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)

****

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.

****

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.

Jack Kerouac with Steve Allen

Recently, my brother sent me a video clip of Jack Kerouac on the Steve Allen Show, an American variety show that aired in the late 1950’s through the early 1960’s.  Kerouac is reading his poetic prose in the clip below.  This is not to be missed!

Don’t just look, SEE!

Jack Kerouac lived from 1922 to 1969–a short, fast-lived life.  His writing evokes time and place–what has been termed “The Beat Generation”.  His words are evocative and though I might look at the same images, his words help me to really see through his personal and specific lens.  Listening to Kerouac read his own words, once again, I am moved by this author’s authentic voice.  WOW!

We could debate the difference between looking and seeing.  For me, I look at so many things throughout the day.  A sweeping look, a glance, a quick visual summary of the places I go and the people I meet along the way.

However, there are moments when I really stop and SEE!  These are those moments when I feel most connected to something beyond myself.  These are the moments when I pause and really witness what I’m looking at.  It is a whole other level of experience, the difference between looking and seeing.

WRITING PROMPT:
Try giving yourself a conscious experience of seeing versus looking over the next few days.  Move yourself from looking at something to seeing it.  Later on, with pen and paper, reflect on this…what was your experience of looking versus seeing?  An interesting exercise.

The Influence of Place on Your Character

besidetheocean2

 

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?

****

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.

Alice

Scan_20160308 (2)

Too Small Alice

This drawing is my copycat drawing based on
an original illustration by Sir John Tenniel
and then water-colorized by me.

****

Some stories are timeless.  When you were young, did someone read to you from the classic tale, Alice in Wonderland?  Or, did you pick up the book and read the story yourself on a rainy Sunday afternoon? Perhaps you’ve seen one of the many film versions of Alice in Wonderland.

A few years ago, artist Jane Davenport offered an online watercolor painting class, Wonderland.  I had no experience with watercolor painting.  This seemed like a fun way to get my feet wet.

I also decided to read the book, Alice in Wonderland, from start to finish. I am certain that reading this book in present time, I had greater comprehension than when I read excerpts in the past.  That is the thing about some stories, they have the capacity to reveal something new when viewed from a different vantage point of age.

Have you found this to be true?

****

I wonder what gives a story this timeless quality.  As a writer, does one set out with the intention to create a classic tale that spans generations?  What do you think?
I believe that a person writes for the love of writing, an inner drive, compelling inspiration, his/her own particular circumstances and the outer stimulus of the times. Add to this their commitment to follow this particular tantalizing muse.

How could Lewis Carroll have imagined that his story would leap across continents and into our present time?

feel it’s important to note that Sir John Tenniel’s original illustrations bonded with Carroll’s words in such a way as to pop the story off the pages.  When I think of Alice in Wonderland, I see Sir John Tenniel’s “Alice”.

Note: This classic tale has had many illustrators over time.

WRITING PROMPT:
The quote below, from Alice in Wonderland, is a popular, often quoted one.  Applying this to writing, isn’t it an advantage for a writer to stay open to where the flow of thoughts, words and emotions want to take him/her–that is, not knowing where they want to go? If you have a goal in mind for your writing, how do you react when your writing wants to go in another direction?  How can you align with your goal and yet stay open to rerouting?

“Would you tell me please, which way I ought to go from here?”

“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the cat.

“I don’t know where,” said Alice

“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the cat.

 

One Poem a Day

A poet once recommended that an aspiring poet write one bad poem a day (Does anyone remember who said this?).  I add…refrain from judging whether your poem is good or not because a poem typically begins with a rough draft.  Personal expression through poetry, especially in the initial stages of getting it down on paper, doesn’t benefit from judging.  I think that the poet was actually saying, WRITE DAILY!

According to Wikipedia, “Olav Håkonson Hauge was a Norwegian poet. He was born in Ulvik and lived his whole life there, working as a gardener in his own orchard.”  Following is one of his poems:

One Poem A Day
by Olav Håkonson Hauge

I’ll write one poem a day,
every day.
That should be easy enough.
Browning did it for a while, though
he rhymed and beat time
with his bushy eyebrows.
So, one poem a day.
Something strikes you,
something occurs,
something catches your attention.
–I get up.  It’s lighter.
Have good intentions.
And see the bullfinch rise from the cherry tree,
stealing buds.

Here’s another one by Olav Håkonson Hauge:

The cat is sitting
out front
when you come.
Talk a bit with the cat.
He is the most sensitive one here.

Note:  Poetry can be this seemingly basic.

****

Isn’t writing, whether poetry or prose, about observation–of our feelings, nature, encounters, our environment, caught phrases, daily life experiences, our own introspection? Again, inspiration is everywhere when we are awake to it.

poetry2a

WRITING PROMPT:
Writing daily is a habit.  Do you have this habit?  If so, yay!
If not, try writing a poem a day for 21-days–it can be any length.  That’s the challenge!  Be accountable and share your journey with someone.

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?

 

Ballerina1

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?

****

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.

Haiku Haven

A friend recently said that he liked haiku because they were short enough for him to memorize.  He delighted in writing haiku that did not make sense.  He then recited them to acquaintances who were left perplexed by his Haiku Koans.

Another friend, upon waking, writes haiku as she greets the new day…it has become her morning ritual.  This was also my routine for awhile.  When writing haiku, I enjoyed the feeling of presence. The early morning was a good time to write as I left the dreamworld and entered the waking world.  I could invoke both states, it seemed.

∗∗∗∗

A brief introduction to haiku.  So far as we know, haiku originated in Japan.  Short poems, usually three lines long, haiku have a total of 17 syllables…5 syllables in the first line, 7 syllables in the second line and 5 syllables in the third line.  Traditional haiku usually contained a season word that indicated in which season the haiku was set.  The season word isn’t always obvious.  Haiku are little philosophical gems, sometimes with humor.  They can describe almost anything.  Often, they describe daily situations in a refreshing way–creating a new experience of something familiar.  It is always amazing to me that some poetic forms, such as haiku, endure.

Following are a few of my haiku–I allowed myself to veer slightly off 5-7-5 for the sake of meaning:

Springs animation
Mocks her skeletal cage
Risk taken, spirit leaps.

I’ve a perfect view
Of life through eyes that see
The world as it could be.

When summer fades to fall
As love fades into friendship
where does the heart call home?

Tea in the morning
Leaves, twigs, roots, flowers
Connect one to origins.

∗∗∗∗

Here are a few haiku from the masters:

Spring Cobalt Ocean…
Across snow-white mountains fly
black returning birds         (Shiki)

Daffodils
and a white paper screen
reflect each other’s color     (Basho)

I envy the tom cat
how easily he let’s go of
love’s pain and longing!     (Etsujin)

Divorced and lonely,
she walks to the field
to help plant seedlings     (Buson)

I climb into bed
and then take my socks off.
How lazy I’m getting !     (Shiki)

Note:  In translating haiku from Japanese to English, it is challenging to get both the meaning and the syllable count.  

The simplicity of haiku, with its ability to evoke images (and possibly a culture) in a few short lines, is appealing.

WRITING PROMPT:
In writing your own haiku, strive to “give a newcrow
experience of something familiar”.  Try to adhere
to the 5-7-5 syllables (or as close as you can get to
it).  Take a few deep breaths, get present with
your surroundings and drop into this now moment.
Write from this place.  Stand up, look out a window.
Where do your eyes land…write a few more haiku.

 

Grounded Poetry with Wendell Berry

Wendell Berry is “an American novelist, poet, environmental activist, cultural critic, and farmer,” to name some of his credentials.  I’ve been infatuated with his poetry for a long time.

Feet on the earth, grounded, present, receptive are a few of the words that I would use to describe Wendell Berry.  I see him as a practical visionary.  His poetry reflects his values.  I’ve included a couple of very short clips of Wendell Berry reading.  If you want more (and I hope that you do), there are plenty of youtube videos of him…one is a lengthy interview with Bill Moyers.

How to be a poet by Wendell Berry

 

and this one…

 

As I’ve said before, there is something about a poet’s voice reading his or her own words.  With Berry’s poetry, though these clips are short, I enter the trance-like state that his poetry evokes (especially when I listen to these poems a few times).

Wendell Berry is one of those people who lives his values.  He has a message and he is compelled to offer his discoveries to the world.  And he does.

****

We’ve discussed writing about where your passion lies.  Are you doing it?  For that is where you are going to find the most energy.  Your words become more than words…they become winged messengers.  Have you noticed this for yourself?  Even when you’re speaking to someone about your subject–the one for which you have deep care and concern–something in your tone of voice heightens and strives to engage your listener.

WRITING PROMPT:
For your journal, remembering what you are passionate about and writing it down, again, refreshes your perspective about your subject.  Have you had any new insights lately about where you’d like to go in writing about your passion?  Or any thoughts on how you’d like to creatively bring this to the attention of others?

Gratitude

Yesterday, in the United States, we celebrated our Thanksgiving holiday. Tradition has us gather with family and friends to give thanks for one another, for the harvest and the gifts that life has bestowed upon us.  Ideally, gratitude is a part of our daily experience.  I notice that when I come from a place of gratitude, I am able to better hold the balance with what doesn’t seem to be working (personally and in the world).  There are as many ways to give thanks as there are people.  In autumn, my thoughts are naturally drawn to gratitude for the harvest.  Sometimes this is an internally whispered “thank you.” Other times it is a proclamation delivered on a mountaintop or a feeling of sheer exuberance without words.

****
“Harriet Kofalk was a beloved naturalist, author, activist, mother, grandmother, and dear friend to many people worldwide.”

From the book, Earth Prayers, we have Harriet Kofalk’s poem of thanks:

Awakening
in a moment of peace

I give thanks
to the source of all peace

as I set forth
into the day
the birds sing
with new voices
and I listen
with new ears
and give thanks

nearby
the flower called Angel’s Trumpet
blows
in the breeze
and I give thanks

my feet touch the grass
still wet with dew
and I give thanks
both to my mother earth
for sustaining my steps
and to the seas

cycling once again
to bring forth new life

the dewdrops
become jeweled
with the morning’s sun-fire
and I give thanks

you can see forever
when the vision is clear
in this moment
each moment
I give thanks.

WRITING PROMPT:
Harriet’s poem is one of both gratitude and presence.  Write your own poem of gratitude. You could start by listing some of the things you feel grateful for today and develop your unique gratitude poem from that list. Or, you can borrow Harriet’s line “I give thanks…” and allow your own poem to evolve from her line prompt.

Wait a few days and then spend some time crafting your poem. 

Mt. Shasta on election day

I give thanks for where I live.