Auld Lang Syne

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Holy Saturday

Holy Saturday, the day before Easter is here, and with it a dearth of sunlight. After the long winter (or seemingly long), there is light again. My husband saw a crocus yesterday and there are green spikes underneath the crabapple in our yard. Soon we will be able to open the windows and let in fresh air.
I can hardly wait for the opening of our windows. Hallelujah!


It’s easy to know weather
when the horizon blackens.
Something new is on the way, 
rinsed in yesterday’s mood. 

The sun spins
away like a mad kite, light 
a shattered wine glass 
on the hearth.

What of the plot to bury
the yard in shrouds of white? What
witch came casting that spell? 
Has winter had enough of us?

Wait for the sky to open, to cast
its bluest eye on the yard again, 
rouse bulbs from sleep. Wait
as the bird waits in her egg. 

It is the season of windows. Hear
nothing more of falling snow. 

Watch the sky.

This poem, on its face, is a celebration of oncoming spring, a cautionary tale about the power of winter to linger, but for me it has always been a metaphor for the way our lives are in flux and at the whim of others. When I wrote it, I was in a period of contemplation and feeling deep-seated angst over the political situation. Everything I had once assumed to be real appeared topsy-turvy. Everyday life seemed beleaguered by widespread madness in Washington DC. 

Even today, the poem rings true to the metaphor I intended. I see the sunlight shining through the glass jars on my windowsill today and see the kaleidoscope of colors. This reminds me that where there is light, there is hope. 

Yes, it is the season of windows. Soon enough I will raise them and draw in a deep breath of fresh sea air. I will sing the green corn song loudly and with gusto. I will give thanks for another chance for peace. I will write poems and make watercolor paintings. I will kiss my husband. 

Today is Holy Saturday. I will remind myself that every day is Holy.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Fog, not just weather

I've always liked the expression "in a fog." It refers (logically) to days or nights wherein a sweeping mist covers us, obscures things, and makes visibility closer than usual. We famously refer to the fog in London, but I can say that when I lived in Germany the fog was thicker and more dangerous than any I saw in London when I lived there. Fog was so pervasive in Germany that the road markers were painted with reflective paint in such a way as to alert drivers to what side of the road was on their left or right so they would not run off into a field or into trees, etc. Thick fog would obscure the not-so-occasional herd of wild boar careening into the roadway. Here, in Maine and the rest of NewEngland, spring fog is helpful in taking down the remaining snow so things can begin to green up and bloom. Last night and into this morning that process is underway. I'm grateful to see the last vestiges of snow melting before my eyes. I am hopeful for a change from cold, ice, snow. I want flowers and sunshine.

But fog is not just weather. It is not always helpful. The word fog can also denote a state of dullness or confusion that befuddles the mind, keeps us from clarity of thought or makes us feel ill-at-ease. I think that the entire country has been in a fog for the past 16 months or so. What else can explain the dull acceptance of behaviors and attitudes and events that we previously decried as wrong? Even multitudes of avowed Christians are not outraged or offended by some prurient behaviors that once would have sparked action to remedy. We are through the looking glass into a realm of fog.

It's not hard to spot the fogged-in state. We do not act. We act symbolically, but without result. We turn away and run from the truth or we accept it as a nothing-we-can-do status quo. We are left wondering if there will be a spring, or if we are infected so badly with fog that we might never recover. I am weary of people saying that this is our new normal. I pray it is not.

Why are so many people, good people, pulling the fog around their shoulders like a quilt and resisting remedy? Did we, in our national state of shock a year ago November, just give up, cede spring to the fog makers? Where are there political heroes who have power and will to clear away this malignant fog that seems to be spreading?  The fog-makers are in possession of a giant fog machine and use it every day. They benefit from the dullness and apathy that fog brings. They are paid for fog. I prefer real fog, the kind that takes down snow. This national political fog is something else. It is a killing fog and its time is up.

There is a growing flock of robins in the yard. Teens and children are arriving with song and hope. I am proud of these young people across the nation who are taking direct action by marching in every city and town, saying enough, no more, never again. We need to listen to them. We need to believe them and honor them with our own action. It is their world and ours that they are trying to heal, a world we have allowed though our apathy to be covered by a killing fog.

The children, our beautiful flock of robins, will have to shame the adults who are responsible for allowing this fog to spread. The children will have to vote them out, will have to plant seeds that will bloom so profusely as to choke out the weeds, and we who are not fogged in need to help them.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Spring Cleaning

Another day where spring looks like it might be here. Dare we hope? I am hoping. I need warm weather and want to put out the porch furniture. I want things to start getting green and flowery. I want everything and everyone to wake up.

One thing is certain: I have an itch to do some spring cleaning. As I sit here in my study, I see stacks upon stacks of projects, materials, etc. and wonder how I could have gotten so lazy over a few months. Was I in some kind of hibernation? Was I dulled and numbed to my surroundings?

I have a strange way to clean: I take everything OUT of a room that is not supposed to be there and move it to another room. I dust, vac, and polish the now cleared out space. DONE! Then I move to the next room and take out everything that doesn't belong. Repeat add nauseam until at long last I am down to one room. Then whatever still doesn't need to be there can get donated or otherwise disposed of to someone else.

My question for me: do I start with this space (the worst) so I have a huge sense of accomplishment? I'd say yes, but... if I do this, it will be a LONG process. I may get discouraged and stop. I may lose sight of my goal as I begin re-reading poems, looking at my paints and brushes and wanting to stop to make a drawing or painting....

No! I have to begin. I have a goal of getting it all done in 6 days.... after all I am not creating the world here, just cleaning my world. And on the 7th day I will go outside and look for crocuses.

Now, to begin!

I have one of those USPS boxes that they give you when you pick up mail that was on vacation hold... good transport vehicle to move things from room to room. Of course first I have to do something with whatever I dropped in to get it out of the way.... oh sigh.

For those of you who might be concerned that I have become some kind of hoarder.... nope. Just a stacker.  (slacker?)

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Loss and how spring might help

The sun is breaking through an otherwise grey and grim day. At long last there is no snow in the forecast. It is 46 degrees. I keep a row of colored bottles and jars on my office windowsill so that there is sparkle whenever the least ray of light comes through. They are shining today: blue, yellow, green. I really need the sparkle.

Loss is inevitable in every aspect of life. It is a fact that people and things come and they go. If we are paying attention, we learn how to grieve the losses and find our way out of the darkness. We don’t forget, but we forbear.

I am dealing with some artisitc losses right now that are hard. I am cheered by the fact that spring is here (mostly) and summer is on the way. But the losses are still losses. I must figure out how to forbear.

Loss #1

The lingering death of Poetry Month Rockland has been difficult. I established Poetry Month Rockland in 2010 with the coperation of Steve Donoso and the public library. It was designed to be part of the National Poetry Month festivites and celebration. Our first ever Poet Laureate, Kendall Merriam was appointed and served for two years. I was appointed in 2012 and served 2 terms (four years). We appointed our 4th laureate, Joanna Hynd, in 2016. She has served for 2 years.

I put my heart, soul, (and education) into the office of Poet Laureate with a multitude of activities and events which brought poetry to life in our city. On average, one event or activity per month. I was more than visible and ready to engage anyone with poetry at any time. Poetry Month was a big deal, always ending with our Swarm of Poets, something Steve Donoso and I conceived of in 2010. A room full of poets, reading their work. Contest winners getting their prizes (usually sacks of books of poetry) and reading in public for perhaps the very first time. There were poems all over town in various places and ways. It was nothing short of festive!

It all began to die in 2016. I saw it happening, and there was nothing I could do. Of course it was not at all about me…it was and remains all about poetry and bringing it to the people. It was and is about making people realize that poetry is for everyone. Now it is all about something else, perhaps about there being too much work involved (I offered my help and was turned away) … or maybe it is about cashing in on poetry via the Millay House and its for-profit festival in the fall.

When I was asked to do a workshop in April, one of two things happening for “poetry month,”I was told by the current laureate that the Swarm was going to be different this year, focusing more on contest winners. There is no swarm on the last Thursday in April as it has for 8 years. The contest begins in April and ends in August with winners to read at the Millay festival, part deux which will be in September. Doesn’t take a rocket scientist (or a rocket sonnet-ist) to see what is happening.

I have never asked to be in charge of anything with the Millay group. I don’t want to be in charge. I do want to help. Why not allow a person with experience and education in the area of poetry and the time and willingness to lend a hand? I don’t know because I have been shut out of the conversation, ghosted as it were. I have offered for the last time. Message received loud and clear.

At any rate, Poetry Month Rockland is no more a thing we do in April. I am grieving the death of poetry month. I am angry too, but that is going away, leaving instead sadness and disappointment… but leaving also RESOLVE.

Poetry is more important to me than to let it get run over by lack of intitative or by indifference, so I am preparing to create something in place of poetry month, something that will not be killed off so easily by someone else. So far, my idea is to create a Foundation for the Writing Arts. I will likely crowdfund and seek donations and other forms of financial support. I will locate the Foundation and it activities in a place conducive to its business and functioning. I want to bring something to this community that will last, as I thought Poetry Month would last. Poetry is for everyone and ought to be readily available to everyone, all the time.  The foundation will make it so.

Through the loss and the grieving, there is hope. The sunlight will continue to stream though the glass jars on my windowsill and I will stop feeling so sad.

Loss #2

Winter is a time of loss in many ways. This winter I have experienced the loss of the poetry group of which I have been part for many years. In fact, for the past few years I was the last one of the original group which I joined in 2009.

This death too has been a slow process. Despite all attempts by some of us to save it, others were not dedicated to poetry or not dedicated enough to save the group. Some let their commitment slide, some were too thin-skinned to take critique as being about the poem, not about the person. Inevitably, personalities derailed the whole group. Details here are irrelevant. Even a carefully worded mission statement did not sustain us.

I will miss the sharing. I will miss the poems of some of the group members who have worked hard to hone their skills in making poems. I will miss the thoughtful comments/critiques of my poems by most of the members. I will miss these very much. But I cannot do anything to make this group last another single minute. It is not at all up to me. I did my part. I would do it all over again, in a heartbeat.

So now, another loss becomes another opportunity. I will grieve and move on. I will forbear.

GOING ON apr├Ęs mort:

On the horizon is a spring day, leading to another and another until it will be summer. I am cheered by that. I look forward to days at the beach with a book and a notebook in my bag. I look forward to more writing time. I have two new books, another in the works, and another finished except for fine-tuned editing. I will not be deterred from my life’s work. I will continue to bring poetry to as many people as I can in my short time here on this planet.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Poetry and Truth

I recently attended a workshop entitled, Singing in the Dark. It was about poetry as witness. We were each asked to contribute one of our own "political" or "witness" poems. We looked at many examples of poetry of witness.

By the end of the day I was convinced that there is

1. There is no one way of witness
2. There is no clear way to write about issues of society... the polis
3. There is a difference in seeing and giving the facts about something that happened and giving witness
to a greater truth, a universal truth.


4. There is a big difference between truth (facts, the what happened when) and Truth.

I have wrestled with (Big T) Truth all my remembered life.  I have considered absolute truth-telling versus the notion of an underlying morality that settles the psyche.  For the past few decades, I have questioned myself as a poet in terms of what I am willing to say and how I am safe or not safe in saying it.  I have had to become the arbiter of my own risk-taking. That is, I think, a good thing.

One thing seems clear to me: Truth (with the big T) is much more important than truth (with the little t).

Oh sure, telling the truth is a good thing, most of the time. One wants to be seen as honest and dependable. Lying (in the extreme) is certainly to be seen as pathological. However, all truth all the time can be pathological too, or at least passive aggressive.

There are glaringly obvious times when truth-telling could be a not so great plan. For example, don't tell your wife the dress makes her look fat even if she asks. Here is where tact replaces truth. But if asked do you love me? perhaps the unvarnished truth-telling needs to be plugged in. Tact may be involved here too, but don't duck out of the answer. Telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth might, in some cases, even get you killed. So truth-telling, for me, is a bit situational. It requires care and finesse. I am not suggesting a life of dishonesty or even a totally utilitarian style of truth-telling. I am saying, think first, speak second.

Eye witness accounts at crimes are universally seen by experts as unreliable. Why? Because the eye is NOT really a camera, and the brain is NOT really a recording device. Witnesses bring their own stuff, their baggage, their biases to their supposed recall. This is known. Still, juries love to have eyewitness accounts, largely I believe to make their decisions less self-responsible. It takes them off the hook for judging the defendant, the accused. Eyewitness accounts are not DNA evidence.

The bottom line for truth-telling is do your best to be honest as you can within your human limitations. Be a reliable, dependable person.

(Big T) Truth is markedly different from truth-telling. It's something far-reaching and critical. Universality, our shared human experience, depends upon it. We hold these Truths to be self-evident was the way the Founding Fathers put it. It ought to be that there is some kind of Truth we share, a Truth that protects us from the four horsemen of disenfranchisement, desperation, disillusionment, and despair. We ought to be able to hold on to something solid. Truth.

Let's examine this concept of Truth as it relates to poems and poets. To begin, we must acknowledge that there is always (ALWAYS) something happening that seems wrong, fearful, upsetting: government's behaviors, environmental issues, poverty, racism, abuse, divorce, and betrayals of all sorts.  There is crossover between a single personal episode or incident and an acknowledged or disavowed pubic interest.

There is plenty of angst out there, all at once public and personal.
There is rampant injustice and strife out there and in families behind closed doors.

What to do if you are inclined to comment (write) about personal or public injustice or social issues? How can you be truthful while creating art? Is this possible? And what of the details? Must they be written about in such a way as the piece of writing is reportage rather than something artful? What is poetic license? What is my responsibility to Truth as a poet, as a human?

I write within my deeply-held belief that Truth is important.  It is about authenticity for me. It ought to come through clearly that I am a sort of authoritative voice when I write.  Have I done the research or am I writing from personal experience? What about the object and subject(s) of my writing? What is my responsibility to their truth?

I do consider the impact of my writing on others, which has held me back from risk-taking in my writing in the past. My early poems reflect that over-reticence and restraint. However, I am less interested now in censoring myself than at any other time in my career as a poet/writer. Where previously I have held back, I am more willing to take risks now. Of course I would not publish certain of my poems if it turned out that my doing so would put someone else's life at risk. I would not publish certain poems (though I am willing to write them) which would destroy relationships or livelihood.  I am more likely to write anything, choosing whether or not to publish as my line of restraint.

Aside from public realm of comment, I seem to be the holder of many personal secrets. People tell me things. Must be I just have that face as my grandmother said. Do I want the secrets I have? Not so much. But am I in a weird way honored to have them. If you tell me a secret, it stays with me.

I carry one big secret that my mother told me over 50 years ago about someone close to me. To this day, I don't know why she shared the secret with me at age 17. I have never told that secret, other than to my husband who is never going to reveal it either. Letting it out would most certainly cause hurt. The secret likely dies with me. I had another, more personal secret that I kept for decades having to do with being molested by a dear friend's grandfather. I wrote that secret, but never put it out there until that friend died. Were she still alive today, the poem would exist only in my computer and the secret would be secret still. Here is the poem that I finally published about that secret:

At Our 20th Class Reunion
for Debby

If you mention him, your grandfather,
speak of his beautiful garden, of the tall corn 
where we played 
as children, I’ll have to tell
you about the rows
of theiving stalks with their pale silk flags —
warnings of the approaching storm, 
the shaft of lightning
that split my childhood in two.

If you talk about his stubbled jaw,
say it smiled, say it was kindly,
I’ll think of crooked yellow teeth
like misshapen kernels of corn, grimacing
through open husks, a sudden
split in the green of August.

If you go so far as to say 
he loved you, and you miss him,
I’ll glance away, remember the day 
you strode from the rows
to brush your teeth over and over, to scrub
garden dirt from your face, your knees,
your pretty lace socks.

If you utter a single word
about his sad end, twisted with palsy,
rotting bit by bit from cancer, 
I’m afraid I will laugh, twirl madly
with my skirts up around my waist,
letting the stench of his garden

fly off me into the wind.

At the time of the molestation, I did not my tell my own parents about what happened to me. I was afraid of the man, of his influence in the neighborhood, of the fact that his wife was my 2nd grade teacher and a lovely woman. I was afraid that if my father found out, he would kill the man and end up in jail. Fear = the enemy of Truth.

This remained a secret until 2003, when I finally confided in my mother. I might as well have not said anything to her. Her reaction was flat, somewhat unbelieving. She said well if that happened to you, I am sorry. She did not ask for details or ask me if I was okay. She simply turned the conversation to something else. Although she under-reacted, I did need to tell her for my own sense of well-being. I needed her, of all people, to hear it. To hear me. She just did not get it. Nothing I could do about that. There. Out. Secret told. Did I feel better? Worse? Honestly, her flatness just made me angry. But, Mr S and his disgusting garden were finally relegated to the compost pile. So, yes. Better.

What does telling this hard secret have to do with Truth (Big T variety)? It is a fact that I am not the first girl to be molested nor will I be the last. It (the poem) is only remotely about me, or even my friend, or even her grandfather. Here is where the Big T comes in: it is about the way men decide that women and girls are theirs for the taking. I know that somewhere a woman will read or hear my poem and relate. It is for her, and all of the rest that I tell the secret. Because I am a poet, my vehicle for telling is poetry.

You may wonder if the way the poem is written is accusatory of my friend. It is not. It speaks to her own silence. It is empathetic of that silence, while asserting that I could not deal with the silence. It isolated us both. Read the poem closely and you will see (I hope) that I have always suspected Debby was a victim too. I'd lay big money on that one. My regret is that we were never able to talk about it and be there for one another. She was sent to boarding school for junior high school and high school. I suspect that her parents knew what had happened and chose this way to protect her. I hope so.

I have written about hard things for a long time. It is a need I have to be more myself and less hidden. I was always myself inside, but as a bit of an introvert I kept myself closed. Why rock the boat? Why risk judgement or even retribution? I decided a few years ago that I would not be quiet (good little girls are seen, not heard). I wanted to be heard. I am still good, just no longer quiet. Risk-taker, not rule-breaker.