Your Poetry Birthright

Ok, so it’s the evening of the last day of Poetry Month, and I’m finally writ­ing a blog on poetry. I sug­gest we call this Poetry Sea­son and pro­ceed, ok?

First off, let me say that I believe poetry mat­ters. It dis­tills human expe­ri­ence and serves it up in the best lan­guage it can find. It may make us slow down in order to really get the fla­vor of the words, but in return it pulls back the cur­tain and gives us a glimpse into the mys­tery of being alive or lets us see some­thing ordi­nary in a whole new way.

The Acad­emy of Amer­i­can Poets recently shared this poem by an 11-year-old from Michi­gan named Char­lie.  Char­lie already knows some­thing about the lure of poetry and its rewards.

Poems open your eyes
Secret things become vis­i­ble
Another world wait­ing for you to explore
Me what you find
Let curios­ity take over

And if Char­lie will share his, so will I.  I wrote this whim­si­cal lit­tle poem on an April day some time ago. It’s called “Spring Fling”:

Weep­ing cherry, they call you.
Maybe you weep in winter,
but today you dance, tree
bedecked in blos­somy pink tutu.
I have no doubt the mockingbird
singing his Ode to Spring
in 26 avian tongues
is show­ing off for you.
I wouldn’t be surprised
if you should take a happy lit­tle turn
when no one’s watching
(except, per­haps,
the mock­ing­bird and me).

Your turn. Go ahead. Write a poem.  Share it with some­one.  Or read some. You’ll find plenty on-line. Or go browse the poetry sec­tion of a good book­store and treat your­self to a book that speaks to you. Savor it. Read your favorites to some­body you love. Mem­o­rize one.

Don’t be a stranger to poetry.  It’s your birthright.





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Buried Things

I was telling a friend about an ancient city found buried under a large aban­doned indoor mar­ket in Barcelona, which we vis­ited last sum­mer. That led us to ques­tion­ing how civ­i­liza­tions get buried, so I did my own “dig­ging,” and learned that some are buried through dis­as­ters like vol­ca­noes or tidal waves, but mostly it’s the quite nat­ural work of wind and dust and the accu­mu­la­tion of decay­ing plant and ani­mal mate­r­ial over centuries.

I real­ized we all have our own buried things—memories, dreams, talents—which might get cov­ered over by trauma, but for the most part are just obscured with the pass­ing of time and the accu­mu­la­tion of days and expe­ri­ences. Some old mem­o­ries might help give us a sense of iden­tity, of fam­ily, or of mean­ing. They might get us back in touch with dreams long buried that still have power, or remind us that once we thought we were good at some­thing and maybe it’s not too late to build on that talent.

For me, writ­ing a mem­oir meant going after many buried things from my past. It was a process that took time; it couldn’t be hur­ried. But at the end of the process, I felt more whole, more con­tent with my life.

I invite you to con­sider a lit­tle per­sonal archae­ol­ogy of your own. Pay atten­tion to glimpses of mem­ory. Watch for signs of old long­ings. Do they point to some­thing that is miss­ing from your life and might still enrich it?

Pos­si­ble out­comes: pos­si­bly tak­ing a bold new step, maybe telling some­one from your past how much they mean to you, or per­haps you will just feel grate­ful for being alive and for get­ting to where you are today.  

Worth the dig­ging, yes?

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An Ohio cousin told me at the fam­ily reunion one sum­mer about his recent glo­ri­ous trip to Ire­land.  I had been there sev­eral times, so we swapped favorite mem­o­ries, but I didn’t tell about the day I vis­ited Blar­ney Castle.

I had dis­missed it as too touristy, but my par­ents insisted we go.  I relented, and, as I climbed through the old dark cas­tle, began to get more devout feel­ings about this whole thing.  What if kiss­ing the Blar­ney Stone did con­fer on me a lit­tle elo­quence? Would I com­plain? Or maybe a touch of poetry–hadn’t I been car­ry­ing my paper­back Yeats all over Ireland?

Here’s what hap­pens at the Blar­ney Stone: lying on your back, you lean your upper body over a precipice with your head low­est, cling­ing to safety bars while an old man holds your legs and the local pho­tog­ra­pher snaps your pic­ture.  It’s over before you have time to won­der if it’s dan­ger­ous or if you look fool­ish.  I went first and then watched my father.  To my dis­may, he was being directed to kiss the stone just below the one I had.   Of course! You could see it was worn.  But upside-down, things hadn’t been so evi­dent.  I had kissed the wrong stone! Did that mean that in five min­utes I would start to talk in jibberish?

The oth­ers went off to the gift shop.  I would try to redeem the day by vis­it­ing the sacred Druid groves on the grounds.  Since it was past high tourist sea­son, I found myself alone inside the ring of ancient cypress trees where Druids had placed cer­e­mo­nial rocks, offered sac­ri­fice and, I pre­sume, taken cover from the eter­nal Irish rain.  It was a dif­fer­ent world, shad­owy and mys­te­ri­ous.  I could under­stand why it had been con­sid­ered a sacred place.  Nearby I saw a small sign, “Wish­ing Stairs.”  I ducked under the stone arch and down the stairs, invent­ing large, happy wishes, includ­ing one for elo­quence, all the way to the bot­tom. There!

Look­ing for my par­ents near the park­ing lot, I heard a woman telling her friend, “Yes, you walk down the stairs back­wards and your wishes are granted.” What did going down front­wards mean, then? I dared not imagine.

I could almost hear the ancient spir­its of the isle hav­ing a good chuckle over this silly American.

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Nothing “Ordinary”

crape myrtle tree trunk


Have you ever looked at some­thing ordinary–something you’ve glanced at hun­dreds or thou­sands of times–and sud­denly seen it as extra­or­di­nary? It’s almost as if I’ve just landed on this planet from some far-away galaxy and I see some­thing as com­mon as the trunk of a tree–in this case it’s a crape myr­tle tree–and I think, “How lovely!” I under­stand for a moment just how mirac­u­lous it is to be alive. My friend Jose would say, aban­don­ing him­self to the moment, “Que bueno!”

If it’s hap­pened to you, let it hap­pen again today, maybe even right now.  If it’s never hap­pened to you, hold still, take a deep breath, and look at some­thing or some­one famil­iar, as though you’re look­ing for the very first time.  Stay with the expe­ri­ence for a few min­utes. Enjoy.

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The Local Summer Pops and the Universal Truths

Ok, maybe not the uni­ver­sal truths, just a sweet change of heart.

It’s been beastly hot around here, oppres­sively hot.  But I got myself out this evening to hear the some­what hokey pick-up band doing their sum­mer pops con­cert on the lawn of the local high school any­how.  An occa­sional squeak from a clar­inet, flutes sound­ing a bit timid, but then a trum­peter floats  his solo out on the evening air like magic,  and together they cap­ture the spirit of the music and sweep you into it.  A young father and his two lit­tle sons lie on the grass in easy affec­tion.  Dogs rest con­tent­edly next to their con­tented own­ers. Occa­sion­ally a child’s voice rises from the edge of the crowd. Fire­flies make you for­give the day’s heat, and a breeze brings uni­ver­sal mercy. The sim­ple things. The sim­ple beau­ties. You come away feel­ing younger, happy to be alive this sum­mer evening.

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The Wisdom of Wendell Berry

A friend’s men­tion of Wen­dell Berry as his favorite poet the other day sent me look­ing for him online.  I came across this quote which cheers me up as I seek what form my new retire­ment will take. It lets me lean back and enjoy the form­less­ness of these first few days.

There are, it seems, two muses: the Muse of Inspi­ra­tion, who gives us inar­tic­u­late visions and desires, and the Muse of Real­iza­tion, who returns again and again to say “It is yet more dif­fi­cult than you thought.” This is the muse of form. It may be then that form serves us best when it works as an obstruc­tion, to baf­fle us and deflect our intended course. It may be that when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work and when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real jour­ney. The mind that is not baf­fled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings.”

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You Have to Love New York!

A  hot, rainy evening in NYC.  The sub­way plat­form was crowded with peo­ple try­ing to get home from work, which meant that the next train would be packed and steamy. When it pulled in, I was able to go with the on-rush and get inside the car. A man jumped up late to get off, and I was near enough to take the seat–a small mir­a­cle on a rush-hour train.  The young man beside me said, “I saved this seat for you.” I thanked him, smiled at his young daugh­ter on the other side of him, and leaned back grate­fully.  He was work­ing on his lap­top on what looked like a script.  I asked about it and soon we were shar­ing info on being writ­ers, he a film­maker with sev­eral films to his credit, another due on DVD in August, I with my mem­oir newly out.  He wrote down the name of my book and said he intended to buy it; I would buy his film in August, I promised. “And I can make your book into a film,” he said.  “Won’t it be fun on the red car­pet to say we met on the sub­way?” We both laughed.

His name is Noel Cal­loway. I watched the trailer of his new film, “Life, Love, Soul,” on You Tube, as well as an inter­view with him.  The man has tal­ent.  Ok, so maybe it will be just one of the hun­dreds of pleas­ant encoun­ters you can have with strangers in New York City.  But he’s ordered my book, he tells me, and said that from the descrip­tion of it, he thinks it would make a great film. But a pleas­ant, chance encounter with a tal­ented young film­maker on his way up? That’s enough of a gift.  You gotta love New York.

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Creativity and Vulnerability

I sup­pose when­ever a per­son presents a cre­ative work to the world, they feel vul­ner­a­ble. You’ve put your spirit, your soul, your vision into it, and you hope that at least some peo­ple will find it beau­ti­ful, or mean­ing­ful, or at least enter­tain­ing.  And if it’s a mem­oir, you’re even more exposed.  At least that’s the way I was feel­ing the past few weeks as my book was com­ing into print.

So I felt for­tu­nate to open The Oprah Mag­a­zine today and see an arti­cle on vul­ner­a­bil­ity.  In it, Dr. Brene Brown writes that vulnerability–being brave enough to “show up and let our­selves be seen”–is the cat­a­lyst for human con­nec­tion and a way to live a whole-hearted life.  In other words, the risk is worth it.  I didn’t know all this when I wrote the book; I just fol­lowed my instinc­tive desire to write it.  But, as a result, I’m find­ing that my con­ver­sa­tions with peo­ple are indeed deeper and richer.  I guess that at 72–or any age–you’re not too old to finally be open and authen­tic. And you don’t have to write a book to do it.


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