On New Year’s Day, I listened to an ON BEING podcast of a rare interview of Mary Oliver by Krista Tippett which took place on October 5, 2015 in Florida where Oliver now lives. Mary Oliver is certainly a poet I return to frequently, partly I think because of her attachment to the natural world which I share.
Oliver talks briefly but in generalities about her home which was difficult at best and relates that when she was a child, she often left school to simply walk in the woods, to listen deeply. She calls it "listening convivially." This intrigues me, but I find myself doing this listening more often when I have my camera tucked in my hand, even in the coldest weather. Recently I needed a mental boost, and I found myself at the Chicago Botanic Garden; it was a cold day, and in the ninety minutes or so that I was there, maybe I passed three other people, all of whom seemed equally happy to be inhabiting this space of winter Midwest browns and silhouettes alone. I often use nature imagery in my poetry,, but it’s generally generated for me by “seeing convivially.”
Oliver states that she “. . . did find the entire world in looking for something. But I got saved by poetry. And I got saved by the beauty of the world.” I can identify with that in every part of my being. In 2004 several years before I retired from teaching and found myself pursuing poetry more passionately and with much more attention to craft, I wrote these lines: Some days / I am even/ saved by / beauty. Every minute part of nature, and particularly the botanical part of nature, draws me in. One photograph, just one, that pleases me to the point of elation is enough to change the tenor of the entire day for me. I commented to a friend just this week that when I go to the Chicago Botanic Garden to I can feel even my breathing change, the tightness in my chest and shoulders loosen within minutes--I am being saved.
That idea of the single serendipitous photographic moment dovetails with another part of the conversation that Oliver and Tippett had which is about poems that just come to us. So rare. Poems that we write where we never need to change a single word. Oliver says, and I agree, "But they do happen. It does — I have very rarely, maybe four or five times in my life, I’ve written a poem that I never changed. And I don’t know where it came from. But it does happen. But it happens among hundreds of poems that you’ve struggled over.” The words for me come later or else I draw upon a visual image I've recorded with the camera, and I can feel equally exhilarated when something works on the page. It's rare when there's unedited magic, but when it happens, it's glorious!
Yesterday I read Oliver’s book, Felicity. A quick reading, and the "Humility" poem jumped out. I like the idea of thinking of myself as transportation, as a vehicle. An Uber driver for poems, for poetry.
And one more playful poem in this collection that fits with my love of trees . . . and humans.
Rupi Kaur, a Punjabi-Canadian poet, came on my radar recently--reading about her, hearing about her from friends.
was spurred to purchase her books just to know more about Rupi Kaur, poet phenomenon. [I still prefer the books to the free Kindle versions, and I think someone should invent “space bags” for books--a topic for another blog].
I knew that Kaur self-published her first book before a publisher, Andrews McMeel Publishing, picked up the first one, and now her second book is out. Based on an article published in The New York Times on October 5, her first book, “Milk and Honey” has sold 2.5 million copies worldwide and has been translated into 25 languages. Over the last two years, it has spent 77 weeks on The New York Times Trade Paperback Best-Seller List. Her second book, “The Sun and Her Flowers,” was released this week and is No. 2 on Amazon’s best-seller list.” At the age of 25, she has “spoken” to millions of people via Instagram where she has nearly two million followers. The same article mentions the 1000, and yes, that’s three zeroes, people who showed up for a reading that month. That’s something few poets dream of in 2018.
She has been broadly criticized for two things: plagiarism and for not writing “real” poetry. According to a Buzzfeed article, August 4, 2017, “The Problem With Rupi Kaur's Poetry,” her work is similar in style particulary to Nayyirah Waheed and Warsan Shire. Some have gone so far as to post Waheed's poems side by side with Kaur's to make the point. As you might imagine, commenters differed on the issue. Her free verse form is loose and lacking in the “traditional craft” of poetry. She’s also been blasted for many choices she’s made including the similarity of her writing to others, capitalizing on social media, classifying her writing as “the story of a young brown woman” to gain traction, and being “disingenuous” by exploiting the stories of other women who have experienced the personal traumas and emotions about which she writes. She defends herself on all points. I guess I admire her oomph. She moves boldly in the world. Maybe someday she’ll look back and question her choices, but almost instant fame is fraught with regret or missteps. What she says speaks equally to the anxieties of Golden Globe red-carpeters that flash on the screenfor their 15 seconds of fame and to the 12-year-old that sat in my classroom, downcast, and then later cut herself in the school bathroom or at home at night.
From the sun and her flowers
i reduced my body to aesthetics
forgot the work it did to keep me alive
with every beat and breath
declared it a grand failure for not looking like theirs
searched everywhere for a miracle
foolish enough to not realize
I was already living in one
Her writing spins me back to the time when, at her age, I was collecting books and copying sayings in notebooks that sparked a bit of truth for me. Odd choices, maybe, but Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet comes to mind. It still sits on my shelf, and my mother asked for a passage from it to be read at her memorial service. I have another collection of books I will not part with—small books of “poems” with just a few lines on a page written by Joan Walsh Anglund. I could go back to any one of her books and be moved by what on first glance may seem insubstantial. And yet . . . “The Past writes with indelible ink. We cannot erase her story", or "In War . . . or Peace, . . . the wrens still build their nests," both poems from her book Crocus in the Snow. Undoubtedly there were those who did not call those "poems." Have others said the same before and maybe more expansively and been subsequently recognized? Surely, but I find these word droplets still sing for me. I will posit that is the imagery that works for me best
I have a sense that the same will be true for readers of Rupi Kaur years down the road, her words giving voice to the long-ignored emotions and thoughts of women about body and status in the world. Another theme of hers is empowerment. Is the time in which Kaur writes ripe for what she has to say? Yes. Is what she writes and posts raw? Yes. Is it resonating with people of all color who line up at public venues to hear her read (as many as 1000 at a time)? Yes. We choose our “heroes,” the “voices” we carry with us, and if Kaur’s poetic voice speaks to many, I find no need to be a critic. Right now is "her time", and it's a time for this kind of vibrancy on this planet!
Links to more info about Rupi Kaur
Last night I attended a wake for the son of a poet friend. She now has two sons who have preceded her in death, both sons dying unexpectedly. It's hard to imagine that kind of grief. And still I grieve for her, her husband, the daughter that lives on in the midst of the loss. I sat, studying the faces of those there, wondering how they came to know this young man gone. From life to loss.
Emily Dickinson's poem speaks. The lines in that last stanza. The great hope, I guess. That letting go.
"As freezing persons recollect the snow--
First chill, then stupor, then the letting go".
After Great Pain, A Formal Feeling Comes
By Emily Dickinson
After great pain a formal feeling comes--
The nerves sit ceremonious like tombs;
The stiff Heart questions--was it He that bore?
And yesterday--or centuries before?
The feet, mechanical, go round
A wooden way
Of ground, or air, or ought,
A quartz contentment, like a stone.
This is the hour of lead
Remembered if outlived,
As freezing persons recollect the snow--
First chill, then stupor, then the letting go.
I have another friend, Marcia Pradzinski, who lost a son quite a few years ago. She's written a book, keenly titled, Left Behind, that speaks to her grief, of her loss.
Marcia J. Pradzinski
I look for it in the honeyed plumpness
of the golden comforter,
the cold morning bathroom tiles,
the rain of water warm then cool
that bathes my senses awake.
I look for it
in the fire and fragrance
of my son’s hair
as we begin our morning struggle,
in the earthy tang of coffee
and the soft cork of the bulletin board
littered with reminders.
I look for it
in the burgundy sofa
that sighs with my weight as I listen
for the rumble of the yellow school bus,
in the newspaper-reading faces on the train,
the conductor’s song of stops,
the garlic-scented accents of students
their struggle twisting their way into English
as I twist my way in and out of the day.
And when it comes, it comes
not in days away, not in evenings out.
But as the day ebbs
with dishes stacked in the sink,
clothes to be washed, lists to be made
it calls me softly into my son’s room
invites me to sit at the edge of his bed
and stroke his soft curls.
of his breath the ticking clock
my breath weld the scene
and hold us
in an eggshell of space.
May we all be held in that eggshell of space when grief muscles in.
Today I posted a review of a book on Amazon--something I do rarely; the book was published in 1940. This is what I said: "Is this a NYTimes Bestseller? No, but I read this book as a child, and due to some water damage, retrieved it from a box in my storage area a couple summers back. I reread it last week--and I'm hoping to pivot around the story in a poem I'm working on for a manuscript. The story is timeless--or so it seems. It's about a migrant worker family (and I research and learn that "The International Labour Organization estimated in 2014 there are 232 million international migrants worldwide who are outside their home country for at least 12 months and approximately half of them were estimated to be economically active (i.e. being employed or seeking employment)," about a child feeling lost and "homeless" and friendless (in a time in the U.S. when so many people have lost homes due to economic factors, flooding, fires). I'm sure I cried when I was a child and read the ending. I'm no less sentimental now, and yes, the ending takes a turn that echoes of rescue and aid and kindness and good people. And that I applaud each and every day!"
Doris Gates's book, sometimes called the juvenile "Grapes of Wrath" and "the first social- or realistic-problem novel for children," was actually named a Newberry honor book in 1941. As a former middle school librarian, I'm impressed. And I'm glad that it still moves me. It's a timeless story--people seeking "home." I am startled by what defined home for the spunky young protagonist of the story--the promise of being able to stay in one place for a while, her most valued possession, a single blue willow plate, the only tangible connection to her birth mother, a caring teacher, and a friend, one friend. Home had nothing to do with the house though she was constantly looking for signs that where she landed might be a place where she could set aside her fear of having to move again. The signs are illuminated when she finds the replication of a scene on the plate at the river nearby, receives kindness from a man who had time and an ear for such a young child, and from an itinerant teacher.
In August and September raging fires threaten homes and livelihoods in the West, particularly Oregon, Idaho, and Montana while raging flood waters and furious winds topple, destroy, contaminate, and render homeless thousands and thousands of people, first in Texas and Louisiana, and then Florida and a half a dozen or more islands off the coast. For so many people there is no going back. Anything they once thought of as "home" may actually be completely destroyed. Even those they might have called "home-makers"--fathers, mothers, grandparents, siblings, may be gone.
Janey's blue willow plate is her hope for the future and her connection to the past, but ultimately it is not what makes "home" possible. I'm glad for Janey Larkin who finds a home in Doris Gates's Blue Willow. Home is not a structure. And Janey's not even particular about the location of her new home. All of the "home" magic happened because of people acting humanely and with heart. I can only hope that we continue to see more reports of that kind of magic in the news, to experience it daily among us. To all that have helped make survival and rescue possible, my gratitude. I'm even grateful for the mini-flood in my storage area that put Blue Willow back in my hands again.
I know I am guilty of "ecstatic gratitude" at times, and today is one of those times. Now 27, this guy, whom I met when he was 12 and who had just arrived in the United States after having been separated from his mom since he was 6 years old, contacted me yesterday to get together. When he came to the U.S., he was in classes all taught in English, and he knew none, so he was often sent to the media center (where I spent the last 6 years of my middle school teaching career) to "hang out." He brought a smile and a bit of mischief whenever he walked through the door. He remembers that the first book I read him in English was David Goes to School by David Shannon!!! When he graduated from eighth grade, I made him an award that said "Best Smile in the Whole Wide World." Obviously the smile hasn't gone away.
We've seen each other off and on over the years; I've tried to help him get into college. He is an AMAZING guy, AMAZING and VERY SPECIAL, (so much wisdom for so few years on the planet) and several times tears just streamed from my eyes today while he talked. He's worked his way from McDonald's worker to manager to a warehouse job and now to the engineering department of a company. He's managed to go to school at COD on his lunch hour, start his own DJ business, get his own place, buy a car for transporting his equipment, and he has a plan for becoming the "boss" of this DJ business down the road with a specific timeline in mind, but he won't just be hiring other DJs--but teaching them how to do a good job.
Since I saw him a year ago, he's been working on his English at my urging so he can communicate better in his current and future roles. He uses vocabularly .com when he looks up a word he doesn't know and encounters a word that's part of the definition that is unfamiliar; he practices public speaking/English by recording himself on his phone and listening to it back. He's studying adjectives right now so he can be more specific in his writing course, writing five sentences using the adjective to reinforce its meaning and its usage. He has a book and a bookstand at his work desk so he can read when he has extra time; he plans to read at least five books this year not in his comfort zone. He prefers to hang around "older" adults at times because they are wise and have things to teach him. He has role models, and he credits his grandfather and uncle in Mexico for planting the seed about how important education is. He is a teacher's dream!
"You can always make more of yourself." I don't know another person who has made better use of his time and been more motivated to succeed than Carlos. He has hit some bumps in the road, but he is single-minded. I could not be more proud to have been his teacher. He is why I love teaching. Forgive my effusiveness. I can't help myself. Lucky lucky me. I'm pretty sure that when he has thanked me over and over again these past 15 years that it is I who should be thanking him.
It wasn't much of a poetic stretch to see a nation, a world ripped at the seams when I took a solo "march" earlier and saw this ball lying in winter's dried field. People marched this day for so many reasons. The overwhelming sentiment that I had about the marching was that it was to defend voice. So so many people lose their voices when there is an abuse of power--women in particular have been vulnerable for years. And I mention them specifically because it was the voices of women who shined today, who came together to say "no." I wanted to be a voice and a witness with the masses, to feel the exhilaration of unity, but I have to represent with words this time. Abuses of power undermine confidence and self-respect, alter one's physical and emotional well-being, and can be irrevocably life-altering. They change people, cultures, and nations. I end this day keeping in my mind and my heart ALL whose voices have been muffled. I think of women I know who have been or are in such situations, and I will carry them with me in the days ahead. May we be given voice. I thought of this poem I wrote several years ago, and I post it here now.
Anatomy of a Voice
muscles of the larynx
unite with air and space
tongue and teeth
palate and lips
to give voice--
like fish bones
stuck at lips’ gateway—
when no longer hushed
can spring forth--
laced with gravel
spun from silk
The Revival Tour
Poet Bloggers 2018
Kelli Russell Agodon-
Donna Vorreyer – https://djvorreyer.wordpress.com
Beth Adams – http://www.cassandrapages.com
Sandra Beasley – http://sbeasley.blogspot.com
Carolee Bennett – https://gooduniversenextdoor.com/
Mary Biddinger – wordcage.blogspot.com/
Andrea Blythe – http://www.andreablythe.com
Dave Bonta – http://vianegativa.us
Jim Brock --
Angela T Carr
Kevin Connor – https://ordinaryaveragethoughts.wordpress.com/
Jared Conti – http://www.theoracularbeard.com
Jenelle D’Alessandro – http://www.borderandgreetme.com
Laura E. Davis – http://www.dearouterspace.com/
Kate Debolt – http://www.katedebolt.net/blog/
Heather Derr-Smith – ferhext.com/
Risa Denenberg – https://risadenenberg.weebly.com/blog
Cynthia Schwartzberg Edlow http://cschwartzbergedlow.blogspot.com
Lou Faber – https://anoldwriter.com
Jeannine Hall Gailey – webbish6.com
Gail Goepfert –In the Mix gailgoepfert..com/blog
Sarah Kain Gutowski – mimsyandoutgrabe.blogspot.com
Erin Hollowell – http://www.beingpoetry.net . T
Crystal Ignatowski – http://somehiatus.tumblr.com/
Charles Jensen – https://charles-jensen.com/kinemapoetics-blog/
Jill McCabe Johnson http://jillmccabejohnson.com/blog-chanson-daventure.html
Collin Kelley http://www.collinkelley.blogspot.com
Anita Olivia Koester https://www.forkandpage.com/
Lakshmi – thiswinterheart.tumblr.com
Courtney LeBlanc – wordperv.com
Lorena P Matejowsky https://nothingbutblueskies.wordpress.com/
Marilyn McCabe O
Ann Michael – www.annemichael.wordpress.com
Amy Miller – http://writers-island.blogspot.com/
James Moore – jameswmoore.wordpress.com
LouAnn Sheperd Muhm – https://louannmuhm.com/
Gill O’Neill – http://poetmom.blogspot.com
Shawnte Orion http://batteredhive.blogspot.com/
Susan Rich – http://thealchemistskitchen.blogspot.com .
Lee Ann Roripaugh https://runningbrush.wordpress.com/
Sarah Russell – https://sarahrussellpoetry.net
Kim Bailey Spradlin – www.kimbaileydeal.net
Bonnie Staiger –https://bonniestaiger.com/
Rosemary Starace https://thresholdview.wordpress.com/
Hannah Stephenson – http://thestorialist.com
Stephanie Lane Sutton
Christine Swint – https://balancedonedge.blog/
Dylan Tweney – http://dylan20.tumblr.com/
Michael Allyn Wells:
Allyson Whipple http://allysonmwhipple.com