Whitmanesque: Above My Skill Set, But Worth Trying

It’s the poet Walt Whitman’s birthday today.  In the spirit of his poetics, I’ve been working on a poem that was first inspired by my own kids and then became about other young adults I know, then millennials: a whole generation. Not every culture, not every situation, certainly not all of America, but still, broad. Many poets and academics would advise me not to speak too directly, not to preach, not to generalize. That’s the edge for me- speaking directly without pontificating. Telling my truth without telling others what to believe.

I’m no Walt Whitman but I do like to try and extend my reach sometimes, to go beyond my immediate concerns, universal though some of them may be, and write lines that address the world- but are still anchored in the quotidian. Quite a challenge, and most likely beyond my skill set, but worth trying. I’m inspired by this quote by the wonderful poet Eve Joseph:

“I like the idea that a successful poem may be a flawed one that comes from an authentic place. A poem that holds fragility and imperfection. In a strange way, I would say that my most successful poems feel as if they have come “through” me and not “from me.”  What better reason to make the attempt?”

(From this collection of interviews by the Griffin Poetry Prize finalists, in the Toronto Star. )

While acknowledging and lamenting Whitman’s undisputed racism, sexism, and imperialism, reading his poetry can certainly feel at times as if something greater than himself was flowing through the very body he so eloquently celebrates: a poetry imperfect at times, but always authentic.


Photo of the poet, Walt Whitman. Looking forward, older man with long and full beard, wearing a western style hat.

Photo of Walt Whitman from the Library of America https://images.app.goo.gl/2RtrisPL7J4G6y1H9



Unprepared for Joy

Creativity is a fool’s journey in the best sense. Wandering, trusting, falling into muddy ditches and lying down in sweet meadows. Then another peak, another view of the great beyond, before heading once more into the dark night, and then out the other side; a cycle of birth, death, and resurrection, a microcosm of the universal truth of regeneration.

I’ve wanted to write for most of my life, and I’ve fulfilled that desire when I could, how I could, despite various detours and dire obstacles (a universal experience) that I won’t enumerate here. But I will say this: the magic of creativity, the power of writing, the moments I treasure, have always been unexpected and have rekindled a sense of gratitude and wonder. This sense of homecoming and awe is also, I believe, universal.

painting of water moving in cycles

Salt and Other Spells: painting by Melissa McCanna.

Last Sunday was a perfect example. A few months ago, I had sent three poems to a juried committee for a local community event called Ars Poetica, a collaboration of poets’ words and artists’ interpretations. All three poems were chosen, two by one artist, one by another, who then set about making art from what they felt the poems were saying to them, in preparation for a gallery exhibition and poetry reading. When the day came to attend the public event, I was prepared.

Prepared to be very nervous. Prepared to be disappointed in my own delivery of the poems. Prepared to feel let down, or overwhelmed. I wasn’t prepared for the emotional response I would have to seeing my poems on a gallery wall, never mind the stunning impact of the art which emerged from the images I  had conjured in the privacy of my mind.

ice tongs hold a small crystal heart, which holds in turn the image of a sleeping woman with long flowing hair.

Melt: an art assemblage by Steve Parmalee

Or how momentous it would feel to meet in person, the artists who had engaged so deeply with my work, Melissa McCanna and Steve Parmalee. It was a magical experience: unexpected in it’s impact, momentous in the way it renewed my understanding of why I write. To connect, to inspire, but more importantly, to experience the creative force that is life-giving, joyful, heart-sustaining, and community-building. May we all find ways to connect with Source, with one another, and may we all remain open to the blessedly unexpected gift of joy.

The Sailor’s Daughter: painting by Melissa McCanna

A Doll is a Poem is a Woman is a Yes


She is not perfectly constructed-

and for that, I love her.

Her dress doesn’t match her hair,

sea urchin spines hang like nunchucks

from her belt and she only has one breast.

Composed of remnants

stitched together by instinct

she is beautifully flawed- like me, this poem,

and the woman who made her.

a doll made of various colored and textured yarns,  wearing a bead necklace, with a large smooth bead for a face, and two sea urchin shells hanging from a yarn belt.