I came across some passages from an old journal that seemed very apt today. As I write this, members of my extended family are gathered in another state to remember the life of one of my second cousins, who died this past week. I am unable to join them in body, but I offer this to my aunts, uncle, and cousins, and to all who mourn, wherever they are.
let this sorrow toss us
smooth, tumble off the edges
until we roll freely
in the surf, our clatter
the joyful sound of waves
This charming fellow was the gift of a dear friend, who designed, hand-carved, and painted him. The windway (the place where you blow) is on the bottom and the window (the opening where the sound happens) is carved into the back. It produces a soft, clear tone. We always put this ornament somewhere prominent because just seeing it makes us happy.
As sometimes happens, I’ve been caught up in the activities of the season, the most recent of which was decorating. We spread our holiday decorating over the four weeks of Advent, so the final Sunday is very festive indeed. Part of the fun of decorating the tree is telling the stories of the ornaments, where each came from and what memories we associate with it.
This little ceramic bell is one of three that hung on the trees of my childhood as far back as I can recall. I have two siblings (both sisters) so our things tended to occur in batches of three. I don’t remember how it came to us, but it seemed old to me even as a child, so I suspect it may have come from the household of a great (grandparents or aunt and uncle). It makes a sweet sound and remains one of my favorite ornaments from childhood.
It’s (inter)National Novel Writing Month (iNaNoWriMo), though we all know I’m not working on a novel. But neither am I willing to pass up a chance to ride the wonderful wave of creative energy rolling across the globe and through my own amazing community. (Shout-out to all the beautiful Bluegrass writers!) So I’ve given myself four very different writing activities to work on this month and have been able to make time for at least one of them each day.
Today’s activity is blogging, inspired by this article on poetry by A.E. Stallings. I may have to print it and carry it with me for those awkward moments when I’m called upon to talk about what I do. (For the record, I often cop out by talking about editing, which is only slightly less deadly to conversation than poetry.) Stallings hits all the salient points, and I love him for it.
- Poetry is not useful, yet it is everywhere.
- It transcends us and will outlast us all in some recorded form, though who will care?
- Poetry is commercially non-viable and materially irrelevant, which makes it rather suspect.
Poetry arises from paradox, from the multiple meanings a word or image can hold. It’s a linguistic version of certain mathematical equations which seem to describe separate realities happening all at once.
Anyone who doubts the subversive, contradictory, and disreputable power of poetry needs only consider this year’s Nobel prize award for literature. It doesn’t explain much, but it makes a fantastic illustration. (Kinda like poetry.)
A.E. Stallings, “Why Bother with Poetry?” Times Literary Supplement Online, 7 Nov 2016,
This poem formed during the wee hours this morning, in a wakeful moment between sleep cycles. The words arranged themselves as I spoke them in my mind, and I desperately hoped, as I slipped back under, that I would remember them. I’m not certain I did, but this is a fair approximation.
in sleep, our fingers still curl
as if encircling a branch
and our hands clench, gripping
as though our lives
depend on it, which they did once
upon a distant ancestor
In case anyone was wondering, I haven’t died or finally been committed to an asylum (though I expect both in due time.) Rather, I’ve been completely immersed in a wonderful manuscript project with a lovely client who happens to be an art historian. That has meant end notes, figures, captions, appendices, an index, and Chicago’s 16th Edition – an editor’s dream job!
For years I’ve told told everyone (myself included) that editing uses the same parts of the brain as writing, so when I’m working on an editing project I’m not able to write. I now realize that isn’t true. Although there’s a certain degree of overlap, editing uses a good deal more left-brain function than writing, which relies primarily on right-brain operations.
The upshot of this discovery is that I can no longer use work (editing) as an excuse not to work (writing). It’s surprising how liberating that feels.
I woke this morning from sound sleep
and poetry – no words remained
in mind, only the clear knowledge
I had shaped verse as I went about
the business of the dream.
So today I wrote again
after too many weeks of letting life
and other work take up all
available space and time and energy –
but no more.
You may notice that I posted a poem last year using the same prompt. That’s because it comes from essentially the same source: the seasonal social media event known as #blogElul.
We are not quite the same people when we pass the same date on the calendar each year, and I am thankful for spiritual practices that help me contemplate and celebrate that. (And yes, I am posting this a few days behind. I’m glad you noticed!)
Prepare the royal highway!
Raise up the low and bring down
the high-and-mighty. Soften
curves and widen the shoulders
so no one goes off into a ditch.
Clear boulders and fence posts
from the right-of-way and plant
wildflowers and lithe
grasses to gladden the eye
and sweeten the air. Let the way
be wide, the arms of the Holy One
outstretched to receive us all.