Finally, I Can Buy a Two-headed Calf

I used to love farmers’ fairs and carnivals when I was a kid. My cousins lived on a farm in Pennsylvania (sometimes a working farm, sometimes not), and I loved hanging out in the barns, roaming the fields looking quartz chunks, catching fish in the pond, but especially going to the Blue Valley Farm Showtwo headed calf at the farm show pic. There I’d look for the record-breaking bull, the tractor pull (which my cousin won one year, I think) and gorge myself on fried things.

Sometimes you see weird stuff at fairs, and one such encounter (somewhat fictionalized, I admit) I put into the poem Two-headed Calf at the Farm Show (which is in the book Necessary Mythsbuy here). Anyway, I just happened to notice, via the Facebook page of The Evolution Store, a listing for an actual two-headed calf for sale. The auction house Bonhams is offering both the full mount and an articulated skeleton.  Would someone please buy this for my birthday present? I know just the place I’d put it.

 

Two-headed Calf at the Farm Show

 

We came for sights and smells,

distractions of giant beets

and blue-ribbon goats,

but at the taxidermy tent we find

a body mounted, badly stitched and

held into a suckling pose

by wires hidden in the neck,

a calf that may or may not

have been more than we expected,

and who expects these things?

Not the calf as it entered the world

watching itself watching itself

slide out onto the sharp padding

of straw, strong hands pulling

at its legs. One heart, one spine

branching like a river

with two mouths to the sea

and for a brief moment

they both gasp, breath

struggling down a pair

of clotted throats, a god’s

joke that let the gentle eyes

open long enough to see

each other’s own lovely brown eyes

slowly close, the one heart too shocked

to bring legs up for balance

and finally those hands let go.

So now under a sun hot tent

we reach out to touch it,

holding hands but looking away,

thinking of the big coffee eyes

the moment one person knows before the other

that the fight for air is over

when one heart’s not enough

for both of us.

 

Here’s another taxidermy poem by me at Painted Bride Quarterly.

And here’s another tw0-headed calf poem, this one by Laura Gilpin (thanks to Laura Orem for the tip).

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Ode Workshop at Musehouse in November

For two Saturdays in November I’ll be leading a group in the study and writing of odes. Why odes? That’s pretty simple. I love the idea of odes. While the old classic odes could be formal in purpose and structure, what passes for an ode today is much more broad. That doesn’t mean you can take any old poem and pin the title “ode” to it (well, sure you can if you want to). Odes are honorifics, but they’re also explorations. They celebrate as they deconstruct. Look at Keats’ Ode on a Grecian Urn. At one point the speaker is rejoicing in the “happy, happy boughs! that cannot shed / Your leaves, nor ever bid the Spring adieu.” But by the end of the poem his mood has taken a turn as he observes “Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought / As doth eternity: Cold Pastoral!”

Odes have a way of doing that—start in one place (or one thing) and follow a train of thought to another conclusion. Odes are a sort of chemical reaction, or maybe an experiment. You take X subject and add Y language; mix it up into a metaphor with insight and hope it doesn’t explode in your face.

There are some fantastic contemporary odes by Kevin Young, Dean Young, Rita Dove, and Pablo Neruda. In the first day of the workshop we’ll talk about the many ways odes can function, options for structure, use of metaphor and of course look at lots of examples, then send everyone home with an assignment. The next week we’ll look at the odes each participant brings in.

If this sounds like something you’d like to try, you can sign up here. The class meets on two Saturdays from 10AM to 12PM or so, 11/15 and 11/22. Cost for the two days is $60. You can register here or call Musehouse at 267-331-9552.

Below check out Kevin Young’s Ode to Gumbo:

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/86829168″>ode to gumbo</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/aspokendish”>A Spoken Dish</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

 

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Writing Process Blog Tour

I need to thank Christine Brandel for inviting me to this writing process blog tour. Please check out her excellent site CLBwrites and see what she’s up to.

Now, onto the questions

What are you working on?

I recently finished up a new poetry manuscript and am starting to send that out to book contests and trying not to think about all the $25 reading fees. A few weeks ago I started a sort-of series of poems that’s sort of a metaphysical bestiary. I also hope to spend time on a long-term project with fishing illustrator Jason Borger. When it’s done, Lucia Press will produce a fine art book of Borger’s prints and my poems. His beautiful fish pictures are done, but I’m not even halfway through writing the poems to compliment the images. I’ve also been collecting and studying odes, classic and new, for a 2-day class I’m teaching in November at Musehouse (you can still sign up here). Some of my own odes will be appearing soon in Gargoyle and Superstition Review.

Also, I’m pretty excited about a trip coming up soon to the Sharjah International Book Fair in the United Arab Emirates. I’ll be on a poetry panel or two, do some readings and browse around meeting writers from all over the world.

How does your work differ from others in the genre?

On the genre level, it probably doesn’t differ a whole lot. I write poems that look like poems and can’t really get confused with clay pots or oriental rugs. However, I hope my poems distinguish themselves in voice and attitude. A reviewer not too long ago called my poetry “old fashioned and audacious,” and I like that.

Why do you write what you do?

I was initially attracted to poetry in 6th or 7th grade when I memorized The Raven. I like the rhythms, images and mystery of it. Those are characteristics I’m still drawn to, and features that I think poetry does best. Also, I have a very short attention span and can’t write long-form creatively.

How does your writing process work?

Usually I start with an image, word or phrase I like. Sometimes that phrase is in the form of a title. I keep a file of lines and titles that occur to me, and a couple of times a week I’ll go to that file and pick out something to work with. Then I just let each line tell me what to put in the next one, so hopefully the poem has a natural, self-generative feel to it. I also tinker with my new poems a lot in the first few days, and if it doesn’t keep my attention longer than that, I’ll probably forget about it. I never save separate drafts; I just save over the prior one, not really caring if I lose something in the process.

For the past year and a half I’ve been doing a lot of what you might call project poetry—poems who’s themes or situations were all planned out in advance. That’s not something I’d ever done before, but I like the results so far. We’ll see if the book gets published.

While I don’t like to use prompts (I assign them in workshops though), I do get a lot of ideas from reading other poems. I especially like response poems in which I write a response to some other poem. I also just plain steal small ideas (and credit the original of course). In fact, once I wrote a poem about finding some other poet’s line in my poem. I’m sure it was an accident.

Check out Christine Brandel’s Writing Process post, click here.

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