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Getting It (or not getting it)

May 2009

When I read Renée Ashley's "A Poem About Not Quite Getting It (but not an aphasic poem in the least", I have to admit that I didn't get it.

It started with me thinking that aphasia was some kind of swallowing disorder - but that's dysphasia. Aphasia is a language disorder in which there is an impairment (but not the loss) of speech and of the comprehension of speech.
So, in the poem, we are not quite getting it, but it's not because of a mental disorder.

Words carry intent, we use syntax, we try to get it (meaning) from the "streaming heap" of the poem.

Aphasia has actually been connected to poetry in research studies, and if you look at the symptoms of aphasia, what poet has not suffered some of these symptoms when writing or reading poetry?
* inability to comprehend language
* inability to pronounce, not due to muscle paralysis or weakness
* inability to speak spontaneously
* inability to form words
* inability to name objects
* excessive creation and use of personal neologisms
* inability to repeat a phrase or the persistent repetition of phrases
* paraphasia (substituting letters, syllables or words)
* agrammatism (inability to speak in a grammatically correct fashion)
* dysprosody (alterations in inflexion, stress, and rhythm)
* incomplete sentences
* inability to read
* inability to write

Poets deal on a regular basis with readers who don't get it.

And aphasia not the only mental disease that has poetic connections. Alzheimer's disease is generally considered to be a disease of memory. The question of what remains when memory unravels is a question that poets often deal with in their writing.

Our writing prompt for May is to attempt a poem that deals the problems we all have with our memories and those times when we don't get it (interpret that as you will). Perhaps, you will also address the very real connections that mental diseases sometimes have with poetry.

For more on this prompt and others, visit the Poets Online blog.


Who died when we we aren’t around,
On vacation in the Holy land
No reading the obits in the Times.
It was an aphasia of our ordinary world
And who will be around to say,
I missed that obit, your obit
Like the early show
That is the Saturday matinee for kids
With 12 cartoons of life
Passing by like
Saving Private Ryan
First in silence
Then is blood
All past wars are experienced
Only as permanent aphasias.

Then for the speech pathologist's reports;
Paradigms or pragmatics
When what who why
And later trying to make it into how.
There is a letter the chief of staff,
Four star general Marshall
Reads by the chief above the chief of staff
A. Lincoln;
War is an aphasia
A sacrifice on the altar
A partial stroke and recovery,
For the religious, resurrection,
A total stroke without rehab
Or death.
We can go on
As Pinter said about his Birthday Party,
Here is a weasel under a china cabinet
Or Eliot’s Cocktail Party
Not for Jews unless converted.

Aphasia is not a flip teenage
American surrealist singer
Aphasia is a cinder block
Underneath a new apartments
Jolly yellow painted plaster
Time’s building blocks
That easily crumbles into sand.

Edward Halperin


d turned pale as she
pointed to the woman in the
bed across from her own

ffflllooowwweeerr she stuttered
with great difficulty but oh
so loud it seemed to echo

we giggled nervously
not quite sure how to
respond to such things

i couldn't help notice the
still grey woman
she looked dead to me

i thought it best to
get the nurse on duty and
bring this to her attention

she nodded her head as
she drew the curtain
round the fresh corpse

d screamed out ffflllooowwweeerrr
once again
yes i said yes yes

marie. a. mennuto-rovello


To live again in the blissful phonetic mysteries
of song lyrics I only thought I understood.
To have the kind of faith to sing full voiced
that hymn to Spiderman that didn’t really say
He’s got radio action plugs.
To be able to feel the hacienda grit under my heels
as I groped my way through the Spanish verse
of Freddy Fender’s “Before the Next Teardrop Falls.”
To laugh the way I laughed when my friend,
the failed seminarian, intoned Dominick ate the biscuits.
To go back and tell my uncomprehending youth
To not understand is to understand enough.
To be able to say to my failed seminarian,
his wife in chemo and hopeless radiation,
I’m sorry it really said He’s got radioactive blood.
To be able to do something about it when all there is
is Pero sí te hace llorar.
To have enough deafened faith to believe
Dominus vobiscum.

R.G. Evans


in your parallel spiral galaxy no
a shooting star bulls-eye
shrapnel on the bedroom floor
closure/pressure building to be released
caffeine sluicing through arteries
morning I mean can you see
gold-pieces alms-leaves elm trees
under a frontal blue sky stalled our
coupled press of air, can you
remember? a first kiss ties
lie to lie to promise soft electric
glow coils that zap wings
in the dark bells wrung from
the aging mind so many years now
Adam’s mourning-
garden Eve with the hunger-
fruit so many centuries I mean why
couldn’t we? just be joyful

Taylor Graham


These medicines flood my brain
so fog thick as water I stumble and mumble --
and talking or typing I’m slightly dyslexic so
jometimes fy mingers
bo everything dackwards--

then my fingers come back.

My neurons were merely napping soundly
in the synapses of my brain --
too drenched to spark, too deeply submerged
every day in Dilantin, Phenobarbital, Tegratol,
occasionally in Valium, in Codeine, Fiorocette,
Depakote -- depending on

what kind of pain, where, and how long
I can not be a weakling about it --
swallow the medicine to shrink it --
and depending on what kind of shaking
is taking me:
a flicker, a quiver, a flurry, a seizure,
a flock of birds shuddering, beating
suddenly wildly inside my body
against my skin from inside
beating me, nearly uncontainable -

one good grand mal
could be it...

...vitamin b for my system of nerves and ginseng
to bring back the words.

If I took it all and a drink I’d be dead and only
live in the paths you travel in your head.

Marylisa W. DeDomenicis


My great aunt Lula has Alzheimer's disease
That has worsened along the years.
When I was about 13 years old I went to my grandmother's house
And she cares for my great aunt Lula. I went to greet her and she
Took me in a tight embrace and said "Happy Birthday Tania"
I supposed that it was just a flash of old memory
But she also said "My beautiful daughter is turning seven today."
I pulled out of her grasp and glanced at my mother.
"Lula, you don't have any children," my mother told her.
She replied, "Oh yes I do, I have a beautiful daughter
Who is turning seven today, August 9th 1973.
What a wonderful day to be accepted to the world."
I turned to look outside and there was snow on the ground, it was January.
My mother didn't think it to be anything of importance but I did.
I went to my grandmother's house once a week for two months
Until I could gather up enough information. It turns out
My great aunt Lula did have a daughter, Tania Boyd.
When she was 18 she became pregnant and after the child
Was born she had a secret life with her. When she was about 7 years old
My great aunt put her in a foster program because she had a drug problem.
No one in the family had any idea of this and my family managed
To track down Tania and give her the opportunity to see her mother.
She came only once and stayed for less than an hour.

Amanda Hoagland


Important memories throughout my life have always been remembered.
They've been repeated again and again
Over and over
Until they stuck.
The more recent memories though
Before they can be remembered.
Particular events and conversations are remembered
While dates and times
Never are.
I was never very good with dates.
I learned that in History.
But I didn't know
That it would prevent me from knowing
My mother's birthday
Until I was sixteen
Or only knowing my father's
As the first day of school.
I never thought that I'd look
Back and remember
Everyone with blonde hair
No matter what color hair they actually had.
I never thought my memory
My seemingly perfect memory
Could ever get that bad.
It's as though
All of the photos have been altered,
The files become corrupt.

Kelly McCormack