Reality and poetry

Poetry was invented by someone who realized what the Impressionist painters knew: the literal sometimes doesn’t convey reality as well as a creatively presented impression of it. Poetry speaks directly to the heart, sometimes with beauty, sometimes with humor and sometimes with pain. But it always races through the brain right into the heart.

With Armistice Day still fresh in our memories, I offer this poem, written by award-winning poet, Christopher Addé, Manager of the General Collections at the Huntington Library in San Marino, CA. Chris, who was raised near London, says, “As a boy I lived near a churchyard that had a number of WWI graves and I played on bomb sites leftover from WWII. Even so young you could not help but take it in.”

What resonated with me about this poem is the bond between the two soldiers. Ultimately, what we crave  is another human’s touch, to know we’re not alone.

English Country Churchyard

This English country churchyard
In whose quiet I now lie
Is far removed from where I fought
And lost my arm and eye
Twisted by the bullets as they spat
From every gun
I fell into a shell-hole
Where there lay a wounded Hun.

Two men, exhausted, hurt, and weak
With death to contemplate
Looked hard at one another
Yet without a trace of hate
Poor Hun had been a day or three
Laid in the stinking mire – 
A bullet lodged within his chest
From taking British fire.

He could not speak, no more could I,
Marooned in No-Mans land
We were each other’s equal
And he reached out for my hand
It was, as if, he’d clung to life
So not to pass alone
Then clasping tight he smiled and died
To leave me on my own.

I, with luck, was rescued
Living on for ten more years
Though my sleep at night was fitful
As I faced my wartime fears
At length my wounds proved fatal
And at thirty life was done
But as I slipped, I saw outstretched
The hand from that old Hun.

My battles now are different – 
Fighting briars that have grown
And the creeping lichen legions
That advance upon my stone
I did not have my children
Nor the chance to seek out fame
But this English country churchyard
Lets me keep alive my name.


– Christopher J S Addé

August, 2006

    

                                   

                                    

                                      

Magic in the Morning

The Dog and I love to walk in the early recesses before morning, when the sky is sea-chasm dark; when it’s neither morning nor day nor evening nor night, it just is – a fleeting moment in time to palate-cleanse the mind.

It would be sacrilege to turn on the porch light, although it would make the stairs easier to see, but it would rudely intrude on the remnants of darkness. By the time we return to the front door, the sun, which now rests behind the hill, will be casting a harbinger of pale blue sky upon our neighborhood, warning it of today’s onslaught of heat. No, we won’t shatter the remains of night’s magic. Instead the Dog and I walk cautiously down the steps and over to the sidewalk. I pat the bark of an old tree, thanking it for standing guard all night, for trees never sleep.

We’re out early to sniff the remnants of a quiet world; out before the gnats can begin circling my face, entranced by its fragrance, I like to believe. They’re tiny helicopters, silently and relentlessly whirring. All the swatting and shaking of my head fail to deter them. The only way to beat them is to walk before they file their flight plans.

Two coyotes pad silently by, lean and scruffy, and I have to remind the Dog that no, she doesn’t want to tangle with them.

A bird, serving as the street’s self-appointed alarm clock, begins to chirp, “It’s morning!” except that it’s not yet, not quite, so most of the other wildlife hits the snooze button for a few more minutes of rest. Sometimes the Dog hears a squirrel cracking its tiny knuckles and stretching its back, complaining “That’s the hardest tree branch I’ve ever slept on.” In less than half an hour, that squirrel will be scolding dogs from a high tree branch and scampering across utility wires, but for now, she’s too groggy to hold the Dog’s interest.

As the purple leaks from the sky, I high-five a low hanging tree branch, then stop to cup a rose in my hands, stoking its vanity by telling it how beautiful it is while stealing a whiff of its perfume to carry with me.

The Dog stops frequently to sniff, inhaling a universe I’m not equipped to know. She deposits last night’s dinner on someone’s lawn, but they’ll never see it because I’ve scooped it up before it digs too deeply into the blades of grass. The Dog baptizes worthy spots all along the way with drops of urine that she must deem holy, given the careful selection process she goes through before squatting.

By the time we turn the corner back onto our street, having completed our mile, the tabby cat is out sauntering, the parrots are rustling their feathers and warming up their voices for the raucous opera they’ll sing today, and the first annoying gnat materializes.

A bowl of granola awaits me. The sun is about to present herself, to claim the day. Thank you, Lord, for the trembling holiness of these moments before dawn.

Pure Poetry

The author of this poem is Natalie Russell, Assistant Curator of Literary Collections at the Huntington Library in San Marino, CA. I was captivated when I heard her read it and asked to share with you. Thank you for your permission, Natalie. It’s a beautiful work.

 

                                                                 Why I Write

 

I write
because the paper listens.

I write
because no matter what oceans of grief, and rage, and anxiety, and sorrow overflow my soul,
the paper is a sponge.
It receives my burden,
tucks it away,
and opens its arms for more.

I write
because I worry
that human ears are too busy,
hearts too full,
souls too consumed,
to have time for my small crises.
But the paper listens.

I write
because the paper listens
and is no worse for the wear.

I write because sometimes the paper speaks,
when the reader is ready and willing to hear.

I write
because the paper always listens.

Why do you read?

 

 

Natalie Russell
Assistant Curator of Literary Collections
Huntington Library

But the toilet is clean!

Let’s see … before settling in to write this blog about distraction, I brushed the dog, checked Facebook, folded some clothes, got a bottle of tea from the fridge, watched the LAPD/CHP performing a low-speed chase of a motor home, (yes, a large, white motor home). Oh, and I cleaned the upstairs toilet.

Unfortunately, my goal today was to write this blog. So why did I complete numerous unrelated, and non-urgent tasks first? Were they really more important than expressing my thoughts – WRITING – which was my original intent, and which best describes my purpose in life?

Worst of all, I’ve known since this morning that resistance was today’s blog topic, and I still fell prey to it.

Resistance is a term used by author Steven Pressfield in his meaningful book, “The War of Art.” Every creative soul should read it. Resistance is deeper than what we normally call procrastination, although they are related. But resistance stems from our inner doubts, our “demons,” our fears and our lack of belief in our talent. It’s easier to avoid writing than to find out that what we’ve written is sub par, so we get distracted. It’s simpler to clean a toilet than to stare at a blank page. It’s simpler to do almost anything than write something that no one finds interesting enough to read and doesn’t hesitate to tell us so.

But what happens when we succumb to resistance? We feel frustrated. Our soul feels constipated. Our heart hurts. We are unfulfilled, because we’ve shut down the very act that gladdens our day, be it writing, painting, building, singing, or whatever kind of creativity has been given to us. To be who we truly are, and to impart what we can best contribute to the world, we must allow our artful expression sufficient priority. The toilet can wait.

 

Why do people write? Why don’t they?

“Impress your personality on him: wear the same perfume every day.” That’s what a teen magazine recommended. I was in junior high school and totally obsessing about a boy. I’d try anything. So I wore the same perfume every day for a month. It didn’t work. Apparently, the boy had to know you existed before the allure of a repetitive fragrance could kick in, and I couldn’t get physically close enough for him to smell it. White Shoulders was heavy on the gardenia anyway. He probably saved himself from choking on a cloying perfume.
Things worsened in high school. When it came time for the Junior Prom, I asked a gay Jehovah’s Witness friend from ballet class to take me. We had fun, actually. He was a good dancer and I certainly didn’t worry about an assault on my virginity.
I wonder what other adolescent agonies I might recall if I’d kept a diary. I tried it for a few months, but I got bored recording things such as who I saw and what I ate for dinner. Hmmm. Perhaps I was just ahead of my time … I should have taken Polaroid photos and shared the banal events with people I didn’t know.
So, although I’ve written most of life, it’s been more along the lines of interviews, speeches, newspaper articles and radio editorials. I don’t journal, although I hear it provides fabulous insight into your life. It just doesn’t call to me. But then, I don’t like yoga, and 95% of the population believes it cures everything. Ha. Nothing cures being a chocoholic, but I might tuck a yoga mat under my arm if I could nibble on a box of See’s candy during the Downward-Facing Dog pose.
Now, after many years of “youth-ening” like Merlin, all I want to do is write. I’m ready. I’ve lived enough life to have something to say and not enough life left to say it all.
What drives people to write? I mean regularly write, and even more so, write something they’re willing to “put out there” for others to read? And why won’t people who have important thoughts to share dare to commit them to paper? Aye, matey, there’s the rub: “putting it out there” is like walking the plank naked. The writer who jumps is prone to drowning in a sea o’ criticism, and the ones who try to hang on without jumping get splinters in their butt. I don’t think I can expound any further than on that metaphor, but it’s a major reason why people don’t write.
And that’s a shame, because writing forces us to open up windows in our minds that have been sealed shut for years. When that happens, we let out the stale thoughts, use the ones that, like honey, don’t spoil, and allow fresh ones to enter. Let’s stop here. Take a moment and think about writing something, anything, today. Think of something that been gnawing at you or inspiring you and write a few lines about it, for the sheer enjoyment of seeing it in print.
We’ll come back to this subject … in the meantime, enjoy looking at a chair in our hotel room on a trip to Bartlesville, Oklahoma. I wrote in that chair. Heck, you could make up a whole story about a hotel room chair, if you wanted to.
“Rosebud” was just a sled, after all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sharing time and space with authors

I figured that meeting the other authors today on the panel at our city’s library would be interesting. It was that and much more. It was a joy. Each author was uniquely intense in his/her reasons for writing. Each encouraged not only the audience, but each other, to write! I am renewed and more excited than ever to dive into writing my next story, which is set in the 11th century.
Of course, today I was speaking about “Shattered Peacock.” It made me sad to realize how very relevant the Shah’s ousting from Iran remains, especially in light of last night’s bombings in Syria. Sadly, one of the reasons Shah Pahlavi assumed continuing support from the U.S. and Great Britain was because his rule made Iran the only Western-friendly country in the region and provided a safe buffer between us and Russia/USSR. We could use it now.
That reality acknowledged, I thoroughly enjoyed hearing about children’s books, mysteries, books about grammar, losing weight, and even a book written for those in hospice care. We have so much to share with each other via the written word. Let’s keep writing in complete sentences. Let’s go light on those emojis! Let’s consider what we write about and how it can uplift rather than hurt. Let’s educate each other and make each other laugh … or cry. What’s important is that as we touch each other’s hearts.

 

 

Author’s Panel at Sierra Madre Library

Why do people choose to write? More importantly, why do people choose NOT to write? It’s something I’ve been pondering and is one aspect I’ll present when I speak this Saturday, April 14, 2018, at the Sierra Madre Library in California’s beautiful San Gabriel Valley. The library is holding an Open House that day with various events. We authors will speak at 11:00 a.m. I’m very curious to hear everyone’s thoughts about writing.

Here are just two of the other authors who will be speaking. Click on their links to see their photos and literary works.

Linda La Roche

Linda has been a grant recipient of the California Commission of the Arts, Multicultural Grant and created, hosted and produced Latino Filmmakers for Charter Cable.

She produced the film, The Trouble with Tonia, starring the late Lupe Ontiveros. The film received recognition from the Whitney Museum in New York, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. It garnered “best film” award in the San Sebastian Film Festival in San Sebastian, Spain. And, she was awarded the Silver Star award as Producer from the Houston International Film Festival. It is also listed in, “Aztlán Film Institute’s Top 100 List,” by Chon A. Noriega.

Marcielle Brandler

Marcielle is a multi-facted writer, as you’ll see on her blog. I’ve chosen to share with you one of Marcielle’s award-winning poems.


Eden
I startled my mother in the blazing
hallway, her breasts an exotic gift
my lips had never suckled. It was
an accident we met. Never before
had I beheld anyone naked. My sisters
told me of the times they had watched
her. I imagine my mother lifting
herself from the forgiving floral suds
of her bath. This secret time I had
never visualized until now. She glides
on her hose, attaching them with
little posy snaps, and perfumes
herself in her personal
scent. Slithering into her
strapless cocktail dress, her
shoulders glowing, she fluffs up
her hair like a delicate fern,
then entwines the glittering
necklace and presses on the blossom
lipstick which my father will kiss
from her mouth before they
lie down in the room where only they
may sleep. What are these angry wings
barring me from her garden? I remember
the last time she bathed me. I was
five and embarrassed. I turned away,
and she left me in my
unscented water.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hung Up – Women Who Will Live Forever

As I’ve gone through my art books in preparation to move, hoping to lighten the load, I’ve found my art books impossible to give away. The movers will simply have to load a few extra heavy boxes filled with hard bound art books onto the moving van.

Please don’t tell me that these paintings are available online. I know they are. The colors and the replication of the brush strokes are better online. I know they are. One can make the paintings larger to better see details online. Yes, I know! Yes, I know and I do go online. But I grew up looking at art books, with pages to dog ear and paper to trace my finger across. The very holding of the heavy book gives the artwork gravitas, approximating a framed painting: flip the page, smooth the bulge rising near the binding, run your finger down and around the shapes on the page. It’s wonderfully tactile, especially since the museums frown on visitors tracing shapes on paintings hung up on their walls.

Which brings me to the women who will live forever because they’re “hung up” somewhere in a museum. There’s every kind of woman on those walls: saintly women, the holiest of all women (that would be Mary – there are a whole lot of her), other biblical characters, socialites, accomplished women, prostitutes, can can dancers, ballet soloists, hat makers, laborers, drunks, sisters, wives and mothers. They’re all a part of every woman and we are a part of them because witnessing their visages hanging in a gallery binds us and allows them to seep into our self-image. As women, we really can’t “unsee” their influence on us.

IMG_7187

And men? Surely they experience something similar. Perhaps that’s where they learn to crave that Madonna/prostitute trait in their women. Certainly film and television and social media mold our perceptions of sexuality as well, but not in same part of the brain, I think. Paintings force us to embrace the painter as well as the painting and the women painted. Seeing them in person is unique and will always have the strongest impact, but I can vouch for absorbing good printed reproductions in childhood as coming in second!

The Van Gogh painting above is incorporated into the many years I studied the piano. I ceased taking lessons in high school to sing and dance, but in my dotage, I have gone back to practicing my scales, which feels meditative now. I wonder if this woman did the same thing? Her fingers are not showing proper position, like she hasn’t played for a while. Or maybe she has arthritis now. She definitely is playing for herself, and not performing. Like me.

Painting Degas dancer

How many times did Edgar Degas paint ballet dancers? He often painted them at class in the Paris Opera studio, but this dancer (detail shown) is onstage, with the footlights bouncing across the bone structure of her face, her brown bangs so very French, and wearing a costume cut low enough to show cleavage, a slightly lascivious touch, but one that Degas barely suggests. This may be a dress rehearsal, because, really, what are those dancers in the back doing? I love the way Degas’ yellow pastel streaks on her tutu suggest movement, as she reaches out to the audience, dancing precariously at the stage’s edge.

Growing up, I always had small Degas prints in my bedroom. I danced in two small, regional ballet companies throughout high school. I think if I’d tried harder, I’d have been a better ballet dancer, but it served me well in musical theater. I can still feel which muscles ballerinas are utilizing when I watch them dance. Sometimes I twitch involuntarily, which makes me laugh and feel a touch sad at the same time.

 

… to be continued, in direct relationship to inspiration …

 

 

The Art of the Book

We are moving. Not by choice, but because of the needs of our landlady. Her chagrin was obvious, removing anger as a rational reaction to the news. We are simply moving. We don’t know where, yet – not the city and not even the state. I would even include country, if I could throw Italy into the hat as an option. Alas, I’m in a minority of one.

Moving presents the valuable but painful opportunity to sweep away the mounds of clutter that accumulate in our closets, garages and on bookcases. I began going through my books first without even thinking, probably because subconsciously I knew that they would be the second most difficult possessions to purge, the first being piles of memorabilia from school and career, items that make my life appear like an unbroken chain of successes, because why would I save reminders of the many failures? Those are seared into my brain’s hard drive – with charbroiled lines underscoring my mistakes. But the successes, which shouldn’t, but do have meaning for me, will carry less meaning for our son, even less for our grandson and little for the generations that follow. Still …

But books can be timeless, like the 1881 Little Flock Hymnal, the old Winnie the Pooh edition, the dictionary my father gave me when I left for college, and the art books – internet images be damned – those should hold their valuable for future generations possessing a modicum of sensitivity.

When I was young, I poured over my paternal grandmother’s slim art volume with the fleur-di-lis cardboard cover. I’m not sure if the “fleur” were French or Italian, because in those days I was unaware of the difference. But I was entranced by the European art inside and very curious about what held up those fig leaves. Fifteen years ago I asked my mother if I could please have the book. “Oh, we got rid of that a long time ago,” she said. How cavalier she was about it! Some people lack sentiment.

As an art museum rat, my whiskers twitch to visit the originals of paintings I’ve admired only in books and to marvel at the way the brush strokes and hues leap from the canvas in a manner impossible in print. The books refresh my memory of the paintings I’ve experienced in person. I’ve swooned in museums from the Louvre and the Uffizi to the Norton Simon and the Nelson Atkins.

As I lined some of them up for the photo above, I was struck by the varying manner in which women were portrayed. More about them soon.

Next – Hung Up: The Women Who Will Live Forever

 

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