Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

Rock’s Songbird—Christine McVie—has flown free

December 8, 2022

The Rock world has been reeling from the news of the unexpected death of Christine McVie, the longtime co-lead vocalist, keyboardist, and songwriter for Fleetwood Mac. She died Wednesday, November 30, 2022, after a short illness. She was 79. Christine was surrounded by family members at a London hospital when she passed.

Many condolences and remembrances have been pouring in this past week, especially from members of the band attesting to how much she was loved and appreciated as a person and, of course, as one of their foundational musicians. This E News! video contains several quotes from both band and family members alike. Good Morning America aired Celebrating the life and legacy of Fleetwood Mac’s Christine McVie

You can read more in some of the many articles published about her life. Here are a few: Rolling Stone: Christine McVie, Keyboardist and Singer for Fleetwood Mac, Dead at 79; The Guardian: Fleetwood Mac’s Christine McVie dies at age 79; and NME’s Mark Beaumont’s excellent piece: Christine McVie, 1943-2022: an eternal songbird.

The Guardian also posted photos and quotes: Fleetwood Mac’s Christine McVie – a life in pictures, and Christine McVie: a look back at the Fleetwood Mac star’s greatest hits – video obituary.

Christine McVie on writing ‘Songbird’

One of the things that came up in my Instagram feed was this post from Far Out Magazine: Christine McVie on Writing Songbird. They included the audio portion from a Dec 17, 2017 BBC Desert Island Discs interview with Christine McVie that dealt with how she came to write her famous song. They also transcribed that part of the conversation in the Instagram post. Raised on Radio also posted the interview on YouTube. The Songbird section starts at 3:18. You can click CC to see their words.

In a recent post, I quoted Brendan Graham, who said, “the truly special songs write us; we don’t write them. We don’t find them; they find us.” Christine McVie described exactly that kind of magical experience.

She couldn’t sleep, and an unknown song was in her head. “I had to play this song. It was as if I’d been channeled or something!” It came to her at 3 in the morning. “The whole song, complete, chords, words, everything within half an hour,” she explained. Fortunately, she had a piano in her room, but no tape recorder. So she kept playing it without sleeping for fear of forgetting it, until she went into the studio at 9 o’clock the next day to record it on a two-track tape. “I just felt as if it was a universal kind of prayer or something. I just don’t know where it came from. This never happened to me since or before.”

‘Songbird’ would arguably become McVie’s signature song. Originally released as the B-side to ‘Dreams’ in 1977, it ended up on Fleetwood Mac’s world-conquering Rumours album. It wasn’t her biggest hit for the group, but the ballad was a frequent closer at Fleetwood Mac concerts, especially after McVie rejoined in 2014.

McVie later recorded an orchestral version of the song, composed and arranged by multi-Grammy winner Vince Mendoza. It was part of her first-ever compilation highlighting songs from her solo career: ‘Songbird ~ A Solo Collection,’ which came out this year.

Enjoy this beautiful photo collage by CK WOOD Music Productions to Songbird (Fleetwood Mac and Christine McVie).

At 2:03 there’s a photo of Christine wearing a top with the words, Nobody’s Perfekt. This is doubly funny, not only because of the misspelling of the word, perfect, but also because it’s her family name! She was born Christine Anne Perfect. She told Peter Robinson of The Guardian: “I used to joke that I was perfect until I married John.”

Two decades after it first aired, the world discovered Eva Cassidy’s amazing voice singing ‘Songbird’. It was published 2 years after her untimely death at 33. Mick Fleetwood knew Eva and said this about her: “She was brilliant. She had the magic. And I call it, It. She had It!” To find out more about her, see The hauntingly beautiful voice of Eva Cassidy.

Christine’s Family, Early Background, and Later Recognition

Christine Anne Perfect was born on July 12, 1943 to Cyril Percy Absell Perfect and Beatrice Edith Maud Perfect. They also have a son named John. Christine’s family contributed considerably to her development. Her grandfather was the organist at Westminster Abbey. Her father was a concert violinist and music lecturer at St. Peters College of Education at Saltley in Birmingham. Her mother was a medium, psychic, and faith healer. After her brother brought home a Fats Domino songbook, she switched from playing classical piano to blues-based rock and roll.

She studied sculpture at school with the intention of becoming an art teacher and met blues musicians who invited her to join a band. She later left a window-dressing job in London to become a full-time musician. She would soon be invited to join an early version of Fleetwood Mac who would go on, through various iterations, to become one of the top-selling bands of all time.

An introvert by nature, McVie’s creative and spiritual influences informed her musical career and kind personality. She impacted her bandmates in positive ways, at times, the quieter center holding them together as they spun out of control due to the excessive drug-fueled lifestyles and rocky romantic relationships of that era. But they turned their melodramas into musical hits. McVie would be honored with many awards, and in 1998, was inducted with Fleetwood Mac into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

MOJO’s Tribute to Fleetwood Mac singer-songwriter Christine McVie

Christine McVie: Her 20 Greatest Songs. In tribute to Fleetwood Mac singer-songwriter Christine McVie, who passed away this week, MOJO selects the best tracks from across her career. They also included Christine McVie Remembered. In memory of Christine McVie, who has sadly passed away aged 79, MOJO revisits our 2017 interview with Fleetwood Mac’s singer-songwriter.

Leland Roberts published in Medium: In Memoriam: Christine McVie is Britain’s Greatest Female Popular Music Artist.

What the Living Do—Marie Howe’s ‘letter’ to her brother—an elegy to loss and how she lives with it

November 2, 2022

In previous posts we highlighted how certain poems (or a song) seem to come through poets as if they were a conduit. Another example is poet Marie Howe. During a poetry reading she gave at a Christian Scholars’ Conference in 2017 Plenary, she said this about her writing. (19:39)

“So much of writing for me is writing a lot and throwing it out, because as John would say, I knew that already. So, it’s writing and writing and writing until the poem actually begins to write me, which was a great great feeling. And this is a poem that ended up being a title of this book, because I was working on four or five different poems in a very long day and finally pushed them aside, because I had to give up writing a poem, and just write to my dead brother John. And it ended up being what wanted to be written. It’s called What the Living Do.” (20:18)

So, it’s writing and writing and writing until the poem actually begins to write me, which was a great great feeling. And it ended up being what wanted to be written.

Marie Howe on the poem to her brother, What the Living Do

Fresh Air: Poet Marie Howe On ‘What The Living Do’ After Loss

She read and discussed this poem, and others, with Terry Gross on NPR’s Fresh Air: Poet Marie Howe On ‘What The Living Do’ After Loss (Oct 19, 2011). Her younger brother John died from AIDS-related complications in 1989. A few years later she wrote him a poem in the form of a letter. They wrote, “the poem is an elegiac description of loss, and of living beyond loss.” The title poem of her collection was later selected for inclusion in The Penguin Anthology of 20th-Century American Poetry

These comments by Marie from their wonderful conversation stood out: “So many poems occur at the intersection of time and eternity and the fullness of time. … Poetry holds the knowledge that we are alive and that we know we’re going to die. The most mysterious aspect of being alive might be that—and poetry knows that.”

Poetry holds the knowledge that we are alive and that we know we’re going to die. The most mysterious aspect of being alive might be that—and poetry knows that.

Marie Howe on our mortality and poetry’s redeeming value

The Writing Life: The Poet Is In at Grand Central Terminal

During her two-year tenure as New York State Poet Laureate, Marie Howe collaborated with the MTA and NYU to create public poetry events. She told poet Sandra Beasley, host of The Writing Life, that the coolest thing they did, and expanded upon the next year, was The Poet Is In at Grand Central Terminal, where hundreds of people lined up for hours to have their own poem written for them by an award-winning poet. The program was so successful they had to build more sets and bring in more poets on a rotating schedule to handle the growing demand. That section of the interview, Marie Howe wants you to carry her poems away, is cued up at 20:38.

The Millions: Writing as a spiritual act

I featured another powerful poem of hers in this earlier post: New York poet laureate Marie Howe reads “Annunciation” to Krista Tippett On Being. She described how the poem came through her, “and it had nothing to do with me.” I highlight an interview with The Millions. When asked if she thinks of writing as a spiritual act at its core, Marie replies:

“I do, because it involves a wonderful contradiction, which is, in order for it to happen, you have to be there, and you have to disappear. Both. You know, nothing feels as good as that. Being there and disappearing—being possessed by something else. Something happening through you, but you’re attending it. There are few other things in the world like that, but writing is pretty much a relief from the self—and yet the self has to be utterly there.”

Nothing feels as good as that. Being there and disappearing—being possessed by something else. Something happening through you, but you’re attending it. Writing is pretty much a relief from the self—and yet the self has to be utterly there.

Marie Howe on the contradiction within writing as a spiritual act

Poets Ada Limón and Ranier Maria Rilke

This relates to the previous post about Ada Limón, the 24th U.S. Poet Laureate, where she describes her experiences of writing poetry—how deep attention can turn into a poem, that deep looking is a way of loving, and can transform the smallest thing into something of great importance. She said it is the thing that brings her the most joy.

Ranier Maria Rilke describes, in great detail, this process of deep seeing and ability to surrender completely to “Things whose essential life you want to express.” If you do, then it will reciprocate and “speak to you” with a most glorious outcome. His amazing description, translated by Stephen Mitchell, is included in that post.

Previous posts on being a conduit for poetry and song

I share a few of my own poems from a similar perspective in Being written—how some poems come through us.

In a previous post, Karen Matheson sings a beautiful sad Gaelic song. Written by Brendan Graham, he reveals how the song chose him as a conduit to tell its story of loss and grief during Ireland’s 1840s famine.

Poems about death by Stephen Levine and Mary Oliver

Here’s a look at death from a different, more enlightened perspective in Two profound poems by Stephen Levine: in the realm of the passing away & millennium blessing.

Mary Oliver reflected on death, especially towards the end of her life when she was ill. These two poems reveal her thoughts. White Owl Flies Into And Out Of The Field — maybe death / isn’t darkness, after all, / but so much light / wrapping itself around us–. When Death Comes — 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.

Being written—how some poems come through us

October 20, 2022

In the previous post, I was impressed by what Brendan Graham said about being chosen for a song to go out into the world. “I had learned to keep out of the way, let the song write itself. … The truly special songs write us; we don’t write them. We don’t find them; they find us.”

The video clip concludes with him saying: “I am grateful to be merely the conduit, an accident of time and place through which something I don’t fully understand is given voice and is heard.”

This reminded me of some of my own experiences in the past writing certain poems. As he said, it was more like they wrote me. I just put them down on paper as they were being given to me. I was the conduit—the intrinsic reward. Here are 4 poems and how they came to be written.

ODE TO THE ARTIST Sketching Lotus Pads at Round Prairie Park

The first magical interaction I remember was with an artist friend. While driving around the Fairfield, Iowa countryside we noticed signs to Round Prairie Park. It turned out to be the first park the Jefferson County Conservation Board had developed. We drove on and found the entrance. A small historic schoolhouse on the left and a pond on the right were the first things we noticed. We continued on around the bend past the campsites and picnic tables to the end of the road and parked the car.

After a short walk, we discovered a bigger pond. It was filled with large lotus pads and pods. A drought that summer of 1988 had lowered water levels everywhere, including the pond. As a result, some of the lotus pads stood even taller. My friend pulled out her notepad and began sketching them. I asked her for a page and a pen. I made a few attempts at writing a poem about them, then gave up.

We spoke about The Secret Life of Plants and how they can sense what you’re thinking. She went back to sketching. I decided to switch perspectives—what I later learned is ‘reverse seeing’—and tried again. This time I felt a heightened awareness and quickly wrote down the words as they came to me. When it was over, I looked down and saw a poem on the page, but it was written in a voice other than my own. At that moment, a bird in the tree above me dropped a turd. It landed on my writing hand! A blessing from nature?

ODE TO THE ARTIST
Sketching Lotus Pads at Round Prairie Park
Black lines briefly sketched on paper
capture our appearance but not our essence.

Your attention interests us,
although others have never before.
Your watchful eyes tell us
we are apart of you.

Can you feel our thoughts?
Can you think our feelings?
We do yours
and we thank you for committing us to memory.

For long after we’ve gone
and transmuted ourselves back into nature
our likeness will remind you that we were.
And your response will touch our hearts.

I had entered the poem in a Sparrowgrass Poetry Forum competition that was announced in the local Fairfield Ledger and forgot about it. Eventually, the editor acknowledged receipt of the poem, which he appreciated, said it was in the competition, and had a question about the way I spelled ‘apart of’ in the last line of the second stanza.

I explained that I wanted to express both ideas of togetherness and separateness at the same time in the same sounding word—’a part of’ and ‘apart from’. A language professor friend suggested I italicize ‘a‘ and ‘of‘ to give it that appearance and meaning in ‘apart of you’. It felt right.

The following summer, a postcard in the mail told me to go to the Post Office to pick up a registered letter. I had no idea what it was about. When I opened it, the letter announced that I had won Sparrowgrass Poetry Forum’s Distinguished Poet Award, which included a $100 check. The plaque would be mailed in a few days. What an unexpected surprise! It also happened to be Guru Purnima Day 1989, making it extra special to me! I was so grateful for this honor and recognition, especially since I had been going through a challenging phase of my life.

I told the writer at The Ledger about it and she said to come in with the plaque. She interviewed me and they took a picture of me holding the award. She thought The Ledger would need permission to publish the poem and asked me to check with the publisher. He said I owned the rights to my poem and could approve them printing it in the paper. The article had already come out, so they published the poem the next day. These unexpected events were signs encouraging me to keep writing.

Sometimes Poetry Happens

The editor wanted a follow-up poem, which made me nervous since I felt I hadn’t really written that first poem. So, I thought about the dynamic between us and the lotus pads, wondering what had really happened between the two—the observer and the observed—from both sides.

When I put pen to paper, surprisingly, it flowed effortlessly, even blissfully. The middle part of the poem reiterated what Brendan Graham had said about the truly special songs—in my case, poems—finding us and writing us, not the other way around.

But, when I tried to make a statement, nothing worked. I gave up, let go, and lay down on the couch to take a break. In a few moments the conclusion to the poem composed itself in my mind. I quickly got up, went back to the kitchen table, and wrote it down.

It was written in such a comprehensive poetic manner. I never would have imagined such a perfect answer to the posed question of what had happened between the two. I explained that in a reply to an appreciative comment on the poem.

The editor was pleased to have received the poem and published it. Besides being a memory of what had been heard, the poem became a kind of commentary on the creative process, that, if we’re lucky enough, sometimes poetry happens.

Sometimes Poetry Happens
(Sequel to ODE TO THE ARTIST)

Some poets can write
from reflected experience
referring back to what was written.

Others need to be there,
in full view of their subject,
opening up to what’s being given.

Sometimes poetry happens between the two.

It’s then you don’t really write the poem.
It writes you!
You just put it down on paper.

When you see it there,
You’ve captured it.
Or, rather, it’s captured you.

What really happened between the two?

To explore that space
between you and me
is to discover who we are.

For deep within,
at the source of the gap
lie the togetherness of the three—

the seer, the seen, and the poetry … in between.

Being in Nature—a gift from a tree

Other poems would start with a seed idea, then grow and unfold while writing them down. One short poem resulted from a surprising interaction with a tree on the UBC Endowment Lands in Vancouver. I had moved back to Canada during the 1990s.

I was standing with an artist friend closely admiring the bark of a tree in front of us. The tree reciprocated the attention with a ray of words entering my heart-mind: “the realness of natural things, the nearness of you.” I immediately wrote them down.

The next morning, I looked at the two-line stanza wondering where it would go next. The poem answered my hunches and completed itself as I wrote it down in my journal. It felt like a collaborative process.

The repetitive end rhymes and number of syllables per line created their own matching patterns, like a little gem. The title would come much later, while thinking of the word ‘being’ as both a subject and a gerund.

Being in Nature 
a gift from a tree 

The Realness of Natural Things 
The nearness of you 

The Beauty that Nature Brings 
When seeing is true 

The Silence that Inward Sings 
When hearing is clear 

The Harmony Between all Beings 
It exists right here!

Indonesian Mystery Poem

This reminds me of the start of another poem that was given to me a few days after having arrived in Jakarta, Indonesia in early June 2000. I had joined our group there on a project. They told me to just rest (meditate and sleep) in my room for a few days to get over the 17-hour jet lag.

It was very early in the third morning, while I was still asleep, when I heard these words softly spoken in my mind: “He hides within the rock of three dimensions and cannot be found in this world.” I woke myself up and wrote them down. The rest was like taking dictation. I had no idea who or what the poem was about, so I titled it Indonesian Mystery Poem.

When I shared it with an older Indonesian gentleman on our team, he recognized the mythic Queen of the Southern Seas in the poem and told me about her. So did two expats, after I taught them to meditate. In a book on Indonesia I later bought for my son, I discovered the story about Nyi Roro Kidul and the annual celebration taking place at that time.

The leaders of our group—a Canadian and a Dutchman—had been invited by our sponsors to West Java for the holiday weekend. In the Samudra Beach Hotel where they were staying was a room with a shrine dedicated to the mythic queen featuring a portrait of her painted by a well-known Indonesian artist.

When I read the poem to the Dutchman, he shared a few unusual experiences that had happened to him while they were there—before and after meditating in that hotel room, later when swimming in the ocean, and before they left. It’s all in the post of the poem, with various paintings of the queen.

Indonesian Mystery Poem 
Honoring Nyi Roro Kidul 
Queen of the Southern Seas 

He hides within the rock
of three dimensions
and cannot be found
in this world

When night comes
she rises like a moon
to shine her light
upon the mountain

The sea dances
rising and falling
like a lover
in her arms

What pull does she have
on his life
as she looks for a partner
to dance with

The moon bows
before the rising sun
and he is left
breathless

All these confirmations made me feel grateful, as if I had been chosen as a conduit, but for what purpose I did not know. Maybe, as Brendan Graham said, “through which something I don’t fully understand is given voice and is heard.”

The Indonesian poem was mentioned in an interview I did with TM Home. They included the first two poems and how they were written in their profile: PR to poetry – how things sometimes happen to Ken Chawkin.

Postscript

Talk about being a conduit in a poetic way, B. Nina Holzer’s final entry in her journal shows us how she is an innocent instrument for writing.

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.

I recommend her book—A Walk Between Heaven and Earth: A Personal Journal on Writing and the Creative Process—to anyone interested in wanting to express themselves in writing. I found it very inspirational.

In a post following this one, newly appointed U.S. Poet Laureate Ada Limón describes what Ranier Maria Rilke reveals can happen if you give yourself fully over to a Thing, how it can respond if your attention is completely devoted to it. 

An earlier post discusses negative capability, reverse seeing, beauty & the desire for transcendence & unity in life & poetry.

Added Nov 2, 2022: What the Living Do—Marie Howe’s ‘letter’ to her brother—an elegy to loss and how she lives with it.

Karen Matheson sings ‘Crucán na bPáiste’ with a Gaelic band. Brendan Graham tells how the song chose him as a conduit. Truly beautiful and sad.

October 9, 2022

I can remember as a child getting emotional every time my father would play a recording of Toora-Loora-Looral (It’s an Irish Lullaby). My lower lip would pout and quiver, and sometimes I’d cry. I still feel sad when listening to certain Irish artists and created a blog post about them.

Karen Matheson sings Crucán na bPáiste

Another Gaelic artist and song I recently discovered that also moves me is Karen Matheson singing Crucán na bPáiste, ‘burial place of the children’. It was written by Brendan Graham for the heroine of his novel The Brightest Day, The Darkest Night. When I discovered what it was about, what the words of the song meant, it elicited a stronger response.

One commenter explains: “The song is set during the famine in Ireland (1840s). People were dying so fast that they had to be buried in mass graves—the children included. But there was a special mass grave just for the little ones. That is what a ‘Crucán na bPáiste’ is (burial place of the children). In this song, a young mother grieves the fact she could do nothing to keep her dear little one from dying and wishes she had died as well. Now she vows to leave Ireland forever to the States to try and escape the bitter memories.”

Another later adds: “One other aspect you do not know…this is a graveyard for unbaptized babies…died before being baptized….kept separate by the Catholic Church.” Brendan Graham mentions this in his talk about the song in the second video below.

See a translation of the lyrics from Irish Gaelic to English, and listen to the recorded song on Spotify from Karen’s downriver album or on YouTube. They both play out to the end. Truly beautiful and so very sad.

This video excerpt from a BBC Four Transatlantic Sessions 3 includes an introduction by Karen about the collaboration between British and American musicians playing Gaelic music, followed by the band’s performance of the song.

These musicians accompany Karen in her rendition, which is filled with sorrow, regret, and a pleading prayer. The uilleann pipes in the last third of the piece intensify the overall sense of grief. Embedded here is that live performance of Crucán na bPáiste with English subtitles.

Accompanying Karen Matheson are Donald Shaw on piano, Ronan Browne on whistle and uilleann pipes, Aly Bain on fiddle, Tim O’Brien on fiddle, Jerry Douglas on slide, Catriona McKay on harp, and Todd Parks on bass.

How Brendan Graham wrote Crucán na bPáiste

The YouTube algorithm later suggested a short video of how Brendan Graham wrote his beautiful song Crucán na bPáiste. It was a revelation! He happened to be walking up in those beautiful mountains, “a place above the world hung between heaven and earth,” and came upon that place of unmarked stones. That’s when it happened.

He describes how he was affected, how the history of that time and place worked on him over many months to express itself, to tell its story, word by word, line by line, until he “had been set free and it had found its epiphany.”

I had learned to keep out of the way; let the song write itself. … The truly special songs write us; we don’t write them. We don’t find them; they find us.”

The truly special songs write us; we don’t write them. We don’t find them; they find us.

Songwriter and author Brendan Graham

“How else is it explained how a song can seep out of the wilderness, out of rocks and streams, and the deep pool of its own dark history, and, how a remote place in the Mayo Mountains, can, of its own volition, send out its story to the world.”

He concludes with all humility and gratitude. “I am grateful to be merely the conduit, an accident of time and place through which something I don’t fully understand is given voice and is heard.”

A truly haunting song! It ranks up there with Davy Spillane playing the beautiful lament Caoineadh Cu Chulainn on uillieann pipes, and May Morning Dew on low whistle, alone, and with Moving Hearts in Dublin. Siobhan Miller sings her own beautiful version with her amazing band.

l first discovered Davy Spillane playing Midnight Walker. It captured my attention. Those songs are all embedded with a few artists’ covers here: The hauntingly beautiful music of Davy Spillane played on uilleann pipes and low whistle.

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.

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 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!

An unforgettable incident 50 years ago during intermission at a Montreal Place Des Arts concert

February 11, 2021

I remember this incident as if it was yesterday, even though it happened around 50 years ago. I had purchased a ticket to see a well-known rock group perform that evening at Place Des Arts, Montreal’s newest and most beautiful arts center at the time.

I had learned Transcendental Meditation a few years earlier and was conscientious about getting both 20-minute meditations in every day. The morning one was easy, but fitting in the evening session could sometimes be a bit of a challenge depending on where I was.

There was a long intermission between performances, when people could go to restrooms or get refreshments on the mezzanine. As audience members around me got up to leave, I decided to stay and do my evening meditation. I closed my eyes and meditated undisturbed. I could hear the buzz of people socializing on the other side of the closed doors to the concert hall, but it didn’t bother me.

After I finished, I went out to see what was happening. People were milling about and talking. There were several oval-shaped bars located on the floor with a few servers behind them. Some people had formed separate lines on all sides leading up to them to purchase drinks or snacks. I joined one of the lines closest to me. I felt calm, relaxed and refreshed, and was in no hurry.

We were moving slowly. Some people spoke casually among themselves. The lady in front of me was antsy. She kept looking at the barman at the front of our line serving customers, wanting him to hurry up and get to her. Frustrated, she blurted out, “He’s everywhere but in front of him.”

“He’s everywhere but in front of him.”

I looked and noticed the barman taking an order from the person in front of him. He then ran to serve a drink to someone further down the bar. Next, he gave change to a customer who had just paid for their drink from another side. He was all over the place.

After seeing how busy he was, I rearranged her words from a different perspective and said, “But everywhere is in front of him!”

“But everywhere is in front of him!”

She anxiously looked again, and this time noticed that he was quickly trying his best to serve as many people as possible. My observational joke had broken the tension. She laughed and said, “That’s a good one.”

I was just as surprised as her at what had spontaneously come out of my mouth. I smiled and said, “You like it? It’s yours.”

Visibly relaxed, she smiled and thanked me. Good thing I had done my TM! Just goes to show you the effect we can have on each other for good.

(more…)

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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