Creative Blank

You were on your way to the ocean, Pacific
Northwest November numb, bundled in a Columbia

brand winter jacket. There were hills and mountains
to cross first from the Willamette Valley,

no snow yet but always rain and trees like tall green drifts
until you reached the scent of salt and the roar

of the ocean smashing against the continent,
a sound so comforting. This land of crumbs

crumbles up and out of water with the slow pace
of foam and ripples and the fast race of blustery wind building

up dunes or carving out scarps and caves. Among
architecture of shell, smoothed stone, and drift wood, the sea weed

thrown up casually like undigested salad mounds
bulbous, rotting, and dimpling the canvas sand.

You were walking with your sock-stuffed shoes in hand
and cold toes keeping time while sand soothed your soles

and you thought about how artists like these calm
places of destruction but your ideas

were still back at home waiting to be wrenched out
by the catastrophic you who would return.

It was easier for you to walk parallel to the ocean
and to the home you left back in Portland, between which

you were both old and new, crumbling, impatient
for light, and contemplating paying to stay

the night battered by wanderlust in a hotel
room overlooking the shape of things

you haven’t the creativity to describe any better
than this: in water, form, in grit, void.

#NaPoWriMo 2017 Day 3


There’s something really charming about couplets. I’m only just realizing this now. I like the way image and action plays out across these two-line stanzas. If I were a better poet, I might pay attention to meter (I purposely avoid rhyme), but in my new poem I hope there is something natural and pleasant about the way these lines are read out that seems a natural consequence of the form.

Just before I started my evening writing and this poem, I read “To the Girl Who Ran through Crop Circles” by Karen J. Weyant in the The 2017 Rhysling Anthology recently published by the Science Fiction & Fantasy Poetry Association (SFPA) and originally appearing in Strange Horizons. I was struck by how this poem in couplets so vividly describes a setting and images. In subsequent readings, I began to appreciate the character described by Weyant and possible meanings, but it’s the interplay between image and action that draws me through the poem. For my poem, I chose a setting I know well: the Oregon coast. I tried to make my setting vivid, to observe specific objects there and give them beautiful and sometimes grotesque descriptions. I kept the persona narrator (the second person character) and the setting in motion.

A colleague at work today introduced me to an artist I am unfamiliar with: John McLaughlin. This little known artist’s abstract paintings are gorgeous and are currently on display at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.  His regular rectangular shapes and voids remind me of works by Edward Granger, an artist I’ve really come to appreciate over the past few years. John McLaughlin’s art was in the back of my mind while I was crafting the persona narrator in my poem, and I pictured a creative escaping the frustrations of their creativity by fleeing to the ocean. I guess I know this feeling pretty well, as I have been prone to want to (and occasionally have, especially when I was in my twenties) flee my own frustrations in sudden bouts of wanderlust. In the setting, I found opportunities to suggest shape and void, and I left this as the persona narrator’s creative difficulty. I don’t feel like I know much about fine art, but the glimpses I have of it have often led me to feelings of not being worthy. Every artist struggles. Every artist glimpses something in the void they would like to give shape to on canvas, the page, a stage.

Not sure that my poem captures some or any of this, but it’s fun to feel influence and inspiration move through my fingers while I craft something new.

Published by

Richard Leis

Richard Leis is a writer and poet. His first published poem, "Roadside Freak Show," arrives on August 21, 2017 in Impossible Archetype.  His essays about fairy tales and technology have been published on Tiny Donkey. Richard is also the Downlink Lead for the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) team at the University of Arizona. He monitors images of the Martian surface taken by the HiRISE camera located on board the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter in orbit around Mars and helps ensure they process successfully and are validated for quick release to the science community and public. Once upon a time, Richard wrote and edited the science and technology news and commentary website Frontier Channel, hosted the RADIO Frontier Channel podcast, and organized transhumanist clubs. Follow Richard on his website (, on Goodreads (richardleis), Twitter (@richardleisjr), and Facebook (richardleisjr).