A List Turns Into a Funky Sestina

On the Monday after Christmas, Big Tent Poetry proposed a list poem for their next prompt, and Carolee suggested we try a little irreverence in the piece. She’s unconventional that way, and I like her for it.

So, I first did a focused free-write on the stuff that’s under my bed, but without actually getting down on my knees to look. What came out of the free-write is a sestina I’ve now been tweaking  since before New Year Eve! It’s called “While the Dogs Nap on my Bed.” I start by listing real stuff I have left or stored under the bed, but since I had to repeat the end words, strange things happened. I ended up cutting a part I will try to use elsewhere, about an imaginary woman named Agnes who lives under my bed.

Thanks Big Tent Poetry! I’ll let you know if there are still publishers out there who will publish a sestina or two.

Yoga Nidra Revisited

I wrote the passage below about two years ago, and I can’t help but think how far removed I am from the feelings of peace I was starting to feel at that time. When I stopped teaching high school I started meditating and practicing yoga every day, but I’ve let the practice fall off. I still practice yoga and meditate, but I’m not immersed like I was. The mechanical, concrete world has taken over again.  Which is not to say I can’t return to those feelings of homeostasis, I’m just admitting I’m no ideal yogini.

Yoga Nidra

During Yoga Nidra, we consciously enter the hypnogogic state, the borderland between waking and sleeping. By learning to enter this state while fully aware, we develop better communication between the waking mind and the dream mind. Creativity flows freely during this prolonged hypnogogic rest.

Samskaras are imprints left on the mind from past experiences. Since many of our imprints are stored in the mind in the form of symbols, we can learn to awaken these imprints by meditating on different archetypal symbols while in a relaxed state.

By listening to guided imagery in Yoga Nidra, we can recall our past experiences. Some of the images evoke a personal, specific memory in us, while others are broader and more symbolic.

The process of visualization in Yoga Nidra enables us to purge these samskaras from the mind, thus purifying the layers of our consciousness, which is necessary before real progress in yoga is possible. Swami Satyananda Saraswati, Yoga Nidra, pg. 46

Some of the results of continued practice of Yoga Nidra are deep relaxation, bliss, a vivid dream life, and dreams that are more archetypal and even spiritual in nature.

Here’s a sample Yoga Nidra script by Xenia Splawinski

Grocery Stone

Weaving down aisles,
I bump carts with women
who wear framed glasses
that remind me of my own,
and I wonder if they stay up
late like me, reading poetry,
jotting down dreams.

Red Holiday

Red got into the dog biscuits and then spit up on our comforter. I washed the comforter, but it still smells like barf. Good thing I bought it on sale with a coupon!

He also chewed up my yoga mat while I was in the room with him. I was writing, or on Facebook, some kind of nonsense.

We’ve replaced the space heater whose cord he chewed. My meditation cushion is covered with dog hair. He has dug two giant holes in the yard and has tracked the dirt onto the living room rug.

He barks whenever Duffy is on my lap.

He barks a throaty, deep roar whenever Duffy yaps at the UPS drivers.

Of course there’s a “but” in this post.

But he’s just amazed to find out each day that he’s a dog. Life perplexes him, and he yelps in response. He prances like a pony in a field when I come up the stairs.

Sean just found a sock Red nabbed.

Skipping Stones Into the River

My first small stone has the moon in it! From a certain perspective, the moon really is a very tiny stone, and from where I stand, it looks quite polished.

A River of Stones is a daily writing project for the month of January, started by Fiona Robyn and her partner, Kaspalita.  Fiona said their site has received over 5,000 hits today alone.  Although the project officially begins after the New Year,  I’m starting now because I’m hoping these small stones will inspire some new poems. At the very least I’ll reignite (I want to say “rekindle,” but “kindle” has been over exposed lately) my daily writing practice.


Driving Down Johnson’s Ferry Rd.

On the way home from yoga,
I see the almost-full moon
above a strip mall. Telephone
poles and pines are in dark relief
against a stripe of orange sky.
Tonight the trees’ black branches
seem to shepherd the sun past the hills.

December 19



Yoga Nidra and Holidays

If there’s too much commotion in your life these days, try a little lying down meditation. If you fall asleep, that’s OK. Just try again! I’ve heard that twenty minutes of yogic sleep can be as restorative as eight hours of regular sleep.

Introduction to Yoga Nidra

Yoga Nidra is a form of guided relaxation practiced while lying down. Swami Satyananda Saraswati, who also founded the Bihar School of Yoga, first developed the practice in the 1940s in India. While listening to the naming of fifty-four body parts, the practitioner enters a state of deep relaxation– the body enters a state similar to sleep, but the mind remains aware.

Practical concerns
Since you will spend from thirty to forty-five minutes lying on the floor, it’s important to find a comfortable position. A blanket on top of a yoga mat helps cushion the surface area. A rolled up blanket under the knees can ease any discomfort felt in the low back. Once you find a comfortable position, try not to move. If you feel you absolutely have to move, make your movement as minimal as possible, keeping in mind that the intention is to allow the body to completely relax.

If lying down is not an option for you, it’s fine to practice Yoga Nidra while sitting. Assume the Egyptian God posture, with the feet flat on the floor, hands and forearms resting on the thighs, palms facing up. Feel your sitting bones grounded on the chair, with your spine upright and supported. Allow your head to rest by gently tilting the chin toward the chest.

Yoga Nidra is typically practiced on the floor, not in bed. The room temperature should be comfortable. If you’re cold, cover up with a blanket. The idea is to stay aware, not to fall into the oblivion of sleep. If you do fall asleep, or if you get lost in thought, try not to be hard on yourself. With practice you will remain more focused.

Useful terms
Yoga Nidra: This term originated with Satyananda Saraswati. Yoga means union in English, and Nidra translates as sleep. Yoga Nidra has also been translated as the sleep of the yogis. During the practice, the mind is conscious, but the body relaxes. It is the conscious relaxation of the body that brings about the deep-seated rest enjoyed when practicing Yoga Nidra.
Pratyahara: withdrawal of the senses in order to focus the mind inwardly; one of the eight limbs of raja yoga outlined in the yoga sutras of Patanjali, a second-century Indian sage.
Sankalpa: a seed of thought the practitioner plants in his or her own mind; a resolve; an intention; directing the mind toward a desired outcome.
Yoga Nidra, by Swami Satyananda Sarawsati, Yoga Publications Trust, Bihar, India.
Yoga Nidra, by Richard Miller, Sounds True, 2005, Boulder, Colorado
The Living Yoga Program, Donna Belk, Charles MacInerney, and Ellen B. Smith.

Online Resources for Gwendolyn Brooks

Gwendolyn Brooks (1917-2000) is best known for her sonnets and ballads, although after 1967 she wrote primarily in free verse. She is associated with the Black Arts movement, but because of the breadth and scope of her writing, many place her in a category all her own. She was the first African American to win the Pulitzer Prize.

Below is a partial list of some of the items included in an annotated bibliography I prepared for a course in 20th century American poetry. I’ve only listed the resources available online, but there are plenty to keep you busy for an hour or so.

The Academy of American Poets

Although there are many free recording of Gwendolyn Brooks online, Poets.org sells a wonderful CD of Lucille Clifton and Brooks reading at the Guggenheim Museum in 1983. Brooks tells wonderful back stories to her poems that are entertaining in and of themselves.

The Library of Congress Website for Gwendolyn Brooks

Armenti, Peter. “Gwendolyn Brooks: Online Resources.” 30 July, 2010. Web Guides, US Poet  Laureates, Virtual Services Digital Reference Services, US Library of Congress.

A list of just about every type of Brooks-related items: audio recordings, videos, websites, lesson plans, books, reviews, obituaries, histories, and criticism.

Baker, Jr., Houston A. “Review of Blacks by Gewendolyn Brooks” Black American Literature  Forum, Vol. 24, No. 3 Autumn, 1990, pp. 567-573 St. Louis University. 26 October, 2010. Web.

In his critical examination of The World of Gwendolyn Brooks (Harper, 1971), a collection of her poems from over three decades of work, Houston Baker offers a succinct summary of many classic Brooks poems, as well as an exploration of her interest in race, gender, and class. He also shows how her work grew out of, yet differed from, the poetry of such well-known African American writers as Countee Cullen and Langston Hughes.

BBC Poetry Archive

Brooks is one of only a few American poets included in the BBC poetry archives. This BBC website contains a brief  but informative biography, as well as recordings of Brooks reading the following seven  poems: “Kitchenette Building,” “The Mother,” “a song in the front yard,”? “of DeWitt Williams on his way to the Lincoln Cemetery,” “We Real Cool,” “The Lovers of the Poor,” and “A Sunset of the City.”

The Poetry Foundation

Many of Brooks’ poems first appeared in Poetry, which has enabled this website to share a great number of her poems, including those written after her pivotal Fisk University experience. There is an excellent critical biography and a long list of both recorded and printed poems. I especially like the details about her publishing experiences after she left Harper’s. There is also a long list of reviews, books, biographies, and obituaries for those who might be interested in conduction a more in-depth research of Brooks’ work.

Socialism and Democracy Online , Issue #53 Vol 24, No. 2. 2002. Research Group Research.  Group on Socialism and Democracy.

Contains a copy of “The Ballad of Pearl May Lee” from her first book, A Street in Bronzeville, 1945. Also included is a brief but useful note on how Brooks fits into both the Harlem and the Chicago Renaissance.

Emily Dickinson and the Via Negativa

My friend Dave Bonta has made a beautiful podcast in honor of Emily Dickinson’s 180th birthday. In under 24 hours he invited several poets and writers to record their renditions of three poems by Emily Dickinson, which he put together in his regular podcast, “Woodrat.”

I happened to see his final call for readings on Facebook, so I woke up the next day and made my recordings. Every time I think I’ll deactivate my Facebook account something good happens because I was there, so for now I’m going to work at merely curtailing my use of said network.

I knew something was in the air on Thursday night when I read my friend Collin Kelley’s tweet about some ED poems he would be reading.  I love how social networking can add excitement to online events.