Tag Archives: poetry

Good Things #17

No Ted Talks this week. Just some not-so-related Good Things.

Music. You know a song is good when it makes you nostalgic for something you never had. That’s how I feel when I listen to “Ashokan Farewell,” like I miss deeply my Appalachian home. I found out that it was actually written in 1982, even though it sounds like it’s straight out of the Civil War. (PBS miniseries, anyone?) I listened to this on repeat while I graded Latin tests – there’s nothing like grammar terms to make good music necessary.

Who vs. Whom. Yes, this is one of the good things. I’ve been explaining the difference for about a week now to various levels of Latiners. I’ve watched their eyes glaze over and their cheeks drain of all blood and I’ve fielded their desperate pleas for a bathroom break. Do you know the difference between who and whom? I can honestly admit that I didn’t…until I took my first Latin class as a sophomore and learned about the Accusative Case and Direct Objects and All Other Things Grammatical. Now I can use “whom” with aplomb, but who would choose to?

lavender

Lavender spray. What is that, you ask? My mom bought me this amazing lavender spray from an herbalist at the Farmers’ Market and it’s amazing. Wait, did I already say that? I spray it on my pillow every night and it’s so soothing. I wish my muscles could soak it up.

ruminate

Taking risks. I wrote a poem my senior year of college. I remember sitting on my bed, not sure if I should write it, not sure if it was worth anything. It had been a moment – the summer before when I was twenty-one and freaking out about graduating – and I didn’t (and still don’t) trust my ability to recognize moments for what they are. But I wrote it anyway. I sat on it for a year and a half. I pulled it out again, brought it to writers’ group, deleted and added and shifted and shaped. I called it “Almost Family”, submitted it to a poetry contest at Ruminate, and it placed in the top seventeen. It was published in the September issue and there is my name in black and white print. There is the moment in writing that I didn’t trust and almost forgot. My first paid piece of writing. Now how to spend that twelve dollars…

Enjoy your Wednesday!

Where I’m From

I am from a thought-filled bed –

from pumpkin-pie candles and oak bookshelves.

 

I am from the white house on the slope,

homegrown apples and sage.

 

I am from the golden honey –

the towering pine whose long gone limbs

I remember as if they were my own.

 

I’m from dinners on the porch and too much laughing,

from an open-hearted mama and a dream-big father.

I’m from not enough cleaning and just the right living

and from stacks of books that beg reading.

 

I’m from “don’t wish your childhood away” and “try new food always”

and “Jesus called them one by one.”

 

I’m from cozy Christmas mornings and the yellow lights.

I’m from New and Old England,

sun-warmed vegetables and raspberry jam.

 

From sea-fishing, lake-fishing, ice-fishing,

when long-gone family breathe life again

for just that moment on the water,

 

and scrapbooks filled with newspaper clippings

tell us the world.

 

[This is part of a link-up with SheLoves Magazine]

Good Things #8: Willing to be Dazzled

[I wrote this post as part of the Love Yourself link-up started by my friend, Anne. It goes beyond loving yourself – it starts by allowing things to dazzle you, and then, maybe, you will dazzle yourself.]

I am sitting at a round wooden picnic table. The sun is blaring hot and it isn’t even 9:00 in the morning. The beach is quiet today after a people-packed weekend – there isn’t a single person on the sand.

For my beach read this summer, I packed Bridget Jones’s Diary. I’ve never read it before, even though I’ve seen the movie, and I thought it was a pretty light book for the ocean. Poor Bridget. I sometimes see myself in her, but most of the time I just wonder: What were you thinking?!

I also brought along some Mary Oliver. My first impression of her was not so grand; nature poets don’t hold my attention as much as they should, perhaps. But every now and then I come across a gem, a piece of honest beauty.

Still, what I want in my life

is to be willing

to be dazzled –

to cast aside the weight of facts

 

and maybe even

to float a little

above this difficult world.

I want to believe I am looking

 

into the white fire of a great mystery.

– The Ponds

This hit me in a gentle strong way. Maybe I can’t help having moments of darkness, but perhaps they are made darker by my unwillingness to be dazzled. Maybe it is this small, simple thing that makes life sharp and pulsing.

Maybe it’s this willingness that sets people apart.

The sun is hot as blazes on my right arm. I’m already sweating. But the sea is sparkling in the light, the grasses on the dunes are waving in the breeze, and there is a calmness to the air that settles me.

Shift your focus and you see differently.

The thing is, not everyone can do that. Or at least, not without help. There have been times when I’ve looked at something straight on, I have known that it is beautiful and good, but I’ve not been able to see it. I’ve known but not experienced. I’ve touched but not tasted.

A lot changes when, for a few months, you think maybe your life will never be the same. Maybe, in fact, it’s almost over. You know you are dramatic, but you also know that no one is above dying.

And later, a year later, you are digging a hole in your garden, in which you will sink a spidery rosemary plant, and you look at your arms and marvel at their strength, at even the swinging motion it takes to dig.

One day, you are driving, and you look at your hand on the steering wheel and think, This is my hand. It is no one else’s. And that is shocking to you.

You see, for the first time, really, the sharpness of green grass against blue sky, and you wonder how you looked at the same landscape for the past twenty years but never really saw.

It is perhaps the first time in your life you can honestly say:

I have rejoiced in my suffering. I have praised God for my discomfort. I have been made weak that His strength would show.

That is how I am willing to be dazzled.

Pure Poetry

Dylan was the word-maddest of word-mad young poets.

Often the best poems happen when lines cross; when poets write in pursuit of the spirit while their words still roar with years of obsession and love.

Dylan never put his poetry in service to anything but poetry. He served the Muse; he wrote pure poetry. But what is pure poetry pure of? It is pure of thought and pure of feeling, pure of vision; its largest emotion is love for itself.

So goes Donald Hall’s essay on Dylan Thomas in Their Ancient Glittering Eyes. I am simultaneously awed and disgusted; what is it about those who reach the edge of acceptable and choose to jump that will always get my admiration? I cannot respect because I cannot agree, but these lines are still there, the beautiful creation of a life despicably lived:

Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs

About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green,

  The night above the dingle starry,

               Time let me hail and climb

      Golden in the heydays of his eyes

I am attempting the impossible: to live well and create well. To write poetry that serves more than itself but that refuses to be merely therapy.

[A friend asked me my senior year of college, “What is the fault of bad poetry?”, and I said as I hurried across the grassy quad, “Sentimentality.” I know some of the answers.]

Words as words and words as art – to use them well but not join the ranks of Plath and Sexton and all the rest. To learn poetry as another way, but maybe not the only way.

[“Fern Hill”]

Introducing: Good Things

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I’ve written about this before, and it’s no surprise to most of America: Mondays can be tough. I’m blessed this year to have a slow start to my Mondays – the mornings consist of grading, lesson planning, poetry reading, and apparently, blogging.

It won’t always be this way. I’m sure soon I’ll have to begin bright and early at some beloved or not-so-beloved workplace. But for now, I thought I’d start a little tradition:

Mondays Are For Good Things

I know, that’s not really a thing. But let’s make it a thing: I thought I’d share some of my favorites on Monday mornings. You should share some of your favorites, too. Leave a comment with the latest thing that’s pushing your buttons (in a good way).

So here are four to start with.

Music. I went to a concert last weekend, and I am currently listening to these guys non-stop. How could a self-respecting English major not be intrigued by a band name like Ivan and Alyosha? I love their folky-alternative sound. Their lyrics give some food for thought, too.

Gardening. Dad and I went to the nursery and bought plants yesterday afternoon in the April sun. We got parsley, creeping rosemary (for my rock wall), vinca (I love this beautiful little purple flower!), alyssum, and pink and red bee balm. I planted them all in an hour, but it took almost as long just for me to decide where to put them. I’m not anal about many things, but words and gardening seem to be two of those things. The dirt felt chilly on my bare hands and the sun felt hot on my head, so it was a good combination.

vinca

Gyming-it-up. After writing about my hate-affair with running, I can honestly say that I am looking forward to going back to the gym today. Who knows what’s next? Maybe I’ll become an internationally acclaimed salsa dancer! The world is my oyster.

Poetry. One of my all-time favorite poems just happens to be about spring. Leave it to e. e. cummings to pull your heartstrings and wow your intellect in the same blow.

i thank You God for most this amazing

i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any–lifted from the no
of all nothing–human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

What are you enjoying this week?

Reading Slump

There is a stack of books by my bed that keeps toppling over. Okay, 2.5 stacks. My sister has been gracious enough not to say anything, but I’m sure it’s bugging her. There’s no possible way I could read so many books at once, so why do I insist on having them haphazardly flung around my bed?

maryoliver1

I spend a lot of my time wishing I had more time to read. If only I didn’t have to drive so much! I could be reading RIGHT NOW! The storm this weekend gave me a glorious snow day (!), so I had three days to fill with movie-watching, coffee-drinking, and book-reading (and it was impossible to go anywhere for the first day and a half, so I couldn’t throw my books aside for live friends, like I often do to the poor things). I was ecstatic. I piled books high on the coffee table, eager, unsure of which to start first.

marriageplot

It didn’t matter which one I chose though. Cost of Discipleship was challenging (and embarrassed me a few times, actually – more on that later), but I got tired quickly. Mary Oliver, with all her beautiful expressions of nature and its inhabitants, could not take me outside my own head, and at the end of each poem, I was unsure of where I’d gone and how I got there. Jeffrey Eugenides, no matter how hard he tried with his characters’ 20th century woes and struggles with depression, could not keep me even half-engaged. Ruth Reichl, in all her food-love and witty descriptions failed to transport me to the world of the New York Times.

garlicandsapphires

I felt out of sorts, and I didn’t know why.

My book club met this week, and I was (again) the book club delinquent, arriving without having read the extremely interesting Quiet: The Power of Introverts. We had a fabulous time of birthdays and talking, but I hated that I keep not connecting with books.

dickandjane

Books have been my friends since I was five years old. The first book I read was Fun with Dick and Jane, an old green copy my mom and I bought at an outdoor flea market. Since that day, I’ve devoured all kinds of books, with the exception of science fiction (Sorry, K, I can hear you groaning. I tried.). From Little House to Anne of Green Gables to Betsy, Tacy, and Tib, I read all the classics. And then came the high school standards, followed by four years of collegiate-level reading that sometimes made me want to gouge my eyes out.

lastseptember

[This was literally the worst book I read in college. It was for an Irish Literature course, and we had to write a two-page journal response to each reading assignment. I remember sitting in the library, looking down at the quad, and realizing life was too short to read such horrid stuff.]

thomas

[We sang a setting of Thomas’s poem “Fern Hill” my senior year of college. I remember asking our conductor, “But what’s going on? What does it mean?” He looked at me and said, “Isn’t that your job, English Major?” I was sufficiently humbled. Here’s a recording of this amazing piece.]

I’ve been reading for nineteen years, but for the past few weeks, books have not spoken to me. I’ve tried. I’ve opened them gingerly, carefully, admitting them into my consciousness. I’ve focused on one book at a time, to see if that helped at all. It didn’t; I felt even more scatter-brained and self-focused while I was reading. I listened to music while I read. I turned the music off. I committed to a chapter a night. I made no commitments.

auden1

[I didn’t discover Auden until the fall of my senior year. “Stop all the clocks” and “The More Loving One” still make me cry.]

My relationship with books is cooling. Or, at least, it seems we’re on a “break.” It’s an awful thing to say about my dear friends of so long. I wonder if this feeling of distance – of complacency – is at all what a long, tired marriage feels like: you have loved deeply, but now you barely recognize your own love.

eliot

[This was for my British Lit class my junior year. I had a skinny little paperback that I riddled with sophomoric notes, and that has since been lost in the abyss that is my bedroom. I refuse to buy another copy.]

I’m hoping it will come back. That my eagerness for books and characters and interesting stories will surge up and remind me of all the wonderful things that can be learned, all the beauty that comes from reading. I’m hoping that a magic book will rest in my hands, transforming my view of the world and my place in it.

austen

[I read all the Austen novels when I was around 15 or 16. That’s probably the perfect age to read them for the first time. I think I’m almost ready for round-two.]

Until then, I’ll keep reading. A page here and there, at first. And then a little more, and a little more. Again, I see a kinship with that long marriage – a working-at-it until it brims over with new life.

Books teach me new things every day, even when I’m not reading them.

[Cafe Sleep]

I could fall asleep with my head on this table, press

my hot cheek to the cool varnished wood splattered

with other people’s coffee.

 

I still like my idea of beds suspended from the walls,

folded out to catch your tired bones – who

wouldn’t like a comfy mattress for a few

minutes of rest?

 

The busy city wears out your feet and sores

your muscles; the least it can give is a café with beds.

 

But that would be so dirty, they remind me.

The logical ones. The ones who cannot

let go of fact to see perfection.

 

Yes, I admit, it would be hard to keep clean.

But oh how luxurious to sleep

to the muffled voices and toned-down laughs

of a Chicago coffee shop.

[Valentine’s Day]

I danced and spun and twirled

and you watched, laughing. Balanced

a glass of pale pink wine 
in my hand –

not spilling a drop – while I danced

alone in the living room.

 

But I stopped and looked at you,

shocked suddenly. This is it, I said,

we are women. And I couldn’t believe

that I was dancing with wine, still

waiting to grow up.

[rainy thoughts]

to miss the sameness of days

is something I never thought to acquire

 

in grayness and greenness I feel a longing

both embarrassing and languid

 

you held my bloody hand softly

and I couldn’t look at your face

 

sometimes tenderness is too much

and instead of seeing it I’d rather just

 

turn my face away