my birthday present

my birthday present
My awesome birthday present 1/26/11 (see story under my first post)

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

More on Writing

Lisa shared this poem with me after the last post about writing. I think it is very humorous, ironic and true.  

For the Young Who Want To
Marge Piercy

Talent is what they say
you have after the novel
is published and favorably
reviewed. Beforehand what
you have is a tedious
delusion, a hobby like knitting.

Work is what you have done
after the play is produced
and the audience claps.
Before that friends keep asking
when you are planning to go
out and get a job.

Genius is what they know you
had after the third volume
of remarkable poems. Earlier
they accuse you of withdrawing,
ask why you don't have a baby,
call you a bum.

The reason people want M.F.A.'s,
take workshops with fancy names
when all you can really
learn is a few techniques,
typing instructions and some-
body else's mannerisms

is that every artist lacks
a license to hang on the wall
like your optician, your vet
proving you may be a clumsy sadist
whose fillings fall into the stew
but you're certified a dentist.

The real writer is one
who really writes. Talent
is an invention like phlogiston
after the fact of fire.
Work is its own cure. You have to
like it better than being loved.

Here are a few clever quotes on writing.

We are a species that needs and wants to understand who we are. Sheep lice do not seem to share this longing, which is one reason why they write so little.
Anne Lamott

Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self.
Cyril Connolly

Writing is a lot easier if you have something to say
Sholem Asch

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Joy of Writing

The Joy of Writing
Wislawya Szymborska

Why does this written doe bound through these written woods?
For a drink of written water from a spring
whose surface will xerox her soft muzzle?
Why does she lift her head; does she hear something?
Perched on four slim legs borrowed from the truth,
she pricks up her ears beneath my fingertips.
Silence - this word also rustles across the page
and parts the boughs
that have sprouted from the word "woods."

Lying in wait, set to pounce on the blank page,
are letters up to no good,
clutches of clauses so subordinate
they'll never let her get away.

Each drop of ink contains a fair supply
of hunters, equipped with squinting eyes behind their sights,
prepared to swarm the sloping pen at any moment,
surround the doe, and slowly aim their guns.

They forget that what's here isn't life.
Other laws, black on white, obtain.
The twinkling of an eye will take as long as I say,
and will, if I wish, divide into tiny eternities,
full of bullets stopped in mid-flight.
Not a thing will ever happen unless I say so.
Without my blessing, not a leaf will fall,
not a blade of grass will bend beneath that little hoof's full stop.

Is there then a world
where I rule absolutely on fate?
A time I bind with chains of signs?
An existence become endless at my bidding?

The joy of writing.
The power of preserving.
Revenge of a mortal hand.


These poets are so clever in describing the writing process. Each makes writing seem like it has a life of its own with unlimited potential. As I read more poetry I am reminded over and over that writers are first thinkers with something to say. Additionally they have the gift of knowing how to say it.

Bait Goat

Kay Ryan

There is a
distance where
magnets pull,
we feel, having
held them   
back. Likewise
there is a
distance where
words attract.
Set one out
like a bait goat   
and wait and   
seven others
will approach.
But watch out:
roving packs can
pull your word
away. You   
find your stake   
yanked and some   
rough bunch
to thank.

Here's what I mean about writers being thinkers. Watch this video of Kay Ryan you can see the gears turning in her thought processes. She is hysterical, but always making important connections.
When this video ends you will have the option to watch parts 2,3, and 4 which I highly recommend.  Much more entertaining than anything on tv.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Defeating Loneliness

The Rider
Naomi Shihab Nye
A boy told me
if he roller-skated fast enough
his loneliness couldn’t catch up to him,
the best reason I ever heard
for trying to be a champion.
What I wonder tonight
pedaling hard down King William Street
is if it translates to bicycles.
 A victory! To leave your loneliness
panting behind you on some street corner
while you float free into a cloud of sudden azaleas,
pink petals that have never felt loneliness,
no matter how slowly they fell.
Prayer upon Waking
By Vassar Miller
Give me, my God, this day
the simple human grace
and fortitude to face
my loneliness, small stray,
no wolf, no tiger,
no lion of ferocious roar,
no demon eager
for souls this at my door.
Only a little child
crying and lost, half wild
to be let in and listened to,
closer than my own kin,
she is my own,
and the sole creature who
tells me the truth so rendering You
what children by their nature do,
what long ago that stone,
my heart, was duty-bound to raise—
Your perfect praise.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

About Cats (not really)

Having seen the post for dogs, cats were clamoring for equal attention.


A cat can draw
the blinds
behind her eyes
whenever she
decides. Nothing
alters in the stare
itself but she's
not there. Likewise
a future can occlude:
still sitting there,
doing nothing rude.

Kay Ryan

Reading Ryan’s poem, A Cat/A Future, I was reminded of Against Certainty. Just when you think you have life figured out, you put things in order and establish a routine and structure, a new reality hits you between the eyes and you’re back to square one, scrambling to keep your head above the surface. Is Hirschfield suggesting the cat makes no such assumptions but patiently waits for what comes? They each seem to see qualities in cats that we can learn from.

Hirshfield has devoted much of her life to Zen Buddhism. For me, her poetry is very deep and thought provoking, not easily understood. But when I am able to digest certain phrases, I feel enlightened.

Against Certainty 

There is something out in the dark that wants to correct us.
Each time I think “this,” it answers “that.”
Answers hard, in the heart-grammar’s strictness.

If I then say “that,” it too is taken away.

Between certainty and the real, an ancient enmity.
When the cat waits in the path-hedge,
no cell of her body is not waiting.
This is how she is able so completely to disappear.

I would like to enter the silence portion as she does.

To live amid the great vanishing as a cat must live,
one shadow fully at ease inside another.
Jane Hirshfield

Then I looked for another poem, one really about cats. I think the ending ties this poem to the other two.

The Cat's Song

Mine, says the cat, putting out his paw of darkness.
My lover, my friend, my slave, my toy, says
the cat making on your chest his gesture of drawing
milk from his mother's forgotten breasts.

Let us walk in the woods, says the cat.
I'll teach you to read the tabloid of scents,
to fade into shadow, wait like a trap, to hunt.
Now I lay this plump warm mouse on your mat.

You feed me, I try to feed you, we are friends,
says the cat, although I am more equal than you.
Can you leap twenty times the height of your body?
Can you run up and down trees? Jump between roofs?

Let us rub our bodies together and talk of touch.
My emotions are pure as salt crystals and as hard.
My lusts glow like my eyes. I sing to you in the mornings
walking round and round your bed and into your face.

Come I will teach you to dance as naturally
as falling asleep and waking and stretching long, long.
I speak greed with my paws and fear with my whiskers.
Envy lashes my tail. Love speaks me entire, a word

of fur. I will teach you to be still as an egg
and to slip like the ghost of wind through the grass.

Marge Piercy

Friday, July 1, 2011


I think this poem is so interesting. Ryan explains at a reading at the Lannan Foundation that she saw a definition for pentimenti below a painting in a museum. (definition - the presence or emergence of earlier images, forms, or strokes that have been changed and painted over. Loretta and I were discussing how to relate this poem to our lives, which made me then think of The Road Not Taken posted below.  Kay Ryan’s poetry is delightful. Be sure to listen to her reading. More of her later.

Kay Ryan

It's not simply
that the top image
wears off or
goes translucent;
things underneath
come back up,
having enjoyed the advantages of rest.
That's the hardest
part to bear, how
the decided-against
fattens one layer down,
free of the tests
applied to final choices.
In this painting,
for instance, see how
a third arm --
long ago repented by the artist --
is revealed,
working a flap
into the surface
through which
who knows what
exiled cat or
extra child
might steal.

There is a great deal of interesting discussion on the internet about whether this poem is about Frost being gay. In my Google research I did not find direct evidence of that, but I can certainly see how a gay person might find that in this poem.

The Road Not Taken
Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.