Poetry Month

The Wasteland by T.S. Eliot

I. The Burial of the Dead

April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.

In 1996, the Academy of American Poets designated April as National Poetry Month as a way to bring attention to the importance that poetry plays in our lives.

Last year at this time, I wrote about four or five poems, sharing them each week with a friend, and we would then give each other suggestions for revision or offer an interpretation of how we read the poem.

We’ve agreed to do the same weekly sharing of a new poem during April this year, too, but I can’t find a subject that I want to write about. I know many poets are probably writing about quarantine and social distancing, but that’s not where my mind is as far as writing goes.

I signed up to receive daily writing prompts from Two Sylvias Press, and I’m planning to go back to them at some point, but I can’t find the release valve on my writing brain to let the words just come.

Instead, I catch myself staring out the window for long stretches, watching the new hickory leaves unfurl. I’ve been walking my dog and letting him get filthy in the pond where pollen pools on the surface like a film of a crushed hard boiled egg yolk. I’m washing my hands probably more than I need to, considering the raw, chapped patches on the left hand.

I’ve re-started my personal yoga practice finally, although I have taken a few Zoom classes. It’s hard for me to pin myself down to a specific time to practice now that the classes are streamed live. When I’m home, I don’t usually keep to a schedule.

But maybe a schedule is what I need, especially if I want to beckon my creative mind. Sitting myself at my desk or out on the back porch with a pen and a notebook every day, just like I roll out my mat. Yoga, meditation, and writing are interconnected for me. One leads to another.

As far as The Wasteland goes, last year I was emerging from a painful depression during April, and I agreed with Eliot’s first line that “April is the cruelest month,” though maybe it was for different reasons than his own intentions for writing.

This year April is also a cruel month. Just when the earth is greening in the Northern hemisphere, thousands of people are dying. It’s a sorrow that’s hard to reconcile with the season.

Staying Connected During Physical Distancing

April tulips in Georgia

Though we’re separated physically, mentally and spiritually we can still stay connected to each other.

Today, I took a Yin yoga class on Zoom and had the chance to engage with the instructors and the other students, who are also my dear friends. Honestly, the whole experience was a true delight.

Of course, I’d rather practice in person, but the energy we created together, each in our own rooms, transcended the limitations of physical space.

We connected on the imaginal plane, or the astral plane, as this concept is described in yogic philosophy.

When I left the room after the session, my husband was at his computer working, and I was so relaxed that I couldn’t enter into a conversation with him, since the wavelengths of our energy were so different.

He’s been working long hours because of the coronavirus. He’s a journalist who covers medical news, so it’s all hands on deck for him.

My job has been to prepare healthy meals, clean, and maintain an upbeat attitude. It’s the least I can do as we ride out this storm. I’m so grateful to all the people who are working to provide yoga classes, food, and mail to all of us.

If before this virus people didn’t realize how interconnected we all are, I hope more are now aware of our mutual dependence.

Persona Poems at Palm Beach Poetry Festival

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.

The Number Four in 2020

On this gray, cold, drizzly day, I’ve been thinking obsessing about the symbolic meaning of the number 4. What is a poet without obsessions, right?

The year we’ve just entered, 2020, reduces to four.

In Tarot for Your Self, Mary Greer, writing about fours, lists several key words that relate to this number, including “stability, foundations, law and order, conventions of society.”

She goes on to say that the basic conflict of the number 4 is the tension between the desire for security and stability and the desire for change, expansion, and growth.

Four cardinal directions.

Four seasons of the year.

Four weeks in a month.

Four lines in a quatrain.

Four beats to a line, iambic tetrameter.

The Emperor, fourth card of the tarot deck, archetype that includes father, the patriarch.

Carl Jung weaves the number four into his thinking about archetypes and the human psyche.

He identifies four basic archetypes: the Self, the Shadow, the Persona, and the Anima/Animus.

He identifies four functions of the personality: thinking, feeling, intuition, and sensation.

For in-depth discussions about these four archetypes, I recommend This Jungian Life, a podcast devoted to exploring the psychology of Carl Jung and its application to contemporary life.

Listening to this podcast led me to Jung’s concept of the quaternity, or groupings of four.

Daryl Sharp’s Jung Lexicon defines a quaternity asan image with a four-fold structure, usually square or circular and symmetrical; psychologically, it points to the idea of wholeness.”

We’re in an Emperor year, but it feels like the Emperor is reversed.

According to Mary Greer, when the Emperor card shows up reversed in a reading, it indicates: “Autocrat. Self-righteous tyranny. Or, weak-willed, unmanly cowardice… Trust betrayed. Failed leader.”

All of these words can be applied to the current occupant of the White House as well as most members of the Republican legislature.

Where can we as a society find the stability, security, and order we seek? How can we heal the planet and also ourselves? By integrating our shadow and becoming whole. By reconfiguring old patriarchal values, a square pillar, into a circle divided by a cross, a mandala for wholeness, stability through inter connectivity.

By Tibetan, Central Tibet, Tsang (Ngor Monastery), Sakya orderDetails of artist on Google Art Project – qQErBDO0BtuQsQ at Google Cultural Institute maximum zoom level, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=76936937

Creative Explorations With Tarot

October 13 was the full moon in Aries, which might account for my energetic impulse to sign up for an online class with Kiala Givehand called Pull, Pen, Paint.

While browsing the web for a full moon tarot spread, I came across Kiala’s course, and I was immediately hooked. She, along with several other artists, writers, astrologers, and intuitive Tarot readers, guides participants in using Tarot and oracle cards to chart a visual journey of self-knowledge.

In one of the first lessons, she shares some online places to find card spreads-today I went to Kim Krans’ page, The Wild Unknown and tried her “Awareness Spread.”

I recommend going directly to The Wild Unknown for a more detailed explanation of how this spread works, but here I’ll give you the basic order: The bottom card is the creative center, the second card is the heart center, the third card is the lower mind, and the fourth card represents the higher self.

I’ve taken a few IRL introductory workshops in card reading from Alice, Tarot Queen here in Atlanta, so I’m familiar with the basics. Alice does readings in person and through Skype in case you’re looking for someone to read your cards. She’s highly intuitive and has been studying the Tarot for a decade; she’s quite knowledgeable and kind, a perfect teacher for a newbie like me.

In addition to Alice’s teaching, I’ve also read 78 Degrees of Wisdom by Rachel Pollack, and I’m currently working my way through Mary Greer’s Tarot for Your Self, a workbook that guides the reader through ways to use Tarot for self-discovery and creativity.

All of this is to say that I only read the cards for my own purposes, although from time to time I’ll get out my deck with friends and let them tell me what they think their cards mean to them. It’s like helping someone interpret a dream. Only the dreamer knows for sure if your interpretation rings true.

Without going into all the free writing I did for this Awareness Spread, I will share a few of my conclusions. For the third card, representing worries or mental habits that might be interfering with my creative endeavors, I pulled the Devil.

Honestly, I didn’t need to ponder this one too much. I’ve gotten into a habit of scouring the news every day to find some sign that maybe the Orange Menace will be deposed. It’s an unhealthy preoccupation. I’ve let that devil take up too much mental real estate.

The Queen of Swords represents my higher self. This card is part of my birth card constellation in the sun sign of Libra, so I immediately identified with her. Swords are ruled by the element of air. It’s Libra season and the air is cooler finally. In Ayurvedic health teachings, fall is the season of vata, the air element, and this dosha happens to be the strongest for me. In fact, I tend to be highly anxious if I don’t tend to grounding myself.

I love this time of year, before the holidays when it’s good to be outdoors again in Georgia. I feel the confidence this queen of swords displays. Clear minded, able to express myself, and excited about the possibilities that await with my writing and with a bit of dabbling with paint.

The Three Souls Tarot Prompt from POPcraft

Tarot Card Spread from a prompt at Pretty Owl Poetry

Pretty Owl Poetry is calling for submissions of poetry prompts based on the Tarot. I decided to write a poem based on their prompt, but going forward, I might try my hand at an original prompt.

[The Camino Spills Across the Highlands]

The Camino spills across the highland
after crossing Basque Country mountains.
Poppies constellate gilded barley fields,
blood-red blossoms fibrillating like hearts
against the sky. So close to the sun here.
The astonishment of flower-comets
wilts with the heat, the weight of all the miles,
if I can remember the way home, no map
but the riddles spelled in the stars.

Process:

I didn’t look up the traditional meaning behind the cards, but tried to intuit the actions in each one and told a little story that the cards reflected to me.

I’m in the middle of writing a collection of poems about a pilgrimage I took to Santiago de Compostela in Spain, so when I saw the Page of Pentacles, my mind went to the moors in Spain and the delight of seeing the poppies in the fields.

The following three-step, three-card prompt, “The Three Souls,” is by Kimberly Grabowski Strayer. Please go to https://prettyowlpoetry.com/2019/05/14/popcraft-the-three-souls/ for a complete description.

The words in boldface come from Kimberly’s prompt. The words in italics are my impressions of the cards.

1.Mind of the poem, Page of Pentacles: awe and childlike or youthful curiosity at the beginning of a journey. Finding a treasure in a field.

2.Structure (body)– The Ten of Wands: The burden of gathering all ten wands, leaning into the labor, struggling against the work. The poem is bunched together in ten lines of ten syllables each to reflect the number ten and also the bunched up wands the man is carrying.

3.Spirit— The Chariot: The future is an enigma (Sphinx) that draws the chariot. The stars above are his only guide. He is a messenger of the gods (caduceus, symbol of Hermes). He’s leaving the comforts of home behind, unafraid.

Beltane Tarot Reading

Monday I attended a fabulous Introduction to Tarot workshop with Alice Tarot Queen at Full Circle Studio in Atlanta.

Last night, the midpoint between spring equinox and summer solstice, I tried my hand at reading the cards, and lo and behold, I drew three Major Arcana cards!

It kind of freaked me out a little, like how important is this moment?

My question was, “What insights do I need to decide about my future travels?”

This is a question I’ve been considering, and I’ve come to the conclusion after a focused free write that I want to return to Spain for another pilgrimage, but it’s not going to be this summer (unless I win the lottery!).

I’ve taken this semester off from teaching to heal from a second fracture in my right foot, and I’ve finally found a pair of hiking boots that feel comfortable. Looks like I’ll be hiking in the US this summer, though.

Here is my reading of the three-card pattern I used, representing past, present, and future.

The Sun, past

The Sun card represents joy, freedom, optimism, vitality. When I think about the most liberating and joyful days of my past travels, my first pilgrimage to Spain naturally comes to mind.

The freedom I experienced on the way to Santiago in 2015 was as big as the sky, even when my feet and legs ached and my clothes were drenched in sweat.

Temperance, present

Temperance speaks to me of healing. I’ve taken this semester off from teaching to rest my mind and heal my foot, which I fractured in 2017 on a second pilgrimage and later fractured again in the fall of 2018.

I couldn’t return to Spain last summer because I was still healing from my injuries, and when I increased my mileage, I had a second stress fracture.

Also, 2018 was a time of intense anxiety about the midterm elections. This current political climate has elevated the anxiety levels for so many of us elders. We want to leave this life with the peace of mind that the younger generations will inherit a just society that is working toward a healthy planet Earth.

We are connected to the earth. The Earth is alive, and we are part of it. The Earth’s health is connected to our health.

During this last year, especially last summer and fall, my mind was on helping with the midterm elections. I didn’t do nearly enough, but I made phone calls, wrote letters, and nagged my friends and family about voting.

Thankfully, Lucy McBath won in our district by running on a gun reform platform. Her election is a sign that enough people near me want to live in a safer, healthier world.

Wheel of Fortune, future

What a card to draw for the future! The Wheel of Fortune indicates karma, changes in circumstances, and fate.

I’m not sure what to think about my future travels when it comes to karma. What will be the consequences of my past actions when it comes to the places I go?

Some of my yoga buddies are planning a two-week trip to India for a yoga retreat with a well-respected yoga teacher in our area. But the trip is in November, and I might return to teaching by then. I do wish I could accompany them! If money were no object, I would.

I don’t have a strong desire to teach English Composition anymore. Adjunct professors are paid abysmally low salaries for the classes they teach. Read “Death of an Adjunct” for more insight. I’d like to find a different way to earn money, but I still haven’t found it.

So my future travels depend on many circumstances–finances, health, and time. After all of this thinking and writing, I am determined to return to Spain for another pilgrimage, but it won’t be this summer.

I’ll be traveling closer to home, hiking with my new boots on the beautiful trails of North Georgia.

April, Poetry, Jericho Brown, and NaPoWriMo 2019

Along with the fiery nature of Aries and the blossoming of spring comes April and National Poetry Month in the US.

One of my main inspirations has been the poetry of Jericho Brown and his new collection, The Tradition.

His essay about invention (titled “Invention”) and how writing poetry was how he confronted the panic of possible death has also inspired me to write every day. Poetry is a means of survival.

I’ve been trying to write at least some lines of poetry every day as a challenge to extract myself from the mini-depression I went through this winter.

Winter was dark, rainy, muddy. Even in March, depression clung to me, like sticky hands holding me down.

When the sticky webs started to feel like a cocoon, I understood on a more personal level TS Eliot’s opening lines in The Waste Land:

   April is the cruellest month, breeding 
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers

To cope with the intense melancholy and anxiety, I started thinking of the time between winter solstice and spring equinox as a period of germination.

I was a seed in protective darkness, no need for the light, even if I did crave sunlight and walked my dog whenever the sun was out, no matter how cold.

Once the clocks changed and the days grew longer in March, I wasn’t ready to emerge from the safety of my protective shell, the haven of my bed, the soft armchair, the warm kitchen and the making of soups.

Even though I’ve taken the semester off from teaching, an unpaid sabbatical so to speak since I’m an adjunct professor, I haven’t been working on my manuscript about my travels in Spain.

The stickiness is still there, but the fire is returning. I’ve been writing new, unrelated poems to revitalize my creativity.

Jericho Brown’s “Duplex” series and the form he has invented (read them in his new book!) have opened up more pathways for me and others. He is a true bard, an oracular young poet who keeps astounding the world with his human songs.

I also realize that it’s somewhat problematic that I’m using Jericho Brown’s wholly original poetic form because I am a white woman. I’ve lived a protected life. As Brown says about his form,

What is a Jericho Brown sonnet? Though I may not be, I do feel like a bit of a mutt in the world. I feel like a person who is hard to understand, given our clichés and stereotypes about people. So I wanted a form that in my head was black and queer and Southern. Since I am carrying these truths in this body as one, how do I get a form that is many forms?

In his essay he goes on to describe his process, explaining that his duplex form carries traces of the ghazal, the sonnet, and the blues. That the couplets grew from lines he had written and saved from as long as fifteen years ago.

What I want to make clear is that I’m writing in Jericho Brown’s form because I find it beautiful and musical, but I won’t try to profit from his inventions in any way, such as trying to publish a duplex in a poetry journal.

Here are my two attempts at the duplex, written over the last two days:

Everyday Mysticism

I walk to where the creek water pools
To see the smooth darkness of its surface

To see the smooth darkness of its surface
Is to behold a circle with no circumference

This circle with no circumference contains
A benevolent silence, a suspension of time

This benevolent silence, this suspension of time
Is what I’m seeking when I’m alone on the trail.

When I’m alone on the trail, the dark water
Stills, impenetrable, until I peer over the bridge

Peering over the bridge, a carnation tree weeps
Its petals onto the glassy skin of the creek

The pink petals fracture the surface–a mosaic–
My reflection where the creek water pools

***

I See Hawks

This day is a glass fishing float
Suspended in a net of clouds

Suspended in a net of clouds,
mineral smells of the river

In the mineral smells of the river
A hawk appears again. I’m tired

Of hawk sightings. I’m tired
Of omens, of signs that point to what?

Harbingers that point to what
I won’t fathom. A poem should have words

To fathom this–this net that suspends
The world, this day floating in blue glass

Pathway Through Depression by Christine Swint

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.

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.