Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Ecstasy of Poetry

Christmas shadows by Kathleen Tyler Conklin
It can happen.  Ian McEwan, the writer, has said you can "be so engrossed in reading poetry that you barely know you exist."  He speaks of reading the Elizabeth Bishop poem "Under The Window:Ouro Preto" and being so concentrated and carried away by its images that he found he was unaware that his friends who were with him had left the room.

Not every poem has this power to completely absorb us so that we are lifted to a place outside ourselves. Some do.  I suppose it is the confluence of certain things coming together…our own experiences and the magic of the poetic words sparking to transport us to a moment of ecstasy.
Ewan speaks of the effort it takes to "step out of the daily narrative of existence and to draw the neglected cloak of stillness  around you."  I love this image of drawing the stillness of a poem around us like a cloak. Sadly, we must return to the daily grind of existence.  However, McEwan reminds us that the poem leaves something with us. He suggests it is " a feeling of being lighter, softer, larger. The feeling will leave…but never completely."

So this  winter season, I hope that you will take some time to wrap yourself in the cloak of stillness. 
 May the ecstasy be with you.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

The Poetry Of Daily Life

A friend planted an indoor rose plant in my back yard years ago. It was fragile and delicate, but has managed to survive to the present day.  I looked for it this morning, curious to see if it had survived the beating rains and gusty winds of hurricane "Sandy".  There it is, bedraggled but still standing, cheerfully showing its soggy pink blooms!

I too recently experienced a storm of my own, not as vigorous as Sandy, but one that knocked me down, but happily not out.  Follows my poem as a reaction to that experience of a not so poetic reality.  I have tried to keep a light touch.  Humor can be a lifesaver…or a least a place to rest between storms.

The Comeback Rose

The bloom is off the rose
It's a slightly different color
Whichever way you look at it
You cannot say it's yeller.

The sun has beaten it down
Turned its edges brown
It doesn't stand as straight
Its leaves are pointed down.

Ragged though it is
Its thorns are still intact
If you try to toss it out
It's gonna prick you back.

You may wish to cut it off
And throw it in the trash
I wouldn't give up on it yet
It could make a late day splash.

The bloom is off the rose
It's a slightly different color
Whichever way you look at it
You cannot say its yeller.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Poetry of Silence

I am a strong advocate for the necessity, value and power of words--- spoken or written.  I champion the importance of finding and expressing one’s own voice.

However, lately I have been feeling that many of these voices are adding to the cacophony that assaults us daily.

I feel as if I am thrashing about in a turbulent sea of noise---the noise in my own head, the noise that comes from our electronic devices----TV, cell phones, e-mail, Face Book and from the written word---newspapers and magazines.

It is everywhere and it is unrelenting.  Everyone is talking.  Everyone has an opinion, something to say, a need to be heard.  No one is listening.  In order to listen, one has to be quiet.

We need to take a breath.  It is ok to be quiet, to refrain, to keep secrets, to let words fail us, to let what is inside us to stay there, at least for awhile. 

It is good to recognize that sometimes we have experiences which will not be caged by words, that need to remain private, that do not need to be held up to the glaring light of exposure.

We can live in silence for a minute, an hour, a day.  We can honor that silence. And we can listen…to the poetry of that silence.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Olympics Of Poetry

Westminster from the London Eye by Kathleen Conklin

We all have been watching with great interest and appreciation the 2012 Olympic Games.
Perhaps you’re feeling a bit obsessed and in need of a change of pace… as in a little exercise for the mind.  Try tuning in to NPR.

NPR has revived the ancient tradition of the Olympics of Poetry.  At the Greek Olympics, poetry was very much part of the games.  Poets were hired to write odes praising the athletic champions and even competed in official poetry contests. The Poetry Event at the Olympic Games was revived from 1912-1948 (London), but eliminated after that because of the volume of entries and the difficulties of translations.  However, this year NPR has presented an Olympic Poetry Event. NPR has invited poets to compose original works which were read on their “Morning Edition” broadcast (August 6-10) and published on their website at

Check out the NPR website and read some of the “official” entries as well as others.  My favorite so far is James Miranda’s “Olympians”. 

Let the voting begin.

Meanwhile, I have begun thinking about the nature and value of competing for poetry awards...perhaps some thoughts for my next blog.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Speaking the Unspeakable

We have a new poet laureate named by the Library of Congress on June 6th. Natasha Tretheway is a young (46) writing professor from Emory University in Atlanta Georgia. She has written three volumes of poetry including “Native Guard” which won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize. Her fourth volume “Thrall” will be published in September 2012, the
month she will begin her tenure as our poet laureate. She will live in Washington and work directly in the Library’s poetry room from January through May 2013.

She is a versatile poet, using both traditional forms (sonnets and villanelles) and free verse to express many historical and cultural themes. As the daughter of a mixed-race marriage, that experience is an important thread found in her writing.

The catalyst for expressing herself in poetry seems to be a horrific event she experienced when only nineteen years old. Her mother was murdered by her estranged second husband. Natasha says, “I turned to poetry to make sense of what happened.” Her book “Native Guard” contains several elegies to her mother.

The poet in her own words…
“I started writing poems as a response to that great loss much the way people responded for example after 9/11. People who never had written poems or turned much to poetry turned to it at that moment because it seems like the only thing that can speak the unspeakable.”

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Merry Month Of May

Claire and Sofie
The merry month of May is on its way out. We had some authentically “MayDays”…warm and sunny, fading into cool evenings. Some other days, we were clobbered with heat and humidity. They dragged me down. I didn’t feel like dancing around the May Pole. May 2012 had lost its authenticity…its quality of Mayness. As you may have guessed, my thoughts have turned to the subject of being authentic, since I’ve used it three times in this first paragraph.

For me, an authentic poem is one that is written from the heart. Poems are stories about feelings. We have to search out that open, honest place inside of us that holds our truths. We must uncover them, let them rise to the surface and then express them. Write from the heart. It is difficult and scary. Sometimes we succeed, sometimes we come close, sometimes we fail miserably, but what a wonderful challenge. We take the chance that it may spill over into our actions, our onversations, our relationships. It is definitely worth the risk.

My attempt---


I work hard
to wipe clean the slate
of memories
to be more present
to be here now
to know the now.

Sleep denies this desire
memories drop by
to hold me back
stick to my waking face
steam the mirror
clouding my clarity
always here
as part of me.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Voices of Women

The Voices of Women             

There is an astounding article in the “New York Times Magazine” of April 29, 2012 reporting on “Why Afghan Women Risk Death To Write Poetry”, written by Eliza Griswold.

Women from the outlying provinces in Afghanistan phone in their poems to Radio Azadi (Radio Liberty).  Mirmar Baheer, a woman’s literary society, based in Kabul, airs these poems on Saturday afternoons, when the group broadcasts from The Ministry of Women’s Affairs. This group meets openly in Kabul, but in the rural provinces, it functions mostly in secret.

Afghan women voice their thoughts and feelings in two line poems called landai, a traditional Pashto folk poetry form. Landai  has long been a vehicle of rebellion for Afghan women, many of whom are not  allowed to leave their houses. 

These poems have become a simple, defiant cry against the oppression of women.

Landai,  literally means a short, poisonous snake and these poems are meant to be taken seriously. Their themes of love, grief, war, exile and independence are serious ones.

The women question God’s will, protest the politics of their country and express their deepest longings in these poems. The act of sharing them takes great courage. The women are ridiculed and beaten and even sometimes risk death as poet-martyrs.

The poems have become the voice of the collective---of the woman’s movement inside Afghanistan. These women want to be heard. They are a powerful inspiration to all women.

Maybe it is time for American women, and I include the women in America’s religious orders, to begin writing landai. There is nothing like a poisonous snake to get a man’s attention.

My pains grow as my life dwindles,
I will die with a heart full of hope.”

Author ---unknown

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Spring Back

Life is tough.  A Zen text (Sengstau) teaches “The great way is not difficult for those who have no preferences.”  It takes a long time to get to that place, if ever.  Meanwhile, we need all the help we can get.  Whatever gets you through (with a few exceptions, of course).

I believe that poetry can help.  It can distract, entertain, give us solace, make us feel less alone, clarify, and yes, even make us laugh. In College, my friends and I thought up the idea of opening a bar with two entrances.  If you were feeling down, you could go in the entrance marked “Il Penseroso” and weep into your beer.  If feeling cheerful, you could choose the entrance marked “L’Allegro” and be rowdy and boisterous. (Thank you John Milton).  The opposite action was also an option.

For a good cry, read John Milton or Ruth Stone.  To connect with nature, search for a Gerard Manley Hopkins poem or one by Mary Oliver.  Laugh with Edward Lear or Phyllis McGinley. When feeling down and a bit flattened out by the “slings and arrows”,

search out a poem by Jane Hirshfield or David Whyte for a spiritual uplift.  Life is tough.  But you can spring back. Try reading a poem.