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, 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?