Reflections on Mary Oliver

Today is a sad day, Mary Oliver has died. I only recently discovered her poetry in the past couple of years, I admired the way she could evoke a feeling in the way she used words. For her poetry was in everything, even in the smallest of creatures she could see a poem. I am not even a blip on the screen of poetry writing compared to Mary Oliver, my poems struggle to break free from the confines of my heart and to see the light of day. I try, I really try, to write something, anything that tells the truth of what I see and feel. Mary’s poetry, did just that, when I read one of her poems I cannot help but get a tear in my eye and a lump in my throat. Maybe because whatever I write cannot hold a candle up to what she has said and done. I know that I shouldn’t compare myself to her, after all, she was a poet long before I even knew what poetry was all about, but when you’ve sat at the feet of greatness and tried with everything you had to learn and absorb, you soon discover that isn’t enough. To write a poem is to enter into the world at a slant, to see in even the smallest grain of sand on a wide beach, a poem. That single blade of grass, that defies the concrete and darkness imposed upon it, breaks forth through even the tiniest crack to stretch itself out to the sun. No matter what happens, no matter how often it is cut back, poisoned, or pulled, it still somehow, defies all of those efforts and breaks through the layers of earth and concrete, as if to say to the world, “Here I am, here I will show the world that life is the final answer, not death”. That is the poets world, their vocation, to show the world that whatever darkness there is that seeks to bury the poetry, it still springs anew in the hearts of those who are broken. Our world, our society, our families, we need the poets, all of the poets, even those of us who struggle with our own poetry. Mary Oliver gave me hope, even in my darkest of days when I couldn’t even find that crack in the pavement, her words were my light and my life. Like her, I don’t simply want to end up just having visited this world, I want to end up having lived and experienced this world. I want to have seen the great oak as it bends in the summer breeze, and watch the flight of geese in perfect order, fly to the horizon, to know that even I, a small grain of sand on a long stretch of beach, am able to find the words to write and the poem to sing

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As Fall Ends

Fall leans into winter

a reminder that we

need to lie fallow

to rest and prepare

our hearts and souls

for the coming of a child

who brings peace

into our conflicted world

time of sabbath

embracing the silence

as nature renews

frost coating empty fields

denuded trees stretch limbs

into cold gray skies

a scent of snow

on the breeze

mixes with wood fire

from darkened homes

as people give thanks

resting in that peace

of knowing God’s presence

in the deep silence

that calls us to be still.

What is the Story?

What is the story that I want to tell, to write about here on the pages of this blog? Do I have the courage to tell that story and all that comes with the telling? So much is locked up in memory, various pictures, feelings, textures, that engages all of the senses making up that story. I have struggled trying to tell my story and not get bogged down in the telling. There is so much that needs to be sifted and examined for truth, not only truth of the story itself but the truth of how that story has made me who I am and continues to remake me each day. There is that deeper story of love and loss, of success and failure, of being a child and passing into the adult life. Memories hang along the rafters, I look above me and I don’t know which one to choose, which one do I dare to open. I write to find myself in these memories, that child waking up from a nightmare, that teen being bullied, a young soldier in a foreign land, a newly minted husband unsure of himself while trying to be strong, a dad now responsible for another human life, a priest seeking to discover where God is leading, now I sit here retired, picking through those various pieces of my life and trying to put it together. It is a great jig-saw puzzle, thousands of pieces all scattered along the table and I am looking at it all utterly daunted by the undertaking. Like with any jig-saw, it is best to start with the borders, get the edge right before moving on into the interior. Yet, even the border is hard to define, the borders of life are not static but dynamic, they’re ebb and flow through the mind, clear one minute and haze the next. Nothing is solid in memory, and so like some explorer crossing a vast ocean I must make my own way, with little or no navigation aids. What is that story? What makes mine worth the telling? Fear robs me of that courage I need to tell what I know and what I feel, yet, I can’t let that fear hold me back. Maybe, just maybe, it is in those moments of fear that I will find who I truly am and that in and by itself might just be the story I need to tell.

Will I Ever Know?

Will I ever know what it means to be a writer,

will I ever compose that one great love poem

or guide a reader into a realm they’ve never seen,

or am I doomed to just sit here in the darkened space

struggling with finding those elusive words

that just won’t come no matter how much I call

sitting outside of my vision taunting me as I write.

So, I sit here alone surrounded by the wisdom

of writers who have struggled in their own right

and the ghosts of so many who have long since gone

who wrote those now classic works that live still today.

Will I ever know what it means, really, really means.

Night Watch

Here I am playing with iambic pentameter for this little piece. Being a beginner in the poetry genre I thought it couldn’t hurt to try writing like this. It’s not Shakespeare but it is fun working out the phrases.

I love to watch as you slumber at night

the rise and fall of your breasts with each breath

the way your face looks serene and at rest

for in that moment my world is at peace

you are the anchor that holds my heart close

and my love for you reaches into the depths

where I need not fear the darkness of night

nor the ghosts haunting my mortal souls life

Wild and Free

Maybe it’s me

the way I think,

not in a straight line

and not in sequential steps.

As I look back 

on all those years

when I was told the path,

and I went the other way

not willing to be fitted

with bit and bridle of convention

but wanting to run free,

along the broken ridge lines

across the empty beaches

to feel the wind in my face

to stand in the rain

shaking my rebellious fist 

to the forces that try to chain.

Now I know the tale

of the Handmaid and her woes

being tied down by fear of others.

Lives are meant for living

pushing against the walls

trying to contain the hearts

of the artists and poets

whose words are dangerous

and not at all straight and narrow

but wild and free.

Writers Block or Not

I can’t really call it “writers block” since I just read a litany of quotes that deny the existence of such a malaise, for instance:

“I don’t believe in writer’s block or waiting for inspiration. If you’re a writer, you sit down and write.”

– Elmore Leonard

“I haven’t had trouble with writer’s block. I think it’s because my process involves writing very badly. My first drafts are filled with lurching, clichéd writing, outright flailing around. Writing that doesn’t have a good voice or any voice. But then there will be good moments. It seems writer’s block is often a dislike of writing badly and waiting for writing better to happen.”

– Jennifer Egan

“All writing is difficult. The most you can hope for is a day when it goes reasonably easily. Plumbers don’t get plumber’s block, and doctors don’t get doctor’s block; why should writers be the only profession that gives a special name to the difficulty of working, and then expects sympathy for it?”

– Philip Pullman

“I’ve often said that there’s no such thing as writer’s block; the problem is idea block. When I find myself frozen — whether I’m working on a brief passage in a novel or brainstorming about an entire book — it’s usually because I’m trying to shoehorn an idea into the passage or story where it has no place.”

– Jeffery Deaver
“Writer’s block is a luxury most people with deadlines don’t have.”

– Diane Ackerman

“Lower your standards and keep going.”

William Stafford

I love the last one from William Stafford mainly because, I can’t lower my standards much more than I have already. Then again, what are my standards? That’s a good question and one I’ve never given much thought. Sure, I would love to write that one great piece or that one great novel or poem, but do I really have the stuff, the inner smarts, to write like that? No matter what some may say, I believe that the really great writers have a skill that us mere mortals do not. Somewhere in the genes, in that magical mix that makes us human beings, the great writers got something else, a bonus gene that allows them to see the world through different lenses. Sure, many of us can describe a sunrise or sunset, a forest full of tall pines or the view of the ocean from atop a mountain, but can we see what’s underneath, the glimmer on the glass, the undulating waves, the various shades of green that fluctuate as the shadows of the clouds pass over the distant scene.

There is a sense of the magical, of wonder and desire that some people can easily write about. Love in it’s infinite ways of being, how it feels in the deepest parts of our souls, how just to look at one’s beloved brings a depth of feelings right into the core of who we are. No wonder we say, they are broken-hearted, for love can and does not only break a heart, it shatters the fragile flesh.

There I go again, off on a tangent not at all sure how I got to this point when the point was about writers block and my own style. Maybe, and this is a big maybe, it’s really not a block but a more of a drought. Ideas, ones you thought would make for a great story, once written down seem flat, dead and rather silly. Yet, each day I try to write, something. A small piece, a bit of poetry, micropoetry, something that forces me to dig below the surface and mine the richness that is waiting to be exposed to the light of day. That is if all I discover is a vein of fools gold, it looks all bright and beautiful but upon inspection and retrospection is found to be worthless. As I write this, I’m thinking, isn’t this all part of writing and wanting to write, the self doubt, the fear and wondering if what is written is any good?

I’m sure that most of this sounds familiar to many who have read some of my stuff, it’s become my theme and maybe my vocation. It allows me to express my doubts, fears and inadequacies and put it out there for all to see and read. I also hope that by voicing my own lack of confidence that it might just help someone, who has more talent, to go ahead and write that one piece that has been rattling around in their head for so long. As for me, I’ll continue throwing out the words that I see with my minds eye. I will continue to write knowing that I tend to jump from one thing to another in the most haphazard of ways and really, isn’t that the reason to write?