Tag Archives: poetry

Hyacinths for the Soul

Many years ago, when I was in the hospital I read a copy of Guideposts magazine.  Bored out of my mind (this was when they used to keep you in the hospital until you were nearly well) I was willing to read anything.  I came upon a short poem that really struck me, and so I memorized it.

If of thy worldly goods thou art bereft . . .
and to thee alone two loaves are left,
sell one, and with the dole,
buy hyacinths to feed thy soul.


This little poem has served to remind me over the years to keep things in balance.  The poet doesn’t suggest we preserve security by keeping both loaves.  Nor does he counsel us to throw all resources into pleasure.  But even when times are difficult, beauty is important.  Feeding the soul is important.

Yesterday I fed my soul by visiting a friend who has a litter of puppies.  It is simply not physically possible to frown when surrounded by six bouncing puppies.  You cannot be anything but happy when snuggling a soft, sleepy, warm little body in your lap.

What do you do to feed your soul?

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Poetry Monday: “A Carol For Children” by Ogden Nash

I spent a happy hour reading my mother’s old volume, The Pocket Book of Ogden Nash, It is now out of print, I believe, but there are several other collections of his poetry available.  The book I own is falling apart.  Originally published before I was born, it sold then for thirty-five cents.

Nash is best known for his wry and rhyming poems like his well-known “The Tale of Custard the Dragon,” but he could be serious too, as he was in “Old Men” which concludes, But the old men know when an old man dies.

One poem I stumbled upon today is a riff on “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”:  “A Carol For Children.”

God rest you, merry Innocents,
Let nothing you dismay,
Let nothing wound an eager heart
Upon this Christmas day.

But it swiftly turns darker–

Oh dimly, dimly glows the star
Through the electric throng;
The bidding in temple and bazaar
Drown out the silver song.

Two ultimate laws alone we know,
The ledger and the sword–

It’s a rather traditional lamentation of the subordination of nobler values to avarice and conflict, and concludes with the usual supplication that we do better in the future:

God rest you, merry Innocents,
While innocence endures.
A sweeter Christmas than we to ours
May you bequeath to yours.

Christian-centric imagery aside, Nash’s poem is a touching plea.  The idea of bequeathing a more peaceful, less materialistic world to the next generation is nearly universal, though it’s one too easily lost sight of.

May you have all you need and enough to share this holiday season and in the year to come!

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Poetry Monday: The Power of Words

In Reading The Poet’s Companion by Addonizio and Laux this week, the authors  talked about bearing witness through our words.  That’s an important thing for prose fiction authors to remember as well as poets.

It’s been said that writers tell lies for a living, in order to tell the truth.  I like that.  That doesn’t mean we should preach through our characters.  Quite the opposite.  If we are skillful storytellers, our theme will carry the meaning for us.  As Mary Poppins said, “A spoon full of sugar helps the medicine go down.”  But our first obligation is to entertain.

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Poetry Monday: The Shadow

Today’s post is called “Poetry Monday” only because it’s inspired by a chapter of the same name in The Poet’s Companion by Addonizio and Laux.

According to Carl Jung (although the concept is really much older) we all have a part of ourselves which we reject and deny, a part he called the Shadow.

The poet Robert Bly calls the shadow, “the long bag we drag behind us,” explaining that as we learn what others don’t like or accept in us we start “bag-stuffing.”  By the time we reach adulthood, Bly says, there is only a “thin slice” of us left — the rest is in that long bag….  The problem is that while the shadow is necessary to the formation of who we are, we end up denying its existence, or at least fearing it.  And that denial causes problems, because the dark side of ourselves contains not only what we consider negative traits, but also our undeveloped talents and gifts.

For me it’s not a bag, but a closet, a la Berke Breathed’s  Bloom County, but it’s still where all the unacceptable thoughts and emotions are stuffed.  And as Laux and Addonizio observe,  it’s where some of the most powerful emotions a writer has reside.

It’s not easy to look inside the closet, let alone rummage around in there, but I think it’s the only way to write something that’s authentic, that resonates, that goes beyond the superficial.

Not too long ago I took a look inside the closet and saw something I didn’t like.  Suddenly I understood the imagery of Jekyl and Hyde on a visceral level.  Why all those shapeshifters whine about being afraid to take a mortal lover because they might lose control.

Now all I have to do is get it down on the page.

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The Rubaiyat of Omar Kyayyam

I haven’t read The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám (1048-1131) for some years and had forgotten how accessible it is, and how similar many of the sentiments are to more familiar poets like Shakespeare.
Here with a Loaf of Bread beneath the Bough,
A Flask of Wine, a book of Verse – and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness –
And Wilderness is Paradise enow.

A Persian philosopher, mathematician, astronomer, and physician, he was something of a fatalist, more interested in the here and now than either the machinations of political maneuverings (thanks to the fate of a boyhood friend) or the arguments of “the wise” which he frequently dismisses as unimportant.

But leave the Wise to wrangle, and with me
The Quarrel of the Universe let be:
And in some corner of the Hubbub coucht,
Make Game of that which makes as much of Thee.

Though his scientific acumen was well regarded, and the Sultan “showered favors upon him,” his Epicurean philosophy caused some of his more religious contemporaries to regard him askance.  (As they probably would today, as well).

Come fill the Cup and in the Fire of Spring
the Winter Garment of Repentance fling;
the Bird of Time has but a little way
to fly – and Lo! the Bird is on the Wing.

I wonder if he’d be surprised to know that folks are still reading and enjoying his stanzas some 900 years after he wrote them, or if he’d find it hugely amusing?  Or would he be saddened that almost a millenium later, “the wise” are still wrangling?


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Poetry Monday: Writing the Erotic

This week’s chapter in The Poet’s Companion by Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux is “Writing the Erotic.”  The opening paragraphs of the chapter were apropos to prose writing as well as poetry.

The erotic is such a primal part of our lives that it’s not surprising that it’s the subject of our imaginative writing, but until fairly recently, it’s been taboo.  Now that writing about the erotic is becoming more accepted, more and more authors are struggling with how to write about it — including what language to use. Obviously, it depends on what tone you’re trying to set.  What’s not so obvious is how to go about it.

In the old days authors shut the door on the bedroom altogether.  Then they used euphemisms (throbbing manhood, anyone?) and graduated to metaphorical language, usually weather related, to convey the emotional and physical impact of the act without being either crude or clinical.  (Personally, I think this last can work sometimes — if used judiciously.)  Finally, some authors have traveled beyond the sensual and begun writing erotic romance.

Erotic romance is substantively different from traditional romance.  In traditional romance unresolved sexual tension (URST) builds throughout a significant portion of the book. The focus of erotic romance (ERom) is not on URST.  There is no URST.  Sex usually occurs early and often.  Instead the focus is on how the relationship develops through the sex the characters are having.  And to describe that sex, most ERom uses language that is frank, blunt, and often raw.

I enjoy a good sensual read, and with the increasing popularity of erotic romance, I wondered if I could travel that route to publication.  I surveyed some of the books being published by a few of the epublishers and small presses that specialize in that sub-genre, and I came to the conclusion that ERom wasn’t for me.

I prefer the build-up of URST to “getting on with it.”  I still write scenes that are highly sensual, my emphasis is just different.  And I still struggle sometimes with what language to use.


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Poetry Monday: “Ransom”

I finished the chapter about “Death and Grief” in The Poet’s Companion today.  The authors, Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux close with, “Though death is a large subject, the way it enters our lives is often small:  an object left behind, the memory of an offhand gesture made one long-ago afternoon, the smell of a T-shirt, the silly joke or absurd irony someone would have appreciated.”

I decided to try my hand at this specific imagery, and this is the result.

She displayed the ransom note
with delight on the refrigerator
which soft hum masked the sound of sleep
dripping into her veins.
Hospital bed in pride of place, Christmas
festooned the mantle that hot July; white
lay cool upon once plump cheeks
and ornamental Enterprise flew between
green branches.
Cut from magazines and time
the glossy letters demanded reunion,
long ago paid in exchange for that plastic
symbol of hope and discovery.
This time no win, no ransom possible
for her crew, held hostage
as she explored
where others had gone before.

Feel free to make constructive suggestions for improvement. 🙂

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Poetry Monday: “Death, The Last Visit” by Marie Howe

Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux share Marie Howe’s (1950- ) “Death, The Last Visit” in their book The Poet’s Companion. I like that it gives a very different perspective on death.   Death is neither thief nor comfort;  death is a lover, the moment of dying, an orgasm.

Locking its arms around you, it will hold you as long as you ever wanted.
Only this time it will be long enough. It will not let go.

…You’ll taste your mother’s sour nipple, your favorite salty cock
and swallow a word you thought you spit out once and be done with.
Through half closed eyes you’ll see that its shadow looks like yours,

a perfect fit. You could weep with gratefulness. It will take you
as you like it best, hard and fast as a slap across the face,
or so slow and sweet you’ll scream give it to me give it to me until it does.

There is no fear of loss or ending in this poem, only completion.  In Eastern religions there is the thought that it is not the thing itself that makes us happy or sad, it’s how we think about it. Nothing is inherently good or bad.

In an often cited survey, a majority of respondants said they fear public speaking more than death.  But recently a friend mentioned she’s excited because she has several speaking engagements and she loves making presentations.  Her statement shifted reality.  Just knowing that an introvert like me enjoys speaking, makes it easier to enjoy it myself.

Addonizio and Laux observe, “Poets are often people who must write to process their experiences and feelings; writing is, in a very real sense, a mode of perceiving the world, of taking it into ourselves as well as trying to externalize what’s inside.”  Through our writing, we try on different perceptions for size, experience our lives through different lenses.  “Death the Last Visit” also shifts reality for the reader.  It gives a different perpective on the final experience of life: death.

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Poetry Monday: “What I Do” by Ellery Akers

As I did last week, I’m drawing today’s poem from The Poet’s Companion by Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux.

“What I Do” by Ellery Akers is a prose poem in 22 stanzas.  It’s a poem I’ll probably return to again and again because it shows me how to describe the ordinary from a different angle.

I drive on country roads where kangaroo rats shoot across the blacktop and leap into the bushes, where feral cats streak through fields, and cows lift their heads at the sound of the car but don’t stop chewing, where the horses’ manes blow in the wind and the cheat grass blows, and the grapes are strapped to stakes as if they have been crucified …

Writing teachers all talk about the importance of showing rather than telling.  That’s the prefered technique these days, and has been for some time.  (It wasn’t always so, as anyone who loves Jane Austen knows.)  Tied to that is the telling detail, that specific way of describing something in a few words that makes it clear what’s going on with a character.  That’s the strength of this poem.

There is an overall detatched feeling to this poem, while it provides snapshots of emotion through specific images.

... I notice the dead mouse on the path, its tail still curled, its snout eaten away by ants

So that although I’ve forgotten what John and I said to each other outside the airport, I remember the cedar waxwings chattering and lighting on the telephone wires, the clipped stiff grass and how sharp it was against my thighs as the waxwings flashed by …

It’s exactly these kinds of sharply focused details that the best fiction writers include in their writing, and “What I Do” serves as an excellent reminder to look around and really see what is there.

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Poetry Monday: “The Zen of Housework” by Al Zolynas

I’ve begun reading The Poet’s Companion by Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux.  I was so impressed with Laux’s poems “The Thief” and “The Lovers” that when I saw she’d co-written a book about the pleasures of writing poetry I pounced on it.

In the first few pages they talk about writing about what you know, and how even the ordinary can communicate the extraordinary.  To illustrate, she includes “The Zen of Housework” by Al Zolynas (1945- ).  While washing dishes the poet observes:

My hands lift a wine glass,
holding it by the stem and under the bowl.
It breaks the surface
like a chalice
rising from a medieval lake.

I love this.  It’s unexpected, accessable, and beautiful.  I hope I can incorporate more imagery like this in my own writing.  This is the reason I wanted to read more poetry this year.


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