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50 Essential Books of Poetry That Everyone Should Read

Marissa:

Happy National Poetry month!

Originally posted on Flavorwire:

It’s National Poetry Month, and you’re probably thinking: “I should really read more poetry. But where oh where do I start?” Well, sound the trumpets, because here is Flavorwire to the rescue! After the jump, you’ll find a list of 50 essential books of poetry that pretty much everyone should read. There’s something for everybody here, from the deeply established canonical works to riveting, important books by newer poets, from the Romantics to the post-modernists, from the goofy to the staid. NB: as with other lists like these, only one work per author has been included, and there is a bias against the “Collected Poems of” unless necessary. Obviously, inevitably, painfully, there are many, many poets and works of poetry, both of great renown and less so, that are missing here and should still be read by everyone. This list can only reflect personal taste, chance meetings, and wild subjectivity…

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Writer’s, Society, & the Human Condition

A writer without interest or sympathy for the foibles of his fellow man is not conceivable as a writer. ~Joseph Conrad

ww1Reading and writing are collaborations. When you read someone you truly love, their writing reaches your innermost self. You’re soulmates. ~Gina Berriault

I often imagine God laughing and slapping His knee as He watches our antics. The Human Condition — our foibles and predilections — those things that make us unique among all other creatures of the earth. We are a comical group of creatures, taken as a whole, and I believe there is more joy than sadness to most lives. So, God being outside the boundaries of time, able to see the years of our existence without limitation, must find us a comedic riot.

I believe He finds writer’s an especially interesting and hilarious group because we so often forget we are human. We berate ourselves and expect the impossible: constant perfection, endless mental energy, and resolute daily writing performance. We forget that writing is a part of us, our social lives, and the world around us. We fall prey to an ill-conceived Ayn Rand vision that I call the Writer-as-Superman-Delusion.

I’ve been pondering this delusional tendency among writer’s since reading the book, The Tea Ceremony: The Uncollected Writings of Gina Berriault, several months ago. In, Don’t I Know You, an interview between Berriault and Bonnie Lyons and Bill Oliver, Berriault is asked a question that touches on the ebb and flow in a writer’s creative output. In this instance, it is the interviewer presupposing the Writer-as-Superman-Delusion:

In your career there’s a big gap between The Son and The Infinite Passion of Expectation. Why?

That’s a question that should never be asked. It opens a wound. What can a writer say about the gaps and silence? The question can’t be answered because the answer involves the circumstances of a lifetime and the condition of the psyche at one time or another. How can a writer possibly answer it without the shame of pleading for understanding of one’s confusions and limitations and fears? You call it a gap, but that’s the time between publications. There is no measurable gap. I roomnever ceased writing….

This is a hauntingly sad and beautiful response to me. Berriault is raw and open in this passage. The wound red and bleeding. We feel the wince. That split-second of dismay as she tries to explain the inexplicable.

Perhaps she was thinking the gaps and silences are where life happens, where the struggle manifests from thought into expression. Or, she may have wondered whether to answer honestly and openly, as she did, or provide a more socially-acceptable response. After all, the mentally disturbed-obsessed writer locked in a room creating his masterpiece is a very popular stereotype!

The more accurate truth about writer’s is that most are normal human beings. A fact wonderfully explored by Daniel Wallace in the post Writing Cycles, Writing Funks on The Incompetent Writer blog. Wallace delves into the normalcy of a writer’s life. His post explores the “artistic well” of creative energy and the “flows of energy and strength” that a writer experiences. I love the truth exposed when he repeats a discussion with author Michelene Wandor, in which she tells him:

…writing is supposed to be a social activity. It’s supposed to have a social function, too–a wider purpose. …writing is supposed to be like everything else, with a rhythm and flow. It’s supposed to interact with life as well as, at times, require a retreat from it.

She makes a vivid and insightful point: writing is life, and not, life is writing. There are no magic Oracles ww2speaking words into the writer’s ear. There is only existence in time and place. The daily life experience of people interacting with other people. Writing occurs within the social context not outside of it.

Could Hemingway be our Hemingway without his experiences and participation in the Spanish Civil War and WWII? Does one imagine Dostoevsky separate from the people, the landscape, and the experiences of Russia? Can one picture Voltaire apart from France? Could Richard Wright give birth to Native Son anyplace other than American soil?

While it is true that writers spend vast amounts of time alone working on their art, it is just as true that these same artists spend time in the world among others enjoying, observing, and participating in life as a whole.

The Writer-as-Superman-Delusion is an illusive dreamscape from which we must wake. Writer’s are simply human beings living and speaking. We mirror our place in world history, we capture the culture of the moment to help understand it in the now and to preserve it for future generations. They will know us through the words we leave behind. And, as Berriault says, in us the future may find a soulmate in the past.yes3

 

 

 

Writing Cycles, Writing Funks

Marissa:

Wonderful and deeply insightful piece on the ebb and flow of being a writer! Please read!

Originally posted on The Incompetent Writer:

Lunch break

One of the funny things about writing a blog is that you see, on the screen in front of you, plain evidence of the upswings and downswings of your time, inspiration, and urge to write. You know when you haven’t posted much in a while.

It’s a very odd thing, however, how little the conscious mind seems aware of these flows of energy and strength. I might detect, consciously, no reason why I can’t sit down and write another paragraph of a story, or draft that little essay on Paco di Lucia that I had planned, and yet once I’ve been sitting at my desk for a time, and been unable to write much, it suddenly occurs to me that I’ve been away from home three weekends in a row. Simply speaking, I’ve exhausted myself and need to take a break.

My artistic well–which resides somewhere in the brain far…

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Time, Hackers, Projects & Watching

I’m late to the party. It’s been a busy few months.  Time is always my scarcest commodity. I sit down to write today and notice the calendar on my wall is still on January. Ooops!

I’m four months into the new year before starting the traditional New Year blog entry. Okay then, make the best of it. I’ll start a unique tradition of writing my New Year post in April, after having given myself a few months to see how the new year is working out!

Thoughts on a New Year

new yearI don’t do resolutions. I’ve never been very good at them – so it seems ridiculous to set myself up for failure in that way. The popular weight loss/diet objectives are lost on me. I know myself better than that!

The other cliché self-delusions drop to the side and disappear as well – no get-rich-quick schemes, no rearranging my personality, and I’m certainly not going to promise to be nicer to others or better at anything!

Marking time is a way for us to analyze and understand ourselves and our world. The New Year, like a birthday or wedding anniversary, can be a time to celebrate where we are, the gains we’ve made; or it can be a time of sadness, marking the loss of others from our lives or the promise of potential we failed to fulfill or attain. It’s a ritual we love. A way of considering who we’ve been and where we’re going.

So, here’s my takeaway:  I’m satisfied with last year and ready for the remainder of this year. Here’s to a new chapter in the book of me that is still being written. Happy Belated New Year!

A Plague of Hackers

Hackers, who I’m convinced are either the evil Jinn of legend or demons from the pits of Hell, have plagued me relentlessly this year. My Yahoo and WordPress accounts are inundated with Acacia Berry Ad emails or other such nonsense with links that friends, coworkers and readers inadvertently open. So, a note to all, I Will NEVER send you links in an email or post a post with ONLY a link. These high-jinks are the work of evil invaders! Beware and do not open or follow!

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I’m fighting this horde of evil attackers as best I know how. My accounts have so many levels of protection that I need a notebook filled with directions to use them!

Several friends have mentioned the linking of various social media accounts as an entry point for the evil Jinn. Others say certain astrological signs predestines one to attack! There are tons of crazy theories out there too! Me? I’m simpler than that, I’m here to use the technology not to spend all my time chasing down the forces of evil.

So, I’m hopeful we’ll soon assign this problem to some of our greater minds for the solving. You know, the same guys who figured out how to kill the zombies. Maybe in the near future we’ll be able to buy a Demon-destroying Hacker Survival Kit. With luck, it might be on the market by the end of the year!

Projects Public and Private

A writer works on projects both public and private.

The Blog is a public project – ideally, a straight-from-the-gut type of endeavor that gains a readership due to style and quirkiness as much as content.

Professional Bloggers may disagree with me, along with those in the business and marketing communities, because they see the Blog as the newest, most powerful form of written media in the modern world. They are entitled to that belief. However, as an old fashioned journalistic writer, I see the Blog as a different entity – one as much about style and positioning as content and relevance. It is immediate, live in real-time, and Public by nature.

Literary or images (16)journalistic work – such as short stories, essays, memoirs, and novels – are by necessity private projects, requiring hours of alone-time staring out windows and writing three sentences a day for months on end.

A good window is well-known to be the number one requirement for a successful writer. Mental illness, alcoholism, and creativity are always fighting for their places in the kingdom hierarchy (and it’s anyone’s guess which of them wins on a given day), but the window is always the King.

I’ve spent the past eighteen months in front of my window working on those private projects. Writing, crafting, editing, re-writing pieces for publication. It is a consummation that continues and makes me realize the need to apologize to my blog readers – forgive me this time I must take away from public writing.

Thank you for continuing to read when I do post – I will try to write a few more pithy, remarkable pieces for your amusement as time permits!

warningWarning! Writer at work! Periods of delirium and a general withdrawal from human interaction may occur.

 

Watching: It’s What Writers Do

I have a new GSM at work who is delightful and funny. (He’s also intelligent and witty…ahem, in case you’re reading this Charles!)

He prides himself on accurately “reading” people and has mentioned this skill several times.  Of course, always a good sport, I felt it necessary to test his abilities.

I asked him last week to share his impressions of me. There were some interesting revelations, but the primary thing he said that struck a chord was that I enjoy 55“watching.”

It was a profound observation because on my “day job” I perform in a vibrant, peacock stage personae. The Colleen of the sales floor a very different person from the Marissa of my writing career. Score a solid point for Charles! Most people are blinded by the false eyes on the feathers and miss the deeper truth of who I am as a complete person!

I cannot remember a time before watching was central to my character. I watch and listen and pay attention to everything. It’s what I did before I ever understood that it’s what writer’s do. It’s one of those “things” that makes a writer different. I believe it might be the most integral and important skill to develop as a writer.

Language, mannerisms, movement — all are necessary elements of story. And all writing is in some sense story. Consider the trend in recent years toward “Creative Nonfiction” in the journalistic realm. Even our news stories are STORIES! We want a little back story, some dramatization of events, and some quirky personal details with our news now, Thank You.

The man burglarized an apartment and stole a necklace, but was quickly arrested by police no longer satisfies our hunger for story.

Instead:

The young man with biker tattoos on his left arm, a sleeve of skulls and roses, stalked the Burrows house for three hours before finally making his move. He pulled the heavy rock from the bag, smashed the picture window in the living room to bits, then crawled inside, snagging his jeans on the ragged glass. The pearl necklace, Mrs. Burrows most prized relic from a long-dead grandmother, was on top of the cherry chest. The culprit snatched it up and ran down the hall and out the back door. He was apprehended a block away by police. A concerned neighbor wburg2ho heard the glass break dialed 911 and reported the incident just in time.

Now that, folks, is news the way we want to read it! We no longer want reporters who reports the facts. Rather, we want writers who make the facts interesting by way of story techniques. This requires the skill of watching, the ability to see the most minute of details, and then the further ability to transfer what was seen by the writers eyes and imprinted in his brain to the reader.

A Writer learns as a child does – by mimicry. A tone or dialect is heard, sounded out, memorized, and then recreated. The details of a scene – the type and location of a tattoo, the style of clothes someone wears, a particular twitch or movement – are noticed, memorized, recreated. The nuances of everyday life, people, and culture are captured and frozen on the page for others to share.

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Isn’t it amazing how our eyes watching become the seeing eyes of another?

Isn’t it wonderful that we are able to capture the world inside and outside of ourselves through words. Then, share that with other people regardless of time and place. How very beautiful is the eternal.

Happy Writing, Happy Living… Marissa

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Life At A Given Moment

“… the meaning of life differs from man to man, from day to day and from hour to hour. What matters, therefore, is not the meaning of life in general but rather the specific meaning of a person’s life at a given moment.” ~Viktor E. Frankl in Man’s Search for Meaning.

What is the meaning of life? What is the meaning of MY life? Does my life have meaning for anyone other than me?

I read the book, Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor E. Frankl about a year ago during a period of questioning. I believe it’s a book everyone should read at least once – not because it answers the “big” question, but because it changes the way we ask that question and others like it. Frankl shifts our focus to the deeper longings hidden in these questions of existence and meaning. He also gives us a new perspective from which to view ourselves and others. The idea of a fixed destiny changes and mutates under his examination.

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Last week I wrote about thoughts on mortality and the personal situation that led me to those thoughts. This week, I’m happy to report that the doctors found no evidence of cancer and I am doing well. So what did I learn from my cancer scare? Some surprising things actually.

I learned that I don’t have as many regrets as I expected. There was no great need to go make amends for the past or apologize to people so I could die with things “made right” in my life. I’ve always tried to live as if today were it, which means I try to apologize and make amends as I go. Still, you always wonder if you’ve done the best you could. No one wants to be that person on their deathbed filled with a thousand regrets and tons of bitterness. The cancer scare helped me see that I’ve made right those things within my power to make right – the lingering “unfinished” things are there because they are beyond my ability to fix. Sometimes an apology and forward movement are the best one can do.

I also realized that I’m fairly happy with who I am and the experiences that make up my daily life. My primary regret was the books I haven’t written — and that was a surprising epiphany! I’m not sure if it’s because I believe my words are that important or if it’s about needing to leave some type of legacy behind. Just that I kept thinking: “Crap! I thought I’d have more time to get these things written!” The thought that my projects would never be real and see print bothered me terribly. There was a sad sense of leaving something unfinished and not completing my purpose. It was an odd but enlightening experience that brought writing back to center stage as a primary focus of my daily life. (Who knows? Maybe that’s exactly what it was intended to do!)

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Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life to carry out a concrete assignment which demands fulfillment. Therein he cannot be replaced, nor can his life be repeated. Thus, everyone’s task is as unique as is his specific opportunity to implement it. ~ Viktor E. Frankl in Man’s Search for Meaning

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Photo Credit: pensive by James Shepherd

Meditations on Mortality

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Sweet William by Barbara Moignard

 

Springtimes have needed you.
And there are stars expecting you to notice them.
From out of the past, a wave rises to meet you
the way the strains of a violin
come through an open window
just as you walk by.

~ Rainer Rilke, from the First Duino Elegy

 

There was a graveyard I visited regularly with my grandparents as a child. My grandmother would go tend the graves of loved ones (possibly her parents) while I picked Sweet William in small bunches and put on the graves without flowers. I loved the delicate beauty of the petals, their velvety texture and intricate patterns. It seemed the most natural thing in the world to pick them from the edges of the cemetery and place them on graves that seemed lonely and untended. A child’s belief that putting something pretty there would make it all better.

The cemetery was a beautiful and peaceful place to me (other than the painful annoyance of the little sticky burs that always found a way into the side of my sandals or down into my sock). The quiet stillness enthralled me as a child before death or graves held any real meaning. Visiting the cemetery was one of my favorite things to do.

It’s been a long time since those cemetery visits – I turn 46 tomorrow and I was not even school age back then – but I can remember what it was like when death was just another word that meant nothing in my mind and heart. A grown-up word that made people sad and nothing more. My child self living free and joyful without the understanding of mortality.

 

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I worked as a property-sales manager for a small local cemetery from 2003 to 2005. I was responsible for all facets of the business operation – designing advertising, making product sales, solving customer issues, meeting legal requirements, overseeing burials and entombments, and maintaining good relationships with the mortuaries and their staff. I took the job expecting to be “creeped-out.” I ended up loving the place and becoming friends with the clients we served and the morticians with whom I worked.

I listened to all the personal stories of my clients and attended every funeral service on our grounds. I was a quiet presence, standing nearby at graveside or sitting in the last row of a mausoleum service, listening and watching, making sure everything was as perfect and well orchestrated as it could be. This was the respect, the care we provided to those trusting us in their final rite of passage. Honoring that trust mattered deeply to me.

Two years in the death care industry gave me a new understanding of death and dying. It also provided a glimpse of the actual job of professional body disposal carried out by morticians and cemeterians. Overall, death care is a business much like any other, but there is a level of respect and compassion present in the workers that is seldom found elsewhere.

What did I learn?

At every burial there are people crying, but their tears come for a variety of reasons – as many due to regret and self recrimination as for love and loss.

 

^~^~^

 

Twenty-two days ago a harsh, burning pain developed in my left shoulder and armpit. A random “share” on Facebook with pictures of example breasts showing cancer signs sent me to the internet to look up my symptoms. What I found there terrified me into a hospital visit…

I was in the E.R. five days after the first symptoms appeared with a swollen left breast, a “mass” of unknown origins, and a great deal of searing pain. The diagnosis was Mastitis of unknown origin, and I was given high strength antibiotics and a referral to a local surgeon.

Today – the infection is gone, the swelling has diminished, and the pain is much duller. I go for a mammogram and ultrasound tomorrow to start the diagnostic process. I am hopeful that it is something small and easily solved, prayerful the word cancer will not apply to me. I’d like a little more time, please, to experience this thing called life.

 

^~^~^

 

My first thought was that out of all the panic scenarios and insane phobias I’ve imagined in my life, out of all the ways in which I have feared dying, the thought of possible breast cancer never even crossed my mind! How like life to throw something at you from left field!

My second thought was of not wanting to leave my husband, my children, my grandchildren. Worry that I needed to teach the kids more, maybe I haven’t prepared them as well as I should have, and a myriad other things having to do with all of them being okay or not.

My third thought was the shock of realization that I might soon take my last breath, that it could end so unexpectedly, the lights go dark, and thought – emotion – feeling – sentience just STOP.

Awareness becomes the split-second adrenaline rush of panic, fight-or-flight in a state of indecision, anxiety…and then quiet. Then, thoughts of all the stupid and important things you’ll miss: McDonalds pancakes, the way a breeze feels, the way your children call you mama, sun on your skin, books on the shelves you haven’t read yet, grandbabies in your lap, poems you’ve only half-finished, snuggling beside your husband at night, the dogs always underfoot, the projects still half-done and disorganized, you and you-you-the you that is the personal I-the I that has likes and dislikes, cares, loves, needs, gives, feels…. living.

Life in all its deep complexity. The small moments and the large that make up a life….that make up your very unique and personal life.

 

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You recognize the fallacy – you have been living all this time as if you were immortal, but you are not. Your specific time here is finite. There will be a last day, one day.

Suddenly, so many daily things become unimportant. The core relationships in your life and the core things in your personality become everything all at once.

You realize you will not miss your job only your calling. You cannot justify money as a motivator for anything that matters only the hope, safety, opportunity it may buy.

You wonder at the speed of days, how they have passed you ticking like a rush of water over rapids. You reach to capture them, slow them, but they drip through your fingers and out of your hand. ~

 

 

The Things We Don’t Know

Violence and Hope by Jim Coe

Violence and Hope by Jim Coe

“I think she is telling us what the great writers of the past have always wanted us to understand: that ignorance and terror are never far from possession of our hearts, and so at any time it may be over all of us, ‘like a ton of water,’ the things we don’t know.”  ~The Achievement of Gina Berriault, Richard Yates from The Tea Ceremony.

We live in a time of dead prophets. The voices speaking for Divinity, foretelling the future, advocating a better way, promoting positive change – these voices fall silent, no whispers remaining. It is a world stage filled with mediocre talent, all bit players without the charisma or talent of star players. America is mired in gridlock, players bitterly embattled, stifled by the all encompassing need for power.  The pendulum of time ticking away the days while the prophets remain silent. We are immersed in the things we don’t know, drowning in a river of partisanship, gulping the water of carnival theatrics.

I miss the prophets and the heroes, the actors who understood the significance of their performance, who recognized the crowds right to a good, fun-loving show. I miss people like JFK, who knew to keep his foibles under wrap, while extolling the valuable American virtues and respecting the realm of the otherworldly:

When power leads man towards arrogance, poetry reminds him of his limitations. When power narrows the area of man’s concern, poetry reminds him of the richness and diversity of existence. When power corrupts, poetry cleanses. ~ John Fitzgerald Kennedy

Poetry as the antidote to power, as a cleansing agent that brings clarity and truth of vision.  This perceptive recognition of the power and necessity of Other as a primary part of man’s existence and healthy development is a hallmark of the hero/leader personality. This is a thought process, a recognition lost to the people in political power. What congressman or senator has read poetry lately rather than analyzing soundbites? Has one voice found the sincerity and honesty necessary to compose a poem – could any one of our leaders write a speech or prophecy – that rang true and touched the emotions of an American readership?  How long will we be immobilized by men who lack vision, clarity, duty, and the ability to compromise?

An atmosphere of ignorance and terror hangs in the air like dense fog over the inlet swamps. Violence and rebellion simmer, the angry cry for justice and fairness grows louder across the different states and cultural boundaries. Ethnicity and income levels even out, become less important, as the strain of an inactive, reprobate government pulls at the fabric of our country. “We the people” is coming to mean something entirely different than ever before. The things we don’t know – the future we may face, the ignorance and terror that threatens to overwhelm us, the lack of action by our elected officials – the outcome we don’t know creates a fearful panic. What will it take? How can the problems be fixed? Is there an answer to the divisiveness overtaking our country? I am waiting for the Poets to tell me. I am listening.

A Poet Makes Himself

Orphee by Jean Baptiste Camille Corot

Orphee by Jean Baptiste Camille Corot

 

A poet makes himself a visionary through a long, boundless, and systematized disorganization of all the senses. All forms of love, of suffering, of madness; he searches himself, he exhausts within himself all poisons, and preserves their quintessences. Unspeakable torment, where he will need the greatest faith, a superhuman strength, where he becomes all men: the great invalid, the great criminal, the great accursed—and the Supreme Scientist! For he attains the unknown! Because he has cultivated his soul, already rich, more than anyone! He attains the unknown, and, if demented, he finally loses the understanding of his visions, he will at least have seen them! So what if he is destroyed in his ecstatic flight through things unheard of, unnameable: other horrible workers will come; they will begin at the horizons where the first one has fallen!  ~Arthur Rimbaud

 

 

 

The Fullest Expression of Self

 

The Key Hole, by Andrew Giovinazzo

The Key Hole, by Andrew Giovinazzo

“All the books we own, both read and unread,are the fullest expression of self we have at our disposal. … But with each passing year, and with each whimsical purchase, our libraries become more and more able to articulate who we are, whether we read the books or not.”  ~ Nick Hornby, The Polysyllabic Spree

 

 

 

 

the koan of writing

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“The significant story possesses more awareness than the writer writing it. The significant story is always greater than the writer writing it. This is the absurdity, the disorienting truth, the question that is not even a question, this is the koan of writing.”   ~Joy Williams

 

from the essay, “Uncanny Singing That Comes from Certain Husks”