Keeping current in wellness, in and out of the water
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On this last check in to #ROW80 I am taking stock of the bountiful benefits I harvested from this program. I tried it on a lark in order to revive my dead tumblr blog and work on poetry. Results have surpassed my wildest imagination even though I did not fully complete every goal I set at the start. There is the goal, and then there is the spirit of the goal. I am pleased to have established:
For me this means I am primed and ready for #NaPoWriMo in April. Taking the plunge into poetry during National Poetry Month is a pleasure. There are poems everywhere, tweeting across the universe at lightening speed, during the month of April. You don’t need to write them to enjoy reading the participants’ creations. If you follow the hashtag #NaPoWriMo you may be inspired to contribute. Last year PBS wrote a group poem on twitter which turned out to be very good. I can’t wait to see what creative events might be in store this year. I find the energy and the generosity of #ROW80 to be similar to the poetry month program. Maybe some of my colleagues from here will migrate, or just pop in to enjoy. It is a non judgmental, creative canvass with major potential for fun.
March happens to be National Nutrition Month, which has made me think about the metaphor of feeding the body and feeding the soul. We need to ingest calories to stay alive, but there are other qualities to nourishment. A home-grown lovingly prepared meal has extra positive energy and support that cannot be found at a drive through window. Joyful play and movement bring circulation to the blood as well as to the senses. We do not live by bread alone. The similarities I see between delicious healthy food and a carefully crafted poem may not be obvious. They are both nourishing to the spirit, and necessary to life. I plan to write some cooking and eating poems in April as I expand my repertoire. Thank you all very much for sharing these 80 days with me.
I will end with a nourishing metaphor by William Shakespeare in his Sonnet 75:
So are you to my thoughts as food to life,
Or as sweet-seasoned showers are to the ground;
And for the peace of you I hold such strife
As ‘twixt a miser and his wealth is found.
Now proud as an enjoyer, and anon
Doubting the filching age will steal his treasure;
Now counting best to be with you alone,
Then bettered that the world may see my pleasure;
Sometimes all full with feasting on your sight,
And by and by clean starvèd for a look;
Possessing or pursuing no delight
Save what is had, or must from you be took.
Thus do I pine and surfeit day by day,
Or gluttoning on all, or all away.
Our 80 day writing exercise has flown by quickly for me. I planned to write a poem every day, but have managed to do so about half the time. I am not at all discouraged by this result because I have also managed to expand my repertoire of subjects and formats in my poetry. Last April I wrote daily and all of my poems were inspired by works of art, ekphrastic in nature. This was fun because I visited artist friends and took photos to use as the subjects. When I began this challenge all of my poems were ekphrastic, but I created the art myself rather than finding it. First I tired making the art followed by the words, then I tried it in reverse. It does not seem to matter which way I do it now, which is sort of silly to me. If you are inspired by it, it seems like it should exist before you write…but I am practicing both ways, trying them both to monitor results.
Lately I am happy because I attempted very unusual subjects and did some slightly representational drawing about them. I wrote about a lady who was ditched by her Euro-spy boyfriend in a restaurant. She was presented with a giant plate of raw meat, steak tartare, and a note saying her boyfriend had never existed. Now this might seem macabre or in bad taste, and perhaps it is. What is interesting is that I finally put a character and plot into a poem. My first attempt at this involved a swarm of ladybugs around a cabin. These might not have come up if I had not been following my fiction writing friends who work on plot and character all the time. My desire to make poems from historical figures and history itself lends itself to this practice. If I want to turn my dead ancestors into epic poems I need to employ some of the devices used to flesh out characters and thicken the plot. Since I endeavor to bring dream images into my poetry my technique will now expand to outlining plots and characters, then working on lucid dreaming to give me some vivid imagery with which to work. I can embellish the true stories of my family in my dreams and use the impressions to create poetic versions of historical events.
As the solar eclipse tomorrow brings us a dramatic illustration of light and shadow, I see a metaphor for the known and the unknown. What is obscured from view is often the most important part of the plot, and revealing it is the point of the story. What I do not know about my ancestors leaves room for invention and fancy. Here are some of the real people I think can become interesting poems:
I also have a true contemporary story I want the public to hear and remember. The Emperor’s New Neighborhood Watch is a rap poem about city government running amok. If I do this with rhyme and humor it will be more impactful. A good (digital) friend of mine told me this week that hexameter was the form used by Homer in his classic epics, not because it was great language, but so the actors could easily remember it. I have written about just the facts in this case for years, but what this story needs is some memorable rhyming truth. After the solar eclipse I will start outlining these stories for Poetry Month in April. It is a fun new way for me to paint with words. I am grateful to my fellow writers for teaching my some of their process. Check out the diversity of this group here. There is a lot of talent in this creative group of people. Thanks for sharing these 80 days with a beginner. Your support has been very inspirational. I aspire to be like you.
Writers make good company in person or long distance. In our 80 days together writing about writing I have made the acquaintance of interesting and talented people. Like social exchanges in person we represent a very diverse set of interests and geographic situations. The faithful participants check in twice weekly to report progress on goals which range from studying story architecture to editing novels to posting on twitter. At the same time I have been joining my on line colleagues I have been hanging out at least once a week with poets. One of my goals at the start of the 80 days was to become a regular at the U of A Poetry Center. This goal had been an unstated wish for over a year, and yet I had not worked it into my routine. Now that I made it a conscious part of my practice as a writer I am really happy. Being present for the readings and taking in the atmosphere of the crowds who attend the poetry events is a blast. All this free entertainment that is right up my alley has been waiting for me right around the corner from my home. I am glad I have made it a habit to go because it is a remarkable resource. I will probably work up to taking a workshop eventually.
Although I set no number of books, poems or poets to read during the challenge I have been very active absorbing poetry in print and by app. The Poetry Foundation app and others keep me busy finding new writers from all periods of history. I have developed some favorites in this short time of sampling different kinds of poetic work. Translated poetry is interesting to me. I like hearing it in the original language then in English, to hear the sound before the meaning. Haiku is written by all kinds of people in many languages around the world a great app to learn more about those is The Haiku Foundation’s Haiku app. Shake your iPhone and a new (not your grandfather’s) haiku appears ready to tweet or read. In general I like short pithy poems, but am also fond of epic stories if they contain humor. I am on a general exploratory venture into every poem and all poets. I have thought a lot about the relationship between poetry and music, and how they shape popular culture. I am reading Dorothy Parker Drank Here, a novel about the ghost of the great witty woman. Dorothy Meister presents a funny set of circumstances at the Algonquin Hotel in New York where Mrs. Parker is a haunting the bar as a way of telling about her life and personality. I am enjoying the read, and also noticing what a great device a ghost is to frame a story about anyone in history. I am planning to try it with some of my dead ancestors.
My poetry is chugging along, which I think is an accomplishment. I write almost every day, and expand my subject matter horizons. When I began this adventure I wanted to warm up and work on poetry for a better outcome in this year’s Poetry Month, NaPoWriMo challenge. I feel ready and able to write a poem every day in April, and I am now in the practice of illustrating what I post. I am proud to have developed this habit. It has no unwanted side effects, and I think I can only improve as I practice. Sometimes the inspiration comes from what I am thinking or doing in life, and other times it comes from some distant part of the universe. It always feels good to hit publish. To be in the company of writers is a honor and a privilege I appreciate. Check out my fellow writers and their adventures here.
I still publish short quickly composed poems with art. This practice that I set up here has been a good platform for discovery of my strengths and weaknesses. I need to keep the mojo going by posting a poem almost daily. This is the first step to being constant and nourishing to my poet persona. First of all I need to convince myself that creative writing is within my ability. In order to move up from my current level of unpolished, slightly redundant writing I need to follow more steps and enjoy deleting at least as much as I enjoy first drafting. I improvise well in many modes. In real life this leads to using creativity to approach many things that I do. I like to play chef and meet the creative challenge of using all the left-overs to make something delicious. I like to eat the result and start on something new. My preference for finishing fast is an impediment to becoming a better writer. I don’t need to count words as much as I need to spend more time editing and improving the initial writing. I have learned that from both my own critique of my situation as a poet, and from reading the works and works in progress presented by my fellow ROW80 writers.
The time we have spent has gone by quickly, with only a couple of weeks left in our 80 day challenge. Each writer has a different style of check in. Some are describing works in progress and sometimes sharing excerpts. There are novelists, poets and fantasy writers here, each with a different point of view, environment, and level of experience. As one of the least experienced participants I am lucky to hear from those of you who have wisdom to share. You give me confidence as well as tools for the job before me. After the challenge has ended your inspiration will still be with me forever. I believe I can go right into NaPoWriMo, the poetry challenge for April, with better preparation than ever before. This challenge is simply to write a poem daily during National Poetry Month (April). I started as a fluke two years ago, but last year I thought I needed to do it again. Now I am looking forward to it this time with happy anticipation. It will not be a chore, but part of this regular practice I have established.
Thank you all for inspiring and challenging me to discover more about the crafty and powerful world of words!! The fun has just begun. As a tribute to the importance of editing I am going on a big clean/clear/organize binge in my office. I did this to my bedroom in December with spectacular results. I expect cleaning out the office can only bring joy and space to operate. This is a spring cleaning of both a physical and mental kind. This edit is a metaphor for the editing I will do in my process in the future. Less really is more.
My week has been graced by the presence of a real writer. I went to hear the poet Simon Ortiz who was in Tucson for a reading of his work. I was deeply moved and highly impressed with his writing, which he delivered with lavish explanations about his process. He is now writing an epic poem, an idea he joked about by saying there is no real rule about exactly how long an epic has to be. He will include within the epic some of his older works, which he shared with the group who had come to the U of A Poetry Center to listen to him. I purchased his book, Sand Creek, which he signed for me after the reading. I told him how much I loved hearing him and he responded that he really loved reading to us. His genuine joy in sharing his work was evident. We were all truly blessed to be there. Some of his poems are funny, and some carry tragic stories from history, like Sand Creek.
The Poetics and Politics of Water series has evolved. Dr. Ofelia Zepeda is a poet and professor who collaborates to put together this very special program of Native American writers. She and her colleague Larry Evers introduced Politics and Poetics in 1992. I look forward to the next reading which will be given by Dr. Zepeda herself. She uses her native language from this region, Tohono O’odham, to welcome the visitors to her land and bless the participants. It is beautiful. She translates the traditional greeting in to English when she is done.
I have written and read some this week with mixed results. I believe the most profound thing that happened to set my poetic self on the path was my chance to hear Mr Ortiz. He said prose and poetry are all the same, and in the end, all language is poetry. He certainly was all poetic in every part of his being. He talked about his own recovery from alcoholism, and his father’s inability to recover from it. His identity as Acoma with deep religious and cultural heritage is important to him. His father exposed Simon to sorrow through addiction, but he also taught him his traditional language and mystical history. The last poem he read to us was about his father’s death. It was sung as a song, a chant, a rhythmic tribute to the spirit of his father and all he had inherited. It was a wonderful way to show his talent and end on a solemn, serious, meaningful note.
I am amazed to find such a vast network of poets and poetry exchanges on the internet. This #ROW80 has enlightened me, encouraged me, and introduced me to resources I might never have discovered on my own. One of the most interesting sites I have found for writers is Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie. This group creates a daily writing challenge of a different nature. Today a short story about an imaginary dinner party in 500 words or less stimulates the imagination, but other days poetry or fairy tales are featured. The regular assignments are all geared toward teaching participants to improve their skills, exactly like this literary soiree in which we find ourselves. I believe the best result for me here is the idea of stepping outside my comfort zone, reporting facts. I sometimes include opinions in my posts, but I see the merit in using creative writing to express both opinions and emotions. Strong impressions can be made by using literary devices. “Just the facts, ma’am” can become kind of flat, especially after a while.
When I was in 9th grade I attended a small school run by an oil company in Venezuela. The teachers came from the US and were all vastly more eccentric that the teachers I had known in Pennsylvania. Our English teacher, the memorable Pina Sue Sturdavant, was also our physical education instructor. She was from the panhandle of Texas and had such a strong and ridiculous accent that it would have been impossible not to make fun of it. She was unpopular with the students because she was just too weird for us. She announced we would study propaganda in our English class for 6 weeks. We thought she was insane because in the 1960’s propaganda was something we thought was for Russians who lied to the public. She proceeded to teach us the principals of advertizing, which have served me well since that time. She explained that certain methods of persuasion could convince us to want things we did not naturally want. This is, of course, rhetorical truth, of which we hear so much around political election time. Not all of it is subliminal. Alliteration is a favorite device because it sticks in the mind and on the tongue. Libby’s, Libby’s Libby’s on the label, label, label was the example Pina Sue used to illustrate successful use of alliteration. Dr Seuss is a liberal user of this device, to great effect.
Marketing logans and jingles are carefully designed to be catchy. In the old days rhyme was used more profusely than it is today: Winston tastes good like a cigarette should. These marketing devices also work in poetry. A poem sells an idea, or a personal glimpse of reality, an interpretation. Tonight I will attend another reading at the Poetry Center on the politics and poetics of water…they have already used alliteration in the title of the seminar. My goal this week is to continue writing poems and work to use alliteration within them. It was always my favorite device. Starting with this one, I may continue to enjoy other structural restraints. It would be fitting if I could write a poem about Pina Sue herself…We shall see. She does have those two S sounds at the end of her name, and I remember her vividly.
When I began the #ROW80 journey with fellow writers I had an expectation that I would become a poet by grinding out a poem a day for 80 days. 54 days of this trip are now water under the bridge. I am happy to report that I have not only established a habit and practice of writing poetry, but have learned a lot about creating better, richer written work. Both my plain brown paper wordpress blog and my illustrated poems on Tumblr need new perspectives, interesting characters, and dazzling descriptions of scenes to be more compelling. I am grateful to other writers who have shared works in progress and personal creative systems. I have been too eager to finish and move on to another brief encounter with poetry to spend a proper amount of time revising and refining my first drafts. I have rushed as if I had a quota of quickie poems to write, and then I would start creating more meticulous work. I see the folly in this speed system. I can only become meticulous by practicing specifically to choose each word above all other words for effect and artfulness. I am practicing taking more time and trying on subjects I have not used in the past. So far, so good. I am going for quality, not quantity.
Lunar cycles are central to agriculture and other businesses that need to work with nature. I observe the new moon each month with a clean slate for new intentions and projects. I keep a bundle of marjoram in each of the four corners of my home. This little charm grown in our garden is used to protect our home from harm, both physical and psychic. I empty the old herbs and replace them with freshly picked marjoram that smells delightful. The picking of the herbs includes a little ritual, and I treat the old plant material as depleted magic waste. I return it to the earth as compost or as mulch in my back yard. By refreshing these four sachets on the new moon I remind myself to start again on stalled projects, or refresh commitment to ongoing goals. We have had two new moons during the 80 day challenge. I do notice a difference in my willingness to write creatively. The first new moon found me enjoying the poetry discovery, but not personally applying myself very much to improve. This second new moon that just passed last week was a commitment to the poetry writing goal, but with a shift in attitude. The unexpected consequence of meeting writers and learning about their processes and goals is a much higher standard for my finished product. I have a big realization that bursts of zen poetic flashes are just not sufficient. The first shot is rarely good, so I need to go back to enhance my initial inspiration, work with my muses, and labor a bit.
Next month the new moon will include a solar eclipse on 20 Mar, 2015. This event has symbolic implications beyond the normal new moon. The shadow of the moon is cast on the earth, blocking the sun. The solar eclipse is a time to turn within and come to terms with any unfinished personal business from the past. Our 80 day written program will conclude just after this auspicious occasion in March. I believe this exercise will benefit me long after we stop our check ins. I think the next new moon will bring unexpected gifts. We have only to find them and put them to use.
Spring has sprung here in Arizona. We have another month of daily ruby red grapefruit harvest, which is my favorite crop of the year. I juice them and think they do wonders for my health. Since we have had a very mild winter, with the exception of a harsh freeze that ruined some plants, the trees are in bloom early. This can mean that we will be sure to have an early crop of peaches, or it could mean that survival is all the more tricky since we may dip back down in temperature before the fruits can ripen. Gardening requires both close observation and plenty of patience. Nature sometimes thrills us with the delicious outcome of our labors, but just as often some pest or weather storm renders our efforts useless. I have had some kind of garden for all of my adult life. I have had a revelation about gardening and writing that I want to share with you in this post.
Now that I am regularly spending time listening to and reading poetry I see that a well manicured garden resembles a well tuned and well edited piece of writing. Even though all the writers have different styles, I notice that the choice of words as well as the way the sound works has been nurtured and fed. Some of the initial choices have been eliminated, just as weeds are pulled and mulch set on the ground to keep them from returning. The editing process creates a stronger work just as thinning makes larger sweeter peaches. Keeping every one of the fruits is penny wise and pound foolish. After the muse brings the word or the subject or the image to light, the writer must work the creative mental soil, feed the story, and decide when and where to trim for effect. The volunteer plants and some of my current work have something in common. Although they have not been fully worked, or given time to evolve into something more complete, they grew up naturally from a seed that had fallen in the past. Like yellow pear tomatoes, this natural offspring of my imagination, can turn out never ending butterfly psyche poems, if left undisturbed.
Spending more time taking notes, spinning rhymes, and considering new territory for my writing I am pleased with all I have learned. My #ROW80 mates have inspired as well as instructed me in ways I had never expected. Thanks to all of you. I have found a great resource to consult that some of you may also enjoy. The U of A Poetry Center, of which you have heard me tell, has a library of recorded readings called voca. Poets read from their work and explain some of the process they used. This has opened my eyes to the many devices and forms that might be used to write a poem. Everything can be used as inspiration, and any writing has the possibility of becoming great, if edited with sensitivity.
I have achieved one of the goals I stated in my first post here. I have been to the U of A Poetry Center this week. The free reading on Thursday evening was part of series on the poetics and politics of water. Sherwin Bitsui, a Navajo poet, read from his works. The were haunting and evocative of desert landscapes. He was generous in his explanation of the background and muse for the works he presented to us. This gave us both biographical information about him, and a sense of how long he worked on the books he had published. Mr Bitsui is now a professor of creative writing in San Diego, but he comes form the Navajo reservation. In his introduction he was recognized for his support of other Native American poets. He mentored and helped a number of people during his time at the University of Arizona who have gone on to publish books of poetry. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to him read. Ideas from the reading have been resonating and reverberating in my mind…a good sign that those poems hit home in ways I have yet to understand.
Yesterday, for Valentine’s Day the Poetry Center docents presented a reading at the Tucson Botanical Gardens. Poetry in the Garden is a regular series open to the public held in the natural setting of the gardens. Our broad subject this month was birds as symbols of love. These readings are enjoyable for all ages and stages of poetic interest. The docents compile a packet of poems and read from the collection. The audience is invited to read too, and discussion takes place after each reading. The docents encourage the audience to express thoughts and feelings about the meaning or the sounds in the readings. The discussion is broad and not academic. The programs are very well prepared and produced, this one being no exception. We heard from e.e. cummings, Emily Dickinson, some other well known writers, and less famous poets with all kinds of styles. The setting and weather were ideal as we were visited by singing birds before and after the session. They seemed to be voicing approval or applause.
Both of these very well produced events are an example of the very good luck it is to live near the Poetry Center. Having access to these high quality readings is a gift. Some of the attendees at the evening readings are enrolled in a University of Arizona seminar on the poetics and politics of water. They spend class time with these visiting poets as well as the public reading time. There will be 3 more in this series. I plan to go to all of them because they touch a very serious subject for us in Arizona…water. The fact that they are all Native American is meaningful. In history tribes respected natural resources while the invaders worked to deplete them. Our situation today is precarious. We have less security about water every minute. The scientists involved in this seminar agree that poets bring something to the study that pure science can not.
I am still writing, listening and learning about the lives of poets in my own practice. I have expanded my subject matter a little, but nothing too impressive. The best thing I discovered through listening at these readings is that you can write poetry any way you want. There are no forms that are rejected. Free verse is square, some poems are drawings of shapes with the lines, some use sound with mysterious meaning, still others rhyme and are held together in quartrians. It is all good. I still notice my preference to hear the sound rather than see it written on the page. The garden readings are particularly pleasurable for me because I am sitting in a favorite spot with someone reading stories to me. It is a big luxury to glance around the gardens and take in the poems. It is like having a limousine instead of driving yourself. Do you like to listen to spoken word, gentle reader, or do you like to read it in print? My dad used to read to me, and he did recite a few poems, so I think this reminds me of my childhood in a good way.
My poetic week was full of images of the deep south and history. I studied ancestors from Alabama who moved to Texas after the Civil War, which conjured up all kinds of images. There are descriptive written accounts of the places and events, especially the battles. The river flood plain where my people settled was deadly with cholera and disease. This may be the reason the father of the family died so young, but there is no evidence. I become very wrapped up in the general as well as the specific information I find about my ancestors. I imagine daily life as well as how the big events must have taken place. After their town became a ghost town my mother’s family loaded up ox carts and moved to Texas. There is a lot of water and low land on their route, and roads were not established everywhere. Elizabeth Langley must have been full of stories by the time she died at age 96. I have no pictures of her, but her image is forming in my imagination. She was no stranger to mosquitos, and she must have had a strong constitution. She is one of these people in my family tree who perfectly represents a certain time in history. She has the makings of a very interesting character in a story. I have decided to follow my fellow writers and make a draft of a story. I am not ready to outline, but for once I plan to draft, edit, edit, and add, rather than finish and publish whatever this will be. It may be a short story, or I might be able to make it rhyme…like Evangeline. I thank you all for showing me that I could use some extra steps to create better written works. I have faith that this will work.
Scarlet O’Hara she clearly was not,
Her life was difficult, tragic, and hot
My range of subjects has been narrow but evolving, which is all I expect of my budding poetic voice. I have a new feeling about the poems, which is kind of a documentation of my progress as a writer. The worse they sound now, the more potential there is to see them improve over time. Sometimes I think of truly terrible rhymes, and hope to start using them instead of the trite kind of thing I do at this moment. I play around with bad rhymes in the pool, and later when I am dry they have gone to the place where bad rhymes hide. I need to work on this. I plan to write the daily poetry to keep the practice going while I write scenes or descriptions of Elizabeth Langley’s life. It was so long I may need to pick a short period to cover in the story. I might choose reaction to the end of the Civil War, which was a big deal for all involved.
I believe the best thing I have discovered through this challenge is poetry written by others. I listen and read poetry daily now, and think that alone is a wonderful upgrade to my life. Some work makes me laugh, and some brings out curiosity. I am thrilled to see so many different forms used to express poetic thoughts. It is liberating to find so many free style as well as highly formatted ways to go about painting with words. There is no right or wrong, but some have more impact than others. This week the UA Poetry Center will offer two readings I plan to attend, one in house and another next Saturday at the Tucson Botanical Gardens. The Valentine reading at the gardens is on birds. We will receive a packet of poems about birds, and they will be read and discussed. They have designed the perfect valentine for me!!!