It’s already begun–the dying. I meant our parents’ generation. I went to two wakes today. One was that of a college mate’s dad. I read his children’s eulogies which celebrated his life story–a brilliant career as a brigadier-general, a trailblazer of his generation, and a doting dad. Of course life complicates things so there’s a whole other side of the story. And you know what? What redeems all of us in the end is the love that we gave. That’s what people remember you for. Because we’re each of us capable of doing harm to others whether or not we wanted to. Think of your enemies, or those who have done you wrong in some way. It’s hard but we’re called to let go of the hate, perhaps only at some end point, when the person is about to die. The other person who died was Buddhist, and briefly took care of my kids. I remained in gratitude for her care-giving. You could talk about life’s impermanence or its fleeting beauty in your poem as you think about your own life and/or the lives of others.
I don’t know about you guys, but a lot of what I write is improvisation. It’s written on the spot, at one sitting. I’ve had the chance to witness how it’s done in theater too. Improv theater: “in which most or all of what is performed is unplanned or unscripted: created spontaneously by the performers. In its purest form, the dialogue, action, story, and characters are created collaboratively by the players as the improvisation unfolds in present time, without use of an already prepared, written script.” At least that happens at the collaborative stage of creating a script out of nothing for theater. There’s something to be said for randomness, and how that contributes to the final product. So show me how you incorporate random things into your poem.
(Random note: I’m still catching up on my emails, so do not fret if you’ve not heard anything about work submitted. Life is kinda busy right now so give it some time please.)
In case you’re not familiar, Omakase is a Japanese phrase that means “I’ll leave it up to you”, you meaning “the chef”. To quote Wiki, customers ordering omakase style expect the chef to be innovative and surprising in the selection of dishes, and the meal can be likened to an artistic performance by the chef. Dining like this comes with an element of surprise because you don’t know what’s on your table next. I just had my first omakase experience and it was like a total dining experience because the chef popped by our table in between courses “to chat”. That turned out to be totally delightful and personal. Anyway you guessed it, the prompt is to write about a food experience.
Is “omakase” a new word to you? Then you might like to try out another word. As an alternative, we have a dictionary prompt brought to you by my guest prompter, Josh Medsker. This is from Josh:
Dictionary Entries at Random
If you ever feel yourself stuck in word patterns with your fiction, and especially poetry, try this: Go to a dictionary and flip to a random page. Point to any entry, and force yourself to use that word in your piece. If you don’t have a dictionary handy, for god sakes, go buy one.
Contrary to what many may think, inspiration isn’t something you wait for–it’s something you practice. This constraining exercise will force you to think on your feet and challenge you to find new ways of communicating.
You can find Josh here.
Still on writing, guys. I was just listening to Anne Lamott’s Ted Talk, “12 Truths I learned from Life and Writing”. She urged one to write “your truth, your version of things, in your own voice” and “that’s really all you have to offer us, and that’s also why you were born.” Whoa. And she also said something about trying to get your work published, to be legit you know (wink wink), to plug all the cheesy holes in your soul (I am paraphrasing) and you know what, it doesn’t matter, it doesn’t plug those holes, it’s your writing that does it. Pretty much how I feel about writing. I mean, writing is so phantasmagoric, know what I mean, that it’s pretty much its own reward. So is there value in what you write, you’ve got to ask yourself that. I like this quote from Lamott too.
“I try to write the books I would love to come upon, that are honest, concerned with real lives, human hearts, spiritual transformation, families, secrets, wonder, craziness—and that can make me laugh. When I am reading a book like this, I feel rich and profoundly relieved to be in the presence of someone who will share the truth with me, and throw the lights on a little, and I try to write these kinds of books. Books, for me, are medicine.”
So can you write a poem like that…like medicine (gulp)?
I know I’d asked for a writing poem. You know, a poem about writing. (Oh I see poems in a bucket, so this is real.) Often it’s language that’s steering us. It shapes a world view. There’re so many competing world views. And yet we own only our own. And believe it to be the true one. What’s your prevailing world view, that’s what I’m asking now, and relate it to writing if possible. Surely when we see the creatures in the world, and how amazing each is (for instance, think of a kangaroo, whose world view must surely rests on those powerful legs), and how different (contrast it with a snail who has a large and very flat foot), wouldn’t you begin to see how just writing names something for us? But do things exist because we speak of them? Of course not. Ultimately everything in the physical world is outside language, is “silent”. The poetic realm tries to address this “silence” too.
I imagine a poem being spoken sometimes. By anyone I fancy, like Bob Dylan for instance. Then it becomes like a song. It’s like the words going through someone’s vocals get communicated in a very personal way. Dylan had spoken in his Nobel speech about meaning. For Dylan a song doesn’t have to have a meaning, or he doesn’t need to know its meaning. How often have you read or listened to something, music especially, not knowing the meaning and yet it has such emotional power, fills you with some ineffable longing? I don’t think though if you’re a student of literature you can get away with not knowing the meaning of a work. You have to put your own meaning into it. You interpret it. That’s your work, as opposed to the work of the author. Sometimes I write a poem and I don’t even know its meaning. Yet I know it expresses something…ineffable. Think about writing in your poem.
I’m drawn to Robert Bly’s poems. They have a clean, meditative quality like a Chinese painting. Imagistic and anti-intellectual, spiritual but not religious.
Do you gravitate toward this kind of style? Write a poem that’s inspired by a Robert Bly poem. Here’s one, which to me reads like “What Solitude Is”.
Winter Privacy Poems
About four, a few flakes.
I empty the teapot out in the snow,
Feeling shoots of joy in the new cold.
By nightfall, wind,
The curtains on the south sway softly.
My shack has two rooms; I use one.
The lamplight falls on my chair and table,
And I fly into one of my own poems –
I can’t tell you where –
As if I appeared where I am now,
In a wet field, snow falling.
More of the fathers are dying each day.
It is time for the sons.
Bits of darkness are gathering around them.
The darkness appears as flakes of light.
IV On Meditation
There is a solitude like black mud!
Sitting in this darkness singing,
I can’t tell if this joy
Is from the body, or the soul, or a third place!
V Listening to Bach
Inside this music there is someone
Who is not well described by the names
Of Jesus, or Jehovah, or the Lord of Hosts!
When I woke, a new snow had fallen.
I am alone, yet someone else is with me,
Drinking coffee, looking out at the snow.