Archive for the ‘Literature’ Category

Alan J. Steinberg’s debut novel reminds me of the age-old quest ‘To Be Enlightened’ I first read about in Somerset Maugham’s ‘The Razor’s Edge’

July 30, 2021

“The sharp edge of a razor is difficult to pass over; thus the wise say the path to Salvation is hard.” — Katha-Upanishad.

If you are a seeker, To Be Enlightened by Alan J. Steinberg, MD may inform and inspire you. The theme is reminiscent of Somerset Maugham’s novel, The Razor’s Edge*, which was made into a movie, twice.

In that story, Larry Darrel, traumatized from the war, postpones his marriage to travel, study, and find himself. He goes to Europe, and eventually India, where he meets a guru who prepares him for a profound experience of transcendence. Transformed, he returns to the world he left behind. The post-war economic recession had impacted his friend who is psychologically distraught. His former fiancee is now married to him. Larry later gets involved with an old friend who has suffered much and tries to save her. His ex is not content to have let him go and stirs up trouble. Complications lead to tragedy. In the end, Larry is free to live his life on his own terms; in the world, but not of it.

In this story, the main character, Abe Levy, a philosophy professor, already meditates. Unlike a greater part of the previous century, meditation and yoga have become ubiquitous in the west. But Professor Levy is not content with his twice-daily meditations. He is in a rush ‘To Be Enlightened’ and may risk his marriage and job to try and achieve it. The story has some surprising twists and turns along the way, enough to have kept this reader turning pages.

From the book description:

To Be Enlightened is a cosmic love story that follows Professor of Philosophy Abe Levy as he grapples with what it means to love both his wife, Sarah, and the ocean of silence within. It is also an intellectual exploration of the most intimate of subjects: our consciousness.

Abe Levy’s long tenure as a philosophy professor has motivated thousands of students to ponder age-old questions in light of New Age ideas. Though Abe is passionate about his teaching, he is obsessed with a powerful childhood dream of heaven. To return to that heaven, he must reach enlightenment in his lifetime. Day after day, Abe settles into deep meditation, reaching the very cusp of his goal but unable to cross the threshold. Desperately, he commits to doing whatever it takes, even if it means abandoning his wife for a more ascetic life—a decision that sets off a cascade of consequences for Abe, Sarah, and those he loves the most.

I found it interesting that the theme of each chapter was prefaced with a relevant profound quote from the ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu, reputed author of the Tao Te Ching and founder of Taoism.

This is Dr. Alan Steinberg’s debut novel, and it is a worthy one. I recommend it for anyone who doesn’t know much about meditation, as well as those with a meditative practice.

The classroom discussions reveal interesting perspectives between western philosophy and the Vedic knowledge brought out by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, founder of the Transcendental Meditation (TM) technique. And Abe’s and his wife Sarah’s experiences in and out of their TM practice are very relevant to the story’s unfolding.

The book is an enlightening read. I enjoyed how other readers responded to it and appreciated Susan Miller‘s insights in her San Francisco Book Review. Here is a link to an excellent interview with the author.

You can download the first chapter at his website Alan J. Steinberg, and follow him on Twitter and Instagram. Dr. Steinberg publishes articles on meditation in Psychology Today. Visit his linktr.ee for links to articles, book reviews, and more.

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*Scroll down in this blog post about my favorite romantic movies to the subheading LEAVING ROMANCE BEHIND TO FIND ONESELF to read more about Maugham’s novel and the two films based upon it.

Another novel about a meditating philosophy professor worth reading is, “The Best Of All Possible Worlds” by B. Steven Verney.

#PoetryRx virtual book signing @DoctorNorman Rosenthal @Prairie_Lights, Iowa City Bookstore

May 13, 2021

Best-selling author, world-renowned researcher, psychiatrist Norman E. Rosenthal, MD prescribes poems to his patients, publishes Poetry Rx, donates book sale proceeds to benefit veterans. Virtual book-signing at Prairie Lights in Iowa City, Iowa, a UNESCO-designated City of Literature. Read the book description and connect to this upcoming event

Poems, I now realize, thanks to Dr. Rosenthal, can be a literary panacea for the pandemic.
Jane Brody, Personal Health Columnist, New York Times

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VIRTUAL BOOK SIGNING: The David Lynch Foundation and Prairie Lights Bookstore cordially invite you to “POETRY RX: How Poetry Can Heal and Bring Joy to Your Life” featuring world-renowned psychiatrist, Norman E. Rosenthal, M.D., Prairie Lights Bookstore owner and published poet Jan Weissmiller, along with moderator Bob Roth, CEO of the David Lynch Foundation.

WHEN: Tuesday, May 25 • 7-8 pm (CENTRAL)

ZOOM REGISTRATION: Register in advance for this webinar. After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information how to join the event. Click this link to register: https://davidlynchfoundation.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_gxa6il2ITH-wl1pcFjnZfA.

SPECIAL OFFER: 100% of the author’s book sale proceeds will go to the David Lynch Foundation’s Resilient Warrior Program to help reduce the epidemic of suicides among U.S. military veterans.

OVERVIEW: Imagine your therapist writing a prescription for “Hope is the thing with feathers” by Emily Dickinson or a Shakespeare sonnet or “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night” by Dylan Thomas—before prescribing an anxiety medication…

Dr. Norman Rosenthal is that therapist! World-renowned for his pioneering NIH research on seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and for developing the light therapy intervention to treat it, Dr. Rosenthal’s new book, Poetry Rx: How 50 Inspiring Poems Can Heal and Bring Joy to Your Life (G&D Media, May 4, 2021), delivers potent medicine—without side effects. 

“As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the world has closed down in many ways, depriving us of joy, companionship, love and adventure,” says Dr. Rosenthal. “Against this backdrop of loss and hardship, we are seeking novel remedies, and poetry is a surprisingly powerful remedy, not just for the moment but for our entire life. Poetry can serve both as a balm and a vaccine for the soul.”

Poetry Rx published on May 4 during Mental Health Awareness Month, and on the cusp of National Poetry Month, which marked its 25th annual celebration in April. 

NEWS COVERAGE: The book was recently reviewed by the NY Times, Kirkus, the Philadelphia Inquirer, Dr. Rosenthal’s OpEd (and video) ran on USA Today online, and his in-depth Q&A was featured in Medium/Authority magazine and Thrive Global. Visit Norman Rosenthal’s website for more press coverage on Poetry Rx posted there.

Newsmax: When the Doctor Prescribes Poetry. May is National Mental Health Awareness Month and a leading psychiatrist has just published a groundbreaking book filled with powerful poetic prescriptions to help strengthen mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being.

ADVANCE PRAISE
Dr. Rosenthal, a renowned psychiatric researcher and clinician, has given us a gift with Poetry Rx. He takes us on a journey through the varieties of human experience and shows us specifically how poetry has the power to help us understand ourselves and to heal. The wonderful effect of Rosenthal’s humanity and lucid analysis is to make us feel that our own experiences are universal and that we are not alone.
—Richard A. Friedman, M.D., Professor of Clinical Psychiatry, Director of Psychopharmacology Clinic, Weill Cornell Medical College

Poetry Rx is a great read, entertaining as it teaches. These are, after all, poems the doctor ordered. But what a doctor! And what poems!
—Peter Sacks, Professor of English, Harvard

Norman E. Rosenthal, M.D., is a clinical professor of psychiatry at Georgetown Medical School and was the psychiatrist who first described seasonal affective disorder and pioneered the use of light in its treatment during his 20 years at the National Institute of Mental Health. He has researched other innovative psychiatric treatments and is the author of several books including the New York Times bestseller Transcendence: Healing and Transformation through Transcendental Meditation and the national bestseller Super Mind.  He currently maintains a private clinical and coaching practice in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C. His work has earned him national and international attention in the world of psychiatry and psychology, as well as in the media.

For more background, please visit www.normanrosenthal.com.

NEWER RELATED ARTICLES AND VIDEOS

Taste For Life: Poetry as a Healing Modality. A new book explores the potential. By Lynn Tryba, Norman E. Rosenthal, M.D.

Psychiatric Times: (June 15, 2021) Poetry for PTSD and Preventing Suicide. Leah Kuntz writes: June is Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Awareness Month. One psychiatrist is dedicating a portion of the proceeds from his new book, Poetry Rx, to the David Lynch Foundation (DLF)—specifically the Resilient Warrior program—in the hopes of curbing US military veteran suicides.

iHeartRadio: Healing Quest: Dr. Norman Rosenthal New Help for Veterans with PTSD on SoundCloud for Memorial Day Weekend. Also posted is an earlier interview: Poetry RX and Psychotherapy.

NBC TODAY: (May 25, 2021) A prescription for … poetry? This doctor recommends it. Are there health benefits to reading or writing poetry? These doctors think so. This article by Brittany Loggins concludes with different examples of what poems can do for us citing some poets and their poems from Dr. Rosenthal’s book.

There is also an embedded (May 4, 2021) NBC News report of a nurse sharing a poem she wrote about caring for her patients. It is extremely moving, and powerfully highlights the theme of the article. How a Covid nurse captured her patients’ ‘love and energy’ through poetry.

Iowa City Press-Citizen: World-renowned psychiatrist shares the healing power of poetry in Prairie Lights event by Isaac Hamlet. Some of the media that posted this article are: MSN, Daily Advent’s Opera News, and South Africa’s Free-Mail.

The Iowa Source: Norm Rosenthal on Poetry: Comfort and Connection in Rhythmic Form.

UI’s Iowa Writers’ Workshop: Virtual Reading: Dr. Norman E. Rosenthal Poetry Rx: How 50 Inspiring Poems Can Heal and Bring Joy To Your Life. Also on The University of Iowa’s Events Calendar.

The Prairie Lights virtual book signing for Norman Rosenthal’s PoetryRx has now been archived. You can also see it on his YouTube channel.

CBSN New York: Some Doctors Encourage Those Suffering From Anxiety, Stress To Embrace The Power Of Poetry by Hazel Sanchez. Also on their YouTube Channel: Doctors Say Poetry Can Provide Comfort, Therapy.

AARP: How Poetry Can Heal: A distinguished doctor discusses the power of the written word.

EnjoyTMNews: Poetry Rx: Iconic Poems to Heal, Inspire, and Bring Joy. Dr. Norman Rosenthal’s new book offers medicine for the soul, by Harbour Fraser Hodder.

TMTalks: The Healing Power of Poetry. A conversation with Norman Rosenthal, M.D. (51:18).

Politics and Prose Virtual Book-Signing Event: This archived Zoomcast includes a special video that two-time Tony-award winning actress Katie Finneran made for Dr. Rosenthal, where she shares what the book meant for her, and reads two poems: One Art by Elizabeth Bishop and “Hope” is the thing with feathers by Emily Dickinson.

Choice Magazine: Britain’s leading independent magazine for women and men over 50. The October 2021 issue published an article for their print edition, filed under Health. It will probably be archived online the following month. For now, click the title, which will take you to a PDF of the article: The healing power of poetry. Can poems act as a form of medicine? David Hughes seeks the answers…

MY REVIEW OF POETRY RX

I gave the book a 5-star rating on Amazon and goodreads. In my review I share Norman’s introductory story of how he discovered the healing power of a poem (One Art by Elizabeth Bishop), how it led him to develop the practice of prescribing poems for his patients, and how he came to write this book. Here is the conclusion to my review of Poetry Rx.

Dr. Norman Rosenthal shows us how poetry can serve both as a balm and a vaccine for the soul.

Anyone can benefit from and enjoy reading this book. Dr. Rosenthal guides the reader, showing us how to get the most out of a poem. He explains each poem, points out takeaways, and gives us a backgrounder on the poem and the poet who wrote it. It’s like having a friend of the family over for dinner that shares his enthusiasm for poetry, and in the process, entertains and enlightens us. I highly recommend this book.

In that review, I also mention the poem, ‘Love After Love’ by Derek Walcott, which Rosenthal includes in his collection on page 48. He reads and comments on it in his blog. I had posted the poem around 7 years ago after a friend had sent it to me. It reminded me of an experience I had had about 20 years earlier, about getting over a breakup and reclaiming yourself. But it was more than that.

I had done some research on Derek Walcott and discovered a new documentary film about him called, ‘Poetry Is An Island’. In the trailer we hear his voice reciting that poem as he is seen walking on his property. You can view it here: Love after Love, by Derek Walcott, resonates deeply when you first acknowledge yourself.

The heart of The Red Poppy in Louise Glück’s poem speaks to us from a different perspective

March 16, 2021

Louise Glück was awarded The Nobel Prize in Literature 2020 “for her unmistakable poetic voice that with austere beauty makes individual existence universal.” She served as Chancellor for the Academy of American Poets and was the Library of Congress’s twelfth poet laureate consultant in poetry. Click on her name to read her biography filled with many publications and awards.

In The Red Poppy, Glück shows us the glory of the heart, but from a different perspective. She does not use the word, love, but the opening and closing to it is powerfully implied.

red poppy bloom in post-sunset light
The Red Poppy
Louise Glück

The great thing
is not having
a mind. Feelings:
oh, I have those; they
govern me. I have
a lord in heaven
called the sun, and open
for him, showing him
the fire of my own heart, fire
like his presence.
What could such glory be
if not a heart? Oh my brothers and sisters,
were you like me once, long ago,
before you were human? Did you
permit yourselves
to open once, who would never
open again? Because in truth
I am speaking now
the way you do. I speak
because I am shattered.

Glück’s conclusion to this beautiful poem, “I speak because I am shattered,” may be due to a deep loss of connection with the Divine, her “lord in heaven called the sun,” where she permitted herself “to open once, who would never open again,” brokenhearted, “speaking now the way you do.” From the flower’s perspective, it is like a death. In another flower poem, The Wild Iris, death is not the end: “whatever returns from oblivion returns to find a voice.” See her read that poem on YouTube. Both poems were from a May 11, 2016 Lannan Foundation Literary Event.

This loss is reiterated in her quote from a human perspective: We look at the world once, in childhood. The rest is memory. As humans, there may yet be a chance for illumination and grace. Rumi wrote: “The wound is the place where the Light enters you.” Leonard Cohen sang in his song, Anthem: “There is a crack in everything/ That’s how the light gets in.”

After looking through a Telescope Louise Glück identified with the silent enormity of the stars. In this earlier post, I later included news of her being awarded the 2020 Nobel Prize in Literature, followed by the actual presentation over 2 months later, still during the time of the coronavirus, so she and her presenter were wearing masks.

I don’t know if the poet had this in mind, but the red poppy has traditionally been the symbol of death, renewal, and life. See The History of the Red Poppy as a Symbol of Remembrance.

Thomas Merton’s golden poem, Song for Nobody, is about a yellow flower with a different enigmatic message.

Related posts: Selected Wise Words From Rumi and Leonard Cohen said there’s a crack in everything–how the light gets in. It came thru him & lit up a broken humanity. And Richard Wagamese bravely entered the cracks in his life to reveal the hidden gold buried within.

The Peace of Wild Things by Wendell Berry

February 27, 2021

Wendell Erdman Berry (born August 5, 1934) is an American novelist, poet, essayist, environmental activist, cultural critic, and farmer. He has published more than 50 books. Berry is an elected member of the Fellowship of Southern Writers, a recipient of The National Humanities Medal, and the Jefferson Lecturer for 2012. He lives in Port Royal, Kentucky. Click here to listen to him read this poem, and 5 others posted at the On Being website.

The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

(The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry, Counterpoint, March 1, 2009)

Two other poems of his posted on this blog: Wendell Berry’s stepping over stones in a stream shows us how he writes a poem and takes a stand | Wendell Berry’s “No going back” is about the generosity of the evolving self through time.

Another great American nature poet is Mary Oliver. I created a memorial post after I discovered she had passed. It contains links to some of her beautiful poems that I liked and posted over the years, as well as articles, interviews, and readings: RIP: Mary Oliver. Thank you for sharing your poetic gifts with us. They are a national treasure!

Rainer Maria Rilke and Carl Jung on learning how to live with life’s unanswerable questions

February 22, 2021

Sometimes, certain questions about life grip us, but we have no answers for them. In time, with more of life’s experiences, understanding may grow, and some questions will eventually get answered, resolved.

On the other hand, some of those questions may no longer seem relevant, and will be replaced by other more practical pressing problems.

In Letters to a Young Poet, I remember the now famous wise advice Rainer Maria Rilke gave a young man who wrote to him looking for answers to life’s unanswerable questions.

I recently came across a similar notion in a quote by Carl Gustav Jung. What they both said makes sense, each from their own perspective.

Read what Rilke and Jung had to say about this idea and let us know if you agree or disagree. Leave your comments below.


“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

― Rainer Maria Rilke (December 4, 1875 – December 29, 1926)

Read more quotes from Rainer Maria Rilke. Read these profound poems by Rilke posted on this blog.


“The greatest and most important problems of life are all in a certain sense insoluble…. They can never be solved, but only outgrown…. This ‘outgrowing’, as I formerly called it, on further experience was seen to consist in a new level of consciousness. Some higher or wider interest arose on the person’s horizon, and through this widening of view, the insoluble problem lost its urgency. It was not solved logically in its own terms, but faded out when confronted with a new and stronger life-tendency.”

― Carl Jung (July 26, 1875 – June 6, 1961)

Read selected powerful quotes from C.G. Jung


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Japanese culture: poetic aesthetics, artistry, and martial arts, inspired me to write haiku and tanka

January 9, 2021

Discovering and writing haiku and tanka

Many years ago, at a local bookstore I used to frequent, I came across a profound little poem on a poster with a beautiful image from nature. The name of the poet, Kiyo, appeared under the poem. It may have been the first type of Japanese poetry I’d ever read, in English translation of course. I had discovered haiku—a 3-line poem of 5-7-5 syllables respectively. I had written it down and recently found it. Here it is.

Softly unfolding,
Beauty awakens each heart
to wonder … to life.

I’d never heard of Kiyo. Did a search and found Ungo Kiyo (1582–1659), a Japanese Rinzai Zen master and poet. Couldn’t find any more poetry, just a quote on enlightenment in an antique book of calligraphy.

Even though we can’t adequately translate haiku into English due to the syntactical differences of a pictorial language, an important aspect of it was explained to me by a Japanese TM teacher I had met on an international course. Haiku was part of his educational upbringing. They usually have a seasonal reference. To be effective, the first 2 lines describe something in nature, but the 3rd line brings in another element that causes the mind to skip a beat, have an ‘aha’ moment of realization.

Kiyo’s beautiful short poem inspired me to start writing haiku and then tanka, a 2-stanza poem combining haiku with 2 lines of 7 syllables each. The second part would continue the theme of the first part, but give it a slightly new angle. In olden times, the Japanese court poets used to compete with each other in rounds of tanka called renga, linked verses.

I wrote my first haiku after a walk-and-talk about relationships with a lady friend. I noticed a furry caterpillar crawling on the ground. It became the metaphor for a poem on commitment and spiritual transformation.

Transformed

Caterpillars spin
increments of commitment;
Butterflies fly free!

I wrote many haiku and tanka over the years. I even wrote Haiku on The Nature of Haiku, which was very meta. These first 4 haiku—Defined, Discovered, Transformed, Translated—were among the 13 Ways to Write Haiku: A Poet’s Dozen, published in The Dryland Fish, An Anthology of Contemporary Iowa Poets.

Five Haiku, selected from The Dryland Fish; Cold Wet Night, a tanka; and Poetry—The Art of the Voice, a poem; were published in This Enduring Gift—A Flowering of Fairfield Poetry. The University of Iowa’s “Iowa Writes” program also published Five Haiku on The Daily Palette.

Defined

3 lines, 2 spaces,
17 feet to walk thru;
then,   the unending

Discovered

a poem unfolds
as words take their place in line
this one’s a haiku

Translated
(Inspired by Gareth Jones–Roberts’ painting “Egrets in Morning Light”)

on the edge of space
two egrets in morning light
woken from a dream

I recently came across a poem I had written a while ago, but never posted it. A photograph of cranes flying in a snowstorm inspired this Japanese Haiku.

Red-crowned cranes in Akan National Park, Hokkaido, Japan. Photograph by Vincent Munier. Click on image to enlarge it.

Three Japanese cranes
Soar above trees in snowstorm
Grace under pressure

Tanka on the Japanese art of kintsugi

I discovered other aspects of Japanese culture, which inspired tanka poems. Click on the titles below for more information and images.

The first is about kintsugi, the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with gold or silver lacquer thereby making it appear more beautiful than the original. Robert Yellin had tweeted an image of a repaired bowl to show this art, which is how I discovered it.

kintsugi tanka

kintsukuroi
turning obstacles into
opportunities

life’s lessons build character
what was broken is now whole

The Japan Ministry of Foreign Affairs selected Robert to introduce Japanese craftsmen to the world in a special documentary, Takumi: Japan’s artisan tradition. Because of his expertise, Robert became a cultural ambassador. His film inspired people from all over the world to visit the country, and helped boost Japanese tourism.

How Robert ended up in Japan is revealed in the documentary film, Jerry’s Last Mission, about his father, Jerry Yellin, who was the last WWII fighter pilot, an author, and proponent of TM for veterans with PTSD.

Tanka on the Japanese martial art of Aikido

On a visit to see my son in California, I wrote this tanka after watching his Aikido teacher demonstrate how to defend oneself from attack. She stood in one spot and effortlessly deflected the repeated charges from her students. It was mesmerizing! It took me a while to process what I had seen before writing the poem. I had emailed it to my son to read to her on her birthday. A volunteer at the dojo found the poem and posted it with a photo of a leaning tree as a screensaver on the office computer. It’s beautiful. Click the title and scroll down to see it.

My Son’s Sensei

Rooted to the ground
She repels her attackers
Flowing, not moving.

In storms, trees bear great burdens
Bending, not breaking.

Two tree tanka

Speaking of trees, this tanka is from the perspective of a willow tree. Click the title to see a photo of a special one, and links to audio clips of me reading the poem on different media platforms.

Willow Tree
An Overflowing Fountain of Green

Willow Tree Whispers
People say … Weeping Willow
But I’m not crying

Just bowing down … to the Earth
Kissing the ground … with my leaves

Another tree tanka resulted when I saw the willow that inspired the previous poem, and the honey locust next to it, intertwined on top! They were on each side of the entrance to the place I was living in at the time.

Friendship

Trees like to hold hands
Bending branches to link leaves
They forge deep friendships

Swaying with the wind—they dance
Under the moonlight—romance

A two-haiku relationship poem

When it comes to a committed relationship, this two-haiku poem turned out to be prophetically true.

COMMITTED

when the tide rolls in
bows of boats bump each other
tethered to the dock

with our ups and downs
we remain tied together
solid as a rock

© Ken Chawkin

See more haiku and tanka archived on The Uncarved Blog.

Suggested Reading

Jane Hirshfield’s 29-page essay about the life and poetry of Matsuo Bashō—recognized as a master of concise, compelling Japanese haiku—is worth reading. The Heart of Haiku was named “Best Kindle Single of 2011.” It was the first Kindle I ever bought, and described it in a post, Haiku on The Heart of Haiku, with links to interviews and more.

Author and translator Harold Stewart‘s essay On Haiku and Haiga in A Net of Fireflies: Japanese Haiku and Haiku Paintings, was very edifying.

This classic was recommended to me: Unknown Craftsman by Soetsu Yanagi. I see it’s been updated and illustrated by Bernard Leach and Soetsu Yanagi: The Unknown Craftsman: A Japanese Insight into Beauty.

Although not Japanese, Creativity and Taoism: A Study of Chinese Philosophy, Art, and Poetry by Chang Chung-yuan was also worth reading. A 2nd Edition is now available. I reference the Taoist concept of the uncarved block explaining How The Uncarved Blog got its name.

Being in Nature—a gift from a tree

December 6, 2020

We often hear about the the benefits of being in nature. I remembered an experience I had with a tree when I went for a winter walk with a friend on the University Endowment Lands in Vancouver during the mid-1990s. I’ve now updated that blog post with what had happened and how a poem came to be written around 25 years ago. The post contains links to other poems written about trees, and advice from Mary Oliver.

The Uncarved Blog

We often hear about the the benefits of being in nature. I remembered an experience I had with a tree when I went for a winter walk with a friend on the University Endowment Lands in Vancouver during the mid-1990s.

I stopped in front of a particular tree to admire its intricate bark structure up close. I felt a ray of loving attention come from the tree into my heart-mind with these words: “the realness of natural things, the nearness of you.” It was an unexpected intimate experience and I quickly wrote the words down for further exploration. The next morning, I rewrote them as a two-line stanza, and then sequential stanzas naturally unfolded sharing its wisdom. It was as if I had been given a creative seed and it sprouted into a poem.

This gift from the tree was much appreciated. The experience reiterated what Mary Oliver described in…

View original post 321 more words

William Stafford prescribed creative writing to find your own voice and reveal your inner light

November 30, 2020

One of the first books of poetry I ever bought for myself was You Must Revise Your Life by William Stafford. It was part of The University of Michigan Press series of Poets on Poetry. His poems, essays and interviews on writing, teaching, and performing were a revelation!

I was discovering the writing process at the time and how to facilitate it, and found Stafford’s poems and his thoughts on the teaching of writing poetry to be very relevant. Here are a few that caught my attention: When I Met My Muse, You and Art, Ask Me, and A Course in Creative Writing.

I reread his poem, Rx Creative Writing: Identity, and decided to include it.

Rx Creative Writing: Identity
By William Stafford

You take this pill, a new world
springs out of whatever sea
most drowned the old one,
arrives like light.

Then that bone light belongs
inside of things. You touch
or hear so much yourself
there is no dark.

Nothing left but what Aquinas
counted: he—touched, luminous—
bowed over sacred worlds, each one
conceived, then really there—

Not just hard things: down on
a duck as real as steel.
You know so sure there burns
a central vividness.

It tells you;
all you do is tell about it.

This poem was also later included in The Way It Is, New & Selected Poems. The last poem he wrote the day he would die introduces the book. You can read it in this blog post: William Stafford’s last poem now seemed prophetic—an unintended literary epitaph.

There is a quote on the back cover of You Must Revise Your Life taken from an earlier compilation of his, Writing the Australian Crawl: Views on the Writer’s Vocation. It epitomizes Stafford’s approach to writing.

A writer is not so much someone who has something to say as he is someone who has found a process that will bring about new things he would not have thought of if he had not started to say them.

As part of their Poets on Poetry series, The University of Michigan Press published four books of Stafford’s collections of prose and poetry on the writing profession, the poetics of a new generation. Writing the Australian Crawl was the first, followed by You Must Revise Your Life. The third and fourth volumes, published posthumously, were: Crossing Unmarked Snow: Further Views on the Writer’s Vocation and The Answers Are Inside the Mountains: Meditations on the Writing Life.

I also very much enjoyed reading the biography written by his son Kim, Early Morning: Remembering My Father, William Stafford. The lines from his most profound and favorite poem, The Way It Is, were used as chapter headings. I’ve posted more of his poems on The Uncarved Blog.

Stafford and other trailblazers of the writing process are mentioned in this related blog post: The perils of praise or blame for young writers. New ways to help students find their own voice.

I was naturally influenced by what I was reading and experiencing at the time. Some of my first inspired attempts were very meta, commentaries on Writing—a poem on the writing process, and Sometimes Poetry Happens: a poem about the mystery of creativity.

New York poet laureate Mary Howe’s experience captured in her poem, Annunciation, and her conversations with On Being’s Krista Tippett and The Millions’ Alex Dueben, reveal a profound understanding of how poetry vividly comes to and through us.

What is Poetry, where does it come from, and how does it enter into us?

November 11, 2020

I posted many wonderful poems under this blog’s Poetry category. Also saved comments about poetry written by poets throughout the ages. These three made an impression on me years ago that I’ll share with you.

Hazrat Inayat Khan (1882–1927): The Music of Life, Poetry (pg. 327)

The one who reads poetry, the one who enjoys poetry, and the one who writes poetry must know that poetry is something that does not belong to this earth: it belongs to heaven, in whatever form one shows one’s appreciation and love for poetry, one really shows one’s appreciation and love for the spirit of beauty.

Yang Wan–li (1127–1206) Sung dynasty poet: What is Poetry?

Now, what is poetry? If you say it is simply a matter of words, I will say a good poet gets rid of words. If you say it is simply a matter of meaning, I will say a good poet gets rid of meaning. “But,” you ask, “without words and without meaning, where is the poetry?” To this I reply, “Get rid of words and get rid of meaning, and still there is poetry.”

Wei T’ai (5th Century BC) Chinese Song Dynasty poet and scholar

Poetry presents the thing in order to convey the feeling. It should be precise about the thing and reticent about the feeling, for as soon as the mind responds and connects with the thing the feeling shows in the words; this is how poetry enters deeply into us.

Poems on Poetry

Here are links to a few meta-poems I’ve written over the years about the sometimes mysterious creative process of writing poetry and its influence on an audience: Writing; Sometimes Poetry Happens; Poetry—The Art of the Voice; a seven-haiku poem, Coalescing Poetry: Creating a Universe; and Haiku on The Nature of Haiku. This Teapot Poem came about as a result of putting Wei T’ai’s advice into practice.

Also see this post: Writers on Writing–What Writing Means To Writers.

I found an interesting and informative presentation by Dana Gioia: What is Poetry? 10 observations about the art. The final minutes of his talk contain descriptions of how poets describe what poetry is and its effects.

Sue Monk Kidd on empathy and the purpose and power of literature to enter the common heart

November 10, 2020

It’s sometimes serendipitous how one thing can lead to another while surfing the internet. I came across this tweet by Alicia Keys about her recent conversation with Sue Monk Kidd. They were discussing each other’s books. Alicia had just published, More Myself, and Sue, The Book of Longings. A previous book, The Secret Life of Bees, was made into a movie (2008). Alicia posted the podcast on her YouTube channel AliciaKeys.lnk.to/AKSMK.

Sue Monk Kidd is a novelist, essayist, and best-selling author. She has received wide acclaim for her books on feminine spirituality and theology. Her inspiring lectures explore the intersection of writing, creativity, and soul. I wanted to know more about this author and found an intriguing title to a talk she gave in Saint Paul at a Westminster Town Hall Forum. The live talk, Sue Monk Kidd: Life is a Story, was sponsored by SPNN on February 11, 2014.

Sue Monk Kidd (SMK) gave a profound talk about how she became a writer later in life, what the act of writing means to her, and how it can be used to shine a light on injustices, particularly with issues of women and race, giving readers a window into the lives of her female characters. Her spirituality is connected to justice and compassion. For her, one of the important purposes of literature is to enhance empathy, allowing readers to enter what Emerson called “the common heart.”

She mentions her favorite authors and books, and had stenciled some of their quotes on her walls, which informed her life and work as a writer. I transcribed some of her many inspiring comments from the talk. The hyperlinked phrases will take you to those segments in the video.

creativity and the writing life

Introducing the idea of creativity and the role of writing in her life, SMK says, “Well, creativity, I think, is essentially a spiritual experience, at least it is for me. I think it is a conversation that one has between one’s self and one’s soul. It’s not always a good conversation, but it is some kind of conversation.”

She then references the poet Rilke from Letters to a Young Poet, where he tells a young man who’s written him for advice: “So, dear Sir, I can’t give you any advice but this: to go into yourself and see how deep the place is from which your life flows; at its source you will find the answer to, the question of whether you must create. Accept that answer, just as it is given to you, without trying to interpret it.”

moments of being…a silence beneath my words

She reiterates this notion. “I think there’s a realm inside us. We could call it the inner life, or the interior life, or the life of the soul or something else. Merton often referred to it as the true self. And I think my 30-year old self was trying to start up a conversation with this place. What I suppose I have in mind here is a kind of contemplative experience. It’s very easy to lose touch with this part of ourselves, especially in our contemporary culture. I think we often feel, at least I do, besieged by life.

I think the world seduces us with an artificial sense of urgency sometimes. But the soul doesn’t move at the same pace as the world. The creative life doesn’t, at least mine doesn’t. I think it has a completely different slower pace about it.

So contemplative moments, I think, moments of being, help us, help me cultivate this life I’m talking about. I often say to myself that there must be a silence beneath my words. If there is not a deep silence beneath my words, then my words are probably empty.

the real power of literature

When asked what does she hope readers would take away from her work, she references what the female protagonists go through in her books. “My hope I suppose, if I had to articulate that, would be that readers would have a felt experience of what it’s like to be an enslaved person in the 19th century; or a white woman without any rights, with shockingly few rights; or what it’s like to be a 14-year old girl looking for home and belonging; or a woman adrift in the middle of her marriage; or a 50-year old woman trying to find the 3rd act. What does it feel like?”

“And I’m talking of course about empathy, which is taking an other’s experience and making it one’s own. I think that is perhaps the most mysterious transaction in the human soul. And I think it’s the real power of literature.”

empathy…the common heart…an intrinsic unity with all of humanity

While in college SMK studied Ralph Waldo Emerson, which is where she learned about his concept of “the common heart.”

He described it as a place inside every human where we share an intrinsic unity with all of humanity. Now this idea has remained with me all of these years. I have never forgotten it. And as a novelist I have to believe in this place. And as a person I believe in this place.”

“So I began by saying that, for me, creativity is a conversation with one’s soul. And I think in that sense maybe writing has been my longest prayer. But I also think, that in this sense that readers go to the common heart, that they can find their way into the common heart, a portal through a book, that reading becomes their prayer too.”

distractions…contemplative rhythm…conscious loitering…listening

The most difficult part of writing for her is the solitude—the paradoxical need for it and the isolation that it brings. She describes her process. “I find that, I have to find, particularly when I’m writing, ‘a contemplative rhythm’. I like to refer to it as ‘conscious loitering’. Because loitering is really a good thing in a lot of ways. It’s just to, to be, without any purpose other than being within oneself. And this centers me; it grounds me. It allows me most of all, the time and place to have this conversation that I need to have with this deeper part of myself, or to go to that deeper part of myself and to listen.”

She tries to avoid social media. “I think listening is so important. I don’t know how to do that with all of this, you know, Twitter and Facebook, and all of this that is going on. It’s kind of a whirlwind, and I think our attention span is shrinking dramatically with it. And I’m about the long form. So it’s attention, actually, I think for many writers, and it is for me. And I kinda go back and forth in these worlds and try to navigate both of them and sometimes do both of them poorly.”

In a previous post, famous songwriters have said a similar thing about the need to be alone undisturbed where the mind can idle (loiter). Ideas come along, get fiddled with, and inspire lyrics turning them into songs.

fundamental to writing is the courage to find and believe in your self

When asked what advice she would give to a young writer just getting started, she shared what she had written her daughter in a card the night before they would drive her to college. “Be true to yourself. Have the courage to be true to yourself, and stand by yourself. It was as simple as that. And maybe that is really the key.”

“You know writing, as I said, is an act of courage. It’s about having something to say and the ability to say it. But the real thing is about the courage to say it at all. And it has to do with some sense of truth in one’s self, and finding that truth, and being willing to have an authentic conversation with it.”

“So I think I would say that, believe in yourself, but first of all find the self you want to stand by, and then believe in that self, because that’s fundamental to writing.”

related blog posts on writing

Writers on Writing–What Writing Means To Writers | Elizabeth Gilbert—Some Thoughts On Writing | Words of Wisdom on Writing from Literary Lights | Burghild Nina Holzer inspires us to write and discover who we are and what we have to say | John O’Donohue’s 4 short lines say it all for poets | The perils of praise or blame for young writers. New ways to help students find their own voice | Letters to a Young Poet Quotes by Rainer Maria Rilke | Rainer Maria Rilke and Carl Jung on learning how to live with life’s unanswerable questions


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