Sunday, May 31, 2009

Reading for a change

In case you haven't noticed, I've been doing a lot of writing as of late, and frankly, I'm all poemed out. For the time being. I am tired of reading and tired of writing poems. Give me something book-length!

So I read Patricia Hampl's The Florist's Daughter this weekend and started in on Letters to Malcolm by C.S. Lewis. I had forgotten how much I LOVE C.S. Lewis. But before that, let's talk about Hampl.

I've heard it said by someone (Joe Mackall, I think), that Patricia Hampl is the only writer who can write about nothing in particular for 250 pages and succeed. Which means he thinks midwestern life without crises equals nothing. I loved this book. Set during the days and hours prior to the death of her mother, Hampl describes and explores her lifelong relationship with her parents leading up to their deaths, effortlessly gliding back and forth across time and space to accomplish a beautiful narrative. The reader is allowed to experience the love for father and changing appreciation for mother that evolves into deep love throughout the book without feeling sentimental. Her style is simply delicious. I like the word delicious. I think I use it to describe literature more often than I ought.

So, Hampl was amazing. I'd like to read more of her in the future.

We're at my in-laws' house this weekend, and I finished The Florist's Daughter around 2 yesterday, which means I was in a reading mood only half-way through the kids' naps. I found a book by C.S. Lewis called Letters to Malcolm, which, as it turns out, is about prayer. I've been thinking a lot about prayer the last few months and this was exactly the sort of book I was looking for. It is really quite fabulous. I'm only 50 pages in, but it is a short book, something I should be taking slower. C.S. Lewis is one of those writers whose pages end up ear-marked every other page, there's just so much good going on. A few favorites:

" one in his senses, if he has any power of ordering his own day, would reserve his chief prayers for bed-time - obviously the worst possible hour for any action which needs concentration. The trouble is that thousands of unfortunate people can hardly find any other."

And this, talking about praying for things or desires:

"It is no use to ask God with factitious earnestness for A when our whole mind is in reality filled with the desire of B. We must lay before Him what is in us, not what ought to be in us. Even an intimate human friend is ill-used if we talk to him about one thing while our mind is really on another, and even a human friend will soon become aware when we are doing so."

And further down the same page:

"If one forcibly excludes them, don't they wreck all the rest of our prayers? If we lay all the cards on the table, God will help us to moderate the excesses. But the pressure of things we are trying to keep out of our mind is a hopeless distraction. As someone said, 'No noise is so emphatic as one you are trying not to listen to.'"

And still more, of course. There's a reason for a volume entitled, The Quotable C.S. Lewis. He's just that good. I haven't read C.S. Lewis in a while so it is nice to get back in to that voice and reflection, especially on a topic I've been thinking about a good deal. I'm not really a very good pray-er -- I'm the sort who waits until the end of the day to pray or rattles off something here and there throughout the day, which is the rarer sort. At any rate, it is an area of my spiritual life in which I'd like to improve.

Happy reading!

Thursday, May 21, 2009



Measuring Rings

Settle your shifting vision on the maple stump
your son is standing on, growing out
of all your ancient history. The past keeps repeating
in new rings, health you measure by breadth.
You count the number of times you’ve grown
out of the fire, the layers of heartwood healing
over scars, new branches jutting from woundwood.

Do you see the little man stomping his feet
on this stump, laughing? Stop searching
for ways to hollow out your trunk. It is hard
to distinguish redemption from regret; you must see
the heartwood for what it is – dormant, but solid –
here only so you have something to grow on,
matter to attach your sapwood.

The present flows directly from the past.
As every second dies, a new one stumbles in
to stand on the back of the last. If the sun
indeed will rise to warm your town again,
you’ll take this trail tomorrow, but it will never
be the same – you cannot pilfer this moment
in your pocket to pull out a year from now.

Without the bouncing toddler on the stump,
there is no playful coaxing down, no upward-
reaching hand, no march down the sidewalk.
Every dead and living branch you’ve wished away
would erase this knot, this casual miracle
sprouting light with every hallowed breath.

Monday, May 18, 2009

The New Landscape

The New Landscape

I've bundled branches, sawed stumps low,
cut down in twenty minutes
what took years and years to grow.

What do you think the neighbors know
about the severed limbs that jut
from bundled branches, their stumps sawed low?

The taxus and squared boxwood woe
the push and pull as the hand saw cuts
down what took them forty years to grow.

A younger resident, I want to show
ambitious feats to hide my ruts
I left from bundled branches, stumps sawed low.

Even though the overgrown are gone, I know
I will remember every butt
of what took forty years to grow.

So leave the Rose of Sharon shoots to show
a fragment of the past, stubborn infant
witness to the bundled branches, stumps sawed low –
I, too, am a remnant of what took years and years to grow.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Writing About Writing

My daughter is currently practicing her monkey skills by standing on my thighs and linking her arms around my neck. Yes, and I am still typing. Do you see the dedication in action??

I did a rewrite of "The Corner Stand" last night of which I am quite proud. Publishing first drafts of poems here doesn't seem like a big deal to me - it is nice to be able to share my initial fiddlings with poems - but something keeps me from posting the rewrites... especially when they are significant. I go back and forth on the topic - am I really jeopardizing my chances of poems being published? And even if I am, isn't one of my reasons for writing poetry to have it be read? I don't know - most poems I write are public poems. I am not much of a private poet (obviously) - I like sharing what has been revealed to me through poetry. It seems silly to me to not share my work when the likelihood most of them will see the light of day is so slim.

Like most things, I've over-thought this topic.

I have been working on assembling my first full-length collection of poems. It is a lot of fun to think about all of those separate files as one body of work. I thought it would be more difficult to see the arc (or vee, as it turns out) of my book, but I suppose because so many of my poems are autobiographical and narrative, it is easier to see common themes. All I really need to do is think about where I've been and determine which poems fit which stage of life ;) Yeah, it isn't that simple, but it sounds nice doesn't it?

I have had a congested face for a few days and I'm getting tired of it. Who likes constant fog? Fog is only romantic and lovely if you are inside a clear-aired home, not driving through it in the mountains.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Sydney Cast in Shadow

Sydney Cast in Shadow

The garden stroll before a matinee ballet
birds of paradise gawking these palms this lushness
this pristine park dustless alley
these streakfree storefront windows
this cloudless painless blue this skyline
etched with geometric concrete waves
jutting saucer tower arcing bridge
sailboat-speckled placid harbor this paper bag
soaked in grease from fish and chips

Me too far away to see
my blurred face bare legs fingers tugging skirt hem
neverending steps the opera house
perched at cresting point behind me

This map too small in scale its cartoon skyscrapers
outlandish fountain dozen golden arches architecture
arc and angles exaggerated too whimsical
to accommodate the shadowed blocks we walked
cabs we didn't wave sweaty footprints pressed to sidewalks
heels in hand this vast gap between where we were
and where we hoped to be.

Monday, May 4, 2009



Newly planted tree, water.
Douse your roots,
saturate the soil, stretch
beyond the root ball,
wriggle those anxious nerves
through burlap to new earth

and then deeper. Soak
so long the mulch rises up,
washes away, until you think
enough. No. This is not enough –
uncoil the hose, turn the faucet,
we will do this daily, weekly,

this whole season. Train
your roots to reach deep,
so when the droughts come,
you can drink from the depths.
When the winds come,
you will not be toppled.

Well, as you can tell, I didn't make it through April poem-a-day but rather stammered out around April 22 and said, forget it. I'm done. I've said all I can say this month. It was a great showing, though, and I can't wait to get to the new poems and do some serious revisioning.

I've had a busy few weeks with poetry readings that were lots of fun, good experience, and even profitable! I actually sold two books! Lyd turned three on Sunday, so we celebrated her birthday with many a princess-oriented gift and lots of friends and family. AND! I MULCHED. Oh, how I LOVE to mulch. I think it is a disease, but at least it is a productive one. I also planted knock-out roses, a clematis, and split and transplanted hostas and columbine (at least I think that's the name of the flower). I am a happy little landscaper, let me tell you.

I think the rest from poetry for a time was healthy after such a binge on words and ideas. One thing I've discovered is that my best work is inspired - the Holy Spirit does his work on an event in my day or a memory of my past and out flows the beginnings of an idea. When I force poetry, like I had to do some of the days, it's as if my tongue dries up and sticks to the roof of my mouth. The words come out fuzzy. It is no good. That is poetry work, not poetry inspired. However, the other thing I've found is that poetry inspired is much harder to come by when the instrument is out of tune, so all of the work of writing leads to the inspiration, in some way. It's all a mystery, really. I'd like to summon inspiration whenever I please, but it just doesn't happen. Even when I really want to write a poem, there just aren't words sometimes.

There's a certain buzz happening right now - I don't know if it is because of the weather turning or the season I'm in, but I am generally excited for "the next big thing." Bring it! Let's go!