Rumors of Water: Play

She asked nicely enough. She said Please.

In fact, when L.L. Barkat asked me for the sparrows-in-flannel-lingerie-insurance-report-poem, she said Pretty please.

At the time, I’m not sure she knew me well enough to realize that such an invitation would more likely garner an eye roll than lyrical verse about how sparrows dress for bed.

Looking back, perhaps she knew me just well enough.

It’s tough to get me to unfold my arms from across my chest. My brand of fun almost always comes with a hint of reluctance and a straight face, and words like stoic, droll and deadpan come up often in my company. But some will see the quick-flashing glint in my eye, camouflaged by the stuffed shirt I often wear.

One cold, winter afternoon when I was posting Facebook updates between stops on a day of claims work on desolate country roads, L.L. must have caught that glint. Sensible conversation quickly dissolved into a playful exchange about frozen plumbing, lingerie and small birds figure skating on the ice. She knows a little something about the value of play.

When we are engaged in what feels like the serious business of writing, we may be reticent about regularly incorporating play into our writing habits. It might seem too childish, too outside our familiar routines, too unpredictable concerning its potential impact on our writing. Yet I have come to accept the drain-clog [or in my case, frozen hot tub] episodes as a kind of godsend in my writing life — a signal that I’ve been taking myself too seriously and need to change venues, from the writing counter to the sled. (Rumors of Water, pp. 70-71)

I sometimes think I’ve been taking myself too seriously most of my life. So when Pretty please came with a frozen hot tub on top, it was too much to pass up. I tapped a few lines together on my phone from that brief Facebook tomfoolery.

Hot tub, frozen

A man in bright Bermuda shorts tapped
a chisel against the ice
to free a wide-eyed yellow duck
caught swimming and mid-squeak
when the cold snapped

His wife laced up hockey skates
on winter white legs
and sniffled that they don’t
wear flannel in Florida

I poked fingers into frozen pipes and
advised it is our policy to bathe indoors
when thermometers read zero and
deductibles do not

With Spring coming into full bloom, I’m still doing all the same serious things I did all winter long. But I get up a little earlier and I read a poem (or two) every day. I pull out my leather-bound notebook and write a poem every day. I unfold my arms and accept invitations to play—even with flannel lingerie.


We’re discussing L.L. Barkat’s Rumors of Water today, considering Habits and Structure. Maybe we won’t find you dropping to a knee and singing in public. But how do you play? How does it add dimension to your writing? To your life?

Could a disruption in your normal routine (like a drain clog) give you grist for a few lines in the comment box?

If you’ve posted on the book this week, please be sure to drop your link in the comments for us as well. Join us again next Wednesday for chapters 21-26 on Publishing.

Photo by Pink Sherbet. Creative Commons, via Flickr. Post by Lyla Lindquist of A Different Story.

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  1. L. L. Barkat says

    Can’t you see it, Glynn? Seriously, how cute those birdies would be, mussing up an insurance report.

    I think you and your Twitter parties helped make me into this Improv-Image-Thinker :)

  2. says

    WOW, that poem! If goal-making should be one of my habits, I think I’ll make it a goal to be as delightful as Lyla. Here are what I think are the most delightful parts of that poem:

    ” tapped
    a chisel against the ice
    to free a wide-eyed yellow duck

    winter white legs
    sniffled that they don’t
    wear flannel in Florida

    fingers into frozen pipes
    advised it is our policy to bathe indoors
    when thermometers read zero and
    deductibles do not”

    (I know, it’s almost the whole poem, but whatever.)

    My in-laws used to have a hot tub on the back deck, so Charles and I would go out there in the middle of February and look up at the amazing stars (which you could see a lot if, out there at the house on Horsefly Road between Montrose and Colona). Anyway, here’s my link:

  3. says

    Yes, Glynn, that was the request. I snipped it from the Facebook thread to prove it. You can’t make this stuff up… but I guess you can turn it into something. 😉

    And Monica, I can only wonder why you didn’t like the Bermuda shorts. 😉 I understand folks really like the hot tub in the cold winter. I prefer a fireplace. (Though, I admit, I have neither.)

  4. Sheila Dailie says

    I’ve been inhaling the book since it came. The part that caught my attention was “Habits…are constantly in need of changing.” Though I have tried for years, the only habit that is consistent in my life is the 6 a.m. walk with my mother-in-law. There is such freedom in that.

    As for play, grandchildren are WONDERFUL! We bake cut-out cookies for the experience, not the finished product. And last night, the “tickle-bites” attacked all of us. After reading your poetry challenge about birds and flannel lingerie, I’m trying to picture just what a tickle-bite might look like!

    PS – Lyla, I love the pic of you and your hubby! Maybe your subtle play gets lost in his “all-out, all-the-time” mode!

  5. says

    I LOVE that poem, Lyla.

    I heard a poem this morning on NPR (Garrison Keillor’s Writers’ Almanac) about a starfish that made me think, just for a second, “Maybe I could write a poem.” I quickly dismissed the idea. But I don’t know…this gives me another glimpse of hope. You write about regular stuff – a frozen hottub, a lady lacing up hockey skates. Observations of your daily work. I’m not saying it’s not hard…not at all. I know writing poetry is really hard. Maybe I’m afraid of it because I assume it has to be all fancy and deep. But perhaps it can be about noticing little bits of life, too?

  6. says

    Kidding, Monica. I had to find some part of it you didn’t copy into the comment. 😉

    Sheila, what a fun thing to see you over here, and reading Rumors. And you know it — “all-out, all-the-time.” It’s a good thing. Now see to it that the tickle-bite doesn’t get too close to the cookie… So glad you’re playing along.

    Michelle, yes! Of course you could write a poem. About a starfish, even. The hardest part for me is just untying the duct tape that keeps my arms straight at my sides and agreeing to play a little. The words come — you’d be surprised. It’s really the regular stuff that does it for me — and letting myself twist the image of that regular thing just a little bit. You know, how she wasn’t really lacing up hockey skates. If it has to be all fancy and deep, I’m hung. 😉

    Laura, how ’bout a little help getting Michelle started with the starfish?

  7. says

    1. What I do for play:

    A few times a year I become Knight Noodle. And my son becomes Knight W-(secret word that I cannot reveal). Anyway, we battle the attacking knight armies and defend the king, his obnoxious wife, and their super-duper-girlie daughter, Princess Petunia.

    We fire sometimes lethal, and sometimes just stun-ish arrows at the invaders. We then open the mote gates and let the alligators out and drop watermelons filled with glue onto the castle wall-climbing bad guys. All live, and oftentimes gooey, prisoners are sent to the brig and given bibles. Our old farting rott/shepherd dog, posed as an elderly dragon, is the gate keeper. If the prisoners get out of control, we feed her beans and she lets rip some fire fart darts.

    That blasted Princess Petunia always leaves and gets distracted by flowers and then kidnapped by the bad guys. Of course we knights have to ride our younger dragon to the neighboring castle tower where we attach sticky shoes and gloves and climb up and rescue the gal. Knight W. reprimands her severely. Grover (the blue guy from S. Street) then becomes here personal body guard. He’s blue throughout it all.

    And about 57 stuffed animals are our fellow knights. They get tossed about the house as they flail and fight. Sometimes I get whacked with a sword (plastic and wood) and sometimes I accidentally take out one of those stuffed animals.

    It always ends in a jousting match too. That hurts. Always.

    Uh, that’s about it for fun around here. (Yeah, right!)

    2. What was the question?

    3. I like LL’s writerly book.

    4. I’m not telling you about my habits. You might think I’m weird or something. Oh, gotta go, our pet chimp is gonna ride the 50-pound pup bareback. The other dogs are placing bets and smoking cigars. I need to put a stop to this nonsense. Or at least ask them to share one those cigars. I need to make popcorn for the occasion too. And chocolate milk.

    5. Miss Lyla, FYI, flannel freezes when wet and cold.

  8. says

    what i do for fun, continued…

    I read a lot of erma bombeck, patrick mcmanus (we hail from the same hometown, ya know), and james herriott. I like to laugh. It stimulates my under active imagination. (Have you read about Cedric the dog by J. Herriott? I laugh till I pee. Then I change britches and read it again.)

  9. says

    Thanks, Davis. (I’m not accustomed to you in ALL CAP. I had to look twice. 😉

    Darlene. I don’t know what to say. I think you the Knight out-fun us all.

    And never mind, Laura. I think Darlene has given us plenty to do with a starfish. Anybody want to take a crack at it? We have starfish, knights, castles, sticky shoes, Grove, cigars, and fire darts, just to get you going.

  10. says

    Oh, how I love this. And I need to go play – right now. The 2 year old is calling tho’ happily ensconced with Poppy, who is the KING of play in our family. (Sounds a little like yours, Lyla.) But I gotta say- I preferred your photo, Lyla. CLASSIC. Was that a leftover wedding Groucho get-up??

  11. says

    I love when you unfold your arms. And the rubber duck? Reminds me of the trio my sissy and I got Mom to play with in the hospice hot tub. But when they peed in the water, we had to diaper them.

  12. L. L. Barkat says

    Monica, perfect.

    Like Lyla says in her listing, we have plenty to work with when we take odd things and show how they play together.

    What if a starfish smoked a cigar?

    What if sticky shoes were protected by a knight in shining armor?

  13. says

    Love your poem, Lyla!
    There is just too much good copy in these comments not to create a “found story”.

    Princess Petunia always leaves
    our pet chimp to defend the king

    from his obnoxious wife. The gal herself
    wouldn’t be caught dead in duct tape

    but likes to get a super-duper tickle-bite
    from Knight Noodle while lying frozen

    in a hot tub or lacing up his hockey skates
    with her hot glue gun. In a jousting match,

    she swore she could battle any starfish
    invaders, even the kind that model winter white

    legs in silk-lined flannel Bermuda shorts
    while listening to Garrison Keillor share Rumors

    of beans being fed to whacked-out knights
    placing bets on popcorn-stuffed animals tossed

    into motes filled with fancy chocolate milk.
    Erma Bombeck, smoking flowers, gets distracted

    and, accidentally having spouted all this nonsense
    to Herriott, writerly type from the neighboring castle,

    goes all weird or something, and lets the alligators
    out. Cedric the blue dog who likes to wear a Grover

    button cannot reveal his secret that wearing sticky shoes
    while wall-climbing for fun is the only kind of poetry

    he’d defend. The chimp, keeper of the secret word, goes
    gooey at the mention, smoking cigars till the play ends.

  14. L. L. Barkat says

    Maureen!! :)

    Too much to love.

    Ha. You even got the duct tape in.

    LOVE her lacing up his skates with her hot glue gun. So romantic 😉

  15. says

    Satin, Monica, is just Satan with a typo. The feel of it would be worse than Darlene’s cold, wet, frozen flannel. :)

    Karin, yes, I know I can be. Hi Megan! I’m glad you had time to stop in.

    Maureen. Oh, Maureen. I knew there was simply too much to overlook here, but I’ve been on the road all afternoon. I am so, so glad you were off working –erm, playing — with this! Thank you. You make my Wednesday, every single time.

  16. says

    I bought this book, which made me want to read the other books and I bought them, then I found Seedlings in Stone and Tweetspeak Poetry and I have been enveloped in a world of expression, I had not known before now…I am afraid, to the subject at hand, it may have been last year with my grandkids that I last played, a pool party in the backyard, with a lunch cheese, crackers, fruit, lemonade in “fancy” glasses with strawberries floating inside…my middle granddaughter, Jasmine, remarked “Grandma, you make the best lunches!”. The year has been filled with a seriousness that begs for some play…wait, does my Zumba class count?

  17. says

    Amy, type them back in. 😉 The book is a delight. And look what it leads to…

    Zumba, for me, would not be play, Elizabeth. But if it’s fun for you, then yes, it counts! Give something to the beggar, even something small. :-)

  18. says

    So much to respond to, I’m not sure where to start!

    Lyla, you write a poem every day? Really? I am super impressed. Of course, the one I really want to see is the one about the sparrow in flannel lingerie :)

    I wrote a post about L.L.’s chapter on play back in February, when I started writing poems (or should I say “poems”?) for the first time since college.

    Since I don’t think of myself as a poet, it’s been a wonderful way for me to play with words, without the pressure of writing something good or worrying about whether anyone else will like it. I’m nowhere near the habit of writing a poem a day, though!

    Thanks for this glimpse into your life, Lyla (and Darlene, erm, Knight Noodle, too!).

  19. says

    Ok, Lyla and Laura … (L.L. for short)… =)
    here goes… for the fun of it…

    Well, look what the Knights dragged in…
    on their sticky shoooooooooes and all.

    Who’s to blame?…
    Knot Me or Whada Ya Know.
    Looks like Sir Idaknow and/or
    Princess Patooey
    in the library with the candlestick.

    To whom do these shooooooooooooooooz belong?

    These stinkin’ sticky shooooooooz…
    walkin’ round and through
    groves and such…
    stinking up a storm
    like Grover darting fire,
    farting dire,
    fire darts…

    You’d think the lighting of cigars
    would cover up the stink.
    Maybe we’ll just have to
    call in waves of Starfish
    to cover our behinds.

  20. says

    Miss Maureen,

    Your poetic rendition is grande great! And I think your “whacked out knights” line is right on. 😉


    You all make me smile. And not feel so alone in my imagination play station.

  21. says

    Kimberlee, I try every day. Especially for April. Most of it is rubbish, but that’s okay with me as long as nobody tries to take a look. The daily practice is good for me in the same way you talk about, just playing with the words, no pressure. And the sparrows in flannel lingerie poem is what you see above. I couldn’t get the pieces to work exactly as prescribed, in my own twisted little mind. Laura actually wrote one in the Facebook thread about the same time that had sparrows figure-skating but I don’t think I could find it anymore.

    Pat, I love that! “To whom do these shooooooooooooooooz belong?” The question goes through my head a lot around our place, but I know the answer. It’s just that there are so many, and they’re so biiiiiiggggg….

    Thanks Matthew. Loved that post, and the stained glass.

  22. says

    And Kimberlee, thanks for linking back to your Red Sled post. I’m finding that same thing with just letting myself mess around without having to actually produce anything that’s going anywhere. My sled just sits there. 😉

  23. says

    It is becoming apparent, as I sit here vainly searching for what it is I do to play, that I don’t do it often enough. For me, good conversation (whether face to face or on-line) is often just plain fun. You, Lyla, with your droll humor always make me smile. My kind of fun!

  24. says

    You guys have more fun with words than anyone I know. I have SO much to learn.

    And Lyla, I, too, am very impressed with the poem a day. You know, it shows that you are practicing because you are becoming a master wordsmith right before our very eyes. Now, you need a top hat and a bunny and a wand to go with that flannel!

    Love what you all do here. And I do mean ALL!


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