Monday, April 20, 2015

to be a poet in the spring


by Jane Kenyon

I got out of bed
on two strong legs.
It might have been
otherwise. I ate
cereal, sweet
milk, ripe, flawless
peach. It might
have been otherwise.
I took the dog uphill
to the birchwood.
All morning I did
the work I love.
At noon I lay down
with my mate. It might
have been otherwise.
We ate dinner together
at a table with silver
candlesticks. It might
have been otherwise.
I slept in a bed
in a room with paintings
on the walls, and
planned another day
just like this day.
But one day, I know,
it will be otherwise.

The subject today is spring. The subject is poetry. Seems reasonable being that April is National Poetry Month.

I admire the poem by Jane Kenyon, for many reasons, for the reminder: "All morning I did the work I love." And that it could have been otherwise. This is what the poets who aren't asked to read at poetry festivals, who are passed over for all the awards, remind each other during the month of April. This is not bitterness speaking (pleasantly, I find at nearly 49 years of age I'm finally past all that sort of pique), but a true and calm reminder. To be a poet in the spring, one must feel deliriously blessed.

We poets who have been passed over are having secret meetings in libraries and bars and coffee shops. We're working. We're listening to the returning birds, and we're not wasting time. We don't have to worry about what to wear to a poetry reading, and we don't have to comb our hair. We can let ourselves go, go a little wild.

I used to have the following quotation on my desk. I think a coffee spill took care of it some bleary morning. But it's the perfect reminder of what matters.

"Work, work!...Work! Don't waste a moment...Calm yourself, quiet yourself, master your senses. Work, work! Just dress in old clothes, eat simple food...feign ignorance, appear inarticulate. This is most economical with energy, yet effective."

- by the 7th Century Chinese Chan Buddhist master Hongren

Spring, anyway, can be for reinvention. For reading poetry. For writing. I came across a line from a Naomi Shihab Nye poem on this BuzzFeed list of favourite lines of poetry. It gets you thinking about where poetry comes from. It gets you thinking about tacos. It gets you thinking about the poems you've hidden in your garage. 

The green in the next photo is from the evergreen backdrop. But green leaves can't be far off now. 

Valentine for Ernest Mann

by Naomi Shihab Nye

You can't order a poem like you order a taco.
Walk up to the counter, say, "I'll take two"
and expect it to be handed back to you
on a shiny plate.

Still, I like your spirit.
Anyone who says, "Here's my address,
write me a poem," deserves something in reply.
So I'll tell you a secret instead:
poems hide. In the bottoms of our shoes,
they are sleeping. They are the shadows
drifting across our ceilings the moment
before we wake up. What we have to do
is live in a way that lets us find them.

Once I knew a man who gave his wife
two skunks for a valentine.
He couldn't understand why she was crying.
"I thought they had such beautiful eyes."
And he was serious. He was a serious man
who lived in a serious way. Nothing was ugly
just because the world said so. He really
liked those skunks. So, he re-invented them
as valentines and they became beautiful.
At least, to him. And the poems that had been hiding
in the eyes of skunks for centuries
crawled out and curled up at his feet.

Maybe if we re-invent whatever our lives give us
we find poems. Check your garage, the odd sock
in your drawer, the person you almost like, but not quite.
And let me know.

It's the same way with photographs. We have to reexamine what life gives us sometimes. I don't know how many times I've walked by a scene similar to the one below while out walking the dog. But on this one day, it seemed like poetry, it seemed rather beautiful. I took the photograph and when I walked by them on the other side of the street, they all looked up and smiled. At me, at the dog, or maybe they were smiling because it was spring. 

It was a good week, this past week for walking. Every day something new seemed to announce itself.

When I was driving home from the grocery store listening to the CBC, the lead-up to a Tchaikovsky piece was the story of how the composer liked to walk. Perhaps he had been reading this from the Daily Rituals blog on Slate:

"Before sitting down to work in the morning, Tchaikovsky took a short stroll, lasting no more than 45 minutes. Then, after lunch, regardless of the weather, he went out again. Tchaikovsky's brother later wrote, “Somewhere at sometime he had discovered that a man needs a two-hour walk for his health, and his observance of this rule was pedantic and superstitious, as though if he returned five minutes early he would fall ill, and unbelievable misfortunes of some sort would ensue.”

There are quite a few of these next trees in a park near my house - one we often walk the dog through. And TBH, I don't know the name of the tree.....a larch? a tamarack? Perhaps one of you can tell me. The light was perfect for capturing the blossoming, the new needles, and all the bokeh as well. 

It's hard not to get excited by all these small glimmers of new life.

I admit, I'm rather fond of this next one:

And this next one? No idea why it makes me smile. At least the person didn't throw it on the ground?

And one last poem for the week, and a picture of the light in my kitchen - spring mood swings. From 'your humble scribe.' 

Secret History 

by Charles Simic

Of the light in my room:
Its mood swings, 
Dark-morning glooms, 
Summer ecstasies.

Spider on the wall,
Lamp burning late,
Shoes left by the bed,
I'm your humble scribe.

Dust balls, simple souls
Conferring in the corner.
The pearl earring she lost,
Still to be found. 

Silence of falling snow,
Night vanishing with trace,
Only to return.
I'm your humble scribe.

- from New and Selected Poems, by Charles Simic


  1. Oh my, I loved everything about this post. Your words, the poems you selected (brought tears to my eyes, actually), your incredible photographs that made me love where I live, here, now, in New England. With other poets and writers. Quietly. And checking out my sock drawer (where sure enough, one of my poems is sweetly sleeping silently).

    1. I'm glad you like the poems, Pamela. They get to me too :) And also happy that you found a poem hiding :)

  2. Lovely words and photos. You never cease to inspire me.

  3. Thank you for this lovely post. I look forward to your work each week. You fill the world with light and hope by being in it and by sharing your thoughts and words and photos. Bless you for that gift of yourself.

    1. And thank you so much for being here!

  4. Loved this! Oh to be a poet in the spring - indeed! I seem to swoon at everything I see at the moment! Our high season :) It is exactly as you say 'every day something new announces itself.' Everywhere at the moment I am taken by the new buds on trees - an orchestra of green.And the rapid rate of growth! Spring is truly transformational.
    I ADORE those two poems and feel a burning desire to repost them :)
    Happy Spring!

    1. Go right ahead! Repost away :) I love that you're swooning!

  5. Thank you again. I do like it here, a lot :)

    1. What a nice thing to say :) Thx, Giova.

  6. Just got home from a rainy and very wet walk in the woods to find this beautiful warm post, filled with hope and sunlight and the most evocative poetry! Even though I didn't have a chance to read this yesterday, you give me reason to love Mondays now. That photo with the feather..there is something about that! Tomorrow I'm taking a road trip to visit my son...he's performing the Tchaikovsky violin concerto, kind of a funny coincidence. I will be imagining the composer on one of his daily walks :)

    1. That is such a cool coincidence. How wonderful that you'll get to hear your son perform. I bet he's amazing.

  7. Hi Shawna. I love the new look of your handwritten (sort of) 'Monday morning blog' next to Calm Things heading. Looks and feels really nice. xx

    1. So glad you like it. :) I'm glad I went with my urge to 're-decorate.' :)


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