Poetry and the Common Ground

Poetry takes the everyday events and elevates them. Poetry takes the extraordinary events and translates them into something relatable. Poetry can be anything from passion overflowing on a page to a quiet meander beside a forest stream. Poetry is inherently an avenue for self-discovery and deepening. It fosters relationality with the reader.

Where do poets come from? Years ago, in my late thirties, I returned to college. I signed up for a women’s re-entry program with a designated curriculum. Creative Writing was one of the classes. Within this writing class was a segment on poetry. Poetry had always seemed unattainable–both in deciphering what the poet intended to say and in writing my own pen-to-page poem. I hadn’t realized that at this single moment in time, poetry was exactly what I needed. In the morning, I’d roll out of bed onto the floor. Poems gushed from me into my notebook! I was astonished. Suddenly, I who had been brought up to be seen and not heard couldn’t stop writing poetry. Poetry provided an opportunity to write about my life and to integrate the experiences of my life. The poetess in me was born!

Awhile later, I read some of my poetry in intimate circles, then in front of larger audiences. Typically, the women in the audience connected with my words, with me through my words. While the poet and/or writer writes alone, the words of one woman’s experience, my experience, created a common ground–a place of recognition for the listeners. When shared, the poetry became a link between me and other women who know what it is to be a woman in these times. The struggle to claim one’s own identity, to find her voice, to grow out from under the societal expectations of what it is to be a woman–i.e., the common ground. Bringing light to what has bound us, vanquishing the inner shackles that don’t encourage our wholeness, our truth–now laid out before you and me through a poem. How grateful I am to have found this voice in me.

Writing poetry, we don’t merely look and see something objectively. We become deep see-ers. The writer connects with her subject in a visceral way. The poem then has the capacity to bring the reader into the experience. Another crucial thing, when we see deeply and connect with something outside of us, we establish a relationship with it. From that perspective, we begin to see it’s value and the part that it plays in our lives.

Poetry has the capacity to connect us to the themes of our lives–and there lies the common ground once again. We each have life themes that we share in common–birth, death, love, angst, hope, freedom, faith, fear, trauma, renewal, grief, quandaries, and more.

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What is the value in claiming your inner poet in the world today? Your inner poet is a soulful creature. Engaging soulful awareness of yourself widens the opportunity to do so with others and of what we name as inanimate. Everyone and everything becomes more than merely players and props. The inanimate is then valued and we begin to care more deeply. Things are not there only for our pleasure, entertainment or consumption. They are appreciated for what they intrinsically are. And then, there’s the possibility of fully embracing the earth that is our very sustenance.

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What is the poetry that connects you to yourself, your neighbor, to other women or men, to the earth, to life? Trust poetry to provide the common ground.


Writers, Rabbit Holes and Curiouser and Curiouser

My watercolor version of Sir John Tenniel’s Alice in Wonderland (in the attic)

Alice of Wonderland fame had a curious nature.  Falling down a rabbit hole probably wasn’t brilliant.  However, it lead her into a fictitious world, one that Lewis Carroll fabricated brilliantly.  Was it a political parody?  A not so subtle way to expose and mock the then current political climate in England?  Was it only a fantasy, a child’s tale?  To be taken at face value?

Regardless, writers are curious beings.  They pursue various white rabbits in their quest for a story.  They research and sniff things out.  They discover, uncover, unearth, expose and bring things to light to share with their readers.  Ha!  Curiosity, it has been said, keeps one young.  The exploration can lead you into all sorts of encounters.  However, if it’s a white rabbit that you meet, you might be careful about who you tell.

In my childhood, the oft repeated phrase was “Children are meant to be seen and not heard.”  What clever person invented that one?  Asking questions and having a questing nature is how we discover and learn about the world that we’re born into.  The autocratic family system in which I grew up disallowed individual thinking and discouraged asking questions.  You were served what you were served and it was for your own good–you best swallow it in its entirety.  Some of my siblings chafed under this rule and were given the strap.  Others went into denial… ‘everything is fine’.  And then, the belief that everyone lived like this seemed true.  There wasn’t a lot of connection with the outside world.  Isolation is important in this type of system.  

It takes awhile, after one leaves such a home, to feel safe enough to express yourself freely.  It takes awhile to even realize what your own thoughts are.  But when you begin to come out from under the veils of fear and trauma, you start to notice things around you that just aren’t right.  And  your questions rise to the surface.  If you feel safe enough, you pursue those questions with an avidness, a rising hunger, a quest for your own truth in the midst of a world in chaos.  So, your early childhood, in a sense has trained you to recognize the non-sense that much of the world is buying into.  You have insight into the fragmentation, the separation, the isolation, the not seeing what is really going on (i.e. the elephant in the living room).  When your experiences take you into situations where questions aren’t encouraged, you have a nose for something isn’t right here.  

What I’m noticing is that there are many people across the planet who don’t question the status quo.  I witness how we continue allowing atrocities, warmongering, class differences, economic stratification, ageism, sexism, racism–all those ism’s.  And then there are those who do question, thankfully.  Climate change is real…do we stick our heads in the sand and pretend otherwise or do we roll up our sleeves and head into the fray and see if we can learn from the wiser elders, the indigenous ones, those who love the earth?  

No one person can address all the inequities by themselves.  I wonder what might happen if you or I or anyone chooses one thing to be curious about, to study and learn about?  At some point, you might feel the desire to share what you’ve learned.  At times, you could feel inspired to speak with newfound authority on  your topic of choice.  You might be inclined to educate others from that place of passionate awareness

One thing!  One thing only to be curious about and to explore.  What would you choose?

How to work with the “Malaise”

Malaise: “…a general feeling of discomfort, illness, or uneasiness whose exact cause is difficult to identify.”

How are you coping with it? The long stretch of not being sure how to proceed? The risks, the frustrations, the doubts and uncertainties, the news, the misinformation, the truth that “no one really knows for sure.” What are the long-term consequences of getting the vaccine? How long does it last? What’s the best one for you? What’s the best one for me? Who can you go to for answers? What if you are one who chooses to wait and see before you get the vaccine, if ever? What is the underlying cause of this virus? Where did it actually originate? What’s the best preventative? Can we gather or not? How many feet apart? Wearing masks, indoors or outdoors? Double-masking? Whaaaaat?

And do we have to face more of this in the future? Is it a result of climate change and what we’ve been doing to our planet? The virus goes to the lungs…are the lungs of the earth sending us a message as we carry on with our deforestation…the trees, the lungs of the planet? A good question–is the earth giving us FEEDBACK? How are we interpreting this?

Some of my friends are trying to live their lives with business as usual. There are others who are working around the curtailments. There are others who go between the malaise and working on one or another projects. For them it’s like swimming against the currents. Progress is slow, if any. Sometimes they go sideways, detouring into a mindless distraction. Some have a new addiction to the news, their computers. And they are suffering for it. As for me, I’m trying to sort through a lifetime of writing. And to maintain the little cottage where I live better. A little garden. The goal is to bring some order to the world that immediately surrounds me. The one I think I have some control over. In incremental ways, daily. It doesn’t have to be dramatic or overnight.

What about you? How are you coping?

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I wrote this poem in March of 2012. I don’t remember what was going on in my life at the time. It was a year after my mom had died. A year and a half since my dad had died. I’m guessing I was rousing myself and redirecting my life after the challenges of their final years. The thing is…perhaps we’re always rebounding from something or other in our lives. Yes, it’s true, the magnitude of what has resulted from the virus is different because it’s global, not only us. Yet, we do know some of what it takes to rebound.

Betweenland
by Christine O’Brien

Footing is precarious
The old, familiar ledges
eroding beneath my feet
before I have something
solid in place
If trust were substance
I’d stand upon it
finding safe ground
in the midst of dissolution
From there,
I’d look out upon inner continents
–the old ones disappearing
as the new ones surface
The discontent and yearning
from which they’ve sprung
in my own sweet soul
calling more of me into being
The woman that I am
standing on this plot of land
looking across the horizon,
now so close,
to see the other one
stretching out his hand
towards me


a quote from Thoreau

“I wish so to live ever as to derive my satisfactions and inspirations from the commonest events, every-day phenomena, so that my senses hourly perceive, my daily walk, the conversation of my neighbors, may inspire me, and I may dream of no heaven but that which lies about me.”  
Henry David Thoreau

For me, this quote symbolizes the independent spirit while recognizing the interdependency we have with our neighbors and the natural world. That said, the larger world is on our doorstep…through the ever-present media and its variable perspectives, we are bombarded with world events, political unrest, glaring social inequities, climate change, etc. It seems that while it is wise to be present with the commonest events and daily phenomena, we cannot bury our heads in wonder to the point where we ignore the outer chaos. What a helpless feeling though when we look at the state of human affairs.

Yesterday, I had the privilege of sitting outdoors with three wise women poets. We were celebrating a birthday of one of the women, eating quiche, rhubarb pie and banana bread. We discussed that helpless feeling that arises when we ask the question: How does anyone wed oppositions? I, myself, experience my own inner duality…how do I present as a unified whole with such a split? Within families, there are opposite viewpoints, family members polarized against one another. Within my community, there are examples of polarization, immobility, the inability to see the other’s perspective. When both sides claim to have the final truth, how do we meet in the middle? We see how people go to war over opposing ideologies. There is a faction of people (me included) that considers war to be an obsolete way to handle our differences…yet there is ongoing warfare.

I often wonder what my part is today…growing this woman self, growing her out of the past that deemed woman second class, quieted her, effectively erased her voice from history. Writing poetry gives voice to what needs to be acknowledged and furthers the writer’s process. Ideally, it offers something to the readers.

The Future
© by Christine O’Brien

She blazes colors…
If I am to be a vessel for change
I can no longer be invisible,
nor quiet.
I review my early writings
of a woman chained to
outworn, disrespected roles.
Her models were false impressions
of what a woman should be.
Disloyal to herself,
while surrendering her salvation
to him.

She is silent in the midst
of her degradation.
She follows the mores
of how she has learned a woman
“should be, should behave.”
She has depths to which
she hasn’t dared to descend.
She has forgotten her worth,
her right to equal partnering,
muffled her voice,
disguised her face and figure.
She is depressed.

Her fire has gone into hiding,
but it is not extinguished.
Eruptions are scary
when you think you are only
malleable, adaptive, accepting
yielding and penetrated.
What does a spiritual,
grounded activism look like?

Too many of my women friends,
and me too, don’t look beyond today
or tomorrow…
“What’s for dinner,
are my needs well-met
is my family safe,
for now?
Have we defended against the virus,
sufficiently?
Are our cupboards full?
Are the essential workers
able to provide for us, hold us up?
For how long? 
Are the borders secure and
the air space protected?
Do we realize our interdependence? 
Yet?”

For if my sisters and brothers around
the globe–China, Africa, the Balkan Islands,
Indian Reservations, my next door neighbor–
are suffering, thirsty or hungry. 
If my clouded leopard in Malaysia,
my Spirit Bear in British Columbia,
my Tundra Swan’s very existence
are threatened, then so am I!
If the earth’s respiratory forests
are ingraciously removed
will I have the breath to speak
of upcoming peril?
Wouldn’t I rather
see the salvation that comes from
humanity arising,
not only in America
but across this expanse of earth–
our common, ever-shrinking home?

What, dear woman, with inner fire,
are you waiting for?

A Poem, Perhaps a Love Poem

Rhiannon, Epona, Chariot–GO!
Let music carry you through fear
the chickadee’s song is sweet–listen
spring is not the only season for flowering.
Decorum–what does that mean to nature
when Venus is in retrograde,
love stands on its head
while in love, everything is ultra.
The islanders tell stories
hearts are many shades of red
chant the sacred syllable
that opens yours.
Dive into love, don’t make excuses
even the aristocrats can’t buy it.
Have a love couturier design your dress
old clothes can no longer be altered to fit.
Start brand new–make it easy.

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I thought I should have a love poem of sorts to share today, Valentine’s Day. Truth is that I’m not celebrating it myself. Not like in years past. But then, love is at its best when it’s expansive and inclusive…like I love the stars at night, the new fallen snow, the crisp winter air, the smile from a stranger or a friend, the clear eyes that greet me above the mask, a funny film, the opossum or rubber tree plants, sun on my face and more. I could find thousands of things and sentient beings to be in love with today. I’m going to go outdoors between the snowflakes to see who or what wants love today.

Take Time to be Quiet

archetype1

Quieting the mind isn’t easy.  There’s so much news and noise!  And then, there’s our inner reaction to it all!  So much that fills our heads with blah, blah and blah!

She has found a cave, a refuge where she can rest and contemplate…away from the noise of the media.  At first her mind can’t slow down…there’s this, then that and on and on.  Yet she stays there, in her cave, until finally all the thoughts seem like passing clouds, not noteworthy, nothing to react to, attach to or address…shhh.

Within this quiet, she begins to become aware of her own deep knowing.  Ah, yes.  Something that looks like a truth glimmers and then rises to the surface of her awareness.  She softly lingers with it.  Watches it.  Lets it inform her.  So that when she goes back, out into the world, she has something of value to offer.  She almost doesn’t need to speak it…because, now, she emanates what she has learned.

Shhh, go and find your cave…go there again and again in these times.

 

Yearning

now1This was one of my first attempts at merging art and poetry.  I write what has been termed personal poetry.  This sonnet was the first poem in a series of twenty-one poems that I was determined to write.  I illustrated the first two poems of this grouping.  It’s not so easy to do, I found.  This poem was written several years ago…the mood at the time.  Poetry is a great way to manage our various moods and emotions and to help us move beyond or integrate these passing energies.

I’ve written poetry for at least thirty years.  Within that span of time, there were periods when I didn’t write poetry.  The tangles that we can get ourselves into with words.  The things we tell ourselves.  As author Byron Katie has reiterated “Is it true?”  The things we say to others–did they receive it as we intended it?  The words we hear– are they fact, theory, opinion, judgment?  How do other people’s words–the media–color your own thoughts and opinions?  Where is the truth in these tangles?

That’s why I chose the paintbrush over the pen for a few years.  No words!

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This blog has become a commingling of art and words with which I feel comfortable these days.

 

 

Mermaids I

Jane Davenport is an artist, teacher, author and inspiring creative woman with a lovely online presence.

Not long after I began painting, I discovered her.  She has a signature drawing style.  Her paintings are imaginative, whimsical and expert.  I took a few workshops with her, one of which was called Vitamin Sea:  Mermaids!  Jane took the participants on an immersive journey into the discovery and painting of mermaids.  The Mermaid Queen below is my mixed media piece.Mermaid Queen1

 

Following is an interesting excerpt about the Selkie.  In many tales, Mermaids and Selkies are interchangeable.  I appreciate this type of mythology.  Typically, mythology is based in some truth.

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Then, there are the manatees, an endangered species.  Sailors at sea–I’m guessing they were a bit delirious–spotting  a manatee sunning on a rock sometimes mistook it for a mermaid!

What is your belief around mermaids, fictional or factual…magical or mythological?

I wonder if mermaids believe in us.

Changing Colors

In her memoir, An Unfinished Woman:  A Memoir, Lilian Hellman writes:

“I do regret that I have spent too much of my life trying to find what I called ‘truth,’ trying to find what I called ‘sense.’  I never knew what I meant by truth, never made the sense I hoped for.  All I mean is that I left too much of me unfinished because, I wasted too much time.”

I haven’t read her memoir…I’ve held onto this quote of hers for years.  Perhaps I clipped this from an article I read because I wondered if it was true for me.  Have I quested after the truth long and hard and what do I have to show for it?  Have I fruitlessly tried to make some sense of nonsense to no avail?

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Changing Colors
© by Christine O’Brien

The Goddess is the mistress of these cycles.
“I’ve found a sense of my place in the world,” I say.
as we share a pot of milky oolong tea on the deck of the boat.
The early evening sky is bathed in sunset hues.

“Sharing your gifts is the path to enlightenment,” you say.

We sail our boat in the protected bay.
“If you want, coast when the wind is right,” I offer.

Red and gold tint the sky.
“There is no black and white pendulum of truth,” you say.
“Crystal clarity is rare.”

Our wisest thoughts dissipate into the blue serenity of water
and the dove peace of this day.

The yet to be lived is our uncertain map.

“People’s dreams are where the nectar is,” you say dreamily.

Colors change regardless.

scenery`

“Truth”

I live in the mountains of northern California.  In early 2018, my sister, Kathy, moved one hour south of me at at a lower elevation.  Prior to moving, Kathy had fought cancer for several years.  She followed her own instincts in treating it.  In January, 2018, she opted for chemotherapy.

Following is an excerpt from my journal at this time.

Angels meet and greet.  Glances exchanged, hearts engaged, hands touch–sisters–when the end is near, the truth becomes clearer.  I couldn’t drive her to her first chemo appointment.  It was yesterday.  It was rescheduled from last week.  Last week, I had a good excuse–a big snowstorm.  My sister, lymphedema in her right arm–swollen beyond recognition.  A warrioress with literal wounds.  A bandage is swathed under her arm and across her chest.  This wound that hasn’t healed–the bandages need to be changed daily.

My word today is truth.  Her word is courage.

I told her that I couldn’t drive her because I couldn’t sit there beside her in the hospital as she underwent this intravenous process.  I wouldn’t have been the best support.  She thanked me for telling her my truth.  If we can’t be straight with one another now, when?

She got her hair cut short.  She asked me to knit her a hat, which I began working on immediately.  I painted her a picture of a woman surrounded by butterflies.  I think that she’s going to make it.  We need optimism.  Truth is, I don’t know very much.  The mystery is here, is in us, is around us, is us.  Nature helps.  I send her daily photos of the nature where I live to calm and center her.  To support her with beauty.

Truth is, some days I think that she’s doing better than me.  Truth is, love is a strange animal–she is always showing up at odd times, giving us opportunities.

Like that night I sat on a log beside my driveway, stargazing.  It was so peaceful, I shut my eyes.  A visiting cat sat beside me.  Out of the shrubbery beside me, a rustle. Opening my eyes, I see a creature emerging.  I can’t name it immediately.  And then,
Skunk.  A few feet apart, we stare at one another.  Neither of us felt threatened.  I watched him waddle away.  Truth is, it felt like love.  Does recognition equal love?

Truth as an expression of love.  I love you enough to tell you the truth.  Is there something that stands in the way of truth?  At least, I can try telling it to myself.  When my parents were in their declining years and the family was in chaos, I began a poem with this line:

“Truth lies in a shallow grave
while perspectives hang out everywhere…”

transformation.