01. Playaday–The Ten Rules of Poetry

Since I’m mostly writing plays these days, I’m giving myself the assignment of writing a short one every day during November, using one of my old poetry prompts, chosen at random. This is the first one. We’ll see how it goes. Sorry about the format, but I’m too lazy to do all the indentations and stuff.

Prompt 36:  The Ten Rules of Poetry

Characters:

The Poet:  Any gender, thin, chain-smoking, dressed in black

The Cat:  Plump tiger with a slow voice

Setting: Small room, a desk covered in papers center. Crumpled papers all over the floor. An overstuffed chair, right, where the cat sprawls throughout.

Time: The present. Late afternoon.

At Rise:  The poet is seated at the desk, writing furiously by hand while the cat sits, watching its face. The poet crumples the paper and throws it on the floor.

POET

Damn, damn, damn and blast. There’s nothing here. Nothing at all. Nothing in my head, nothing in the world, nothing anywhere. I’m finished. I’m empty. I can’t write another damned thing. I’ve had it with poetry. I’m going to go get a real job as a, a, a counter person in a fast-food place. Or a shelf-stocker. Or something real. Anything but this.

CAT

(Yawns.)

Huh. That might be a good idea. It’s the third rule of poetry, you know.

POET

What? You’re a cat! You can talk?

CAT

Sure. 

POET
Why have you never spoken before?

CAT

Nothing to say.

POET

And now you have something?

CAT

Yeah. 

POET

Why now?

CAT

Mostly because I’m tired of navigating over all those bits of paper you heave all over the place. And you keep forgetting to fill my water bowl

POET
Oh. Sorry.

CAT

And, I know the rules of poetry, and it’s clear that you don’t.

POET

Well, what are they?

CAT

Come here and I’ll tell you. You can’t hear me if you’re sitting at that desk.

POET

Well, okay.

(Stands and goes to chair, looks down at Cat.)

CAT

Sit!

POET

But you’re in the chair.

CAT

Then hold me on your lap. Duh.

(Poet sits and arranges Cat on lap.)

POET

There. Happy?

CAT

Yes. Much better. You may stroke me while I talk.

POET

Whatever. 

CAT

Hisss.

POET

Okay, okay.

(Starts stroking Cat.)

Tell me the rules.

CAT

Don’t be in such a hurry.

POET

What?

CAT

That’s the first rule.

POET

What is?

CAT

Don’t be in such a hurry. I mean, what’s the rush? If the words are there, they’re there. If they aren’t, well. You can’t make them come by scurrying around. It’s like watching for a mouse, right? You got to wait.

POET
Okay. So what’s the second one?

CAT

Find your feet.

POET
My feet?

CAT

Yeah. Where are they? 

POET

Well, on the ends of my legs, as usual.

CAT

Right. But where are they really? On the floor or just hanging there? In socks and shoes? Where are they?

POET

Huh.

(Shifts and puts feet solidly on the floor.)

There.

CAT

Better.

POET

And what’s three?

CAT

I already told you. 

POET

I forgot.

CAT

Of course you did. 

POET

Sorry.

CAT

It’s okay. You didn’t know where your feet were.

POET
So what is it?

CAT

Hey, remember number one!

POET

Oh yeah. Well, in your good time.

(Short pause.)

CAT

Rule number three:  Do something real.

POET

Writing is real, isn’t it?

CAT

Well, it can be. But you gotta have stuff to write about. Just the stuff in your tortured head isn’t enough. Much to your surprise, it’s pretty boring to everybody but you.

POET

Oh.

CAT

Yeah. 

POET
So, what should I do?

CAT

Oh, anything. Go for a walk. Bake some muffins. Water the plants. Feed the cat, empty the litter box. . . 

POET
Oh. Sorry about that, too. (Shifts in the chair.) Shall I. . .?

CAT

Nah, it can wait for a few minutes. Remember rule number one.

POET
And what’s four?

CAT

Drink enough water. You don’t, you know. Coffee doesn’t count. Wine counts against you. Water. Good stuff, water. Cool and clear and pretty amazing, when you think about it.

POET

And I bet your bowl is empty.

CAT

Not entirely. But. . .

POET
Rule number one.

CAT

You got it. 

POET

Okay. Water.

CAT

You ready for five?

POET

Sure.

CAT

Okay. Stand up and stretch. Like this.

(Jumps off lap and stretches)

Now you.

POET

(Stands and stretches.)

CAT

Good. Now you can sit again.

(Poet sits, Cat sits on lap.)

Now do that every twenty minutes or so.

POET
Okay.

CAT

Stroke.

POET

Okay.

(Resumes stroking.)

CAT

Now this is a hard one. Maybe the hardest.

POET

I’m ready.

CAT

Quit caring.

POET

What??

CAT

Keep stroking.

POET
Sorry.  But life is all about caring. Caring about what happens, about how people feel, about the Earth and the state of the world, and . 

CAT

Yeah, yeah. All that stuff that you can’t fix. You brood and brood and it’s wrecking your brain. 

POET
But I can’t. . 

CAT

Okay. Modification. Care about what you can fix. Feed the cat, for instance. Call your mother.

POET
Oh shit.

CAT

Well, that’s something you can do, right? You can’t fix the oil companies. You can’t fix the economy. And thinking about all that makes you crazy and if you’re crazy you’re hard and mean and besides you can’t write. So call your mother.

POET
But. . 

CAT

I told you this is probably the hardest. So if you can’t, don’t sweat it. Stroke, please.

POET
Okay. Sorry.

CAT

Now an easier one. 

POET
Good.

CAT

Learn to stare.

POET
What?

CAT

You know that old poem: “What is this life if full of care/We have no time to stand and stare?”

POET
Never heard of it.

CAT

Of course not. It’s an old-fashioned rhyming one. But it’s true. 

POET
Stare?

CAT

Yeah. Have you ever watched me do it?

POET
You hardly ever do anything but eat and sleep.

CAT

Hissss.

POET

Sorry.

CAT

That’s the next one.

POET

What?

CAT

We’ll get to that. Now it’s rule seven. When I’m awake, I stare. A lot. Like this.

(Stares at audience for a long minute, while Poet adjusts position in order to see.)

There. Your turn.

POET
What, now?

CAT

No time like the present.

POET
Okay. Here goes.

(Stares at audience.)

CAT

Good, good. Told you it was easier. Now for rule eight. Ready?

POET
Ready.

CAT

If you’re bored, go to sleep.

POET

Sleep?

CAT

Yup. When you’re bored you try to get busy. You fiddle around and find dumb stuff to do. Play with your phone or something. Go to sleep instead. 

POET
Sometimes I go for a walk.

CAT

That’s good, that’s good. At least as good as sleeping. But you get the point, I think.

POET

I guess so.

CAT

Good. Now for nine, which is related.

POET
Okay.

CAT

Read less, sing more.

POET

Sing more?

CAT

Yeah. It makes good vibrations. Like this.

(Purring hum.)

Put your hand on my back. Feel that?

POET
Yeah.

CAT

Now you do it.

POET hums, breaks into a little song.

Wow. That does feel good.

CAT

Of course. And Rule Ten is absolutely related. 

POET
And it is?

CAT

Don’t forget to breathe.

POET

Ah!

CAT

You do, you know..

POET

I know.

CAT

So. What next?

POET

Well, I think I’ll get up and stretch and get a drink and fill your water bowl and clean your litter box and go for a walk. And later on, we’ll see.

CAT

That’s a start. Do you have any of those good cat treats?

POET
No. But I’ll get some.

CAT

Good. Meow.

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