Always on the brink…

Here is something (or perhaps here are somethings) I have learned (rather I haven’t learned but that I keep learning anew over and over again: writers are weird. Writers in all of our weirdness-glory are simultaneously excruciatingly ordinary and singularly misfitted in that “All happy families…” Tolstoy-an kind of way. It’s a matter of perspective and understanding and it’s often a matter of choice for the writer and for the audience-spouse-friends-church-acquaintance-reader-reviewer-editor of the writer.

I was reminded of this recently. It’s not so much that I am clinically manic (I’m not) so much as it is I am constantly butting up against people who aren’t interested in the complications associated with peeling the layers of getting to know the artsy-creative-type. When you write, you specialize in the nurture of listening, really listening. Listening to subjects and eliminating objects of all kinds. Listening to self. To silence.

The act of writing an unshared poem is an act that 100 percent of the time will upset the internal equilibrium of the writer even if the writer is the only person who ever imagines/reads the work. The act of writing a poem and sharing a poem contains every emotional, psychological, creative, political component of  revolution (albeit once-removed) whether the poem is political or seemingly refreshingly simple and pastoral. Poems are box-cutters. I wrote my first one at the age of six. I’ve been bouncing out of others’ boxes ever since. This has been my life. I think it is probably everyone’s life, even those unaware of it (which is the majority of people I believe).

Here is why publication of one of my poems matters so much to me. Not the positive affirmations, though pleasant enough. Not the fact that a publication means even four people are ever going to seriously read and consider my poem. Not the money…ahem. Publication validates me as I continue to bust through confining boxes. I can cut the tape, chew the cardboard and spit it out. I can dust off my dirty feet and move on. I can stop listening to what bores me. I can fiercely flee ideas and the speakers of those ideas when the ideas seek to silence my voice. Poetry as an end can’t seek to categorize, rate, demonize or prioritize any experience. Poetry can only re-enact, bring forth a separate and more distant beauty that compares in some intangible way with the emotion of the experience it seeks to render. A poem is word married to wordlessness.

The reader leafs through the pages and sometimes finds the love-child.  The writer remembers vividly the conception. Listening, always listening, home is constructed with what might compare to this–the work, the sacrifice, the willingness to hold.

Why Writing Poetry is NOT Like Birthing a Real Baby

The metaphor works. I’ve often used it myself as a sort of crutch device to explain the writer’s life to non-writers. I sometimes refer to my finished poems as my babies.

My poems, which are mostly not confessional in the technical, poetic sense of the term, do have my DNA smeared all over them. Poems are “birthed” in a sense. Read Sylvia Plath. When I read her poems I feel I am a midwife-in-training or sometimes a helpless bystander as she spreads and stuns me with words.

But while I totally “get” the metaphor and contribute to its legitimacy myself, I think it is most helpful to me to remember that writing poetry is in many ways NOT the same experience as actual childbirth and parenting. Poetry is not rocket science either. It’s not the cure for actual cancer, just looming invisible cancers of thought perhaps, crises of belief perhaps. For me, poetry is as physically essential as eating and sleeping, yet I think that many of us who are teachers, plumbers, stock brokers, pastors, salesmen could claim the same enrichment in our lives from pursuing the work we were created to pursue.

Poets aren’t special or closer to the birthing experience than other people are. We remember the smells, the sounds, the lights that were too bright, the faded yellow floral print on the rocker-recliner that our husbands slept on. We might have more aptly named the fear we felt as our own bodies lifted out of themselves and delivered a son or a daughter. But we are as tied to the communal nature of most of our actual life experiences as bakers of cupcakes or sweepers of streets are.

And the work that we do, is more like, well, actual work, than it is a mountaintop threshold of pain or joy. It’s a work that teems with insignificance and the ever-dwindling audience. Insignificance is not the same thing as lack of confidence. Through insignificance I find my true attachments in this life, my place. And the rejection slips are easier to stomach, because, these word-wields on the page are not actually me, nor are they actually my children. In a small way they are, yet in a much vaster way they are not. They are poems. Artifacts of work that I choose to do. They don’t feed people or make them happier (except perhaps momentarily). Knowing this frees me up to write, to work. To exist in relationship with myself in a field of interdependence. To determine when I must hit the DELETE button or start over.

Poets blur lines that most people would prefer to just keep in-tact. Sometimes it is healthy to forego the meta-metaphor and search for the less significant but more impactful grit of accurate perspective. Writers, we are people, too. We must remember to keep ourselves complex, complicated, and diversified. Without writing, I don’t feel that I live a complete life, but without a life, I don’t feel I have much to offer the blank page before me. We can, as poets, be just like everyone else. We can think we should have it all….and passionate kisses…as Mary Chapin Carpenter sang….and fleshy babies…who need more than our words.

Christmas Tree Time

I always get my writer-feathers ruffled a bit as I read through the posts generated this time of year about time management. I’m a poet. I am in the timelessness business. I consider myself an organized person. My house is almost always ready for company and on a quite regular basis, I’ve been known to throw together a home-cooked meal. True…I live in yoga pants, but when the occasion arises, I clean up nicely. I run errands with the best of them. I also run half marathons.

What is different about poets, I believe, at least it is true of this poet, is that I no longer check off items on a to-do list as though they are life-altering accomplishments. After all, Hamlet never said: To do or not to do…that is the question… Creativity needs nesting time. Sitting still time. Turning off the lights and staring at the Christmas tree time. Quiet time.

I am always amazed at how noisy Christians are when it comes to our hustling and bustling about the proper ways we must observe this holiday.  We prize our indwelling, yet we pretend that a holy spirit wants to shout at us, to compete with our restrictions, to channel within the narrow confines of a Daytimer. We ink in our lives in a little square and these self-made appointments become the gospel of this day that the Lord has made. The question I ask is: Is the holy spirit truly glad in it?

As a Christian, as a writer, I find that I am always working toward rest. I am after the Sabbath. If you shake my hand during greeting time and I bombard you with 100 cookie types, or my 101 uses for a homeless person, or the abecederian prayer request pinned on the underside of my Christmas sweater, or the phone pic of me freezing my little Christmas tooshie off caroling off-key to nursing home hostages, be assured, my holy spirit–the part that lives and breathes uniquely through me–is taking a sound nap and I am totally faking it.

Authentically, I don’t really DO Christmas. If I am honest with myself, I never really did. There is one way, among many others, to check your own calling before God. If God gifts you to participate in his work, you will know you are in a place of truth and authenticity because it will feel like play to you. When you show up, sleepy, feet-dragging, you will always feel energized and happy that you did. If someone asked me what has been the hardest work I have ever done, I would answer the raising of my children followed by the writing of my graduate thesis which is a book of poetry. Both of these pursuits contain physical artifacts of the language of my own heart. Both took enormous chunks of time and discipline and commitment on my part and on God’s part. I never worked alone. I never faked it. Looking  back, what I see are pictures of beautiful chaos, divine ordering, and play.

I was that mom, years ago, with the curly-headed little Christmas angels whose hair would never stay in place. I would feel so inadequate when the Busy Moms would pull out lip gloss and combs and attempt to tame their hair. Now, years later, I bask in a peace, the total acceptance of Grace and the belief in Christ’s total acceptance of me and my contemplative bent. The amazing thing is the way Grace can pay-it-backwards. Watch in your own life as you mature and grow in Christ, how Grace moves like a sweet-smelling smoke and beautifully colors in the patches of our memories where sin, competition, back-biting, immaturity, our own over-striving have left us washed out and empty. Those places left white are transformed into a mosaic of ALL the colors in God’s own crayon box. He never said to everyone: Thou shalt only color within the lines.

When Christ was tired, he rested. When he had questions, he asked. When he doubted, he embraced himself and the totality of his own being that was God and that was God’s. He never built a temple other than himself. He only tore them down.

We are not all called to be still. To be writers. But we are called to embrace and accept God’s creation. The way that God fashioned you, the way that God molded me…these are good. All good.

My Grownup Christmas List would be that each person could come before the authentic Christ this Christmas and feel authentic in our cookie baking, in our special musical ditties, in our handing out of blankets, in our sipping cocoa, and also, in our not-doing-at-all. That we be a church where the spirit need only whisper.

 

Have Yourself a Menopausal Christmas

I can’t get Netflix to work for me. After diving into a new teaching job head-and-heart-first just moments after finishing my graduate thesis, I approach these holidays happy, yet drained. Full, yet running on empty. God bless us everyone. Bah humbug. Best. Worst. You get the drift.

This Christmas season, I have zero tolerance for Christmas legalists. I just want to shop on Amazon.com and click the gift-wrap box. I want to order good Chinese take-out and watch bad courtroom drama. I want to sleep for ten hours without waking up at 2 a.m. feeling unfocused and dull of wit.

I want to love my treadmill and crave sugar again. Most of all, I want the Republican presidential candidates to see a vision and go as mute as John-the-Baptist’s dad. I want all the people everywhere dealing with the cold to get new, thermal blankets and puffy coats. I want just a pinch of the hope that resides in my grandson’s little pinky.

I am in a weird place. I have a Pushcart nomination and no goals, whereas, before, I always had an empty cardboard box where I could stuff all the imaginary accolades, all the North American serial rights to my invisible tokens of arrival. Now, I see the empty laugh in the full belly.  Now, as my hormones are permanently moving south for the winter, I realize the very physical, biological nature of the immaterial, spiritual quest.

I go into my attic to look for boxes of red balls of glass, and all I want to do is get rid of all the boxes. I want to put names on the spoils of my lifelong accumulation of what is red and what is green.I want to be able to look at a person and to immediately discern whether I should say Happy Holidays or Merry Christmas. I want to box the living daylights out of  should.  Who’s with me? Who longs for the empty tree? The vacant hearth? For words that hear themselves and change? Such sweet possibility. I hear the tinning now of the chaos that is silence, and I think how foolish I have been to appropriate peace.To assume her origins. To ignore the scratchings of a straw blanket. The violence in getting every inch right.

Naked, hungry, cold, poetry-less I stand before the mirror and I don’t have one item on my to-do list or one thing to say about Christmas except been there done that. Except, how wonderful is that?

 

 

 

Coming and Going and Michelangelo-ing

Call me lazy or dull of palate, but I cannot keep up with coffee-trends. I read tonight that Starbucks is planning a bold move to attempt a take-over of the hipster, gourmet, high-end coffee market, which is sort of like the Christ deciding to grind up the anti-Christ (or is it the other way around?).

I live in a small town so by the time Starbucks became “the thing” in our parts, the trend-setting cities like Austin and NYC were already shaking their heads at the “Americano-latte-frappe-with-skim-milk-and-a-dash-of-vanilla-hold-the-whipped-cream-please.” Just when I was learning how to prance into the place and confidently order something. Talk about bursting my beans.

When did life, I mean coffee, get so complicated? Who, like me, wakes up in a blind stupor and needs a drip line of caffeine and wouldn’t be able to maneuver or wait for a French press at 6:30 a.m. until she got herself a tall, hot, strong cup of that nectar that Juan Valdez was having back in the innocent age? Don’t get me wrong. I like good coffee. But in a pinch, first thing in the morning, I will down just about any hot beverage someone wants to pour for me.

For me, there is something nostalgic about bad-diner coffee or convenience-store coffee with those lids that never stay on. Perhaps, I just don’t like coffee enough. Perhaps I only want her and need her–I don’t LOVE her. Not enough to oil and prime my espresso machine nightly. Not enough to enroll in a community art class on the finer techniques of coffee swirl art. Not enough to investigate if the beans are organic, Fair Trade, sustainable, local, natural, vegetarian, humane, low-carbon, small-scale or CSA. None of these activities makes me feel in the least cosmopolitan, even when I am sipping my brew in Seattle.

Don’t misunderstand. I do see the morality in attempting to form consumer habits that do the least amount of damage to the planet and that promote humane working conditions for the men, women, and children who daily pick my coffee beans (even if I don’t always know exactly where they come from). But I see no compelling reason to name-drop about this and to take up entire conversations at dinner parties or entire sermons from pulpits expounding upon the world of coffee as we know it in 2014. I have to ask myself, are the men, women, and children who are picking my coffee daily having these conversations about how back-woods a person is if he doesn’t necessarily want a coffee drink that is more difficult to decipher than his child’s IEP?

My grandmother picked cotton by hand as a child. I can guarantee she wasn’t lamenting the plight of the ignorant souls who didn’t have the where-with-all to sleep on 1,000-count sheets as her fingers bled on the bolls. Aren’t we, in addition to boring the likes of a true intellectual like T.S. Eliot with our gloats about foam, becoming more consumerist by creating some kind of faux-sophistication about the very appetites which will keep those children enslaved in those faraway fields regardless of the informed decisions we make about which brand to buy? Is it not our appetites, fueled by our feverish desire to keep up with our own urban elites, which is at the root of the evil in all industry? Because the cloud in my coffee tells me that when I contribute to strengthening that appetite, which is nothing short of lust, I contribute to mistreatment regardless of my own savvy as a coffee-bean buyer.  Is there not some other kind of slavery being created when we are more affected by the roast of coffee and it’s source than we are captivated by the conversation happening just across our cups? When we begin to judge the intelligence of another person based on their degree of lunacy about a coffee bean? Dostoevsky said it better than me: “What reason can there be for protecting the privacy and freedom of the conscience, or even the franchise, of anyone, if we assume nothing good about those whom we are protecting and enfranchising?”

When my phone alarm begins to chime in the morning, I become a lunatic of a different sort. I must have two to three cups of java every morning first thing or I will suffer from a killer migraine headache, which probably means I am addicted to caffeinated coffee. Coffee I don’t question. Coffee I don’t take the time to learn about. Coffee which sports catalogues full of gadgets I will never, ever attempt to master. For me, there is the Sistine Chapel and there is this hazelnut concoction my barista just manipulated into the shape of a bird. And there is a discernment which must transcend it’s “strut and fret” across the stage. Yes, Coffee:  “I want you. I need you. But there ‘aint no way I’m ever gonna to love you. Now don’t be sad (don’t be sad) ’cause two out of three ain’t bad.”

Dream Team

Sometimes life is just good. I received news that my poetry mentor for my thesis semester is the great poet Angie Estes (my top choice) and this news brings relief because with her guidance I believe I actually have a legitimate shot at getting a book of poems put together by May 1. I have probably close to a thousand drafts of poems in various stages on my hard drive, but these 40 to 60 poems must be “finished.” Angie Estes is not only one of the great poets of our time, she is an incredible teacher. She’s efficient, she brings high expectations to the table and she knows how to assign essays and poems which move her students toward a desired end. I am attempting to take a break from writing to enjoy the holidays and refresh before my thesis semester begins in early January. I say attempting…I can’t seem to keep my eyes out of my folder of possible thesis poems!

Thanks

Today is Thanksgiving. It’s a down day for us because we postpone the big feast until Saturday so all of our married kids can join us. Today is a mixed-up, random kind of day–my favorite kind. A day of bear-naps, and basketball watching and diving into the Christmas greenery. A day of intersection for the Nativity sets and the pumpkins. Christmas music blaring on Pandora.

I see parallels to this kind of a day to my writing process. I can’t neatly and succinctly cram creativity into its own special corner.  I prepare, rest, exercise, eat, argue, console, forgive, clean one room, mess up another. In my mind, Baby Jesus lurks even as the ghost of my maternal grandmother stays watch in my kitchen over the stuffing preparations.

I grow weary of purists who can’t mix their Christmas shopping with their gratitude, who want me to wait until December 26th to sing about pregnant Mary. Advent belongs to me because it was a gift from a Person who has the right to give me whatever gift He wants. It’s my Advent and I’ll watch a John Travolta movie if I want to. Pumpkin pie and peppermint ice cream are holding hands in my freezer just fine.

It’s called life. A Writing Life. A life that each day rises with a sun that owes everything to our Christmas Story which is the source of all Thanksgiving. No segue needed.

Every Community Has a Story

Recently, I had the privilege of writing one woman’s story for our community’s “Facing Project,” which was borne out of a program designed to give a “hand up” to some of our more hidden citizens who suffer from poverty and the many problems which go hand-in-hand with that. Violence, addictions, abuse, hunger, gaps in education, brokenness in relationships…these are a few of those problems.

The woman whose story was entrusted to me told a story which was difficult to hear, difficult to write. Several of our community’s “Facing” stories will be read at a fundraiser for our local Circles Out of Poverty Program. We will all be sitting around a a table with a crisp table cloth, enjoying gourmet coffee and petite desserts in the month of Thankfulness and girth and all things pumpkin, as some of our high school students read these stories, all written in the first-person in order to emphasize the immediacy.

Here is the link to the national Facing Project:

www.facingproject.com

 

Rediscovery of my Blog

Wow, it has been a long time between posts. Here I am in the last semester before my “thesis” semester at Ashland University’s MFA Program, a semester which I would have to label as “Self-Doubt.” It’s the time in the program when after working my poetic tail off, I realize that I have close to 100 poems, all of which need some kind of revision or work before my thesis will be accepted. Opening my blog site and reading through some of my older posts and poems tonight has given me a much-needed boon of confidence. To put it bluntly, I am weary of writing poems, weary of studying about Native American history, and weary of this quest for clarity in my poems which I must achieve before next semester’s thesis mentor is going to give me the “pass” sign. I have learned so much that I am sure I will be blog-processing the ways in which I have grown as a writer for many years to come. I will be sharing poems and poets I have discovered. I will continue to write poems. But right now…I just want to clean and organize my house and cook several decent meals from scratch in a row.

Blurred lines between work and play

With my first semester completed, I am now free to deep-clean my house and stay completely off computer for the next month if I so desire, yet I so do not desire that! The self-discipline of writing for four hours a day has created a writing monster within that constantly beats at my chest to produce more words. I choose to write even when I don’t have to. This makes me incredibly happy.

Today I started an essay which I hope to complete by the end of the week for submission to a contest. I am finding that writing in essay-mode is much easier than revising poems. After months on a steeply-inclined treadmill, I am now feeling the rush of sprinting toward the horizon on flat land.

Last night, just for fun, I sat down and wrote what I believe to be is my strongest poem ever. Time will tell. I am learning to give everything time. Funny, as we age, we have less and less of that precious commodity, yet more and more acceptance of its limitations and graces.

Good things happen to those who write.

 

 

Semester One is Done!

Semester One of my MFA program is in the history books. It sounds like the ticking morning clock is applauding me as I write this. Yes, I am excited about the growth I have seen as a writer through this intense semester of creating and considering and revising. It’s nice to have a period of time over the holidays to take a deep breath and watch some mindless television, but i have to admit I am already feeling the excitement and anticipation in my almost-always typing fingertips at the prospect of studying next semester with the great poet Angie Estes.

I have learned so much from this semester’s poet-mentor–Ruth L. Schwartz. In addition to reading her work in-depth, I studied the following poets: Dan Bellm, Larry Levis, Patricia Smith, Natasha Trethewey, Cynthia Marie Hoffman, C.K. Wright, Charles Wright and Jan Beatty. It’s amazing how reading these poets with careful consideration regarding my own craft and aesthetic has shaped my writing this semester. I am writing even better first drafts and I have developed the key and previously missing skills of revision, good news to the thousands of first drafts hiding on my hard drive.

Most importantly for my work and for my life, I have discovered that I have something to say and this is the arena which I choose to say it in. This first book of poems I will complete as my thesis project is very personal, but at the same time, evolving into interesting relationships with my faith, with history, with universal experiences. My poetry seeks imagery–my mind thinks that way and it always has. It is satisfying that this semester I have learned it is much more satisfying to create an image-heavy poem which works for readers, which coheres and makes some sense. I enjoy poets such as Eliot, Angie Estes, Charles Wright, who I “get” but I don’t fully understand at all times. Wallace Stephens. Those who have that “something” extraordinary illuminating or creating a shadow of though, illusion, allusion, myth.

I have been called “strange” many times this semester! I have learned that “strange” in poetry can be a good thing. Now someone please write me a note verifying that “strange is good” that I can hand to all the ordinary people in my ordinary life. I  have learned that I compartmentalize my poetry pursuits from the rest of my life in my thought processes. I keep it separate. I am a different person when I am putting words on a page. I hope by the end of this program that Writer Kerri and Ordinary Kerri can share more peacefully the same skin. I hope I alienate all those in my life who refuse to take me as least half as seriously as I take myself. 

I have learned so much from Ruth L. Schwartz, from her patient and constant attention to my poetry, to the many hats she wears as she enters our fledgling poems and seeks to know the writers better so she can find that jumping off point for us to learn to soar. It is different for each one of us. It is a kind of poetic parenting…this mentoring. Through her ability to find a slow peace in the living out of her personal convictions and her own poetic creations, I have learned to slow my pace somewhat as a writer. I have learned the value and the rush of staying with an image or a poem until it really feels complete, and then looking at it again the next day and the next day after that. For me it’s a process of tweaking away until I see a little light. Revision is the hard work of writing poetry. Ruth has steadfastly stayed with me and encouraged me to enter my work as the poet, and this was the main goal I expressed to her at the beginning of semester. She never forgot that, even though I handed her some of the most outlandishly disconnected drafts she has possibly seen as a poetry professor. She never flinched. At the end of this semester, I feel that I can begin to write from a place of accomplishment. Perhaps live there, too. I don’t feel that I am clawing and scratching and auditioning anymore. I feel I belong in this MFA program. It is an incredible amount of hard work to produce a book of poems. I am thankful for my community of Ashland writers who get that and who deeply through the experience of pursuing the same end really understand.

Creativity casualty

As a civilization we are destroying miles of rain forest every day, we have whittled down untouched prairie to less than 3 percent of our world’s known topography, our landfills are bloated, ugly artifacts-turned-monsters–yet what may be the most endangered life-giving domain in the post-post modern world? Creativity.

Why? It takes a deliberate snubbing of all that mainstream society holds dear for a person to creatively write, draw, paint, sing, dance, think.

Creativity requires “Thoroughly Modern Millie” to turn off the television, mute all cell-phone notifications, to begin to think of her home as a studio where art is created, which means order and simplicity and hours and hours of uninterrupted time and space. Creativity requires long periods of seemingly doing nothing. It’s much like prayer, when prayer evolves into listening to God rather than speaking to God. For me, creative moments are prayer in exactly that sense.

I wish that I could visit all the elementary schools in the world with the power of an Education Czar so that I could teach teachers and principals and parents how to structure days and classrooms and lessons so that each day children would be “required” to learn the architecture behind the creative moment, because there definitely is one, and I believe most creative souls get their architecture mown down by the bulldozer of the industrialized society, by the misplaced values of such a society, much in the same way Andrew Jackson took down the Native Americans. He couldn’t see what he was destroying for the vision in his head of what he wanted to build.

I really believe the person who will ultimately cure cancer will be a scientist who writes poetry on the side, who listens to Mozart while he manipulates cells in a test tube, who takes long walks in the evenings and reads real books, not Kindles.

Poetry makes me a better person, and there is not much else in life that has that power to refine me. Others may misunderstand, but I understand myself so much the more, which strengthens my own foundations and my resolve to continue down this path. Most of us, who do this, do it for the joy it brings.

 

 

Sorry I haven’t written…I have been so busy writing!

I am officially floundering in the deep end of my MFA program about half-way through my first semester. I haven’t had time to check-in on the blog because every spare moment I have is spent reading assigned poetry books, writing poems that emulate the writers we are studying, or writing responses to poets I encounter. I am enjoying every minute of it, but at the same time I am exhausted.

 

http://www.reliefjournal.com/2013/10/04/poet-kerri-snell/

 

Here is a link to a blog post I wrote which ran today at Relief Journal’s Blog. Three of my poems are featured in Relief Journal 7.1.

I am committed to revising the rest of this semester. Blah! I would much rather generate new drafts of new poems, but the “Catch-22” of that is, all the new drafts will at some point, need revising. This is the hard work aspect of poetry for me. I am hoping to find resolve and discipline. I now know the answer to why everyone doesn’t publish a book in their lifetimes. It is HARD work.

Beyond My Control

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=4927101421782&set=p.4927101421782&type=1&theater

 

I saw this quote on my Facebook wall while killing time this morning in between bouts of poetry-writing. I don’t agree with this one-hundred percent, because I think there is the tangible and the intangible to life. There are forces beyond our control that sometimes coerce our realities into being, and there simply is nothing we can do about that. It’s like the writing process. If I focus on what I can control and only focus on that–the work ethic, the reading, the self-discipline to get off Facebook and write, the physical exertion I need in order to sit still and work–my writing will improve and perhaps significantly, which is why I am enrolled in am MFA program. I want to focus on and work on the gifts of writing that are in my hands to improve. This doesn’t, however, negate the reality that there are gifts out there which no amount of drive, focus, ambition, and hard work will bring to me. There is a certain fickle quality to everyone’s Muse.

 

I believe in writing and in life, we spend too much time sometimes gargling the happenings of life which we have no control over to the neglect of those aspects of life which we do have control over. Posting this quote and finding some solace in its fact doesn’t mean I believe there is no whimsy to life, no unexpected course, no tragedy that comes out-of-the-blue. It’s just it seems pointless to me to spend too much time fretting about the fairy dust of life. I still believe in it, though.

Documentary Poetry

http://www.bostonreview.net/blog/smith-drone-poetics

This poet is on faculty at Ashland University and I plan to request her as my mentor for spring semester. She lectured during summer residency on documentary poetry and the above link presents an article she published on that topic. What is the responsibility of poetry to tackle social problems/issues? What is the best format for literature to grapple with accurate history? I see documentary poetry as a means of engaging an audience that stretches beyond those who read poetry as art for art’s sake. Documentary Poetry is also a way to transport the poet from the exclusively confessional as far as subject matter.

Beautiful Let-down

Home. There is no place like it. Kansas. I feel I have the right to paraphrase Dorothy because Kansas is home to me. There is nothing like landing at the Kansas City Airport and viewing that wide expanse of sky with nothing to serve as a geographical interruption to the horizon….and I mean that, not in a sarcastic way. Whatever others feel when they arrive “home” to their Philly Cheesesteaks or Great Lakes or miles of ocean-views, or Chinese food or Indie-music, or Rocky Mountains or favorite bistro where he proposed to her, or In-and-Out Burgers, we Kansans feel that exact same feeling when we open our eyes and see the open prairie. Ah. I am home. My heart can relax and breathe again. I can see forever again. I can let down. I am home.

I am still processing all that I learned from my two weeks at Ashland University. Poetry work-shopping has much in common with heavy weight-lifting. The body gets broken down. Toward the end of the experience, I am sure I was not alone in feeling like a complete poetry imposter with no business spending money on attaining an MFA when I felt like I didn’t even want to write my name anymore, much less write a poem, much less talk about a poem, read a poem, comment on someone else’s poem. Growth and building chops in anything always presents itself as the monster we would much rather avoid. I like to refer to poetry workshops as the root canal I just signed up for.

The last day of workshop, I sat in my oversized chair that was causing my spine to crook, feeling like the weakest link. I don’t like that feeling. I hadn’t completed the one assignment of the week in an acceptable manner. I had not followed the directions of the assignment but had gone off, as I am apt to do, on a tangent of my own. Part of the struggle involves my attempt to write from a foreign image bank. I want to write my thesis project about the Native American tribes in southern Oklahoma. I am so immersed in thought about this project that my poetry right now sounds like poorly planned prose. Clarity is impossible. I have no idea what I want to say. It is too early. I don’t even know what I want to know about all of this yet. It is somewhat like attempting to write in a foreign language before learning the language. I know that, being part Native American myself and having grown up in this area of Oklahoma, that I know much more than I realize I know at this point, but writing to know (I think Frost says this is why we write) doesn’t work as well for me as writing from what I know.  I lack a voice.

After the last workshop I kidnapped myself for the remaining hours I had at Ashland and re-worked the assignment which was to copy as closely as we could the form of a Beckian Goldberg poem. I forced myself to leave Oklahoma and to write about something I do know much about–Walt Whitman. I emailed it to Angie Estes, poetry mentor at the workshop, and left Ashland feeling at least as though I had given it my best try.

I felt so pleased today to receive an email back from Angie Estes, who started her comments with the word “WOW.” First of all, it is amazing to me that a poet of this stature took the time to email me after the class ended on a poem which is clearly a late assignment on my part. All the poets I worked with at Ashland have shown me that kind of attention for the entire two-week residency. And not just to me. To all the graduate students.

I am home, still enjoying that beautiful let-down, not writing much, not thinking much. Cleaning and cooking and hugging my family a lot. My books are ordered for fall semester. Today’s email from Angie was a real boost of encouragement. Maybe I do belong in this program after all. One thing is certain. I am having the time of my life.

Joy Harjo

http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/179782

 

I love this poem by Joy Harjo. Hopefully, tomorrow I will link some photos of Ashland University’s beautiful campus. I am in intense writer/reader mode! So much to learn…so many ideas…this is an inspiring place.

 

 

Day Two…morning and an essay by Elizabeth Dodd

I found coffee this morning, and discovered much to my pleasure, that Ashland is a very “run-able” little city.

Breakfast for me was the consumption of this essay by Elizabeth Dodd. http://readthebestwriting.com/?p=793.

I am focusing in my solitude on methods to slow down my writing process, to improve within my writing routine, the savory flavor of letting ideas ruminate and cure before spilling them on the page. I need to become a distance runner as a poet instead of a sprinter.

How to slow my mind down? How to wait for the great poem, instead of settling for the onslaught of fast ideas?

Working on a mini-presentation for tomorrow’s workshop on the tense and time travel through light in the poetry of Mark Strand.

http://www.bu.edu/agni/poetry/print/2002/56-strand.html

 

And the evening and the morning were the first day…

I am sitting in my “owl” pajamas (apology to my sister who is terrified of owls), sufficiently tucked in for the night in my little dorm room cubicle on the second floor of Andrews Hall at Ashland University. Coming from my over 4,000 square foot, newly-purchased Tudor home to the institutional yellow walls of the tiny dorm room that will be my “home” for the next two weeks makes me feel like after-the-felony-Martha-Stewart. I hope to post pictures of the bunk bed with the thin, not-ready-for-summer-camp blanket in tomorrow’s post. I have already Googled hotels at Ashland for next summer’s residency.

In reality, though, I am thankful to be in this quiet room with no clutter and no distractions other than the television blaring in the lounge that adjoins my room. Did I mention I am a light sleeper? Living on campus has already necessitated the making of new writer friends. Tomorrow three new friends and I will meet for a journey to find java on a Sunday morning in a small Ohio town.

I struggle with “talking the talk.” I just have to keep reminding myself that what I am here in the program for is to improve my ability not only to write poetry but to talk about it.

It helps that tonight I received an email from Relief Journal who is sending the final galley of my poems for proofreading before publication. I may come from a small town in Kansas. I may be a SAHM. I may have arrived here with the writing processes of that ugly stepsister–Journalism. But I am here, and I am already a published poet.  I love the work.

I am thrilled for the residency to officially move from introductions and awkward socializing (poets in general need more than apple juice to make us socially interesting people…) to teachable moments. Tomorrow’s craft seminar is  ” A Closer Look at James Agee” followed by a reading by poet Brian Doyle.

Ready or Not!

True to form, the pace of my summer has not been conducive to a writing life. Usually, I completely table all writing and spend my time outdoors, mostly driving my son to and from summer tennis practices and tournaments. Normally, I embrace the hiatus from writing, however, in two days I board a plane for Ohio where I will begin Ashland University’s MFA program with a two-week writing residency. I am excited, nervous, and a bit freaked-out by having to pay my first year’s tuition. I feel like I can’t waste that much money. I now must succeed. Someone please define “success” for me.
Today, I unpacked my first box of poetry books and placed them on shelves in a new room in our new home. It felt like my mind was opening and I could breath again, to see my familiar friends–these books. In the next two days, I must select a poem to analyze and present at the residency and I must fill out workshop forms for the poems I have submitted for workshop at the upcoming residency.
Most importantly, tomorrow I have a hair appointment. Nothing saps my confidence like gray roots! By far the biggest surprise to me is the angst I feel over leaving my little grandson for two weeks! I like to pretend I am this independent woman with a poetry career, sports interests, friends, hobbies, etc….that little boy has me completely wrapped around his little finger.
It feels good to write something again, albeit a hastily scribbled blog post. It’s a start. All of life is a start, a box to unpack, a changing child to remember.

The piercing light of Mark Strand

http://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/1070/the-art-of-poetry-no-77-mark-strand

I read this interview with Mark Strand to jumpstart my writing day today. I believe that the poets, as Strand alludes to in the article, who are able to create their own “other worlds” through poetry, bringing luscious mystery to light (as Strand does) have a deep understanding of their own poetic process and their own theories about why poetry matters and poetry’s place in the world, or lack of place.

Strand’s process sounds similar to my own, but my own understanding of this process, my own relationship with the intangibles of art, music, poetry, my own steadfast groundedness in nonfiction and prose and this concrete world, diminishes my ability to shine such bold light. This is something I will continue to work toward…mystery yet absolute clarity at the same time.

Work Was Done

In the tense of President George W.– Work was done around here today. I selected several poems and zapped them to the Cincinnati Review for a poetry contest. “Geography,” “Demise,” “Enlightenment,” “Burning Day,” “After Moving (Re-titled “Oklahoma Territory”), “Whitman’s America,” and “Water.”

 

Editing poems is tedious work!

Judging the Beauty Pagaent

It’s “crunch time” around here. In the next four days I must select 15 poems to be dissected and hopefully, like a beautiful mosaic, glued back together as stronger versions of themselves during my summer residency at Ashland. The important thing is to select poems which have some “wiggle room”– the ability to change and grow. Much of what I write feels very finished after the first draft. The writing isn’t great yet, but like my personality, it ineffably is what it is, and no amount of tweaking fundamentally changes anything.

I am thinking of starting a nonfiction piece entitled “How to Get Anyone Besides Your Husband Who is At This Moment Terrified of You to Take You Seriously During Menopause.”

Yes. Good luck with that. Truthfully, The Change has not even started for me, but at 50, I am at that age where no matter what I do and say…that is the overriding assumption. Works great unless you are attempting to accomplish something outside of yourself like publishing a book of poetry and earning a MFA degree. We all know poetry is never written outside of one’s true self.  I am just finding that for 50 years,  I have been parading around as a fictional character…no wonder success hasn’t followed me like a bloodhound!

It seems, even in my inner circle of friends and family, I have attracted a bunch of wing-clippers. (That sounds so menopausal, doesn’t it?) Perhaps more accurately I have focused too intently on being the wind beneath everyone else’s wings. I take responsibility for this. After all, I trained them. I do believe we lay little bread crumbs of instructions (nonverbal and verbal, in thought and action) which teach others how we want to be treated while they are on their merry ways to us. Some of us know we deserve more, but at the same time, feel that we don’t.

A little at a time, I am feeling more secure in who I really am. I know I have a voice and that I have always had one. I am beginning to believe if I find the right audience, my voice will make a difference and will be heard. I can’t spend all of my time keeping other people in the air only to be told when I exhale that I am a Debbie Downer. I am excited to develop through Ashland University, a group of support persons who take the writing of poetry as seriously as I do.  Now I must begin to select the 15 beauties who will make this trip with me.

Hello Summer

I don’t consider myself a writer during the summer months. I consider myself a popsicle-eating, sun-bathing, tennis-watching Mom during the summer. I also don’t consider myself a cook or house-cleaner in the summer, which bothers my husband much more than the not-considering-myself-a-writer thing. This summer, however, with my summer residency at Ashland University looming, I have to somehow get myself motivated.

 

I have to select my poems for workshop during summer residency. Deadline: yesterday.

I have to start writing again. Something tells me that my popsicle-eating persona isn’t going to make much of an impression upon my Pulitzer-prize- nominated- poetry- mentor at Ashland.

As if God knew I needed some external motivation, at just the right moment I recently learned that three of my poems will appear in the July issue of Relief Journal.

Nothing makes my grape-stained popsicle lips curve up at the ends like notice of publication. I am sticky with gratitude.

 

Lazy days of summer….

I am headed to Kansas City overnight on a business trip with my husband and I am hoping the luxury hotel atmosphere, and most importantly, the privacy away from my house, kids, and to-do lists, will inspire me to get some writing done.

 

Here is what I hope to accomplish: 1. Select poems for my summer residency at Ashland; 2. Write some on the novel I started on a whim 3. Read, read, read! 4. Work on a couple of essays in the works.

Perhaps some poetry will get written as well.

I will report back.

Fitness and Writing

http://storylineblog.com/2013/05/16/a-successful-defeat-2/?utm_content=bufferc0936&utm_source=buffer&utm_medium=facebook&utm_campaign=Buffer

 

The link above is a blog post by Donald Miller which connects two great passions of mine–basketball and writing. So I had to share it.

The post also gives us, as writers, permission to have bad days. Whew, that’s good, because I have more bad days than good ones when it comes to producing quality writing. This post also engaged my thoughts around the connection between writing routine and fitness. For me, I cannot possibly quiet my mind or sit still long enough to write a poem or an essay unless I have at least an hour of exercise each day. Most days, I log more than one hour. This could be walking or yoga or running or weight-lifting or non-swimming water exercise.

Because I devote such regular time to fitness, many of my friends are women I have met with a mat or a band or a barbell between us. Many of these friends are fitter than I am, so I hesitate, always, to give advice about diet and exercise. With that caution in mind, here are some random thoughts I have about diet and exercise and I dedicate this to all women who are driven to improve themselves and to be the best we can be:

1. Fitness should serve you, not the other way around. If you serve the Fitness god (who looks like Barbie, by the way…and you, of course, don’t) then this is a tragic form of idolatry. What could be adding years and more importantly layers of energy and quality to your life will, instead, take you by the high, bleach-blonde fantasy pony tail that you have and yank you out of your own life. Yes, you might be a size 4, but your conversations will be only one-dimensional diatribes about the perfect green smoothie and the best regimen for killer abs. There is no acceptance in this territory, and when we can’t accept ourselves and our less-than-perfect bodies, we shut down the avenue to understanding the miraculous gift of God’s acceptance of us. Worse yet, we question his perfect wisdom in creating us with physical flaws. Angelina Jolie recently went public with the news that she recently underwent a preventive double mastectomy because of her nearly certain genetic probability of developing breast cancer. Here is one of the most physically beautiful women to ever walk the face of the earth. It is a very good thing for Angelina and family that she understands the deeper elements of true beauty. While it is not possible for me to look like Angelina Jolie, it is completely possible and desired by God that I have the confidence in myself to know that beauty is not the summation of perfectly chiseled body parts.

2.Gentle Moderation. I love high intensity workouts. I love pushing myself and attaining goals. Nothing wrong with doing Crossfit or running marathons as long as we listen to our bodies and exercise for the longterm benefits. If your body hurts, though, let it rest. We shouldn’t be judging our worthiness for the day based on how many stairs we climbed, or as I have been known to do, how close to cardiac arrest I pushed myself. Two years ago, I was heavy into Crossfit, and now after sustaining a back injury which keeps me from doing high intense workouts anymore, I do notice that my body is different, but honestly it isn’t THAT different. I am still in the same size of clothing as I was. My arms are not as muscular but they aren’t flabby either. I am curvier and look more like a middle-aged woman, but I am also able to enjoy other pursuits like writing and cooking and being with friends more because I am not chronically fatigued from my daily workouts and so depleted physically that the rest of my day after my workouts aren’t consumed with fueling my body with calories for the next workout. I don’t really miss the workouts. I miss the endorphin-highs. It takes more time for me to burn the calories I need to burn to maintain my weight, but I am much more at peace about my day and about my life, and I am much less HUNGRY all the time. Don’t get me wrong….if I could still do Crossfit I would. I loved it, but I can’t and both Barbie-god and myself have to be okay with that. It’s odd, I don’t miss it nearly as much as I thought I would.

3. Eat Real Food. Sometimes I just want to open all the windows of my house and shout Guess what? Human beings used to eat sugar and white pasta and dairy products and they eventually died. And guess what else, you can go through your life avoiding these food substances and you are STILL GOING TO DIE SOMEDAY. I do believe in pursuing the eating of more fresh vegetables and fruits, but some of the posts I read from fitness buffs in blogs and on Facebook and some of the conversations I hear from ladies in the locker room at my local exercise haunt, lead me to shake my head. These women apparently never eat real food anymore. I recommend the wisdom of Nina Plank and her Eat Real Food movement. Count the cost. You are giving up a day in your life for this. Personally I want to talk about something else and I want to eat real food given the fact that I don’t get this day back ever again. Today, at age 50, tacking on another year at the end of my hopefully but not guaranteed long life is not as precious or as vital is this day right here and now is to me. Food is fuel, but it is much more than that. It is also a way to connect with other people. I don’t want to eat like an astronaut.

4. Guilt makes you fat, not real food. For me, the journey to prioritize myself as a Christian wife and mother has been a climb through a lot of hastily consumed brownies. I have been addicted to sugar in the past. There is a connection between sleep deprivation and poor eating habits. It’s all about finding emotional, physical, and spiritual balance. What works for me doesn’t necessarily work for you. The key to achieving ideal weight and long-term health is to address all aspects of why we make the food choices and the exercise choices that we do. Right here, right now, let’s take a deep breath and say I am beautiful just as I am.  The only person who needs convincing of that is myself.

5. No matter what you do, you are going to die. It might be with perpetually and falsely perked-up breast implants or Botox cheeks or hair that is too blonde for your laugh lines. You might meet your Maker in bling-jeans that in previous generations only country music stars would wear, but make no mistake about it, we can’t cheat death no matter how many unassisted pull ups we can perform. It seems to me a good percentage of our days (perhaps the equivalent of how many hours we put in on the treadmill) should go toward what is eternal about us and our lives, and to the extent going for a jog prepares my heart and mind for eternal living, that is the extent to which all of this matters. It does matter. Show me a woman with a barrel-shaped belly and I don’t care how many women’s retreats she has led or how many sermonettes she has delivered or how many hours she supposedly spends in prayer, I will show you the truth that there is guilt there, and hiding and hoarding and lack of balance. For me exercise is a very spiritual pursuit. Sometimes so is a good donut. When I eat a balanced diet and when I exercise at least an hour each day, I feel so much better and I am able to accomplish so much more. But it is the balance, not the steady feeding of endorphins that keep me grounded able to be the best me. We begin to attempt to control what we fear when we realize we fear what we can’t control. In reality, my body is aging. My skin is getting thinner. My teeth are losing enamel. My hair is well, my hair. I fear loss of my quality of life probably more than I fear total loss of life. But I can’t control these natural processes. I can only live in the reality that this is life as it is meant to be lived and there is no dodging the uncomfortable parts. Perspective is the word. Exercise within the realm of this reality.

 

Poem published

This poem was published this weekend at http://burnsidewriters.com/2013/05/04/church/. You can read the poem by clicking on the link in the previous sentence. The font does not look like a “click-able” link but it is.

I don’t like many of the poems I write once they are finished, but I happen to like this one.

 

In other news, I sent four poems for consideration to The Christian Century. “I Cor. 13,” “Last Days,” “Litany for Healing,” and “Litany for Suffering.” Fingers crossed.

Messy Means Creative?

I came across a slide show of famous writers and artists and their work spaces. Apart from Picasso whose art studio looked like an episode of “Hoarders,” and a few other famous Messy-Maniacs , I felt validated that most of the creative spaces looked like the hospital wing for the chronically OCD. Many of the writers obviously require cleanliness and absolute order with a minimalist approach to things in order for creativity to flow. I have always been this way. My creative process is random and willy-nilly and all over the place. I start typing a poem usually with no idea what the first line of the poem will even sound like. I have no agenda. I can’t require much of my Muse except the promise to dust, vacuum, put away all items out of place and then serve her.

Because I am so rigid about my need for order, I have often been labeled by friends and family as Khaki Kerri–the boring person with nothing better to do than dishes. I beg to differ that “Good Moms” have messy stoves. My kitchen has to be spotless with all the dishes and surfaces clean or I will not cook. I respect that Picasso and I could not have worked in the same studio,  and I also respect that his artistic abilities far exceed mine so the man can choose not to make his children wear clothes if he wants to….As for my friends and family who can’t find a path from front door to  living room, whose dining tables look like Craft-o-Rama-Bama, you might just be messier, not more creative than some of us who keep our spaces free of clutter.

The bottom line to living an artistic life or just living a life in general is to be who you are created to be and to celebrate that and to spend most of your time with others who will also celebrate that. Part (perhaps all) of never having time for maintenance and margin in one’s life is…let’s call it what it is…. feeding the Glorification of Busy Monster, and that Monster will take over your brain until you are living from caffeine drip to caffeine drip, gaining pounds around your midsection, and hurrying so fast you can hardly take a breath to actually listen to someone who isn’t on the same treadmill. I have spent my years working for that warden, and I have reaped the futility of it. Not only that, I have trained my up my own children to battle this cultural demon. My daughters especially struggle with allowing themselves to rest.

I say this to my kids from time to time (okay…too often) Do what I say, not what I do. Every day should bring you some measure of joy at the end of it. We spend way too much time debating the definition of joy and way too little time asking ourselves if we have it, because if you have it, every day in your life, you don’t have to ask what it is anymore. You just know. Sadly, in today’s culture, it is impossible to find joy and fulfill all your childhood sports’ practice requirements. How many of us are raising our kids on God’s value that abundance is not quantitative or externally measured?

Creativity is a suspended moment. For some, a suspended moment means you don’t see the cobwebs in your corners or the sink piled high with food-scarred dishes. Some of us can’t navigate the suspension with total disregard. Messiness is not a measure of creativity any more than neatness is.

To do list…

I am in one of those dreaded states of paralysis in which I have the time to work but no work is getting itself produced. I feel like President Bush attempting to hold a press conference about a natural disaster. I could blame myself, my lack of discipline, my laziness, but it’s easier to just say this unwelcome state of mind and heart has just come upon me like the weather. I have been here before.

I usually find it helpful to listen to lots of Mumford and Sons and to make a writer’s to-do list. Here is the list (with Credence Clearwater Revival playing in the background….) Readers will have to supply your own imagination for the music as I am keeping this blog simple, like me….

My Writer’s To Do List:

1. Finish and send registration for Summer Residency at Ashland.

2. Complete editing of my “Middle People” essay and determine which lucky journal gets a crack it first. Editing a prose article ranks among my least favorite activities in the whole world. Writing the first draft was fun.

3.Finish reading the kindle poetry of Maurice Manning that I ordered weeks ago and have not started.

4.Finish last month’s bookclub book and start May’s selection so I can actually attend bookclub in May.

5.Put one word in front of the other and write some poetry.

6. Start selection of poems to be work-shopped at summer residency.

Part of the reason the writing is not happening is my life is in flux. We are moving again. I am excited about the move to a better neighborhood and to a completely beautiful and finished Tudor-style house. It’s just some of my poetry books are already in boxes for the move. I am not sure I can write without my pile of poetry books always accessible to me. I also have a massive non-writing to-do list that relates to the move. This too shall pass. I am starting to imagine where my writing spot will be in the new house. I don’t even want to write the non-writing to-do list. It’s massive.

You are dismissed….

http://giuliozambon.blogspot.com/2012/06/dismissive-people-power-and-all-that.html

Sometimes, going about my poetic life, I feel like I am on a badly-written episode of “Big Bang Theory,” where the speakers have seemingly forgotten that the humor-punch in the show is that these characters are anal retentive because they possess a superior intelligence…they aren’t just anal for sake of being anal, and most importantly, anal-ness is not the same thing as intelligence. Without intelligence, anal-retentiveness is just, well, annoying.

This sounds harsh!

The writer of the link posted above would agree with me.  Mired in facts, that’s what we are. Think about this. The “stuff” of Huckleberry Finn was available and accessible to everyone, but only Mark Twain could have written it. When I am in a large group setting, I am always seeking the Mark Twain of the group. Or in a pinch, becoming him. But if that is the case, the episode of Big Bang Theory I am stuck in is a REALLY bad one! I have four siblings and I am not known as the funny one.

I like what the writer of the above-linked blogpost has to say about the difference in true intelligence and the collecting of rote facts within the brain. Our schools should recognize and promote creativity and attempt to challenge those who can make connections and relationships out of facts. Otherwise, knowing who invented the sausage is about as worthless as a southerner’s fishing stories (and far less interesting).

Rote people tend to flock together like sardines in edible form, and they tend to make up their own rules and to become very dismissive of those who think outside their cans. My “rote” acquaintances like to cut me off mid-sentence. If you aren’t going to name drop their favorite theological term within five seconds or assume the inferior position they need to keep their lists in order, then they are not listening to you. I mean, God has a plan, and it’s all about them getting stuck in the airport. But what I think they do not realize is I am obviously even more dismissive of the fact-checkers than they are of me. It’s just they are never going to realize it. We were all, I believe, born to create, to take risks, to live fully, to know God at a level deeper than an acrostic of His attributes.

Sing it with me…You’re so vain…I bet you think this song is about you, don’t you? don’t you? don’t you?

 

 

Maya, Maya, and more Maya…Please!

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/04/10/maya-angelou-how-i-write.html

Here is a link to an interview with Maya Angelou. I am always struck by the humility of her writing and her answers to interview questions. Maya quintessentially demonstrates the quiet, steely strength in humility.

I learned in this interview that Ms. Angelou writes from a hotel room. There’s an idea! I need to move to a city with a Hyatt. The hotel rooms in my little town are less luxurious and probably less clean than my house after the teenager has had a Funyon party with five of his stinkiest friends.

Quietness. Humility. Don’t force words. Don’t strangle truth. Don’t forget who you are and that to love is a greater thing than to write about love. I think that is what Maya’s poetry exudes in lesson-form. The rest is just beautiful.

A Day in the Life…

People really do wonder what I do all day, or I like to pretend they do because it feeds my wood pile of self-absorption I suppose. Today was a pretty typical day for me. I woke up a bit later than usual at 7:15, groped around like a clumsy blind person for morning coffee, took a few sips and decided NOPE not making it to Pilates at 8:15. My hair was a bird’s nest. I have naturally curly hair and it tends to change into whatever shape I decided to sleep in and stay there. I actually have to do my hair to go to the YMCA, or maybe undo would be a more appropriate term.

After a couple cups of coffee I surfed the net then settled into an essay written by Wendell Berry at Christian Century. I realized early into the essay that in order to finish it I would have to subscribe so of course I did. Then I read the daily poems at Poetry Daily and Verse Daily and turned on my Pandora and commenced to write a poem. In between writing the poem I checked Facebook, updated my Google Calendar, and caught up with Gwyneth over at GOOP which motivated me to suddenly wonder what half a million dollars would buy a person in the housing market of Santa Barbara. I also wrote a personal letter which  if I ever print it out to mail it will take up four pages single-spaced ( I won’t) and tidied up the house for the realtor who called to say she was stopping by this afternoon to take photographs of the rooms of the house. I also read through my own poems in random fashion which is my editing process.

After lunch with my husband I put on exercise clothes and spent forty minutes running on the treadmill. Then off to the grocery store for today’s dinner which is crock pot potato soup. I picked up my son from school, cut open a cantaloupe for him , scooped out the seeds and acted like this is something he will never be able to do for himself…which gets me to now, updating my blog.

My life is not exciting enough for GOOP or Facebook. As writers, we have to create fertile environments for creative flow to happen. It doesn’t always happen, but we have to keep the possibility open, the spaces clear.

A Submittable Day

Today was a good day, in “bird by bird”  terms. I wrote a very good poem, the kind that just falls out of me sometimes, and it’s painless so I wonder where that came from? It’s like I know I have been to the secret well and I am left wondering how did I get there?

Next, it was on to the tedium of http://www.submittable.com.

It took me longer to find two poems, collect them into a single file, proof them a million times and send them off to a poetry contest than it did to write the incredible poem. I must take heart, though, because tomorrow the incredible poem may reveal itself as quite ordinary ( or less) and the hard work of editing and submitting the poems may pay off as another rung on the publishing ladder for me.

Nothing is as it seems or so it seems.

Here is a link  :

http://www.wofford.edu/sharedworlds/handinhand.aspx

which offers encouragement to writers. I plan to revisit this site for inspiration and motivation to keep writing the good write.

The Imagist Poem

Probably because I was a poet first, then I “grew up” and became a journalist, my return at middle age to poetry has been somewhat  the journey of a lumberjack with a dull saw through a forest of rotting trees. In other, more literal words, I have had to work my brain backwards through a very established prose voice into the internal mechanisms of lyric. This has required a brief, but fierce love affair with the Imagists.

Imagism happened in the early 20th Century as a reaction to the overt floweriness and wordiness of Victorian poetry. Imagism was one of the forks in the road of Modernism. It’s fun to explore Imagism by deploying Imagism. The quickest way to make an apple look different is to peel said apple down to its core. That is one of  Ezra Pound’s “rules” on Imagism–direct treatment of the object itself, either objectively or subjectively. No talking around the thing….only discourse on the thing itself.

The second of Pound’s rules is that under no circumstances should the poet ever waste or misuse a word. If the word isn’t necessary to the meaning of the poem or the creation of the image in the poem, then the word doesn’t belong. Imagist poems are sparse.

Pound’s third rule supports the second rule because the rhythm and meter of the poem are dictated by the absolute aversion to use of unnecessary words. So therefore, there is no substitution of a three syllable word for a two-syllable word in order to achieve pentameter. Rhythms follow the pattern of the metronome, not a specific amount of beats per measure. Modernist poetry appears in no recognizable form, and yet the great poems of this time appeal to the reader’s internal longing for a form. Imagist poetry works without working.

Today’s reading audience is much more comfortable with prose than with lyrical or imagistic poetry. An imagist poem requires a leap of faith into the unknown…a getting from the not getting, so to speak. My most recently published poem “World Without Grace” takes a stab at the writing of an Imagistic poem. I write them or attempt to write them because it is so much more satisfying and so much more challenging to write than the typical prose-poem. An imagist poem runs great risk of being misunderstood because the reader has to work harder, especially when the reader encounters an imagist poem written by the lesser-skilled imagist poet like myself. Sometimes the meaning is murky because I lacked the ability to create in a few sparse words the poem I sought to create. Often times that is the case.

This particular poem is fairly simple to comprehend if the title is absorbed as part of the poem. If the title is distanced from the text of the poem, readers get confused by what I was trying to say.  This poem did not totally succeed without punctuation and capitalization. I like to think I was experimenting with free flow imagery, but perhaps I was just being a lazy editor of my own work. Certainly, the gift to the world of a poem that no one understands can be a “world without grace” to the giver of the gift. To anyone who read this poem and doesn’t get it, I would suggest you put my poem down and find yourself some Ezra Pound. In the hands of a master, Imagism can be a very satisfying experience.

Lines that birth poems and haunt lives

There are certain poets who have the gift of creating that one line around which an immortal poem circles and without which it would be just an ordinary poem. Of all poets, Yeats is the master of this. Of course, Yeats is the master of many aspects of writing poetry. I often wonder why God didn’t select Yeats to write the Bible. I mean no sacrilege here…I just love Yeats that much!

One of the most beautiful lines ever written comes from the hand of Yeats in his poem “When You are Old and Gray.” Without this one line, the poem teeters too closely upon sentimentality. With it, the poem is timeless, fresh, brilliant.

Here is the line:             But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you

Wow. Does that not capture the way every woman wants to be loved? That one line, writ by W.B., summarizes the best love stories ever written. It is the whole world in one line. It catapults the poem off the page and into my heart. It’s also perfect iambic pentameter. It’s perfect.

Go find the poem and read it. Again and again. Reading Yeats makes me want to hang it up as a writer because I will never achieve such brilliance, but at the same time Yeats opens the lungs of my soul. Is there a better reason to be alive than you can read Yeats?

Routine

I have allowed myself to get into the routine of not having a routine. This happens. Life happens. Starting Monday, even in the midst of March Madness, the following WILL happen:

1. Exercise. I have written down a list of classes at the local YMCA that I will attend next week. I have been exercising, but not with others and I miss and need the social time with other girlfriends. I will attend one class every day next week.

2. Writing. This week I will work on finalizing a submission for a first book award that I am pursuing. I will research markets for the book proposal on worship resources and query. I will read at least one book of poetry from a new author this week, and get started on next month’s bookclub title.

3. I will somehow manage to make it through the impending snowstorm that is headed our way this weekend. It’s March, people! I am certain that my foul mood and laziness has something to do with the need for sunshine, shorts, running outside, and all things Spring.

Maybe if I write this all down in simple, declarative sentences I will intimidate myself into accomplishment instead of watching basketball 24/7. Don’t bet on me, friends. 🙂

 

 

Lack of….

I am thinking of changing the name of this blog to “Musings of the most undisciplined person on earth!”

Today, I started an essay that I plan to submit on the topic of gun control of all subjects. The challenge of this particular journal is that essays must be 750 words or less. For three years once weekly I churned out columns for the local newspaper and I developed the skill of almost thinking in a 500-word count. Give me any topic..go ahead to don’t be shy…and I can extemporaneously crank out 500 words on the subject. Since this journal is attempting to achieve a quality above filling blank space, I suppose I will have to work harder on this piece. The question is when? When am I planning to work harder?

We are taking a long weekend for Big 12 basketball so I won’t work on writing again until Monday. I am soaking up lots of solitude and sun rays today.

I have set my sights on another poetry contest with a deadline of April 1st and have written some poems this week which might work toward that goal. We’ll see…I am giving the poems some time and space so that I can re-evaluate with clarity. Editing one’s poetry is sort of like finding flaws in your own children. Even their pimples and scars you find adorable. Sometimes I make changes to the strengths of my poems while I worship the weaknesses, just like a good mother would.

I am packing lightly for our weekend. One pair of jeans, a supply of  KU Jayhawks shirts, my Kindle, fitness clothes, toiletries, p.j.’s.

In honor of basketball and my weekend I urge readers to find the poem “The Touch” by Judson Mitcham.

I hope to find a link to this poem to make the search easier.

“You miss one hundred percent of the shots you don’t take.” That can certainly apply to the publishing of poetry as well.

Poetry on Kindle

For the first time in my life…and this feels like a momentous shift in the tides of literature to me…I purchased a book of poetry for my Kindle. Having previously succumbed to the convenience and space-saving efficiency of Whispernet for novels and nonfiction, I still planned to always purchase the ACTUAL book when buying poetry. I revisit poems continuously and I  feel like the visual of the words on an ACTUAL page that a tree had to die for enhances the experience of reading poetry. Plus I love the look of all those poets’ names stacked on my shelves. Makes me feel brainy, and unique, part of some kind of other-worldly club. Plus my poetry books are my friends. Poetry books are like pets–they always accept me unconditionally and welcome me into their little heterocosms and no litter box is ever involved. But yesterday, the cheapo, instant-gratification side of me won out. I recently discovered the poetry of Maurice Manning and yesterday the price of a Kindle version of his book “Common Man” was four dollars cheaper than a soft-back book of the same poems. That, and I knew if I I-clicked the Kindle version, the poems would be at my disposal in a matter of seconds. The jury is still out on reading poetry on the Kindle. I will probably love this book of poems so much that I will go back to amazon.com and purchase the book form so the entire transaction will end up costing me more money. I am conflicted.

Teachable Moments :Davis McCombs “Lexicon”

This is a post for a friend of mine from back in the day who teaches junior high English in Oklahoma–home of my poetic soul. When you say the words “best friend,” she is still the first person who comes to mind, probably because she was my best friend at a time when adolescence-survival demanded that I have one.  I haven’t seen her in many years, but she is still a “bestie.”

Thank goodness for the Internet as we are able to keep in touch. She and I have been sharing back and forth sometimes about the teaching of poetry. I am going to post from time to time some introductions to poets or certain poems which would be good fits for the junior high classroom.

Davis McCombs is an obvious choice.  I am drawn again and again to his poetry because of the sense of place he creates in his work and the history he is able to capture. He is, in my opinion, the best younger, newer, fresh poetic face of our time, (whatever “our time” is in poetic terms).

Through words, McCombs builds not just pictures, I would say he paints haunted photographs, and the lyrical prowess of his work can be addictive, meaning, I return to his work again and again for the music of it.

Here is a link to two McComb’s poems. http://muse.jhu.edu/login?auth=0&type=summary&url=/journals/southern_cultures/v015/15.1.mccombs.html

I am most interested for classroom study in the poem “Lexicon” for my teacher-friend, Jess. In this poem McCombs reincarnates the technical language of the tobacco industry, but of course, a close reading will reveal so much about McComb’s technicality as a poet as well.

First things first, read the poem aloud. For several consecutive days, read the poem aloud. On day four or five or six or seven….approach with your students the lexicon of tobacco introduced in the poem. Have students write down the words in the poem which are unfamiliar and most of these words, of course, will be the technical words of the tobacco plant and the tobacco industry. Show them pictures of budworms, aphids and thrips. Other lexicon words in the poem: white burley, lugs, cutters, Paris Green, topping, side-dressing, setters, stripping rooms, pegs, float plants, tierpoles, blue mold, high color, sucker dope (my favorite), Black Patch, high boys, flue-cured, horn worms, buyouts.

I can see this poet as a little boy sitting on the counter at the feed store with his grandfather surrounded by the swirl of these words which meant life to the farmers and the families. I can see myself doing the same thing only the place was southern Oklahoma and the crops were different.

The next doorway into the poem is the lexicon of the poem itself which thrives mostly on verb tense. By using present progressive tense, McCombs creates a fluid action within the poem. The farmers performed this exact action in the past, in the present and through the future.  Have your students read the first line in simple present tense…”the people talk…” Observe what is lost when the tense of the poem is changed.The exclusive use of participles to complete the present progressive tense also softens the poem and serves as a downy landing for the harsh vocabulary to impact the sound and lyric of the poem.

The final line of McComb’s poem turns the lexicon on its ear. This is what they are really saying, isn’t it?  The previous lines in the poem are the specific sounds and words, the lexicon…what the poet heard, hears. The final line contains all the meaning, doesn’t it? The final line connotes what the poet hears that perhaps the other men in overalls did not, do not hear. This is the “why” of the poem. Great poems always contain a “why.”

After your students have sufficiently exhausted their tolerance for the reading and discussing of this poem (I never tire of it)…have them attempt to write a lexicon-poem of their own. Go to the grocery store and listen to the shoppers. Go to church. Listen to your family as you all eat dinner together. What are the teachers talking about in their break room?  I wrote a lexicon-poem one time as an exercise in poetry workshop about poetry workshop. Each place, each experience carries its own jargon. Use those words to recreate the experience and the place.

Have fun!

Me, Myself, and I

You have to figure…if God created you, He probably wants you to be you! This is a great post from one of my favorite blogs about just that. Read on.

 

http://www.positivelypositive.com/2013/02/27/its-time-to-come-out-of-the-closet-and-quit-hiding/

Poem Published

One of my poems has been published at http://burnsidewriters.com/2013/02/24/altar/.

 

I wrote this poem about 15 years ago and never thought this one would get published. It reflects where I was as a poet at that time in my life. The poem’s strengths are a clear conceptual direction and good use of specifics, but it is, in the end, too “prosey” for me. What rhyme there is is rather clunky.

That being said, it’s nice to see such an old poem find a good home. As writers, we need just enough success to keep us in the game.

As is evident in the poem, I have a love/hate relationship with the evangelical prayer room, and with the notion that salvation must be revisited again and again. What must be revisited is the astounding concept that we are saved, made perfect, continually held in the hand of God in our current state, even when we sin.

The poem attempts not to criticize too stealthily the prayer room, but to expand that image to include not only the Christian’s environment (i.e. manmade altar, prayer room, sanctuary, etc.) but also the human body as altar in and of itself with no need for other trappings.

As a Christian, I am not moving in and out of the Light–I am simply forgetting to realize the Light is always there.

 

 

Relationship

The writer is first and foremost in relationship, just not with many of the current surrounding preoccupations. Sometimes relationships suffer because of this. The writer spends all morning in pajamas with unkept hair contemplating Thomas Merton as the “popular” crowd bounces by in the latest Athleta jogging pants on their way to some popular place. They are talking about dog parks and how Heaven is real. It’s impossible to keep up with buzz words and passing fancies and drive-through profoundness.

This sounds like snobbery. Oh it isn’t! I love Athleta and I have a closet full of yoga pants. After I write this post, I will head upstairs put on said jogging pants and do my hair so I can go out in public for a few hours of shopping or lunching or exercising. But the truth is, these last few months have been among the most clear in my life in terms of My Writing Life, and one truth which has pressed upon me and saddened me is that attaining my writing goals means I have to give up some of my relationships.

In the garden of my life, in order to keep the prize plants blooming best, I have to weed out the less integral seedlings. This is not a value judgement, just a reality. If a friendship drains me, I have to cut it. If I have invested many hours attending Bible studies and circles and committees and I have not seen relationships bloom, perhaps that is because I am not supposed to be there in the first place.

No more time for friends who don’t ever say anything intelligent or interesting to me even if it is because they doubt my intelligence while grossly misjudging their own. My guess is this happens to poets alot, and I include this post to make us all, as poets and writers, feel more “normal” about social mazes and ladders we cannot climb if we want to stay true to ourselves.

I don’t choose to forego the climb because I don’t know about Athleta. Or because I am not pretty. I am. Or because I can’t speed-read Francis Chan.

The diet of the writer must be carefully selected. The environment must be pared -down, immaculately constructed, and deliberately set. My relationships right now offer me much less noise, but much more beautiful sound. Keeping busy is treading water. This is flying.

Telling your friends

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/finding-love/201105/how-love-yourself-first

Why is it so difficult for me to explain to the friends who know me best that I am a serious writer? I find it baffling, but I have also come to the realization that I have to take responsibility for the mistaken identity I must be projecting and thereby conning my best friends.

The above article is about learning to love yourself, and the fact that tomorrow is officially Love Day means it can’t hurt to post the link.

The article states that each of us carries a good deal of guilt about the parts of us that are the most gifted or special, and that guilt, which the psychologist emphasizes is universal and not dependent upon upbringing or childhood circumstances is responsible for why we disallow the vulnerability to share our true selves with others, and even with ourselves sometimes. Perhaps this helps explain the reactions of my friends when I tell them I have recently had some of my poetry published.

Friend #1 stopped sharing with me over coffee and gave the general impression that she thought I was writing about her. (She’s never come within a mile of my poetry and perhaps has never read a serious poem in her life). Then she proceeded to explain to me that anyone can get published on the Internet.  Friend #2 asked me if I had penned a poem about the birth of my grandson. I almost replied No, I am not Sharon Olds ( I would become a confessional poet in a heartbeat if I could write like Sharon Olds), but then I realized this friend would have no idea who Sharon Olds is.

I have to give these friends a break. It is poetry we are talking about. I believe I am better at writing poetry than talking about it. My writing makes a better impression than I probably do. I don’t want to hide my true self and my gifts from those who matter the most to me anymore. Someday I hope that under “occupation” I can actually write “poet” and mean it without flinching or feeling the imposter.

MFA jitters….

I knew this would happen. I found out recently that I have been accepted into my top-choice MFA program at Ashland University and I suddenly feel like the master of the simple sentence. All the little critics in my head are harping their responses to my exciting news.

What do you think you are doing? You aren’t good enough. You don’t have any thing to say or a voice to say it with!

Luckily, I have some time to regroup and get my confidence back before the summer residency in July. I know that I am writing too much, revising too little, and reading much too little. So this week I am starting a reading regimen (after I get through the Grisham book for my book club this week…a girl’s got to have some fun) which will include reading a book of poems by one poet each week. I will probably start by re-reading some of the chapbooks I already own. I want to focus heavily on Native American poets–Sherman Alexie, Ai, Joy Harjo, Natasha Tretheway, and others.

I will start, of course, with Seamus Heaney (poetry god).  I plan to jot down some thoughts while reading with the particular task of determining for myself how each poet achieves the living thing he or she creates upon the page.

Nothing shuts up the Little Critics like a dose of Heaney. His poetry is unattainable, but it is so beautiful, so gripping, that it gives me cause to participate in the art in whatever meaningful way that I can.

Heaney and Yeats, the two greats in my opinion who tower above all other poets, have a way of turning a poem on a single line. I will post some of those lines as I read them this week. What about you? Which poets have you discovered or re-discovered this week?

New Submissions

Yesterday, I endured the tedium of going through the collection of poems on my hard drive (for many of these poems the DELETE button would be a mercy-killing but I can’t help but hope for them). I selected four poems to submit to a new online literary journal which is affiliated with my former graduate school.

Speaking of graduate school….today I am going to click the appropriate boxes and accept an offer from Ashland University, Ashland, Ohio, to enter the MFA Poetry program this summer.

I look forward to connecting with other poets at the two-week residency and to working toward the goal of a masters degree. Most of all, I look forward to growth and improvement as a writer.

No man is an island. John Donne was right. No writer is an island either. To publish a manuscript of poems will require hours each day of solitude, but let’s face it, when we writers are with our non-writer friends, we are always reaching out to them from our islands, our writer-worlds. We need a community of other writers, other “weirdo’s,” to affirm that we are indeed doing what we are supposed to do with our time and our lives.

Besides, revision not  only loves company, it must have company, a community to tell us our word-choice is suspect, our crafting of the poetic line is mish-mash, our concept is limping along on too many crutches.

Let the critiques begin!

Rhythm

Balance, order, rhythm and harmony are much more difficult to achieve than intensity.

There is a subtle difference between tapping into the rhythms of life, biologically and spiritually, and setting an external schedule that one must adhere to. The life of the writer must involve both. For example, if I wait for my internal sense of timing to tell me to do the laundry it will never get done. My inner rhythm NEVER tells me that!  Conversely, if I only follow an externally-imposed to-do list, I will soon feel depleted and poetry in my life will never happen.

I don’t make daily to-do lists anymore. I keep a running  list of tasks that need to get completed and I try to tackle one or two of those each day. I do a number of “jobs” on a daily  basis that don’t require a written reminder. I know I will grocery shop every day. I know I will retrieve my son from school and make myself available to hear about his day. I know I will eat every day and cook most days. I will get some form of exercise. I do household chores every day.

The rest of my day must tap into that inner flow of being. This is where writing happens. It may feel lazy at first, but the writer must ask herself, do I want to accomplish perfectly-made beds today or a piece of original writing? Household order is essential to me, but it must serve as a means to the end, not as an end in itself.

Write on!

North Country Farms

“Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance, order, rhythm and harmony.
Thomas Merton

In my life, no two days are exactly alike. Usually I can arise when I like and take on the day in the manner that suits me. That, however, is surely not the same as saying there is no rhythm to my fine life. I thrive on rhythm. I surely know children do and I think most adults crave it in some fashion also.
 
The farm has an ebb and flow that needs tending to — every week we plant  trays of seeds, every two weeks we plant baby starts out in the field, every Tuesday we harvest for our community, every Wednesday we hoe and weed all the gardens.
 
Each morning I make the rounds of the farm, feeding the cats, ducks, chickens and rabbits. It is a slow and…

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My poem is named a finalist

“I Carry It With Me” a poem that is softly spoken and quietly reverent about a personal memory of mine has been named a finalist in the Janet B. McCabe Poetry Prize by Ruminate Magazine. I write with many tones and can project a variety of personas, but this voice is truest to my own. So…it feels especially validating that this poem has been noticed by others.

Back at it–Summer

I have yet to find that writing “sweet-spot” since taking on a teaching job. I find myself so immersed in learning how to become a better teacher of writers that my own Writing Life has been neglected; although, I do believe that every facet and experience works ultimately toward the same end. I just look at the map of my writing journey right now, and I can’t see how all the roads are supposed to fit together. June has been all about Netflix, tennis, physical fitness pursuits, and family time. I have reconnected with my grandsons. I am cooking in my beautiful kitchen again. Life is good. Words are not appearing on a page, which feels unusual for me, but perhaps this month has been a time for filling up. Rest. I plan to resurrect this blog and post some present-tense stuff. Here’s to July. More filling. Some planning for fall semester. Perhaps some writing.