Poetry Sparks

A commons for sharing images, quotes, stories, and observations that - given the right mix of oxygen and kindling - might ignite a little poetic inspiration...

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Refrigerator magnet

On a friend's refrigerator this past Saturday, a Celestial Seasonings magnet with this quote: "The most wasted day of all is one in which we have not laughed."

When you think about this brand, the art on their boxes often makes you smile - maybe not those good belly laughs, but a smile or even a giggle from time to time. And guess what? They actually have a section of their web site dedicated to their artists. Some of these images could inspire poems or stories! One of my favs is the one for "True Blueberry Herb Tea" by Tom Newsom.

Costumes and poetry

Tonight I volunteered at our local children's museum for their Halloween event. From my post as the "greeter" at the front door I had the treat of seeing the wide variety of costumes that people were wearing - babies and toddlers dressed as cows, ducks, monkeys, pumpkins, and princesses; elementary-aged children as princesses, Power Rangers, superheroes, superstars, Disney and storybook characters (including Snow White, Tigger, and Thomas the Train), dragons, ladybugs, vampires, angels, and of course, lots of little witches. Even a few adults and teens joined in the fun, wearing some of the scarier costumes.

This got me to thinking about poetry for different moods, like poems that frighten us, inspire us, make us want to hug our family, or draw us out of doors. Think about poems that fit these different moods. Poe has the gift of goth; poems by Naomi Shihab Nye, Linda Pastan, and Li Young Lee make me reflect on my family; Mary Oliver's and Stanley Kunitz's poetry makes me want to be closer to nature. Then there are poets like Mark Doty whose work challenges you to ponder things about yourself, and Billy Collins and Tony Hoagland who make you laugh while you read. What are the poets you turn to when you're in various moods?

I also thought about how we dress up our poems in other poet's "clothes" sometimes, trying on the sonnet form here and lush light imagery there, or ending a poem with a question that simultaneously closes and opens it. Sometimes we borrow clothes because it's fun and sometimes we do it because we haven't found our own style yet. Have you played dress-up with your poetry lately?

Unpublished Plath poem to be featured in VCU journal

One of the poets whose writing first snared me was Sylvia Plath and today our local newspaper carried a story about the upcoming publication of a poem called "Ennui" by Plath that has not been published previously.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Donald Hall

At a conference today, one vendor booth was selling audiobooks, including one of Donald Hall reading his poetry and prose.

Donald Hall is a prolific writer with 15 books of poetry and 20 of prose, and he just commenced his duties as our current U.S. Poet Laureate last month. For over twenty years, he was married to Jane Kenyon (a poet who published four books). Theirs was an extraordinary relationship and the subject of a documentary called A Life Together (1993) by Bill Moyers. Two years after the documentary, Jane died of leukemia. The poems that Donald published after her death in a collection entitled Without were heartbreaking. Even his next collection, The Painted Bed, ached with loss, but a loss now mixed with hope. Consider his poem "Affirmation" available from the Academy of American Poets.

Donald Hall has a brand new collection just released this fall called White Apples and The Taste of Stone: Selected Poems 1946-2006. If you haven't sampled his work before, read a few and see what you think.

The vendor, Audio Bookshelf, was also selling another audiobook of poetry - I, Too Sing America: Three Centuries of African American Poetry.

Poetry is meant to be heard, but there isn't a great variety available on audio. At previous G.R. Dodge festivals I've purchased Billy Collins's The Best Cigarette and Sekou Sundiata's Long Story Short and enjoyed them both.

Spiritual Month

I didn't realize until recently the amazing number of spiritual observances and celebrations between Oct. 2 and Nov. 2 of this year: Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret, and Simchat Torah for the Jewish faith; Dassehra, Karva Chauth Vrat, and Diwali for the Hindu faith; Eid al-Fitr (end of Ramadan) for the Muslim faith; All Saints Day and All Souls Day for the Catholic and Anglican faiths; as well as Day of the Dead and Samhain, the Celtic New Year.

The last four observances all occur next week and center on honoring ancestors. I was talking to a friend today about these days and how it's unfortunate that most people don't seem to take a special time to honor their ancestors. In some ways perhaps this is a reflection of our move away from oral tradition. I think of my grandfather and the importance he places on recounting stories from the past. Perhaps it also is due to our move away from community spaces. I wonder if this is has happened in other parts of the world. I'm not sure I can organize something for next week, but I'd like to start a tradition in my family that sets aside a special time for this practice.

One other nuance I found is that for faiths that base their holidays on the lunar calendar, their new year occurs during this time. For instance, in the Jewish faith they complete their annual reading of the Torah. Instead of fall/winter being a time of dying/death/endings, this is a time of renewal/beginnings.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Drive-by blessings

This week, spectacular skies and colorful river landscapes have captured my attention on the drives to and from work. One afternoon as a storm cleared, golden light broke through a fissured gunmetal cloud like the day chipping itself free from an egg. This morning, a corner of the horizon spilled out lavender, rose, and amber in widening pools. And each day of this week, the ripening leaves of the trees shimmered on the river's surface, crowns glowing the flourescent orange of a hunter's safety vest.

All this beauty makes me think of the closing lines of Stanley Kunitz's poem, "The Round":
"I can scarcely wait till tomorrow
when a new life begins for me,
as it does each day,
as it does each day."

Nature sustains us with daily reminders of hope and renewal. What tapestry awaits tomorrow?

Monday, October 16, 2006

Dance of mist

Mist is a dance between two elements, air and water, sometimes appearing more like one than the other, but never fully either. Like the half-dark, half-light of the gloaming, mist invites us to ponder the mysteries of in-between places. A musing inspired by reading The Mist-Filled Path.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Silence is your friend

A speaker I heard this morning shared a story about traveling in the car with a man who said this to her when she was rambling on about nothing in particular. She said it was the kindest way anyone had ever told her to shut up, and that even though silence is a natural rhythm for us, it's one with which many people feel uncomfortable. She then discussed the importance of spending time being still, meditating, and praying in order to connect with God, which reminded me of the Buddhist / yoga practice of mindfulness. I find that poetry flows in stillness too, as if the voice of poetry is drowned out by the other noise that surrounds me when I'm bustling through my day.

Parrot man

On the way home from work a few weeks ago, I was turning right at a busy intersection when I noticed a man walking toward me with a parrot on his shoulder. The sky stretched out blue and cloudless overhead in what would seem a tempting invitation to any bird. But instead, this beautiful red parrot remained perched on the shoulder of a merry silver-bearded man who sauntered toward his destination (the YMCA?) with a quiet smile on his face.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Poetry family

In the house of poetry, everyone is welcome. This photo of a group of high school students sharing their writing at the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival in Waterloo, NJ, reflects the diversity of this family.

Afternoon nap

Just a couple weeks ago, I snapped this photo of our two cats cuddled up in the hammock of a chair warmed by the sun. Embodying the meaning of cozy in their closeness, and visually evoking something similar to the ying/yang symbol, our cats relish midday sleep in a way we seldom do. On this particular Saturday, we were enmeshed in homework and housework. How often do we allow ourselves a lazy afternoon?

Ice skates

We babysat for some friends last night, finding ourselves in the delightful presence of three and five-year old girls. While I worked on dinner, they drew on a piece of easel pad paper strewn on the kitchen floor, decorating it with squiggles, flowers, and shell necklaces (like Ariel wears in The Little Mermaid). Later, while her sister went outside to play with the dogs, the three-year old stood up and with a running start, leaped over one of the pages, nearly taking a spill on the hardwood. I warned her to leap carefully since the paper was slippery. Shortly after another daring leap and near spill, she sat on the floor and started cutting out pieces of paper to fit the bottom of her shoes. "Look!," she declared proudly, "ice skates!", at which point she stood up on her ice skates and slid around the linoleum. Ahh, the fresh imagination of children!