Tag Archives: meditation

The Big Prayer

by Luc Viatour, GFDL/CC


Forming an intention

Luc Viatour, GFDL/CC

I have assembled most of what I need, softwarewise, to create a daily half-hour prayer podcast. My plan is to write (prayerfully, of course) a new prayer every morning that would incorporate prayer requests and needs that arise from day to day. I don’t want to exclude any spiritual tradition, but I need to pray with form and substance, in keeping with the voice of my own spirit. No muddy, murky prayers will be prayed, I hope, in my podcast.

 When I’m ready to launch this project, the following will be my first prayer, assuming that the launching takes place within a week or so, while the references to spring and new growth, etc., are still relevant.

Here it is, from my heart….

The Big Prayer

Oh, God, you are here. If I had nothing else to be grateful for, there would be that — your loving presence within me and around me.

I acknowledge all the gods and goddesses who are attributes of the One God. Mother Earth is a goddess known by many names, and I am grateful for her today, for this is her time. She is the daughter of the Almighty, whom I choose to call God, who is the One Creator by any name, the only Author of love and life.

I sometimes wonder, divine Father-Mother, if the universe could have been made another way — by a vindictive force, and life a huge cosmic joke. But I realize that it would be impossible. If life were not love, there would be no will to live. There would be no coming together to make new life. The growing things would not stretch upward toward the sun or extend their roots downward toward water with the rich earth surrounding and feeding them. Parents would not hold and rock and and nurse and nourish their children. There would be no music, no dancing, no celebrating, no art. Nothing would work in harmony, nothing would be created or produced, nothing at all. We would seek only the dark, the cold, and the pain.

But the fact is that love is all and you are the source of it. And knowing that, my heart is full and all good things are possible.

I will give all my attention to prayer…

purple flowers

Luc Viatour, GFDL/CC

God, there is a great deal I must do today, but this is my time for prayer, and for now I will give all my attention to prayer. Other thoughts, demands, distractions will intrude, and when I become aware of them, I will bow to them and return my attention to prayer. Emotions will arise. I will bring them into the circle of this prayer and hold them gently, as if they were small and lively kittens. If they choose to scamper away, I will not struggle with them. It’s okay. Everything is all right. All is well in this circle of prayer.

Thank you for this day, O God. I might have awakened late, but it is still the fresh new morning of my day. The sun shines. Thank you, Sun. I am safe and secure in my lovely room. Thank you, Earth, for holding up my house and supporting my feet when I move from place to place. I am grateful for windows that admit the sun and the breeze. I am grateful for the oak that someone has fashioned into woodwork, tables, chairs. It is in the mullioned windows. I never noticed that before. Thank you, God.

There are trees around my house, gracious God, that give shade in the heat of summer, and what a wonder that is — those huge and ancient living, breathing things, the health of the planet and a boon to every person who needs a solid thing to lean on, a moment of relief from the sun. They stand through storm, through the blistering day, through the bitter winds of the cold season. Thank you, God.

There is lovely grass in my yard. It is not a perfect lawn, not manicured like a fairway. There are a few weeds, there are brown spots here and there, but there are also sweet peas rampant on an arbor. Someone has already set out petunias in great pots on the brick terrace. Bees have begun to seek them out, and there will be honey in the summertime. There are so many colors, thank you God, arising everywhere as spring arrives in all its fullness.

The soft silence of winter is gone, and in its place is the glorious song of the cardinals, starting even before dawn just outside my window. Help me to know their language, God, that I might also know their joy. I hear woodpeckers, so serious and intent on their drilling into trees, seeking insects for their meals. They make me laugh with their sober concentration. Thank you, God.

We are all one

child with baby

Let there be more laughter...

Let there be more laughter, God. It is healing to the body and it lifts the human spirit, and what nourishes one spirit nourishes all, for we are one, O God. We are like rays that emanate from the sun… or, as you have taught us, we are like parts of one body… hands and feet and eyes and ears… and just as what harms one part of the body injures the whole body, what is healthful and invigorating to one part of the body is healing and nurturing to the whole body. So let there be more laughter, God… more hugging, more love in the human family.

I am surrounded by abundance, God, and I thank you for my things, because they are varied and pretty and interesting. They amuse me, occupy me, help me make my living — what would I do without my computer and all the people with their intelligence and creativity who figured out how to make computers work in such fascinating ways? Thank you, God.

I have, in fact, too many things. Some of them have become burdensome… too many books, too many clothes, too many magazines, too many bits of paper, so that I can hardly find what I am looking for… too much to dust, too much to sort, too much to care for and keep organized. Little by little, or in the space I create of an afternoon, perhaps, I will shed myself of what I don’t need, of everything that doesn’t serve a purpose, that isn’t beautiful or useful. I pray that you will guide me in that process, wise and loving God. Help me give what can be donated to those who need it most, and help me sell fairly and profitably what can be sold.

Bless our relationships

Group of five happy children jumping outdoors.I have family and friends, dear God. What a gift — some people have no family or they have no relationships with family members, or those relationships are difficult, piercing the heart.

God of mercy and grace, I surrender to you my family and my relationships with my family members and friends. Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me, that I will never seek to compete with or manipulate those I love, but that I will love them with an open heart. Help me to create and to use wisely opportunities to be with them, support them, actively love them. Heal, O God, all feelings of envy, suspicion, resentment, even fear and hatred, where such lies are given belief, of family and friends.

God, today is new and I am new as well. Yesterday is gone and cannot drag me down. I have no baggage. Cleanse me of all feelings of guilt and regret for what has happened and cannot be recalled. If I have sinned against someone, let me make amends where I can, and truly repent so that I understand how I have erred and don’t do so again. Then, dear God, accept the residue, whatever burden remains, and make me innocent anew. If someone has wronged me, O God, let me put that behind me as well. Put love in my heart and may I be generous and lavish with it, God, for there is an unlimited supply.

Heal me too, God, of the habit of beating myself up for small and large transgressions. Help me to be gentle with and kind to myself.

Likewise, O God, teach me faith and may I have no anxiety about the future. Oh, how I once worried, God, and how little present I was in this moment, this “now,” which is the only time there is. You taught me that the worrying is worse than the occurrence of what I worried about, and that most of those worries never came to pass. You taught me that worry, self-reproach, and guilt steal my freedom and choke the flow of love from me. Thank you, God, for that lesson, that blessing, that miracle.

Open and loving

Teach me, O God, to be loving toward myself so that I will have the health and the energy to be loving toward others. I pray for healing, merciful God — deep healing of all physical and emotional ills. I confess that I have not cared for myself in a loving way. I have not wisely eaten, slept, exercised, meditated, taken care of business, played, worked, or interacted. Teach me to live beautifully, poetically, lovingly, blessedly, O God… and boldly, not fearing rebuff. Help me to find my place in Creation, that place that offers me the greatest satisfaction and allows me to be of the greatest service toward your children and toward our planet.

Field of wildflowers

Keep us in harmony with the natural world...

I pray for those who are sick or hurting, O God. I pray for the parents and grandparents of the world… the sisters… the brothers… the children… the grandchildren… the nieces and nephews, aunts and uncles and cousins… the friends and acquaintainces and the strangers whose needs have come to my attention…. Dear God, I am bold enough to pray for all the world… for every refugee… for every child and adult who lives in poverty, in fear, in sickness, in war…. I pray for all the soldiers and the civilians who work in war zones, whatever side they are fighting on, for our differences are an illusion, God… in the spirit we are one…. Let love sweep across the land just as spring is enveloping this place where I live, as the trees are newly in bud and the grass is freshly green….

I pray for those whose grieve for loved ones who have died. Be with them in their mourning, God, so that it doesn’t turn to despair. Those who have gone are children again, O God, born where they have chosen or where they are needed elsewhere in the universe, and at the same time they make their presence known to us if we pay attention. Help us to see through that thin curtain, O God, or to boldly open it wide and be among the angels who are in truth always right beside us, protecting, healing, helping us when we ask.

Free and serene

Angel clouds

Angel clouds

God, I pray that you will deliver my children and all others who suffer from the illusion of stress, which steals our freedom, our power, and our attention. Your world is lush with opportunity and abundance. There is no need to struggle. We can do only the best that we can do, yet we ask more of ourselves and sacrifice our serenity. Help us to find a natural pace and routine, one that allows time for meditation and reflection, for fun and freedom, for prayer and gratitude. May we watch more sunrises and notice more miracles. Why should we not step aside from our path to look for elves in the shrubbery and fairies playing hide-and-seek in the lilies of the valley at the dusk of the day? These things are seen and wondered at by those who are not too rushed and distracted to pay attention. Help us to pay attention, God, to all of life, not just our mission of the moment. In that way we will see that we are already prosperous, we are already fulfilled, and then we are free to give of ourselves without giving ourselves away.

A road at sunrise

Guide my feet upon your path....

Be with me today, O God, as I go about my day. May I be truly kind, O God, from my heart and not out of a sense of obligation. May I feel and act upon the love that comes from you, that is not a rule but is your gift of grace. Give me the health, the energy, and the strength to carry out my responsibilities… to reach out and embrace my friends and family… to bless and to be blessed. Grant me clarity about what is and is not necessary, what is and what is not loving. Help me to create beauty. Bless, O God, my endeavors; I pray that they will begin in a pure heart and will in a small way… or in a big way, for why should I not pray to be of great service? … that in large and small ways my endeavors will bring your kingdom to reign on earth, O God.

I pray to you, the One Creator, the One God over all the earth… the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever…. Amen



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)?


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.


  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

Find sample blogs on a gazillion topics at Alpha Inventions

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


  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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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.


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:


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.


Little Things

How to Write Poetry and Live Poetically

Free E-Course
Lesson 35
Chapter 11 (continued): The Morris Chair and Other Metaphors for Love

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


A freshwater swamp in Florida (U.S. Geological Survey)

A freshwater swamp in Florida (U.S. Geological Survey)

I am not into angst. Give me good, honest sadness, if you must, but don’t take me down sordid side streets dead-ending in despair.

Do not write poetry about your feelings, except metaphorically, or in passing. You will get stuck there, in that swamp of emotion, when the point is to uncover what lies beneath the muck.

Let’s say your mother has just died. Please, if she is living, know that I am not ill-wishing her; may she live in robust health and prosperity to 150. My mother — as you know, if you have been paying attention — died in 1974. I did not write much poetry then; it would be another five years or so before I started writing therapeutically, or out of pure joy, rather than to impress someone.

If I had wanted to write a poem about my mother, I would not have begun by recalling how wonderful she was and how much I had loved her and was missing her. Those were sentiments that were going nowhere… that were honest but superficial; my feelings were so much more complicated than sadness and grief. There were anger, regret, a little guilt, gratitude, laughter, bemusement, mixed with emotions that, to this day, I believe there are no words for — a tangle of knots and orphan threads that were going to either crush or choke me.

A schoolchild's slate very similar to Mom's

A schoolchild’s slate very similar to Mom’s

As it happened, I went into therapy instead of writing poetry. But if I had written poems for and about my mom, I think I would have begun with the little slate — one of the orphan threads in the tangle.

I have said that Mom was an antique collector and dealer. One of her prize possessions was a small slate — a child’s personal chalkboard from the days when paper wasn’t plentiful. I’m sure it was fifty or seventy-five years old; it was about five by seven inches if you count the rickety half-inch frame.

I found the slate in the closet of the spare bedroom a few days after Mom died. Written on it, with white chalk in Mom’s handwriting, was “Merry Christmas 1974.”

Now, this was very odd, enigmatic bordering on spooky. Mom died on August 8, 1974. For what possible reason might she have, that summer, to all appearances glowing with health and vitality, written “Merry Christmas 1974” on the little slate and put it in a closet where it would be easily found among her treasures?

Canon Typestar 110 electronic typewriter

Canon Typestar 110 electronic typewriter

Pappy’s Journal

When Dad died, in 1985, I was wiser. I did not go into therapy. Dad had retired about three years after Mom died, had bought an electronic typewriter, and had begun sending to his relatives, periodically, four-page documents printed on the backs of pieces of junk mail. He called this work-in-progress Pappy’s Journal. It contained amusing and sometimes poignant reminiscences about everything from ice-skating on the Des Moines River when he was a boy to a play-by-play of the previous Saturday’s Nebraska Cornhusker football game. Dad had been a CPA and a Scot, and he was thrifty to the core. (He had perfected a way of grafting soap slivers onto just-opened bars of Palmolive.) He always sent four pages, even if the fourth page ended midsentence, because four pages of twenty-pound paper was the maximum you could mail using a single first-class stamp.

The Red Sea—Nebraska's Memorial Stadium, 2007 (photo by Bobak Ha'Eri)

The Red Sea—Nebraska’s Memorial Stadium, 2007 (photo by Bobak Ha’Eri)

So instead of seeking psychiatric help, I edited his reminiscences, sparingly, and wrote some annotations, and I also wrote several poems, one of which won first prize in statewide poetry contests in both Kansas and Arizona.

The Morris Chair

for Dan Campbell, 1913-1985

Once it was merely oak and textile, but you
chose it as your incarnation’s favorite
dwelling place; and since its cast, at first, was
hostile to your contours, something had to
give — the Morris never had a prayer.

As sitting folks do, you made an impression on the
topography of the worsted cushion, and, like the
victim of erosion, the planet was
reshaped: a plateau here, a gully there… a
landscape — where before had been mere
serviceable flatness — was now the sculpted
valley of adamant flesh, bone, and muscle.

After the armistice, you and the Morris were
compatible as the angular pieces of a
jigsaw puzzle, and anyone else venturing
to sit upon the thing would find it
uncongenial, neither rigid nor
relenting, just tenacious of its silhouette,
and true to its architect, and steward to
your indelible effect.

It doesn’t require a death in the family to write an evocative poem, choosing for its fulcrum something small and secretly prized, perhaps. Here is one of mine:

Summer Afternoon, Shinnecock, by Julien Alden Weir

Summer Afternoon, Shinnecock, by Julien Alden Weir

Meditation on a Summer Afternoon

All the riches of the world exist in shadows
of a walnut tree on sunny summer
afternoons: the small, expressive flutter of
a leaf in a listless breeze; the cleaving
scent of earth and pine and grass and
honeysuckle heavy on the vine; the
rough-and-tumble scratching of a
dozen squirrels in a frantic scramble
branch to branch, and suddenly
they’re statues munching fat, firm
nutmeats, littering with shards of
shell my cluttered yard that I shall
rake another day; plump robins, in
shy trepidation, venturing to search
for succulent gourmet delights, then,
frightened off by someone’s slamming
of a door, they dash away on wing
and call a warning to their mates.
Nearby a brash woodpecker hammers,
hammers more, persists in hammering
upon a maple tree. I clap my hands,
applauding, and to see what he will
do. He quits, and then resumes.

A book of poetry sits idly on my lap,
unlooked at. Pages turn upon a
breath of air; perhaps, I fancy, there’s a
spirit there, enjoying Blake. I listen to my
children at the neighbor’s, splashing in a
plastic pool and laughing with the
unrestraint that grace bestows on
childhood; and down the street, somebody
mows a tidy lawn that’s lined by rows of
peonies, exuberant and lush, ridiculously
pink or deep merlot.

Pink peonies (photo by Fanghong)

Pink peonies (photo by Fanghong)

Something sighs contentedly. Perhaps it’s
I, or else a pixie living in a tribe beneath
the shrubbery. Nothing weighs on me. I
feel so light that I’m surprised to find
myself still sitting on my rag of quilt upon
the grass instead of simply rising, chasing
birds or playing tag with bees. But I am
earthen still, and glad of it, delighted to
be wrapped in humid air; it moves
sufficiently to cool my skin and curl my
hair. The ground is warm, a comfort, womb
of seed and tiny creature curled in sleep,
awaiting dusk.

As shadows must, they lengthen and the
laughter shrills. The time has come. I will
collect the children and go in. I brush away
the thought, just for another minute’s
taste of pure serenity, but also fond
anticipation of the dinner hour—cheddar
cheese and melon salad, I decide, and
lemon pie, and then the bedtime stories
that transport us to exotic climes. The
time has come, but I have evening yet to
savor. Summer comes in such abundant
flavors—warmth and coolness,
thunderstorm, forsythia and clover, early
sunrise, tall and motley hollyhocks—I feast
upon them all.


Assignment 35.1

Every day if you can — but at least twice a week — choose a moment out of the day you have just experienced and write about it metaphorically in the poetic form of your choice. I hope you will do this for the rest of your life. It will prevent your “running on empty,” as Jackson Browne sang… or, perhaps even worse, running on autopilot. Entire spans of years of my life, when I was not living poetically or contemplating things by writing poetry, are a blur to me now, and sometimes I go back and try to recapture those lost moments, as in “Meditation on a Summer Afternoon,” above.

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.

* * *

Lady Irene

How to Write Poetry and Live Poetically

Free E-Course Lesson 33

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

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


Case Study #1: Living Poetically

Anne Bancroft

Anne Bancroft

None of my case studies is a perfect example of the poetic liver (or pancreas, or gallbladder…). We are, after all, talking about human beings, not gods or angels. But these are human beings who, in nearly every exigency, see not disaster but an infinite number of choices, and from these they select the most elegant or the kindest.

Irene is an exquisitely complex individual; accordingly, her life has always been complex. She is gifted in a hundred ways, and, with luck (and a bit more focus), she might have excelled in any of a dozen fields.

Irene the Artist 

She is an artist in the Renaissance sense: she sketches, she paints, she sculpts, she sings and plays the guitar. We met in high school — we were both singing in our school’s elite A Cappella Choir.

During our junior year, she had the lead in the Madwoman of Chaillot,

(French title La Folle de Chaillot) … a play, a poetic satire, by French dramatist Jean Giraudoux, written in 1943 and first performed in 1945, after his death. The play has two acts and follows the convention of the classical unities. It follows an eccentric woman who lives in Paris and her struggles against the straitlaced authority figures in her life. —Wikipedia

Without Irene, such an ambitious production could not have been attempted at our school. Her performance was so exceptional that even the most lowbrow of our peers, the guys who still thought it was hilarious to make farting noises with their armpits, were agog.

Mel Brooks, 1984

Mel Brooks, 1984

Likewise, Irene’s appearance was, and remains, dramatic. Her late mother strongly resembled the actress Anne Bancroft (1931-2005), perhaps best known for her Academy Award–winning role as Annie Sullivan in the 1962 film the Miracle Worker. Bancroft was married for more than 40 years, until her death in 2005, to Mel Brooks, now 82. (1)

As Irene ages (she is nearing 62), she looks more and more as her mother did when I knew her — more glamorous, more Anne Bancroft-ish. For the past ten years or so — after decades of supporting herself, working hard at interesting jobs (she was, for example, the executive director of a ballet company) and learning, learning, learning (she studied under Robert Bly in Chicago) — Irene has lived almost entirely on disability income. She suffers agonies from spinal stenosis and fibromyalgia. In terms of material possessions, she is quite poor — though she reverently keeps the family china from two generations — but poverty has never made her hard or bitter. It has, instead, fueled her imagination and called forth her creativity.

Gifts of the spirit

Irene's double cartouche, the ideal wedding, anniversary, or Valentine's gift

Irene's double cartouche, the ideal wedding, anniversary, or Valentine's gift

Irene has always been more independent than rebellious. Her spirituality is eclectic, embracing paganism, Wicca, and other fringe religious practices… but she never judges the religiosity of others, and she often prays fervently to “Whoever Is On Duty.”  She begins each day with a ritual of gratitude and a salute to the sun. Many years ago, she dramatically quitted the Presbyterian church she was attending when the pastor’s wife unceremoniously ejected a homeless man from the assembled congregation.

She knows more about Egyptology and pre-Christian Celtic religious practices than do many academics with doctoral degrees in folklore. She privately performs elaborate sacred rituals on the Celtic festival days:

  • Imbolc, celebrated on the eve of February 1st,… sacred to the fertility goddess Brigit, and as such … a spring festival. It was later Christianised as the feast of St Brigid….
  • Beltaine, held on the eve of May 1st., …devoted to the god Bel, and a common practise was the lighting of fires. It was later Christianised as the feast of St John the Baptist, and the festival of May Day is generally thought to have been based upon it.
  • Lughnasadh, … in August, [which]… revolved around the god Lugh, who, according to mythology, was giving a feast for his foster mother Tailtu at that time.
  • Samhain, held on October 31st, [marking]… the end of one pastoral year, and the beginning of another, and … similarly thought of as the time when spirits of the Otherworld became visible to humans. It was Christianised as Halloween, which has kept its associations with spirits and the supernatural right into the contemporary period. —Wikipedia, accessed January 31, 2009
Lunar-phase diagram donated to Wikipedia by "Minesweeper"

Lunar-phase diagram donated to Wikipedia by "Minesweeper"

In spite of the fact that she dances under the full moon and observes certain traditions associated with the new moon… and that she believes herself to be (half seriously, half with tongue in cheek) a latter-day priestess of the Egyptian goddess Isis (or is it Bastet?), and carries forth the goddess’s legacy of protecting and sheltering cats… she is the farthest thing from a fanatic. She is in some ways vulnerable and in others impervious to the opinions of others, and she would be equally comfortable at Buckingham Palace, in an archaeological dig at the sites of the pyramids and tombs of Egypt, and at a roadside diner drinking coffee and munching on a cheese omelet.

Irene of the generous spirit

Irene's Isis print, signed and numbered, 11 x 17 inches; the original was done on real papyrus

Irene's Isis print, signed and numbered, 11 x 17 inches; the original was done on real papyrus

Irene is a vegetarian and an accomplished cook — chef might be the more accurate term — and she never comes to see me without a gift of food or the loan of a book. Her makeup is always perfect, her hair beautifully styled, and her clothing artistically accented with earrings or beads, or both. Her own home is approximately half of the second floor of a Queen Anne–style Victorian mansion, with a flank of long bay windows, doorways framed with intricately carved woodwork, and a stained-glass transom.

Her adopted cats live long, pampered lives, protected as they are by Irene and Isis (or, perhaps, Bastet). She (Irene — presumably Isis and Bastet as well) is patient; it took years, but she finally wore me down, in her gentle way, until I adopted two feral kittens, offspring of fecund mama Jezebel, whom Irene has never been able to trap in order to have her spayed. Irene speaks Cat fluently, to my shame, for I have not managed to pick up more than a few words of the language.

A Queen Anne–style Victorian house

A Queen Anne–style Victorian house

The yard of her mansion apartment is tiny, but Irene has found room for a small cat cemetery and for her summer fairy garden of herbs and flowers and stone pathways. She is an aficionado of meditation, visualization, and Tong Ren, and she is a healer by nature and experience.

I do not know if Irene has ever read Martin Buber’s I And Thou, but she relates to people in the way Martin Buber would have us do — as sacred, each and every one. As was often said about my late mother-in-law, she “never knew a stranger,” and she has instant rapport with everyone from the drive-through-coffee-shop personnel to the postal-service mail clerks and the other folks waiting for their prescriptions to be ready at the pharmacy.

Sweet basil from Irene's herb garden

Sweet basil from Irene's herb garden

Irene lives poetically about seven-eighths of the time. The lost eighth falls at the end of the month, when she has run out of money, in large part because of her excessive generosity. She is something of an adventurer and spent much of her life on the edge, marrying wildly unsuitable men, one of whom spent an entire night holding a gun to her head. She is far too intelligent and resourceful to have remained in these treacherous relationships, though they afforded her some interesting travel opportunities.


Among the top ten of My Most Embarrassing Experiences is the Incident of the Thwarted Escape Attempt. We were 19 or so, still living with our parents, and she had made plans to run off to meet one of the unsuitable men, who lived, I think, in Indiana. What was supposed to have happened is that I was to drive to her neighborhood and wait on a side street to the south of her house. Her parents left for work — they owned and operated a meat market — quite early, around 6:30, as I recall, and “always” turned north after reaching the end of the driveway, so I was, theoretically, in no danger of detection. As soon as they were out of sight, I was to pick Irene up and take her to the airport, where she would soar away to her assignation.

The view from the bay windows (photo by Mike Pedroncelli)

The view from the bay windows (photo by Mike Pedroncelli)

Unfortunately, her parents had detected her packed suitcase the night before and had prevented her from phoning me to warn me off. So there I was, at 6:30 a.m. on the designated side street, watching her parents back out of the driveway and turn… oops… southward. I scrunched down in the seat,  hoping to become invisible, but I heard their car pull up beside mine, and I heard her mother say, “Mary?” with a question mark in her voice. Well, there was nothing to do but pop back up into view, only to be scolded, berated, and forbidden ever to have anything to do with Irene again as long as I lived.

Fortunately, I did not obey. My life would be much the poorer without Irene and her charm, her grace, and her optimism, which sometimes flags but never fails.


(1) Mel Brooks, born Melvin Kaminsky; June 28, 1926)… an American director, writer, composer, lyricist, comedian, actor and producer, best known as a creator of broad film farces and comic parodies. Brooks is a member of the short list of entertainers with the distinction of having won an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar, and a Tony award. Three of his films (Blazing Saddles, The Producers, and Young Frankenstein) ranked in the Top 20 on the American Film Institute‘s list of the Top 100 comedy films of all-time. —Wikipedia

Single cartouche with blessing

Single cartouche with blessing

Spare No Sibilants

How to Write Poetry and Live Poetically

Free E-Course Lesson 31

Chapter 10: Meditation
Part 4: Poetry-Writing as Meditation

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


The creative arts are the playground for recognizing and understanding our purpose in being here. When we truly allow our spirits to be filled with the purpose, our minds can begin to take stock of the necessary steps and needed materials so the body can become the mover or manifestor of the desire. Mind, Body, Spirit: Connecting With Your Creative Self,
by Mary Braheny and Diane Halperin

* * *

I wrote both of the poems below “meditatively” — that is, with an open mind, as part of a morning ritual.

The first poem originated from my noticing that at this time of year, the earth’s orientation to the sun is such that the rays slant more brightly and beautifully through my bedroom windows than in any other season.  I have said before that I live in a church basement, though that’s not quite accurate. Half of my apartment is below ground level. The windows — there are four, all on the south side — are full sized, made possible by window wells.

In meditative poems I try not to be intentional. I work with the poetic conventions I choose and let the tale tell itself. In this case, I chose the following:

There are other common rhetorical devices as well. (1) How many can you identify? (Please name the ones you find.)

The poem was going to be a meditation on a ray of light, but it turned into something quite different. (2) What might it have told me about myself that I hadn’t been aware of?


My walkdown is half below ground and thus darkish
with windows on only one side, and these mullioned
and frosted and dusty, gray-tinted with shadows
from brickwork and privet… and silent, so quiet
that lightning and thunder at midnight can’t penetrate;
but, more’s the pity, I can’t discern birdsong;
cicadas lamenting and crickets scritch-scritching,
however, are easily heard in midsummer.
I once had a fright from a possum who tumbled,
at least I inferred that she had, to the floor of
the window-well; captive, she skittered around on
the old metal screens; and I, thinking the threat must
be human, in fear and confusion, punched in nine-
one-one on the phone, and no fewer than two dozen
uniformed men armed with pistols came quickly
to rescue a woman alone in her bedroom,
defending her person from one hapless menacing
possum. The men with the guns were forgiving,
and, surely, one had to do something, not knowing
the danger. I do love a window that faces
the south in the wintertime, feral four-footed
invaders, indeed, notwithstanding; for sunlight
slants through in a comforting, angular way that
is perfectly suited for afternoon naps and
geraniums, too.

January 18, 2009


The inspiration for the following poem was the much-embellished language of Elizabeth Peters’s delightful Victorian archaeologist and detective Amelia Peabody Emerson. Peters has written a few dozen books about the Emersons, all narrated (for the most part) by Amelia, whose husband refers to her affectionately as “Peabody.” There is an unrestraint about her utterances (as there is, as well, about Victorian houses, furniture, and other artistic expressions) that is greatly at odds with the more modern, pared-down prose of later writers. If something can be clearly expressed using five words, Amelia will use fifteen.

tomb234There is, I am overjoyed to find, a new book in the series: Tomb of the Golden Bird (Amelia Peabody Mysteries).

Again, the poem wandered into uncharted territory. (3) What do you think I learned about myself in the process of writing this poem? (HINT: There are no wrong answers.) 


 “They will rid us of resident

     “rodents,” said Amelia Peabody —

Oh, what a droll redundancy

     Of D’s and R’s and S’s.

Amelia is generous with consonants

     and commas and asides,

     not sparing

     an embarrassment of prepositions

     or extravagant Egyptian


Ah, to scatter syllables

     with no fear of reprisal,

Scribbling whatever adjectives

     arise, page upon page,

To be intemperate at last

     and feel the weight of pent-up participles

     lifted from one’s shoulders,

     nobly carried, one might add,

     despite the rain.

Now to feast upon the delicate,

     the succulent, the opulent

     accessories, plucked in

     leaner days from one’s

     repast, but frozen — for

     one knew their banishment

     would end at last.

Economy, begone! Pack your

     valise and abdicate

     your stern and pious reign.

Don’t slam the door when you

     egress. Expect no severance pay,

     for you’ve exacted

     more than you were owed.

And now, a toast, companions

     in the liberation, mes amis.

Now lift your flagons, lift them high,

     and drink to whimsy, arrogant,

     peculiar, wry, benevolent.

Drink to liberty

     in flowing crimson silk

     arrayed; Amelia Peabody has

     gained the citadel, and

     holds aloft the flame.

O, wasted wealth of words, O, damned

     display of Latin origins.

O, Norse and Arabic, O, Gaelic,

     Greek and Cherokee, and more;

Ye assonant ambassadors, rejoice!

Amelia has restored

     your scattered fortunes.

Spare no sibilants;

     there shall be subsurrations,

     seventy times seven, and

     a score besides.

Throw wide the gates for

     summer’s retinue,

     ripe pomegranate.

Go and populate the periodicals, reclaim

     the islands where verbosity

     has honor still.

Amelia has gained the citadel,

     and yet, take care that your extravagance

     is eloquent, laid on with artistry. For as

     “the tombs themselves descend in

     “sinuous curves,”

Endeavor to deserve, when you are

     gone, an orderly effusion

     in the manner you (yourself)


Immerse yourself in immortality.

     Immerse yourself COMPLETELY,

     like Amelia,

Who bathes and then adjourns to the


Where breezes ruffle Nefret’s hair

     that shimmers in the light like

     golden threads.


February 2006


Assignment 31.1

  1. Answer the questions highlighted above in red.
  2. Write a meditative poem in blank verse using iambic or trochaic tetrameter. Your poem should have no more than twenty lines. BEGIN WITH A MINIMALIST, CONCRETE SUBJECT, AND DO NOT WRITE OVERTLY ABOUT YOUR FEELINGS.
  3. Identify the poetic devices in your poem.
  4. 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.
  5. Keep exploring the meditations at www.LifeIsPoetry.net, and continue with your meditation journal.

* * *

What Meditation Feels Like

How to Write Poetry and Live Poetically

Free E-Course Lesson 29

Chapter 10: Meditation
Part 2: Simple Meditation

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

Pine Ridge area, northwestern Nebraska

Pine Ridge area, northwestern Nebraska

Before you can learn to practice poetry-writing as meditation, you need to know what meditation feels like. You need to practice letting go of your props and your crutches and your manners and your disguises and to discover that at your core — within your soul — you are already perfect. Insofar as meditation can be said to have a goal, it is complete acceptance of your “true” self and your present circumstances.

Through meditation you are, in a sense, born again every time you choose to be. Let go of the past, let go of the future. Give them to the Almighty. Everything is Right Here, Right Now, and it’s all okay, it’s all fine, because it’s the only way it can be, right here, right now.

Begin meditation at whatever pace suits you: one minute, several times a day; a half-hour, twice a day; whenever you can steal some time away from the hubbub and find a comfortable, quiet place.

Some meditation instructors will tell you to take a shower or a bath first, to clean up your mess, to create a “special” place for meditation, to sit in a certain way, and to not fall asleep. These suggestions might work well for you. In my case, they make meditation a chore, just another project, like going to the gym, rather than a way of life, a way of being. If I followed all the rules, I’d meditate maybe every third leap year. As it happens, I can meditate on a city bus during rush hour.

Meditation step by step

Jack Kornfield (a Spirit Rock image)

Jack Kornfield (a Spirit Rock image)

Start with a simple “sitting” or “breathing meditation.” This is as basic as it gets — breathing.

  • Get as comfortable as possible, in as quiet a place as possible. If you can get comfortable sitting with your back straight on a pillow on the floor, or on a chair, not slouching, with your head tilted slightly down and your feet planted firmly on the floor — great! If you want to lie down, for Dirty Gertie’s sake lie down.
  • Relax. Just saying the word relax to yourself is immensely powerful.
  • Close your eyes. Don’t scrunch them closed — just an easy-and-relaxed closed.
  • Inhale and exhale through your nose, comfortably, rhythmically.
  • Breathe from your diaphragm (or abdomen), so that your in-breaths are deep and lung-filling. Abdominal breathing is, in itself, relaxing. (If you can’t get the hang of it, place your hand flat across your navel and inhale so that your hand moves outward.)
  • Mentally place yourself in a sort of porous cocoon of pure white light. You can think of it as your “energy field.” I see it as God’s loving, healing light. Breathe in the light.
  • The more senses you engage during your meditation, the less likely it is that you will get distracted. See the healing light being inhaled. When you exhale, feel the healing light permeate your body with warmth, like a caress: to the tips of your fingers and toes and the top of your head; through your skin, muscle, bone, all the way to your internal organs and every cell in your body.* Smell and taste the light. Hear the ebb and flow of your breath, like an ocean tide.
  • If you can’t manage all that, just let your attention rest on your rhythmic breathing.
  • Don’t worry if your mind wanders. If a thought or a feeling intrudes, notice it, but don’t follow it. Jack Kornfield suggests you bow to it. If you do get tangled up in thoughts and emotions, gently bring your attention back to your breathing. As Susan Piver says, it doesn’t matter if it’s been ten seconds or an hour. Don’t beat yourself up. Show lovingkindness to yourself. Do not get discouraged. Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche reassures us that “the intention to meditate” is enough. If you genuinely intend to meditate, you can’t mess it up.

    Susan Piver

    Susan Piver

  • If you are distracted by pain or discomfort, let it be, for a time, the focus of your meditation. Take your attention away from your breathing and settle it on your pain. Alternate between focusing on your breath and on your pain. Don’t be surprised if the pain disappears.
  • Meditating ten to twenty minutes at a time, twice a day, is a good guideline. Start by meditating for a few minutes every day. Set a timer, if you want to. Gradually, steadily, add to your time a bit, or to the number of times you meditate per day. But if a week goes by, or a month, without your meditating, you haven’t failed. Just start again. You get an eternity of second chances.

    Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche

    Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche

In a nutshell

  • Get comfortable and close your eyes. Relax.
  • Rest your attention on the sensations of comfortable, rhythmic breathing, from the diaphragm, in and out through the nose.
  • If thoughts or emotions break in, notice them but try not to follow them. (I think of this process as a scuba diver’s watching through goggles as fish swim in and out of view.)
  • As soon as you notice that your mind has wandered, gently, lovingly bring your attention back to your breathing.
  • Always, in meditation, treat yourself with love and gentleness. When you are through meditating, the lovingkindness will remain, and you’ll be kinder to yourself and others.

Other ways to start meditating


* Warming your fingers and toes is actually a common form of do-it-yourself biofeedback for relaxation. Use an instant-read thermometer or an old-fashioned mercury thermometer. Hold it between your fingers for a while, until it reaches your body temperature. (An instant-read thermometer will do so immediately.) Then focus your attention on the fingers holding the thermometer. You can try to warm your fingertips, or you can just “notice” them. Either should do the trick. You’ll feel a tingling in your fingers—that’s the blood flowing in. The temperature recorded on the thermometer will rise.

When you’re stressed, your system goes into “fight or flight” mode and the blood rushes to your heart. By consciously directing the blood away from your heart, toward your extremities, the heart slows down and you’ll relax.

Adapted from Sister Alma Rose Has the Last Word

Assignment 29.1

Continue with your meditation journal. Send your new journal entries via e-mail to Mary@LifeIsPoetry.net. I will not grade your assignment, but I will return it to you with comments.

You’ll also find hours of music for meditation and relaxation, nature sounds, meditation instruction, and other meditation resources at Zero Gravity’s website, www.LifeIsPoetry.net.

* * *

Finding Your Place in Creation

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

How to Write Poetry and Live Poetically

Free E-Course Lesson 3
Chapter 1: Finding Your Place in Creation

I created this course and book…

(a)  for individual readers who want to write and live poetically, and

(b) as a text for adult and advanced-student workshops in poetry-writing, self-discovery, and self-expression.


By reading and discussing the text and doing the assignments, you will learn to write poetry that is both artistic and disciplined; learn about yourself through poetry-writing; and write poetry to participate in your own creation (or “co-creation” or “evolution”).


It is my hope that this book will help you live a fuller, happier life. You’ll experience the joy of creating something worthwhile and giving beauty to the world—no work of art is really completed until it’s shared.


Beyond that, writing poetry can be a form of meditation. It anchors you to the here and now, freeing you from worry and regret. It helps you process your experiences and circumstances. It reveals inner feelings and desires.


It can even help you find your calling. Marcus Aurelius writes in his Meditations (Boox X), “Everything exists for a purpose—a horse, a vine, even the sun. What then is your purpose?”*


From a Darwinian or a spiritual standpoint—take your pick—you are here because the Universe needs you, the way a meadow needs clover and grass and bees and earthworms. You are an essential part of the vast ecosystem. Your talents and deepest desires should guide you to your place in Creation.


Mistletoe, literally “dung on a twig” in the Old Saxon language, is spread through bird excrement, and it attaches itself to tree limbs where conditions are favorable. To the Druids, oak mistletoe was sacred because it was rare—mistletoe was much more common on apple trees.


Unlike mistletoe, human beings make choices that determine where they land and what they do.** If your wants, skills, and interests were not given much attention when you were a child, you might have grown up thinking they didn’t matter much. Perhaps you’ve made major decisions—whom to marry, where to go to college, what to study, what kind of work to do—more out of obligation or coercion, or to please others, than out of deep desire or a sense of calling.


Eventually you may lose touch with your wants. Parents, especially, find their lives governed by their children’s needs. Some choose parenthood with their eyes wide open—parenthood, for the moment, is their calling, and they joyfully make the necessary “sacrifices.” Or they find ways to integrate their own passion for, say, ballroom dancing or growing fruit trees, with child-rearing.***


It’s not uncommon to find parents, especially mothers, suffering from empty-nest syndrome when the kids are gone and the daily routine is no longer relevant. The house, so recently a hub of youthful activity, is too quiet. The freedom, once longed for, is too scary. Mom feels superfluous.


The universe still needs her, and it is prodding her latent talents and desires. Writing poetry is a way to bring her sleeping passions and creative energy to the surface, as a spring bubbling out of a rocky hillside releases water from deep underground into the sunlight.


This book has three parts.

Part I

Concepts of art, poetry, and the self. Here I try to corral an unruly herd of meanings into a more or less delimited vocabulary. You can’t just throw words such as art, poetry, spirit, ideal, perfection, growth, and self-knowledge at people without saying what you mean. We are talking about the nature of reality here, not the price of grapefruit.


My assertion that reality is essentially nonphysical — love and truth and desire and ideas are “more real” and certainly more powerful than tables and chairs and the mail I keep getting from L. Ron Hubbard, even though I have told the postal service a thousand times that I am not “Margaret Campbell,” even though I have returned the items C.O.D. to L. Ron himself — is hardly original.


I draw from the works of Emerson, Mary Baker Eddy, Carl Jung, and Marcus Aurelius, and from quantum physics, the Old and New Testaments, and many other sources. I am indebted to whoever it was — I can’t find the reference — who wrote an article about Kabbalah describing how the universe splintered at the moment of creation, hurling innumerable shards into space, and how every act of kindness, or mitzvah, puts one of the shards back into its proper place, helping to repair the broken cosmos. And I am grateful to the Book-of-the-Month Club for sending me a book that I forgot to not order, The Joy of Living, by Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, a renowned Buddhist teacher who has worked with western neurologists and physicists to investigate the science of meditation.

Part II

The poetry-writing section of the book, where readers and students will learn the forms and conventions and techniques of poetry and will practice using them. If you have ever taken a poetry-writing course, you will find little that is new or surprising in Part II except, perhaps, my tendency to go off-topic if a gust of wind through my open window carries the scent of something that might be the first drops of rain on a dusty road miles away, or it might be the washing machine overflowing again in the basement, and since it is much more likely to be the washing machine and I will eventually have to deal with it, I keep writing, as if rain on dusty roads were a metaphysical anomaly equivalent to rank upon rank of angels singing paeans in the sky.


You might find, also, that Part II focuses more on simile and metaphor, among the many devices that poets use, than your earlier poetry course might have done.

Part III

Poetry-writing as a way of knowing, expressing, and creating oneself. Because you will have read Part I, you will understand what that means, and you will realize that what you are reading here is not empty rhetoric meant to seem profound and important but is a preface to joy.

We will be working with a definition of poetry that, especially in Part III,  includes beauty as a criterion. We will learn to gather the loose, impotent, entropic bits of energy we possess and apply them to the intentional creation of beauty. We will be exemplars of our art. We will be inspired by the certainty that beauty and grace exist not only in the product of artistic endeavor but also in the endeavor itself.

* The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho, is a lovely little fable about the way the Universe directs us toward our destiny.

** Obviously, some people, individually and in groups, have more freedom to choose than others. On the other hand, many people who live in free societies are unaware of the innumerable choices they do have. The real or imagined opinions of others—“What will people think!”—are a common, and often unjustified, constraint.

*** With tragic exceptions, most parents do the best they can most of the time, even when parenthood sneaks up on them unawares. I made a lot of mistakes but I rolled with the punches and loved being a parent because I got to be a kid a lot, because I like ballet recitals and soccer games and eau de sweaty-little-boy and little girls playing dress-up, and snuggling in a big chair with a storybook…. But I had my moments of resentment, martyrdom, fury, and attempts to escape. Fortunately, there was always someone around to either call me on it or pick up the slack.


Go to Lesson 3.1 Assignment
Go to Lesson 4


How Can I Keep from Singing?

Learn to Speak Your Mind Through Poetry

The next 40-plus posts in this blog comprise an online course in contemplative poetry, How to Write Poetry and Live Poetically. 

PLEASE NOTE: The free-evaluation period for this course has ended. The readings, lessons, and assignments will remain public for a time, but for professional instruction, feedback, and assessment; publication in course journal; and Certificate in Contemplative Poetry, you’ll need to pay full tuition, which is $840 for one year.

Enrollment Information

TO ENROLL: Please e-mail mary@LifeIsPoetry.net with the following information:

  • Include your name, phone number, and e-mail address (if different from that from which your message originates). 
  • Indicate your payment preference: Single payment of $840 or two payments of $420 each (the second payment will be due 60 days after start of course).
  • Optional: What does the phrase “living poetically” mean to you? Include your answer in the body of this e-mail.
  • Please put POETRY in the subject line unless you have received the course as a gift, in which case please put POETRY SCHOLARSHIP in the subject line.

You will receive an invoice (or confirmation, if scholarship) within a few days. Instructions will follow upon receipt of your payment. Course graduates will receive a CERTIFICATE IN CONTEMPLATIVE POETRY.

About the Course

The course — How to Write Poetry and Live Poetically — is more than a traditional poetry-writing course. It is designed to teach you to explore and express the subconscious mind through poetry. The structure and conventions of poetry create a safe context and a narrow channel for expression, so that revelations from the deep within don’t flood and overwhelm your awareness.

You’ll also learn how writing poetry can expand and color your perspective — extremely useful when events or circumstances seem overwhelming, exceptionally confusing, bleak, or threatening. You might call it “putting a good spin on a tough time,” but that implies something superficial, like using makeup in different shades to call attention to high cheekbones and away from too prominent a chin. When by writing poetry you cast a different light on a situation, the expression is organic. “Life” and the poetic cast you throw upon it merge, as in a chemical reaction: two substances combine to form a different substance altogether. A few paragraphs down you’ll find an example (“Altars”) from my own embracing of a living situation that seemed, on the surface, rather grim.

I will explain “living poetically” in greater detail as we go along, though I would be interested in hearing what the phrase conveys to you. (See “Enrollment Information,” above. Right now I’ll just say that “living poetically” is a good thing that involves serenity and well-being, achieved in part through the discipline of writing poetry as a form of meditation.)

Photo by Luc Viatour GFDL/CC

Photo by Luc Viatour GFDL/CC

The introductory lessons describe the goals and define the terms used in this course, all in a way you should find interesting and thought-provoking.

After the introductory sections, there will be regular assignments. These will be fun and revealing. Besides learning about poets and poetry, you’ll investigate topics including the English language, the arts in general, the emotions, meditation and the self.

At the conclusion of the course, I will compile some of the poetry received from you and other students—the best poems, or those that best represent the course objectives—into an e-book, which all participants may download for free.

Today’s installment is the first part of the preface. It describes a period in my own life that was particularly poetic—not because of any conscious effort on my part, but because I had unknowingly slipped into a benign rhythm, like finding oneself on a riverboat and being carried by a current that happens to be going in the right direction.



If I were going to live here—and to all
appearances I was, the heap of luggage at my
feet attesting to the fact—then there would
need to be a very lot of plants, I thought. In
my experience, a few lush, hardy pothos were
the ticket: instant ambience and simple
propagation—cuttings in a jar of water,
nothing to it.  Pothos thrive that way,
requiring hardly any light and not a bit of
fuss. I set them side by side or cluster them in
corners. Right away they are the best of
friends. You see it in the sweet (and shy at the
beginning) twining of their stems. They show
up better, too, in bunches. Shiny leaves and
sturdy, twisty vines attract the eye and give a
timid space vitality… so easy, with this
simple show of domesticity, to stake a claim:
This is my place.

I spot a well-placed window and I feel like it’s 
my birthday. Every home must have a few, to
ward off melancholy. Dark moods brighten in
the company of pots of jaunty herbs along the
narrow boundary between inside and out,
especially—not that it’s necessary, strictly
speaking, but appealing, and salubrious as well—
if I can hang a pair of devil’s ivy (pothos by another
name) directly 
overhead and don’t forget to dust
the leaves with regularity. It’s not that they object to
getting grimy now and then, however. If their soil is
overdry they droop pathetically. Hydration brings them
back before your eyes. They show their gratitude so
energetically you’ll want to put them on a leash. For
little more than water the reward is foliage, thick and
shining like my mama’s kitchen floor. They’re given
every window with an east exposure, and I spend
my first few waking minutes with them as
they come to life again. 

Note the very moment when the first rays 
brush the leaves, the way a mother strokes her
baby’s face… and let the 
moment be a regular
so you don’t forget to stop and sit
and watch 
habitually, in awe of what you’re
the sacred intimacy of it.

Try not to think too much about the
photosynthesis that’s happening. It
but this is an exchange of
love between the 
earth and sky you’re
looking on, and the display 
is brief… a
micro-dawn, a breath of  prayer,
 a song
of praise (Where is it coming from? It
isn’t you? It must be me), and one can
scarcely help 
but worship then the Power
that upon the first encounter stirred a
need to turn a plain green 
thing into a kind of altar.

Of an evening, passing through, a spirit
likes to pause at such a place of holiness
and whimsy, drawing in another lively one
or two, apparently attracted by the microscopic
movements you and I, preoccupied,neglected to
observe. Now you have company, a cozy few, who
somehow sensed that you were disinclined to be
alone just then, and they were every bit as pleased
as you and I to find that what we started with our
ivied accidental altar had, without our necessarily
intending it, or even giving it much thought—
although we wanted it; what’s not to want? But,
you see, we didn’t know how near it was—had
of its own volition taken root and grown. Now
look at us. By water, grace, 
and alchemy,
we’re here. We’re home.

—by Mary Campbell
April 2008

How to Write Poetry and Live Poetically

E-Course Lesson 1. Preface (part 1)

How Can I Keep from Singing?

My life flows on in endless song;
Above earth’s lamentation
I hear the sweet though far-off hymn
That hails a new creation:
Through all the tumult and the strife
I hear the music ringing;
It finds an echo in my soul—
How can I keep from singing?

Robert Wadsworth Lowry, 1860, based on a traditional Quaker hymn

APRIL 1990. The sky is a deep, unbroken blue from horizon to horizon. Even at noon, the desert sun is gentle, gathering strength for the brutal summer.

You are rattling gleefully down the freeway toward Mexico in the most marvelous vehicle you have ever owned. It is a 1983 Chinook: a teeny-tiny house on wheels. You’ve got your built-in icebox, got your sink, got your two-burner propane stove. There’s a little dining booth that unfolds into a double bed, and there’s another, smaller bed above the front seats; there are closets and cupboards and a Porta-Potty. You have upholstered the benches in brown-red-yellow calico and made cute little curtains to match. This is a traveling cottage for women and children. Grown men who are uneasy with calico and cute little curtains can drive their phallic Corvettes or their ATVs.

Though aerodynamically challenged — basically a fiberglass box on a Toyota chassis with a four-cylinder engine — the Chinook gets twenty miles to a gallon of gas in town, twenty-five on the highway.

You are bound for Puerto Peñasco, a five-hour drive to paradise, where you can lounge on the playa and comprar trinkets you don’t need, just to hear yourself hablar español badly: “¿Quantos dólares para esta dije, por favor?”

The windows of your little Chinook are wide open so that the Whole World can hear you and your two sons, ages nine and ten, lustily singing “Green Grow the Rushes, Ho,” although you are the only one not faking at least half the words, and the Whole World is making way too much noise anyway.

Puerto Peñasco, Sonora, Mexico (\" width=

You’re on the “Nine Bright Shiners” and suddenly you are soloing. Your chorus has gone silent, with the “Ten Commandments,” the “Eleven Who Went to Heaven,” and the “Twelve Apostles” still unsung.


“…and eight for the April Rainers. Seven for the Seven Stars in the Sky and six for the Six Proud Walkers.* Five for the Symbols at Your Door and four for the—”


“…Gospel Makers. Three, three, the Rivals, I’ll sing you two, two, the Lily-White Boys, clo-thed all—”

“MOM! What are the ‘Symbols at Your Door’?”

The back seat, obviously, has undergone a mood shift. Lusty Singing Mood has given way to Pensive Mood. Now there will be questions… familiar questions… deep, philosophical questions arranged around familiar themes:

The What-Would-You-Do-for-a-Million-Dollars Theme

“Mom, would you eat Clarence’s poop for a million dollars?” (If you could, you would, but you gag just thinking about it.)

(Clarence is a Weimaraner. Not that your answer would be different if Clarence were a French poodle or the Queen of Sheba. Maybe if Clarence were a parakeet, and maybe for two million dollars….)

“Mom, would you run naked through Disneyland for a million dollars?” (You bet. In a heartbeat.)

“Mom, if you knew that Jack and I would be happy and have wonderful parents who loved us and took good care of us, would you sell us for a million dollars?” (Nah.) “A billion dollars?” (Nope. Not for all the money in the world.)

The What’s-It-All-About Theme

“Mom, is it true that we’re not really real, we’re just part of somebody’s dream?” (You’re pretty real to me, Kiddo.)

“No, really, Mom, how do we know we’re real?”

Children are such a blessing. You get to hand off the great existential questions. The next generation is allowed to ponder the nature of reality, freeing you to ponder how Eli’s teacher, Mrs. Rodriguez, intends to “curb his spontaneity.” You wonder if electrodes will be involved.

Reality is macaroni and cheese with raisins. Reality is seeing a small boy in a small boat bobbing in the distance, in the Gulf of California, being carried by the wind and tide toward China; feeling your heart lurch when you realize that he is your small boy and he doesn’t know anyone in China; begging a man in a uniform for help when all the Spanish you know involves buying trinkets and “una cerveza, por favor” and something about volatil in an aeroplano to Los Estados Unidos to visitar your Tia Yolanda.

Reality is single parenting, reading aloud for hours before bed, the water bill, the gas bill, Mexican food and margaritas on the beach, a broken arm, a flat tire, a helpful friend, a new bike, tousled heads on damp pillows when the house is quiet and outside a lone nightingale mimics an entire tropical forest.

Reality is rhythmic, a poem punctuated by surprises, a dance, now whirling, now gliding, now stumbling, regaining one’s footing, getting a little dizzy, looking around, and being reassured that one is where one needs to be, for now.

* For years I sang the wrong words here— “the Six Brown Walkers.” I had no curiosity about the origins of this ancient, mystical song until I realized I could look it up on the Internet. You’ll find a fascinating account in Wikipedia, which traces the lyrics to medieval Kabbalism (the earliest version of the song is in Hebrew), Celtic paganism, and Christianity. While you’re online, check out kissthisguy.com, “The Archive of Misheard Lyrics,” where you’ll discover you weren’t the only one who thought Jimi Hendrix was singing “’Scuse me while I kiss this guy” or that the oft-misinterpreted Creedence Clearwater Revival megahit was about “a bad moon on the rise,” not “a bathroom on the right” (“Bad Moon Rising,” in which songwriter John Fogerty was discussing, of all people, Richard Nixon).

© 2008 Mary Campbell and Annagrammatica.com, all rights reserved. Course participants (e-mail Mary@LifeIsPoetry.net to register) may make one copy of each installment in this series for individual use. Any other duplication or redistribution in any form is unlawful.