Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

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 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. Perhaps it may have come from a personal correspondence between the two friends.

“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

January 9, 2021

Discovering and writing haiku and tanka

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

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

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

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

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

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

Transformed

Caterpillars spin
increments of commitment;
Butterflies fly free!

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

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

Defined

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

Discovered

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

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

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

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

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

Three Japanese cranes
Soar above trees in snowstorm
Grace under pressure

Tanka on the Japanese art of kintsugi

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

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

kintsugi tanka

kintsukuroi
turning obstacles into
opportunities

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

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

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

Tanka on the Japanese martial art of Aikido

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

My Son’s Sensei

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

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

Two tree tanka

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

Willow Tree
An Overflowing Fountain of Green

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

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

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

Friendship

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

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

A two-haiku relationship poem

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

COMMITTED

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

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

© Ken Chawkin

See more haiku and tanka archived on The Uncarved Blog.

Suggested Reading

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

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

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

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

Good cartoons teach us a lot if we’re willing to learn and laugh at our little foibles and neuroses

December 15, 2020

Cartoons that make us laugh at ourselves are the funniest and wisest. Here’s one I found that caught me by surprise. As soon as I read the second line of the quote below the image I could not stop laughing. Even now, when I think of it, I chuckle to myself. It says a lot!

It was posted on Narrative Magazine‘s Instagram page. The signature at the bottom suggested Sipress. I searched on Instagram and found David Sipress. He’s another cartoonist published in The New Yorker cartoons. I’d seen his work before and think he is a brilliant commentator on life, pointing out the crazy humor in current affairs.

A Case For Pencils interviewed him about his work. They include a link to an audio of him talking about cartoons while taking a yoga class. They also embed a video of a lecture he gave at Williams College Alumni Reunion 2008: Illustrator and cartoonist David Sipress, Class of 1968, discusses the art of cartooning and The New Yorker.

I’ve posted other cartoons, light and dark, that tickled my funny bone. This one by Gahan Wilson is another unexpectedly funny New Yorker cartoon—what this fortuneteller tells her client. And this other funny one tellingly depicts our obsession with the past and future, ignoring how to be in the present moment!

The cartoon at the top of this post on my favorite romantic movies is where we go to keep learning our life’s lessons. Towards the bottom of that same post I inserted a related New Yorker cartoon by Roz Chast that perfectly reminds me of Bill Murray waking up each morning in the brilliant little film, Ground Hog Day, but with a twist!

An astute and funny one by Alex Gregory shows us what social media can do to us. And the brilliant cartoons and videos in this post deal with cellphone addiction and love in the digital age.

Rick Hotton, creator of the award-winning cartoon Holy Molé, opens our hearts and minds with insightful humor. Speaking of interfacing with reality through computers instead of our own eyes, this cartoon make us laugh realizing there’s more to life when we’re truly present.

If you’re up for non-stop laughter, check out Instagram’s Favorite New Yorker Cartoons of 2020. It’s in The New Yorker’s 2020 in Review culture section of their December 14 issue. They’re very funny and relatable!!!

This one-minute video from CBC Comedy’s 22 Minutes on how to deal with dietary restrictions at Christmas dinner is hilarious because it’s true!

Cartoon wisdom from Karl Stevens appears in this week’s print edition of The New Yorker. It’s all about learning to live in the moment. Turns out Karl has been doing TM for 7 years. Says it’s completely changed his life for the better, helping him focus on living a cleaner life.

WRITING TANKA—Preparing to Write

December 10, 2020

Here’s a little backgrounder on this poem, which I wrote around 20 years ago while on a course at Heavenly Mountain in Boone, North Carolina. The first part was originally just a haiku. It was a fun way to point out the need to increase awareness as a preparation to write. Years later, an idea presented itself extending the metaphor to its logical conclusion. The phrase, taken literally, was an unexpected surprise, along with the irresistible pun. I added them as a hoku, completing the poem, transforming it into a tanka on writing. Enjoy reading “Preparing to Write.”

The Uncarved Blog

PREPARING TO WRITE
a tanka on writing

.

Railroad Crossings Are

Places To Become Aware—

STOP! LOOK! And LISTEN!

.

If you hear a train of thought

You’ll know you’re on the write track!

.

© Ken Chawkin

.

Also see Haiku On The Nature of Haiku.

a writing tanka on writing tanka by ken chawkin

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Being in Nature—a gift from a tree

December 6, 2020

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

The Uncarved Blog

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

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

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

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

November 30, 2020

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

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

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

Rx Creative Writing: Identity
By William Stafford

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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