Posts Tagged ‘Poetry’

Letter From Elizabeth Alexander, Minneapolis, Minnesota, March 2009, photo © 2009-2010 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Our Poetry & Meditation Group began meeting again in January. We celebrated new beginnings with the poetry of Ruth Stone (the poet mentioned in Carolyn Flynn’s piece An Evening With Elizabeth Gilbert & Anne Lamott). This Friday we’ll read the work of Pablo Neruda.

It’s hard to believe it was over a year ago when we gathered to learn more about poet Elizabeth Alexander. We went around the circle and read her poems. Then, in gratitude, sent a card thanking her for her work. A few weeks later, she would be reading at the inauguration of Barack Obama.

A few of us met in South Minneapolis that historic Winter day to watch the inauguration on the big screen at Sabathani. When Elizabeth got up to read, we knew a little about her life; we had read her poems. We never dreamed the poet would write back. Then, one frosty day in March, her letter arrived in Teri’s mailbox. We passed the parchment during poetry group:

My dear friends in Minnesota,

Thank you for your lovely card and my apologies for my late reply. I’ve found myself in an unusual whirlwind for the last few months.

It was indeed an honor to speak at the inauguration. One of the wonderful gifts that comes from reading is hearing from people like you. What a precious group you have! I hope it continues to flourish.



Last week I was listening to NPR’s Talk of the Nation. At the end of the segment Henry Louis Gates Uncovers ‘Faces Of America’ I was surprised by the voice of Elizabeth Alexander. She was responding to what Gates had uncovered after he traced her ancestry back to Edward Honeywell and Esther Power and King John of England. I thought of Elizabeth at the presidential podium. And I thought about her taking the time to respond to a card from a small Minnesota poetry group. How a letter from a young poet transcended the political. It meant the world to us. The card, the letter, the poems — the poet’s lineage.

Elizabeth Alexander At The Inauguration, Yale University, Letter From A Young Poet, Minneapolis, Minnesota, January & March 2009, photo © 2009-2010 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

-posted on red Ravine, Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

-related to posts:  Got Poetry? (National Poem In Your Pocket Day), The Poet Writes Back — Gary Soto, Which Came First, The Grasshopper Or The Egg?, The Poet’s Letter — Robert Bly, Postcard From Billy Collins — Kicking Off National Poetry Month

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Industrial Strength Clean, pen and ink on graph paper,
doodle © 2008 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.

I went to a laundromat today
14 quarters per load
white towel with colors
it was my only white

Like the mom
and the boy
who likes to put the quarters
into the machine

They’re the only
whites in the place
Two women speaking
sound like they’re
cussing out
the spin cycle

A black man
with white hair
A black woman
looks to be his daughter
select the washer next to mine

Mostly there are
eating French fries
folding sweat pants and Wrangler jeans

I like it here
like church on a Sunday
the machines hum
a white noise

Like parishoners singing
a low hymn
cleansing our
washing the sand out
of our pants
and the stains
from our panties
and my heart

Industrial strength clean
is like mass
or the world as I see it
bigger than I am
no bleach required
whites and colors

spinning round
forever faithful

-Related to post Got Poetry (National Poem In Your Pocket Day)

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Boo!, All Hallow's Eve one year ago, Minneapolis, Minnesota, photo by QuoinMonkey, all rights reserved.

Boo!,  All Hallow’s Eve by the fire, one year ago, Minneapolis, Minnesota, October 2006, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



pumpkin-faced Milk Duds
Willy Wonka candy corn
12 tricks for a treat?


Dead flash toothless smiles
2 Grandmothers walk the earth
Spirits dance on fire


gloved hands wipe chafed lips
crooked teeth eat twisted stems
shadows swim through oaks


hollow frosted rose
Hunter’s Moon drops the sky
veils the Evening Star

-posted on red Ravine, Tuesday, October 30th, 2007

-related to posts: WRITING TOPIC – HAUNTED, The Great Pumpkin Catapult

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The Gleaning, outside the Parkway Theater, Minneapolis, Minnesota, September 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

The Gleaning, Rainpainting Series, outside the Parkway Theater in the rain, Minneapolis, Minnesota, September, 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

The Gleaning

skirting the edges
of a blustery fall day
diving for spent dreams

-posted on red Ravine, Saturday, October 6th, 2007

-related to post, Somewhere Buried Deep

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First Thoughts, Rainpainting Series, Minneapolis, Minnesota, September 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Somewhere Buried Deep, Rainpainting Series, outside the Parkway Theater in the rain, September 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

First Thoughts

somewhere buried deep
within the fire of second choices,
first thoughts

-posted on red Ravine, Friday, September 28th, 2007

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Beach Grass In Winter, Duluth, MN, April 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved

Beach Grass In Winter, walking along Park Point Beach on Lake Superior, near Canal Park, Duluth, Minnesota, April 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


It’s a beautiful Fall Sunday in Minnesota. I’m feeling reflective, pensive. Like the perennials on the deck that I need to transplant, my body is beginning to prepare for the long, dark winter ahead.

Fall is my favorite time of year. The diminishing light leads me to take long walks along the trail by the house, then settle in to write. I anticipate large pots of soup simmering in crocked earthenware, and bits of flakey ice dotting the windshield. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I’m heading out to the garden after this post to dig a few holes for planting. Ted Kooser is on the table beside me. The native Nebraskan would understand the restlessness and listless turn toward hibernation that implants itself in Midwestern souls this time of year.

I started out wanting to post two of his poems on art. But as I’m writing the introduction, I’m drawn to a monotone photograph taken while walking a cold, windy beach in Duluth last winter. So I’ve decided to include his poem, Memory. It harkens to the land and the associative connect-the-dot qualities of memory that lead writers to write the things they write.

Below is his poem from Delights & Shadows, winner of a Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. The book is set in New Caledonia, designed by William A. Dwiggins in 1939 after the Scottish faces of the 19th Century. It is printed on archival-quality Glatfelter Authors Text. The book design is by Valerie Brewster. The cover art, August Night At Russell’s Corners, by George C. Ault.


by Ted Kooser

Spinning up dust and cornshucks
as it crossed the chalky, exhausted fields,
it sucked up into its heart
hot work, cold work, lunch buckets,
good horses, bad horses, their names
and the names of mules that were
better or worse than the horses,
then rattled the dented tin sides
of the threshing machine, shook
the manure spreader, cranked
the tractor’s crank that broke
the uncle’s arm, then swept on
through the windbreak, taking
the treehouse and dirty magazines,
turning its fury on the barn
where cows kicked over buckets
and the gray cat sat for a squirt
of thick milk in its whiskers, crossed
the chicken pen, undid the hook,
plucked a warm brown egg
from the meanest hen, then turned
toward the house, where threshers
were having dinner, peeled back
the roof and the kitchen ceiling,
reached down and snatched up
uncles and cousins, grandma, grandpa,
parents and children one by one,
held them like dolls, looked
long and longingly into their faces,
then set them back in their chairs
with blue and white platters of chicken
and ham and mashed potatoes
still steaming before them, with
boats of gravy and bowls of peas
and three kinds of pie, and suddenly,
with a sound like a sigh, drew up
its crowded, roaring, dusty funnel,
and there at its tip was the nib of a pen.

-poem by Ted Kooser, from Delights & Shadows, Part II: The China Painters, Copper Canyon Press, 2004


-about Copper Canyon PressThe Chinese character for poetry is made up of two parts: “word” and “temple.” It also serves as pressmark for Copper Canyon Press. Founded in 1972, Copper Canyon Press remains dedicated to publishing poetry exclusively, from Nobel laureates, to new and emerging authors. The Press thrives with the generous patronage of readers, writers, booksellers, librarians, teachers, students, and funders – everyone who shares the conviction that poetry invigorates the language and sharpens our appreciation of the world.


-posted on red Ravine, Sunday, September 9th, 2007

-related to post, What Happened to Orr Books?, Ted Kooser’s American Life In Poetry Project

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You Can't Go Back, Augusta, Georgia, June 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

You Can’t Go Back, one of the homes I lived in as a child, now abandoned, June 2007, Augusta, Georgia, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

I spent two weeks on the road in June, researching my book. The second week was a road trip with my mother to Georgia, where I spent much of my childhood. Mom has been working on the family tree for at least five years. We printed out the whole tree (which ended up being about 4 feet wide and 5 feet long), taped it together, rolled it up, and carried it with us to the South.

To spur memories and aid my research, I asked her and my step-dad to drive me around to all the places we lived when I was growing up. I asked questions, took photographs, and taped their memories of love, land, and place. Not only was it a rich time with them, it was healing.

The demographics of the places we lived back then have changed. Many homes where I lived as a newborn, infant, or young girl, now reside in less desirable parts of town. The photograph is one of the homes where I lived with my mother. She said she used to rock me on the little side porch that is now overgrown with weeds.

I knew when I saw the Abandoned topic, I wanted to write about what it was like driving around, experiencing the past (some of which I was too young to consciously remember) through present eyes. I drummed up the memory of seeing this abandoned place, which was once our home, and wrote these haiku like a writing practice. They haven’t been edited.

I learned a lot on that trip. You can go back – but it’s not the same. And the death of one thing is the glorious birth of something else.

You Can’t Go Back – 15 haiku

rocking on the porch
imagining your soft lap
cradling my head

you can’t go back home
but you can peek through the past
as if it was yours

I raised the glass lens
sweat trickled down my armpit
let sleeping dogs lie

home was forsaken
covered with vines and green leaves
I opened the door

earth reclaims the past
memory doesn’t hold me
I am holding it

neighborhoods crumble
our memories are alive
long after we die

unraveling the past
identity cracks open
desolate and white

confederate flag
in the yard across the way
stops, pauses mid-air

the past is the past
never to be abandoned
as long as we live

grandmothers recite,
“go tell your stories, honey”
a dog barks nearby

running through puddles
along the wide Savannah
I dive but no splash

sultry and humid
I remember my last name
forgetting the first

time is elusive
batting flies against the rain
through leaky floor boards

pounding the pavement
emaciated memories
sparkling in the sun

the jewels of the past
backseat drivers one and all
remember, you are

-from Topic post, WRITING TOPIC – “ABANDONED”

-posted on red Ravine Friday, August 17th, 2007

-related to posts:  Excavating Memories,  Cassie’s Porch – Then & Now, (Geo) Labyrinth Finder, Duck & Cover

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There are days when I look to the poets for inspiration. DailyZen is one of the places I visit. And today is one of those days.

Utter emptiness has no image,
Upright independence does not rely on anything.
Just expand and illuminate the original truth
Unconcerned by external conditions.

– Hongzhi Zhengjue (1091–1157)

The Way of heaven is silent,
It has no appearance, no pattern.
It is so vast that its
Limit cannot be reached;
It is so deep that it
Cannot be fathomed.
It is always evolving
Along with people,
But knowledge cannot grasp it.
It turns like a wheel,
Beginninglessly and endlessly,
Effective as a spirit.
Open and empty,
It goes along with the flow,
Always coming afterward
And never in the forefront

– Lao- tzu

No one really knows
The nature of birth
Nor the true dwelling place.
We return to the source
And turn to dust.

– Ikkyu (1394-1481)

The DailyZen Record – complete library & archives of DailyZen

On The Way DailyZen Journal

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Part I:

It’s Tuesday evening. I’m not inspired. When I feel this way, I look to other writers and artists to pull me up. We’re all in this together. No need to compete. There is room for everyone. I’m a strong believer in abundance. I feel a spiritual obligation to pay it forward.

I’m thinking about last May. Me, Liz, and two of our friends met for dinner at Acadia Cafe . We were just finishing our meals, when it started to pour. We ran across Nicollet Avenue through the pounding rain (without umbrellas), and sloshed across the parking lot, dodging puddles.

When we finally slipped into a crack between two open doors, we were soaked to the bone: stringy hair, dripping palms, wringing wet. In the soggy line, we handed the smiling ushers our tickets, and stepped into an architectural dream. The place was packed, buzzing with energy. I’ve been meaning to write about that night ever since. But I just didn’t know what to say.

Sometimes things have to sit inside a while. I have to hold them tight to me. Until I know what I’ve got.

Angle, pipe organ, stained glass, inside Plymouth Congregational Church, night of Mary Oliver, May 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Angle, pipe organ, stained glass, inside Plymouth Congregational Church, night of Mary Oliver, May 7th, 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved. 

Part II:

After a glowing introduction, and with a half-smirk that never left her face, Mary Oliver slowly walked up to the podium at Plymouth Congregational Church. Steady and sure, she had me from the first step. She was funny, witty, wise, and sometimes sarcastic. She made me laugh, something I highly value in a writer. She seemed to have lived a long, good life – a life not without sorrow.

She woke me up.

Liz took a few notes that night in a black, 8×10 sketchbook she had hidden deep in her pack. I asked her if I could take a look at it tonight, to help me unearth buried treasure. I chuckled when I saw a little thumb-sized pen and ink sketch of Mary Oliver in Liz’s notebook, near the left corner, by the spiral binding.

It’s a great reproduction of the way Mary looked that night. I wish I could scan and post it. I carry everything the poet said in my heart. But there is something about looking at handwritten lists, thin-lined sketches, and short words on a long page, that jogs the memory.

At the top of the toothy, unlined paper was a list the four of us made, things we wanted to do: go camping together again, hang with pre-Dr. Ruth (the name of one of our friends), ask questions at the end of Mary Oliver, practice pranayama (i.e. don’t forget to breathe), always carry a mint

At the bottom were shards of memory, dots connecting the thin, wispy lines of Mary Oliver to snippets of words from the past.

Part III:

  • Mary Oliver, on the many poems dedicated to the dog, Percy:
    • dogs remind us of the joy of the unexamined life
    • dogs (pets) teach us to appreciate what we’ve lost; it’s the other life we no longer have that we must cherish
  • On advice for writing students:
    • it’s all in the way you live your life
    • be disciplined
    • pay attention!
    • cultivate astonishment and tell about it
    • never use a computer
    • lose your drafts, they are only learning material
  • On poetry
    • poetry carries stories of us, community, culture, nation
    • poetry is one of the bedrocks of culture
    • poetry helps us feel
    • poetry keeps the good stories going and makes us human – from Centering in Pottery, Poetry, and the Person by Mary C. Richards
  • On being sustained in difficult times:
    • reach to be sustained
    • have faith
    • read other poems, other poets
    • remember life is a gift
    • love and work
    • embrace the natural world
  • On writing:
    • keep it simple and clear
    • accessible, no more than what you need
    • have fun cutting away
    • write fast, 30 or 40 drafts
  • On the podium:
    • “Oh, what a nice podium. How nice for the preachers.”
  • On titles:
    • “I have trouble with titles – there’s a Spring in every book.”

  • Epilogue: 

                Writer's Hands, Mary Oliver's hands, signing a copy of Thirst, May 2007, Minneapolis, Minnesota, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

               –Writer’s Hands, hands of Mary Oliver, signing a copy of Thirst,
                May 2007, Minneapolis, Minnesota, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey.
                All rights reserved.

    At the end of her epic reading, we went out to the lobby to buy books for Mary Oliver to sign. I purchased a CD of Mary reading At Blackwater Pond. Liz purchased Owls and Other Fantasies. We had regretfully left Thirst at home.

    Liz walked up to the table, and opened Owls to an unconventional page for signing. Mary paused, a little taken aback. Liz was quick to recover. “I like this image,” she said.

    “Did you know it’s a photo of a feather?” Mary asked. Liz said, “Oh, no, I didn’t. That’s amazing.”

    There was a pause while Mary ran her pen across the page. I watched from the sidelines. Liz smiled and said, “My Mom’s an Oliver. I like to think we’re related.”

    Mary glowed with an impish grin, handed Liz the book, leaned forward, and I could have sworn she winked when she said, “Let’s say we are.”

    Mary Oliver – On Paying Attention posted on red Ravine, Tuesday, July 31st, 2007

    -thanks to WomenSpirit, The Loft Literary Center, and Plymouth Congregational Church for sponsoring Mary Oliver’s visit to Minneapolis on May 7th, 2007

    -related to post, The Uses Of Sorrow – What Is It About Obituaries

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    By Shira

    The Discovery of Poetry
    dedicated to Joan Logghe (but only my own responsibility)

    You who are not imagination impaired
    Imagine a life without poetry
    A tea party set with sweet dainty biscuits, delicate cups of tea and no guests
    A single bed in a grey-walled boarding house

    Imagine a world without music or song
    Monotone monologues, precise words with logical meanings
    Meanings exactly as they sound.
    No more

    Imagine logic and testtubes for wall decorations
    Dark plaid skirts on a little girl because they don’t show dirt

    Imagine no home for longing and no place for love
    A brown paper bag hiding death and anger
    Matching table cloths, napkins, dinner plates and cups

    You who love poetry
    Don’t need a telephone or master
    Friendship, wisdom and laughter
    lie as close as your pocket
    and your shelf.

    She Loved Rosebushes and Fruit Trees
    (a pantoum)

    Four rosebushes line the path
    The lemon tree she planted
    Straight stairs up to the doorway
    At 90 she still climbs

    The lemon tree she planted
    The house with ripe plums and apricots
    At 90 she still climbs
    Freeway’s steel stole her cherished home

    The house with ripe plums and apricots
    The California Dream
    Freeway’s steel stole her cherished home
    Far from the Old Country

    The California Dream
    Home of young Jewish men for her daughter to marry
    Far from the Old Country
    My mother slept above the dressing room

    Home of young Jewish men for her daughter to marry
    The retail shop in Ocean Park
    My mother slept above the dressing room
    No quiet place to study

    The retail shop in Ocean Park
    Worth the ocean crossing
    No quiet place to study
    Always reading books

    Worth the ocean crossing
    Wishes for a better life
    Always reading books
    A one bedroom apartment

    Wishes for a better life
    Some granted, some not
    A one bedroom apartment
    As frugal as my grandpa

    Some granted, some not
    Straight stairs up to the doorway
    As frugal as my grandpa
    Four rosebushes line the path

    About Shira:  Shira lives in New Mexico and wrote these poems, her first, at Ghost Ranch in a poetry workshop taught by poet Joan Logghe. 

    Of the workshop, Shira said:  The workshop was as much about appreciating poetry as it was writing poetry. Our teacher mostly referred to the teachings of Robert Bly and Natalie Goldberg. Joan read to us poems by many poets that deeply inspired her, both structured and unstructured forms. Each time we wrote, we would first do a brief meditation then write in ten to fifteen minute writing blocks. Then we read out loud. The students ranged from very experienced poets with Masters degrees to those who’d never written a word in our lives. I was inspired by the group and our teacher. I also appreciated the kind of feedback we did, which was “Recall,” where listeners repeated back certain lines that resonated. It was a way of saying that something was good without actually inserting judgment into the process.

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     Taos Mountain In Summer, July 2007, Taos, New Mexico, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

    Taos Mountain In Summer, July 2007, behind Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Taos, New Mexico, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

    Taos Mountain summer
    wraps hard rain around soft bows
    I’m drenched to the bone

    black clouds in blue sky
    slatted swing over the ditch
    creaks slowly, I write

    rain crawls through roof cracks
    gusts blow open my notebook
    words scatter to wind

    cottonwood splashes
    through the lens, afternoon rain
    breaks open the sky

    end of a long day
    in the middle of summer
    I start to wake up

    green sky through laced glass
    and a mourning dove’s red eye
    swallows the noon sun

    walking the back path
    Mabel smiles from the window
    I wink and then nod

    black spider shimmers
    cottonwood squeezes soft wind
    through a glistening web

    sweat drips from my arm
    I don’t sit like the mountain
    the sun sits on me

    Lawrence and Brett stroke
    painted windows in the light
    camel hair bristles

    the Pink House once held
    summer rain, live wires that dodge
    breakfast at Mabel’s

    fancy dancers run
    lightning drips through the pow wow
    under Taos Mountain

    Monday, July 16th, 2007

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    Curve, 1993, woodblock print, from private art collection of student work, artist unknown, photo alteration © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

    Curve, 1993, woodcut, from private art collection of student work, artist unknown, photo alteration © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

    While perusing the health and vigor of our categories last night, I had a realization: writers rarely write about sex. Our Sex category has a measly 5 posts, which leads me to wonder, why bother to have a sex category at all?

    I thought about my favorite literature writers and tried to remember what they had written about sex. I did come up with a chapter in Stoner, a book assigned to us in a Natalie Goldberg Taos Intensive last year. It’s a favorite on my bookshelf now, and contains one of the most subtly erotic accounts I’ve ever read about making love.

    (If you don’t know about Stoner or John Williams, read the dynamic interview, John Williams: Plain Writer by Dan Wakefield in the 10th Anniversary issue of Ploughshares.)

    Some see making love and sex as two different things. And now that I think about it, so do I. But different how? I’m not sure I can answer that in an on-the-fly blog post.

    I remembered last night, that about 4 years ago, I wrote a tasteful erotic piece called Lean Into The Curves, about the virtues of making love as compared to learning to ride my Honda Rebel. There is something sensual about motorcycle riding; and the instructor who wore scarlet Harley boots with flames shooting off the sides, only added fuel to the fire.

    I stood up at a microphone (dressed in a crisp, white, open-collared blouse, dangling silver earrings, black Levi’s, cherry lipstick, and a black, short-cut blazer) and read the piece at a venue in Minneapolis (no longer in existence) called hotBed. The audience was full of 150 women who all laughed at the right places and cheered at the end, wildly clapping when Ella Fitzgerald’s At Last echoed through the room as I read the final lines.

    The sound woman was right on cue.

    It’s hard to imagine standing up and reading that same piece today. Have I lost my edge? Or are there too few places to submit that kind of work.

    Most people have sex at least once in their lifetime. And it’s alive and well on family TV and in G-rated films. So why don’t writers write about sex? Or the erotic? Or making love?

    I don’t have any answers. Only to say that, thank goodness, some do.

    Here is a poem from Galway Kinnell called, simply – Sex. Exquisite. I heard him read it at the Fitzgerald Theater earlier this year. I’m heading to the writing table right now. Maybe I’ll get inspired.

    by Galway Kinnell

    On my hands are the odors
    of the knockout ether
    either of above the sky
    where the bluebirds get blued
    on their upper surfaces
    or of down under the earth
    where the immaculate nightcrawlers
    take in tubes of red earth
    and polish their insides.

    -from Strong Is Your Hold, Poems, Houghton Mifflin, 2006

    posted on red Ravine Tuesday, June 26th, 2007

    -related to post, Forget Vonnegut – Jane Kenyon Lives On 

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    Time at St James, June 6th, 2007, Augusta, Georgia, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

     -Time at St. James, by the Madison Clock Company, 1847, on the wall at St. James United Methodist Church, Augusta, Georgia, June 6th, 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

    Home Haiku

    the thing about home
    home hangs its weathered straw hat
    on what used to be you

    After we circled twice, the landing gear whirred and dropped with a thunk. I saw the top of Minneapolis clearly from the air. Hot, humid haze. I could not feel it. Liz said it rained and rained while I was gone. And then summer came.

    I slept most of the flight, Northwest 150 from Baltimore. There was an empty seat between me and the 82-year-old man from a place 47 miles west of the Black Hills of South Dakota.

    He asked me where I was going. I pointed down and said, “Here.” He asked what I did. I said, “I’m a writer.”

    “What?” he said, cupping his right ear. “I’m a writer,” I repeated, a little more loudly.

    He said, “I’ve written two books. I started a boarding school in South Dakota many years ago. The first book’s about that. The second is about, uhh, my family and my kids. My wife and I have held each other together for 56 years.”

    “That’s a long time,” I said.

    The man had cauliflower ears, a wide-brimmed straw hat, round Buddha belly that rolled over his belt, faded jeans with one of those western buckles, big-framed glasses, navy T-shirt, and a large, beige hearing aid. I smiled at him when I could muster it. But mostly I stared at the diminishing feet between me and the ground.

    My mind rambled over the last few weeks. Then we landed.

    Liz threw me the biggest kiss when she scooped me up at baggage. She’s glad I’m home. I’m glad to be home. And there is a sadness about it, too. All the connections I made, the bridges I walked.

    Doors have opened to me, people from the past who remember who I was. Now I find myself missing them.

    Twenty, thirty, forty years. There are not many people left who knew the girl I used to be.

    Which home is home?

    The answer to the riddle: every home is home.

    For the time that it is home.

    Tuesday, June 12th, 2007

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    I did a journey yesterday morning (with 3 gracious friends who dedicated 2 hours of their time to my well being), then went to Maria’s for breakfast, Buca’s for dinner, and a birthday party and ritual for a writer friend of mine. She turned 46.

    After over 22 years of teaching, she decided to do the one thing she’s wanted to do since she was 8 years old – write. It felt good to be there for her. And to know we’re all in this together.

    My friend told teaching horror stories of some of the things she is leaving behind: spitting, punching, death threats from parents, exhaustion, and disinterested superiors. Being a teacher in an inner city school can be a thankless job. Looking at funding these days, maybe teaching is a thankless job in any school.

    I was reminded of the post Shawn did yesterday A Bright Spot on The Pissed Off Professor. Her tag line is One Teacher’s Mounting Frustration Over Educational Disinterest. I think my birthday friend would like Shawn’s blog.

    I want to take a moment to thank all the teachers who have believed in me over the years. Mrs. Juarez, my 8th grade English teacher, is the reason I am a writer. I want to look her up the next time I head home. Mom, please see if she still lives up the street from us and, I wonder, do you have her phone number? I want to call her up and thank her.

    In the meantime, I woke up with this crunchy spring haiku in my head. It’s not much but it came to me in a dream. So I thought I shouldn’t ignore it.

    I am glad spring is here. And there are people who believe in me.

    crunchy spring haiku

    crunchy spring haiku
    taps a rhythm through my brain
    bees’ wings in the rain

    Sunday, May 6th, 2007

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    In the maelstrom of energy flooding paper, press, and print about the sudden death of Kurt Vonnegut, I’ve been reading everything I can get my hands on about his life. At 3 a.m. last night, I was running around the Internet linking to articles, gobbling up details of Vonnegut’s death, birth, slow literary beginnings, and 70’s cult following.

    Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore.

    Ignoring the wailing Irish banshee, a screaming voice inside my head snapped, “Stop it! ! Go to bed! You haven’t read a Vonnegut book in years.”

    “Okay, okay, I’m going,” I said.

    Rising from my prone position on the couch, I grabbed the laptop precariously perched on my knees to keep it from crashing to the floor. And that’s when it hit me – I’d fallen prey to my own crazy Kantian schema about death, dying, and immortality.

    In some odd twist of synchronicity, I wrote a post last Monday on The Uses of Sorrow – What Is It About Obituaries? Curious about the death of Molly Malone Cook, I found a long, engaging obituary in the Independent. It was overflowing with history and details of her life I didn’t know, and probably never would have cared about if she hadn’t died.

    Isn’t it strange? We are drawn to write more about a person after they die, than we ever would have while they were alive. It’s part of the human condition. But amid all the writers, ex-hippies, beatniks, and bohemians bantering a slow death march around Vonnegut, I find myself wanting to say, “Enough already.”

    Forget Vonnegut. Jane Kenyon lives on.

    I don’t want to sound irreverent. I loved Vonnegut and read him voraciously (was it Stephen King that said adverbs are killers?) in my early college years. In 1972, Slaughterhouse-Five was the top film in Friday night screenings at McIntire Hall. We were still doing sit-ins for peace, streaking across campus, and protesting the Vietnam War (I wonder what’s changed?)

    But back to living and dying.

    Remember that back and forth on red Ravine last February about Donald Hall and Jane Kenyon, Valentine & Donald Hall? It inspired us to put one of Jane Kenyon’s books, Otherwise, on our list of Hungry to be Read.

    Last night I went over to St. Paul with a writer friend to see Galway Kinnell and one of his protégés, Josephine Dickinson, read their poetry. (I’ll write more about these moving poets in another post.) It was one of the most inspirational nights I’ve had in months.

    Galway Kinnell read a poem from his new book Strong Is Your Hold, which I immediately snapped up and brought home with me. The poem is a tribute to Jane Kenyon. You could have heard a pin drop.

    If you don’t get out and listen to other living, breathing writers read their work, you’re missing out on one of the greatest pleasures of writing – listening. As evidenced by the explosion of blog world, there are 11 trillion writers out there, all wanting their voices to be heard. I hold to my strong belief that there is room for all of us. If we are generous of spirit and support other writers, we’ll be supported, too.

    I teared up last night when I listened to Galway Kinnell read his poem for Jane Kenyon (1947-1995). He went to that dark place writers go, that place where angels fear to tread.

    I imagined Kenyon, immortal through his words, smiling down on the silent, rapt faces that dotted the crimson velvet rows and stacked ornate balconies of the Fitzgerald Theatre. I bet she was pleased.

    Losing a great writer who influenced our lives, perhaps even our livelihood, leaves a big hole. When Galway Kinnell read How Could She Not, I knew that writing about the death of Kurt Vonnegut is our way of grieving.

    We know we’ll never forget Vonnegut. Because Jane Kenyon lives on.

    Friday, April 13th, 2007




    How Could She Not

    In Memory of Jane Kenyon, 1947-1995

    The air glitters. Overfull clouds
    slide across the sky. A short shower,
    its parallel diagonals visible
    against the firs, douses and then
    refreshes the crocuses. We knew
    it might happen one day this week.
    Out the open door, east of us, stand
    the mountains of New Hampshire.
    There, too, the sun is bright,
    and heaped cumuli make their shadowy
    ways along the horizon. When we learn
    that she died this morning, we wish
    we could think: how could it not
    have been today? In another room,
    Kiri Te Kanawa is singing
    Mozart’s Laudate Dominum
    from far in the past, her voice
    barely there over the swishing of scythes,
    and rattlings of horse-pulled
    mowing machines dragging
    their cutter bar’s little reciprocating
    triangles through the timothy.

    This morning did she wake
    in the dark, almost used up
    by her year of pain? By first light
    did she glimpse the world
    as she had loved it, and see
    that if she died now, she would
    be leaving him in a day like paradise?
    Near sunrise did her hold loosen a little?

    Having these last days spoken
    her whole heart to him, who spoke
    his whole heart to her, might she not
    have felt that in the silence to come
    he would not feel any word
    was missing? When her room filled
    with daylight, how could she not
    have slipped under a spell, with him
    next to her, his arms around her, as they
    had been, it may then have seemed,
    all her life? How could she not
    press her cheek to his cheek,
    which presses itself to hers
    from now on? How could she not
    rise and go, with sunlight at the window,
    and the drone, fading, deepening, hard to say,
    of a single-engine plane in the distance,
    coming for her, that no one else hears?

      -from Strong Is Your Hold, Poems, by Galway Kinnell, Houghton Mifflin Company, 2006

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    I’m thinking about poetry.  Our topic this week is to write a poem for Slam-o-rama.

    Poetry came easy to me last year. It poured out of me. I’m not saying it was good. Just that it poured. Like Morton salt. It seems tougher to write now. I have to slow down to write poetry.

    I am going to hear Mary Oliver read her poetry in May. Her partner of over 40 years, Molly Malone Cook, died in 2005. Thirst is dedicated to Cook. The pages are full of sorrow, quiet longing, and a search for faith.

    I wanted to know more about Molly Malone Cook, so I looked up her obituary. What is it about obituaries?

    There is a certain fascination with death. It’s the 2nd thing we all have in common, regardless of race, religion, or creed. (Why did those words come out of my mouth? And what in the world is creed?)

    The first is that we are born. And we shall die. When our time will come, we do not know.

    The Independent’s obituary was illuminating. I found Malone Cook’s life to be even more fascinating than Mary Oliver’s. She’s the Oliver fire to Stein’s Toklas. I’m ashamed to admit, I had no idea Molly Malone Cook was a photographer with Southern roots who once photographed Eleanor Roosevelt:

    Cook continued to work as a professional photographer, making portraits of such luminaries as Eleanor Roosevelt, Walker Evans, Robert Motherwell and Adlai Stevenson, but her career was cut short by the breathing problems which were later to curtail her life: her lungs were unable to cope with the chemicals of the darkroom.

    Meanwhile, her relationship with the playwright Lorraine Hansberry – author of To Be Young, Gifted and Black and A Raisin in the Sun, the first drama by a black woman to be produced on Broadway (in 1959) – ended with Hansberry’s early death from cancer, aged 34, in 1965.

    Cook had met Mary Oliver in 1958, at the former home of the poet Edna St Vincent Millay in upstate New York – the two women having come to visit Millay’s sister Norma. Six years later Cook and Oliver moved into a Provincetown boathouse owned by one of the port’s Portuguese families, the Seguras.

    They travelled together on Oliver’s trips to give readings or classes, and spent several years visiting Virginia in search of Cook’s Southern roots – she was delighted to discover that her ancestry stretched back to Judith Jefferson, aunt of President Thomas Jefferson.

    – from the Independent Obituary, Molly Malone Cook, by Philip Hoare, September 7th, 2005

    That’s why we read obituaries. I wonder what mine will say? And who the writer will be.


    The Uses of Sorrow

    (In my sleep, I dreamed this poem)

    Someone I loved once gave me
    a box full of darkness.

    It took me years to understand
    that this, too, was a gift.

     –Mary Oliver from Thirst, Poems by Mary Oliver
    Beacon Press, 2006, copyright Mary Oliver

    -posted on red Ravine, Monday, April 9th, 2007

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    Gassho. I am so appreciative of deep listening. Thanks for your comments on Valentine.

    By the way, I love the Poets.org website. I didn’t know they broke writers and workshops down by state. Good to know.

    I did stumble on an interview on the same website with Donald Hall, Flying Revision’s Flag . Insightful – about the art of revision. Can be applied to all forms of writing.

    Hall seems to be a serious revisionist. He said when he was twenty-five a poem took six months or a year to revise. Now, it takes two years to five. I find revising a lot about letting go. What to keep. What to drop. I’m starting to be able to feel in my body when something isn’t right. What I do from there, well, that’s the challenge.

    Here’s another interview, Donald Hall, in conversation with Judith Moore, I found with Hall from 1998, four years after his wife, Jane Kenyon, died of leukemia. As writers we have to hold everything – eventually, we write it down.

    Life at Eagle Pond: the Poetry of Jane Kenyon and Donald Hall

    Friday, February 16th, 2007

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