Berries

My region, like many others, has been sweltering through a heat wave lately. The mild winter pushed bloom times and fruiting times a bit earlier than usual; blackberries started ripening ten days ago, and now we have blueberries before July.

But not much before July. In celebration of blueberries and other joys of summertime, here’s a poem from my collection Small Things Rise & Go.

The Blue of July

We pick the first blueberries
while lilies gape at us,
peering over their green fans.
Birds’ tirades scatter over wind
and into our ears,
buffeting us with scold and caw and
something not melody but song:

a song of fruit, of seeds and
mealybugs and inchworms,
the wild clack of bamboo
or maple branches.

Summer’s like a mulberry,
a blueberry, dark and vivid.
It stains the day sweaty,
leaves bright pollen on our noses
as we inhale the sun

on lilies, as white clover gathers
like clouds upon the grass
and, sweet in our mouths,
the day explodes—blue.

~

A note to anyone who has ordered or wishes to order Water-Rites: The order has gone to the printer. Possibly 2-3 weeks before my book is in your hands. Many thanks.

Control

middle island ~

Human beings crave control. We want to be the masters of our own fate or to believe that there is a master of our fates who can be entreated or persuaded, propitiated or cajoled into helping us to gain control of our lives or the lives of others. We want to change the weather so that the rain falls when the soil needs rain, wetting the seeds we’ve sown, and so that the warmth comes when our plants need warmth. We want the sea to be calm and the fog to lift when we are ready to set sail. We want fine, sunny days when we visit the beach to swim or head out for a picnic. We want just enough snow so that school’s canceled, but not so much that our power goes out. We pray. We dance. We chant. We invent little private rituals and participate in community rituals.

We want to control our health. It does not seem to be an unreasonable aim. We want to control our relationships–just enough to keep ourselves happy. We want control over our careers and  our income–not so much to ask. We want to be able to make our own decisions. We want choices so that we feel we have control over our lives.

My gardens are my analogy today. I’m still endeavoring to exert some control over my vegetable garden, but I kept my purposes modest this year; I planted fewer beans, fewer tomatoes, fewer peppers, fewer potatoes, no onions, no peas, no edamame, no radishes…the walk-through rows are wider so it is easier to weed. Beginning with the dry warm winter and some assemblies of challenges that do not pertain to the garden, the season looked “iffy.” Then came lashings of showers in May. A challenging season, but not insurmountable. I have been gardening a long time, and I have methods of adapting to things I cannot control. It comes with the territory.

The ornamental beds have presented the most difficult struggle with my need to control the space I (somewhat ridiculously) consider my own. When the beds get overgrown–as they are now–I know that I can accept their exuberant rioting with the successful weeds. I can say, “This is what nature intends. There is beauty here.”

overgrown

I do know that. But the controlling mind–the monkey mind–says, “Too much penstemon; it’s gotten aggressive. Deadhead the peonies. Pull up the plantian, the wild asters, fleabane, wild garlic, crabgrass, bermuda grass, creeping charlie, five-leaf vine. Get the seedlings out of there (mulberry, redbud, oak). Mulch. Keep the rabbits off the hostas. Move the marybells. Get the weeds out of the alchemilla…”

My head clouds with fog. The seas get rough and I despair, because I cannot control things. Not even a small garden.

Instead, I could be meditating on green. On the amazing variety of leaf-shapes, on dappledness (like G. M. Hopkins):

Pied Beauty

Glory be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And áll trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spáre, strange;
Whatever is fickle, frecklèd (who knows how?)
With swíft, slów; sweet, sóur; adázzle, dím;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is pást change:

Práise hím.

~

Here is one aspect of my ornamental garden. Overgrown, yes. Lush, diverse, lovely in its unrefined way. Until I have the wherewithal to tear through and divide and move and mulch, this is not a bad view, the definition of … lack of restraint, ornamentals gone wild. Freedom, I suppose.

A little too much of some good things.

As we grow, we learn to let go. So I am told. Garden, you have a chance to go wild!

And I guess I have the opportunity to learn to live with that.

A Poet’s Craft

I am enjoying a text by Annie Finch, a fine poet–but this is not a book of her poems. Finch is the director of the MFA program at Stonecoast (Univ. of Maine); and her new book, A Poet’s Craft, draws on her experience teaching people to write poetry. She begins in the best possible way: teaching people how to read poetry.

It’s a gentle, encouraging book but passionate. The examples she gives are excellent, varied, and surprising, spanning centuries and continents. Even if you have no  intention of ever writing a poem but would like to learn how to read and appreciate the art and craft of poetry, you should consider getting this book.

Meanwhile, a thunderstorm approaches. Time to close up shop at the computer and get back to reading!

Memorial

Today is the anniversary of my friend David Dunn’s passing into the beyond, (1999).

And yesterday, I attended the memorial service for theologian, professor, writer, social activist, and family friend, Walter Wink. The memorial was held at the James Chapel of Union Theological Seminary, where Walter attended grad school with my dad and where Wink taught for awhile in the 1970s before moving to Auburn Seminary.

Words that stayed with me hours and hours after the services: iconoclast. creativity. non-violence. scholarship. action. impishness. curiosity. reconciliation.

I’ve read three of Walter’s books and some of his articles. He was a brilliant and unusual man, optimistic, forward-thinking, that rare combination of someone who is both a thinker/writer and a doer/person of action. I include here an excerpt of one of his articles on The Sermon on the Mount, well worth reading in its entirely for the force of his rational as well as spiritual argument, a relevant and timely reasoning for cognitive awareness and non-violent action in the lives of human beings who want to value themselves and others as human beings–not as inferiors, not as “other,” not as enemy–with dignity and compassion.

from–  http://www.cres.org/star/_wink.htm

Excerpt from Wink’s Jesus’ Third Way

“Seize the moral initiative
Find a creative alternative to violence
Assert your own humanity and dignity as a person
Meet force with ridicule or humor
Break the cycle of humiliation
Refuse to submit or to accept the inferior position
Expose the injustice of the system
Take control of the power dynamic
Shame the oppressor into repentance
Stand your ground
Make the Powers make decisions for which they are not   prepared
Recognize your own power
Be willing to suffer rather than retaliate
Force the oppressor to see you in a new light
Deprive the oppressor of a situation where a show of force   is effective
Be willing to undergo the penalty of breaking unjust laws
Die to fear of the old order and its rules
Seek the oppressor’s transformation

….

Gandhi insisted that no one join him who was not willing to take up arms to fight for independence.  They could not freely renounce what they had not entertained.  One cannot pass directly from “Flight” to “Jesus’ Third Way.”  One needs to pass through the “Fight” stage, if only to discover one’s own inner strength and capacity for violence.  We need to learn to love justice and truth enough to die for them, by violence if nothing else.

Jesus, in short, abhors both passivity and violence.  He articulates, out of the history of his own people’s struggles, a way by which evil can be opposed without being mirrored, the oppressor resisted without being emulated, and the enemy neutralized without being destroyed.  Those who have lived by Jesus’ words–Leo Tolstoy, Mohandas K. Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Dorothy Day, César Chavez, Adolpho Pérez Esquivel–point us to a new way of confronting evil whose potential for personal and social transformation we are only beginning to grasp today. Beyond Just War and Pacifism Just war theory was founded in part on a misinterpretation of “Resist not evil” (Matt. 5:39), which Augustine regarded as an absolute command to non-resistance of evil. No Christian, he argued, can take up arms in self-defense, therefore, but must submit passively even to death.  Nor can Christians defend themselves against injustice, but must willingly collaborate in their own ruin.  But what, asked Augustine, if my neighbors are being thus treated?  Then the love commandment requires me to take up arms if necessary to defend them.

But Jesus did not teach non-resistance.  Rather, he disavowed violent resistance in favor of nonviolent resistance.  Of course Christians must resist evil!  No decent human being could conceivably stand by and watch innocents suffer without trying to do, or at least wishing to do, something to save them.  The question is simply one of means.  Likewise Christians are not forbidden by Jesus to engage in self-defense.  But they are to do so nonviolently.  Jesus did not teach supine passivity in the face of evil.  That was precisely what he was attempting to overcome!

Pacifism, in its Christian forms, was often based on the same misinterpretation of Jesus’ teaching in Matt. 5:38-42.  It too understood Jesus to be commanding non-resistance.  Consequently, some pacifists refuse to engage in nonviolent direct action or civil disobedience, on the ground that such actions are coercive.  Non-resistance, they believe, only licenses passive resistance.  Hence the confusion between “pacifism” and “passivism” has not been completely unfounded.

Jesus’ third way is coercive, insofar as it forces oppressors to make choices they would rather not make.  But it is non-lethal, the great advantage of which is that, if we have chosen a mistaken course, our opponents are still alive to benefit from our apologies.  The same exegesis that undermines the Scriptural ground from traditional just war theory also erodes the foundation of non-resistant pacifism.  Jesus’ teaching carries us beyond just war and pacifism, to a militant nonviolence that actualizes already in the present the ethos of God’s domination-free future.

Out of the heart of the prophetic tradition, Jesus engaged the Domination System in both its outer and spiritual manifestations.  His teaching on nonviolence forms the charter for a way of being in the world that breaks the spiral of violence.  Jesus here reveals a way to fight evil with all our power without being transformed into the very evil we fight.  It is a way–the only way possible–of not becoming what we hate. “Do not counter evil in kind”–this insight is the distilled essence, stated with sublime simplicity, of the meaning of the cross.  It is time the church stops limping between just war theory and nonresistant pacifism and follows Jesus on his nonviolent way.”

–Walter Wink

“The Atlantic”

 Atlantic by John Sevcik

A few years back, I was privileged to join John Sevcik, his wife Lynne Campbell–who is also a marvelous painter–and a few art students and friends for three lovely days of art talk and plein air painting sessions and terrific food at a beach house in NJ. This painting, by John Sevcik, inspired the following poem, which appears in Water-Rites.

The Atlantic

She and her mother
are knee-deep in water
their backs to the shore

What they discuss
as they look eastward
you cannot hear–

breakers, the wind,
the natter of laughing gulls
cover their conversation

Besides, you are busy
fathoming the sea’s tones
and mixing the sky–

Trying to stake claim
to the reflective shallows
between you and them

At this hour
they are your subjects
as the sea is

and what they say
she will share with you
later. Or she won’t.

It doesn’t matter, you
have set down on canvas
their communion

And your own conversation–
the one between mind’s eye
and artist’s hand.

~~~

Many thanks to John Sevcik for allowing me to post his painting here on my blog. To see John’s other works and find out about gallery showings, visit him at his web page. He is also a teacher, poet, playwright and actor.

Generous community of writers

Lately, my days have been busy with gardening and household chores and efforts to promote my book Water-Rites. I find I can jot ideas into my notebooks but that more sustained creative writing efforts are not possible at this time. That’s okay. Writing, for me, often comes cyclically, with the slow periods acting as collecting points and reflective opportunities that may result in poetry later on. Also, when I am not writing much, I have time to read.

On this blog, I have a page devoted to ART which featured links to work by painters, sculptors, and other artists of my acquaintance. Today, I’m posting links to websites of and books by friends. One thing about the solitary life of writers is that we still require community of some kind: readership, first and foremost; but also reviewers, friendly but useful critique, emotional and career support, and misery-loves-company ranting and hilarity. This community develops many ways–face-to-face, mentorship, virtual collegiality, networking, even postal mail–and sustains the generous community of writers over years and miles.

The event that precipitated my desire to post these links was reconnection with poet Alfred Encarnacion, whose first chapbook, At Winter’s End, David Dunn and I published in the early 1980s when we were running LiMbo bar&grill books. You can find Alfred’s 2012 collection The Outskirts of Karma here.

One poet who has quietly been disseminating poetry for 25 years from his tiny press in Kanona, NY is Michael Czarnecki of FootHills Publishing. From his website, you can order books by many of the people in my writing community: Michael himself, and also Craig Czury, Heather Thomas, Karen Bashkirew, Paul Martin (whose beautiful 2009 full-length collection is available here), Steve Myers, Kelley Jean White, Elizabeth Bodein and many others…including two of my own chapbooks.

Finishing Line Press, which sells through Amazon as well as its own site, has published many of my colleagues in the poetry community and particularly supports female writers; I urge you to purchase books by Celia Lisset Alvarez, Kelley Jean White, Nancy Scott, Elizabeth Bodein. Finishing Line also sells my book The Minor Fauna.

Through Dave Bonta, I met the folks behind Phoenicia Publishing and, through Dave and through the Women’s Poetry Listserv, met Ren Powell. Dave’s book and Ren’s book are available through Phoenicia, and so are print issues of Dave’s online blog literary journal, qarrtsiluni. Also through Dave, my literary community grew through meeting Luisa Igloria, whose books you should definitely check out. Another connection with the inimitable Dave Bonta? That would be Ron Mohring of Seven Kitchens Press, which will be publishing Dave’s next collection and which advocates for the work of Pennsylvania-based poets such as the late Lou McKee and another of my colleagues-in-writing, Harry Humes. August Evening with Trumpet is a particularly lovely book, and Harry is a master. Other Pennsylvania poets to whose tribe I am happy to belong include my much-lauded friend Barbara Crooker, the unpredictable and enthusiastic Barbara DeCesare, Patricia Goodrich (sculptor and poet), and that magnificent woman of letters, Elaine Terranova.

Attending an MFA program at Goddard College granted me an immediate community for which I continue to be grateful many years later. Books by my fellow students and by my mentors include but are not limited to the following (really, there are too many to recall!):

Alan Smerdjian, Jessamyn Johnston-Smyth, Elena Georgiou, Christian Peet, Bea Gates, Ian Haight, Barbara DeCesare, Jan Clausen, Janice Goveas, Bill Moser, Jen McConnell, and forgive me for running short on time or forgetting others…and from my long-ago days at The New School, the amazing Maurice Eidelsberg, whose poems in Shit, Sex, Love, Palsy will have you viewing life from a perspective you may never have imagined.

Through the Women’s Poetry Listserv I mentioned earlier and through conferences and festivals, the generous community of writers has led me to Diane Lockward, Pat Valdata, Elizabeth Raby, Rosemary Starace, Julie Kane, Elaine Heveron, Lori May, Juilene Osborne-McKnight and Steven Allen May of Plan B Press; Ned Balbo, Jane Satterfield, April Lindner among many others. Wendy Ellsworth has written a book on beading and spirituality; my cousin Scott entered the world of book writing with a children’s book you can find here. And my brother, a true Renaissance man, has published a novel and is working away at a non-fiction Rip Van Winkle-type story of archeology, empiricism, Stephen Jay Gould and Samuel Morton.

So  you see, the life of a writer need not be–and seldom is–solitary. Writers love to read, and they therefore support one another inadvertently. My community also includes Shakespeare, Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, Emily Dickinson, Jane Austen, Vladimir Nabokov, Elizabeth Bishop, Robinson Jeffers, Dante, and Dostoevsky. To name a few.