POETRY IN MOTION®: Inspiration and comfort on the subway ride

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MTA Enthusiast10. CreativeCommons.org

This past week I visited my daughter in NYC. We enjoyed a dance performance, widow shopping on 5th Avenue, a behind-the-scenes NBC tour, walking through Central Park, and dinner with her brother and cousins.

December in New York is filled with glittering lights and holiday cheer. There are  fabulous window displays. The giant menorah lit in Central Park. The spectacular Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center. There’s outdoor music. Ice skating beneath the towering 30 Rock building.  Rockefeller Plaza is abuzz with smiling people from around the world all wanting to catch the seasonal spirit.

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The city streets sparkle with so much color and light that you can even forget that it’s night time. The city’s grime temporarily disappears. For a moment you can even forget the onslaught of daily bad news.

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Saks 5th Ave

Until the bad news infiltrates the magical moment…once again. And that is what happened as another tragedy fueled by hate happened across the river in Jersey City while my daughter and I stood amongst the peaceful crowd in midtown.

What can you do but turn toward the light and hope and pray and carry on?

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. * . * . *

Later, while riding the subway, my daughter pointed out a poetry poster. “I see that one a lot,” she said. “I like it.”

I did, too. Sometimes a particular poem presents itself at just the right moment.

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Artist,Cara Lynch

Maybe you’re wondering: Poetry in the subway? Yes, indeed. Poetry in Motion® is a public arts program that places poetry in transit systems of cities throughout the country. It was first launched in 1992 by MTA New York City Transit and the Poetry Society of America. The project has garnered great enthusiasm from riders since its inception.

Each day millions of subway riders travel with the messages of accomplished poets from today and yesteryear. Young and old, rich and poor, educated and unschooled, black and white–encounter wordsmiths they’ve never met. A little nourishment for the soul.

“We look for poems that will speak to all ethnicities, genders, ages. We look for voices that will stimulate the exhausted, inspire the frustrated, comfort the burdened, and enchant even the youngest passengers.”  Molly Peacock, former president of PSA.

When I returned home, I looked up Jane Valentine (isn’t that a great last name?), author of the above poem and was pleased to discover her treasure chest of poetry.

I read more about the transit project and found a 2017 anthology  available with all the subway poems including a history of the collaboration. You can also see more poetry posters on the PSA website.

This simple one makes me smile knowingly. Doesn’t matter that it was written centuries ago!

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Poetry Society of America

Poetry holds the power to inspire, comfort, muse, move, and enchant. When the world is turning upside down, we all turn to distractions of sort. Turning to art—words in particular—is what centers me.

Poetry reminds us that we are not alone in our heartbreak or struggles, that others have tread through grief and loss, love and joy, birth and death, insecurity and depression, war and tragedy and found their way through.  We’re reminded of our shared humanity, sometimes through humor, or keen insight, or a startling turn of phrase.

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“Heaven” by Patrick Phillips. Artwork, Mary Temple

Sometimes the poet’s masterful metaphor and elegant language can open our eyes to  new ways of seeing.  And isn’t this what is so needed at this moment in our divisive culture?

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“Awakening” by Maya Angelou. ArtistWilliam Low.

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“Grand Central” by Billy Collins

 

“Poetry gives shape to those empty spaces within us that we have no words for until we find them in a poem.”  ~ Jill Bialowsky  Poetry Will Save Your Life.

Wishing you all a holiday of light and a New Year of poetry. 

 

 

September Song – Creativity through the Seasons

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Aaron Burden

But the days grow short
When you reach September
When the autumn weather
Turns leaves to flame… 
     “September Song”

 

Does the change of season affect your creativity?  Are you more creative in the winter than fall?

Maybe you live in a part of the world where seasonal changes have more to do with the calendar than the weather. Does it make any difference in your creative output?

Artists are often sensitive to the rhythms and cycles of nature. Poets have long personified the seasons.

No spring nor summer’s beauty hath such grace
As I have seen in one Autumnal face….
~John Donne, “Elegy IX: The Autumnal”

Autumn carries more gold in its pocket than all the other seasons.  ~Jim Bishop

As a writer, I find I’m most creative in the summer time, yet more productive in winter when I’m forced to spend more time indoors. Give me a sunny window and I’m good to go. There are studies to support that seasonal changes influence our creative minds and hearts. One suggests that the warmth of summer may make people more relationally creative. The winter, on the other hand, may inspire more abstract thinking. 

“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”   Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18

I cling to the last days of summer, which isn’t hard to do this time of year in New England. September teases with its brilliant sky, green grass, and 80 degree afternoons. But the subtle signs of change taunt: a smattering of red leaves on the maple tree. The earlier, muted sunsets. The cool nights.

I notice how much of seasonal change involves light—its intensity, color, slant, and warmth. My visual artist friends talk about how natural light variation affects their work. Photographers only get a brief chance to capture a certain light.  Writers can retrace this vanished light with words. I was thinking about this while writing a scene set in early summer on Cape Cod. How do you describe its unique light that changes hour by hour? Set the story in October and you’ll need a different paintbrush to capture the light.

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Rooms by the Sea (Cape Cod) Edward Hopper 1951

Consider a summer sunset over the ocean. The way you choose to describe this should be filtered through the eyes of the character (or narrator in nonfiction.)  Is the onlooker someone who just lost her father? Now imagine describing the same scene through the eyes of a woman newly married to the love of her life.

Context matters when painting a setting with words. Including seasonal sensory details and images, filtered through point-of-view, can add depth and suggest your story’s mood.

“Autumn burned brightly, a running flame through the mountains, a torch flung to the trees.”   ~Faith Baldwin, American Family

Of all the months, September seems to me to bring the greatest transition. Beginnings and endings. Starts and finishes. Vacation ends. Back-to-school. The Jewish New Year.  To some, it’s a welcome change. To others, a prelude to days lacking in color and warmth. My friend Ruth wilts in the heat of the summer and looks forward the crisp fall days. I, in contrast, bloom in the heat and wilt in the winter.

Oh, the days dwindle down
To a precious few
September, November

Like the seasons, our creativity ebbs and flows. We can recognize this, accept it, and surrender to creativity’s cyclical nature. As I approach the proverbial “end of the tunnel” with my current manuscript in-progress, I hope to bask in the light of accomplishment.

My summer light. 

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Albany, NY

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Walden Pond .  Concord, MA

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Newport Beach

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Rhode Island Cliff Walk

Postscript: Thank you to all who wrote me moon landing memories and more songs for my Trip-to-the- Moon Playlist.  Recently I was reminded of Antonin Dvorak’s beautifully haunting, Song to the Moon. and wanted to share it with you. (Enjoy September’s Harvest full moon 9/13-14!)

Moon, stand still a while

and tell me where is my dear.

Tell him, silvery moon,

that I am embracing him.

For at least momentarily

let him recall of dreaming of me.

Illuminate him far away,

and tell him, tell him who is waiting for him!

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~

 

Dancing on the Moon: What music would you take into space?

Mystery creates wonder and wonder is the basis of man’s desire to understand.
                                                   ~Neil Armstrong

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On July 20th, 1969 three Apollo 11 astronauts left the first foot prints on the moon. Fifty years later, we Earthlings remember and celebrate. With so much crumminess happening down on this planet, casting our eyes toward the heavens is a welcome distraction.

July 20th also happens to be my father’s birthday. I wish he were here to witness this historic space anniversary. When I was a little girl, he told me that NASA picked July 20th for the moon landing to honor his birthday. And I believed him. He was, after all, my Olympic Dad.

He bought me my first telescope so I could view the moon from our backyard. 

One of the first songs I learned to play on the piano was a silly tune called, “My Sweetheart’s the Man in the Moon’.  

Years later, while sitting in a college astronomy class, I studied a detailed photograph of the moon.  Then I noticed a surprising detail: there was a crater named Krieger B. My Dad! 

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I photocopied that moon picture.  Then in July, I sent my father a card. Dear Dad, In honor of your birthday, NASA has named a moon crater after you. Love, Evelyn.

In 1984, I applied to the new Teacher-in-Space program created by Ronald Reagan. My initial application was rejected as I did not meet NASA’s minimum age requirement. With the Challenger Shuttle’s tragic outcome, I guess I was lucky not to have won that long shot ticket.

Only a handful of humans have been lucky enough to view our planet Earth floating in space. This cosmic sight has evoked awe, humbleness, and tears. 

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NASA

“As we got further and further away, it [the Earth] diminished in size. Finally it shrank to the size of a marble, the most beautiful you can imagine.
That beautiful, warm, living object looked so fragile, so delicate, that if you touched it with a finger it would crumble and fall apart. Seeing this has to change a man.”

~James B. Irwin, Astronaut, Apollo Program

 

As for for the rest of us, we’re left to our imaginations and vicarious experiences like movies, video games, and flight simulators.

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The closest I’ll get…National Air and Space Museum 2012

 

If you were to go for a rocket ride, what special items would you take with you?

I’d take my one of Dad’s fencing medals, a Hebrew prayer book, my ballet slippers, a photo of my kids, and a CD of poems a dear someone made for me. 

Buzz Aldrin took holy communion aboard the Apollo 11.

During the Apollo 14 moon mission in 1971, the astronauts packed tree seeds which the  Forest Service later germinated, reaping ‘Moon Trees’. 

When Garret Reisman flew on board the space shuttle Endeavour in 2008, he brought along a vial of dirt from the pitcher’s mound at Yankee Stadium.

Massachusetts native Dr. Jeffrey Hoffman brought several Jewish heritage items-dreidel, mini Torah scroll, menorah– aboard his space shuttle trips.

Recently I learned that the Apollo astronauts brought a cassette tape of their favorite tunes to listen en route and during their historic moon walk.

Buzz Aldrin played one of my dance favorites as he stepped onto the lunar surface:  Frank Sinatra’s 1964 ‘Fly Me To The Moon’– an obviously perfect choice.

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Buzz Aldrin   NASA

Other songs on Aldrin’s playlist included:

‘Mother Country’ by John Stewart

‘People’ by Barbara Streisand

‘Everyone’s Gone to the Moon’ by Jonathan King

‘Spinning Wheels’ by Blood, Sweat, & Tears

“Angel of the Morning’ by Betty Swann.

In June, #NASAMoonMusic put out a request for public votes of tunes for the planned 2024 lunar return trip–when the first woman will walk.  Out of the one million suggestions (surely many repeats), 500 songs made the final playlist—enough music for a 3 day journey.

Sinatra’s swinging  hit was no. 2.

Another old favorite of mine, ‘Moon River’,  was 106 on the list, though not the version I like.

I was surprised that no classical pieces made the list. Gee, not even Debussy’s ‘Claire de lune?’  Or Dvorak’s haunting, Song to the Moon?

Star Trek composer Michael Giaccino wrote Voyage, a concert piece that aims to recreate the feeling of launch day–from the astronaut’s waking up to buckling in the capsule to blasting off. floating, landing, and returning home.

What music would be on your space playlist?

Here’s one I created of moon-inspired songs.  Enjoy!

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My inspiration bulletin board.

              “I’ll be looking at the moon, but I’ll be seeing you…”

 

Missing Your Dad on Father’s Day

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In May 2016 I was shopping in Target when I saw a display of Father’s Day cards. I’d always sent a special card to my Dad and decided I’d pick one out right then. While surveying the multitude of choices, a force of reckoning hit my chest.

I don’t need to buy him a card this year.

My father was dead. For six whole months.

How could I have forgotten? 

I blinked back a surprise of tears. In that small space of forgetting, my father had come alive again.

“Come back. Even as a shadow, even as a dream.”Euripides

Maybe you’ve had such an experience, too. You pick up the phone thinking you’re going to call your Dad (or your mother, aunt, brother, friend) only to remember…  

Or maybe you’ve had a vivid dream of being with your dad–a dream so real that when you awoke it took a moment to believe it hadn’t actually happened.

A period of disbelief  often follows the loss of a loved one. This feeling can be more more pronounced when the death comes suddenly and inexplicably, as was the case with my dad.  Not seeing him buried, or having stood at his grave site, added to the feeling of unreality. And because we lived in different cities, it was easier to believe he was still in Florida enjoying the sunshine. 

From Homer to Shakespeare, mythology and literature are replete with stories of characters grappling to accept death’s permanence.  Sigmund Freud wrote that an essential component of the complex “grief work” is coming to terms with the fact that our loved one is physically and permanently gone.  “Mourning has a quite precise physchical task to perform: its function is to detach the survivor’s memories and hopes from the dead.”

Sounds like a good plan.

Yet when Freud lost his dear daughter Sophie to influenza, and then later, her beloved only surviving son, Dr. Freud remained inconsolable and unable to follow his own prescription for mourning.

In Joan Didion’s exquisite grief memoir, My Year of Magical Thinking, she potently describes the disbelief that grips us after losing a loved one.  Joan’s husband of 40 years dropped dead of a massive heart attack as the couple sat down to dinner one evening.  

It was in fact the ordinary nature of everything preceding the event that prevented me from truly believing it had happened, absorbing it, incorporating it, getting past it.”

Didion is taken aback by the irrational belief that her husband will return. She can’t bring herself to give away the clothes he may be needing.

“Bringing him back” had been through those months my hidden focus, a magic trick.”

We attempt to keep our loved ones alive by holding onto momentos—a watch, tie, jacket, hairbrush, written letters—as if we are able to contain their physical presence within the object. 

We’re afraid of forgetting them—and of letting go.

He was my North, my South, my East, and my West

my working week and my Sunday rest.

~ W.H. Auden, “Funeral Blues”

On my desk, I keep favorite photos of Dad, a few of his fencing medals, a handwritten letter, and his Olympic baseball cap.

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Me and Dad, July 1990

As Joan writes: “I know why we try to keep the dead alive: we try to keep them alive in order to keep them with us. I also know that if we are to live ourselves there comes a point at which we must relinquish the dead, let them go, keep them dead. ”

I’m lucky to have had may father for many years and many chances to share my love and appreciation. My heart breaks for those who have lost their father at a young age.  Growing up without a father can have longterm psychological effects. Children are particularly vulnerable to the belief that their father will “return”.   The experience leaves a gaping  hole of missed moments and opportunity.  The surviving adult-child’s life is shadowed with “what might have been” . 

My friend/mentor Nechama Laber lost her father at age ten. She didn’t know he had been ill and never got to said goodbye. It wasn’t until Nechama was a grown woman that she came to realize the full impact of his absence on her emotional well-being. Nechama has since devoted herself to continuing her father Rabbi Azriel Wasserman’s legacy of Jewish learning. This summer she will publish a book celebrating his life and teachings: Finding the Song in Sorrow – My journey from Loss to legacy to Light!

Blogger Leslie Spencer (lifewithoutmydad.com) also lost her father at age ten.  Her 2017 post about being a fatherless daughter on Father’s Day is particularly poignant. She offers her approach to facing this time of year.

By age 25, author Claire Bidwell Smith, had lost both her parents to cancer. For the past 10 plus, Claire has supported others through grief workshops, retreats, podcasts, online programs, and individual counseling. 

If you are missing your Dad this Father’s Day, try to do something that honors his memory: donate to charity, write him a letter, cook his favorite dish, make a photo album, or share a story about him.

And if you never knew your dad, or are estranged, then honor another special dad you care about. 

After getting through the first Father’s Day without my dad, I do not feel anywhere near the pain I feel on his death anniversary.  That day triggers traumatic memories. 

And yet…

My dad died on my son’s birthday—one of the happiest days of my life.

I hope I get to see my son become a dad.

I look forward to sending him a Father’s Day card.

 

 

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Byron Krieger as a collegiate fencer.

 

 

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Grandson Sam as a collegiate fencer

 

The Other Mother’s Day

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Mother’s Day is a feel-good holiday celebrated with Sunday brunch, breakfast-in-bed, greeting cards, gifts, hugs, and visits.

While the media brings us warm stories of maternal love and devotion, we should remember those who face this day with longing, sadness, or ambivalence.

Mothers who have lost a child.

Women who have suffered multiple miscarriages.

Women unable to get pregnant.

Those who gave up a baby for adoption.

Those who never met their mother.

Those who lost their mother too early.

Those whose mother no longer recognizes them.

Those estranged from their mother.

Those with a mother in prison.

If you know someone in the above categories, reach out on Mother’s Day. Show sensitivity.  I think of my nieces and nephew, young adults, who have missed their mom for the past 4 and a half years.

If your mother is alive, count yourself lucky—no matter the state of your relationship.

You still have the chance to make peace, make amends, practice forgiveness, ask questions, or simply say, “I love you.”

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The way we understand and relate to our mothers will be different at twenty-five than at forty-five and at fifty-five. Becoming a mother made me understand my own better and appreciate her sacrifices, which I’d taken for granted in my youth.

As the eldest of six children, I was the designated babysitter during my teen years. I dreaded Saturday nights when I was on call to make dinner, care for a fussy baby or deal with a sibling who refused to go to bed. I thought it was so unfair that my mother left me in charge of my five siblings when I wanted to go out with friends. In my adolescent self-centeredness, I couldn’t fathom why she needed to go out every week.

Where was she going? On a date with my father—her beloved.

Years later, I’d remember this when trying to find a trustworthy babysitter to care for my own kids so I could enjoy a Saturday night date.

Today I’m grateful for the close relationship with my three children and hope it will continue to flourish into their adulthood.  I cherish the Mother’s Day gifts they’ve given over the years, especially the handmade ones with written expressions.

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I think the greatest gift we can give our mothers (and fathers) is gratitude and appreciation.

Sift through any resentment and look for what your mom gave you, no matter how small.

Then let her know.

          *  *  *

Here’s mine.

Mom, thank you for…

Instilling in me a sense of adventure and romance.

Encouraging my talents.

Nourishing my imagination.

Fantastic childhood birthdays parties.

The gift of a musical home.

The gift of words—the family stories, children’s books, and poetry.

You may have tangible wealth untold;

Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold.

Richer than I you can never be –

I had a Mother who read to me.

                 ~Strikland Gillilan

What are you grateful for?

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