Monday, September 22, 2008

I love ya, tomorrow

If you read my post from last week, you might be scratching your head and asking, "What does this all mean?", "Is Christine going off the deep end?", "Has everything she's written thus far a sham?","Is she giving everything up to join a compound?"

Rest assured, everything is fine, I'm fine; everything that was written was from my heart and not an attempt to show myself as anything other than what I am, and no - I'm not joining a compound.

Still, I suppose, I'm at one of the milestones in life when I start questioning everything I'm doing - is this what I want to do, is this the direction I want to go, is this me, and so on. Since the beginning, I've harbored the discomfort that I was trying to run in the big race of blogging (albeit, about poetry), when everyone these days seems to have a blog, with little more than a strong passion for my topic. There are many, many others who live what they blog about day-to-day. I wasn't trying to be them, or to pretend I have as much experience, but I did feel like I could contribute something in this area that means so much to me. It just got to the point where I realized my passion wasn't enough to sustain things, at least in the way that I wanted to go.

I'm not giving up, and I'm not wallowing in self-pity. That's not my style. But I am taking a step back and giving myself a little "me" time to refocus. I still have plenty to say. Maybe in a few week or months time, I will be back blogging better than ever, but for now, I will not be posting anything new for a while.

So, thanks to those of you who have read my words. I hope that I have amused, enlightened or just made a connection.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Layperson's Lingo

ex·pert (/n., v. ˈɛk spɜrt; adj. ˈɛk spɜrt, ɪkˈspɜrt/)
1. experienced
2: having, involving, or displaying special skill or knowledge derived from training or experience
3. Anyone other than me
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A special thanks to Webster's Dictionary for including definition #3.

I'm "good" at many things but by no means an "expert", and I never claimed to be. Trust me, I wish I could make such claims, but, alas, no. I don't even think I'm perceived to be an expert! And I cannot give a good reason either. Excuses, maybe:

1. Not Enough Time. If I had a dollar for every time I said that...Still, it's true. I wish I had the time to devote to learning a craft, like, say, poetry. I mean, learn how to do it properly. My schedule doesn't make such allowances. I commute, work/travel for business, run errands/make dinner/do laundry/keep the house from falling down, sleep; repeat. If I'm lucky (and I'm not a gambler) I get to see my friends or talk to them on the phone every so many blue moons when the corn is yea-high and Jupiter aligns with Mars...

2. No Formal Training. Ultimate Frisbee doesn't count, nor does understanding the rules of Monopoly. Knowing how to type fast doesn't truly count, although it could if I hype it up a bit. I never took piano. I never played a real sport. I never took singing lessons. I studied languages in school and forgot most of it except the important phrases needed when abroad ("¿Dónde esta el baño?") My career path has made me an "expert" in many-a-thing, but none of which are interesting enough to blog about. And, it should go without saying, I do not have a degree in the fine art of poetry. (I know, right? Shocker)

3. (This only applies here) No Published Works. And the focus of my blog is supposed to be on poetry. Look to the most popular blogs about poetry. You'll find the likes of Ron Silliman and Alfred Corn, both well-established in their fields. Look at some other blogs - nearly every blog of any substance is by an author of at least one chapbook but often more, has an established career in writing and are usually professors at "College." They are the experts. They are the ones who know what they're doing. They have all the right in the world to have a blog and give opinions and provide feedback or whatnot when it comes to poetry. Me?...well, that's the question of the day.

I guess I've been thinking a bit about a blog posting from an old classmate of mine, Sarah Morgan, who herself is an expert in the area of social media and I'm sure many other things. That's not why I include her here. Her posting "Fake It Till You Make It, Or Don't" struck a cord; the message could be applied to anything if need be, but naturally, I focus on myself. I think about the direction of this here blog and where it's going (seemingly into outer space), whether it maintains the reason I began the blog (it doesn't), and whether I even have any right to continue the blog (ok, I know I have a "right" but what am I DOING here?)

I need to reorganize a bit. I've asked for feedback and suggestions on the blog and received the applause of crickets. It seems that excuses #1-3 maybe impeding me a bit. Time to chip away at #1...

Monday, September 15, 2008

Easing into Difficulty

I have enjoyed poetry since I was a kid. I love the play-on-words, the imagery, the way the language rolls around my tongue, the thought-provoking metaphors, the challenge of interpretation and the constant challenge to myself to write better and communicate more with less.

I am fully aware not everyone shares my view. In fact, I would say only a small percentage of my closest friends have even seen my site, and I have not doubt that the warning of the site being "poetry related" was the deal breaker. Thanks, friends, for your honesty. Consistently, the two top reasons why people don't enjoy poetry is that it is boring and it is difficult to understand.

The late Reginald Shepherd addressed some of these issues "On Difficulty in Poetry", which in memorial of his recent death was posted on the blog Nothing to Say and Saying It. It's a long article, and I wouldn't expect someone who doesn't take the time to read a poem to read this lengthy page. But - it's worth a read. (in fact, I would recommend any of his writing).

Granted, some poems are long, boring, alot of words about nothing in particular. My own poetry, for example, is not stellar - I'll admit it. But there are so many others out there that are incredible, that can shake you to your core, that bring you to a place you've never seen with your eyes, to crawl into your head and whisper the very thing that you think no one else experiences. In our age of blogs and the internet, DVRs, text messaging, social networking sites and so on, we have managed to zip ourselves through life without taking a more thoughtful approach at times. We devote more time to mindless entertainment like American Idol than to cerebral reading.I'm guilty of it, too. That's just the world we live in...or that we've created for ourselves. It doesn't have to be that way.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Battles and Prattles

I once said that I believe there is a time and place to talk politics. So, I guess today is the day.

I grew up with politics all around me; Election Day was once as exciting to me as Christmas Day itself. As I grew older and the wide-eyed naïvité morphed into something more cynical and harsh, I came to believe that Election Day and months before more accurately resemble a WWF match rather than Christmas. It's alot of bad acting, sweaty people, loud shouts and rude taunts that don't mean anything (from both inside and outside the ring), and alot of bad clothes. It's become a joke.

This year is a year like no other in recent history when it comes to elections. We have a minority candidate for President, and a minority candidate for Vice President. We've had longer than usual primary season and later than usual conventions. Lackadaisical kids finally found something of substance to be psyched about. Something big is coming - just what that is, we'll have to wait and see. And it should go without saying that we are indeed fortunate to be a democratic society where we can choose our leaders - even if "our" candidate doesn't win in the end.

The thing that bothers me, though, is all the ugliness. That is one thing that is not new. Sure, there is the age-old tradition of mudslinging from each camp, but We the People have really turned into a bunch of whiny instigators, too. Admit it. It's really disgusting. Some would rather tear one candidate down to the very fiber - and wipe them off the planet if they had the chance - instead of raising up their "own" candidate. Granted, we're not always going to agree - that's the point - but seriously now. It's like the country is full of school yard bullies - I'm right, you're wrong, you should get kicked in the groin because you're not on my side - but it's so much worse because you're adults and should know better.

Take, for instance, Being and Writing - a blog that I have been reading regularly because of its literary integrity. Recently, there have been some politically-charged postings that clearly show on which side of the fence this author sits. Fine. Freedom of the press. Exercising your right as an American to question, consider and think about the candidates. Except, 1) this blog's author is reposting stories, quotes, chain emails that are, for the most part, not based in fact (and I should say, most did not originate with the blog's author but she is perpetuating them), 2) is this really the forum to spew personal attacks and hatred against a political party? I had responded to one of her postings and was instantly shot down by another reader accusing me of not understanding satire or that there is truth in even satire. Thanks. I forgot I was an idiot.

I'm still trying to find a literature-related blog that demonizes the "Left" in the same way just to be fair. That will be like finding a contact lens at the bottom of the ocean. I did find this poem on Amercian Thinker that sides with Palin, but its passive-aggressiveness isn't quite as ugly as others I've seen. If you come across any (again, just to prove a point) please share. There certainly are enough political blogs that share this sort of negativity.

What's the solution? Do you think I'm just taking this out of proportion, or that, again, there is a time and place? Is this kind of "groin-kicking" acceptable or is there another way to show support for the candidate of our choice? Is this our freedom in action?

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Photographs from September 11

On this sombre day, I will refer you to an excellent post on the blog One Poet's Notes on Wislawa Szymborska's "Photograph from September 11." Our hearts and thoughts are with the families and friends of the fallen today.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Life Begin Again

It's a day shy of the 7th anniversary of the attacks on September 11. I wasn't going to write anything about this dark day in our nation's history. We have moved on and adjusted to a new way of life. We do not mourn in the same way or to the same degree anymore. When politicians sprinkle speeches with reference to 9/11, their tired words are met with yawns, rolling eyes and irritation by the public. We have once again returned to our cocoons and care more about the mudslinging going on in the race for the Oval Office than we do about each other. We are not unified as we were at that moment in time.

I was not in the New York that day; however, I was at work, 11 miles away, on the Jersey side, and watched plumes of dark smoke waft over the city, cutting into the crystal blue sky, in horror. I was a ball of nerves when I could not get in touch with friends who did work or live in the city. The music lover that I am turned her radio off for weeks. I had friends lose close relatives, neighbors lose spouses. We all have our stories. We have a shared yet individual experience. We have our memories of that day.

The Volume 3:Further in Time by Afro Celt Sound System was released just a few months earlier in June 2001 and was on heavy rotation on my CD player. It was eerie how the song "Life Begin Again", almost literally, captured the emotion and environment of those days immediately after the attacks. With simple yet poignant lyrics sung by Robert Plant, and interspersed with an excerpt from a traditional Welsh ballad "The Lark's Elegy" ("Marwnad yr Ehedydd"), balancing the thunder and soft sorrow over "Middle Eastern" strings, it still gives me chills. When I learned of the translation of the Welsh lyrics (scroll to the end of this post), my heart returned to my throat.

Listen: LIFE BEGIN AGAIN

This is the day, and the hour
The time where the changing begins
The land, and the sky, fall quiet
Silence moves over the plain

The heat of Cwymhr still burning
The heart still beating within
Her songs echoed the fallen
For life to begin again

This is the day and the hour
The time where the changing begins

Land and the sky fallen silent

Quiet moves o'er the plain

Quiet moves o'er the plain
The silence moves over the plain

The land and sky fall quiet
The heart is beating within
Her song echoes calling
For life to begin again
For light to begin again
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Translation of the Welsh verses from "The Lark's Elegy":

Mi a glywais fod yr hedydd
Wedi marw ar y mynydd;
Pe gwyddwn i mai gwir y geirie,
Awn â gyr o wŷr ac arfe
I gyrchu corff yr hedydd adre.


I have heard that the lark
Has died on the mountain;
If I knew the words to be true,
I would take a band of armed men
To bring the lark’s body home.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Life is Beauty

When we were in Montréal last week, I noticed green and white postcards stacked as we walked through passages to the Métro and the underground shopping malls. A sucker for "free" postcards with cool art, I stopped and picked one up. It had the face of an attractive - yet bald - woman applying makeup. I was intrigued.

The card was advertising Photosensitive: Cancer Connections, a photography exhibition promoted by The Canadian Cancer Society that displays cancer patients and those affected by the disease in artistic format. It's a traveling exhibition, with the current stop in Montréal. I would love to see something like this in the U.S.

As someone whose mother died of breast cancer at a very young age, the thought of the exhibition chokes me up with happiness and I think why hasn't someone done this before? Maybe they have...not to a national extent in the US, though - at least, none that I can recall. When my mother had a mastectomy, I remember that she felt like less of a woman, she felt unattractive, she felt the intense loss of something that, in our culture, nearly defines a woman. To me and all who knew her - she was beautiful, always. No matter what. I think she would have appreciated this exhibit.


I wish we had stayed long enough to see this wonderful art. It's provocative, it's beautiful, it's real, it doesn't pander or make a silly joke out of the disease for art-sake; it shows life at its most delicate and its most strong. It stirs emotion. It stirs memory. It stirs life, and reminds us how human we are. This is what art is supposed to do.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Nelligan

What a wonderful way to ease the summer into September - a leisurely trip to Montréal. From New York City, we took the slow-paced Adirondack train line via Amtrak, winding up through the Catskills , bending through the Adirondack Mountains, sliding along the shores of Lake George and Lake Champlain. It would have been more of a romantic trip had it not taken almost 11 hours and had the trees started to dress in their autumn best.

Still, for all the beautiful areas "envahi par les touristes" that we delved into, it was wonderful to retreat to a place where poetry was the rule of the day. We called the Hotel Nelligan - named after Montréal 's native son and one of its most important poets, Émile Nelligan - our home for a few days. In the lobby, a portrait of the poet and a copy of his "Le Vaisseau d’or" or "The Ship of Gold" (his most quoted, as I've read) hung nobly, and an excerpt of the poem blended softly in a frame on the wall in our room above the fireplace. With even the levels of the hotel reflecting names such as "Poésie" and "Sonnet," a person could not forget the hotel's inspiration.

As your average (no, not ugly) American, I had not heard of Nelligan before our trip, and we did not select our hotel based on this theme. So, who was Nelligan? I'm still doing research (and if anyone familiar with his work or history can add anything here, please do)...but from what I know, I admire how such a young man suffered the duality of his circumstances but chose to be a leader in the movement to renew French-Canadian literature. He was institutionalized when he was only 20 years old, but had left a legacy that continues almost 70 years after his death.

I both appreciate and am perplexed by Québec's struggle to define its culture and heritage and desire to earn independence from "British association." But, when I read words from poets like Nelligan, the desire is clear and the beauty is profound.