One must make a distinction however: when dragged into prominence by half poets, the result is not poetry, nor till the autocrats among us can be “literalists of the imagination”—above insolence and triviality and can present for inspection, imaginary gardens with real toads in them, shall we have it.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Weekend Challenge: Play Tennis With A Ghost

"Tinturn Abbey And The River," Edward Dayes (c. 1794)

One of the most profound upwellings of poetry occurred for me in the five years after I first sobered up in 1987. After a decade of sex, drugs & rock ‘n’ roll, I parked that nightly mayhem for days of recovery, marriage, and professional life.

As part of that new routine, I began getting up early to read and write, opening doors within. I burrowed down into mythology and psychology with Joseph Campbell, Carl Jung and James Hillman as my lamps. I also began reading poetry with a passion, plundering the public library for voices which I felt a shouting welcome—Robert Bly, Steven Dobyns, Wendell Berry, Richard Wilbur, Mary Oliver.

Back then, I lived in downtown Orlando, so I could walk to my job at the daily newspaper. And so I carried a briefcase in one hand and a book of poetry in the other, reading out loud as I walked. Surely the bluebirds were amused.

For five years I walked ten blocks of Central Florida dailiness reading Keats and Wordsworth, Eliot and Stevens, Bishop and Lowell. (Swinburne’s Decadent seahorsey-versiness fit my walking gait perfectly). I read Rilke's Duino Elegies and Sonnets to Orpheus, Spenser’s Faerie Queene, Milton’s Paradise Lost, Keats’ Endymion. I read the Spanish poets in translation—Lorca and Machado, Jimenez and Paz and Neruda.

Morning readings had a different vibe than afternoons, the one cultural, the other revolutionary. The seasons revolved through their dominant and subdominant themes. The inward world grew massive, cathedral.

With those rhythms in my ear and reflections of so many mythic tales and motifs forming in my mind, I began to write daily verse in a journal—doggerel mostly, indulgent overripe juvenilia marked by hamhanded theft. How else does one learn to write? As Saul Bellow once said, a writer is a reader moved to emulation. Reading and writing became for me the hero’s journey: Go in, read the treasures, write them down in your own hand, come back. 

I went back to college through night classes paid for by my job (as professional training), and over eight years I completed my BA in English. One of my writing profs was big on reader-response theory, which has it that writers engage and magnify literature through their responses to it.  Critics of the theory say there isn’t enough appreciation of the thing itself – the literary work —and that’s where for me I have settled on a sharing agreement with the ages: I come to your library to read, and you come visit my singing hut to add resonance and heft to the stone.

So that’s the idea with today’s challenge: Go play tennis with a ghost. Take a poem by another poet you respond deeply to and write something by way of response. Maybe it’s the theme and cogitation which stirred you, or the rhyme scheme or alliteration. Write your poem as a letter to the original, offering something between wild applause and Bronx cheer. Make a myth your own; tell something of your history as it were written by Mysteries. (And know that despite what your ego is telling you, it's always good for the art to play tennis with someone far better than you.)

Your source of inspiration could be known to all or be a pet voice in a remote register. Maybe its one of our own. Whatever the case, read and respond—and then come back here to share what you found. (It would be helpful if you include the original, or link to it.)

In a tenth century Icelandic saga, ten ghosts of men just drowned while fishing appeared in communal rooms, still dripping wet and reaching out their spectral hands to warm themselves at the fire. They found their way into the literature, the same way pagan Iceland was then transitioning to Christian times. I think literature endures like that, with one generation getting spooked by shadows of the past and then singing them forward. Who will you partner up with for your game of ghost tennis?

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Wordy Thursday with Wild Woman ~ The Tree Sisters

There is a women's movement rising all over the world. Guided by Clare Dubois and her Board of Directors, in the U.K., Tree Sisters: Seeding for Change,   aim to plant a billion trees world-wide this year, and they are well on their way.

58% of the world's animals are gone. We are seeing climate change impacting people, animals and landscapes world-wide. Joanna Macy  tells us, "Do not numb your grief. Feel it, and know you are alive. We are here to save the soul of the earth.  We are meant to be a restorer, not a destroyer, species. We women will love the world back into healing. Our earth is alive and she is powerful." Given some assistance, she can heal.

I believe in the rise of woman-power, in response to where the male-driven model has gotten us. Women nurture life. We get down to the basics of planting trees and food, feeding children, and keeping those children safe. If money that funds the military-industrial complex were used in the cause of social justice, to meet peoples' basic needs, we'd have a good toe-hold on peace. 

Let's plant some poetic trees: love in response to hate, compassion in response to suffering, hope in response to desolation. Tell us how you feel about trees, or perhaps one special tree you love. Or write about Mother Nature, and the effects of climate change. But let's do it with hope, with determination, with the spirit of the women all over the world who are planting those billion trees, who are loving our world back into healing.

Mahatma Gandhi said, "You may never know what results come of your action, but if you do nothing, there will be no result."

Use any form you wish, with as many or few words as you choose. I look forward to reading what you come up with.