First Tarot Reading

I received the Oceanic Tarot by Jayne Wallace as a Christmas present from one of my sons. It’s a beautiful deck that appeals to my love of water and swimming, and it provides simple, positive explanations for each of the cards. This morning I did my first reading with it.

In fact, it was the first reading I’ve ever done. Even though the tarot has always fascinated me, I’ve only used individual cards as writing prompts, and I’ve never taken the time to learn the symbolism or history behind them.

My interpretation of this three-card reading, which pertains to past, present, and future, is the following:

I need to let go of the guilt I feel about taking a semester off from teaching English. Devoting time to healing from depression, regaining my energy, spending time with family and friends, and completing my current poetry project are more than worthy endeavors–following this path is lifesaving, at least for now.

Time for reflecting on my relationship with my father and also with all the people I met on the Camino will help me finish the poems I’ve been writing for the last three and a half years.

Time for practicing yoga, reading about Ayurveda, balancing my doshas.

Time for writing in community with fellow poets online–

Thank you to Dave Bonta and Kelli Agodon for continuous motivation and opportunities for building online friendships.

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.

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

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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.

 

 

Poems about Pilgrimage

After finishing another online poetry workshop with fabulous writer, poet, and teacher Jenn Givhan, I find myself still steeped in the creative process.

Jenn’s narrative poetry prompts at Poetry Barn gave me the nudge I needed to start writing about my experiences this past summer on the Camino de Santiago.

I had started writing a prose travelogue about my first pilgrimage in 2015, and had gotten almost three quarters of the way done, but the project derailed after my father’s prolonged illness in 2015 and his passing in April, 2016.

And then the 2016 elections took place.

I found that I couldn’t go back to my prose writing after these personal and societal upheavals. So I returned to Spain to take another long walk, this time with a portion of my father’s ashes in my backpack. These are the poems I’ve been writing.

Because I’m in a poetry writing mode, I’ve stayed quiet on my blog and in my personal life, but in an effort to be a part of a literary and writing community, I’m going to post here more frequently, sharing the books, paintings, and travels  that inspire me.

Dad in Spain

My dad in Spain, 1984. My parents came to visit me at the end of my year of study in Madrid. My mom took the photo. I’m in shadows. All you can see are my legs.

Open Water Swimmer’s Collage

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The Stockbridge Bowl, one of my favorite places to swim.

To get myself back into writing, I decided to compile different thoughts about the ocean by female swimmers, most of them open-water swimmers, and put them into a single poem, a kind of collage.

Open Water Swimmer’s Collage

To be in the azure blue as if
You’re breathing. The body, immersed,
Amplified, heavier and
Lighter at the same time.
Looking down miles and miles and miles,
The sea is like a person–like a child
I’ve known a long time.
I never feel alone when I’m out there.
You will forget who you are,
What you did in your life,
And which country you are from.
There’s a knowledge that you
Really are on edge here,
And that you can push yourself too far,
All the way across that vast,
Dangerous wilderness of an ocean.
When I swim in the sea I talk to it.
No matter how rough, cold, or deep,
The water is your friend.
We go in the pitch black of the night.
When we’re in the water,
We’re not in this world. You are a swimmer,
And whoever is next to you
Is a swimmer, too, all of us in the water.

 

During the Olympics, I paid close attention to the swimming events, especially to women swimmers. Yusra Mardini’s story and words inspired me. She’s an eighteen year-old Syrian woman who swam in the Rio Olympics for Team Refugee.

She and her sister , when Mardini was still seventeen, swam in the open sea from Turkey to the Greek island of Lesbos for three hours in 2015, pulling a dinghy, and saved themselves and twenty other people.

The other swimmers whose words I have included are:

Diana Nyad, first person to swim nonstop from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage;

Gertrude Ederle, first woman to swim across the English Channel;

Lynne Cox, open water swimmer, and author of  Swimming to Antarctica;

and Leanne Shapton, swimmer, writer, and author of the new memoir, Swimming Studies.

This kind of writing is called found poetry. As the Poetry Foundation explains, “Found poems take existing texts and refashion them, reorder them, and present them as poems.”

 

 

How I’m Processing These Times

Many of my friends on social media  have said they were nauseous after the #RNCinCL ended. In spite of having  a two-day headache, I have been reading articles about the orange real estate tycoon, watching Bill Maher (whose opinions I don’t always agree with, especially his puerile views about religion), Steven Colbert, Jon Stewart, and other satirical videos, including this gem by Randy Rainbow, Ya got Trump Trouble!

In an effort to stop my incessant preoccupation with the rhetoric of hatred, I’m taking this online MOOC, Whitman’s Civil War: Writing and Imaging Loss, Death, and Disaster . The course is taught by University of Iowa professors Ed Folsom and Christopher Merrill. We are reading Whitman’s war poems and some of his prose writing and responding with both discussion comments and original work.

I want to write about my father’s death, the loss that is so immediate to me,  but I need to connect his dying  to these times we are living in: mass shootings in night clubs, elementary schools, and movie theaters, terrorist attacks overseas, the brutality of police toward Black citizens, the deaths of Anton Sterling, Philando Castile, Tamir Rice, Eric Gardner… (the list is too long), the ugly rhetoric of ignorant white supremacists, an arena full of people chanting for the imprisonment of the former Secretary of State.

Whitman wrote for everyone, for all of America. He recognized himself in the fallen soldier, the nurse, the mother saying goodbye to her son.

As a white woman in living the 21st century, how can I recognize myself in the bile coming from the mouths of Trump and his followers? Will I recognize myself in the bodies of Black men left to bleed on the street? To be truly honest with ourselves and to show true compassion, we have to know that we are all interconnected. There is no Us versus Them.

While it comes naturally to me to empathize with the plight of many Black people, I won’t be honest until I look deeply into the hatred coming from a fairly sizable chunk of the white population. Is there any way to transcend this hatred? Poetry and art might be the bridge.

 

Review: Alice Teeter’s Elephant Girls 

At a recent gathering of the newly formed Atlanta Women’s Poetry  Collective, I had the pleasure of meeting Alice Teeter, an Atlanta poet I had known of for quite some time.

Teeter hosts a monthly poetry reading series, a salon that has a reputation for attracting some of the best poets who pass through or live in our city.

Elephant Girls (Aldrich Press, 2015), is Alice Teeter’s third collection of poetry. Didivded into three sections, Elephant Girls explores the myriad facets of the life of the mind and the body, with subjects such as love, desire, imagination, dreams, identity, history, and nature.

The speaker in the poems is fluid, changing from one poem to the next. In “The Sage,” the speaker explores meeting a woman at a conference and the feelings of lust this woman inspires. The speaker states,  “her hot hand grasps your thigh,” but later in the poem the woman disappears and the speaker is left with “the person you were born to desire most of all/ the one you have been looking for/spread your hand   she is always with you.” 

In other poems, such as “The cat didn’t know which she liked best,” the speaker is an animal. In this poem, the cat contemplates which creature pleases her most, the bear or the man.

In this poem and many others, Teeter enters the world of imagination, where possums and skunks enter her car through an open window, a dog paces, alone and afraid, on the Day of the Dead, and big fish “swim like shadows” in dark water.

Teeter delves into the world of carnal pleasure, taking sensual delight in glazed donuts that she compares to “sendal thighs,” thus rendering an indulgence of food into an indulgence of the sensual pleasures of the body.

The stuff of everyday life appears in this collection; even toilet paper makes an appearance.  In “Two-Ply,” three rhyming quartets

remember the speaker’s father and his “three-sheet rule.”

The poems in Elephant Girls range from playful to surreal and mythic. The wellspring of this book, full of free verse, sonnets, and other forms, is love-love of family, of the beloved, of lakes, vegetation, of all facets of life that emphasize the joy of being alive. 

A Poem for the Way

I’m preparing for my pilgrimage to Santiago in a fairly intensive manner during these last few days, mostly in a reflective and meditative way.

When I walk in the woods with my loaded pack, my mind wanders over the some of the different events in my life that continue to cause pain, but beneath the pain I absorb the healing power of the sky, the trees, birds, the rocks, the lizards, the deer, and the other hikers.

Some of my friends and loved ones responded to my call for lines of poetry, prayers, wishes, or desires that I could put into one long poem. My intention is to read the poem at different points along the Camino.

I am so touched by their generosity. I want their words to fill others as they fill me. It’s titled “Prayers for a Traveler.” We are all travelers in this world.

Prayers for the Traveler

Hath she her faults? I would you had them too.
                      They are the fruity musts of soundest wine;
                      Or say, they are regenerating fire
                      Such as hath turned the dense black element
                      Into a crystal pathway for the sun.
–George Eliot

She is only a faint line disappearing back into sand.

O blessed road! Although the hard ground and slope veers ever upward,

I am not naked nor alone: my feet are shod with thoughts of God, my body robed

with love from family and friends back home.

May my mom know that I love her and miss her and think about her everyday.

May you be given all you need

May you be granted that for which your heart longs

May angels guide your journey, and may your steps be light

May you be blessed by a field of stars, and may those blessings follow you always

May your soul cry and sing and open, now free.

May you shed your skin and become anew.

May you be refilled to fully embrace the array

of possibilities that will open up for you

as you continue your journey – the trail and beyond.

May compassion become our universal religion.

I accompany you in spirit, and I hope your sojourn brings you what you seek.

I wish you lightness of step and heart

I wish for you that when the days feel long and doubt enters – you push it aside.

Aside –

Perhaps – like the dandelions losing their thin, yellow petals,

as they are swept in the wind – scattered…

Do not carry doubt, or worry, speculation, or question-of-self

Walk with grace and trust and love

The very thing I try to do in my life – and sometimes, struggle – and how ….

I ask you to look upward at the sky and pray

for health and peace of mind – love and light

Be safe, be real, be true.

You are brave and I am proud

I ask you to return safely with stories of adventure,

some turmoil perhaps, and lots of gratitude and growth.

Return safely, keep strong, be safe.

May God give my son more healing in his spiritual journey.

Didn’t I tell you not to be seduced by this colorful world,
for I am the ultimate painter.

Please let me grow into my elderly years
happily, healthfully and peacefully
with my husband as my son goes to college,
meets a wonderful partner and has a family of his own,
which we will help nurture and be an integral part of.

Enfold us in your arms, shield us from sadness and despair,
look over us in times of joy and times of fear,
do not let us feel emptiness or hopelessness,
and lead us to believe in our dreams and longings.

At the exhibition of the artists of elsewhere
I am standing in a shaft of light.

Thank you, jahgod, for allowing me to see the light
and freeing me from hang ups
I know that the future is mine to grasp.

May the long time sun
Shine upon you,
All love surround you,
And the pure light within you
Guide your way on.
–Kundalini farewell blessing

thistle

Review: The Crafty Poet By Diane Lockward

Most artists worry at one point or another that they will lose their creative spark, that if they are not working actively at their chosen art, they will find themselves alienated from whatever impetus that caused them to create art in the first place.

In The Crafty Poet by Diane Lockward, poet Michelle Biting writes, “I worry I will slip out of the creative zone I’ve worked so hard to tap–ideas will fade, metaphors atrophy–I’ll wake up an exile from my own poetry country” (19). Biting then suggests that the poet who finds herself in this poetic desert try the practice of scratching, to write down snippets on the fly: images, overheard conversations, random thoughts.

Theodore Roethke kept a practice similar to scratching. He would write down disparate lines in his notebook until he had gathered enough of them to create a poem. This practice is what my own writing has turned into lately while teaching four sections of English Composition. I’ve been writing down fleeting images and thoughts while my students do a free-write warm up at the beginning of class.

Scratching is one of many craft tips Diane Lockward has collected in her volume, The Crafty Poet, A Portable Workshop (Wind Publications, 2013). As she explains in her introduction, the book grew out of a monthly newsletter she writes through her well-known poetry blog, Blogalicious. Each of the ten chapters revolves around a different aspect of poetic craft: generating material, diction, sound, voice, imagery and figurative language, going deep/adding layers, syntax, line/stanza, revision, and writer’s block/revision.

The craft tips included in each chapter come from highly regarded, nationally known poets. The book includes 27 craft tips followed by a poem, also from accomplished, well-known poets, many of whom are or have been their state’s poet laureate. After the poem comes a writing prompt. Besides the poems by established poets, Lockward has included sample poems written by readers of her monthly newsletter who followed the suggested prompts.

Because there are so many poems by innovative, contemporary poets, The Crafty Poet is more than a portable workshop; it is an anthology of poems written in the kind of fresh, rich, and lively language we writers want to emulate.

Now that I have a break from a semester of teaching English Composition I, I have my eye on several of the prompts in this book. I’m thinking of starting with Kim Addonizio’s “Sonnenizio on a Line From Drayton.” Lockward explains, “a sonnenizio is a form invented by Kim Addonizio. As it’s name suggests, its form is a spin-off of the sonnet” (61).

Now the fun begins–to look for a line from a sonnet to jumpstart my poem. I intend to spend my winter break mining the many craft tips in The Crafty Poet. With Lockward’s guidebook by my side, there’s no way I’ll find myself “in exile from my own poetry country.”