KaBooM WritersKaBooM Writers

Welcome to the online presence of KaBooM, a writing group that has sustained the creative lives of a diverse group of women for over a decade. We hope that getting to know us will inspire you, too!Welcome to the online presence of KaBooM, a writing group that has sustained the creative lives of a diverse group of women for over a decade. We hope that getting to know us will inspire you, too!

Welcome to the online presence of KaBooM, a writing group that has sustained the creative lives of a diverse group of women for over a decade. We hope that getting to know us will inspire you, too!


The KaBooM Writers Notebook: Our Blog

Writing as a Communal Art

 

I have just finished writing a poem a day during April. Having set that goal and (mostly) met it, it was a relief for the first few days not to have to come up with “something like a poem” in the midst of other obligations and demands.  At the same time, I felt bereft. The lull after the intensity of writing and sharing poems daily felt a bit like grief.

“Writing and sharing” – Yes. I gathered my poet friends via email, and we made the commitment to share a new poem daily no matter what else was going on in our lives. Part of what I miss this week is that conversation in poems, about poems, in support of our mutual (and solitary) work as poets. The surprises in the poems we shared. The way we allowed ourselves to write badly. The daily immersion in craft on some level. The encouragement of working daily. And, maybe most of all, the audience we were for each other. It’s this sense of being heard by astute but generous readers that I miss.

This was the fourth year that I have taken the month of April as a challenge to write a poem daily. This year my friends, poets George Ella Lyon (past Kentucky Poet Laureate), Sherry Chandler, Sue Churchill, and Martha Gehringer were my companions. (George Ella and Martha and I have written together in April for the past couple of years.) The level of writing was amazing some days—and bordered on silly on others (Okay, so we did cross that border!). We wrote for fun, just to see what might happen.  We could write three lines or three pages, revise or not, send something we’d started last year and wanted to rework. We could write something on our phone in a waiting room or spend a whole day wrestling with lines. The only rule was to write “something like a poem” – and even that rule was loosely applied.

As we wrote, I printed out each of our poems and put them into a loose-leaf binder. Another habit I’ve acquired.  I have four binders now, with poems from four Aprils. The binders capture the raw poems as they emerged – in the body of emails, as screen shots, or in documents we shared. Many of the poems where written “on the fly” – the fruit of productive minutes snatched from a day’s flow. A reminder of the power of setting an intention and of the collaborative nature of art. No, we did not collaborate in writing individual poems, but the poems we wrote and shared not only kept us accountable to each other but also sparked new work. What is writing but a kind of “call and response” between our words and all the literature that has ever inspired us?

When I meet with these poet-friends in person next week, we will read back through our “collected poems” of April, 2017. We intend to point out poems we particularly admired and talk about what works in these poems. I know we will laugh and moan about the “bad poems” we each produced and enjoy the freedom of letting them go. But we will each have a few poems we know we want to keep and revise—poems we see more clearly because of our friends’ responses to them.

If you haven’t tried this kind of shared writing challenge or if you didn’t get to write daily in April, start today – or write in June or whenever you choose to begin. Email some of your favorite writing buddies and see who will join you.  Not only is it more fun with friends, writing together deepens and enriches our work.

If you don’t have a local writing community, you might want to check out opportunities at The Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning here in Lexington. I have found the classes and groups at the Carnegie Center to be supportive and welcoming. Lifelong writing groups often begin with friendships formed in a class or workshop.

And, of course, the web offers many virtual groups.  The links below may be helpful.

 

National Poetry Writing Month      http://www.napowrimo.net

Websites for writers                          https://thewritelife.com/100-best-websites-for-writers-2017/

Solitaire, Trolleys, and an Artist’s Way

Solitaire

Solitaire

I am not quick.

The air is cool.

A free-write begins.  A list of words shared: quick cool trolley solitaire Paradise . . ..  Four women at a table at Third Street Stuff, in Lexington, Kentucky.  Concrete trucks outside the plate glass window.  A utility ditch being filled.  The street loud with its repair.

No more trolleys

move us past the city’s

edge into seas of grass.

And who whitewashes

anything now, as we did

the chicken house that summer?

Paradise long afternoons

of solitaire—three of us

on Grandma’s bed,

cards tilting off columns.  Each of us quiet. Only the slip and slap of 8 on 9 or Jack on Queen, and later the cool side porch, its concrete smooth and gray, our paints and brushes laid out, Paint-by-Number making us feel like real artists.

What makes me feel like a real artist now, decades later? The time to lose myself in a page, slow sketching or seeing all at once the way sentences fit into a shapely whole, the possible poem inside a scribble. More than what I’ve published or where I’ve taught, what assures me all is well with my artist self is making something.  The never certain motion of pen across the page, picking up speed as I go.

If we weren’t so hard on ourselves, wouldn’t it be easier? Unforced as those hours with the shades drawn, the whir of a fan, turning the cards over and over until something fits.  Okay with losing the game – expecting to lose more often than win in the rhythm of our pattern-making, the order art makes, the way a shadow (the darker brown in our paint-by-number horse’s face) lets us see its rounded eye, the angle of the emerging equine cheek.

These summer days gone – 1956, -57, -59, -60 – stay in me somewhere, breathe with the slow exhale of times when the world was in place and I fit there, 7 always landing under an 8.  Nothing perfect or even okay much of the time. Everyone, even then, torn by grief. The air in those quiet rooms sometimes caught, sharp as a sob. Uncle Russell, steady, sweet, gone at 42 in 1958. A wound that sank through us that year, day by day, though it sealed over like the surface of Aunt Ella’s lake, like the early 1960’s years took her and her one-year-old grandson, too, both too soon. A breeze riffling the water, a cloud shadow on the yard.

A great big paint-by-number, this living – all light and shadow, splotches of white, greens, slivers of blue.  The image, different from the edge of each decade, emerges, even as I sit in this coffee shop writing with women I could not have imagined then. Together we remind each other not to be so hard on ourselves, to write as if we were playing solitaire, for the hush and slip of words, the pattern that sometimes shows through.  Because in many ways Paradise is always Now—if we let go and sink into making, into being.

 

 

Invite Yourself into Your Life

Welcome

 

Most days I rise early to spend a little time alone.  What I want from these morning hours is a sense of welcome to the day.  That feeling we get when we approach the door of a home as an honored guest, certain of comfort and cheer within.  The gift of hospitality.

What hospitality do I offer myself day-to-day? And how can I create it?  It seems a basic courtesy I might do myself to simply welcome the me of me into each instant, each hour.  Instead I find myself too often anxious, screened off from vitality in a world where there are screens everywhere — digital tv, smartphones, iPads, Kindles — broadcasting everything from details of the latest atrocities to mundane street corner murders, to pleas for money for every kind of cause to “sharing” of cute photos of grandkids or of cats Photoshopped to impossible expressions and attitudes.  I long for the squeal and slap of a wooden screen door interrupting the whirr of cicadas.  I want an unrefrigerated air at night through windows screened in rusty mesh.  Screens whose only information is the metallic tinge of iron, the sough of wind, the calls of sleepy birds and waking insects— sensual knowledge without guile or goal.

Barring these fantasies of lost time, alive now only in memory, I want to find myself at home in this now — in whatever place and moment I find myself — not pulled into puzzling out how history has led us to the Greek financial crisis.  Or worrying about how the fear and frustration of people caught in poverty or seduced by their private screens morph into racial and ethnic hatreds.  Beamed from the ubiquitous sources, each action and moment and decision of our mutual lives condemns me.  I am part of an inextricable tangle of cause and effect too large to comprehend except piecemeal.  I know too much and not enough.  Burning coal and traveling automobiles, even cattle breaking wind (and a  myriad of other variables I cannot keep hold of) determine there will be torrential rains one region, drought in another.  I am an accomplice to outcomes I cannot fully foresee or prevent — an insoluble part of universal conundrums.

I can find respite, though, if I am lucky or mindful enough, in the white expanse of silence that is the blank page.  No matter how long it has been since I wrote last, the page waits for my pen to trace a way through the briar patch of the day’s thoughts and facts and in the process draw a clearer outline of what has troubled me.  In the act of writing I turn the huge helplessness that oppresses me into squiggles of ink that flow into letters, words, sentences, paragraphs to contain and clarify it.  This respite waits not just for those who call themselves writers, but for anyone willing to sit down and shape their thoughts on a page.

IMG_4466

Finding words for what looms around us, it is possible to disperse its shadow, to be calmed by the rhythm of breath as it rises, steady and welcoming.  Here is the hospitality we crave.  The practice of reflective writing invites each of us to be the honored guest in her life.  Words, as they unfold across the page, have the power to name what feels wrong around us and — most importantly — to remind us of all we cherish.  This kind of writing rights the world, welcoming us home.

Cinderella: Who is your fairy godmother?

imagesWhen Gail asked, what would your fairy godmother give you? I had many quick answers: a giant home library with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, preferably in a sprawling old Victorian home with wood floors, plaster walls, and a fireplace. A giant writing desk made of good old wood. Windows that opened onto mature trees and flower gardens, while tea olives sent sweet fragrance in to me as I wrote. Of course, tea olives aside, what I was imagining was something less spectacular than Edith Wharton’s mansion, The Mount, but something grander than Virginia Woolf’s Monk’s House. That would be the idealized setting I’d ask the fairy godmother to confer on me.

That place has little to do with the gift that would mean more to my writing career: a situation where I could write first and foremost, and then do other paid work and family tasks, if at all, after I’d expended my best energy on shaping a new, yes, a brand-new essay or story that had never been written before. That gift, fairy godmother, would be the best.

In the Cinderella story, the fairy godmother appears without a request from the working woman. Poor Cinderella has been toiling, unappreciated, beset by demanding family members to perform unrewarding and relentless repetitive labors. Her lot is miserable, yet she sings and is cheerful. Perhaps Cinderella is a writer. If so, then I see her story in a slightly different light.

The fairy godmother is the agent who plucks the good work the under-appreciated Cinderella has been producing and places it in the public eye where its beauty and worth is appreciated. The prince is the publisher that swoops in to rescue/publish the Cinderwriter; they “marry” and live happily ever after.

So maybe the fairy godmother I want is an agent who can make this magic happen, the agent who recognizes the work and acts to make sure the writer lives happily ever in a publishing house, the agent who is interested in the writer’s entire career, rather than in a single big dance.

While my fantasy of the Victorian house and library is true, it’s the practical agency that I’d really ask for from a fairy godmother. Aren’t we all hoping for that magic wand?

Jane Gentry Vance, The Fairy Godmother, The Buddha, and Effie Waller Smith

Buddha peace

 

by Leatha Kendrick

I remember the day that Jane Vance said to me that thinking about working (writing) was not the only thing in her life.  I, who was always fretting that I should be “getting some work done” rather than enjoying the afternoon with a friend.  She said something to the effect that life was for what we were doing — being together, enjoying a day on Morgan Street on her front porch and walking downtown for lunch and a visit to the consignment store on Main Street.  It was about the trees and flowers along the way, the conversation, the sandwiches and saying hello to the neighbors and friends who drifted through the small restaurant where we ate, her excitement at finding a good buy at the consignment shop — this was life.  Life was for living.

Jane had found a peace with the balance of her life, while I was still driven toward “getting somewhere” in my writing: to write more and write better, to publish more, to finally feel that I’d done enough in writing as (and I see now what she must have seen) I had in all aspects of my life.  Too often the “driven” quality reigns in my psyche and, I suppose, my spirit.  “Hungry ghosts,” my therapist used to call is, citing the Buddhist idea of samsara and what keeps us stuck in the materiality of this life.

“What we want” doesn’t always take us where we imagine it will.  I am thinking about Effie again, with whom I feel so often in accord.  Effie Waller Smith, the Appalachian, African-American woman poet I’ve been researching and writing about, who wanted to be a respected writer known for her poems, but also wanted a husband and family, and at one point was convinced she wanted a communal religious life in Wisconsin with the Metropolitan Holiness Church Association (known in their Waukesha, Wisconsin, community as “the Jumpers”).  Effie married twice and twice she divorced the man she’d married.  She and her mother sold all their possessions and land and gave the proceeds to the Jumpers, only to become disillusioned with the sect and want out.  Effie had to sue to get at least part of their money back.  Like Effie, things I have pursued have not always turned out to be what I expected.

I imagine, though, that Effie would look back on her life (as I am doing lately) and decide that on the whole what she wanted had been trustworthy.  That when she (and I) commit ourselves to something — a faith, a family (she adopted a daughter and had the joy of raising her to adulthood), an orderly and nurturing home, and/or an art (writing, but also the arts of teaching, of gardening, of friendship) —it brought us deep satisfaction.  Through uncertainties and blind alleys, life finally comes down to “falling down nine times and getting up ten.”  Each day, the decision is as simple as taking the next step, which is to step into your own life more deeply.

No, I don’t trust magic.  I resist the idea of a fairy godmother.  I am probably a natural Buddhist — and as far as I can tell, Buddhism is a very practical spirituality.  Nothing is going to rescue me from myself, except the gradual awakening that comes from falling down nine times and getting up ten.  My ideal writing life would not look a whole lot different (from the outside) than the life I have been leading.  What I would change is invisible mostly — I would be freed from the despair and angst of never feeling as if I am doing enough.  I would find the peace and inner balance I felt in Jane.

This would mean knowing that I am enough.  This would mean enforcing reasonable boundaries while also fulfilling a commitment to myself.  So, yes, I would make time for my writing.  Calmly and gently, daily, weekly.  I would allow writing to become my practice — spiritual and mediative.  I would trust small changes and incremental tasks, set in motion by reflection and by making the decisions I have to make to ensure that I will have the space, the time — and maybe most importantly, the friendships — that will nourish my work.

Claiming a Space, Making It Yours

                       “Virginia Woolf has said it: What a woman (what any writer) needs in order to write is a room of one’s own.     It is not simply a matter of space — it is a space of one’s own that is needed.”  —Pat Schneider, Writing Alone and With Others

 Google “writers on their rooms,” as I did, and you will find blog posts, TV series, photo sequences, books examining “where I write.”  Even non-writers seem fascinated by the spaces in which their favorite authors spend their creative time.  As a tourist I have visited writers’ homes — from James Thurber’s house in Columbus, Ohio, to Anna Akhmatova’s apartment in St. Petersburg, Russia, and many spaces in between.  Something in us wants to see the rooms where writers sit doing their invisible work.  As if by entering that space we could enter the artist’s process.

In The Poetics of Space, Gaston Bachelard muses, “ . . . if I were asked to name the chief benefit of the house, I should say: the house shelters daydreaming, the house protects the dreamers, the house allows one to dream in peace.”   Writers’ rooms fascinate us because they house the dreaming that is the creative process.  The contours of walls, the angle of light, even the stacks of papers and books become the shape of that dreaming.

The need to understand writing spaces became urgent for me as my husband and I consolidated our family home of thirty years with my separate writing space of more than ten years — combining two kitchens, two sets of everything, including two writing rooms from two different phases of my writing life.  In my relief at letting go of the burden of a home too large for two people and my anticipation of no longer having to maintain two households, I denied what the moves meant for me as a writer:  the dissolution of a space I had slowly claimed in which to do the creative work essential to my wellbeing. Instead of the joy and ease I had expected to feel in claiming our new space, I have felt mostly anxiety — the primal terror of “disassemblage.”

In an essay I wrote twenty years ago I described the writing room I created for myself in our family home.

 But one room of the house is mine alone, reclaimed from Barbies, Little People houses, and the spring- frame rocking horse–Shy Anne (Cheyenne)–where [our oldest daughter] sang to Sesame Street.  Sitting in the quiet of what has become my writing room, rereading Wallace Stevens’ “Idea of Order at Key West,” I understand it at the level of the body: “there never was a world for her/Except the one she sang and, singing, made.”   Here, in what was the playroom for the first six years of this house, my girls sang themselves into existence.  Those years the bodies of my children enfleshed Paradise, ordered the universe.

And beyond that Paradise, this angled space above the garage has become my retreat:  to three favorite chairs, two desks, and half a dozen bookcases filled with poetry, volumes on craft, essays, science, and theology—my  room.   What is distilled here is an inner landscape, a different kind of garden, and one which it has taken me years to claim.  Beyond Edna’s pigeon house and the insanity of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Yellow Wallpaper, I have brought Lessing’s “Room 19” home.  My place of solitude.  To not create this place, I finally understood, was death, a drowning in other people’s needs, a suffocation.  Here writing continues like the heartbeat in the center of the chest, life within a life.  My home.  [“No Place Like Home,” The American Voice, No. 49, Summer, 1999]

Of course, my old spaces, dismantled in the course of moving, are not recreate-able in this very different room.  Everything from the compass to the floor plan make it impossible. I can’t quite find myself in this room I have chosen, and I’ve given up my old writing rooms, which makes me angry as well as anxious.  Above all I’m impatient to get on with work long interrupted by this dual move which has dragged out now for five months.

Tonight, reading and preparing to write, I glanced up and for the first time felt my new writing space taking shape:  the space seemed to gather itself around my ratty peach recliner (reclaimed from that first writing space) and the desk moved from my writing studio, set at  90º  to a scarred work table inherited from my grandparents’ business, and the bookcases along the walls and the lamps I have gathered over years.

Yes, there are boxes to be unpacked and things to be sorted, put away, let go of, but I am making (again), in my intuitive, slow and inexact way, Woolf’s “room of one’s own.”  Inimitable.  Suiting only myself.  A dreaming space.

 

 

Inspired by The Crimson Tide

deandew-white-top

Several weeks ago, I was watching a football game on TV. Although I appeared to be calmly lying on the couch under a blanket, my heart was pounding. The Alabama Crimson Tide‘s best running back had just fumbled the ball on the six yard line and LSU had recovered. There was a minute and fifteen seconds on the clock.

It appeared that Alabama’s quest for the SEC West title was doomed. All LSU had to do was score. WIth only six yards to cover in four downs, it would take a miracle for the Tide to win. At this moment the score was tied, 10-10. Alabama’s coach, Nick Saban, told the defense that if they held LSU to a field goal (3 points) that he was confident the (struggling) offense could score its own field goal.

Saban “spoke the word,” as Florence Scovel Shinn claims in her book The Game of Life And How to Play It, is the way to success. This book was on a list of recommended reading given out by Margaret Wrinkle, author of the astonishing novel Wash, at the Kentucky Women Writers Conference last fall. Shinn says that “Two attitudes of mind cause loss, depreciation, or fear of loss, which makes a picture of loss in the subconscious.” Clearly Saban was describing a win to his team, despite the outward appearance of impossibility: stopping a powerful team from scoring a touchdown and then seeing his own struggling offense go 50 yards in under a minute and score a field goal.

Yet, that is exactly what happened in the football game. LSU was pushed back away from the goal line and scored a field goal. Alabama got the ball back with 55 seconds to go and manage to move it into field goal range and score its own three points. Alabama then won the game in over-time. And will now have the chance to win a national championship.

What inspires me about this game is the fact that the Tide planned to win, even if it was at the last minute, when the appearance of facts: little time left, the opponent about to score, suggested a loss. It is a good lesson to consider as a writer. When rejections mount, the writer, who must believe in her game plan, her preparation, her work, continues to aim for the win. I am working with Shinn’s ideas that “your word is your wand” and that “Spirit is never late.” I am developing the confidence that although events may make a loss seem likely, that if you have faith and stand still in the face of opposition, that your best path will manifest.  Perhaps this faith that I will reach the goal is the most necessary element of success, after all the hard work, the desire, the revisions, the attempts at getting every word right.

And, just for fun, here’s a video of another Tide fan who was clearly inspired by the play of one Crimson Tide player, Amari Cooper.  

Comments (0) — Categorized under: Creativity,Lynn Pruett,Uncategorized

The Art of Finishing

 

Blog photoGreat is the art of beginning, but greater the art is of ending.”  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

When we moved this summer, I found these words tucked into a pile of old clothes.  The yellowed half-page torn from a steno notebook nearly thirty years ago had hung on the back wall of our walk-in closet above the small desk where I wrote.  That walk-in closet was the “room of my own” I claimed in our brand new house in 1984 as I mothered three children aged eight to one.  I knew I was good at starting things; I wanted to remind myself that finishing a piece of writing mattered.

Though I have finished books of poetry, an MFA, and a novel since those days of writing in the closet, I still find finishing a challenge.  Most writers struggle to complete a work and wonder if it is our fault that it takes so long to get it right.  The form we glimpsed as we set out on our poem or novel becomes less clear as we write ourselves into the interior.

Thanks in part to Louise DeSalvo’s book, Writing as a Way of Healing, I have learned the value of reflecting on the writing process for each piece I undertake.  I set down what I have realized and what I plan to do next.  Capturing insights and seeing a way ahead has been so important in my work that I’ve incorporated keeping a process journal into the assignments for the classes I teach.

Here’s an excerpt from one of these:

September 16, 2009

And now for my fifteen minutes on the novel — the assignment I gave the Finishing class.

It’s one thing to write about the novel and have its stacks of pages safely out of sight  . . .  It’s another to read those pages and see what’s there and despair of ever making a coherent book out of them.  . . .  But it was necessary for me to see that my coming to know the story, to see its end and feel a general shape for it, was not the same as . . . having worked it out on the page for myself.  What was needed was for me to accept that I still had a period of wandering in the wilderness ahead of me, and that I had to surrender to that if I were to write the novel I want to write.

 

I wish I had made entries like this more systematically as I drafted my novel.  And that I had not buried them in the pages of my journals where I cannot easily access them.  Louise DeSalvo says in The Art of Slow Writing that she keeps her process journals on the computer where she can search them easily.  She accesses them to remind herself of the stages in finishing a work: “Whenever I’m stuck . . . I turn to an earlier journal and . . . learn that I habitually think about abandoning a project just before I see how the book should be organized; this helps me reengage with my current work more confidently.”

I was wise to post Longfellow’s words in that closet.  Finding a way to the end of a piece is an art in itself.  An art that isn’t only about finding the best ending, but also about having the patience to discern the story I’ve wandered into, to receive its wisdom and work out the techniques I need to tell it well.

Working Water: A collaboration and memoriam

Cover Art by Pam Papka Sexton, 2000

Cover Art by Pam Papka Sexton, 2000

 

At a meeting recently, Gail brought in a copy of the anthology, Working Water, written and published in 2000 by the students in the YMCA Master Poetry Class, taught by James Baker Hall.  Pam Papka Sexton, our dearly missed Kaboom member, created the cover.  I remembered how and when she had made it, and how she and that anthology had led to the final chapter of my novel Ruby River, a chapter I would not have written but for Pam and the phrase, “Working water.”

Now, I often desire solitude as the ideal situation for making art or for writing.  We all dream of the private studio and uninterrupted days as long as the sun’s journey from horizon to horizon that sometimes include the moon’s crossing as well.  The artist in the attic, the recluse in the cabin, the single person, the wealthy person unencumbered by the demands of conversation and appointment.  And yet much good work comes out of group work, when the members intentionally engage in making some thing new.  Collaboration is one form of  group making, but making within the parameter of a group offers a rare sense of support and maybe even revs up the quality of one’s focus and intention.  Sort of like playing on a tennis team where every one has a racket and a desire to win but each member plays, wins or loses, her own match. Kaboom Blog Oct 2014 5

Pam’s cover and my chapter are both stories of artistic collaborations that bore better fruit because of companionship.   First the cover.  Pam, Deborah Reed, an early member of Kaboom, (pictured above) and I met for coffee with a North Carolina artist whose show in Lexington featured images she’d made with a fascinating process that involved a photocopier and nail polish remover.  Pam was intrigued and tried the process herself.  She xeroxed one of her paintings of a wooded landscape.  While the copy’s ink was still wet, she applied nail polish remover which created the foggy clouds of color  When it was dry, she copied that image and that is what you see as the cover of the anthology Sherry Chandler designed.  In this case, one artist shared a process with another.

The chapter came about in a more roundabout way, with more antecedents, some which I will never know of.  Pam, Deborah Reed, Mary Alexander, Betty Gabehart, and I went to Forest Retreat, an old estate in Nicholas County, for a writing weekend.  One of its distinctions is that its family cemetery contains the remains of both a former governor and a Kentucky Derby Winner.  Actually there are several thoroughbred race horses buried in the plot.  We had our photos taken with their memorial stones.

We also visited an emu farm and Blue Licks Battlefield, places which offered inspiration for our afternoon writing practices. We gathered in the sitting room, where Pam led us through an exercise she learned in the Master Poetry Class: as each poet read his or her weekly poem, the students gleaned intriguing words which they used as the basis for new poems.  At Forest Retreat, Pam read a poem she had written using that method.  We repeated the exercise by writing down words we liked.  I wrote “working water” among others.

Kaboom Blog Oct 2014 3 1

From our pile of gift words, we constructed a scene on the page, into which would come, after ten minutes of writing, a character whom the person on our left had created. Since we had been to Blue Licks that morning to the river, I described a sycamore that was “ghostly.”  Mary Alexander (pictured above at the retreat) passed me a character sketch of a young girl wearing a red and black dress.  From those words, I wrote the three page chapter that ends Ruby River:  “He was born with a hole in his heart.  When the wind blew he could feel it gush deep in his chest, a sound like green hush.  If he was working the water on Sunday morning, always a Sunday morning, he heard the wind play as a harp, the ripples on the slow river like the notes in his heart . . . .”

While Owls and Poets Stalk Shadows

SCAN0002

This image comes from an old calendar, alas, without attribution for the photographer

 

This last-day-of-September morning, the sunlight outside the coffee shop window makes newly colored leaves glow. Passersby on the sidewalk squint into the brightness and hold up their hands to help themselves see better. In a season that still brings temperatures up to summer heat during the day, it’s finally undeniable that fall is here. And I? I am thinking of a poem I first read almost 20 years ago, a poem by poet Alison Luterman, titled “Invisible Work.”  It’s a lovely poem that begins:

“Because no one could ever praise me enough,

because I don’t mean only these poems but the unseen

unbelievable effort it takes to live

the life that goes on between them,

I think all the time about invisible work…”

excerpt from Alison Luterman’s “Invisible Work”  (The Largest Possible Life; Cleveland State University Press, 2001)

What kind of invisible work? The example she narrates is the work of a young mother, running rings around herself keeping her child safe, cutting “hot dogs into bite-sized pieces for dinner,” even though

“there’s no one

to say what a good job you’re doing, how you were

patient and loving for the ten

thousandth time, even though you had a headache.”

The poem appealed to me 20 years ago for this image, which is seen all too seldom: an empathetic appreciation for the quotidian task of raising small children. A number of online references you can find to the poem are often linked to Mother’s Day reflections.

But her work in this poem does not stop there, of course. Because the lines pivot, and the poet speaks directly to us again: 

 “And I, who am used

to feeling sorry for myself because I am lonely

when all the while, as the Chippewa

poem says, I am being carried

by great winds across the sky,

think of the invisible work that stitches up the world

day and night, the slow, unglamorous

work of healing, the way worms in the garden

tunnel ceaselessly so the earth can breathe

and bees ransack this world into being,

while owls and poets stalk shadows,

our loneliest labors under the moon. …”

 

source:   http://bit.ly/fm-owl

source: http://bit.ly/fm-owl

Last night our own moon showed itself only the slimmest of fingernail clippings. My waking during the night was into a dim time, reflecting an experience of dull-witted moments of late.  I am most grateful for Luterman’s art that bears witness to the loneliness of frustration. Her lines succeed in helping remind us of so much.

So, as those colored leaves fall, and under the gathering leaf litter, the natural world begins preparations to enter the dark sleep that winter brings, I’m also holding out gratitude for all the invisible work that supports “our loneliest labors…”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comments (0) — Categorized under: Creativity,Gail Koehler — Tags:
Older Posts »