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Posts Tagged ‘seasonal imagery’

I don’t know anything.  I’ve got a lot of people fooled into thinking I do, but no, I don’t know anything.

Sometimes Linda accuses me of thinking I know everything.  Well, OK, maybe I do tend to blurt out answers.  I hope I’m not as obnoxious as Bill Murray watching Jeopardy in Groundhog Day, but I do suffer from a mild case of expository blatheromania.  “What is a stereoisomer?”  “How about a four letter word for ‘wing-like’?”  Linda won’t let me within fifteen feet of her when she’s working a crossword. But all this fact stuff is just trivial.  I has nothing to do with knowing.  I say things out loud to test myself, to see if I finally do know anything.

Nope, still don’t.

All of which is making me very nervous about being the featured reader (along with Debra Kaufman) at Walking into April this Saturday. [April 14, Barton College, 9:00 a.m., Sam and Marjorie Ragan Writing Center – be there and place your bets as to whether I know anything.] It’s not the reading part.  I love to read and recite – my poetry, classic poems, a Sam Ragan or two – I’m a big ham.  No, it’s the little entry on the day’s schedule at 11:00 that says “Roundtable Discussion with Griffin and Kaufman, who will present their tips on writing and reading poetry.”

Right now the anything I don’t know the most about is poetry.  As in a total mistrust of whatever I possess that passes for taste, opinion, judgement, skill.  I worry that at the very moment I begin to like a certain poem that proves that it’s inferior.  “Man, you don’t know anything about GOOD poetry.”  And those poems that appear to me as if they were compiled by a random phrase generator?  “What is the matter with you, man?  Where’s your head?”  Maybe it’s just lack of self-confidence.  Maybe it would help to beg an audience with the Wizard of Oz, who would tell me, “Nonsense, lad!  You imagine you have no poetic soul, but all you need is this . . . [fill in the blank:  MFA; Fellowship; Pushcart; One thousandth ‘like’ on WordPress].”

There’s only one cure.  Read some more poems.  Let myself get caught up in images that seem to float effortlessly from line to line like dragonflies laying eggs on the mirror of a pond.  Words never before juxtaposed that now seem as if they were meant to be married since the genesis of language.  A narrative so exotic and at once so universal that I suddenly realize it’s my own story this strophe has captured.

Maybe I’ll discover I don’t need to know anything.

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.     .     .    .     .

Now Debra Kaufman knows something.  I have sat in her presence.  As she shares, the lines wind and flow like silk ribbon that seems so casual but soon binds you with no escape.  Her poems may hint at a personal history at the same time they are invoking an entirely new and fantastic landscape.  I walk into that landscape, look around, and find myself at home.

I am counting on you, Debra.  Knowing you’ll be there on Saturday, I will stand up straight, put off all this sidling nonsense, and walk upright into April.

.     .     .     .     .

Autumnal Equinox

Sugar maples blaze at sunset;
leaves swoop and skirt
the chilling wind like chimney swifts.

A boy leaps into leaves,
calls to a neighbor’s Irish red,
as light falls, a cat’s white shadow,

on his grandmother’s lap.
Her hands rest there,
her grandmother’s hands,

the same boniness of wrist and knuckle,
dry fingers nearly flammable in the smoky air.
She smells ripe pears

and feels her body drawn
toward the darkness that rolls in
earlier each day.

Heat and light retreat,
and evening covers everything
except the boy, whose hair shines

silky silver light
as he tosses armfuls of color
upward, like sparks.

from The Next Moment (Jacar Press)

.     .     .     .     .

Debra Kaufman is a North Carolina poet, playwright, and educator.  The Next Moment is her most recent poetry collection.  Her short and full-length plays have been performed throughout North Carolina and elsewhere. Debra is the recipient of a North Carolina Arts Council playwriting scholarship and of a grant from the Central Piedmont Regional Artists Hub Program.

Sample her work at:

Debra Kaufman homepage

Kathryn Stripling Byer — Here Where I Am (blog)

Scott Owen’s Musings

Moon-Mirror-Whiskey-Wind

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“As needed?”

When I left the hospital last Saturday night a fat Vidalia moon was just peering through the trees that circle the campus.  There were two cars and a pickup in the visitors’ lot.  Lined up on the front bumper of a dented black Civic were three of those deer blasters, chrome-plastic gizmos four inches long that look like little jet engines.  When you’re driving sixty they’re supposed to emit an ultrasonic whistle that spooks the deer so they don’t jump in front of your car.  Gives you an idea of the kind of traffic concerns we contend with out here in Surry County.

As I crossed to the lower lot (there was only one car at the far end – mine) I glimpsed movement.  I stopped and turned.  A grey fox trotted across the pavement.  Ignoring me.  It sauntered into the bushes at the perimeter of the landscaping and never made a sound or quickened its step.  Time to spring forward.

The big trees are still bare but this week the cherries blossomed.  Canada geese in the hospital pond have paired off.  Sunday morning I saw a pair of hooded mergansers and a wood duck eyeing each other near the nesting boxes I donated a couple of years ago.  How long until fuzzy chicks leap unafraid from the nesting cavity and plop into the water like tennis balls?  Everything is precisely as it should be.

What is needed?

Some day soon – five years?  ten? – I’ll make evening rounds for the last time.  There are plenty of things I’ll miss.  The Monday mornings after a long weekend on call.  Clowning around with the nurses – walk the halls with a big mug that says “DUKE” if you want to start a civil war.  My partners: sitting down to puzzle out a confusing patient; cracking each other up with the deadly black humor that makes you shut the door of the conference room.  And of course my patients.  Figuring out what they need and being right a lot of the time.  Figuring out who they are.  Figuring out who we are together.

And I wouldn’t even mention that there are plenty of things I won’t miss, except that they fall into the category of things-that-piss-me-off and are mostly the same for everyone who has survived into the twenty-first century: mindless productivity-sapping bureaucracy; people that manipulate and take advantage of you; being unappreciated, or underappreciated.

But there’s one more thing I really won’t miss.  Although it makes me irritable (ask Brenda and Carolyn at the office), it isn’t having to think about ten things at once – adrenalin just primes the pump, after all. It isn’t even the 3 a.m. calls from worried mothers – hell, that’s what I signed on for.  And it isn’t fear, although there have been plenty of crisis situations when I’ve been scared, and I don’t like that.  That thing I will be most glad to put behind me is something I might name “malignant uncertainty.”  I don’t know what comes next, I’m not sure what to do, but if I don’t make a decision in the next thirty seconds something real bad is going to happen.  Close corollary – I’ve given the order, the die is cast, and now I will sit and watch the outcome for minutes, hours.  Will this baby’s breathing slow to normal?  Will this old woman’s blood pressure come back up?  Will somebody hold my hand?

What do I need?

Besides another weekend off?  A couple of hours to write these lines?  An insight bright enough to make sense of it all?  A moon that pours through the branches while the fox and I pause to listen to spring peepers?

Will I figure it out before I’ve missed it?

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Painted Trillium

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The Geriatrician Ages

They don’t fly up at him, all these names,
n
o confusion of pigeons’ wings
in the parking lot; they don’t lock arms
            to block him entering
the next exam room;
maybe they awaken him near dawn
but not by shaking. More like
            the powdery flutter
of a moth disturbed in daylight,
the mute gray snowfall
of ash from burning newsprint.

Many he can’t recall, but all of them
he recognizes when their dry lips
whisper their presence
            from the other side –
not accusations (their ease of passing
one more benediction
of his calling), not really thanks
            though most are grateful,
mostly just an airy I . . . I
in his cluttered bag of memories.

So many, so often now, more and more.
Each murmur a spirit body bowed
into a wheelchair, curled mantis-like
            in bed, pushing against a walker,
each of them pushing, pushing
against what held them here
and what let them go.
            Some days he can’t remember
if he last saw them on evening rounds
or in a dream, and any moment
he expects the office door to open:
            one will enter, speak
his name, one he had thought
was gone.

.     .     .     .     .

first published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Vol. 304, No. 16, p.1754,  October 27, 2010

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“Like you and like I.”  True confession time: tell me there hasn’t been at least one time during the week leading up to Christmas that you could have reasonably been accused of being ornery.  Maybe in the last 24 hours even.  Heck, in the last thirty minutes.  Stuck in traffic on Hanes Mall Blvd. – Oh no, I didn’t lean on my horn.  Spouse asking for the fifth time where the wrapping paper is . . . or telling for the fifth time (these are all purely hypothetical situations, of course).  No time to relax, take a walk, look at the hundred photos you just took, write a line.  Makes me darn ornery!

“I wonder as I wander . . .”  So haunting, so probing, so true – this Southern Appalachian carol has always been one of my favorites.  When Linda sings it at church I can feel the bitter wind of Mt. Pisgah through her threadbare shawl.  The questions it raises – “If Jesus had wanted for any wee thing” – seem to pierce my heart.  What do I want?  Where can I find hope?  Or meaning?  An ornery cuss like me?

Ornery – as in grumpy, disagreeable, cantankerous?  Actually the word comes from Appalachian dialect as a contraction of “ordinary.”  Commonplace.  Garden variety.  In other words, you and me. If we’re a little cantankerous at times, well, ordinary people are like that.  The same way we are also sometimes patient with grandkids.  Forgiving of spouses.  Open to sharing our homes, our space, our selves.  Christmas has arrived “in a cow’s stall, with wise men and shepherds and farmers and all.”  Or in the case of Bon Aire Rd., Elkin, with retired chemists and teachers, psychologists and technical writers, bakers and public administrators, artists and doctors (and five dogs, all under one roof). I guess Jesus enjoys hanging out with the ornery.

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The story goes that “I Wonder as I Wander” was collected by John Jacob Niles in Murphy, NC in July 1933 from a young traveling evangelist Annie Morgan.  For all who may feel Christmas as a harsh mountain winter, I offer this poem as an invitation to awaken to a song of love, assurance, and hope.

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Pisgah Stranger
(Awaken to a Song)

A stranger here, I sleep
Beneath the slash of stars,
The Pisgah forest deep
And friendless.
I close myself to love,
My heart requires the dark;
Can night within this cove
Be endless?

Come, you’ve slept too long
And love grows dim.
Awaken to a song –
Can it be Him?

Is it madness or a dream
That seems to whisper here?
The murmur of a stream
Or singing?
It chants, this still small voice,
I’ve nothing now to fear
For tidings of great joy
It’s bringing.

Come, you’ve slept too long
And love grows dim.
Awaken to a song
And welcome Him!

And now the music swells
As every fir and spruce
Unloose their boughs to tell
The story:
May all God’s creatures wake,
Hearts quickened by the truth,
Invited to partake
Of mercy.

Come, we’ve slept so long
That love grows dim.
Awaken that our song
May worship Him.

Come sing it with the wind
And all the Pisgah throng:
The Child reclines within
The manger!
With owl and bear and deer
My soul’s reborn in song
For none of us is here
A stranger.

Come, you’ve slept too long;
If love grows dim
Awaken to a song
For it is Him!

Waken . . . welcome . . . worship . . .
It is Him!
.
.

Bill Griffin (c) 2011

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Less is more.      –       Ludwig Mies van der Rohe

My high school art teacher was more than eclectic. I can’t see a cityscape without thinking of Lyonel Feininger, and we did an entire unit on the Bauhaus. Gropius, Kandinsky, Klee, there is music in the names. Years later when I began writing poetry, though, I guess van der Rohe’s aphorism had failed to inform. My early stanzas were little bricks, four-square and chunky, nary a chink much less any breath. Did I imagine the proper density of “condensed language” was that of neutronium?

I trust that my current poems can sometimes walk through the woods without the need for supplemental oxygen, but I am still far from mastering that most ephemeral, jewel-like and perfect poetic form. I have yet to write a decent haiku. I get twitchy wanting to add more painted-on layers of complexity. I want the scarlet oak leaf to become a scarlet tanager. I can’t let the image be the image. How many haiku masters does it take to change a light bulb? None, for they are the light bulb.

I will have to be content to let that light shine into me by reading Night Weather. Stan Absher’s poems are airy, piercingly bright, yet willing to settle briefly on your palm. Never can they be pinched between thumb and forefinger like a dead specimen. Open to any page, touch your tongue to a line, inhale the pinprick drop of scent as from honeysuckle flower. In the book, the seasons of haiku are punctuated by longer poems, but even these retain the sense of being present in their one precise moment: low sun / raking the leaves / into long shadows.

On your neck, the soft breath of these images. And patiently between the pages, watercolors by Katie Nordt. Also deceptively simple in their color and form. Follow the quiet path that winds among verse and line and season and you discover a deep story unfolding. Complex in its simplicity. From less becomes . . . ever more.

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bamboo

the bamboo grove
glimpse of stray light
butterfly

   

old house

no one can sleep

the flooring relaxes
on its joists

the downspout
hisses like a snake

in his shorts, Daddy
leans in the open
doorway, smoking

 

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Night Weather

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Katie Nordt, art and illustrations

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Leave the Carolina silverbells blooming up the Elkin Valley. The foothills daffodils are still bright but curling at the edges. Now Redbud Alley, I-40 where it slices through woodlands between Winston-Salem and Kernersville, is about a week past its peak. Raspberry sherbet ribboned with lime. In Durham after showers the corner of every parking lot is drifted with yellow layers like foam the tide has ebbed to discard. We park for an hour or two, and the overhanging sweetgum trees cover our hood with anthers like clusters of powdery nerf grapes.

Now I’m on I-540 escaping Raleigh; Knightsdale aproaches and my eyes are burning. Zebulon and sneezing can’t be more than minutes away. By the time I reach Wilson the season has advanced a good two weeks, and Barton College is planted firmly into April. I park behind the music building (it’s Weekend College and every lot is full), walk two blocks, and Rebecca Godwin is waiting to welcome us into the Sam and Marjorie Ragan Writing Center with Aunt Edna’s ginger snaps. And poetry.

Walking into April! Poets and poetry, greeting old friends with a hug, discovering that the impressive writers presenting their work today have now become your new friends, clapping to suport new poets that have come to read for the first time: just about every time I go to a poetry reading in this state, it feels like coming home.

The afternoon session of Walking into April always begins with this year’s Gilbert-Chappell Distinguished Poet and his students. More on John Hoppenthaler in a forthcoming post, but here is some bright imagery from the verse presented by this year’s students:

Cindy Thomas

Cindy Thompson: “Let yourself become the fight, the dance.”

Nancy Seate: “It isn’t the object but the light it reflects.”

Candace Jones: ” . . . when the world is barking too loud.”

Marty Silverthorne: “sabers and rifles will grow like weeds. / Maybe we should plant boots / so when the marching blister’s busted, / blood would not ooze out weakened stitches.” [from Prayer for Boots, in the voice of his Civil War ancestor]

Sometimes April seems like the month of Too Much Poetry Stuff, but come next April on the second Saturday I’m saying, “Damn the pollen, full speed ahead!” and driving right into it.

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Writing a poem is an act of discovery. The poem discovers itself.     – – – Sam Ragan

Down East poetry fans celebrate every spring with a walk into April – an all day poetry event at the Sam and Marjorie Ragan Writing Center (Barton College, Wilson, NC). To open the festivities on Aril 9, I had the honor of reciting this poem by Sam:

The Marked and Unmarked
 
 I cannot say upon which luminous evening
I shall go out beyond the stars,
To windless spaces and unmarked time,
Turning nights to days and days to nights.

            This is the place where I live.
            I planted this tree.
            I watched it grow.
            The leaves fall and I scuff them with my feet.
            This is the street on which I walk.
            I have walked it many times.
            Sometimes it seems there are echoes of my
                                 walking-

In the mornings, in the nights,
In those long evenings of silence and stars

                                   -the unmarked stars.

[Sam Ragan, from To the Water’s Edge, Moore Publishing Company, 1971]

In 1982 Governor Jim Hunt appointed Sam Ragan North Carolina Poet Laureate for Life. This small fact doesn’t begin to express Sam’s immense influence on NC arts and letters in the second half of the twentieth century. Read his bio for the accomplishments, publications, and “firsts,” but for those who new Sam Ragan as well as we hundreds and thousands who know of him, he embodies the love of poetry and the love our state – place, people, and persnickitiness. Oh yes, and the affirmation that bow ties are cool.

About now Sam might well be saying, “Enough! Back to the poetry.” Back to Barton College. For the morning session Peter Makuck and Sara Claytor read alternately; they took turns reading a poem or two trying to forge a thematic link to the poems that preceded. [My next few posts will include some of their poetry.] They then led a roundtable on the craft of poetry. Very energizing. The afternoon session each year is the Eastern Region readings by the Gilbert-Chappell Distinguished Poet (this year John Hoppenthaler) and the four students for whom he has served as mentor over the past several months. [More about that later, too].

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’d like to think that all the poetry events, celebrations, publications and edifices that carry the name “Sam Ragan” would be satisfactory to the man, the legendary. But why is the event called, “Walking into April?” Sam’s poems were sensual and often deeply colored by North Carolina native creatures, flora, seasons. The scent of lilac, a cool night breeze, whatever changes and never changes. His poems are often deceptively simple, like the one above, but as I labored to memorize those lines they began to live in me more and more deeply. From Sam Ragan’s 1986 collection comes this:

Let Us Walk into April

It was a pear tree in bloom
That lit up your eyes.
You came at blossom time –
Dogwoods and lilacs,
The camellia and azalea,
And the glow of the redbud tree –
Thousands of wildflowers run before your feet,
And a faint green hovers in the woods.
Here we are just before the coming of April,
When the whole world is new
And each day is a beginning,
A time of sunlight and spendor –
Come, let us walk into April.

[Sam Ragan, from A Walk into April. Laurinburg, N.C.: St. Andrews Press, 1986.]

 

Sam Ragan Biography
http://www.ncwriters.org/services/lhof/inductees/sragan.htm

Gilbert-Chappell Distinguishe Poet Series of the NC Poetry Society
http://www.ncpoetrysociety.org/gcdps/

Sara Claytor
http://www.saraclaytor.com/home

Peter Makuck
http://www.makuck.com/

John Hoppenthaler
http://www.ecu.edu/cs-cas/engl/profiles/hoppenthaler.cfm

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