Monday, November 30, 2015

ordinary light

Ordinary Life
(Translated from the Polish by Clare Cavanagh.)

by Adam Zagajewski

Our life is ordinary,
I read in a crumpled paper
abandoned on a bench.
Our life is ordinary,
the philosophers told me.
Ordinary life, ordinary days and cares,
a concert, a conversation,
strolls on the town’s outskirts,
good news, bad—
but objects and thoughts
were unfinished somehow,
rough drafts.
Houses and trees
desired something more
and in summer green meadows
covered the volcanic planet
like an overcoat tossed upon the ocean.
Black cinemas crave light.
Forests breathe feverishly,
clouds sing softly,
a golden oriole prays for rain.
Ordinary life desires.


And it's been a while since we read Pat Schneider's poem:

The Patience of Ordinary Things

by Pat Schneider

It is a kind of love, is it not?
How the cup holds the tea,
How the chair stands sturdy and foursquare,
How the floor receives the bottoms of shoes
Or toes. How soles of feet know
Where they’re supposed to be.
I’ve been thinking about the patience
Of ordinary things, how clothes
Wait respectfully in closets
And soap dries quietly in the dish,
And towels drink the wet
From the skin of the back.
And the lovely repetition of stairs.
And what is more generous than a window?

Ordinary life desires, says Zagajewski, which is a way of understanding how we live through our ordinary days and cares. Ordinary life desires to be illuminated, always wanting a little something more. We don't mind living an ordinary life, do we, if we can elevate it, make something of it, breathe with it. If we can really see it.

So, to this end, in an ordinary week, on an ordinary day, the ordinary light came in through my kitchen window and landed on my bare kitchen table. Which is what it does at this time of year at approximately 1:30. I went to my study, to the windowsill and perused the knick-knacks that I have there. Brought out this raku apple which a friend gave to me many years ago and which I attempt to photograph from time to time.

And while I did that, this guy wanted in and out of the house. Part of the ordinary state of affairs.

The Hoagland poem that follows will strike a chord I think for anyone who has a dog.

Who knew, indeed.


by Tony Hoagland

Who knew that the sweetest pleasure of my fifty-eighth year
would turn out to be my friendship with the dog?

That his trembling, bowlegged bliss at seeing me stand there with the leash
would give me a feeling I had sought throughout my life?

Now I understand those old ladies walking
their Chihuahuas in the dusk, plastic bag wrapped around one hand,

content with a companionship that, whatever
else you think of it, is totally reliable.

And in the evening, at cocktail hour,
I think tenderly of them

in all of those apartments on the fourteenth floor
holding out a little hotdog on a toothpick

to bestow a luxury on a friend
who knows more about uncomplicated pleasure

than any famous lobbyist for the mortal condition.
These barricades and bulwarks against human loneliness,

they used to fill me with disdain,
but that was before I found out my metaphysical needs
could be so easily met

by the wet gaze of a brown-and-white retriever
with a slight infection of the outer ear
and a tail like a windshield wiper.

I did not guess that love would be returned to me
as simply as a stick returned when it was thrown

again and again and again—
in fact, I still don’t exactly comprehend.

What could that possibly have to teach me
about being human?

{source, from Tony Hoagland's new book: Application for Release from the Dream}

And then the light changed a little later on.

And so I tried my library lion which I bought in NY the first time we went and which also sits on my study windowsill.

And then there was this attempt.

Not long ago I read a review of a book by Greg Hollingshead (which is on my Christmas list). He's one of my past professors, and just generally one of the good ones.

At the end of the piece there's this:
“I mean, you look at the big picture, and it looks pretty hopeless,” he admits. “You take away people’s resources, and we very quickly start killing each other. So there’s that.” But then he recounts a story he heard on CBC Radio, about a man who spent years travelling all around the world, and who declared that, when you get right down to it, nine out of 10 people are decent. 
“That’s where I tend to be,” Hollingshead says. “I’m more interested, I guess, in the surprising decency of most people.”

Anyway, I've been thinking about that a lot lately. The surprising decency of people. If you think of the people you encounter on a daily basis, most of them are pretty okay.

So, I've been looking forward to receiving a copy of Lifesaving Poems edited by the wonderful blogger, Anthony Wilson for some time, and it finally arrived, much to my delight. I've been trying to remember when I first encountered his blog - the title of it would have piqued my interest - and I think it was through the discovery of his post on Rose Cook and his sharing of this poem:

A Poem for Someone Who is Juggling Her Life

by Rose Cook

This is a poem for someone
who is juggling her life.
Be still sometimes.
Be still sometimes.

It needs repeating
over and over
to catch her attention
over and over,
as someone who is juggling her life
finds it difficult to hear.

Be still sometimes.
Be still sometimes.
Let it all fall sometimes.

The book is fabulous, and underlines the reasons why we still need to have things in book form. In the evenings I turn my computer off - power the thing right down. But it's good to have a poem or two on hand. A book like this one is perfect for a winter evening, the early dark of it. And not only is it a terrific anthology of poems lovingly selected, but it's also the book of a poet thinking through some things, and showing how he reads, how he arrives at a poem, how he finds it and how it finds him. How it makes him feel. (Yes, isn't that refreshing). Almost two books, then.

I've already dogeared about half the thing by now, but one of the most memorable moments in the book is when Anthony is half through his treatment for non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma. There is a misdiagnosis and it looks like the tumour is not responding to the chemo treatment. He and his family live with this for nine days before the error is discovered - the scans have been looked at 'wrong way round' and there is indeed, improvement. In this devastating, intense context, he comes across a poem by Patrick Kavanagh which he says is "a kind of touchstone, helping me to come to terms with my forthcoming oblivion in language that was even more direct than my doctors'."

The poem:

Wet Evening in April

by Patrick Kavanagh

The birds sang in the wet trees
And as I listened to them it was a hundred years from now
And I was dead and someone else was listening to them.
but I was glad I had recorded for him
        The melancholy.

In his intro to the book, Anthony notes that it began as a notebook, then became his blog. And that his criteria for adding a poem, copying it out in the notebooks was simple: "Was the poem one I could recall having an experience with the moment I first read it? Could I live without it?" He also notes that his collection is not designed to be "a perfect list of the great and the good. It is a group of poems I happen to feel passionate about, according to my tastes. As Billy Collins says somewhere: 'Good poems are poems that I like.'"

A beautiful exercise that anyone could take up. Meanwhile, though, this collection is one you'll want to have, for those moments when you need to be bolstered, when you need the reminder to be still, and when you need a poem to hang onto, to save your life.

"Do you love winter or summer more?
You may have whichever you like,
winter for you, summer for me.

Rose and thorn are equal here.
One contracts into itself with a wound.
One opens out and luxuriates."

- Rumi

It's time to love winter, then. We're foolish not to try.

I was sick all week with the most ferocious cold. I stayed home from work for two days, which I've hardly ever done. In the morning I walked the dog in the cold, moving slowly, but breathing in the cold air which felt surprisingly good. I almost left the camera at home one morning. There was light frost but it didn't seem like much. And then I walked by the house with the front yard lined with roses.

And then there was this day.

A favourite winter quotation:

“I wonder if the snow loves the trees and fields, that it kisses them so gently? And then it covers them up snug, you know, with a white quilt; and perhaps it says "Go to sleep, darlings, till the summer comes again.”

- Lewis Carroll

And so, I can say that I took a surprising number of photos this week, but that my rotten cold sunk me for doing just about anything else. I wrote nothing. My house is a mess. And I feel like I more or less lost a week. I'm still tired, and I need to catch up somehow. I need to actually juggle my life.

Okay, I did manage to watch a little bit of Netflix. We've been watching Suits at the end of the day.

One can still pin when ill, ha. I'm sure pinterest is more revealing than I'd like to know. Purse of my dreams, for example.

Enjoyed looking at the photography of Janet Delany at the blog Miss Moss.

I turned the comic that Chloe made for her art class into a book at Blurb so that I can get some printed for Christmas gifts for the kids I know. But since it's on there, anyone can order it, or even just preview it. It's adorable imho. Just click on the preview, and view fullscreen so you can read the text.

Here's the latest on Rumi and the Red Handbag.

I can tell you that I have that nagging feeling one often gets after one has launched one's book, and the 'stuff' has more or less died down, that I should be doing something for the poor thing. But also, at a certain point, stuff is out of your hands. It has to do its own work. It's up to fate, the vagaries of book reviewing, the luck of the draw. Still, it's a weird feeling.

And so, I'm wishing you a calm and healthy week, blue skies, a walk on the sunny side of the street, and some time to do what you love.

- Shawna


  1. Oh Shawna...I am so grateful that I've discovered your thoughts and perspectives through this blog. Thank you for this beautiful little Monday morning gift.

    1. This makes me happy! thanks so much Kerry!

  2. Thanks for another lovely post, Shawna. I love the idea of poetry as life saving device, tossed out through the ages : ) - XO

    1. Me, too! Thanks, Leigh. Hope all is well with you.

  3. Every Monday you blow my mind dear Shawna. Even when you are sick, you are inspirational (It IS time to love winter!).

  4. Thank you Shawna! Beautiful as always. On Thanksgiving "The Patience of Ordinary Things" popped into my head as I was washing a water glass that I had been using all day. I suddenly felt so grateful for its utility and simple beauty.

  5. This post! I am in love. These poems feel like food I've been hunting for for ages. I am simply blown away. The images, the words, the thoughts. All I can say is thank you. I'm so glad i found your site.

  6. Such a lovely, lovely blog. Thank you for sending this each week. Your words and selections are so inspiration -- they bring light to my life. Thank you for sharing this.
    Bill Zimmerman

    1. You're so welcome, Bill. Thanks for being here.

  7. So many words to love and who couldn't use some "Lifesaving Poems" right now...I think I will order that book. I so love your roses in the snow and Ace's white goatee :) and all that beautiful light you've shared. I'm off to check out all your links. Hope you feel better, Shawna!

    1. It's a really lovely book! Thank, Susan. Amazing how long these colds drag on....ugh.

  8. Your photographs are just so lovely. I hope you are feeling much better.


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