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.

Alice

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Too Small Alice

This drawing is my copycat drawing based on
an original illustration by Sir John Tenniel
and then water-colorized by me.

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Some stories are timeless.  When you were young, did someone read to you from the classic tale, Alice in Wonderland?  Or, did you pick up the book and read the story yourself on a rainy Sunday afternoon? Perhaps you’ve seen one of the many film versions of Alice in Wonderland.

A few years ago, artist Jane Davenport offered an online watercolor painting class, Wonderland.  I had no experience with watercolor painting.  This seemed like a fun way to get my feet wet.

I also decided to read the book, Alice in Wonderland, from start to finish. I am certain that reading this book in present time, I had greater comprehension than when I read excerpts in the past.  That is the thing about some stories, they have the capacity to reveal something new when viewed from a different vantage point of age.

Have you found this to be true?

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I wonder what gives a story this timeless quality.  As a writer, does one set out with the intention to create a classic tale that spans generations?  What do you think?
I believe that a person writes for the love of writing, an inner drive, compelling inspiration, his/her own particular circumstances and the outer stimulus of the times. Add to this their commitment to follow this particular tantalizing muse.

How could Lewis Carroll have imagined that his story would leap across continents and into our present time?

feel it’s important to note that Sir John Tenniel’s original illustrations bonded with Carroll’s words in such a way as to pop the story off the pages.  When I think of Alice in Wonderland, I see Sir John Tenniel’s “Alice”.

Note: This classic tale has had many illustrators over time.

WRITING PROMPT:
The quote below, from Alice in Wonderland, is a popular, often quoted one.  Applying this to writing, isn’t it an advantage for a writer to stay open to where the flow of thoughts, words and emotions want to take him/her–that is, not knowing where they want to go? If you have a goal in mind for your writing, how do you react when your writing wants to go in another direction?  How can you align with your goal and yet stay open to rerouting?

“Would you tell me please, which way I ought to go from here?”

“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the cat.

“I don’t know where,” said Alice

“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the cat.

 

Haiku Haven

A friend recently said that he liked haiku because they were short enough for him to memorize.  He delighted in writing haiku that did not make sense.  He then recited them to acquaintances who were left perplexed by his Haiku Koans.

Another friend, upon waking, writes haiku as she greets the new day…it has become her morning ritual.  This was also my routine for awhile.  When writing haiku, I enjoyed the feeling of presence. The early morning was a good time to write as I left the dreamworld and entered the waking world.  I could invoke both states, it seemed.

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A brief introduction to haiku.  So far as we know, haiku originated in Japan.  Short poems, usually three lines long, haiku have a total of 17 syllables…5 syllables in the first line, 7 syllables in the second line and 5 syllables in the third line.  Traditional haiku usually contained a season word that indicated in which season the haiku was set.  The season word isn’t always obvious.  Haiku are little philosophical gems, sometimes with humor.  They can describe almost anything.  Often, they describe daily situations in a refreshing way–creating a new experience of something familiar.  It is always amazing to me that some poetic forms, such as haiku, endure.

Following are a few of my haiku–I allowed myself to veer slightly off 5-7-5 for the sake of meaning:

Springs animation
Mocks her skeletal cage
Risk taken, spirit leaps.

I’ve a perfect view
Of life through eyes that see
The world as it could be.

When summer fades to fall
As love fades into friendship
where does the heart call home?

Tea in the morning
Leaves, twigs, roots, flowers
Connect one to origins.

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Here are a few haiku from the masters:

Spring Cobalt Ocean…
Across snow-white mountains fly
black returning birds         (Shiki)

Daffodils
and a white paper screen
reflect each other’s color     (Basho)

I envy the tom cat
how easily he let’s go of
love’s pain and longing!     (Etsujin)

Divorced and lonely,
she walks to the field
to help plant seedlings     (Buson)

I climb into bed
and then take my socks off.
How lazy I’m getting !     (Shiki)

Note:  In translating haiku from Japanese to English, it is challenging to get both the meaning and the syllable count.  

The simplicity of haiku, with its ability to evoke images (and possibly a culture) in a few short lines, is appealing.

WRITING PROMPT:
In writing your own haiku, strive to “give a newcrow
experience of something familiar”.  Try to adhere
to the 5-7-5 syllables (or as close as you can get to
it).  Take a few deep breaths, get present with
your surroundings and drop into this now moment.
Write from this place.  Stand up, look out a window.
Where do your eyes land…write a few more haiku.

 

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.

The Suffragettes

Women’s right to vote in England and the USA was hard fought and “won” in the early 1900’s.  My mother was born in 1920, the year women won the vote in the USA.  The way that my mother lived her life, you would never have guessed that she was a “free woman”.

VOTE

As a young adult woman, my life was busy with family, husband, pets, house, job, volunteer time and the unexpected.  One such overwhelming day, I wasn’t sure if I was going to get around to voting.  My teenage daughter reminded me of the suffragettes and their long, arduous battle for women’s right to vote.  That was it.  I voted and never again considered if I had the time to exercise this right which is also a privilege.

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I’ve been a “voiceless” woman and witnessed many others.  It was through journal writing that I expressed my inner private world.  And even there, I felt wrong for having thoughts that were considered “outside the box” of a woman’s entitlement.  The first time that I ventured out to read my poetry in public, I heard my own voice echoed by other women in this writer’s circle.  In our shared words, we reflected the restrictions and the timidity we felt in being a woman with a voice. Our true expression felt counter to either our familial, religious or societal upbringing. Writing poetry or prose that reflected our true thoughts and feelings was scary.  Sharing it publicly felt risky.  Yes, even living in America.

Writing Prompt:
For your journal:
As a woman, have you felt restricted or curtailed in your self-expression? Has this changed for you?  If so, how?

As a man, are there women in your life who seem to feel inhibited when it comes to self-expression (through writing or otherwise)?  Have you been an encouraging force in their lives?

 

 

Making Waffles

web22I light a candle and play soft mood music as I prepare cornmeal waffles from scratch.  With a wire whisk, I  blend the eggs and buttermilk in my favorite bowl.   I add the dry ingredients–cornmeal, flour and baking powder–to this mixture.  I stir in melted butter.  I’ve done this for countless years.  When I am present with this alchemical process, I am truly in my life.  My presence is one of the ingredients.  It is a ceremony.

Preparing an occasional gourmet meal, making a fancy dessert or mixing up a batch of waffles are some of the ways that I stay grounded.  As a writer, it is easy to float away into a world of the mind, ethereal imagination and fluid wordy inspiration.  However, hands-on, food preparation is of proportionate value to me. Isn’t it a balancing act at times?

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I love good films about humans and food.  Babette’s Feast, Chocolat, Mostly Martha, The Big Night, Julie and Julia, Eat Drink Man Woman, Chef, even Ratatouille!  Only a few of  the many wonderful films with this theme.

I am curious as to why I find these films so uplifting, satisfying and inspiring.  Possibly because they elevate something that I have valued throughout my life.  They take food preparation to a sensual and even “glamourous” height.  Food that is so basic to our survival also provides endless enjoyment.  To participate in the alchemical process of the creation of a meal and then to share the outcome with others is sublime.

Writing Prompt:
For your journal, what is something (other than writing) which you enjoy that takes you out of your head and into the moment and/or process? Do you tend to this daily?

 

 

 

Getting a Glimpse and Giving a Glimpse

I have not personally witnessed the blues players in a bar in Harlem circa 1958.  I won’t have this direct experience.

That is why I’m grateful to the late poet, writer and social activist, Langston Hughes, who documents some of this in his jazz poetry.

His words, as I let them wash over me, take me to another time, place, era and give me a vicarious experience.  How fortunate we are to have a youtube clip of Hughes reciting his poem, The Weary Blues, to musical accompaniment.

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Listening to and watching Langston Hughes recite his poem more than once, I am transported!

I recall the one time that I read a poem to musical accompaniment–an upright double bass player and a drummer.  We didn’t rehearse together ahead of time.  Along with other poets, I was invited to read a poem or two on a little stage in a long hall.  Reading publicly was relatively new to me.  Feeling both excitement and fear, I tentatively walked to the elevated stage and stood beside the bass player.  The grounding tones of the bass, the heartbeat of the drum and my words created a melange of sounds.  Once finished, flushed with the energies of the moment, I leapt from the stage, heart pounding and listened as other brave poets read their words to music.

There is something about reading your poetry to music.  Have you tried it?  Do you have a friend who plays a musical instrument?  Do you play an instrument yourself?  Dear poet, if you can, do find a way to give yourself this experience.  Musical accompaniment creates a whole other dimension to poetic expression. Afterall, poetry is rhythmic.

WRITING PROMPT:
Langston Hughes’ poem captured a segment of society and a particular era.  What is something distinct to your life that you’d like to write about? to preserve for posterity? to offer as a glimpse into your experience for a future generation? Through prose, poetry…or another art form. Write it, then recite it to someone…perhaps with music.

NOTE:  If you are interested in listening to a lecture by Langston Hughes talking about his life and hear him reading some of his poetry, you can google this recording.  I found it to be fascinating.

Langston Hughes Speaking at UCLA, 2/16/1967

“The World is Too Much with Us…”

“Late and soon”, then and now, any which way you look at it, in many parts of the world, technology is taking precedence over connection to nature (which sustains us behind the facade of technology).  Wordsworth noted this back around 1802 when he wrote this sonnet criticizing the world that was evolving as a result of the First Industrial Revolution.  He feared the absorption in materialism and the subsequent distancing from nature. Wordsworth’s poem emphasizes what is lost through this disconnect.

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The World is Too Much with Us
by William Wordsworth
The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.
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WRITING PROMPT:
Do you recognize the disconnect from nature in your own life today?  How is it affecting you personally?  Have you written about it?  Take some time away from technology and reflect on this in your journal.
Then, go out and smell the roses!
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Cosmic Roses.2017

Smell

Caged Freedom

Smells
Animal dung smells
hang heavy in thick air of suspense.
The stink of carnivore dung
is quite different than the
oddly sweet scent of herbivore dung.
I’ve become expert on such things
as I feverishly stride
through long afternoons of dejection.
They feed me plenty and often~~
raw, red horsemeat, scent of blood.
My cage is hosed down three times-a-day
watering away wild odors.
My trainer—we are faithful to each other
~~he sweats profusely—mustily
as he trains away fierceness
and retrains fierce pretense.
I cooperate
growling and scowling as we rehearse.

Performance night a collage of smells
–clowns acrid greasepaint
–tightrope walkers
reeking of cheap perfumes
–concession foods
popcorn and hotdogs vie for supremacy.
All the people blend into one
odoriferous stench
of fear, excitement and their daily dramas.

Sometimes,
between cage and circus tent,
I catch it…
a whisper of deep forest fragrance
wrought with imagination
of strange stalking beasts
of birds with multi-syllabic calls
olfactory descent into wild ways.
And I stop
–right there–

in that wild breeze pause.
I tug at the rope that collars me
and rear up slightly
on cramped hind legs.
I groan a roar that crawls deeper
than any loneliness.
Then, it’s gone
–the smells of today snap me back
camouflaging uncivilized dreams.

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Everyone has a nose.  They come in all shapes and sizes;  their purpose is universal. Though we don’t rely on them in the same ways that animals do, we do count on them to warn us of smoke or beckon when our favorite pie has come out of the oven.  Besides being great for breathing and filtering the air, noses are olfactory memory generators!

Several years ago, I attended a Writer’s Conference in Ashland, Oregon.  I chose to work with poet and author, Kim Addonizio, over the five days of the conference.  I am so grateful to have had this experience.  One of the final assignments was to write a poem based in the sense of smell.

I returned to my room and sat there for awhile, tallying the possible directions I could  go with this theme.  Suddenly, it fell into place.  Being an empath, I never really liked circuses.  One brother is an animal right’s activist.  I’ve taken my kids to a few circuses, but we felt unease.

In the poem above, I became the circus tiger in the cage and wrote from that perspective.

Writing Prompt:
The invitation is yours to write a poem or prose with the sense of smell as your prompt.  Follow your nose and see where it takes you.

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