Monday, September 21, 2015

the love one claims to have for the world

Lines Written in the Days of Growing Darkness

by Mary Oliver

Every year we have been
witness to it: how the
world descends
into a rich mash, in order that
it may resume.
And therefore
who would cry out

to the petals on the ground
to stay,
knowing, as we must,
how the vivacity of what was is married

to the vitality of what will be?
I don’t say
it’s easy, but
what else will do

if the love one claims to have for the world
be true?
So let us go on

though the sun be swinging east,
and the ponds be cold and black,
and the sweets of the year be doomed.


And so we can love the world (if we ever really loved the world), the end of the world, the end of a season, the doomed sweets of the year, as Mary Oliver says. Who, loving the world, would cry out? 

Who wouldn't? Isn't every poem a crying out? 

Well, let's turn to Adam Zagajewski.


by Adam Zagajewski

Autumn is always too early.
The peonies are still blooming, bees
are still working out ideal states,
and the cold bayonets of autumn
suddenly glint in the fields and the wind

What is its origin? Why should it destroy
dreams, arbors, memories?
The alien enters the hushed woods,
anger advancing, insinuating plague;
woodsmoke, the raucous howls
of Tatars.

Autumn rips away leaves, names,
fruit, it covers the borders and paths,
extinguishes lamps and tapers; young
autumn, lips purpled, embraces
mortal creatures, stealing
their existence.

Sap flows, sacrificed blood,
wine, oil, wild rivers,
yellow rivers swollen with corpses,
the curse flowing on: mud, lava, avalanche,

Breathless autumn, racing, blue
knives glinting in her glance.
She scythes names like herbs with her keen
sickle, merciless in her blaze
and her breath. Anonymous letter, terror,
Red Army.


If you've read this blog for a while, as I know many of you have, you'll remember me talking about how much I admire Mary Ruefle, and especially her Madness, Rack, and Honey. When I went on some trip, I think it was to Toronto to launch my book Asking, actually, I took along another book by Ruefle: The Most of It. Anyway, I have a memory of reading the following piece on the plane. (The book is on my recommended shelf above). If you're a poet, well, this will speak to you. And if you're not a poet, this really gets at what it feels like to be a poet. Though one can't help thinking that being a poet is not so different from being a so-called ordinary person. (re: C.S. Lewis:  “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.")

A Minor Personal Matter

by Mary Ruefle

For a long time I was a poet. That is, I used to be a poet, for quite a long time in fact, and made my life making poems and teaching persons younger than myself just what this entailed, although I myself had no idea what it entailed, beyond a certain amount of courage and a certain amount of fear, but these amounts were variable and it was not always possible to say in which order they appeared and at any rate it was hard to convey. It was harder and harder to convey, but conveying it became easier and easier and that, too, lent an air of confusion to my days. For instance, many days I did not care about saying any of this, I only cared to say certain things that might cause someone to like me, but of course I never said that. I said only that I cared to say certain things that might cause someone to like the language. This seemed foolish because whether or not someone liked the language they had no choice but to use it. Whether or not the language was beautiful or gruff or strange they had no choice but to use it. So I said I only cared to say certain things that might cause someone to like the world, and being alive in it. Whether the world was beautiful or gruff or strange they had no choice but to live. Yes, I said, you may kill yourself, but that would not be living, you would not be living then. A great many poets killed themselves. This was a problem too insurmountable to even understand, although at times I felt I understood it very closely and this also was part of the problem. The only thing that seemed certain to me was that people who had no choice but to use the language while they were alive had a choice in whether or not they liked me. This was a real choice, one I might be able to persuade them in. And so it seemed to me this reason, the one which sounded most foolish of all (and therefore I never spoke it) was actually the most reasonable of all. Still, occasionally I met people who did not seem to like me no matter what I said or did. And it was not easy to turn away from them because they were the challenge. They were the challenge because they challenged me to like myself even if they did not. That was the challenge–to like myself in spite of all that happened or did not happen to me. It was to face this challenge that I ceased to write poems. Could I like myself if I no longer engaged in an activity I openly declared was the reason I was put on the planet in the first place? Would I find another reason to be on the planet, or could I remain on the planet, with nothing to do and no one to like me, liking myself? I decided to try. I was on the planet with nothing to do and no one to like me. And as soon as I found myself there, I realized I had created the circumstances in which I had begun to write poems in the first place, to the extent I now wander the earth, a ghost, with no intent to write, but carrying a spark in my fingertips, which keeps me in a state of constant fibrillation, a will-o’-the-wisp of stress, art, and the hours.

So, yes, we had a frosty morning last week. A skim of ice one morning on the bird bath. A light icing in the low spots.

The suburbs take on a bit of a glow, early mornings, as we walk the dog.

And the backyard is lighting up, giving its all, a last huzzah!

The subject, once again, is light.

If each day falls
inside each night,
there exists a well
where clarity is imprisoned. 

We need to sit on the rim
of the well of darkness
and fish for fallen light
with patience.

- Neruda

we must bring
our own light
to the

nobody is going
to do it
for us.

- Charles Bukowski

These next ones: an attempt to capture the quickly changing light and also the way the camera reveals what we see and don't see. How we feel light though we can't always quite register it. I think I love this sort of bokeh so much, in part, because it's how I see when I take off my glasses.

You may have seen the Ask Polly article in NY Magazine where she answers, "Should I just give up on my writing?" But if you haven't, here's a little excerpt, though you will want to read and bookmark the article. I know I have.

We are a wild, weird species, complex and quizzical, fierce and fragile. Honor that. Stop pressing your face to the glass of someone else's party. Enjoy the party unfolding around you. 
What does the future hold for you or me or for any other writer? Uncertainty. Almost all books tank. Every freelance writer alive struggles to make ends meet and has dry spells. All editors ignore almost everyone. Let's not sit around watching the same four or five authors talk about their enormous successes for the next four decades. Let's not fear the brand-new dewy-faced ingenues making cool shit and then making big stacks of money. Let's not let our initial enthusiasm for them curdle into envy. There are always more to envy, coming up behind the last batch.

She leaves us with these wise words, and a mantra:

And when your hungry ego grabs the wheel and drives you off a cliff, forgive yourself. But then pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and repeat these words: I AM AN OLD NOBODY AND I LOVE WHAT I DO. I'm going to make an inspirational poster with those words on it.

It's a terrific reminder. You don't have to be a writer. No one is making you. You do it because you love it in some weird and fragile and cool angsty way. You do it because it reminds you why you are alive, and you want to share that with someone who might enjoy your odd and particular way of looking at the world.

I've had this conversation with a couple of my writer friends lately, about how for most of us, your book comes out and there's a bit of fanfare, mainly the fanfare you drum up for yourself on social media etc. You launch your book and that's always nice. Some people will buy it, say decent things at some point in the near future. You're lucky if you get one good review, and not too many horrible ones. Actually, you're lucky if anyone reviews you at all. So you'll get a little self-created moment in the sun and within two to three weeks, your book is just another of the millions and billions of books out there floating around in the world. As "Polly" says, 'almost all books tank.' Which is totally fine.

When you get in that mode of being an old nobody, when you really are okay that nobody likes you and your books, man, what a great spot to write from. We might be alone and a bit lonely, wild and off-kilter, quirky and compassionate, and possibly possessing certain obsessive tendencies. But oh thank the gods for people like us.

Well, speaking of quirky and obsessive behaviour. A return to familiar subjects. The rain, the roses, the late bloomers. Hoping they'll have enough time to open.....

And next to last, the dog. Another recurring subject. And speaking of recurring images, I've been slowly adding to my recurring bird set on Flickr. (Which is about the only thing I'm posting to Flickr, sadly). I always think I'm taking so many photos of my little bird, but then looking back it seems a bit meagre. A lesson there, I suppose. To not hold back, to not worry so much about 'overdoing.' 

Last but not least. It's time for a virtual tea break. With cookies from the Italian Centre Shop. And the tea in my mug which I bought at the Museum of Handbags and Purses (the museum that plays a role in my upcoming book Rumi and the Red Handbag). We visited back in 2011....seems so long ago now. 

If we were having tea, I'd invite you to the launches I'll be holding in October for my book in both Edmonton and Calgary.  

I'd point you towards "The Road Home" - a show by the wonderful Bob Chelmick. (The video is really lovely). 

And I'd tell you how much I adored reading The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer. It was one of those books I knew I wanted to read, but it was so darned popular, and sometimes I have to wait to forget how popular a book has been before I feel like reading it. But it ended up being the choice for the book club I facilitate at the library and it ended up being one of those books I just didn't want to let go of. It's still kind of stuck in my throat. And now I want to read everything by her. So. 

Have a wonderful week, my calm friends. 

Thanks for reading. 



  1. Thank God for people like you! :) This post is perfect! Thanks so much.

  2. ahh, all that huzzah light and color, always a pleasure on a Monday morning. I so wish I could attend your book launches but I guess I'll just have to be there in spirit. And that mantra..I'm stealing that :) Now off to check out your links...

  3. So much beauty. Thank you.

  4. Some weeks I think you're writing just for me, to me.
    To wit: 1) you posted my all-time favorite Neruda piece;
    2) Madness, Rack and Honey is on my top 10 list; and now I have another great one to read (thank you!),
    3) The Interestings is a fantastic book, one in which I, too, hesitated to read because it was so hyped, but for which I was so glad to have experienced.

    Thanks so much Shawna, for showing up every week, steadfast, insightful and true.

  5. Thanks everyone. Couldn't/wouldn't do this without you. xo S.

  6. Just what I needed to read today, thank you, Shawna. And yes, here's to letting go of all the worry about "overdoing" : ) xo

  7. Dear Shawna - you are my weekly reference point for all that I love.Such beautiful photographs, I especially love the sunflower and the apple, such vibrant colours, and the little palmiers, I wish I could just reach out and have one with my coffee :) xx

    1. I wish you could, too! Thanks so much, Jacqueline.


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