Archive for the ‘Poetry’ Category

Coming Home by Mary Oliver

July 15, 2022

This evocative poem by Mary Oliver took me on a journey. Its conclusion nostalgically, surprisingly, stirred me.

Coming Home

When we are driving in the dark,
on the long road
to Provincetown, which lies empty
for miles, when we’re weary,
when the buildings
and the scrub pines lose
their familiar look,
I imagine us rising
from the speeding car.
I imagine us seeing
everything from another place — the top
of one of the pale dunes,
or the deep and nameless
fields of the sea —
and what we see is a world
that cannot cherish us,
but which we cherish,
and what we see is our life
moving like that,
along the dark edges
of everything — the headlights
like lanterns
sweeping the blackness —
believing in a thousand
fragile and unprovable things,
looking out for sorrow,
slowing down for happiness,
making all the right turns
right down to the thumping
barriers to the sea,
the swirling waves,
the narrow streets, the houses,
the past, the future,
the doorway that belongs
to you and me.

Published in Dreamwork (1986) and Devotions (2017)

Read about Mary Oliver (1935-2019) and her astonishing poetry in this memorial acknowledgment to her poetic legacy. It contains links to articles, interviews, and poetry readings, as well as many of her favorite poems I’ve loved and posted over the years.

Two thoughtful poems by Rhoda Orme-Johnson: When We Are Insubstantial & When You Are Young

February 11, 2022

What happens to us when we reach the latter part of our life and reflect on it from a different perspective? I came across two thoughtful poems written by Rhoda Orme-Johnson published in Conestoga Zen, an anthology edited by Rustin Larson. These poems resonated deeply with me and I was given permission to share them with you: When We Are Insubstantial & When You Are Young.

When We Are Insubstantial

When we are insubstantial 
Between this life and the next, 
I may regret the times we lay together 
And I did not reach for your arm, 
Warm and solid beneath the flannel, 
And draw you to my breast. 

I may regret getting up 
To do whatever 
I thought I had to do, 
And not lay there, 
Drawing in the night air and the scent 
Of Carolina Jasmine. 

I may regret that I hurried 
Though my days 
And did not linger on the porch, 
Soaking up the sunshine 
And the birdsong 
And the aroma 
Of sun-warmed pines. 

It is easy to forget, 
In the pressure of daily life, 
That our precious time 
On this green planet Is limited, 
That our contract here Is fixed. 

We came together 
To grow, to give, 
To pay some old debts, 
To leave the world a better place 
Before we go. 

It is easy to forget 
We came here to live.  

When You Are Young 

When you are young, 
Everyone you know 
Is alive 
When you are older, 
Many you really know 
And care for 
Have died. 

When you are young, 
Everyone you know 
Is alive and present, 
In and out of the house, 
On the phone, 
In your thoughts, 
In your heart.  

The first death comes hard. 
The lifeless corpse 
Under the makeup. 
Life breath gone, 
Spirit hastily fled, 
As from a burning building, 
Leaving nothing behind. 

Except an eternal presence 
In your thoughts, 
In your heart, 
In your dreams. 

After his sudden death 
My father met me in a dream. 
He sat on a park bench and I loved him.  
He didn't speak.  
I tried to tell him something important,  
But I couldn't remember  
What it was.  

I want to call my mother 
And tell her my news, 
Share the worries and the joys,  
But there's no phone 
That can connect with her now. 

In albums the photographs 
Of dear friends look out, 
Full of life and ambition, 
Unaware their time will soon be 
Cut short. 
Faces of grandchildren 
Growing up far away 
Tease and stir the heart.  

When you are young,  
Everyone you know 
Is alive and present. 
When you are older, 
Everyone you know  
Is present 
Somewhere. 

Rhoda read both poems concluding a presentation she gave at MIU a while ago. I remember having been there. It was a wonderful evening. She also read Sweet Mystery, mentioned below.

Anna: An Immigrant Story

Rhoda recently published Anna: An Immigrant Story. It’s a book about her grandmother, who immigrated to America a century ago with her five children. The story unfolds during one day of her life in 1951. Readers are introduced to family members coming and going through the house in Cleveland, Ohio, and accompany Anna’s memories back to the Old World, to the “shtetl” or Jewish settlement where Anna grew up. Find out more in this article: Fairfield woman publishes book on her immigrant ancestors.

The Flow of Consciousness in Literature

In a September 9, 2020 interview with Mario Orsatti on TM Talks, Dr. Rhoda Orme-Johnson explains how the study and experience of poetry and literature create transcending and a deeper appreciation of consciousness, language, and the world around us. She reads several poems, one of which is When You Are Young, at 42:02. The 50:41 talk is available at Enjoy TM News: The Flow of Consciousness in Literature.

Sweet Mystery

Earlier on in their discussion, at 19:58, Rhoda tells Mario a story of how her mother had showed up at Maharishi’s Swiss HQ to see her daughter and grandchildren. Everyone was busy working on projects. At David’s suggestion, Rhoda organized a luncheon for her mother with friends.

In answer to a question about love and marriage, her mother shared a childhood story with everyone. Recalling it later on, Rhoda had turned it into a poem, which she reads at 20:36. It’s about that experience her mother had had as a young girl in Ukraine. She had accompanied an older girl, who, as it turned out, was secretly meeting up with a boyfriend. She saw them embrace from a distance. That encounter and a young girl’s reaction to it, blended with descriptions of the nature around them, form the concluding chapter to Rhoda’s immigrant story about her grandmother. It’s a beautiful narrative poem about love titled, Sweet Mystery.

For writer May Sarton, solitude was necessary to create and bring forth the richness within herself

January 9, 2022

May Sarton (Belgian-American, 1912-1995) was a highly respected American poet, novelist, and memoirist. Her literature encompasses themes of aging, solitude, family and romantic relationships. Self-identified as a lesbian and regarded as a feminist, she preferred that her work found a place in a broad humanitarian connection rather than within the identities she embodied.

Her memoir, Journal of a Solitude (1973) was her most popular work, and “Now I Become Myself” (Collected Poems 1930 – 1993) is one of her most beloved poems. She was also the author of numerous novels.

Literary Ladies Guide compiled a selection of Introspective quotes by May Sarton, a most thoughtful writer. They also published a review of Journal of a Solitude. The Famous People website published 64 Inspiring Quotes By May Sarton That Will Give You Lessons For Life—her reflections on life, authenticity, solitude, contentment, nature, strength, survival, education, school, life, loneliness, optimism, experience and relationships.

I remember reading these wise quotes from Journal of a Solitude:

Loneliness is the poverty of self; solitude is richness of self.

Without darkness, nothing comes to birth, As without light, nothing flowers.

I have written every poem, every novel, for the same purpose—to find out what I think, to know where I stand.

That last quote reminds me of Donald Hall’s description of a good writer, included in an earlier post: Writers on Writing—What Writing Means To Writers.

A good writer uses words to discover, and to bring that discovery to other people. He rewrites so that his prose is a pleasure that carries knowledge with it. That pleasure-carrying knowledge comes from self-understanding, and creates understanding in the minds of other people.

I must have time alone

The implication from these quotes is that we need a time and place to be alone to create in the dark of the unknown, shut off from distractions that divide the mind, to experience the richness of our inner world, and blossom with the light of our newly discovered self-knowledge. We write to know—to discover and understand.

Yet, like every true artist it is always a challenge to balance the personal with the social, our own needs with those of another in a relationship. In her Journal of Solitude May Sarton wrote:

There is no doubt that solitude is a challenge and to maintain balance within it a precarious business. But I must not forget that, for me, being with people or even with one beloved person for any length of time without solitude is even worse. I lose my center. I feel dispersed, scattered, in pieces. I must have time alone in which to mull over my encounter, and to extract its juice, its essence, to understand what has really happened to me as a consequence of it.

This is so true. And if we don’t express our need for solitude in a healthy manner, resentment builds up, and we find ourselves passively-aggressively taking our frustration out on those closest to us, causing pain for both parties involved. We blame others for our inability to properly balance our priorities. We lash out or fall into inertia and suffer.

However, when free to fully engage in the creative process, writing can become an ecstatic experience. This quote stood out for me, showing May Sarton’s passion for writing and how significant it was for her.

…I feel more alive when I’m writing than I do at any other time—except when I’m making love. Two things when you forget time, when nothing exists except the moment—the moment of writing, the moment of love. That perfect concentration is bliss.

AZ Quotes: May Sarton Quotes About Writing

a way of life

I’ll leave you with this final quote from May Sarton that reminds me of the bus-driving poet in Jim Jarmusch’s wonderful little film, Paterson: “poetry is first of all a way of life and only secondarily a way of writing.”

Leonard Cohen said a similar thing: “Poetry is just the evidence of life. If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash.

We write to better understand our experiences, and in the process metabolize them into poems. Poetry, then, is the epiphenomenon, the ash from that creative fire burning within. See this related inspiring post: What is Poetry, where does it come from, and how does it enter into us?

a final note

And finally, enjoy this post: Burghild Nina Holzer inspires us to write and discover who we are and what we have to say, with links to more entires on writing. There is a beautiful excerpt on the back cover of her book, A Walk Between Heaven and Earth: A Personal Journal on Writing and the Creative Process, edited down from the original, which I also include.

Talking to paper is talking to the divine. Paper is infinitely patient. Each time you scratch on it, you trace part of yourself, and thus part of the world, and thus part of the grammar of the universe. It is a huge language, but each of us tracks his or her particular understanding of it.

Mary Oliver reads a lovely poem about her dog

September 14, 2021

Renowned poet Mary Oliver reads “Little Dog’s Rhapsody in the Night” from her collection of new and favorite poems, Dog Songs, celebrating the dogs that have enriched her world.

Little Dog’s Rhapsody in the Night

He puts his cheek against mine
and makes small, expressive sounds.
And when I’m awake, or awake enough

he turns upside down, his four paws
in the air
and his eyes dark and fervent.

“Tell me you love me,” he says.

“Tell me again.”

Could there be a sweeter arrangement? Over and over
he gets to ask.
I get to tell.

Here are two other dog poems by Mary Oliver posted on Words for the Year: The Sweetness of Dogs and I Ask Percy How I Should Live My Life.

Read about Mary Oliver (1935-2019) and her astonishing poetry in this memorial acknowledgment to her poetic legacy. It contains links to articles, interviews, and poetry readings, as well as many of her favorite poems I’ve loved and posted over the years.

#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

Image

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.

The Poet’s List: (June 22, 2021) excerpted and referenced the above interview: POETRY FOR PTSD AND PREVENTING SUICIDE (VIA PSYCHIATRIC TIMES). The Poet’s List (December 30, 2021) also included Dr. Norman Rosenthal’s book in their year-end list: 2021 POETRY WRAP: YEAR IN REVIEW.

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…

Spirituality & Health: The Healing Power of Poetry by Mary Bemis. Regard a poem as a talisman, a locket that contains a secret.

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.

B. Nina Holzer’s final entry in her journal shows us how she is an innocent instrument for writing

March 30, 2021

One of the most enjoyable books I’ve ever read on the creative writing process is A Walk Between Heaven and Earth: A Personal Journal on Writing and the Creative Process by Burghild Nina Holzer. I recommend it to anyone who is interested in wanting to express themselves in writing. The book ends with this final journal entry found on page 124.

EVENING

One day
I walked on the mountain
and the flute song
went through me.
That’s all.
I became the reed
and the wind went through
and I wrote it down
in my journal.

Read my first blog post about this wonderful book: Burghild Nina Holzer inspires us to write and discover who we are and what we have to say.

I include an excerpt from one of her entries that the publisher edited down to put on the back cover. The four-sentence paragraph starts: “Talking to paper is talking to the divine.” I include that paragraph and the full eight-sentence journal entry from which it was taken. Together they represent the essential message of this inspirational little book.

A 4-line poem by John O’Donohue says a similar thing—how he was amazed by each revelatory moment and turned them into poems.

A recent post on the writing experience is intimately expressed in this lovely poem, “Morning Prayer,” by Deborah J. Brasket.

Last year I discovered inspiring quotes about writing and the writing life by this Canadian aboriginal author that I shared in these blog posts: Coincidences happened that introduced me to the great Ojibway storyteller Richard Wagamese | Insights from Richard Wagamese’s Meditations | Richard Wagamese bravely entered the cracks in his life to reveal the hidden gold buried within.

Another writer worth listening to what she says about her writing life is Sue Monk Kidd on empathy and the purpose and power of literature to enter the common heart.

I’ve posted earlier entries on writing you may also find worthwhile: Writing—a poem on the writing process; INSPIRATION, a poem by Nathanael Chawkin; Elizabeth Gilbert—Some Thoughts On Writing; Writers on Writing–What Writing Means To Writers; and Words of Wisdom on Writing from Literary Lights.

This little poem, “Morning Prayer,” by Deborah J. Brasket, just might leave you feeling sanctified

March 21, 2021

Enjoy this profound blog post by Deborah J. Brasket: Like Flowers Falling Everywhere: A Poem. Click on the title to see an accompanying painting by Odilon Redon. This beautiful little poem, aptly titled “Morning Prayer,” is soft and mysterious, filled with an intimate silence that just might leave you feeling sanctified.

“Morning Prayer”
Deborah J. Brasket

Everywhere I look I see you,
I see us. This fragile hand,
this blue pen, this yellow pad.

These fingers gently folded,
Embracing the eagerness of
your movements across the page.

This tender paper accepting
All we write. These words that
rise up and lay down, so simple.

You are what I feel. This beating heart,
this circling breath, this wide sphere of
silence that enfolds us. Your soft sigh.

The day waits. It pours out of us whole
and clear, unending. How kind you are.
Kindness like flowers falling everywhere.

* * * * *

I asked a writer-artist friend who she thought is speaking in the poem, and to whom. She nailed it with this reply: “It sounds like the poet is speaking to herself about her writing life, and the love she feels for it.”

This reminds me of what B. Nina Holzer wrote in her lovely book, “A Walk Between Heaven and Earth,” A Personal Journal on Writing and the Creative Process. This edited journal entry is on the back cover:

Talking to paper is talking to the divine. Paper is infinitely patient. Each time you scratch on it, you trace part of yourself, and thus part of the world, and thus part of the grammar of the universe. It is a huge language, but each of us tracks his or her particular understanding of it.

You can see the complete journal entry here: Burghild Nina Holzer inspires us to write and discover who we are and what we have to say.

Speaking of kindness and writing about morning rituals, here are two related poems: “Kindness” by Naomi Shihab Nye, and one I wrote, “Sanctifying Morning.” It was published in Carrying the Branch: Poets in Search of Peace.

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!

William Stafford’s poetry lightened his life having woven a parachute out of everything broken.

January 25, 2021

My son sent me a link to a quote by William Stafford that Michael Meade had posted on his Instagram. I couldn’t find the source.

Update: Leslie Marlowe sent me more of the quote. I did a search and discovered the poem in The Way It Is, and then online. I include this information in my reply below. It was part of the third stanza of a 24-line 4-stanza poem, Any Time, first published in Allegiances (1970).

“I have woven a parachute out of everything broken.” — William Stafford

The Japanese art of kintsugi

The quote and background image remind me of kintsugi or kintsukuroi, the Japanese art of repairing broken pieces of pottery using lacquer mixed with powdered gold, silver, or platinum. As a philosophy, it treats breakage and repair as part of the history of an object, rather than something to disguise. The piece becomes stronger and more beautiful than the original because of its unique imperfections.

To me, this serves as a metaphor for overcoming life’s challenges, scars and all, which build character. When I first saw a piece of repaired broken Japanese pottery using this method, it inspired a poem using one of the forms of Japanese poetry—kintsugi tanka.

A poet of peace

William Stafford responded creatively and with integrity to the challenges life sent his way. He remained true to his voice as a conscientious objector, poet of peace, and the innovative way he taught writing.

A realist on the human condition, his poems made us think, as in A Ritual to Read to Each Other, from his poetry collection, Traveling through the Dark, which won the National Book Award in 1963.

For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give—yes or no, or maybe—
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.

Following the thread

During his early morning writing, Stafford subscribed to the approach of William Blake’s golden string.

“I give you the end of a golden string,
Only wind it into a ball,
It will lead you in at Heaven’s gate
Built in Jerusalem’s wall.”

As any persistent writer will tell you, when they finally “get it right,” there’s a feeling of euphoria, the metaphorical equivalent of entering “Heaven’s gate.”

Stafford was awake to that revelatory moment when each thread of thought presented itself to him. They would lead to unexpected associations and realizations. In the last poem he wrote the day he died, he said: You can’t tell when strange things with meaning will happen.

Speaking of weaving together a parachute from everything broken, this most popular poem by Stafford, and my favorite, talks about holding onto an unseen thread that’s woven throughout all of life’s experiences.

The Way It Is

There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.

Coincidentally, I came across a quote from the Vedic literature that takes this idea of an uncommon thread and extends it to a cosmic thread.

He who knows the fine-drawn thread of which the creatures that we see are spun, who knows the thread of that same thread—he also knows Brahman, the Ultimate. (Atharva Veda Samhita 10.8.37)

Other favorite poems by William Stafford

I’ve posted some of William Stafford’s poetry and his approach to teaching writing on The Uncarved Blog. A few of those poems that stand out for me are: When I Met My Muse, You and Art, Ask Me, The Way It Is, A Course in Creative Writing, and Rx Creative Writing: Identity.

The last poem he had written the day he died, August 28, 1993, was “Are you Mr. William Stafford?”. It was featured and published posthumously in The Way It Is: New & Selected Poems, by Graywolf Press in 1999, which was how I first discovered it.

Years later I had a realization about that last poem and created this memorial post including insightful quotes into Stafford’s creative process with related links: William Stafford’s last poem now seemed prophetic—an unintended literary epitaph.

When it comes to student-centered teaching, I featured William Stafford and other trailblazers of the writing process in this related blog post: The perils of praise or blame for young writers. New ways to help students find their own voice.

Related posts on this topic

Richard Wagamese bravely entered the cracks in his life to reveal the hidden gold buried within

Leonard Cohen said there’s a crack in everything—how the light gets in. It came thru him & lit up a broken humanity.

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


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