Poetry as “The Message in the Bottle”

Edward Hirsch referenced poetry as “a message in a bottle” to be found and opened at some future date by an anonymous reader.

When I paint a piece or write a poem, what or who do I have in mind?  What am I tuned into?  It varies.  Sometimes, as with this painting of the polar bear, I followed an intuitive flow that started with marks on a canvas. From these marks, three disco dancers emerged and quickly shape-shifted into three polar bears at the North Pole; then to a single polar bear with the Aurora Borealis as a backdrop.  Finally there was this solitary polar bear in a meadow.  The journey of this piece wasn’t decided by me ahead of time; what it wanted to become was disclosed as I stayed with the process.

What is the message of this painting?polar2

One cold and snowy winter’s night, I felt that existential loneliness.  I looked at my polar bear painting on the wall & I wondered what it felt like to wander, a solitude, across the melting ice floes of the North Pole.  What would it feel like to have your habitat disappearing beneath your feet?  What would it be like to be made for this icy world and to witness your world dissolving?  As the ice floes are melting, does this then predicate that the polar bear becomes extinct or does he metamorphose in some way to accommodate this once familiar, now changing world?

And so I wrote this sonnet to the polar bear, for myself in my loneliness and for the unknown finder of the message in the bottle.

Lonely
© by Christine O’Brien

It’s cold and I’m alone again at night.
The stars so far away, no comfort there.
Is the polar bear aware of its plight?
Ice floes are melting, does anyone care?

Across the tundra the northern lights dance:
radiant colors blast the starry sky.
If we change our ways, would he have a chance?
“Global warming; couldn’t be helped,” we sigh.

We’re safe in our cozy habitats, home.
The borders of our lives within these walls.
The far arctic circle, his place to roam
outside of our range, his frozen cry falls.

What’s it to us, a whole species demise?
Could it have gone better if we’d been wise?

For Your Contemplation:
I’ve talked about following your passion when writing poetry, prose or creating art. Sometimes, a fleeting feeling seems to govern your life. How do you respond to this? When feeling lonely or sad or some other uncomfortable feeling, I desire to be done with it as soon as possible.  I don’t want to dwell there.  Yet, I’ve learned to allow it the time it takes.  The truth is that we all feel lonely, sad or in grief at times.  To allow it is the courageous response…to create from it is to engage the common human thread of loneliness that each one of us experiences.  Your deep transitory feelings can be expressed through poetry, prose, painting & other creative venues.  You cannot decide who is going to pick up your bottled message on some lonely beach.  You can only hope that when they do, they find what is inside personally useful, portent, potent and perhaps powerful enough to induce change for the good of all.

Autumn Harvest

appleCycles and seasons come and go.  We are deeply connected to nature’s rhythms whether or not we give them conscious attention.  No matter where you live or what your age, you have an experience of Autumn.  In the northern hemisphere, we have entered the Autumn of the year while the southern hemisphere is in the flush of Spring.  As writers, we are aware of the metaphorical aspect of any season.

For yourself, consider what the harvest time means to you personally.  Living in the mountains, I’ve come to know the harvest intimately.  The land I live on has old fruit trees.  The first trees to fruit in early summer are the cherry trees.  These are followed by the pear trees.  Finally, in September and October, the apple trees are ready to be gleaned. If the apple crop is hefty, you will find me in the yard picking apples or in the kitchen processing them.  Frequently, there is an abundance of fruit to be shared with friends.

I often hear this comment from young and old alike, “How fast time is going!” Has it always been this way?

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Thomas Cleary translated a book of verses written by Wen-siang, a lone refugee, Buddhist poet, pacifist and feminist who lived in the 13th century during the time of the Genghis Khan Mongol raids.  The book is titled Sleepless Nights…Verses for the Wakeful.  I’ve excerpted the following poem:

My Sixtieth Year
by Wen-Siang (translated by Thomas Cleary)

Already sixty,
so much I’ve been through.
Wealth and rank
are like floating clouds;
changing and disappearing,
unworthy of regard.

My body’s like a pine

on a winter ridge,
standing alone
through the cold.

My mind is like the water

in an ancient well,
thoroughly unruffled
all the way to the depths.

My path
is the ancient way,
especially hard
in the present day.
Not easily discerned
are right and wrong;
I sigh and sigh,
sigh and sigh.

WRITING PROMPT:
Wen Siang uses simile in the first three verses (the bolded lines) to illustrate his state of being in his sixtieth year; it seems that he is taking stock.  In the fourth verse, he makes the direct comparison (metaphor) in the line “My path is the ancient way.” I invite you to use Wen-siang’s poem as a copycat poem.  That is borrow the form and supply your own content.  You can begin your poem with your current age.  For each verse, alternate the leading lines…”My body’s like…My mind is like…and My path is…”

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Whatever the season, whichever hemisphere, savor your time on planet earth.

Poetry + Paint + Collage

Have you ever considered creating a mixed media piece with art and poetry or words?  A local art exhibition was my incentive to give this a try.  I have wanted to integrate poetry with images for some time. I wasn’t sure how I would accomplish this. The poem is called My Mother’s Hands–stemming from a visit to my parents in a care home during their last years.  At the time, I remember thinking that it was such a personal poem, revealing more than I wanted to share with the community that would attend the art exhibit. I got the idea to write the poem on the canvas and then let words and phrases peek through, not the entire poem.  I had some of my mom’s old costume jewelry.  Somehow, I wanted to integrate a few pieces.

I laid down a background by dripping some inks on the canvas. Once the acrylic ink was dry,  I wrote the poem on the canvas with black India Ink.  I gessoed and painted over parts of it in a very random way.  I traced my own hand and placed two pieces of my mother’s costume jewelry on the fingers.  I added my mother’s photo at age 17.  I collaged a few more pieces of paper, dripped more ink, traced out the flowers.  None of this was planned.  It unfolded organically.

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Creative Prompt:
Do you have a poem or some other writing that you’d like to incorporate with collage and/or painting? Do you have a bit of memorabilia that you’d like to include in your art-making?  Are there colors that you are drawn to?  Is there something that you deeply want to express that includes words and then goes beyond words?

If this process interests you, purchase a few bottles of FW Daler-Rowney Acrylic Inks (choose warm or cool colors so you don’t create muddy colors on your substrate) and have a spray bottle filled with water handy.  Watch a few youtube videos on ways to use these inks.  Play with the inks on a 12″x12″ canvas.  Drip one or two drops (a little goes a long way), spray them.  Watch the ink disburse.  Lift and tilt the canvas slightly creating drips if you desire. Once the ink is dry, write your poem or prose using India Ink or some other permanent black ink–you don’t want water soluble. When dry, partially gesso over some of the written words, add bits of collage or memorabilia. Add acrylic paint if you feel called to.  I used Posca Fine Line Markers to add elements of design as a finishing touch. Have that sense of experimenting, following your whims…perfection is put outside the door.  Let this exploration be for your eyes only.

 

Writing as Revelation

Writing has and continues to reveal myself to me.  As I write, I continually rediscover who I am.  Someone who is not constant. Someone who undergoes continuous transformation. Someone who can broaden her perspective. Forever becoming.

How many times in my life have I tried to pin myself down to a certain characteristic, belief or desire? How many times did I find that this is impossible?  As I’m faced with each new circumstance, I discover more of both myself and larger life.

With writing, I invoke the never-ending journey of self-revelation coupled with personal evolution in a world that is always in flux.

The writing I do reveals what I value.  It engages my sense of humor.  It discloses where I feel afraid to probe.  And, when I share my writing, I can only wonder what it awakens in someone else.  Here’s the thing, we make our writing public, release it to society, and others make of it what they do; and take from it what they do.

Doctor Seuss himself was a revelatory writer. I’m guessing that he had to dig deep to write effectively, and in rhyme with wisdom and humor. His messages are for anyone, regardless of age:
“YOU’RE OFF TO GREAT PLACES!
TODAY IS YOUR DAY!
YOUR MOUNTAIN IS WAITING,
…SO GET ON YOUR WAY!”

The more I write on a certain topic, the more that is revealed to me.  Then, the more I have to “reveal” to others.  dreamcatcher

Destiny
© by Christine O’Brien

Lace and ribbons
decorate the frock.
“Forget your dreams.
Get back to the kitchen
and bake me a pie!”
Banish your fantasy of
happy couples and
floral bouquet apologies.

Re-enter the Goddess–
no partial woman is she!
So, you are somebody
after all.
Tell us what you know.
Emergence is what you requested–
sit down and let’s talk over tea.

A wedge of lemon?  Honey?
Ah, the bitter with the sweet.
This you must experience
for yourself.

Lace and ribbons,
wedding day vows–
disguise your sovereign destiny.

(This mixed media dream catcher was inspired by artist, Tracy Verdugo, in her Paint Mojo E-Course.)

WRITING PROMPT:
For your writing journal:  Consider what your own writing has revealed to you about yourself.  Does it show your values, your process, your personal evolutionary path?  How is it connected to the whole of life? What do you think?

What mountain is waiting for you today?  

 

Using a Prop to Facilitate Your Writing Process

This exercise requires a “prop”.  I chose my favorite morning coffee cup as my prop or physical writing prompt.  Note:  All of this script is directly from my writing journal without editing. These are very rough first drafts and that is the intention–to show you how to be with a prop as a way to experience your writing process.

~~Choose your prop and describe it in detail. Be specific.  Allow stray connotations to drift in as you return to describing your prop.
The clay coffee cup, ceramic.  A blue glaze over original clay, which intentionally seeps through the glaze.  Red earth clay.  Blue-glazed cup with red clay trim and red clay bottom.  Shaped like a plump face–narrower at the top and full-cheeked.  A question-mark shaped handle, large enough to comfortably fit two, even three fingers.  Wide enough at the mouth to sip without hitting my nose bridge.  A single band design marching around the cup, 3/4 of an inch below the rim.  Like rick-rack or zig-zags, up and down, up and down and all around until it catches up with itself. Etched blue revealing red earth clay creates this design.  My hands hold the “cheeks” and feel caressed by the warmth from the tea.  The tea bag bobbing like a survivor. Earthy fragrance of yerba mate promising savor.

~~This description takes me to another level of writing:
(The marking of this new day/tea’s greeting.  The cup returns to bed with me.  I get up in stages.)
“Honey, it’s time to get up.”
“Yes, Mom,” a curl, a stretch, a turn over to tug covers overhead.
Tea’s greeting–a simmering kettle; hot water centering, bobbing tea bag offering; sun salutation.  Tea bag marinates as I wait patiently for the proper saturation level and then, sip.  I let the bag soak beyond what’s proper!  I write, read, sip.  An invisible mother pulls at the covers of my consciousness; the day’s task and obligations lined up like a list. Once the list has snagged me, I’m at its mercy.  I delay the rising as long as possible. Savor the moment, the tea, the words I put on paper, the words that others have put to page. The reassuring cup promises to follow me throughout the day.  It has other offerings to encourage me along. Midmorning delights, afternoon comforts and evening respites–in beverage form.  I return to it again and again like a child checking in with her reassuring mother–that everything is going to be alright.

~~This process culminated in a poem:cup1
Ode to a Cup
©by Christine O’Brien

Who molded you?
woke from musty sleep
having dreamt your shape
and took to the potter’s wheel

Who molded you?
brought you forth
from dream seed
and fertilized you

Who
carried you in the womb
of consciousness
and gave you form

Who was
the willing bearer
who knew how
to alter clay

Who molded you?
breathed life’s breath
and with daring hands
gave you presence

Who
saw your promise
what you could hold
and deliver at once

Who molded you
so I might
reap your fullness
in a single sip

Who
crafted you
offered you
who is this God?

~~Reflection:
Where did I go through this process–from a prop to where?  For me, finally, this poem became a metaphor for my own human evolution. Who is molding me, my life?

WRITING PROMPT:
Do this four-part exercise when you have some time to devote (concluding with your own reflections about where you went through this process) .  Your creative process is your own and can look totally different from mine.  Trust where you are lead. Process writing requires presence and the opportunity to go deeper with a single object (or subject).  You need to allow yourself plenty of uninterrupted time to “go there”.  It is best to do this in one sitting to get the most out of the experience.

Give yourself a few hours with this writing process on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

 

Playing in the Field of the Daily Mundane (part one)

A poem by Al Zolynas

The Zen of Housework
I look over my own shoulder
down my arms
to where they disappear under water
into hands inside pink rubber gloves
moiling among dinner dishes.

My hands lift a wine glass,
holding it by the stem and under the bowl.
It breaks the surface
like a chalice
rising from a medieval lake.

Full of the grey wine of domesticity, the glass floats
to the level of my eyes.
Behind it, through the window
above the sink, the sun, among
a ceremony of sparrows and bare branches,
is setting in Western America.

I can see thousands of droplets
of steam–each a tiny spectrum–rising
from my goblet of grey wine.
They sway, changing directions
constantly–like a school of playful fish,
or like the sheer curtain
on the window to another world.

Ah, the grey sacrament of the mundane!

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Al’s poem certainly elevates the mundane task of washing dishes to…a sacrament!  And, it illustrates that anything is fair game for inspiration from which to write your own poetry.  Reading Al’s poem, we become very present with him as he washes the dinner dishes.

When reading a poem, I recommend that you read it at least twice.  And aloud, slowly. The writer has placed line breaks where he feels they are appropriate.  Reading it, let the line breaks support the meaning of the poem.

There is no writing prompt today.  Instead, review Al’s poem giving it your full attention. Some things to notice are the shape of the poem on the page, the number of stanzas, the number of lines in each stanza, line breaks, the opening line , the closing or concluding line, cohesiveness, the punctuation (or lack of), rhyming or not, a rhythmic quality. Notice how the poet uses simile and metaphor and shifts his description from the actual to the metaphorical and back again.  In your estimation, what is the purpose of this poem? Is there anything else that stands out for you? What feeling(s) does it evoke in you?

Have fun playing in the field of the daily mundane!

floral1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Remember Your Body (part two)

We call our bodies, vehicles…we drive them here and there and have great expectations of them.  We realize the body has needs and we give it sustenance–a snack on the fly, perhaps?  As writers or artists, we can become so engaged with our craft that we put the body’s tender loving care at the bottom of the list—maybe we’ll get to it–tomorrow.  For instance, that exercise program that you know is going to be good for you that gets postponed until…when?  Or that healthier way of eating to which you want to ascribe–one day…when?

I have driven, pushed and prodded my body.  I plant myself in front of the computer, at my writing desk or art table.  I expect–performance.  When I’m in the creative flow, it’s easy to forget that my body is an animal with actual needs.  Typically, I’m good at feeding myself healthy food.  I walk daily. I’m not so good at regular exercise or showing up for my tai chi class. Stretching, yoga, heart rate exercises, etc. These are areas in which I need to make a conscious effort.

What about you?  Do you have an exercise routine, a good eating regimen, an overall healthy, balanced lifestyle?  This is something a writer needs to organize into his/her daily routine.  It is intricately connected to your balanced writing practice.

Is your body your “horse and hound”?  May Sarton, the poet, wrote about her body in the following poem:

Question

Body my house
my horse my hound
what will I do
when you are fallen
Where will I sleep
How will I ride
What will I hunt
Where can I go
without my mount
all eager and quick
How will I know
in thicket ahead
is danger or treasure
when Body my good
bright dog is dead
How will it be
to lie in the sky
without roof or door
and wind for an eye
With cloud for shift
how will I hide?

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Read this poem aloud at least two times.  What is the author is saying in these few short verses?

Today, there is no writing prompt.  As a writer, contemplate how you care for your body’s daily requirements.  If you don’t have an exercise routine, how might you begin one.  Start off small; check in with your wise body to see which way it would like to move…that way you are more likely to stay with it.

Happy Body Day.

RememberYourBody2