No to Censorship, Yes to Self-Control

Is there any single word against which any free writer would seriously impose or enforce a ban?

In certain circumstances, perhaps. Like for instance, “Undress,” when uttered by a sexual abuser to a small child. In that situation, the word itself is wrong and ought be banned. But if so, then by extension did it even become prohibited of us to write out the ban?

Mostly, we shy away from any authoritarian censorship, but only along with recognition of personal and social responsibility. Our most sacred law does not end its standard with a period after “Do what you want…” Nor is that sacred law merely a suggestion, nor something meant only for casting but not for normal life. Just because we’ve created words of hate and ill-will and just because we don’t ban them doesn’t make it right to say them.

Using racial slurs isn’t just a harmless cultural joke, nor is it ok as long as the minority uses it in “humor” about itself. It’s hateful, it’s destructive, and it’s wrong. Calling someone else a demeaning name is abuse, period, and it’s wrong. Any word so much as wishing harm to another is ill, and it’s wrong.

Maybe hate and abuse and ill ought not be banned. But neither ought it be defended or justified or shrugged off. A person who can openly announce that he doesn’t care what harm his words do ought simply be silent or keep his words private. We don’t ban any of his words, but it’s still wrong for him to say them publicly. It’s destructive, it’s irresponsible, and it’s wrong.

Some find that too absolute. Yes it’s wrong if someone else abuses them, but supposedly it’s then too absolutist to regard them as hypocritical when they openly abuse someone else, shrug off responsibility for it, then try to suggest they get to make up their own right and wrong as they go. It’s all the more abusive for them to shrug it off as just being how they are: ill will is a choice, and it’s wrong. Not excusable as being just how a person is. A malicious choice that is wrong.

No. Do as you will, as long as you do no ill. As it was from the beginning. As will always be. Not just for whoever believes that whenever convenient. It’s the standard for choosing which words to allow and which to let fall silent.

—Maggie & Dean




written for Daily Prompt: No, Thank You
at the Daily Post

Me, Stripped Down Ugly — Notes

Background Notes — Me, Stripped Down Ugly

Sending a poem through a condenser can be an excruciating process. The art of writing a poem is getting the words right, whether for rhyme or to fit meter or for a sestina’s teleutons, or to free the freest formed poem from excess weight. If a poem had the right words after the poet has already worked it through dozens of drafts, then how can a single word be eliminated, or how can any carefully selected adjective be converted to verb?

Yesterday I worked through multiple drafts before being satisfied enough to post one of my longest recent poems — Me, Ugly — as my first response to a WordPress Daily Post prompt at Daily Prompt: Shape Up or Ship Out. Then nipping right at that prompt’s heels comes the Daily Post’s Weekly Writing Challenge: Papa Says Get Economical. Now I do realize that the weekly writing challenge was not meant as a critique aimed specifically at my response to the preceding daily prompt. But this was an irresistible challenge.

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Father, You Will Not Be — Notes

Background Notes — Father, You Will Not Be

Poetic metaphor is used to reveal truth, not to hide secrets.

In this poem, we respectfully use the fathers of our collaboration as our primary metaphor. One was rejected, said to be unfit to be a father despite a lifetime of loving parenting. One was mocked by those who spread foul gossip ignoring the sacred family he’d made. One has had the mother of his child insulted for trusting him to a solitary fatherhood.

But except through them permitting us to hug them by using them as our metaphor, actually this poem is not about them. It’s for and about our Father. In our love and worship of our Mother whom we know so well, it is too easy to act and speak as if He is as easily dismissed as some have dismissed the fathers of our metaphor. How can we think to honor our Mother if we have no respect for the One She loves most?

Not just today, but every day, we honor Him whom She chose.

Alone to Myself — Notes

Background Notes — Alone to Myself

Between getting back to work and caring for our baby and trying to sleep, I’ve not yet had time to start much anything with the notebooks and papers and recordings Sara entrusted to my care. But already I’ve seen enough to scare me. It’s almost as scary as Iggy: I want to do everything perfect for her. And I know I can’t.

For one thing, I realize that some of her draft essays were coming together into something more: she was envisioning a book. Even after reading so much to her and living with her excitement talking to me of her ideas, I don’t understand this well enough to do her the honor she deserves.

And as for her faith in me that I could write too, I feel even more inadequate. She wrote as easily as opening her eyes and letting them look, opening her mouth and letting it speak, reaching out her hand and letting it touch. Opening her heart and letting it love. Even without her memories from before, she re-learned everything she needed to know and was light years past anything I could ever hope to envision. I still have not yet written a single poem without a lot of help from her or from one of our friends. Alone to myself, I can’t write poetry, and I won’t be able to do hers justice.

I love her more than ever. But now I really am alone to myself.

No Last Mornings — Notes

Background Notes — No Last Mornings

Sara would scorn any suggestion that we are exploiting her work. She openly invited us to continue to collaborate with her, leaving us thousands of poetry fragments specifically set aside for us to harmonize to.

Sara’s vision and voice gave us the spark to write in collaboration as we do here. When she’d lost all but her words, the words she held from earlier collaborations spoke to her of a special, unique love that mirrored the love of a marriage. Whether in poems we write that include some of her own writing or in our own collaborative poems that breathe the spirit of her muse, she will always remain a vibrant life of this family.

Of course, collaborative poetry is no more a new thing than marriage. One of very numerous sterling examples: tanka chains, shared among two or more poets. She left us numerous tanka pieces she wanted us to weave into our own. No Last Mornings starts off with one of hers, continues with a response by David, then brings the rest of us in.

Sara also was intrigued by the history of traditional tanka as poetry shared between two lovers nearing a separation at dawn. Our family’s principal poetry reader has long focused on aubades, and she was pleased when he included one of her aubades in his recommended reading list. No Last Mornings is meant to be a tanka aubade, as Sara wanted.

Still the Seven of Us

We remain the same seven.

All still separate, each with our own voice. But here all still collaborating, joining our poetry in the same way a family joins its separate lives in one love.

Sara has not left us. In her notebooks and through her inspiration, her words and visions will remain a living part of us and of this collaboration through poem after poem after poem. You will see her name specifically cited on some poems, coupled with one or more of our other writers. Many times that will be for a poem Sara actually started and left unfinished, on her very direct invitation to us for joining her in further drafting. Even many more will be the times when we owe credit to her notes and essays on poetic form and metaphor, so will honor her for her living testament by including her as one of our collaborators. She will always remain one of our family’s members for life and beyond.

David has not left us. His solitude and pain may make him seem a silent partner for a very long time. But through Sara he did find his own voice, and his sincere support continues to strengthen and nourish our union with fresh air and water and inspiration. He will always remain one of our family’s members, welcome anytime with a hug through and through.

Adrien has not left us. Strangely enough, with the exception of me – I knew him from before through a mutual friend – the one thing in common that introduced him to the rest of us was him being made the target of cruel betrayal of trust. Take the time to find out the truth of him, and you find in him a true and enduring friend who keeps his word and who will enrich your own life. Sara took the time to look for him beyond the trashtalk she’d been told. And in the end, not even David saw her essays and poems and visions as clearly as Adrien’s paintings knew for her. Whether he ever actively returns to this collaboration won’t ever matter. He will always remain one of our family’s members, trusted and respected and known.

Two have joined us. In due course, we will formally give them the floor. One of those has already contributed to our most recent full collaboration. Both are already working with me and the others on drafting poems with one or more of our other authors. We don’t expect to change the name we adopted to identify our collaborative family. But without sidelining Sara, David or Adrien to any degree, yet still moving to join with Sheila and with Michael, we will remain the Heptahedron. Maybe if one does equal two, and if we felt fine calling six equal to seven before, then nine is just as equal to seven now. We are.

Together with the others of us, Maggie

Some Get Confused — Notes

Background Notes — Some Get Confused

And some of the same ones who are so quick to judge us to be preaching are the first in line to step to the pulpit and lay down rules they themselves don’t follow. Like how being undisciplined in art and practice is supposedly more “honest,” yet they’re the first to be preaching intolerance of the simplest and most natural word just because it doesn’t fit their misperceptions. They’re not of a different opinion, of a different mind. They’re just plain confused.

As credited, this poem was written by all of us. Yes, including Sara, whose notebooks contained discussion and draft poetry on the distinction identifying poetic intolerance not as a different perspective, but rather as a confusion of the truth. And yes, including Adrien, if not yet back with collaboration in words, then at least by how his sketches and paintings for Sara gave background to the style and tone we used for this version of our poem. And yes, including one other, who may be joining us on a regular basis.

Sara was the most open, loving, accepting poet we’ve known. Where most mistakenly think that the traditional sestina methodology doesn’t “work” for many other numbers, she revealed the very heart of the sestina itself by opening the door to legitimate variations of every conceivable size and style. Where some too easily see sound in terms of the black and white of rhyme versus unrhymed, she showed how all words are as much family to each other as a person marrying another without regard to race, religion, culture, gender or any other distinction. Where even we were offish toward quasi-haiku fads that seem to perpetuate nothing of that sacred poetry tradition beyond a very elementary ability to count syllables, she developed an open field of poetry forms embracing every conceivable syllable count in every conceivable form, and she wrote her own poems for thousands of those variations in an effort to recapture the soul of haiku through each. She even gave open full acceptance to Adrien’s usual form – the limerick – as serious poetry of no lesser standing than the most weighty ode.

But even Sara, for all her loving and openness of all poetry, had no tolerance of intolerance. Poets and professors and critics who indulge in bashing rhyme and form and metaphor found no friend in her. “Confused,” she called them.

Some are more than confused, Sara. They’re hypocrites and are dangerous for defending or condoning or persuading others in their destructive ways. They’ll rant against rhyme and preach “freedom,” yet not only are they quick to popularize the latest rhymed hit music even if the rhyming is forced, but their so-called freedom is rudely intolerant of traditional rhyme in a modern poem. We don’t hold up rhyme as superior to unrhymed poetry, not even for formal poetry such as a sonnet. We accept both. What we can’t acknowledge as anything but worse than confused is a preaching that rejects the one over the other, or a teaching that rejects one as less honest than another.

Poetry need not have rhyme, form, or even the poetic language of metaphor. But ridicule rhyme, mock form, disparage metaphor, and you don’t merely have a different opinion. You’re just a very sadly confused fool, one who knows nothing at all about art and poetry.