Sweet shield from snow. Peace prevails. Quiet comforts. Cold air on young skin. Crunch of packed snow speaks sled rides, group strolls. A people attuned to time and place. Hidden, their fierce resolve to defend the Motherland, deep-rooted union of land and people. A concept we can admire but no way grasp, the discord among us too vast. swb 3.12.22
For the fourth year – the last three, consecutive – I have enjoyed the challenge of writing 12 poems in 12 hours. I was surprisingly relaxed this time around, even to the point of considering pushing myself to do the full 24. But my new puppy had other ideas about my availability. So in addition to providing her own prompt, she has challenged me/us to be ready to tackle the longer marathon by next year. In addition to offering a wide variety of prompts (and this year, each hour’s prompt included at least two options – one verbal, the other visual – which I sometimes combined in my response), the marathon offers an immediate community of like-minded poets writing, reading, commenting on and most of all, encouraging one another on a private Facebook page during the process and in the days following. It is in the days following that the reading/feedback starts in earnest. Some connections made during this intense period of time continue over the months until the next year’s marathon. Others exist in the bubble of this single week in June. Some are utterly transient, the chance comment seen or responded to when someone is hurting, frustrated, jubilant.
No matter what, the challenge leaves participants with 12 -24 new writings to ponder, revise, scrap, repurpose. It’s all good. Raw material, yes. But more, it awakens something inside. In particular, after this pandemic year of isolation and inner-dependency, those 12 hours opened up possibility and connection. I was reminded of how much shared interest and curiosity there is in the international writing world. At some point I’ll get the statistics – how many participated from how many countries. For now, I am basking in the microcosm of lives shared on my tiny computer screen, spanning the globe, time zones, ages and every/anything else you can name. We shared favorite snacks, music selections, memes, tears, side stories, background stories, what was working and what was not, photos of our space or view or first draft … All of this, plus all the original poetry. No matter what, the challenge leaves participants with a lot more than they started with.
Huge gratitude to the annual organizers, Jacob Jans and Caitlin Jans, for their tireless devotion to furthering creativity around the world, And for their transparency in sharing their own limitations, enlisting the support of others to continue this fine tradition of poem-making and sharing.
A piece just up at MomEggReview, ‘Coming Home’ shares my love of Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. It is also the basis for my husband and I moving our young family there some 23 years back. Not to the NE Kingdom, but to VT. Which is another story… How Chittenden County – which houses Burlington where we ended up the last 8 years, but also Jericho, our first 14 – is said to have the advantage of being near VT. The ‘real’ VT being God’s country, the afore-mentioned NE Kingdom.
While life ‘near’ VT – on the other side of Mt. Mansfield and in its shadow – saw our younger three children through high school and into the colleges of their choices, the early years of vacationing at “The Verm”* established a foundation for a deep sense of place, a shared vocabulary of experience and meaning for us as a family.
During this time of social distancing and staying put, it is oddly comforting that MomEggReview has released this wonderful collection of non-fiction essays called “Here at Home.” What better time to reflect on what home really means, especially as we might be temped to feel trapped or triggered by small things that begin to feel huge. For my part, I stand by this writing. While my soul home has shifted from the mountains of VT to the shore of MA, I still get the familiar anticipatory shiver up my spine as I drive that final five miles; still look for Clarence and Clarissa; still enjoy lingering sunsets. Still bask in the peace and invigoration of communion with earth, air, stars.
* My dad coined the term ‘microverm’ to describe my parents’ dream spot – a little piece of Vermont – during the decades they searched for it. The name stuck, shortened, once they found this corner of heaven some 50 years ago.
It has been months since I posted here, for reasons far too numerous to mention. In any case, today’s Poem-a-Day from Academy of American Poets spoke to me so deeply that I decided to break my silence by sharing it here.
This question of writing about flowers is in fact very near and dear to my heart. The need arises in all of us who live close to the earth, to the heart, to what pulses through and connects all of life. As a poet, I love the idea of writing a bouquet of poems arising from a common seed. I also love the sublte metaphor and its shift through the poem. It draws me into multiple layers of meaning. [Clearly, my weeklong poetry workshop wtih Marge Piercy is still with me!] And, of course, I love how a simple experience can evoke such a powerful poetic response.
How Can Black People Write About Flowers at a Time Like This,
by Hanif Abruddaqub
dear reader, with our heels digging into the good
mud at a swamp’s edge, you might tell me something
about the dandelion & how it is not a flower itself
but a plant made up of several small flowers at its crown
& lord knows I have been called by what I look like
more than I have been called by what I actually am &
I wish to return the favor for the purpose of this
exercise, which, too, is an attempt at fashioning
something pretty out of seeds refusing to make anytning
worthwhile of their burial. size me up & skip whatever semantics
arrive to the tongue first, say: that boy he look like a hollowed-out grandfather
clock, he look like a million-dollar god with a two-cent
heaven. like all it takes is one kiss & before morning,
you could scatter his whole mind across a field.
The poet writes of this poem:
I was at a reading shortly after the election, and the poet (who was black) was reading gorgeous poems, which had some consistent and exciting flower imagery. A woman (who was white) behind me—who thought she was whispering to her neighbor—said ‘How can black people write about flowers at a time like this?’ I thought it was so absurd in a way that didn’t make me angry but made me curious. What is the black poet to be writing about ‘at a time like this’ if not to dissect the attractiveness of a flower—that which can arrive beautiful and then slowly die right before our eyes? I thought flowers were the exact thing to write about at a time like this, so I began this series of poems, all with the same title. I thought it was much better to grasp a handful of different flowers, put them in a glass box, and see how many angles I could find in our shared eventual demise.
Does it speak to you in some way?
The current issue just arrived from Wellesley Centers for Women on my computer screen. An impressive collection of serious writing about thought-provoking issues, from academia, tenure and feminism to historical and current events, criminal justice, sex museums, marriage equality, and so much more. Including poetry. And on the last page (32), two poems of mine.
When I first received the invitation to submit poetry to Wellesley College’s Women’s Review of Books, the call was for pairs of related poems. The challenge intrigued me, as I was just assembling a new collection about my sister. Of the three or five poem pairs I submitted, they accepted “Late Spring” and “Early Spring.” You can read them here.
The Wellesley Centers for Women, according to their website, “is a premier women- and gender-focused, social-change oriented research-and-action institute at Wellesley College. Our mission is to advance gender equality, social justice, and human wellbeing through high quality research, theory, and action programs.”
The Women’s Review of Books is one of their significant publications, and I am beyond honored to have been published by them twice now. (see my author’s note for HEAR ME, SEE ME).