Where does inspiration lie? Everywhere!

This is my attempt to pounce on and then shape the words I breathe.

Please join me with your comments and make this a dialogue . . . and visit Susan's Poetry!

Sunday, December 8, 2013


Last night I wrote the poem The Month Before Christmas.
This morning I wrote this to my friend Brian:    
[Experience] has changed me over the years since I became a Quaker.  But I didn't realize how much until I wrote this.  I am amazed now by what I wrote.  I woke with a start this morning, feeling the echo of being in the clutch of witch-finders.  As the pagan I was years ago, I would have condemned this lifting beyond reason as part of what enabled the Church to identify and destroy witches, Jews, gays, anyone different and especially spinsters like me.  My experience has changed me, but O, there is still the pagan inside who wants to speak.   And she will,  I wouldn't want to suppress that truth just as I couldn't suppress this one.  But in this last hour she has been questioning me up and down or touching what could be a blessing but has often been the spark for horror.  Do I make sense to you?  I will pray about this today.
Brian responded: you do [make sense] ...a faith based on feeling is a scary thing to me, it lacks substance...and can def be manipulated and twisted...it can also be un-genuine and exclusive...i try to steer clear of it...and am oft skeptical of it...there is no denying the lift...at times i question the authenticity though

I'll be back with more thoughts.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Living an un-divided life

Since writing the poem "Persona Grata" about the strategic use of masks and another--just a few hours ago--I found Parker Palmer's post about "The Undivided Life" on his facebook page.  He posted this video:  

I felt for a moment as if we were in dialogue.  Here is my poem:

What skill to hide under
such cover as face masks
provide and not let them
know our identities

Camouflage to hide and
to stalk successfully
the over-confident,
unwary, gullible

Cover up to hide tears,
grow strong and build allies
for a united front
when time is ripe to act

Cover up to expose
character, to play more
than one part, one gender,
one race, ethnicity
and class, to meet someone

To walk in another’s
shoes,  path, obstacles
To satisfy curi-
osity, to expand

What skill to wear the mask
for survival, what skill
to take it off for love
pain both ways, always pain

And gain—empathy and
control, freedom and its
choices to be alive

"Persona Grata," Copyright © 2013  S.L.Chast

And here is a bit of Parker Palmer's intro from his Facebook wall:

"Don't wear your heart on your sleeve." "Play your cards close to your vest." "Don't make yourself vulnerable." Sadly, most of us learn early on that it's not safe to be in the world as who we truly are, with what we really value and believe.But when we live "masked," even "armored" lives, the world pays a price.

Parker Palmer reminds us that this price we pay is "at the heart" of his book Healing the Heart of Democracy. This book is support for anyone trying to change their modus operandi in the world.

In the following poem, Paul Laurence Dunbar exposes his undivided self in this confirmation of living a divided life:

We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties.

Why should the world be over-wise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
       We wear the mask.

We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries
To thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh the clay is vile
Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
But let the world dream otherwise,
       We wear the mask!

Dunbar's context was the Harlem Renaissance, but his message transcends time. Palmer's context is now.  The closest I have come to undivided is in my back-stage life: rehearsal, classroom, home, journals and my relationship with God.  Now I try to bring that space into my writing.

Where, when, are we safe? or at least safe enough?

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Poets are Lovers

A long time ago--almost a year--Ella's Wonder Wednesday #14 Regifting at Poets United asked for favorite poems.  I returned there today for Kim's Verse First ~ Writers are Lovers
using one of my Gift Poems for inspiration.  A pretty great place, Poets United! 

File:Audre Lorde, Meridel Lesueur, Adrienne Rich 1980.jpg
Adrienne Rich (right), with writer Audre Lorde(left) and Meridel Le Sueur (middle) in Austin Texas, 1980

In this photograph, two writers who influence(d) me greatly frame a legendary writer and thinker they helped to rediscover in the 1960s.  I first read their work in the 1970s. Today I focus on Adrienne Rich.  After she died on 27 March 2012, writer and friend Marge Piercy wrote this:

Another obituary
 We were filled with the strong wine
of mutual struggle, one joined loud
and sonorous voice.  We carried
each other along revolting, chanting,
cursing, crafting, making all new.

First Muriel, then Audre and Flo,
now Adrienne.  I feel like a lone
pine remnant of virgin forest
when my peers have met the ax
and I weep ashes.

Yes, young voices are stirring now
the wind is rising, the sea boils
again, yet I feel age sucking
the marrow from my bones,
the loneliness of memory.

Their voices murmur in my inner
ear but never will I hear them
speak new words and no matter
how I cherish what they gave us
I want more, I still want more.

Copyright 2012 Marge Piercy

I do too.  
Listen for one minute and forty seconds:

Poet/lover: Adrienne Rich

Hers is the voice I meditate to, me safely tucked
into the edges of dread while she translates
their calculated disguises, images and sounds
for humans like me who still hug trees and listen
to poems she creates of the unspeakable—
Yes, yes.
She died at age eighty-one back in twenty twelve
but she was so far ahead that
it will take us decades to catch up.
And her voice still purrs out strength from You Tube
I will still call her present, invoke her presence,
love her madly and enter her landscapes, listing
her titles as song:

The Will to Change, Diving into the Wreck
and The Dream of a Common Language led
me to Twenty-one Love Poems where I bled
and stayed through the radical seventies
A Wild Patience has Taken Me This Far
ushered in the studious eighties, when I
reentered the academy and abandoned
her and other lovers until now as I stand

To re-enter the edges, I listen for her voice—
she will talk of trees, doorframes and this difficult world,
speak utter truth from her salvaged skin to
my bag of bones so I will bleed and breathe 
and sigh and love and make love again.

Posted for Kim's Verse First ~ Writers are Lovers at Poets United.  Oh!  Can you believe that The Paris Review just this minute re-posted their interview with Adrienne Rich, "Adrienne Rich on ‘Tonight No Poetry Will Serve’ " on Facebook??  Here's the Facebook post:
“The split in our language between ‘political’ and ‘personal’ has, I think, been a trap.” —Adrienne Rich  
Read our 2011 interview with the American poet here: http://tpr.ly/hK3j0y

Copyright © 2013 S.L.Chast

Sunday, October 6, 2013

"Dog Songs," a new book by Mary Oliver

From:   http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/07/books/mary-olivers-dog-songs-finds-poetry-in-friends.html?smid=pl-share

Scratching a Muse’s Ears

Mary Oliver’s ‘Dog Songs’ Finds Poetry in Friends

Angel Valentin for The New York Times
The poet Mary Oliver with Ricky, one comforting presence in her new collection, “Dog Songs.”

Angel Valentin for The New York Times
The poet Mary Oliver, with Ricky, a Havanese who plays a part in her latest collection, “Dog Songs.”
Ms. Oliver is that rare thing in our culture: a best-selling writer of poems. Her previous collection, “A Thousand Mornings,” was a hardcover best seller last year, and “Dog Songs” has already bounded as high as No. 2 on Amazon’s poetry list (behind a 99-cent Kindle edition of Poe).
Asked about it in a recent phone interview, Ms. Oliver sounded as bewildered as anybody: “Best seller? That part I can’t get. It amazes me.”
She has an inkling, though, about why the ordinary readers who buy her books fasten on her poems. “People want poetry,” she said. “They need poetry. They get it. They don’t want fancy work.”
At 78, Ms. Oliver, whose first book arrived in 1963, is the kind of old-fashioned poet who walks the woods most days, accompanied by dog and notepad. “Dogs are perfect companions,” she said. “They don’t speak.”
Her poems’ titles make it clear that nature suffuses and sustains her work: “White Heron Rises Over Blackwater,” “Truro, the Blueberry Fields,” “Old Goldenrod at Field’s Edge.” As does this from “Mindful” in the 2004 collection “Why I Wake Early”:
Every day
I see or I hear
that more or less
kills me
with delight.
The poet David Rivard, who teaches at the University of New Hampshire, said he believes that Ms. Oliver’s popularity dovetails with the fact she writes about the outdoors. “As a nature poet, Oliver feeds people’s love of a certain pastoral tradition in poetry,” Mr. Rivard, whose latest collection is “Otherwise Elsewhere,” wrote in an e-mail.
Besides nature, Ms. Oliver’s muses include the poets Coleman Barks, Robert Bly, Denise Levertov and Pablo Neruda, and, of course, dogs — a mob of dogs — many of them coursing and chorusing through “Dog Songs”: Bear and Ben, Ricky and Lucy, Luke and Percy.
And the book transcends its dogginess. It’s also about love, impermanence and the tears in things. As Ms. Oliver asks in “School,” “How many summers does a little dog have?”
But why write a book of dog poems? Enough canine lit has come out in recent years that a shelter should be built for those tomes that have been neutered and remaindered. Ms. Oliver sheepishly admits that the idea for “Dog Songs” came from her publisher and agent.
Still, she addresses the dog-poetry question in her essay “Dog Talk”: “They are a kind of poetry themselves when they are devoted not only to us but to the wet night, to the moon and the rabbit-smell in the grass and their own bodies leaping forward.” That Ms. Oliver has a book of dog poems will surely make the poets and critics who sneer at her work howl. Though she has won a Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award, her verse splits the poetic microcosm — a world in which a best-selling poet is always below suspicion.
Typical of the howlers is the poet and critic David Orr, who once wrote of Ms. Oliver’s work in The New York Times Book Review, “One can only say that no animals appear to have been harmed in the making of it.” When asked about those allergic to her work, one could almost hear Ms. Oliver shrug over the phone: “It’s a kind of eliteness among academics.”
Mr. Rivard wrote, “There are some people who believe that plain-spoken language is always a sign of simple-mindedness, or worse, of a middlebrow, uncool character.” He added: “At her best, she’s a fine poet, one whose work I admire. When she’s not on her game, the work feels too easy.”
The California poet R. M. Ryan, whose latest book is “Vaudeville in the Dark,” said: “So many poets obscure the world. Mary Oliver clarifies it.”
In a sense, her poems, with their charity and lyric clarity, can provide the kind of solace that dogs give. ”I think they are companions in a way that people aren’t,” Ms. Oliver said. “They’ll lie next to you when you’re sad. And they remind us that we’re animals, too.”
Most of her tail-shaking companions got to spend their splendid ephemeral summers in Provincetown, Mass., where Ms. Oliver lived for 50 years, though she has just migrated to a town on the southeastern coast of Florida. She declined to be more specific because she’s a poet — in another cultural rarity — whose starry-eyed fans show up uninvited on her doorstep like strays.
“One time a stranger came to the house and asked if I was Mary Oliver,” she said, laughing. “And I said, ‘No, I’m not Mary Oliver.’ “
She grew up in Maple Heights, Ohio, near Cleveland, and even as a child she had a dog with whom she tripped and tramped the woods. “Her name was Tippy, and she had white at the tip of her tail,” Ms. Oliver said. “She was a puppy who showed up at my great-aunt’s door, and she made a gift of her to me.”
Then there was the dog whom Ms. Oliver once gave as a gift. Before her partner of 40 years, the photographer Molly Malone Cook, died in 2005, she told Ms. Oliver, “I want a little dog that I can hold in my arms.” She craved what Ms. Oliver calls “a bundle of longing” to see her through. That bundle was Percy, a frisky bichon frisé named for the poet Shelley.
She and Ms. Cook once had as many as four dogs, a couple of cats and a rabbit, but these days Ms. Oliver is down to Ricky, a plucky Havanese who punctuated our call with his friendly racket. “Ricky loves me,” she said. “And the Havanese have such a wonderful sense of life.”
But love does have its needs. When Ricky’s charm couldn’t get his mistress’s attention, his need escalated. As our talk ended, Ms. Oliver exclaimed: “Good lord! This dog is ripping up something!” Then she laughed.
Ms. Oliver’s pleasure in Ricky’s antics again evoked “Dog Talk”: “Because of the dog’s joyfulness, our own is increased. It is no small gift.”

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

What I Learned This Week

Acknowledgement:  In dVerse Poets Pub's Pretzels&Bullfights this week, poet Brian Miller asked us to speak to these questions:  "What did you learn this week? What is rocking your world? What pissed you off—or made your day?” His own poignant story is there.  Mine follows:

     This week I learned the kinds of questions writers ask editors and agents.  I participated in the Barrelhouse Conversations & Connections one-day Conference in Philadelphia, my first time attending a gathering as a writer.  While there I also took one of my poems to speed date with an editor.  What an eye-opener!  I wasn't the only oldie-newbie, but many more attendees were from MFA creative writing programs near and far.  All were so puppy-like and hopeful.  I hope I seemed more simply curious. The eagerness was both scary and beautiful.  So many people for so few "jobs."  How to survive as a drop in this ocean?  
     Answer: We gotta be ourselves--and I mean BE REAL and become real: Find our topics and voice and put teeth in our lines.  Gotta love the industry fiercely or/and hone in on the home team and relax.  That's the beautiful part.
     Here's the scary part: I know I cannot compete.  I cannot send out hundreds of submissions, thousands of inquiry letters, millions of copies and keep track of who's got what.  But I cannot quit either.  So I will not try to compete.  Paradox?
     Even the agents at the conference said to stay focused on the writing and don't worry about the rest until we have to.  The writing is the work, and the agent--should we ever acquire one--will do the rest.  But neither the agent nor the editor can write truths from our perspective.  Of course, we heard helpful tips in finding agents, editors, publishers and etc.  But the biggest tip for me was to go home and write, taking all the risks I am afraid to take, including not knowing whether or not I will succeed. 
     Writers, Poets, Artists et al.:  What did you learn this week?

Monday, September 23, 2013

a plague of plagiarism.

  • SEPTEMBER 21, 2013   12:00AM

DAILY readers of this newspaper may have seen a story I wrote on September 13 (a Black Friday for some) about a plagiarism scandal involving Newcastle-based poet Andrew Slattery.  [The original story is here.]
The award-winning poet admitted he had been inserting lines from other poets - including famous ones such as Sylvia Plath, Charles Bukowski and Seamus Heaney - into his own work. (He also "borrowed" from prose writers, including Romanian Emil Cioran, which I mention in passing because I have such fond memories of my younger self reading On the Heights of Despair.)
Slattery said he was striving for a cento format, where the works of other writers are inserted into new poems, but I suspect this was a half-hearted defence, and certainly it was one no one was buying. Ultimately, he admitted he had done the wrong thing.
The story sparked a vigorous debate in poetry circles and the wider literary community. In a long and stimulating article on the Overland website, Justin Clemens makes many good points, including one that immediately occurred to me: how did Slattery's deception go undetected for so long? How did prize judges, often poets themselves, not spot lines from Heaney, say, in Slattery's work? " ... all the judges and editors and aesthetes ... have been left with poetic egg on their faces," Clemens writes.
Slattery was widely published, including in this newspaper. "The victims," Clemens observes, "have come from all colours of the political and aesthetic spectrums. It seems Slattery has taken in almost everybody, from internationally famous poets ... through academic specialists and journal editors and media hacks, not to mention a more general and diffuse readership."
The continuing fallout from this affair has exposed some toxic undercurrents in the Australian poetry scene. You can bet your bottom dollar the work of a lot of poets has been run through online search engines since Black Friday, being checked for plagiarism.
You can also wager with confidence that some of the people doing the checking are fellow poets. How many poets this makes nervous is something I do not know. If you missed my original story, you can find it, and also Clemens's piece, on my professional Facebook page, which I've been meaning to mention for a while. This is a public page so you don't have to be my "friend" to look at it.www.facebook.com/stephenromei

Monday, September 16, 2013

Three Minutes

Apr 25, 2013 4:49pm
The House of Representatives on Wednesday voted unanimously to honor four young Alabama girls, killed in a 1963 church bombing. Martin Luther King Jr. had called them  ”martyrs” of the civil rights movement.
The girls, all black members of Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church, will be posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, one of the country’s highest civilian honors, created by an act of Congress.
Addie Mae Collins, 14; Denise McNair, 11; Carole Robertson, 14; and Cynthia Wesley; 14, were killed on Sept 15, 1963,  in the attack that struck the packed church on a Sunday morning. Twenty-two others were injured.
The bomb, composed of dynamite and a timer, was planted beneath the front steps of the church,  outside a basement room in which 26 children attended a Sunday school sermon.

Three Minutes

Four young ones
died yesterday
and yesterday
and yesterday

Seems like yesterday
when four girls died
and four more
and four more

Today, too, death
more died today
while praising and
singing and walking

Bombing children anywhere 
is bombing children 
here in this 
safe heart.

Copyright © 2013 S.L.Chast

Monday, September 9, 2013

Peaceable Kingdom

I was thrilled to see this, an 11-minute segment of a documentary-in-production on the Religious Society of Friends.  It's exciting because it avoids the pitfall of mythologizing.  For example, whereas it reveals Quaker involvement with abolition it does not obscure the fact that some Quakers owned slaves and were the first "targets" of Quakers who came to know that ownership of people was against the right order of God.  

I am not collecting money for this documentary which will play on PBS, but I am supporting it in every way I can.  

I am a Quaker in Philadelphia, PA, a city founded by William Penn within territory he received from the King of England.  His statue is on top of City Hall, and yet many here do not know of Penn or the Quaker faith.  

In contemporary USA there are any different flavors of Quaker stemming from the historical tradition provided in this clip.  For silent-meeting universalists like myself, the more conservative and talkative branches seem strangely fundamental next to my own experience of that of God in all people and the equality between continuous revelation and the Biblical Word.   I look forward to seeing how this documentary explains the differences as well as our common work toward a peaceable kingdom and the end of all war. 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Unfinished Poem

                                     (for Amy M-K)

I wake into giving thoughts,
day already blooming for me
(if I am ready to receive
it without hesitation)

I rise into givens, catching
as much as possible with mitts
(protecting my hands, hands shielding
my heart, eyes closed, peeking)

I will, I promise daily, learn
to receive Light bare handed
(and uncover my heart, and   
worship with eyes open)

Copyright © 2013 S.L.Chast

Posted at dVerse Poets Pub OpenLinkNight Week 112.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Labor Day 2013

(My poem "Labor Day 2013" is HERE.)

The skies opened and rain, rain, RAINED.  Stopped for a minute, and now pour again.  My daily Facebook is filled with reminders of union actions that made the USA a better place to work and warnings about upcoming legislation that turns some of that around.  To me, reading the history of labor unions while watching governments dissolve them is poignant and energizing. Democracy is powerful when its people engage in it and apply their voting and veto and marching-to-be heard powers.

From Wikipedia where you can read much more:

     In the US, Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of their country.
     In many countries, the working classes sought to make May Day an official holiday, and their efforts largely succeeded. In the United States and Canada, however, the official holiday for workers is Labor Day in September. This day was promoted by the Central Labor Union and the Knights of Labor, who organized the first parade in New York City. After the Haymarket Massacre, US President Grover Cleveland feared that commemorating Labor Day on May 1 could become an opportunity to commemorate the affair. Thus, in 1887, it was established as an official holiday in September to support the Labor Day that the Knights favored.

Today's New York Times Opinion Section, re-ran Cindy Hahamovitch's " "The Lessons of Belle Glade" originally published July 18, 2013.  A historian, Ms. Hahamovitch provides context for understanding the latest migrant worker options pending in Congress.  Read the article; it's powerful.

I wish an equally clear context was available for current legislation that feels to me like attacks on teachers and our unions.  While union reform is necessary, the union breaking and economics involved with funding education seems to be political and not related to any policy present and past.  Correct me if I am wrong.

Please help me find clear readings providing an historical context for today's impoverishment of education that ultimately affects children, families, and the future of this nation.

(My poem "Labor Day 2013" is HERE.)
(I am aware that I left weapons out of this poem,  over-
simplifying the tactics of terrorists and tyrants.  
I pray for safety in the Labor Day streets 
of the USA and elsewhere.)