Thoughts: Meanderings of a Born Again Poet

This morning I wrote two poems.

The first one was so so. A little platitude filled. Good thoughts, mediocrely written. The second one was, I think, pretty good.  I posted them both.

I tend to post poems as I write them. I write. Rewrite. Prune. Rework and post. Others perhaps, would let them settle and come back to them. There’s some wisdom in that. But I don’t.

I discovered something today. On days I write two or more poems, the first one is always the weakest. I thought that when I wrote today’s poems, and when I looked back a few weeks, it proved to be mostly true.

“Why is that?” I wondered.

As I thought about it, I thought about my process a little. I am a disciplined writer, in that I sit down nearly every day, at a certain time, and write. I write first in my journal, and secondly, I write poetry or essays for my various blogs.

Most days, it comes pretty easily. Like any skill, when you work at it regularly (and I write for much of my work as well.), you get pretty good at it. My journal writing sort of breaks the logjam loose, and away I go.

Except of course, when I don’t.

Some days I am just flat. I don’t have a lot of emotion going on. I am not struggling with anything. Or I am struggling too much with things. The words have to be chipped out of me like carving marble. Slow and painstakingly.

But I write anyway. And often, it’s not my best work. It feels (to me) like the struggle it took to write it. Technically good. But lacking in passion. Like the difference between an English landscape painting by Robert Gallon…

Robert Gallon

… And something by Salvadore Dali:

Painting

The difference, of course, is that by the time I have plowed through writing the first poem, I am loosened up. I am more tapped in. I have plowed through my own barriers and more open to being open.

“Write what you know.” the old adage goes. The first poem is almost inevitably what I think. The second one is what I feel. What I know. And it’s better.

The trouble is, I never know if a second one will come. Some days, all I get is the thinking poem, all technically correct with good, skilled writing and utterly devoid of life. Maybe I am the only one who sees it, but I suspect you guys notice the difference, despite your kind words on both types of poems.

So I post the first one.

You see, when I was in therapy after my divorce, my therapist told me I needed to write again. I had been a writer for much of my adult life and that had fallen to the wayside in the bustle we call life, and I had paid the price. NOT writing had been one of many factors in my coming undone. (not to mention the divorce itself.).

So she had me write. And she suggested I begin a blog. “Having readers, even half a dozen, will tap into your sense of responsibility and make sure you keep writing.”

She was right.

I began my blog, with no expectations of readers, and just wrote and posted. I still do that. Whether or not you care that I write every day, I like to pretend you do. It does feed that responsible gene (Dang therapists, they keep being right.) and keeps me at it. Good days. Bad days. I write.

And I post.

I don’t bank things towards a flat day or a day when might not want to write. I keep no backlog. This makes me trust the muse, God, inspiration, my own skill, to provide something every day. Manna, I call it, like the biblical bread God provided Moses and the Israelites in the desert.

Trusting that something will come, and then acting on that trust, day after day, generally means it comes. That’s true in poetry, and in life in general. So I trust and I write and somehow it works out.

That’s what I have learned. One of the lessons I have taken from the first half or so of my life. Trust and act, day after day, and things work out. I have given up trying to understand why. I am content with the fact that it does. When I write. And as I live.

Good poems and bad.

Just the act of writing helps me. I am glad when someone says something I have written has touched them or was just what they needed. I love hearing that, in fact. It gives additional purpose to my writing. But I write, ultimately, for myself. For my sanity. You guys get to come along for the ride.

Good poems and bad.

So now you know my process. There’s no grand plan. Heck, there’s no plan at all. I just do it. In the moment, whatever happens that moment. I’ve come to believe that writing, in general, is more powerful when it is less processed, and more real, more in the moment, with the emotions overflowing, our skill barely able to contain it. Raw.

That’s the hard stuff, of course. Most of us don’t like being revealing. I know I don’t. But, it seems to do me good. It seems to do some of you good. So even if it does not always feel good, it seems to be a good thing. And I do it every day. My sanity preserver.  One of the things that brought me back from the brink, many years ago.

So there you go. Meanderings of a born again poet.

Have a good weekend. Be well. Travel wisely,

Tom

Poem: The Saving Grace of Things You Do Not Eat

2013-10-12 00-27-09

The Saving Grace of Things You Do Not Eat

The sun washes over the tomatoes.
You stop and swallow the perfect color,
bright and firm, the deep red skin, the green, green stems.

The truth is, you don’t like tomatoes.
Their harsh acid cuts and burns
and leaves you gasping, gagging.

But still, you cannot deny their beauty,
a beauty worth savoring, worth clinging to
on dark days like this,

when your mind is overactive, lying
and only an intimate enemy can,
preying on your weakest joints,

in the places where you are knit together,
fragile and timeworn by the anger of others,
your broken places.

And you know the war is not won in fire and fury,
in drama and declarations,
but in acts of acceptance,

acceptance of the small gifts of God
like these tomatoes in all their glory
that you will never eat.

About this poem

I was taught by my therapist, that when the depression rises, to slow down, to focus on the small gifts that every day brings. A fine cup of coffee. The tendrils of dark hair that sometimes falls down my love’s face. A cat purring in my lap as I read. The cool wind on my face.

See them. Savor them. Remind your brain that life is full of beautiful gifts. It is a powerful tool, savoring the good in our lives. And the worst of things is ultimately helpless against it.

And, thanks to Donald Trump for the fire and fury line. I am not a fan of the man on any front, but that phrase deserved a better context. As an early writing teacher once told me, “Writers plagiarize. Poets steal with panache.”.

The truth is, I really do hate tomatoes. I gag when I try to eat them. But I think a lot of things in life are beautiful and wonderful that I’ll never do or eat or drink. Beauty’s everywhere. Even in tomatoes.

Tom

Poem: Trappings and Reminders

RUMC

Trappings and Reminders

Early in the morning,
you sit in the back of the church
and pray
alone,

The sanctuary no less sacred empty
than full,
always open
for prayer,

God always waiting
for pilgrims
and seekers
and the broken.

I imagine him smiling
in the knowledge that every place is a sacred place,
and those like me who come,
lacking the ability to see,
and come here, to the place of trappings and reminders
to open themselves
to the God of everywhere
and let him in.

About this poem. 

The picture was taken in my church.

I love churches. I even preach in one. But I am not such a fool to think they are the only place we encounter God.

Tom

Poem: In Praise of Merthiolate

Tied.JPG

In Praise of Merthiolate

I prefer to choose the time and method
of my bleeding,
to choose the wounds and ply them with Merthiolate,
pain-orange,
that short period of intense pain,
exposure to air and vulnerability,
to tell my own tales of failure and brokenness,
to reduce my own image to a burning truth
of neither perfection or shambles,
but simple humanity,
to rob the vendors of doom and ire of their opportunity
to bind me in fear.

So do not look here for halos,
for storybook beauty or happy endings
without struggle or plodding.
My life is one of constant exposure and confession,
of choosing to be vulnerable
only to find that other’s ropes
fall away
and the scars I bear
are mine alone.

About this poem

Yes, there is a story behind this poem. No, I won’t tell it to you. A few things I keep to myself.

I will tell you however, that I love Merthiolate. A few seconds of pain, and it’s over. This whole lingering, stringing out the pain thing is not for me.  Orange color optional.

Tom

 

Poem: Ezekiel’s Call

giving blood

Ezekiel’s Call

The plastic tube drapes over your arm
and drops out of sight.
You watch as the blood, Rich, dark
and red with oxygen flows down,
disappears, leaves you, never to return,
to become a part of another’s body,
to preserve another’s soul.

Your heart pumps, unaware at first
of the slow drain of life,
trusting strange nurses to allow just enough
to leave your veins,
just enough,
and no more, somehow knowing

just how much can drain and then,
replenish,
trusting

hat the draining, unlike that of the soul,
will not continue into oblivion,
leaving you desiccated, dry as bones,
waiting for Ezekiel’s call.

About this poem

I took the picture above some time ago, thinking to myself that someday I’d like to write a poem about giving blood. That poem just showed up.

The story of Ezekial and the dry bones is one of the most dramatic, and one of my favorite stories in the entire bible.  If you would like to understand the reference, you can read it in Ezekiel 37: 1-14. It is a great story of what God’s spirit can do to a dead soul. It’s also a scene that has been tapped in films from the fifties all the way to the Pirates of the Caribbean movies.

Tom

Poem: Haunted Places

stonework.JPG

Haunted Places

I don’t mind telling you the place is haunted,
that inside the walls are all sorts of madness and grief,
trauma and brokenness haunt all who venture too deep
inside these walls.

I am not trying to scare you away,
but you seem like a nice person and deserve knowing
the things that lie within.

For all haunted things are not dark and dank.
Some sparkle with life and beauty,
the ghosts and demons carefully orchestrated
to appear only at night, or when someone inadvertently
insists on opening doors and walking inside.

About this poem

About buildings. About people.

Tom