December 12- Poem of The Week

Still I Rise
By Maya Angelou

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
’Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
’Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own backyard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

 

 

Maya Angelou, “Still I Rise” from And Still I Rise: A Book of Poems.  Copyright © 1978 by Maya Angelou.  Used by permission of Random House, an imprint and division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.

Why You Should Read Short Stories – T.W. Watts

In our modern world, the written word is hardly given the sort of attention it used to have. People forget that it’s something we’ve fought and died for, something that has shaped the very nature of our society. Storytelling is a pivotal part of our culture, and while it may manifest itself in different ways here in the 21st century, it still moves, shapes, and inspires us. Stories are how we have passed on information, how we’ve entertained ourselves, and how we’ve preserved information we found worthwhile. The legacy it’s left over the years defines who we and where we’ve come from as a human race. What we learned and what we did.

I’ve had everyone from educators to everyday readers try to tell me why to read. I’ve always heard that the real reason to read good literature is to get in on some inside joke, to be able to pick up on the sly reference that’s made at a cocktail party and feel infallibly educated for it. Or just to be more intelligent, but they’re wrong. To willingly submit yourself to good literature is to humbly tip your hat to the 98 billion members of your race that have come before you and to systematically, loudly, and irrevocably decided what in the whole of human history is worth preserving and passing on. What is worth remembering. And that’s so much more important than people think.

Stories are simple enough in structure: beginning, middle, end, charter, plot, sub-plot and all the gory details. Some take over 1000 pages to get a point across. Full novels are almost lazy in how long they sometimes take to get you where they want; how many pages it takes to get their points across. An author can take volumes to express themselves and get their ideas on paper, complex or not. This is a luxury, plain and simple. It is a firm belief of mine that given enough time, anyone can write a story (whether it’s moving or worth reading is up for debate), but anyone can write a story. A short story however? A short story takes all those basic and immortal elements of a regular story and demands an almost awe-inspiring sense of brevity.

Where an epic takes a thousand pages to describe the love and life of certain characters and events, a short story must accomplish in a matter of pages. All these important elements must now be artistically condensed into a madcap collaboration, a symphony of word choice and attention to fine details. Unnecessary things like character development is thrown to the wayside and you’re asked to simply accept the world of the author as it is while he tells his tale. It’s a type of mandatory submersion unique to the art form. It demands a higher form of a personal suspension of disbelief. Accurately portraying ideas in such a confined median really separates the brilliant from the subpar, and defiantly proclaims artistic literary ability in a way nothing else ever will.

In conclusion, in the words of William Faulkner: “I’m a failed poet. Maybe every novelist wants to write poetry first, finds he can’t, and then tries the short story, which is the most demanding form after poetry. And, failing at that, only then does he take up novel writing.”

The Art of Minimalism

Question: Is minimalism really an art?

Answer: Yes, it is.

Merriam-Webster defines art as “the express or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated for their beauty or emotional power”.

Merriam-Webster defines minimalism as “a style or technique (as in music, literature, or design) that is characterized by extreme spareness and simplicity”.

The intersection of these two, the art of minimalism, lies in the emotional power invoked by spareness and simplicity.

In our world today, we are drowning in a sea of busy, while being bombarded constantly with things like texts, notifications, emails…each demanding our instant attention. We are told relentlessly that we need the next BIG thing or we’re going to miss out (got Black Friday?), the latest trend or style or we’re not worthy of the in-crowd.

Process more, consume more, do more… more, more, more. Unfortunately, we, at some point, become desensitized to it all and make it our norm. The problem?

We lose our ability to feel.

Passion, beauty, life…all gone. We’re too busy walking around like zombies, buried deep within the mind-numbing world of emotional and sensory overload.

In comes the art of minimalism to rescue us. Begging us; pleading with us to break free from the bondage of sensory overload and reclaim our ability to feel. To come alive and be moved, emotionally stirred, by simplicity.

Take the picture below (Photo by LUM3N on Unsplash)

At first glance we dismiss this picture as just a pink desk with some white objects on it. But stop… stop everything you are doing right now and look at it, not in that meaningless, “it’s unimportant kind of way”, but as you would if it were a photo of a friend, or a loved one. That’s it…keep looking at it. I’m guessing that you actually felt something. A stir, an emotion, even if you could not describe it. The grey of the pen became just a little bit crisper. The white objects: a stark contrast to the pink background, yet evoking a certain sense of balance and harmony. Now you notice the spacing of the notebook, mouse and other items. Their equal spacing further enhance the theme of unity, togetherness…purpose. Each piece skillfully placed to impact your emotional senses in a powerful way. Minimalistic art.

One more photo (Photo by Federica Giusti on Unsplash)

A bunch of lights you say? Yet, I sense you learned from the last example and brush off your initial response to find the deeper meaning and purpose. Good… The lights stand out but do not overpower. They are a focal point but not THE focal point. They are part of a larger picture, just like us. The soft glow invites us to come closer, to be more intimate. This is supported by the hues of grey and reds in the back, an open invitation to a place of warmth and comfort. We are forced to slow down, less we miss this moment of tranquility and serenity. This is a call to a more personal place to safely let our guard down and be who we truly are. Can a photo of lightbulbs really do that? Yes, it can. If we let it. Another example of the impact of the art of minimalism.

So, I pose the question again: Is minimalism really art?

Answer: You know the answer. You only need to slow down, disconnect from the overload of “more”, and the answer will be affirmed with a resounding “YES!”.

December 4- Poem of the Week

What It Looks Like To Us and the Words We Use
By Ada Limón

All these great barns out here in the outskirts,
black creosote boards knee-deep in the bluegrass.
They look so beautifully abandoned, even in use.
You say they look like arks after the sea’s
dried up, I say they look like pirate ships,
and I think of that walk in the valley where
J said, You don’t believe in God? And I said,
No. I believe in this connection we all have
to nature, to each other, to the universe.
And she said, Yeah, God. And how we stood there,
low beasts among the white oaks, Spanish moss,
and spider webs, obsidian shards stuck in our pockets,
woodpecker flurry, and I refused to call it so.
So instead, we looked up at the unruly sky,
its clouds in simple animal shapes we could name
though we knew they were really just clouds—
disorderly, and marvelous, and ours.

 

 

Poem copyright ©2012 by Ada Limón, whose most recent book of poems is Sharks in the Rivers, Milkweed Editions, 2010. Poem reprinted from Poecology, Issue 1, 2011, by permission of Ada Limón and the publisher.

Forgetting How to Read

I’m ashamed to say it took me two years to finish Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Not because I’m a slow reader, but because I completely lost interest in reading. Between having to read textbooks for history and rushing through novels and plays in literature, I wanted to spend time without a book in my hand. I had loved to read before this happened, too, and when I realized I hadn’t read for pleasure in roughly a year and a half, I was disappointed in myself. At the start of 2016, I wrote a list of goals for the year, and I had put “read 10 books” to try and ease myself back into it.

I had definitely forgotten how much I loved pleasure reading. I thought it’d take a while for me to ease back into it, but I surpassed my 10-book goal by July. Amongst my favorites this year have been Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins (a murder mystery), The Vacationers by Emma Straub (a story detailing all of the drama on a family vacation), and every book from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire through Deathly Hallows. Lo and behold, I had finished the series, right on September 1st. I hated myself for not finishing the series sooner, but I was just happy I had been able to finish it.

   

The other thing with finishing the Harry Potter series was that I (finally) allowed myself to watch the movies – I hadn’t wanted to watch the movies until I read the books. I thought I’d be emotionally prepared, but I was nowhere close to it – in Deathly Hallows, I had to rewatch everything from “you have your mother’s eyes” to “always” roughly four times so I could hear the dialogue through my uncontrollable sobbing.

Anyway, the movie nights became a nice little tradition for myself. Not only with Harry Potter, but with the other book/movie pairs as well. I didn’t need the incentive to finish a book, but being able to settle down with some popcorn, tea, and a movie that I’d presumably like was incredibly relaxing, and it was a nice thing to look forward to after finishing the book.

Looking back, I realized I had forgotten how to read. Not literally, of course, but I had forgotten how to lose myself in a book and get attached to the characters. I had forgotten how excited and inspired reading made me, too. When I stopped reading for pleasure, I stopped writing as well, which was something I loved to do in middle and early high school. Reading books has given me inspiration to start writing again, even if it’s just a paragraph or two of character descriptions. I’ve missed having a creative outlet, and picking up books I enjoy has definitely rekindled my creativity.

I figure that most people who read this are already the creative sort, and I hope you continue being inspired. Don’t let other obligations push out your passions. If you don’t normally read, pick up a book that looks interesting (feel free to judge by the cover), and you may find you like reading more than you’d think.

Words You’ve Been Writing Without- Maggie Herring

In the midst of the really picturesque and bittersweet moments in my life, I often fail to find the words to truly express myself. Of course I could cut my sidetracked mind off and be present, but I’m an English nerd and these moments make for great material. Lately I’ve found that other languages have perfectly described the moments I replay in my head over and over again, and try to recreate on a page in just one word. Here are a few of my favorites that seem to define the difficult and charming moments in life:

(Definitions from Lost in Translation: An Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words from Around the World by Ella Frances Sanders)

https://images.penguinrandomhouse.com/cover/9781607747109

Commuovere (Italian, verb):
“To be moved in a heartwarming way, usually relating to a story that moved you to tears”

Mångata (Swedish, noun):
“The road-like reflection of the moon in the water”

Gezellig (Dutch, adjective):
“Describes much more than just coziness – a positive warm emotion or feeling rather than just something physical – and connotes time spent with loved ones, togetherness”

Meraki (Greek, adjective):
“Pouring yourself wholeheartedly into something, such as cooking, and doing so with soul, creativity, and love”

Kilig (Tagalog, noun):
“The feeling of butterflies in your stomach, usually when something romantic or cute takes place”

Hiraeth (Welsh, noun):
“A homesickness for somewhere you cannot return to, the nostalgia and the grief for the lost places of your past, places that never were”

Razliubit (Russian, verb)
“To fall out of love, a bittersweet feeling”

Karelu (Tulu, noun):
“The mark left on the skin by wearing something tight”

Ubuntu (Nguni Bantu, noun):
“Essentially meaning ‘I find my worth in you, and you find your worth in me.’ Can be (very) roughly translated as human kindness”

Wabi-Sabi (Japanese, noun):
“Finding beauty in the imperfections, an acceptance of the cycle of life and death”

Tiám (Farsi, noun):
“The twinkle in your eye when you first meet someone”

Nunchi (Korean, noun):
“The subtle, often unnoticed art of listening and gauging another’s mood”

Saudade (Portuguese, noun):
“A vague, constant desire for something that does not and probably cannot exist, a nostalgic longing for someone or something loved and then lost”

November 27- Poem of the Week

The Permanent Way
Meg Day

  Steamtown National Historic Site was created in 1986 to
            preserve the history of steam railroading in America,
            concentrating on the era 1850 through 1950.

We weren’t supposed to, so we did
what any band of boys would do
& we did it the way they did in books
none of us would admit we stole
from our brothers & kept hidden

under bedskirts in each of our rooms:
dropped our bicycles without flipping
their kickstands & scaled the fence
in silence. At the top, somebody’s overalls
snagged, then my Levi’s, & for a few deep

breaths, we all sat still—grouse in a line—
considering the dark yard before
us, how it gestured toward our defiance—
of gravity, of curfews, of what we knew
of goodness & how we hoped we could be

shaped otherwise—& dared us to jump.
And then we were among them,
stalking their muscled silhouettes as our own
herd, becoming ourselves a train
of unseen movements made singular,

never strangers to the permanent way
of traveling through the dark
of another’s shadow, indiscernible to the dirt.
Our drove of braids & late summer
lice buzz cuts pivoted in unison

when an engine sighed, throwing the moon
into the whites of our eyes & carrying it,
still steaming, across the yard to a boilerman,
her hair tied up in a blue bandana.
Somewhere, our mothers were sleeping

prayers for daughters who did not want women
to go to the moon, who did not ask
for train sets or mitts. But here—with the moon
at our feet, & the whistle smearing
the cicadas’ electric scream, & the headlamp

made of Schwinn chrome, or a cat’s eye
marble, or, depending on who
you asked, the clean round scar of a cigarette
burn on the inside of a wrist so small
even my fingers could fasten around

it—was a woman refilling the tender
in each of us. We watched her
the way we’d been told to watch
our brothers, our fathers:
in quiet reverence, hungry all the while.

Some Poems For Your Holiday

As we enjoy this Thanksgiving holiday and the peace and respite it brings, let’s also take this opportunity to reflect on who we are and where we came from. I’ve been thinking not only about the history of our country but about the history of our literature as well. So I’d like to present some of my favorite pieces of early American poetry. Poetry is in no way my area of expertise, but there’s something about the early American poets that I just can’t get enough of. There’s a rawness of emotion and a fire in their words that I believe gives us a small insight into the spirit of our country’s earliest writers.

The first to come to my mind is Phyllis Wheatley (1753-1784), the first female African-American poet to be published. Her “Hymn to the Evening” comes to my mind every time I see a sunset.

Soon as the sun forsook the eastern main

The pealing thunder shook the heav’nly plain;

Majestic grandeur! From the zephyr’s wing,

Exhales the incense of the blooming spring.

Soft purl the streams, the birds renew their notes,

And through the air their mingled music floats.

Through all the heav’ns what beauteous dies are spread!

But the west glories in the deepest red:

So may our breasts with ev’ry virtue glow,

The living temples of our God below!

Fill’d with the praise of him who gives the light,

And draws the sable curtains of the night,

Let placid slumbers sooth each weary mind,

At morn to wake more heav’nly, more refin’d;

So shall the labours of the day begin

More pure, more guarded from the snares of sin.

Night’s leaden sceptre seals my drowsy eyes,

Then cease, my song, till fair Aurora rise.

Fast forward about a century, and we have another incredible female early American writer. Willa Cather was born in 1873 and her works, which often focus on the prairie, paint vivid pictures of the landscape before it was changed by the influx of settlers.

“Prairie Spring”

Evening and the flat land,

Rich and sombre and always silent;

The miles of fresh-plowed soil,

Heavy and black, full of strength and harshness;

The growing wheat, the growing weeds,

The toiling horses, the tired men;

The long empty roads,

Sullen fires of sunset, fading,

The eternal, unresponsive sky.

Against all this, Youth,

Flaming like the wild roses,

Singing like the larks over the plowed fields,

Flashing like a star out of the twilight;

Youth with its insupportable sweetness,

Its fierce necessity,

Its sharp desire,

Singing and singing,

Out of the lips of silence,

Out of the earthy dusk

And finally, Anne Bradstreet. Born in the colonial days of 1612, Anne was a remarkably educated woman. She lived in the Massachusetts Bay area and is lauded as “The Tenth Muse.” Read two of her most famous poems below.

“To My Dear and Loving Husband”

If ever two were one, then surely we.

If ever man were loved by wife, then thee.

If ever wife was happy in a man,

Compare with me, ye women, if you can.

I prize thy love more than whole mines of gold,

Or all the riches that the East doth hold.

My love is such that rivers cannot quench,

Nor ought but love from thee give recompense.

Thy love is such I can no way repay;

The heavens reward thee manifold, I pray.

Then while we live, in love let’s so persever,

That when we live no more, we may live ever.

 

“By Night when Others Soundly Slept”

By night when others soundly slept

And hath at once both ease and Rest,

My waking eyes were open kept

And so to lie I found it best.

I sought him whom my Soul did Love,

With tears I sought him earnestly.

He bow’d his ear down from Above.

In vain I did not seek or cry.

My hungry Soul he fill’d with Good;

He in his Bottle put my tears,

My smarting wounds washt in his blood,

And banisht thence my Doubts and fears.

What to my Saviour shall I give

Who freely hath done this for me?

I’ll serve him here whilst I shall live

And Loue him to Eternity

____________________________________________________________________________________

I realize that these selections aren’t comprehensive. I didn’t include any writings from Native American poets or any from early American male poets. This is not to say anything about their writings. The pieces I selected are merely those that have stuck with me through the years.

So after you’ve stuffed yourself with some delicious food, maybe instead of flipping on the TV or planning your Black Friday shopping trip, you could spend a few moments reflecting on the people in this country who came long before you and what they had to say about themselves and the new land in which they lived. Happy Thanksgiving.

And This, This is Mother- An Original Poem by Margo McManus

And This, This is Mother

Margo McManus

 

Against all odds a mother’s hands are not
Always soft, are not meant to be.

I sat on my own mother’s lap and felt
The dense cauliflower bulges against my palms, my chest as she held me,
And when I was too big to share her throne I
Took the one beside her, felt the whiplash slash of power against my
Stomach every time she
Slammed the breaks, seatbelt searing into my neck.

Sometimes the jagged scar seam scrapes along my scalp like
A fishnet over old aquarium gravel, fingers swimming the
Whirlpool tresses with ease before
Gliding across my wrist to kiss the
Blooming bruises where she
Hauls me from every edge I need saving from, a tingling admonition.

In the clasp of our grasp, humid air builds against our
Chapped edges, chipped spaces,
And feels like the passing wisp of that savage storm –
The murderous mother who birthed a family’s second chance
Amidst the angry ruin.

November 13- Poem of the Week // Hand-Me-Downs: An Original Poem by Chloe Emerson

Hand-Me-Downs

Sad poetry has never sat quite right on my tongue;
Indignation has always squeezed too tightly around my chest,
Like a hand-me-down shirt that was not stretched
To the broad dimensions of my shoulders.
I do not easily fit into these feelings of fire and ire.
This anger, how it burns down my throat, like a wildfire,
And I cannot clutch my pen with flames scorching
Bones and muscles and nerves.
The smoke in my lungs choke every shred of who I am and
Who I could be and who I will be and who I want to be.

My passion has always glided rather than marched,
Trembled softly rather than quaked the earth.
But I guess thats the key to hand-me-downs:
They carry too much of someone else.
Like a sweater inherited from another body,
This anger too lays foreign on me.
But as I wear these hand-me-downs I can feel the
Sweater threads stretching and expanding,
The anger lightening and dispersing until
The fire has been extinguished and I can tremble on.