Cooler air has finally come to Georgia, and I’m starting to feel a desire to return to my creative practices, mainly poetry writing and drawing.
Before sitting down to write, I clean house, walk my dog, work in my garden, or go for a swim. By the time I’ve burned off my nervous energy, I’m too tired to write (or so I tell myself).
In the morning I like to read for an hour, but usually it’s newspapers and magazines. Something’s got to change. As William Carlos Williams says in Asphodel that Greeny Flower,
It is difficult to get the news from poems yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there.
My friend, poet and writer JC Reilly, writes of her struggles with not writing. As she states in her post at Poeta Venum, writing or not writing is an existential matter to her. Writing is her life.
She’s a brilliant poet— I recommend her fascinating book-length fantasy, What Magick May Not Alter for exploring her most recent work.
I pray the universe, the Muses, and all the gods and goddesses shower her with lines of poesy and delicious words and images to inspire her.
For myself, on one hand, I feel Time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near, but on the other, I’m exhausted. I could use a few weeks in a cottage at the beach. A state park cabin near the ocean is all I need.
Since I’m not going anywhere anytime soon, I’m going to give myself an assignment to come up with ten different first lines of a sonnet.
If one of the ten lines speaks to me, I’ll go ahead and write a complete sonnet with it. If you want to play along, write your own first lines! I’ll share what I come up with in a few days.
Each line will be roughly ten syllables with five beats, but the lines will not necessarily go together. I’m hoping to trick my ego into not “trying” to make sense of it, at least not in the beginning.
Ayurvedic medicine extols the benefits of absorbing the prana of open bodies of water. Not that I needed a nudge to swim and soak in mineral hot springs!
My husband and I have been going to Colorado for their hot springs for ten years now, although we missed going these last three year because of Covid.
There’s a lap pool filled with mineral water in the town we visited, and we walked there every day from the rental apartment. We swam laps and soaked in the “heart spring,” the source of the different pools that comes directly from the earth at 105 degrees.
The springs were once the traditional lands of the Ute Indians, who used to winter there. They understood very well the benefits of the spring water. Knowing they were forced from their land is present for me, and I often think of how different our world would be if the White settlers had tried to learn from the people who were there before them.
We also visited another hot springs that’s higher in the Rockies than the pools in town. It’s a rustic place situated at about 7,000 feet in a dip of the mountain chain on a dirt road.
The owners have built pools of different temperatures with rocks and boulders so that the cold river water can blend with the steaming hot springs that bubbles from the earth at 124 degrees.
My favorite way of experiencing the springs was to swim for 15 minutes in the cold water, which felt like it was maybe 65 or 70 degrees (people were saying it was 60 degrees, but I don’t think I’d have been able to swim that long in such cold water). After my cold water dip, I’d go to the 106 degree water and soak up to my neck like a Japanese snow monkey.
But the most healing practice I experienced there was Watsu massage. Watsu therapy combines the pressure point massage of Japanese shiatsu with submersion in 95 degree water. The water, close to body temperature, feels like bathing in silky air.
My therapist was a young woman who had studied Watsu in Hawaii. She explained her process while we were sitting in the lovely, open-air private pool surrounded with a stone wall. She worked with me in the beginning to practice blowing bubbles out my mouth while using a nose plug.
She explained that water represented the element of emotions, and asked me if I had any traumas or emotional upheavals I wanted to express, and as I told her the story of my recent depression, she tapped my forehead, ribs, and sternum. She then asked me to repeat a healing affirmation based on the story I told her.
Afterwards, she put floats on my legs and worked with me while holding me in her arms, face up. She created a powerful feeling of trust in me that allowed me to close my eyes and completely let go of any holding patterns in my body. Instructing me me to breathe through my heart space, she moved my body like a frayed rope through the warm water.
When I was completely loose and relaxed, we started the submersion part. She intuited how long she could keep me underwater without my needing to struggle. The feeling of retaining the breath and then taking in big gulps of fresh air through my mouth made me feel like a newborn.
I’m so grateful to Nechole for her healing touch and her wise words. Watsu helped me forget about my thinking self for an hour.
When I went back for a second session she asked me if I had learned anything from our first time in the water, and I said, “Well, I wanted to write about it, but I just didn’t have the energy.”
She asked me if I had seen any spiders recently, and I said, yes, I had found one in the bathtub. She said that writing is the medicine of spiders because they spin webs, and that maybe I should heed the sign. She also told me about Aunt Ninny, the nagging voice inside all of us that holds us back from creating or expressing ourselves.
I saw a spider yesterday on my bed, and I wrapped it in tissue and let it go in the bushes. Aunt Ninny is having her iced tea on the front porch, and I’m on the back porch, writing a wee bit, making my way back to wholeness.
Behind the containers I planted calla lily bulbs from my mother’s garden in Dahlonega. In the photo you can also see the rosemary bush that’s throwing its weight around like a spiky beast.
I’ve also planted sage, and behind the azalea is a giant patch of lavender that the bees adore.
When it comes to gardening, I plant according to the sun my yard gets, which is mostly dappled light through the giant oaks splaying across the lawn.
Calling my front yard a “lawn” is a bit of a stretch, because it’s mostly weeds. My main strategy has been to plant different ground cover that will reduce the need to mow, but I’ll still have to find a way to remove the leaves from the beds in November/December. I loathe leaf blowers, but at least I have an electric one that isn’t too loud.
My mom also gave me some tiny purple and green leafy plants that I identified as common bugle. In the spring it grows tiny purple flowers. I have some cultivated bugle whose leaves are shiny and lush, and it has grown into enormous clusters.
But since I’ve transplanted my mom’s shoots, I’ve seen tiny bugles dotting the neighborhood, growing like little wildflowers weeds do, freely and with abandon.
I suppose you could say my writing life is like the common bugle or a humble wildflower weed. I plant my little fragments of poetry that live in tattered notebooks until I take notice of them and marvel at a flash of color that deserves some cultivation.
It’s the first day of September and back-to-school season. Even though I retired from teaching, I’m filled with that back-to-school determination to make a fresh start with my writing practice and to take my art making more seriously.
It’s also Virgo season, a time for ordering my little universe of precarious stacks of books heaped all over my writing/yoga/study/art room.
On her blog Write More, Be Less Careful, poet and writing professor Nancy Reddy is starting an eight-week program (free!) to help writers like me accomplish and produce more.
Our task for this week is to set quantifiable and qualifiable goals.
Here are mine:
Write for twenty minutes a day every day in the mornings, BEFORE I do the NYT Spelling Bee because I’m too obsessive to stop before I reach *genius* level, which can take over an hour unless I cheat, which I sometimes do.
Read poetry and poetry-related articles every day, rather than newspapers and magazines. As William Carlos Williams says in his poem “Asphodel, that greeny flower,”
It is difficult
to get the news from poems
yet men die miserably every day
of what is found there.
Commit to writing one blog post a week. This practice will keep me accountable, even if no one else reads what I write, and since I truly enjoy writing, it’s not a chore but rather a delight.
Starting in January of 2021, I joined Daily Sketch, a Zoom drawing class that meets three days a week.
The teaching artist is Meagan Burns, who, in the before times, led art workshops in Mexico and other places around the globe.
My friend discovered these daily sketch classes last year, and her enthusiasm for the experience motivated me to try my hand at watercolor sketches myself.
Meagan is a patient and upbeat instructor. She allows light banter during our warm ups, and after each 20 minute sketch, she gives us time to share our drawings. She asks where we started, what materials we used, and at the end shows us her work and how she approached the subject.
The drawing I posted above is a combination of two references, a photo of two hands opened up like a book, and another of a large butterfly that looked like it was superimposed with a layer of neon pink.
Since my drawing skills are limited at best, I always add an element of imagination to camouflage mistakes I make or to get my ego out of the way.
I love surrealism and the techniques the surrealists used to jettison conditioned thinking about art and to let chance operations and stream of consciousness come to the foreground.
So if I make a mistake with the lines, I go with the mistake and improvise with color or context. Then my imagination takes off and I start musing about scenarios and settings that are based in myth or folklore.
The poet Anne Sexton is known to have experimented with her typing mistakes by keeping them in the poem and allowing them to change the direction of her writing. In this way, I can see how my playing with watercolor sketches influences how I write and the kinds of poems I hope to create in April.
It’s been a month since I returned from Delray and the Palm Beach Poetry Festival held there in the Old School Square, and since then I’ve barely looked at the five poems I started in Adrian Matejka’s workshop.
Matejka is not only a gifted poet, but he’s also a brilliant teacher. We started the week off by reading A. Van Jordan’s essay on ways to enter the writing process of a persona poem, and each day we wrote a different type of poem by following some of Jordan’s guidelines.
The Big Smoke, Matejka’s book-length persona poem collection, explores the life and relationships of boxing legend Jack Johnson. Matejka writes in the voices of Jack Johnson and the women in Johnson’s life, an ambitious project that took eight years of research and writing. It wound up as a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, a well-deserved honor.
In the workshop, he told us that the hardest poems for him to write were the ones in the voices of the women, and that he would never attempt to write in a woman’s voice again, not feeling able, artistically, to accurately portray a woman’s psyche in the first person.
Part of this discussion of whose voices to write in involved the subject of cultural appropriation. The week of the poetry festival, American Dirt launched, and with it, the controversy surrounding the white author’s choice to write in the first person about a migrant Latina woman and her struggles to cross into the US.
It was a timely example of the pitfalls of choosing to write in the voice of someone whose life is completely outside our own experiences. Maybe if author Jeanine Cummins had written in the third person, her book would have been more honest. Latinx writers felt justifiably angry that a white author would receive a six-figure advance to tell a story that wasn’t hers to tell.
All of this is to say that it’s no easy task to choose a voice to write in that’s also relevant to the times we’re living in. I tried to create the voice of the Mona Lisa, but gave her a sort of feminist mindset. I also wrote in the voice of a street tarot reader, a crystal ball, and Anne Boleyn, who was accused of applying witchcraft to seduce men who attended her in the court of Henry VIII.
The week in Delray went by in a blur and I was fairly exhausted the entire time, probably because we drove there from Atlanta in one day and didn’t arrive at our Airbnb until close to midnight. Delray is only an hour north of Miami, and has the unfortunate distinction of being close to Mar a Lago. While the festival was going on, the impeachment trial was, too. All of that was an uncomfortable tension buzzing in the background.
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!
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:
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.
The writing that my fellow yogis produce after our Saturday yoga class with Sally continues to inspire me.
For our last session, we wrote about our sankalpa, a Sanskritword that means “resolve, intention.” Before meditation, the practitioner visualizes herself having, doing, or being the sankalpa.
Typically, this type of meditation is done before a yoga nidra practice, which involves lying down and mentally naming 54 body parts.
With the body and mind in a state of deep relaxation, yet still awake and conscious, the practioner’s intentions penetrate the deeper layers of consciousness, creating a greater potential for the goals to be realized.
I wrote this intention about how I would like to wake in the morning. I wrote it in the present tense, as if this were my actual waking experience.
I wake in the morning with the first light of day and take a deep breath. My heartspace feels open and soft, and I’m at peace.
Birds singing outside my window fill me with joy.
I sit up in bed and meditate for a short time before I let the dogs out into the backyard.
After a cup of chamomile, I roll out my yoga mat, full of energy and motivation to meet the day.
I’m excited about life and the possibilities this new day will bring.
I suppose this is a kind of prayer I am asking of the cosmos, of God, and of my own inner self. It might sound like a sugarcoated version of reality, but as Tibetan Buddhist scholar Robert Thurman has said, “To create something, you have to imagine it first.”
Why shouldn’t we desire the best for ourselves in terms of spiritual and psychic evolution?
Writing after practicing yoga and meditation is one of the best ways to release creativity. With a relaxed body and mind, we can touch our inner feelings. Writing with a group where we feel safe and nourished, we can take small risks with our writing and reveal heartfelt truths.
For the past six months or so, a group of us have been meeting once a month after our wonderful yoga teacher’s Saturday class to generate new writing. I’ve been leading the writing circle because of my certification with Amherst Writers and Artists, a writing circle method devised by Pat Schneider.
Fill your bowl to the brim
and it will spill.
Keep sharpening the knife
and it will blunt.
Chase after money and security
and your heart will never unclench.
Care about people’s approval
and you will be their prisoner.
Do your work, then step back.
The only path to serenity.
I wrote these lines based on the prompt:
My heart is a bowl
that, today at least,
brims with anger.
Rage spills over the rim,
pulses into my chest, my throat.
But rather than opening my mouth,
I take to the street
and walk with my anger.
Inhaling the fresh fall air,
I release my bitterness.
The last yellow and orange leaves
hanging on the lowest branches
of a cottonwood tree
glitter in the breeze
like Tibetan prayer flags.
Writing to an image, especially a painting, helps me find inspiration. Ekphrasis, from ancient Greek, is a description of a visual work of art. Usually, ekphrastic poetry describes a painting, but some poems might enter a film or a sculpture.
The surreal paintings of Mexican artists Remedios Varo and Leonora Carrington have sparked my creativity. My most recent ekphrastic poem, “The Women Have Gathered to Welcome Him Back to Himself,” explores a painting by Leonora Carrington titled The Temptation of St. Anthony.
I’m pleased and honored that the journal Ekphrasis chose to publish this poem in their Fall/Winter 2014 issue, and that they have nominated it for a Pushcart Prize. St. Anthony lives on through poetry!