New Words and a New Year

The year 2018 is upon us.  WOW!  We each ascribe our own symbolism to crossing the threshold of a new year.  Don’t we?  By framing your intentions or resolutions with words of your choice, do you empower them?  Are these words the boat that glides you over the waters of the year to come?  Or do they create the storms ahead?  I wonder.

****

One way to freshen your writing is to choose “new words”.  Several years ago, I attended a creative writing workshop presented by a visiting poet–Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge.  She had a bowl of “word tickets.”  I grabbed a handful of words written on tickets.  We were each given a pocket dictionary in case we didn’t have a meaning for the words.  I looked up the obscure words and found a few other appealing words which I wrote down in the process.  I had my own little “word pool” puddling up on the floor beside me.

The mind is an organizing tool.  It took up the challenge inspired by this word pool.  How do I make something  sensible, harmonious and yet personal from this pool of words? Had I not been invited to do this exercise, this poem would not have been written.

Come Closer Star
© by Christine O’Brien

I come from a long line of bakers
desserts like late afternoon light in a box,
on a plate, on the dingy table beside the
compact refrigerator storing our leftover takeout;
hummng a white noise which lulled us into
night reveries.
I remember the poster of the Arnos, its
curling corners like dreams of travel
eaten by fast flame.
I try to forget your green eyes,
the unripe berries that they were–
unborn cities, gravel torture
and unbidden truth.
The swirling Rings of Saturn
on the ceiling;
pinnacles of Oberhausen steel
and the metallic
taste on your tongue.
I remember that Friday,
the marching band on the street below
the droopy violets on
the window ledge.
“Come closer Star,” you say.
I used to be your prayer
in ordinary time.
You pluck one red poppy
stash it behind my left ear.
The cat scampers
over the cobbles below
and what used to suffice is
empty.

****

Writing Prompt:
If you could choose your words for the upcoming year, what might they be?  Over the course of the day, notice the words that have appeal for you as heard in  conversations, the radio, television, walking down the street, etc.  Write them down. Go on a dictionary excursion to bring in some fresh, new words.  Write them down.  Design a poem integrating both your initial words and the new  words.

Have a blessed, happy new year.

deer1

Farewell to the old…welcome in the new.

 

Pablo Neruda–“The Word”

Pablo Neruda was a renowned and prolific Chilean poet and diplomat.  He won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1971.  The fictionalized 1995 film, The Postman (Il Postino), takes place in Italy during Neruda’s time in exile.

Neruda loved his native language, Spanish (Chilean).  He wrote in this native tongue; there have been beautiful translations of his work.

The following bit of prose, translated into English, transmits this love and the preciousness of words to him. This is only a partial excerpt from Neruda’s homage to “The Word”.  I’m sorry that I cannot give credit to the translator as it wasn’t available.

The Word
by Pablo Neruda

“You can say anything you want, yessir, but it’s the words that sing, they soar and descend…I bow to them…I love them, I cling to them, I run them down, I bite into them, I melt them down…I love words so much…the unexpected ones…the ones I wait for greedily or stalk, until suddenly, they drop…Vowels I love…they glitter like colored stones, they leap like silver fish, they are foam, thread, metal, dew…I run after certain words…They are so beautiful that I want to fit them all into my poem…I catch them in mid flight, as they buzz past, I trap them, clean them, peel them.  I set myself in front of the dish.  They have a crystalline texture to me, vibrant, ivory, oil, like fruit, like algae, like aggates, like olives…and then I stir them, I shake them, I drink them, I gulp them down, I mash them, I garnish them, I let them go…I leave them in my poem like stalactites, like slivers of polished wood, like coals, pickings from a shipwreck, gifts from the waves…Everything exists in the word…”

Writing Prompt:
A brief meditation.  Get quiet, shut your eyes, take a few deep breaths.  Continue to follow the slow in and the slow out breath.  Experience the release of what you think you know with each out breath.  Experience your openness to something new with each in breath.  Ask for entry into the land of the WORD.  In your imagination, construct that land.  Visit it for a few minutes as you continue to follow the slow in and the slow out breath.  When  you feel ready, open your eyes.  Pick up your pen and let your words flow onto the page–write your own homage to the word.

peony

The Single Story

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a Nigerian writer of novels, short stories and nonfiction.  The “single story” is a term she coined in reference to the generalizations and stereotypes that we make in regards to cultural, racial, gender, creed, etc. identity.  I cannot say this in any better way than she does in this Ted Talk.

Please make yourself a cup of tea, light a candle and sit for twenty minutes to learn from a fine teacher.

“The Danger of a Single Story” Ted Talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

 

Contemplation:
Consider the words of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie as you go about your day, encountering others.  Gently notice those times when you classify someone according to first impressions or any other “single story” responses.  This is an exercise in self-observation.

Mechanisms of Whole and the Mandala

Mechanisms of Whole
© by Christine O’Brien

We each have a felt sense
of whole
but we aren’t sure
how to engage it.
Yearning for whole
which we try to fill
with things of the appetites–mandala1
food, sex, drugs, alcohol,
ambition, activities, relationships.

Instincts towards whole, unity
community—families, clubs,
religions, towns, states, countries.
Efforts towards whole which have been
thwarted within ourselves
since birth–
fragmentation, disassociation–
rejected aspects of self;
traumatic experiences
resulting in separation within.

Yet, we are surrounded by
daily examples of whole:
from an apple to the sun
to the night sky—in harmony,
congruence.
It’s a real struggle to retain
our lack of integrity
in the presence of such
expressions of whole.

****
Carl Jung was one of the proponents of accessing the deep psyche and one’s integrative wholeness through the use of the mandala.

Writing Prompt:
Find a picture of a mandala (or better yet, draw and color one).  Place the mandala where you will see it throughout the day.  At the end of the day or the next morning, sit and study the mandala for five to ten minutes.  Write for twenty minutes (or more).  Is there anything  surprising in your writing?

Origin of a Poem–Kindness

Many years ago, a friend introduced me to the poetry of Naomi Shihab Nye.  He appreciated how she occupied and read her poetry.  So do I.

Naomi Shihab Nye’s poem, Kindness, is widely read.  And it’s no wonder.  In this video clip, she relates how she came to write this poem.  Then, she recites her poem.  Regardless of how many times that I read or hear this poem, I am deeply moved.

May I bring the message of this poem into my encounters today.

Contemplation:
How prepared are you to take down a poem when it presents itself to you?  I’ve been driving, walking down a path or in the shower when a poem comes to me full blown (and sometimes without the need for editing)!  I am the scribe, available to the recitation whenever and wherever it comes.  Maybe I need a bumper sticker “I brake for poems!”

Note:  Carry your pocket journal and a pen with you.  You truly never know when a brilliant idea is going to cross your path.

Greetings

Dear Readers of My Blog:

Thank you for following my blog for the past six months!  When I started writing this blog, I had no idea the shape it would take or how long I’d continue writing it.  Where does “subject matter” come from?  Also, I do appreciate your likes and comments or discussion as they show me that I’m not talking to myself.

In this season of gathering, I’d like to take a moment to contemplate peace within myself, in my family, community and the world that we share with everyone else.

Brooke Medicine Eagle, author of Buffalo Woman Comes Singing, holds a vision of a time when ‘all my relations‘ are honored.  This vision includes what we consider inanimate objects such as trees and rocks.  And it includes what is termed ‘the four leggeds‘–animals; and insects also.  Her vision includes the earth itself.

Buckminster Fuller, an American author, architect, systems theorist, designer, and inventor, re-popularized the term “Spaceship Earth”.  This world view expresses concern over the earth’s limited resources; it encourages everyone across the world to act as a cohesive crew working for the greater good.

So in this season (and beyond), may I consider that which connects me to others over that which separates us.  And may I remember to practice living from that connection. It truly is one interconnected planet.

Peace to all of you.earth

Christine

 

To the God of Sunlight…

sonnet1
©by Christine O’Brien

Yearning is to not be satisfied with
the only thing we possess here and now
forgetting that this moment is a gift
and to its giving presence I could bow.
Instead, I fight the newness of this day.
I resist, protest, complain about it all.
To every ray of sun and blossom, nay!
I fence myself behind a solemn wall.
Why do I choose such a captive to be?
What script is written and why do I act
a dismal part which isn’t really me?
As if this dull perspective is a fact.
The god of yearning, I cannot appease.
To the god of sunlight, I bend my knees.

****

Sometimes, I write a poem in the morning.  When I am in that space of waking up–feeling an ache, a concern or a grumpiness–writing a poem (like this one) can help me to both validate the feeling and then “shake it off”.

Contemplation:
What does writing a poem do for you?  Or writing in your journal, how is it serving you?  Have you experienced the transformative power of writing (or reading) poetry for yourself?  Have you written a poem yet today?

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.

The Circle

Years ago, I read a book by Christina Baldwin entitled Calling the Circle: The First and Future Culture.  Though I had sat in many circles before, usually created around sharing  writing and poetry, I hadn’t consciously considered the “power of circle”.

Reading Baldwin’s book, I prepared to form my own creative writing workshop circles.  I crafted workshops to introduce participants to the poet and writer within themselves.  One thing I was privileged to witness within the circle formation was the creative flowering.  I imaged it like this:

“It’s like sitting in a hot tub.
We are each self-contained,
tight as individual flower buds.
The warmth of circle
like warm water
creates a fluidity

gradually opening us
to both ourselves and one another

and to the fully blossomed flowers
that we are.”

Within the circle, I have seen this transformation.  For the circle ably holds us–our feelings, our desires, thoughts, dreams, awarenesses, what is unique about us and what we share in common.  There is woven a web of safety, especially when we agree to the circle principles which are clearly stated as the circle convenes.

When I called a circle, I prepared the space first.  I cleaned and freshened the space.  I placed the chairs and little tables (for tea) in a circle.  I created an altar in the center, usually related to the theme of the workshop.  I blessed the space.

If the circle is going to be ongoing with the same members, then it is wise to read the circle principles first.  Each principle can be discussed and agreed upon.  They can be added to or revised to fit the needs of this particular circle.  If it is a one-time circle, as in a workshop, then, I usually mention a few things as I open the circle.  For example, “sharing is optional”.  While sharing is welcomed, personal process is more important.  If something feels too tender, the writer can pass, choosing not to share.  In such a circle, there is no cross-talk.  After someone reads, we thank them for sharing.  My circles aren’t about critiquing or commenting.  We become good listeners, present with the one who is reading.  And grateful to them for their contribution.

****

This brief video is informative on the origins and some benefits of circle in our times while introducing the two women who are proponents of the circle.

 

For Your Contemplation:
If you’ve ever considered forming a poetry or writing circle, I invite you to read the chapter entitled The First Gathering of a New Circle from Christina Baldwin’s book, CALLING THE CIRCLE: The First and Future Culture, first published in 1994.  This is a practical guide to initiating and grounding your circle as it begins.

NOTE:  Christina Baldwin and Anne Linnea have a newer book entitled The Circle Way:  A Leader in Every Chair, published in 2010.  You can Google “Basic Guidelines for Calling a Circle – PeerSpirit”, for a free handout.

 

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.