Friday, March 23, 2018

Moonlight Musings

The Role of the Poet in the Community

Do many people in your community think of you as a poet? The butcher, the baker...? I'm guessing not, and the same applies to me. I think more people saw me that way when I lived in Melbourne 20-30 years ago and was actively involved in performance, publishing, teaching, reviewing, etc. But even then, few of my immediate neighbours, or the shop assistants I saw frequently, or the parents of my kids' school friends would have had an inkling. 

That's partly because there is not much interest in poetry in the wider community. And I think it's also because most of us don't self-aggrandise but are quite shy about putting ourselves forward. When I first started getting published, my then husband, Bill Nissen, would introduce me proudly to new acquaintances with, "Rosemary's a poet". They never knew what to say, and neither did I. I and they felt embarrassed. But then, as my work gained more and more acceptance, and I became more used to the fact, I guess my energy changed as I became comfortable enough with the fact to own the label. That confidence must have shown through; anyway, all parties stopped being embarrassed and just accepted it. That is, when I accepted it about myself, so did others. 

Good luck to those who focus on being published in "prestigious" literary magazines – I have been one, and succeeding comes with some advantages. It can certainly play a part in being taken seriously by the poetry-reading community and oneself.

Another way, as we here all know, is to blog. That has us know each other's work really well, and each other through our work. It can spark real friendships and even true love, both of which Sherry documented for us recently in her farewell to "The Unknown Gnome". But it is still a finite circle, albeit a large, international one.

I always think the first impulse in making any kind of art is self-expression, and that this is closely followed by the second, which is to communicate. I have overcome my shyness about the whole thing (as if it were some shameful endeavour!) sufficiently to sometimes share poetry unsolicited when it seems relevant. For example, a friend's gift of a carefully-chosen bookmark inspired a poem in response, which I used as a "thank-you letter". 

When another friend moved house and I was unable to attend the house-warming, I sent a house blessing in the form of a poem.

I also recall my Dad (who never thought of trying to get his verses published via "literary" outlets) composing poems for family members' birthdays – the big milestones, such as my Grandpa's 80th. He would read the poem out on the occasion, just before the blowing out of the candles on the cake. These poems were always treasured by the recipients, and much appreciated too by the rest of the family, who could relate personally to what was said.

I belong to a circle called The Goddesses of Shining Light: women from a wide range of religious and spiritual affiliations, who choose to identify with the Divine Feminine and shine our light in various ways (both practical and energetic) to our community and the world. Being Goddess-centred in my personal spiritual life too, I sometimes write poems with that theme, and at times it has seemed appropriate to share them with the group. 

At first I had to silence the internal voice that said, "Who do you think you are? You're going to look conceited" – and all of that stuff, with which I'm sure we're all familiar. It was reassuring when some of the Goddesses remarked that my words were beautiful, and even more so when I was asked to read one of my poems during a particular ritual.

When my friend Yasoda was dying last week, I wrote a poem reminiscing about her life (and her dying) but didn't make it public until after she had left us. Then, I hesitated to post it to her facebook page, which her children were using to communicate with her friends about her death and memorial service. I was afraid it might cause them even more upset, telling it like it was about her decline. 

But other friends were posting tributes to her on that page, so finally I did too. I reasoned that her children had been present at some of the times I wrote about, and that the poem says as many positive as sad things about her. 

The celebrant conducting the memorial service (a mutual friend) contacted me to say that Yasoda's children would love it if I'd agree to read my poem at the service (and would I mind altering it to omit one personal detail). I was only too happy to agree to both requests, and ended up with an improved poem. 

I'm used to performing. Behind the mic, I lose all shyness and turn into an old ham! But this day (yesterday as I write) I felt quite weepy beforehand. An old friend sitting next to me put her arm around me and nestled me in, to rest my head on her shoulder. I was grateful to relax into her comfort. 

Several people shared their reminiscences of Yasoda; some musicians played and sang; we all joined in for some of her favourite songs. There must have been about 100 people there, many of whom I knew. She was greatly loved in a number of overlapping sections of our rural and small-town community. 

When I got up to read, all the years of training came to the fore and I was able to keep my voice strong, with the right intonations to bring out the meaning. When I'd finished, the celebrant picked up easily on my theme of Yasoda's generosity of spirit, and wove it into her own remarks and what others too had said. Meanwhile I quietly handed a signed and dated copy of the poem to each of Yasoda's children. They hadn't expected that, but all silently nodded their thanks. Later, after the service, people told me how much my words had moved them, and remarked on how well I'd presented the poem.

The picture from the back of the order of service

It came to me then that this is a supreme role for a poet, beyond the thrill of publication and acclaim – to be of service to one's community in ways such as this, and a witness to the lives around us. I can imagine that this was how it was in the far past. Perhaps the village poets were the commentators on local, tribal events. Perhaps they bore public witness to major turning points in people's lives.

Well, I'm not planning to hire myself out or anything! It's not about me. It's about the power of poetry to contribute to those around us. I see that I have something to offer, and that when I am moved to offer it I need not hold back. It may not always be what people feel a need for, but there is no reason to assume beforehand that it would be out of place.

I'm not the only poet in the town or the region, or even amongst the Goddesses. I'm not the only one to be inspired by particular occasions and to share the resulting words. But I had been seeing this as purely a personal matter. I finally perceive it as also being one of our roles in our communities – a way of giving service.

It's as the spirit moves one, of course. I don't mean to suggest that we have anything like a duty. I think any sense of obligation must be death to art! But when we're inspired, there are ways we can take it further and communicate, even when we don't always know how it will be received, and may never know. 

I might even contemplate the possibility of sending poems as Letters to the Editor of the local newspaper now and then! 

I wonder if some of you also do other things with your poetry besides posting it to your blogs and/or submitting it to literary publications?

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Poets United Midweek Motif ~ Colour (Color)

Color effect – Sunlight shining through stained glass onto carpet
(Nasir ol Molk Mosque located in ShirazIran)

“Clouds come floating into my life, no longer to carry rain or usher storm, but to add color to my sunset sky.”
Rabindranath Tagore
“I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don't notice it.”Alice Walker
“One should be a painter. As a writer, I feel the beauty, which is almost entirely colour, very subtle, very changeable, running over my pen, as if you poured a large jug of champagne over a hairpin.”Virginia Woolf

"ME TOO" by Annell Livingston:
"Hold the world as tenderly as a lover."

(Used with permission.)

Midweek Motif ~ Color (Colour)

Working on this prompt is brightening my world! Today, I share words from Annell Livingston who created the "Me Too" acrylic painting above:  
I have been studying color for over fifty years.  And color is like exploring a cave deep underground, the doors or passageways keep opening, just when you think you have a handle on the subject, another door opens and presents new possibilities.  We begin with the hues of color, or the names of each color, like red, yellow and blue.  The lights and darks of color, tints and shades.  The temperature of color, warm or cool.   And the intensity of color, or the brightness or dullness of color.  There is so much to explore about color and its vibrations, it is a lifetime study.
Today, I'm inviting us to question how color around us shapes our moods and how our moods influence our environments.

The Challenge:  In your brand new poem, reveal the color of a place or an event.

Angostura de Paine.jpg
Angostura de Paine, Chile. By Ricardo Hurtubia

for my sisters
Because we did not have threads
of turquoise, silver, and gold,
we could not sew a sun nor sky.
And our hands became balls of fire.
And our arms spread open like wings.

Because we had no chalk or pastels,
no toad, forest, or morning-grass slats
of paper, we had no colour
for creatures. So we squatted
and sprang, squatted and sprang.

Four young girls, plaits heavy
on our backs, our feet were beating
drums, drawing rhythms from the floor;
our mouths became woodwinds;
our tongues touched teeth and were reeds.

(Used with permission of the poet.)
First appeared in Song of Thieves 
University of Pittsburgh Press, 2003
Purple as tulips in May, mauve
into lush velvet, purple
as the stain blackberries leave
on the lips, on the hands,
the purple of ripe grapes
sunlit and warm as flesh.

Every day I will give you a color,
like a new flower in a bud vase
on your desk. Every day
I will paint you, as women
color each other with henna
on hands and on feet.

Red as henna, as cinnamon,
as coals after the fire is banked,
the cardinal in the feeder,
the roses tumbling on the arbor
their weight bending the wood
the red of the syrup I make from petals.

Orange as the perfumed fruit
hanging their globes on the glossy tree,
orange as pumpkins in the field,
orange as butterflyweed and the monarchs
who come to eat it, orange as my
cat running lithe through the high grass.

Yellow as a goat’s wise and wicked eyes,
yellow as a hill of daffodils,
yellow as dandelions by the highway,
yellow as butter and egg yolks,
yellow as a school bus stopping you,
yellow as a slicker in a downpour.
. . . . 
(Read the rest of this marvelous poem HERE.)

                          BY GEORGE ELIOT
The sky is cloudy, yellowed by the smoke. 
For view there are the houses opposite 
Cutting the sky with one long line of wall 
Like solid fog: far as the eye can stretch 
Monotony of surface & of form 
Without a break to hang a guess upon. 
No bird can make a shadow as it flies, 
For all is shadow, as in ways o'erhung 
By thickest canvass, where the golden rays 
Are clothed in hemp. No figure lingering 
Pauses to feed the hunger of the eye 
Or rest a little on the lap of life. 
All hurry on & look upon the ground, 
Or glance unmarking at the passers by 
The wheels are hurrying too, cabs, carriages 
All closed, in multiplied identity. 
The world seems one huge prison-house & court 
Where men are punished at the slightest cost, 
With lowest rate of colour, warmth & joy. 

In the Bois de Boulogne (Berthe Morisot) - Nationalmuseum - 22575.tif
In the Bois de Boulogne by Berthe Morisot (1880)

Pied Beauty 

Glory be to God for dappled things – 
   For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow; 
      For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim; 
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings; 
   Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough; 
      And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim. 

All things counter, original, spare, strange; 
   Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?) 
      With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim; 
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change: 
                                Praise him.

 Please share your new poem using Mr. Linky below and visit others in the spirit of the community—
(Next week Sumana’s Midweek Motif will be ~ Treasure)

Monday, March 19, 2018


Sadly, my friends, this week we are saying farewell to Steve Sullivan, The Unknown Gnome, one of Poets United's very first members, who died of pancreatic cancer on March 7th. Steve's wife, Trini, his beloved Dulcina, is kindly allowing me to feature this gentle man, who was my friend. There is a beautiful love story here, so pour a glass of wine. Set out some dark chocolate. Let's have one last bittersweet visit with Steve.

I first interviewed Steve in 2011 and was immediately enraptured by his and Trini's beautiful love story. Steve, (nicknamed TUG online), hails from the USA, but he and Trini, (known online as Dulcina), fell in love across the miles, as some of us sometimes do, through their poems, and Steve followed his heart to Cantabria, Spain, to be with Trini. They married in 2006.

Here is their beautiful little cottage among the mountain peaks. This is where Steve chose to be when he took his last breaths in Trini's arms on March 7th.

Their cat, Grey-Gray

 This is their spectacular view. 
They truly live among the peaks.

One of Steve's biggest chores, when he was well,  was cutting the grass. But he didn't forget to leave a love note to Trini on the lawn.

Trini tells us that everything happened very fast with Steve. His sufferings began at the beginning of the year. He was taken to hospital February 11. The doctors discovered he had pancreatic cancer, stage IV, terrible news.

In February, while in hospital, Steve penned these final lines. He always described himself as "a simple gnome, writing simple poems". But he was so much more than that. He will be remembered through his beautiful poems, and the books and loving memories he left behind. He had such a beautiful and faithful heart. He and Trini lived a God-centered life together, as you will see from these poems.

         ***        ***

in between the beats of pain
in half breath of your love, lord,
i breathe

       ***     ***

it's better to suffer the pain
in this world than the next

         ***     ***

i never knew death
would come with such a lovely smile

        ***      ***

Treatment was to begin March 9, and Steve told the doctor he wanted to be at home until then. An ambulance took him there February 23rd.

On March 7, half an hour before he took his last breath, he told Trini he wanted to watch the Divinity channel.  Trini says, "My Steve, after so much suffering, wanted to see Divinity. I can feel him in the air  and taking care of me every second. He IS a man of God."

Steve often addressed his friends as "dear one". Here is a poem from 2013:

dear one, 
write them
write of the rest one finds in pause
where to think beyond themselves 
is peace

teach them the difference
between the holy
and the common
the worthy
and the worthless
the precious
the vile
and the viral

teach them
the work of faith
the melody of hope
the drama of love
little by little the Way
a pure heart endures


In what were to be his final years, Steve worked on a series of books, which were beautifully done, with poetry and wonderful images. I am proud to possess his books, which are truly  works of art.

Trini tells us, "My Steve said that writing was killing him, but he did not stop until he could finish his last work of poetry, "SBB Trilogy", "The Unseen Seed", "The Unheard Word" and "The Unvoiced Vox", completed with Notes in "Postmortem".

"He spent hours and hours without end writing at his computer. He knew his time on earth was coming to an end. How could he know? He IS - not "was" -  a gifted soul."

The Unknown Gnome Poems

The Unseen Seed Trilogy,
Books I, II and III

***      ***

Trini posted the following poem shortly after Steve's death: "My Steve wrote this beautiful poem about us sleeping embraced in 2015. My Steve is and will be always alive in my soul and in his poetry. Love and good poets are immortal."

as our parting is to be
i leave you this

even in your age
when you no longer leap and rise
and sleep by its design
holds you more than you desire
let me lift with words your spirit
where i will cradle you 
with love beyond rejection

and if there be a next life
promise it to me
be here with me
if not now
then when
we meet again
in love beyond rejection

        ***        ***

Sigh. So much love. Tears of joy, that this man lived and loved so well. Tears of sadness at his passing. 

Steve leaves behind his loving wife, Trini, his son Shawn and daughter Shannon, and their partners, and some adored small grandchildren, to whom he was beloved Grandpa Sully. His wife and family will miss his loving presence every day. We poets in the blogosphere will miss him, too. He encouraged our dreams. He was a beautiful poet, a true friend, and a loving presence online.

Steve, you make me want to be a better person. You will never be forgotten. Trini, our hearts go out to you. And you are right: love and good poets are immortal.

Sadness at the passing of this fine man, one of our own. And gratitude for having known him. Do come back and see who we talk to next, my friends. Who knows? It might be you!