“Every time I name them my dead are resurrected.” ~ Claribel Alegría, “Every time I name them” (Trans. Carolyn Forché)
Tuesday afternoon, foggy and cloudy, 61 degrees.
Today’s Two for Tuesday features Nicaraguan/Salvadoran poet, essayist, and journalist Claribel Alegría (May 12, 1924-January 25, 2018). Born Clara Isabel Alegría Vides in Nicaragua to physician father Daniel Alegría, her father opposed the U.S. occupation of Nicaragua in 1924; the family was subsequently forced into exile in her mother’s home country of El Salvador while Claribel was still an infant. Her obituary in The Washington Post refers to her as “a leading poet of suffering and anguish.” She was best known in the U.S. for the bilingual edition of her volume of poetry, Flores del volcán/Flowers from the Volcano (1982), which was translated by the poet Carolyn Forché.
Algería’s work combined the personal with the political by sometimes focusing on the violence that plagued both Nicaragua and El Salvador for decades. Poet Daisy Zamora said of Algería that she had “unfailingly spoken up for justice and liberty . . . becoming a voice for the voiceless and the dispossessed.” In 2006 Algería received the Neustadt International Prize for Literature for which he had been nominated by Zamora. In her acceptance remarks upon receiving the prize Algería stated the following:
The poet celebrates humankind, the universe, and the creator of the universe. It is impossible for one to remain indifferent to the turbulence that our planet and its inhabitants suffer through: war, hunger, earthquakes, misery, racism, violence, xenophobia, deforestation, AIDS, and childhood affliction, among others. In the region from which I come, Central America, we love poetry, and at times we use it to denounce what is happening around us. There are many fine testimonial poems. The poet, especially where I’m from, cannot and should not remain in an ivory tower.
You can read more about her life and substantial oeuvre here or in her New York Timesobituary here. Poet Carolyn Forché interviewed Alegria in 1984, and a PDF can be found here.
Today is the birthday of one of my favorite science fiction writers, Frank Herbert (October 8, 1920-February 11, 1986), creator of the Dune series.
As the falling rain
trickles among the stones
memories come bubbling out.
It’s as if the rain
had pierced my temples.
the reedy voice
of the servant
telling me tales
They sat beside me
and the bed creaked
that purple-dark afternoon
when I learned you were leaving forever,
a gleaming pebble
from constant rubbing
becomes a comet.
Rain is falling
and memories keep flooding by
they show me a senseless
but I keep loving it
because I do
because of my five senses
because of my amazement
because every morning,
because forever, I have loved it
without knowing why.
[This is a night of shadows]
This is a night of shadows
solitude overwhelms me.
No one awaits my arrival
with a kiss
or a rum
and a thousand questions.
Solitude echoes within me.
My heart wishes
to burst with rage
but it sprouts wings.
“If we wait for the moment when everything, absolutely everything is ready, we shall never begin.” ~ Ivan Turgenev
“If I just work when the spirit moves me, the spirit will ignore me.” ~ Carolyn Forché
I went back to a post that I had begun in April and tried to finish it to post today. Big mistake. I’m one of those writers who needs to maintain my volition once I’m on a roll, or I completely lose my impetus as well as my interest.
I never really thought too much about the effect this has had on me as a writer over the years until now, but in considering my writing habits, my method, if you will, I have had an epiphany. Too often in the past when I lost momentum, I would shut down. Stop writing. And then wait until the mood hit me again. I did not realize that I couldn’t continue with what I was writing because I really didn’t like it, nor did I have the courage to admit that I didn’t like something that I was writing.
“The creative is the place where no one else has ever been. You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition.” ~ Alan Alda
In the past when I was writing a poem and I got stuck on a line, I would worry the words, move them around, try to make things fit. Granted, this is precisely what the writing process is about: reworking, retooling, finessing.
But there would be times when I would get stuck, leave the poem, and not come back at all, telling myself that I was a failure and had no business attempting to write anything in the first place. Kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Now, years later and some wisdom in my soul, I realize that probably in those instances when I just stopped and couldn’t go on, I was probably working with the wrong words, the wrong subject, the wrong structure. Now, I would come at the problem in a totally different way:
Now, I look at the words and try to discern my point in writing this particular piece in the first place. If there really isn’t a point, then I was probably just exercising my brain, ambling through the woods, if you will.
Nothing wrong with a little ambling, or a lot of ambling actually. It helps to make the synapses fire, and random thought more often than not arrives at the place you intended to be in the first place. Even if you cannot use what you have written as a result of your meandering, you have still exercised your creative muscles, something that is as necessary to a writer as swimming laps is to a swimmer, or getting the earth beneath his fingernails is to a gardener. All of these things lead to something eventually, but the practice is necessary; the tilling of the soil must be done before the planting.
“Arrange whatever pieces come your way.” ~ Virginia Woolf
These days, I use a lot of different things for inspiration than I did when I was still relatively new at the game. I used to believe, as many novice poets do, that the poem had to come from my gut. It had to have its genesis deep within my soul, and its creation was a reflection of my state of mind and being. No wonder I used to hit roadblocks all of the time. All of that soul-diving takes its toll.
Don’t misunderstand. I’m not disparaging soul-diving. We all need to do it once in a while. Looking within is definitely a necessary part of the creative process. But limiting yourself to inner reflection can be as creative as moving around your belly button lint with a Q-tip: It isn’t painful, might feel a little bit good, but doesn’t give you much in the end.
“There is a boundary to men’s passions when they act from feelings; but none when they are under the influence of imagination.” ~ Edmund Burke
To be fair to myself, which I am usually not, a lot of my need to write at one point stemmed from my grief. I have said before that I shopped my way through my grief for Caitlin, but that is not entirely true. I wrote pages and pages of words about my pain, her pain, pain, life, death, cruelty. Everything that you would imagine someone immersed in grief might delve into.
Now, years later, I am no longer ruled by my grief. Unfortunately, it is still a part of me, and I fear that it always will be—grief for my daughter commingled by my grief for my father, mixed with grief over the changes in my life over which I have had no control. But I am more than my grief.
I sit outside in the sunshine and look at the sky, listen to the sounds, and contemplate life with an ease that always used to elude me. I sit down at these keys every day (almost), and just let the words flow. Yes, I push them about a bit, but they come with more ease than I ever enjoyed before. I write about so many things, which is why I entitled my blog “musings,” as that is exactly what these post are: musings about music, art, words, politics, love, and in particular, life.
“I have lived on a razors edge. So what if you fall off, I’d rather be doing something I really wanted to do. I’d walk it again.” ~ Georgia O’Keeffe
I remember a time before I began to take medication for my depression when I would sit and wait for the words to come, beseech my inner muse to create. I felt that if I did not create, then there was no point.
So many creative people throughout history suffered from some kind of mental illness and/or drug addiction. Van Gogh’s depression led him to create incredible, brilliant skies and flowers, but his self-portrait shows a man without mirth. I often wonder how much beauty in art and writing the world would be without if Prozac had been available 300 or 400 years ago. Not to be glib. Just a comment on how many of the artistic names with which society is familiar were/are victims of this disease.
But I’ll let you in on something that might sound absurd: Most creative people will fight prescription mood-altering drugs tooth and nail. I did. When the firs quack I went to gave me a prescription for Prozac and began to talk about his relationship with his wife, my first response to him was that I wanted to feel the pain. It made me who I was.
Fortunately, medications for depression and other mental illnesses continue to evolve, and the zombie-like affect that Prozac had on my psyche is not a necessary fact of life.
“Anyone who does anything great in art and culture is out of control. It is done by people who are possessed.” ~ Nancy Grossman
Writer and poet Anne Sexton suffered from deep post-partum depression and horrible mood swings most of her life. She was institutionalized several times; her children were taken care of by others. She endured years of hell on earth, yet she produced some of the most profound, beautiful poems of the whole confessional movement, a genre of poetry in which she was an instrumental contributor.
Ernest Hemingway’s mood swings are the subject of countless analyses of the writer’s work. F. Scott Fitzgerald was known to be clinically depressed, as was his firs wife Zelda, who was eventually institutionalized. Georgia O’Keeffe, Pablo Picasso, Jackson Pollock—all artists who suffered from clinical depression. Musicians who suffered from mental illness include Mozart, Beethoven, even Curt Kobain.
Writer and publisher Virginia Woolf ultimately committed suicide when she could no longer stand existence. Poet and writer Sylvia Plath became famous for her book The Bell Jar, which is considered semi-autobiographical: The protagonist, Esther, suffers from depression and is committed. William Styron, well known author of The Confessions of Nat Turner and Sophie’s Choice, suffered from such a debilitating bout with depression in 1985 that he wrote a memoir entitled DarknessVisible, a moving retelling of the author’s personal battle with mental illness. Even famous cartoonist Charles Schulz, creator of “Peanuts,” suffered from depression.
“The artist is a receptacle for emotions that come from all over the place: from the sky, from the earth, from a scrap of paper, from a passing shape, from a spider’s web.” ~ Pablo Picasso
Many creative people have phases in which they are driven to create—write, paint, sculpt, whatever medium—to the point that they will work until they are physically and emotionally exhausted. In some cases, yes, this is the manic phase of bipolar disorder. But not necessarily. I would contend that these phases are also part of that wiring that sets creative people apart from mainstream society, the inherent need to make something, to produce something, to the exclusion of everything else.
It’s surprisingly hard for me to elaborate on this as it’s something that you don’t really realize that you are in the midst of until you are in its midst. And it is not something that is easily explainable to those who are more left-brained (logical and ordered). That is not to say that creativity does not exist in every field. As I said in an earlier post, the geniuses who look at numbers and see beauty are as creative as those who create color-saturated canvases or tear-inducing symphonies.
On reflection, I’m glad that I did not finish the post to which I referred in the beginning. My explanation as to why I didn’t has morphed into something in which I am much more content to post, even though some would still consider it belly-button gazing. I’ll leave you with this passage by Sidney M. Jourard:
“The act of writing bears something in common with the act of love. The writer, at this most productive moment, just flows. He gives of that which is uniquely himself, he makes himself naked. Recording his nakedness in the written word. Herein lies some of the terror which frequently freezes a writer.”
what it is to hold someone you love until she dies?
I cannot prepare you for that moment of separation—
it is something so unspeakably personal
that to watch it, to intrude upon it
almost cannot be forgiven.
If I try to tell you about the silences
enclose and isolate,
you will not understand
too, have felt them.
I cannot describe for you
with which you will try to pass
from your arms to hers,
but you will come to know this,
too, as I once did.
When the moment comes,
you will not be ready,
but you will recognize it for what it is—
that last instant
in which possibilities still exist.
These Are The Only Truths I Know
The wait’s begun again,
The long wait for the angel
For that rare, random descent.
— “Black Room in Rainy Weather,” Sylvia Plath
After holding my breath for this long,
if I exhale now, I will die.
Have no doubts, my friend.
Diving into the wreck,
searching for the salvageable,
it never occurred to me
to take heed
of all that had happened above
and around me. My
of what is just,
what is true,
did not allow for
the company of strangers or
their own pitiable laments
or, more tellingly,
We do not rid ourselves of these things
even when we are cured of personal silence
when for no reason one morning
we begin to hear the noise of the world again.
“City Walk-up, Winter 1969,” Carolyn Forché
I never noticed that woman over there,
the one who was drowning, not waving.
She, too, drifted into this miasma, then
vanished. The words of her sad entreaty
misplaced, floating in vain
too far from shore to be heard. The other one—
the one whose soul betrayed her so completely,
left her two small children playing unaware,
sought comfort in
the only philosophical certainty in life:
death (not truth).
She is now but a footnote in her husband’s poetry.
And the other, the poet against forgetting,
when she saw the broken glass
embedded in the walls of the colonel’s fortress,
did she notice the poet’s heart
hidden among the hundreds of scattered human ears?
. . . We did this.Conceived
of each other, conceived each other in a darkness
which I remember as drenched in light.
I want to call this, life.
But I can’t call it life until we start to move
beyond this secret circle of fire
— “Origins and History of Consciousness,” Adrienne Rich
There were signs everywhere,
some true, others
misleading, taking me
across a landscape for which there was no map.
Sometimes, I could no longer see—
an impenetrable fog,
Looming, the Fata Morgana stung my eyes,
crept into my dreams,
offered only a cruel discordance,
falsehoods in the night,
where only truth should reside.
And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
And what did you want?
— “Late Fragment,” Raymond Carver
In the moments before my soul
surrendered to the sea,
I thought I heard you
speak my name as never before.
You called out:
“You are beloved.”
(It was what I had waited so long to hear)
I could have been mistaken. Perhaps,
it was only the wind and the waves,
conspiring to confuse me once again.
but if you look long enough,
you will be able to see me
— “This is a Photograph of Me,” Margaret Atwood
And yet, my dearest friend,
there is no escaping the final truth—
It is here, in this unfocused picture. Look
at the ravaged smile,
a disturbing, melancholic dementia
unmasked. This snapshot
was not meant to capture
the disintegration of blood and bone—
(but it did).
In the millisecond it took
for the shutter to close,
This is a photograph of me you
were never supposed to see.
The abandoned live with an absence
that shapes them like the canyon
of a river gone dry
— “Brother-less Seven: Endless End,” Marge Piercy
I have put into your hands
validation: I was at peace
once. Once, I was whole.
Those who cocooned
the golden threads of my muse,
kept them beyond my grasp
for my own protection—
give them this glimpse
of my legacy. Convince them:
Behind these unfocused, sepia halftones,
lies the proof: I had finally acceded
to fate, accepted life
for all that it was
and was not.
(I was still alive,
then) They do not need to know
how uncomfortable I really felt
in my clothes. My friend,
it is a small deceit
for which you need not feel guilty,
for I have left you
with little choice.
The lover enters the habits of the other.Things are smashed, revealed in new light.This is done with nervous or tender sentences, although the heart is an organ of fire . . . echo is the soul of the voice exciting itself in hollow places
—The English Patient, Michael Ondaatje
Once, the blaze of promise stoked
the fevered, impassioned heat
deep within the hollow chambers
of my heart. Now,
even love’s most gentle kisses
cannot nourish the scorched core
of my soul. It will not be embraced
only to be abandoned.
Forewarned by the memory of ashes
from countless other burnt loves,
I can no longer embody
the destructive force
of this small, red wound
alive, inside. Nor can I sustain
the healing power
of its flickering pulse.
If I am to smother the flames
of this most tender of vessels,
and most cruel
I must dive deep below
the water’s surface, beyond redemption.
It is the path of sorrow,
it is the road of regret.
It is the loneliest of hunters.
And the musky odor of pinks filled the air.
— The Awakening, Kate Chopin
Put out the light, and then
I thought that I would put out three very different styles from different periods in my oeuvre (to date, that is). Thanks for reading. More later. Peace.