The battle for Good and Evil along Highway 218

April 26, 2015

The sun was shining when we drove on Highway 218 to the Eastern Iowa Airport for our trip to New York City. On the way up I noticed 3 consecutive billboards along a section of highway between Washington and Iowa City. Were they telling drivers a story?

The sequence of signs seemed to indicate a battle between the forces of good and evil, and a way to deal with the conflict. It cracked me up, and I pointed them out to my son. We didn’t have time to stop and take pictures, but planned to do it on the way back.

It was raining on the return trip home, but we managed to access both sides of the highway using conveniently placed crossings. Nathanael lowered the window and captured the billboards with his iPhone.

Click on each photo to enlarge them, and then on the return arrow left of the URL to get back to this page.

On the right side of the highway, I saw a familiar sign advertising the Riverside Casino, promising more winners more often.

Riverside Casino

I looked across to the other side of the highway and there was a double sign. The bottom one spelled out, JESUS.

JESUS

Then further up on our side of the road was a sign for an Iowa Crisis Line that said, Overwhelmed? Let’s Chat.

Overwhelmed? Let's chat

Was it offering a chat line for people overwhelmed between both opposing billboards competing for our attention—the evils of gambling and salvation in Jesus? Makes you wonder if each sign was deliberately placed to counter, or take advantage of the other? I thought to myself, Only in Iowa!

See the poem and video from that trip: A NEW YORK HAIKU, and a few links about my nephew’s film, The Driftless Area, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival.

Enjoy the poetic genius and humor of Billy Collins reading his poem “January in Paris”

April 26, 2015

Enjoy the poetic genius and humor of Billy Collins reading his poem “January in Paris” on Page Meets Stage, November 12, 2005. The video was posted by Taylor Mali who shared the stage with Collins. A poet and teacher, Mali curates the Page Meets Stage series, which takes place at The DL Lounge in New York City. A version of this poem was published in “Ballistics” (Random House, 2010). I read it in my copy of Aimless Love: New and Selected Poems, pages 89–91 (Random House, 2013).

January in Paris

Poems are never completed—they are only abandoned.
— Paul Valéry

That winter I had nothing to do
but tend the kettle in my shuttered room
on the top floor of a pensione near a cemetery,

but I would sometimes descend the stairs,
unlock my bicycle, and pedal along the cold city streets
often turning from a wide boulevard
bearing the name of an obscure patriot.

I followed a few private rules,
never crossing a bridge without stopping
mid-point to lean my bike on the railing
and observe the flow of the river below
as I tried to better understand the French.

In my pale coat and my Basque cap
I pedaled past the windows of a patisserie
or sat up tall in the seat, arms folded,
and clicked downhill filling my nose with winter air.

I would see beggars and street cleaners
in their bright uniforms, and sometimes
I would see the poems of Valéry,
the ones he never finished but abandoned,
wandering the streets of the city half-clothed.

Most of them needed only a final line
or two, a little verbal flourish at the end,
but whenever I approached,
they would retreat from their ashcan fires
into the shadows—thin specters of incompletion,

forsaken for so many long decades
how could they ever trust another man with a pen?

I came across the one I wanted to tell you about
sitting with a glass of rosé at a café table—
beautiful, emaciated, unfinished,
cruelly abandoned with a flick of panache

by Monsieur Paul Valéry himself,
big fish in the school of Symbolism
and for a time, president of the Committee of Arts and Letters
of the League of Nations if you please.

Never mind how I got her out of the café,
past the concierge and up the flights of stairs—
remember that Paris is the capital of public kissing.

And never mind the holding and the pressing.
It is enough to know that I moved my pen
in such a way as to bring her to completion,

a simple final stanza, which ended,
as this poem will, with the image
of a gorgeous orphan lying on a rumpled bed,
her large eyes closed,
a painting of cows in a valley over her head,

and off to the side, me in a window seat
blowing smoke from a cigarette at dawn.

© Billy Collins

I love his clever association of completing a poem to an act of lovemaking with his pen as a sexual organ. Very funny! Reminds me of a poem I wrote about The Power of The Pen.

Enjoy other poems and videos: Billy Collins humorously disagrees with Heraclitus showing how to go into the same water twice | Billy Collins suggests more creative ways to respond to poetry than analyzing it to death | Billy Collins discusses the value of getting to the end of a poem and what can happen afterwards.

A NEW YORK HAIKU by Ken Chawkin

April 17, 2015

I’m in New York City this week with my son Nathanael, along with other extended family members, to see the premier of my nephew Zachary Sluser’s film, The Driftless Area, at the Tribeca Film Festival. We’ve been doing a lot of walking lately and I gotta tell ya, New York is a noisy city. Cars honk their horns at all hours of the day and night, ambulances blare and police cars wail their sirens. Construction is going on somewhere. People are everywhere. I had to write this New York Haiku in a New York Minute.

A NEW YORK HAIKU

WALKING ON THE STREETS
NEW YORK’S A NOISY CITY
CONSTANT CONSTRUCTION

© Ken Chawkin
April 16, 2015
New York, NY

Here’s a video Nathanael took of me as I was rewriting this haiku. Note how he titled the description as a haiku.

Haiku composing / captured in motion real-time / gotta love my dad

A video posted by Nathanael Chawkin (@nchawkin) on

Driving to the airport for our trip to New York City I noticed a series of billboards that seemed to tell a story. It cracked me up. We took pictures on the drive home, and I included them in this new blog post: The battle for Good and Evil along Highway 218.

Some News Coverage on The Driftless Area

Watch The Daily Quirk Blog VIDEO: An Inside Look at the Tribeca Film Festival Red Carpet for ‘The Driftless Area’ and a Red Carpet group photo. Scene Creek: 5 Questions with Zachary Sluser of The Driftless Area.

Billy Collins humorously disagrees with Heraclitus showing how to go into the same water twice

April 11, 2015

Heraclitus (535–476 BC) was a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher best known for saying, No man ever steps in the same river twice. In addition to the idea that all things are constantly changing, he also believed in the unity of opposites, and an underlying non-changing principle, or law, called Logos. Read more at Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, and see some of his famous sayings.

Billy Collins, in his New York Times Bestseller, Aimless Love: New and Selected Poems, humorously disagrees with Heraclitus. It’s on page 222, and never fails to crack me up!

Heraclitus on Vacation

It is possible to stick your foot
into the same swimming pool twice,

dive, or even cannonball
into the deep or shallow end

as many times as you like
depending on how much you had to drink.

© by Billy Collins, 2013, Random House

For more about Billy Collins on this blog, see this two-part post: Billy Collins suggests more creative ways to respond to poetry than analyzing it to death, followed by: Billy Collins discusses the value of getting to the end of a poem and what can happen afterwards. Enjoy the poetic genius and humor of Billy Collins reading his poem “January in Paris”.

Tanka For Sali Upholding Her Wonderful Nature

April 5, 2015

Tanka For Sali Upholding Her Wonderful Nature
Her essence shines through the Dementia!

Through all the Changes
Your Nature Remains the Same
Sweet, Joyful, Loving

Radiating Sallyness
Constant as the Northern Star

© Ken Chawkin
Parkview Care Center
April 4, 2015, 5:40pm
Fairfield, Iowa, USA

See Sally’s Smile (Haiku for Nurse Dan)

Billy Collins discusses the value of getting to the end of a poem and what can happen afterwards

April 2, 2015

As we’ve seen in an recent post about the writing and teaching of poetry, Billy Collins wants the poem he’s writing to complete itself, to come to an end. When he writes a poem, he says meaning is the furthest thing on his mind. He’s just trying to get to the next line, to arrive at the ending. “It’s not a search for insight, particularly. It’s a search to be over with.”

In this interview with Ginger Murchison at the 9th Annual Palm Beach Poetry Festival, Billy Collins reveals more about the ending of a poem, how what happens is even more important than the last line of the poem.

During the interview, Ginger Murchison mentions something Billy Collins had alluded to about the end of a poem, and asks him:

What happens at the end of the poem? I want to know about that white space after the last period, for the poet and the reader. You said your poem goes towards somewhere. How do you see that as being more important than even the last line of the poem, that space at the end?

He answers her by describing the significance of the white space:

Well, the white space at the end is just like the white space around the rest of the poem. It stands for silence. And maybe the white space after the end of the poem is a little more silent than the other silences. I think of a poem as an interruption of silence.

He also talks about how satisfying it can be to find the ending to a poem. The implication being, the silence that follows the ending as something new that is created within the writer and the reader.

Once you find it, it’s incredibly satisfying. You found something that didn’t exist before. That the poem brings, calls into existence, through a series of steps, it gains some kind of ground, and out of that ground, there occurs something that had never existed before. It comes as a sort of gain, surprise.

I certainly can relate to that, and described in the previous post how certain poems completed themselves in ways I hadn’t imagined. When that happens, and when a poem enlivens a silence, within and between both the poet and the reader, or listener, it creates a deep feeling of fulfillment.

After hearing a discussion with Bill Moyers and 3 well-known poets on the Diane Rhem show discussing the creation of a poem and the effect it had on an audience when recited, I was inspired to write a poem about this mysterious creative process as something elemental, transcendental.

Poetry—The Art of The Voice, describes the source, course, and goal of poetry springing from and returning to silence, through a poet’s inner voice or consciousness, to a listener’s heart and mind. It also relates to the notion of a writer finding and expressing his or her own voice as a poet.

Another poem I wrote shows how Silence ultimately speaks for itself. See Telling the Story of Silence by Ken Chawkin.

Creation comes about through sounds and silences, expressions and gaps, within which the dynamics of transformation occur. See Coalescing Poetry: Creating a Uni-verse.

For a more detailed explanation of these dynamics in language and creation, see Singing Image of Fire, a poem by Kukai, with thoughts on language, translation, and creation, and Yunus Emre says Wisdom comes from Knowing Oneself — a Singularity that contains the Whole.

George Plimpton interviewed Billy Collins for Paris Review

As referenced by Ginger Murchison, George Plimpton had interviewed Billy Collins for The Paris Review in 2001 after news of his appointment as the new poet laureate by the Library of Congress. He would go on to serve two terms, 2001-2003. Although published 14 years ago, this interview is definitely worth reading:  Billy Collins, The Art of Poetry No. 83.

The interview opens with Plimpton asking Collins how he starts to write a poem. He says he doesn’t write that regularly, much of his time is waiting and watching; he’s vigilant. But when he’s engaged he usually writes a poem quickly, in one sitting.

I think what gets a poem going is an initiating line. Sometimes a first line will occur, and it goes nowhere; but other times—and this, I think, is a sense you develop—I can tell that the line wants to continue. If it does, I can feel a sense of momentum—the poem finds a reason for continuing. The first line is the DNA of the poem; the rest of the poem is constructed out of that first line. The first few lines keep giving birth to more and more lines.

That makes perfect sense. He doesn’t know where he’s going and hopes the poem is one step ahead of him, holding his interest, leading him down the trail to that elusive mysterious ending. I love the different metaphors he uses to describe the pen as a tool to help him discover that something he’s not yet aware of.

Like most poets, I don’t know where I’m going. The pen is an instrument of discovery rather than just a recording implement. If you write a letter of resignation or something with an agenda, you’re simply using a pen to record what you have thought out. In a poem, the pen is more like a flashlight, a Geiger counter, or one of those metal detectors that people walk around beaches with. You’re trying to discover something that you don’t know exists, maybe something of value.

He explains how he likes to invite the reader into a poem with something ordinary, then take him or her, and himself to a place he hasn’t been to yet.

I want to start in a very familiar place and end up in a strange place. The familiar place is often a comic place, and the strange place is indescribable except by reading the poem again.

There’s a lot more to the interview, but he concludes humbly by saying that he’s just trying to be a good writer.

No matter what I’m thinking about when I’m writing a poem, no matter what is captivating my attention, all I’m really trying to do is write good lines and good stanzas.

There’s a reason he’s called America’s most popular poet. He has made poetry accessible to millions of Americans. He continues to write, publish, sell books, teach, and is in constant demand to give poetry readings.

It is a delight to read his poetry. His subtle sense of humor puts a smile on my face. It’s also enjoyable to hear him recite his poems. Seemingly ordinary, they give you a unique perspective on things that were previously unimaginable, and that’s refreshing!

See the previous post: Billy Collins suggests more creative ways to respond to poetry than analyzing it to death. Enjoy the poetic genius and humor of Billy Collins reading his poem “January in Paris” and Billy Collins humorously disagrees with Heraclitus showing how to go into the same water twice.

Cynthia Lennon, dead at 75 (1939-2015) R.I.P.

April 1, 2015

Cynthia Lennon, dead at 75 of Cancer
Julian Lennon’s Beautiful Memorial Tribute
http://www.cynthialennon.memorial

22nd Annual Massachusetts Multicultural Film Festival ‏@UMassFilm Spotlight Amherst Alum @GREGREITMAN’s @ROOTEDinPEACE

March 24, 2015

mmff-201522nd Annual Massachusetts Multicultural Film Festival
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: ROOTED IN PEACE
A Greg Reitman Film

rooted-peace

UMass Amherst alum Greg Reitman (’93) presents a personal journey of discovery, seeking answers to humanity’s self-destructive cycles of waste, war, and violence in this fascinating documentary. Seeking counsel from famous luminaries and activists, the film asks us how we want to live on this planet and challenges us to examine our own values.

Reitman interviews physician and author Deepak Chopra, music legends Donovan, Mike Love, and Pete Seeger, film director David Lynch, Noble Peace Laureate Mairead Maguire, media mogul Ted Turner, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, green architect William McDonough, neuroscientists Dan Siegel, Fred Travis, and many others. Greg also returned to his alma mater to show where he first came up with the idea of planting trees for peace. [official site | event poster | MMFF site | Rooted in Peace showing]

This 2015 documentary film premiered at the 21st Annual Sedona International Film Festival, February 21–March 1, 2015. See previous blog post on this Sundance Alum: Greg Reitman’s film, ROOTED in PEACE, inspires us to change from within to transform the world. See the trailer.

The Amherst-Maharishi-TM-Connection

Amherst is home to the Transcendentalists, Emerson and Thoreau, and Emily Dickinson. So it seemed fitting for the UMass Amherst campus to be selected as the site for a meditation course and symposium in the summer of 1971.

I was one of hundreds who had attended that one-month Transcendental Meditation Teacher Training Course taught by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Another course followed on the West Coast at Humboldt State College, now University, in Arcata, California. Over two thousand of us would continue with the next step in our Teacher Training Course with Maharishi the following year in Mallorca, Spain and Fuiggi Fonte, Italy for six months, from January to June, 1972.

One of the Amherst course participants was Beach Boy Mike Love. I was introduced to him by Charles Lloyd, a jazz musician on the course who became a friend. I used to give them lifts to and from the dining hall. I would meet Donovan years later, and David Lynch, decades later. You can imagine my surprise when Greg told me he had graduated from UMass Amherst! It was great to arrange for Greg to interview Donovan and Mike Love on how they met Maharishi and learned TM, and David Lynch and Bob Roth, director of the David Lynch Foundation, about the transformational value of TM in schools and for at-risk populations. Small world! Full circle!

Wednesday, March 25th, tomorrow night’s showing of ROOTED IN PEACE, should be fulfilling for Greg, as he brings it all back home. He’s worked hard on this film and deserves all the kudos for manifesting this vision of personal and global transformation.

Following the course was the First International Symposium on the Science of Creative Intelligence. Maharishi interacted with many leading scientists and thinkers in all areas of life, including Buckminster Fuller. His presentations were so impressive that Maharishi kept interjecting his Vedic perspective in agreement. At a certain point, Fuller turned towards Maharishi and spoke only to him since he felt he was the only one who truly understood what he was saying. At the end he went over to Maharishi who had stood up to greet him and they held hands together. Everyone rose on their feet and applauded for a good ten to fifteen minutes. Those were very heady days! There also was a special press conference with both Fuller and Maharishi following his talk. It’s posted on the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi Channel in 3 parts. I’ll post links here. Very much worth watching!

1/3. Buckminster Fuller and Maharishi Mahesh Yogi Part One of Press
2/3. Buckminster Fuller and Maharishi Mahesh Yogi Part Two of Press
3/3. Buckminster Fuller and Maharishi Mahesh Yogi Part Three of Press

Watch a CBC film of Maharishi at Lake Louise, and a later A&E biography.

I enjoyed reading a fictional story about a young couple who meet at UMass Amherst, learn to meditate and later attend Maharishi’s Transcendental Meditation Teacher Training Course at his Swiss headquarters. Given a mission, they return to live and work in Amherst where a dramatic and inspiring story unfolds. Read more and listen to author B. Steven Verney on Writers’ Voices talk about his enlightening novel, “The Best of All Possible Worlds.”

UPDATE

I tweeted Greg Reitman today about last night’s showing of ROOTED in PEACE and he replied: Full house, engaged audience, lots of questions afterwards … Yes lots of people wanted to buy the DVD which will be available in the fall … That would be the plan and will have 20 minutes of extra scenes on the DVD. … Replying to a tweet I sent out a few days later about the film, Greg replied: It was a real homecoming I was truly surprised how the students responded and for some there were tears.

Billy Collins suggests more creative ways to respond to poetry than analyzing it to death

March 18, 2015

The New York Times calls Billy Collins “the most popular poet in America.” In his poem, Introduction to Poetry, the former two-term U.S. Poet Laureate (2001-2003) suggests more creative ways to respond to poetry than analyzing it to death. This blog post also reveals how Collins writes and teaches poetry. It may surprise you.

Introduction to Poetry

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem’s room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author’s name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.

The Apple that Astonished Paris © 1988, 1996

Listen to Billy Collins read his poem, Introduction to Poetry.

Billy Collins speaks to English teachers in this poem who look at poetry as something to be analyzed and dissected. They teach their students to try to find out what a poem means instead of emotionally responding to it. To make his point, Collins amusingly suggests ways students might approach and experience a poem, instead of “beating it with a hose to find out what it really means.”

Writing and Teaching Poetry

Collins reveals more about his writing process and how he teaches poetry when answering a question from a middle school English teacher. He acknowledges the search for meaning in a poem, but when he writes a poem, meaning is the furthest thing on his mind. He’s just trying to get to the next line, and the next, to finally arrive at the ending.

Basically when you’re teaching poetry, despite that poem (Introduction to Poetry), you’re talking about meaning. We’re basically extracting meaning from the poem. And I realized at some point, that when I wrote a poem, meaning was the last thing on my mind. I never gave it a thought.

Basically, in a poem, I’m just trying to find the next line. I’m trying to find a way for the poem to go. And I’m trying to get to some destination. I’m not thinking about, ‘What’s the poem about, or meaning?’ Or, I’m not thinking of, ‘How will people write study questions about this poem and make any sense out of it?’

So I try to bring some of that into my teaching. I try to substitute for the question, ‘What does a poem mean?’ the question, ‘How does a poem go?’ ‘How does a poem get where its going?’ (It goes from the beginning to the end, maneuvering through shift points along the way, in search of a destination.) A poem is always searching for its own ending. And that’s what poets are thinking about. It’s not a search for insight, particularly. It’s a search to be over with.

PBS NewsHour’s Jeffrey Brown interviewed Billy Collins on their Poetry Series about his new collection, Aimless Love: New and Selected Poems. “I knew that poets seemed to be miserable,” said Collins about his younger self, yearning to fit in. While he admits he “faked a miserable character” at the start of his career, he’s since embraced his sense of humor. Poet Billy Collins on humor, authenticity and ‘Aimless Love’

William Stafford on Writing Poetry

William Stafford was Poetry consultant for the Library of Congress in 1970, what a Poet Laureate was called before they created the office. He was named Poet Laureate of Oregon from 1975-93. Stafford’s style of writing and teaching was process-oriented. He gave no praise or blame to his students’ writing. He encouraged English teachers and writing students to be innocent when writing poetry, without any preconceived notions of how it should go, and to be open to discovering the unexpected turns a poem could take on the way to its own completion.

Stafford was very open to spontaneity and receptivity when writing poetry. He said most teachers would spell out what a piece of writing should look like, and expected their students to reproduce the same. This product-oriented approach left no room for the imagination. “They want a wilderness with a map.” But, he asks, “how about errors that give a new start?” Errors, he said, “make a music that nobody hears. Your straying feet find the great dance,” and “stumbling always leads home.” That’s how he wrote poems, early every morning. Enjoy reading these William Stafford poems, A Course in Creative Writing, and You and Art.

My Own Experience as a Writer

I agree with Collins and Stafford that the creative process is a mystery, and coming to the end of a poem is a wonderful relief, especially when I see it finishing itself. It also surprises me with what it’s about, sometimes revealing a deeper meaning at the end than imagined. This meaningful sense of completion is why writing poetry can be so fulfilling.

Two early meta-poems describe this process: Writing—a poem on the writing process, and Sometimes Poetry Happens: a poem about the mystery of creativity. Two early poems I’d written that surprised me with their endings are, As Above So Below, and later, Pine Cone Trees.

My son Nathanael Chawkin wrote a poem called INSPIRATION, an outcome from the first homework assignment in his Grade Six Literature class. He felt strongly that you couldn’t force a student to write a poem; it had to come on its own accord. The poem innocently and profoundly expresses the spontaneity of the poetic process. I also added information with links after his poem about the writing process you may find interesting.

Update

Just added a part two: Billy Collins discusses the value of getting to the end of a poem and what can happen afterwards. Enjoy the poetic genius and humor of Billy Collins reading his poem “January in Paris” and Billy Collins humorously disagrees with Heraclitus showing how to go into the same water twice.

Hafiz’s poem, God Pours Light, awakens the soul and frees the mind from debating words about it

March 11, 2015

GOD POURS LIGHT

God
pours light
into every cup,
quenching darkness.

The proudly pious
stuff their cups with parchment
and critique the taste of ink

while God pours light

and the trees lift their limbs
without worry of redemption,
every blossom a chalice.

Hafiz, seduce those withered souls
with words that wet their parched lips

as light
pours like rain
into every empty cup
set adrift on the Infinite Ocean.

~ Hafiz ~

(Interpretive version of Ghazal 11 by Jose Orez)

See more profound poems by Hafiz posted on this blog.


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