Father’s Day

My father’s legacy: chronic illness, sorrow, trauma, SSDI survivor’s benefits that helped pay for college, nonconformist leanings, love for the music of the 60s and 70s, pretty good rhythm for a white girl, and a deep and abiding understanding of the importance of creative expression.

I can’t say I’m always grateful, but I am aware of the way he shaped me — intentionally or not. Wherever you are now Dad, I hope you’ve found the peace and happiness that so eluded you in life.

What I Learned During National Poetry Month 2011

  1. Haiku improves with practice.
  2. Poetry is real work.
  3. Sometimes work is gentle, easy, and takes hardly any time.
  4. Sometimes work is hard and grueling and difficult.
  5. Sometimes I forget to do things I said I was going to do
  6. Instead of hating on myself or giving up, I can just start doing them again.
  7. I am an imperfect poet.
  8. There is a difference between work and discipline.
  9. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.”
  10. Writing can be a form of spiritual practice.
  11. Once upon a time I bloomed words from the tips of my fingers like a… word-blooming goddess with flowering fingertips. Now, I am embryonic. I need to be patient with myself.
  12. I am unreasonably jealous anytime another writer gets attention and accolades.
  13. Someone inside of me thinks all the attention and accolades should be long to ME ONLY ME IT’S ALL ABOUT ME DAMMIT.
  14. Ahem.
  15. I am reminded of my gentle, loving, sweet-natured kitty. She gives teeny mews most of the time and has an endless supply of soft kitty hugs and purring cuddle sessions for me. Until another cat invades our household.
  16. Then, sweet Tara turns into a yowling, hissing fiend of a cat. She flips like a coin: one moment hissing and attacking the INVADER, and the next minute turning to me with a look of pure innocence, asking “Mew?”
  17. Sometimes Tara can learn to share space with other felines, but only after a long and persistent campaign of desentization.
  18. In matters of poetry and accolades, I am more like my cat than I would like to admit.
  19. I am an imperfect human being.
  20. There is nothing wrong with giving my embryonic, easily threatened Inner Poet all the time and safety and attention she needs.
  21. WordPress’s post-dating feature is the best thing ever for procrastinators.
  22. I would like to do NaPoWrMo next year.
  23. Other poets have blogs.
  24. Actually, I already knew this.
  25. There is a very large and very important difference between writing and marketing your writing.
  26. I tend to forget that every task in the universe — even those done online — takes time.
  27. I find the notion of making numbered lists of disparate elements strangely entertaining.
  28. I can scrawl a haiku in a notebook while stopped at a traffic light.
  29. Doing so is not illegal, but checking my email is.
  30. Does that seem right to you?
  31. Nobody said that life was fair.
  32. Encouragement and accolades come from unexpected places.
  33. I should take none of them for granted.
  34. Daily posting is good for me.
  35. I feel curious and optimistic about the future.
  36. If one is not careful, one may post a single haiku that still contains typos.
  37. I have been alive for 37 years and some months.

Katie Peterson, Sore Throat, Inspiration, the Cycle of Percussion

The Boston Review has been sending me messages on Facebook every day for National Poetry Month (or NaPoWriMo, as the more intarweb-geek among us have been calling it). My initial reaction was just “too much poetry.” It felt like work, especially since I have a very complicated relationship with writers’ community in general. I’ve also been known to focus on the negative instead of the positive. And there was a song about that.

So I was reminded that reading other poets — and looking at art in general — can instigate a cycle of percussion that John Updike once described in a story we read when I was studying 11th grade English with Mr. McWilliams. Updike’s story went something like this: the pianist hits the key, which causes the hammer to hit the string, which sends out a sound wave that travels through the air to hit the eardrum of a listener, which causes a whirl of percussion in the listener’s brain, resulting in the pen hitting the paper, perhaps resulting in a poem or a story that inspires a musician to write down some music, which a pianist then plays…

All of which is a long-winded way of saying that I do find the work of others inspiring, in spite of myriad disappointments and roiling resentments. I forget, sometimes, that I could be one of those poets with the long list of publications after their name, if I just did the work–the very very hard work–of putting pen to paper, and revising, and editing, and researching publications, and sending out submissions, and exposing oneself to criticism and rejection but also to acclaim and acceptance.

Katie Peterson says something similar, slightly macabre, about percussion, and memory, and reminders, and tangents, and hopelessness, and returns:

Sick in bed with a sore throat
I can’t get out of my mind
the image of the cat
harpsichord from the 18th century‚
soothing a prince with laughter.

Full poem here: http://bostonreview.net/NPM/katie_peterson.php

The Gods Wait to Delight in You – The Laughing Heart, by Charles Bukowski

Last fall, every day, on the way to the Alewife stop on the Red Line, in a very dark time, I would see a poster someone had pasted on the concrete under the overpass. Superimposed over the image of a person, spreadeagled under a nighttime sky, these words:

your life is your life
don’t let it be clubbed into dank submission.
be on the watch.
there are ways out.
there is a light somewhere.
it may not be much light but
it beats the darkness.
be on the watch.
the gods will offer you chances.
know them.
take them.
you can’t beat death but
you can beat death in life, sometimes.
and the more often you learn to do it,
the more light there will be.
your life is your life.
know it while you have it.
you are marvelous
the gods wait to delight
in you.

The poster is still there, fading, parts of it ripped and flapping. The words can still make me cry, even more so now, when I learn that they were written by Charles Bukowksi, who carried his own black dog and still strove to walk the strand that all artists walk, between solid land and the ocean.

Full attribution: Charles Bukowski. “The Laughing Heart.” Betting on the Muse. Harper-Collins.

Yin Work (From Treehouse Chronicles)

“If someone climbs quietly up to the treehouse and peeks at me through the window while I’m working, they may think I’m merely taking a nap. This is a part of the work of solitude, part of being with me. Thinking, considering, observing, pondering–these are the tools of my trade and occasionally they have to be wielded lying down with my cap pulled over my eyes.”
— Peter Lewis, Treehouse Chronicles: One Man’s Dream of a Life Aloft. See the treehouse