Crisis and Opportunity

Today, pondering the election, I am reflecting on the notion that in Chinese calligraphy “disaster” combines the symbols for “crisis” and “opportunity.”  As it turns out this is a mistaken notion, but one that swept meme-like through western culture with the speed of wildfire.  We fell on it like devouring dogs because it’s a concept capitalists like us already understand and embrace.

It’s as American as the fortune cookies invented by a Japanese-American businessman, Mr. Suyeichi  who started  a Japanese confectionery store in San Francisco in 1906.  His store provided fortune cookies to the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park.  During World War II, when Japanese-Americans in California were sent to internment camps, Chinese-American businessmen used the opportunity to manufacture their own prophesy-enfolding desserts, peddling them first in Chinatown thus setting in motion the universal association between fortune cookies and Chinese restaurants that continues to this day.  Obviously, this small case of entrepreneurship was rife with both crisis and opportunity.

As I see it, the disaster in this election year of 2016 is less about Trump and more about the dangerous polarization that plagues our country at this moment.  The opportunity comes in using these weeks before the new year, to re-examine how and why we contributed to the creation of this perilous No Man’s Land.

If anyone had to lose this election perhaps it’s better that the folks less inclined to bear arms aggressively are those taking to the streets.  In my opinion, civil war is not an option and neither is should-a, could-a, would-a, breast-beating.  The thing to do is figure out how to communicate with those with whom we seem diametrically opposed.  Where is common ground?  How do we, who purport to be the sensitive, educated, righteous ones, actually roll up sleeves and do the grunt work of mediation?   This is the opportunity to take all our vaunted learning (everything we know about consciousness, psychology, sociology, history, physics, ecology etc., etc., etc., not to mention all the hours of therapy and self-help we have worked and struggled with these last few decades to become wiser people) – and actually embody what we’ve learned.

Would I have preferred Hillary?  You betcha!  Did I sign the petition to the electoral college, hoping they will change they’re votes?  I did.  Will I contribute in paying the fines?  Yes.  I also think if she had won that we, her supporters, would have fallen back into smug self-congratulation without considering how we contribute to the discord of dichotomy poisoning our country.

If it takes crisis to get us off our butts, to put not money, but the frustrating difficult work of compromise, collaboration and creation where our mouths have been, then so be it.  This is the service we are called to, the service for which we have been honing our skills.  This time, this work, is why we practiced.

I plan to look the homeless in the eye, stop smiling weakly at sexist jokes, stand beside the person being bullied or ridiculed.  I will find common ground, practice random kindness, smile at those whose path I cross.  I’ll work hard at staying conscious and put my efforts into the details of daily life.  Good will, will be my practice from now on.

I believe kindness ameliorates hate.  I know resistance strengthens opposition.  My own inner journey has taught me that embracing my demons is the only way to weaken their stranglehold on happiness.  This crisis is my opportunity to practice what I preach.

 

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Death and Ambiguity

With Halloween approaching and images of raddled witches cackling from every corner, I felt it was a good time to reblog an entry from a site my artist friend Michelle Anglin and I once shared. It speaks to Baba Yaga, prime mover in the mythic cosmology of Russia – She who epitomizes the very essence of crone.

Two Twitch A Tale

The Crone

While Baba Yaga may have her more benign moments, in truth, she is a terrifying creature of great power; a cannibal, said to have devoured the flesh of those whose flaming skulls form a palisade around her chicken-legged hut.  Cannibalism seems repulsive and horrible to modern eyes, but originally people ate bits of the dead in order to share their manna, their spirit, and make it their own.  Taking a bite of one’s ancestor meant incorporating some of her/his power and wisdom into oneself and opened a door to communication with the dead.  In the same way, eating some of one’s enemy allowed access to their courage and intelligence. In a way its about conservation, recycling and continuity; learning from the past and bringing its lessons forward.

Skulls served the same purpose.  Many ancient cultures from Celts to Mayans collected skulls and incorporated them heavily into their culture and…

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“It’s not easy to define poetry.” ~Bob Dylan

bob-dylan-005

I am a lone wolf type of person, preferring to ascertain truth (always lower case) by means of intuition rather than sensation.  I make decisions based on logic rather than emotion and my conclusions are subject to change based on new evidence.  That makes me an INTP by Meyers-Briggs reckoning and defines me, to some extent, as an “intellectual.”  Unsurprisingly, early on I bumped heads with America’s anti-intellectual bias.  It took me frank-zappaa long confused time to understand it, but years of studying American history, religion and politics has taught me how and why this societal meme became so firmly entrenched in a society that purported to value education.  This debilitating prejudice seems to me to be the basis of much of Trump’s support – he’s brought it out of the closet and into the playground.

However, almost any prejudice has a flip side, a mirror image of itself.  The “awe-shucks” guy and gal have a counterpart in the intellectual snob who wants to dis anything smacking of popularity or successful commercialism.  Which brings us to Bob Dylan and the controversy surrounding his Nobel prize for “having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.”

Dylan was wildly successful at synthesizing various genres of American music such as jazz, swing, blues, and pop into a unique sound.  The commercial success of his innovations encouraged other musicians to dare their own kinds of fusion.  He  insisted from the very beginning on being his own person and has never stopped insisting.  To quote Bill Wyman’s NY Times Op Ed piece in September,2013  “Mr. Dylan’s obama-and-dylanwork remains utterly lacking in conventionality, moral sleight of hand, pop pabulum or sops to his audience.  His lyricism is exquisite; his concerns and subjects are demonstrably timeless; and few poets of any era have seen their work bear more influence.”

Sometime in the late 1960’s women took “the personal is political” as a rallying cry.  It resonated all the way through me the first time I heard it.  I knew exactly what it meant. persomal-politicalBob Dylan’s lyrics exemplify that phrase.  Dylan’s blend of the political and personal is unforced and natural, because he makes these connections intuitively.  Art has often been used as a conscious vehicle for the expression of political ideas, but Dylan’s perspective of the world derives naturally from an understanding of how things, people, place relate to one another.  His art arises out of questions he asks about the meaning behind what people do and feel.

Certainly there are places in his lyrics where the words and ideas don’t logically align in a straightforward direction, but this is poetic license, painting a mood and scenario true to whatever he attends to in the moment.  His lyrics it-aint-meretain the tang of truth because he tempers them with a  reserve of skepticism, questioning even his own opinions and motivations. He manages to observe humanity without distancing himself from us and thus he remains relevant.lay

To those who argue that lyrics are neither literature nor poetry, I agree with Salman Rushdie’s opinion, “From Orpheus to Faiz, song and poetry have been closely linked. Dylan is the brilliant inheritor of the bardic tradition.”  Dylan’s ability to present poetry to the world depended on his use of music, certainly he wasn’t a beautiful singer nor even, when he began, a great musician.  The combination of powerful poetry with  wordless raw emotion embodied in those poor-man’s instruments, the voice and harmonica, let Dylan cut across class, religion, gender and race to appeal to the political and personal heart of audiences around the world.

 

not-a-crooked-trail

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Artemis As Artemisia: Ancient Female Spirituality & Modern Medicine by Stuart Dean

Once again,
limb-loosening Love [Eros]
makes me tremble,
the bitter-sweet,
irresistible creature.

I just referred in a poem of my own to the stories held in the names of plants and then I stumble upon this fascinating article. I’m very happy to pass it on.

Detail of Artemis from a 5th century BCE Attic Vase Detail of Artemis from a 5th century BCE Attic Vase  (Museum of Fine Arts (Boston))

The 2015 Nobel Prize for Medicine was awarded in part to a Chinese woman (Tu) for her identification and isolation to treat malaria of a chemical known as Artemisinin.  The name of that chemical derives from the fact that it is found in varying amounts in the ‘family’ (technically, genus) of plants known as Artemisia.  The name of that family derives from its association with the goddess Artemis.

Because Tu’s work began in China in the 1960s it is understandable that even if she knew this about Artemisia (a term I use to refer to any one plant or all of the plants of that family) it would not have been a ‘careerbuilder’ for her to point it out to those for whom she was working.  It was bad enough that…

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NaPoWriMo: A Kenning

bluebonnets

Blue Bonnet

 

Spring harbinger

Paintbrush partner

Concrete’s victim

Nature’s dictum

Texas treasure

 Ladybird’s pleasure

Sky reflector

Folk connector

Bee beacon

Nature’s deacon

Cows distaste

Goats haste

A Kenning is a two word phrase describing an object often using a metaphor.  A Kennings poem is a riddle made up of several lines of kennings to describe something or someone.

 

 

 

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NaPoWriMo: The Fan Letter

One of the lost poems came wandering back via my husband’s computer – much rejoicing over this lost sheep, its matted fur and ticks matter not a whit. 

The story of Leda and the Swan has always fascinated me – it harks back to earliest times when all animals, including us, roamed the world as acknowledged kin.  It  defies sexual taboos, as so many myths do, which leads to questioning just why they have become so important to humans.  I’m guessing for the same reason sexual associations are so important to advertising.   Linking anything to such a powerful force lends it power and charisma of its own. Politics and religion discovered this early on.  Christianity attempted to taboo sexuality itself, hoping  to re-channel sexual energy into religious fervor and also to manipulate its congregations.  This seems far afield from Leda and her swan, but if you consider the inherent sensuality of the natural world and remember how sexual imperative can trump any rule or social more in mere seconds, it begins to make sense.

My Leda poems don’t address these issues directly, instead they plump down, as I always do, on the side of sensuality.  When prompted to write a fan letter to a star, she sprang immediately to mind…

Dear Leda

 

You know me

we’ve met in print before,

midst other poets you’ve inspired –

H. D., Machan, Phillips, Yeats…

Perhaps you don’t remember.

 

My admiration reaches

further back than words –

it takes flight as fancies

floating in air, tiny feathers

white, black, red

wafting round your lovely form,

tickling your imagination

the way they tickle mine..

 

Though hatchlings

change one’s life forever,

their triumphs and disasters,

prophecies and god’s blood

provide no substitute

for plumage of one’s own…

 

I understand your longing

to transmogrify, change shape and fly,

to willingly accept a swain

redolent with divinity

into your depths, hoping

something more than semen

equally transformative,

magical and wild

might find a home in you.

 

 It awes my poet heart

how well you persevere,

hold your place as muse

in history and myth

Checa, Michelangelo,

Leonardo, Correggio, Cezanne,

all roused by your audacity.

 

Dear MS Leda, you inspire

this ardent fan to acquiesce,

no matter how I fear, whenever

gods’ bright beating wings

draw near.

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NaPoWriMo: Almanac

Poetry Prevails

 

Someone scrawls “Mozart Rules!” across the toilet stall wall

but the  frog choir outside, inhabiting Rumi’s field,

give lie to the words before her ink is dry,

though who’s to say molecules of Mozart

have not imbued the leading bullfrog with unique

patterns of tone and harmony?  Poetry

prevails here, embraced by an eccentric women

prowling the leafy grounds dressed

in a velvet gown and round sombrero, accompanied

by Parsley the cat who risks freedom

for Cheetos and sleeps now in the front pew,

yellow crumbs still adorning  her whiskers,

 while live poets rise one after another

 to quote their dead commadres and padres

with tears, laughter and love.

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NaPoWriMo: Inspiration

Not To Mention The Lost Works of Shakespeare and Ovid

 

I lost three separate poems today.

Each disappeared from different rooms

in ordinary circumstances, leaving behind

but the haziest trace of precious

detail, beloved turn of phrase, and oh

the imagery – erotic swans, dissolute gods

and a winding? Curving? Twisting?

Possibly undulating? Worn asphalt road…

 

Hadley left Ernest’s stories on a train.

So did Lawrence- Seven Pillars

on the way to London. Dylan Thomas

and Robert Ludlum lost theirs in bars.

Last Day of the Dead I devoted

an altar to lost manuscripts

A dozen poets left scraps of verse

half- buried in its sand.

 

Usually author error

sends lost works into limbo

the way most airplane accidents

are due to pilots suffering stress,

malaise, exhaustion, stupidity, inebriation –

failings shared by poets whose flights

of imagination sometimes tumble

inadvertently into wastebaskets

or go down in flames fueled by haste,

despair, carelessness or jealousy.

 

I’m mad at myself this morning,

mourning my lost creations as if

words in their millions do not circle

the firmament creating endless

constellations, novel configurations.

 

I’d better write a poem.

 

I just returned from the Poetry Festival at Round Top. We heard about it last year at AIPF, Austin’s poetry festival. Someone told us it was the best kept secret on the poetry circuit.  Perhaps, I shouldn’t spill the beans, but its too good not to share. Besides, Texas Highways has written a gorgeous article about it, with which I happily concur.

The event takes place every year at Festival Hill, an amazing vision-made-manifest by James Dick  and his family, friends, volunteers and patrons. It was and still is an idea in the making.  Like all effective magical workings, it backed intention with practice.  For every idea, hands carved another piece of the ceiling, poured another slab, laid another stone or installed another window.  The pianist whose talented fingers provided the funds, himself, hewed, carved, schlepped wood, water and stone with those self-same hands to create a concert hall of unique beauty that echoes all year to music and, for one intense weekend, to the voice of poetry. Here’s the lineup of featured poets: Robert Hass, Terrance Hayes, Dorianne Laux, Dunya Mikhail, Maurice Manning, Carmen Tafolla, Rosemary Catacalos, William Wenthe and Sasha West. The grounds were beautiful, the food good and bountiful.   Every thing happened in a timely manner and good will and intense excitement prevailed.

So of course I was inspired to write! and I did.  And as you’ve guessed from my pocoyote8em, I lost the poems I wrote for NaPoWriMo, whose prompts I took along and accessed via a failing laptop, knowing the muse would be following me around.  Not so oddly for me, so was that trickster, Coyote, or maybe he and Muse are one and the same.  He’s an old pal.  This time he inspired me by disappearing my inspirations.  As always, the goal is to get me to take myself less seriously and have more fun.  As always, I swear to try, only to hear Yoda’s voice telling me to do instead.  So no prompted poem today!  Instead a lack of prompt poetry!  Cheers!!

Moth-Baldwin

 

 

 

 

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NaPoWriMo:SanSan

Flying Beneath Her Radar

 

Flying beneath her radar, star-struck fellow

stalks the Queen of Prom from class to class

through thronging halls, butt-littered parking lots

his star runs marathons, debates, plays cello,

flirts, mingles, taunts and puffs illicit grass

she’s star of a flying circus, apex of all desire,

while dangerous class-less he, nerd-shy with spots,

dreams of flying low with gunfire.

 

 

 

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NaPoWriMo: Fortune Cooky Prompts

imagesElegant surroundings will soon be yours.

 

My daughter and I share a fondness

for  inexpensive oriental restaurants.

The food is  good and even

the meanest hole-in-the-wall

offers a spray of delicate life-like orchids,

3-d photos of Norwegian wolves,

or golden plastic dragons with googly green eyes.

Believing that you are beautiful will make you appear beautiful to others around you.

 Happy Fortune, our favorite,

has painted bamboo screens and red lanterns

I wasn’t expecting to fight over  #7. Moo Goo Gai Pan

 

“You hate baby corn.”

“I’ll pick it out. I love the way it sounds!”

You can still love what you cannot have in life.

“Me too!”

A soft answer turns wrath away

“Don’t patronize!

“I’m a poet, I agree, it’s a marvelous word.”

Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet.

You, You , you!  Why is always about you?”

 

She dimples at the handsome waiter,

his inscrutable face,

his delicious cheekbones.

I’ll have # 10.  Sweet and Sour Pork.”

Back away from individuals who are impulsive.

“Are you sure?”

“What do you mean?”

If you feel you are right, stand firmly by your convictions.

“It always makes you sick.”

 

She orders it.

We eat.

She barfs in the bathroom …

 

“Sorry Mom, friends?”

“Friends.  Want a fortune cookie?”

Cellophane wrappers crinkle and pop.

paper fortunes curl around our fingertips

delivering identical directives:

 

Listen to your mother.

Listen to your mother.

 

 

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