Archive for the ‘Poetry’ Category

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.

David Whyte’s poem, The Journey, describes a leaving as a new beginning, as did Mary Oliver

January 15, 2019

Having read The Journey by Mary Oliver, I found a poem by David Whyte with the same title. Oliver’s poem is about leaving her suffocating home to live her own life, breaking away from other voices to discover her own.

Whyte said he secretly wrote The Journey for a friend who’s life had come undone to give her hope for renewal. She was going through another kind of leaving, from a long-term marriage. He describes it in the introduction to this poem, which you can hear him read below.

Above the mountains
the geese turn into
the light again

Painting their
black silhouettes
on an open sky.

Sometimes everything
has to be
inscribed across
the heavens

so you can find
the one line
already written
inside you.

Sometimes it takes
a great sky
to find that

first, bright
and indescribable
wedge of freedom
in your own heart.

Sometimes with
the bones of the black
sticks left when the fire
has gone out

someone has written
something new
in the ashes of your life.

You are not leaving.
Even as the light fades quickly now,
you are arriving.

From House of Belonging by David Whyte

I’ve posted two other poems of his: David Whyte describes the mysterious way a poem starts inside you with the lightest touch and What To Remember When Waking by David Whyte.

My haiku response to Billy Collins’ poem, Japan

January 3, 2019

I love the poetry of Billy Collins and have a few favorite poems, readings, and interviews posted on my blog. They’re so accessible and humorous.

His poem, Japan, is about a favorite haiku. He wrote each of the 12 stanzas to look like a 3-line haiku. The imagery in the last half of the poem unravels in the most mind-bending of ways as he interchanges perspectives! You can hear Billy Collins read Japan on YouTube.

I remember first reading it in his collection, Sailing Alone Around the Room, I bought over 15 years ago. Today, I found my two-haiku response written on a napkin among scraps of paper. It was also on the back of the receipt, bookmarking that poem! It inspired me to post both.

Today I pass the time reading
a favorite haiku,
saying the few words over and over.

It feels like eating
the same small, perfect grape
again and again.

I walk through the house reciting it
and leave its letters falling
through the air of every room.

I stand by the big silence of the piano and say it.
I say it in front of a painting of the sea.
I tap out its rhythm on an empty shelf.

I listen to myself saying it,
then I say it without listening,
then I hear it without saying it.

And when the dog looks up at me,
I kneel down on the floor
and whisper it into each of his long white ears.

It’s the one about the one-ton
temple bell
with the moth sleeping on its surface,

and every time I say it, I feel the excruciating
pressure of the moth
on the surface of the iron bell.

When I say it at the window,
the bell is the world
and I am the moth resting there.

When I say it into the mirror,
I am the heavy bell
and the moth is life with its papery wings.

And later, when I say it to you in the dark,
you are the bell,
and I am the tongue of the bell, ringing you,

and the moth has flown
from its line
and moves like a hinge in the air above our bed.

###

My humorous response to the moth and temple bell in the poem.

Haiku for Billy Collins’ poem, Japan, by Ken Chawkin

The weight of a moth
on a one-ton temple bell
excruciating

The sound of the bell
all hinges on the moth’s tongue
tapping the surface

Here’s a senior haiku, not a senior moment, yet.

January 3, 2019

I’ve been retired, yet managed to stay busy working. And it’s a new year. One of my intentions for this year was to do more creative things. I do like writing, especially poetry, and in particular, haiku and tanka.

Since I also recently moved, and I’m getting older, two things are inevitable: downsizing—getting rid of stuff, and upgrading—improving my quality of life with newer stuff. Seems to be an unending cycle.

Retirement brings more time to do stuff. Just need the motivation. This is not a senior moment. Not there yet. But here’s a senior haiku.

A Senior Haiku

Might as well Enjoy
[Downsizing and Upgrading]
The rest of my Life

Who knows how much time we have left. Don’t get me wrong, that’s not meant to sound pessimistic, just a realistic assessment of where I’m at in my life right now.

I do have a lot to be thankful for—good health, enough to get by (so far), family and friends, and a special community to live in.

Let’s see what challenges and gifts this year has in store for us. Hopefully better than the last!

A little poem about work, and getting things done

January 3, 2019

I moved last year and still have boxes of books and papers around my office. Yesterday as I was sorting through the junk I found a sheet of folded paper with Emily Dickinson’s cosmic poem about The Brain typed on it. On the other side was the playful little poem I had typed, For—Emily D— From—Kenny C—. On that same piece of paper was a short poem I had scribbled about the nature of work, and getting stuff done.

WORK

When you don’t have to work
You get the most work done.
Doing while non-doing
Transforms work into fun.

Don’t remember when I wrote it, probably last year, as I did the one for the Divine Miss D. I think I may have been working on a particular blog post. If it’s something I’m passionate about, I just lose track of time and enjoy the process. If it’s a job I have to do, then it becomes work, and can drag on. If I’m stuck, I usually start with following my passion first, and write something to express a creative urge. It’s my way of dealing with procrastination, and usually frees me up to then get down to the work at hand. After it was done, I reflected on the distinction, and wrote that little poem. I had scrawled underneath it: My little ditties for the day.

I remember something Maharishi once told us about work: “See the job; do the job; stay out of the misery.” That kept me going when I was doing blue-collar work for Vancouver Parks and Recreation. I also wrote a lot of poetry while working as a park attendant for Queen Elizabeth Park, and during visits to other Vancouver Parks, and while living in Fairfield, Iowa.

Poem: For—Emily D— From—Kenny C—

January 2, 2019

Emily Dickinson’s amazing poem of the Brain being wider than the Sky inspired me to write a playful little poem in her style. I had posted it as a Comment, and now decided to reproduce it here:

For—Emily D—
From—Kenny C—

I am Part of what I See—
An Unlimited Reality
If the Whole is contained in Each Part—
Then I End up—where I Start

New Haiku: Late Autumn in Santa Barbara

November 21, 2018

I’m back visiting my son for Thanksgiving in Santa Barbara. The first time I was there, a little over 2 ½ years ago, I wrote Threshold Haiku upon entering his house. Here’s a new haiku, which starts where the previous one ends, inspired by those pillars of jasmine plants.

Late Autumn in Santa Barbara

Pillars of jasmine
Stand dormant for the winter
Waiting to blossom

Ken Chawkin
Santa Barbara
Nov 20, 2018

The temporary paradox of death in life: writing a tanka for our family pet on his passing

October 27, 2018

The first Wednesday evening of this month, (October 3, 2018) our family’s Great Dane passed away peacefully resting under a cedar tree. His body had been breaking down; it was his time. Dakar had lived a full life, longer than expected for his breed. Even though he was no longer physically with us, I still felt his presence into the next day. It led me to contemplate the paradoxical nature of death and wrote this tanka for him that next morning as a way to try and understand this temporary contradiction, and express what I was feeling at the time.

Maybe some of you have had a similar experience after losing a loved one—a pet, a close friend, or a family member. I read this out this morning at a Death Café after hearing other people describe their experiences of grief, and unexpected surprises when a loved one passed. It was healing for all of us to share.

The Temporary Paradox of Death in Life
A tanka for Dakar on his passing

Silence, Peacefulness
A Fullness of Emptiness
Feeling you still here

An Absence of your Presence
A Presence of your Absence

© Ken Chawkin
October 27, 2018
Fairfield, Iowa

Thomas Merton’s golden poem, Song for Nobody

October 27, 2018

Another poem from Soul Food: Nourishing Poems for Starved Minds is Song for Nobody by Thomas Merton. This golden poem is Beautiful, Enigmatic, and Profound. Below are some reactions to it as I try to fathom the poet’s spiritual perspective. If you have any comments please feel free to post them below. I’d be curious to hear your take on it.

Black-Eyed-Susan Flower

Song for Nobody
by Thomas Merton

A yellow flower
(Light and spirit)
Sings by itself
For nobody.

A golden spirit
(Light and emptiness)
Sings without a word
By itself.

Let no one touch this gentle sun
In whose dark eye
Someone is awake.

(No light, no gold, no name, no color
And no thought:
O, wide awake!)

A golden heaven
Sings by itself
A song to nobody.

(more…)