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.


  1. Thank you for the Pema Chodron quote. Exactly what I needed today.

  2. Just happy to be shown all this beauty.

  3. I'm thinking that poetry and photography are very closely related. You combine the two so perfectly, Shawna. (Wishing Chloe a very happy birthday!)

  4. again, lovely thoughts, lovely photos


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