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

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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.

Awaken Me From This Mortal Dream

 

            In this dream,  the driver’s asleep at the wheel.

The dream won’t let the driver’s foot touch the brakes.

It’s night, and the headlights won’t turn on.

     In this dream, highways loop in labyrinths,

deer clog the exit ramps.  Wild fires

savage forests of magnolia, loblolly pines, mountain laurel.

Forecasters on the radio warn to stay inside,

shut the windows, don’t breathe the code orange air.

     In this dream, police hose a circle of water protectors

in the subzero dark, spray rubber bullets

and tear gas at Black protesters on freeways.

In this dream a  Syrian boy caked with bomb-blast

wipes blood from his eye with a tiny fist.

 In this dream, men in three-piece suits with fashy haircuts

ink swastikas on concrete benches,

grab the vaginas of women with dragonfly tattoos,

snatch the hijab off a mother’s head.

     In this dream a fevered white man in a church

shoots down nine Black worshippers.

      In this dream a president sings Amazing Grace

with his whole heart in his throat.

      In this dream a block-letter sign

outside a church with the tallest, whitest spire

shouts, “PRAY FOR DONALD TR**P.”

      In this dream a shard of grief  is lodged behind my breastbone.

Hawk.jpeg

“My God, Help Me To Survive This Deadly Love”

“My God, Help Me to Survive This Deadly Love”

Dear Cosmos, Dear Gaia, Dear Aliens on Earth,
Something-there-is that doesn’t love a woman,
Something-there-is that doesn’t love a child
Something-there-is that doesn’t love a protest
Something-there-is that doesn’t love this wall of words.
Something-there-is that doesn’t love.
Grazing each other’s beards to kiss, my brothers’ love
makes quiver the mouths of phobic Earthlings.
Something-there-is piles on lies to wall themselves in.
Something-there-is loathes a woman’s
blood, her milk, her wide hips, her breasts bared in protest.
Something-there-is refuses the Syrian child
washed ashore, his cheek turned to one side, as if in child’s
pose, his death not stark enough to awaken love.
Something-there-is throws grenades on protesters,
Native Americans circled in prayer who touch the Earth,
who protect the water that sustains our life. Women
are the watery portals we all pass through, a porous wall
we penetrate from one life to the next. No brick wall
mortared with hatred us can contain our childlike
trust that “no lie will live forever.” Women’s
rights are human rights, but not unless we love
our blackness, the origin of humans on Earth.
Something-there-is cages black bodies, protests
Black bodies, stops, frisks, gasses Black protests,
beats and murders black bodies behind cell walls.
How much of our comfort will we risk to free the earth
from this machine of distortion? Will our children
forget the sky once reflected blue before we love
the planet enough to disobey the spray-tanned man?
His rattling Tic Tacs warn  men and women
to flee the fetid breath no mint can mask. We protest
his code orange stink by committing ourselves to loving
even those who sting our eyes with pepper. The only wall
that divides us is made of fear and lives in us. A child’s
mind, a pure mind, is the force that binds us on this earth.
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Chattahoochee River, Cochran Shoals, November 25, 2016

 

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.

 

#Don’tStopKissing

DontStopKissing

Poet and novelist Collin Kelley and the Georgia Center of the Book are hosting a memorial poetry reading Friday, June 24  for the victims of the massacre in Orlando. The event is called #Don’tStopKissing, and is meant to show solidarity, support, and love for the LGBTIQ community and the families of the victims.

The quotes in the poem  I wrote come from an article on NPR that shares some memories about each of the victims who lost their lives on June 12.  To read their stories is devastating. These young people could have been our sons, daughters, brothers, sister, nieces, nephews, friends.

The older brother of victim Amanda Alvear says about his sister, “She’d rather they spread more love, keep friends and family close, and have a good time doing it.”

As Anderson Cooper said in his CNN broadcast, his voice breaking with emotion, “They are more than a list of names. They were people who loved and were loved. ”

For the Victims Who Died on Latino Night At Pulse, 12 June 2016

I want to remember you

In some eternal before

Before a mother on the dance floor

Sees the gunman

Commands her son to get down on the floor, Isaiah

Covers him with her body

Before a mother in Sunday darkness cries

They’re killing our babies

I want to remember your fingertips

Brushing the pulse of night

I want to remember you swaying

Under laser lights

Face and arms glowing indigo, pink

I want to remember you salsa

Remember you cumbia

Remember you merengue

Remember you danzón

I want to remember you alegre

Remember you samba

Remember you bachata

Remember you reguetón.

I want to remember you selling perfume

Remember you drag queen

Remember you drag king

Remember you student

Remember you father

I want to remember you arm in arm with your sweetheart

Skin smooth as orchids

Remember you bougainvillea

Remember you gardenia

Remember you jacaranda

Remember you beautiful

They were so beautiful

Remember you

 

 

 

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.