Friday, December 30, 2011

Begin a Foolish Project

This is our classic week of review, recalibration and resolutions. What were the highlights of 2011? How do you want 2012 to be better, different?

A classic week for hopes and dreams. I’ll be getting back to that theme at some point in 2012. Not sure when, because shortly into the year, I’ll be switching gears, moving over to Italy for three months, and blogging about that experience. The Boatyard blog will be quiet until I get back…but the brain will continue to mine this vein.

Volume II of Poems from the Boatyard is pretty well under wraps, and goes on hold now as I wait to submit—in 2013! I’ve found the workload on book marketing and selling to be much higher than I anticipated, and I need to pace myself! A book tour is tentatively in the works for late summer/early fall 2012. After that, I’ll submit my second manuscript.

In the meantime, another manuscript (a baby one) is going to Poetic Asides—The November Poem-A-Day Challenge. I barely made it across the finish line on that one, but did it, and after a series of revisions this month, off it goes tomorrow, just in time for the New Year’s Eve deadline.

Another submission to Atlanta Review is in the works as well.

I came within an email of having one poem published alongside a Mako Fujimura piece, Waterflames, the subject of the poem. Mako is one of my art heroes, so this would have been awesome; unfortunately, the gallery wouldn’t give permission to reprint the artwork. Dang.

So, no end of writing projects, but a little pause in it all to wish you a dream-building new year. And just in case you're feeling any trepidation about those dreams, here’s a little kick-in-the-butt from Hafiz:

“Fear is the cheapest room in the house.
I would like to see you living
In better conditions.”

And one from 13th C. Persian poet Rumi:

Move from within.
Don’t move the way that fear wants you to.
Begin a foolish project.
Noah did.

My father did. Will you?!

Happy New Year and thanks for helping to make 2011 an exciting one for this poet!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Now is the Time

"Now is the time to remember that all you do is sacred."--Hafiz

This month I've been reading Drunk on the Wine of the Beloved, by Persian poet Hafiz (1326-1390). Hafiz is one of the world’s most beloved poets, affectionately known as the “Tongue of the Invisible” for his poetic expression of spiritual experiences as a Sufi mystic, in love with his Beloved. For many in the Islamic world, Hafiz is the greatest poet of all time. If you get the opportunity to interact with someone from Iran, Iraq, Turkey, or India, you should know about Hafiz. It's a great point of contact.

The poetry of Hafiz is playful and enchanting, but was 'in your face' for his time--using highly sensual language in his trademark ghazals (from the Arabic "love song", lyrical poems recited or sung by minstrals in the royal courts of pre-Islamic Iran) to speak out against deceit and hypocrisy at all levels of society, "scathingly sarcastic if not downright confrontational...Although he was said to be a Sufi, his 'religion' was the love of God and the expression of that love. No spiritual institution could contain him" (from the Introduction).

Sufi master poets often compared love with wine, and Hafiz is no exception, using the metaphor in delightful ways, naming God as the Winebringer, the Winemaker, the Wineseller, selling on Wine Street, and entering the Winehouse.

Ralph Waldo Emerson called Hafiz a poet for poets. He is dazzling, and I suppose it's no accident that I'm reading Hafiz this season, as I try to keep from being dazzled by Western Civilisation's tinsel version of Christmas. I prefer a little poetic awe, and to drink whatever dazzling wine the Winebringer offers this season.

And so, as I exit the madness and turn off on Wine Street for my Christmas celebration, I offer you a toast: may your own experience of the holidays include a little Hafiz, and may you be drunk on the Wine of the Beloved!

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Beautiful & Pointless

Confession: I barely read books about poetry—except the craft of it. I read contemporary poets, the occasional article about why poetry matters, and, some years ago, once got halfway through Seamus Heany’s The Redress of Poetry. That was enough to put me far ahead of any but the academic. But a whole book on literary criticism? Nope.

But now that I’m a published poet, I decided to get more erudite, up my game, and read a book whose title intrigued me: Beautiful and Pointless, A Guide to Modern Poetry. (A glass of Cabernet Sauvignon was involved.) I expected a stiff read, possibly dry and academic book, but was curious. What would such a book be like? I waited till I had the head space to plunge into potentially heavy intellectual plowing on a subject that I don’t really need to be convinced about enjoying.

I didn’t expect to start laughing, and this was before the Cabernet took effect; I was only in the foreward. Example:

“If there’s one thing that often unites academic treatments and how-to guides, it’s the implicit assumption that relating to poetry is like solving a calculus problem while being zapped with a cattle prod—that is, the dull business of poetic interpretation…is coupled uneasily with testimonials announcing poetry’s ability to derange the senses, make us lose ourselves in rapture, dance naked under the full moon, and so forth.”

Yep, gotta keep your wits about you as you follow these intricate sentences. But before you get whiplash, author Daniel Orr steers you quickly into a way cool thought:

“When a non-specialist audience is responding well to a poem, its reaction is a kind of tentative pleasure, a puzzled interest that resembles the affection a traveler bears for a destination that both welcomes and confounds him. For such readers, then, it’s not necessarily helpful to talk about poetry as if it were a device to be assembled or a religious experience to be undergone. Rather, it would be useful to talk about poetry as if it were, for example, Belgium. (pg. xiv)

Ok, so he hooked me on the travel analogy and Belgium seemed positively prophetic, since I was supposed to be there this month. I was 'in' and forged ahead to Chap. 1, fortified with another Cabernet.

“…I proudly announced, ‘I’m a poetry critic.’ She gave me a look as if I’d just tossed a sackful of kittens into a mulcher. ‘Wait a minute,’ she said, ‘you mean you criticize people’s poetry?’”

I was now up to page 2, and, once I finished laughing, posted this to my FB status.

“…T.S.Eliot’s famous declaration that ‘the progress of an artist is a continual self-sacrifice, a continual extinction of personality…’”

Well, I needed to mull that over…until the library called saying I needed to return or renew. I renewed.

I’m now up to page 8, and probably shouldn’t be recommending this book based on eight pages, but feel sure that a tour of poetry written by someone who can make me laugh continuously through the first 8 pages can probably deliver.

What the heck, it’s the holidays. We need some decompression in our lives to survive them, and poetry is just the thing. Or "Beautiful and Pointless." A Cabernet goes without saying…

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Mom Sam

If you read my last post, and clicked on the link to learn more about Susan, you might have noticed another climber, Mom Sam. (You might have to scroll a bit; as climbers are added, the order shifts.) Here’s her story, from the website:

Mom Sam was born to the Phnom Penh village chief in Cambodia 31 years ago. In the 80s, her father was killed fighting Khmer Rouge soldiers. Her mom sold everything and moved the family to a poor neighborhood. When Mom was 16, a lady offered her a job as a waitress. Her mother was convinced to sign a document, giving Mom permission to work, and received $50 in return, along with a promise that her child would earn a lot of money. Her daughter, however, did not go to a restaurant…

You can read more about Mom’s story. I'll hear more about it in the future, because she will be climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro with Susan. I may never get to meet here in the here and now, but I love Mom Sam already, and believe she has great courage.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

From the Boatyard to Kilimanjaro

My friend Susan is walking around with a backpack on a lot these days. If you don't already know why, she'll invite you to ask, by announcing with a big smile: "I'm in training!"

For what (you can't help but ask)?

"I climb Mt. Kilimanjaro in January!"

This week, as temps dropped to 24 degrees F, Susan slept outside to test her sleeping bag. It didn’t work. She didn’t sleep. But at least she's not discovering this on Kilimanjaro. And she went to work the next day.

Why is she climbing? You can read about it here.

What does this have to do with Poems from the Boatyard?

Desire. Dreams. Going for it.

Yep, we’re going back to that subject, friends! It’s the end of the year, a good time to evaluate what dreams got dashed, what dreams inched forward, and what dreams we want to dream for 2012.

There are a lot of reasons why Susan could excuse herself from this climb.

For one thing, she celebrates her 70th birthday next year.

She'll have to test a new sleeping bag out soon, when the temps drop sufficiently.

It’s a climb, not a cakewalk, to 19,000 ft. She has to raise several thousand dollars for expenses.

Before this climb was publicized, she had only minimal awareness of the sex trafficking issue. It was not “her” issue, she confided one day, as she weighed her decision. But, she did her homework, engaged, and is now an articulate and assertive spokeswoman for women without voices.

She had to fly out to Colorado at her own expense for a 3-day retreat with all the climbers, and climb Pike’s Peak (14,000 ft.), a team-building "exercise." (The women had to abort the climb part way up because of weather conditions.)

And, she had to sign on the dotted line that she would raise $10,000 for the freedom of women caught or coming out of sex-trafficking. Or to prevent them ever getting caught in that hellish web.

Susan has not only raised the $10,000, but had a desire to raise $19,000, a dollar for every foot of the climb. At last count, she was up to almost $12,000, and still, um, climbing :)

Susan is not a wealthy woman. She is a bookkeeper in a non-profit. Bookkeepers in non-profits are not exactly known for their deep pockets.

The summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro is known as Uhuru Peak. Uhuru is the Swahili word for freedom. It’s the highest mountain in Africa, and was chosen to symbolize the mountain every woman and child has to climb to get out of slavery.

Talk about desire.

Everyone needs a friend like Susan (scroll down!). I want to write her a check for the remaining $7,000 just to applaud her desire. But poets aren't exactly known for their deep pockets either, and anyway, that wouldn’t be half as much fun as seeing where all these contributions are coming from, and to hear the stories!

This is not a financial appeal (but you can donate here), nor is it intended to guilt you into thinking you're not doing enough.

It is to inspire you to dream.

A New Year is about to begin.
Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.

--Langston Hughes