Let me remember joy

A good companion

A good companion

Excerpts and links to some vivid poetry as a kind of consolation, thanks to The Poetry Foundation and Poetry magazine, and to some wonderful writers:

Alicia Ostriker’s celebration of animal exuberance in Poetry:

…Pursuing pleasure
More than obedience
They race, skid to a halt in the wet sand,
Sometimes they’ll plunge straight into
The foaming breakers…

~~

A Dog Has Died” by Pablo Neruda

…all his sweet and shaggy life,
always near me, never troubling me,
and asking nothing.

Joyful, joyful, joyful,
as only dogs know how to be happy
with only the autonomy
of their shameless spirit…

~~

Bob Hicock’s “Unmediated Experience”

She does this thing. Our seventeen-
year-old dog. Our mostly deaf dog.
Our mostly dead dog, statistically
speaking. When I crouch.
When I put my mouth to her ear
and shout her name. She walks away.
Walks toward the nothing of speech.
She even trots down the drive, ears up,
as if my voice is coming home…

~~

Mary Oliver has a recent book of dog-related poems. Critics have derided it as sentimental–but that’s part of the role dogs play for us humans. Only part, though. There’s more, I think; but at present–no intellectualizing. Emotion–feeling–is fundamental to the human physiology.

Here’s my favorite photo of her.

524860_10200306585091559_756123494_nLooking out. Living in the moment.

~~

“Because of the dog’s joyfulness, our own is increased. It is no small gift.” ~Mary Oliver

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Spaces

Ah, the traditional New Year’s blog post! 🙂 I have spent time away from the computer to tend to other things, among them, my own “space” for being less busy. Finding that space has not been easy, but it is the sort of discipline we human beings ought to practice in this Age of Information. Without a little inner space, it is far too easy to become anxious and overwhelmed.

So I think of Bachelard’s quiet exhortation to cultivate the creative or childhood space, which I contemplated in 2013 at about this time of year (in this post). And I think of Jon Kabat-Zinn and other writers–often classed as spiritual self-help authors but whose writings need not be considered spiritual at all (Kabat-Zinn, in particular, avoids using the term)–who remind us to be attentive, aware, mindful, compassionate even to ourselves, and willing to take ourselves away to inner stillness now and again.

I am particularly drawn to the notion that contemporary human beings can come to mindfulness through actions rather than through withdrawal from the body and the world. Really, we hardly have any other choice. Although I enjoy solitude more than most people do, I am ill-constituted to be a hermit or a renunciate. My temperament precludes noisy advocacy against injustice or for specific good causes; but I could certainly do more helping, more of the kind gesture, more listening, and more giving of the type that lets not my left hand know what my right hand doeth (Matt. 6:3).

There were difficulties this past year, and aggravations, and sufferings both personal and social. So be it; we can learn from failure and adversity. The best way to learn to problem-solve is by being faced with problems!

In his 2000 book about aging and dying, Ram Dass wrote: “My guru once said to a visitor complaining about her suffering, ‘I love suffering. It brings me so close to God.’” Well, that is another way of looking at things; and perspective matters. Creative thinking involves full analysis (even when the analysis seems intuitive, immediate) and often employs a total restructuring of the problem at hand–a widening or narrowing of scope, a different point of view, a new set of tools or skills for puzzle-solving, or quiet cogitation while the thinker digests the whole situation…which may be, for some folks, prayer.

Or poetry. When I am not writing poetry, I am always reading it. Other writers’ words open me to a sense of communal understanding, a sense that we are not alone, not a single one of us, who can hear or read or remember a poem or a word of love or praise. Even when those poems depict sorrow or suffering, for then we know we are not the only ones who feel troubled.

“And our problems will crumble apart, the soul
blow through like a wind, and here where we live
will all be clean again, with fresh bread on the table.”

Pablo Neruda, 100 Love Sonnets

Let the wind make space for fresh bread on your table in 2015 and always.

 

bread

bread

Bow, lyre, poetics

books~~

I’m reading a collection of essays by Octavio Paz (Mexican poet, 1914-1998), The Bow and the Lyre (published in Spanish in 1956 and translated from the 1967 2nd edition by Ruth Simms).

[I like this photo of him but have not yet tracked down the year and the photographer. I’ll try to do that soon for permissions reasons.]

Paz is so quotable. He’s full of marvelous little aphoristic-sounding phrases such as:

“Poetry reveals this world; it creates another. Bread of the chosen; accursed food. It isolates; it unites.” The first chapter of the book begins with these phrases and images, almost biblical in their parallel rhetorical structure and intentionally paradoxical.

“Obedience to rules; creation of others. Imitation of the ancients, copy of the real, copy of a copy of the Idea. Madness, ecstasy, logos.” Here, he moves to triads… “play, work, ascetic activity…vision, music, symbol.”

Then he moves on to style, metricity, historical antecedents, art. “The unrepeatable and unique nature of the poem is shared by other works: paintings, sculptures, sonatas, dances, monuments. To all can be applied the distinction between poem and utensil, style and creation…the diversity of the arts does not hinder but rather emphasizes their diversity.”

The first chapter is philosophical, a kind of poetics taking a vast history as context and individuality as scope. I might have quibbles with some of his assertions; I might find his metaphors and analogies a bit too facile. But I do find the writing juicy and thought-provoking.

~

A fine essay, I must say, is Paz’s fourth chapter on verse and prose. I could read this text over a few times, I could use it to begin a second master’s thesis or to help me teach an advanced class on poetry. Marvelous work! I especially appreciate his insights into the necessity and diversity of rhythm as culturally/linguistically based. And, as a writer from the USA, I love his thinking about the Americas and Europe, our language precedents and influences, and how Paz interprets their differences. What a terrific, brief but clear, exploration into Eliot and Pound! Into Mallarmé an Baudelaire and Poe and the German Romantics, into Joyce and Neruda and Lorca, and the difference between Spanish-speaking poets of the Americas and those of Spain. What a creative inquiry into the development of free verse in three or four different cultures and eras!

I learned a good deal. More later, I suppose.

Favorite poems

In my last post, when writing about reading poems of grief, I mentioned Robert Pinsky–former US Poet Laureate. When Pinsky was Laureate, he promoted the program now called “The Favorite Poem Project.” The concept was to demonstrate that poetry appeals to a diverse audience; there are so many styles and types of poetry, on so many topics, that anyone can find a poem that appeals. Teachers, plumbers, teenagers, soldiers, business executives, mail carriers, truckers, grandparents, schoolchildren–anyone who had a poem that had special meaning was invited to say a bit about why or how that poem meant so much and then to read the poem aloud to an audience. Pinsky’s project included favorite poem reading events, and videorecordings of such events, now archived at the site…and a book.

This year–this past Tuesday, to be quite exact–I took part in a favorite poem reading at the college where I work. I find these readings rejuvenating. Sometimes the stories that surround the poem choice are heartwarming, sad, or funny. Some readers tell an anecdote about a favorite teacher, relative, friend, or book; it’s wonderful how those stories “work” with the chosen poem. The director of information technology related the story of how, when her mother was in labor with her, her mother was taken to the hospital by hearse because taxis in the south did not serve her “black neighborhood.” A dance professor offered the romantic story of his long-distance courtship with his (now) wife via letters and poems…and Neruda. An instructor spoke of his fascination with attics and his father’s estrangement from the family and then read Stanley Kunitz‘s amazing poem “The Portrait.”

The poem I read was also a Kunitz poem, “The Snakes of September,” one of his later works. I am not sure this is my favorite poem–indeed, I would be hard pressed to come up with one only, and I might choose Ben Johnson’s “On My First Son” or Mary Oliver’s “Wild Geese” or Li-Young Lee’s “The Gift” or…well, there are dozens. I just chose one I thought would suit the evening, a poem with a garden in it, and an allusion to Eden, and the lovely phrase “the wild/braid of creation/trembles.” It speaks to me.

Look for poems that speak to  you. Keep them near  you, on the fridge or by your desk, in a notebook by your bed, or in your heart. Share them if you feel the urge; you will be doing good.

Blessings for National Poetry Month and always.