A Writing Prompt

Last week, in poetry workshop, I confessed that I’m ready to go in a new direction with my poems. Much of my observation has been internal; I write about what I feel passionate about. But I want to stretch myself as a poet.

So, I Googled “poetry writing prompts” and the one I chose is this:

Start the first line of your poem with a word or phrase from a recent passing conversation between you and someone you don’t know.

So, this week, my goal is to start a conversation with a random stranger and from that conversation choose a line to begin my poem. And I challenge you to do the same. Feel free to share your poems, here. I’ll be sharing mine later in the week.

Peace & Love,
Rosalind

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First Semester – MFA Program

Last semester, I took my own advice. I decided to put my greatest efforts toward the thing that I couldn’t stop doing even if I wanted to: my writing. In addition to entering a new role as English/Language Arts instructional coach at my school, I entered the MFA program at the University of Memphis. And for the first few weeks, the University of Memphis was my happy place.

Taking the new role as instructional coach freed me up to do a lot of the writing required to be a successful MFA student. In those first weeks, I received valuable feedback in poetry workshop and the fiction writing workshop. I also served as online editor on the school’s literary journal, The Pinch. I discovered new poets like Tiana Clark and Terrence Hayes. I learned about the American Sonnet, the elegy, and I learned what a volta is. I started making intentional decisions about the container to use for a poem to convey the greatest feeling. I became aware of entry points for poems and things that choices that could be made that would take a reader out of a poem.  I got to interview one of our homegrown writers, Dolen Perkins-Valdez. She provided so much inspiration and insight that I was blown away by the entire experience. I took poems and short stories and approached them with a new sense of purpose and direction.

Then my aunt died. And I felt stonewalled. A month after my aunt died, my mom died. And as much of a cliche as it is, I felt like a part of me died with her. Suddenly I was waking up every morning to the realization that my mother was no longer in this world and that absence colored everything for me. I didn’t know how to be in the world anymore without my mother. Honestly, not much mattered anymore. I stopped caring about being a writer. I functioned out of habit. Moving through life without giving much thought to anything but missing my mom. I almost fell off the porch and broke my ankle. I would be driving and end up someplace I never intended to go. I would read pages and see nothing and I had no desire to write. Anything. Because what difference would it make if I wrote a beautiful short story that revealed something profound about life if my mom couldn’t read it?

As I was adjusting to life without my mother, I watched my friends peel away like the layers of a blooming onion. They moved away, went back to their lives and what mattered to them. The phone calls stopped coming as often. And no one stopped by to see how I was doing. The sharpness of my grief quite possibly was the knife that separated us. I cry, even now, when I long to call my mother. I cry when I look at pictures of her. I cry when I long to hug her and realize she’s forever gone. The one who was there for me when I entered the world is no longer here for me. The most adult thing I had to do was handling her business after her death – with the funeral home and all other entities. Without support. My blooming onion was there with occasional phone calls and text messages or just the ghost of their friendship hovering somewhere nearby, but I felt like I had traveled onto foreign soil and was trying to adjust to my new surroundings alone.

In my journal, I wrote “I feel like I’m walking around with this massive wound — one that only I know about. I’m hurting, trying to find my footing, but everyone wants me to be okay because they are. They hand me a band-aid, a comforting phrase. I’m not okay.”

This absence, this loss, colored even my time at what I’d come to think of as my happy place. Because I’d been at school, in my fiction class, when my brother called me to tell me that my mother wasn’t breathing, that she wouldn’t wake up, I stumbled across campus wailing and trying not to fall, in trying to move back to something resembling normal, returning to school was not easy. That first day I sat in class and detested everyone around me, everyone who was laughing and smiling and engaging in empty conversations about nothing. I sat in the car crying and then instead of going into the classroom early, I’d sit in the lobby and read. Though I wasn’t really reading, because nothing would stick.

But why write about this now? Because I needed to. I have discovered that when I don’t express how I feel, I get stopped up inside with grief. And I start to have headaches. It surprised me that I didn’t have headaches during those first few weeks, when I’d go days without eating and spent days sobbing uncontrollably. I only got headaches when I stopped expressing myself; I needed to communicate how I was feeling and it didn’t matter what form that expression took. And because I’m about to enter my second semester where I’ll be taking fiction workshop, poetry workshop, and creative nonfiction workshop. And with my mother alive, it would have been a complete joy for me, it would have been a happy place, a place of growth and stepping outside of my comfort zone in order to transform myself as a writer and my place within the larger writing community. But with my mother gone, it’s just me trying to shift underneath the cloak of grief, trying to test the waters, trying to find “normal” again knowing that nothing will ever be normal again, and trying to not die and give up completely. At least not until the day that I stop breathing.

Peace & Love,

Rosalind

 

mama

 

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To Curse or Not to Curse

I recently suggested to one of my co-workers that she might enjoy reading one of my favorite books. After discovering that like food and men, we have very similar tastes in books, I was excited to offer her a list of books I thought she might like. Among them was Sugar by Bernice McFadden.

Today, while we were sitting in one of my favorite coffee shops discussing everything from work (we’re teachers and we’re dedicated *shrugs*) to food (we really love food) and the psychological makeup of people and how they accept coaching (she was trying to help me get my mind right for my new position). As we were chatting, she happened to mention that she was reading and enjoying Sugar, which she called juicy. “She used the work pussy like six times already,” she laughed.

I paused. After the many times I have read that book, I could not recall ever reading a curse word. Not that I didn’t think the words were there. I just found it odd that this sounded like news to me. I was like, “Really? Pussy?” (Ok, transparency here, I didn’t actually say the word aloud, but I thought it okay?) Intrigued, I searched the shelves of the bookcases in my living room until I located my very worn copy of Sugar. I began reading it immediately. Actually, re-reading it. And sure enough, right there on page 33 I came across the first use of the p**** word. On that page it says, “They came for the conversation, corn liquor, catfish, and Lacey pussy.” Right there in black and white for all readers to see: the p**** word. But why hadn’t it stood out to me before?

Is it because I tend to swear like a sailor daily? And, so swear words have no shock value for me. Not unless they are coming out of the mouths of teenagers walking the halls where I teach. And even then, I’m not so much shocked that they are using the word as I am bothered by the fact that they feel it’s okay to say it in my presence. I want to feel like an adult around them and so that means no cursing, right? Or is it because the presence of the curse words didn’t take anything away from the story? If anything, they added to it. To use the word womanhood when referring to prostitutes would seem like a dishonest cheat. The word pussy fits in the passage.

But seeing the word did two things for me. One, it made me want to re-read Sugar again, so I’m currently reading the novel. I only paused in my reading to write this blog post and to finish tweaking a sentence in one of my pieces that I’ve been struggling with for a couple of days. And, two, it caused me to revisit my own discomfort of using profanity or swear words in my own work. Whenever I write a swear word, it feels awfully much like sneaking behind my mother’s back cursing and I have to look around to make sure she’s not there to be disrespected by my use of “bad words.” I have used “bad words” in some of my poems and a couple of my stories. In fact, at one of the book shows I attended where I was selling my books, a woman thumbed through Blues of a Love Junkie, saw the curse words and put it back. Then she chided me on my decision to use profanity in my poems. Including swear words in my writing has never been a deliberate decision. Instead it has occurred naturally during the writing process. And I sometimes have to resist the urge to self-edit and wash away some of the meaning of my text in order to present writing that is pure as fresh snow.

In my writing group a couple of months ago, I was reading a creative nonfiction piece I’m working on and it includes a couple of swear words and when I came across them as I was sharing it aloud with the other members, my voice grew visibly lower. It was as if I was embarrassed to say the words aloud. I knew the words I’d written were the best words to use; I’d tried revising the sentences several ways, but they always read better with the words in, so I let them stay in. My writing was stronger with the words, but I still couldn’t explain the level of discomfort I felt when reading my work aloud.

Was this the effect of my stern mother and her rule about using profanity or something entirely different? More than likely my upbringing has some impact on my use of profanity in my writing, but that can’t be the only thing that makes me feel uncomfortable using profanity. Could it be that I’m worried about how people perceive my work when I use profanity? That I think it will mark me as a lazy uninspired writer? Possibly.

There are many reasons for and against using profanity in fiction. The most obvious reason to advocate for profanity, though, is that it feels authentic. People curse. When they’re angry. When they’re unbothered. When someone is agitating them. They just curse. They do. And to remove those curse words to soothe the sensibilities of a few readers feels like using Clorox on a load of colored clothes: it’s just wrong. So, most times, I make the decision to leave the words in my writing. If I can’t be honest and authentic in my writing, what’s the purpose?

Norman Mailer is famously known for substituting, at the behest of his publisher, the word fug for the word fuck in his novel The Naked and the Dead. When Tallulah Bankhead met him one day after reading the novel, she said to him, “….you’re the man who can’t spell that word.” So, while the choice to remove the “bad word” appeased some, there were others who noticed. Still, Mailer has cemented a place in literature as a larger than life novelist, essayist, and playwright. Which means, if your writing is good, if it resonates with readers, and if you can make readers care, then you have succeeded. And, for me, that’s good enough.

So, it seems that when it comes to using profanity in fiction or literature, a writer should do whatever she feels comfortable with. Be honest. Be creative. And be true to your characters. Tell your stories in a way that is uniquely your own. What more can any reader ask of you?

Peace & Love,
Rosalind

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Our Song

Our song fills the air.

It breathes, brings to life
memories that once seemed
forgotten, heaven still remains

even though you are gone
I stretch into the place we
once lived, the place where we
once loved. I am free

to remember the feel of your
lips on mine, the feel of your
hands within mine, the gleam
in your eyes when you looked at me

I never knew love like ours.

Before long, I am singing our
song and it’s like you never left
that you’ve been here all along
in my heart, in my arms
where you belong

But then the song is over and I’m
faced with the silence that’s
been left behind, the void
in my life where we once shared love.

I keep re-playing our song.

I have no choice but to
open my eyes finally and see
love isn’t a guarantee ‘cuz you’re
no longer here with me
and our love, your smile are memories
that I just can’t let go
because one day the song will
play again and I’ll remember
that love never really ends

Sometimes it’s just waiting
in the wings for our song to
begin and for us to remember
what it means to be in love.

Peace & Love,
Rosalind

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100 Reasons Why I Love You

This poem has been in the works for many years. It’s still a work in progress, but I’m excited about what I have so far. I’m probably more excited because I have had the time, since I’m on winter break, to devote to reading and writing. And, just one of the things I’ve been working on is this poem:

Last night when I
should have been sleeping I
was thinking of all the reasons
why I love you.
Did you know it’s more than
one hundred reasons why–
one hundred and one, to be exact.

A smile that reaches your eyes, that’s a
number of reasons why—your eyes
how they say to me what
your lips sometimes can’t speak
Two lips that part when
I see you and you see me
What a beautiful smile. I could live
forever on just the nourishment of
just one of your smiles.

And yet we both know it’s impossible
to love what you cannot protect.

Is it possible to fall in love
with a voice—to hear the
briefest of words spoken and just know
words have always been the beginning
of everything, this is true even of our love
I fell in love with your words, the way
you said the words ‘I love you’
not always using that well-worn
phrase—we discovered other ways
to say what has been clearly written
on both our faces. How can anyone miss
that light that sparkles in your eyes? How
can anyone not know that I could never be
happy just lying in your arms, I want
to always be in your life.

The second time around love is just
as sweet, who would have thought
it could be? That rememory could
conjure up delicious images of your lips
pressed against mine and how it’s so sweet
to feel the softness of your lips time after time?
or that it’d be so easy to remember lying by
your side sharing slices of life, the history
of you and me? I held onto every word
every memory you shared with me.

And yet we both know it’s impossible
to love what you cannot protect.

Peace & Love,
Rosalind

P.S. I know I’m going to regret it tomorrow, but I’m going to do some more writing. It’s nearly three a.m. but I’m not tired yet. And, by the way, the Kindle version of my last collection of poetry, Blues of a Love Junkie, is free for the next few days. Download a copy and let me know what you think. You can access it  here.

Happy reading! Happy writing! And Happy New Year!

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Make It a Great Year

your lips touch mine and
i shiver – is it memory or
reality? warmth floods my
body as i continue to discover
new ways to reignite the fire
of ghost kisses and feelings
of love as gentle as hello
–freewriting for a poem in progress

This has been a great year, one in which I have experienced growth as an artist and as an educator. Growth, like any change, is not without its growing pains, but more than anything, it provides and provided an opportunity for me to stretch my wings and see how far I could fly. As I reflect over this past year, I am proud of myself. I am proud of the chances I took to invest in me and my dreams. I am proud of the ways in which I showed love to myself. I am proud of the ways in which I loved and honored the love of those around me. And, finally, I am proud that I haven’t given up on myself because it’s so easy to do. To look around and see other’s people’s growth or happiness and judge my own growth and happiness based on what I see. No, that doesn’t work for me. And that’s why I can say 2017 was so sweet.

In the coming year, I will continue to work on my short story collection, The Women and my next poetry collection, which is not yet titled. I will continue to work hard every day, as an educator, to teach my students how to think. To make a safe space for them to fail, but to provide for them every opportunity to succeed. I have goals and to see those goals come to fruition, I have written them down along with the steps I plan to take to help them manifest in my life.

I created this blog post because I want everyone to feel the type of peace and joy that I feel. Going into 2018, I’m not trying to come up with a list of things I must do because I never got around to doing it in 2017. Live each day as if though it’s your last. Think about what will be important to you on your death bed and do that. Put energy into that thing that you know will be important to you at the end, so should be important to you now.

My grandmother used to say, “I’m going to do such and such if I live to see tomorrow.” She acknowledged the simple truth that as sure as you are living, you shall surely die. And when you live like you don’t have forever to do the things you want to do, well, you get things done. You start to live a life of passion. Because you learn that it’s a waste of time to waste time doing things that don’t make you happy. Many moons ago, when I was working full-time as a newspaper reporter, I interviewed this woman who said she always told her daughter, “Make today a great day.” And to this day, I try to live this mantra. But, it’s for more than just the days, it’s for the years as well. Make today a great day. Make next year a great year.

Keep creating! Creating art. Creating yourself. Creating the life you want. And keep creating your happiness!

Peace & Love,
Rosalind

 

 

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I Feel Like a Ghost

So many days have passed.
So many hours have passed.
So many minutes have passed.
So many seconds…

It’s been so long since I last posted on here that I feel like a ghost returning to a place I used to know. Many of my followers (if I have any followers left :-)) might remember that a while back I mentioned some changes taking place in my life. I started a new job at a new school and let me tell you, whew, it’s been a whirlwind of changes. In the process of getting settled in my new teaching position, it may seem that I fell off of my writing, but I didn’t. I’ve been writing. I’ve even have a couple of poems published and I’m working on finding homes for more poetry and short stories. So while it may seem like I’m a ghost, I’m really not. I’ve been around. You just couldn’t see me. But I’m back. And I’ve missed you guys so much. 😉

I posted a new poem tonight, something I’m currently working on and I have a few other projects in the works. I’m looking forward to sharing them with you. And, of course, receiving your feedback.

Happy Days Peeps!

Rosalind

 

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Poem for the White Lady Who Couldn’t Stop Watching Me

What if I suddenly
took off running
like I forgot about
my black skin & imagined
I could simply exist
without always remembering
that my most deadly weapon
is the color of my skin

What if I decided that today
I will not engage in
self-erasure to make you
comfortable in your skin
that I will not concern myself
with existing in your imagination
while living in my own skin

What if I had chosen to
take off running trying to escape
the prison you’ve kept me in
locked into the judgments
you placed on me because of my
skin color? What if I had chosen
to run? Would I be alive today
to write this poem? Or would
my family be struggling beneath
headlines that read:

Future Felon Shot While Fleeing

Violent Criminal Shot While Running

Suspected Robber Killed Trying to Flee Scene

What if I suddenly
took off running?

Peace & Love,
Rosalind

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The Fragility of Memory

the shock of
casting
a familiar gaze
upon
a strange face

trapped
in unrembering
the
life
you want to
continue
to know
to hold dear

discovering
that memory
is fragile
like a robin’s egg
revealing
a new life
one where
memories throb
like a beating
heart

until
death casts
a
glance
in your
direction
and life
slowly
seeps out

Peace & Love,
Rosalind

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Untitled

Untitled
By Rosalind Guy

There were always too many of us
sharing that one space
Big Mama never turned anyone
away
never enough love to go around
but always adequate space
as long as we were all willing to
share beds and clothes and adult relatives
love was
roof over your head
food in your belly
a yard to run around in
the space in Big Mama’s bed
between your two cousins
reserved
just for you
but sometimes
one of the adults living in the house
would go to the store and
buy me just one pack
of my favorite candy
I would go down into
the basement that smelled like mold
and sometimes urine
so that I
wouldn’t have to share my candy
one thing I could be selfish with
this is how I love
you
I always want to keep you close
enough to smell your
perfume, candy-coated sweetness. To drink in
the elixir of your smile. I keep
closing the door to the world
so I can steal away with you
and keep you
all to myself.

Peace & Love,
Rosalind

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