DIY Mythmaking and a New Poetic Form

I’ve been thinking about my poetic process, looking through some of the neglected poems that I want to figure out how to publish, and realizing that quite a number of my poems are myth-making poems. I use poetry as a DIY Mything process, taking my own experiences and observations and transmuting them into myths. This thought is tangling with the threads of my current morning writing project of working with the Inanna story. Storytelling, writing, speaking–this whole language gig–is all about how we make meaning in the world. Art, too, as a communicative process, is about charging existence with meaning.


Gratitude List:
1. Meaning-making, DIY Myth-making, poetry, art, communication
2. Participating in a Literary Festival, listening, learning, absorbing
3. Good writing
4. How the sun shines in
5. Oak trees

May we walk in Beauty!


I’ve been thinking again about the process of poetry. In my AP Literature class recently, I have had the students choose a poetic form, no matter how lofty and traditional or edgy and nonsensical, to teach to the class. We’ve had some delightful lessons this week, learning the Magic 9 and the Nonet and the Rondeau and the Fib, among others. Yesterday, we found ourselves with a little extra time after the presentations, and we were ready to do our own thing, so we spent half the period creating our own poetic form! We developed our own rules for our own Lit Poetic Form. The process was delicious and intensely collaborative. At the end, we came up with this:

Lit Poem
Two stanzas of seven lines each.
It’s a word-count poem, with the following pattern:
Stanza 1: 1, 3, 5, 7, 5, 3, 1 (It makes a diamond shape)
Stanza 2: 7, 5, 3, 1, 3, 5, 7 (This one makes an hourglass form)
When you put them together, they look somewhat like a lit candle. (Get it?)
The rhyme scheme goes like this:
Stanza 1: abcxcba (in which x is random and unrhymed)
Stanza 2: cbaxabc (in which x is also random, and not necessarily rhymed with the first x)

This is how we make meaning. We spent twenty minutes collaboratively creating a world, complete with its order and purpose. Now we have to write the poems to prove its viability.

Stories Will Save Us

These days, I am immersed in several pieces of literature, three of which have uncanny connections to the current socio-political atmosphere.

Having just finished analyzing To Kill a Mockingbird with my English 101s, I am struck again by Lee’s portrayal of a culture on the cusp of change, of the willful ignorance of a people deeply entrenched in their own social privilege and power. I want to keep aware of the book’s faults when it comes to teaching a diverse body of students in the 2000s: Atticus as the white savior, the fact that it’s yet another white child’s coming of age story, the use of the n-word (even in the context of the story). Still, I think it’s a powerful tool for helping 14- and 15-year-olds understand not only the history of systemic racism in our country, but also the social context, of how people deliberately ignore the imbalances of privilege and power. I want them to make the connection to ourselves, to explore how systems of privilege and power still affect the ways in which we see ourselves and others today. Sometimes I feel as though I am teaching three books at once: it’s literature, it’s history, it’s social commentary.

In another class, we’re finishing up an exploration of Julius Caesar. Again, I keep feeling an uncanny connection to the politics of today–not the assassination bit, of course, but the ways in which the powerful act for their own ambition while saying they work for the good of the country, the ways in which the mob can be manipulated to do the will of those who have power.

At home, we are reading Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. We just read the bit about the Death Eaters who attacked and terrified and mortified a family of Muggles after the Quidditch World Cup. All I could see, as the boys and I were talking about it, was young men marching through Charlottesville with torches. It’s the same story, really, about people dehumanizing those who are not like them, drunk on their own social power, using fear and threats to intimidate. Each time I re-read her books, I am more deeply aware of how Rowling understands social systems, how she portrays systemic injustices even as she’s creating a magical world. I’ve often thought that young people ought to be required to read Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. The student resistance at Hogwarts resembles the European resistance movements in World War II. What do you do when your own governing structures have been infiltrated by Death Eaters? I am more aware than ever now how Rowling began setting up the complex social and political systems even in the early books.

Stories will save us, if we let them. We choose the stories we follow, like we choose the voices we listen to. Of course, stories can be misused, if we abdicate our responsibility to think and question and process because we rely on the tired plots we know, if we simply let the old stories keep telling us, if we refuse to participate in the creation of the new story. Still, stories can be dangerous to the status quo, making us question our roles, helping us to identify more clearly who we want to be in the current plot, offering us maps and possibilities so that we can take the current where it serves us.


Satuday’s Musings:

“In such ugly times, the only true protest is beauty.” —Phil Ochs
***
“The sense-making in poetry is about getting behind the brain. A poem is a door. Sometimes poets make sturdy, locked, exclusive club doors that you can only enter if you are one of ‘us,’ or if your can speak (or pretend to know) the password. A really good and satisfying poem is an open and inviting doorway that frames the view in a particularly compelling way. ‘Look!’ it says. ‘Stand and stare. Take a deep breath. Then tell me what you see.’

“Good poetry, I think, holds a paradoxical perspective on language itself: it acknowledges the inadequacy of words to completely map an inner geography, and it also steps with reverence and awe into the sacred space that language creates between writer and reader. Words are both inadequate and holy.” —Beth Weaver-Kreider, 2014
***
“Where does despair fit in? Why is our pain for the world so important? Because these responses manifest our interconnectedness. Our feelings of social and planetary distress serve as a doorway to systemic social consciousness. To use another metaphor, they are like a “shadow limb.” Just as an amputee continues to feel twinges in the severed limb, so in a sense do we experience, in anguish for homeless people or hunted whales, pain that belongs to a separated part of our body—a larger body than we thought we had, unbounded by our skin. Through the systemic currents of knowing that interweave our world, each of us can be the catalyst or “tipping point” by which new forms of behavior can spread. There are as many different ways of being responsive as there are different gifts we possess. For some of us it can be through study or conversation, for others theater or public office, for still others civil disobedience and imprisonment. But the diversities of our gifts interweave richly when we recognize the larger web within which we act. We begin in this web and, at the same time, journey toward it. We are making it conscious.” —Joanna Macy
***
Why Are Your Poems So Dark?
by Linda Pastan

Isn’t the moon dark too,
most of the time?
And doesn’t the white page
seem unfinished
without the dark stain
of alphabets?
When God demanded light,
he didn’t banish darkness.
Instead he invented
ebony and crows
and that small mole
on your left cheekbone.
Or did you mean to ask
“Why are you sad so often?”
Ask the moon.
Ask what it has witnessed.


Gratitude List:
1. Sunshine
2. Story
3. Sleep
4. A clean house
5. A blue true dream of sky

May we walk in Radiant Beauty!

Finding the Map Home

Repeating some questions I asked myself a year ago:

When have you felt yourself to be your best self?
When have you been most comfortable being who you are?
What would it take to find your way back into that house of yourself?
Did you leave yourself a map?
Is there an old photograph in a dusty album somewhere in your heart
that you can use to guide yourself back to that place?
It might be as simple as taking three deep breaths,
clicking your sneaker-clad heels together three times,
and chanting, “I want to go home, I want to go home,
I want to go home.”
Shall we try it?


A series of Random Musings for a Snowy Day:

“We use language to build the structures upon which we hang our ideas. Language is the scaffold upon which we develop whole structures of thought. Language anchors and shapes and breathes life into thought and idea. Conventional thinking, and conventional language, can end up being a pretty tight little box of a windowless building that doesn’t let in the light. The air in there gets pretty stale. When language—and its attendant ideas—become calcified and crippled into arthritic patterns, poetic image and word-use can find new ways to say things, can break windows into the walls of those airless rooms and build ornate new additions onto the old structures. Poetry jars the cart of language out of its constricting wheel ruts. This is why poets and writers can make good revolutionaries—if they know their work and do their jobs well.” —Beth Weaver-Kreider, 2014
***
“The nuclear arms race is like two sworn enemies standing waist-deep in gasoline, one with three matches, the other with five.” —Carl Sagan
***
Mary Oliver, on the Great Horned Owl: “I know this bird. If it could, it would eat the whole world.” And then: “The world where the owl is endlessly hungry and endlessly on the hunt is the world in which I too live. There is only one world.”
***
Fierce Wild Joy
by Beth Weaver-Kreider, 2016

May this year bring you joy
like crows rising from the fields

fierce
wild joy

yelling full-voice
into the wind

rowing through the tempest
with nothing but feathers.
***
“Have patience with everything
that remains unsolved in your heart.
Try to love the questions themselves,
like locked rooms and like books
written in a foreign language.
Do not now look for the answers.
They cannot now be given to you
because you could not live them.
It is a question of experiencing everything.
At present you need to live the question.
Perhaps you will gradually,
without even noticing it,
find yourself experiencing the answer,
some distant day.”
―Rainer Maria Rilke
***
“With life as short as a half-taken breath, don’t plant anything but love.”
―Jalaluddin Rumi


Gratitude List:
1. Two-hour delays. They wreak havoc on the teachers’ end-of-semester schedules, but 10 o’clock is such a humane hour to begin the work day. Breathe. Sleep in.
2. Bhangra Dance. It’s so joyful, so full of life. I’ve been looking up How-to videos on bhangra dancing. It’s all very funny-looking on my part at this point, because I have both the Mennoniteness and the hobbity-ness to contend with, but at least I get a little exercise, and I entertain the family while I practice.
3. Home remedies. I still have an uncomfortable cold, but I have a hunch all the home remedies helped get me past the trampled-by-rhinos phase.
4. Cold weather. Odd thing for me to say, because I really hate being cold, but it feels right that January be cold. After the mildness of November and early December, this feels right. Still, I will be glad for Spring to begin showing her feathers.
5. Good literature.

May we walk in Beauty!

Music and Story

wordcloud

Gratitude List:
1. More wonderful student music last night at my school–everything from fiery Vivaldi violins to Christmas pieces to a gentle jazzy rendition of Amy Winehouse’s “Valerie.”  I went with my boy, who plays cello and trombone.  He, of course, had to sit right behind the sound booth, so he could watch that action.
2. Mercy.  From the Old Etruscan for “exchange.”  Cynthia Bourgeault speaks of “inter-abiding” with the Divine.  Mercy.
3. Poetry Unit with the 9th Graders.  When I announced that we are starting poetry in my three English 9 classes, I only heard one groan (and that from the obligatory groaner–there’s one in every crowd–I could say, “Hey Gang, time for candy!” and this one would groan).  They left class chatting about the poems they were going to write.  Aaaaah.
4.  The intersection of this world and the real world.  Yesterday when I was dropping off some Scholastic forms at the library, I ran into a friend from online, someone I have only met in person three or four times, but whose heart is dear to me.
5. Story.  Narrative. Literature. The way people’s hearts gather ’round, as at a campfire, when someone says, “Let me tell you a story.”

May we walk in Beauty!

Vigilance

vigilance

Gratitude List:
1. Inner vigilance.  Not panicky hyper-attention, but calm and thoughtful dropped and open attention.  So much to learn about the world.
2. The sun-limned cloud on the journey home from school yesterday.
3. Making art with  a small person.
4. Watching a small person dive headfirst into the world of literature.  (Now to make sure he can get anything else done.)
5. Honey.  Those bees know what they’re doing.  As Ellis said once when he was about three: “Honey is my favorite medicine.”

May we walk in Beauty!