Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Box of Jars

I've been moving around a bit lately and taking on some life challenges, and so it's been a while since I've taken on a poem challenge.  Feel free to email me to stump me further!

In the meantime, I have some poems at the online magazine Box of Jars, a publication whose previous issues I've admired quite a bit.

Here you go!

Dream Where Paul Simon Was My Boyfriend

Empty House

What About the Word Abyss?

Friday, May 1, 2015

A Cyborg Story

This challenge is from my law school buddy Albert Wang.  While many of our classmates were freaking out about moot court, Albert and I were doing stuff like this.

Albert's challenge (in the form of a story):

It is the near future. There is a man who, after a horrific accident, has his entire body replaced by machine. His face, his hands, his legs, his heart - everything has been replaced by metal, circuits and silicone.

Well - nearly his entire body.  His brain - or at least parts of his brain matter, have been preserved.

Despite his technologically advanced body, he ends up taking a job as a laborer in a factory for the mass production of [insert your own product here].  The man intellectually knows something is wrong about the life he is leading, but because the sense of "wrongness" manifests only in a vague, neutral numb feeling, he does not bother to think of doing anything else outside of the routine programmed into him.

This all changes when one day, he sees a little girl and boy sneak into the factory. It is a dangerous factory, no place for children, but this does not bother him.  Rather he is just driven out of curiosity to follow the children, who have taken advantage of the lack of security at this factory.

As children are prone to do, they find themselves to the most dangerous part of the assembly line.  The watching cyborg man is overcome by a weird impulse as he sees the children unknowingly head towards a grisly fate... he charges forward and throws his body into the critical part of the machine, so as to prevent the children's death... only it is too late... 

The cyborg man awakens in a hospital to hear the bad news of the children's deaths. His previous mechanical body had been crushed, and he finds that it is replaced by a newer, more humbler mold. However, the critical piece, the heart, did not have readily available replacement... and instead, the doctors were forced to replace his mechanical heart with the hearts of both children, which somehow had been preserved in the accident.  His new hearts give him sensations he had long forgotten from his previous life before becoming a cyborg, but also the wholly new experience of having the youthful hearts of two young, innocent, curious children... the cyborg, once emotionless, is overwhelmed with feelings of grief, gratitude, and everything in between.  He is now entirely machine, as before, save for his heart, which are those of a young girl and boy.

Write a poem about this, however you want.
The poem:

The Saving Machine

Before you had this bag
of fat and sighs,
you were lighter.

When you break and engineers
remake you,
they'll salvage just
three pieces of your mind
to fit in a computer suit.
Then and now, you know
life is a matter
of pacing, lifting the pieces
of other machines that resemble
and reassemble terrific minerals.
Your body
of light bulbs
...where are you shining that
If you try to sacrifice your second
body to save a boy and girl
from dying in the teeth
of more dangerous machines,
you still won't escape your mind.

You'll wake up again, remade
with the hearts of those you saved
in your new body, which is soft
and indistinct as painted fire.

What is your best
and highest use?

In your first life,
you were childish.
In your second life,
you made and saved.
In your third,
you felt the pop pop pop
of the prophet's hermaphroditic heart.
Where can you escape?
Albert's review:
INTERESTING (note I am writing this poem review while inebriated).

I'll be honest, for whatever reason, I was offended by the first stanza (or whatever it's called).  I feel like whatever was alluded to in this first three lines was wholly an invention of you, and not connected to the prompt I gave you. And so, I excised the first 3 lines from my reading.

I really enjoy the rest of the poem. I gave you a very weird, somewhat specific premise, and I feel like you internalized it and sought out the emotional truth of what I was presenting.  I gave you the coming of creation of a mechanical man, a man forged and re-forged out of modern and future life, and you distilled it into the essence of  the struggle we face as humans today.

You inserted religion - no, I would say spirituality - into the poem. The "prophet's hermaphroditic heart". As the prompt patron of this poem, I feel like you presented to me challenges that I had not anticipated.  I told you that the mechanical man found himself reborn with the heart of two childs, one boy one girl.... and you found the truth in this premise which I had not realized, that there was a purpose to this experience of his.  The man, the mechanical man -- does he become less human with each surgery, or more? 

Sure, there are certain parts (even words) I don't like. For instance, the word "computer" should not be in this poem.  "Light bulbs" I'm also not a fan of.  Aside from these word choices though, you were on point in identifying an underlying dilemma to everything here.

You put the word "saved" in your title, and in the body of the poem a couple times.  Naturally it made me think of your Christian background (maybe not fair, but I know you), and I wonder if the religious connotations associated with this word fit with this poem and prompt. I think they do, though I didn't mean it to.

You mention that the mechanical man tried saving the children from "more dangerous machines".  I really like this. Not sure why, but the adding of depth to the dangerous scale of machines I think adds to this poem.

Okay. back to more drinking. Thanks for the poem!

Friday, March 27, 2015

Wednesday, March 25, 2015


My friend John from law school is now an insurance defense lawyer, and naturally, his poem challenge to me was to write about insurance defense.  The thing about people who work in industries related to injury and death (as we both do) is that (I think) it can be a way of trying to gain mastery over one's fears about death.  If you can put a price on something, it doesn't seem so scary.  (I mean, to most people.  It hasn't helped me, but then, my level of angst is usually resistant to coping mechanisms.)

So here is my poem about how insurance can be comforting.

Insurance Defense

Something awful could happen, you say,
but hasn't it?

English children when the plague came
made rhymes to turn their pustules
into playthings.
Like that, some of us face pain
armed with columns of equations,
hieroglyphic fences to pen
disfigurement and death.

If we were truthful
ministers of anguish,
we'd have to be more brutal.
The inflamed nerves of the world
stretch farther than rivers
and are harder to navigate at night.
The safest thing to do
is name your price.

Here is John's hilarious lawyer-impression review:

Overall this is a great attempt at exploring the theme I requested: insurance defense.  However, this poem speaks to the difficulty and reality of allegedly negligent acts, not just insurance defense.  This poem is from the Plaintiff's perspective and, by reason of that biased perspective, I believe it is misnamed.  It should be personal injury or law or something of that sort.  This poem speaks to the bottom of all personal injury law (and really most legal questions, limbs lost or not):  In the midst of pain, suffering, amazingly tragic circumstances and the issues that occur, there is the bottom line.  Obviously, the bottom line is not necessarily the exclusive purview of insurance defense.  Both sides in a case in law are concerned with money.  Of course, I think that insurance defense is the rational side of that tortious coin.   As a member of the insurance defense side of the bar, I don't in any way think of my clients as "ministers of anguish," rather "ministers of reason," but that argument is for court.  In short, the purported description of insurance defense lawyers and their clients is harsh, especially in light of the gruesome and brutish world of law, but I come from the defense perspective.  Lastly, I don't think insurance defense has anything to do with plagues as in the second stanza.  I think most commercial general liability policies would exclude that under the force majeure exclusion.   In other words, plagues aren't generally covered.  In short, a good although biased effort.  It should be noted that in no way is this review a statement or opinion of the law and is not intended as legal advice.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Poem in 78 Magazine

Guys -- in case you were wondering (knowing that you are always thinking about my poems and where to find them) --

I have a poem in the latest issue of 78 Magazine.  Al told me to write about "the fading South," and he provided me with some good old barn pictures for inspiration.  All in all, I'm pretty happy with the result.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

War and Easy Mac

I got another challenge from the unparalleled challenger Brennan Marks.  Someday Brennan will form an artists' colony for very quirky people with very ordinary day jobs, and I will join.  In the meantime, I write incredibly specific poems devised by him.  Now, what follows is very long, but if I do say so myself, there are some rather nice moments in the poem (and of course, in Brennan's review). 

Here is his challenge:

Your parents are going out of town for the weekend. However, unlike a typical young person, instead of throwing a party, Sam throws a feudal court. And instead of becoming the man of the house, Sam becomes the Lord of Mount Olive. Yes, despite the modern society we live in, Sam is still practicing feudal law and a portion of the poem should be dedicated to juxtaposing the feudal system of Mt. Olive against the actual modern nature of Mt. Olive. You (Ivy) are Sam's most trusted advisor and the 1st person narrator of this poem  and you must convey a sense of worry, or Sam's worry, about an impending war. The cause/nature of this war is at your discretion. It must be mentioned that Sam is one of the wealthiest Lords of Jefferson County, as he sits on a treasure trove of Alabama's favorite crop, olives. Adam Witcher Greene is the Divine Monarch of Jefferson County and Sam is his most trusted advisor and ally. Ben Grimes is considered the Chosen One and must be protected from the war. The Chosen One of what is also at your discretion. All of the above must be mentioned or alluded to somehow, but the gist of the prompt is, I want you to tell a story using the limited information I gave you above. 
Further parameters:
  • This is the fun part. The poem must be written in the format of Haiku-Shakespearean Sonnet (format only – doesn't have to be a love poem)-Haiku-Shakespearean Sonnet for as many times as you need in order to sufficiently tell the story. Since this is in 1st person, if there are any rules that the poem formats above can't be in 1st person that I don't know about, you can break them.
  • The story must begin with your parents leaving for the weekend and must end with them returning. Immediately after they leave, Sam throws a huge feast with mutton and ale. Mutton and ale must be mentioned. Then you can get to the more serious stuff about the war and all. When your parents are at the house, actually manor/mansion, (beginning and end of the poem), it's everything back to status quo and modern non-feudal society.
  • At least once, Sam must be referred to as the Lord of Mount Olive and Lord Grimes
  • As part of protecting Ben, Sam must cook dinner for Ben one night, and breaking character for a minute, Sam has to make him Easy Mac. 
So here it is -- my very long poem:

The Kingdom that Almost Fell
In the present state
when our parents leave their guard,
we reach quite far back
until we are alone with time and chance,
are left to choose our homes and governments.
Constrained by foolish hope, our hearts advance
to madness, that merry court of cinnamon and mint,
a merry court with a new throne in the midst.
We reach into our bag of lies and feast
on mutton and ale until all hearts are sick
with knowledge that our woods have enemies.
Oh I am not the man of the house, that task
falls to my brother, while I, a girl, am just
a trusted advisor, and my other mask
is teller of this tale, so I simply must
remind you guys that life is rich and quick
and the war for our hearts longer than a limerick.
My brother Sam rules
the land my parents left, crops
of sweetest olives.
My brother Ben is the Chosen One, his true name
hidden with the ancient crop of olives
the serfs keep harvesting in the rain
unseen by the modern state, untouched by love.
I stand and call to the ghost serfs weeping,
the only cure for madness is this crop of berries.
Since life goes on outside the invisible kingdom,
I call to man on the scooter – please tarry!
But his ears are full of the new world, new ways
of pressing olives, oil that comes so cheap
no one knows they need it, and workdays
invariably, on either side of the deep
expanse of insanity are full of soldiers
who want to turn your olives into mold.
Only my brother
and his friends rule this city,
cold Mount of Olives.
My cousin Adam was the first man,
and woman offered him this throne of sour
berries, and of course he wanted land,
became the monarch of our broken county.
The story wasn’t supposed to be sad,
but the bridges between our tales and circumstances
are paved with radishes that rot so fast
they remind us of our hopes and old dances.
Brother Sam, Lord Grimes they call him,
or Lord of Mount Olive, but truly my father said
that days like these would come when the dim
moon would fall, bleed like a broken head,
and the serfs would get out their pots, their brooms,
try vainly to make our kingdom a clean room.
(Sam looks away, makes
Easy Mac to feed the dreams
of a younger man.)
The war was us, and we were the war,
and all the men in the land were also serfs,
and no one wanted to live without guitars.
When the new kingdom begins, no one will work
and the olives will fall into our mouths like words.
Friends, we’ll know each other’s secret names
hidden like the olive’s pit or apple’s worm.
War’s end, our closest advisor is rain.
But meanwhile, our parents return and bring a world
of invisibility to the old way
we had in our madness, the ways of kings and serfs.
All history will cough in the final days
and blood will spurt from the ground in agony
as ice hides the heart of hierarchy.

Here is Brennan's review:

Overall, I'm very pleased with this poem – the tone gives me a solid sense of sadness and foreboding for the impending war, which was part of the prompt, and you handled the haiku-sonnet stylistic prompt like someone who writes poems on blogs – very impressive (although I didn't do a syllable check on the haikus or a rhyme scheme/otherwise check the sonnets, so far all I know, you could've gotten away with cheating the rules. Still, it looks kosher, and even if not, you made it look like you did, which is still impressive). Now, stanza by stanza:
Stanza 1 – good table-setting stanza use of haiku – I'm expecting the crux of the action to take place the lengthier sonnet stanzas.
Stanza 2 – "the merry court of cinnamon and mint" - take me there! Love this imagery. But why is it madness? Could there be a war afoot?
Stanza 3 – indeed, "our woods have enemies." Curious about the use of "bag of lies" though? Does this refer to the lordships lying to the masses, or perhaps that the overall notion that war is all predicated on lies to some people? Or does it mean something I haven't even thought of? My good friend Sam Grimes' favorite medieval food is mutton and ale, so I wonder if he'll play a role in this poem.
Stanza 4&5 – it sounds like Sam might be involved as "the man of the house," considering he is your brother. You sound disappointed in being the trusted advisor though. Is the phrase "just a girl" symbolic of how in both middle-ages and modern-times, girls don't have the same advantages boys do – so a symbol of how time goes on, yet things remain the same? Something along those lines.   I really, really like the two stanza 5 lines – very poetic and poignant! Indeed, life is too quick for war and fighting, and it's worth more than a "limerick" - the crudest poetic style, I'd argue. Perhaps it's at least worth haikus and sonnets. That might be my favorite couple of lines in the poem.
Stanza 6 – our 2nd haiku! I like this one better than the first, but we are deeper into the poem now. The official reveal of Sam as the ruler of the land of olives. There is a bitter irony with the description of sweetest olives. Are these "sweet" olives worth fighting for?
Stanza 7 – I like the repetition of this verse and last verse's first line. "My one-syllable brother" - solid rhythm and the emphasis on the brother lets the reader know how much you could be affected yourself by the events of the poem, perhaps making it more personal. I also really like how the olives are first brought up in the last verse and are continued in this verse. The olives go from "sweet" to "ancient" - interesting. I guess the Chosen One kind of invokes ancient civilization. Now we start to get sad though – the serfs continue to harvest in the rain (classic Sam, making his serfs harvest in the rain) - but a very good call to have some raining imagery in a tale about war. The rain makes the poem's atmosphere sad, and perhaps they can be representative of the tears of the narrator, as her brother insists on going to some war which still has no reason? "Untouched by love" - to me, further corroborates this notion. The idea that the serfs are untouched by love could indicate the narrator's fear that this war will wipe them out, and they won't really lead rewarding or love-filled lives, or maybe it's a slip by the narrator for the love she feels for her brothers, particularly Ben, who she might never see again. A lot going on in this stanza, and I'm not sure if my simple-minded self can wrap my head around everything going on here, which is actually why this is a brilliant stanza!
Stanzas 8,9, & 10 – I'm putting these together because they really complement each other well. Calling to the ghost serfs and calling to the man on the scooter (though I have no idea who that is??? I'm not even going to try to add my own interpretation on that) - trying to stop the war in any which way you can. But the modern world neglects the serfs in the next war and mocks the old world, which is perhaps why they're going to war: modern world vs. medieval world? So I guess this war (and all wars????) is about resistance to change? The olives into mold – symbolizes the decay that war brings about, as it appears your last ditch efforts to stop the war might not have worked. 
Stanza 11 – this haiku serves kind of like a heading for the rest of the poem and maybe foreshadowing - will your brother and his friends always rule the city or will that change? The description of the Mount of Olives as "cold" is another example of weather-based imagery to set the tone as foreboding and dangerous. I'm picturing everything as gray and winter–y. 
Stanza 12 – finally the mention of the Divine Monarch of Jefferson County, Adam Witcher Greene. He indeed was the first man, and women have offered him a great many things. And it makes sense that the county was "broken," and hopefully, King Adam repaired it – at least for a time. Also, I really like the contrast between "sweetest olives" to "sour berries," which I assume are also olives. It shows us the change in state of mind of the narrator from trying to prevent the war to forcing herself to accept it.
Stanza 13 – "this story wasn't supposed to be sad." That's an incredibly poignant line in my opinion. War is always sad, but you were supposed to prevent the war. It's your sadness that's palpable here. Are radishes bitter? Radishes that rot must be extra bitter. The tale is becoming sadder and sadder.
Stanza 14 – Lord Grimes or Lord of Mount Olive – indeed. Bleeding like a broken head – the imagery's gone from just sad to sad and violent, perhaps symbolizing the violence and cost of war???
Stanza 15 – I think these couplets at the end of the sonnets are my favorite lines in the whole poem. "to vainly make our kingdom a clean room" - the idea of reversing the war is hopeless – we can't just wipe the slate clean, and it's interesting that the least powerful people in the kingdom are the only ones trying to avoid the war. 
Stanza 16 – the last haiku – adds some comic relief to this depressing story, I appreciate that it's in parenthesis, to indicate it's kind of separate from the rest of the events of the poem. Also, it provides some hope that someone as powerful as The Great Lord Grimes, could find some simple joy in the making of Easy Mac. But it's a parenthetical a joy, a joy that won't last.
The last sonnet (stanzas 17 –20)  - I figure I should talk about all of these stanzas at once because they kind of together bring our poem to an end (also I'm running out of time before I need to finish this review).  We are the war… The war is made of human beings, real people – it's not just some abstract concept or noun – fighting this war cost us to lose lives. With war, we are truly all serfs, indeed.  No man cares about who's the lord of what area or king of the county once the fighting begins. And we won't have the simple joys of guitars, the favorite instrument of our beloved Divine Monarch, ironic that this war could cause him to love what he holds most dear. The next stanza turns the poem from simple sadness to nightmarish nightmare. The imagery for the rest of the poem is gruesome: "olive's pit", "apple's worm" "our closest advisor is rain", "all history will cough in the final days" - we're getting apocalyptic now? "blood will spurt from the ground in agony""ice hides the heart of hierarchy" - this is incredible imagery! But it's also incredibly depressing. I guess war will do that though, and not even the return of your parents can change that. 

Friday, January 9, 2015

Ode to Men Wearin' Tight Fittin’ Pants

This poem challenge comes from Al Blanton -- a guy who does a lot, including run 78 Magazine (  He is a real live character, and he's a student of Southern masculinity.  While macho by the standards of most of the world, Al doesn't have quite enough trucks and guns to make it in his hometown, the big city of Jasper, Alabama.

His challenge was to write a poem called "Ode to Men Wearin' Tight Fittin' Pants."  Somehow, I didn't take this as an opportunity to be whimsical.  In fact, a better title for the poem would probably be "Poem in Which I Solemnly Reflect on the Religious Significance of Pants."  Give me a challenge about something serious, though, and maybe I'll be silly.  I have a challenge in my queue to write about insurance defense work, and I can't imagine that one not being funny. 

Ode to Men Wearing Tight Fittin’ Pants

How do you choose
to show or hide your shape?

To the wearer, the worn matters
mostly to the knees, which would rather
be warmly addressed.

Some men act
as if robed in burlap.

A cowboy is liable
to treat his body like a roaming cow.
It's a hobby
to be tough,
but it's more fun
to be silt-soft and salubrious
as the limbs of the Mississippi.

Oh the lucky man doesn't think
too much about his pants.

In the story, we first wore leaves,
you and I both, man.

Our bodies were ours before we took them
from the snake and saw we were dying
of desire, and taking cover
was all the hope we had.

Dying trees wear their many-colored clothes
loose as kilts and Wranglers
and tight as tight-fittin' pants.

The tree of life has only ungloved hands
adorned with orchestral orbs.

Al's Review:
When Will Ferrell and Jimmy Fallon hit the stage, hailing their "Tight Pants," little did they know that a poem would soon aptly celebrate their swank couture. This latest effort by Ivy Grimes demonstrates the struggle, the toil of the man who desires a tighter cut jean, less room in the buttocks region, and cuffed pant legs that hug the ankle. It proudly celebrates the freedom of the man who is comfortable enough with himself to slide on the tighter fitting pant, even though excess Christmas ham and dressing added an extra 10 to his frame. Here's to the man who courageously buttons up his too-tight shorts from last summer, who cannot breathe for six minutes because they are way too tight. And may we pray for those who come their way, that an errant button may only graze a shoulder, and not put an eye out.