It all happened alongside a beach bonfire. I had recently come back to town–Santa Cruz, California that is, and some creative, inspiring, interesting folk I used to know invited me to the beach.
There’s something about bonfires. They’re old world. People throughout history have gathered around flames to warm themselves and share stories. They’re a different kind of “kitchen table”–more vibrant literally and figuratively. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about fire as one of the elements–earth, air, water, fire. We don’t experience it enough in our everyday lives these days, with electricity and even battery-operated candles. Don’t even get me started on the latter. They make me die a little inside. Just like we notice a shift in our breathing and cognition when walking next to a body of water or place our feet the soil of the earth (versus concrete or tile), I believe contact with fire taps into something deep and true in us–a connection, our connection, to the natural world. And to each other. (Image source.)
On that night, at the bonfire, somehow the conversation twisted toward poetry. A few of the girls had studied literature formally in higher education, and yet–here we were all young professionals, far removed from the art form that captured us all. “What if,” I said, “We got together once a week, brought books and excerpts of verse and read them together?” We called it the Monday Poets Society. That name I gave it harkens back to childhood views of the “Little Women” movie with Jo as my inspiration. (Cheesy photo below: Molly second from the left, Wendy far right, me in the center. I know; I’m short. <insert winky-eyed emoji here>)
It thrived. We thrived, meeting that way. It wasn’t just about the poetry–and yet somehow the poetry being the thing that brought us together gave us permission to acknowledge the messiness and beauty of life.
We met weekly that summer and then off I went, back to Italy living and working, to return to town in summer months able to participate. It was still going strong. The faithful starter few remained along with new folk–a living and expanding group. The group lasted for over 3 years (that I know of! Maybe some of the folk are still meeting now.). This last week, a line of verse keeps coming to mind–from “Frenzy” by Anne Sexton–a poem that Molly brought one night: “the God my typewriter believes in.” The concept of divine mystery having a relationship with writing–with our pens, our typewriters. I love that.
Why? Why poetry?
There’s something about the genre of poetry–written and spoken both, that opens up spaces and places in our subconsciousness that no other instrument can. It has a magical ability to hold nuance and complexity that other sentences and expressions cannot.
Why do you think it is that when we hear about “poetry” we often think about love poems? Love is such a magical and mysterious thing in all its forms. Poetry can attempt to do it justice.
I’ve always written poetry, since I was a little girl. A few years ago, my mentor Tammy Moody, encouraged me to try some writing exercises to get pen to paper again. The exercise was “I am _____.” To quite simply make a list of sentence completers. I was amazed at what transpired. I invite you to do it! Remember: metaphor and messiness work just as well as the literal.
- I am a bird on a leaf.
- I am a window into a great unknown.
- I am a scared little girl afraid of the outside.
- I am a portion of the whole.
- I am a pin drop of color on this canvas.
- I am a little bit more afraid than you.
- I am a mystery even to myself.
- I am a little too attached to you, but not attached enough.
- I am a lot closer than you think.
- I am an overflowing glass of milk.
- I am a gallon of water on your shoulder.
- I am a monkey of regret—swinging from shelf to shelf.
- I am a mirror of all that I’ve seen.
- I’m a cup of soup without a soup spoon.
- I am a long winter scarf, tied around twice.
- I am a dream I’d forgotten I had.
- I am a magnet on your palm.
- I am an extension of your thigh—your leg—your arm.
- I am a pencil that’s dripping of ink.
Since, poetry has flowed again for me. This past week, I revisited some of it.
What would happen if…
The wind came from somewhere visible
History told the truth
And all the cries of the forgotten remembered.
What would happen if
Love was around the corner
Wishing me well with the kind of glance
I imagine Grandma Adele giving me on the other side.
It felt like I was the only one awake
While all sleepwalked with the bounce of the weary
Tricking themselves into happy facial expressions that look like deceit.
I like smelling lavender in springtime.
The blink of the great mystery
Like neon outside the door of my subconscious
Inviting me out onto the town
Where people actually dance.
Losing hope is lost love of self
Forgotten appreciation of the god between the lines of this, my weathered face.
I love living like life is worth it.
It’s easy when I smell chocolate
Or walk a couple dozen blocks
In the city that is America to me.
I forgot what air felt like in my lungs.
Ninth Ave and three times in my 33rd year
Spicy Sausage, Ratatouille and swiss crepe
With a glass of French Malbec
Chocolate crepe with Rhume Lait ___
I like the sound of sex as long as the rhythm involves me too.
Where does creativity lead?
Does it stroke egos or enhance the stupor of consumerism and the endless want for more?
Or does it wrap around the smallness of possibility and propel its bloom into the most radiant of sunrises?
I worry about this moment.
It has the capacity to be so much or to over-promise a little.
I don’t like the false start that an inopportune time pretends to care about.
If I forget, remind me that I’m worth more than what I produce.
I’m not a machine but someone keeps tipping me and turning me up.
This last week, I read a book of poetry by Jeremy Michael Vasquez. It felt like a journey. I’ll share some of it later.
When was the last time you went on a journey like that? Maybe for you, it’s a book of scientific theorems–quantum physics and neuroscience. Maybe for you, it’s fiction that awakens in you childlike wonder? For me, on this particular week, it was that book of poetry.
My favorite place in the entire world is the Nuyorican Poets Cafe in New York City. When it comes to poetry, I’m partial to slam. Pictured left, snapshots from my last visit in April this year. I serendipitously ran into my friend Ronique there–the last time I’d gone to the Nuyorican was with her and had been her first time. This time, she had brought a friend with her that was feeling depressed and without hope in her life. Feeling stuck in the monotony. Where did she bring her friend to lift her spirits? To the Nuyorican. The power of poetry by the people, for the people, with the people.
Living in Seattle, I have found a community of slam poets that have inspired and challenged me. One of the poets is Ben Yisrael. I asked Ben to send me this poem, here below. As you read it, picture him delivering it the way he does–shouting at the mic, often rolling on his tiptoes, hands waving in emphasis. It’s an ode to what poetry, and slam in particular, is all about. I love the lines: “Emotion is a birthright.” + “The right to remain silent is never used in revolution.” + “Scream like your jam is on cause you didn’t see it coming.”
“Scream” by Ben Yisrael
Poems should be seen
Tongues are not fists
We shouldn’t Boom Box
Words are kisses
Let them speak for themselves
The majesty of a sentence
Can shake you
But there are periods
When question marks are insufficient
When one must make an exclamation point!
When the prophecy of alarm clocks is timely.
The reasons will be heart-bending
Like when your Daughter left the legos out
And you stepped on them,
When you lost love or the closest thing to her
When you didn’t have the words to say,
Cause you were fresh out of whispers
Tears trembled down your cheeks
Like a runaway slave
The only poem you could recite
Was Harriet Tubman’s shotgun…
So you screamed!
We all came into this world
Kicking the snare drums in our throats
Back in the day
We knew how to make an entrance
Before we were taught
Don’t shout, don’t dance, don’t let it all out!
Use your inside voices
Bottle it up
Swallow that pill
You got more than enough reasons
But You don’t need permission
I mean what if you’re on fire?
Like you got bingo
Like you saw a roach
Like you had good sex!
Or you got ants in your pants
Shake it up
People tell us to get with the program
But we are not wired for remote control
Nuts and bolts
We are the children of
Blood sweat and saliva
The marriage of skin
The clash of bones
The drip of funk
The grit of teeth
Is a birthright
If you’ve got lungs
Shout me out
Don’t let anything mute your music
The right to remain silent
Is never used in revolution
Don’t be afraid to disturb the peace
Freight train-sonic boom-shake-light it up
Like a megaphone
You’ll tend to make a lot of noise
When moving mountains
Because your jam is on
Cause you didn’t see it coming
like the aliens have landed-literally
And will smith ain’t here to save you
Because you’ve got a right to
When the back flips and balance beams
Have left you bruised
When you just fell hard
And the whole world is watching
Charge towards the vault
Spinning towards a one-legged
9.7! grab the gold
Because Ginsberg would do it
Because it’s just another word for howl
Because you just got through playing
She loves me
She loves me not
And as it turns out
She’s head over hills
Some metaphors aren’t loud enough
Because we are rounding the bases
We are on our way home
Because the last thing you want to do is give life
Is the silent treatment