Tuesday, January 27, 2015

7:30 BELLS Guest Post: Poet Linda M. Robertson

Linda M. Robertson and I met near this bell in the Cape George Colony. She was walking down the road toward the beach and I was walking up the road. We smiled at each other. She asked, "Did you see the sea otters?" And friendship blossomed. We were both poets, had both had lived and loved the Methow Valley. Robertson's beautiful, fine press book, Letters to Julia: 1898-1899 is set there, as are my books Eva of the Farm and After the River the Sun. 

I'm so pleased to share her resonating essay: Sense of Place.

At the edge of the Salish Sea, there hangs a large bronze bell. Shapes of fish and stones are cast in the metal, as well as the words: “Our simplest wisdom is to follow the sea-bright salmon home.”

The idea of “home” makes me think of place. I am a writer that cherishes sense of place. It is place that makes me feel alive, that rings and resonates in my work. Place provides me with vocabulary, with narratives, with inspiration for image-making; with a landscape to discover and chart as I build word-cairns, poems. My poems act as time-capsules; they bring people, incidents, and places of the past into the present.

I don’t consider “place” to reference only outer landscapes. My poems and prose also illuminate emotions, visual art, and dreams. I have written about “the places of goodbye,” as well as spiritual journeys: “Walking the Edge of Heaven.”

In the essay “The Art of Finding” poet Linda Gregg recalls the landscape of her youth and writes “The elements of that bright world are in my poetry now…They are present as essences. They operate invisibly as energy, equivalents, touchstones, amulets, buried seed, repositories, and catalysts…” She refers to this recalled landscape as her own “resonant sources.”

As I reflect on the landscapes that continue to be present as “essences” in my work, I think of San Diego, where I was born and lived for the first 20 plus years of my life. My memories pulse with broad beaches, fishing boats, shorebirds and the sea’s salt-songs. I think also of the shrub-steppe eastern slopes of the North Cascades in Washington state—a remarkable place I called home for nearly 30 years.

In December I completed a Low-Residency MFA program at Chatham University, Pittsburgh. My Thesis “The Missing” is a manuscript of 51 pages of poems. As I review the work I crafted over the past three years while I was living and traveling in the US and the UK, I see how sense of place pervades the manuscript. No matter if I was writing about personal struggles, dreams, a painting from the 15th century, my son who died too soon at age 20, or my elderly parents—place is often present and resonant. The southern sea and the northern mountain world are with me as I sit at my desk and write. This poem, the final one in my manuscript— written while in England as I wrestled with change of place and home, is an example:


Later I will say
the hills conspired: crowds
of balsam root and lupine
hindered my passage; my shoulders
bound by snow-thrift clouds.
Not one clock struck
the hour. I leaned
the broadest yellow pine, the flags
of prayer, where a male grouse
stood sentry. The maple tree
sheltered the bird-bowls sheen
a last offering. The distances before me
inscribed with raven wings.

In my writing, I find truth in the I Ching’s: “There is no going without returning.”

Linda M. Robertson is a recent graduate of Chatham University’s Low-Residency MFA program. Publications include “Letters to Julia: 1898-1899” by the Methow Conservancy, Visions of Verse, The Methow Naturalist, Mirror Northwest. A chapbook, Reply of Leaves, was published by Magic Mountain Press in 2002. Linda lives and writes in the Pacific Northwest and England and hopes to publish work from her manuscript The Missing in literary journals.

7:30 BELLS Posts run every Tuesday.

7:30 BELLS Guest Posts run on the second and fourth Tuesdays of every month. Join me on February 10 for a guest post with author Brent Hartinger.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

7:30 BELLS: Rilke's Bell Tower

What batters us can become our strength. So says Rilke--the pinnacle of the German Romantic Poetry tradition that began with Goethe and went on through Holderlin, Heine, and Novalis. (Jung flowed out of this tradition as well.)

An accident last week left large second degree burns on my legs. So there have been many days of late where I've felt the night is indeed "uncontainable." 

"Let this darkness be a bell tower
 and you the bell." 

I read Rilke's poem for the first time three days after my accident. I've long believed that transformative power can come out of any experience of pain or darkness. But I'd never thought of darkness itself as the bell tower.  

Here is the entire poem:

Quiet friend who has come so far,
feel how your breathing makes more space around you.
Let this darkness be a bell tower
and you the bell. As you ring,

what batters you becomes your strength.
Move back and forth into the change.
What is it like, such intensity of pain?
If the drink is bitter, turn yourself to wine.

In this uncontainable night,
be the mystery at the crossroads of your senses,
the meaning discovered there.

And if the world has ceased to hear you,
say to the silent earth: I flow.
To the rushing water, speak: I am.

--Rilke/Translated by Joanna Macy
--Sonnets to Orpheus II, 29

We are the mystery, and we are the meaning. If we hold to that, we can ring, flow, and speak in any weather--in darkness and in light, in pain and in joy.

7:30 BELLS Posts run every Tuesday.

7:30 BELLS Guest Posts run on the second and fourth Tuesdays of every month. Join me on January 27 for a guest post with poet Linda Robertson.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

7:30 BELLS Guest Post: A TAOS STATE OF MIND by Nikki Grimes

I'm so pleased to share this 7:30 Guest Post by the brilliant author and poet--award winning Nikki Grimes, whose verse novels have long been an inspiration for me.

There are places in the world for which the word beauty is inadequate, places where God was flat-out showing off. Taos, New Mexico is one of them. Whenever my feet touch down in Georgia O’Keeffe country, my heart expands. I'm on holy ground. Maybe it's the soaring pillars of red rock, which surely gave rise to the word "breathtaking." Maybe it's the pristine air that makes the very act of breathing feel new, or the impossible blueness of the sky that challenges all I have ever known of color. The magic of Taos is difficult to pinpoint, but when I'm there, I know that all creative things are possible. What better state of mind to be in when one wants to write, paint, or imagine?

My last trip there took me to the Mabel Dodge Luhan House, abutting the Taos Pueblo. One day, I must return to this cultural landmark to explore the rich art history hiding behind each door. History excites me, and these corridors are alive with literary ghosts like D. H. Lawrence, and Jean Toomer. On this particular visit, though, my focus was on teaching a poetry workshop for Kindling Words West.

Early each morning, before breakfast, I'd walk the property, pause at the prayer labyrinth, stop to chat with the neighborhood magpies, and make a vain attempt to snap a close-up of a raven. That clever bird would unfailingly lift off the split second I'd raise my camera. I'd shake my head, smiling, and continue into town, slow and easy. I'd stop, now and then, and close my eyes long enough to enjoy the exquisite quality of quiet. Inside myself, I would hear the music of my heart, ringing, grateful.

Taos is a radical contrast to the environment of my youth. I grew up in New York City, amidst the cacophony of car horns, boom-boxes, sirens blaring, and neighbors yelling at one another to dial it down. But, in the intervening years, thanks in part to a respite in Tanzania, a country with no noise pollution, I've become a connoisseur of quiet. It's something we all need if we hope to hear ourselves think, if we dare get in touch with our true selves. The most sublime, meaningful art and poetry reside there, and that's what I'm after. I can't always afford the trip to New Mexico, but a quiet corner suffices. After all, it's the Taos state-of-mind I find conducive to the journey inward. Thankfully, I can close my eyes and return to the sweet stillness of the prayer labyrinth, or the red-rock vistas, or my quirky conversations with magpies whenever I like. And when I do, I'm guaranteed to hear the bells ring.

New York Times bestselling author Nikki Grimes is the recipient of the 2006 NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children. Her distinguished works include ALA Notable book What is Goodbye?, Coretta Scott King Award winner Bronx Masquerade, and Coretta Scott King Author Honor books Jazmin's Notebook, Talkin' About Bessie, Dark Sons, The Road to Paris, and Words with Wings. Creator of the popularMeet Danitra Brown, Ms. Grimes lives in Corona, California.

7:30 BELLS Posts run every Tuesday.

7:30 BELLS Guest Posts run on the second and fourth Tuesdays of every month. 

Monday, January 12, 2015

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

7:30 BELLS: Radically Rapt: 2105 New Year’s Manifesto

For a double dose of New Beginnings/Old Endings have your birthday four days after New Year’s— January 4th. Hence the second annual 730 BELLS New Year’s Manifesto.

This year, I will step up creating the kind of luminous life I want to live. How? By choosing how I attend to the world. Our experience of life, psychologically, biologically, spiritually, is determined by what we choose to pay attention to. Check out RAPT: Attention and the Focused Life by Winifred Gallagher
 for more on the psychology and neuroscience of attention.

The trick is finding not only what you want to pay attention to, but also how. Your unique way of looking at the world provides all you need to understand how to walk through the world in order to create the best life, work, experience of being alive---best for you.

For me, paying daily attention to the natural world is core. Watching trees. The slant of rain. The way the wind is blowing the light around the sky. Not only does the natural world bring out the best in my work and heart, it’s the foundation stone of who I am. It brings me most alive. I pay attention to the natural world by making art with and about it. A deeply interior conversation has developed. A dynamic luminous relationship that flows from me to the world and back again.

Other things are important, too. The face across the table from me instead of the icon on the social networking app. This year I will pay even less attention to the “Information Overload Age.” Listen less to news, radio. Spend even less time looking at FB and Twitter links.

With a new year and a birthday , I’m increasingly aware that I don’t have time to pay attention to the endless onslaught of information. I don’t want to. And regardless of contemporary credo, I don’t need to. All I need do to create the experience of luminous life I want is to be. . . 
Radically Rapt. To Radically Ring.

7:30 BELLS Posts run every Tuesday.

7:30 BELLS Guest Posts run on the second and fourth Tuesdays of every month. Join me on January 14 for a guest post with author Nikki Grimes.