Sunday, December 17, 2006

Suddenly There Was the Angel


And Suddenly, by the creche, on the altar tonight
in the overcrowded Christmas Eve church
a little velvet dressed girl, in green with white lace,
puts her cheek against a ceramic white lamb
and cuddles. This moment happens as suddenly
as the angels appeared in the heavens,
as suddenly as the multitude of heavenly host
praised God and tonight the congregation
watching the embrace of child with lamb
suddenly feels with our whole beings,
Glory to God in the highest heaven
and on earth peace to this child
and to us whom He favors

© 2004 Mary Elizabeth Lauzon

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More poems by Mary Lauzon here and here and here.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Christmas (an excerpt)


How did you find it
this ordinary stable
beachhead of peace
tabernacle place
God’s home invasion
snuggled down in hay of earth
with mother and father
back alley choir of angels
singing joy at your birth
a moment staked out in time
beneath the radar
of the Black Predator?

How did you find it
this ordinary night?

Low class shepherds
vision prod
left all to see
the birth of God

Star led wisemen
slipped street to street
seeking You
grasping an ancient
Sanskrit promise
any sacrifice was worth the chance
salvation had come

Star-maker long ago agreed
tonight He sends His Son
tonight all ordinary life is done.

© 2004 Charles Van Gorkom

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Charles Van Gorkom lives in northern BC. He is a bootmaker by trade. Read more of his contributions from A Night Not to be Silent here. Read more of his poems here.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

A Night Not To Be Silent (title poem)


Tell it
Sing it
Shout it
Stomp your feet
Clap your hands
Write about it
This night demands
that all know it
Christ is come –
the Son!

© 2004 by Darlene Moore Berg

A Night Not to be Silent

It was in the spirit of Christmas celebration that fellow poet Darlene Moore Berg suggested way back in Augustof 2004 that we members of Utmost Christian Writers Poetry Forum pool our efforts and put together a poetic Christmas greeting. Back then we emailed our poems to Darlene who, despite a schedule already full to bursting with pediatrician, parent, and child obligations, put them together in a booklet. Reading through that booklet has become part of my annual Christmas celebration.

Back in 2004 my fellow poets granted me permission to post some of the thoughtful and celebrative poems in that collection on my promptings blog. But that's so long ago, and I'd like to share them again. So in the coming days leading up to Christmas, I'm going to re-post some of those poems here at the poetry blog (along with links to more of the poets' works, if I have them). I hope you enjoy A NIGHT NOT TO BE SILENT!

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Christmas Echoes


Generous Christmas carries
Rare and radiant gift:
Gold, myrrh and frankincense begin
But thanks fall short, to our chagrin,
For Godhead wrapped in baby’s skin
Radiant, rare
Holy gift.

Celebrating Christmas raises
Green, green tree.
Hung with baubles, lights and balls,
On such a thing, my mind recalls,
He hung. A keen chills heaven’s halls
Green no more
Christmas tree.

Christmas berries gleam red
On holly dark, sharp.
Red the taper, red the sweet,
Red the bow holds gift complete
From that Gift red flowed head to feet
Berries on thorns,
Sharp thorns.

Christmas houses shimmer
Bright against snow.
So gleamed flocks of lambs and sheep
When glory shone into their sleep,
Bright angels guard while women weep.
Dazzling white,
Heaven’s light,
He has come back from the deep!
All made right. No more weep.

© 2002 - V. Nesdoly

Friday, December 01, 2006

Voetry?

Do you write verse or poetry? John Barr, president of the Poetry Foundation gives us his take on what separates the two in "Is It Poetry or Is It Verse?"

And in what seems almost like a companion article, "Disappearing Ink: Poetry at the End of Print Culture" Dana Gioia addresses, among many other things, the way popular poetry forms like rap, hip-hop and cowboy poetry attract enthusiastic followings vs. the way the literary poetry establishment continues to need propping up with public monies.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Seasons


I haven’t posted anything here for a while, I see. It’s not because I haven’t been thinking poetry. In fact I have very much!

In the last few weeks, we (Nathan Harms, my editor/publisher and I) have been working on my book – the one that comes as a perk of being named Utmost’s Poet Laureate. And so instead of writing a batch of new poems, I’ve been tidying old ones and getting them ready to find their way in the world.

It’s odd how this writing business seems to have its own seasons. At the moment I’m working on harvest and finding it hard to start anything new. At the same time, I’m missing the rush of having just written something – the burst of new growth breaking through the soil. But I know that soon it will be the season of new poems again – very soon.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Be a poetry judge

Have you ever had a yen to judge a poetry contest? Utmost Christian Writers lets you do just that – for free. You might even win a book of poems for yourself.

The contest is on this page. Read the three poems, decide which one you think should win and send your answer via the "Email your answer" link at the bottom of the page.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Book review: I SPAT by Stephanie R. Bridges


Title: I SPAT
Author: Stephanie R. Bridges
Publisher: Publish America
Genre: Poetry
ISBN: 1424119766

In her first chapbook, I SPAT (acronym for In Spirit, Power and Truth), poet Stephanie Bridges raps, rhythms and rhymes her spiritual journey in thirty poems that range from a defense of God as judge (“Follow the Sun”) to apologies to the children she’s aborted (“Anjel” and “Angel”). The poem section is preceded by her story "Bridges to God," told in prose. In it she chronicles her journey through various addictions and self-destructive behaviors. In the end, she explains how these became bridges to the God who pursued her through every circumstance.

I like the transparency that comes through much of Bridges’ work. She doesn’t avoid talking about experiences and behaviors she has struggled with like rape, abortion, and various addictions. And she isn’t shy to tell on herself:


“I am a vegetarian
Engaging in carnivorous relationships
A non-smoker
With nicotine on my lips”

- “Myself”



Especially moving are the poems she addresses to the kids she chose not to have – and the one she birthed, but with an attitude.


“I prayed my baby dead
As I lay alone in the hospital bed
Nurses poked and doctors pervaded
But to no avail she refused to debut

- “Lovingly”


Bridges’ work isn’t all dark and gloomy, though. There is also freedom and a sense of acceptance, joy and celebration:


“...No dress code
Come as you are
Leave your past at the door
Cause there’s redemption at the bar
You can dance
Sing
Party non-stop. . .”

- “G’sus N’em”


Despite a variety in subject matter, a sense of unity is achieved with the use of formatting (title, Bible verse reference, centered poem, another Bible reference and the verse quoted in full). There is also a similarity in the the rhythms and rhyme patterns that flow through much of Bridges’ work. I am reminded of rap. Many of these poems beg for out-loud performance.

The spiritual angle of the book is never subtle. The Scriptures that bracket each selection become another facet of what Bridges conveys. The book as a whole leaves no doubt who Bridges credits for her escape from an addictive lifestyle. And in her story and poems she sends the message that she continues to rely on God through the challenges of life as a single mom to four kids.

This is an accessible, gritty yet hopeful collection of poems. It will appeal to those open to considering the answers given to life’s knotty problems in the Bible and the Christian faith.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Mennonites


Mennonites
by Julia Kasdorf

We keep our quilts in closets and do not dance.
We hoe thistles along fence rows for fear
we may not be perfect as our Heavenly Father.
We clean up his disasters. No one has to
call; we just show up in the wake of tornadoes
with hammers, after floods with buckets. . . (Read entire)


Another Julia Kasdorf poem -- “Onion, Fruit of Grace” -- was the daily poem in the Writer’s Almanac a few day ago, and reminded me how much I like Julia Kasdorf’s writing. I can especially relate to "Mennonites," above, seeing as this is also my ethnic background. In fact, I find from this article, that Julia Kasdorf even claims to be of the specific branch of Mennonite heritage (Mennonite Brethren) that I grew up in. (Does that mean I qualify for reflected glory or what?! )

Some other poems by Julia Kasdorf:

First Gestures

Flying Lesson

The Baby Screaming in the Back Seat (page 15 of this 32-page .pdf file)

Monday, October 09, 2006

Whimsical and wonder-full


Today’s poem from the Writer’s Almanac, "Proverbial Ballade" by Wendy Cope begins


Fine words won't turn the icing pink;
A wild rose has no employees;
Who boils his socks will make them shrink;
Who catches cold is sure to sneeze.

(read entire)

Wendy Cope’s poems usually make me smile.

But her whimsy also casts a spell of wonder. Here are four poems of hers that you can also hear her read. I especially like "Flowers" and "The Christmas Life."

Flowers

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Book launch


We attended the unveiling of Poetic Spirits of the Valley in Abbotsford today. The MSA Poets Potpourri Society put on quite a party to launch this book of poems, prose and photos, and to generally celebrate the 25 years the society has been in existence.

I’ve been a member for just a little over a year. While I’ve enjoyed participating in a few of the society’s readings, I’m really only a hanger-on.

Nevertheless, even hangers-on got to submit their poems. And so, with three poems included in the book I signed a couple of books, then joined hubby, who so graciously drove me, in drinking coffee and feasting on sandwiches, fruit and cake with the best of them.

Congratulations to the publication committee, and Alvin, our fearless editor!

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Writing poems is a lot like snapping pictures



Not every picture is a winner. But you keep taking them anyway, hoping that one of these days, you’ll get something really good.

And that’s how it is with writing. You know you’re writing a lot of stuff that isn’t great. But you keep doing it anyway, hoping that one of these days, you’ll figure out how to say it just right.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Work



September and the time to get back to work. Though often maligned as a negative thing, I personally love to work – especially if that work is something that sweeps me away and makes me oblivious to time and place – like writing often does.

Here are some lines from Marge Piercey’s poem “To be of use” in praise of workers:

The people I love best
jump into work head first...

I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience....

The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident....

Read entire poem

Today I work in the kitchen. Friends are coming to visit and I am making a lasagne dinner. My husband has done most of the cooking for the last while – and though I haven’t missed thinking up what to make for meals, I have missed those kitchen rhythms. Today I get them back. I will put on my harness – my apron – and dirty my hands with smear, crumble, chop, saute and bake!

Friday, August 25, 2006

Ens and Odds

My review of Alvin Ens’s prize-winning book of poems (category: 'Special') I Am the Poem is now up here.

My bootmaker friend Charlie has a poetry blog. You'll love the sense of place his poems evoke.

To all aspiring, novice and as yet unpublished poets - you have less than a week to get your entries into the mail for this contest.

I was honored to be named Utmost Christian Writer’s International Poet Laureate earlier this year. Thank you to the person who nominated me, to Nathan Harms and to Utmost’s Board of Directors for making this happen!

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

End of blank card blues


A Birthday
by Christina Rossetti

My heart is like a singing bird
Whose nest is in a water’d shoot;
My heart is like an apple-tree
Whose boughs are bent with thickset fruit;
My heart is like a rainbow shell
That paddles in a halcyon sea;
My heart is gladder than all these
Because my love is come to me.

Raise me a dais of silk and down;
Hang it with vair and purple dyes;
Carve it in doves and pomegranates,
And peacocks with a hundred eyes;
Work it in gold and silver grapes,
In leaves and silver fleurs-de-lys;
Because the birthday of my life
Is come, my love is come to me.

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I’m usually stumped when it comes to knowing what to put inside blank cards. Yesterday I was preparing one for a wedding. What to say?

On the Poetry Foundation site I recalled seeing a Poem Finder. So I decided to give it a try. I chose 'by occasion' and then ‘wedding.’ This page appeared. I picked the above poem for inside the card. Now I’m thinking, with this handy gadget at my fingertips, maybe those days of the blank card blues are over.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Poetry contest for the novice

Are you a Christian poet – as yet unpublished? Do I have a contest for you!

Utmostchristianwriters.com is running its first annual poetry contest for novice / unpublished poets. From Nathan Harms, Utmost’s webmaster in an email I got today:

We are in the final 2 weeks of our first annual Novice Christian Poetry Contest. We decided to sponsor this contest due to a great number of requests for a contest that would be more suited to unpublished Christian poets, but the number of entries is lower than expected to date.

If you qualify as an unpublished Christian poet, we encourage you to consider this contest. The total prizes that will be paid are US$1750 cash. There is no restriction on subject matter.

Poets, this is serious cash!

Utmost's home page has links to rules and entry form.

Entries must be posted on or before August 31/06.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

This afternoon

I'm going to a poetry reading by this woman, who is presently teaching a one-week course at Regent College, and has written this poem and this and this.

Catch you later...

**************

The reading was wonderful! She read mostly from her last book, A Deed to the Light, as well as a few new and as yet unpublished poems. I liked the way she introduced each poem telling us the circumstance of its writing, sometimes giving anecdotes about the people in it. The 40-minute reading was over too soon. (And of course I came away with the goods!)



A walk along the beach at Spanish Banks with hubby and a stop at White Spot for a burger on the way home rounded out a perfect afternoon.



TRIPLE O SAUCE. NOW THERE'S SOMETHING TO POEMIFY!

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Poetry prompt # 5 - adapted nursery rhyme

Remember the finger play (toe play really) "This little pig went to market"? Today’s poem in the Writer’s Almanac "Counting the Mad" by Donald Justice, is a clever take-off on that. It begins:

This one was put in a jacket,
This one was sent home,
This one was given bread and meat
But would eat none,
And this one cried No No No No
All day long.

(Read entire)

Which reminds me – it’s high time for another poetry writing prompt. I think Mr. Justice’s idea of growing a poem from a child’s a nursery rhyme or finger play would be a fun and interesting exercise. And so that’s my challenge to myself this week: Write a poem based on a nursery rhyme or children’s finger play.

You’re welcome to join me if you like!

(Links to more poems by Donald Justice here.)

Friday, July 28, 2006

On death (Carl Sandburg)


Stars, Songs, Faces

Gather the stars if you wish it so.
Gather the songs and keep them.
Gather the faces of women.
Gather for keeping years and years.
And then . . .

Loosen your hands,
let go and say goodby.
Let the stars and songs go.
Let the faces and years go.
Loosen your hands and say goodbye.



The Junk Man

I am glad God saw Death
And gave Death a job taking care of all who are tired of living:

When all the wheels in a clock are worn and slow and the connections loose
And the clock goes on ticking and telling the wrong time from hour to hour
And people around the house joke about what a bum clock it is,
How glad the clock is when the big Junk Man drives his wagon
Up to the house and puts his arms around the clock and says:


"You don't belong here,
You gotta come
Along with me,"

How glad the clock is then, when it feels the arms of the Junk Man close around it and carry it away.


- Carl Sandburg

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"Stars, Songs, Faces" - Hat tip: Something Beautiful
"The Junk Man" from Carl Sandburg Selected Poems

Monday, July 24, 2006

Affirmation

I discovered on Saturday that a poem I submitted a few weeks ago was published in Infuze (e-zine) last week. This is affirmation indeed, during this poetry-writing dry spell, when all I seem to be able to focus on is the practical details that need my attention after Mom’s passing. Thank you, Infuze!

(One needs to sign up to read Infuze. It is free and painless, though, and well worth the time and effort. Weekly issues feature new articles on culture, comics, visual arts, short stories, poetry and movie reviews written from a Christian perspective.)

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Interlude






When poet friend Darlene Moore-Berg and I made plans to meet for lunch on July 9th after a long internet acquaintance, I had no idea personal events would so thoroughly sabotage things. However, she and her husband Mike were able to fit us in this last Sunday instead of next.

We met them in their hotel room. (Would you believe the penthouse of the Empire Landmark? Don’t tell me it doesn’t pay to be allergic to the residue of smoke in the room originally assigned to you!)

After enjoying this amazing view and snapping pictures of everything in sight, we went for lunch at the Red Robin, and hung out on Robson Street for a bit, Then we took them and their luggage to the Cruise Ship Terminal in Canada Place in time for their 5:45 departure for Alaska.

What a wonderful interlude in a bleak time! Thank you, Darlene and Mike, for fitting us into your glam vacation.

A sampling of poems by Darlene:

Earth Dance

Embryology

Wind Chill

Buon Natale

The Making of a Man

Welcome to Shy Road

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Congratulations!


My friend and poet buddy Alvin Ens published a second volume of his poems, I Am the Poem, in 2005. I just got the news that his book won a 2006 Word Guild Award in the "Special Books" category. That award, along with dozens more Canadian writing awards, was announced at a special gala in Toronto on June 14th.

Congratulations, Alvin!!

A sampling of Alvin's poetry:

- Let Your Light So Shine

- Clearly

- The Loop

- Find the Mind

Thursday, June 08, 2006

A Pastan Feast

Today’s poem in the Writer’s Almanac, "After an Absence," is by Linda Pastan. Reading it reminds me again how much I enjoy her. So for your reading pleasure and mine, here is a Pastan feast:

Three early poems dated 1998: "The Laws of Primogeniture," "Vermilion" and "An Early Afterlife"

Some poems from her book Carnival Evening: "Almanac of Last Things," "News of the World" "Carnival Evening" and "What We Want."

And from The Last Uncle: "Women on the Shore," "Cossacks," "The Last Uncle," "Grace" "Practicing" and "The Months."

Enjoy!

If you want still more, here is her article "Old Age is Not for Cowards" and an interview of her, both from Norton Poets Online.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Fooling with words

Since taking down the shingle of my medical transcription business, time for writing (especially in the morning, when I’m at my best) has expanded. It’s wonderful!

Yesterday I spent most of my writing day working on poetry. I took a stack of poems that are in the various stages of completion and spent a lazy hour or two tweaking. I planned what I’ll read on the 13th (Blue Moon Reading Series - Clearbrook Library sponsored by MSA Poets Potpourri-Society). Then I started surfing the net, looking for thoughts on the topic I’ve chosen for my next FellowScript column.

In that search, I came across Fooling with Words with Bill Moyers – a site that features readings from the Dodge Poetry festival 1998. You can read poems by 21 poets and listen to / watch selected readers (Sharon Olds, Marge Piercy, Susan Hirshfield), perform their work.

Besides being introduced to some really great poems, how better to prepare for a poetry reading than by listening to the pros read their work.

The 11th biennial Dodge Poetry Festival happens this year - September 28-October 1

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Poetry prompt #3 - sign poem

It’s already Wednesday and still no poetry prompt for the week. Violet, where is it?

I am late. I confess. (I think the holiday on Monday messed me up.)

Anyway, this week I will borrow the prompt from Poets Online. It begins:
For this prompt, we look for a sign to be the starting place -and the title - of a poem. A sign seen on a roadside, on a store, even an advertisement in a newspaper, magazine or on TV is acceptable. It might be a good opportunity for a humorous poem, though I suspect some submissions will be quite serious too.

For the entire prompt and Cecilia Woloch’s poem "Slow Children At Play" which was the catalyst, go here.

So let’s get sign-ogling and writing. If we hurry, there’s even time to submit it to the Poets Online website – till May 27th.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Poetry prompt #2 - List poem

Pretty well guaranteed almost any book about how to write poetry will tell you to write lists. I’m not sure exactly what the connection is between listing and how it bleeds into poetic thought or vision. Perhaps when we list things we open the door to lots of possibilities. Or we tell ourselves there is more than one right answer. Or the process of listing is subliminal permission for our mind to go off in many directions.

Whatever, there are certainly plenty of lists in poetry. One such list that’s caught my attention lately is actually a song. Some of the lyrics of the Bruce Cockburn "Southland of the Heart" (Sung by Steve Bell on this album) are really a list of how it feels when life sucks:

When the wild-eyed dogs of day to day
Come snapping at your heels
And there's so much coming at you
That you don't know how to feel...
When your heart's beset by memories
You wish you'd never made
When the sun comes up an enemy
And nothing gives you shade...
When the nightmare's creeping closer
And your wheels are in the mud
When everything's ambiguous
Except the taste of blood...

© 1992 Bruce Cockburn

Lists in poems can also be hidden. Anyone care to guess what the poem "Welcome" in this post, lists?

For another list prompt and lots of examples of list poems - check out this.

And now, for this week’s prompt:
1. Make a list of seven list poems you could write.
2. Write one of them.
3. Post it on your blog or website.
4. Let me know, I’ll link to you – and we might even end up with another list!

Monday, May 08, 2006

Poetry prompt #1 - Ekphrastic poem

I didn’t know there was a name for poetry which is based on or talks back to works of art. But my recently acquired the poetry dictionary assures me there is. It’s called ekphrastic poetry.

John Drury defines ekphrastic poetry as poetry that imitates, describes, critiques, dramatizes, reflects upon or otherwise responds to a work of non-literary art, especially the visual.

Poems about photographs are considered a subcategory of this though, as Drury says, photograph poems are somewhat different, since they are based upon pictures never meant originally as art, perhaps snapshots from a family album, and will thus deal with the stuff of everyday life.

An ekphrastic poem, whether based on a painting, photograph, sculpture, song or whatever, should do more than just describe the work of art. It should also add something that takes off from the original work, or talks back to it.

The February 15th Writer’s Almanac poem “Photograph / 1936" by David Bengtson is a good example of such a poem, I think. It begins with simple description of an old fashioned scene from a photograph:

They face each other, my father in a white jacket,
rented for the day, my grandfather
in a dark suit, tie too short, a light felt
dress hat with a dark band, the shadow
of the brim covering his eyes.
But ends with a stanza loaded with enigma, reverberating with questions and heavy with the sad way things turned out:

I would like to stand in the space
between you and your dad, and say,
“Let’s sit together on this bench. Let’s talk
about the things that frighten us,” and we’d talk about boilers that explode,
long trips on rough seas to small islands,
why a son, given everything,
would turn on his father, his family,
the love of family.

So, my writing prompt to myself (and anyone who wishes to join me this week) is to write an ekphrastic poem.

Filed in Writing - Poetry

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

for Unpublished Poets

Here’s a poetry contest for unpublished Christian poets.

$1500 in prizes! Check out other details here.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Be warmed and fed

The winning poems of the 2006 Utmost contest are up!

First place: "A Letter to the Girl I Was" by Jennifer Zolper

Second place: "Judas Tree" by Mary Rudbeck Stanko

Go. Read them. You will be warmed and fed.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

The New Formalism

In relation to poetry, would you say ‘New Formalism’ refers to:

a] The tendency for poets to wear formal attire at poetry readings as a reaction to the down-dressing of the 90s.

b] A movement that rose in the 80s to revive formal verse, with the intention of reaching out to a wider public and rejecting the limits of academic poetry.

c] The rising popularity of writing in poetic forms.

***********

I now can reply with confidence (after the arrival, Monday, of my long-awaited the poetry dictionary by John Drury) that it’s b. (And I’m sure my lame attempt at cleverness was a no-brainer for most readers too - oh well).

Of the New Formalism my treasured dictionary goes on to say:



...the New Formalists, according to Dana Gioia, ‘put free verse poets in the ironic and uncomfortable position of being the status quo. Free verse, the creation of an older literary revolution, is now the long-established, ruling orthodoxy; formal poetry the unexpected challenge.’ In addition to Gioia himself, New Formalist poets include Charles Martin, Timothy Steele, Molly Peacock, R. S. Gwynn, Julia Alvarez, and Gjertrud Schnackenberg.

I became vaguely aware of this movement by reading poetry on the internet. Though I haven’t followed it closely, I must admit reading modern poems that flow in natural rhythms, using the diction of normal speech yet still managing to rhyme, is a pleasure. Of course the challenge of writing such, though an attractive, one is fraught with pitfalls. It is too easy to get sing-songy and lazily revert to expected rhymes. I see it as a matter of balance; a poetic high-wire act if you will.

A web site devoted entirely to metered verse - old and modern – is The Poem Tree. A random sampling will, I think, convince the skeptic of the viability of this movement.

For starters, take A. E. Stallings (b. 1968). Her accessible 'Cardinal Numbers’ begins:

Mrs. Cardinal is dead:
All that remains——a beak of red,
And, fanned across the pavement slab,
Feathers, drab.

Remember how we saw her mate
In the magnolia tree of late,
Glowing, in the faded hour,
A scarlet flower,

And knew, from his nagging sound,
His wife foraged on the ground,
As camouflaged, as he (to us)
Conspicuous?

(Read entire)

Could I pull off something like that? Probably not. But it sure looks like fun!

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Poetry - the voice that lets you get it out

This is another snippet from the CD on which Steve Bell talks about his newest recording “My Dinner With Bruce.”

Words by themselves can sometimes be limiting. The language of poetry, though, is much like the language of melody. Because poetry says more than the words say. It’s not just about the words themselves but it’s even how they sound together, it’s about the flow, it’s about the percussion and the stops and the starts. So again, one of the reasons I love Bruce (Cockburn’s) music too is that it has really encouraged me to delve into poetry more.

One of the problems with poetry is that it requires something of you; it takes work. It takes repetition and contemplation and there’s always the anxiety, am I getting it? And I think often with great poets, they’re not all that concerned about you getting it. But when we do work with it like we work with melodies, you sense a deep intuition of what’s true and good and what’s authentic. And so poetry is like melody in that sense, rather than straight compositional language. Bruce does both really well.

Pacing the Cage” – that’s one of those songs that put me on the floor the first time I ever heard it. I can’t remember exactly what was going on in my life at the time but I was so weary of many many things at the time.

Every once in a while I get this way. I’m a very positive person. I see life very positively most of the time. But every once in a while, like everybody else, things just overwhelm you whether it’s fatigue of labor or the relational things that we deal, and the reality of human suffering if you’re paying attention to any of that stuff at all. Every once in a while, you just think, get me out of here, I’m done, I’m so, so done.

That’s the place I happened to be at when I listened to that album - “Pacing the Cage,” it was the most hauntingly beautiful, world-weary song I’d ever heard in my life. And I remember quite literally by the time the song was over I was on the floor beside the stereo holding my stomach because it had just kind of pulled up all of that feeling.

But again, it’s the voice that lets you get it out, you speak it, and as you speak it and you put it out there, you can deal with it. But before it has language, it’s the murky thing deep in your soul, you can’t touch it, you can’t feel it. And so Bruce, again, puts words on these things we have no words for. We can put it outside of us, we can look at it, we can deal with it.

That song is a very important song for me at that time in my life and it sort of gave me permission to write. You know, once I could put what I was feeling out there in language, I could express the way I do that and hopefully write something that someone else can use.


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Filed in Writing - Poetry

Friday, March 10, 2006

Spring's Winter

We have this today - with all our blossoms doubled by the snow.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

That's my song poem

Another snippet of the conversation with Steve Bell (source of which I describe here).

It is one situation that is agonizing, that you can’t really describe. You travel and see unbelievable things sometimes and there’s a loneliness about not being able to share that directly with your best friend.

For example last year I was over in Israel and Palestine and experienced about eight days just kind of trekking through the countryside and hanging out with the Palestinians Christians of which there are a lot of and their story is not told and it’s a deeply sad story. And I remember lying at night and feeling incredible loneliness; I’ll never be able to share this. You’ve got to be here to get it, and just wishing Nanci, my wife, was there and just wishing in my own sort of ripped up soul I could just lean over and touch her hair or her hand or anything. And knowing that no matter what I say to her, I can’t fully share this. There’s an essential loneliness that comes with that.

So I come back and Bruce has written this beautiful love song. He was experiencing something he couldn’t share: “All the ways I want you.” It’s this phenomenal love song. And I thought, man, that’s my song. I should have written that; he got it first.

I have this feeling that songs actually pre-exist anyway. We don’t actually write them. They’re like angels floating around the stratosphere and whoever has their antenna up as they float by gets the song. And so I think it’s okay to say, hey, that’s my song. I should have gotten it but I was watching ‘Survivor’ I guess, and he wasn’t so he got it first.

************

A quote from Paul Valéry in Sheila Bender’s Writing Personal Poetry:

“When a poem compels one to read it with passion...the reader feels he is ‘momentarily its author.’ That is how he knows the poem is beautiful.” Reading and writing poetry are two lanes on the same street.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

How Art is Made

A few weeks ago I got a glossy advertising brochure in the mail – but not your regular glossy brochure. It was a brochure in the form of a CD.

Singer songwriter Steve Bell has used this way of publicizing his company, Signpost Music, and his concerts at other times as well. I often replay a CD of his which served, I believe, as a ticket to one of his concerts some time ago. It’s a wonderful recording of an interview he did with the radio host for the US program Burning Ember, interspersed with his songs.

The newest CD promo is for Steve’s latest project “My Dinner with Bruce.” That recording features him playing the songs of Bruce Cockburn. The promo consists of another interview in which he talks about how Bruce’s music has influenced, inspired and comforted him. He also tells the background stories of why he chose the songs he did for this album and how they, in particular, moved him.

If you’ve ever been to one of his concerts you’ll know he’s a master storyteller, tying up his often humorous recollections with aphorisms -- little bits of wisdom he’s picked up along the way. The CD in hand resembles his stage appearances in that way. In fact, I so didn’t want to lose some of the things he said, I grabbed the tools of my (transcription) trade and typed them out.

Here, for example, is his take on how art gets made (and which, I maintain, applies not only to the songwriter but to the artist who works in any medium):

"My Dinner with Andre” is one of my favorite movies of all time. It’s this quirky movie where at at least 99% of it is recorded conversations between two old friends. One had traveled the world and experienced great and wondrous things, the other stayed home, and they get together after twenty years to discuss. It’s one of these great conversations; you get totally sucked into it.

Now years later I don’t remember at all the details of the conversation. I just remember this wonderful evening. And I think to a certain degree, art arises in dialogue. We don’t create the stuff that we work with. We just get to kind of move it around to different places.

If we create a beautiful garden in our front yard, we don’t really create the garden. We just get to choose where the flowers come up and when. We’re cultivators of what someone else has created. And I think God has given good gifts and lots of stuff for us to cultivate.

Bruce has cultivated a certain kind of a garden and I look at it and I think, man, that’s gorgeous. And then I kind of want to use a bit of that for my garden – you know? And it’s that kind of dialogue back and forth that I think creates an ongoing conversation of art that is delightful and brings beauty into people’s lives. And so I realize I’m just part of that conversation. And that’s why I called the album “My Dinner with Bruce,” not that we’ve had a personal relationship. But I think at an art level, that’s just how things work.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Melancholy

In the last few days several of my blog friends have written about depression (here and here). Clinical depression is something from which I’ve never suffered. But if the description of those who have is to be believed, it is horrible and not to be wished on anyone.

American poet Jane Kenyon had bouts of depression her whole life. In the suite of poems "Having it Out with Melancholy" she explores its many faces:

1 FROM THE NURSERY

When I was born, you waited
behind a pile of linen in the nursery,
and when we were alone, you lay down
on top of me, pressing
the bile of desolation into every pore....


to

3 SUGGESTION FROM A FRIEND

You wouldn't be so depressed
if you really believed in God.

on to:

9 WOOD THRUSH

High on Nardil and June light
I wake at four,
waiting greedily for the first
note of the wood thrush. Easeful air
presses through the screen
with the wild, complex song
of the bird, and I am overcome

by ordinary contentment....

(read "Having it Out with Melancholy"...)

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Rebuttal

Another view of duty from Oswald Chambers:

Drudgery is one of the finest touchstones of characters there is. Drudgery is work that is far removed from anything to do with the ideal – the utterly mean grubby things; and when we come in contact with them we know instantly whether or not we are spiritually real.....It requires the inspiration of God to go through drudgery with the light of God upon it.....When the Lord does a thing through us, He always transfigures it.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Duty

Duty is a stern mother:
Do your homework first.
Finish the cleaning before you read.
A place for everything and everything in its place.
Don’t be late!

Duty is a tiny house,
no room for big projects.
Desires ricochet off the walls
to ‘shoulds.’
Always stubbing my toe on something.

Duty is a pair of old jeans,
comfortable, unpretentious, serviceable,
sturdy, familiar,
safe.

Attention to duty means well-fed children,
happy parents,
a manicured lawn,
a reconciled account,
a shining car,
...a freezer full of dreams.

© 2004 - V. Nesdoly

***************************
This is my poem of dissent. A stand against taking too much direction from ‘duty.’ In some ways I hesitate to share it because it’s how I felt at one point in time – not so much any more.

However, Natalie Goldberg in the chapter “We Are Not the Poem” from Writing Down the Bones, says:

We think our words are permanent and solid and stamp us forever. That’s not true. We write in the moment....Every minute we change. ...It is important to remember we are not the poem. People will react however they want; and if you write poetry, get used to no reaction at all. But that’s okay. The power is always in the act of writing...Don’t get caught in the admiration for your poems....It is very painful to become frozen with your poems...The real life is in writing not in reading the same ones over and over again for years...Don’t identify too strongly with your work. Stay fluid behind those black-and-white words. They are not you. They were a great moment going through you. A moment you were awake enough to write down and capture.
pp. 32,33

Perhaps now I should write a sequel to ‘Duty’ – about how I have been able to take some of those dreams out of the freezer, and watch them thaw and come to life despite duty’s demands.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Poetry Carnival #9 - Dissent

The Ninth Poetry Carnival will be held at Philosophical Poetry. It will focus on poems of dissent. This can include political dissent, ideological dissent, or even simple personal dissent.
Send your entries to danweasel at gmail dot com in the following format:

Name:
Blog Title:
Blog URL:
Post Title:
Post URL:
Post Excerpt: (about 4 lines)
Description: (optional)

Entries are due on the 26th of February 2006. Please help promote the poetry carnival on your own blogs and if you’re interested in hosting a future carnival, please email Andrew at the above email address.

(Note: these poetry carnivals include poetry from a variety of worldviews and lifestyle perspectives and are not necessarily or exclusively Christian. Here's what Poetry Carnival 8 looked like.)

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Love poems abound


on Valentine's day.

Amanda Witt - poetry scholar extraordinare - draws our attention to two classics.

Hat Tip: Julana

(Graphic from HappyValentine's Day)

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Wrestling 'Death'

STEFAN DIED AT THIRTY

Stefan died at thirty
just eighteen months after his wedding
and five weeks after the doctor
said the dreaded words:
“Terminal cancer.”

We sit in the hushed church
studying moments of his life
that flash, then fade from the screen:
- a family picture – recognizably 70s.
- Stefan at bat, white uniform, blue stripes
- a black speck on a white ski-hill
- a laughing circle of friends, feet propped on the coffee table.
- Stefan with a pretty blond smiling girl.
- Stefan and the pretty blond smiling girl - in wedding clothes
- Stefan and Gabrielle in scuba gear
- Stefan and Gabrielle in a kayak
- Stefan, looking thin, beside a kayak that sits on a workbench.
- Stefan, gaunt and bony, with pretty blond Gabrielle beside him...

At the front of the church
where the casket would sit
lies a long, gleaming, golden-brown, cedar-strip kayak.

His brother’s voice chokes
a eulogy of messy rooms
the kid who rode his bike where he pleased
their shared tradition of opening
each Christmas parcel under the tree
early, then carefully re-wrapping, re-taping.

But Gabrielle is strong
as she tells a love story
cut short:
“Want a kiss?” Stefan asked
the first time they met,
then handed her a Hershey candy.
“He loved photography; I was his favorite model.
He made me feel safe.
He began building a kayak
in his living room.
After we married
we embarked
on the of blending our lives
like putting together
a design of cedar strips.
The kayak lying here is five hours
from being finished.”

Oh God, why this sudden termination
of their earthly project?
There should be more pictures:
- Gabrielle pregnant
- Stefan holding their baby
- a family of kayaks.
At the very least,
couldn’t you have given him
five more healthy hours?

Or was there some enterprise in heaven
that needed exactly that man
and couldn’t wait
a minute longer?
Some pressing assignment on earth
that needs a woman
who has paddled
through an arctic sea?

Copyright © V. Nesdoly 2003

(Names are fictitious)

****************************

Writing this poem was my way of working through the images, emotions and questions I had on attending the funeral of this young man, our friends’ son.

That’s one of the things I like about writing poetry. If you wrestle till your thoughts are ‘pinned’ you come away from the experience with a sense of victory, and a piece of writing that is as much a thing as a painting or an arrangement of dried flowers is a thing.

My poet friend Darlene has just begun blogging. Her mother died about two weeks ago. She too has lately struggled with death and written about it here.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Sonnet Assignment

This month’s catalyst poem on the Poets OnlineCurrent Prompt’ is John Updike’s “Dog’s Death.

The assignment is to write a poem on one of the themes in Updike’s poem, which include death, loss, dignity in facing death, the death of the young, the desire to be ‘good,' the inability of love to triumph over death. To complicate things, the poem is to be written in sonnet form with one, two or three quatrains but it must have the couplet at the end.

On seeing Elizabeth Bishop’s poem “Sonnet” in today’s edition of The Writer’s Almanac I’m thinking, she hadthat prompt in mind when she wrote it!

Friday, February 03, 2006

Garden Poems

Who hasn’t written a garden poem, like the one above - or several?

If yours are sitting unpublished in a file somewhere, consider entering them in the Utmost Christian Writers Poetry Contest 2006. There is a category for exactly that kind of poem.

Contest information with links to previous winners, rules, prize description, how to enter and FAQs is here. But there’s no time to dally. Contest deadline is February 28, 2006.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Barbara Crooker

I certainly have my favorites of the poets that appear on the Writer’s Almanac. One of them is Barbara Crooker. I was especially moved by her "Autism Poem: The Grid."

So yesterday, when I surfed to the Writer’s Almanac home page to get the link for my post below, imagine my delight to find a link to an interview with Barbara Crooker. Read it and be encouraged, all you home-bound poets!

Another poem of hers you've got to read is "Praise Song."

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

More 'in the now'

After considering and writing on the prompt of being in the moment last week, my antenna are out for other poems with a similar theme. That is why yesterday, when cleaning out and filing away some of the poems I’ve collected from "The Writer’s Almanac" (which you can subscribe to for free and it delivers a new poem to your in-box every morning – it’s a very good deal!), two jumped out at me as being examples of this:

"Putting in a Window" by John Brantingham (scroll down to November 15th)

and

"This Shining Moment in the Now" by David Budbill

I find it interesting that both activities described (installing a window and working around the yard) are not primarily cerebral at all, but speak of the satisfaction of absorption in physical tasks.

Check it Out!

The hot-off-the-email collection of poems submitted for the prompt below has been posted in the last few days at Poets Online. (I did submit "In Stitches." Hurrah, it made the cut!)

Thursday, January 26, 2006

In Stitches *

I am in the choice of pattern
and in my fantasy
of how the suit sketched in tweed
will be incarnated in velvet.

I am in the tissue pieces
laid precisely, pinned snugly
facing the right way
on the wrong side.

I am in the concentration of my tongue
and in the rhythm of my heart
as scissor blades
crunch, crunch, crunch.

I am in the synapses that pass
from instruction sheet to brain
to fingers, in spaces
filled with the conductive medium of faith.

I am on the rolling highway of stitches, even and perfect
seams, smooth and straight
then in the pin-prick that sees
something is wrong: I must rip and return.

I am in the mirror
reflecting shoulders that bag
a waist too tight
and a skirt that sags

Then at last, after being in gathers, easements
overcast hems and under the hot iron
I am, snug and snazzy,
in this garment I have made.

© 2006 - V. Nesdoly


*********************

*My response to the current prompt at Poets Online:

This month's prompt is to write of an occasion when you were "in the moment" completely. We often hear of this from musicians, artists, athletes - but it occurs often enough for all of us, if only for that moment, in our everyday lives.
I guess mine is really be a compilation of moments – oh well...

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Prompts at Poets Online

One of my favorite places for poetry prompts over the years has been Poets Online. Their ‘current prompt’ is updated about once a month and is always a challenge.

An interesting aspect of their web prompt is the invitation to send in poems written from the current prompt. About a week to ten days after the submission deadline a page, with the prompt along with the poems chosen for publication, is posted as 'Read the Newest Poems." These are eventually relegated to their place in the "Archives."

The current prompt is here. Last date for submission is a week from today - January 28th. Am I up for it? Are you?

At last

I’m opening my poetry blog! I’ve wanted to do this for a long time now, but it seemed there was always something in the way. Finally this morning, on waking I decided this is the day.

So, what kind of a blog will this be?

First of all, its primary focus will be poetry. This is because I want a place where I can post my strangest writings, talk unapologetically about all things poetic and not feel I’m turning off the bulk of the people who come to promptings expecting to read prose (Poetry? Eeeuw. How pretentious! How weird!).

Second, I’m talking primarily modern poetry, not the classics of the past.

I'm calling it “Line upon line” because that is the name of the poetry column I have just begun to write for FellowScript. I like the baggage that phrase brings with it – coming, as it does, from the Bible and all – Isaiah 28 to be precise. Here it is in context:


“Whom will he teach knowledge?
And whom will he make to understand the message?
Those just weaned from milk?
Those just drawn from the breasts?
For precept must be upon precept,
precept upon precept,
Line upon line, line upon line,
Here a little, there a little.”

Though the ‘line upon line’ in the quote implies teaching, I don’t intend its use here to lead to the conclusion that I take the writing and reading of poetry as primarily educational. I do know, however, that though I have no intention of writing poems that are tools for Christian teaching or propaganda, because poetry reflects the worldview of its creator, many of my poems will contain Christian themes. For that I do not apologize; it is who I am.

Here are some of the things I will be posting in this blog:

1. Poems written by me.

2. Poems written by others, posted in their entirety if I have permission of the writer or the writing is old enough that the copyright has lapsed, otherwise links.

3. Poetry prompts. I have found that I need reachable goals or challenges to keep me writing. For that I like writing prompts. And so here I’ll be posting links to prompts or making up prompts of my own, and challenging myself (and any who read and want to join in) to write from them. I include in this department, taking part in poetry blog events which often have a theme or subject.

4. Articles and news items about poets and poetry.

5. A heads-up about poetry contests and publishing opportunities.

6. Reviews of poetry books.

So (big breath....) shall we begin?