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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

New Year's Eve!

It is New Year's Eve here in Japan. My husband and sons are gathered around the TV watching the television variety show marathon that all of Japan watches on New Year's Eve. It starts from 6:30 and goes past midnight. All the acts that are invited to be on the show (musical and comedy) consider it to be the honor of the year. I find the musical acts insipid and overwrought, and the comedy veers towards slapstick, so that whole thing bores me. But my three guys are in there howling away. I usually get a book and curl up on the couch next to them, and try to ignore the show.

At midnight many people try to be at a temple to hear the bell ring 108 times. We don't go to that, and actually can't hear it from our home -- we are in close proximity to several Shinto shrines, but not to any Buddhist temples. Luckily we can hear the 108 tolls of the bell helpfully provided on television.

While we are thinking about the year starting and years passing, here's something fun: the OED Birthday Word Generator.  Discover an English word whose first known usage was in the year of your birth.

Happy New Year to all!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

True Poems

If you are writing (or are thinking about writing) narrative poetry, particularly in the first person (i.e. the persona poem), the Poetry Foundation has a good article by Kathleen Rooney on poetry that appears to be autobiographical, but isn't. While defending the right of poets to be completely imaginative and fictional in what they write, Rooney recognizes that sometimes readers of poems or collections that appear to be autobiographical and yet aren't can feel cheated when they discover the 'truth'. Whereas a reader comes to a novel expecting to read an invented story, poetry readers sometimes are lulled by the emotional responses they have to poetry into forgetting that a similar contract exists between writer and reader in poetry. In short, they can feel emotionally manipulated when they discover an experience they had assumed to be true isn't.

Though I also defend the poet's right to be inventive, just last week when reading Frances McCue's The Bled (Factory Hollow Press, 2010), about the death of  McCue's husband, I became overly concerned with how her husband had died, which is not made clear in the collection of poetry. It is understood that her husband had been young and healthy and the death thus unexpected, and that there was some trauma to the head that partially or perhaps fully resulted in his passing, but it wasn't until I tracked down a newspaper interview with McCue that I realized that her husband had collapsed while playing basketball and hit his head when falling, and died. Perhaps I should have picked this up from the poetry--there was a poem about her husband on the basketball court--but somehow I didn't. And when I did learn it, I wondered if it helped me understand the work more than I had previously, and wondered why it had mattered to me. And I couldn't say that having the knowledge was helpful on the level of understanding the art, but it gave me some sense of reality that apparently I had wanted, even while I agree with Rooney that the poet doesn't owe that to the reader, and the reader shouldn't assume it. The vagueness of the cause of death had made me wary of McCue's 'truth', but why should it have? She didn't own me a true story, and even if presenting a true story, she didn't owe me all the details. This is poetry after all, not reporting. But still, I had been disconcerted enough to try and find the details on my own.

Rooney's article covers both her assessment that it is the reader's failure of imagination that results in their own disappointment as well as an opposing viewpoint of critic David Ulin, who says “the tension between the confessional voice and our knowledge that what it is describing didn’t really happen, is too substantial, and the poem collapses under its own narrative weight.”

While I agree with Rooney fundamentally, I can see the need to be sensitive to what Ulin says, to the reader's experience. Hmmmmmmm. Food for thought, particularly regarding what I'm writing currently.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Books Under the Tree

Here are the books I got for Christmas this year:

End of the Sentimental Journey: A Mystery Poem (Infidel Poetics)

The Traps (Stahlecker Series Selection)
In case you can't read the covers, they are Sampson Starkweather's The First Four Books of Sampson Starkweather, Sarah Vap's End of the Sentimental Journey: A Mystery Poem, and Louise Mathias's The Traps.

Books I gave included : Peter Dickinson's The Tears of the Salamander, the Stephen Hawking's children's trilogy co-written with his daughter Lucy Hawking and including George and the Key to the Universe, George and the Big Bang, and George and the Cosmic Treasure Hunt, a field guide to the birds of Japan, and a non-fiction photo essay of leopard geckos.

What books did you get and give?

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Comfort and Joy

Simon and Garfunkel.
Merry Christmas to All. May You Have Comfort and Joy.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Advent, by Rae Armantrout

Advent                  Rae Armantrout           from Poetry Magazine, June 2009 issue

In front of the craft shop,
a small nativity,
mother, baby, sheep
made of white
and blue balloons.



Pick out the one
that doesn’t belong.


Some thing

close to nothing
from which,

everything has come.
Merry Christmas to all!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Open Heart Project

I've been interested in meditation for a long time, and have in the past attempted to establish a meditation practice of my own, but it never "took". I would practice a few weeks and then forget, or be unsure if I was doing it "correctly", or I would feel foolish. For one reason or another, I would always end up dropping out.

Then a few months ago I heard an interview with Susan Piver, a meditation leader, and impressed by what I learned, I signed up for her Open Heart Project. The Open Heart Project is an online meditation practice which sends you meditation practice videos twice a week, for free. The twice-weekly discussion of how to do the meditation practice help give me confidence that I'm doing it "right" (although I admit I don't use all of Susan's techniques, but have replaced a few with techniques I learned from other attempts at meditation practice). Susan's practice calls for 10-minute meditations, which I can handle. There's no feeling of inadequacy for not sitting an hour or two at a time. And she even says that taking the weekend off is okay, as long as you otherwise commit to your schedule.

What really works for me is that Susan's advice is not to feel guilty or inadequate when your mind wanders during practice. She teaches a loving acceptance of one's self, and one's tendencies to stray. "Just bring your attention back," she says, and she even congratulates you when your mind has wandered,  with, "Congratulations, you've just woken up."

My sleep issues have lessened substantially since I began practicing, and I'm less prone to get frustrated and angry. The acceptance of self and others and the world that comes through Susan's guidance has really been useful for me.

So that's what I wanted to tell you today.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Writing, Order, & Chaos

Brain Pickings, which is a website worth following, has put all its advice from writers for writers in one handy post, yay! Very useful.

Scrolling down it I saw a piece by Isabel Allende called "Writing Brings Order to the Chaos of Life," which it does. That's often the point of writing--to make sense out of the chaos you feel and observe.

But what immediately popped into my mind is that writing also brings chaos to the order of life, which is what is happening to me right now. I am writing about subjects and events that are difficult for me to face, feelings for which I have tamped down tightly for most of my life--I'm letting them out, and all the order I have imposed upon these disorderly feelings is coming out all over the place.

Which seems to be making for good (hopefully), and prolific amounts, of poetry.

What it's doing for my life so far seems good, some resolution and all that, but check back later when I've consulted those whose feelings will also be disturbed by what I'm writing.

Writing takes what you have, either order or chaos, and undoes it, replaces it with its inverse, it seems to me.

What do you think?