Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Poetry Month #4: Kubla Khan by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

I fell in love with this poem when I was a sophomore in college.  Over the years I've memorized it, thought about it, studied it and still only feel like I understand about ten percent of it ... but, oh, the sounds of it keep calling me back.  Because of the mesmerizing sound of this poem, I'm sharing a reading by folksinger/songwriter David Olney before the actual text of the poem.

Kubla Khan
by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree :
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.
So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round :
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree ;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
sunny spots of greenery. 
But oh ! that deep romantic chasm which slanted
Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover !
A savage place ! as holy and enchanted
As e'er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon-lover !
And from this chasm, with ceaseless turmoil seething,
As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing,
mighty fountain momently was forced :
Amid whose swift half-intermitted burst
Huge fragments vaulted like rebounding hail,
Or chaffy grain beneath the thresher's flail :
And 'mid these dancing rocks at once and ever
It flung up momently the sacred river.
Five miles meandering with a mazy motion
Through wood and dale the sacred river ran,
Then reached the caverns measureless to man,
And sank in tumult to a lifeless ocean :
And 'mid this tumult Kubla heard from far
Ancestral voices prophesying war !
The shadow of the dome of pleasure
Floated midway on the waves ;
Where was heard the mingled measure
From the fountain and the caves.
It was a miracle of rare device,
A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice ! 
A damsel with a dulcimer
In a vision once I saw :
It was an Abyssinian maid,
And on her dulcimer she played,
Singing of Mount Abora.
Could I revive within me
Her symphony and song,
To such a deep delight 'twould win me,
That with music loud and long,
I would build that dome in air,
That sunny dome ! those caves of ice !
And all who heard should see them there,
And all should cry, Beware ! Beware !
His flashing eyes, his floating hair !
Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread,
For he on honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise. 

Monday, April 25, 2011

Poetry Month #3: Sonnet #29 by Shakespeare

There once was a man named William Shakespeare ... we think ... 

The six signatures of his that have survived are all different ranging from Willm Skaksp to William Shakspere ... none have the first "e" in our common spelling today.   He wrote incredible plays, from drama to comedy and sonnets ... we think ... the debate still rages about who actually wrote the work.  He lived in London ... we think ... there are only a handful of days where his whereabouts can be accounted for. 

Bill Bryson in his short biography of Shakespeare says, " ... he is a kind of literary equivalent of an electron--forever there and not there."  But, whoever he was, wherever he was, his work is a magnet that pulls us into its mystery.  Four thousand scholarly works about Shakespeare and his work are published ... every year.  Because we know so little about his life, we have plumbed his work and discovered that they "contain 138,198 commas, 26,794 colons, and 15,785 question marks ..." (Bryson)

Mystery aside, this is one of my favorites:


When, in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries
And look upon myself and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possess'd,
Desiring this man's art and that man's scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven's gate;
For thy sweet love remember'd such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

Sonnet:  meaning "little song" signifies a poem of fourteen lines that follows a strict rhyme scheme and specific structure.  Shakespeare wrote 154 sonnets ... we think.

Don't miss this mini-drama reading:

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Emerging from Our Own Definitions

One of the first poems I wrote began:

I am a practical person ... I don’t write poetry.

     Several years of torrential poetry writing followed the writing of that line.

A few weeks ago, I began writing more definitions of myself that I had outlived, beginning again with that line about poetry.

I am a practical person ... I don’t write poetry.
I am an accountant ... I don’t do art.
I am a business person ... I don’t experience miracles.

By this writing, I was no longer an accountant and my own art was on every wall in my house and in two galleries.  I still considered myself a business person and was in the process of creating a new business venture, but I had also experienced miracles that amazed, baffled and delighted me.

Sitting on a cruise ship on our last leg back to Los Angeles, I decided to continue with more current beliefs about myself.  I had outlived other definitions, maybe there were more definitions running around in my psyche that I needed to let go of and grow beyond.

I am a practical person ... I don’t have spiritual experiences.
I was born a poor person ... I will never have great abundance.
I am a widow ... I will never again have the joy of intimacy and unconditional love.
I am a senior widow ... I don’t matter.
I am going to die ... how I live doesn’t matter.
I am not talented musically ... I can’t play the hammered dulcimer.
I don’t have much money ... I can’t afford to do everything I want.

As I ended this session, a little voice welled up within me and shouted, “Oh, yeah?!”  

And I smiled as I realized that w
e define ourselves too narrowly.  I’ve seen my own definitions of myself come and go.  It starts to make me wonder if I … or any of us … truly understand our potential.  How many layers can we uncover in the time we are given in this life?  Probably fewer than are actually there.  We are always emerging.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

New Joy

This morning's post offers a poem for all who are suffering the pain of loss or despair.  It is almost impossible to believe or even remember at the time but it is this loss that plows the ground of our spirit to allow new growth, new joy, to push its way toward the light.  Mary Oliver's poem is an elegant reminder.  
The video below gives you a chance to hear three poems including "Wild Geese" read by Mary Oliver.  May joy find you sooner rather than later.

Wild Geese 
by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting--
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
© Mary Oliver

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Yes, but ...

Yesterday I found out that my digital collage work has been accepted into Timberline Gallery.  I am very excited to be part of an art community and look forward to meeting the other artists who are part of this gallery that I've always admired.  The gallery is 25 years old and they just changed their by-laws to accept photographic arts.  I'm one of the first three they have accepted and feel honored.

But ... my head is already creating "yes, buts."  Yes, I've been accepted into a gallery ... but, it's just a small, local gallery.  Yes, they agreed to let me in ... but, when nothing of mine sells, they'll ask me to leave.  Yes, some of my work to date has been interesting ... but, what if I never make anything else.  On and on.  What is this thing inside us that looks at something outside as big and perfect and beautiful but when it moves inside us, it's small and unimportant?  It reminds me of the Groucho Marx line:  I wouldn't want to belong to any club that would have me as a member.   That used to sound funny, now it just seems pathetically insecure.

There are beautiful artists in Timberline and I am honored that they chose me.  That doesn't mean I'm ready for MOMA; it actually doesn't mean anything other than right now, in this moment, I have been invited to be part of a community of artists.  It's a chance to learn and grow as an artist.  

So, I just want to shout:  Stop it!! to all the Yes, buts.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Where Did It Go?

I spent yesterday with my nine-year-old granddaughter, Ava.  Woven into the joy of hanging out together was the wonder at her authenticity.  She is who she is every moment.  She is literally "full of herself."  She delights in her delights and assumes that whatever path she takes will open wide for her.  

She knows what she wants even though those wants seem to go in different directions.  After watching "Monsters Inside Me" (the series on parasites), she wants to be a "diagnoser" but she also wants to be a cartoonist and a veterinarian.  She's sure she'll never mess up her life by smoking or drinking.  I tell her I want to video her saying that because someday she'll be a teenager and may need to be reminded of her young wisdom.
We went to a flea market and I gave her $10 to spend however she wanted.  She made a bee-line for porcelain-faced dolls.  After she bought one or two, I started pointing some out to her but she informed me that she was "very particular" about what she wanted.  I obviously didn't know the inner criteria.  She knows precisely what she wants and how she feels about everything.  When it was time for lunch and I asked her what she wanted, she thought for a moment and then said, "A cheese quesadilla."  The specifics of her wants and desires are crystal clear for her.

What I want to know is where does that clarity go?  What happens to that natural authenticity that seems to go into hiding as we enter our teens?  Is rediscovering it part of this last stage of life?  Now that we've reached a stage where there are fewer expectations of us, does that give us a new freedom to be whoever we truly are?  Are these "encore years" a chance to play at least some of the parts we missed along the way?  

If I were Ava, I wouldn't have to wonder about these questions.  I would just know.  I'd wake up every morning and do exactly what I want to do regardless of what anyone else thought.  Wait a minute, that's what I am doing.  Maybe this is my chance to be nine again.

About this image:  "Insight" ... images taken in Puerto Vallarta.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Sea Wisdom

"Seize the opportunity of a lifetime 
during the lifetime of the opportunity."
-- Guadalupe Barjas

Wisdom can be found anywhere but it is always a bit of a start when it shows up in unusual places.  

I've just returned from a week's cruise with four friends.  We spent time reviewing our lives and thinking about what's next.  It was a lovely, peaceful week and the gentle motion of the ship and the forced focus of my days prompted a torrent of writing.  But, I don't think anything I wrote has quite the wisdom and lilt as the above words which came from the grandfather of the ship-board doctor who was erasing the wrinkles of time from the faces of many of the travelers.  

My roommate was one of the people who emerged from the trip looking youthfully refreshed, not only by the ministrations of the doctor but by the stories and wisdom he shared that had been passed down from his grandfather.

About the Image:  Along the Malecon in Puerto Vallarta there are incredible statues ... permanent pieces of art.  Just beyond them on the beach every morning new art arises as sand artists create elaborate works that can only be enjoyed in the short hours between tides.