Tuesday, March 28, 2017

"Leafing and Leaving" (An Original Poem)

I discovered an old notebook the other day, full of poem drafts I wrote during the spring seven years ago. (Half the sweet girl's life ago!) A lot of the drafts are still incomplete and need work, but one poem, filled with word play, felt ready...and made me smile. And I think after being stuffed away in a notebook for seven years, it's definitely time for its debut.

Leafing and Leaving

Leaves aren't leaving
in the spring.
They've only just arrived.
They do their leafing
fresh and green
when all is new outside.
They do their leaving
in the fall
dressed to the nines
in red and gold.
They only whisper their goodbyes
when the year is growing old.

EMP, 4/2010

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Poem Modeling on Blake's "The Lamb"

I'm sorting through a journal I just finished writing in (started writing in a new journal at Hillman on Thursday). Sorting through a completed journal is, for me, a interesting exercise, partly because I'm looking at old to-do lists to see if there are things on those lists I still need to do, as inevitably there are, and partly because I'm looking through things like poem drafts and story snippets to see if I want to rework any of the creative things. And inevitably I do!

One of the things I saw this morning was an exercise I did a while back which I meant to share here on the blog. It was an exercise in poem modeling: that is, looking at an already written (sometimes classic) poem, and modeling my own poem off it. I don't do these kinds of creative riffs often enough. While they don't always lead to the most fluid of poems for me, I still find the exercises mentally and creatively helpful. And sometimes they do lead to fun results.

In this case, I decided to riff on William Blake's famous poem "The Lamb." Here is the well-known gem, in case you haven't read it in a while...

Little lamb, who made thee?
Dost thou know who made thee,
Gave thee life, and bid thee feed
By the stream and o’er the mead;
Gave thee clothing of delight,
Softest clothing, woolly, bright;
Gave thee such a tender voice,
Making all the vales rejoice?
    Little lamb, who made thee?
    Dost thou know who made thee?
    Little lamb, I’ll tell thee;
    Little lamb, I’ll tell thee:
He is called by thy name,
For He calls Himself a Lamb.
He is meek, and He is mild,
He became a little child.
I a child, and thou a lamb,
We are called by His name.
    Little lamb, God bless thee!
    Little lamb, God bless thee!

-- William Blake (1789)

And here's my modeling off of it. The trickiest part of this exercise may have been choosing what my central theme would be: it had to be a creature or part of creation that would lend itself easily to a comparison with Jesus and with humanity. I chose a rose.

I also chose to change the "thee" to "you," both to show that I am writing in a different century than Blake, and also just to vary the sounds of the poem (note that in conjunction with "thee" he uses words like "feed" and "mead" and "meek" that draw on the long "e" sound). Whereas I took the "oo" sound in "you" and played off it with words like "bloom" and "room" and "too" and "new." 

Lovely rose, who made you?

Do you know who made you,

Made you bud, brought you to bloom

Into a vibrant silken room;

Gave you colors warm and bright,

Some dark velvet, others light;

Gave you such a sweet, fresh scent,

That wafts up to the firmament?

       Lovely rose, who made you?

       Do you know who made you?

Lovely rose, I’ll tell you;

Lovely rose, I’ll tell you;

He himself was once a bloom,

Sheltered in a tiny room,

Brought to fruitful, flowering birth,

Here upon the barren earth.

I’m a flower, like you too,

Born to bloom and become new.

       Lovely rose, God love you!

       Lovely rose, God love you! 

(EMP, 2017)

Modeling exercises really are fun. Choose a poem you love that is written by someone else (well-known or not) and hold it up like a diamond, admiring all its facets. Then try to carve your own gemstone in words. It's a good creative challenge! 

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Dame Agatha Triumphs Again!

I have loved reading mysteries since I was very little. Trixie Belden and Encyclopedia Brown were the mysteries that kept me going for a long time, along with Cherry Ames (Nancy Drew was always there, of course, but I pretty much considered those a last choice if I'd run out of other books).

Around the time I was fourteen or fifteen, I discovered Agatha Christie on the shelves of our little local West End library, whose grown-up shelves I'd begun to explore. The sheer number of Christie mysteries excited me, and once I started reading them, I couldn't stop. I ran through everything the library had, then started picking up other writers. Ngaio Marsh was an author I read a good bit of when I was a young adult.

Then over the years I started finding other mystery writers I enjoyed: Dorothy Sayers, Arthur Conan Doyle, Dorothy Simpson, P.D. James, Ellis Peters, Deborah Crombie, Louise Penny, Henning Mankell, Susan Wittig Albert and sometimes other contemporary cozy writers, such as early Joanne Fluke, and most recently, Edith Maxwell. I sometimes go backward and discover writers that were post-golden era but not yet writing books in the modern cozy way: Patricia Wentworth and Catherine Aird come to mind here. Mystery stories, some of them literary and incredibly well-written, others more formulaic but still fun, became my go-to relaxing reading.

The sweet girl has never loved mysteries with the same fervor I did as a kid. She enjoyed the first six Trixie Beldens with me, but quickly lost interest in the series once Julie Campbell stepped out and left it to formula writers. She's enjoyed a few standalone mysteries, including an occasional foray into Sherlock Holmes short stories, and she doesn't mind books of other genres that tie in mystery elements (for instance, she liked the mystery elements in Harry Potter) but never really found them her thing, which is fine. Not everyone is a mystery reader.

But when I was planning her literature reading for this term, I decided to include a classic mystery. For one thing, we're exploring different writing genres this year (from a literary analysis and creative writing perspective) and for another, we're sticking mostly with 20th century literature to connect with her history studies. She's done a fair amount of semi-heavy-lifting in her lit work, and I thought a mystery might give her a light break in the middle of a busy spring. I also knew she would probably enjoy exploring an author who tried a really creative narrative strategy. So I put Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None on the syllabus, wondering how it would go.

And Then There Were None was originally published in 1939, and it's still (I think?) the best-selling mystery novel of all time. For good reason...it's a fascinating story with a really tricky plot, involving ten people on an island who begin to die off one by one, in accordance with a nursery rhyme left in their rooms and because each one of them has been accused (by the unknown party who invited them to the island) of being responsible for someone else's death.

I knew that the sweet girl would find Christie's movement in and out of different characters' minds rather fascinating, but I wasn't prepared (silly me) for how riveting she would find the book. "Do you mind if I stick with literature this afternoon?" she asked me one day last week. "Because I only have a few chapters left and I can't put it down."

Thank you, Dame Agatha! It was so much fun to talk about the book with her when she was done, and I loved it when she asked, "Are there other Agatha Christie books you think I might like?" Why, yes, dear girl! I think so! And I am compiling a list, including The Murder of Roget Ackroyd, Murder on the Orient Express, Partners in Crime, and a Miss Marple (I haven't decided which one yet).

Good writing wins the day once again. It always does! 

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Breath Prayers

Pain and discomfort have been worse this week than in a while, and I've been needing a lot of short "arrow" prayers and breath prayers.

Breath prayers are especially helpful right now, because they do help me to literally breathe -- to say words I need to say as I take a deep intake of breath, to let that breath out in a swooshing exhale and say the rest of the words from the heart.

Some of the breath prayers I've been praying the most this week include:

  • More of Jesus/Less of me

  • Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Father/Have mercy on me, a sinner

  • The Lord is my shepherd/I shall not want

  • The name of the Lord is a strong tower/the righteous run into it and they are saved

This morning I added this one, which is a paraphrase from an excerpt from a Jean-Pierre de Caussade reading in a Lenten devotional:

  • It matters not what my abilities are/only that I belong to you, Lord 
True confession: I sometimes struggle with de Caussade's talk of surrender. It can feel so wholehearted, yes, but so hard, and sometimes I think he veers us away from some of the things I think Jesus still asks us to do, even in the midst of total surrender and reverent submission -- ask, seek, knock, persist, be bold! Things we see in Jesus' own life! Oh, and complain and lament (from Psalm 55 today, and my prayers not just for myself, but for the whole hurting world).

And yet, I always seem to find myself stumbling across something that de Caussade has written during some of the deepest and darkest times of my life, and there is always something he says that tunnels into my heart and makes me long for deeper trust and deeper surrender. And today, that was it. It doesn't really matter so much what I do (or think I can do, or somehow manage to accomplish) it matters that the Lord has hold of me. It matters that I belong to him. I think de Caussade's words were actually "It matters not what my abilities may be then, provided that I possess you, Lord."

And possess is a beautiful word, but its connotation makes me want to flip it around. For the Lord possesses me. He owns me, cherishes me, treasures me. loves me. He lives inside me and makes me his child. I am his dear possession, one he gave his life to find and keep (for I was among the lost and found). And so I belong to him forever. Thank God.