Category Archives: e-course

Poem H–Going Fishing


Clover near West Emma Creek

Clover near West Emma Creek

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To help my friend and colleague Queen Jane Approximately decide which of my poems to submit to publications and contests, I am posting  ten of my particular favorites — poems A through J  (yes, I had to count off the letters on my fingers). I’d like your comments as we go along and, in particular, when all ten have appeared, your ranking. Which do you like best (10 points)? Least (1 point — I can’t bear the thought of getting Zero points)?

WEST EMMA CREEK

It was a halcyon day in June
with nothing in particular
to do, so we decided to go to
West Emma Creek
to catch fish
and lie in the sun
and read about mockingbirds
and antelope herds
and constellations.

We decided not to go by limousine
to Houston, or aeroplane to Dublin,
or submarine to Arabia, or flying
carpet all the way across
the world to Marrakech.

We decided to go to
West Emma Creek
to catch fish
and lie in the sun
and read a novel by Jane Austen.

We decided not to go by subway
to the Pentagon
or run into the jungle
or drive into the desert
or fly beyond the sun.
We decided not to be going, going,
going somewhere.

Now we are walking to
West Emma Creek
to catch fish
and lie in the sun
and read about Little Bear
to children.

STUDENTS

  1. West Emma Creek is an actual stream in central Kansas, but in this poem it serves as a metaphor for _________.
  2. This is, for me, anyway, a short poem, and very little of its vocabulary is accidental.  There are several possible answers to the following question: Why might the poet (moi) have chosen the following words or phrases: mockingbirds? antelope herds? constellations? limousine? aeroplane (with its nonstandard spelling)? submarine? novel by Jane Austen? subway? Pentagon? walking? Little Bear?
  3. Please identify the following poetic (rhetorical) devices in the poem: anaphora, euphony, cacophony, hyperbole.
  4. (There is no single right answer to this question, either.) What, beyond the superfluous (she likes to lie in the sun), do you discover about the poet in “West Emma Creek”— something she might not have known about herself until she wrote the poem?
  5. Does “flying carpet all the way across the world to Marrakech” suggest any particular type of journey?

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Poem F–The Middle Way

Marie Mouchon nature reserve, Belgium; photo by Luc Viatour, link below

Marie Mouchon nature reserve, Belgium; photo © Luc Viatour GFDL/CC, link below

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Benign Light

To help my friend and colleague Queen Jane Approximately decide which of my poems to submit to publications and contests, I am posting  ten of my particular favorites — poems A through J (yes, I had to count off the letters on my fingers). I’d like your comments as we go along and, in particular, when all ten have appeared, your ranking. Which do you like best (10 points)? Least (1 point — I can’t bear the thought of getting Zero points)?

The previous poem, “Life Is Poetry,” you may purge from your memory bank. I think that I was struggling so much with it because it was too weak a vehicle to carry the burden I had placed upon it.

On the other hand — the following poem, “Benign Light (The Middle Way),” also has me a little mystified, but at least it’s a decent poem. It’s complete, it has been complete for a long time, I feel no need to eff around with it, so I can just study it, meditate on it, comfortably, no hurry.

It's a long way to Belgium from here

It's a long way to Belgium from here

Dordogne, Périgord (France)

Dordogne, Périgord (France), © Luc Viatour GFDL/CC

The photograph above and the one at right were taken by Luc Viatour, who is hands down the best photographer I have ever known, although I don’t actually know him, in the sense of having ever seen or spoken with him, inasmuch as he lives in Belgium and I live in Nebraska, though we have exchanged a few brief e-mails. He is very generous with his gazillions of spectacular images, and I illustrated most of my first book, Unfamiliar Territory, with his photographs.

Unfamiliar Territory would be a perfect Valentine’s Day gift, it occurs to me…. And while I’m engaging in blatant self-promotion, I might as well let you know that you can buy “Benign Light,” beautifully illustrated and sold in an 8-1/2-by-11-inch “frameless” frame, for, um, $19.99, with free shipping.

"Benign Light," $19.99

"Benign Light," $19.99

Benign Light (The Middle Way)

Benign, warm light inclines organic
things the way a cat will arch
contentedly toward a caress. Butter,
used to being cool, relaxes its
oppressive form and angularity
when carelessly left on the table by
the window. I used to love to sleep
in pools of sunlight, inching westward, creeping
toward the warmth, as hatchlings blindly cling
to Mama in the nest.

I held a match too long once, lighting birthday
candles on a marble cake with chocolate
frosting; though the little burn scarred
smooth, it smarted fierce for days. That’s when
I learned about the middle way and how
to look for balance in a contest of
extremes. But even in the agony,
innocuous as it may seem in
retrospect, of injuring a toe
or shin or elbow, when you hop about
for no good reason you can think of, there’s
a wakening of senses you’d forgotten
and a memory of the birth of feeling.
So, still cautious, you allow a bit
of gentle light to enter and to
circulate around the tender places,
so long unexposed, at first they shy
away but then are drawn as moth to flame.
And you remind yourself, “the middle way,”
and seek the shade. But something of the glow
remains, for passers-by peer in and say
to one another, “Look! A firefly.”

© Luc Viatour GFDL/CC

© Luc Viatour GFDL/CC

Students

  1. Re “the middle way and how to look for balance in a contest of extremes” — give an example of a “contest of extremes” one might encounter.
  2. Why does the narrator “seek the shade”?
  3. Why a marble cake? Why not sponge cake or coffee cake? There are at least two “correct” answers to this question.
  4. This poem uses commonplace devices (rhyming, pentameter) in rather unconventional ways. How does this practice reinforce the meaning of the poem?

Do you see a bear there?

Yogi Bear

Yogi Bear

The appearance of a poem — the way it looks on the page — can be a poetic device, though it’s one I’ve never used, at least deliberately. But as I was writing a little poem for my granddaughter’s birthday, it struck me that the poem’s shape was similar to the profile of a famous bear — either Yogi (because of the flat head) or Winnie-the-Pooh, I’m not sure which. What do you think?

To Maggie on Her Birthday

You are so dear to me; there is so
much of me in you; and if you find
that frightening, then let me hasten
to assure you: It is Lovely being me;
I like myself enormously, and if some
say I’m slightly out of touch with what
they call reality, what do THEY know?
We all create our own reality, or partially,
or everyone would be the same, and even
the most skeptical agree — they name it
“existentialism” — they can’t help it,
naming things, I mean.

When dreamers say “Follow
Your Dreams,” it’s more than
a cliché, and those who choose
in favor of expediency, becoming
dental-floss distributors, perhaps
(there’s nothing WRONG with that,
if it’s the path that’s lit for you), may
someday wish the toss had gone the
other way. “We are what we pretend
to be” (Kurt Vonnegut), and there is
an infinity of glorious potentialities to
draw upon, not all at once, of course,
but bit by bit, as one will flutter past,
you snap it up, examine it, and keep
the best of what it has that fits. “Be
who you are” is HUGE and TRUE,
reliably, and has been throughout
history, that old banality that
is the key to liberty at last. It
means no matter what you
do, the hard, unblemished
core of individuality that
is uniquely YOU is built
of shards of love and
overfilled with joy,
is solid, beautiful,
unchanging, safe,
and permanent,
and absolutely
necessary to
the Universe.

Pooh with Kanga and Piglet

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Poem E

TapKids

TapKids — Wicked timing, talent, stamina, and entertainment

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God’s Time Is the Best Time

(English subtitle of Cantata No. 106, by J. S. Bach)

There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.
Julius Caesar Act 4, scene 3, 218–224

The Rockettes

The Rockettes

To help my friend and colleague Queen Jane Approximately decide which of my poems to submit to publications and contests, I am posting  ten of my particular favorites — poems A through J (yes, I had to count off the letters on my fingers). I’d like your comments as we go along and, in particular, when all ten have appeared, your ranking. Which do you like best (10 points)? Least (1 point — I can’t bear the thought of getting Zero points)?

I don’t like to explicate my own poems — I let my students do that, and then they explain them to me, and then I get them (the poems; not the students) — but I am not as confident of this poem’s integrity as I would like to be… I keep changing and expanding it… although I think it’s finally Done. I just don’t quite get it! My own poem!

This poem, “Life Is Poetry (Now),” is on my website’s home page, and it is the theme of my free online course “How to Write Poetry and Live Poetically.”

Tap Kids

TapKids again, astounding the audience (see short video below)

And I am going to do a bit of superficial explication, because I’m not sure what the poem is trying to tell me. If you approach poetry-writing properly, your poems will outrun your conscious understanding, just as dreams do. And puzzling them out is usually fun and revealing.

Below are some of the messages I think the poem is trying to express. But I still keep missing that train….

Being ‘on’

If you’re always running after your life, you won’t be paying attention and you’ll miss the signals

Fred Astaire and dancers in the 1935 romantic comedy TOP HAT

Fred Astaire and dancers in the 1935 romantic comedy TOP HAT

But if you must live chaotically, do even that with panache; be magnificent, even if you arrive halfway through your big number

Be bold
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we’re liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others. —Marianne Williamson, A Return to Love – Reflections on the Principles of “A Course in Miracles”

Don’t ever, in anything, go on autopilot. I heard recently that Orthodox Jews have prayers and rituals for every conceivable activity, even those that occur in the… um… powder room

Kevin McCormack and Riverdance

Kevin McCormack and Riverdance

Timing is everything… being in sync with the rhythms that surround you, but also knowing which ones to pay attention to [Ah. I think there’s something here. Not in sync. Unaware of the rhythms]

Brutus, the speaker in the Julius Caesar excerpt above, seems to imply that if you miss the train (“the tide… at the flood”), it’s over, and you might as well just mark time until you croak. I, however, think we have lots of chances, an infinite number. The train keeps coming back… it just doesn’t stay very long in the station… so, travel light; don’t let your baggage weigh you down

BUT THERE’S MORE. I’m still missing something. Look! Except for the fellows below, all the images I chose to illustrate “the poetic life” are big clumps of dancers. I suppose stranger things have happened, but I’m pretty sure that I will never be a Rockette.

The Scottish Pipe and Drum Band, Alexandria, Virginia
The Scottish Pipe and Drum Band, Alexandria, Virginia

LIFE IS POETRY (NOW)

When you find your spot and hit your stride,
regardless of how hard you tried to be
on time and didn’t quite succeed, yet neatly,
gracefully, and perfectly in step,
slipped into your appointed place as if
you were the missing tuba player in
a marching band, but landed with a grin
and saucy bow, finessing now,
extemporaneously starring in
an unpremeditated bit, and everyone
applauded, just assuming it was part
and parcel of the entertainment — then
you’ve made a work of art out of a chance
anomaly, and life is elevated
from the ordinary: It’s a symphony,
a dance, a comedy… perchance, by grace,
beyond felicity, to be accompanied
by ginger tea and love and handmade lace
and wondering at Coleridge and Blake… now
you must get some pixie dust (before
you are allowed a bit of rest and solitude)
to give you extra effervescence and
a bit of magic, and, not merely reading
sonnets of Rossetti, Keats, and Sidney,
be a sonnet, one with careful, offhand
rhyme, magnificent. Be poetry;
its tide is in, its time may not soon be
so sensible again

STUDENTS

  1. Obviously, “be a sonnet” and “be poetry” suggest metaphors. In what ways might a person be, metaphorically, a poem? (I want your wild guesses here; there are no wrong answers)
  2. Why a sonnet, do you think? Why not a rondeau or a cinquain?
  3. The poetic device called sibilance is conspicuous in this poem. What functions might be served by the use of sibilance here?
  4. Life, metaphorically, is a symphony, a dance, a comedy — something orchestrated, choreographed, managed in a way that the poet (who would be me) evidently believes to be a step up from an entropic, path-of-least-resistance lifestyle. How does the poem indicate — explicitly, or by use of rhetoric — that the poet doesn’t want this “managed” life to exclude spontaneity?

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Kevin McCormack and Riverdance

Kevin McCormack and Riverdance

Poem D

Des Moines, Iowa, early 20th century; Dad was born in Des Moines in 1913

Des Moines, Iowa, early 20th century; this postcard features seven church spires; Dad was born in Des Moines in 1913

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The Morris Chair

Drake University, Des Moines, Iowa

My maternal grandmother graduated from Drake University in Des Moines, some time before 1900; my paternal grandmother was a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Oberlin, also before 1900

To help my friend and colleague Queen Jane Approximately decide which of my poems to submit to publications and contests, I am posting  ten of my particular favorites — poems A through J (yes, I had to count off the letters on my fingers). I’d like your comments as we go along and, in particular, when all ten have appeared, your ranking. Which do you like best (10 points)? Least (1 point — I can’t bear the thought of getting Zero points)?

Students: Name as many rhetorical devices used in this poem as you can. Here are a few for free: assonance, metaphor, simile, apostrophe….

Dad (left) and his brothers, around 1940

Dad (left) and his brothers, around 1940

The Morris Chair

for Dan Campbell, 1913-1985

Once ordinary oak and textile, it
became your incarnation’s residence
of preference, your citadel, in fact; and
since its frame and cast, at first, were hostile
to your contours, something had to give — and
there, the victory was yours; the Morris
never had a prayer.

As sitting folks will do, you made a firm
impression on the worsted cushion. Its
topography was less an object of
erosion than redistribution, and, in
time, the planet was reshaped: a plateau
here, a gully there… a landscape; where
before had been mere serviceable flatness,
there was now a valley sculpted by an
adamance of muscle, bone, and flesh.

After the armistice, you and the Morris were
compatible as are the angled pieces
of a jigsaw puzzle, which is why, when
anybody else might try to sit
upon the thing, that individual
would find it uncongenial — not rigid,
really, or relenting, never that — no,
just tenacious of its silhouette,
true to its architect, and guardian of
your indelible effect.

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The Many Roads…

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How to Write Poetry and Live Poetically

Poems

waterfall_mountains_halfwsize

DEEP WATER

The Ancient Ones believe: If we
could hear it in primeval purity,
beside a sacred spring, just by the
sunlit surfacing where it emerges
all but unadulterated, there must
be, in all the fullness of a
symphony, a song within the
watercourse — which, hearing,
touching, tasting, bathing in it
heals the spirit of its slow,
insidious decay and makes us
innocent and wholly realized,
perhaps immortal — who can
say?

Even now, you and I can hear our
voices clear and buoyant in the
chorus — although you might
perceive nuances and notes and
cadences in this eternal mystic
composition differently than I.

For since our origin, we have
sailed on different seas to
different ports; our purposes and
choices have developed separate
pathways in the mind through
which the melodies pour in and
where the orchestration rises like
the ocean at high tide. Yet even
so, divided at a crossroads,
separated by a veil, we can yet
decide — to harmonize or clash,
sing peace or, maybe, dissonance
and, if the latter, float with a
deceptive ease, by flattery and
treacherous inducement,
downstream through the sluice
gate to cacophony; so many
voices, shrill and wounded from
the willful howling, shouting,
shrieking to be heard above the
rest.

And when at last we learn that life
is not a race, nor yet a test, then
destiny — some call it grace —
will bring us home, in this life or
the next, perhaps a thousand
lifetimes hence. The many roads
are one road in the end, and every
soul will seek at last the blessed
lullaby; each in time will kneel
beside a holy well, to rest, to be
made innocent, as once more
called to cleansing in the spring,
the sunlit source of all we know
above the deep and hidden flow.

blade_of_grass

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  • And Then We Shall Return

    How to Write Poetry and Live Poetically

    Free E-Course Assignment 37.1

    Chapter 11: Living Poetically
    Sestina Time

    Join now! Find details about this free E-course at Lesson 1 … 

    goldharvest_okWe’re almost done! This is the final assignment for Chapter 11, and Chapter 12 will be the last chapter.

    I recently wrote a sestina for a poetry contest. I thought, why should I have to suffer alone? So I am asking you to write a sestina as well.

    It’s a rather demanding form, but it’s a very good exercise for “writing poetry and living poetically,” because, while your left brain is busy putting the puzzle pieces together, your creative, intuitive right brain remains free to romp and frisk.

    Harvest moon

    Harvest moon

    Below is Wikipedia’s definition of sestina:

    sestina (also, sextinasestine, or sextain) is a highly structured poem consisting of six six-line stanzas followed by a tercet (called its envoy or tornada), for a total of thirty-nine lines. The same set of six words ends the lines of each of the six-line stanzas, but in a different order each time; if we number the first stanza’s lines 123456, then the words ending the second stanza’s lines appear in the order 615243, then 364125, then 532614, then 451362, and finally 246531. This organization is referred to as retrogradatio cruciata(“retrograde cross”). These six words then appear in the tercet as well, with the tercet’s first line usually containing 1 and 2, its second 3 and 4, and its third 5 and 6 (but other versions exist, described below). English sestinas are usually written in iambic pentameter or another decasyllabic meter.Wikipedia

    Let’s see if I can clarify that a bit.

    • Choose six words. We’ll call them A, B, C, D, E, and F.
    • Your sestina’s first stanza will have six lines. The first line will end with Word A, the second line will end with Word B, the third line will end with Word C, and so forth.
    • You will write five more six-line stanzas. The six lines in each stanza will also end with Word A, Word B, and so forth, but in a different order for each stanza, as specified in the pattern below.
    • The seventh stanza will have three lines. All six words will appear in these three lines, as follows: A and B in the first line, C and D in the second line, and E and F in the third line.

    pumpkin_field

    Here is the pattern, using the words I chose for my sestina (than, round, day, wide, great, countryside):

    Stanza 1
    Line 1-than (A)
    Line 2-round (B)
    Line 3-day (C)
    Line 4-wide (D)
    Line 5-great (E)
    Line 6-countryside (F) 

    Stanza 2
    Line 7-countryside (F)
    Line 8-than (A)
    Line 9-great (E)
    Line 10-round (B)
    Line 11-wide (D)
    Line 12-day (C) 

    Stanza 3
    Line 13-day (C)
    Line 14-countryside (F)
    Line 15-wide (D)
    Line 16-than (A)
    Line 17-round (B)
    Line 18-great (E) 

    Stanza 4
    Line 19-great (E)
    Line 20-day (C)
    Line 21-round (B)
    Line 22-countryside (F)
    Line 23-than (A)
    Line 24-wide (D) 

    Stanza 5
    Line 25-wide (D)
    Line 26-great (E)
    Line 27-than (A)
    Line 28-day (C)
    Line 29-countryside (F)
    Line 30-round (B) 

    Stanza 6
    Line 31-round (B)
    Line 32-wide (D)
    Line 33-countryside (F)
    Line 34-great (E)
    Line 35-day (C)
    Line 36-than (A) 

    Stanza 7
    Line 37-than (A), round (B)
    Line 38-day (C), wide (D)
    Line 39-great (E), countryside (F)

    …And Then We Shall Return

    Now, here is my poem:

    paintbox_farmstead

    Laverne and I like nothing better than
    to climb the oaken steps that circle round 
    and round up to the steeple; to this day
    intact with bell and rope, its windows wide
    and open in the summer to the great
    green quilt of rolling countryside.

    And in the autumn, this same countryside
    is rusty red with sorghum, riper than
    the melons, yellowing upon their great,
    thick, ropy stems. The fruit grows round
    as basketballs — not striped and lush and wide
    like watermelons picked on Labor Day.

    We try, Laverne and I, ‘most every day
    to mount the steps and view the countryside,
    horizon to horizon. On the wide,
    wide world beyond, we ponder gaily then,
    imagining the wonders of the round,
    revolving planet: bustling cities; great

    metropolises, great blue seas, and great
    the mountain forests we shall see some day,
    and then we shall return: The world is round,
    our place in it the motley countryside,
    in which our twisted roots are deeper than
    the sun is high, the stormy seas are wide.

    Wide seas, wide roads we do not crave, but wide
    green fields of corn and wheat; and harvests, great,
    sweet-scented harvests, more abundant than
    the ones before. We pray for cool, dry days
    so laborers can clear the countryside;
    and sometimes, in the evenings, they sit ‘round

    a blazing campfire, as the full, bright, round
    and heavy harvest moon throws shadows, wide
    as haystacks, on the now-still countryside.
    Is there, in all the earth, a work as great
    and satisfying as a harvest day?
    Is there a job more fine and noble than

    the farmer’s? More than seasons turning ‘round
    the wheel, each day is new-made glory, wide
    as seas, great life-bestowing countryside.

    * * *

    Please send your assignment via e-mail to Mary@LifeIsPoetry.net. I will not grade your assignment, but I will return it to you with comments.

    tree_landscape_beautiful

    The Riley Factor

    How to Write Poetry and Live Poetically

    Free E-Course Lesson 36

    Chapter 11: Living Poetically
    Case Studies in Poetic Living — Riley

    Join now! Find details about this free E-course at Lesson 1

    A Wallace Nutting colorized photograph
    A Wallace Nutting colorized photograph

    Case Study No. 2 — The Life of Riley

    When I met Riley, in 1995, he was living in a charming duplex — one of three that surrounded a grassy courtyard, where there were eucalyptus and grapefruit trees and flowering shrubs. By September of 1996, he — and his plants and antiques and yellow Labrador retrievers — had outgrown the small duplex, so he bought a three-bedroom house at the end of a cul-de-sac near a park in the central area of Tucson.

    Hoosier cabinet

    Hoosier cabinet

    Riley and I had much in common: Both of our fathers had the name “Horace,” neither of us had a spleen, and both of our mothers were antique dealers. It was from his mother, Rachel, that Riley inherited his love for antiques. Rachel had given him, or he had bought from her, many of the chests of drawers, art prints, rugs, pieces of crockery, and century-old bottles he collected… although, when I was living in Tucson, he and I spent a great deal of time at antique fairs and in antique malls, and his collections have probably doubled in the fourteen years I’ve known him.

    Riley is not what you’d call religious, though he almost unfailingly practices the principles set forth by Martin Buber in his 1923 book I and Thou. (See Lesson 33.1, “What Do You Want?”) He beholds the world, in all its particularity, with reverence, although he does not care for cats and he has periodic attacks of road rage.

    Creative outlets

    "Farmer reading his farm paper," by George W. Ackerman, Coryell County, Texas, September 1931

    "Farmer reading his farm paper," by George W. Ackerman, Coryell County, Texas, September 1931

    Here is an example of what I mean by reverence, as it applies to Riley:

    I have an oak rocking chair, a modest little thing that has served four generations of Campbells. The chair had been smashed to smithereens (“shattered fragments,” from the Irish Gaelic smidirīn, diminutive form of smiodar, “fragment”). I would estimate that this chair was in at least twenty smithereens, some of them no larger than a toothpick. I had given up on finding someone to repair it, but I kept the pieces anyway, in a grocery bag.

    Eastlake bed (bargainjohn.com)

    Eastlake bed (bargainjohn.com)

    Riley took the bag of shards home one day, not long after we met, and brought the chair back to me in one perfect piece within a week. If you could see it, I would defy you to find any trace of smithereen. With the limited tools then at his disposal (he now has a large workshop and a respectable, manly set of tools), he put every fragment back in its place, seamlessly. He had had to replace one of the curved back pieces, but he chose the oak so carefully and stained it in such a way that it is impossible to tell the replacement from the corresponding back piece on the other side.

    There was a small, dark, discolored area on the seat that, as far as I knew, had always been there. Riley said, “I could have fixed that, but it’s part of the character of the chair” (or words to that effect). “The character of the chair” — What a concept! Riley taught me to see into the souls of inanimate objects.

    Living in southern Arizona, Riley can garden year-round. When I visited him recently, he took pride in showing me the new raised garden beds, the brick walkway between them, the automatic watering system, and the handmade compost bin. That’s another thing we have in common: We can ooh and aah about compost.

    Prickly pear (Opuntia; photo by Stan Shebs)

    Prickly pear (Opuntia; photo by Stan Shebs)

    In precisely the same way, he approached the restoration of a broken-down Hoosier cabinet and the reconstruction of an Eastlake bed (similar to the one pictured above), converting it from three-quarter size to full size.

    Pothos (www.plantdirections.com)

    Pothos (www.plantdirections.com)

    I think he must have been a Druid in a previous life, because he has great reverence for wood, especially oak, and for all growing things, whether they’re in pots or in forests. There are dozens of potted plants in the house and dozens more on the covered patio. The vast majority are from cuttings he took from his own plants.

    A little scary

    In 2001, my sweet Monica, a medium-size mongrel my boys and I had rescued from the Humane Society, died at the age of 13. Riley buried her — reverently — in the bit of yard west of his house and planted three rosebushes over her grave. The roses are the color of coral, and they flourish every year. Riley has planted mesquites and acacias, asparagus fern and ivyprickly pear and jalapeño peppers in the large back yard and the smaller front yard. Everything grows for him. He would no more neglect the care and feeding of a plant than he would of his yellow Labradors, Truman and Dani.

    Riley, me, and my son Eli, 1998

    Riley, me, and my son Eli, 1998

    Riley sometimes refers to himself as “anal-retentive,” but he’s not, really — not quite, just as he is almost but not quite a perfectionist — because he can laugh at himself. Every job he undertakes — from making salsa to building a bookcase — is done lovingly and systematically, and he never hurries.

    Blooming acacia

    Blooming acacia

    There is, however, a teensy suggestion of anal-retentiveness that is evident in the storage of his clothing, which is regimentally folded, or hung, according to type, color, and so forth. It’s a little scary for someone like me, who can never find socks that match.

    More Riley facts

    Riley always pays his bills on time and he never spends money he doesn’t have.

    He knows the names of all the members (and the instruments they played) of every blues or rock band that performed from the 1950s through the 1990s. He owns, I am guessing conservatively here, 120 blues albums on CD.

    He has a complete set of books by Mark Twain, signed by Mark Twain.

    He was something of a rogue in his youth, and that’s all I have to say on that subject.

    Grand Canyon: The muddy Colorado River from Navajo Point

    Grand Canyon: The muddy Colorado River from Navajo Point

    He is loyal. If you become Riley’s friend, you are Riley’s friend for life. Every spring, until recently, Riley went with five or six other men on ten-day backpacking trips in the Grand Canyon. He is one of the younger guys; several of his elders have developed back problems or knee disorders, so most of their hiking these days is done in the mountains that surround Tucson.

    Riley has a graceful, athletic, quietly reassuring way about him. He is confident but never (hardly ever) arrogant. Without having to work at it, Riley lives more poetically than almost anyone I know. As his mother once said to me, justifiably proud of her son, “Riley is a gentleman, literally, in the best possible way — a gentle man.”

    When he’s not at work or on a hike, you might find him refinishing furniture in the workshop, mulching the garden, reading science fiction, or (in season) watching college sports on television. Sometimes he takes Truman and Dani for walks along the dry bed of the Rillito River (there’s a trail about a quarter-mile from his house).

    wallacenutting_road_blossoms1

    Wallace Nutting colorized landscape

    The Wallace Nutting photos, shown above, are typical of the kinds of framed prints Riley favors. He has dozens of prints of that ilk, including several Wallace Nuttings, usually in lovely antique oak frames. But despite all the art, the antique furniture, the valuable glassware (which I won’t even begin to describe) and pottery, and the lovely old rugs, the house is neither museumlike nor cluttered. It feels, and looks, comfortable, soft, pleasing in every way… unless you are allergic to or don’t like dogs.

    evening_after_rain_worcestershire

    Out of Order

    How to Write Poetry and Live Poetically

    Free E-Course Lesson 33.1
    Chapter 11: Living Poetically

    What Does It Mean to ‘Live Poetically’?

    Moonlight Sonata, by Harrison Cady
    Moonlight Sonata, by Harrison Cady

    We are getting rather close to the end of this course, and I am finding bits and globs of material that should have been included earlier. If it’s a small bit or glob, I just quietly insert it. But if it’s a big fat key to the understanding of a major concept, which is the case here, I feel bound to call your attention to it. The left-out part is What Does It Mean to Live Poetically?” and I have stuck it in its logical place, namely, Chapter 11, “Living Poetically,” which began with Lesson 33. The new segment is Lesson 33.1 and you will find it here. 

    A Living Poetically Fortune Cookie

    I believe, when all is said and done, all you can do is show up for someone in crisis, which seems so inadequate. But then when you do, it can radically change everything. Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith

    redoute-four-1

    Detour

    The shortest distance between two points is not always a straight line

    In the poetic life, the shortest possible distance between two points is not always a straight line

    MAP LEGEND

    1. We plan to go to the Washington Monument (intended route = straight vertical line)
    2. Just as we are leaving, we receive emergency phone call: Grandma has fallen down the steps. We drive as quickly as possible to Grandma’s, dodging kangaroos along the route; Grandma is able to walk (a very good sign) and knows her name, what day it is, who is president of the U.S., etc.
    3. We take her to see Dr. Checkerout, who says that Grandma is hale and hardy and that the very best remedy for the small laceration on her left nostril (splinter on steps) would be to spend the day at the Washington Monument (Is that a coincidence, or WHAT?)
    4. We drive back to Grandma’s so that she can get her hat and camera and put on her walking shoes, and we set out again for the Washington Monument

    5. Oh, no! There is road construction in the vicinity of the Washington Monument; we must detour via Bermuda
    6. Well, since we have to go there anyway, we enjoy the sun and the surf in Bermuda, along with numerous tropical drinks containing rum; Grandma is sloshed, so we check in to a hotel
    7. We resume our trip to the Washington Monument the next morning, arriving without incident and having a wonderful time

    How to Write Poetry and Live Poetically

    Free E-Course
    Lesson 34
    Dealing Poetically with Adversity

    Join now! Find details about this free E-course at Lesson 1

    roadsign_kangaroo2 

    The poetic life is nothing if not flexible.

    In the above diagram, the shortest distance (as the crow flies) from our house (upper left) and the Washington Monument is represented by a vertical arrow. Once we had learned of Grandma’s accident, however, it was not possible for us to take that route, poetically speaking. The shortest distance had become much longer. If you are going to live poetically, you need to use mystic math.

    Mystic Math

    (The Truth Is in the Poetry)

    One thinks of Julio and Jeanne next door....

    One thinks of Julio and Jeanne next door....

    Is it so foolish to deny that 2
    plus 2 must always equal 4? Because

    one thinks immediately of Julio

    and Jeanne next door, with twins, Celine and

    quiet Jim — not counting Thor, the sheltie,

    they are four indeed — but one in the

    directory, one phone, one family,

    one house, one home.

     

    How many syllables comprise a poem?

    How many deities are in the Trinity?

    How many personalities have you, or I

    (not in the psychopathic sense, of course,

    although one wouldn’t know, would one, if there

    were moments unaccounted for — so many

    billion galaxies to travel in for

    one a bit unraveled)?

     

    ...so many billion galaxies to travel in....

    ...so many billion galaxies to travel in....

    And then there is the Christian marriage

    ceremony, wherein 1 plus 1 make 1,

    and during which the wedding guests affirm

    that all are one in Christ.

     

    One day, one night, together, they become —

    a day. Once more, the sum of 1 plus 1

    is 1, at least within the limits of

    the English language — its vocabulary

    vast, indeed, although, alas, not infinite.

     

    fiddlepm_chair_istockAnd think of all those violins, violas,

    cellos, basses, trumpets, clarinets,

    trombones, and horns and cymbals, harps

    and bells and such — and all the men and

    women, dignified in black and white,

    with all their individual concerns —

    one widowed just a year ago tonight,

    another six years clean and sober; to

    her left, an oboist whose brother was

    indicted yesterday for tax evasion; on

    her right, a Pakistani having such

    a frightful allergy attack — and the

    conductor, who has just received a check

    for twenty thousand dollars from the lottery—

    but now she raises her baton — and

    in that instant of anticipation, in

    that sacred, silent metamorphosis, how

    many, would you say, have they become?

     

    Ludwig van Beethoven, an 1804 portrait

    Ludwig van Beethoven, an 1804 portrait

    Four notes — three quick, one slow — are played:

    the Fifth (but first, perhaps, in pure

    and simple glory) symphony of Beethoven

    begins… and in the audience,

    a few may fidget, measuring

    the minutes and intending to

    retreat at intermission. Violinists

    count the silent beats of idleness

    between their passages, but, I imagine,

    seldom ask themselves how many

    notes they play in all, and just

    as well, it wouldn’t change a thing. Do you

    suppose there’s someone who, for fun

    or scholarship, attempts to number all

    the microbes in the hall, and further,

    calculates the ratio of respirations that

    occur between the second movement and

    the third? For to be sure, it could

    be quantified somewhere by some technology

    or other. Fortunately, no one cares.

    And that’s the point. They came, you see, to hear

    the symphony.

     

    ...the stars care nothing of our counting them....

    ...the stars care nothing of our counting them....

    Therefore, you’ll get no argument from me that 2 plus 2 are 4, not 3 or 17
    or 20, but in turn you must forgive
    the solecism I commit, suggesting there’s
    a truer truth than anything that can
    be proven by addition — if it were
    not so, than why would anybody bother?
    What would be the joy of noticing
    this pattern or that symmetry? Do we
    pursue a proof because the numerals
    insist on our attention? I am sure
    the stars care nothing of our counting
    them or our refraining from it. Finding
    order in the universe, or else
    imposing it, or otherwise competing
    in a race with chaos, really has a single
    benefit — it satisfies, however
    temporarily, the spirit, and
    the truth, you find, is in the poetry,
    not in the paper that it’s written on
    or in the composition of the particles
    that dart about at rates astonishingly
    great — as we believe, for so the eye
    of science witnesses, and since we give
    it credibility, we cannot disagree.
     

    ...viruses or other microscopic entities....

    ...viruses and other microscopic entities....

    It pleases us to cede authority

    to science, even though we never see

    the viruses and other microscopic

    entities; but science offers remedies

    for every manner of disease and warns

    that to release a sneeze uncovered will

    unleash a tyranny of demons; so

    it seems, in our experience, and is

    esteemed as fact, no longer theory…

    because it matters. That’s the only

    reason — saves a life, perhaps, or

    fifty million. If the latter, is the

    scientific effort fifty million times

    more worthy? I don’t know.

    You do the math.

     

    by Sister Alma Rose

    February 2006

    “Galaxies,”  “tulips,” and “stars” images © Luc Viatour GFDL/CC

     tulips_magentas

    The Ashley Incident

    My son Jack and daughter-in-law Ashley live next door with their children, one of whom is Little Jack, who is almost a year old.

    Computerized tomography (CT) scanner
    Computerized tomography (CT) scanner

    Last Sunday, I got a 7 a.m. phone call from Ashley. She was obviously in huge pain. I told her to go immediately to the hospital, where the emergency-room personnel discovered via numerous expensive high-tech methodologies that she was hemorrhaging, which I could have told them without the machines and the expense. After about six hours spent groaning in agony, Ashley was rushed to the operating room for exploratory surgery, anesthetized, split open like a salmon, and relieved of a couple of pints of blood and a ruptured ovarian cyst.

    i-40_map
    Red line = I-40

    They sent her home on Tuesday, less than 48 hours after the surgery, with an incision the length of Interstate 40 and instructions not to lift the baby or any other heavy object for two weeks. This was one of those unfunded mandates doctors and hospitals are so fond of issuing, because of course they did not send Mary Poppins or Mr. T  home with Ashley.

    “How,” I asked myself, “would a Person Living Poetically respond to Ashley’s dilemma?” This was not an idle question, because I tend to feel that I am to blame for everything, including World Hunger, and that everything is therefore my responsibility. I am a pathological People-Pleaser, and my default definition of myself (CONtentwise) is “one who ties up all the loose ends in the universe.”

    As it happens, I had a lot to do this week, and Ashley’s plight arose at a very inconvenient time for me. I had deadlines to meet and telephone interviews to conduct and no clean underwear.

    ...telephone interviews to conduct...
    …telephone interviews to conduct…

    Theoretically, it would have been possible for me to keep to my schedule, just as it would have been possible for the Washington Monument–bound family to call 9-1-1 for Granny and go on its merry way. But if one has decided to live poetically, such choices are no longer simple. Another possibility would have been to help Ashley and grouse about it continually, moaning and groaning every time I had to carry little Jack from one room to another or, worse yet, up a flight of stairs, which I did, several times, moaning and groaning shamelessly because, after all, I didn’t drop him, so I attained the victory only slightly tarnished.

    Aleutian Islands (triangles = active volcanoes)
    Aleutian Islands (triangles = active volcanoes)

    Fortunately, I had done the decluttering exercise in Lesson 5.1 and I had finished the personal inventory assigned in Lesson 13, so I wasn’t being a knee-jerk do-gooder when I decided to devote as much time as was needed to Ashley for as long as she needed it. Using the Golden Rule, it turns out, is a pretty good way of making decisions much of the time, and what I would want Others to Do unto Me, if I had just lost 25 percent or so of my blood supply and had major abdominal surgery and if I were lurching around due to the pain of an incision that looked like the Aleutian Islands, is, I would want Others to cater to my every whim and relieve me of all responsibility for babies, diapers, six-year-olds, meals, and the like.

    Finnish macaroni casserole (photo by Suvi Korhonen)
    Finnish macaroni casserole (photo by Suvi Korhonen)

    So that is what I have been doing instead of attending to my blogs and my deadlines and my laundry. That, and accepting with gratitude the various casseroles and salads and desserts supplied by the Church Ladies, because that is what Church Ladies DO, just as helping one’s grown children when they are in need through no fault of their own (as opposed to being in need because they have screwed up Big Time) is what I do, when I am living poetically. 

    Assignment 34.1

    1. Identify as many poetic devices as you can in “Mystic Math,” above.
    2. Send your assignment via e-mail to Mary@LifeIsPoetry.net. I will not grade your assignment, but I will return it to you with comments.
    3. Keep exploring the meditations at www.LifeIsPoetry.net, and continue with your meditation journal.  

    * * *

     

    What Do You Want?

    How to Write Poetry and Live Poetically

    Free E-Course Lesson 33.1
    Chapter 11: Living Poetically

    What Does It Mean to ‘Live Poetically’?

    Moonlight Sonata, by Harrison Cady

    Moonlight Sonata, by Harrison Cady

    This journal… does for me what prayer must do for the truly religious—sets things in proportion again…. What is interesting, after all, is the making of a self, an act of creation, like any other, that does imply a certain amount of conscious work. Ellen is very much aware of this, I feel. She would agree with Keats about “a vale of soul-making”…. May Sarton, Kinds of Love

    Jean Lall… calls housework “a path of contemplation” and says that if we denigrate the work that is to be done around the house every day, from cooking to doing laundry, we lose our attachment to our immediate world…. [Something as homely as a scrub brush can be] a sacramental object, and when we use this implement with care we are giving something to the soul. In this sense, cleaning the bathroom is a form of therapy because there is a correspondence between the actual room and a certain chamber of the heart. The bathroom that appears in our dreams is both the room in our house and a poetic object that describes a space in the soul. —Thomas Moore, Care of the Soul : A Guide for Cultivating Depth and Sacredness in Everyday Life

    nebr_purple_coneflower-140x138

    I can’t tell you, item by item, how to live poetically any more than I could write my poetry and call it yours. The only “rule” that I know of for poetic living is practicing the “I-Thou” relationship that Martin Buber wrote about in his 1923 book I and Thou. 

    The Parable of the Good Samaritan, Van Gogh, 1890

    The Parable of the Good Samaritan, Van Gogh, 1890

    I and Thou, Martin Buber’s classic philosophical work, is among the 20th century’s foundational documents of religious ethics. “The close association of the relation to God with the relation to one’s fellow-men … is my most essential concern,” Buber explains in the Afterword…. “One should [never view]… the conversation with God … as something that occurs merely apart from or above the everyday,” Buber explains. “God’s address to man penetrates the events in all our lives and all the events in the world around us, everything biographical and everything historical, and turns it into instruction, into demands for you and me.”

    Throughout I and Thou, Buber argues for an ethic that does not use other people (or books, or trees, or God), and does not consider them objects of one’s own personal experience. Instead, Buber writes, we must learn to consider everything around us as “You” speaking to “me,” and requiring a response…. Walter Kaufmann’s definitive 1970 translation contains hundreds of helpful footnotes providing Buber’s own explanations of the book’s most difficult passages. —Michael Joseph Gross, Amazon.com review

    In a way, Buber’s book is an elaboration on the “do unto others…” maxim often referred to as the Golden Rule

    As ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.
    —Luke 6:31

    —which scholars refer to as the Ethic of Reciprocity and which exists in some form in virtually every religion. Anne Lamott has expressed it thus:

    Jesus said, “The point is to not hate and kill each other today, and if you can, to help the forgotten and powerless. Can you write that down, and leave it by the phone?”  —Anne Lamott, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith

    Anne Lamott (www.metroactive.com)

    Anne Lamott (www.metroactive.com)

    If you can consistently and joyfully practice I-Thou relationships (or the Ethic of Reciprocity), I have nothing more to tell you. You are already gentle with others and gentle with yourself. You never, ever beat yourself up. When you make a mistake, you correct it or, if that’s not possible, you learn from it and go on with your life. 

    If — and this is more likely — you flounder around like the rest of us, then you might benefit from the modest wisdom I have gained on living joyfully and poetically:

    Lighten up! The title of the late Richard Carlson’s 1997 book says it all: Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff — and It’s All Small Stuff.

    Defy entropy. Have a plan but don’t be a slave to it. Find and practice your dharma, your “righteous path, way of living, and ethical system… largely found within oneself, through contemplation, rather than in the external world.” ProQuest

    Engage your imagination. As Nora Roberts points out in her novel Captivated, “The imagination [is] portable, unbreakable, and extremely malleable.” Be creative. Know that your potential is literally unlimited.

    Show up. Be conscious and aware and totally in the moment.

    Liberate yourself. Be larger than life. Do what you do with class and panache, beauty and grace. Practice courage. Be brave. Go the distance to become not just a good singer/dancer/accountant/cashier but a great one. 

    Nelson Mandela

    Nelson Mandela

    Our greatest fear is not that we are inadequate, but that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, handsome, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God within us. It is not just in some; it is in everyone. And, as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our fear, our presence automatically liberates others. Marianne Williamson, A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of “A Course in Miracles” quoted by Nelson Mandela in his inaugural speech of 10 May 1994

    Keep moving. Continually co-create yourself. Let your actions be learned and practiced but not slavishly habitual. Play. Pretend. Always be aware that you have choices. Solve your problems as they arise.

    Find your balance — that place between (a) spontaneity and intuition and (b) wisdom and orderliness. Napoleon Hill, in The Law of Success, maintains that the most successful people are those who trust their sixth sense.

    Assignment 33.2

    garden-of-eden-print-c10101487

    1. Make a list of 100 things you want. We’ll call these your goals. The items on your list can be grand or trivial: a movie you want to see, a new restaurant you want to try, habits you want to form, things you want to do before you die, places you want to visit, people you’d like to meet, desired changes in relationships….
    2. Choose just one thing from your list. It makes absolutely no difference which goal you choose.
    3. Write loosely in prose about, or make a diagram of, the distance between you and the goal and the steps you can take to overcome that distance. Conclude with reaching the goal.
    4. Close your eyes and imagine, but don’t write down, how you will feel when your goal is reached.
    5. Condense your prose into a Spenserian sonnet with the rhyme scheme abab, bcbc, cdcd, ee. An example is the following sonnet (1595) by the English poet Edmund Spenser. The metrical pattern is generally iambic pentameter, and it is easier to discern if you understand that, four hundred years ago, many words were pronounced differently, with added syllables. The first line, for example, might have been spoken thus: “Hap-PY [or, more likely, HAP-py, making the line slightly irregular] ye LEAV-es! WHEN those LIL-y HANDS”; and the word derived in line 10 was probably pronounced “de-RIVE-ed.”

      Happy ye leaves! when those lily hands, (a)
      Which hold my life in their dead doing might, (b)
      Shall handle you, and hold in love’s soft bands, (a)
      Like captives trembling at the victor’s sight. (b)
      And happy lines on which, with starry light, (b)
      Those lamping eyes will deign sometimes to look,(c)
      And read the sorrows of my dying sprite, (b)
      Written with tears in heart’s close bleeding book. (c)
      And happy rhymes! bathed in the sacred brook (c)
      Of Helicon, whence she derived is, (d)
      When ye behold that angel’s blessed look, (c)
      My soul’s long lacked food, my heaven’s bliss. (d)
      Leaves, lines, and rhymes seek her to please alone, (e)
      Whom if ye please, I care for other none. (e)

      NOTE: Do not overtly express your feelings of victory or accomplishment in your poem. Let your artistry, and the rhetorical devices you use, do that for you.

      • Send your assignment via e-mail to Mary@LifeIsPoetry.net. I will not grade your assignment, but I will return it to you with comments.
      • Keep exploring the meditations at www.LifeIsPoetry.net, and continue with your meditation journal.

      Edmund Spenser 1552-1599
      Edmund Spenser 1552-1599