Oh, God he writes poetry (occasionally) #2

Half Life

Half-brained ideas followed by
half-hearted effort.
Half-baked delusions of
half-pursued grandeur.
A half-time resident in this halfway house I’m living in
half the distance between Einstein and oblivion.
Infected at birth with incurable wanderlust
forever looking for the next best thing.
Innoculated by experience with total distrust
of people always holding the illusive brass ring.
Half truths. Half lies.
Half-cooked alibies
for their coercion —
for my collusion —
in a game with half-written rules
that only apply to half the world
half the time.
Half-manned defenses
as total war commences.
Only ever ready for the call of Piper’s Fife.
A full-time player
In a damned half-life.

Where’s Rod Sterling when we need him? (A brief, and probably ill-advised political commentary)

pr flagEarlier this evening I was on my way to pick up dinner–I was too tired to cook tonight. I tuned my radio to NPR and Latino USA was on. Their subject this evening was the Puerto Rican debt crisis. I have to be honest, I didn’t realize that Puerto Rico was having a debt crisis, but apparently, their government is spending far more money than it takes in and no one is willing to compromise in order to solve the problem. (Gee. . .where have I heard that before?) Anyway, they interviewed a number of people about the issue: economics professors, economists, politicians, business owners, community leaders, and just regular folks. It didn’t seem like anyone had a real solid idea about what to do to solve the problem. Then, it happened. . .

. . .I entered The Twilight Zone. . .

tumblr_lx8xngH2nf1qav174o1_500

I heard the announcer say that the United States Congress was taking up the issue–apparently, Congress has the ultimate say on what happens in this situation–and that they were, most likely, going to end up appointing a board of managers (or governors, or some such. . .I can’t really remember the collective noun they used) to take over. It will most likely be American bankers and economists. Do what now???

I’m not sure whether this falls under the heading of irony, hypocrisy, insanity, or just plain ole “what the hell?” But, yeah, let’s have a group of 535 people, none of whom live in Puerto Rico, and all of whom are at least partially responsible for the T-R-I-L-L-I-O-N-S of dollars of debt that the US is in, decide on what is best for the people of Puerto Rico. I mean, is this some sort of experiment? If it works we’ll try it here. If not, meh who really got hurt here?

Everyday I wake up and I think maybe, just maybe, someone with half a brain will have rod sterlingemerged to rescue us from these fools. But, everyday I see Rod Sterling standing there, cigarette in hand, reminding me just how NUTTY things have become.

If you endure, you’ll get to wear a funny robe! (Quote of the Day – February 4)

barclay endurace quote

Endurance is not just the ability to bear a hard thing, but to turn it into glory. ~William Barclay

And, the World’s Worst Blogger Award goes to. . .ME!

I haven’t been very consistent about blogging lately. I started the year out quite well, but then I started classes and <insert The Price is Right loser sound effect here>.

…sorry about that…

But, it’s a brilliant segue if you’ll bear with me.

This semester is already difficult–really, REALLY difficult. I’m doing a lot of reading, and for someone who is not a fast reader, that’s a chore. I was thinking about dropping my Dickinson class, but my professor encouraged me to stick it out and then the Financial Aid Office encouraged me to stick it out by reminding me that my scholarships were contingent on maintaining full-time enrollment.

Enter William Barclay

Growing up in the United Methodist Church and, at one time, being a candidate for ordained ministry in the United Methodist Church, I am no stranger to William Barclay.

William Barclay

William Barclay

He wrote  commentaries on the entire New Testament–commentaries which were ubiquitous in the offices of Methodist pastors–at least back then. I have read some of all of those commentaries, but gosh, this little gem today from Barclay is something I must have missed!

In my experience, endurance always seemed to be couch in a negative way. Someone was going through a hard time, so we encouraged them to “just endure.” Older folks from my past would speak of someone enduring some grave illness. But, the part that was missing is the part that Barclay tacked on to the conversation.

Endurance is not just the ability to BEAR a hard thing, but to turn it into GLORY(Emphasis and exclamation mark mine.)

I tell my students all the time that if they will only endure the hardship of getting used to Pre-AP, AP, and college credit courses, the reward in the end will be well worth it. And, I believe that. You’d think after figuring it out enough to preach it I’d also figure out how to live it. But, I have a hard time with that sometimes–like now.

Even as I write this, my coffee table is littered with books which I should be using this time to read. Instead, I’m sloppily hurling my thoughts about endurance into the Cyberverse. Who knows? Maybe that is part of the endurance process. Maybe that’s part of turning it into glory.

masters regaliaThis is my penultimate semester of graduate school. I will take one elective in the summer (a Thoreau course which I’m CRAZY excited about), and then I will do my Guided Independent Study in the fall. In December, I will don a long black robe with goofy sleeves and a pretty orange and white hood and I will be handed another piece of paper that says I know a whole lot about the study of English.

or, at least that I endured long enough to get the paper…

GLORY!

So, with a slight shake of my head and a deep sigh, I say, endure the hardships, my friends. There is glory in the end.

Elegy of a Working Grad Student

I’ll warn you in advance that this post might seem a little bitter and borderline jealous, but I don’t mean it that way. I hope you’ll bear with me.

I made a lot of stupid decisions when I was just out of high school. I was a terrible student with not much motivation. I wasted a lot of years. True enough, I made up for those years when I went back to college and graduated with a 3.83 GPA, but by then, the die was cast. I was too old to stop working and be a “full-time” grad student. If I wanted a graduate degree, it would have to be done in addition to my job, not instead of it. I was okay with that. . .until now.

I want to be a part of the community of graduate students. I want to collaborate with them. I want to learn from them and I want to offer what knowledge and wisdom I can to them. I want to publish and present. I want to be involved in the ongoing academic conversation. But, I can’t be a part of that world. That world is reserved for students who either don’t work, or students who work only part-time and can be on campus learning and talking and writing for most of the hours of the day. Working grad students like me are left on the outside looking in. We are left to watch as younger graduate students who have (I’m sorry, but it’s true) not had to work as hard as working schlubs like me. It hurts.

I take responsibility for the decisions I made. I understand that it was those decisions that put me in the position I’m in now, but that doesn’t make it hurt any less. I wish there were a place for me, but there is not. I will finish my degree in December and will still be on the outside looking in as other students–more “typical” students are given opportunities I will never be given. It hurts.

Yeah. . .it hurts.

</elegy>

Quote of the Day – January 26

ben franklin writing quote

Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing. ~Benjamin Franklin

Gee, thanks, Ben!

As if every time I sit down behind a keyboard I weren’t under enough pressure. Now I’ve got you on my back…write something worth reading! What a life, this life of a tortured and frustrated writer. To want nothing more than to see my own words in print and know that they bring someone some little ounce of joy, but to see everyone else find that success while you’re left behind.

What if I never write anything worth reading? What if I never do anything worth writing? In that case, I suppose I’ll just keep plugging away. Pecking at my keyboard. Opening a vein, as it were. Pouring my life’s blood; my heart; my soul; the essence of who I am onto the page.

Woah…hold up there, Jason. Let’s not be dramatic.

So, yes, Ben. I’ll write on.

The Pilgrim Rose: Thoughts on an Emily Dickinson Poem

Emily Dickinson,

Emily Dickinson,

My familiarity with Dickinson’s work was, at best, limited.  I’d always had the impression that she was, in my own words, a tortured recluse. She was reclusive to be sure; but tortured–I’m beginning to wonder, and this poem is a prime example of the reason why.

 

 

 

Nobody knows this little Rose –
It might a pilgrim be
Did I not take it from the ways
And lift it up to thee.
Only a Bee will miss it –
Only a Butterfly,
Hastening from far journey –
On it’s breast to lie –
Only a Bird will wonder –
Only a Breeze will sigh –
Ah Little Rose – how easy
For such as thee to die!

(F11, The Poems of Emily Dickinson. Edited by R.W. Franklin. Copyright 1998.)

This poem was originally published in the Springfield Daily Republican in August of 1858 with the heading “To Mrs – with a rose”, and the recipient was Susan Dickinson (Emily Dickinson Archive). There are several things in it which caught my attention.

Upon first reading, my takeaway was that this poem was a premature lamentation for a lost loved one–not an uncommon theme in what I’ve read thus far. Dickinson is mourning the day when her beloved sister-in-law (considering the recipient) is gone, a day which has not come. Dickinson is pained by how quickly and “eas[ily]” death comes. The poem seemed fairly straight forward–you will die, the people who love you will miss you, but not that many people will notice. Surely something to make you feel good when you receive it on a sunny Summer day. But, as with most poetry, and this is certainly true of Dickinson, there is more to it than that.

Nobody knows this little Rose –
It might a pilgrim be

The rose is arguably the most beautiful and fragrant of all flowers. It is certainly, in Western culture, the most coveted. The gift of roses is synonymous with love, friendship, compassion, sympathy–it encompasses all emotions and relationships. Their smell is powerful and soothing–only a few blooms can fill an entire room. For those of us who grew up in homes where roses were grown and tended, the fragrance is fraught with memories. But, roses are also incredibly delicate, especially after they are picked. They wilt and die quickly. Their petals brown and fall away at the slightest touch. Their beauty is magnificent, but fleeting. They are pilgrims.

The Pilgrim Climbing Rose

The Pilgrim Climbing Rose

A pilgrim. A wanderer or traveler. A person on a lengthy journey, most of the time not knowing where she will be taken. The imagery here of a wandering “Rose”–a graceful, beautiful young woman who, no matter where she is, never seems to be in the right place. She never seems to be in a place where her beauty and grace is appreciated except for her fellow sojourners. Emily and Susan’s relationship seems to be that of kindred spirits. Emily would understand the pilgrim Rose and would likewise be understood.

 

Did I not take it from the ways
And lift it up to thee.

The title from the publication, “To Mrs -, sent with a rose” suggests that the poem was actually delivered with a rose, most likely from Emily’s garden, that she had picked herself. The flower a reminder to her dear friend, her sister, that she is loved and cared for and understood. But, there is deeper meaning even than that. In writing “Did I not take it from the ways” implies that she is something of a rescuer. She rescued this one rose from the obscurity it knew in an entire garden of beauty, and she will rescue Susan from the obscurity of married life, making her a person of unmatched importance in Emily’s life. She will lift Susan up so that her beauty can truly be seen.

Only a Bee will miss it –
Only a Butterfly,
Hastening from far journey –
On its breast to lie –
Only a Bird will wonder –
Only a Breeze will sigh –

Bees, butterflies, birds, and breezes–all pilgrims. Always moving from place to place stopping just long enough to rest or eat. It is among theses fellow wanderers that the Rose will be missed. Although there is some comfort here in knowing that one will be missed after death, there is also a hint of bittersweet pathos. After all, bees, butterflies, birds, and even the breeze will all move along. They will find another rose upon which to light. There will be other roses from which the wind can transmit olfactory beauty. This rose might be missed, but there is always another rose.

Ah Little Rose – how easy
For such as thee to die!

These lines are again a repetition of the idea that death comes quickly (in this case I don’t take the word “easy” literally) for such a tender flower. But, knowing now what I know about Dickinson’s experiences in life, I am also hesitant to take the verb “to die” quite as literally as I would have before. Dickinson’s attitude toward death and dying seems to me to be a bit more broad than that of most people. To her, death may indeed be just another part of the journey that the pilgrim Rose is on. Death, rather than a tragic end, is a release from a life far more confining and restrictive than any “pilgrim” could endure for long.

Like Dickinson herself, this poem has many facets of meaning. Its message and purpose is not singular. It is an affirmation of sisterhood and friendship. It is a promise of protection and praise. It is an acknowledgment that life is temporary. It is a celebration of the fact that even when temporal life ends, life continues on.

I selected this poem because I experienced a personal connection to it. After my parents divorced when I was young, my mother, sister, and I lived with my great grandmother and great-great aunt in their small bungalow-style home. They kept a rose garden in an area between the living room and side porch of the house. In the summertime, when the rose bushes were in full bloom and the wind was out of the south, the whole house was filled with the most amazing smell. Even now, some 30 years after the last time I lived in that house, when I smell roses I am immediately transported back to my childhood. The memories of those days ride on and are immersed in that sweet fragrance. My great grandmother was a single mother of three children decades before single motherhood was common or accepted. My great-great aunt was widowed childless at only 30 years old. Like the pilgrim Rose in this poem, neither of them were widely known in this life, but both of them were an influence that left them sorely missed at their death. So, this poem spoke to me in a very real and tangible way.

On Poetry. And my own poetry. (Quote of the Day – January 22)

jim morrison poetry quote

Listen, real poetry doesn’t say anything; it just ticks off the possibilities. Opens all doors. You can walk through anyone that suits you. ~Jim Morrison

Ughh. . .the first week of the semester. It’s the absolute most chaotic time I know. Everything is new. Everything is confusing. Everything looks so big and un-doable.

…sorry for not posting more the last few days–first week of the semester and all…

I love poetry, but until this semester I’ve never taken a course which really dove deep into it. This semester I’m taking a course which focuses on the poetry of Emily Dickinson. She’s such a mystery–literally and figuratively. The last few decades of her life were lived in almost total seclusion. Outside of her family, very few people saw her. Yet, she composed some of the most beautiful verse ever put to paper–most of it as communication with and gifts to those few friends who were closest to her.

The beautiful thing about Dickinson’s poetry, about all poetry really, is that, as Jim Morrison alluded to, it speaks to all of us in whatever way we choose to let it. In that way, poetry is unique among the arts. Its uniqueness comes not from meter, rhyme, rhythm, or form, but rather from the fact that poetry speaks from the inside out. Poetry only has meaning when it is taken in; when it is internalized and contextualized by the reader. Then its purpose becomes apparent.

That purpose?

Whatever we need it to be.

Poetry alone has the power to mix and match seemingly unrelated words and phrases into a patchwork quilt of understanding and realization so natural; so obvious; so undeniable that we can scarcely remember a time  when we didn’t know it to be true.

Poetry is not words on a page.

Poetry is what the words on the page reveal in us

And now if you’ll indulge me–a bit of my own…

a verse on verse

tickling every sense
tweaking every sensibility
letters and sounds and words and phrases
meshed into one likeness; one sameness;
one self-realization after self-realization
verse upon verse interwoven becomes more
more than letters and sounds and words and phrases
verse upon verse becomes heart
becomes soul; becomes body, mind, spirit
verse upon verse read inside out
becomes me, you, us, and we
verse upon verse becomes who and what it needs to be