Poetry presents the thing…

 

“…in order to convey the feeling. It should be precise about the thing and reticent about the feeling, for as soon as the mind responds and connects with the thing the feeling shows in the words; this is how poetry enters deeply into us.”

Wei T’ai (eleventh century)

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When I am stirred to write a poem, though it is likely sourced in an emotion,  I do not say “I feel angry” and then “I feel sad” or “I feel uncertain”.  In poetry, I speak figuratively.  I relate the thing (whether it be an incident, a circumstance, an encounter, a person, a metaphor, whichever) and then, when a poem is written from the depth of this connection, it shows the feeling without naming it.  It rouses the reader to his own corresponding feeling.

Any good work of art connects the viewer to the feeling behind it.  A garden, a sculpture, a painting, a poem, prose, etc.

Meeting Someone New
© by Christine O’Brien

He wore a green raincoatfiguresinrelation
he, a huge forest
his face, the sun rising over the trees
open and casting its
smiling beam on me
as if we were old friends, familiar.
He opened the conversation
as if it were a continuance
of a suspended dialogue.
I whirled towards him
being drawn to sun, warmth, openness
and fell into his face
like a cushy bed with lots of pillows
then suddenly realized
“I don’t even know you!”
Felt myself flailing, directionless
seeking the friend
I had walked into the café with
solid turf, reliable old shoe.
I knew he wanted to continue
the conversation
take me to his beach
and slather sunshine like lotion
on my bare body
which all too eagerly sheds inhibitions
like clothes
and wants to trust this forest of a man
with the sunshine face too soon.
I wrestle with the confusion
of this odd familiarity
as I stumble backwards into safe shade.

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FOR YOUR CONTEMPLATION:
Time for a poetry break.  Do you have a book of poetry lying around?  Is there somewhere for you to sit quietly and read poetry?  Indoors or outdoors?  Read the poetry for your enjoyment at first.  Then, contemplate a few poems to see if and how they “convey the feeling” by “presenting the thing”.

NOTE:  Poetry, by its nature, is meant to be shared (when the poet is ready to take this leap).  Poetry is humanity’s connective tissue.  Poetry has the capacity to cross cultural, spiritual, gender and boundaries of time, etc.  Recently, someone said the same thing of music.  I agree.

The Influence of Place on Your Character

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What sort of creature was I growing up and living beside the ocean?

What sort of creature am I now living in the mountains?

 

 

There is an age-old argument about the role of genetics versus environment in a person’s development.  We’ve heard stories of identical twins, separated at birth, reared in different environments…how these twins share idiosyncratic traits though they haven’t “met.”  A preference for certain foods, a predisposition to particular physical ailments and even that they vacation on the same Florida Beach!  This seems to apply more to identical twins than fraternal for some reason.  Fascinating, right?

We can say that genetics influences our physical appearance, preferences, predispositions and some behaviors.  However, external environment is also an influential factor in development, lifestyle and opportunities.

My 17-year old grandson is taking an elective class, Human Geography.  Recently, we had an interesting discussion about how environment shapes development.  Of course, things cannot be separated out…it is not an either/or.  Can we safely say that both genetics and environment affect development?

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As a writer, what role does place play in the development of your character?  In a real sense, place is its own character.  This is not about using personification in describing place.  If place figures prominently in a story, then, it needs to be described.  As the writer, you explore and expose the relationship between your character(s) and their environment.

The harshness of the sou’wester storm in Maine causes your character to go indoors and batten the hatches for days on end.  They are forced to be reclusive.  Either they like this proscribed reclusiveness, they are apathetic towards it or they hate it!  Either way, there is a relationship between your character and these storms, this place.

There was a time that I didn’t enjoy reading long descriptive scenes in a novel.  I felt that they halted or interrupted the story.  I wanted paced action and dialogue to move the story along–quick revelations, rather than long, drawn out descriptive paragraphs.

These days, I have a better understanding of the value of effective descriptions of place.  And, when rendered well, I appreciate the relationship between character development and environment.

WRITING PROMPT:
Who would you be if you lived in the desert?  Or, if  you live in the desert already, who would you be if you lived by the ocean?  Take fifteen moments to describe a desert or an ocean scene.  Then, insert yourself there and show us who you are in relation to this, your environment.  Engage the spirit of imagination and play.  We’re not looking for exactness here.

Reminding You Once Again…

THAT YOU TOO HAVE A BODY!

Why am I bringing this up again?  Because I needed to remember.  As a writer, I have an infatuation with what I’m writing.  Some days, it’s more like a full-blown love affair.  One path leads to another…the infinite possibilities unfold.  The mind with its cornucopia of delightful discoveries, corners to turn, ideas to share!

However, that said, I forgot, once again, that I have a body with needs besides food, drink and rest.

My body needs and thrives on movement.  When I grant this request, everything in me is refreshed and my body feels celebrated. I enjoy walking in nature, some types of yoga, qi gong, tai chi and dance.  What about you?  Have you remembered to meet your body’s requirements for movement?

 

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When it comes to dance , another favorite is THE WAVE popularized by GABRIELLE ROTH.  Google it.  The Five Rhythms explores core rhythms of life itself–Flow, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical and Stillness.  Check it out.  Perhaps there are corresponding rhythms with writing.  What do you think?

Movement Prompt:  Ask your body self what it craves as far as physical activity right now.  Pay attention.  It’s so worth it!

Do You Enjoy Writing?

“What are the greatest pleasures of writing fiction?” is the question the interviewer posed to Jennifer Egan and Carmen Maria Machado.  This short video, less than three minutes, is very revealing about writer’s process.

Whether fiction or nonfiction, do you find pleasure in writing?

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These two authors declare that they are on opposite ends of the spectrum as to how they approach their writing.

Are either of their approaches true for you?  While Jennifer seeks “escape” through writing, Carmen enjoys “organizing her mind into a narrative form.”  What about you?    Or is there something else entirely that guides your writing process?

For me the pleasure in writing comes when I engage “the flow.”  Then I feel both compelled and supported.  That is when I notice that things in my world become synchronistic.  There is a sense of no separation between me, the world, the words on the page.  It is both my process of self-discovery and a broader curiosity that propel my writing.  The real gift for me comes in being able to share what I’ve learned with others, inspiring them and inviting them to embark upon their own inward journey of self-awareness and integration through writing.

WRITING PROMPTS:
What brings you the greatest pleasure in writing ?  What is your “golden door,” your favored entry into writing?  If you aren’t sure, consider things you’ve already written and recall how you began and what lead you onward.

Are You Ready To Go Public?

If this feels like a big responsibility and scary, well, it is. Only you, as the poet/writer/artist can decide when and if you are ready to go public with your work. Admitting to someone that you are a writer or poet, often elicits the question “Have you published anything?” The questioner doesn’t get it–the reason(s) behind your writing or art-making.  First and foremost, it has to be for yourself.  Being published is a goal though it doesn’t make you a writer or poet. It is through your daily practice and developmental process that the writer and poet in you grows and lends validity to what you do–write.  You really don’t need to explain this to anyone. However, it’s important that you understand this.

That said, going public is a big thing for a writer.  Once you’ve made the declaration, told several people that you are writing a book or that you are a poet, you’ve become visible in a different way. This could feel like something grand to live up to.

Anaïs Nin‘s famous quote:  

“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”Iris

Every womb becomes too “tight” as you personally grow and evolve.  You know best when it’s time to birth your writing, poetry or art into the world.

There are safe “entry” points for sharing your work.  A relatively new and trusted woman friend once asked me to read every poem I’d ever written to her.  She wanted to know me better and what my life had been.  My poetry is what has been termed “personal poetry”.  One afternoon, we took a quiet couple of hours and I read my life on paper to her.  She was the perfect audience–present, receptive, without judgment.  It was, for me, a welcoming and validating experience.

PROMPT:  Are you ready to go public?  What would that look like?  Is there a venue locally where you could safely share your writing?  Some possible venues are:  A round robin reading at a coffee house; an intimate gathering with a few other friends who write and want to practice reading aloud for an audience; your own poetry circle; an open mic or your own blog.  You can also begin with sharing one poem, a piece of prose or a painting with a trusted friend. Can you think of other ways to comfortably begin sharing your work?

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“Courage starts with showing up
and letting ourselves be seen.”
Brene Brown, Researcher, Story-Teller, Author, Lecturer

Practice Doesn’t Mean Perfection

I’ve been practicing how to draw and paint faces.IMG_9403

As a ripening artist, I fall in love with each painting…even when it is far from perfect.  Like this one.  Learning a new technique taught by Sara Burch in Paint Your Heart and Soul‘s year-long online painting and creativity course, I realize that one eye is larger and a bit lower than the other.  Yet, this painting captures something for me that I was having trouble expressing in words.  This painting helped me to bring some disparate feelings together.

Learning and practicing a new technique was the primary purpose of this new-to-me process.   Perhaps there is a time and place to strive for excellence (rarely perfection?) or even one’s personal best.  As I am learning, there has also got to be plenty of room for play, experimentation and error…sometimes happy accidents.

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With writing, is it any different?  Writers strive for perfection as they craft their prose or poetry.  Do they ever reach it?  Levels of perfection are relative, it seems.  For with any final piece preparing to leap into the world, the writer decides, at some point, to let it go.  This is not based solely on whether a piece is “good enough”.  There is an inner sense of completion.  What wants to be said has been said in a way that is “kin” to the writer.  In using the word kin in this way, I intend that the writer has expressed him or herself in a way that is unique, particular or inherent.  When that goal is reached, then a painting or piece of writing can feel complete and ready to be launched.

When you write about someone, you look for the dissonant detail.  Perhaps this is also reflected in your greater body of work–that you allow the dissonant details into your writing thereby,  making a work your own.  Those details–which could be seen as imperfections–mark your work in some way.  Those details reveal to the reader “your style”.  Offering your work, with all of its perceived blemishes, does make one feel vulnerable.

Contemplation:
Do you find fulfillment in practicing your art or craft?  Are you tolerant of “mistakes” as you learn? Are you patient with your development as a writer or artist?  Can you spot the dissonant details in your work that make it stand out as YOURS?

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“Staying vulnerable is a risk we have to take
if we want to experience connection.”
Brene Brown, Researcher, Story-Teller, Author, Lecturer

Making Waffles

web22I light a candle and play soft mood music as I prepare cornmeal waffles from scratch.  With a wire whisk, I  blend the eggs and buttermilk in my favorite bowl.   I add the dry ingredients–cornmeal, flour and baking powder–to this mixture.  I stir in melted butter.  I’ve done this for countless years.  When I am present with this alchemical process, I am truly in my life.  My presence is one of the ingredients.  It is a ceremony.

Preparing an occasional gourmet meal, making a fancy dessert or mixing up a batch of waffles are some of the ways that I stay grounded.  As a writer, it is easy to float away into a world of the mind, ethereal imagination and fluid wordy inspiration.  However, hands-on, food preparation is of proportionate value to me. Isn’t it a balancing act at times?

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I love good films about humans and food.  Babette’s Feast, Chocolat, Mostly Martha, The Big Night, Julie and Julia, Eat Drink Man Woman, Chef, even Ratatouille!  Only a few of  the many wonderful films with this theme.

I am curious as to why I find these films so uplifting, satisfying and inspiring.  Possibly because they elevate something that I have valued throughout my life.  They take food preparation to a sensual and even “glamourous” height.  Food that is so basic to our survival also provides endless enjoyment.  To participate in the alchemical process of the creation of a meal and then to share the outcome with others is sublime.

Writing Prompt:
For your journal, what is something (other than writing) which you enjoy that takes you out of your head and into the moment and/or process? Do you tend to this daily?

 

 

 

Words that conjure or impassion

Following is a list of only a few of the many words that I like:

Words.1

Reverie

Ecstasy

Genuflect

Sublime

Ridiculous

Freedom

Grope

Reconnoiter

Grace

Figment

Rhapsody

Unity

Discombobulate

Umbrella

Surreptitiously

Filament

Peace

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Words have power.  We know this as writers.  They move us to action; they stir desire; they incite; they rally; they quiet; they infuse; they placate; they calm and comfort and so on.  Some words we love for their meaning.  Other times the sound of an isolated word…the way it trips across the tongue, tickles us.  Sometimes it’s the look of the written word–the spelling, the way the letters cluster that interests us.  Who can say what word fascination is really about?

WRITING PROMPT:
What are your words…the ones that when you hear them you are moved in some way. Make your own list of evocative words.

Something to ponder:

  • Do you think that antiquated words frame a belief system?
  • Do new words invoke something new?

It seems to me that each word is its own inspiration–that is, a word can take the writer on a journey into their own experience in some peculiar and unique way.

Try it:  Choose a word from your word list and let it be your writing prompt…write a paragraph, a page or a poem.  Have fun with this wordplay.

 

Writer’s Block Reverie

Reverie.1

Several years ago, I took a refresher online writing class with a nomadic creative writing instructor.  She was travelling throughout Mexico, it seemed a pleasure trip, while supplying lessons via the computer.  She had a well-planned curriculum; there was homework and other requirements. I had virtual classmates and it was actually quite fun!  It was a bonafide course offered by the local junior college with college credits.

My final paper was an essay on writer’s block with several works cited.

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Following is an excerpt from that paper…

“There is no such thing as writer’s block,” I’ve been heard to say.  “Think of it as a period of gestation, a between-world where something is brewing and you need to be patient while nurturing yourself.”  I sympathetically add, “Do something else that is creative, just to keep the juices flowing, the channels open, blah, blah, blah.”

Here I am with this paper coming due and I find myself in a barren crevasse.  I’ve done what any frustrated woman might do–I’ve air-popped a large bowl of salty popcorn with a compromise of coconut oil instead of butter.  I know there’ll be a price to pay later–upset stomach and kernels wedged between my teeth–but right now, I’m desperate.

In her book, If You Want to Write, Brenda Euland has a chapter entitled “The Imagination Works Slowly and Quietly.” (24)

Writers do have to bank on this idea.

“You will sit before your typewriter or paper and look out of the window and begin to brush your hair absentmindedly for an hour or two. Never mind. That is all right…know in this dreamy time, that you are going to write, to tell something on paper, sooner or later.”
(Euland 24,25)

I’m sure if she could see me in this moment, stuffing fistfuls of popcorn into my mouth, she’d know that I am a writer in waiting.

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WRITING PROMPT:
For your journal. When you experience your version of writer’s block, how do you deal with it? How do you feel when you are in this state? Have you tried writing about this experience? Can you describe your writer’s block by writing down the details? Are there things you can liken it to–using simile, metaphor, personification? What is your recourse when you encounter this seemingly static energy?

Have fun exploring your brand of writer’s block reverie.
Perhaps this writing exercise is the breakthrough you need.

Essentially Yours

We begin learning by imitation.  This is necessary for survival in the world into which we are born.  Then, comes the differentiation…the recognition that you are neither your mother nor your primary caregiver.  Waving your hands in front of your face, you begin to realize that these are your hands and under your control.  The very beginning of individuation!

In writing and art, you might begin by imitating, copying techniques, practicing methods, mixing colors as directed, learning the language, advancing your use of tools and studying your genre of choice, etc.

As you further your education, what is bursting to emerge is that which is essentially yours.  How do you weave together all that you’ve learned and then, in which direction are you going to take it? Many artists speak about style.  Some artists fear being copied.  Other artists are flattered at being imitated. Every artist wants to receive credit for their creations.

I do think that there is within each one of us is that which is essentially your own. When you are in the copycat stage, there is an awareness that this is only the springboard that is going to take you to your very own style.  Style can be seen as the way in which you uniquely put the various constructive components of your chosen art together.  There is  a certain something that emanates from your writing or art that comes to be seen as your style.  At first, perhaps, you yourself can’t see it because it is so basic to you. I’ve found that others often recognize my style of  painting before I do!

In your daily life, there is a way you go about things. From the way you greet the day, to the foods on your shelf, to the arrangement of furniture in your home or how you dress.  I doubt that any two individuals do any of these exactly the same. Through experimentation, daring and trust–whether writing, sculpting or painting, –you are going to find a way to express that which is essentially yours.

WRITING PROMPT:  How do you perceive your writing or painting to be essentially yours?  What do others notice when they read your poetry or prose?  What do others point out when they look at your art?

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