Monday, March 9, 2015

don't be miserly


by Charles Wright

Already one day has detached itself from all the rest up ahead.
It has my photograph in its soft pocket.
It wants to carry my breath into the past in its bag of wind.

I write poems to untie myself, to do penance and disappear
Through the upper right-hand corner of things, to say grace.

And so my low internet experiment continues, though some days I spend more time on the computer than I mean to. Last week I wrote four of my poem essays, two of them coming from nowhere. Which is to say, from sitting quietly, expecting nothing. Waiting without waiting. And it did feel like grace.

Rob and Chloe brought home flowers for me last weekend, including a huge white hydrangea, which immediately deflated. It was a bit shocking and very sad. So, we cut the stem down drastically. Nothing. The florist said to submerge the flower. Which I thought was a bit insane. But Rob did this and again, nothing. Time passed. We were about to chuck the thing it looked like such a sad drowned mess but put it on the table in a sunny spot and left the room. Then, miracle of miracles, it revived.

This past week, we all kept going toward the light, attempted to lie down with the light, each in our way. Ace, of course, has this technique mastered. 

I was really moved by an article about among other things, the uses of poetry, in the NYT titled, "Bringing a Daughter Back from the Brink," by Betsy MacWhinney:

"I normally don’t invite poetry into my daily life. As an ecologist, I embrace science. But all I had to offer her at that point were the thoughts of others who struggled to make a meaningful life and had put those thoughts into the best, sparest words they could.
It suddenly struck me — I the one who loves science, data, facts and reason — that when push comes to shove, it was poetry I could count on. Poetry knew where hope lived and could elicit that lump in the throat that reminds me it’s all worth it. Science couldn’t do that."
"The most optimistic people often struggle the hardest. They can’t quite square what’s going on in the world with their beliefs, and the disparity is alarming."

This was followed by a post on BrainPickings by Maria Popova about the resistance to poetry, 

"It’s a resistance that “has the qualities of fear.” So argues the magnificent Muriel Rukeyser in the 1949 treasure The Life of Poetry  — a wise and wonderful exploration of all the ways in which we keep ourselves from the gift of an art so elemental yet so transcendent, so infinitely soul-stretching, so capable of Truth."

She quotes Rukeyser:
"In this book, I have tried to track down the resistances to poetry, with every kind of “boredom” and “impatience,” the name-calling which says that poetry is “intellectual and obscure and confused and sexually suspect.” How much of this is true, and how much can be traced to the corruption of consciousness? We can see what these attitudes mean, in impoverishment of the imagination, to audience and to artist, both of whom are deeply affected."

The idea that poems can be lifesaving or that they may play a part in bringing someone back from the brink, won't surprise anyone reading this blog. I think I've linked to Anthony Wilson's Lifesaving Poems blog before, and here is his post on the most popular poems he's posted. I'm really looking forward to his anthology of poems of the same name.

But yes, there's very often a resistance to poetry, which I think is partly because it's a bit of work, finding the poems you need, that you love. And because this changes through time and because different situations require different sorts of poetry. Yet, it's poetry you can count on, says MacWhinney, and that feels true, doesn't it?

So, let's borrow one of Anthony's Lifesaving poems by a Romanian poet, Marin Sorescu,

With Only One Life

by Marin Sorescu

Hold with both hands
The tray of every day
And pass in turn
Along this counter.

There is enough sun
For everybody.
There is enough sky,
And there is moon enough.

The earth gives off the smell
Of luck, of happiness, of glory,
Which tickles your nostrils

So don’t be miserly,
Live after your own heart.
The prices are derisory.

For instance, with only one life
You can acquire
The most beautiful woman,
Plus a biscuit.

I really like that line, 'don't be miserly.' Because it's true, there's enough sun to go around.

One more poem by the same writer, which I'll want to return to and re-read through the week:


by Marin Sorescu

All the museums are afraid of me,
Because each time I spend a whole day
In front of a painting
The next day they announce
The painting’s disappeared.

Every night I’m caught stealing
In another part of the world,
But I don’t even care
About the bullets hissing toward my ear,
And the police dogs who are onto
The smell of my tracks,
Better than lovers who know
The perfume of their mistress.

I talk to the canvases that put my life in danger,
Hang them from clouds and trees,
Step back for some perspective.
You can easily engage the Italian masters in conversation.

What noise of colors!
And hence I’m caught
Very quickly with them,
Seen and heard from a distance
As if I had a parrot in my arms.

The hardest to steal is Rembrandt:
Stretch a hand out, there’s darkness —
The terror seizes you, his men don’t have bodies,
Just closed eyes in dark cellars.

Van Gogh’s canvases are insane,
They whirl and roll their heads,
And you have to hold on tight
With both hands,
They’re sucked by a force from the moon.

I don’t know why, Breughel makes me want to cry.
He wasn’t any older than me,
But they called him the old man
Because he knew it all when he died.

I try to learn from him too
But can’t stop my tears
From flowing over the gold frames
When I run off with The Four Seasons under my armpits.

As I was saying, every night
I steal one painting
With enviable dexterity.
But the road’s very long

So I’m caught in the end
And get home late at night
Tired and torn to shreds by dogs
Holding a cheap imitation in my hands.

I'm going to end this week's post with a short poem by Rolf Jacobsen which talks about trees in autumn, followed by a long 'photo essay' of sorts, which looks at leaves at the end of winter. The trees are at last relinquishing those last tenacious ones. In Edmonton, we'll take that as an early sign of spring.....

Trees in Autumn 

by Rolf Jacobsen

- when the summer's gone out of them
we can see what they're made of
The vessel maze, the spreading beams,
strength or helplessness, bone or cartilage.
Defenseless. Now
we see through them.


  1. Beautiful miracles and light in this post. Thank you for sharing that sunshine.

    1. Thanks, Susan! I can't believe how much I've missed it!

  2. This last weekend, I was caught up in all the leaves revealed by the melting snow and the ones still hanging onto branches, fluttering around. I was happy to see your photos because they helped me come back to the moment in the weekend when I got so excited about spring. 50 degree temps for us this week, hope your region is following close behind.

    1. What a lovely description! Well, there are signs of spring, but it doesn't really make it here until mid-April imo. Until I see green......haha, it's not spring!

  3. Ok. I am a little embarrassed to ask this, especially because I have an advanced degree in English Lit (although my focus was prose)... How do you read modern poetry? I often have a hard time finding my way into and out of a poem, while poetic words inspire me, a whole poem, for some reason can be hard for me to grasp in its entirety.

    1. I think this is a great question! For me it's a matter of re-reading. If there's a line or image that grabs me, I'm usually compelled to return. Reading more poems by the same author can bring more insight. I think it's also practice. Just like looking at paintings - the more we look at the more we see/understand. Hope this helps :)

  4. I discovered your lovely blog some time back, when you were still posting almost daily. I like having a week to savor your Monday posts. Your writing, photography, and the poetry you select are - true to your blog name - calming things. Greetings and best wishes from Minnesota.

    1. Thanks so much for the comment Andrea. Lovely of you!

  5. I have been haunted by that lovely last poem all week, Shawna. Do you think it applies to us humans too? :) Funny, those leaves look like they're being slowly exhumed and brought back to light. Hmm... kind of how I feel after this winter ;) I've also been enjoying this process of coming on early in the week, returning, re-reading and letting it all sink in. Beautiful images, thank you. XO

    1. It does feel that way doesn't it?? :) Thanks for the kind words! xo

  6. Shawna, I just love your Monday posts ... I can come back as often as I like, reading as much as I want to take in at a time. As always, every single word and photo fills me in so many ways. Thank you. Oh, yes, and thank you for FairieMoon's question and your answer ... great advice! XO

    1. So nice of you to say. What lovely words - thank you! xo


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