Archive for the ‘process’ Category

In my last post I discussed my desire to listen to the Spirit throughout the writing process. After writing my draft for this week, I realized that I write the same poem over and over again: trying to conquer my fears by taking my thoughts captive. When I talk about fear, I don’t mean fear of rejection or failure or public speaking. Those things are child’s play. My fears are those of exploding planes, fiery car crashes, and dramatic, earth-swallowing quakes. My mind has always had a tendency to wander to these action-flick scenes, and I don’t quite understand why. But rather than trying to fight these poems, I’m letting myself go with them. Training my mind to focus on the “pure and lovely” is one my biggest challenges. Why not embrace the challenge and allow the Spirit to do His work? This week I spent some time thinking about Romans 8:6. “To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” The following untitled draft emerged.

I maneuver my minivan down a licorice stick
of asphalt. Salt spews from a cavalcade
of trucks, but the glacial shoulders advance.

I try to fight where my mind wants to go:
a bamboo foot-bridge swaying over a river,
a quarter-inch slip and plunge into white.

My family laughs about the Abominable
Snowman, imagining his stomping up I-55
and toppling a truck-stop Dairy Queen.

They’ve taken the side of the storm,
this morning’s watercolor of Doppler radar
now a miracle birth in our headlights.

I pray that I can unclench and love,
see the mysteries of the Spirit
in these swaths of black ice, the arms

of Christ in the muscled mounds of snow.
The exits count down toward home.
We’re safe, I say, we’re safe, we’re safe.

The kids trace their names in the fog,
flakes like sweet alyssum flowers
blurring their faces in the window.


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I’m not big on New Year’s Resolutions. I’m not against resolutions; I just don’t usually make them in December. Forever a student and a teacher, I think in terms of the school year, setting goals in the late summer and diving in to the new me on the day Lydia’s bus pulls up.

One New Year’s tradition I do have, however, is writing in my journal for an hour or two on New Year’s Eve, reflecting on the past year. The tradition started in 2005, when I was so thankful to God that I had made it through that tough year that I wrote pages and pages of grateful reflections. But I am not a journal person: this is the one day I endeavor to crack the notebook.

Reflecting on my life shall come later tonight. Now I want to think about how my poetry is going to look in 2010.

On a practical level, I have already started sending poems to my friend Marci at the end of each week. She sends them, too, and the “pressure,” however so small, to have something done and somewhat readable helps me focus. Once I subtract weeks for winter break, spring break, and our annual three-week vacation, we’re looking at 46 weeks. That’s a lot of poetry–almost a whole collection’s worth. I’m excited to think about all these poems in utero, waiting to be born in 2010.

On the less practical, and much more important level, I want to be changed by poetry this year. Once I asked a former professor of mine about the whole point of it all. We are living in a culture that does not read poetry all that much. More and more poets are graduating with MFAs, and we’re all competing with each other to get books published that mostly other poets will read. Why do we do this? Or more importantly, why should we do this?

Her response: “I am not so idealistic these days to think that poetry can change the world. But I do believe the process of writing it can transform the poet.”

In this blog, I’ve been writing about the relationship between poetry and faith. I believe the Holy Spirit can work through artists to speak to other people. But this year I want to listen to the Spirit’s voice as I write. Where does my imagination travel as I begin to write? What do I envision, and why? Why do I return to the same images again and again (stars, wind, insects)? What are these poems trying to tell me about myself, about the world, about God?

If I listen well, I won’t get an answer. I’ll get caught even deeper in the mystery.

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As we near the end of the year, it hardly seems original to talk about how fast time passes. A year, a decade, my entire adult life–they have all fluttered into some mysterious storehouse of synapses in my brain. Most events and memories lie dormant until some trigger–a picture, a song, a smell–brings them into bud again.

Sometimes I feel time passing so quickly I almost experience a sort of breathless panic. 2010 seems so hard-edged and space-age, so beyond the scope of anything I imagined when I was asked as a fourth-grader, back in 1981, to write an essay describing what I would be doing in the year 2000. (I said I would be a single woman living in the mountains and raising Siberian huskies. Ironic, given my aversion to large dogs. And the fact that I’ve been married for 16 years. And live in Illinois.)

We have no control over the future, of course, but we can write poetry. Poetry can do the hard work of preserving the moments that make up our lives. And I believe the Holy Spirit has used poetry, both others’ and my own, to transform me as I reflect upon the rushing past.

This beautiful poem found in Scintilla, a magazine out of Wales, captures the way I want to live in 2010.

At Staplehurst

by Hubert Moore

No need to cross the bridge

to catch the train to London.

It sides up to you

and what you miss

is rabbits lounging in the present

green and easy

on the other side.

You don’t have to climb

the steps and look

at how they don’t consider

when, how long, how soon,

but keep time tender

by nibbling back and back

its blade-tip as it grows.

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For the past few months I’ve been teaching myself Celtic-style music on the mandolin and violin (I mean, um, fiddle). The music has awakened some kind of energy in me that I haven’t felt in awhile. Just yesterday I stole away in a church hallway before rehearsal and fiddled some jigs and hornpipes from memory. I felt so free and at home, as if entering a doorway into a room I’ve had my whole life but just recently discovered.

I know with time, however, my playing will get worse. Technically, it will improve with practice. But the more I learn about Celtic music, the more I will discern my own limitations and create higher standards for myself. This process needs to happen, of course, but will I still be able to love the music in the same way I do now?

Flash back 18 years. (Really??) It’s my first college poetry class, and I’m all enthusiasm. While I had always been a decent writer, I was refreshingly ignorant of poetry. (I had planned on becoming a playwright–not that I knew a whole lot about that, either!) This was before my eyes were opened to the world of rejection slips, book publication, and conferences where guys in elbow patches give talks about “Line Breaks and Post-Modern Gender Politics.” I just loved playing with words. I distinctly remember the first line of my first poem for that class. We were to write a blessing or a curse. My choice: a curse on fleas. The line: “Oh, black bug of borrowed blood.”

I repeated that line so much, and still remember it to this day, because it was simply a kick to say. Corny, yes, but what fun! I’m trying to get that original energy back into my writing. One way is by “collecting words” and playing around with them. (See the book Poemcrazy for ideas.) The other is procrastinating by writing a blog about poetry.

We are reminded in the Bible to have the faith of a child. Not a naive or ignorant faith, but a faith full of energy (think kids), wonder, and delight. I think the creative life and the spiritual life work in concord in this way. So this week I ask, Lord, please refresh my wonder in you. And rekindle my wonder in words.

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Gritty Joy

Last week I finished putting together a new poetry collection, which I am currently  calling Simple Weight. One night I read through the whole thing in one sitting to see how it felt. “Hey, not too bad,” I said to myself. “But dang, these poems are depressing.”

Why do I keep writing these things? I live a very happy life. I can’t say I’ve ever really suffered. I have no chip on my shoulder and nothing to prove. So why the darkness, the death, the failure, the doubt? Could it be that my subconscious writer knows that it takes some level of genius to pull off joy with any authenticity?

The complexities of suffering present so many juicy, irresistible opportunities for powerful symbols and metaphors. Suffering is automatically perceived as more gritty, more human, more “real.” Happiness, however, is the easy smile, the child’s cloying laugh, the cheesey end zone dance. And try to write about the dreaded “joy of the Lord” believers are supposed to display in their lives, and you may as well just give up and start importing the Precious Moments clip art.

This is not to say I’ve never written an explicitly joyful, spiritual poem. But they all pretty much start off with some sort of theological angst and end up with my traipsing around in the woods somewhere. Nature has been my joy-poem cop-out. They’re all starting to sound the same, give or take a few variations in species of insects and wildflowers.

I think I’ve been writing long enough to find a fresh perspective, a new angle on joy. I’m just not sure how to find it right now. And that really bums me out.

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