Thursday, October 27, 2016

Pondering: To Become Named

This painting hangs in my living room. I don't know the artist, 
thought I wish I did. 
Sometimes the light shines, diamond-shaped, through window 
onto the canvas like a ray of sun on a valley of sunflowers.
To stand before it opens and lifts my heart, calls me to the distant horizon 
even while I am filled with present beauty. 

from Walking on Water by Madeleine L'Engle

Stories, no matter how simple, can be vehicles of truth; can be, in fact, icons. It's no coincidence that Jesus taught almost entirely by telling stories, simple stories dealing with the stuff of life familiar to the Jews of his day. Stories are able to help us become more whole, to become Named. And Naming is one of the impulses behind all art; to give a name to the cosmos we see despite all the chaos...and all great works of art are icons of Naming. 

When we look at a painting, or hear a symphony, or read a book, and we feel more Named, then for us that work is a work of Christian art. But to look at a work of art and then to make a judgment as to whether or not it is art, and whether or not it is Christian, is presumptuous...We cannot know in any conclusive way. We can know only if it speaks within our own hearts, and leads us to living more deeply with Christ in God. 

...There is nothing so secular that it cannot be sacred, and this is one of the deepest messages of the Incarnation. 

Friday, October 21, 2016

My Daddy's Hands

I can still feel my father's hands cupping my face even though it has been almost four years since those hands stilled. One finger shortened to the first knuckle by the wood pulled crooked into a saw blade. A faint smell of machine oil or car lubricant. The stains of axel grease that remained years after he retired from his work on diesel buses. They were big hands. They held the expansive gift of his love. It's not his birthday or his death day or anything else special. Just an ordinary Friday with my daddy on my mind. 

The Gift
by Li-Young Lee

To pull the metal splinter from my palm
my father recited a story in a low voice.
I watched his lovely face and not the blade.
Before the story ended, he’d removed
the iron sliver I thought I’d die from.

I can’t remember the tale,
but hear his voice still, a well
of dark water, a prayer.
And I recall his hands,
two measures of tenderness
he laid against my face,

Read the rest here.

Visit Miss Rumphius Effect for today's roundup.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Pondering the Path: Enuma Okoro

These Thursday posts began at the first of the year as a response to a group of poets who wanted to share something of their Spiritual Journey. I've decided to call this my "Pondering the Path" post. I like that old fashioned word. says to ponder is: 

       1. verb (used without object) to consider something deeply and thoroughly; meditate (often followed by over or upon)
       2.verb (used with object) to weigh carefully in the mind; consider thoughtfully. He pondered his next words thoroughly.

I hope you'll enjoy pondering these these thoughts with me.


from Reluctant Pilgrim by Enuma Okoro

Note: After her father's death, Enuma began working her way back to God with the help of a spiritual advisor, Sister Catherine.

"What are some of those incarnate ways? How is God becoming flesh to you?" she prodded.

"In my friendships--how my girlfriend Sophie listens to me and creates a space for me to share how badly I'm doing whenever I need it. How my friend Nora, who lives in another state, lets me call her in the middle of the night because I can't sleep. And when I take my daily walk, I feel a little put back together at the end of it. It's almost like I'm figuring out that experiencing God's love and presence isn't just about my being obedient and performing well for God. It's simply God's love..."

"...It sounds like you are letting yourself come to God in a very real and present state of being. That can be a very helpful and sincere way to pray--communicating with God with the real emotions we are feeling and not with pat responses that we think God wants to hear from us...learning to pray and communicate from the present seat of your emotions is part of learning to be awake and aware of life around you and within you...lean into God's peace wherever you find it. God is consistent and generous and abundant in guiding us and in affirming his will with us."

"But what if I relax so much that I miss the signs?" I worried aloud.

"You will not miss the signs You might choose to ignore them, but you will not miss them. God is too generous with them."

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Poetic Faux Pas

Irene Latham hosts the Poetry Friday Roundup today at Live Your Poem.

The Atheneum Hotel, Chautauqua, NY. Photo by Teresa Mitchell.
For those who asked after Wednesday's last Poetry Camp memories. Here's the whole story of my crazy encounter with Bea Cullinan, written for inclusion in a scrapbook for Kent Brown.

I arrived at Chautauqua 2007, the Highlights workshop, and checked into room 204 of the Athenaeum annex. My roommate had not yet arrived, so I unpacked, went down to the lobby for a soda. I had not yet worked out the logistics of the hotel, so I was unaware of the blunder I was about to commit in returning to my room.

I crossed the bridge into the annex, walked to the end of the hall and opened the door to what I thought was my room. There, propped up on the bed, was an attractive older woman in a state of comfortable disrobement. I couldn’t decide whether I had fallen out of the back of a wardrobe into a strange new land or opened a door into the Twilight Zone.

I jerked to a stop, managed to keep the soda can in my hand, and said, “You’re here.”

“Yes,” she said, without dislodging herself from the pillow.

She didn’t look like the picture I had conjured in my mind of my roommate. We had only exchanged a few e-mails, but I expected someone closer to my own middle age.

“I’m Doraine. I’m your roommate,” I said.

She looked at me a bit strangely and sat forward. “You are?”

During this short exchange, my eyes scanned the room. Clothes hung in the closet. A sweater draped across the back of the desk chair. Bottles, brush and comb stood in neat rows on the dresser. I had only been gone ten minutes. How could she possibly have done this so quickly? Unless...

“Am I in the wrong room? Oh dear, I’m so sorry. Is this room 204? I am so sorry, I don’t know how I did this.”

A ridiculous mixture of horror and silly giggles brewed inside. I backed out the door and registered the 304 written in brass. I raced down the stairs hoping to get out of earshot before the elixir in my gut burst forth like a shaken soda. I shut myself into room 204, rocked my head in my hands, and tried, between fits of laughter, to convince myself that I hadn’t done something so utterly stupid. Only I had done it. And I just had to tell somebody. The problem was that I didn’t know anybody.

I readied myself for dinner, the secret hysteria growing. If I didn’t tell someone, I would bust.

On the porch of the Athenaeum, I found my only two acquaintances. We had ridden in the back of the limousine together from the airport. I poured out my adventure, relishing the relief from the pressure within, and we laughed together like ten-year olds.

Unburdened, and with new friends in tow, I relaxed and enjoyed my first meal. Kent Brown welcomed us and introduced the faculty and staff. There was one last introduction toward the end of his speech-making, a special introduction of a dear friend and icon in children’s publishing, Bea Cullinan. Bea had been a part of the first Chautauqua conference, along with Kent’s mother.

“Stand up, Bea,” Kent said.

Bea stood up.

I nearly dropped my desert fork. There, fully dressed and beautiful, was the occupant of room 304.

I can only imagine what Bea must have felt like on the other side of my adventure. She was gracious when I introduced myself as her intruder and apologized. She even agreed to look at some of my poems. The conference was, of course, life-changing, but the memory of walking in on Bea Cullinan still starts a silly giggle brewing inside my chest.

I leave you with this lovely translation from Danish poet, Inger Christensen's Light.

from Light: “It’s very strange”
by Inger Christensen
Translated by Susanna Nied

     It's very strange
     the eggs are everywhere

     There must be some mistake

Read the rest here.

What a Prayer!

from "The Wreck of the Deutschland"
by Gerard Manley Hopkins

With an anvil-ding 
And with fire in him forge thy will 
Or rather, rather then, stealing as Spring 
Through him, melt him but master him still: 
Whether at once, as once at a crash Paul, 
Or as Austin, a lingering-out swéet skíll, 
Make mercy in all of us, out of us all 
Mastery, but be adored, but be adored King. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

A Few Last Poetry Camp Memories

The final event of the day. The first U.S. Children's Poet Laureate Jack Prelutsky had all of us spellbound. What an amazing performer. What an amazing man. Mr. Prelutsky no longer does public presentations, so this was such a special occasion. 

He saved the best for last:

Rat for Lunchby Jack Prelutsky 
Rat for lunch! Rat for lunch!
Yum! Delicious! Munch munch munch!
One by one or by the bunch--
Rat, or rat, oh rat for lunch! 
Scrambled slug in salty slime
is our choice at breakfast time,
but for lunch, we say to you,
nothing but a rat will do. 
Rat for lunch! Rat for lunch!
Yum! Delicious! Munch munch munch!
One by one or by the bunch--
Rat, oh rat, oh rat for lunch! 
For our snack each afternoon,
we chew bits of baked baboon,
curried squirrel, buttered bat,
but for lunch it must be rat. 
Read the rest here.
I got to tell my Bea Cullinan story from my 2007 trip to Highlights Chautauqua workshop. I love telling about walking into her room accidentally.  It was like walking through the back of the wardrobe into a strange world. It was one of those moments when you do something so horribly stupid that the only response is to giggle like a hysterical ten-year-old! My most famous poetic faux pas.

A few more memories.
There should have been a camera!


...Sylvia Tag jogged around the room at the final dinner high giving each table while singing the Rocky theme song. Da-da-daahhh, da-da-duuhh.

...the hug after dinner between Sylvia and Janet that embodied the mutual affection, respect, and accomplishment they shared at the end of this remarkable weekend. 

Monday, October 10, 2016

Poetry and Social Studies

I'm still working my way though Poetry Camp memories, more for my own benefit/journal than for yours. 

In the Friday night MakerSpace workshop led by Robyn Hood Black, we each created a found poem from 1940s seashell flashcards. There were some surprising results. My workshop partner, Carmen Bernier Grand said hers was definitely not child friendly! 

like deep water
drawn on our shores
to leave room for the strong

On Saturday I wished I could be in at least five places at once. Deciding which workshops to attend was a challenge in itself. Each of the three workshop slots hosted Poetry Friday Anthology poets conducting five different sessions. 

10:45-11:30am: Workshop Session 1 (choose one): Writing and Understanding Poetry
  1. Playing with Sound (rhyme, repetition, rhythm, alliteration & more): Susan Blackaby, Kenn Nesbitt
  2. Playing with Visuals (& unusual forms): Kathi Appelt, Joan Bransfield Graham, Bob Raczka
  3. Metaphor & Simile: Irene Latham, Liz Steinglass
  4. Verse Novels: Jeannine Atkins, Nikki Grimes, Stephanie Hemphill, Holly Thompson
  5. Poetry & Picture Books: Robyn Hood Black, Julie Larios

11:45-12:30pm Workshop Session 2 (choose one): Reading and Sharing Poetry
  1. Poetry Performance Tips (Elementary): Joy Acey, Brod Bagert, Michele Krueger
  2. Speaking for Change: Writing and Performance for  YA: Sara Holbrook, Michael Salinger
  3. Writing for Journals, Magazines and Anthologies: Bridget Magee, Janet Wong
  4. Publishing Anthologies (for children & by children): Carol-Ann Hoyte, Kenn Nesbitt, Ken Slesarik
  5. Blogging about Poetry: Jone MacCulloch, JoAnn Early Macken, Greg Pincus

2:30-3:15pm: Workshop Session 3 (choose one): Teaching Poetry
  1. Poetry + Science: Jeannine Atkins, Linda Dryfhout, Heidi Bee Roemer
  2. Poetry + Grammar: Michelle Schaub, Patricia Toht
  3. Poetry + Social Studies: Carmen T. Bernier-Grand, Doraine Bennett
  4. Poetry + Movement: Nancy Bo Flood, April Halprin Wayland
  5. Poetry + Art & Music: Cynthia Grady, Eric Ode, Lorie Ann Grover
  6. The Dancer and the Dance: Tod Marshall (current Washington State Poet Laureate)

How would you choose?

 Carmen and I taught the social studies workshop. It was really fun to work with this passionate poet!

For my teacher friends, I want to pass along the handout I used for my portion of the workshop. This version shows you my notes.

Here's the empty sheet. I can't figure out how to load a file here, so if you'd like this handout and printing the .jpg doesn't work, comment or send me an email or a message and I'll send the file to you.