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July 2006

Our prompt for this month had to do with being against something. Is it negative to be "anti-" something? Well, being anti-war seems noble, though one might be anti-nature and that does sound like a bad idea. So, it's not an issue of good/bad, positive/negative.

We looked at the poem "Antilamentation" by Dorianne Laux as a model.  Her subject, lamentation, is a often used topic of poetry. A quick search pulls up "The Song of Hiawatha Hiawatha's Lamentation" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, William Butler Yeats' "The Lamentation Of The Old Pensioner", as well as "Hornworm: Autumn Lamentation" by Stanley Kunitz - so, she is rebelling a bit against a poetic tradition as much as against lamentation itself.

If lamentation is mourning and Laux looks at our regrets and this is against that, why not just call the poem "No Regrets" or something like that? I'll leave you to answer that (in your mind, or, preferably, in your comments about this prompt on the Poets Online blog site) but I do think there's a difference in your approach to writing or reading poems with those two titles.

And I think there is something about Fate and joy in her poem too. More on that later on the blog...

Our prompt is to write a poem that is against something, which is to say that in some other way it is "for" something

Dorianne Laux was born in Augusta, Maine, in 1952. She worked at a number of jobs before receiving a B.A. in English from Mills College in 1988.
She is the author of four collections of poetry: Smoke (BOA Editions, 2000), What We Carry (1994), Awake (1990), and from Norton, Facts About the Moon (2005). With Kim Addonizio, she is the co-author of The Poet's Companion: A Guide to the Pleasures of Writing Poetry (1997), which is a great print companion for poets to Poets Online.
Among her awards are a Pushcart Prize, an Editor's Choice III Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts. She has twice been chosen for Best American Poetry. Laux is a Professor at the University of Oregon's Program in Creative Writing and is currently the program's director. She lives in Eugene, Oregon with her husband, poet Joseph Millar, and her daughter Tristem.

For more on this prompt, visit the blog entry and comments for this prompt on the Poets Online blog.


John said to me under the
Pileated, rain-painted
green canvas umbrella
we share smoking cigarettes, he
Winston, me Salem.
when the 4 pm sky looks like mottled
weeks-dead flesh. Face first
death in a ditch.
He said:
Why do we do this to ourselves?
jabbed the air
waved at the rain, the smoke
the depressing sky.

I am tending an inner fire, I said, burning
a locomotive charcoal stream into my chest
and I am cheating death, he laughed
I am building a mythical affinity to fire, I said. I lit
a new white tube and chuckled, coughed
I am convinced of Teflon immortality.

We are against politically correct rules
that make us inhale these like lepers
in dingy corners. We are for the kind of person
who lives fast, dies young
leaves a pretty shell with blasted airways
hard, encrusted flaps of black
where her lungs should be.

Realistic at last
I say
I have always been nervous
he says, I have not
wanted to gain 10 pounds.
We are stupid vain and glorious
full of mistakes full of smoke
tilting mirrors in the sun.

Patty Tomsky


What is life if there is no regret?

No longings for things you didn’t do;
for taking the easy way out;
for stopping to talk instead of rushing by;
for people you didn’t call and then it was too late;
for apologies you failed to make when you were in the wrong.

Without regret, life pales until it’s one color:
the red of anger and passion bleeds itself dry
until it leaves no evidence it was ever felt,
and the dark purple bruises of contempt
for bigots and bullies begins to fade
and lets them win.

Did you never regret not standing up to one?

The couple next door shouting at one another
all evening and into the night. Next morning,
she walks to her car with a swollen lip and eye.

Did you never regret pretending you didn’t notice?

Walking away can be filled with regret,
remorse, even sorrow.
What might have been different
had you only stood there and looked?

Regret nothing but this.

Mary Kendall


My summer trip to Maine allows me to immerse myself in nature:
Poplar leaves turning in the wind;
In the late afternoon, a royal blue helicopter becomes a dragon fly
Alighting next to my writing arm;
The continuously creaking ropes hold the boats tied to the dock.
Visual memories recall the calmness of the trip.
I am an observer.
Nothing ruffles my feelings and the world chaos does not intrude.

I am an observer of friends, too
Capturing the interactive moments of their lives:
Cooking, dishes, visiting, swimming;

This is my vacation from myself.
I do not regret it.
Inside there is another person.
I rage, I coo, I have strong opinions about the world.
Surrounded by other lives I feel slightly awkward when good night hugs
Are addressed to the essence of me, which I think I have so well hidden.

Ellen Kaplan


Against the odds, I have reached another birthday.
Despite the pessimistic grades from those with advanced degrees,
I am walking down to the shoreline and diving under again.
I can no longer decide if a wave is a part of the ocean,
or if a wave is the ocean, but I know that April is a cruel month
because it lets us see nature renewing itself in new growth and leaf
and it only reminds us that we cannot do it ourselves.
Turning the page, I begin another chapter in the history of my future.
I write here on the beach while the Buddhists have a picnic behind me.
It has been a dry summer, and without rain,
the river is not a river
but only dirt, sand and stones.
Still, we call it the river
because against observation,
we believe it will rain
and it will be what it once was again.
I am counting the days until next year.
You are watching the sky for rain.
The picnickers are chanting.
The ocean crashes against our shores.

Lianna Wright


You can regret
What you should not have ate
The baguette
The noisette or brochette, or veal cutlet
At the banquette
The croquette
Or excuse me, the coquette.

At the launderette
I met Juliet
She was heavyset
She fingered a castanet
While her lips blew a clarinet
'You don’t have to minuet,
No regret
Or do a pirouette'

I pulled off the chemisette
Of this mignonette
Her lips were crepe suzette
Nothing vinaigrette
While listening to the audio cassette
Of Piaf singing, Rien Je regrette

There are many a bete
To whom we get into debt
They push a basinet
With a sextet

What a regret.

Edward N. Halperin


Teng Yin-feng (8th century) when he was about to die asked:
“I have seen monks die sitting and lying, but have any died
standing?” “Yes, some,” was the reply. “How about upside down?”
“Never have we seen such a thing!” Whereupon Teng
stood on his head and died.
-Conrad Hyers, Zen and the Comic Spirit

Were you born—will you ever die?
This circus of paradox sucked you in
with its ever-widening big top,
with its ever-shrinking tightrope,
till believing in what defies belief
comes natural as a quadruple
off the highest trapeze you dare.

Clowns? Look to your audience!
Look to your catcher swinging there
by his big orange shoes. Is that a grin
or a greasepaint grimace? Hard to tell
with his skull aimed at the ground.
You can’t let go, but you must let go.
Choice is confetti in the water bucket.

Once you dreamed of taming lions.
That was before you learned the lions’
names, studied their diets, walked for a mile
inside their padded paws. Now you’d like to see
one take a bite out of that little khaki fool.
You get the feeling even he wouldn’t mind.
Anything’s better than boredom. Almost.

The train awaits. Now its time
for your winter home. Strike the tent,
lower the sideshow’s painted banners,
drag Lobster Boy and the Human Pin-Cushion
by their foreheads through the dust. Another year
would be nice for those threadbare canvases,
the cost of something new—-we all die upside down.

R.G. Evans