rx for writer’s block
the lowered sky scowls, ushers in
another springtime squall.
restless, the wind’s spin, once again
heralds cold raindrop’s fall.
in layered wool, enwrapped in fleece
and sipping piping tea
the writer sighs at spring’s caprice —
and, writing, finds the way to peace.
should others, plying art as trade
find dull days leave their souls in pique
recall that sun, too, can invade
with sick ennui the Muse pervade —
perhaps, what’s best is this technique:
Keep Butt-In-Chair, five days a week.
My play-cousin, Mary Lee, has been posting all about Pete Seeger’s lyricist, Malvina Reynolds, this past month, and Reynolds’ song about failing fell in a good spot for me. But I didn’t want to admit to Mary Lee that I’d never heard, um, of Malvina Reynolds, and I couldn’t identify more than one Pete Seeger song if paid. (*cough* I know. Sorry. “This Land Is Your Land?” that’s all I’ve got.) Protest songs weren’t necessarily my era, and our household was all about the religious music, except for illicit Manilow and the odd easy-listening in the car on the way to the grocery store. (My mother, the maverick.)
So, I thought Mary Lee’s favorite Seeger lyrics was a good thing to post today, for my Christian peeps, and for my Jewish, Muslim, and Generally Not Into It peeps as well. It spins well off of Tupac’s “The Rose that Grew From Concrete:“
Did you hear about the rose that grew
from a crack in the concrete?
Proving nature’s law is wrong it
learned to walk with out having feet.
Funny it seems, but by keeping its dreams,
it learned to breathe fresh air.
Long live the rose that grew from concrete
when no one else ever cared.
Water drills stone. Roots shift concrete. Grass covers all. Whether your rose or grass is HaShem, Jesus, the Prophet, or sheer granite determination to get through these next few days, months, and weeks, may your sneaky, rooted self find all the cracks, and may your push never falter, that the concrete which stifles us might buckle, and a necessary growth take place.
God Bless the Grass
God bless the grass that grows through the crack.
They roll the concrete over it to try and keep it back.
The concrete gets tired of what it has to do,
It breaks and it buckles and the grass grows thru,
And God bless the grass.
God bless the truth that fights toward the sun,
They roll the lies over it and think that it is done
It moves through the ground and reaches for the air,
And after a while it is growing everywhere,
And God bless the grass.
God bless the grass that breaks through cement,
It’s green and it’s tender and it’s easily bent,
But after a while it lifts up it’s head,
For the grass is living and the stone is dead.
And God bless the grass.
God bless the grass that’s gentle and low
Its roots they are deep and it’s will is to grow.
And God bless the truth, the friend of the poor,
And the wild grass growing at the poor man’s door,
And God bless the grass.
~ Malvina Reynolds
“to the artist, to make the most of time”
a little bird once laid on me
intelligence in four short words
“be here right now.” philosophy
astonishing if not absurd –
we’re always Here. we’re always Now,
but humans linger in the past
endless Regretfuls we allow
to turn Today to overcast
so mindfulness in pithy phrase
may Zen-pretentiousness suppose,
but practice it – the mind’s malaise
will fade to nothing, decompose
friend robin sang and told a True
I strive for all my waking days:
“take risks! make messes! and pursue
both Love and Art, without delay.”
For my friend Robin Smith, who, hearing Tech Boy had been out of work since December sent a card asking, “I know you’re worried about all of that, but have you been writing? You have so much to offer.” So timely to this past week, I was sincerely touched that she wrote just when she has her own stuff going on. ♥
Monday I’ll have come to a conclusion about what action I’ll take regarding this manuscript, but until then, I’m working to believe that I wrote something okay to begin with. It’s amazing how hard it is to believe excellence of yourself… aaaand just typing that word ‘excellence’ seems like a bridge too far. ‘Pretty good’ I’m okay with; ‘excellence’ seems dubious – again, peacocking. Ugh. This is the serious work that creators and artists do every day… in addition to creating and making art. What a world, huh?
Intuiting that I’m the one
missing a clue in this romance –
(perhaps my overture has run
outside the lines of taste, by chance)
sincerely seeking for my sin I
take a breath. Regroup. Assess
expect that I have gone awry, &
realize I have not transgressed.
So speaks the critic in my mind,
“you’re not so much at writing yet
no lasting words to leave behind, your
debut something to forget” –
Refuse this! Take your writer’s place
Over the noise of doubt’s disdain
Make art from your own knowledge base
Embrace your flaws, your mess, your pain.
Poetry Friday today is hosted @Dori Reads.
Continuing my rejection-revision saga, this was a tweet attributed to the quirkily brilliant alien Jon Sun: “editing is easier than writing bc writing only works when u believe u dont suck and editing only works when u believe u do”
That was… painfully relevant. Painfully.
those two imposters
this poem is me, faking
that i know how to rhyme
and balance lightly, meter, & do so all the time
a rule in poem-making
to make the stanzas chime
in poems is me, faking
that I know how to rhyme
my word choice is painstaking,
my rhetoric, sublime
a single phrase illuminates, and shifts a paradigm —
but poetry? Me? Faking
that I know how to rhyme
and balance lightly, meter, & do so, all the time
“The first problem of any kind of even limited success is the unshakeable conviction that you are getting away with something and that any moment now they will discover you.” ~ Neil Not-Getting-Away-With-It Gaiman.
::Sigh:: I know, from watching other people do so, that you can disbelieve your way out of a field. So, there is a trick to this that one must perform daily, or else.
(Point of interest: this poem is a variation on the Italian form called a madrigal(e). I thought one only sang those, but perhaps not. “Those two imposters” refers, of course, to Kipling’s “If,” stanzas of which we memorized in the fifth grade, and used for handwriting lessons as well – “If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster/ And treat those two imposters just the same…” I am torn between nostalgia and exasperation at the memory of that poem, and how hard we tried to live up to all of that… so we could be “a Man, my son.” Good grief.)
Yesterday, I got to thinking about the idea of “average” and “mainstream” and the massive mythos that has been built up about the American. The definition of the American Dream as written by James Truslow Adams in 1931 posited that “life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement” regardless of social class or circumstances of birth. That sounds reasonable enough, right? And yet, the dream has morphed continuously. Have you ever read the whole of Langston Hughes’ “Let America Be America Again?” Not just the first few lines or stanzas. Read it all, aloud. I’ll wait.
As you see, depending on who is dreaming for us, what we want is to be The Best. We are supposed to be Made Great. O, Pioneers, we are meant to go forth and conquer. We are supposed to want to be captains of industry, while many of us want to just have a decent house and a garden and maybe a couple of kids or a weasel (same thing, really, as my friend Liz might tell me ☺). And yet, the cross-section of most people you know and I know, the true average mainstream want simpler truths, that change, that level place to stand and be, for them and theirs. As Langston Hughes said,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!
musings of the mainstream
o, beauteous, this spacious sky
belongs to all who live hereby
to all who strive on this earth’s curve
to freely live, and love to serve.
And let us take up Langston’s vow
& though we know not when – or how –
let’s live in hope the dream is true
and no mere “greatness” thus pursue…
for who the dreamer? whose, the dream?
& which America a gleam of graft and rot in rheumy eye
& which the land where you (& I)
the masses yearning to breathe free
can safely plant a family tree?
a genuine and human heart is unconcerned with being great
but looks instead to love and serve, and has no need to compensate.
With apologies to Langston Hughes, and Emma Lazarus, and everyone who winces at poetic doggerel.
Long before the most recent election, we became aware of another turn of phrase, that of people “living in a bubble.” The bubble then was described as social or cultural, and described a “new” upper class that was worlds away from the average White American. And yes: pretty specific. It was more of monetary phrase than anything else, and related to one man’s research about one subset of Americans. Then, the election – all three hundred and seven years of it – wound up, and the conversation became political. We didn’t understand each other. EVERYONE existed, we were told, leagues away from the “average mainstream American.” We were all, it was accused, living in an “elitist bubble.”
Too easy, my common sense argued. Number one, I’m not the average white American – (hello? Remember the original guy’s research?), and number two, what the heck is “average?” I don’t like words like “mainstream,” either. My belief? There’s no such thing.
There were the requisite quizzes to self-identify as a bubbler, but though pundits tried to apply words like “elitist” and “mainstream” and “average” to everyone, it just didn’t stick to me… except in the general way that many people with anxiety or depression feel culpable, bad, or guilty about anything they hear on the news, and wonder, “is it I?” about darn near everything. And so, with my usual inability to differentiate whether or not I am at fault – at least on an emotional level – I, like so many other people who are trying constantly to be better than we’ve been accused to be, try to vary what I read, the media I consume, and the groups with which I discuss it. I still don’t believe in the myth of the average American, as I tend toward a more sociological point of view, which emphasizes diversity, but I am trying to mix it up. Within reason. Here’s to better understanding, I guess.
our bubble’s popped; let’s go
disperse, break up & scatter
let’s make new friends (&foes
the former more the latter)
to avoid Stepford ways
echoes of lockstep feedback
diversify your days —
make variance your fallback
I have been struggling to get out of bed lately. On Thursday, I swore I’d do it on Friday. On Friday, I decided that Monday was soon enough. I will get up. I will. Eventually. Soon.
I carried this poem tucked into the clear cover of my binder, all through college. People thought it was a joke…
by Jean Little
TODAY I will not live up to my potential.
TODAY I will not relate well to my peer group.
TODAY I will not contribute in class.
I will not volunteer one thing.
TODAY I will not strive to do better.
TODAY I will not achieve or adjust or grow enriched
or get involved.
I will not put my hand up even if the teacher is wrong
and I can prove it.
TODAY I might eat the eraser off my pencil.
I’ll look at clouds.
I’ll be late.
I don’t think I’ll wash.
I NEED A REST.
[from Hey, World, Here I Am! 1986]
I was nine the summer I met a new girl whose mother had died of a drug overdose. Everyone, of course, felt terrible for her, and I was matched by the adults in our lives as someone “suitable” to anchor a going-on-fifth-grade girl adrift with a father she’d never lived with, his new family, and a box of Barry Manilow cassette tapes, all she had left of her mother. We didn’t have much to say to each other, at first, this girl and I, but then she showed me her treasures- a small gold necklace with a maybe real diamond chip, a compact of silly blue eyeshadow, and a shoebox full of cassete tapes. We listened to them – she, remembering her mother, and me, finding a whole different world from the hymns and religious songs I knew at home. We listened to those cassettes until we worried they would wear out. So, “Lyn” made me my own set, and made herself another set. And when the golden voice spiked out, we weren’t just two awkward fifth graders, but something better. Something bigger.
Coming to Barry Manilow’s swoopy vocals and sentimental piano ballads before I had the cynical armor of adolescence means I listened and wept real tears to heart-tuggers like “Even Now” and “All the Time” and imagined myriad lives not my own, where people were hurting and enduring, putting away youthful loves and going on – in some cases bitterly, in others, joyously. It was… like reading novels, seriously. I imagined life stories for Lola the Showgirl and Mandy. (Why, yes. Yes. I was a weird kid. I know. I also wrote narrative bubbles in the Sears catalogue. Dialogue practice or weirdness? You Make the Call.)
In time – by junior high, really – there were boy bands and cooler music to be aware of, like Prince. I …quietly pretended to know who George Michael and Boy George was. (And thought Boy G was a girl. FOR YEARS you guys. I was completely clueless: he wore makeup, right? Ergo, girl, right? Oyyyy.) I forsook my first love, and moved on. After all, Choir Nerds like Huey Lewis and the News, right? Vocals. Four-part-harmony, and all that jazz. Every once in a while, we’d arrange a Manilow song for a talent show – what other song lent itself to a soft-shoe routine AND a whistle but “Can’t Smile Without You?” In my dramatic, emo moments, nothing would do but for me to rewind “Could This Be the Magic” over and over and over and over. And of course, every high school choral group worth its salt had to butcher “I Write the Songs.” (!)
In college, my menopausal boss had all of the Manilow on Broadway CDs and the fact that I could sing some of his songs endeared me to her — more than unfairly, I’ll admit, but she was in a cranky, awful place in her life, apt to shriek at her student workers and weep a lot — so I took all the sweetening of her temperament that I could get. Even once I was married, I kept my old cassette tape, though I had nothing to play it on… I knew all the words to all the songs, and at odd times, the lyrics would come back to me — when I was sad and regretful, mostly, but better times, too. I remember belting out One Voice with strangers and friends in Glasgow and tearing up because we were in an auditorium full of people who also sang — Glaswegians are crazy good at knowing all the words to sentimental songs. We sang so loudly we lost our voices – and it was glorious.
When Mr. Manilow came out earlier this month, I felt an upwelling of love for an old friend. In my heart, I hugged him, and promised him that the nine-year-old superfan I was could never be disappointed in someone who taught the world to sing in the darkness. I wrote him a haiku, because… well, because. Because I still know all the words to all the songs, and before I had armor, he broke and re-mended my childish heart.
& every1 will sing
notes under the door
shine a light in through the cracks —
believe in your song
It’s the first Friday of National Poetry Month, which means a doubly special poetry challenge, participated in by Kelly, Sara, Liz calling in from the road; Laura, and Tricia (Andi is sitting this one out) as part of the Poetry Seven’s Year in Poetry challenge. This month, Sara chose a poem by Rilke for us to respond to directly –
You, darkness, of whom I am born—
I love you more than the flame
that limits the world
to the circle it illumines
and excludes all the rest.
But the dark embraces everything
shapes and shadows, creatures and me,
people, nations—just as they are.
It lets me imagine
a great presence stirring beside me
I believe in the night.
—Rainer Maria Rilke, The Book of Hours, translated by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy
We all read this poem a few times, and then a few more, and then decided what to do with it. I tried to write a line-to-line response first, which didn’t work at all. Then I tried to write a kind of …Big Picture Thought about how the poem made me feel. Also didn’t work. As I was trying to work through my daily poem challenges for National Poetry Month, I begin to get a little worried… Rilke, with his usual straightforwardness, was not striking any sparks with me.
And then, I started thinking about sparks… little spangles of light, illumination. And the opposite of said. Sparks don’t actually let us do anything but see that there’s contrast. They don’t help us see anything but the light itself, and what is it, really?
This is a dude who likes the dark. I respect that about him. Few people actually do. Oh, we think we love the dark, the stars. We quote “When I Heard The Learn’d Astronomer,” and gaze up wistfully. But, where most of us live is so much light pollution we don’t actually have dark. I have become acquainted with the night, because I briefly lived way out in the country, in Glasgow. Our neighbors were sheep. It was flippin’ dark out on those country lanes. It was …kind of amazing. And, I knew I was walking right next to spiders. I had to decide how much I was going to let that bother me.
In the end, I decided that I agreed with ‘ol Rainer, because I like the dark, but I also want to like the dark. Being who I am, the literal girlchild who has thought a great deal about the word “black” as reflected in theology and hymnody, darkness is going to mean a little something different to me — and I could see that reflected in the seven’s poetry, as we wrote on our shared Google document. I may be the only one who likes the dark, but I won’t hold that against anyone. I have walked a different (spider-adjacent) road, and I tend to have to reject the experience that “most” people have with darkness – because I am not most people.
Took me long enough to figure that out.
“the absence of color”
from darkness thou art formed & dust thou art
first secreted within thy mother’s womb
deep shadows, holding fast creation’s start
to secret hopes in dreamer’s sleep entombed
(blackness is sin, a moody study’s brown
and white holds light, a purity renown
a Presence stirs, beneath the surface bright
foul fiend, forfend, or wisdom’s erudite?)
before the light can drown thy timid sheen
enlightening with fact that still deceives
hold to thine task: believe what is not seen
and be ye blesséd by the unperceived.
Poetry Friday is hosted today by Irene Lantham at her blog, LIVE YOUR POEM. Check it out, for more!