Poetry Today (in Perilous Times) 2

Poets, writers, artists have a three-fold purpose as I see it:
1) the task of witnessing.  2) the task of writing it down or rendering it in some creative way.  3) sharing what they’ve written or created as a result of witnessing.  They’ve then come full circle with their particular art.

Within it, poetry has the imperative to share a message.  That message is intended to be evocative.  To awaken in the reader some of the same emotions that the witness/writer has experienced in putting pen to page.  A writer or painter can never be guaranteed that her audience is going to feel the exact same emotion.”  They can’t be attached to the outcome or response to their piece once it is released.  Fly away little bird.  But they must release it and allow it to affect and influence whoever it might, however it may.

Poets write about anything.  Poetry can express everything.  It is rare that the reader is privy to what precisely preceded the poet writing a particular poem.

I painted a piece with fish as the theme.  I don’t remember why I chose to paint these fish.  As I stood back from it and studied it, I felt tranquility.  It was exploratory.  But it didn’t have pop!  Not enough value contrast.  Or cohesion.  It prompted this poem, regardless.

A Quiet Wonder
© by Christine O’Brien

Underwater Kingdoms
Civilizations that we can’t comprehend
the sheen of scales
glint of colors
that stun in light’s glory
the silver trails through
unimaginable depths
the flash of a tail–
fish or mermaid
who is to say
for certain things
happen in depths
where humans
dare not go
we can’t all be Cousteau
though at times
if you’re at all
contemplative
you dive deep
into the dark waters
into what you’ve not known
beyond fears that taunt
and perhaps discover
another side
a way through
a quiet wonder

If this poem causes the reader to pause and contemplate something beyond their norm, then it has succeeded.
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Poetry Today (in Perilous Times)…1

Wouldn’t every previous generation say that they lived in “perilous times” or as in the Tao, “interesting times” at the very least?  So many of us have a connotation of poetry as  an archaic (if not boring) language and irrelevant to “modern life.”

How do we get potential readers to cross that chasm of calcified thinking regarding poetry to a reinvigorated and revalued view of poetry?  Is there a place in a relatively newly minted culture where poets and poetry are elevated, revered?  That poetry activates both one’s emotions and values could be one reason that it isn’t welcomed in a society that wants to control its constituents.  There isn’t often comfort in living outside the box.  However, there is power in it.

How does anyone realize that within him/herself, perhaps a dormant inner poet or artist lives?  Sometimes the inner poet comes to life out of despair.  Nothing else seems to suffice.  Nothing else calms or soothes.  Sometimes, she is revived through love.  Sometimes, it is when change is forced and the hand you’ve been dealt doesn’t seem to have an open door–poetry can provide the doorway.

Poetry is not only a bolster for the faint of heart.  In fact, poetry is for everyone and especially in these times.

Consider Wendell Berry, novelist, poet, essayist, environmental activist, cultural critic, and farmer, an earth-connected poet of our times.  I love his bit of a poem about salad

“Wash your hands, get them good and clean,
Hurry and find a basket
Let us gather a salad, and so unite
To our passing lives this seasons fruit.”

How relevant is this four line stanza to your daily experience of life?  These days, you better be sure to wash your hands!  Of course, too many of us don’t have a garden to gather lettuce leaves for a salad.  Perhaps there is a farmer’s market nearby or at least a marketplace that gives you that feeling.  However, you gather your salad fixings, to pause and remember our unity to the food that we consume is like a prayer.  Our lives are fleeting and the food we eat to sustain us lends quality to our lives (or it doesn’t)…well, it’s all expressed in this stanza.

Poetry can bring awareness and value to the things we take for granted.  It provides the pause we need in our overly busy lives.  Giving attention to such things makes for a more conscious society.

 

 

On the Trail

Awhile ago, I took of a photo of an old oak tree that was perhaps misshapen by the elements and because of this, it was fascinating, beautiful to my eye.  I loved the way it bent and twisted and yet reached towards the sky.  Gnarly could be a word to describe it.  I could see the beauty in gnarly although the word, gnarly, doesn’t have a great connotation.

That said, my mind equated it to beauty.  I am neither an experienced nor representational painter.  Yet, this photo image of the tree spoke to me.  I used it as inspiration for my painting of a stylized Tree.  Too many of us think of trees as inanimate, as non-communicative, as unfeeling.

I’m reading a book, Braiding Sweetgrass, by the author, Robin Wall Kimmerer.  She is Native American and her family was shifted from reservation to reservation.  She remembers the Pecan Trees in the various places where she and her family have lived over the generations.  The Pecan Trees–no matter where they are physically located across the country–all produce the fruit, the pecan nut, at the same time.  And, then, they don’t produce for years at a time.  What is gleaned from this fact, is that there is an underground communication system among the pecan trees whereby they concur, regardless of climatic conditions and local geographic factors, to produce fruit.

Fascinating, right?  So walking on a trail by the lake yesterday, I encountered a friend riding his bicycle.  We chatted briefly in a casual way.  Then, out of the blue, he says that he communicates with the trees during his seven mile bike ride around the lake.  That when he moved here many years ago, he was impressed with the trees, their beingness.  That he felt he could turn to them for counsel.
Haven’t some of them, the old growth, been standing here for years?”  He added, “Haven’t they seen the whole human play unfold?”

I was shocked by the synchronicity of my painting and his thoughts on trees.  I responded, “You are weird.”  By that I meant wow, how can it be that we’re both on this tree wavelength.  Today it occured to me how the earth, trees, nature, etc. infiltrate our thoughts and beings when we are receptive.  How they speak through us about what is needed to preserve life on earth.  The conservation efforts, the environmental impetus of a world in jeopardy.  Are these quests all earth and nature-instigated?  Humans think they have these brilliant ideas…but who is our coach and guide?  The earth herself, perhaps.

At some point, maybe we realize that we are the spokespersons for our planet.  At some point, we might remember that we are visitors here. We hope to leave this earth home that we’ve only borrowed, intact and viable for future generations.  And, for the other life forms that exist, survive and thrive here besides humans.

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Who Is Your Mother?

Last week, I viewed the film…Never Cry Wolf once again.  It had been awhile since I’ve seen this film.  The main character, a Canadian biologist named Tyler, is flown on a small bush plane and dropped off in the vast, wild and white unknown of  the Canadian Arctic wilderness.  His job is to discover why the caribou population is declining.  It is believed that the wolf packs are eliminating the caribou and so he is there to study the feeding habits of the wolves.

This time, a few things struck me as I watched this film.  The vastness of the wilderness contrasted the minuteness of man.  There was the wild beauty of the scenery.  Then, when a nomadic Inuit man rescues Tyler, I got a sense of the land as experienced by its native inhabitants.  They are in a deep, daily conversation with their environment .  They have to be!  Growing up there, steeped in the traditions of their people, their own interactions with the climate, geography and the animals upon which they directly depend for their clothing, food and shelter…this added another dimension to the story for me.

In his book, Earth in Balance, Al Gore, politician and environmentalist, discusses how we have been taught “to live so separately from nature that we feel so utterly dependent upon our civilization, which has seemingly taken nature’s place in meeting all  our needs.”   Gore elaborates:

“The food on the supermarket shelves, the water in the faucets in our homes, the shelter and sustenance, the clothing and purposeful work, our entertainment, even our identity–all these our civilization provides, and we dare not even think about separating ourselves from such beneficence.”

Yet, there are natural laws that supersede government provisions.  We are disconnected from the natural environment and because of this, we don’t have a real understanding of our place within nature…as John Muir has said “Nature includes us.”

An excerpt from a metaphorical
poem I wrote concerning this vital relationship:

If I don’t know my mother,
how will I care for her
when she is ill and nearly used up?
Why would I sing her sweet lullabies
or hold unrecognizable her in my lap,
rock her into recovery?
If I don’t see that she’s ailing,
or that we’re even related,
why would I pause in my hectic life,
seek her out and say
I love you, I’ll look after you now.
Why would I care if she is a stranger
and I don’t talk to strangers?

Writing as a Spiritual Practice

I think I first heard it from Natalie Goldberg…that writing was her spiritual practice. It seems that she was practicing sitting meditation with a Zen Master.  She struggled a bit.  Finally, her Zen Master suggested that perhaps writing was her spiritual discipline/practice.  He told her “If you go deep enough in writing, it will take you everyplace.”

Do you show up for writing daily?  Do you get the feeling of connecting with something greater and deeper than your ordinary life through writing.  Do you enter a domain that you did not construct but within which you reside for a brevity of time–non-ordinary time?  Is it outside the realm of what the outer world requires of  you?

I sensed that writing was my spiritual practice in the late seventies.  Out of desperation or perhaps out of my soul’s necessity, the pen and the page called to me like a whisperer in the night.  I hadn’t heard of the practice of journal writing in those days.  It hadn’t become popularized quite yet.  There weren’t bookshelves laden with paisley-covered  empty journals, lined or unlined.

For me, lined spiral-bound notebooks marked the beginning of this practice.  And it was daily, nightly, whenever I needed a companionable friend to talk to.  This newly discovered partner was so receptive.  It stood by me and bore any emotion, sorrow, hope, fear, optimism, resurrection…everything over the years.

Showing up for writing was a daily practice. It offered soul connection, enabling me to process through something and arrive at a better place, eventually.  Sometimes the journey was long, harsh and unyielding.  But the page heard it all with neither complaint nor judgment, like a gentle confessor with the power to heal.  These journals have borne witness to the descent and resurrection over and over again.  Writing as a spiritual practice has been an avenue towards the integrity of my body, spirit and mind.

 

Walking Home

bird1I dropped my car off at the shop at 8:30 this morning.  I live within a walking distance of the auto shop, about 25 minutes.  Today is one of those pre-vernal-equinox days.  It tempts the mind to believing that it is spring.  The awakening inside is piqued and we lean towards longer, warmer days.  Those days when the bulbs burst into their flowers and we rise feeling renewed.

It’s so easy to hop into the car first thing to run errands.  Get where I want to go quickly, accomplish more things on that never-ending list.  Such a convenience.  Such an expediter.

It’s when I don’t have access to the car that I begin to really see what surrounds me.  And to discover that there are surprises in every front yard.  The wood-crafted alligator that guards the front patio.  The ornamental kale in barrels in front of the fusion food truck on the little boulevard.  The so soon crocuses, purple, yellow and white.  The Downy Woodpecker beats out his rhythm in the ancient cherry tree.  Then there’s the way the sun feels at this time of the day.  And the way the soft sunlight touches what I see.  Past the auto dealership…I’d like to be in the market for one of those jeeps…but not yet.  The spectacular vista of the mountain peeking through the low houses and buildings.

I pass a rare few people on foot and the greeting is always to “Have a nice day.”
What is it about this time of day that enlivens the sleepy soul?  What is it that makes you glad to be alive and renews optimism?  I don’t know, but I wouldn’t have experienced it if I’d been in the car, in a rush, not in the present moment.

Not to make it all glamorous.  Walking home from the mechanics on a winter’s day with snow and ice on the ground is not a picnic.  At each street corner, there is an indefinable slush puddle.  It could be deep enough to seep over your boottops.  Then the walking home is more of a survival exploit.  I find myself looking down and then out, down and then out.  I don’t see much of the scenery as the focus is not to slip and fall.  Regardless, I allow this adventure on occasion too…a test of my mettle?

All of this to say, take a walk in the morning when you have an opportunity, or make one.  See what you notice that you might have missed had you not been on foot.

And, “Have a nice day.”

 

Goals

Goals can give a context within which I live my life.  For a long time, my main goal was survival.  Then, it morphed into the desire for wholeness.  Occasionally, I’ve had a weight loss goal.  Some new years, I’ve made a resolution or two.  How well I stuck to those resolutions varied.

Are you goal-driven?  Are you curiosity-driven?  Are you intuitively guided?  Something else?  All of the above?  Recently, I listened to a podcast by Elizabeth Gilbert and she admitted to being curiosity-driven…that following her curiosities is not only the way that she writes books, it is the way that she lives her life.  Interesting.  Adventurous for sure!

If I’m honest with myself, I would say that setting a goal and achieving it in material terms, hasn’t been my forte.  Recently, there has been a change in the circumstances of my life.  I am now responsible for the maintenance of my little cottage.  As a direct result of that change, I’ve started saving money.  It’s a high priority on the goals list that I jotted down on January 1st, 2020.

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I was thinking about the word aspiration as compared to the word, goal.  One definition of aspiration is “a desire or ambition for which someone is motivated to work very hard.”  To aspire to something isn’t quite the same as setting a goal.  Designing a plan to reach that to which you aspire implies that you have now set a goal.

I don’t consider that I’m goal-driven in the sense that our culture appears to–acquiring things.  I decide on what’s in front of me to do next.  I don’t follow my curiosity as much as I’d like to except when I am painting.  And that curiosity calls forth my intuition as a work of art evolves.

Anyway, following is this short video by Elizabeth Gilbert on purpose, passion and curiosity.  I would add that besides being curious, she is also goal-oriented.  She works with a publisher and has a contract to write a certain number of books.