Monday, June 1, 2015

the fun scene

The World is a Beautiful Place 

by Lawrence Ferlinghetti

The world is a beautiful place
to be born into
if you don’t mind happiness
not always being
so very much fun
if you don’t mind a touch of hell
now and then
just when everything is fine
because even in heaven
they don’t sing
all the time

The world is a beautiful place
to be born into
if you don’t mind some people dying
all the time
or maybe only starving
some of the time
which isn’t half bad
if it isn’t you

Oh the world is a beautiful place
to be born into
if you don’t much mind
a few dead minds
in the higher places
or a bomb or two
now and then
in your upturned faces
or such other improprieties
as our Name Brand society
is prey to
with its men of distinction
and its men of extinction
and its priests
and other patrolmen

and its various segregations
and congressional investigations
and other constipations
that our fool flesh
is heir to

Yes the world is the best place of all
for a lot of such things as
making the fun scene
and making the love scene
and making the sad scene
and singing low songs and having inspirations
and walking around
looking at everything
and smelling flowers
and goosing statues
and even thinking
and kissing people and
making babies and wearing pants
and waving hats and
and going swimming in rivers
on picnics
in the middle of the summer
and just generally
‘living it up’
but then right in the middle of it
comes the smiling


I remember reading Ferlinghetti's poem "Sometime During Eternity..." in a second year English class in university and having my mind blown wide open. I had no idea you could write poems like this, in this kind of tone, about this sort of subject. If you're not familiar with Ferlinghetti, he was one of the Beat poets, owner of the famous City Light Bookstore. Back in my day every poet owned a copy of A Coney Island of the Mind. Anyway, the above poem comes up often enough when I'm looking for poems on the internet. Maybe it's the title that always catches my eye. The truth of it. The world is a beautiful place but it's also pretty hellish. And some days it seems pretty near crazy to sink into the incredible beauty of the colour and scent of blossoms and then to watch something so horrific on the news, or hear someone's story about the incredibly difficult state of their life. To swing back and forth between the beauty and the unfairness. What to do with all that.

Which led me back to a favourite poem, one that many poets I know return to, hold onto. Which is "A Brief for the Defense" by Jack Gilbert.

I went searching for it for this post, and also found this:

From an article in The Atlantic by Elizabeth Gilbert, on the poet Jack Gilbert:

"As someone who struggles with anxiety and cowardice, as we all do, I’m profoundly inspired by this full-on commitment to wonder, to wonder as a response to anguish or difficulty. It makes everything a puzzle, right? A catastrophe is nothing but a puzzle with the volume of drama turned up very high. For now, I’m best with stubborn gladness when taking on the challenges in my writing life. Because writing can be a very dramatic pursuit, full of catastrophes and disasters and emotion and attempts that fail. My path as a writer became much more smooth when I learned that, when things aren’t going well, to regard my struggles as curious, not tragic."

And of course it's okay to regard your own struggles as curious. We must, I think.

As he says, too, we must risk delight.

A Brief For The Defense

by Jack Gilbert

Sorrow everywhere. Slaughter everywhere. If babies
are not starving someplace, they are starving
somewhere else. With flies in their nostrils.
But we enjoy our lives because that’s what God wants.
Otherwise the mornings before summer dawn would not
be made so fine. The Bengal tiger would not
be fashioned so miraculously well. The poor women
at the fountain are laughing together between
the suffering they have known and the awfulness
in their future, smiling and laughing while somebody
in the village is very sick. There is laughter
every day in the terrible streets of Calcutta,
and the women laugh in the cages of Bombay.
If we deny our happiness, resist our satisfaction,
we lessen the importance of their deprivation.
We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,
but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have
the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless
furnace of this world. To make injustice the only
measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.
If the locomotive of the Lord runs us down,
we should give thanks that the end had magnitude.
We must admit there will be music despite everything.
We stand at the prow again of a small ship
anchored late at night in the tiny port
looking over to the sleeping island: the waterfront
is three shuttered caf├ęs and one naked light burning.
To hear the faint sound of oars in the silence as a rowboat
comes slowly out and then goes back is truly worth
all the years of sorrow that are to come.

There is sorrow everywhere. Simultaneously there are blossoms. What do we even do with that? I often ask myself. But I think Gilbert is right and that we are equally obligated to attend to beauty as we are to suffering and to the atrocities that take place in the world and in our communities. I say that and immediately think, well, easy for you to say, you're not the one suffering. As Ferlinghetti says, the world is a beautiful place if you're not the one half starving. Yet, music exists despite everything. And so I go back and forth and back and forth, no answers. Yes there is suffering, yes there is beauty. The world is heaven, the world is hell.

It's the poet's job, perhaps, to find miracles, to look for them in every minute of everyday, and in the light and in the dark.


by Walt Whitman

Why, who makes much of a miracle?
As to me I know of nothing else but miracles,
Whether I walk the streets of Manhattan,
Or dart my sight over the roofs of houses toward the sky,
Or wade with naked feet along the beach just in the edge of the water,
Or stand under trees in the woods,
Or talk by day with any one I love, or sleep in the bed at night
with any one I love,
Or sit at table at dinner with the rest,
Or look at strangers opposite me riding in the car,
Or watch honey-bees busy around the hive of a summer forenoon,
Or animals feeding in the fields,
Or birds, or the wonderfulness of insects in the air,
Or the wonderfulness of the sundown, or of stars shining so quiet
and bright,
Or the exquisite delicate thin curve of the new moon in spring;
These with the rest, one and all, are to me miracles,
The whole referring, yet each distinct and in its place.
To me every hour of the light and dark is a miracle,
Every cubic inch of space is a miracle,
Every square yard of the surface of the earth is spread with the same,
Every foot of the interior swarms with the same.
To me the sea is a continual miracle,
The fishes that swim--the rocks--the motion of the waves--the
ships with men in them,
What stranger miracles are there?

We must keep insisting that the world is a beautiful place, or we lose it, even when in it. That we are here at all is a miracle. Let's keep reminding each other. Let's try to balance it all out. Because all of it is every minute. The misery and the joy, the miracles and the injustices.

One day, walking through the little stand of trees, I was bemoaning my photography rut - the same old leaves.

And then saw this beauty, all covered in webs and fluff.

And this happy guy, waiting patiently for me to finish.

So if you've connected with my on Facebook, you might have seen the following image already. But I'm really thrilled about it so am sharing it here as well. The cover for my novel coming out with Palimpsest Press this fall season. I've been talking about it for a while now, and here it is! I hope you love it as much as I do!

And next. A video that I put together of Rob talking about his latest work. I've also put it on his website if you ever want to go back to it. You can read more about the details of the show (June 6 in Edmonton) on the Douglas Udell Gallery website.

And so I'll end with a few photos from the backyard.

Beginning with Chloe:

This year's hairdo:

The light gathering in the evening in my Virginia creeper vine which I love:

This is my favourite of the series:

And lastly,

a crow.

Because bird flight is a miracle, too.


  1. Love this line- We must keep insisting that the world is a beautiful place, or we lose it, even when in it.

    Yes! Beautiful words and images.

  2. Thanks for sharing this, especially with all of the focus on the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Such a painful reality, yet filled with the possibilities of new hope, but only if we pay attention to the pain. Another poem that I have found illuminating when dealing with the paradox that is life, in all its wonder and horror, is Adam Zagajewski's "Try to Praise the Mutilated Earth."

    1. Yes, such a painful reality. And the Zagajewski poem is amazing. I've shared it a couple of times here, over the years. Thanks for reminding me about it.

  3. Yes to that line that Staci quoted in her comment. I once lost the world for a bit while life went on all around me...I think the camera lens helped me find it again. On a happier note, I am so excited for your new book, I adore that cover! Just received "Hour of the Star" in the mail today., will curl up with it tonight. I imagine Rob's show will be a huge success, congrats to him. Beautiful, beautiful images, always.

    1. Thanks so much Susan - Really hope you like HOTS. :)

      I think the camera has saved me a few times too. Thank goodness for digital photography, I think. xo

  4. Sadly, I think it is the suffering that gives definition to the joy. I am perhaps medieval in my thinking that the wheel will turn, and while I am joyful today it is just as likely that I will be the one suffering tomorrow. But I have to believe that the hope of the return to joy and perhaps the memory of past joy will help bolster me through the hard times. I truly don't think you can have one without the other. Birth/Death, light/dark, good/evil, love/hate all seem to me to be a kind of construct to the other.

  5. Wonderful post Shawna. I've just been reading Jack Gilbert, and just recently, this poem. It occurs to me that poetry and art may be the only means we have to bear up under the bashing and the beauty that life extends to all of us. Writing poetry, taking a picture of a web on a leaf is to risk be stubbornly glad whenever possible.

    1. "to bear up under the bashing' - I love that. Thank you Stephen.


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