Archive for the ‘Other poems’ Category

Bad habits are hard to break. This short poem by Portia Nelson illustrates that fact with a way out.

May 21, 2019

Here is an interesting poem by Portia Nelson: Autobiography in Five Short Chapters, from her 1993 book, There’s a Hole in My Sidewalk: The Romance of Self-Discovery.

Autobiography in Five Short Chapters

Chapter 1  

I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I fall in.
I am lost … I am helpless.
It isn’t my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.  

Chapter 2  

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don’t see it.
I fall in again.
I can’t believe I am in the same place.
But it isn’t my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.  

Chapter 3  

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall in … it’s a habit.
My eyes are open.
I know where I am.
It is my fault.
I get out immediately.  

Chapter 4  

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.  

Chapter 5  

I walk down another street.  

* * * * *

This little metaphorical story has helped those dealing with bad habits, addictions, tunnel vision, ultimately the mistake of the intellect. It shows a way out of our ignorance and misery by acknowledging our mistakes and not repeating them. Becoming more conscious we can change for the better, taking responsibility for our destiny. Of course, only reading this poem won’t get the job done. We also need to change our consciousness. Change begins within, and learning to meditate can also help. It’s the 12th step of any Twelve-Step Program. The David Lynch Foundation offers scholarships to those in need to learn the Transcendental Meditation technique and improve their lives from within.

After looking through a telescope Louise Glück identified with the silent enormity of the stars

April 28, 2019

I recently discovered poets writing about telescopes, like Ted Kooser and Kenneth Rexroth, what they saw through them, and how they were transformed by the experience. Here is a poem called Telescope (Averno: Poems) by Pulitzer Prize winner (1993) Louise Glück. It was among the poems she read during a Lannan Literary Event (May 11, 2016).

The Great Cluster in the constellation Hercules

Telescope

There is a moment after you move your eye away
when you forget where you are
because you’ve been living, it seems,
somewhere else, in the silence of the night sky.

You’ve been stopped being here in the world.
You’re in a different place,
a place where human life has no meaning.

You’re not a creature in a body.
You exist as the stars exist,
participating in their stillness, their immensity.

Then you’re in the world again.
At night, on a cold hill,
taking the telescope apart.

You realize afterward
not that the image is false
but the relation is false.

You see again how far away
each thing is from every other thing.

Louise Glück

Louise Glück reads Telescope at a Lannan Literary Event

Kenneth Rexroth also describes a loss of body awareness and identifies with the enormity of the star-filled summer night sky while looking through a telescope. Here’s an excerpt from The Heart of Herakles.

My body is asleep. Only
My eyes and brain are awake.
The stars stand around me
Like gold eyes, I can no longer
Tell where I begin and leave off.


Poets Kooser, Rexroth, and Glück describe their experiences with telescopes looking at the stars

April 28, 2019

Poets have written about the night sky and how it’s transformed them. Pulitzer Prize winner (2005) and U.S. Poet Laureate (2004-2006) Ted Kooser read from his poetry before a standing-room only audience in Campbell Hall at UC Santa Barbara (August/2005). In his introduction to this poem, Telescope, Kooser describes how he wakes up early every morning to write. William Stafford used to do the same thing.

Telescope

This is the pipe that pierces the dam
that holds back the universe,

that takes off some of the pressure,
keeping the weight of the unknown

from breaking through
and washing us all down the valley.

Because of this small tube,
through which a cold light rushes

from the bottom of time,
the depth of the stars stays always constant

and we are able to sleep, at least for now,
beneath the straining wall of darkness.

Ted Kooser, Delights and Shadows, p. 6

As part of the Pulitzer Centennial Campfires Initiative, the South Dakota Humanities Council commissioned a series of essays about prize winners. Christine Stewart-Nuñez wrote about her poetry teacher: Ted Kooser: A poet of connection.

Kenneth Rexroth also wrote about the cosmos looking through a telescope and how it changed him in this poem, The Heart of Herakles.

My body is asleep. Only
My eyes and brain are awake.
The stars stand around me
Like gold eyes, I can no longer
Tell where I begin and leave off.

Louise Glück in her poem, Telescope, describes a similar loss of body awareness as she identifies with the enormity of the star-filled night sky.

You’ve been stopped being here in the world.
You’re in a different place,
a place where human life has no meaning.

You’re not a creature in a body.
You exist as the stars exist,
participating in their stillness, their immensity.

Poets Rumi and Octavio Paz also open our minds to a cosmic perspective. In The Essential Rumi, Coleman Barks translates his poem:

I am so small I can barely be seen.
How can this great love be inside me?

Look at your eyes. They are small,
but they see enormous things.

Paz’s poem, Brotherhood, translated with Eliot Weinberger, is an homage to the ancient astronomer, Claudius Ptolemy.

I am a man: little do I last
and the night is enormous.
But I look up:
the stars write.
Unknowing I understand:
I too am written,
and at this very moment
someone spells me out.

In that blog post I conclude with my haiku, Forest Flowers, and mention my poem As Above So Below. Both describe relationships between the individual and the universal. 

The perils of praise or blame for young writers. New ways to help students find their own voice.

April 13, 2019

The teaching of writing has evolved over the decades. Teachers used to praise students for duplicating what they were instructed to write, or criticized and graded poorly for not meeting established norms. This practice of praise or blame created consequences that were detrimental to the writer. They doubted their own natural ability to express themselves in writing, wondering whether it was good or not.

W.S. Merwin, in his poem, Berryman,* about his college professor John Berryman, asks him “how can you ever be sure that what you write is really any good at all?” He gives him an unexpected honest answer.

I had hardly begun to read
I asked how can you ever be sure
that what you write is really
any good at all and he said you can’t

you can’t you can never be sure
you die without knowing
whether anything you wrote was any good
if you have to be sure don’t write

Nearly three decades after he mentored Merwin, Berryman would encapsulate his advice to young writers in this Paris Review interview, on the perils of praise and blame.

I would recommend the cultivation of extreme indifference to both praise and blame because praise will lead you to vanity, and blame will lead you to self-pity, and both are bad for writers.

It’s interesting to see this explanation—how praise (fame) or blame (criticism) might influence a young writer’s psychology, and therefore his or her creative output and development as a writer. Advising them to stay true to themselves, remain unswayed by public opinion, would allow them to maintain their own integrity as artists.

David Lynch is another artist who always follows his own muse and tells young filmmakers to do the same. Answering a student’s question about his creative process, he says we’re nothing without an idea. Using a fishing analogy, he explains that a desire for an idea is like a bait on a hook. He gives a detailed account of how he falls in love with ideas, turns them into a script, and transforms them into a film, or other works of art. To catch bigger fish, you have to dive deeper. David describes daydreaming and TM as ways to get there. He tells students to stay true to their vision, to meditate, and most importantly, to always have the final cut.

In this interview, he answers the same question, but from a different perspective: In the other room, the puzzle is all together, but they keep flipping in just one piece at a time.

Learning by doing: writing and teaching

When writers and poets were asked to teach creative writing, some conveyed the enterprise as a process to be explored and unfolded, not as a specific product to be reproduced. What they said made sense. I practiced their suggestions and discovered my own process of becoming a writer and a poet.

I also shared their strategies with my students facilitating them as writers. The most important takeaway was this: If you took care of the writer, the writing would take care of itself.

I enjoyed asking younger students questions to find out what they were passionate about, to help them uncover their own voice. If they said something interesting, I had them write it down, then asked them to combine their thoughts into a rough draft. I had them listen to what they had written by reading it aloud to me, to use their skills as a reader. Once involved in the process they naturally wanted to clarify their writing, to include relevant details, to edit their work. They had become intrinsically motivated writers!

Here are a few favorite writers who inspired me along the way.

What some favorite poets, writers and teachers say about writing

(more…)

Mary Oliver advises us to open up to joy and not hesitate if we suddenly and unexpectedly feel it

March 13, 2019

                    DON’T HESITATE

If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy,
don’t hesitate. Give in to it. There are plenty
of lives and whole towns destroyed or about
to be. We are not wise, and not very often
kind. And much can never be redeemed.
Still, life has some possibility left. Perhaps this
is its way of fighting back, that sometimes
something happens better than all the riches
or power in the world. It could be anything,
but very likely you notice it in the instant
when love begins. Anyway, that’s often the
case. Anyway, whatever it is, don’t be afraid
of its plenty. Joy is not made to be a crumb.

— Mary Oliver, Evidence (2009), Devotions (2017)

See this remembrance of Mary Oliver with links to more of her poems.

The nurturing effect of rainwater in Mary Oliver’s poems Lingering In Happiness At Blackwater Pond

March 13, 2019

These two poems by Mary Oliver describe the nurturing effect of rainwater in nature deep within the body of the earth and inside her own.

LINGERING IN HAPPINESS

After rain after many days without rain,
it stays cool, private and cleansed, under the trees,
and the dampness there, married now to gravity,
falls branch to branch, leaf to leaf, down to the ground

where it will disappear—but not, of course, vanish
except to our eyes. The roots of the oaks will have their share,
and the white threads of the grasses, and the cushion of moss;
a few drops, round as pearls, will enter the mole’s tunnel;

and soon so many small stones, buried for a thousand years,
will feel themselves being touched.

— Mary Oliver, Why I Wake Early (2004), Devotions (2017)

AT BLACKWATER POND

At Blackwater Pond the tossed waters have settled
after a night of rain.
I dip my cupped hands. I drink
a long time. It tastes
like stone, leaves, fire. It falls cold
into my body, waking the bones. I hear them
deep inside me, whispering
oh what is that beautiful thing
that just happened?

— Mary Oliver, At Blackwater Pond (2006), Devotions (2017)

See this remembrance of Mary Oliver with links to more of her poems.

A keen, patient observer of nature, Mary Oliver’s poetry shone a light on the creatures around her

March 13, 2019

I long to be the empty, waiting, pure, speechless receptacle.

From a young age, Mary Oliver loved the great poets—Wordsworth, Whitman, Emerson and Thoreau. They were her companions. She was destined to become a great poet herself.

To commune with the muse is every poet’s wish, and she succeeded. A keen, patient observer of nature, Oliver honored the creatures around her through her poetry. To do them justice she always strove to be an “empty, waiting, pure, speechless receptacle.”

Go easy, be filled with light, and shine.

Nature was her teacher. When she was among the trees, she felt uplifted by them. “I would almost say that they save me, and daily.” Sometimes sensing her low self-esteem, they would tell her to “Stay awhile.” She would see the light flowing from their branches.

They would remind her, “It’s simple,” and encourage her, “and you too have come into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled with light, and to shine.” And she did! These two poems track part of her journey.

BLUE IRIS

Now that I’m free to be myself, who am I?
Can’t fly, can’t run, and see how slowly I walk.
Well, I think, I can read books.

……………“What’s that you’re doing?”
the green-headed fly shouts as it buzzes past.

I close the book.

Well, I can write down words, like these, softly.

“What’s that you’re doing?” whispers the wind, pausing
in a heap just outside the window.

Give me a little time, I say back to its staring, silver face.
It doesn’t happen all of a sudden, you know.

“Doesn’t it?” says the wind, and breaks open, releasing
distillation of blue iris.

And my heart panics not to be, as I long to be,
the empty, waiting, pure, speechless receptacle.

— Mary Oliver, Blue Iris: Poems and Essays (2006), Devotions (2017)

WHEN I AM AMONG THE TREES

When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.

I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
…..but walk slowly, and bow often.

Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.

And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.”

— Mary Oliver, Thirst (2006), Devotions (2017)

See this remembrance of Mary Oliver with links to more of her poems.

Mary Oliver’s poem, The Loon, may leave you suspended, like the poet in the early morning

March 8, 2019

To get a feeling for what Mary Oliver heard and how it affected her, listen to this video, Voices: Common Loon, before reading her poem, The Loon.

                                   THE LOON

Not quite four a.m., when the rapture of being alive
strikes me from sleep, and I rise
from the comfortable bed and go
to another room, where my books are lined up
in their neat and colorful rows. How

magical they are! I choose one
and open it. Soon
I have wandered in over the waves of the words
to the temple of thought.

…………………………………And then I hear
outside, over the actual waves, the small,
perfect voice of the loon. He is also awake,
and with his heavy head uplifted he calls out
to the fading moon, to the pink flush
swelling in the east that, soon,
will become the long, reasonable day.

……………………………………………….Inside the house
it is still dark, except for the pool of lamplight
in which I am sitting.

……………………………I do not close the book.

Neither, for a long while, do I read on.

 

— Mary Oliver, What Do We Know (2002), Devotions (2017)

See this remembrance of Mary Oliver with links to more of her poems.

RIP: Mary Oliver. Thank you for sharing your poetic gifts with us. They are a national treasure!

January 17, 2019

maybe death
isn’t darkness, after all,
but so much light
wrapping itself around us–

From White Owl Flies Into And Out Of The Field by Mary Oliver

Jan 17, 2019: I received news this morning that Mary Oliver had passed. I was shocked. Strange how just two days ago I had posted and sent out one of her beautiful, wise poems, Sunrise.

Later tonight I checked and the internet was flooded with the news. A friend forwarded this email from Suzanne Lawlor: RIP Mary Oliver. I am very sorry to share this sad news about Mary Oliver, one of my favorite poets. This is what was sent out today:

Mary Oliver, beloved poet and bard of the natural world, died on January 17 at home in Hobe Sound, Florida. She was 83.

mary oliver photo

Poet Mary Oliver

Oliver published her first book, No Voyage, in London in 1963, at the age of twenty-eight. The author of more than 20 collections, she was cherished by readers, and was the recipient of numerous awards, including the 1984 Pulitzer Prize for American Primitive, and the 1992 National Book Award for New and Selected Poems, Volume One. She led workshops and held residencies at various colleges and universities, including Bennington College, where she held the Catharine Osgood Foster Chair for Distinguished Teaching until 2001. It was her work as an educator that encouraged her to write the guide to verse, A Poetry Handbook (1994), and she went on to publish many works of prose, including the New York Times bestselling essay collection, Upstream (2016). For her final work, Oliver created a personal lifetime collection, selecting poems from throughout her more than fifty-year career. Devotions was published by Penguin Press in 2017.

Her poetry developed in close communion with the landscapes she knew best, the rivers and creeks of her native Ohio, and, after 1964, the ponds, beech forests, and coastline of her chosen hometown, Provincetown. She spent her final years in Florida, a relocation that brought with it the appearance of mangroves. “I could not be a poet without the natural world,” she wrote. “Someone else could. But not me. For me the door to the woods is the door to the temple.” In the words of the late Lucille Clifton, “She uses the natural world to illuminate the whole world.”

In her attention to the smallest of creatures, and the most fleeting of moments, Oliver’s work reveals the human experience at its most expansive and eternal.

In her attention to the smallest of creatures, and the most fleeting of moments, Oliver’s work reveals the human experience at its most expansive and eternal. She lived poetry as a faith and her singular, clear-eyed understanding of verse’s vitality of purpose began in childhood, and continued all her life. “For poems are not words, after all, but fires for the cold, ropes let down to the lost, something as necessary as bread in the pockets of the hungry.”

When Death Comes

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle-pox;

when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth,
tending, as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

###

In this poem, When Death Comes, Mary Oliver, who was seriously ill at the time, seemed to be contemplating her own mortality. Her perspectives on life and time were changing: “and I look upon time as no more than an idea, / and I consider eternity as another possibility,”. This reminds me what Maharishi said on the subject: “Time is a conception to measure eternity.”

I’ve posted a few of her astonishing poems: The Journey, Wild Geese, The Swan, PrayingVaranasi, The Summer Day (aka “The Grasshopper”), At the Lake, One, White Owl Flies Into And Out Of The FieldSunrise, The Loon, Blue Iris, When I Am Among The Trees, Lingering In Happiness, At Blackwater Pond, Don’t Hesitate, and When Death Comes, which was included here in her obituary posted on Jan 17, 2019.

On January 21, 2019, Here & Now‘s Robin Young talked with author Ruth Franklin about award-winning poet Mary Oliver’s legacy: Remembering The ‘Ecstatic Poet’ Mary Oliver, Who Wrote About The Natural World. Ruth wrote a profile of Oliver for The New Yorker in 2017. Robin plays an excerpt of Oliver being interviewed by Krista Tippett: On Being, Mary Oliver Listening To The World.

On October 18, 2016, Fresh Air’s Maureen Coorigan gave a wonderful book review of the poet’s New York Times essay collection: Mary Oliver Issues A Full-Throated Spiritual Autobiography In ‘Upstream’.

Today, on the day of her passing, the 92nd Street Y posted their Oct 15, 2012 recording of Mary Oliver reading from her new poetry book, A Thousand Mornings, as well as some of her other well-known poems.

On January 22, 2019, The Paris Review published an In Memoriam from Billy Collins. He wrote about a time (“one evening in October 2012”) when he and Mary Oliver shared the stage for a poetry reading “at an immense performing arts center in Bethesda, Maryland.” What he remembers “best was the book signing that followed. … I couldn’t help noticing how emotional many of Mary’s readers became in her presence. They gushed about how much her poems meant to them, how her poems had comforted them in dire times, how they had been saved by her work.” Read When Mary Oliver Signed Books. His conclusion is revealing!

Quotefancy published TOP 20 Mary Oliver Quotes from her poems.

Mary Oliver’s poem, Sunrise, gives us a larger, wiser perspective on life

January 15, 2019

Mary Oliver is the high priestess of poetry. She translates Earth’s wisdom through her own way of looking at things. I love her insights. They sneak up on you. I smile every time I come to the end of this poem with it’s wise conclusion.

thehillsriversunrise

Sunrise

by Mary Oliver

You can
die for it–
an idea,
or the world. People

have done so,
brilliantly,
letting
their small bodies be bound

to the stake,
creating
an unforgettable
fury of light. But

this morning,
climbing the familiar hills
in the familiar
fabric of dawn, I thought

of China,
and India
and Europe, and I thought
how the sun

blazes
for everyone just
so joyfully
as it rises

under the lashes
of my own eyes, and I thought
I am so many!
What is my name?

What is the name
of the deep breath I would take
over and over
for all of us? Call it

whatever you want, it is
happiness, it is another one
of the ways to enter
fire.

(From: New and Selected Poems)

Photo of The Hills in New Zealand at sunrise found on Photography Begins.

This wonderful conclusion reminds me of a poem by another great female poet: We have reasons to be sad, but happiness cannot be pinned down, explains poet Naomi Shihab Nye.

You can see more poems by Mary Oliver posted on this blog.

Mary Oliver is definitely in touch with her muse, is at one with her. It reminds me of a line in this great little poem by William Stafford—When I Met My Muse.

Thanks to Joe Riley of Panhala for sharing Mary Oliver’s poem Sunrise. To subscribe to Panhala, send a blank email to Panhala-subscribe@yahoogroups.com.