Keeping current in wellness, in and out of the water
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Yesterday I visited the U of A Poetry Center to find inspiration for my month of writing poems. Much to my surprise I arrived in middle of a special event. Family Day is held once a month in the winter months. Graduate students lead activities designed to stimulate interest in different age groups. I was given a name tag and asked what age group I wished to attend. Since 60 and over was represented by the docents I hung out with them for a few minutes asking questions. The groups were gathered with leaders coaxing them to collaborate. The toddlers were drumming and drawing on the floor. The teens were making up ironic statements about dental hygiene (which were very funny). The middle school group was on the patio writing odes. I took a place at the end of the table where I could hear them, but would not disturb them.
I listened to them praise mother and father, bamboo and bugs. The work was brilliant and astute. I spoke to the leaders after the session. They are graduate students studying creative writing. They said that the activities here leave them completely uplifted and amazed every time they do it. The kids blow their minds, just as they had mine. I did some drawing and free writing while half-tuned into my fellow poets on the rock. That was what I had come to do, so I spent 15 minutes on the task. The snacks were being served and the band was playing in the courtyard, so I hustled on out to see what else was happening.
Chalk was provided and words had been applied to the concrete. Hula hoops and a live band made the festive atmosphere complete. The kids clearly loved Family Day. The parents were pleased too. A beautiful work of art was made on the spot by graduate students in art education. Poems written by the kids that day were written on the background. It was a resounding success. I realized that I had come at the perfect time after all because the kids have the pure innocent free wheeling creativity I want to generate next month.
There were two typewriters set up for people to try, and they were popular. The catering consisted of perfectly ripe fruit and muffins, perfect child fare. I enjoyed the ripe pineapple, strawberries, and honeydew melon. I felt like I had attended one of the best children’s parties ever. The band even included a saw player, and what could be better than that?
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 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.