swallows dip and sway
wings spread under tattered lace
sky blooms wide open
My friend and sister AROHO alumna, Esther Cohen writes and shares a poem every day. As she says on her blog, she tries to write about “what happens every day (some days notwithstanding) most often, in a poem. sometimes, with sentences. maybe every once in a while, with a picture of SOMETHING”
I read every one of her offerings and marvel at her bravery sending her newborn words out into the world. But Sea Ranch is a special place alive and vibrant. The sun has finally come out after days of fog, giving me a bit of courage.
across my pillow
let me rise
in the horizon
let me walk
the meadows beside
sea cliffs, waves
crashing far below
What more could I possibly want in a location for a writing retreat than some friendly sheep and beautiful wooded paths?
For the past few years I’ve participated in NaPoWriMo (National Poetry Writing Month), writing and posting a poem every day (or almost every day) for the entire month of April.
This year I just couldn’t do it. Hence poetry guilt.
But today is a beautiful spring day here in the Bay Area, and I need to remember that poetry will come again. Besides, when has guilt ever done any good? Instead why not offer up this poem for spring.
visit one sticky
then the next
nestle our striped
fuzzy bodies inside
search for sweet
rolling in pollen
till we clothe our legs
we sigh and hum
come sing with us
raise your face to light
soak in nectar ecstasy
mingle your hands
—from Always a Blue House
scalloped clouds floating
washed in opal twilight
we surely become pearls
—from Always a Blue House
If you had told me when I started this blog in 2011 that it would lead me to writing nonfiction, I would have scoffed. But that’s exactly what happened.
A few months ago I discovered Longridge Review, a journal that is an evolution of the Essays on Childhood project started by editor Elizabeth Gaucher. Longridge’s mission is “to present the finest essays on the mysteries of childhood experience, the wonder of adult reflection, and how the two connect over a lifespan.”
I’m honored to have my essay published in their latest issue. You can read it it online here: Snowsuit Prisoners.
...when you completely forget that you've had a poem accepted for an anthology, which, when it comes in the mail, is quite beautiful, thick and juicy with poetry. And you find your poem amongst works by such luminaries as W.S. Merwin and Jo Harjo and Denise Levertov and Lucille Clifton and Evie Shockley (who I met at AROHO), just to name a few. And the overturned truck on the freeway that lengthened your morning commute by almost an hour and the school room that is your "office" with no heat and the hard conversation you had to have with a colleague fall away as you bask in the glow.
Thank you to Melissa Tuckey, co-founder of Split This Rock Poetry Festival (which anyone on the East Coast should attend) and The University of Georgia Press for this lovely book. Here is my poem which appears on page 197 in case you want to buy a copy here:
To stand upright,
a wildebeest struggles,
wobbly, his legs broken.
In the thin arms
of a baobab tree
across the deep blue sky.
They are waiting
for the wildebeest’s
before they drop
down around him.
I watch stunned
as the first one, brazen,
tears a strip of flesh
from the still-shuddering flank.
Red means only one thing
in the Serengeti.
My silent vigil
is all I offer
For the first time
in my life
I wish for a gun.
And now we welcome the new year, full of things that have never been. -- Rainer Maria Rilke
2017 was a year of highs and lows for me in many ways. On the up side there was the Always a Blue House reading tour. Riding high from publishing my poetry collection with Saddle Road Press, run by the incomparable Ruth Thompson and Don Mitchell, I had a wonderful time with my writer-sisters Tania Pryputniewicz, Michelle Wing, Marcia Meier and Barbara Rockman who arranged readings, planned poetry workshops and opened their homes for poetry salons. Without them, I would never have been able to pull off such a tour. I can never thank these friends enough.
Then there was the saddest event of the year: my father's death on October 11, 2017. Having spent the last three years mourning the gradual decline of his mental capabilities, my feeling of loss has been a muted grief. I am thankful that Dad didn't linger in dementia limbo. Even at the end, he was able to enjoy visits from family and friends. He still knew we were his people even if he couldn't always remember our names.
With all the tumult of 2017, when 2018 rolled around a few days ago I felt particularly reflective. However, before I got around to making a list of new goals, I read an interesting article in The New York Times: The Only Way to Keep Your Resolutions by David DeSteno, a professor of psychology at Northeastern University. In it DeSteno claims that "By Jan. 8, some 25 percent of resolutions have fallen by the wayside. And by the time the year ends, fewer than 10 percent have been fully kept." Why do we fail so miserably when trying to keep our resolutions? According to DeSteno it's because of "our tendency to be shortsighted - to value the pleasures of the present more than the satisfactions of the future." And this is all because of the way we look at willpower as the key to success. The very idea of willpower goes against our own evolutionary path as human beings. Focusing on what DeSteno calls self-focused goals was not what mattered most to humans for most of our history. Instead, what led to our success was "strong social bonds."
So just what advice does DeSteno give to help us achieve our goals? Here's where I found the article most interesting. The author claims that we are ignoring the very tool that will help our success. What is that tool? "It's our emotions - specifically, gratitude, compassion and an authentic sense of pride (not hubris) - that push us to behave in ways that show self-control ." How intriguing.
This idea made me look at one of the biggest resolutions I've ever made: starting a daily writing practice. When I think about what has helped me get up early every morning to write (since August 19, 2013, 1601 days and counting), certainly genuine pride in creating this achievement helps keep me going. That is simple.
But what about gratitude? What part could this emotion play in helping bolster my resolve? Even though I am not naturally an early riser, the impact of my morning practice has been immense. I have never felt more like a writer in my life. And without this, Always a Blue House might not have been born. And for that I am grateful.
I know I'm grateful to my writer friends for their support. I know that giving similar support to them them can only enrich my life and help me become a better "literary citizen." (See Ten Kind Suggestions for Being a Literary Citizen post on Women Who Submit blog). I try very hard to be that kind of friend and colleague. I've just never named it as compassion before.
DeSteno's article gave me a new way of looking at setting resolutions. When contemplating a new goal, I'll try to remember to find not just the reason for that goal but the feeling that drives me. I'm hoping that will help me stick to what I set out to do.
As for the new year, now I'm struggling to find a reason to be grateful for going on a post-holiday diet. I'd welcome any suggestions for how to feel that!
Land falls away to sea. What is it about this coast that is so potent? Somehow standing on the precipice looking outward makes me more aware of what I want, what I need to be.
MERMAID HOUSE - MY WRITING HOME FOR THIS WEEK
National Poetry Month has been over for almost a month. Just to remind you that there can poetry everyday, here's another poem for Hawaii. The prompt for that day: write a poem that reflects on the nature of being in the middle of something. The poem could be about being on a journey and stopping for a break, or the gap between something half-done and all-done.
In the Middle
On your journey down the trail,
you stop for breath between grass
that smells like molasses sweet
under rain misting your hair.
Beyond cliffs falling to shore,
water stretches in every direction.
You rest in the heart of the ocean
on the most remote islands on Earth,
on a planet spinning in the middle
of space. Watching waves pulled
back and forth, you feel its rotation,
you the center, betwixt and between.
Standing in the midst of this vista
it’s enough right now to raise your arms
to sky and turn slowly, fingers stretched
north and south, east and west.
The challenge for Day 13 was to write a ghazal. A ghazal A ghazal is formed of couplets, each of which is its own complete statement. Both lined of the first couplet end with the same phrase or end-word, and that end-word is also repeated at the end of each couplet.
Ghazal: Kona Coast
Under leafy rain frogs shrilled til dawn.
Sky lightened as it does each dawn.
Last night a gecko raced green fluorescence
across the wall. Now he’s gone. Dawn.
Behind this room opened to air, trees sway
with bird song. Two roosters crow, Dawn.
At home, trains whistle, planes take off,
scrape of metal shaking sleep before dawn.
Palm trees, ginger, ferns, banana leaves
all rustle the story of far-away dawn.
Tropic damp soaks every surface,
even paper I try to fill with this dawn.
I have been writing (or trying to) a poem each day for the NaPoWriMo daily poetry challenge to commemorate National Poetry Month. As of today, April 28, I have written 24 poems. This year instead of posting all my sometimes feeble attempts to the public, I've only been brave enough to share them with other poet friends who are on the same journey. They know the struggles of trying to be almost brilliant every day.
Now that National Poetry Month is drawing to a close, I thought I'd take the plunge to share a few of my poems here. For Spring Break this year, I took my first trip to Hawaii to visit my good friends Ruth Thompson and Don Mitchell of Saddle Road Press, the publishers of my book Always a Blue House. There were a few days there in their lovely house on the Big Island when Ruth and I would be writing our poems on different floors.
So here is one for you, Ruth and Don:
Ruth raved about them,
thorny globes glistening
among lava falls
on the slope of Mauna Kea.
We bumped our way
along a rocky track,
like the roads in Tanzania,
distant plains spread out before us
green and gold like the Serengeti.
How could this be Hawaii?
Then there they were, shining
like unsheathed blades,
as she had promised.
Tania Pryputniewicz sent me a poetry challenge last March: Use at least three of the musical expressions on the front of this card, plus cat, plus piano or other musical instrument of your choice in a poem. Game on!
It's almost April, which is National Poetry Month. This was a good way to get myself back into writing shape before attempting the NaPoWriMo (National Poetry Writing Month) 30-poems-in-30-days challenge.
It's taken me a year to write this poem. I guess publishing a book got in the way. But, Tania, here it is!
Hauled all over Texas,
Colorado until Illinois,
Mom’s big upright in the corner
never made it past the blue house.
Legs scuffed from rough and tumble,
keys stained, discolored ivory
cracked by shoes and toys.
One senza music -
sounding thunk, thunk.
Childhood cat a black
eighth note, paws soft-stepping
across the keyboard,
drew ghost music,
I could pick out high C,
my piano lesson a solo
cut short when we had to move,
finding a new place again.
Mom dragged that piano
all over those living rooms:
it held stockings at Christmas,
once played divider, enough space
for a hillbilly bedroom.
From her red Methodist hymnal,
she filled each house
with chords poco marcato:
“Onward Christian Soldiers,”
“Thine is the Glory.”
In the end strong men
hauled its black body away,
Mom stood at the window,
sheets of music in her hands.
dolce espressivo – sweetly expressive
forte - strongly
non tropo vivo – not too lively
poco marcato – a little emphatic
One of the writing prompts Tania brought to the workshop was based on a poem she wrote about another time we spent as poets together at a writing retreat in Calistoga, CA.
That poem was the first in what has become an ongoing poetry challenge that we've tossed back and forth to each other. Sometimes it takes months for us to complete our poems. In fact, I'm working on one right now.
Until I finish that poem for Tania, I thought I'd re-post the first challenge poem that appeared on this blog back in June 2015. It seems like a good way to thank my friend for her love and poetry support.
For Tania From Italy
Piazza della Stazione
They fly from my mouth,
zip through air
like chimney swifts
circling the great dome
outside my window.
Violin music swirls up
from the piazza below.
In Difficult Animal (Saddle Road Press), Lisa Lutwyche shows us the meat and bones of life, that difficult animal we all struggle with, full of love and confusion, with hidden teeth. This collection is a poetic memoir beginning with her childhood: talented parents, music they produced, and her young ache for love and acceptance. However, just when I began to believe this would be the story of a girl and her family, I was brought up short.
This is no idyllic reverie; Lutwyche doesn’t shy away from life’s pain. The lessons of her grandmothers whose presence is a soft constant in the “Great-Grandmother Annetta” and “Gentle Watch,” are shattered by the violent death of a fawn whose eyes wouldn’t close. This poem, “Requiem for a Nuisance” brings ominous undertones of danger.
That danger does come in the form of domestic violence and then cancer. It was with the second section that I truly fell in love with this book. Here Lutwyche’s strength of language and willingness to write unflinchingly grow in power. She too won’t close her eyes but instead faces whatever comes. In “Invisible,” she bravely claims:
so if I am
let me twirl
around your faces
let me dance naked
Dance and shout she does. Lutwyche uses multiple points of view in her poems as if she holds life in her hands, turning it over and over to view it from every angle. Images of hands appear repeatedly throughout this book: a father’s whose hands held the power to move hearts, violent hands of an abusive husband and a new love whose touch / heals. But the most important hands are those of this brave poet, wielding her pen. In “Brewing the Witch” She stirs in the deep secret / of her untapped strength…brews the witch / she needs to be. And this reader is glad she did.
Available on Amazon.