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.


  1. As usual, the perfect read for a Monday morning. Thank you. Your work raises my spirit and challenges me to make something today.

    1. Always makes me happy when someone is inspired to make something. Thanks, Kim

  2. Shawna you continue to inspire me. Thank you. Wendy

  3. Once again, a beautiful moment for reflection on a Monday morning. Thanks for continuing to peruse these questions of beauty. In my work in Colombia, I am exposed to the ugliness of conflict almost everyday. My response has been to seek beauty, not simply as a temporary escape, but as a reminder that what we are seeking to do in peacebuilding and human rights work, already exists in multiple forms and can be reflected in a flower, in a landscape, in a well crafted phrase, in a carefully prepared plate of food, in the relationship between different people. I still find it challenging to find a balance, to know when to speak against or when to simply point out that there is another way and that way is beautiful, but I do know that without reminders of the great beauty that is our world, ugliness wins.

    1. So beautifully and poignantly said. Thank you, Anna - I needed that.

  4. Really wonderful piece, and the photos are so colourful.

  5. What an excellent reflection, series of thoughts. Important. Beautiful. Meaningful. All at once. A great and thoughtful post -- thank you.

  6. Such a lovely collection of images and words. The flowers seem to have messy hair as if they just woke up from a nap.

    1. Great description! Thanks so much Staci.

  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. Whoops! Sorry, Shawna. I meant to edit and ended up deleting.

  8. I have a lot of feeling for that crow and all crows and ravens. So much so that I made Raven my daughter's middle name. I usually save your posts for when I think I need it. This afternoon when I got some news which in the grand scheme of things means nothing at all but nonetheless had my heart pounding and feeling panicky, I turned to your recent post and it gave me the calm that I needed. A calm that is required for success in my big meeting tonight. Yet I must say that I disagree with some of your words. I do believe your words change the world, it changes my world and for most people, their sense of "world" is the only one that matters. So thankful for your words and photos!

    1. I'm glad this helped, dear Manisha! And hope you're well and that you had success in your meeting! I'm sure you did. I love that your daughter's middle name is raven. That's beautiful. xo

  9. Your words and your images speak volumes, Shawna. I love Anna's comment above - "I still find it challenging to find a balance, to know when to speak against or when to simply point out that there is another way and that way is beautiful, but I do know that without reminders of the great beauty that is our world, ugliness wins."


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