Being in the Creative Stew

Sometimes, I make a request into the ethers, “Which direction do I pursue in my life/career?” or “What is the next step with this short story I’m writing?”  or “Where do I go now with this painting in process?”

The next uncomfortable position is to find myself in the creative stew!  For awhile, I simmer there without understanding what is going on.  Feelings of uncertainty, doubt, discomfort arise and I probe these feelings.  “What?  What?”  I forget that I asked the question(s) or invoked help and that I’m on the edge of unknowing, the precipice of what’s next.

I have been known to call this the “fertile void”.  Though there is nothing apparent on the horizon, I have invoked the powers that be to show me a direction, how to proceed.  Inwardly, I churn.  I feel discomfort.  An inner edginess.  And resistance too.  All these things and feelings bubbling in the cauldron of “where do I go from here?”  Sometimes, the harder you push, the more elusive the answer.

When a writer, poet, artist is creating something…there are bound to be times when they are stuck and can’t see the next step.  They’ve been deep in process, things seemed to be flowing and then…nothing.  Flat out, nothing.  Whether at the desk or canvas, they are inwardly working something out.  When I remember that this is what is going on, there is some relief.  “Ah, yes, I’m in that disconcerting void place.  It looks like there is no forward movement.  How long is it going to last?  Is there something that I need to do to get unstuck!!??

At these times, I’ve found, the best thing to do is to walk away for awhile, literally and figuratively.  The impasse is in place.  Do something to take your mind off of it.  Dance, do the laundry, get out in nature, do something you are good at.  Anything that isn’t related to the dilemma.

Simultaneously, it’s a time of deep listening and seeing.  Sometimes, answers come to us indirectly, through metaphor.  Other times, someone says something like “You are really good at painting portraits.”  or “I appreciate your sensitivity.  It comes through in your poetry.”  During this time of uncertainty, it pays to be alert to clues as to what the next step is.  Sometimes, a direction presents  in a dream.  You might wake up one morning and know exactly what to do next.

Regardless, this gestation period is part of the creative process, not separate from it.  We ride it out.  We trust.  The flow returns.

threefaces.1

 

A Winter’s Tale

One Greek myth is the story of Demeter and Persephone.  When Persephone was abducted by Hades and taken to the underworld, Demeter (her mother) conducted a search near and far.  When she finally discovered Persephone’s whereabouts, she commanded Zeus to bring her home.  Persephone had been deceived into eating a pomegranate seed–this action decided her fate.  She would have to spend fall and winter in the underworld with Hades.  Spring and summer, she could surface and be with her mother.

The season of winter is associated with hibernation, inward time and perhaps a time for grief.  In December of 2018, I lost my sister, a long-time companion and my ex-husband had a stroke.  He died ten months later…that was three intimate losses in a period of ten months.  I began this grief journey one year ago…although, really, as I watched these three people decline in health, the grief was there.

One thing about loss, besides the actual physical loss is the loss of “the dream.”  Whatever dreams I had attached to each of these persons died with them.  I was also then mourning the loss of the dreams.  When I came across the following poem by the Persian poet, Hafiz, (1315-1390 approximately), I understood the need to grieve and transform our lost dreams.

Forgive the Dream
by Hafiz

All your images of winter
I see against your sky.

I understand the wounds
That have not healed in you.

They exist
Because God and love
Have yet to become real enough

To allow you to forgive
The dream.

You still listen to an old alley song
That brings your body pain;

Now chain your ears
To His pacing drum and flute.

Fix your eyes upon
The magnificent arch of His brow

That supports
And allows this universe to expand.

Your hands, feet, and heart are wise
And want to know the warmth
Of a Perfect One’s circle.

A true saint
Is an earth in eternal spring.

Inside the veins of a petal
On a blooming redbud tree

Are hidden worlds
Where Hafiz sometimes
Resides.

I will spread
A Persian carpet there
Woven with light.

We can drink wine
From a gourd I hollowed
And dried on the roof of my house.

I will bring bread I have kneaded
That contains my own
Divine genes

And cheese from a calf I raised.

My love for your Master is such
You can just lean back
And I will feed you
This truth:

Your wounds of love can only heal
When you can forgive
This dream.  

Hafiz’s images are so precise that I find comfort in this poem.

How do you address your lost dreams?

The Versatility of Poetry

This is one reason I love poetry.  It can hold any subject.  Poetry is both amorphous and  it can claim a form.  It’s a perfect container for a variety of human expression.

the fog weaves through city streets
in and out of the avenues
twining round golden gate bridge towers
dampening moods and refreshing spirits
what season is it, I ask
summer you say, summer in San Francisco
coaxing one to build a fire on the hearth and cuddle
fog deceiving one into false seasons
Is it love I feel for you or
simply lust
long shrouded desire
and you the sun that penetrated my dark nights
stripping me of my clothes, my inhibitions,
tricking my hormones into believing I was unseasonal
everlasting
and so sexy

© by Christine O’Brien

In this short verse excerpted from a poem I wrote entitled Weather Report, notice how a story is told using place and mood.

Were you drawn into the story via the setting?

Each and every poem has a point of entry.  As does any story.  The writer and/or poet gets to decide what that entry point is.

Writer’s Prompt:
Experiment with using a place as the point of entry to your own poem as you write about an emotion you are feeling.

Follow the flow of your writing.

 

Couplets!

bulb

It’s not spring, yet in winter, I long for the promise of spring.  I
force a few bulbs to grow indoors.  They give me hope.

If you are a poet, you are likely familiar with the couplet…two lines that make a stanza, usually with an end rhyme.  And, couplets can be strung together ad infinitum. Can’t you picture strings of couplets linked together dangling off the edge of the world?!

“We call a couplet closed when the sense and syntax come to a conclusion or strong pause at the end of the second line…giving a feeling of self-containment…We call a couplet open when the sense carries forward past the second line into the next line or lines…”
from Edward Hirsch book:
How to Read a Poem

Here’s a couplet expressing my own sentiments about the image at the top of this page:

A bed of earth below which lays
a startle of forceful green relays

a message that beneath tamped earth
there is the promise of rebirth.

This is my example of an open couplet.  It is obvious that at the end of the first stanza, there is more to be said.  At the end of the second stanza, there is a sense of closure.  That said, I could go on and add more if I felt so inspired.

Writing Prompt:
Let this image of a hyacinth bulb bursting through the soil be the inspiration for a couple of your own couplets…or more than a couple.

Share a few of your couplets under comments if you dare.

Tanka Poetry & Takuboku

Let’s talk Tanka Poetry for a moment.

“A tanka poem is a Japanese poem which can also be known as a waka or uta. A tanka poem is similar to a haiku but has two additional lines.” from Forward Poetry
There is a syllable count per line with 31 syllables in total.

The Japanese poet, Takuboku Ishiwkawa (1886-1912) re-popularized Tanka Poetry:

they said dance
I danced all right–
until I fell
dead drunk
on that lousy wine

got five blocks
that’s all–
tried walking
like someone
with something to do

just felt like
a train ride–
when I got off
there was
no place to go

If you feel inclined, read this linked article on the life of Takuboku Ishikawa.  It is a translation, informative and well-written.  One thing that I surmised is that across cultures and over time, there are those who effectively document the political climate through their poetry.

These brief poems, tanka,  are able to capture both the climate of the times and the sentiment of the poet.

Takuboku Ishikawa: engaged observer

“Celebrated tanka poet rode the tumult of his times as he transformed from provincial romantic to national firebrand.”

“He is a model for today’s self-sequestered youth, with his ardent commitment to life and word, his constant seeking of something better for himself, his family, to whom he was devoted in his own way, and his care for people who found themselves living in the lower economic and social strata in his country.”

Takuboku Ishikawa: engaged observer | The Japan Timeshttps://www.japantimes.co.jp/life/2015/04/11/general/takuboku-ishikawa-engaged-observer/

inthegarden

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

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?