Wednesday, October 02, 2013

On Believing

Somewhere in the thick of it all, I forgot to share the news that I had a poem chosen by Ted Kooser (Poet Laureate from 2004-2006) for his column, American Life in Poetry. The poem is called, "What It Looks Like to Us and the Words We Use" and recounts a conversation between a dear friend and I about the belief in God. To me, this is an exploration of belief, but also of naming. It's also a poem that I hope provides a common ground between my beliefs as an atheist and other people's religious beliefs. It's also about barns. Out here in the countryside of Lexington, KY these old tobacco barns sit on the soft rolling hills like forgotten statues. Many of them are still in use.
The poem also takes place in the Sonoma Valley Regional Park (one of my all time favorite places to hike). The Spanish Moss, the obsidian shards, all of that comes from the place where I grew up. I wrote this poem when I was living full-time in Sonoma in 2011. I used to hike there as a child with our dog, Dusty. A yellow lab who didn't think about God. Though sometimes we thought she was an old man who had been reincarnated in her body. We'd say, "Hey Lou, are you in there?"  

And now I have said too much. But I wanted to tell you about the poem. Also, in the two days it's been out in the world I've received many sweet emails telling me how much they enjoyed the poem. The poem is part of the new book, Bright Dead Things, which is with my publisher, but may not be out for some time depending on the universe. If you'd like to hear the poem read, I recorded it this morning and it's over there ---> on the right hand column. Thank you for your kind notes and emails. That means the world to me.

Also, this week, we go live on buses in Atlanta. A new poem "Endings" will be featured and includes a story about a turtle. It's a true story. Those of you who know me, know that when I don't know what to say about a poem of mine, I just say, "That's true." Thank you, Atlanta! And now back to work.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Find a Way

All the leaves are falling in our front yard, the old sugar maple and its windmill seeds, and I just said to my friend Kristin, “Isn’t it weird that leaves actually fall? Look they are falling!” And they were. All over the picnic table like words on a page. Or maybe that’s too easy. They weren’t like words. Let’s not take that leap yet. They were just like leaves, simple and brown, and crumpled.

It’s easy to want the metaphor. It makes life easier. I was recently reading this book, The Happiness Hypothesis and the author Haidt says, “Human thinking depends on metaphor. We understand new or complex things in relation to things we already know.” And, “It’s also hard to think about the mind, but once you pick a metaphor it will guide your thinking.” This, I think, is a powerful argument for the necessity of reading, writing, listening to, and memorizing poetry. What if it can help us organize our weird life's journey better? What if what it accomplishes is simply that life can be more easily lived, can be made beautifully clearer, can be shrunk to a size more swallow-able?

When I was fifteen I understood loss by repeating the Bishop line, “I lost my mother’s watch once,” which meant that great loss was still to come. Heartbreak was to me the Robert Hass line, “Bees in the heart, then scorpions, maggots, and then ash.” Homesickness was the Yeats line, “ I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree.” And so forth. If what Haidt says is true, then these lines are actually allowing me to understand my own life in a way that makes it more manageable. 

And that doesn’t even begin to tackle what might be the benefits of making your own metaphors to help you through the tougher topics. Those of us who write, know this to be true. What you cannot explain, you can at least explore. You can find a way through it. Or simply find a way through.

That made me think of the swimmer, the fabulous female powerhouse Diana Nyad who used the phrase, “Find a Way” to help her cross shark-infested waves (I know, I know, why?). “Find a Way” is so much easier than saying CROSS THIS ENTIRE FREAKIN’ GULF OF MEXICO.” Find a way. Find a way. Find a way. All the way across the gulf.

And some how we do. I've been saying that to myself. Find a way. This is new for me, as it used to be "Choose a way." I am finding a way to do this. 

In California, I read poems in my hometown bookstore. Oh the crowd! Oh my home town heart.

In Kentucky, I taught and read and mingled with the amazing minds of the Kentucky Women Writers Conference

And then Lucas and I got to play host to Dawn Lundy Martin, Stephanie Hopkins, and Kirstin Dombek. We sat around the fire pit and talked about the power of narrative, the possibility of language, and then it all got a little fuzzy. Oh bourbon in the bloodstream. 

And now, on Thursday I read for the young adults of Teen Howl and then fly to Brattleboro for the Literary Festival. And the poetry doesn’t stop. It finds a way. Find a way. Find a way. The leaves are actually falling and they are not like words at all. The words come from you.