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


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:


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....



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

on to:


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


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 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,

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:

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
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)


"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!)