Auld Lang Syne

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Trump and Through the Looking Glass

We are through the looking glass these days, where everything real isn't and everything unreal is. We have allowed crazy upsidedownness to thrive. We do it by seeing politics as a place to be "funny" at the expense of others. We seem to like the loudest mouths and the biggest booming threats. We believe that if we elect a CEO, we will get benefits from that person. We ignore things of moral value in favor of flashy rhetoric, even when the flashy rhetoric is false, PROVABLY false.

We allow, even celebrate, those who lie and are inhumane and threatening to others (those others are people who are not like"us.") We choose to believe lies because the lies seem "entertaining" or because those lies seem to offer change. Some even say "he thinks like I do" (which gives me a shudder to think how many might be like him)

We prefer ANY difference in or challenge to the "status quo" versus truths or facts that can be verified. We prefer to let sound bytes "educate us" and believe what others tell us to believe, maybe because we are so confused we don't recognize our own beliefs, our own values. We are part of a problem we cannot see as we cheer the emperor with no clothes in a kind of sad mob mentality, sad and dangerous mob mentality.

Do we think this fear-mongering stance will not be "real" in its dire consequence after November? It is going to get "real" real fast, people.   Step away from the funhouse mirror.

I for one, am scared that should Trump take office, only people like him will survive. And that one of his tantrums of xenophobia and racism will end us, literally end us in a puff of nuclear smoke and ash. Listen to what other people around the world are saying about him and pull your heads out of his butt.

If you are not a rich white male you will soon realize Trump doesn't care about you at all. He is a vapid, self-serving, man. HOPE: get every person of color, every middle class person, every young voter, every woman you know to vote against this terror of a man. And PLEASE understand that a third party vote will GIVE the election to Trump, will hand him the nuclear codes and double-dog-dare him to use them.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

winding down 2015

It's been a busy year. Not that this blog is evidence. I have not posted since LAST New Year's Eve, sad to say. But I shall do better.

To my credit I have not been idle. Many poems written, much work done on local school board, progress on the Wilbur book, and lots of living lived. But I am remiss in my posting. Mea culpa.

So... expect more from this poet in 2016

I have a few goals:

1. finish the Wilbur book.
2. get two manuscripts out there
3. write for 2 hours a day on SOMETHING
4. take more art classes ( I took up watercolor this year after a 35 year hiatus... more of a lack of confidence as an artist than a hiatus)
5. did I mention finish the Wilbur book? yeah that.

Monday, December 29, 2014

As the year 2014 winds down, sliding along the wet ground like a shadow, I think of times gone by, of poems written and read, of friends made and kept, of walks along the boardwalk and countless sunsets that made me want to cry and sing at the same time. I think of family weddings, graduations, losses, triumphs.

If there is any message I'd like to impart here it is this:

Be for one another.

Don't worry about the days and nights gone, don't regret, don't wallow. Just be for one another.

I credit my Abenaki and Scots ancestry for the ability to access long memory, the sense of being part of something that began long long ago and continues infinitely through what we leave behind, a fingerprint on the pages of history we turn, the book we leave open for the next reader. To that end, I have placed here on my blog the Scots version of Auld Lang Syne. It's melody is different from what is sung elsewhere. I prefer it. But whatever version YOU enjoy, the message is clear:

Be for one another; be kindness; be of long memory.

2015, I welcome you, with a full heart and a full pen.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Nature vs Nurture really?

We are in trouble. We are in so deep I often wonder if there is a way out. Gun violence has risen to the point that I cannot recall a day in the recent past without some news story about an unarmed person getting killed by the police, or some kind of mass shooting somewhere. We have a segment of our citizenry defending gun rights as if the guns were their firstborn children. We have politicians behaving as if stepping up to enact safety laws is their own kiss of death.Truthfully, it is in many cases... the kiss of death for their political careers. They act expediently, with no political will do right by their constituents for basic safety of all. We act self-righteously indignant when we hear of, read about these senseless killings. We snicker and sneer over stories of rape and violence all the while not doing one whit to stop it all. Oh sure, we sign petitions asking for change, for help, but these go to political hacks who have not enough courage to even try to make a difference for us. When and how will it end?

I studied psychology in college... many many courses (if I had a declared minor, that would have been it) and in those courses, one of the big issues was an ongoing debate over whether nature or nurture made the difference in a person's moral outcome, the resultant world view/behavior of that person. I have studied philosophy and there the debate is similar: is a person inherently good or does "good" have to be learned? (I have, by the way, had THIS discussion with my 14 year old grandson and my 15 year old granddaughter who stand on opposite sides of the question). Nature vs Nurture. If it is Nurture, why do some of the BEST (defined as morally upright i.e. "good", kindness, acceptance of others over self) come from homes and environments where there is rampant moral turpitude and some of the WORST come from homes where there are good and loving parents who exemplified and taught uprightness?

Some religious people would have us look to a purported baser nature of mankind or womankind that derives its origins from the Fall of Adam. They say that humans naturally revert to "sinfulness" or lawlessness without regimentation and control by others, particularly those in authority. Areligious folks might argue that it is this very hemming in or control that pushes some folks toward the brink of bad behavior.  Others might argue that worldy influences and fear are the roots of evil. I do not have the answer.  I do believe that people are inherently good (seen any evil babies so far? I have not) and that something has caused hurt and that some may lack the life skills to seek peaceful resolution to their hurt. I also believe there are people (a tiny percentage) who have short-circuited brains that misfire enough to change personality in that person.

These are the folks with no apparent "conscience" or moral compass. These, I believe are RARE. This certainly does not fit with the tidal wave of violence that we face right now, which I believe comes in large part from a learned fear of others. I also believe that we are facing a time where we have been taught to fear thinking. I just cannot understand this at all. Mankind is so much more likely to be swayed into mob action if kept undereducated and marginalized.

I believe we must keep asking questions, holding one another accountable for our actions, and be brave enough to call a wrong a wrong when it happens rather than rushing to find/make excuses for it. We cannot hope to eradicate rape, for example if we keep blaming the victim, saying "this is just boys being boys," or looking the other way when women and girls (and some men too) come forward to tell us what has happened to them. We cannot rush to find a reason an unarmed teen is gunned down, or a woman is beaten by cops avon the roadside, or a deaf man is beaten because he didn't hear what the cops were asking him to do, or a man is beaten and dragged out of his car for simply telling the policemen that his son is autistic and cannot understand what they are asking.  We have to say WRONG and hold these folks accountable. We have to say that their training (nurture) is flawed and change it. We have to say that their nature is being overcome. We have to promote peace and not supply tools of violence to anyone not seeking and acting on peacefulness. We cannot keep taking sides in armed conflicts.

I swear I do not understand what the point is to the arrogance, "me me me" attitude that is running rampant these days. It sickens me. Makes me want to escape to an isolated spot and wait for the shooting to stop.  But then, I would not be part of the solution. So I have to blame myself too if nothing changes for good.

We have to ask ourselves the hard questions and not give up until we have answers and solutions. Why are guns more important than peace? Why is money to be made from doing harm more important than people? Why do we glory in some people being advantaged at the expense of others who are already struggling? Why do we look at others who are not like us and see with eyes of fear rather than seeing how we might learn from them and become more ourselves in the process? Why is hatred more attractive than love? Why are we less interested in being helpful and KIND to those we come to us for help and safety? I do not think or believe that it is at all Nature vs Nurture. I believe it is fear vs peace.

Therefore I will be peaceful no matter what. I will promote peace by voice and example. I will keep saying it is better to be happy than "right." I will keep believing that we are better than who we appear to be right now. I will not live in fear.

And I will pray that there are more people interested in peace than there are people picking up guns to defend their own fears.

Friday, August 15, 2014

An Uncomfortable Poem

We hear of the bombings in Gaza and Israel, the air strikes in Iraq, and think "thank God not here" until we watch what's happening in cities across America, large and small. Young unarmed people of color gunned down in a "shoot first, duck responsibility later" mode. This mess with out of control "law enforcement" has overtaken whatever joy there has been in our summertime. We shake our heads and wonder what got us to this point. The truth of the matter (as I see it, MHO only) is that we have lived for so long under a false coating of peaceful diversity when in fact racism has never really gone away. We elect a person of color to be president and there it goes, BAM! Out of the shadows the KKK (turned TEA) has erupted in angry off-the-wall and OPEN fear and loathing. It is dismaying to see this. The situation of immigration has fanned the flames of racism as well, with people being taught to fear anyone not like them, to decry these fellow humans as somehow taking away something to which only THEY are entitled, i.e. jobs, benefits, health care, education. The face on these people is decidedly BROWN or BLACK this time around. Forget the 20s and 30s when we feared the Irish or the Italians (though we did fear them, thinking the same thoughts "they're coming to take OUR jobs, apartments, schools, way of life). Forget the 50s and 60s when it was the Cubans or Puerto Ricans. Same thinking, same fears. Now it is a return to the slave days when Blacks were kept "in their place," but now there is mass media, social media, instant video feed, so we see it up close and in real time. Our rampant (and persistent) racism and xenophobia is on every TV or computer screen, on our phones as it happens. We can spin it, whitewash it, call it something else, or deny it is happening. We can wait for someone ELSE to fix it, or hope it goes away somehow. But it is not going away. When we as a nation, militarize our police, hand over control of daily life to fear, we will only go from bad to worse, and life as we know it (or thought we knew it) becomes a memory.

As usual, feeling frustrated at not being able to DO anything, I can only shine a light in the way I know best: through my writing. Therefore, yesterday, discouraged and angry, I penned this very uncomfortable poem.  Please, readers, see it as what it is: commentary. I do not hate police, but I do hate what some of them are doing. We need to see the drastic situation for what it is: a tipping point.

So here goes (the "we" of the poem implies the voice of society):


We’re killing black kids, young men
ready for college or just shopping the sales
at Wally World. We choke hold ‘em,
shoot ‘em, would lynch a few if we could,
and maybe it’s heading back to that.

We don’t like brown or black, too dark
for us ‘cept on the beach where we risk melanoma 
to get browner, but the palms of our hands 
stay lily white as we grip 
our weapons of choice for tonight. 

We make sure the cops are armed for this: 
semi-automatics, riot gear, tear gas 
for all. Don’t worry officer, ain’t no one
gonna give up your name after. 
We got your back, your white entitled back.

Hey you over there! Don’t you dare stand up,
hands up or not, just oughta stay the hell
in your place I say, one down 
or cowered back like your grandaddies did. 
You go tell your mama you did right.

We’re killing anyone and everyone
who don’t pray to the right Jesus, who ain’t 
gonna stay inside tonight. We coming 
for you, Mister Protester, Miss Civil Rights. 

We're gettin’ closer and closer. We’ll kill you all.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Post Mortem, dona nobis pacem

I don't know where to start, but something about this world is making the most brilliant among us heartsick to the point of no longer being able to cope or stay. Robin Williams just couldn't stay. We will be the poorer for this early departure, the loss is feeling unbearable.

Private demons, the weight of celebrity, whatever it is, we are dying here. We are being killed by invisibles that haunt us at night, chase us by day, and hover over us always waiting to pounce.
Robin Williams' suicide is one in a long long line of these sadnesses. Many (most) we never hear about because they happen in bedrooms and garages and barns and cars all over the place to "ordinary" folks who just cannot endure another living moment. We hear of and are publicly shocked by celebrity suicides; we have claimed these brilliant people as "part of us" and cannot stand the thought they were not strong enough to stay. What a waste, we say. Indeed. but what of all the other sad, shortened lives we do not see in the public arena, the people we pass in the streets, know in our work, play with at school? They are lost to darkness too. The dark that is all around us.

I recall an incident from my childhood where a nine year old boy hanged himself in his grandmother's barn. Nine. He and his grandmother went to our church. He was in my class. I did not know what could possibly make him do this thing.  But I do know, I did know at least a part of his darkness. This boy was bullied unmercifully — for having red hair and freckles and large ears that stuck out. He was called Howdy (after the Howdy Doody puppet on TV's Buffalo Bob Smith Show). He was never without some kind of sneering comment. The worst part of it was that no one thought anything about that at all. (I will say I did not make fun of him, but neither did I come to his side and tell kids to stop, so I bear a load of guilt too). When he died, I was shocked beyond belief. We had no grief counselors coming to school, no one talked about it whatsoever. No teacher intervened. It was right there in front of us and we all did nothing. But he did. The most awful something was what he did.

This visual will never leave me: One day his desk was spilling over with papers, the next day it was REMOVED from the row and put in the back of the room until the janitor came at lunchtime and took it to the school basement. I remember going down there (it was where our bathrooms were) and sitting in his chair and crying. It was so sad.  I never knew anyone who had died until then. It was life-altering for me. To this day, I can close my eyes and see his face, his sad little freckled face. I mourn for him. I am ashamed.

Later I would encounter two more suicides: after high school, one of my classmate's father shot himself between their house and the post office, and in high school a girl a year ahead of me came home one day to find her mother, dead from hanging. What kind of terror is that? But no one much talked about these deaths either. It was whispered about and tongues clicked about what kind of horrible people these were to have done this to their families. NO ONE spoke about what life was like for these two desperately sad people, nor did anyone see the signs and intervene.  I struggled then as I do now to find words or to figure out the whole of it.

I have been depressed in my life. Deeply and drastically depressed. After my divorce, with four young children to raise alone in poverty, I spent weeks barely coping, staying in bed most of the day when the kids were at school, wishing I were not alive. I was barely dealing with the kids, though I managed to hold onto that part of life as a thread back. We ate, I oversaw homework, washed the clothes, etc. I credit my kids too with providing me with so much unconditional love that it kept a light on in my heart. (Many people with depression cannot find that light... not their fault, just how it is sometimes, so families ought not to think they failed if the depressed person cannot see their blessings there).

I did not die. Fortunately for me, I had ONE loyal friend who saw what was happening to me and did the best thing any adult can do: she was THERE. She never told me to "get over it" or to "snap out of it," nor did she make me feel guilty (I was doing a great job of that myself). She simply came and sat with me, offered to make food and did so. She took me out to breakfast once in awhile, or came over to help me with the kids, took over when I couldn't do one more thing... she talked to me about nothing and everything. She LISTENED to me cry and didn't accuse me of being a bad person for my inertia. She commiserated with me when I wanted to moan and groan about the sack of lemons I'd been handed. Slowly, but surely, with her hand in mine, I dragged myself out of the abyss, the pit I'd fallen into. I got counseling too, but it was NOT the professional help (the counselor actually told me that if I "became" a lesbian, I'd be happier because men are toxic. What???) Not that I think counseling is a wage for coping. Just was not what helped me. It was the FRIEND who helped the most by riding the terrible seas of my depression with me. I know she saved my life by being there for the worst parts of it. Thank you Maxine.  Thank you.

We have lost a great guy in Robin Williams. Not a perfect guy of course; not one of those exists, but a great guy. He gave so much of his best self to all of us. He triumphed over and over again in his own darkness. Ultimately, the darkness came for him and he went with it. We do not, nor will we, know what that darkness was like for him. It is private, intimate, and powerful. We can only let his spirit be as free now as it could never be before by celebrating his life and being GRATEFUL for him and his beautiful place in our lives.

To put things into a form that comforts me, poetry, I have turned to a favorite passage from Whitman's Leaves of Grass and written this poem about the darkness that is depression. The form is a variation on a glosa, which employs the use of lines from another source as the foundation for the resultant poem. It is also a persona poem, written in the voice of another person, not my voice.

I sure hope you can hear me reading this heartfelt, but imperfect poem for you, Robin:

At the End, a glosa variation
                      — for Robin Williams 

It’s hard to know who’s watching
so I stay in character until the weight 
of the mask starts killing me, sucking my marrow.
The spotted hawk swoops by and accuses me. 
I watch the others, the hawks in the audience
or on the streets, where brass stars
in the sidewalk make false promises about us
He complains of my gab and my loitering, 
this one hawk, the one with poison 
on his beak. He swoops to peck
at my neck, but today I manage to hide.
I too am untamed, I too am untranslatable

I tell him. We are alike, we are dark
and prone to loneliness, have pierced
hearts, exist on our own carrion. I sound 
my barbaric yawp over the rooftops of the world.

But he persists, circling day after day, waiting
just waiting for me to relax, to let go
a little. His yellow eye sees everything I am.
His blood-tipped beak opens and closes for me.


Thursday, August 7, 2014

Distance learning in poetry; it can work

I signed up for, and have been doing, an online open university, course in writing poetry. It was offered by the University of Iowa Writing Workshop. Me, with over 3,000 others (of all abilities and sensibilities and aesthetic stances for their own work). Two other poets I know and admire have been doing it too and I have read their work and they mine.

How does this work? Hmm, we listen to (watch) video lectures on craft and then do the assigned work and post it. Others can  weigh in and comment as is the norm for writing workshops. No, all 3,000+ poets are not commenting on all the work, rather picking and choosing at random or finding one person and looking at that work.

Skeptical but game, I got on board. We're in our final week.  And I must say:    LOVE

This experience has been a most remarkable opportunity to learn from a variety of poets, some I knew already (Michael Dennis Browne, Marvin Bell both of whom I have learned from in person at the Univeristy of Iowa) and others I do not know even by way of their poems. Only one was a total bore (IMHO) and only because she simply read from her notes. I do not engage well, if at all, with that kind of lecture/talk. I felt checked out the whole time. But, taken as a gestalt, the topics have been far-ranging and eager.

I have diligently written and posted. I have brought the things I learned to my poetry group and (I think) got them excited about trying a few new strategies. I have tried (and succeeded I think) in writing my first-ever CENTO, done and LOVED doing a mindfulness writing exercise. I will repeat that as a way IN to my daily writing practice.

Today was the final author talk. Well!
Today I wrote my first, purposefully-attempted, prose poem. YIKES!

The poem was based upon two ideas/strategies: parataxis and the prose poem. You who know me well know that I have been engaged in a battle with myself over the existence of the prose poem for a very long time. I now might just agree that the genre, sub-genre, exists. I do think that it might be a rare thing however.

What I can say (for myself only) is that it appears to exist in its associative leaps and detailed diction.
It exists in parataxis. Once the writer falls into hypotaxis, it is straightforward PROSE.

I am having lunch today with my friend and fellow poet, DiTa. We will go to an art gallery after to see her show. I am glad of this road trip for that part, but EXCITED to talk to her about today's poetry work.

I also am at work on a poem I began yesterday while looking at the nudes at the Farnsworth Art Museum. (oh is this poem ROUGH at this point!) It's title (the poem) is Eve, After. A bit of a feminist thing and some quirky takes on the banishment from the Garden. We'll just have to see.

Back to the online course: my best moment (and poem) is an epistolary poem, inspired by a couple comments made by Michael Dennis Browne last week. He spoke about how nice it is for poets to write letters (actual hand-written ones) to poets they enjoy, telling them how their work has been influential or admired. He spoke too about what an epistolary poem is: a letter to someone in poem form. I wrote one to him and enclosed it in a hand-written letter and popped both into the mail to him.

I ramble here. But you get the idea: writing is elastic. Keep snapping the band and letting it fly.