Category Archives: poetry

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

Mary Oliver and the Poems We Need

As I write this, a young man ( a boy, really) has been caught on video, harassing an elder at a March for Life rally. The young man is wearing a MAGA hat. The young man is white; the old man is a Native elder. People on social media have named both, stood up for both, and weighed in with their own expressions of violence, shaming and hatred, from yes, all sides of this deeply broken agreement about what we owe each other as human beings.

There are many political and cultural signifiers in what I just wrote, which will trigger people in different ways, and yet what strikes me most is the way we rush to outrage, running right past sorrow: our tendency to instantly react can obscure a missed opportunity for real connection, for truly being reminded of the way we keep perpetuating the worst of human attributes. We race past intimacy and the holy practice of deep presence. What is happening in that young man’s heart? What is responding in that elder man’s soul? In ours? How can they find a way to each other, and us to them?

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice-
(From The Journey, by Mary Oliver; Dream Work, Atlantic Monthly Press 1986)

Mary Oliver’s poetry shows us how to pay attention, how to enter into a more deliberate state of attentiveness regarding what is unfolding in nature’s time. Her work is loved by so many because of this quality of intimate stillness simultaneously infused with life’s passionate urgency; her poems explore the path toward a balance of both, a fusion which delights and heals and transcends. Some have argued that poetry such as hers is too divorced from the daily realities we struggle with as a culture and a body politic, but I believe that there is an opportunity in every encounter with people, animals, and nature to deeply connect. Trying to articulate what that desire for connection, and the experience of it when it happens, feels like, looks like, is an important poetic pursuit. Her poems teach us how to bear witness to what really matters: the connection we are all trying to get back to, in one way or another. May the young man ( and all of us) who couldn’t see what was right in from of him, find his way.

“Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

Meanwhile the world goes on.”