Tuesday
May232017

Friends Give Me Books

It doesn't take much to make me happy: sunshine, a good book, and people who give me books. (Is there a better gift than a book? I can only think of one: a letter, a letter tucked inside a good book). 

I'm happily immersed in books — books I would have never known had good people not shared their good books with me. The world really does turn on the exchange of words. 

 

Landmarks 
by Robert Macfarlane

Published in 2016, this book is lush, dense, poetic. Robert Macfarlane is a British academic, nature writer, and word lover who is working to restore the “literacy of the land.”  Landmarks, says The New York Times, "is part outdoor adventure story, part literary criticism, part philosophical disquisition, part linguistic excavation project, part mash note — a celebration of nature, of reading, of writing, of language and of people who love those things. . . "  That's me! 



The Five Minute Journal

by Alex Ikonn and UJ Ramdas

I wasn't immediately thrilled with this gem. It's billed as "the simplest, most effective thing you can do every day to be happier." While given to me with love, I saw it as a unending homework assignment. Uggh. But I do like structure and lists, so I stepped up and gave it a try. And I'm "happy" to say this is a five-minute focus exercise that works! I don't do it everyday (there's only so many shoulds I can do and remain a pleasant person) but when I start my day with this journal I always feels better than when I don't. 

 

Princess Pamela's Soul Food Cookbook
by Pamela Strobel

I'm not a foodie or a fancy cook, still I love the spirit of this book. Long out-of-print, after 45 years this treasure has been re-introduced as history lesson, poetry, and cookbook in one. Written in 1969, this is a collection of recipes from Pamela Strobel’s tiny soul food restaurant that thrived in New York's East Village in the 1960s. Orphaned at 10 years old, Strobel was just a teenager when she traveled north from South Carolina to New York to make a life for herself with her one skill: cooking. She pairs nearly every recipe with a poem, serving up a wonderful mix of food, love, religion, and race. With a recipe for tripe, for example, she offers this: 

Practically every kind of people

eat somethin' that somebody

else make a godawful face

at. If that don’ tellya what

this race-hatin’ is

all about, nuthin’ will.

In this life, we gotta give

ourselves a chance to digest a

lotta things we don’

understand right off. 

 

The Visual Display of Quantitative Information
by Edward R. Tufte 

I am perplexed by this gift. It's more textbook dull than visual cool. Given to me by a designer friend, I know I'm holding an important work of another world but it's a world I don't fully understand. Still, I recognize a classic, so I plug along, puzzling over detailed graphs, elaborate tables, and engineer-ish illustrations. That's how it is with books that arrive as gifts, both giver and receiver are seen and revealed — and, really, that's a gift in itself.

 

Your turn. What are you reading? What books have you gifted, and what have you received? 

 

 

Tuesday
May162017

Try This: Where I'm From

 

Get out your pen and paper. Let's write!

Have you written a "Where I'm From" poem? For many young writers, this form is their first taste of writing poetry. The teacher passes out a template and the kids fill in the blanks to create their poem. 

Sounds like amateur hour, right? Yes, but stick with me. These poems are fun for all ages.

I recently attended a long and tedious professional conference (nothing to do with writing) and toward the end of the session the instructor handed out the tired old templates. I groaned but played along — and it turned out this short writing session was the best part of the day. 

So, yes, give it a try.  

 

Here's the template. Fill in the blanks: 

 

I am from _________________________
(specific ordinary item)

From _____________________________
(product name) 

and ______________________________ 
(product name)

I am from the _____________________
(home description)

I am from _________________________ 
(plant, flower, natural item)

I'm from __________________________
(family tradition) 

and ______________________________  
(family trait)

From _____________________________
(name of family member) 

and _______________________________ 
(another family name)

I'm from the ________________________ 
(description of family tendency)

and ________________________________ 
 (another one)

From _______________________________ 
(something you were told as a child)

and ________________________  (another)

I'm from _____________________________ 
(place of birth and family ancestry)

____________________________________ 
(a food item that represents your family)

____________________________________ 
(another one)

 

Feel free to condense, expand and rearrange your responses. Let this be the door that opens you to a poem. And then, let it take you even further. 

Poetry lore says this form was created in the 1990s by George Ella Lyon, Kentucky Poet Laureate 2015-2016.

"The process was too rich and too much fun to give up after only one poem," she explains on her website. "I decided to try it as an exercise with other writers, and it immediately took off. The list form is simple and familiar, and the question of where you are from reaches deep."

She offers this stellar advice:

"While you can revise (edit, extend, rearrange) your Where I'm From list into a poem, you can also see it as a corridor of doors opening onto further knowledge and other kinds of writing. The key is to let yourself explore these rooms. Don't rush to decide what kind of writing you're going to do or to revise or finish a piece. Let your goal be the writing itself. Learn to let it lead you."

 

Now, let's share. Here's my poem: 

 

Something will come

 

I'm from Capn’ Crunch and Brady Bunch

from Love Boat and Little House

from Sun-In summers and waffle-stomp winters.

 

I’m from peace signs and dusty ferns

from cigarettes and scotch, apples and wheat

from sickness and grit

 

I’m from apartments rattled by railroad noise

from long walks to school and swimming

at the neighborhood pool.

 

I’m from big eaters and hard workers

from Bart and Lucy, Margaret and Andre

and Cindra, best sister and friend.

 

From Oregon, Washington, California, Colorado,

from inner-west, left coast, city, suburb, and farm

from quiet talkers and white-knuckled independence

 

from something will come

and more is not always better.

 

- Drew Myron

 

 

Your turn. Where are you from? Please share your poem in the comments section. 

 

Tuesday
May092017

In Unexpected Places



 
I'm finding inspiration in unexpected places.

Starting with the headline above. I read it as: May is Wildflower Awareness Month. 

Well, yes, of course. After a wet winter, it's been a season of lupine, foxglove, and sweetpea, and with each spotting my heart lifts. But no . . it's wildfires, not widlflowers, that need our attention.

Is this metaphor? These days it seem we're racing to put out fire after fire (immigration, health care, walls, and wars). There's so much to resist my naps have grown in duration, so exhausted from the worry and weight of thinking.  

And so I unexpectedly found solace — and mirth — in the sports pages. No, really.

Do you read Jason Gay? I don't even like sports (at all, none of them) but I eagerly read Jason Gay's column in the Wall Street Journal.*  He's chatty and smart with loads of pop culture references. For example, in This Sports Column is Too Long, he writes:

Let’s be honest: You’re never going to make it to the end of this stupid column. You’re too rushed, too busy, too compressed for time. You have a million things to do, and a million more things competing for your attention. Who has time to read 800 or so words in a newspaper? Or eight words, for that matter? I’ve lost you already. I’m certain of it. At least my mom is still reading. Thanks, Mom!


Just when I think I can't get further afield, I stumble upon car reviews. Yes, you read that right. I couldn't care less about cars. When I drive, I have only three questions: Does it start? Does it run? Do I have to pump my own gas?  But when I read Dan Neil, who writes about cars with such a sharp fun tongue, I can't wait to turn the ignition. For example:

I worried that calling the Toyota Land Cruiser a “behemoth” might sound catty, so I looked it up. The word comes to us from the Hebrew for “hippopotamus,” and—in the actual presence of Toyota’s cultic, revered luxury SUV—I have to say, that’s pretty spot on. Both appear equally aerodynamic, for example. The proportions are similar, too, with massive bodies poised over itty-bitty feet. If anything, it’s the hippos that should take umbrage.

 

You may be asking, what do Jason, Dan and wildfires have to do with writing?

Everything!

To be a writer you must first read. Far and wide. You must stretch yourself beyond the injustice of sports glory, beyond the dullness of automotive details. You must wander into fields unknown. And on your sidetrip, if you're lucky, you may find the real prize: wildflowers.

 

* Yes, I read The Wall Street Journal and The Guardian and The Washington Post and Reuters (though the website is akin to a utilitarian version of Google: all data, no decor). Because I'm a skimmer and frequently forget details, this much reading doesn't make me smart, just tired. 

 

 

 

Thursday
May042017

Thankful Thursday: Whisper & Swell

 


How the world opens its arms  
 

The day rests with a swell of lilac.

And the blue, see how it swoons

across the wide open sky, and how

now the day has made room for

beauty, waiting just long enough

to hear us whisper amen


— Drew Myron

 

 

Because attention attracts gratitude and gratitude expands joy, 

 I make room for Thankful Thursday.
 

What are you thankful for today? 



Sunday
Apr302017

Keep on Poeming!

Last week I asked:
What poem is in your hand, in your head, in your heart? 

The response was vibrant, and I'm heartened to know that poetry thrums and thrives in our lives. As we wrap up National Poetry Month, I'm sharing some of the poems I've enjoyed — thanks to you, dear readers, writers & poetry appreciators. 

 * * * 

"This poem is knocking my socks off," writes Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer, Colorado's Western Slope Poet Laureate:


Life While-You-Wait

Life While-You-Wait.

Performance without rehearsal.

Body without alterations.

Head without premeditation.

I know nothing of the role I play.

I only know it’s mine. I can’t exchange it.

I have to guess on the spot

just what this play’s all about.

Ill-prepared for the privilege of living,

I can barely keep up with the pace that the action demands.

I improvise, although I loathe improvisation.

I trip at every step over my own ignorance.

I can’t conceal my hayseed manners.

My instincts are for happy histrionics.

Stage fright makes excuses for me, which humiliate me more.

Extenuating circumstances strike me as cruel.

Words and impulses you can’t take back,

stars you’ll never get counted,

your character like a raincoat you button on the run —

the pitiful results of all this unexpectedness.

If only I could just rehearse one Wednesday in advance,

or repeat a single Thursday that has passed!

But here comes Friday with a script I haven’t seen.

Is it fair, I ask

(my voice a little hoarse,

since I couldn’t even clear my throat offstage).

You’d be wrong to think that it’s just a slapdash quiz

taken in makeshift accommodations. Oh no.

I’m standing on the set and I see how strong it is.

The props are surprisingly precise.

The machine rotating the stage has been around even longer.

The farthest galaxies have been turned on.

Oh no, there’s no question, this must be the premiere.

And whatever I do

will become forever what I’ve done.

 

— Wislawa Szymborska

 

* * * 


Jeanie Senior, a journalist and poetry appreciator, recalls one of her favorite poems:


Dover Beach


The sea is calm to-night. 

The tide is full, the moon lies fair 

Upon the straits; - on the French coast the light 

Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand, 

Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay. 

Come to the window, sweet is the night-air! 

Only, from the long line of spray 

Where the sea meets the moon-blanch'd land, 

Listen! you hear the grating roar 

Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling, 

At their return, up the high strand, 

Begin, and cease, and then again begin, 

With tremulous cadence slow, and bring 

The eternal note of sadness in. 

 

Sophocles long ago 

Heard it on the Aegean, and it brought 

Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow 

Of human misery; we 

Find also in the sound a thought, 

Hearing it by this distant northern sea. 

 

The Sea of Faith 

Was once, too, at the full, and round earth's shore 

Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furl'd. 

But now I only hear 

Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar, 

Retreating, to the breath 

Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear 

And naked shingles of the world. 

 

Ah, love, let us be true 

To one another! for the world, which seems 

To lie before us like a land of dreams, 

So various, so beautiful, so new, 

Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light, 

Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain; 

And we are here as on a darkling plain 

Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight, 

Where ignorant armies clash by night.

 

— Matthew Arnold

 

 * * * 

 

Shirley McPhillips, author of Acrylic Angel of Fate, shared her own poem:


Shaking Off the Village

  — after Wanderlust


Today, I walk--cloud-gaze, woolgather,

meander--because it is slow.

 

I take leave of my senses, do nothing

in particular, with nobody, all alone.

 

Today, I do not make a sacred pilgrimage

or walk for justice or freedom

or any global good.

 

I walk to shake off the village

where a false urgency of devices

moves faster than the speed of thought,

 

or thoughtfulness. I saunter--my feet

equally at home in every place--taste

the essential wildness of presence.

 

Steps add up like taps on a drum

to the rhythm of breathing

and the beating of the heart.

 
— Shirley McPhillips

 

 * * * 

 

Woesha Hampson shares a poem she wrote:


Painting in the Yard


Mother Nature paints, our yard her canvas. 

Watching needles falling, I find solace. 

A dog drops a rag doll. A girl appears. 

She spots the doll, smiles, wipes away her tears. 

Squirrels bury walnuts, hide them in pots, 

large and small. They are brazen as a fox. 

 

A young deer passing by, sees me. He walks 

through the rain. Circling above are two hawks. 

A flicker bathes briefly in the bird bath. 

Through bushes, the dog returns on the path. 

Evergreen and fruit trees, flowers, and plants 

are caddywampus after a rain’s dance. 

 

 — Woesha Hampson

 

 

As the hoopla of Poetry Month subsides, we know poetry lives in the everyday, in what we do and what we say. Keep on poeming!