Monday, March 21, 2016

my one special talent

The Trees

by Philip Larkin

The trees are coming into leaf
Like something almost being said;
The recent buds relax and spread,
Their greenness is a kind of grief.

Is it that they are born again
And we grow old? No, they die too,
Their yearly trick of looking new
Is written down in rings of grain.

Yet still the unresting castles thresh
In fullgrown thickness every May.
Last year is dead, they seem to say,
Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.

There's a rather lovely animation of this poem the BBC put together for the anniversary of Larkin's death. Apparently Larkin: "was aware that the emotional uplift of The Trees would make it popular. But he himself dismissed it as ”very corny”, and even "bloody awful tripe."

Well, perhaps it's corny to think that in spring we can begin afresh, and yet, and yet...

Here, we are a long way from trees coming into leaf. In fact, snow is forecast for the week ahead, rumour has it. In the meantime, there are spring flowers from the grocery store. In the meantime, we do what we can with what we have.

"We work in the dark
we do what we can
we give what we have.
Our doubt is our passion,
and our passion is our task.
The rest is the madness of art."

- Henry James

"I do think that all of us think in poems. I think of a poem as being deeper than headline news. You know how they talk about breaking news all the time, that - if too much breaking news, trying to absorb all the breaking news, you start feeling really broken. And you need something that takes you to a place that's a little more timeless, that kind of gives you a place to stand to look out at all these things. Otherwise, you just feel assaulted by all of the tragedy in the world."

- Naomi Shihab Nye

Watch this video where NSN talks about what inspires her.

Please Don't

by Tony Hoagland

tell the flowers—they think
the sun loves them.
The grass is under the same
simple-minded impression

about the rain, the fog, the dew.
And when the wind blows,
it feels so good
they lose control of themselves

and swobtoggle wildly
around, bumping accidentally into their
slender neighbors.
Forgetful little lotus-eaters,

hydroholics, drawing nourishment up
through stems into their
thin green skin,

high on the expensive
chemistry of mitochondrial explosion,
believing that the dirt
loves them, the night, the stars—

reaching down a little deeper
with their pale albino roots,
all Dizzy
Gillespie with the utter
sufficiency of everything.

They don't imagine lawn
mowers, the four stomachs
of the cow, or human beings with boots
who stop to marvel

at their exquisite
flexibility and color.
They persist in their soft-headed

hallucination of happiness.
But please don't mention it.
Not yet. Tell me
what would you possibly gain

from being right?

I may have shared that poem before, but any poem with the word swobtoggle in it bears repeating.

The following seems like something one might print off and post near one's work area, on the edge of one's computer screen....

All those years I kept trying and failing and trying
to find my one special talent in this life—
Why did it take me so long to figure out
that my special talent was trying?

- Tony Hoagland from Application for Release from the Dream

Yes, random food shots. Because it's actually light out, give or take, at dinner and breakfast now. 

We tried Alton Brown's pretzel recipe. Not as well shaped as his, but they tasted very pretzel-like. (Not sure why I was surprised by that...). 

My poetry is something that happens throughout the day. When I water the vegetables or wash dishes, poetry is born in me. When I sit down at the writing table, all I do is deliver the poems. Poetry comes as an inspiration and is the fruit of my mindful living. After a poem is born, I may realize that it helped me. The poem is like a "bell of mindfulness."

Sometimes you need to reread a poem you have written because it takes you back to a wonderful experience—it reminds you of the beauty available inside of you and all around you. So a poem is a flower you offer to the world, and at the same time, it is a bell of mindfulness for you to remember the presence of beauty in your daily life.

- Thich Nhat Hahn

Perhaps, because it's spring, I've been missing the writing of poetry. To be poetry-minded. Of course, I'm looking for the poetry in the work I'm trying to write these days, but it's not the same state of mind one inhabits when writing poetry. There's a different rhythm one seeks. The gathering time is longer. And somehow different. In the end you're offering a bunch of flowers, perhaps, rather than a single flower. 

I'm not one who knows the names of birds....a failing that. And I've never seen these at this time of year, so no idea whether it's normal or not. But there they were one morning as I entered the dry pond, and of course, with my short lens I knew it wouldn't be much of a photograph, and that I'd be seriously cropping it. Still, they're such lovely colours.

And so yes, the green buds are a long way off. But there is light, and signs of life.

And so, here is where I always wish to apologize for the random nature of these posts. They're spliced together in a week of insomnia, website difficulties (I can tell you what happens when you forget to renew your domain name...), work, organizing a family, attempts to write, plan a workshop, readings away, and a spring break trip, etc etc.

Meanwhile. There was good news this past week. Rumi and the Red Handbag was long listed for the Alberta Readers Choice Award. More on this on my website. (Which is currently acting up....stay tuned...)

Listening to: Aurora. Jane Sibbery.

Rob has been painting steadily for his show in Calgary at Wallace Galleries this May 7. You can take a look at one of his latest on Facebook - a short 8 second video which gives a nice idea of his process.

Wishing you all a calm week ahead. May you begin afresh, afresh, afresh.

- Shawna


  1. Happy Spring to you! Though it may not be warm, I can see that beautiful spring light in all these images.The pussy willows are a sure sign of changes to come. Love that word, swobtoggle. At the moment I'm watching the branches swobtoggle in the wind and the snow...what a way to welcome the season :)

  2. Shawna, I always look forward to reading your blog on Monday mornings. Thank you for the words and images.

  3. P.S. Six inches of fresh snow today on the coast of Massachusetts.

  4. Personally, I like the randomness. Thank you.

  5. Thank you everyone. For the validation of my randomness, and for all the kind words. And: snowing here all day too, but not much sticking. Spring! love it.

  6. swobtoggle grabbed me immediately -- definitely a new word for me!
    I too find the randomness quite appealing.
    The birds are Pine Grosbeaks. The males are the red; females with the yellowish/grey. They're headed north to nest/breed. We always had them up north from spring until the young fledged.

    1. Thanks, Diane! Someone on FB thought they were grosbeaks....Well, they're beautiful whatever they are :)

  7. I'm back ... just wanted to let you know I watched "The Trees" animation -- delightful.


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