National Memorial for Peace and Justice

Visiting the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama was a deeply moving experience. Now more than ever we need this place, to help remember those whose lives were taken, mercilessly terrorized and tortured.

This is a sacred place, a place that uplifts and heals.

We need to witness the pain and suffering of the black community and how the suffering has persisted throughout the decades.

Prophet and poet James Baldwin says, “Not everything that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

As a woman raised as “white,” I want to bear witness to the suffering our white American ancestors have caused and the unearned privilege I have benefitted from.

For over 300 years, children were torn from their parents, families were torn apart, and now we have the mass incarceration of a disproportionate number of people of color.

These are difficult conversations to have, but we need to have them. White people need to understand that there is nothing special or superior about being “white.” Nothing.

The US government now continues the tragedy of white supremacy in their efforts to dehumanize and criminalize the people south of the border.

This current administration is doing to Muslims and Latinos what plantation owners did to black people both during and after slavery.  This regime is aggravating the white supremacist  animosity that has lingered to this day.

This White House uses words like “infection” and “animal” to describe immigrants who are seeking refuge in the US.

But here, in this memorial, there is hope and courage. If the black community can continue to have hope, I will, too. It is the very least we can do. We simply can’t give up hope, because if we do, our democracy will die.

Pilgrimage to el Norte

Pilgrimage to El Norte
The government is essentially torturing people by doing this

 

 The people walk thousands of miles
Across Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico
To reach the Promised Land, el Norte
Where men won’t come to rape their daughters
Steal their homes, or kill their sons
For joining a gang or refusing to join
The people will harvest crops
Clean toilets, slaughter cattle, pigs
Work on poultry farms,
Build roads, bridges, wash clothes
Make enchiladas, tacos, arroz con leche
Care for other people’s children
Sweep floors, pay taxes, send their offspring
To college, buy a house, write poetry
Make art, dance salsa, danzón
Sing bachata, reguetón, fall in love, give birth

 

A breast-feeding baby was taken 
From her mother’s arms at a Texas 
Detention center and the mother 
Was handcuffed for resisting

 

Baby
Taken
Arms
Breastfeeding
Detention
Handcuffed
Mother
Resisting

 

When the breast is deprived of the baby
The tissue turns to stone
The ducts stiffen, become infected, inflamed
The breast weeps droplets of milk

 

There is no Promised Land
El Norte is a cruel myth
El Norte has stolen children
For hundreds of years
If the child be of darker hue

 

**Words in italics are statements from the mother’s attorney, published in various news outlets.
 After reading stories this week about children taken from their parents, I took a detour from other writing projects to write this poem. If people only knew the terrible mistakes the US has made in Guatemala and Honduras, El Salvador, and other Central American countries that have contributed to the violence and instability we see today.

Inter-National Poetry Month

This past week the semester cranked up again after Spring break, so I didn’t have as much time to write every day. I’m going to spend part of my day today revising my journey-to-nowhere rhyming poem from last week.

Instead of my own writing, I thought I’d share books I’ve read this week and other inspirations.

On long walks I’ve been listening to conversations about poetry on poet Rachel Zucker’s Commonplace. Her interviews with accomplished poets are intimate, in-depth, and engaging. So far I’ve listened to interviews with Sharon Olds and Tyehimba Jess.

Jess’s interview is particularly enlightening because it offers many pathways into gaining a better understanding of his Pulitzer Prize winning book, Olio.  The interview is almost two hours long, but it’s captivating, especially if you have a copy of the book on your lap while listening.

In the interview Jess cites his TEDXTalk where he reads his sonnet sequence about the McKoy twins. Since he provides visuals, you don’t need a copy of the book to follow along.

After listening to Rachel Zucker’s long conversation with Sharon Olds, I felt liberated. Sharon Olds seems to live in a kind of poetic trance state that resonates with me. She speaks of how she pays attention to the fleeting thoughts that come to her, the thoughts we humans have a tendency to sweep under the rug. Her words gave me insight into how to go deeper into what I truly think about myself and the world and to try to put those thoughts into my writing.

I know I hold back a lot. The hardest part of writing and of living in general is to sift through received notions about the world and to instead open up to infinite possibilities. As Alan Watts states in his lecture series Out of Your Mind, the hardest part of life [and art] is “how to create a controlled accident.” Art is the interpretation of life as it is passes through the artist. Here’s a lecture called “How to Be a Creative Artist.”

Fourth Leg of the Journey-to-Somewhere Poem

Whenever I think of the word “NaPoWriMo” I confuse the write part with rhyme. I hear it as NaPoRhyme–O. I would like to get rid of the National part of this abbreviated term, because the word national has taken on sinister connotations in the era we are now living in. Poet Dave Bonta calls it  “(Inter-) National Poetry Month,” which I find much more inclusive and holistic.

In the spirit of my rhyme-O confusion, I’m continuing my just-for-the-fun-of-it rhyme scheme, trying not to censor myself. Here are today’s eight lines, still following the ABACCBCA scheme:

4.

Today I found the plaster Virgin with Child,
Her mountaintop avatar wound with plastic rosary beads
Left in offering. Gentle Jesus, meek and mild,
My father taught me to pray, but the incantations didn’t stick,
Maybe because of the good swift kick
He said I needed, and then gave, seeds
Of my future rebellions– Wiccan symbols, Celtic
Knots I traced in the dirt at Mary’s feet, the wind wild.

If you want to read the first three stanzas, go here and here.

The setting of this journey poem is the Camino de Santiago in the Pyrenees.

NaPoWriMo Day 1!

Today I’m  continuing the pattern I set up earlier, where I follow this rhyme scheme: ABACCBCA. I’m using near or slant rhyme in many lines. Go to this link to read the entire prompt and the first two stanzas: Getting Ready For April and National Poetry Month.

3.

On the side of the path a pony skull
Picked clean as a bleached sheet
Sinks into the grass, eyes dull.
On the hill they prance and bleat,
Unaware they are alive only to be killed–
Viand de cheval, a delicacy in this ville.
For dinner we ate small pieces of duck’s meat,
but didn’t imagine it swimming, alive, whole.

Getting Ready For April and National Poetry Month

I could spend an entire day navigating the links Maria Popova includes in her articles on Brain Pickings.

In this one, a letter Frida Khalo wrote to Georgia O’Keefe, Popova extolls the virtues of creating community through letter writing and sharing. She praises the compassion Khalo and O’Keefe showed each other when one of them was suffering, and uses their correspondence as evidence that artists don’t work in complete solitude. We thrive on support and love.

She links to Brian Eno’s concept of “scenius,” a play on the word “genius,” meaning a collective of ideas, an ecology of artists and thinkers who respond to each other and the world, which she found in the book Show Your Work! by Austin Kleon.

Reading these two articles has inspired me to get back to a practice of sharing my creative process rather than storing it privately until I’m ready to publish (even though I am, in fact, publishing it here).

The poem I’ll be sharing is raw, unfinished writing that I do as a ludic exercise. I may or may not come back to it. Perhaps I’ll cull a line or two from this writing. Or maybe I’ll like the finished result!

My latest just-for-the-fun-of-it project is based on a prompt from the book The Practice of Writing Poetry: Writing Exercises From Poets Who Teach, edited by Robin Behn.

This book is a treasure for anyone who wants to go deeper into their unconscious mind to reveal thoughts or feelings the waking mind refuses to acknowledge.

The prompt I’m working on is titled “A Journey to Nowhere” by poet and writer Susan Snively. Snively suggests beginning the poem with a predicament of some sort in which the speaker arrives at an unexpected location. The point is to interrupt our preconceived notions and let the poem take the poet on a journey, not the other way around.

Snively gives a few pointers about how to achieve a certain cohesion in what will be a long narrative poem. I’m following one of her suggestions by following an eight-line rhyme scheme:

ABACCBCA

My plan is to write a stanza a day during the month of April.

Here are my first two stanzas. I have no title and I don’t know where this poem will take me.

A shaft of light lusters the velvet green of hills
Like a woman’s hand smoothing pleats,
Soft as the delicate calm after taking nerve pills.
Look at me, I’m on top of the world
The child says. From between large clouds
A bird of prey soars like an omen. My heart beats
In my ears, from the climb, from the load
I carry, set aside for now. As the breath stills,

The mountains extend, like branches of mind,
Or mind attaches, an appendage of mountain.
The body thins here, as though it were a kind
Of muslin scrim between me, the air, the sun.
Now permeable, flapping like a gauze blouse in the breeze
clothes-pinned to a line, a ghost living with ease
Of movement, like the bird, the sun,
Tethered, but just barely, to the Pyrennes.
It’s enough to make me leave the body behind.

Thinking Metaphysical

I’ve been thinking more than usual about the relationship between spirituality, poetry, and the body because of the workshop I’m taking at the Poetry Barn with Jenn Givhan, “Poetry as Altar: Creating Space for the Sacred.”

Since childhood, I’ve been asking myself questions about the nature of existence. I’ve always thought that if I just keep looking, searching, that the answers will come, that they are just around the corner.

Maybe it’s because of my upbringing in the Catholic Church.

Maybe it’s because my dad used to talk about Jesuit theology with me on our trips to the hardware store or the dump.

Now that I’m much older, nearing old age, I think I will not know the answers until I cross over into a spirit realm. That’s my hope, anyway, that there is a spirit realm or an astral plane.

I read a story about astronaut Edgar Mitchell who, when he saw Earth from space, experienced a deep knowing, a profound sense that infused him entirely, that he was in the midst of a limitless cosmic mind.

After his experience of seeing Earth from the surface of the moon, Mitchell created a center called The Institute of Noetic Science. On the website history they say, “As he watched the Earth float freely in the vastness of space, he became engulfed by a profound sense of universal connectedness.”

I’ve never had an epiphany like his, nor can I vouch for the scientific validity of the astronaut who experienced such bliss. But experience counts for something.

The realizations I’ve experienced have been fleeting ones that I need to practice again and again, moment by moment, through yoga, walking, writing, meditating, and even by teaching, reading, and discussing literature with friends and students.

What I Need Is More Yoga

Tree in tree pose

Tree in tree pose

When I woke up yesterday morning the light in the room was still dim. The closed door, stained dark walnut, looked like an open portal, a deep black tunnel.

At the end of yoga class yesterday afternoon, when our teacher said to allow the mind to go into the deeper states of consciousness, this ink black portal, a door made of shadows, opened before me once again.

Corpse pose is a preparation for death, not a moment to fear, but rather a letting go. I slide into the velvety, warm blackness, this state of consciousness where poetry is born.

Inspirational

Peeking at 2018

Conventional wisdom holds that the way to begin a productive new year is to set goals, but I’m loathe to do so because I have a rebellious nature.  I even rebel against my own goals.  How self-defeating is that?

Some of my writing friends have set benchmarks such as accumulating 50 or 100 rejection notices so that they maintain a steady stream of sending out poems for publication. Last year I agreed to shoot for thirty, but I think I only sent work to five or six journals. I did receive two acceptances, though–

“Letter to My Father at the Winter Solstice” at Heron Tree, one of my favorite online journals. They publish one poem a week and then gather all of them together and publish them in one volume. Here is a link to volume 5, which is ongoing: Heron Tree, volume 5.

The other poem I published in 2017 is a contrapuntal poem, a specific form I learned about in a workshop led by talented poet and teacher Amy Pence.  I wrote this poem, “Dependent Co-arrising” from a prompt based on the writing of Gaston Bachelard’s Poetics of Space at Switched-on Gutenberg.

Amy had already led a contrapuntal poetry workshop based on ekphrasis, where we described an image in one column and then wrote from the perspective of a single individual in the next column.

In the second workshop we used intertextuality as a springboard. I wrote four or five contrapuntal poems last year, and found inspiration from this technique for revising other poems I had abandoned.

I took two other poetry workshops in 2017, one with the poet and teacher with Jenn Givhan on narrative poetry and the other with Ada Limón at 24Pearlstreet.  In both of these workshops, I wrote about the pilgrimage I took to Fisterra this past summer.

I have written many new poems in the last year, but I don’t like sending them out into the world because they all feel like works in progress. Maybe once I complete the project I’ll feel better about trying to publish individual pieces.

I suppose when I look back on what I did and did not accomplish last year, I will say that my intention (not a goal), is to continue writing. I find inspiration from reading poetry, walking in nature, practicing yoga, just from being alive, really.

But motivation to write comes from discipline. It requires daily practice. That’s where the workshops factor in for me. The deadlines to write, read, and comment on other poet’s work helps me stay focused.

For more concrete guidance on goal setting for 2018, read “Poetry Action Plan” by January Gil O’Neil at Poet Mom.

For inspiration, take a look at poet Dave Bonta’s erasure poems based on the Diary of Samuel Pepys–this one is titled “Gusto.”

Writing in Community

IMG_7747

Pyrenees Mountains, Vierge d’Orisson

Led by Kelli Russell Agodon and Donna Vorreyer, a group of poets who used to blog together in the mid-2000s has gathered once again in an effort to revive our blogs and our communal writing space outside of Facebook and Twitter. 

I’m not sure about everyone’s motivations, but I find that if I have a community of writers to turn to, I stay motivated to write and share my process with others. The 2016 elections and the onslaught of trolls and bots has left me fatigued with and leery of other social media outlets, and so I return to my own private Idaho on the web–my blog!

Of course, blogging is another form of social media, but on my site, at least, I don’t have ads popping up.

My project for today is to begin writing a sonnet crown based on the seven words the current occupant of the White House has banned from the CDC budget papers. I’m going to begin with the word “vulnerable.”

For more inspiration, I recommend this podcast interview with U.S. poet laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner Tracy K. Smith–American Masters: The Poet: Tracy K. Smith.