David Stone

Love Lines for Your Valentine

Still need to write your Valentine? Use lines from a local poet.

Someone seeking clarification about another’s romantic intent and who enjoys the use of lowercase letters like e. e. cummings might appreciate a line from Cindy Rinne’s “Another Park Poem.” Inspired by a walk in Riverside’s Fairmont Park, Rinne wrote, “did you try to carve the bark/ leave a heart…” Rinne lives in Redlands. Her next work is titled “Quiet Lantern.”

Courageous individuals who are willing to be vulnerable might use lines from Cati Porter’s poem “Clearly.” “Look at me/ and tell me that you want me, that you want to heart/ the distance and that you cannot in the object see/ a flaw, and though I am (flawed) I am for you, and/ there is a small tight thought that is wound in me,/ that knowing that you love, a lightning, a lightning/ on the inside: so that you see; so that you know.” Porter lives in Riverside. Her latest book “My Skies of Small Horses” comes out this month.

Seasoned lovers may like to use lines from “Litany” from Claremont poet Lucia Galloway’s latest chapbook “The Garlic Peelers:” “O love, what is your wish?/ We’ve half again as much to say as we have said./ Set down the goblet, and the carmine wine/ sheets down its sides to pool in the bowl./ Let’s drink our words instead of hoarding them.”

Sweethearts who remind you of characters from the The Big Bang Theory should appreciate lines from Marsha Schuh’s “You and Me in Binary.” Appropriately published in the computer textbook Schuh co-wrote with Stanford Rowe, Schuh imagines a world based on four, considers the dominance of the decimal in our world and closes her poem with pondering the numerical effects of becoming a couple: “Then we unlearn it all /learn to speak binary,/ a better way,/ two as opposed to eight or ten,/ the most significant bit,/ the least significant bit/ one-two, on-off, you-we,/ binary.” Schuh resides in Ontario.

Lovers in a more ambiguous relationship may resonate with lines from the Palm Springs poet and writer Ruth Nolan. In her forthcoming book, “Ruby Mountain,” she writes, “shouldn’t I pretend you did it for love/ shouldn’t I believe it was a mistake/ shouldn’t I wonder why not/ shouldn’t I wonder why. . . .”

Those pained may appreciate the words of the title persona in Nikia Chaney’s “Sis Fuss.” The poem “Syllogizing Sis Fuss” closes: “we all hurt. And if we all/ hurt then we all hurt/ each other and the next.” Chaney lives in Rialto.

Jennifer and Chad Sweeney from Redlands are a couple, who are both accomplished poets. Jennifer provides profundity and striking imagery in her book “Salt Memory.” She writes, “As water poured into the heart flows out the palms, so does love return, as thirst, as satiation—the shape the lost ocean has carved onto the salt brick desert.”

With characteristic quirky humor in his book “White Martini for the Apocalypse,” Chad writes, “It was love./ She taught me to drive her bulldozer./ I taught her to forge my signature!”

In earthier lines from his poem “Effects,” first published in Caliban, Chad writes, “The best sex in the world happens during conjugal visits. I’ve gotten myself into prison twice, just to have it. That’s why I’m calling. Happy Valentine’s Day!” Chad Sweeney teaches creative writing at Cal State San Bernardino.

The longing and transformative power of love comes through in the closing lines of Judy Kronenfeld’s “Listen” from her forthcoming collection, “Bird Flying Through the Banquet,” 
“Let your eyes rest/ on my face. Arrest me/ in turn. I will burst/ from the seed/ of myself.” Kronenfeld is professor emerita from UCR.

Ontario poet Tim Hatch gives words to the desire to comfort one’s dearest when he or she is gone: “Scatter my memory where my memories are sweetest. Gulls cry, salt breeze carries me away. When you’re there you can breathe deep, take me inside and remember.”

For a wider array of classic poems to use for Valentine’s Day, search the Poetry Foundation’s website for “Poems for Valentines” or the poets.org site for “love poems.”

Anecdotes are the Antidote by David Stone

My daughter stormed to bed because she wasn’t getting her way.

“Don’t let the sun go down on your anger, ” called her brother in concern.

“The sun’s already down. It’s dark outside,” she retorted.

Electronic devices with photo and video capability may be ubiquitous, but too many classic moments go uncaptured, whether because they are too dependent on dialogue for a photo to portray, or because they pass in less time than it takes to finger a passcode and press record. Anecdotes are the antidote.

You remember anecdotes? Those short, amusing stories popularly featured in Reader’s Digest’s “Humor in Uniform,” “Out of School,” and “All in a Day’s Work.” Or maybe you think of one of your favorite English teachers or writing textbooks suggesting anecdotes as an attention-getting option for opening an essay.

If you’ve recently listened to a political speech, a sermon, remembrances at a memorial service or a toast at a wedding, you’re more than likely to have heard an anecdote.

I believe the time has come for anecdotes to find as consistent a place on our desks, coffee tables, bookshelves, and screens as photos do. It’s time for us to sharpen our storytelling skills and to store our memories in anecdote boxes.

Selecting a box to store your anecdotes can be as much fun as writing your stories. You can browse thrift or antique stores and find a classic wood or metal card box or maybe a library card file. A search on the Internet on sites like eBay or Etsy will offer you hundreds of creative options. If you’re crafty, you might enjoy making or decorating a box for yourself. You can purchase basic card boxes at office supply stores or in the stationary aisle of a big box store.

Index cards, first utilized by the eighteenth-century naturalist Carl Linnaeus to record and organize information, continue to be an inexpensive and effective choice for writing small amounts of information.

My family records our anecdotes on colored 4″ x 6″ cards, organized by each family member’s chosen color. My fourth-grade daughter enjoys writing hers on pink. My fifth-grade son likes green. My wife writes hers on orange. I like plain, old white cards. We use yellow cards for stories from extended family and friends.

Anecdotes capture a single moment like a haiku. The story of most specific events can be effectively told in three sentences. The first sentence provides the context and establishes the conflict. The second sentence creates anticipation through complication. The story’s essential twist and resolution occur in the third sentence.

My wife told me of her grandmother’s confusion when she immigrated to Canada from England after World War II. “Why have they put the tea in these tiny little bags?” she wondered. She cut apart a box full of teabags every week to fill her canister with loose tea until a friend finally explained to her how teabags worked.

When you prepare to write an anecdote, tell it out loud to someone first to see if it makes sense and has your desired effect. If you don’t get the response you’re seeking, try telling someone else. Begin making changes until you get your desired response.

Make sure you begin where your specific story starts and leave out any earlier events. Be sure you limit yourself to a single incident. Create context in the first sentence or two.

Although I usually prefer the succinctness of anecdotes in three sentences, many people use more. Reader’s Digest seeks stories of 100 or fewer words.

Determine the central point/turn of the story you’re telling. Leave out everything that does not bear on this point/turn. Include only the essential characters. Stop immediately after the story’s central point or turn.

I prefer to keep my anecdotes in a box instead of a journal. I can revise an anecdote as many times as I want. Since I write them on paper index cards, I can simply throw the card from an earlier draft in the recycle. The box also makes it easier for our family to keep our memories together.

Recently, my daughter wrote, “Near the end of recess, I sat down with a friend to talk. Suddenly a bird pooped on my arm. “Eww!” we yelled, and then burst into giggles.”

That’s the version that she put into our anecdote box. She told me the story first on the way home from school. She retold it to her mother and brother at home, and then we worked through a couple of drafts together after supper. I love the pride she takes in crafting her stories and signing and dating the back of each card.

I hope you’ll share one of your anecdotes with me in response to this column on the PE Inlandia Literary Journeys’ blog.

Verses for Those Lost to Violence by David Stone

Death in summer seems unnatural. Summer’s the season of growth from flower to fruit, but across our country, violence involving law enforcement cuts lives of civilians and police officers, an average of three a day.

Southern California is no exception. With so much death, we feel a need to put into words our loss. We need to make sense of our world. We need to lament.

Later this week I will join other writers in participating in Lament for the Dead, an online community poetry project that will mark with a poem the death of every person killed by police this summer and every police officer lost in the line of duty. The novelist, poet, and Time magazine correspondent Carey Wallace founded and curates this project.

Wallace says, “The topic of police violence in this country is incredibly raw, and the dialogue around it is filled with pain, rage, and blame. Victims of police violence and police who are killed in the line of duty very quickly become symbols in the public mind, either heroes or villains. As we shape them to fit our arguments, they’re stripped of their humanity, and we forget to cry for them.”

“Lament is a poetic form of public grief that gives us a language beyond what we hear in the public sphere,” says Wallace. “Strategy, argument, and reckoning are all crucial to change. But to heal, we must mourn.”

According to the project’s website, “When poets join, they do not know whether they will be lamenting the death of an officer or someone who is killed by police. Poets commit to writing on a specific date, and compose each poem in less than 24 hours, based on the events of the previous day. Death notices are posted as they are reported in the press, according to the time of each death, and then replaced by a poem.”

Robbi Nester, the first Southern Californian poet to participate in the project, says, “The article I received initially didn’t have any name on it or details. After doing a search for other sources, I found the man’s name and a photograph that inspired my poem.”  Kenneth Garcia, 28, of Stockton, CA died on June 14.

“I wanted to participate,” says Orange County poet Nester, “because I, like so many others, have felt helpless to do anything about the terrible trend of violence in the streets, with police becoming increasingly militarized and alienated from the public, especially people of color, and the price of life seeming to be so cheap.”

“Garcia was not the kind of person I might have thought of as representative of these problems,” says Nester, “yet writing the poem forced me to recognize that a life is a life, and this person, like all others had unspoken tragedies and trauma that may have led to his violent behavior.”

Claremont poet and retired psychologist Karen Greenbaum-Maya received an article on the death of Kris Jackson, 22, of Peretuth Lake Tahoe, CA who died on June 15, 2015. Greenbaum-Maya says, “Kris Jackson turned out to be a very unsympathetic character. In fact, my first reaction was, ‘No loss there.’ However, that wasn’t the project. I took a long walk and thought about how lamentable his life was, how much had gone wrong, rather than his death—caught myself thinking, ‘I have so many questions’—and I realized that those questions were what would make the poem.”

Greenbaum-Maya’s lament titled “Interrogation, or, Questions No One Asked Kris Jackson” artfully lists a series of emotionally charged questions, leaving a reader connected to Jackson as a fellow human.

Los Angeles poet Judith Terzi wrote on the June 16, death of Jermaine Benjamin, 42, of Gifford, FL. Terzi says, “There was scant info about Benjamin or the incident, though I did search the net to find out when he was born and if he had had any prior incidents. I found out that the police had been called to his house something like 70 times already in 10 years.”

“I decided,” says Terzi, “to write the poem in the form of a prayer using repetition and the second person. Like an ode to him. At the last minute I got the idea to include the epigraph from “Wayfaring Stranger” because staring into his photo, Jermaine Benjamin seemed so lost and forlorn. I began to feel pity for him.”

Laments allow us to see the human commonalities that bind us, to recognize how we all have added to the world and harmed it, to preserve another’s memory, and to comfort those of us who remain alive.

Almost as surely as the heat of summer rises, so will the toll from police violence. Don’t let the news reports be another number. Go to www.lamentforthedead.org and grieve another human life.