Archive for the 'Poetry' Category

Forgetfulness

I wrote this blog in honor of my cousin, Jed’s 55th birthday. (Happy Birthday, Jed!)

Most of my favorite poems are found on the pages of Billy Collins’s poetry collections. So many of his sentiments and images resonate with me. If I had to chose one poem to share, it would be, “Forgetfulness.” The main reason is that this poem inspired me to rediscover the poet in me who had been dormant since childhood.

This is how it happened. It was 2003 or 2004, and I was in the charter class of Spalding University’s low-residency program, working on my MFA. Our class was invited to a Billy Collins reading at a neighboring university. It was just after Billy completed his term as Poet Laureate of the United States. The university auditorium was packed and Billy read many poignant poems, including “Forgetfulness.”

I vividly remember chuckling to myself throughout his entire reading. It was just about the time of my fiftieth birthday and I was beginning to forget more than I remembered. Billy received a lot of laughs during his reading, but with an audience filled with baby boomers, I think he got the most chuckles while reading this poem. If you have ever heard Billy read, you understand his talent and dry voice. In his poem, “Forgetfulness,” he incorporates his classic teasing technique told in a conversational and accessible manner. His imaging is extremely clever and it continues to resonate with me this many years after that first discovery.

I rarely will choose to spend the time to stand in line for an author signings, but after Billy’s reading, I purchased all his books piled all the way up to my chin and decided to wait for his signature on each one.  I didn’t care how long it took me to reach the front of the line. I knew that his reading would launch the new poet in me and I wanted to avail myself of the opportunity to read the poems of a giant.

You can hear him read on u-tube or you can read it here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wrEPJh14mcU

Forgetfulness

The name of the author is the first to go

followed obediently by the title, the plot,

the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel

which suddenly becomes one you have never read,

never even heard of,

as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor

decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,

to a little fishing village where there are no phones.

Long ago you kissed the names of the nine Muses goodbye

and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag,

and even now as you memorize the order of the planets,

something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps,

the address of an uncle, the capital of Paraguay.

Whatever it is you are struggling to remember,

it is not poised on the tip of your tongue,

not even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen.

It has floated away down a dark mythological river

whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall,

well on your own way to oblivion where you will join those

who have even forgotten how to swim and how to ride a bicycle.

No wonder you rise in the middle of the night

to look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war.

No wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted

out of a love poem that you used to know by heart.

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What Moves You?

This was a question frequently posed by my mentor, Anaïs Nin, and today I pose the question to you, my readers. During the past few weeks I have been in the midst of what could aptly be called a literary slump. Thankfully, my recent sojourn to Paris healed me. Many writers, both living and dead, have professed that you should write what you know—but I will take this thought one step further and suggest that you write what you are passionate about or what moves you. The energy of your passion will be enough to carry your creative energy across the page.

Beyond writing about what interests you, the question is: what do writers do when they simply cannot be ‘moved?’What do they do when their pen stalls on the page and words do not churn out as quickly as they would like?

The Poets & Writers website has a section called, “Writers Recommend,” which is a collection of interviews with writers whose work has previously appeared on their pages. In this section, writers discuss what inspires them and what they might do to stimulate their creative juices. I believe many of these suggestions apply to all creative persons. Many of the writers’ responses may seem obvious to my readers, but it is amusing, nevertheless, to see these ideas all lumped together. Below is a summary of the most interesting and helpful tips offered by these writers, some which have been used for centuries by artists and writers alike. My recent trip to Paris was a testament to their efficacy because I have returned to the U.S. with a heightened literary charge. In fact, during my week in Paris, I managed to fill up an entire leather journal, accompanied by jottings on my laptop of future article ideas.

Here’s a summary:

1)    Go to places that inspire you—whether it is a bookshop, local park or café

2)    Read the works of your favorite writers to stimulate or alter your own world

3)    Sit somewhere outside of your typical writing area

4)    Do something different to recharge your battery, like learning a new hobby or sport

5)    Drink coffee, sip alcohol or use other mood-altering vices… in moderation, of course

6)    Listen to music

In addition to this list, there are other things I personally do to stimulate my own creativity or to give me a literary boost. For example, I might visit my local bookstore or library, walk around and pick up a  book which interests me and skim through its pages. I might carefully study the Edward Hopper print on my writing studio wall, which depicts a woman reading her book in a moving train. Something about her demeanor and sense of calm stimulates my creativity. For some poetic inspiration, I might focus on one image or emotion for an extended period of time and this might percolate into a poem. Sometimes while traveling, (which I frequently do because all three of my children live on the east coast), I might write a poem on a hotel pad, in the same way that William Carlos Williams used to draft poetry on prescription pads between patients. Speaking of Williams, while in Paris, I visited one of the three or four English bookstores, The Red Wheelbarrow.

The Red Wheel Barrow

So much depends

upon

a red wheel

barrow

glazed with rain

water

beside the white

chicken.

Et voila! Here’s to inspiration. Let me hear from you as to what you might do to get your own creative juices churning and if you found any of my tips useful.

Reflections on National Poetry Month

April is  National Poetry Month and I am delighted how much has been going on in our community to honor poets. On Saturday, I went to a reading by Mary McGinnis, a Sante Fe poet who has been blind since birth. She read some new poems and also from her collection, Listening For Cactus. Her poetry was absolutely beautiful and it was impressive how well her other senses, such as hearing and smell have been so keenly developed. She was a true inspiration, and even those listeners who have never written poetry, might have been motivated to do so. Tomorrow night I am a featured speaker at a Ventura’s Writer’s Club. I will be discussing how you don’t have to be a “poet” to write poetry. I always encourage people to generate poetry originating from their personal experiences. The strongest poems have an interplay with the inner and outer self. When writing narrative poetry (a poem that tells a story about a personal experience), a good way to bring people into your poem is to find a universal link to lure them in.

Why don’t you try writing a narrative poem about an experience you’ve recently had and let the rhythm of the experience help determine both your line breaks and your ending. Good luck!

Journaling Your Heart

I am reading a wonderful book written by a woman I met at AWP. It’s called, Foolsgold by Susan G. Wooldgridge, who also wrote another masterpiece called, Poemcrazy.

She came to my book signing because she was drawn to the title of my poetry book, Dear Anaïs: My Life in Poems for You. She told me she had a letter from Anais and she even quoted it in her recent book. After talking for about half an hour we revealed a deep connection through our mutual friend Anaïs.

 

In the first chapter of her book, Susan mentions how most of her life she ignored her body’s impulses as if they were bothersome, like her physical heart didn’t exist. She began watching for heart shapes and noticed how her heart felt, reacted and how they live in her body and ultimately might have prepared her for her father’s death.[ She encourages her readers to speak to their hearts and shares how scientists say there are brain cells in the heart. She suggests writing a letter beginning with, “Dear Heart,” to see where it leads you. Taking it one step further, she also suggests allowing the heart to write back and offer answers. Just paying attention to your heart, she says, opens it up and allows you to be creative in healing ways.

 

I am now hooked on her way of thinking and can’t wait to read the rest of the book and maybe even incorporate her writing exercises in my classes.

Journaling About Inspiring Moments

 Whenever a writer moves on, I believe we should take a moment to reflect on their work and I have made this my own particular practice. Even if you were not a great admirer of their work, I believe it is important to stop and examine not only their contributions to the literary world, but also what drove them to the page in the first place.

In yesterdays’ newspaper, I learned that the confessional poet, W.D. Snodgrass had died of old age. I had not read a lot of his work, but with the click of my Google finger it was easy to read some of his most popular poems. Even though Snodgrass wrote more than 30 books, the book of poetry which brought him his Pulitzer Prize in 1960 was called Heart’s Needle. This particular book grew from his apparent heartbreak of losing custody of his daughter in a very bitter divorce.

Even though many have credited Snodgrass as the founding member of confessional poetry, he disliked the term, believing it had too many religious connotations and he was not religious. I tend to agree, although the term for me denotes a certain amount of intimacy and an invitation for the reader to enter into the poet’s life.

Most authors are compelled to the page because of an inciting incident, something that may have happened early in their lives. I have always been fascinated by studying these inciting incidents amongst my peers. For me, personally, the incident which drove me to the journal and a lifetime of writing was the suicide of my grandmother.

Reading about Snodgrass’ life inspired me to journal about inciting incidents. What about you Are you able to identify what has drawn you to the written word? If so, I’d love to hear from you.

My Journaling Safari

I am slowly getting over jetlag, as well as sifting through 14 days of unread email. This was the longest I’ve ever gone without access to a computer or the internet. We were truly in the middle of nowhere.

Our first touchdown was Johannesburg and my daughter’s luggage got lost which meant we had to spend two days there awaiting it’s arrival. It turned out to be a blessing since the rest of the trip was in the jungle. We had a chance to see the 2010 Olympic site and visit the Apartheid Museum. Then it was on to small plane rides to Namibia, Botswanna and Zimbabwe. It was other-worldly and impossible to put into a few words.

All I can say is that when you are in the wild like we were and taking game rides each day, your senses are very heightened. We had many amazing sightings– lions, cheetahs, warhogs, baboons, red lechwe, onyx, giraffes, elephants, zebras, cape buffalo, hippopotamus, monkeys, hyenas and an amazing selections of exotic birds were all within arms reach.

I journaled my way through Africa and hope to write a book one day, but I haven’t decided whether it should be a creative non-fiction work or a book of poems. (any recommendations welcome!) My daughter, Rachel is a photographer so we have some fabulous photos, many from the vantage point of jeeps and hot air balloons.

Here is one of the poems gleaned from my journal: 

Bush Solace

When left alone in an African jungle

what snippets of our lives

are captured in the treasure boxes

of our memories?

 

What artifacts

call us to our pasts?

What carries

the comforts of home

and the yearnings of tomorrow?

 

In this darkness

offered by the jungle

on its platter of sounds

where lions growl,

hyenas howl and

vultures wait until its over

 

Home is different to everyone.

 

 

 

 

Journals and Emergency Evacuations

I live in Southern California and last week with only moments warning, we were told we had to evacuate due to fast-moving fires which were within a mile of our house. Having moved to California from Florida four years ago, I understood danger. We had dodged three major hurricanes and the final one flung us across the coast. Maybe it’s the continuous beautiful weather here which makes me feel safe or maybe it’s my perpetual state of denial, but I never thought I would find myself again at the edge of another natural disaster.

Needless to say I wasn’t prepared. My papers were not in order and my manuscripts were scattered on my desk and vital papers filed appropriately in my filing cabinet, but not together. Thank goodness, my husband is quite organized and he had the passports and insurance papers all in one file.

My packing was more sentimentally-motivated. I quickly thought of what was not replaceable. I grabbed my portable laptop. It held all correspondences, manuscripts and contacts. Next, I thought of all the family photos and evidence of raising three children. I piled the albums into a large plastic box. Then I thought of my journal collection spanning more than 40 years and wondered if they should take up valuable trunk space. Surely they were not replaceable, but I or anyone else would care if they got burned? I left them behind.

Now after returning home, I wonder if I made the right decision to leave all my journal musings behind.

Do any of you have any thoughts on this? What would you have packed if you were just given moments to get out of your house?

 

 

 


Quote of the Week


"A writer uses a journal to try out the new step in front of the mirror."

~Mary Gordon

About Me


I am a memoirist, essayist, poet and teacher whose passion is keeping a notebook. My notebook is my muse and my alter ego. It contains personal snippets of my life and observations from the world around me. Diarist Anaïs Nin has been a great source of inspiration for me. My hobbies include writing, writing and more writing, but when I have extra time, I enjoy reading, walking, hiking, yoga, working out, cooking and hanging out with my family and Maltese Poodle, Spunky. In order not to become ensconced by the glare of my computer screen, I also teach in the UCLA Extension Writers' Program and in various conferences and festivals around the country. My pleasure comes from sharing my joy of journaling with professional writers and anyone interested in writing.

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