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Archive for May, 2012

Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting, and they saw what seemed to be tongues of fire . . .

Loud rush of wind.  Tongues of fire.  We have to resort to metaphor because inspiration is an experience that transcends language.  A tremor of the soul.  The evidence of our senses no longer holds.  We don’t know why or how, but we know it is true.

I deal in truth.  Come on, so do you.  Well, OK, a lot of the time the depth of truth I’m dealing in is which item on the Thai menu is best or whether it’s time for a new computer.  But most days I’m also looking for truth that makes a difference: selecting the ideal diagnostic test or best treatment course for a patient; figuring out how to respond to my Grandson’s shenanigans; choosing just the right words in time of crisis.  Different truths seem to beg for different methods:

The Consumer Reports Method: You look at various tests and evaluations, you compare the different options, weigh the characteristics of each, and you decide which suits you best.

The Angie’s List Method: You trust other people to give you an honest opinion, you take their word for it and follow their recommendations.

The Scientific Method: You start with a null hypothesis, you formulate an alternative hypothesis, you perform experiments that can prove or disprove your hypothesis, AND other researchers performing the same experiments get the same results, so that your truth is reproducible.

The Spiritual Method: You get touched, breathed into, shaken and blown away by God.  In other words, inspired.

So how did I get here?  Part of the answer is in Keith Peterson’s poem How Long Did It Take?  When he tries to identify the inspiration for a poem the search connects him to something he read a few hours ago, then to memories and events of the past 40 years.  To his whole life.  To forever.  That is literary inspiration.

I would say literary inspiration is just a subset of all creative inspiration, which is a subset of everything that inspires us to awareness.  Inspiration is what connects us to this universe we inhabit.  I call it God.  You probably know some other names.  It may transcend language, but what I do know is that sometimes I have suddenly become speechless in the presence of an overwhelming sense of love and presence.  A sense in that moment that everything is right.  I imagine God, being everything – inside, outside, all – and being in essence and totality love, is continually in the act of wooing each complex molecule and synapse and electodynamic of my person to enter more perfectly into that love.

How did I get here?  Inspiration. The breath of spirit that enters and makes alive.  Ongoing, continual, never beginning nor ending. Not some sudden apocalyptic storm of electrons in gray matter, not some mystical visitation of otherness. Just that perfect enticement, subtle and often unnoticed.  Just forever.

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little mouse
(evidence)

Listen, it’s there again,
bone tremor like a footfall
on deep moss after midnight,
not my ears that hear, my heart
feels it.  Not my eyes,

they’re closed, but light enters
like sun filtered through miles of leaves
to find earth’s one white
petal.  You want to see
a footprint, count the round toes, claws

flexed or full extension.  You would sniff
the imprint, scribble genus . . . species,
publish your theories and turn up
your nose at mine.  Can you write me
an equation for hope?  A hand

hovers above my shoulder lightly (un-)
touching.  In the domain of mice
all large things are death.  Why
am I convinced my life depends
on the one thing I can’t prove?

© 2011 Bill Griffin, little mouse, Main Street Rag Publishing

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part 2 of 2
(part 1 posted 5/26/2012)

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Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting, and they saw what seemed to be tongues of fire . . .

Keith Peterson is alive for me today.  I’ve just listened to him read one of my favorite poems.  It’s just possible that I sat in the same room with him within the year before his death in 2001 – he was a well-loved member of the NC Poetry Society.  Could he have been present at the first meeting I attended at Weymouth Center around 1999?  That was before I had read this poem or ever heard his name, but since then I’ve re-read it a dozen times and wondered about its author.

I hear Keith’s voice today, his introduction, his intonation of the lines.  I picture him furiously scribbling, as he describes, in a dim cold bedroom. I feel his “4.8 on the Richter Scale,” and I suddenly imagine every writer I know experiencing that same clutch and urgency.

Experiencing that inspiration.  You know you’ve felt it yourself.  To be filled with breath, to be created new, to be made alive. When it strikes, you must write, or draw, or sing, or dance.  To do otherwise and you would cease to live.

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How Long Did It Take?

I wrote a poem once
about something I’d just read
and I recited it to a guy
who liked it a lot but asked me,
How long did it take?  And I shrugged:
Coupl’ hours, I said.

I didn’t tell him, Yeah,
two hours of standing there
freezing in my pyjamas,
leaning over the chest of drawers
in a small circle of lamplight
scribbling almost faster than I could think
before the tremor faded, only 4.8
on the Richter Scale, but strong enough
to drive me out of my house of bedclothes
into the streets to run till it stopped
which it started to do
when the first draft shaped itself,

no, it took the whole night
that began with the reading,
the pages that turned inward,
into the heat of the cauldron,
the pressure of the plates on each other,
the deliberate counting of sheep,
one hundred and twelve, one hundred
and thirteen, the two bright blanks
of the backs of my eyelids,
the wreck of the covers, the roar of the
clock racing toward daylight and,

no, it took forty years.
What the poem was about
were earlier dawns and midnights
the reading had rediscovered,
the rocks it turned over: a job,
a joke, a burial, tears of laughter
at a kitchen table, tears of relief
in a hospital bedroom, a football game
in a downpour, one telephone call
that ate fatigue, the sweet silence
of a sunrise once in the mountains,

like the first morning.  No,
it took forever.

Keith Peterson

[from Pembroke Magazine, 1966.  Collected in Word and Witness, 100 Years of North Carolina Poetry, Sally Buckner, editor.  Carolina Academic Press, 1999.]

Hear Keith read this poem as part of the Community United Church of Christ media series.

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part 1 of 2

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The gardens at Weymouth Center for the Arts & Humanities in Southern Pines, NC are a site to restore your soul.  Huge weeping cherry trees, perennial gardens, poet’s garden, frog pond, the adjacent old-growth longleaf pine savannah of Weymouth Woods . . . I first absorbed their restorative atmosphere about twelve years ago.  It was at the close of the last century, and  I was enjoying the approach of evening beside the water lilies, preparing to attend my first NC Poetry Society board meeting as treasurer.  In the diminishing light a vision appeared before me.  An elegant couple approached across the manicured grounds, he a dapper gentleman with a graying beard, she a slender beautiful woman with an astonishing floral hat.  I said to myself, I am in the right place.

No, it wasn’t Zelda and F. Scott (although doubtless they were frequent visitors when the Boyds resided at Weymouth).  Guy and Carolyn York became my friends in that garden that evening and have been ever since.  For two decades they have served the NC Poetry Society with warmth, creativity, and tireless enthusiasm.  During the fourteen years they shared as Vice Presidents for Membership they assured that every new member could say, “I am in the right place.” They greeted every person who walked into the Garden Room to attend an NCPS meeting or workshop at Weymouth.  They kept straight the status and address of some 400 members to make sure we’d receive our Pine Whispers newsletters and notices about contests and gatherings. Every new member for almost a decade and a half has received a welcoming packet of readings, poems, notices and tidbits that bear Carolyn’s distinctive touch.

One perquisite of serving on the NCPS Board is the social time on Friday night after the two- or three-hour long Board meeting – and no such gathering could ever be complete without Guy’s bottomless well of recitation: Tennyson, Kipling, Shakespeare, and a few limericks it would be illegal to post.  Now Carolyn and Guy have taken a hiatus from the Board for a year or two, but in 2013 Carolyn has agreed to serve as President and Guy will assume an At Large position.  Meanwhile they attend every meeting, volunteer in the book room, and continue to share their humor and style – folks, if you are in a room with Carolyn and Guy, you are in the right place.

The vote was unanimous.  The North Carolina Poetry Society Board of Directors has dedicated the 2012 edition of our annual anthology, Pinesong, to Carolyn and Guy York.  Congratulations, friends and companions!  Here’s to a few more decades together of celebration and poetry.

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Sugar Dust

Over time
the round pale moon
crumbles
like the
sugar cookie
of our childhood days
that we saved
and ate clandestine
in the closet
of the nursery
secretly – a bit at a time
a bite at a time –
until nothing was left
except the
sparkling
crumbs
which clung to our fingers.

In the sky of mooncrumble
nothing remains
in the velvet darkness
but sweet crystals of star dust.

© Carolyn Pleasants York, from Dream Within a Dream, 2011, Green Jade Publishers (Old Mountain Press)

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Dream Within a Dream is Carolyn’s Southern gothic mystery novel which incorporates Carolyn’s poetry to enhance the atmosphere of magnolia blossoms and dark secrets.

Weymouth Center for the Arts and Humanities

North Carolina Poetry Society

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“Not all those who wander are lost . . .”  J.R.R.Tolkien

What would it be like to take a walk and not know where you’re going to end up?  To just sling a pack across your shoulder and strike out southwest, no, let’s make that northeast, OK, just up and out?  I don’t mean when you’re not exactly sure what route to take, or it’s a trail new to you and you don’t know how rough or easy – I mean you have no earthly idea where you’re even headed.  Or how long you’ll be walking before you arrive. Or if you’ll arrive.

For someone like me, whose days are mostly lined out in fifteen-minute blocks, to simply walk in the moment is such an alien concept it’s almost terrifying.  I’ve taken some pretty long walks over the years, fifty and a hundred miles some of them, but I always knew within a few hours when I expected to arrive at my final goal, and within a few square meters of where that goal was.  Unfolding big maps and memorizing the landmarks, dissecting guidebooks (literaly, to rearrange the torn-out pages), scratching notes on little cards I’d carry with me along the way – they’re all metaphors for this planned-out predetermined regimented life of mine.  Once in a while I might stray from the trail and wander the woods, but I always know to be home by dark.  Yet by even the most wildly generous estimate my life is now two-thirds over.  Do I remember where I’m headed?

Friday morning Linda and I are going to pick up my eighty-something parents in Winston-Salem and drive to the Greensboro Coliseum to attend Josh’s graduation from UNCG.  Can I even list the obstacles that have made his path of the past ten years so uncertain?  The ones he never imagined he could succesfully negotiate but did, the ones that crushed him more than once, the ones he just had to hoist on his back and carry, sweating, all along the way?  Many times he and we too have doubted there even was a path, much less a way to travel it.  But in the past few months there have been subtle signs, like seeing the first trout lily and knowing spring has arrived, that this is real. It IS going to happen.  One of the sweetest images is that of my mother discovering, as she unpacked boxes from their recent move back home to North Carolina, the blazer she wore as a UNCG (then “Women’s College”) graduate sixty-three years ago, a “‘49” pin still attached from one of her reunions.

Way to go, Josh!  Your GrandMommy will be wearing that blazer, and I will be wearing admiration in my heart for your achievement.  You toughed it out and I’m proud of you.  It’s the steep path that brings us to high places.

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Which of us ever really knows exactly where we’re headed?  What the heck am I talking about?  Career, marriage, kids, grandson, church, yardwork, a vacation from time to time – enough there to fill any number of present hours and more than enough to fill any contemplations of the future.  Is it only old guys and ascetics who take time out for a minute and ask, Where am I headed?  For those like me who are too fidgety for a meditation practice, too cocky for a psychologist, too type A to spend time doing nothing instead of something, there’s a window to throw open and stick your head out when those questions tap on the pane.  Poetry, of course, the opening window.  When I read a poem that pierces my id I don’t get all the answers: I discover the questions.

Thank you, Cathy Smith Bowers, for this poem and all it doesn’t say.  I was reading Cathy’s book Like Shining from Shook Foil as part of a project to collect poems to be displayed at the NC Zoo.  Among others, I want to include one by each of our NC Poet Laureates, back to James Larkin Pearson.  I started at More Weight on page 119 and read the book backwards (I know, I know, they make a pill for that sort of thing).  Hers is a poetry of arresting images, lightning, and jagged truth-saying.  When I reached poem #1, perhaps from being filled with everything that had come before, all the questions clamored loud and I knew this is the one for the Zoo, and for me.

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Paleolithic

We love these old caves – Lascaux,
Altamira – and walk carefully
the way we always enter the past,
our hands bearing
the artificial light of this world.

We imagine those first hunters
crouched, conjuring luck,
carving into rock-swell
their simple art – whole herds of bison,
the haunches, the powerful heads, floating
orderless along the walls.
And some are climbing sky
as if they were stars, planets
obiting something they cannot see.
Centuries will pass before they
right themselves, their hooves
coming down onto the deep
wet floor of leaf-fall.
Remembering earth.
Remembering where it was
they were headed.

© 2010 Cathy Smith Bowers.  from Like Shining from Shook Foil, Press 53.  First appeared in Southern Poetry Review.

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Cathy Smith Bowers was named North Carolina Poet Laureate by Governer Bev Perdue in 2010.  Press 53 (Winston-Salem, NC) published her new and collected poems, Like Shining from Shook Foil, that same year.

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