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Lisa Vihos
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Last night was the 2014 Best American Poetry launch reading, and I surely wish I could have teleported myself to New York to be with you all. I trust you had a great evening. Since this is my last day on the BAP blog, I want to share some random thoughts that I’d hoped would find their way into my posts, but did not: Did you know: That Saturday, September 27 is the fourth annual 100 Thousand Poets for Change world-wide poetry day, happening at a location near you? In 600 cities in 100 countries, poets, musicians, mimes, and artists are working together to promote peace, justice, and sustainability. Go here for an event in your area. Attend. You will be happy you did. Did you know: That in the future, there will be no colleges, no banks, and no factories? Furthermore, in the future, there will be 3-D printers that can print actual things, like a guitar that you can use and then recycle. Same for clothes. They will fit you perfectly because they will be digitally mastered to fit your body. Then, you can delete them and make new ones the next day. (These are predictions by Jaron Lanier in his book Who Owns the Future?) Did you know: That in the future, things will be less linear and more fragmented? Lanier writes: “From here on out the human story will no longer unfold in a sensible way. We are said to be entering into a fate that will resist interpretation. Narrative arcs will no longer apply.” Lanier goes on to say that in the world of software development, there is still a dominant narrative, but the problem is that humans aren’t the heroes. He wants to make sure that humans remain players. Let’s stay in the game, people. Okay? Did you know: There is wonderful e-zine called Brain Pickings. Go here, to read a fascinating post on how to survive the information revolution. Writer Maria Popova posits that the hope for the future is in the storytellers, the ones who take information and make wisdom from it. In this age of information overload, we need storytellers to keep finding meaning. Hear that people? We need storytellers. Go! Did you know: That eons ago, the mammoths rubbed up against rocks along the coast of Northern California to groom themselves? They rubbed so much that the rocks became shiny. Talk about leaving a legacy. Did you know: A poem begins as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a homesickness, a lovesickness. (Robert Frost said this.) Did you know: Now that everything is happening in the Cloud, there is a word for the world before the Cloud? The word is: antenimbosia. I want this word. Did you know: That not all Muses are female? Mine, for example, is male. I know this goes against centuries of mythology, but hey. Talk to the Muse. Finally, If I had to say there was one thread for me this week,... Continue reading
Posted Sep 19, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
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Here it is Day 4, a Thursday. In my blog, Frying the Onion, Thursday is significant because it is the day of the week that my dad died. Soon after this happened, a friend told me that the Tibetans have a tradition of remembrance. The day of the week on which the person died becomes sacred, a day to do things in that person’s honor: enact a kind deed, give to charity, or start a new venture. Then, after seven weeks, the deceased’s soul will have decided its next move, and off it goes. Those left behind can relax, trusting that the soul has found its next bardo, or level. So we hope. For me, Thursday has remained full of meaning, and a year later, is still frought with grief. On top of this, it seems that everywhere I turn, a friend, co-worker, neighbor, or acquaintance is battling cancer or some other life-threatening illness. And I don't mean the terminal illness called Life. I mean something serious. Something that changes how a person does things. Last week, when I visited California, I made a five-hour detour off my main purpose (which was to visit friends in the Bay Area), and drove down to the San Fernando Valley to say goodbye to a friend in hospice in her home. I last saw Diane in January, 2014, and before that, in the summer of 2010 when she came to Wisconsin for a visit. She was sick, but pretty high functioning then. Friends were giving her and her husband trips to Paris and London and the use of their homes in these romantic places. At the time, she said, "I should die more often." Diane is my age, and was my colleague when I worked at the Getty Museum. She was the writer/editor in the Education Department and later an editor at the Getty Research Institute. A good portion of our friendship developed through email after I left Los Angeles and came to Wisconsin. She was a great correspondent and had the most wonderful dry sense of humor in her writing. When I saw her last week, she was barely awake, though her doctor said she would probably hang on for a couple weeks yet. She said "It's unfair," and I said "I know." She said, "It's unfair that you will get to see the next season of Downton Abbey and I won't." We laughed. At one point, she looked me right in the eye and said, "Good things are going to happen!" I would like to believe this, but without her in the world? I'm not convinced. I’m so glad I made the effort to get to her and hold her hands and cry. She is an excellent writer, editor, and friend. I miss her already. Then, in Berkeley, I attended a poetry reading on the UC campus in honor of someone I did not know, had never met: the poet Hillary Gravendyk. Hillary died on May 10 of this year, age... Continue reading
Posted Sep 18, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
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I was telling you yesterday about my first poetry teacher, Nancy Willard. I pulled a book she wrote off my shelf over the weekend, in preparation for blogging here. I found some really good stuff in it, just in the first essay alone. That is as far as I’ve gotten. I’m slow, sometimes. I acquired this book many years ago, but never read it. Perhaps you can relate to this habit of buying books that often go unread until many years after their purchase. Is this a common problem among writers? There is so much to absorb. Better to buy the book then to have it go missing. The book of Nancy’s I am referring to is Telling Time: Angels, Ancestors, and Stories and it is a book of essays on the craft of writing. It is exactly what I need right now as I find myself dangling on a limb of my own making, as far as my writing goes. I have slowed on poetry a bit, trying my hand at prose with that hovering memoir that I described on Day 1, as well as a novel that is crawling all over itself attempting to find its story. And don’t forget blogging. The first piece in Nancy’s book is called “How Poetry Came into the World and Why God Doesn’t Write It.” Interestingly enough, it starts with the writer recounting a tale about being in a book store and seeing a book called The Lost Books of Eden, which she considered buying, but decided against. She left the store and went down the block, but the book called her back.Unfortunately, within those few minutes, the book had been purchased by someone else. The knowledge was gone. (This is why you should always buy a book without thinking twice.) So, in the wake of this loss, the writer imagined what The Lost Books of Eden would have said. The text told of Adam and Eve finding the words for things, finding them in a well in the garden. The serpent says, “What God calls knowledge, I call ignorance…What God calls ignorance, I call story. Help yourself to an apple from the tree that stands in the center of the garden.” And once they had eaten the fruit and were thus forced to leave Eden, Adam knew that what they would miss the most was not eternal life, but the well from which all their words had floated up, effortlessly. The angel escorted them out of the garden, saying: “God doesn’t want the well. What use is it to God? So he’s letting you take it with you.” “Where is it?” [asked Adam.] “The well is inside you,” replied the angel. “Much more convenient to carry it that way. Of course, it’s not going to be as easy to find as it was in the garden, where you could just lean over and take a drink. Sometimes you’ll forget the words you’re looking for, or you’ll call and the wrong ones... Continue reading
Posted Sep 17, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
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I will begin by letting you in on a little trade secret of the blogging business. At least, it is my secret. Maybe not all bloggers operate this way, but I do. Here’s the thing. A blog post should be fresh, immediate, and timely. It should address some occurrence of the day and it should sound like the writer just woke up that morning and conjured up all sorts of wisdoms about the Universe and consciousness as we know it. It should ramble aimlessly for a while. Then, with a few jolts of humor or sarcasm, it should crescendo to a humdinger of an ending that brings the reader back around to whatever was the essential question that opened up the discussion and BLAM! You have a blog post, (preferably under 650 words) and it really should sound like the writer barely gave any of it a second thought. Hardly. Here's the secret. This is not how it happens at all. Generally speaking, when I blog, I have to start writing the night before the intended post, if not sooner. Not only are there segues and interludes and thematic structures to think about, but my God, there is the literal act of posting which can cause a fair amount of hemming and hawing and re-dos, especially when the writer is trying to add in some useful links and interesting images to make the whole thing—words and pictures—come together in some sort of interesting and seamless OM-osity. Let me just say this: it takes longer than it appears. Okay, now that I have gotten that off my chest, I can tell you that it is Tuesday, Day 2, but I am really writing this on Monday night. All day long, I was thinking about what I want to tell you. Or rather, what I want to ask you. I have all these questions about poetry: who writes it and why, where does it come from, and who reads it for heaven’s sake, besides other poets? I mean, seriously. Does anyone read poetry who will never write a single verse? I think not. Novels can be devoured by total non-writers, and certainly gobs of people listen to music who wouldn’t recognize a treble clef from a bass clef if it hit them over the head on a summer day. But poetry? I don’t know. I’m not convinced that non-poets read it. I am open to counterpoint on this, however. Enlighten me. Please. My own introduction to poetry began in the hinterlands of my childhood with the collected works of Dr. Seuss. I loved that man, and I loved his wackadoodle characters and straight-up rhymes. Some of my favorites were The Cat in the Hat, Green Eggs and Ham, Hop on Pop, Horton Hears a Who, Bartholomew and the Oobleck, and The Sneetches. Not only did these books teach me about rhyme and meter, (not to mention kindness and tolerance) they basically taught me how to read. The repetition was extremely helpful, because... Continue reading
Posted Sep 16, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
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Greetings, poetic earthlings. I’m pleased and honored to be on deck once again in the BAP blogosphere. It has been a while since I’ve written here and a lot has happened since my previous gig. The last time I blogged for BAP was in the fall of 2011. I remember this time frame because it coincided with my brief stint as a grad student in the Masters of Counseling program at Lakeland College in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. At that time, I was employed as the college’s alumni director (even though I am not an alumna of Lakeland). Now I’m the grant writer there, but no matter what one does at Lakeland, staff gets to take classes for free. Back then I thought, “What am I waiting for? Get a new master’s degree for heaven’s sake. It costs nothing!” A person can only go so far in life with a master’s degree in art history. (In a previous life, I had gone pretty far, though: 20 years as an art museum educator at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, The Getty Museum, and then the John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan. But I digress.) Art educator, alumni director, therapist? What was I thinking? As much as I relished learning about pathologies, the ethics of counseling, and how to be sensitive to humans of all stripes, I realized that at my advanced age, becoming a therapist was not a stellar idea. I had this notion that I wanted to blend poetry and therapy to help people become more self-aware, more emotionally healthy. But I realized that, like they admonish on the airplane, I needed to secure my own air mask first. If anyone was going to get healed by writing poetry, it was going to be me. Selfish, but true. So, I dropped out of the program after two semesters in order to focus on my writing. (I must digress again to say that after a strong start at Vassar in 1980 under the tutelage of Nancy Willard and Brett Singer, I slowed to a complete halt and did not start writing poetry again seriously until age 48. So to say I determined I had to focus on my writing means something particular in this context. I was choosing not to let my writing get stifled again. How could there be time for poetry if I was launching a new career? Better to stay in the career in which I found myself and allow poetry to grow up around it. Right?) What happened next was I had some health issues that required surgeries and extended hospital stays and bed rest. I was off work for eight weeks, during which time I thought it would be a good idea to try my hand at memoir. (I read two at that time that inspired me, Peggy Shumaker’s Just Breathe Normally and John Daniel’s Looking After.) I veered off poetry a bit to tell the story of my life. I wrote over a hundred... Continue reading
Posted Sep 15, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
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To the memory of my dear friend and mentor, Joe Ann Cain. Blogging for you this past week was very stimulating for me, and raised many questions related to psychopathology. What is normal, what is abnormal? How much is nature, how much is nuture? Who is in, who is out? These questions still haunt me. In another thread, I found myself wondering: where does the time go? And why do I fill mine up so much? Like the girl who is texting while riding her bike, it always seems to me that it is not enough to do only one thing at a time. I should be doing at least two things. Maybe three. But then, do all the things suffer from my divided attention? I had at least two friends who read the blog this past week tell me that they felt they shared my same tendency to “over-task.” Why do we do this? Why do I do this? Does all this activity really nourish my soul, or is it simply a way to fill the void? It seems to be true: nature abhors a vacuum. Am I in a four-dimensional state of horror vacui, fear of emptiness? Swiss "outsider artist," Adolf Wölfli had to fill every space on the page with line, form, or color. What if I could step into and embrace not only empty space, but also empty time? I am a hoarder. But instead of keeping piles of newspapers in my dining room, drawers full of rubber bands in my kitchen, and carefully folded mesh onion bags in the pantry closet, I “hoard” activity. Am I afraid to just do nothing? Yes, I am. Hey, as long as I do things that are productive, that contribute to my community, my family, and myself, what is the problem? There are poems to be written, injustices to rectify. There is water to carry, wood to chop. Why shouldn’t I stay busy, if I help make the world a better place? I don’t know. It just doesn’t feel right to be busy this way all the time. Without some emptiness, the fullness is incomplete. And yet, I need to find my own fullness that is in me. I need to take care of myself before I can take care of anyone else. Like they say on the airplane, secure your own air mask first, then help those around you. And so. It is time to embrace my negative space, my silence, my black hole. I have to empty my cup in order to refill it. I have to drive my car until I run out of gas in the middle of the proverbial nowhere, get out, and sit in a cornfield for a while. I have to sit perfectly still and do nothing. Maybe that is where the next chapter of creation will begin, in the place where there is nothing, “…in a place without form and void, where darkness is upon the face of the deep.” Genesis,... Continue reading
Posted Oct 1, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
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It is late when I am writing this. But you are reading it tomorrow. Or today, this morning, as the case may be. You may be drinking coffee. Right now, last night, I am having a slice of pepperoni pizza and a beer. The beer is called “The Poet.” It is an oatmeal stout, and it has a picture of a raven on the label. I want to show it to you but I can not find a good image on the Internet and I am too tired to take one. So I am showing you an image that comes up when you google "time flies." The beer was a gift from my friend, Lucretia, who gave it to me to cheer me up because I am working so hard of late. I made the comment the other day that I need “chocolate and beer" to keep me going. And so, to fuel my efforts, she surprised me with both. A friend who is listening is certainly the best gift of all. My week has finally caught up with me. It is a lot to work all day, take two classes, and then come home and try to write. I miss the days when a weekend meant I could chill. But, it is all my choice and I really should not complain. Tonight, last night, the wind is/was blowing so hard. It is the kind of wind that makes me afraid that a tree might fall down on my house. But, at least I have a house, a job, my health, my son. I am safe. I am just tired. Sleep would be a good idea right now. And so, since I have nothing in particular to say, I am going to give you a poem by a poet who I admire a great deal, the Polish Nobel-prize winning poet, Wisława Szymborska. (I am happy that my computer would make the “l” with the line through it. Computers are amazing things, they are.) Here is the poem for you for today, from my friend, Wisława. If she we here with me tonight, we would have another slice of pizza. We would drink another Poet. We would listen to the wind. We would not write, but we would tap the keys, dreaming. We would wish each other good night and good morning. (Sorry about the stanza breaks.I have been trying for 45 minutes to fix the formatting but I cannot do it.) I give up, my apologies to Wisława for mangling the look of her poem. So much for my admiration of computers. Sometimes, they can be very infuriating. A Few Words on the Soul We have a soul at times. No one's got it non-stop, for keeps. Day after day, year after year may pass without it. Sometimes it will settle for awhile only in childhood's fears and raptures Sometimes only in astonishment that we are old. It rarely lends a hand in uphill tasks, like moving furniture, or lifting... Continue reading
Posted Sep 30, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
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When you begin the study of psychopathology, you don’t get very far before you encounter a severe looking tome that is large enough to prop open a very heavy fire door and brick-like enough to knock unconscious a medium-sized lab rat. The book is called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Fourth Edition Text Revision), or in the vernacular of therapists, the DSM-IV-TR. It is the Bible of diagnosable mental disorders. Every psychopathology student must bow before it or, at the very least, become familiar with it. It is organized in groups called “axes.” These are not things you use to chop wood, but rather, the plural of axis. There are five of them in the DSM and they go like this: Axis I: Clinical Disorders Axis II: Personality Disorders Axis III: General Medical Conditions Axis IV Psychosocial and Environmental Problems Axis V: Global Assessment of Functioning I’m just getting started in my studies here, so I’m not sure yet what all these things mean. Two seasoned therapists have told me that once I read the DSM more carefully, I will recognize myself in many of the conditions it describes. Oh boy. I can’t wait! When the first edition of the DSM appeared in 1952 it contained 86 pages. In the year 2000, when the fourth edition was released, the page count had blossomed to 943. The number of disorders increased from 106 to 365. Wow. Either we are getting more disorderly or we are getting more excited about giving these things names. I would say it is probably the latter. In fact, this phenomenon is known as “the social construction of psychopathology.” Here is how this works: we see a pattern, we give it a name, we give it an acronym (like ADHD or OCD), we create drugs to cure it, we get insurance companies to cover its treatment. If we stopped at “see a pattern, give it a name,” we might be closer to creating poetry than new strains of mental illness. But hey, we live in a culture with 47 different kinds of toothpaste. We like variety, apparently, not only in our toothpaste but also in our mental disorders. “Once the ‘disorder’ has been socially constructed and defined, the methods of science can be employed to study it, but the construction itself is a social process, not a scientific one. In fact, the more ‘it’ is studied, the more everyone becomes convinced that ‘it’ really is 'something.’” (Maddux and Winstead). Sounds like the emperor’s new, disorderly clothing to me. If you have “a preoccupation with a defect in appearance” that causes “significant distress or impairment in…functioning” (p. 507) you have Body Dysmorphic Order. I don’t like the fact that I am bow-legged, but it does not keep me from wearing shorts in summer when it is hot, so I guess I cannot say I have this particular problem. If you drink too much coffee, you may develop Caffeine Intoxication (Starbucks, beware). If you are a... Continue reading
Posted Sep 29, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
Glad you enjoyed post and poem...
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While cooking dinner last night, I heard a fascinating story on public radio about Dr. Alfredo Quinones, an internationally-known neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. Dr. Quinones, or Dr. Q, as he is called affectionately by colleagues and patients alike, has just written a book, Becoming Dr. Q, My Journey from Migrant Worker to Brain Surgeon (University of California Press, 2011). Dr. Quinones was born in a small, dirt-poor village outside of Mexicali in Baja, California in 1968. At age 18, he “jumped the fence,” and managed to run from the border and into a new life in the U.S. He spoke no English at first, and worked in the fields of central California as a migrant worker, then as a welder. He went to community college, learned English, and eventually made his way to Harvard and onto the path of becoming a leader in brain cancer research. Along with a team of scientists under his direction, he is looking for a way to replace knives and cutting with non-invasive stem cell therapies that could conceivably destroy tumors and repair damaged tissue. “I don’t want my children to have to undergo the same barbaric ways of treating brain tumors as we do,” he says. “Don’t get me wrong—I love what I do. But the brain is a sanctuary, for God’s sake! It wasn’t meant to be violated! What I did today—entering the brain, illegally—it’s against nature. We need to find a better way to treat this disease.” Dr. Quinones’ story is timely. In a recent Republican debate, Rick Perry accused those who oppose educating the children of illegal immigrants of having "no heart.” This did not win Perry points with his brethren. When Dr. Quinones was asked what he thought of this debate in light of his own life experience, he hesitated, trying to find words. He said, “Well, as you know, I always tell people, I wish I was a poet or a Nobel laureate in literature and I could express my thoughts and articulate them more eloquently, but the truth is, honestly, I am just a simple brain surgeon and a scientist. I am not an expert on immigration. I only know about my own experience.” He admits that his story is unusual. Not every illegal immigrant is going to become a neurosurgeon. But, he noted that the world needs not just successful brain surgeons, but successful carpenters, plumbers, and teachers. I think his point was that all people deserve a decent education to reach their highest potential. The world needs people who do lots of different jobs exceptionally well. In an article in Hopkins Medicine Magazine online, Dr. Quinones said, “you can’t succeed in today’s world without being open, without having feelings….You can literally train a monkey to do what we do. The challenge in what we do is not in the surgery—it’s in the emotional connection you form with the patients.” I like this man, Dr. Q. If I ever need to have my head... Continue reading
Posted Sep 28, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
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Time, so they say, flies when you are having fun. Does that mean it goes excruciatingly slow when you are sad or suffering? I would have to say that the answer to this is a resounding yes. A good friend of mine recently told me that when she feels sad, she feels really stuck. Every aspect of her life feels absolutely lousy: failed relationships, dwindling finances, unsatisfying employment. At those times, the whole ball of wax that is her life is one big, sticky, yucky mess. And the worst part of it is that—when she feels this way—it seems as though that general yuckishness is simply her natural state of being. In those moments, she is pretty much convinced that life is going to feel that way forever. Then, she gets some sleep, dreams a little dream, wakes up, takes a shower, goes for a nice bike ride, has coffee and a sweet roll down by the lake, listens to something on the radio that makes her laugh. The next thing she knows, she feels good again. She remembers that she has many things for which to be grateful. Then, she feels even happier. Suddenly, time’s pretty ponies speed up. The race is on. Just like the wind, time again flies. I think about time all the time. I am always trying to jam more things into it. I am always trying to do “one more thing.” As all my friends and relations will tell you, this habit of mine makes me invariably late for things. Furthermore, I do way too much multi-tasking on any given day. On a typical evening when I get home from work, you might find me folding laundry, paying bills, eating dinner, answering emails, checking Facebook, and writing a paper for school all at the same time. Really? At the same time? Okay, not literally in the very same instant. But I have gotten really adept at sprinkling my instances around. Tonight, a case in point. First, I fold a couple shirts and pair up a few sets of socks. Then, I open a bill and decide if I need to pay it now or can put it on the pile to be dealt with after pay day. Then, I take a bite of the eggplant sandwich I made from left-over roasted eggplant, a slather of horseradish, and two nice, thick slabs of melted mozzarella on an old crust of bread that I almost threw out this morning. But I saved this heel because it had not gone moldy yet and boy, am I ever glad I did. This sandwich I am washing down with a glass of Merlot is making me exceedingly cheery right now. Must be the horseradish. Email, Facebook. Check and check. I’m not writing a paper for school, but I did a bit of reading and now I’m writing this blog-entry so I can post it first thing in the morning before I go to work. And the race with time... Continue reading
Posted Sep 26, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
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In Psychopathology: Foundations for a Contemporary Understanding, edited by James E. Maddux and Barbara A. Winstead, I have come across some interesting tidbits during these first few weeks of fall semester that I have been eager to share with someone. How about you, Best American Poetry blog reader, out there? First, let us consider that pathological behavior is both outside the statistical norm and also maladaptive. By maladaptive, we mean behavior that does not help a person do better. By outside the statistical norm, we mean infrequent in the general population. However, we usually only think of something negative. “To say that someone is ‘pathologically intelligent’ or ‘pathologically well-adjusted’ seems contradictory because it flies in the face of the commonsense use of these words.” (Maddux and Winstead). This statement, as you can well imagine, got me thinking. What would it mean to be pathologically poetic? What would a pathologically poetic person look like and what would his or her day-to-day existence entail? Would this person speak in iambic pentameter every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, trochees and spondees on Tuesday/Thursday and save the weekend for nothing but speaking in haiku? Would a poetic psychopath see the entire world in a grain of sand, and metaphorical significance in everything from the delivery of the day’s mail to the mowing of the lawn? How does one who is pathologically poetic deal with such mundane tasks as folding laundry, going grocery shopping, dropping children off at soccer, and emptying the litter box? Don’t even mention cleaning a toilet bowl or unclogging a drain. Those chores require someone more pathologically inclined toward plumbing. Research in this realm is begging to be undertaken, but funding is scarce for this kind of endeavor. A poetic psychopath is not able to go anywhere without a small notebook and pen, tools needed to jot down interesting ideas. Those in the real throes of the disease will take to carrying a small digital recorder in which to speak ideas and snippets for poems. This person is marked by an uncanny ability to see connections between all things (living and non-living) and would be able to describe the shortest line between a bride and a waterfall, a tree and a unicorn, a banana and a bayonet. The pathologically poetic individual will often be found staring out of bus windows, laying in the grass looking at clouds, or whistling in the dark. These types are enamoured of the alphabet, idiomatic phrases, foreign languages, synonyms, homonyms, and oxymorons. They also tend to be gourmands and to enjoy a nice glass of wine with supper. Last but not least, the poetic psychopath hears the sad note in every happy chord, and sees the beauty in that which is least pleasing to the eye. There is hope for those who are able to get these contradictory thoughts down on paper. For the rest--those who ignore their illness--there is only madness and despair; marked by a feeling of impending doom complete with arsenic lobsters falling from... Continue reading
Posted Sep 26, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
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Greetings, all. I am happy to be here as your guest blogger starting today and for the coming week. Yesterday was a big day; one I had been planning since April. September 24th was designated by poets the world-over as the day to celebrate 100 Thousand Poets for Change. Were you there? Poems can change the world, as they point to what is true. Poems can be hammers, splitting rock, or rich ground where we locate compassion. When poets join forces, the energy that is generated leads to amazing things. Store window in Guerneville, CA, the heart of 100TPC In helping to organize the 100 Thousand Poets for Change activities these past five months, I made friends on Facebook with poets in Greece, Nigeria, South Africa, and all around the United States. I was reminded very directly in this process that there are many places around the globe where poets cannot congregate and do what they want to do. They cannot simply stand up and read poems in a library or a garden or a coffee house like we did in Sheboygan, Wisconsin yesterday. In some places, poems must be checked by a government agency before being read in public. In Turkmenistan, poetry cannot be read in public at all. As I looked out over the audience yesterday, I felt compelled to remind us that the freedom we have in America to congregate and to "use our words" as we see fit, should not be taken lightly. The Sheboyan contribution to 100 Thousand Poets for Change was a success from the standpoint of connection. People in our community crossed some lines and got to know one another a little better, all through the reading of poems. We had narrative free versers, rhymers, and straight-up rappers. We had the poet laureate of Wisconsin, Bruce Dethlefsen; we had Karl Elder, Cathryn Cofell, Chuck Rybak and many others. We had children, young adults, and seniors. We had friends and strangers writing poems while they were listening to the open mic, then standing up to share what they had just written. (Actually, there were no strangers. Everyone became a friend in the process.) We had teenagers lying on couches in the coffee house glued to their iTouches suddenly paying attention. We had a gentleman reading the work of his adult daughter with great pride. We had audience members sharing favorite poems from books. We had small children reading Mother Goose and other verse that spoke to their experience. All in all, I accomplished what I set out to do months ago: to make people fall in love, again or for the first time, with poetry. To fall in love and pay attention. I woke up yesterday morning to a poem by Oscar Wilde coming through on a website called Your Daily Poem. Panthea is old-fashioned, yes, I know. There are words I did not at first recognize, “hymeneal” (of or pertaining to a wedding or marriage) and “daedal-fashioned” (made by Daedelus, the legendary artist... Continue reading
Posted Sep 25, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
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"If you let me not know everything, I will show you..." My whole life I have had a thing for olives. I love them. I want them. I would eat them morning, noon, and night if I could. Olives are my alpha and my omega. They are my Mecca, my Nirvana, my home. I love their slick, salty, slippery-ness. I prefer Kalamata, but I can do green, black, big, small, spicy, and garlic-stuffed. I’m flexible. I love that you put them in your mouth, carefully remove the succulent fruit, and then slide the pit back out through your lips. Eating olives is a total-immersion experience, one best enjoyed on a summer night with a good friend and a nice bottle of Shiraz on the patio. (Is that anything like Colonel Mustard in the drawing room with the knife?) I’m just curious. Interestingly enough, one of my first poems to receive public recognition beyond my immediate circle of family and friends is a poem ostensibly about olives. Called “Planting a Memory,” it is dedicated to my son, Owen, (the same one-and-only son you met earlier this week; the son who can hear God farting). That son. In the poem, I am determined to introduce him into my cult of olives by packing a small bag of Kalamatas for a picnic lunch that we will eat together on the train between Chicago and Milwaukee. I want him to know this special pleasure, “olives on the train." Our own special comfort food, tumbling down the Greek and Italian branches of our family tree; little dark nuggets of love. It is my attempt at a life lesson, a gift: teaching him to be attuned to olives for the future potential they hold as a good aphrodisiac for a certain kind of woman—one not unlike his mother. Whoa! Who let Herr Doktor Freud in here? Out, out damn Oedipal complex! You were saying something about olives… Have I told you yet about tapenade? Actually, what I want to talk about is how we create our own reality, for ourselves and those we nurture. It is the small and seemingly insignificant things that can have the greatest impact. It is not the size of the gift, it is the attitude with which it is given. My best friend since fifth grade, Carolyn, was in her mid-twenties and a single mom living in Chicago with almost no money circa 1985. Doing the laundry with her toddler, Jason, became a weekly ritual. She writes: The laundromat was only a couple of blocks from the apartment in Rogers Park. I would load all of our laundry into one of my dad’s old army duffle bags, tuck a paperback copy of Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson into my coat pocket and off we’d go. Jason loved the video game machine there. He didn’t know that you needed a quarter to make it “work.” He just liked the visuals and punching the buttons and “playing.” And we always... Continue reading
Posted Jun 25, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
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...the answer my friend, is blowin’ in the wind, the answer is blowin' in the wind. – B. Dylan I don’t know about you, but I am of the opinion that we are getting close to the end of our proverbial rope with things like religion, politics, and the economy. I don’t know how to fight the good fight any more. In fact, I don’t want to fight. I want to love things, love people, love the earth. That is so darn naïve of me, isn’t it? It is so flippin’ sixties. Make love not war and all that crap. Yeah, well, guess what? I was born in 1960, so I am a child of the 60s. I recently heard the “evolutionary evangelist,” Michael Dowd (Thank God for Evolution) speak on his theory of reality, biological history, and the evolvement of human nature. One of the things he talked about is how a child’s reality is shaped by whatever steady diet she is fed. Makes perfect sense to me. When I was growing up, my reality was listening to Walter Cronkite every evening on the six o’clock news report the body count for that day. I saw both my parents deeply saddened by this. They taught me that war is wrong and that people had to learn to live in peace. “C’mon people now, smile on your brother, everybody get together try to love one another right now.” Dowd’s basic premise is that as we all become more conscious, we will start to see ourselves as the earth becoming more conscious of itself. We are like a collective immune system, and we will naturally work to right things in the system because it is to our (and everyone else’s) benefit to do so. We R the Universe. The Universe is us. If you lived through Woodstock, no matter how young you were, you can't possibly forget Joni Mitchell's admonition that lines up really well with current theories in astrophysics: “We are stardust, we are golden, and we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden.” I never went to Yasgur's farm, but I sure feel like I did. (Sidenote: it was seeing Woodstock at a drive-in movie theater in 1960-whatever with my parents that I got to hear a certain "bad word" for the very first time: Gimme an F...Gimme a U....aw, you know the rest.) What the hell does all this have to do with poetry you may ask? Well, first of all, I told you at the beginning of the week that I might try to tell you how poetry changed my life. I decided I can’t do that justice in seven blog posts or less. But let me just say, in my late 40s when I finally started to pay attention to the voices inside my head, poetry woke me up to myself and helped me get more in line with ME and what I am here for: to help people through expression: mine and theirs. Me=We.... Continue reading
Posted Jun 23, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
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Today’s post is for my niece, Ella, who turned seven yesterday, and her mother and father who made her. All photos are courtesy of Stephan Mazurek. Dear Ella, You are a girl of immense imagination and potential. You are the exact image and temperment of your mother when she was your age. I remember when your mom was about six or seven, she would walk up to strangers in the park and say things like, “when I was thirty-one and married, I lived in a mansion with all my horses.” I was very shy and I did not understand where she came up with these incredible tales. While I daydreamed in the corner, she was the outgoing one, the actress, the stage director. She always had some kind of elaborate play going on: dolls lined up with scarves on the living room floor, a magic show involving bowls of water and disappearing string, costumed adventures played out under the dining room table. I must admit, I admired her chutzpah. I have seen you play in a similar way. Here is a picture your dad took of you that he captioned: January 30 2011. Laura Ingalls Wilder dreams of her prairie from the comfort of her hallway. When I watch you play, I see you demonstrate a kind of total world-immersion that is amazing to behold. You remind me that as children, we have this ability to allow ourselves to be absorbed into play. Then we "grow up" and forget how to do that. How short-sighted of us! We so-called adults need to remember that one can have a job, pay the rent, care for a family, and still not lose touch with life's magic. Poetry, like play, reminds us not to leave our playful spirits behind. I also appreciate your passion for all things you see, hear, touch, smell, and taste, as well as your deep friendships. Here is one: January 24 2011. A study in pink or Hot chocolate, two spoons. Here is a transcript of a conversation you had with your friend in the coffee shop: Inga: Will you ever drink coffee? Ella: Yes I will. It smells so good. Inga: I won't. I don't like what it does to grown ups’ teeth. Ella: Does what? Inga: Makes them yellow. I want white teeth. Ella: But it smells so good. Besides providing insight into your sense of smell, you clearly have your priorities straight. This image caught by your dad reminds me of the importance of friendship as we grow. Don't ever give up on your friends. Even when you don't always see eye-to-eye with each other, true friends challenge, enhance, and support your creativity. That is how you know the person is a friend. I want to jot down for you a few things that you have said over time that have struck me. Keep these things in mind. I think they will serve you well some day. I know they already have served me. When I... Continue reading
Posted Jun 22, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
Thank you Emma. I am so glad you enjoyed it. It was very fun to write about this particular topic for some reason.
Thanks Leslie, I have this very fiesty friend who is 90, and to her, I really am a baby. I love that there is so much life yet to live! Thank you for your kind words.
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I’m serious. I have not felt so loopy since I was thirteen and the hormones were raging. I remember Motor City summer nights standing out in front of the Dairy Deluxe with my girlfriends on Woodward Avenue, waiting for boys in muscle cars to drive by and whistle at us. It was 1973, we were thirteen, and we knew a thing or two. About not much, but we knew it. Thirty-seven years later, I haven't changed really, at least not on the inside. My hair has silvered, and I have this weird stomach bulge that will not flatten no matter how many crunches I do. But all that is only the outer shell, and none of it can challenge my inner continuum. On the inside, I still like to sit by a window and stare up into the branches of trees. I still get really happy when I hear the opening guitar riff to Exile on Main St. I hear you talkin’ when I’m on the street Your mouth don’t move but I can hear you speak… I still like the Stones and staying up really late and writing (back then, it was in my journal, nowadays, I write emails to friends.) I like all the same food I liked as a kid: grilled lamb chops, blue cheese, Kalamata olives, artichokes, and McDonald’s fries. You could say I’ve always had a very eclectic culinary sense. But, above all, despite being a smart, savvy career-woman, poet, mother, and yes, by God, feminist, the thing that has never gone away is that desire to be noticed. By cute boys. Well, now they are actually men. I mean, they look like men. But deep down in there somewhere, they are still boys. Just like I'm still a girl. The girl in me has never gone away, even though the child in me died when puberty took over. So too, my “young maiden” self is now dying (kicking and screaming) to make room for the wise woman. Just how wise this old broad is going to be remains to be seen. Susun S. Weed, in her book, Menopausal Years: The Wise Woman Way, provides tons of information on natural remedies for things like hot flashes, “flooding,” insomnia, forgetfulness, crankiness, and the general je ne sais quoi that comes with the territory. She provides an interesting framework for accepting the death that is taking place, and the new birth that is coming: the birth of the “baby crone.” That image made me LOL. Big time. First of all, I really don’t like the word “crone.” I like it about as much as I like the word “cougar,” which I really hate. But a baby crone sounds so cute and funny. I see a scrawny little bird in a nest with wispy, squiggly hairs sprouting from its bumpy, goosefleshy head. I am happy to change, but please, not into a crone! By the way, why is it called menopause and not menostop, if not to imply... Continue reading
Posted Jun 21, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
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This post is dedicated to my mom, Rosanne, who is celebrating her 74th birthday today. Her kindness is so immense, she had to be born on the longest day of the year to contain it all. Happy Birthday, Mom! I love you. Today at exactly 1:16 p.m. Eastern time, according to The Old Farmer’s Almanac online, we will officially begin summer with the coming of the solstice. The word means "sun stops," because the sun appears to stand still at the top of the sky. Did you know that the Pagans called the midsummer moon the "Honey Moon" for the mead made from fermented honey that was served at wedding ceremonies performed on this night? They also celebrated by having couples leap over bonfires, believing their crops would grow as high as the couples could jump. On the solstice we get to enjoy the longest day of the year (and the shortest night), and then we start the long, slow descent back toward winter. But, let’s just stay with summer for a moment. Because here in Wisconsin, that’s pretty much all we get. A moment. Summer takes an eternity to get here, and it doesn’t stay very long once it has arrived. For example, yesterday it was foggy and rainy and the temperatures were in the 50s. Not winter, exactly, but not what I call summer, either. And today looks like it will be no better. In fact, it is already raining and severe thunderstorms are predicted for later in the day. For inquiring minds, here is what the world looks like from my dining room window on a foggy day like yesterday was and today will be, if we trust weather.com. Please note the dense summer greenery that obscures my view of Lake Michigan. When summer does finally come to Wisconsin, it carries in its cornucopia some of the loveliest days you will ever see. We get green fields sprouting from expanses of red-brown dirt that make you want to take off all your clothes and roll around in it. We get corn. Lots of corn. We get the Great Lake, Michigan, and her many shades of blue, depending on the angle of the sun and the placement of the clouds. For example, here is the lake on a cloudless day last August. My friend Diane took this picture about 100 steps from my front door. She was visiting from Los Angeles, and she was very impressed by the great beauty she found here going unused by throngs of people like you might find on either coast. Wisconsin is nifty that way. Not too densely populated. If you enjoy solitude, we got it. In summer, we've also got lilacs, fireflies, peaches, and brat fries. Note for all you non-Wisconsinites out there: a “brat fry” is an event at which people grill brats—German sausages, not small, whiny children—drink lots of good beer, and shoot the breeze with friends and family around a backyard fire pit. Later, if there are kids... Continue reading
Posted Jun 21, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
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My Erik Erikson-fest continues over here. I spent most of my Sunday working on a short research paper on Erikson’s Eight Stages of Development theory for my Life Span Development class. While researching online (since the library is closed on summer Sundays and I needed three sources besides my textbook) I ran across a reference to an animated film, Everybody Rides the Carousel, made in 1976 by John Hubley and Faith Hubley. I then found a YouTube video snippet of Stage 6. The woman’s voice in the animation is Meryl Streep! You have got to watch this. It is a little less than eight minutes long and believe me, it will be eight minutes well spent. It presents a fascinating visual and textual metaphor for what happens to (some) (all?) people in relationships: the hiding, the game playing, the regressing, the pursuit, the surrender, and hopefully, eventually some truth. The warbly, wiggly music is absolutely to die for! At this moment, I am sitting quite squarely in Stage 7, the middle adult stage, where generativity clashes with stagnation. (Actually, I am sitting at my dining room table, where I can no longer glimpse even slight slivers of Lake Michigan now that it is summer and all the trees have completely filled in with greenery.) But, anyway, back to my stage theory…. At age 50, I am on a quest to re-invent myself. This explains why I have recently enrolled in the Masters of Counseling program at Lakeland College, where I am currently the director of alumni relations. I have poetry to blame for this, but I’ll save that story for a later in the week if I can figure out what to say about how “poetry changed my life” in an enlightening and cogent manner. I am also using this post to practice various kinds of media embedding: video, links, and photos. So, please excuse me if I went a little overboard on the linking. Tomorrow, we may explore the summer solstice. Or, something else, depending on my mood. Please come by and visit again. Continue reading
Posted Jun 20, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
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To all the fathers in the audience, and all the sons and daughters of fathers: I’m thrilled to begin my week of blogging on your special day. What is it about fathers? What makes them so large and unfathomable? They can be wonderful advocates and protectors. They can also wreak havoc. A good father is a refuge, a door, a prime mover. Fathers are here to compel us forward. From my own father, Georg, I learned many things: how to roast chicken (sear at 425 degrees for the first fifteen minutes to hold in the juices, then lower to 350) and how to make a perfect béchamel sauce (low heat, stir constantly). I learned never to carry a package across a border for a stranger. (This was my father’s advice to me when I was 19 and on my way to Paris. Months later, someone did actually ask me to do this when I was leaving France for Greece to visit my ancestral homeland. I declined. It is possible that I sit with my laptop today in Sheboygan, Wisconsin—and not rotting in a Cypriot prison—because of his admonition.) From my father, I learned to appreciate art, nature, and my own thought processes. I learned how to be content by myself, and conversely, how to throw a great party. In all fairness, my mother, Rosanne, played a role in all this as well, but she will forgive me for focusing on dad today. The developmental psychologist, Erik H. Erikson wrote in the 1985 “Afterthoughts” to his Childhood and Society, (W.W. Norton and Co. 1950, 1963): “…both sexes at one time have experienced both the (madonna-like) inclined sensory response of the face of a mother and the fatherly face displaying the angry, super-conscientious self-insistence of a ‘superior kind’ and its readiness to use what power or force is considered moral at the given personal and historical moment.” Power. Force. Anger. Self-insistence. Fathers are bad-asses. They cut to the chase, do their own bidding, and some forget to put the toilet seat down. They do not incline their heads in any sort of madonna-like fashion. Hey, they are men. What do you expect? They have a lot of testosterone in them. They can be muscled, paunchy, large, small, bald, hairy, stubbly, or clean-shaven. But they are men first, and fathers second. The one thing that distinguishes men from women is that they have one shorter chromosome in the 23rd pair. And oh boy, does that one little chromosome ever make a big difference. Fathers, like the sperm they emit, are hell bent on making more of themselves. All fathers are very good creators in their own image. Fathers provide those determined little troopers who shoot out into the wide, salty universe of convulsive delight, surrounded by a multitude of other little troopers, all striving to be The Great Penetrator. Fathers teach us how to be penetrating and determined. Or, in other modes, how to sit for hours on the couch and be content... Continue reading
Posted Jun 19, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
Lisa Vihos is now following The Typepad Team
Jun 19, 2011