and addressed via dialogue. My own is my high school English teacher, who had a very red nose and wore panty hose that swished together as she patrolled the aisles of her classroom.