Dear Ellen

DSCN2625

Dear Ellen Bass,
I am the woman who passed you in the hallway this morning at the LA Convention Center, and stopped you mid-stride to say thank you.

Yesterday in your talk, “Embracing a Poetics of Joy,” you said many true things.

The world needs poetry, but I don’t think it needs anyone particular person to write it. So if you don’t love it, do something else.

I do love it, the way you love it; the way all the writers I know and admire love it, the way, if we’re lucky enough and work hard enough, we might tweak the world a tiny bit for another and help unfold more tender awareness of each other.

I know it’s not an obscure poem, yet I still meet people who have never read your Gate C22. It’s poem that changed the way I travel through airports watching people walk, holding hands or not holding hands, kissing or not kissing, leaving or returning with joy or regret.

For them, I share your gift of reading that poem aloud.

Yesterday, you also said:

It’s an honor to put my pebble on the altar of poetry. I’m joyful that I still get to walk up to the altar.

Thank you for doing all the hard work that carrying that pebble entails. I’m joyful too that you walk to the poetry altar.

With gratitude,

Catherine

This is part of a series of gratitude letters to poets in celebration of National Poetry Month.You can read more about Ellen here: Ellen Bass | Award-winning SantaCruz-Based Poet And Educator

 

Dear Prageeta

Cuke1

Dear Prageeta Sharma,
“Please write your friends poems and write them into poems.”
Do you remember urging us to do that in your your Poetry Foundation blog post, “Dear Reader, There’s a Still Suburb of Friendship, Community, and Poetry & Praise?”

I’m sorry I don’t know you well enough to call you friend, and I wish I could write poems more quickly than I write prose. But I want to tell you that I sat with you yesterday as you spoke about “Reverberant Silence” to the writers gathered at the Association of Writers and Writing Programs Conference in Los Angeles.

I imagine that we who heard you speak about the loss of your husband, we who heard you read from the blog post you wrote about that grief, we who listened as read your poems, we don’t know you, but through your words.

Those words made me want to help you hold your pain. I’ll never capture its heft, but maybe I can let you rest for just a moment.

Have you ever seen a wild cucumber? In late winter, its spring green tendrils, kinked as tight as curls, cling to every branch or fence it finds. Its fruit, spring green too, grows quickly into a palm-sized egg shape covered with long sea-urchin like spikes.

Once the growing season is over, the cucumber’s sharpness falls away; the fruit becomes a dry woven cup, often mistaken for a bird nest. Did I tell you the dried wild cucumber looks like lace? A sponge? A wish? If you lift its lightness toward the sun, you can see through the brown husk to sky. This cup looks fragile as a bird egg, but it’s sturdy enough that I use it to hold feathers, anchor a collage or capture hope.

collage.jpg

I want you to know how we who hear you, read you, hold you up even when you need to fall. We are as inadequate and as enough as a husk. I think you were very brave yesterday in your non-silence, reverberant with raw grief.

After meeting you yesterday, I want to read your latest book, Undergloom. And I want to thank you for showing us how to keep living with words.

With gratitude,
Catherine

This is the first in a series of gratitude letters to poets in celebration of National Poetry Month.
You can read more about Prageeta Sharma here: Prageeta Sharma: The Poetry Foundation

 

 

Once I found a feather

By Catherine Keefe.

DSCN3800Then everywhere I looked: feathers.

One of my favorite tiny poems, a poem I discovered at Words Without Borders, goes like this.

The Moon and the Feather
by Humberto Ak abal

The moon
gave me a feather.

In my hand
it felt like singing.

The moon laughed
and told me
to learn to sing.

I like the idea that a feather might be a gift from the moon.

August was night dancing under the moon with my husband. And laughing. And feathers and shells and reflecting on my whiteness against a backdrop of darker skin. August was making a daily practice of finding a poem in each day. August was bare feet and figs, jazz and learning to wait for peaches to ripen.

August ends. School begins.

Did you you honor the gifts of August?
Will you sing?
~Catherine

For more “August was…” images, check out The August Break, 2015, a community project curated by Susannah Conway, a photographer, author and teacher we greatly admire over here at Backyard Sisters. You can review the month-long photo challenge to “Live inside each moment,” by checking the more than 19,000 posts at #augustbreak2015 on Instagram, Facebook, and Flickr.

 

In the distance

By Catherine Keefe

distance

“…far to the edge of desolation
suspicious of any poetry
even to exchange a hello…”

from “writing you” by Taufik Ikram Jamil
Translated from Indonesian by John H. McGlynn

In the distance, on the Bell Canyon Trail, are Santiago and Mojeska peaks. In the distance
of one week’s time two classrooms full of students will look up at me as if
I have something to teach them. In the distance of ancient geology I see
where oceans once covered this land, have now receded. In the distance
of imagination lies my chance to reseed hope, to teach how we might learn
to stop and listen to one another’s stories of our time together on this earth,
a blip. In the distance I see all of us working together as if we are not
each other’s enemy, but all the killing is. In the distance I see lands
without borders between
what it means to be human.

Ideas already freely cross borders. One of my favorite carefully curated online sites for international literature in translation is Words Without Borders, where I found the poem that contains the excerpt which opens this post. I’ll close with the last stanza of the poem

excerpt from “writing you” by Taufik Ikram Jamil

my palm resigned to resting
on desire still hopeful

can you only be felt
while taste is the experience of each of us
until you possess a range of understanding
untraceable by any and all senses
with no time limit however brief
then you intentionally slip longing
on each breeze converging
to then pit melancholy ’gainst action
time booked time and time again

Read something in translation today. You can read all of “writing you” by Taufik Ikram Jamil by clicking the hyperlink.

Say hello to someone you don’t know.
In the distance I see us together. What do you see?
~Catherine

For more “In the distance” images, check out The August Break, 2015, a community challenge to “Live inside each moment,” by checking out the more than 16,000 #augustbreak2015 posts on Instagram, Facebook, and Flickr.

 

Looking (it) up

By Catherine Keefe.

pretty books

A dinner around my childhood home wasn’t complete with at least one round of this fun conversation:

Me: What does _______ mean?
Fill in the blank with words like inertia, relegate, codicil, potable.

Dad: Look it up.

Me: Can’t you just tell me?

Dad: I could, but then you’d forget.

The family dictionary was a frequent guest at the table.

These days, my students, and truthfully even I mostly, use an online dictionary. It’s swift, easy, and direct. Sometimes though I miss the old bound paper word book. There’s something humbling and exhilarating about holding the heft of Webster’s Twentieth Century Unabridged Dictionary, a volume that weighs in at five pounds and has a spine wider than open palm. When I pull that book down from the shelf to “look it up,” I realize there really is a wealth of words at my fingertips. How few I use. When I look up a word online, I learn one new term, but I can forget that there are thousands more to explore.

inside books

It’s funny, when I finally went off to college, I didn’t realize the simple things I’d miss from. But my dad made sure I wouldn’t forget one of the best habits he taught me.

look it up

My parent’s going-away gift was my own bright red Random House College Dictionary.

Can you learn one new word today?
~Catherine

For more “Looking up” images, check out The August Break, 2015, a community challenge to “Live inside each moment,” by checking #augustbreak2015 on Instagram, Facebook, and Flickr.

 

 

“For art is perfect…”

By Catherine Keefe.

art

“…when it seems to be nature, and nature hits the mark when she contains art hidden within her. (Pseudo-Longinus, 300 CE).

I’m obsessed with foraging on my daily hikes. Feathers. Bark. Dried wild cucumber. One million years ago when my kids were toddlers, in that late afternoon witching hour when we were all were tired and hungry, we’d wander the neighborhood collecting fallen leaves and acorns, dried flowers, empty snail shells. I’d settle my daughter and son at the kitchen table with cardboard and glue, with crayons and colored pencils. They’d collage their finds while I made a quick dinner.

I thought I was doing this activity to entertain my kids, but now that they’re long grown, I still forage and collage. I write this way too, integrating evocative quotes, (you can read about my scribbling in books here); poetry lines, scientific facts, bits of history and cultural arcana in almost all of my work. I suppose it feels like the ultimate eco-friendly way to create: repurpose what exists and give it a new light. To me, this practice feels like a way of paying deep attention.

How do you pay deep attention? Today take a minute to sketch, to collect, to arrange, to make a note of something you find particularly unsettling or beautiful.
~Catherine

You can read the full classic text, “On the Sublime,” on the Poetry Foundation website link here. From the introduction:

“On the Sublime” examines the work of more than 50 ancient writers under the lens of the sublime, which Longinus defines as man’s ability, through feeling and words, to reach beyond the realm of the human condition into greater mystery.”

The quote I pulled out to title this post, “For art is perfect when it seems to be nature and nature hits the mark when she contains art hidden within her,” is in the first paragraph of section XXII.

For more “Art” images, check out The August Break, 2015, a community challenge to “Live inside each moment,” by checking #augustbreak2015 on Instagram, Facebook, and Flickr.

Question: The edge

By Catherine Keefe

hopper

“This one appeared to me
in a dream…”

A grey bird grasshopper rests on my deck and I remember the opening lines of Lawson Fusao Inada’s poem, “This One, That One.”

This one appeared to me
in a dream, was forgotten,
only to reveal itself
on the shower wall
this morning.
It must have been the water.

That one was on the full moon
last night, clear as a bell.
Someone projected it there.

I find the grasshopper and I wonder, where do you draw the line between this thing and that?

By color?

One grey grasshopper rests between two grey wooden boards.  All is grey. There is no color edge.

By whether or not it lives?

One living Schistocerca nitens pauses on a now-dead Tabebuia ipê hewn into lumber planks for a deck. Yet both grasshopper (Schistocerca nitens) and tree (Tabebuia ipê) had a moment of birth. Both are listed in the Catalogue of Life, “the most comprehensive and authoritative global index of species… essential information on the names, relationships and distributions of over 1.6 million species…information is compiled from diverse sources around the world.” There is no edge between things that live.

By borders?

This grey bird grasshopper is also known as a vagrant grasshopper and can be found, among other places in most of the Southwest US, Hawaii, and parts of Central America. The ipê is indigenous to many countries including Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, French Guiana, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, and Venezuela. Both ended up in my backyard.

How do we name the edge, the line between this thing and that?

That one speaks to me
of space, and negative space,
of open and filled spaces,
and the among
that comes between.

Today I want to dwell in the “among that comes between. If you’re inspired to consider liminal edges today, read the entire poem that this grasshopper moment called to mind. “This One, That One” by Lawson Fusao Inada is printed in its entirety on the Poetry Foundation website here. The poem seems especially right for this conversation when you know that Lawson Fusao Inada was one of the youngest Japanese Americans sent to live in internment camps during WWII.

Here’s to trying to lose our edge
~Catherine

For more “Edge” images, check out The August Break, 2015, a community project curated by Susannah Conway, a photographer, author and teacher we greatly admire over here at Backyard Sisters. You can follow the month-long photo challenge to “Live inside each moment,” by checking #augustbreak2015 on Instagram, Facebook, and Flickr.