Sunday
Jul172016

Baffled, Flustered, Intrigued

So much of life is slots. This fits there. This doesn't. 

The mind likes to sort and file. And so, when we bump into a person, or a poem, that doesn't fit neatly into our definition, we are baffled, flustered, and then, ideally, intrigued.  

That's how I found Sarah Sloat, in the pages of her unusually titled book of poems: Excuse Me While I Wring This Long Swim Out of My Hair. 

Are these poems experimental? ironic? confessional? post-modern something or other? I don't know. I just know her lines lured me in, and I paddled about with, yes, an initial fluster, that expanded into a lovely backfloat of appreciation.

And so, I invited Sarah to take part in 3 Good Books. There, she offers her favorite books that defy category. 

I think you'll like the book suggestions, and Sarah too.   

 

Wednesday
Jul132016

What I Carry

A friend shares a prayer. A son holds a photo. A mother reaches for a batter-spattered recipe. I carry words.

Last night, saying goodbye to a friend, these words rise in my mind: "You never know what may cause tears. . . "  

You never know what may cause tears. The sight of the Atlantic Ocean can do it, or a piece of music, or a face you've never seen before. A pair of somebody's old shoes can do it. Almost any movie made before the great sadness that came over the world after the Second World War, a horse cantering across a meadow, the high-school basketball team running out onto the gym floor at the start of a game. You can never be sure. But of this you can be sure. Whenever you find tears in your eyes, especially unexpected tears, it is well to pay the closest attention.

They are not only telling you something about the secret of who you are, but more often than not God is speaking to you through them of the mystery of where you have come from and is summoning you to where, if your soul is to be saved, you should go to next.

— Frederick Buechner
 Whistling in the Dark: A Doubter's Dictionary 


I first read this passage 20 years ago, on a roadtrip through the New Mexico desert, looking for my life. Years often pass in which I don't recall the words, don't think about tears or what pulls me. But the sentiment surfaces, without will, and I listen. 

What do you carry? What rises to comfort when you need it most? 

 

Thursday
Jul072016

Thankful Thursday: People Tell Me

 

Thank you for spending Thankful Thursday with me, for keeping me accountable, appreciative, and grateful for things big and small. Attention attracts gratitude, and gratitude expands joy, and my gratitude grows when shared with you.

Some days are more difficult than others, to find the good, to comb through the junk. Here's what I've found to appreciate this week:

1. 
Two Kids Reading
I'm not a fan of the Fourth of July. All the "rockets red glare, bombs bursting in air" leaves me jangled. But I did attend a parade, and I clapped and cheered and demonstrated a festive spirit.

After the parade, amid the clamor of brass bands, hot dogs, and a mass of people wandering about, I spotted the best thing I'd seen all weekend: two kids sitting on the curb of a parking lot, reading.

Amid all the chaos, they were absorbed in their books. The young boy, at one point, stretched out on the asphalt to get more comfy. The girl was so focused not even adorable dogs and ice cream could pry her from the pages. This made my heart sing. I couldn't stop smiling, and days later, I'm still recalling the scene. 

2.
Having It Worse
Dorothy had a stroke, leaving her face immobile. But, she tells me, she's grateful. Her neighbor had a stroke, and is now unable to talk. "Can you imagine not being able to talk to anyone, to tell someone to pass the ketchup, to turn the channel?" she says. "Sometimes when I get down, I just remember that some people have it much worse."   

3. 
Sweetpeas
Thriving along fences, roadways and vacant lots. Wild, rambling, pink. The beauty of the unplanned, a quiet joy. 

4. 
My Sister, Laughing
"We try to laugh, but there's not a lot to be happy about right now," my sister tells me. I listen, nod, agree. A bit later we share a giggle about nothing at all, and a relief washes us. 

People tell me to pray for a miracle, but what if laughter is the miracle?  

 

Please join me in Thankful Thursday, a weekly pause to express appreciation for people, places, things. Big or small, (sweet)pea-sized or profound. What are you thankful for today?

 

Tuesday
Jun282016

Fast Five with Shaindel Beers

     I’ve gone to college; I have two graduate degrees,

but I’m from a farming and factory town with one

traffic light where people know that you wave

hello at someone driving a tractor. That’s just 

 good manners.


Because a few questions can lead to great insight, I'm happy to present Fast Five — interviews with my favorite writers, and chances to win great books. (To enter the drawing, simply post your name and contact info in the comments section below).

Raised in a small town in Indiana, poet Shaindel Beers has lived in remote regions and major cities and has found home in the high desert, eastern Oregon town of Pendleton. She is the author of two poetry collections, the poetry editor for Contrary magazine, and an instructor of English at Blue Mountain Community College. 

How did you come to poetry?

I wrote my first poem, unprompted, as a natural reaction to something when I was ten. I learned that my cousin had shot my dog. I remember I cried so much, and then I found a notebook. Poetry has been how I emotionally process ever since.

Your first poetry book, “A Brief History of Time,” offers a direct and down-to-earth voice that we don’t often see in poetry. Is this a conscious choice, a reflection of your personality, or something else?

When I was a younger writer, I was always drawn to blue collar poets because they felt familiar; they made me feel like I, too, could be a writer. This wasn’t anything I tried to do; it’s more a part of who I am. I’ve gone to college; I have two graduate degrees, but I’m from a farming and factory town with one traffic light where people know that you wave hello at someone driving a tractor. That’s just good manners. I’ve tried to broaden my vocabulary, but using words that don’t seem natural to me always seems like putting on a false front. I completely agree with what Stephen King says in his memoirOn Writing:

“One of the really bad things you can do to your writing is to dress up the vocabulary, looking for long words because you're maybe a little bit ashamed of your short ones. This is like dressing up a household pet in evening clothes. The pet is embarrassed and the person who committed this act of premeditated cuteness should be more embarrassed."

Your latest book, “The Children’s War” takes an unusual tack in exploring global and domestic violence. What prompted this poetry project?

I happened upon this article one day, and it was so powerful, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I started studying the artwork of child war survivors and the history of art therapy for children during wartime wherever I could find it. I ordered books online, I scoured online galleries. I wrote authors of studies. It was an obsession, one of those projects that basically writes itself.

But then midway through, I hit a wall. The big question for me was if I was supposed to write an entire book of children’s war poems or if I should include other forms of violence. On the one hand, I didn’t know if anyone could read an entire book of poetry about child war survivors. On the other hand, I didn’t want to seem selfish by including personal narratives with war narratives, but I decided to treat the collection as a study of violence in general. Violence in the home and in the community eventually becomes global violence. It is all borne of the same motivations – for one party to oppress and dominate another party.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve received?

There’s so much terrific advice out there that I’m not sure I can narrow it down, but I really believe that if you feel you’re supposed to write something that in some way is supposed to help someone, write it. Write it, and keep sending it out into the world until someone publishes it.

Life can be trying, as evidenced by your work. In the face of difficulty, what keeps you going?

Last year, I was at the Quest Writer’s Conference in Squamish, British Columbia, and a bunch of us were sitting at a table outside the dining hall soaking in the magical view of the Tantalus Range. One woman said, “You know how you become one of those older women you admire? You just keep going. You just wake up the next day, and keep doing what you’re going to do.” It was so simple, but it was an epiphany. You just wake up the next day and start over again.

Bonus Question: I’m a word collector and keep a running list of favorite words. What are your favorite words?

Most of the words I like have to do with the interesting sounds in them rather than the meanings of the words. I love the sound of the word coagulate because I love the weirdness of those vowels shifting into each other. In the language of the local Native American tribe, good morning is Tahts maywee. It sounds so cheerful. You can hear some of the language here in Roberta Conner’s TEDTalk, and it’s a great talk on the importance of indigenous languages. I also love the word chartreuse. It’s a beautiful color, too, but the sound of the word is lovely. 

 

Win this book! 

Enter a drawing to win The Children's War and Other Poems by Shaindel Beers. Simply add your name and contact info in the comments section by July 15, 2016. I'll randomly choose a name from the entries, and the winner will be contacted via email.

 

 

Wednesday
Jun222016

Thankful Thursday

Hello, it's Thankful Thursday! Please join me in a pause to express appreciation for people, places, things and more. 

What are you thankful for today?