“I believed that I wanted to be a poet, but deep down I just wanted to be a poem.” ~ Jaime Gil de Bieda

Three-Hundred Degree Panorama of Ancient Theatre at Epidarus, Greece
(source: greeksky.gr)*

                   

“She turned her face seaward to gather in an impression of space and solitude, which the vast expanse of water, meeting and melting with the moonlit sky, conveyed to her excited fancy. As she swam she seemed to be reaching out for the unlimited in which to lose herself.” ~ Kate Chopin, from The Awakening

Sunday, early afternoon. Cloudy, low 80’s.

After I posted on Friday I went on a cleaning binge that didn’t stop until yesterday afternoon. I was feeling hyper and antsy, a bit like I was crawling out of my skin, so I did the floors, cleaned all of the air conditioner vents, bizarre stuff like that, and then yesterday I woke up at 10 and stayed up, making this week the first week in a very long time in which I got up early twice (for me) and stayed up.

Full Moon behind a Frankish Castle at Aliveri, Evia Island
(greeksky)

I know that the previous statement might seem more than a bit strange for people who keep regular hours, and I understand that, especially as a woman who used to get by on five hours of sleep a night, a woman who used to rise at 5 a.m. deliberately, but I am no longer that woman, unfortunately.

Anyway, the house is clean, the laundry is done (except for the bundle of dirty clothes that Eamonn came home and deposited this morning), and I’m still antsy, antsy and aching. So much nervous energy. My big chore for today is to clean off my desk and put away my sweaters, as I’m pretty sure that sweater season is gone.

“All my life I told myself I was light and could soar free of things. I was light and could outrun things. I could fly away and keep flying forever.” ~ Kenneth Oppel, from “Airborn”

Yesterday I read two books, another preposterous statement, but true, nonetheless. First I read one of the books that Brett bought me for M’s day, Jon Winokur’s Advice to Writers, which was a really good read, so glad that it was on my wish list. And then in the evening I read Keepsake by Tess Gerritsen, which I have a vague feeling I may have read before, but I’m not quite sure. It was also a good read, fast-paced and not completely predictable.

Full Moon Rises behind Temple of Poseidon at Sounio, Greece
(greeksky)

Advice to Writers is a compilation of quotes from writers on various aspects of writing—characterization, genre, structure—and writing in general. What I liked the most is that the writers from whom he culled the quotes were varied and not necessarily the ones who are familiar to a general audience, in other words, writers not authors—and there is a difference. Just consider the different between, say, Judith Krantz and Dominick Dunne. Even my mother’s has probably heard of Krantz but would be hard-pressed to identify Dunne.

I underlined and starred passages, and then I passed it along to Brett, who is turning into quite an awesome writer. Perhaps he’ll do what I’ve never done and actually do something with his writing (something other than dedicating himself to a blog, which, granted, is my choice).

“This is what the things can teach us: to fall, patiently to trust our heaviness. Even a bird has to do that before he can fly.” ~ Rainer Maria Rilke

Full Moon Reflection on the Water, Greece
(greeksky)

The other day I did something incredibly stupid: I received a text saying that my name had been drawn for a $1,000 gift card to Best Buy. I enter a few contests here and there, mostly radio  contests or the rare contest associated with something like “The Borgias.” I didn’t remember entering a Best Buy contest, but I thought that perhaps Corey had, so I went to the website listed on the text . . .

. . . bad idea. It was a virus. Brett was incredulous. How could I do something like that?

How? perhaps I had hoped that it was a sign that the tide was turning, that our luck was changing. Perhaps it was a pipe dream. I should have known better. I’ve won two contests in my life, and one was for hockey tickets . . .

So anyway, live and learn. I mean, it wasn’t even a case of caveat emptor as I hadn’t bought anything. Lesson: Don’t respond to a text saying that you’ve won a contest you never entered. Wait. That could be a mantra for life, couldn’t it?

“I missed my stop
looking at heartbreak, the sky
almost criminal.” ~ Yusef Komunyakaa, from “NJ Transit”

I discovered Yusef Komunyakaa quite by accident: There used to be a bookstore in the shopping center down the road. It was one of those glorious book stores, filled with stacks and stacks of books. The reality is that it existed mostly because of the porn section, which was behind a swinging door, but I never care about that. If I was diligent, I could almost always leave there with a book of poetry or a journal of some kind, but it meant lots of bending down and sitting on the dusty floor, searching for treasures.

Thunderstorm During Elipse from Ikaria Island at Pezi, GR
(greeksky)

I found my first Anne Rule book there, The Stranger Beside Me, the book about Ted Bundy that made her famous. But I also found so many books by poets I didn’t know. I’d pull them down, create a stack on the floor, and then flip through the pages, reading samples from each. If I was intrigued, I’d purchase.

The books never cost more than $10, and most were only six or seven dollars, never the cover price. I realize now that my bargains were not necessarily boons for the writers, but I like to think that because of these discounted books, I bought more books later, balancing the scales of commerce.

Anyway, I discovered Komunyakaa there. I pulled down the book mostly because of his last name: What kind of name was that? It sounded poetic in itself. And I flipped through the pages of Dien Cai Dau (1988) and found his poem about The Wall in DC, the Viet Nam veterans’ memorial. The poem blew me away.

In 1994 Komunyakaa was awarded the Pulitzer for poetry, just one of his many awards. I would love to hear this man read; I’ve heard that he is incredible in person.

“And when a poet dies, deep in the night
a lone black bird wakes up in the thicket
and sings for all it’s worth.” ~ Miroslav Holub, from “Interferon” (trans. by Dana Habova and David Young)

Moon Behind Mount Olympus (Mitikas)
(greeksky)

The next book on my reading list is A Poet’s Notebook, another one that I learned of via tumblr. I continue to be amazed by the new things that I find on my tumblr dashboard: new poets, new poems, new artists. Truthfully, before I began my tumblr, I had never read any Polish poetry, and very little Russian poetry, something that I am embarrassed to admit.

The scope of world literature has broadened so much in the past few decades, and that’s really a good thing. When I was an undergraduate, the world literature to which we were exposed may have encompassed a narrow spectrum of Europe (Chekhov), perhaps some South Africa (Gordimer), a little South America (Marquez), but certainly not the wide scope of what is included in such courses today.

That makes me sad, in a way. I mean, I used to insist to the students in my literature classes that we were going to study more than the old dead white guy canon, and I tried to include writers and poets from every place and every race, but even then I was limited. The Internet has made so many more writers accessible, which is just one of the reasons why I am so against any kind of Internet censorship or limitation.

I know that I am buying more books by people I’ve only learned of via the Internet solely because of my exposure through venues such as other blogs and tumblr. I wouldn’t be interested in these people were it not for this information highway (which is a term that I find silly, actually). Anyway, the point is that while I understand that the Interwebs contain a lot of bad things, I believe that the good things far outweigh those negative aspects.

Like all of life, it is impossible to have access to the enlightening, the beautiful, the mystical without also allowing access to the ugly, the frightening and the despicable. But there’s that things called free will rearing its head again. The choice is ours.

More later. Peace.

Music by Wilco, “Black Moon”

*All images are taken from greeksky.gr., an absolutely incredible photography site.

                   

Omens

Her eyelids were painted blue.
When she closed her eyes the sea
rolled in like ten thousand fiery chariots,

leaving behind silence above & below
a thousand years old. He stood beneath
a high arched window, gazing out

at fishing boats beyond the dikes, their nets
unfurled, their offshore gestures
a dance of living in bluish entourage.

He was only the court’s chief jester.
What he said & did made them laugh,
but lately what he sometimes thought he knew

could cost him his polished tongue & royal wig.
He was the masked fool unmasking the emperor.
Forget the revelation. Forget the briny sea.

He had seen the ravishing empress naked
in a forbidden pose. Her blue eye shadow.
Aquamarine shells crusted with wormy mud.

Anyway, if he said half of what was foretold,
the great one would become a weeping boy
slumped beneath the Pillars of Hercules.

~ Yusef Komunyakaa

“As the purse is emptied, the heart is filled.” ~ Fortune Cookie*

The Hermit 

The Hermit Tarot Card

“Dont forget, you are always on our minds.” ~ Fortune Cookie

“You are more likely to give than give in.” ~ Fortune Cookie

Headache was much worse today. Alternating between heat and ice. Anyone have any suggestions? The magnesium may be helping in the prevention, but the duration is ratcheting back up. The Topomax was great as a preventive and in shortening the duration, but the side effects were just too severe. The worst one was the effect on my cognitive abilities: I found myself always searching for words and had no memory of any kind.

Playbill for A Dolls House wGillian Anderson @ Donmar Warehouse
Playbill for "A Doll's House," with Gillian Anderson at Donmar Warehouse

Anyway, that’s the news on that front.

I reread Henrik Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House” today. Brett is studying the play in school, and his English teacher said that “Medea” and “Doll’s House” would be two big subjects on the IB exam. I want to be able to help Brett prepare, and besides, I love that play. I had forgotten, though, how much I absolutely despise the character of the husband, Torvald Helmer.

I know that he is a reflection of the times, but please. Referring to Nora as his little songbird, his this, his that. Even though Ibsen wasn’t that big on women’s rights, his play was revolutionary in presenting a woman who ended up rejecting the traditional role of wife and mother. Brett’s instructor said that they will be doing Kate Chopin’s The Awakening soon.

That’s another piece that I really love. I used to teach that book in my literature classes back in the day. Chopin’s book was also considered revolutionary in its presentation of a strong female protagonist.

“A thrilling time is in your immediate future.” ~ Fortune Cookie

As for the rest of my evening, I’m not really sure if I want to watch a Korean horror flick that’s on cable freezone, or just play Mah Jong on the computer. I just know that I don’t want to do anything that involves too much thought. At the moment, I’m enjoying a reprieve on the migraine. It has lessened to the point of lingering just behind my eyes and forehead. Much better than this morning when it felt as if someone was drilling inside my head directly behind my right eye. That sensation is always so pleasant . . .

I’m hoping that the abatement will continue until the headache goes away, but I never try to predict these things. That’s just asking for trouble, ensuring that the headache will last for three or four more days if I dare to think that it may be ending. Superstitious? Who me?

Actually, I’m not really superstitious, until I am. It’s more that I believe in signs, kind of like Corey having continued dreams involving the number three. I don’t know what the signs are portending, but I think that they are there sometimes just waiting for us to pay attention.

It’s kind of like predestination, as in, do you believe that things have already been determined so that if you make a decision and a certain outcome results, was that outcome always going to result anyway? Fate . . . Joss . . . Karma.

Tim Roth in Lie To Me
Tim Roth Facial Reading in "Lie to Me"

One of these days I’m going to have someone do a Tarot card reading on me, just for kicks. This is hard to explain, but I am very, very cynical/skeptical about most things, including fortune telling and Tarot cards, but I’m also fascinated by these things (in a coincidence, earnest probing kind of way . . . sort of). I mean, all of the little tricks that fortune tellers use. Someone close to you is trying to reach you from the other side. Well, odds are fairly good that if you are alive, someone in your life has died. That one’s not hard. Or how about, you are going to meet someone soon who will have a great effect on your life . . .

Okay. Could be the IRS telling you that you are up for an audit. Could be the checkout person at the grocery store who points out that you just dropped your wallet. Could be the pizza delivery person bringing you heartburn in a box. When don’t you meet someone who will affect your life in some way?

But the Tarot cards themselves can be absolutely beautiful. Decks come in so many variations, with artwork ranging from sparse black and white line drawings to elaborate, full-color images.

I do have one question, though. Exactly how does one get a reading over the telephone? I mean, I thought that there needed to be some kind of physical contact, if for nothing else but to assess a client’s eagerness for revealed truths as indicated by facial expressions and pupil dilation.

Maybe I’ve just been watching too much Lie to Me (love Tim Roth) and getting into the whole body reading thing. Okay. I’ll stop. Just thinking out loud.

“Your everlasting patience will be rewarded sooner or later.” ~ Fortune Cookie 

As you can probably tell, I’m just meandering here. Too much concentration would be called for if I were to try to put together a linear post. I mean, I had considered doing the whole post about “A Doll’s House,” but thinking too much hurts, and that play is just ripe for all kinds of discussions: the roles of men and women in society, free will, symbolism, societal proscriptions, the concept of self-ideation solely through the relationship with the male (father then husband). Heady fodder for a post, just not tonight.

Have I mentioned that I miss teaching? Didn’t think so.

“Never trouble trouble till trouble troubles you.” ~ Fortune Cookie 

Let me finish up with one of my dreams: Last night I dreamed that I was saying goodbye to Tom Cruise before he was about to take off on a deployment in his fighter jet. This is curious for a couple of reasons. I used to be a TC fan before he lost it and went overboard with the whole scientology scenario, but not so much any more. So for me to be giving him a big old smooch goodbye is weird.

The other weird part of the dream was that immediately after kissing Tom goodbye, I walked over to Corey, who had a boot camp haircut and was wearing fatigues, and kissed him goodbye. After I kissed Corey, I assured him that I was going to break it off with Tom, but I didn’t want to do that right before he deployed.

Clive Owen in Children of Men
Clive Owen in Children of Men

These two men have absolutely nothing in common. One is tall, the other short. One is sane, the other not. And one is rich and the other is my spouse.

The other really weird part of the dream was the reaction on the part of the other women who were bidding adieu to their significant others. They all  ostracized me for kissing two men goodbye. One even tried to block my view in looking out the window at the fleet as they left. Then, and this is the weirdest part of all, some MP came up to me and said that I was wanted by the stage, where whoever was in charge proceeded to give me the best seat in the house, right in the middle of the first row, except my seat was a folding webbed lawn chair, and everyone else had  nice cushioned folding chair.

Were we talking about symbolism? Tom Cruise? Why couldn’t it have been Clive Owen? Him, I might not have promised to give up. Oh well. Maybe that’s why my headache was worse when I woke up: At some point, Tom probably tried to convert me to scientology, and true to form, I probably ended up bopping him over the head with a book.

Parting words: “A feather in the hand is better than a bird in the air” (Fortune Cookie)

Franco Battioto’s version of “Ruby Tuesday” from Children of Men. By the way, absolutely incredible underrated, underexposed movie but not for those who don’t care to delve too deeply.

 

 

More later. Peace.

*Actual fortunes from fortune cookies

Lives of quiet desperation . . .

Carpe Diem

Carpe Diem

 

“No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world.” ~ John Keating, DPS

I just finished watching Dead Poets’ Society. Or should I say, watching again for 10th, 11th, who knows how many times? Corey could hear me sniffling from the dining room. It’s always this way when I watch this movie, so I space out the time between viewings.

I understand that many people do not understand the attraction of this movie. Many felt that Robin Williams’ appearance was too over the top. For a poetry teacher, he quoted too much Whitman, someone once said to me. Some of you hate this movie because you have been made to watch it. But for me, each viewing brings back some of the best memories of my life.

Mr KeatingNo, not boarding school. Never did that. Never went to a same-sex school. Never had a teacher like Mr. John Keating, either. How I wish that I had. But time for complete truths here: Being in a college classroom, teaching English—poetry, plays, novels, short stories—doing that was the most rewarding job I have ever had. And I miss it just about every day of my life.

I loved to watch minds engage, regardless of the student’s age or background. It gave me great pleasure to watch students look at material that they had seen before or had never seen, and suddenly realize that they really got it. They understood it, and they understood not because I made them think what I thought, but because I allowed them to decipher for themselves. Too many teachers and professors still approach English as if it were written in stone. Classics only include old, dead white men. A poem’s meaning is not up to interpretation. Do not consider the time in which something was written as being related to the work itself.

I used Dead Poets’ in almost all of my applicable literature classes. I would use it in companion with pieces such as Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, as well as poems by Adrienne Rich, Anne Sexton, Bruce Weigl, Nikki Giovanni, Ntzoke Shange, Langston Hughes and countless others. A myriad of voices writing about similar themes, life experiences, points of view. A mingling of past and present.

We would discuss how the period in which the character was placed affected diction, outlooks, actions. We would discuss how the setting of a piece had a direct effect on a character’s actions. Is the setting claustrophobic? Is the setting controversial? Is the setting in opposition to the characters’ conflicts. We would discuss the roles of men and women in literature: the powerless, almost silent mother figure in the movie, the powerless female protagonist in A Doll’s House.

And then, quite often on the final exam, I would take a quote from the movie and have the students use a selection of the works read to explore a theme based upon the quote.

I’d like to think that I never taught the same class in the same way. I never used notecards in my literature classes, only the text, and my students learned that if they did not participate in the discussion, then I would move on to something else, because I was not there to tell them what to think about a poem, or what the author intended with her point of view choice or at what point the denouement of the story occurred. But it was important to me was that they try, they think, they offer their opinions, and they learned to embrace literature in an entirely new way.

“The powerful play goes on, and  you may contribute a verse.” ~ John Keating, DPS 

Old Book SpinesAm I patting myself on the back? No. Am I laying claim to this method of teaching? Of course not. I’m merely sharing with you why this particular movie holds such meaning for me. And why, sitting here now, I find myself feeling the same thing that I always feel after the movie ends: I belong in a classroom.

I cannot tell you how much I miss teaching. College, that is. I learned the hard way that I was not meant to teach middle school. I’m not entirely certain that I would be any better suited for high school, unless it was a progressive high school.

I suppose that I am still holding onto the dream that someday I might be able to get another post at a small college. Who knows? Who knows if I would even like it anymore . . . I think, though, that if I am to be honest with myself (which I try to be), then I would have to admit that there are few things that I would want more.

My friend Mari, with whom I shared an office for most of my time at ODU, is currently teaching part time at a community college in Massachusetts. Being an adjunct at any college or university is a thankless position that pays close to nothing, but Mari does it because she loves to teach, definitely not because she is making any money from it.

I wouldn’t mind a part-time position somewhere, except that adjuncts usually get stuck with composition classes. Unless you are known, it’s damned hard to get literature or writing classes as an adjunct.

But as usual, I digress . . .

“Excrement. That’s what I think of Mr. J. Evans Pritchard. We’re not laying pipe. We’re talking about poetry.” ~ John Keating, DPS

The Movie: Twenty years later, and I think that Dead Poets’ Society still holds up well. After all, the movie’s accurate depiction of the 1950’s in setting and costume is never going to be outdated. Where we are  as a society today does not reflect the roles of men and women during that era, something that the movie captures with its secondary female characters: They are all stock characters with very little to do, simply functioning as a stereotypes—the powerless wife/mother, the blonde girlfriend every boy desires, the ditzy girls who are pick-ups.

Father and SonThe timeless aspects of the movie still hold true, as well. For example, the relationship between fathers and sons can still be fraught with an inability to communicate true feelings. The youthful male bonding and search for identity is eternal.

Another aspect of the movie that I have always loved is the cinematography. The golden hues of autumn, sunsets on the water, misty moonlight forays into the forest, and one of my favorite scenes, Knox riding his bicycle through a flock of geese.

Oh, and one more thing. The pool of poetic quotes from which Keating draws is limited, but remember, the era of confessional poetry was just coming into its own. Women had yet to gain prominence in the genre, and I just cannot see the Harlem Renaissance as being a mainstay in the curriculum for an all-white, male preparatory school in New England.

Say what you will, but this movie still speaks to me. And the last scene absolutely kills me.

What will my verse be?

 

More later. Peace.

A Few Things From The Vault

Two Poems and a Prose Poem From the Past

angel-statue-cllose-up

Poem #1

Remembrance of Monday Afternoon Past

for Josh

 

How can I explain to you

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

that

enclose and isolate,

you will not understand

until you,

too, have felt them.

I cannot describe for you

the desperation

with which you will try to pass

life

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. 

 

angel-wings

Poem #2

These Are The Only Truths I Know

 

I.

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

single‑minded sense

of what is just,

what is true,

did not allow for

the company of strangers or

their own pitiable laments

about love

and life,

or, more tellingly,

about loss.

 

II.

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?

 

III.

 . . . 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.

 

IV.

And did you get what

you wanted from this life, even so?

I did.

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.

 

V.

but if you look long enough,

eventually

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,

everything faded.

This is a photograph of me you

were never supposed to see.

 

VI.

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.

 

VII.

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.

 

VIII.

And the musky odor of pinks filled the air.

— The Awakening, Kate Chopin

 

Put out the light, and then

put out

the

light.

 

Prose Poem4theroad2

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.