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.

How does a poem address what is incomprehensible?

Circulation
by Christine O’Brien

The Walkaway

The Walkaway

Don’t dance with just one boy,
make the rounds–
circulate.
Play chess and checkers
card games
no dating them outside of here.

The USO–
we’re here to
provide a home
away from home.
You are the girl next door
…a reputation to uphold
no loose behavior.

His name was Mickey
–from Mississippi.
He wanted a girl
more than anything.
He was being sent off to Vietnam.

Did anyone ever come back from
Vietnam
I wondered?

He claimed me;
threatened all the other soldiers
to stay away.
But I’m supposed to circulate,
I said.
He picked me up after work,
treated me to a soda,
rode home with me on the bus,
met my family,
even loaned my dad a book.
He was scheduled to ship out
in two weeks.

Did anyone ever come back from
Vietnam
I wondered?

His friend drove him to my house.
We kissed in the back seat of the car.
Hard kisses
from him who wanted
to know a kiss
before lips grew cold.
My lips were uncertain
but compliant.
Suddenly I pulled away,
fearful
withdrew into my house
tossing him a good night.

Did anyone ever come back from
Vietnam
I wondered?

He had been so cool
on the dance floor
smooth, sexy dancer.
In his dress blues
bell bottoms
swishing the slippery floor.
I could never attract
a guy like that
I thought.

He wanted to marry me NOW!
The urgency of youth
the uncertainty of undeclared war
leading one to declare love.
I cried all the way home on the bus.
He comforted me
not knowing that I was trying to
break up with him.
He threatened suicide
wasn’t going to Vietnam
suicide enough?

I wondered,
did anyone ever come back
from Vietnam?

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Poetry is often rooted in emotion.  The words rise to express what is sometimes hard to name let alone to own.  This poem addresses the emotions arising from a real life situation.  The underlying question being…does anyone really return from war, even when they physically return from war.  In these times, we’ve begun to address Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  For those who are on the battlefield, who witness what is incomprehensible, what does returning from war then mean to them?  How do they successfully re-assimilate into society? How are they supported upon their return?

And for those of us at home who haven’t had the direct experience of war, how do we then relate to this changed person?

These are challenging and real themes in people’s lives.

WRITING PROMPT:
How do you personally address and write about the things that are harsh in your own life?  Do you write about these in your journal?  Does poetry provide an opening?  Have you availed yourself of this doorway into your emotions?  Remember, within poetry you have freedom of expression.  Does that help?  Remember, if something feels like too much, please seek professional support.

Wishing you balance and peace in the hard things that you face.

 

 

 

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.

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“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.

 

Eternal Song

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Eternal Song Abstract

Eternal Song
by Christine O’Brien

Eternal song
sang its way down river
as I perched upon rock relics.
Tree watchers nestled,
their tops leaned in closely
to catch wind’s whisper.
Omniscient sky
stood stalwart,
clouds camouflaging heaven.

Eternal song
pitched a tent
while sun dunked itself
behind ocean’s screen
and pointy stars tweaked
dark-veiled sky
standing stalwart.
Intruding moon
strung a beam
and lit up any thought of
privacy
while eternal song
softly hummed wisdom.

Dawn woke with a yawn
and a stretch
across sleepy landscape.
Twitters and chirps
startled the drowsy birds
awake.
Nudging cats begged
to be let outside.
That is,
the ones who hadn’t hidden from
“come home” calls the evening before
dallying in secret night caves.

Off-key roosters
crowed when the spirit
moved them.
Stalwart sky blushed from rose
to soft-spoken blue
as fading stars
vacationed in another part of the world.
Australia, perhaps.
And all those humans
built timepieces,
danced to another tune,
rushed to and from importance
and they hardly ever noticed
eternal song.

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Did you notice the use of PERSONIFICATION in this poem?

 

Writing Prompt:
Earth, Air, Fire and Water.  The elements of our environment–these are our make-up also.  Choose an element and write your poem of appreciation.  Or weave them all together as I have done in this poem.  Three deep breaths, settle down and write.  The polishing can come later.

Faith

Autumn
by Rainer Maria Rilke

The leaves are falling, falling as if from far up,
as if orchards were dying high in space.
Each leaf falls as if it were motioning “no.”

And tonight the heavy earth is falling
away from all the other stars in the loneliness.

We’re all falling.  This hand here is falling.
And look at the other one…It’s in them all.

And yet there is Someone, whose hands
infinitely calm, hold up all this falling.

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This poem is a metaphor for faith.  Many poets have written about faith.  It is a worthy topic. 

 

 

The poet, David Whyte, reads his poem, Faith. It is about his desire for faith and his uncertainty about where or if it is to be found. This poem is a man’s prayer for faith in something greater. I’ve mentioned earlier than any poem deserves at least two readings.  David Whyte does this for us…his style of reading  is to repeat a poem numerous times.  Through that repetition, I am touched at a deeper level.  As a listener, I am engaged more fully in the life of the poem…where it sprung from and what the poet invokes, desires or designs.

Writing Prompt:
Have you written about faith?  That word, the concept behind it, takes the writer on a journey into his/her own deep psyche.  Exploring your views on faith, might
create a vulnerability that many want to avoid.  Today, I am going to allow myself to be that vulnerable and write about faith, quietly, here at my desk in my little cottage in the mountains as I look out upon the Autumn colors, the leaves falling, a confetti of colors lying on the ground.

 

Poetry a la carte…poem of the moment

Following my parents’ passing, less than six months apart, I went deeply into that grief place. Accompanied by an unsettling anxiety. For comfort, I read stories of rescued animals that became the most amazing pets.  I remember thinking “That never happens to me–an animal has never showed up on my doorstep.”

Within one week…

golden1

Rescued Me
© by Christine O’Brien

I want to withdraw
to retreat into an old
outworn cocoon,
to send him on his way.
But he snuggles in close
and wraps his arms around me
like a security blanket.
I nuzzle in, wondering about this attraction–
where did he come from?
While wanting to push him away,
I relish this closeness.
I tell myself, I deserve such tenderness!
I deserve such gentle love!  I do!
I read to him of the mythology of horses,
their mysticism,
of the heroine’s journey.
He rearranges himself
as I stroke his warm back
as his purr vibrates
through my belly.
I savor the favors he offers–
a fair trade for food and water.
At night, he usually roams,
but last night, he slept on a chair
in my living room,
this wandering feline.
I’m restless.
I want this stealer of hearts
to leave, to be on his way
for he has stirred
the river of possibility
that I am
–loveable.

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This purring cat settled on my lap for several hours.  The vibrational quality of the purr helped to calm me.  He returned often and gradually helped me through the grief.

Writing Prompt:
Have you had a magical experience with an animal–pet or otherwise?  Have you written about it?  Why not write about it now?  You decide whether prose or poetry…or does it inspire a painting or collage?

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?