The Power of Poetry

April 2021 marks the 25th anniversary of National Poetry month.

The honorary month was first created by the Academy of American Poets in partnership with Jonathan Galassi, President of Farrar, Straus & Giroux in 1996.

Poetry has been my pandemic companion. Comfort, connection, and inspiration.

With spring comes hope. Let’s celebrate!

Join me in spirit at the Academy’s first virtual gala celebration, Poetry & The Creative Mind. Enjoy an evening championing the power of poetry in our culture and lives.

Date: Thurs., April 29th, 7:30 pm. Event chair, Meryl Streep.

Registration free. Donations appreciated. Proceeds go toward poetry education programs and materials for classroom teachers. Register here.

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Share a poem for Poem in Your Pocket Day on April 29, 2021,  #PocketPoem.

Here are two poems for you, dear reader.

Which poems bring you comfort?

A New Dawn: How do you start the day?

 

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Angel David, FreeImages

 

I wake up in the morning and, for a brief moment, in a haze of sleep, I forget that the world is on standstill.

Then reality dawns.

Jewish tradition has a prayer of gratitude to recite upon opening one’s eyes each morning. Parents sing this short prayer with their young children.

Each day you are a new creation.

How you start your day sets the tone for the rest of it.

Now that we aren’t rushing off to work or school or the gym, we might pause to thank the Universe that we’re still here.

My morning poetry habit sustains me.

David Whyte’s, What To Remember When Waking is one of my favorites and seems just right for today.

*. *. *

In that first hardly noticed moment in which you wake,
coming back to this life from the other
more secret, moveable and frighteningly honest world
where everything began,
there is a small opening into the new day
which closes the moment you begin your plans.

What you can plan is too small for you to live.
What you can live wholeheartedly will make plans enough
for the vitality hidden in your sleep.

To be human is to become visible
while carrying what is hidden as a gift to others.
To remember the other world in this world
is to live in your true inheritance.

You are not a troubled guest on this earth,
you are not an accident amidst other accidents
you were invited from another and greater night
than the one from which you have just emerged.

Now, looking through the slanting light of the morning window
toward the mountain presence of everything that can be
what urgency calls you to your one love?
What shape waits in the seed of you
to grow and spread its branches
against a future sky?

Is it waiting in the fertile sea?
In the trees beyond the house?
In the life you can imagine for yourself?
In the open and lovely white page on the writing desk?

~

 

Art Can Save Us

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Thank you fellow artists, writers, bloggers, educators, dancers, poets, philosophers, musicians, homeschoolers, trauma survivors, family and friends, near and far for your virtual hugs, kind words, and listening ears.

Thank you for finding creative ways of connection during this Corona pandemic. Thank you for sharing your art and spreading light and hope to others.

I’m still in survival mode, trying to get my bearings. Absorbing unwelcome changes. Surrendering to uncertainty.

In times of crisis, the great poets and writers can offer us solace and momentum.

I leave you the words of W.B. Yeats, from The Celtic Twilight(1893), a lyrical tribute to Irish folklore.

Please let me know how you are doing.

 

I have desired, like every artist, to create a little world out of the beautiful, pleasant, and significant things of this marred and clumsy world…

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Interview With a Teen Poet

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Photo credit Carly Hanna

One of the pleasures of mentoring young writers is watching them grow into their words.  I’m excited to bring you this interview with my former star student, 18-year-old Maayan Ziv-Kreger.

Maayan grew up in the Boston area. She is an emerging poet, singer, and visual artist. She is currently enrolled in a post-high school leadership program in Jerusalem, Israel.

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Our initial work together focused on short stories. When did you become interested in writing poetry? 

I fell in love with poetry writing after seeing a video of Neil Hilborn preforming a spoken poem, OCD. The way he used words to portray images and describe feelings inspired me. I thought to myself, I want to do that!

   

I should also mention that taking your writing workshop in middle school, and later working with you privately, had a great influenced on me, too.

Thank you, Ma’ayan. What writers/poets do you enjoy?

So many! Besides Neil Hilborn, I love Mary Oliver’s delicate and very real poems.

Yang Wan- Li — a Chinese Sung Dynasty poet who describes nature scenes and what I interpret to be simple stories of the human experience.

William Carlos Williams has given me a lot of inspiration and love for short poems.

Caroline Rothstein — a fiery and sensitive writer who has helped me through many writing blips.

I really loved your poem, “Story Quilt”.  I think many of my readers can relate to the experience of loving someone with dementia. 

 

Thank you. It was inspired by my grandmother who recently passed away at age 92.

Story Quilt

In the Fort Bragg sunspot 

my grandmother plays with her dolls. 

She can no longer stitch together the fraying fabric of her sentences,

so I take them from her withering mouth gingerly 

& with as little pity 

as my ignorance can muster. 

“Before Dementia” titled pamphlets are passed out at dinner.

Quilts of her heroic accomplishments 

make me question if the form chewing messily in front of me 

is made of the same fabric.

Guilt cannot erase my thoughts 

of how she seems woven of excuses. 

I beg my imagination to comply 

but the room’s redwood shelves

betray me, staying empty 

with only dusty shadows 

our old paper-mache sagging against the white wall 

she painted herself.

Only, she can’t remember making art 

so I end up in the studio alone,

my needle catching, stitching 

my grandmother’s story,

but I pull hard, mouth set,

and break the thread.

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My Grandpa–Nana’s husband.

 

Give us a picture of your creative process.

I begin writing from a spark. Something larger than me inspires, saying, “Ah! Here’s something with meaning.”  I strive to write poems with a teaching. But first, I have to learn the lesson myself. It’s not always easy to speak truth.

I write stream of consciousness in free form verse. My first draft is written thoughts slightly whittled down. I then revise for clarity and delete words that don’t add to them poem. My goal being that each word is there for a reason. After getting feedback of whether what I’m saying makes sense, I look over and refine my word choice.

Questioning my work each draft is crucial. And reading aloud to get a feeling of the rhythm. Though I write free verse, I want my poems to flow. A poetry mentor of mine, David Lee, once told me anytime I get stuck writing I should just read.

You independently schooled for a few years.  Describe how this worked. What role did teachers or school play in the development of your writing? 

First, with your tutoring during middle school, I developed my reading and writing ability. This led to a love of creative writing.

For high school, I was homeschooled. I took some classes at Sharon Public High School under homeschool status. This allowed me the freedom to create my own curriculum.

I could also choose what, where, and how I wanted to learn. I took English and Writing courses at the Harvard Extension School and other institutions. Through dual enrollment I earned 1.5 years of college credits. Taking courses at Harvard Extension gave me a great opportunity to practice academic and advanced creative writing in a formal setting with expert professors.  Having access to this demanding education inspired and pushed me to strive high.

I also spent 4 weeks at a Brandeis University pre-college summer program for the arts. The writing workshop helped transform my poems into more mature and clearly written expressions. I’m very grateful for my instructor, Caroline Rothstein for sitting with each of us on our personal writing journey.

I’m very grateful for to you, Evelyn, for your help and the gift of becoming the writer.

It was a pleasure to work with you! You are also involved with music and visual art. Tell us about this and the ways it connects to your poetry.

In addition to writing, I draw, paint, and take photographs. I also play with other mediums such as clay and printing. I see my visual art as visual poems and poems as read and spoken paintings. They contain symbolism in both–speaking a different language, but made for the same reason and from the same source.

Please share another poem and its inspiration.

I wanted to speak to all those deciding what to do with their life, and to those who have already made choices. I wanted to remind them it’s never too late to make a change and be happy. As life goes on and you try to get serious, sometime you forget what’s important. You start building your life around falsehoods and fears — not having enough money or fame or living in a place that doesn’t make you happy. This poem is to remind us of an innocent joy we always hold inside ourselves.

Dreams 

If you go

past the cars screeching,

where sunscreen is

slathered and postcards are

purchased for too much,

you can find your childhood dream 

waiting for you,

sparkling over the still water. 

Don’t loose focus 

as They act like fortune tellers distorting your path.

Look past the shops,

not to the sand with 

the seagulls preaching of failure,

but to the water you once wished to swim.

Don’t you see the children diving?

Do you see what you give up?

What  inspires you?

Nature — all its beauty–the way can birds fly, how their body is held up by legs like toothpicks. The flow of water, the smell of a bonfire. When I’m in nature, my heart opens and words emerge.  Nature includes things I observe in people, too — the way a city moves, the fabric of relationships.

 

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Photo credit Carly Hanna

 

What’s the best writing advice you’ve received so far?

Keep writing. When you have nothing to say, that’s when you most have something in your heart! And when no words come,  go into nature and practice patience.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

I see myself living in Israel, praising life, and bringing light into the world.

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Traveling in Ein Avdat National Park in Sdeh Boker (Negev Desert)

Thank you, Ma’ayan.  I wish you the best in your studies and creative endeavors. 

 

 

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?

Yahrzeit-Candle

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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.