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Posts Tagged ‘Poetry’

The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot,
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never read,
never even heard of,

as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
to a little fishing village where there are no phones.

Billy Collins was appointed Poet Laureate of the United States from 2001 to 2003. This may have been one of our country’s most fragile times, when more people sought peace from poetry. And he is a poet who gets us, and last night Bob and I had the distinct pleasure to listen to him read some of his poems at Salon 615. Everyone of a certain age has picked up a book in rapt anticipation, only to find a few pages down the line that it’s something we’ve read before. I admit it, and Collins makes it bearable in his poem “Forgetfulness.”

Like that moment when he realized he was older than Cheerios, at the age of 70, and so wrote a poem about it. He scatters serious sonnets in among his readings, so last night’s audience gasped and laughed in unison. Because poetry is “…a megaphone.” Because he loves to make up new words, like “azaleate” – which loosely translated means we’ve arrived at a place just before, or after, it’s signature event. Oh, it’s too bad you’ll be missing the peak leaf season here in Vermont, let’s say. Or:

Bob and I azaleated the lavendar blossoming in Provence this year. 

Collins writes about cats and dogs from their point of view. And he even writes about Tennessee Fainting goats! This type of goat freezes and keels over whenever it is startled or feels panic. It’s something I may be catching here in loud and noisy Nashville 🙂

What brought me nearly to tears was Bob’s reaction; he didn’t fidget or head for the bathroom. He actually loved listening to Collins, we poked and prodded each other at yet another small truth that bounced between the two of us. It was like going to Jacob’s Pillow when we were young and discovering that he enjoyed the ballet almost as much as I did!

Then, towards the end of the evening, he turned to that ultimate question all couples must grapple with, “Who will go first?” The universal hope that “…you will bury me.” But is that really true love, to want to go first and save yourself from grieving. Bob has told me so often that due to his genetics he will most likely go first, and I almost believe him.

But what if I were to get hit by a bus tomorrow? A very real possibility in this busy city. He would still buy peanut butter and jelly, he would still drive like someone from NJ. Maybe he wouldn’t search for a beach house, or maybe he would?

Collins recommended a book, one that had inspired him in his youth, by a philosopher named Gaston Bachelard, “The Poetics of Space.” And I remembered the Bride showing us her Public Policy building at Duke, the light pouring in through modern-Gothic arches. And just last year, pointing out her son’s little hidey-hole inside his closet in their new home.

In the first and last days of life, it is the cosmos of the home that takes on the full weight of human habitation, as retreat and space of belonging. Bachelard’s greatest work remains a compelling reflection on the enduring human need to find psychological refuge in familiar places and spaces, though its author admitted that poets and story-tellers got there first. 

http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/reviews/book-of-a-lifetime-the-poetics-of-space-by-gaston-bachelard-1673212.html

Here he is reading from his book, “The Rain in Portugal.”

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Just the other day I was talking with my brother Dr Jim and my sister Kay. We like to conference call between the Minnie Apple and the Big Apple and now the Music City. Dr Jim told us, in cleaning out a closet, he’d found the original book titled “101 Poems” that the Flapper used to read to them while they were doing chores around the house, after our Father died. There was no TV or internet, the radio was it for entertainment; that, and the human voice.

I told them how I’d recite “The Owl and The Pussycat” for the Love Bug and her brother while they climbed into a box and pretend to sail off to sea in a ‘beautiful pea green boat!’ They would look at me with wonder as the lilting, melodious words tripped off my tongue from some region in my brain that has to be reptilian. I must have loved that poem as a child, and I can imagine the Flapper after our car accident, lying on a couch with her legs post-surgery straight out in front of her, reading it to me over and over again.

Today I awoke to the memory of yesterday, to all the emotions of another terrorist act on our soil, at a country music concert. And because the gun man is white, without an apparent motive, gun nuts would like to chalk this one up to mental illness. But maybe, just maybe, this time our Congress might see through the lies of an NRA lobby, and have some bit of courage they couldn’t summon after Sandy Hook. There is NO need for our citizens to carry assault weapons that can spray death from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay resort. NONE.

For my morning meditation I turned to poetry. Like music, words always help me cope with the unimaginable. And I found this couplet from a 1961 poem by Philip Larkin, “Ambulances”:

Sense the solving emptiness

That lies just under all we do,

And for a second get it whole

So permanent and blank and true.

If poetry is your prescription for pain, you may enjoy an anthology by William Sieghart of 56 different poems, an Rx to help process the curve balls life can throw our way titled  “The Poetry Pharmacy.” He actually tells the reader which poem to read for which ailment – anxiety or the loss of a loved one? Or do you just need to get motivated? Maybe you’re approaching the end of life, and you wonder what it’s all about…Alfie.  http://www.bbc.com/culture/story/20170927-the-words-that-can-make-us-calmer

Thoughts and prayers just don’t do it for me. I’d rather read a poem and then call Congress!

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The Bride and the Original Groom are trying to decide if the Love Bug should start Kindergarten early. On the one hand she IS ready, but on the other hand she would be among the youngest in her class. With her summer birthday she is just two weeks shy of the deadline for turning five. Oh, and she would be the tallest.

Right before our four year old Bug was scheduled to stroll across the lawn throwing flowers this month at Uncle Dave and Aunt KiKi’s wedding, my daughter was having second thoughts. Maybe this is too much, she might suffer from performance anxiety. She might refuse to walk, or stop mid-stream and run away, or maybe just collapse in a puddle of tears. These things have been known to happen. Like me, my daughter likes to examine every scenario before plunging into deep water.

Probably she was remembering her own walk down an apple orchard hill to her Groom. Her flower girl at the time, three year old cousin V, was so immersed in her task, it took her quite awhile to find the Officiant, her Grandpa Hudson. V was steadfast in her circuitous route, and eventually placed flowers on Hudson’s feet! It was a magical beginning. So spontaneously, the Bride asked our little flower girl if she wanted her to walk alongside her as she was throwing her petals.

“No Mom, I’ve got this!” the Love Bug said. And she pushed her little hand out, palm up in the universal sign of “Talk to the Hand.”

And I thought of my four year old Bride, who always stood with her hands on her hips. The leader of her pre-school pack, a determined future collector of bottle caps on the schoolyard playground, and later, much later a healer of any and all people, young and old, rich and poor.

Our little flower girl did an outstanding job!

When educators evaluate a child’s readiness for school, their ability to listen and take direction, to be attentive, is rather low on today’s list. In fact, it’s rated #9 of the “Ten Kindergarten Readiness Skills Your Child Needs:” right after #8 “Reading Readiness,” and #7 “Cutting,” aka playing with scissors.

# 9 Attention and Following Directions
Read lots of stories with your child and work up to reading longer chapter books, one chapter each night or as long as she remains interested and focused.
Give your child two and three step directions. For example: “put on your pajamas, brush your teeth and pick a book to read.”
Play Simon Says with two or three step directions. For example: “Simon Says jump up and down and shout hooray.”
 https://www.education.com/magazine/article/kindergarten-readiness-secrets/ 

But I wonder if maybe we should be evaluating the parents’ readiness to part with their child for Kindergarten. Some parents never do, and home-school their children. Some parents wait a year, until their child is six or even seven to start Kindergarten, particularly for their sons. As Malcolm Gladwell has pointed out in his book “Blink,” this gives a boy the decided advantage in sports. He will be among the biggest, and strongest of his team members. The advantage to waiting for a girl is not so clear.

Will the Bug become a world-class volleyball player? She loves gymnastics, and enjoyed ballet lessons. I remember dancing with the young Bride every year in the Nutcracker with the Berkshire Ballet. Traipsing out to Becket, MA with her for Friends of Jacob’s Pillow meetings. Wanting her to love dance the way that I loved movement of every kind. But one day she came to me and said, “I can’t take any more ballet lessons.” She had too much homework, and she was riding horses at a stable near our home. She was almost afraid to tell me since she knew how much dance meant to me, and she also knew this would not be her passion.

Parents cannot see into the future, we can only take our best guess when we make life-altering decisions. In hindsight, I wish I had held the Rocker back a year for Kindergarten, until he was six, but then would he have become such a talented musician? Would his life have taken a different path? At times like these it’s best to turn to your heart and read poetry, like Khalil Gibran:

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts.
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as he loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.

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I’m living in a small sky blue speck, in a sea of blood red.

The Old Dominion voted for Hillary Clinton, as did most of the big cities and states on both coasts. But Trump’s clarion call swayed the majority of our electoral college, surprising my Democratic family and friends. Shocking me into a dystopian fugue state. Yesterday I actually felt like a zombie, which is to say I didn’t feel much. Great Grandma Ada asked me to explain it, and I had no words. My niece Lucia asked me what she should tell her daughters, and I had no words.

Whenever I am at a loss for words, I look to poetry, and so Bob Dylan came to mind given his recent Nobel Prize. I want to buy all his albums, in vinyl, and play them on an old fashioned record player, with a needle that gets stuck sometimes so you have to pick it up and put it down again. Because he spoke of the great divide, of the power elite who could send our boys to a swamp in Asia because our government, our country, thought we had God on our side. He called attention to the swath of red states, to the working class who today are called the vanishing middle class.

All those White people with no college degree, going nowhere, feeling left behind in the Rust Belt. One third of the Latinos who voted the GOP line, because they didn’t want anymore workers coming over here for free, taking their jobs. All those Evangelical Christians, who voted for the least Christ-like candidate our country ever saw fit to nominate. All those old men who could just never trust a woman to do a so-called man’s job protecting this country. All that free-floating fear and anger, don’t matter if he pops some Tic Tacs and kisses the hell outta you.

Many are brandishing their firearms, wishing the liberal elites take the next plane to Canada. Making false distinctions between love of country and government. I wonder how long it will take them to hate the new GOP government. Feeling self-righteous, they know not what they have done. But while our country is divided, the power players are smiling and gracious, talking about our democracy.

You don’t need a weather man
To know which way the wind blows.

Only time will tell what this “Historic” election means for Women, for the Undocumented, for Muslims, for the Climate. Our system isn’t rigged when a despot can win 279 electoral votes but not the popular vote, right; and the gerrymandering that flooded both houses on the Hill with red shall never be undone. Lobbyists are fleeing DC like rats from a ship.

But hark, the Dow is going up folks, because the Market hates uncertainty, so Wall Street must think they have a friend in this lustful Billionaire. After all, he could shoot someone and get away with it, he’s got God on his side! When President Obama shakes his hand on the White House porch today, I just may lose my lunch.

In a many dark hour
I’ve been thinkin’ about this
That Jesus Christ
Was betrayed by a kiss
But I can’t think for you
You’ll have to decide
Whether Judas Iscariot
Had God on his side.

The Groom told the Love Bug that, “Everybody gets a turn.” And even though we all thought this was Hillary’s turn, the people voted so now it’s Trump’s turn. And I would add the  biggest, loudest bully on the block will need to face Pocahontas, aka Senator Elizabeth Warren in four years, so we better get busy. The Boston Globe reported Warren saying: “I’m intensely frustrated by the apparent likelihood that, for the second time in five elections, a Democratic nominee will have won the popular vote but lost the presidency in the electoral college.” 

And just like Gore, I’m devastated. Just like McGovern and Humphrey, I’m feeling left behind. The wind is blowing brown oak leaves past my aviary window, circling and bobbing to their death, they are being tracked into the house. But the sun came up this morning. And my fingers found words again. img_5313

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Tomorrow I will be voting for our First Woman President! I am so proud to cast this vote, to pull the lever or press the button in honor of my Grandmother, Anna Robinson, who wasn’t allowed to vote when women suffrage was passed because she had married an “alien” Irishman. Immigration is the grand story of this great country, not it’s problem. But first let me fill you in on the last few days.

Returning home to my newly retired husband was a bit strange. People are asking me how is he doing, like we got a diagnosis of some dreaded disease. Yes, he still shaves in the car and puts his pants on one leg at a time. Don’t forget, Bob was never a 9 – 5, Monday through Friday kinda guy; he worked plenty of weekends and like a commercial pilot, had lots of free time around the house. I’ve already set some limits – no reorganizing the linen closet for instance. But do feel free to search and destroy random stinkbugs while cleaning out any expired cans from the pantry! Thanks Babe!

The Virginia Film Festival coincided with my return from Nashville, so we ventured out to the Historic Downtown Mall for dinner and a show. Only the film was midday, so dinner at the Nook came later, guess we are slipping into early bird specials already. We saw a documentary about the Holocaust…I know, I know. In the midst of this bizarre and stressful election denouement, why submit ourselves to such heartache. But it was a film about children, and I thought it might be uplifting.

The film, “Not the Last Butterfly,” was inspired by a poem written by Pavel Friedmann, “The Butterfly,” about never seeing another butterfly in the transit ghetto that was Theresienstadt outside of Prague in the former Czechoslovakia. Commonly called Terezin, it is sometimes mis-identified as a concentration camp, but it was a Walled Ghetto of Limbo for Jews awaiting their fate at the hands of the Nazis. It was a stop along the way for 15,000 children between 1941 and 1945. Pavel the poet was shipped to his death in Auschwitz in 1944. Only 100 children survived Terezin.

He was the last. Truly the last.
Such yellowness was bitter and blinding
Like the sun’s tear shattered on stone.
That was his true colour.
And how easily he climbed, and how high,
Certainly, climbing, he wanted
To kiss the last of my world.

I have been here seven weeks,
‘Ghettoized’.
Who loved me have found me,
Daisies call to me,
And the branches also of the white chestnut in the yard.
But I haven’t seen a butterfly here.
That last one was the last one.
There are no butterflies, here, in the ghetto.

In an effort to make this horrific history approachable for schoolchildren today, a teacher in California came up with the idea to create 1.5 Million butterflies: yes, One and a Half Million to memorialize the total number of Jewish children who were murdered during the Holocaust.

Under the leadership of a mosaic artist, Cheryl Rattner Price, they set about designing a curriculum that would include each child making by hand a ceramic butterfly and painting it, while simultaneously learning about one particular child who perished during the war. It was a profound undertaking, and quickly spread around the globe and to many different faiths. A rock festival in Poland created butterflies. A Catholic school in Oregon took on the Butterfly Project. The installation has taken flight at the San Diego Jewish Academy, but the butterflies are arriving from all over the world.

Remember I had just returned from Nashville. I had given the Love Bug butterfly kisses on her cheek. So when they showed the archival footage of children during the Holocaust, I thought of my grandchildren. When they showed Jewish stores and synagogues burning during Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, I thought of the the Black church that was burned down in MS last week, with “Vote Trump” painted across a wall. Slowly, tears streamed down my face, because I understood how hatred starts out. Slowly, hatred of the “Other” becomes socially acceptable, so that the electrician who came to fix our phones said, “Why should they get a free ride, when I had to pay for my wife to come here?”  https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2016/11/02/vote-trump-painted-on-wall-of-burned-out-black-church-in-mississippi/

So tomorrow I am voting for Hillary Rodham Clinton, for my grandchildren. I am voting for Love, because I don’t want to go back to a time where Women and Blacks were humiliated and disenfranchised in this country. I don’t want to go back to that great America where LGBT people were ridiculed and denied their rights. The Germans didn’t believe Hitler meant what he said, but we need to believe Trump means what he says; and he likes nuclear weapons and calls our military a bunch of “losers.” We cannot elect such a man filled with hate.

For more information about the film, or to see if you can arrange a showing at your school, please visit: http://thebutterflyprojectnow.org    img_5559

 

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Last night I met a stranger at a wedding. In the midst of glamor and cocktails,

We stood our ground and spoke profoundly about our journey.

Maura arrived at this spot, beneath the mountains via a sandy beach.

Still it wasn’t the sand that held us captive here.

It was our heritage, our ancestors from Ireland. She wanted to go back,

That longing was our introduction, so I told her about Deirdre;

Who runs a hostel on Achill Island, and Deirdre’s beautiful, old Mother

Who once taught Irish – the real Gaelic tongue – to schoolchildren

And their black and white working sheepdog howling at the TV,

Eating leftovers from the table, who must be gone now.

Maura’s two girls were Irish dancers, but without the wigs.

Caitly I must bring you there, to meet our family, your family,

To be surrounded by the warm and loving cousins

My Great Grandfather left behind in County Mayo “God Help Us”

When he was 19 years old in 1854 with four pounds sterling.

Can he see where we are now? Are the fields of Ceide missing his bones?

Last night Maura became a friend, and we hold a small piece

Of each other always in our hearts     IMG_3384

This is the poem I’m submitting to the Library of Congress’ Juan Felipe Herrera’s Poet Laureate project La Casa de Colores! You can enter too, just write about your Familia:

Theme for Oct. 15-Nov. 14, 2015
“Migrants: Portraits and Friendships”
Every inch of this land is woven with migrant trails. These are pathways from family to family, country to country, and most of all heart to heart. For this month, find a trail and travel through it to a new dream. What do you see in your travels? And how do you make friends along the way? Describe for me in the language of poetry—migrate into new words, use new landscapes of images.

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Today I’m off to take a workshop on Travel Writing! I’ve been thinking about the topic since I managed to find an email about the class yesterday. Bring “pen and paper” the instructor said, since we will be passing our work around the class.

Learn to write compelling and engaging travel narratives (personal essays, articles ,or memoir pieces), which combine the eye of a journalist with the flair of a storyteller. In-class readings and exercises will address pertinent craft issues, and we’ll also discuss the practical matters of how to submit your work for publication.

I’m off to a good start since I already have the “…eye of a journalist,” but what kind of stories should I tell? Should I write for the soon-to-retire Boomer generation, the grandparents among us with more free time and a long bucket list? Or should I focus on memoir, and write about our trips to Martha’s Vineyard with friends when the kids were very little?

After we moved back to NJ, and because we could never travel in the summer – all those newbie residents in July needed Bob’s attention – we fell into the habit of visiting one island in the French West Indies over and over again nearly every winter. It was perfect for Bob because he could lay on a beach and decompress from his intense and busy work life. It became less than perfect for me. Being Irish, with red-headed skin, I wanted to avoid the sun, and…

I wanted action! I wanted adventure! I’d listen longingly to friends who were biking in Vietnam, or hiking across Ireland. I know, complaining about going to the same island every year sounds like a First World problem, but believe me, I was done with the beach. Here are some of my ideas for our next chapter:

A riverboat cruise along the Danube

A cooking school in Tuscany

A photographic safari in South Africa

A hot air ballon trip over France

A writing workshop in Iowa (OK, that’s just me)

A knitting excursion to farms in the UK, or maybe Wales

And I just want to see Iceland!

But for now our next trip will be to Charleston, SC this Fall. Before the devastating mass shooting at the AME church, Charleston had been voted the best US city to visit in Travel and Leisure’s survey, and the second best in the world!! http://www.cnn.com/2014/07/30/travel/tl-worlds-best-cities/

We’ll be going with the Bride and Groom to check out the city and have some fun with the grandbabies. I’ve rented an ocean view home on Home Away, so I guess it will be cooking and sunscreen for me all over again. Still, I love to cook with the Bride and could never complain about combing sand out of the Love Bug’s hair. It will be like deja vu all over again.

The next island generation

The next island generation

may came home with a smooth round stone
as small as a world and as large as alone.

for whatever we lose (like a you or a me)
it’s always ourselves we find in the sea

EE Cummings

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