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

    

                                   

                                    

                                      

Write with Momentum, featuring an assist from Dr. John E. Crean, Jr.

 

(Above image: Late 12-century illustration from the “Lives of St. Cuthbert.”)

Watching a momentum swing is one of the most exciting things we witness in sports. Here’s the classic scenario: Team B is losing, struggling to close a widening scoring gap, until its star sinks an impossible half-court basket; or a utility player off the bench hits a home run; or the aging fútbol player stabs the back of the net with a showy bicycle kick. The fans go crazy; the rush of adrenaline on the court, the field, or the pitch is palpable. Inevitably, the commentator notes that momentum has swung from Team A to Team B, which is now racking up points. As Team B’s play synchronizes, serendipity follows. Shots that were bouncing off the rim earlier are now falling in, or the bottom of the lineup is hitting like Babe Ruth.

It’s like magic! Except that it’s not magic.

How, you may ask, how does team momentum relate to the decidedly solo craft of writing?

First, let’s deconstruct and expand the concept of momentum.

Consider Isaac Newton’s Law of Inertia: “An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion tends to stay in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.” Let’s rephrase that. “A writer who’s not writing tends to avoid writing and a writer who is writing tends to keep writing unless they get distracted by Facebook.” Am I wrong?

Inertia, or the lack of motion, and expanded in this case to include the craft of writing, arises when foibles like fear, (sometimes called writer’s block), discouragement, sloth (not to disparage an adorable animal), distractibility, an unclear vision, or a lack of passion about a subject numbs the writer.

The joy of writing resides inside momentum. Moment-um, the state of writing wholly in the moment, eliminates most distractions. I’m living proof that multi-tasking kills creativity and brings momentum to a screeching halt.

Discover that fear runs away from unblinking focus.

Discover your authentic self, trusting that who you are today is enough. Write what will replenish your soul. That’s your “zone.” Live there. Then, no “unbalanced force” can change your direction or push you into a coffin of discouragement.

Whenever you’re going about your day and not physically writing, allow your mind to mull over your project’s vision. Day dream about it. You may be surprised as the clarifications rise like cream. Once your purpose is clear and you love your subject, can passion be far behind? And passion fuels momentum’s train. Experience the joy of writing from deep inside your soul.

Last, but not least, if you’re sloth-ful, you may be as adorable as the animal, but you’re not a writer. Go directly to Facebook. Now. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $100.

In truth, we are not alone as writers. We do have a team around us, intangible though much of it may be. If the tangible is what you need, fine. Join a writer’s group, write in the park while children play, or toss ideas around with a literary buddy. Whatever works for you.

But consider this: everything you’ve ever thought about, dreamed of, or experienced is infused in your heart. Your teammates are everyone you’ve ever met.

If you practice your craft consistently, with discipline, you too, will possess the ability to “play” above your everyday level. You will break out of a slump and create that spark, a great writing rebound, and create your own momentum. You can write, flying aloft on the wings of passion. Passion is what carries us to heights of unimaginable divine creativity.


As I wrote the above, I became curious about how long time writers sustain their momentum, so I asked scholar and prolific academic author, Ph.D. and The Very Reverend John Crean, Jr., to share his process. He’s a man as kind-hearted as he is learned. I’m deeply grateful that research at the Huntington Library brought us together. His response follows:

My first book was my undergraduate thesis, a compilation of several hundred German proverbs often accompanied by their equivalents in other languages. Lisa’s line, “Passion is what carries us to heights of unimaginable divine creativity” was absolutely true for me then as I began my career as a German professor. That passion continued to fuel my work throughout many more years of research, teaching and publication. I was absolutely “crazy” about anything to do with language or culture. In terms of what Lisa was saying, I feel that momentum fuels passion. I remember during one sabbatical leave finishing one manuscript and going right on to the next.

Momentum and passion are key elements for any successful writer. My Ph.D. dissertation director told me to be sure to pick a topic I was absolutely in love with. He told me that by the time I was finished, my love for it would have cooled considerably. He said if I picked something I was lukewarm about, at the end of the project I would hate it—that is if I ever finished it before just giving up.

Now having returned to writing after a hiatus of continual service in the Church, I am again passionate about my writing projects and feel the momentum and the passion in my bones. 

— John E. Crean, Ph.D. — frcrean@saintthomashollywood.org