By Amy Unsworth
May you be blessed as you wander into the new year,
& find peace along your way and on your doorstep.
May the troubles of the old year linger there,
and the glint of possibilities lead you on.
May you ever be surrounded by those who love you,
and may you love them back despite their shortcomings.
May your hearth be warmed by laughter and light,
may your hands and heart be open to the world.
May the good, the honest, the true be on your lips,
may your interests be never ending in their pleasures.
May you always have wind for your sails, rain for your gardens,
food more than sustenance, and joy, and joy, and joy.
Happy New Year!
ps. I notice a lot of blog searches for "New Year's Poem" or "New Year's Poetry" if you happen to like this one, you may copy it for personal use, but just drop me an email or leave a comment to let me know that you did. Thanks.
I can't believe how expansive my writing has become over the past few years. I used to write 8 lines. Or 12. Now I'm writing poems that are often over a page, sometimes pushing 2 or 3 pages. I wonder if one day I'll just start writing prose? And I'm amazed at times how a poem will go places I didn't Plan for it to go; but this is good. I don't want to just write auto-biographical poems. I need a little creation, that spark, to make me happy.
Happy Holidays, friends, whoever & wherever you might be.
I go for awhile and don't miss academic life too much and then it hits again: an almost painful need to get back to work (work defined as reading, critical conversation, critical thought and writing.) But no one says that I must be enrolled to do these things; I'm perfectly capable on my own.
I didn't miss winter THAT much. :)
My two oldest sons are now taller than me, I got to spend a few weeks with my sister & her little ones this summer. The good outweighs the bad. Mostly I think because I am grateful for all the little things that make life worth living:
- a new niece
- my little nephew saying Happy Thanksgiving on the phone.
- and turkey leftovers. yum.
- a happy dog or two and how they make my husband laugh.
- frost patterns on pumpkins
- volunteer lemon balm growing between the stones of our garden path
- Christmas lights through the windows-that fuzzy blur from a distance.
- English & Irish Breakfast Tea
- the laughter of my kids when they're all getting along for a change.
- boring doctor's appointments (ie "every test result is negative, & that's positive")
- meeting new people around this great little town of Manhattan
- a new bakery cafe in town with great coffee & wonderful ambiance
- Free Rice.com because I sat with my son & explained how to guess at vocabulary a little more effectively. And he liked playing.
- The early darkness that allows me to pull the curtains & light the candles
- ditto, because the boys actually are ready to go to bed at a decent hour.
- the fireplace: the smell of the logs as they burn
- knowing that I have support from my family & friends to help me endure the difficult times.
- knowing that it will be ok, no matter what the final outcome is, because really, it's the same for all of us, sooner or later.
- being able to accept sadness as a foil for happiness
Live well folks.
Be blessed this holiday season.
Spoon River Anthology.
This one today struck a chord with me. I used to be ruled by fear in so many ways, that people would judge me & find me lacking. But my recent experiences with cancer have taught me that life is too short!! too short to not take risks, and try what you'd like to try and to be yourself. It's always been important to me to be a good person, to follow the moral values I was raised with. I always felt slightly abashed by my faith & my beliefs, but I followed them anyway. But, I guess I care less about being called a fool than I ever did before. I rather raise the sail and reach the sea.
from George Gray
. . .And now I know that we must lift the sail
And catch the winds of destiny
Wherever they drive the boat.
To put meaning into one's life might end in madness,
But life without meaning is the torture
of restlessness and vague desire--
It is a boat longing for the sea, yet afraid.
---Edgar Lee Masters
To the left, I've included a picture of one of my display sections; this is just a fraction of the booth and of the wares we're carrying online. But the dried florals are some of my favorites so I thought I'd show them off.
Small Branches Studio's online store will be launching soon. My nlt date is January 6th. But hopefully I'll be able to add more products & have it launched before too much longer.
primitive picks, vintage elegance, & farmhouse dreams
~~small branches deep roots~~
The Futility Review: save on postage, don't submit, they'll reject you anyhow. And in this case, retroactively.
Just so you know, I didn't submit or have my poems appear in the Winter 1999 issue, and I have a journal cover .jpeg to prove it.
Were you rejected too?
Tell me, for once at least laying
Caution aside, and fear and guarded speech,
Tell me, as you would in the middle of the night
When we face only night, the ticking of a watch,
The whistle of an express train, tell me
Whether you really think that this world
Is your home?
-- "An Appeal"
from New and Collected Poems 1931-2001 by Czeslaw Milosz
I moved out on a weekend when no one was about; I didn’t think I could speak to anyone without crying. I didn’t want to have to talk about cancer or my treatment. The first cancer diagnosis was hard enough; the second was distressing and heartrending because this time I knew what to expect. I knew I’d have to give up teaching for the immediate future; life would shrink to treatments and doctor visits. Goodbye students, office, friends at the university, peace. I threw everything in storage boxes and we brought them home and put them in a closet. My books, my notes, my lesson plans, paperclips, highlighters: everything.
Now fall is here and I’ve been organizing. I opened the closet and began to sort through my papers. I went to the old office downstairs and brought up my poetry-writing papers and found all of my Army -wife- volunteering paperwork. The three stacks of belongings feel like evidence of three different lives. I have always had strong boundaries between different aspects of myself. I imagine that this is good for focus. When I am writing I am consumed by it, when I teach I am dedicated, when I volunteer I am committed, when researching and thinking critically: riveted.
You wouldn’t think that sorting through pens and papers and binder clips would elicit so much emotion. But the task has been a challenge for the emotional weight. I must be an imagist. Objects carry meaning for me. Manila folders: writing classroom and the flood of my student’s faces. Binder clips: reading final portfolios with my peers in graduate school. Notes and books: the pleasure of learning something new. A poster of a Monet painting: the moments when graduate school was overwhelming and I sat and stared into the painting to find peace. Sticky tabs: the excitement of marking pages of poetry as I planned my classes and the nervousness of standing in front of 30 strangers and declaring my passion. A small collection of floppy disks: the editors’ meetings and the informal conversations about poetry with my poet friend Dennis. A red chair, a bowl of silk geraniums: the silence of my office early in the morning before students as I prepared for the day.
Sometimes it is hard to breathe, but I have been making headway. I am preparing everything for the future and for the opportunities that the future must certainly bring.
by John Milton
When I consider how my light is spent,
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodged with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest He returning chide;
"Doth God exact day-labor, light denied?"
I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies, "God doth not need
Either man's work or His own gifts. Who best
Bear His mild yoke, they serve Him best. His state
Is kingly: thousands at His bidding speed,
And post o'er land and ocean without rest;
They also serve who only stand and wait."
I have been thinking about times of crisis recently and what the purpose of crisis is in a life. Certainly there is a wake-up call sensation that occurs when a person is plunged into a situation out of their control. I think about how I'll be remembered by my children, will they know without a doubt that they are loved by me? Will they remember only the times I grouched? I remember those days, I take them to heart:
February: 8 a.m.
by Amy Unsworth
Barely daylight, and I have been cruel
to two of those I love: the child who would not find
his coat, the dog who would not brave the cold.
What poison rises before the sun, bitter and dark
to mar the beginnings of the day? Already, I’m
on my knees, begging, for grace, for sunlight
to pierce, to break, the cover of clouds,
to shine down on us all: the boy waving curbside,
the dog returned to dreaming, my curtained heart.
I wonder if Milton knew, in his struggles documented above, how much of a comfort his poem would be to others as they too struggle to attend to the simple yet difficult task of waiting. I often subscribe to the "make it so" school of thought. Set the goal, make it so. But at times like this, when the doors seem firmly shut, I wonder if it isn't all for a reason I cannot yet comprehend. I feel as if the universe demands that I stand and wait. And so I listen to the words from centuries before to find some wisdom there. And breathe. And wait.
I should think opportunity, more creative time, more free space. But, I'm feeling like the last person left at a party, blowing out the few candles left before walking aimlessly out into the night.
It's been a good party. That I can take with me.
There's rosemary, that's for remembrance;
pray,love, remember: and there is pansies,
that's for thoughts.
Our world is smaller, and poorer, today.
In his words, here.
When summer does come to the end, I feel a bit of relief. The heat has killed many of my herbs, yet the bindweed and Witchgrass flourishes. I am ready for the school supplies in the aisles of the stores. The promise of lined paper and freshly sharpened pencils. I think Roethke got it wrong in Dolor. But, his is the office and the institution. Mine is the schoolroom and the artroom, where crayons still wait in their green and yellow boxes in twenty-four shade of possibility. And watercolors in their plastic trays evoke the shades of the sea and the skies at sunrise. I am ready for the routine of early morning coffee and lunch-sacks, backpacks, and yellow buses. I am ready to return to my books and poems and the clean promise of white paper.
Also, Gary Snyder's Axe Handles which I remember reading and enjoying the title poem and the poem about the deer and soy sauce, which as I check is actually titled "Soy Sauce."
The Best Day The Worst Day by Donald Hall was a bit harder on me. I haven't been able to read his poems that deal with the loss of Jane (Kenyon) and the prose account was wrenching in that I can relate perhaps too closely for comfort. Not the best book to read during the week I'm getting my chemo treatments, but sometimes it helps to hear how others have borne what at times seems unbearable. I haven't had The Worst Day, the one where it all comes to an end and hope is snuffed out like a votive candle in the wind.
I still trudge off to the appointments and the blood draws and hide under the covers when the drugs draw a pall between me and this world. Other days, life continues as normal, there are no visiting hours, there is no hall pass, the family must be fed, the dog let in and out. The ants visit. The grackles make their nest near my window and wake me before daylight. At times, I am crepe paper in the rain. Other days, hard clay.
But you can read the poem here (13 Ways), if reviews aren't your current cup of tea.
In my waking life, I do have a manuscript, but not a publisher. But I'm looking for one. I believe there are more than six real poems.
I am also dreaming of waitressing again. I wake tired from other people's demands on my time. From having to smile, to wait for the pittance that the people in my dreams tip.
Consider these: ways to help
poetry bloggers x a bit of spare change= more fans of poetry for our future
1.go to www.google.com
2.click on maps
3.click on "get directions"
4.go from "new york" to "paris, france"
5.scroll down in the directions to number 23
I also dreamed that we were hiring John Montague at my university. Which is odd, since I don't actually have a University right now. Of course, Montague because I've written on his work, but what a joy it was to imagine his office just down the hall in my imagined university.
And not dreaming:
I read for a ladies' group on Tuesday. There were only about 10 in the circle but it was a pleasure to read and have others comment and ask questions about the poems.
And three poems soon in journals: "Troupe Portrait with Unicycle" is forthcoming in Tar River Poetry. "From the Greenhouse" and "The Drowned Girl orders a Cone" from Sojourn.
My husband asks me "What would be enough? Your first book?" I don't think it's possible to set a finish line for poetry. Is it? One goal leads to the next, one hurdle passed prepares you for the next. I want to run forever.
happy poetry month
On a more amusing note, I recently finished Teacher Man. It was quite an enjoyable read. I especially liked this bit:
They (students) don't like it when Mr. McCourt says, Why was Hamlet mean to
his mother, or why didn't he kill the king when he had the chance.
It's all right to spend the rest of the period going round and round
discussing this, but you'd like to know the answer before the goddam bell
rings. Not with McCourt, man. He's asking questions, throwing out
suggestions, causing confusion,and you know the warning bell is about to
ring and and you get this feeling in your gut. Come on, come on, what's the
answer? and he keeps saying What do you think? What do you
--From Teacher Man by Frank McCourt
I think that next time I step in front of a literature class I'm going to hand them this quote and spend the first day of the semester discussing it. Literature is no fun when other people make the discoveries. I hate cliff notes for this very reason. I like to puzzle it out on my own; I like to leave the class thinking about why.
With treatments every other week, I'm starting to understand a bit what it might be like to be manic-depressive. Last week, I was incredibly depressed and couldn't see my way to this week. This week, I'm wondering how the hell I even had half of the thoughts that went through my brain last week. It's going to get worse before it gets better, but I have to remember that the bad weeks will too pass.
Spring is arriving. The robins are flapping around in huge groups. I'm on the lookout for the pair that nests in the ceder tree.
I like "The Bath" as well. I like how these poems show a sense of connection between the generations. There's a hope there that I find intensely reassuring.
We went to a concert tonight. My son was dressed in the standard black and white. It's amazing to think he's in highschool. I can't imagine how that has happened. It doesn't feel so long ago since it was my highschool band up on the stage. The music was a joy.
I am not very flexible.
Perhaps Yoga would help.
On a poetry note, I don't often push boundaries and submission deadlines, but due to this messed up bit of my life, I did this week. And they were nice enough to let me know that they'd still consider it. A small bright spot!
There is sun today and the snow is melting away. I hope it is enough to raise my spirits a bit.
"February, Thinking of Flowers" by Jane Kenyon seems apt today. Bees, and the garden in the late afternoon haze.
Cleaning out dusty shelves, I came across a poem I don't remember writing. I remember the experiences of the poem, but not writing it. This feels a bit odd and a bit like reading a stranger's diary. Except it's my handwriting and my memories.
It's hard to write without feeling like I'm wallowing.
This is; I'm dealing with it; life goes on.
i'm looking forward to spring and hope you'll be well by then
spring? with six new inches of snow tonight? this spring?
I can't even bear to lie and say no or yes
the days are fine, but evening and each day's death
too much. I wait for the sun, for April, for answers.
Yesterday, between the flights of geese, I spotted an eagle. I've been lucky to see at least one or so a year as long as we've lived here. I don't know what he was doing, though, flying over the cow barns at the ag college. Picking off pigeons perhaps?
Tonight at dusk, we drove by a field with hundreds of mallards. The sound of them taking flight was beautiful. Comically, a few ducks stayed down until the flock was quite far away. Then, one would rise up and frantically flap towards the flock. This was repeated several times; I suspect they believed the flock would resettle, but they were off towards the lake to raft for the evening.
A heron waded in the overflow of the dam; a flock of redheads flew above us. The ducks seem frantic in flight compared to the measured flapping of the geese.
How to make this poetry? I'm still thinking about it.
The Darkness Around Us is Deep Selected Poems of William Stafford
The Names of the Rapids by Jonathan Holden
Mystery, So Long by Stephen Dobyns
Now that my Father Lies Down Beside Me by Stanley Plumly
A New Selected Poems by Galway Kinnell
The Collected Poems of Weldon Kees
Trans by Hilda Raz
New and Selected Poems by Mary Oliver
Silence in the Snowy Fields by Robert Bly
Ten Russian Poets: Surviving the 20th Century
I catch whispers of them talking together on the shelf: "my only swerving," "that urge towards more life," "announcing your place/in the family of things," "what the full moon portends--/nothing," "the ways of dying, the ways of sleep."
Awake and listening, I pay attention.
With that done, I've also lost most of my teaching related to-do list, the semester is scrapped, and I'm not sure what to do with myself right now. But I need a list, so I'm thinking that these few months, while I'm recovering and possibly still fighting off illness, I'll focus on my own poetry. I knew last semester that I needed to create time to write in my daily life; here is the time. I know I need to send some more work "out" and of course, read more; here is the time.
The surgeon is near my age. We went to universities in neighboring towns. I wonder if I ever fed him a meal in all my years of waiting tables.
They make it seem so easy; open, snip, stitch, staple. Yet, I feel like a handful of loose beads after the strand has been severed.
by W.H. Auden
About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters; how well, they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.
In Breughel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.
A good lesson, yes. Something I needed to know, yes.
When I was in active treatment, I would come home and the boys would be out swimming or playing soccer at the park and at first I would be annoyed. Their life went on, even while I stuggled. Then one day I realized, that their life goes on is a gift. They laugh, they talk about the tadpoles and the crawdads in the creek, about the ducks, about the wonderful blocks and kicks they made. They sing operatically to each other and often are lost in their books. There are hints of the men they will before long become. This is the gift, they can go on without me. I hope they will not have to go on alone yet. I'm planning on being around for a long time yet myself. But whatever comes, there will still be laughter.
There is still joy even when we are at our weakest.
I have lost much of my fear.