Inventing a New Poetic Form: The Quiversen

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Musings on Writing and Life.

Qarrtsiluni published my poem, “The Winter I Went to Two Al-Anon Meetings, Realized I Didn’t Have What It Took to Love Your Version of Alcoholic” in their Imprisonment issue back in June 2011.

This poem is in a form I invented and named the quiversen. Growing out of the concept of the triversen—the triple verse sentence, a form favored by William Carlos Williams—a quiversen is a quintuple verse sentence with three to five stress beats per line. The line a mind’s residue vain/violent plays on Weldon Kees’s line in his poem, “Corsage”—your mind vein-violet.

Qarrtsiluni (2005-2013) was a groundbreaking online literary magazine, one of the first to fully exploit blog software. It offered electronic delivery of original poetry, prose, and art, organized into regular, themed issues, with a new post every weekday. The title comes from an Iñupiaq word that means “sitting together in the darkness, waiting for something to burst.” Per their website: “Though we never quite realized our dream of creating a print-on-demand option for each issue, being online does mean that our back issues remain accessible indefinitely, so there’s that. And we published some damn fine stuff — check it out.”

Part of their publication process was having poets record a reading of the poem. This one later appeared in my book-length collection, Every Door Recklessly Ajar.

This poem is (unfortunately) based on the all-too-true story of a dear friend’s struggle with serious addiction and my own discovery that I did not have inexhaustible wells of compassion and forgiveness for his often appalling behavior. He died by suicide in May 2003. In this poem, I quote the poet, Weldon Kees, because it is believed he too committed suicide—possibly by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge. On July 19, 1955, Kees’s car was found deserted on the Marin County side of the bridge and no one ever saw him again.

The Winter I Went to Two Al-Anon Meetings, Realized I Didn’t Have What It Took to Love Your Version of Alcohlic

You crashed but never
burned and Six Mile Creek
froze for weeks. The stores
sold out of shovels; I chipped
and scraped with a hoe.

New Year’s Eve we walked,
ice all the way to town
a horizontal fish tank,
miniature minnows
our Pied Piper underneath.

Ice plugged the gorge,
slicked the bridge
over Ithaca Falls,
the one desperate
students died to leap.

Jumping wasn’t your style,
not enough slo-mo in that.
All January, our bed
had turned sleety
the fitted sheet stretched out.

You were working your way
through a suicide primer,
redacting the lists—first this,
then that, if all else fails,
eventually this again.

Cases of wine arrived
weekly from FedEx,
giant bags of empties
I dragged to the curb,
how they bangled, chains.

February was a blur,
an ankle cracked as well—
you said you lost your balance.
What weren’t you thinking,
gutters in that squall?

March on the ward
in group, they made you talk.
You told me how you quoted
Weldon Kees: The spangled
riddle is twitter and purr.

Because otherwise?
Solitary and no cigarettes
in that room, empty
but for a single,
sheetless bed with stains.

On April’s banks, the thaw,
and forsythia struggling to bud,
I turned runoff from
your mind’s residue vain-
violent. Never trickled back.

Tim the astrologer said:
You can always find
something to love—a dog,
a hummingbird, a pear.
End-of-winter, psychic

meteorologist, you were
the one, insistent whisper:
Dream on, bingo boots.
How soon the night turns
frost, bitten to the quick.

The public domain image above is a 1940 post card of Ithaca Falls on the Cornell University campus in Ithaca, New York.

Nancy Flynn
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