Pretty Words . . .

elude me this winter, this long winter. The snow remains, melting flake by flake. Even so, we know the day will come when ground is sufficiently dry to respond, to whip grains of ground into a mini-vortex and send its origami cranes skyward again. Writers can’t wait. We witness it all, we soak in snow, we turn blue, we shake ourselves dry and warm ourselves up and go out again and again until at last the rustling begins, the winds lift our latches, open our cocoons.

Eudora Welty tells us “True daring starts from within” where, whatever the weather, we’re not just waiting. We’re raw, we’re real, we’re ready.

Writing and Empathy

Kathleen McCoy:

Marilyn McCabe’s reflections on faith and success seem particularly germane this Easter season. Writers and wonderers, consider.

Originally posted on Marilynonaroll's Blog:

A poem by Dante Di Stefano, “A Drone Pilot Discusses the Story of Abraham and Isaac” (http://www.amethystarsenic.com/issues/4-1/dante-di-stefano.php) compares Abraham’s faith on that day he offered up his son to the kind of everyday faith with which we live our mundane lives, faith that, for example, if we wait in line at a store, we will be served, if we offer up our credit card, the purchase will be successful. “You don’t question the altar or the knife,” he writes. “You don’t ever doubt that the Walmart/will carry the Tide marker you need…” This is kind of stunning, this deep empathy with Abraham’s point of view, speculative though it may be, ironic, rueful. I thought of this poem when I heard a lecture by Alain de Botton about our culturally-based ideas of success and failure (http://www.ted.com/talks/alain_de_botton_a_kinder_gentler_philosophy_of_success). He claims our contemporary understanding of them can lead us to discount the…

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Between “Human” and “Being”

Poets, like humanoids of all stripes, play a balancing game on a daily basis. Grade papers. Run to meetings. Teach classes. Run kids to events and activities. Check in with the spouse. Dust once in a blue moon. Throw leftovers in the microwave. Eat. Run some more. Rinse. Repeat.

It’s what Ekhart Tolle, in A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose, calls “finding a balance between human and Being” (104). The human part of us is the ego, which is wedded to the roles we play–poet, teacher, wife, mom, etc., etc.–while the Being at our core is timeless, disembodied, the Spirit that transcends all our earthly errand-running, role-shifting, ego-propping, power-grubbing, material-minding chaos.

Today, it’s meeting with the WMDs (Women of Mass Dissemination) to tweak, update, and generally improve our web sites. Tonight it’s marking draft poems for students who are (generally) more confident about their fiction.

But soon–not now, but SOON–it will be just the page and me. Setting the “human aside.” Connecting with poetry. Just . . . Being.

100 Thousand Poets for Change

time&place100,000

There may never be a time when it is more important to bring the Big Ideas of Peace and Sustainability home. And nothing brings Big Ideas home to roost like poetry.

It’s been my joy to assemble local poets, artists, and thinkers with a global initiative: the SUNY Adirondack Writers Project is sponsoring 100 Thousand Poets for Change, a poetry reading and informative gathering for peace and sustainability. And heck, I get to say that “Philip Levine likes us on Facebook, and so does Caffe Lena Poetry!”

We have a line-up of award-winning and student poets, artist John Hampshire‘s work, and mini-talks by professors Tim Scherbatskoy on sustainability and Rebecca Pelchar on art and peace.

100,000 medium postcard

Poetry of Witness

How do you feel about “poetry of witness”? I’m referring to a still-debated term used by Carolyn Forche and other poets that respond in their poems to the injustices, oppression, and violence suffered by others.

At the recent AWP conference in Boston, I heard wonderful poets–from the Old Guard and the Newer  alike–including Sharon Olds, Olga Broumas, Kathleen Graber, and Kimiko Hahn–praise Adrienne Rich and Muriel Rukeyser. Carolyn Forche is a long favorite of mine as well.

It’s one of many paths poetry can take, and this one can be fraught. My poetry mentors of the ’80s were mostly men who were, while brilliant artists, indoctrinated in the view that any brand of “political poetry” was, categorically, bad. Today I’m sure their views are more nuanced. At least, I like to think so. I don’t think they would have argued that Wilfred Owen’s “Dulce et Decorum Est” is a bad poem, nor Randall Jarrell’s “The Death of the Ball-Turret Gunner,” but when it came to feminism, domestic violence, abject poverty, and a host of other social issues, they turned away, huddled over poems that remained intensely personal or philosophical. I’ve noticed, over the years, that much of this work is written by women or people of color against whom they would never overtly discriminate today.

What makes “political poetry” good or bad? When does some measure of social activism cross the invisible (perhaps undulating) demarcation between compassion and schlock or opportunism or appropriation of others’ experience?

Please comment!