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.

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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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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?

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.

 

Are You Ready To Go Public?

If this feels like a big responsibility and scary, well, it is. Only you, as the poet/writer/artist can decide when and if you are ready to go public with your work. Admitting to someone that you are a writer or poet, often elicits the question “Have you published anything?” The questioner doesn’t get it–the reason(s) behind your writing or art-making.  First and foremost, it has to be for yourself.  Being published is a goal though it doesn’t make you a writer or poet. It is through your daily practice and developmental process that the writer and poet in you grows and lends validity to what you do–write.  You really don’t need to explain this to anyone. However, it’s important that you understand this.

That said, going public is a big thing for a writer.  Once you’ve made the declaration, told several people that you are writing a book or that you are a poet, you’ve become visible in a different way. This could feel like something grand to live up to.

Anaïs Nin‘s famous quote:  

“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”Iris

Every womb becomes too “tight” as you personally grow and evolve.  You know best when it’s time to birth your writing, poetry or art into the world.

There are safe “entry” points for sharing your work.  A relatively new and trusted woman friend once asked me to read every poem I’d ever written to her.  She wanted to know me better and what my life had been.  My poetry is what has been termed “personal poetry”.  One afternoon, we took a quiet couple of hours and I read my life on paper to her.  She was the perfect audience–present, receptive, without judgment.  It was, for me, a welcoming and validating experience.

PROMPT:  Are you ready to go public?  What would that look like?  Is there a venue locally where you could safely share your writing?  Some possible venues are:  A round robin reading at a coffee house; an intimate gathering with a few other friends who write and want to practice reading aloud for an audience; your own poetry circle; an open mic or your own blog.  You can also begin with sharing one poem, a piece of prose or a painting with a trusted friend. Can you think of other ways to comfortably begin sharing your work?

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“Courage starts with showing up
and letting ourselves be seen.”
Brene Brown, Researcher, Story-Teller, Author, Lecturer

Practice Doesn’t Mean Perfection

I’ve been practicing how to draw and paint faces.IMG_9403

As a ripening artist, I fall in love with each painting…even when it is far from perfect.  Like this one.  Learning a new technique taught by Sara Burch in Paint Your Heart and Soul‘s year-long online painting and creativity course, I realize that one eye is larger and a bit lower than the other.  Yet, this painting captures something for me that I was having trouble expressing in words.  This painting helped me to bring some disparate feelings together.

Learning and practicing a new technique was the primary purpose of this new-to-me process.   Perhaps there is a time and place to strive for excellence (rarely perfection?) or even one’s personal best.  As I am learning, there has also got to be plenty of room for play, experimentation and error…sometimes happy accidents.

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With writing, is it any different?  Writers strive for perfection as they craft their prose or poetry.  Do they ever reach it?  Levels of perfection are relative, it seems.  For with any final piece preparing to leap into the world, the writer decides, at some point, to let it go.  This is not based solely on whether a piece is “good enough”.  There is an inner sense of completion.  What wants to be said has been said in a way that is “kin” to the writer.  In using the word kin in this way, I intend that the writer has expressed him or herself in a way that is unique, particular or inherent.  When that goal is reached, then a painting or piece of writing can feel complete and ready to be launched.

When you write about someone, you look for the dissonant detail.  Perhaps this is also reflected in your greater body of work–that you allow the dissonant details into your writing thereby,  making a work your own.  Those details–which could be seen as imperfections–mark your work in some way.  Those details reveal to the reader “your style”.  Offering your work, with all of its perceived blemishes, does make one feel vulnerable.

Contemplation:
Do you find fulfillment in practicing your art or craft?  Are you tolerant of “mistakes” as you learn? Are you patient with your development as a writer or artist?  Can you spot the dissonant details in your work that make it stand out as YOURS?

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“Staying vulnerable is a risk we have to take
if we want to experience connection.”
Brene Brown, Researcher, Story-Teller, Author, Lecturer

Being Alright With Looking Foolish!

IMG_9111This blog and the two following indirectly touch on the subject of  VULNERABILITY.  For when you share your work–painting, poetry, prose, thoughts, woodwork, sculpture, write a blog, etc., you are being vulnerable.

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It was deep winter in the mountains. An elder friend was in hospice care, settled in a home further north of where I live. The roads were impassable.

While I longed to visit her, I didn’t want to put myself in jeopardy.  Instead, I painted, not knowing where I would go or what needed expression.  Before long, I found myself painting with my fingers…and, of all things, a pink cow!  To this day, I don’t know why I was compelled to paint a pink cow using my fingers.  The tactile experience of painting with my fingers seemed essential.  This creative process helped me to transform the feeling of helplessness in regards to being unable to visit my friend.

Why did this help?  I don’t have an answer.  Some things really do dwell in the mystery or the deep unconscious and cannot be fathomed.  Perhaps they are before words.

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Poetry has also provided this sort of harmonizing effect for me.  When my father-in-law was dying, I turned to poetry.  Trying to understand my relationship with my parents or to make some sense of a long-term marriage that was ending, I turned to poetry.  Journal writing has been invaluable to me when facing life’s incongruities.  However, like painting, poetry has a way of containing wayward emotions while transforming them.

WRITING PROMPT:
For your journal:  Has art and/or writing and poetry helped you to express, uplift or in some way transform your difficult feelings?  Can you tolerate looking foolish in order to express and then share something that is deeply felt?

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Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage.
Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.”
Brene Brown, Researcher, Story-Teller, Author, Lecturer

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.