Book Fever and Other Autumn Ruminations

If I saw the Hoarders tv show and one of their clients had nothing but books, I’d think: What’s wrong with that? Like the trundling out of sweaters and warmer socks, autumn sets my brain on fire with the compulsion to accrue books. My husband and daughter just roll their eyes at me and make jokes about my inability to leave the library or bookstores without a stack of acquisitions. I am happily surrounded by books and read incessantly. This is my childhood dream come true.

Unintentionally, I had prepared for a huge book bender. I updated my reading glasses, whittled down my schedule, and started to acquire books at an alarming rate. I’m looking forward to a winter of Oscar Wilde, Toni Morrison, Kurt Vonnegut, Helen Oyeyemi, James Baldwin, Louise Erdrich, Jonathan Lethem, Joyce Carol Oates, and any other writer who trips my fancy.

31522415The warmup to heavier tomes has been a lot of pithy reading. I read Austin Kleon’s trio of books (Steal Like an Artist, Show Your Work, Keep Going), Mason Currey’s Daily Rituals, and story story collections. Lesley Nneka Arimah’s short story collection What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky was full of thoughtful, if not disturbing, storytelling.

Blood CreekI also read another book sent to me by JKS Communications, Blood Creek by Kimberly Collins, an ambitious novel that wasn’t quite my taste, but will resonate with the historical romance crowd – those who like their vixens fiery and their men stoic and often criminal. It reminded me of the books I used to sneak out of my mother’s collection when I was 13 – like Rosemary Roger’s Sweet Savage Love, where the main character is selfish, but too waif-like with a cavernous decolletage to not get her own way, at the expense of everyone around her.

Writing is ramping up as well. I just finished the online Masterclass with Joyce Carol Oates. While her story “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been” is one of the creepiest stories I’ve ever read, her prolific career is an inspiration and her low-key but dedicated approach to writing resonates with me. 2019 has been a year of nearly constant rejection, from publications and even a mentor program. One would think I’d want to call it a day. But Ms. Oates has some wise words for rejection which I’ll paraphrase here: it’s likely a blessing when one’s work is rejected. It’s not your best work and you don’t want it out there. It forces you back to revisions again and again and again, until what you have left really is good.

*****

So I soldier on. And at the mention of soldiers, I just want to leave this public service note: Flag-worshipping does not make you a hero or a saint. As a vet who served for a wide variety of reasons, including an adolescent sense of loyalty to my country, I’m finding that performative patriotism in this country has gone off the rails – in the old sense, like nutter-level.

canstockphoto6552217I was on a treadmill at the Y the other day. In front of me, an older man was wearing a t-shirt with an American flag that said If this flag offends you, I’ll help you pack. I know it’s not good to wish heart attacks on people peddling on stationary bikes, but it briefly crossed my mind. If you’re a flag worshipper, you can’t have it both ways. You can’t flail about screaming that everyone else is being disrespectful to the flag and then wear it as a crackled, worn decal on your sweaty carcass. I mean you can, but the paramedics are going to have to cut it away to attach the defibrillator pads. I’m sure they’ll be respectful, though.

*****

37941609Fall is often a season that brings about feelings of bittersweet melancholy, much like being in your fifties and still trying to get published. It is a season, though, that begs for poetry. I consider myself a blogger, novelist, and short story writer, but on occasion I hail back to my adolescence and write a poem. Now they are less about being ignored by the boy I liked or morbid poems about dying and more about just fading away. I’m reading Adam Zagajewski’s collection of poems, Asymmetry and they are the kind of poems that make you ache just a little.

*****

It’s been such a tough year, for me, for we humans out in the world. Some of us manage to remain unscathed. We keep our eyes forward, don’t get distracted, know what we’re about on the planet. Some of us have been buffeted by the winds of chance – medical emergencies, financial crises, devastating diagnoses of our health, our portfolios, our relationships. Some of us have internalized the existential dread of what the future holds – dictators, natural disasters, scarcity, randomized violence. We’re taking the news intravenously and it eats away at our sense of wellbeing.

I need hope and so do some of you. Where do we find it? Where is the solace, the palliative, the hospice for the walking wounded? I find it written by authors who apply poultices through words, in the faces of people who love me, in telling stories, in walking with the crunch of leaves beneath my feet. We fashion our own life preservers and hope that it’s enough.

The Garden of Little Sorrows

The morning brings an achecanstockphoto5109847

that moves around each day

A back, a knee, a shoulder –

knuckles swollen, as if I’d won the fight.

 

canstockphoto28605287I ramble along the path with a limp

and an unfortunately located bite from an insect

that was there before me

but as revenge, won’t be there after.

 

The plants I moved yesterdaycanstockphoto686458.jpg

slump over, too traumatized by the extra sun

to give a damn, but hungry for me,

the water god, to bring showers.

 

canstockphoto2491406The sun sears the back of my neck

medium rare with a tinge of pink.

It cares not for the creatures beneath its gaze,

for its sole purpose is to burn, burn, burn.

 

canstockphoto304055I bend down to catch another weed

and come eye level with the motor of a bumblebee

I once read that human odors aggravate bees

but I stink of sweat and they ignore me.

 

canstockphoto7496638I resist gravity and stand up

To witness the aerial acrobatics of Monarchs

Who have deigned to share their royal presence

I pay fealty with large stands of milkweed.

 

The gardening session is overcanstockphoto15362073

I put away the buckets of tools

Punch out for the day, they don’t pay overtime

And leave the manicured wilds to second shift.

Fearless Friday: The Power of Poetry

In a world where things sometimes seem dire, where does poetry fit in? How does it feed the starving? Find the lost? Rehabilitate the criminal? De-traumatize the victim? How does it stop corruption and hypocrisy? What is the point if it cannot automatically be processed, packaged, and monetized?

canstockphoto3647287.jpgBut then what is the point of anything, if we cannot have the joy of words, music, paintings, artistic movement? Why does any of it matter if we have nothing that fills our soul, connects us with our fellow humans, makes us imagine the what ifs?

Today, I’m focusing on poets who wield the power of poetry.

Welcome to Fearless Friday.

Feacanstockphoto13410470rless Fridays are about lives lived in spite of our fears, living a life that is about curiosity, compassion, and courage. If you just got published, something wonderful happened to you, you witnessed an act of kindness or bravery, or you have someone in your life who amazes you, drop your story into my contact page or email it to TheGreenStudy (at) comcast (dot) net and I’ll run it on a Fearless Friday. If you’re a blogger, it’s an opportunity to advertise your blog, but this is open to anyone who would like to share.  These will be 100-300 word stories, subject to editing for clarity and space.

Poets Writers Readers Bloggers Spies (maybe not spies, but how would we know?)

Poetry takes all forms and there are readers here who run with that. Some poems are stories, leaving us to divine the message. lifecameos from New Zealand tells all kinds of tales. Read her latest “Tea Party Chimps“. For Haiku, jokes, and fun art work, visit Steve at Heed Not Steve. And I’ve introduced her before, but Cate at Meditatio Ephemera just wrote about her own foray into poetry in the post “Donkey“.

And I’d like to welcome and introduce some new readers who are poets. I enjoyed reading “long Languished Days” at the Harp of Vega and a high school poet at Writings of Lexie, who reminds us of the intensity of school hallways.

The Necessity of Poetry

23649600Tim Miller at word and silence has served as an excellent resource for rediscovering poetry. His long narrative poem “To the House of the Sun” has long been on my reading list, but I wanted to finish Ovid’s Metamorphoses first, which is an undertaking. Recently, Tim felt compelled to respond to a critic in “Defending One’s Strangeness: on To the House of the Sun“, in which he says a lot about the nature of poetry and art and the choices he made.

You asked me about necessity, and I’d only say that it would have been spiritual death for me not to write the poem.   Defending One’s Strangeness: on To the House of the Sun

I’ve been thinking a lot about the rawness and profundity of that statement. It’s a reminder to stay connected with why we do what we do – a stalwart defense against cynicism.

Some of my favorites

Writing and music feel like part of my character. When someone asks me who or what my favorites are, I hesitate. I have an innate fear of always being too ordinary, too pedestrian. But if I’m going to talk about being fearless, I need to shove my cowardice and insecurity aside.

28014763Many years ago I tracked down a tiny book called The Gardener by Rabindranath Tagore. In my American way, I read a snippet and thought I must have that! It took awhile to arrive and when it did, I excitedly sat down to read it in full. Excitedly was the right word. It’s foreplay – sensual and romantic, quite unlike the random snippet I’d read.

We hasten to gather our flowers lest they are plundered by the passing winds.

It quickens our blood and brightens our eyes to snatch kisses that would vanish if we delayed.

Our life is eager, our desires are keen, for time tolls the bell of parting.

Rabindranth Tagore, The Gardener

With all the plucking and plundering and sighs and fluttering, I can’t help but hear Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get it On” when I read it.

The first poem that I ever memorized was William Wordsworth’s I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud. I will always love the lines: And then my heart with pleasure fills, And dances with the daffodils. Melancholy and sweetness and gratitude. Who couldn’t use some of that?

I enjoy poems by Mary Oliver, W.H. Auden, Rita Dove, and Billy Collins. There are so many others – a poem here and there that lands just right, a balm, an inspiration, a truth. And if, in that moment, you cannot find what you need, it might be time to write a poem of your own.

Online Resources for Poetry

The Poetry Foundation

poets.org

Poetry International

Poetry International Web

Do you have a favorite poet?

Is there a line you always remember?

TGS Writers’ Book Club Reminder: The June Selection is a collection of poetry, Afterland by Mai Der Vang. Follow the blog for updated selections, writer-reader guidelines, and discussions. The July selection is There are Little Kingdoms by Kevin Barry (Short Stories).

Getting Lost on Purpose

Yesterday I got lost driving in St. Paul. My husband swears we should never cross the river that divides the Twin Cities. He’s gotten lost as well. Jesse Ventura, the former infamous governor of Minnesota, once insulted the city on national television by suggesting it was designed by Irish drunks (I imagine the Irish were insulted as well!).

canstockphoto9422901Getting lost has never caused me undue anxiety, especially since we bought a car with navigation – except it will fritz out at critical junctures in the journey. I have learned to just work on getting back to where I came from, doing u-turns in cul-de-sacs and slowing down to squint at street signs. It’s how I learn to find my way around.

When we traveled the west coast this year, I realized that having access to internet reviews, maps, pictures, and descriptions of every locale and hotel changed the nature of travel. I was rarely lost, surprised or delighted by the planned stops. I had to look for those moments.

In everyday life, the thrum-thrum of routine and picayune worries means that I have to look for those moments daily. Sometimes I think it will be this way until I’m found lifeless, slumped in my wheelchair at a nursing home. Sometimes I think any tragedy and ten years down the road, I’d be living a completely different life – that thinking awful thoughts will prick my appreciation for the sameness of this moment.

Moments are found in the knocking of a woodpecker, who is grocery shopping in the wood of our grayed deck railing. Or in an autumn memory flash of crunching through the leaves, while walking my chatty, happy 4-year-old to preschool years ago. Or hearing a piece of music that reminds me of new love and mix tapes.

canstockphoto4603487Sometimes though, we have to deliberately create those moments. We have to snatch up the defribrillator paddles and apply them in earnest. Wake up. Do something. Bring on the discomfort. I’ve done this over the years – trying improv comedy in my 30s, taking up martial arts in my 40s, public speaking, swimsuits and often saying no. I’ve been getting lost, been foolish, tried things not recommended at home, gone without a net, safety glasses, an umbrella or warm socks.

There is something I have not done. I have not dared to do anything beyond blogging with my writing.  I have a novel that I wrote the first draft of 4 years ago, that I’ve rewritten twice, renamed thrice and shredded in fits of pique. Then I decided to sign up canstockphoto14879538for a writers’ pitch conference taking place next spring. At this conference, I am supposed to pitch a polished novel manuscript to agents from three literary agencies.

Five months. I have five months to finish the cursed manuscript, fly it past beta-readers, get it to an editor and then hand over what remains to complete strangers. I want to throw up just a bit. But there it is – I’m awake and can no longer hit the snooze button.

**********

It hung precariously to the tile. Only I didn’t see it until I was washing my hair. With no glasses on, it was something that didn’t match the pattern on the wall. And it moved. I shifted the shower head so I could stand facing the spider, further away. We eyed each other with dismay.

canstockphoto6967523There is always a moment, facing the creepy crawlies that invade our house, of decision. Their benign attempts to coexist are met with shrieks by the large, destructive predatory inhabitants. We are the elephants and they are the mice, and we shrink away.

I remembered many years ago, reading about Buddhist monks who tread paths carefully, lest they step on an ant. I began to walk more carefully.

When my daughter was younger, we’d pantomime saving the spider. We’d use an index card and a cup, removing the arachnid from its ancestral home, depositing it gently outside to roam free. The reality is that most house spiders die shortly after being deposited into the elements.

Then came the shrieking phase and all she wanted was the monster dead, which had always been my gut instinct anyway. It seemed more humane, casting a dark human shadow, a quick crushing end to its life. I am the monster.

**********

I went to a poetry reading by Billy Collins a week ago and left feeling that I could write poetry. Until I tried to and was reminded that I was wrong. Over the years, I’ve read more poetry. I keep imagining that my ever-shrinking attention span would be a benefit, but it’s not. Poetry is an economy of language and done well, requires one’s full attention.

canstockphoto15817518Serving as US Poet Laureate for several years, Billy Collins writes what is often called “accessible poetry”. He describes it as unashamedly suburban, middle class,  and domestic. One of my fears is that I, and by extension my writing, am suburban, middle class and domestic. My childhood working class prejudices make me shrink from that description. Who we are now, though, informs our writing as much as who we were. It’s a good lesson to remember – creativity on a continuum.

One of the things I love most about living in a metropolitan area is the ability to attend a wide range of authors’ lectures. I enjoy hearing about their writing processes and experiences. Sometimes, though, they mostly let their work stand on its own. Mr. Collins read his poetry with only slight interjections in between each work. This seems novel in an age where self profession has become a genre all its own.

**********

canstockphoto14284461Thank you to Kiri, Ross, and Cezanne for your winning entries in The Green Study’s “Positively Happy Nice Story” Contest. Nothing like some positive vibes to stave off this depressing political season! Stay tuned next week for the Honorable Mention entries from Catherine, Bill, and Alison.

The Green Study “What’s on the B Side of that 45?” Contest: Honorable Mention

An Honorable Mention from The Green Study “What’s on the B Side of that 45?” Contest goes to d. Myers for his poem about a mid-life crisis. He’s a writer, currently working on his first book.

He was sent one The Green Study Coffee Mug, a postcard from Minneapolis and $25 donation was made to his local Red Cross chapter.

mid-life crisis

By d. Myers

slow down and watch it all collide
watch it trail like a fish
is there ever any sign
smelling dog food in a dish

I’ll play with monkeys in a barrel
and legos at the mall
gonna get another snow cone
while I buy my kid a doll

old cars, old shoes, old people
they help to keep it all intact
I’m getting better all the time
I’m getting so I like the cracks

not the smooth stuff or the easy
is ever worth the tripcanstockphoto11178704
when I fall I fall so hard
but I’ll never feel the slip

little white fences all around me
I don’t feel too safe at all
fluffy curtains on the windows
and stuff hanging on my walls

great big trees and open highways
start to sooth my aching head
come and put me in a jacket man
and take me off to bed

Congratulations d. and good luck on your writing journey!

Flu as Poetic Inspiration

canstockphoto1160815When I get sick, things get very, very dark in my mind. I spiral downward into the morose thoughts of a depressive, luxuriating in my misery, knowing it is likely temporary. In the throes of corporeal suffering, I often turn to poetry. Poetry seems to speak when my sore, raspy throat produces nothing but squawks.

Mysterious, isn’t it?canstockphoto14211413
A turn of light
Above some stumpy
Mountain,
The way a screen porch
Frames a bunch of haggard trees,
The way we squint

At what we love.

“Honeymoon” by Cornelius Eady
Hardheaded Weather

Between nose blows and cups of comforting tea, I read Jane Kenyon and Pablo Neruda and an old favorite, William Wordsworth. Poetry of death and aging yields unexpected meaning. Mary Oliver and W.H. Auden become my muses. In my own writing, I use more expressive and melodramatic language, likely influenced by Nyquil and misery. Characters are more likely to be frail or murdered in the novel or story I work on for the day. Vonnegut seems a lot funnier.

canstockphoto23029728Ink that enchants me,
drop after drop,
guarding the path
of my reason and unreason
like the hardly visible
scar on a wound that shows while the body sleeps
on in the discourse of its destructions.

“The Blow” by Pablo Neruda, Translated by Ben Belitt
Five Decades: Poems 1925-1970

I rarely write my own poetry. Not since I wrote an angsty poem about a dead high school classmate have I been interested in writing verse. It was put in the high school yearbook next to the picture of a beautiful 16 year old girl. The poem was quite awful. I don’t know what the adults in charge were thinking.

for forty yearscanstockphoto10667307
the sheets of white paper have
passed under my hands and I have tried
to improve their peaceful

emptiness putting down
little curls little shafts
of letters words
little flames leaping

“forty years” by Mary Oliver
New and Selected Poems, Volume Two

I once wrote a Haiku about my cat in a sunny window. My words formed the shape of a cat. I was 10. Since then, my words seem to take less shape. This is the moroseness of a flu bug. Other people’s writing always seems better than my own. But it’s not a bad thing to turn down the volume of one’s own narcissism and listen to what words have been assembled by others.

Dcanstockphoto19838329ead my old fine hopes
And dry my dreaming but still…
Iris, blue each spring.

Ome Shushiki
Women Poets of Japan by Ikuko Atsumi (Editor), Kenneth Rexroth (Editor)

With my desire for brevity and clarity as a writer, it is odd that I shy away from writing poetry. But it has always seemed a magical art and that I am not ephemeral enough in my thinking to be lyrical. I want to leave the magic unrevealed. I don’t want to know how it works. I don’t want to tinker with it and take it apart. I just want to accept its purpose in my life to inspire, comfort and remind me of the beauty of simple language. Especially when nothing else penetrates the fog of snot.

If you would leave off your play and dive in thecanstockphoto3977052
water, come, O come to my lake
Let your blue mantle lie on the shore; the blue
water will cover you and hide you.

Rabindranath Tagore
The Gardener

See, I would simply write “Skinny dip, yo.” But what an entirely different frame a poet can give the scene.

For now, I must languish in bed,
wrapped in yesterday’s clothes that
wend around me like old phlegm.

No, I’m not a poet. And yes, I need a shower.

Here are a couple of online blogging poets:

Heed not Steve‘s haikus.
He amuses me often,
which doesn’t take much.

Kathryn combines artistry and poetry.

What’s your favorite poem or poetry on or offline?