Archive for the ‘Poetry’ Category

If I were a poet, I would go to Block Island this spring just to hear Mary Oliver. I really would.

Protective of the privacy necessary to her creative process, Oliver rarely gives readings, but she will be participating in the April 3 – May 4, 2008, Block Island Poetry Project. Also in the spring, Beacon Press will publish a collection of new Oliver poems. I may not be going to Block Island, but you know I’ll be reading Red Bird.

Red Bird by Mary Oliver

I first fell in love with Oliver’s poetry when I read “Wild Geese” with its stunning opening lines:

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.

Read the full poem here.

The clarity, fragility, and internal music of Oliver’s lines took my breath away. I own most of her collections now, and hers are the poems to which I return for soul-nourishment and centering. Her earlier poems worked around a fiery wound toward the reconciliation offered in poems like “Wild Geese.” I think that early fire has burned down now into a rare and quiet peace raised in her more recent work. I’m interested to see what Oliver does in Red Bird.

To learn more about my favorite poet, visit the following pages:

Poetry Foundation Bio

Academy of American Poets Bio

L.A. Times review of Oliver’s most recent work, Our World (photographs by Oliver’s late partner, Molly Malone Cook; text by Mary Oliver)

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Magnolia and autumn leaves

Three white birch

Mary Oliver’s poem, “A Dream of Trees,” which begins:

There is a thing in me that dreamed of trees,
A quiet house, some green and modest acres
A little way from every troubling town,
A little way from factories, schools, laments…

Read the full poem here.

(I’ll be back, Blissful readers. I have a few more days of holiday left. I’m playing, reflecting, cooking favorite foods, resting, and wishing all of you a wonderful 2008.)

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There isn’t much time for anything right now, but here are a couple of gems from Gaston Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space, which I finished reading recently:


All important words, all the words marked for grandeur by a poet, are keys to the universe, to the dual universe of the Cosmos and the depths of the human spirit.

The great function of poetry is to give us back the situations of our dreams. The house we were born in is more than an embodiment of home, it is also an embodiment of dreams. Each of its nooks and corners was a resting-place for daydreaming…. The house, the bedroom, the garret in which we were alone, furnished the framework for an interminable dream, one that poetry alone, through the creation of a poetic work, could succeed in achieving completely…. It is on the plane of the daydream and not on that of facts that childhood remains alive and poetically useful within us. Through this permanent childhood, we maintain the poetry of the past. To inhabit oneirically the house we were born in means more than to inhabit it in memory; it means living in this house that is gone, the way we used to dream in it.

In the forward, John R. Silgoe writes, “Ostensibly modest in compass, an inquiry focused on the house, its interior places, and its outdoor context, The Poetics of Space resonates deeply, vibrating at the edges of imagination, exploring the recesses of the psyche, the hallways of the mind. In the house Bachelard discovers a metaphor of humanness.”

I’ll admit that I found Bachelard somewhat challenging. He’s unapologetically abstract and long-winded, but at the same time, The Poetics of Space is undeniably dreamy and even a bit magical. In the days since I finished reading it, I’ve found myself pondering the spaces I know and remember and discovering entire rooms of imaginative meaning and possibility. If you’re looking for a book to tickle your imagination and are willing to read slowly and thoughtfully, as Bachelard requires, I recommend it.

* * * * *

Meanwhile, in the space we call home (where the rest of us are quite busy, I might add), this is the scene:

Sprawled about

Christmas tree & a sleepy fuzzy

On a chilly night

It’s as though the cats have decided to semi-hibernate through the winter, and I do not blame them. I want to grab a book, curl up in a blanket, and join them.

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Right now, the alyssum blossoms are at their peak:


Meanwhile, we’ve had our first rains and our first autumn soup:

First autumn soup

I’ve been writing:


And, a few days ago, sketching:

still life watercolor

What’s inspiring me right now is this Wendell Berry poem.

Blissful first days of autumn, dear readers!

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Catching the Light


This light-catcher ornament hangs in my office window. It was a gift from a dear friend to whom I owe a letter. I owe her a letter, and I probably owe you one too. My email inbox is stacked high with letters to which I have not responded, and in my head are a myriad of blisses I haven’t blogged. So, to you who are patiently waiting for my emails and to you who are patiently reading this blog, I haven’t forgotten.

I haven’t forgotten, but this past week was pure frenzy. Work projects–the work-work kind of work, not the play-work kind of work. Deadlines. Meetings. Not much writing. No time for stillness and dreams and words. Meanwhile, the seasons are shifting, and the sun has grown mild. The cats are starting to warm themselves in my lap. All this week, I felt the dryness of the soul and the restlessness that come from being separated from words.

Finally, this morning I went out to our patio and sat alone to read my April issue of Poetry, which included the translated lines of Jin Eun-Young: “Along my fingertips bare shoots / of days then years unfurl in the cold air.” The light was filtering through the leaves of the white birch and dancing a bit across the pages, and I read those lines, and many more, like taking long, deep breaths. Days then years are unfurling, and the tides are always pulling away from my writing, but then I find sanctuary in a few lines of poetry or a musical line. They catch in my lungs like strands of light in a crystal ornament swinging in the late summer light.

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“Now I Become Myself”


After months of hiatus, the orchid burst into bloom again, and I read May Sarton’s poem, which begins:

Now I become myself. It’s taken
Time, many years and places;

And later:

My work, my love, my time, my face
Gathered into one intense
Gesture of growing like a plant.

(Read the entire poem here.)

Wherever you find yourself forging a path in the world–in a flourishing garden, in a gray office cubicle, in a swaying bus, at a soapy kitchen sink, in a noisy classroom, or wherever it is–may you grow well.

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“Let her have…”

It’s only mid-August, and more triple-digit weather is sure to come before the close of summer, but I can’t help but feel a shift already in the seasons–a shift toward gathering, harvest, and introspection. A few days ago, we picked the first sweet bell pepper from our garden:
sweet pepper harvest

The shift is in my writing too. I came home from my writers’ conference brimming with ideas that I don’t want to let diffuse. It was a feast of language, that writers’ conference–exhilarating and exhausting all at once. Since coming home a week ago, I’ve been trying to channel all that inspiration back into my novel, and I’ve been writing and napping in almost equal portions.


I also came home with new writer friends, an armful of free literary journals, and a new favorite poet: Jane Hirshfield. In a room with arched doorways and plastered ceiling at the Robert Mondavi Winery, I listened to Jane Hirshfield delicately lift her poems from the page with her quiet, melodious voice, and I was completely captivated.

Let her have time, and silence,
enough paper to make mistakes and go on.

Those are the closing lines of Jane Hirshfield’s “The Poet” and something of what I’m feeling right now as I reenter the work of my novel. (Read the full poem here, and also “Optimism.”)

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Braided Streams, Woven Dreams


I’m sitting at my glass-top desk with its books, notebooks, cloth, light, and reflections. I’m thinking of the photos of brown bears, glaciers, and “braided streams” that a couple of our friends brought back from Alaska. Anais Nin said:

Our life is composed greatly from dreams, from the unconscious, and they must be brought into connection with action. They must be woven together.

In Home Ground: Language for an American Landscape (a wonderful collection of landscape terminology written by writers and poets–I’m so happy to own it), Luis Alberto Urrea explains that braided streams are formed when “sediment is brought downstream by stronger currents, and it falls when weaker currents present themselves: ephemeral subchannels open, sandbars emerge. The stream braids water back and forth, across accommodating land, until it reunites.” He goes on to quote three short lines from Jim Harrison and Ted Kooser’s book of poems titled Braided Stream: A Conversation in Poetry:

Only today / I heard the river / within the river.

Like so is writing fiction. Like rivers braiding back and forth. Like dreams woven together with action. Like listening for the river within the river.

Today in the mail, I received a packet from the Napa Valley Writers’ Conference, which I’ll be attending in a couple of weeks. The packet contained the short stories and novel excerpts of my fellow workshop attendees. We are all supposed to read and provide written critique of one another’s manuscripts.

I’m thinking of the last line of W. B. Yeats’ poem “He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven.”

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

Tread softly because you tread on my dreams. I don’t think Yeats was talking about the dreams of writing, but I’m treading softly. I want to enter gently, though honestly, into the woven dreams of my fellow writers–just as I hope they’ll do for mine. We’re all coming together like rivers, bringing our own currents, carrying the sediment of our particular lives and writing habits, braiding together for a few days. We all want to come away from the conference hearing, even a bit more clearly, the river within the river.

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That Hidden Music

blue stones

Anne Stevenson:

The best poetry–great poetry–happens when sound, rhythm, and image bring about a mysterious feeling of wholeness that somehow draws mind, body, and spirit together into what both Yeats and Eliot envisioned as a unified dance. What we call ‘the power of the word’ is really a pattern of words in a rhythm originating in heartbeat and footfall. Language, like the human mind, consists of a conscious and an unconscious element, and what ‘real’ poetry can do, even when it looks like prose on the page, is to reproduce the hidden music we are all born hearing but lose as we grow up.”

I have this quote on my inspiration board. I know Anne Stevenson is right about this, and I don’t want to lose my inner music.

When I was seven or eight, my family drove across the country. I remember staring out the window of the Volvo and feeling the rhythmic visual staccato of fence posts and trees skimming by. I wrote my first poems on that trip. They were horrible formulaic rhyming poems, but they were my first poems still.

I think that the way we lose the hidden music we were born hearing is not by growing up but by ceasing to listen for it. Somehow as we grow up, we learn to bifurcate the mind and the body, the words from the dance, as if the mind weren’t intrinsically part of a physical being dancing to that hidden music.

I look around in my little office, and there is the visual rhythm of the spines of books on my shelves, the keys of the piano, the slats of the fence outside my window, the sound of keystrokes as I type, a cat breathing in and out, music playing on my iPod, and in my memory, the sound of lake water lapping, the fences and trees whizzing past a Volvo window, and figure skates slicing through ice.

This is mostly a note to self, but perhaps for you too: listen for it, listen for that hidden music. It’s there.

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Our Not-So-Secret Garden


We planted this pink hydrangea in our backyard today. It was a housewarming gift from a friend, and it happens to be one of my favorite flowers in my favorite color. Actually, I shouldn’t say, “happens to be,” because I’m sure it wasn’t by chance. Our friends know us well. Another friend gave us this:


It’s a dwarf alstroemerias, which is also one of my favorite flowers. We had one at our old house too. I honestly thought about digging up a portion of it and bringing it with us when we moved, but in the end, everything was too frantic and busy. I’m so happy to have one here at our new home.


The original plan was for petunias in hanging baskets over the patio, but once I saw these billowing blue and lavender flowers, I knew it had to be these.

Yesterday, I had breakfast on the patio. It was peaceful and full of light, and it reminded me of Mary Oliver poem’s poem “When I Am Among the Trees,” which starts out:

When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks, and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.

Read the entire poem here alongside aracay’s beautiful photo set on Flickr.

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