Monday, June 29, 2015

what was the very best moment of your day

Lazy Gods, Lazy Fate

by Patrizia Cavalli

Lazy gods, lazy fate
what don’t I do to encourage you,
think of the chances I strain to offer you
just so you might appear!
I lay myself bare to you and clear the field
not for me, it’s not in my interest,
just so you might exist I become
an easy visible target. I even give you
a handicap, to you the last move,
I won’t respond, to you that unforeseen
last round, a revelation
of force and grace: if there were to be any merit
it would be yours alone. Because I don’t want
to be the factory of my own fate,
cowardly workmanly virtue
bores me. I had different ambitions, dreamt
of other kinds of judgments, other harmonies: grander
rejections, obscure predilections,
the fringe benefits of undeserved love.

- from My Poems Won't change the World by Patrizia Cavalli
- found on Work in Progress (website of the publisher FSG)

Also from the FSG site:

Louise Glück’s collection Faithful and Virtuous Night is the winner of this year’s National Book Award for Poetry. Accepting her award on Wednesday night, she said, “It’s very difficult to lose—I’ve lost many times. And it also, it turns out, is very difficult to win. It’s not in my script.”

From Louise Glück's poem An Adventure:

It came to me one night as I was falling asleep
that I had finished with those amorous adventures
to which I had long been a slave. Finished with love?
my heart murmured. To which I responded that many profound discoveries
awaited us, hoping, at the same time, I would not be asked
to name them. For I could not name them. But the belief that they existed—
surely this counted for something?

The next night brought the same thought,
this time concerning poetry, and in the nights that followed
various other passions and sensations were, in the same way,
set aside forever, and each night my heart
protested its future, like a small child being deprived of a favorite toy.
But these farewells, I said, are the way of things.
And once more I alluded to the vast territory
opening to us with each valediction. And with that phrase I became
a glorious knight riding into the setting sun, and my heart
became the steed underneath me.

{continue reading}

For some time now, I have felt myself to be finished with poetry, in a certain way, anyway. If I write poetry it will emerge in certain lines in a novel or an essay, now. And of course, I'll always read poetry. Every poet learns and deeply comes to know that their poems won't change the world. Most writers know that their books won't, but poets especially. Our books disappear though, in equal numbers, we novelists, we poets. This is underlined in an article on LitHub, titled "Ten Great Writers Nobody Reads."

Recently, my good friend Kimmy Beach wrote an article for the Alberta Writers Guild magazine, and we published it this past week on our site, Canadian Poetries. The article is titled "Literary Blessings" and is well worth a read. She talks about 'literary anonymity' which is a term I like very much. It's not such a bad thing, being anonymous. At the same time, the thought of complete oblivion is a tiny bit depressing. We all know that many deserving books receive awards, but that also many extremely deserving books receive no awards. There is a certain arbitrariness to the process. Also, politics. Also, the vagaries of taste and literary bias. And this starts back when the author is trying to get her book published. Well, I'm sure most poets could write quite humorous novels about the process of getting published. The hilarious rejection notes, the bizarre goings on. I'm not kidding.

One of my favourite books is The Anthologist by Nicholson Baker. Actually, I think it's time for a re-read.

From the book:

"And then a man of forty or so, with a French accent, asked, "How do you achieve the presence of mind to initiate the writing of a poem?" And something cracked open in me, and I finally stopped hoarding and told them my most useful secret. The only secret that has helped me consistently over all the years that I've written. I said, "Well, I'll tell you how. I ask a simple question. I ask myself: What was the very best moment of your day??" The wonder of it was, I told them that this one question could lift out from my life exactly what I will want to write a poem about. Something I hadn't known was important will leap out and hover there in front of me, saying I am— I am the best moment of the day. I noticed two people were writing down what I was saying. Often, I went on, it's a moment when you're waiting for someone, or you're driving somewhere, or maybe you're just walking across a parking lot and admiring the oil stains and the dribbled tar patterns. One time it was when I was driving past a certain house that was screaming with sunlitness on its white clapboards, and then I plunged through tree shadows that splashed and splayed across the windshield. I thought, Ah, of course— I'd forgotten. You, windshield shadows, you are the best moment of the day. "And that's my secret, such as it is," I said.” 
- Nicholson Baker, The Anthologist

So, there you have it, the secret to writing poetry. Which in the end won't change the world, but it might change your day. It might change your life.

What was the very best moment of your day?

And anyway, remember the poem by Rumi,

Things Are Such

by Rumi

Things are such, that someone lifting a cup,
or watching the rain, petting a dog,

or singing, just singing - could be doing as
much for this universe as anyone.

(translated by Daniel Ladinsky, from The Purity of Desire: 100 Poems of Rumi)

"I realized it for the first time in my life: there is nothing but mystery in the world, how it hides behind the fabric of our poor, browbeat days, shining brightly, and we don't even know it."

- Sue Monk Kidd from The Secret Life of Bees

Someone on my twitter feed recently asked, is it possible to make a good life making beauty a priority? This is someone I admire, someone who is politically engaged, a wonderful literary thinker, fearless in offering her opinions. My answer, I hope so. Which is not definitive, only hopeful.

I'm not without opinions, I read the news of the world, and I follow politics and abhor injustice as much as the next person. But I suppose my response has been, beauty. Someone posts about yet another missing indigenous woman. I post a flower. Someone decries the spending habits of politicians. A cloud.

It's a response, like any other response.

And sometimes it seems insane, it seems irrelevant, it seems heartless and unengaged. When I'm overwhelmed, sometimes I offer silence. At other times, a walk through green fields.

We need people who are brave enough to offer their opinions, to cause a stir, to yell, and demand to be heard. I'm grateful for these people. Because I'm not good at any of those things, I have chosen to concentrate on what I see as my strengths, but which I realize might also be seen as weakness, tepidness. Simple and shallow.

I believe in this response, even as I value other kinds of responses, which may at times be angry, despairing, outraged. I believe in beauty and hope, even if I can only intermittently sustain my belief.

I realize that what I present here won't change the world. And sometimes, it's exhausting to persist with this stance.

But I have this urge to see things through, to persist in searching for the mystery behind our browbeat days. What is that worth? I don't know. It won't change the world.

So, here is a morning walk, utility corridor, a damp day.

The beauty of paths, early summer, morning light.

The ridiculous loveliness of a daisy in a field by the highway.

And the drooping beauty of a neighbour's pink flower.

The morning rain on the mock orange blossoms at the front of my house.

And on the peony in my backyard.

The petals of the oriental poppies in my front garden are so huge and expressive. So dramatic.

On another day, another walk along the utility corridor. Clouds, the stand of trees where the coyotes have their den.

The lines going through.

The hawk circling, searching. 

And lastly, the beautiful crow. Who soars, too, regardless of how we feel about her.

Monday, June 22, 2015

walking around, taking in the world

Let Me Tell You What a Poem Brings

by Juan Felipe Herrera

Before you go further,
let me tell you what a poem brings,
first, you must know the secret, there is no poem
to speak of, it is a way to attain a life without boundaries,
yes, it is that easy, a poem, imagine me telling you this,
instead of going day by day against the razors, well,
the judgments, all the tick-tock bronze, a leather jacket
sizing you up, the fashion mall, for example, from
the outside you think you are being entertained,
when you enter, things change, you get caught by surprise,
your mouth goes sour, you get thirsty, your legs grow cold
standing still in the middle of a storm, a poem, of course,
is always open for business too, except, as you can see,
it isn’t exactly business that pulls your spirit into
the alarming waters, there you can bathe, you can play,
you can even join in on the gossip—the mist, that is,
the mist becomes central to your existence.

You might remember me sharing the above poem some time ago. The poet, Herrera, has recently been named the PLOTUS (poet laureate of the United States). An inspired choice, I think.

from The NYT:
In part this is because he is an unusual laureate, the son of California migrant workers, a man whose poems are filled with hard labor and indeterminate spaces, an awareness of chromosomatic imperialism and of Greyhound Bus stations of the soul. He understands people who are drained from the day’s hassle.

from The Guardian:

But it was never that way for Herrera. Poets, for him are not just recluses. “We are hermits, that is true. We live in tiny rooms, and we stay in those rooms hours upon hours every day, every month, every year,” he admits. “But we also like to walk around and throw ourselves into big crates of tomatoes, and roll around in them, and then get up all tomato-stained.” 
Walking around, taking in the rest of the world, is instead an integral part of his artistic process: “I like marketplaces, I like train stations, I like being in trains, I like airports, I like walking down the street with a pen in my hand, writing, writing, writing. I like to go in galleries that have photographs and paintings, Degas, Monet, photography, Andy Warhol, you name it, I like to get in there,” he said.
“Poetry is one of the largest, most beautiful, most intimate and most effective ways of participating” in public life, he said.

It's a good reminder, that a poem is always open for business. Whether you're in a shopping mall, or at work, in an art gallery, walking down the street, or watching the news. A poem is a vessel that you can fill with anything. It can overflow, it can take in the world.

A poet who tops my list of 'essential poets' is the Polish writer Adam Zagajewski, read of course in translation. I always get the sense that his poems are written after long walks through European cities, though perhaps I'm wrong. This poem seems to confirm the idea, though.


by Adam Zagajewski

I haven't written a single poem
in months.
I've lived humbly, reading the paper,
pondering the riddle of power
and the reasons for obedience.
I've watched sunsets
(crimson, anxious),
I've heard the birds grow quiet
and night's muteness.
I've seen sunflowers dangling
their heads at dusk, as if a careless hangman
had gone strolling through the gardens.
September's sweet dust gathered
on the windowsill and lizards
hid in the bends of walls.
I've taken long walks,
craving one thing only:

{from Without End by Adam Zagajewski}

One afternoon, I set the table for a tea break. Made some matcha tea, and put out some store-bought cookies - brownie Nutella. Rob comes upstairs for a rare break from his painting. The dog is there at the first sign of food, hoping we drop something. Sadly, no chocolate for dogs, pal.

I follow a site on Facebook called The Muse, which is not about writing, but about searching for jobs, career guidance, workplace tips, work culture, that sort of thing. I'm not at all looking for a job, so I've no real idea what draws me to this site, but I often am. Last week there was a post titled, "The One Question All Successful People Can Answer Immediately." Sure, I'll click on that! It's a question often used as an icebreaker at meetings etc: If you were a superhero, what would your superpower be?

I was thinking about the way I might answer this in the context of an interview, or in the context of my job at the library, versus how I might answer this as a writer, or as a poet. Should they all have the same answer? Would they?

How's this for a superpower: the ability to take in the world.

To absorb, to notice small things, to sense and to feel what can't be seen.

Well, as cheesy as it sounds, I think my poet-skills are the ones that are most useful at the library, though I'm not sure it's something I'd offer up in an interview.

Starting with Little Things

by William Stafford

Love the earth like a mole,
fur-near. Nearsighted,
hold close the clods,
their fine-print headlines.
Pat them with soft hands -

Like spades, but pink and loving; they
break rock, nudge giants aside,
affable plow.
Fields are to touch;
each day nuzzle your way.

Tomorrow the world.

{from The Way It Is by William Stafford}

The poem that knocked my socks off this week? This one.

Sabbaths 1999, VI

by Wendell Berry

We travelers, walking to the sun, can’t see
Ahead, but looking back the very light
That blinded us shows us the way we came,
Along which blessings now appear, risen
As if from sightlessness to sight, and we,
By blessing brightly lit, keep going toward
The blessed light that yet to us is dark.

{from This Day}

I'd read the poem before, I own the book. But it's something to think about - how we can't really see what our blessings have been until looking back on them. Which is always a reminder to go forward, then, with curiosity, as Pema Chodron has said.

We can put our whole heart into whatever we do; but if we freeze our attitude into for or against, we’re setting ourselves up for stress. Instead, we could just go forward with curiosity, wondering where this experiment will lead. This kind of open-ended inquisitiveness captures the spirit of enthusiasm, or heroic perseverance.

And I think that as writers, artists, we need this heroic perseverance, but we also need very deeply, the spirit of enthusiasm. We're constantly rejected. Someone will always be more famous, sell more, receive more accolades. Things will seem easier for others. Their book will be beautifully reviewed, their show will be more well-attended. They will win the prizes and have expensive haircuts. All of this wears us down. But it's fine.

As soon as we concentrate on the work, on what we want to say about the world, these small things we've noticed and felt, then the enthusiasm naturally kicks back in. Our hearts are open for business.

Above and below, a few photos I've taken for possible Getty images.....

And then, some Ace photos, which I take entirely for myself.

A few taken with the help of my lovely model, Chloe, who turns 17 this coming Wednesday. 

And lastly, some random photos, playing with the early evening light, and a faded rose from my garden.

Wishing you a week ahead of all calm things,
some long walks toward the light,
and that you may cultivate the spirit of enthusiasm
for whatever you choose to do.

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