Monday, January 18, 2016

BLOG OF THE WEEK ~ SUSAN CHAST ON PEACE

My friends, we wound the old year down with poems on peace, both inner and outer, and began the new one the same way. Our own Susan Chast, of Susan's Poetry, frequently writes beautifully on this topic, as it is intrinsic to her beliefs. I always love her work. Recently Susan wrote three poems that resonated especially, given the times in which we find ourselves. Wars rage while children suffer, and gun violence has never been so frequent. I asked Susan if she would agree to featuring them and happily she said yes. We do hope you will join in the discussion.








Sherry: Susan, I am so happy to be chatting with you! Would you like to give us a little update about what’s happening for you these days?

Susan: Hey, Sherry! I am honored to be chosen for Blog of the week, and especially honored to work with you and Mary, Rosemary and Sumana at Poets United. I am actually about to reduce my activity here for two months, as I will be Artist in Residence at Pendle Hill, the Quaker Retreat Center in Wallingford, Pennsylvania, PA, from the 21st of January through the 17th of March. Sumana Roy will cover the Midweek Motifs except for two in February. Thank you, Sumana!

Sherry: Oh, my goodness! A writing retreat in a Quaker setting! It does not get much better - or more peaceful! - than that! You will have us all green with envy!

Susan
I have lots of work to do!  I’ll be working on the autobiographical novel “Alice in Wonder,” that I started writing six years ago, hoping to write the 2nd half where Alice, fired from her storytelling job for telling R-rated tales to children, begins to write, and also attends a reunion of her 1970's multi-racial feminist theatre company. While there, I’ll also take notes for a faith-based solo performance, revise poems for a 3rd publication, and lead Friday morning conversation and writing sessions on the topic of personal confrontations with racism.

Sherry: Susan, that sounds absolutely wonderful! How fulfilling it will be to tick each item off the list. I am especially interested in the performance piece. Would be great if you brought back a video we could feature!

Meanwhile, I would love to include, if you agree, your recent poem 'What Really Matters', which seems like the very kernel of inner peace. Let's look.


What Really Matters
To get up from sleep
To get dressed (or not)
To be kind to someone
To give and receive inspiration and affection
To make love
To witness
To be


Sherry: Beautifully and simply put, my friend. It slows the breath and heartbeat as one reads and says to oneself: yes. This is the essence.

Susan: This came out of a meditation, reaching through angst to the bones of relaxation, calm and mindfulness minute by minute, as it flowed into awareness. What else can matter without these? And the someone to be kind to can be flora or fauna or you and me.

Sherry: Yes. I love it. As well as your beautiful poem, 'Holy Day'. (I am so enjoying this unfolding chat. Our own little retreat, while we talk.)


Susan:  Me too!

Holy Day

I fall into your arms,
teach me to love instead of fear.
I welcome you as my true guest—
teach me to love instead of fear.

Hello today, hello minute.
Hello worship, hello silence.
Hello prayer, hello presence—
teach me to love instead of fear.

This is the day nature has made
and God has filled (or vice versa).
Let me rejoice and be glad in it.
Teach me to love instead of fear

This is the very day the world
is made, and us and all in it.
I welcome you as my true guest—
teach me to love instead of fear.

Sherry: This is exactly it, my friend, as you express so well: "teach us to love instead of fear".

Susan: I’m so happy that you chose this poem as--like the one above--it arose spontaneously out of a need, and then I discovered it wasn’t the need of a moment, but the truth of every moment in which I hope to see change and peace in the world. 

You’ll notice it contains some simple common prayer, and addresses a new day. It starts from a specific push to face and embrace each new day with courage, and then becomes a broad desire to leave the safety zones that support the status quo. This very minute is the one that counts. So yes, this is spiritual, this is Christmas, this is social and this is political. This is about the direction of Creativity.

Am I being obscure?

Sherry: Never clearer, kiddo. Smiles. Now let's just get crazy-happy with 'I Swim In Love', why not?

I Swim In Love
Two dove-shaped planters float past, owl-
like cups hoot and spit up hot water and
pigeons roost in boats’ rotten portholes, wet
cacophony, salt taste and porpoise smell—

I stand in shades of light.

Seaweed and rusty cans, broken glass and
slick clay, webbed toes and finger wings lift up
and draw down navigation charts,
tree tops and stars covered by windy hair—

I swim in night.

Echo-location, eyes in heart, tongue in
cheek echo-laughter, crinkled faces meet,
kiss, kiss under mistletoe-shaped algae
think, feel waltzing over infinity—

I rain in light.

Too beautiful, she said, to live in this—
I’ll visit, but don’t ask me to stay. Hey,
I ask, if you have once centered in truth
how can you ever refuse the power?

I weep in love. 



Sherry: "I weep in love" right along with you, my friend. So very beautiful. Your Quaker faith has always called to me, centered in peace and love as it is.


Susan: Thank you, Sherry.  This came from sitting still.  I have a number of bird images, ceramics and statuettes in my home--not by plan--but by years of gifting and rearranging. I imagined them alive, in their own environments, in the lives and current locations of refugees who lose their homes and in me. 

How beautiful to be part of all creation! How terrifying! And how necessary. In all fairness, I am swimming my way back from decades of running away from my own power. Literally. I blocked it in grad school, when I became aware it could get me in trouble. And yes, I’ve done some radical work, but not anywhere near what I am capable of if I lived my Quaker faith and common humanity fully. 

So the last section is me speaking to myself. I am hoping my writing begins to correct the imbalance of power. Oh--”echo-location” is a bat’s means of navigating--not to follow another, but to find its own way.

Sherry: Wow. That is pretty cool! You recently published your second book. Both volumes look absolutely beautiful. Kids, I will include the links here for you.






Thank you so much, Susan, for your beautiful poems, and your thoughts on peace and faith. I appreciate it so much. Have a wonderful time at your writer's retreat, then come back and tell us all about it. Maybe another Chat!

Didn't I tell you this would be a treat? Do feel most welcome to join the conversation, and to share your thoughts on peace in the comments. And do come back and see who we talk to next. Who knows? It might be you!


51 comments:

  1. What a wonderful discussion here, Susan and Sherry. And, Susan, best of luck to you as you go of to your writing retreat. It seems like your life there will be rich and busy, and I hope that you will fulfill all of the goals you have set for yourself. I must say that I think our community is truly blessed by your presence here....your depthful poems and your unique prompts, plus the way you understand the meaning of community. I really do like your poem "What Really Matters." It reminds me of the kind of poem I am reading right now by Mary Oliver. It is crystal clear, makes a point the reader can't miss, and makes the reader go back and read / digest the poem again. And I like "Holy Day" as well. We do need to learn to love rather than to fear, to embrace and discuss with others rather than to dismiss or distance. I do hope that in two months you will return invigorated and ready to share a bit of your experience with us.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Mary, that is a great idea! Susan, let's do a chat about your experiences, your retreat, your work there....it would be wonderful! I, too, feel we are very lucky to have you here, Susan, for the same reasons, in our community and on our team. Yay!

      Delete
    2. Thank you, Mary. I am moved by your reading of my poems and your welcome to me as part of the team. I am grateful to be part of the work with poets that I admire. Sherry and Mary--about post residency--let's wait and see if I am able to stay on task and meet my goals! You are both wonderful and wonderfully encouraging. Thank you!

      Delete
  2. Sherry, I am so happy you featured Susan's work... and that you updated us on what is going on with you Susan. What a wonderful experience you are about to embark on....I hope we get to hear lots about it...and as Sherry said, see a video of the performance. I really love these poems and the first one is a perfect meditation mantra! Peace and safe travels Susan!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Donna! If--no--WHEN I finish the performance I will be sure to find a way to share it. I have enough projects for a year long retreat, so I may not finish the production work until fall. But with encouragement like I receive here, I should do well. I've needed this time. And thanks for letting me know you see one of my poems as a mantra. I hope we can all create manntras on what is important to each of us.

      Delete
  3. I am so glad I popped in today and was able to enjoy two of my favorite resident poets. I've been missing in action for the better part of a year, (although Poets United is in my news feed every day,) but look forward to easing myself back into the art of writing.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Kim, I have watched you really immersing yourself in art this past year, with admiration. It is so nice to see you here, and look forward to reading your work as you return to writing more frequently. Thanks so much for checking in.

      Delete
    2. Kim, It's great to see you! I'm with Sherry in looking forward to reading more of your writing. I love having a piece of your art--beauty and wonder--in my home.

      Delete
  4. So much to love in this piece I don't know where to start - thank you both. Alice in Wonder - of course looking forward to that! And 'What really matters' speaks volumes for me at the moment thank you again..I feel progression, growth, acceptance and through hard work a sense of wholeness and contentment..Quakerism is a fascinating movement not least because it is not one religion. I was sadly denied the opportunity to go to a Quaker treatment centre here in the UK. If I had one wish it would be to sit in silence with people who don't proclaim to have answers but instead sit silently with the questions..

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I love that: not having the answers, but sitting silently with the questions.

      Delete
    2. Oh, Jae Rose! I love how you read my work. I have felt so much progress in this past year. My Alice is also related to Alice Paul, though she is definitely following the white rabbit. People who know asking the questions is more important than proclaiming the answers are quite rare. I have to keep reminding myself to stop professing.

      Delete
    3. You don't - profess that is! And thank you for introducing me to another Alice...i haven't heard of her but will research - thanks Susan

      And Sherry - one day a cosy log cabin...quietness..smiles..a friendly dog..maybe even departing with a small laugh knowing things are just about ok :)

      Delete
  5. And it was a treat indeed. Fantastic conversation, Sherry and Susan, I felt I was with you.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I want to go on that retreat, too! Great interview, ladies!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you kindly. I would love it if you could be there!

      Delete
  7. I so enjoyed this interview, Sherry and Susan and the poems featured are lovely - they convey gratitude and confer a feeling of peace and spirituality as they are read.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Wendy, for visiting and leaving a comment. That you feel peace and spirit is important to me.

      Delete
  8. Dear Sherry, thank you more than I can say! You see a theme and pull poems together in marvelous ways for me and for others. My first book came about because someone dared to say "Choose poems with themes of Mysticism." Maybe the next one will be for contemplation and peace amid all of the storms.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That sounds like a wonderful theme for your next book of poems, as you write them so beautifully.

      Delete
  9. I really enjoyed the interview ladies. So nice to see Susan featured. She has such a strong presence and her poetry always has a message. The retreat sounds amazing so much for you discover. Enjoy every moment you can Susan!

    ReplyDelete
  10. Thank you so much Susan and Sherry for sharing this wonderful discussion with us :D gosh! I don't know where to start! Congratulations Susan on your writing retreat! It sounds like a dream come true and I wish you loads of happiness and success on your journey.

    I love your poems featured here especially "Holy Day."
    I welcome you as my true guest—
    teach me to love instead of fear.

    These lines have truly touched me.. I long to have my heart freed from fear.. to love without a care. This is one of the most beautiful poems I have ever read!

    Congratulations on publishing your second book :D its gorgeous! I m so glad that Sherry included the links here. I m sure you will write several more books to come in the future :D

    Gosh I m gonna miss you! Thank you for your love and support and for being a role model along with other members of Poets United. Have wonderful and safe trip. Looking forward to hearing about it when you return :D

    Lots of love,
    Sanaa

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, dear Sanaa. I promise I'm not going to be gone for long. I'll be right here for Midweek Motif this week, thinking about the mountain I want to climb.

      Delete
  11. I enjoyed reading these lovely poems, and also the interview. Way to go!

    Alison

    ReplyDelete
  12. Susan and Sherry, thanks for this enriching discussion and I am looking forward to reading and watching more about the wonderful time at the writing retreat Susan. The conversation and the poems today are a treat. The first poem has an element of stream of consciousness, words being born out of a wonderful awakening...enjoyed the meditative tone of all the poems speaking of a very balanced state of mind...Safe travels Susan...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I hope I do indeed have balance, Sumana! Thank you. And thank you for making it possible for me to have some time off when I am not sick in bed or dealing with a crisis. I will repay the favor!

      Delete
  13. i have always come away from reading Susan's poems with a sense of awe. not just from the immaculate craft, the delightful wordplay and thoughtful structure of the poems, but a feeling of calmness after reading the words. for a person quick to temper after a bad day of work, it is a soothing balm.

    congrats, Susan, on your Residency. i am sure it will be fruitful, and we just can't wait to hear about it when you return. :)

    and Sherry, thank you for another excellent post!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. My pleasure, my friend. I come away from Susan's poems with the same calmness and admiration.

      Delete
    2. Maybe it's because I also have a quick temper that I reach toward the calm? I value your feedback. Thank you.

      Delete
  14. Beautiful exchange of discussion Sherry and Susan! Susan has a lot on her plate. Looking forward to updates yes! Susan will always comment first while Hank is still trying to find directions. Even a second time around the 3 poems can still hold our attention. Great poems Susan as always. Best wishes at the retreat!

    Hank

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Hank, for such high praise. I'm happy that you felt my poems.

      Delete
  15. Best wishes Susan.
    Inspiring.
    ... as for the 3 poems, beautiful as always. I especially fell in love with "I weep in love".

    ReplyDelete
  16. Dear Sherry Thank you for this lovely inspiring and amazing interview with Honorable Dr Susan.All the best wishes for the coming writing opportunity for Dr Susan May she achieve the goals with flying colors.Amen.Beautiful sentiments expressed in the poems here.Touching and comforting.May peace be with you Dear Sherry and Dr Susan and All at Poets United. Thank you.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for your delight and your prayers, Dr. Anjum. This is such an amazing outpouring of support that I feel I had better do well and have something to report! I look to God to guide me.

      Delete
  17. My favourite poem is the swimming poem. It always gives me a giggle when I read it although I do realise there are deeper connotations. Some great lines e.g. kissing under the mistletoe shaped algae.Thank you for the great prompts throughout the year and wishing you an enriching retreat.

    Cheers.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I love that you are drawn to the humor in the swimming poem. Sometimes in Meeting for Worship I get the image that we are all swimming in the same river. It's a good feeling.

      Delete
  18. I'm so excited about your endeavors, Susan and moved by your work...thank you, Sherry and Susan for this wonderfully inspiring post! :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for dropping by, Hannah. It is always good to see you!

      Delete
  19. I loved reading this interview. The whole of it radiates peace and love, just as the poems do. You will certainly be very busy, Susan! Yet it seems it will all be accomplished in an atmosphere of deep calm – how wonderful.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm reaching for the calm, Rosemary. I had it yesterday. Today I feel a bit panicky as the raft edges away from the home port. But with all these wishes, I should soon feel the raft moving writefully in its stream.

      Delete
  20. So excited for you and your time for rejuvenation, rest, reflection and so much more. Thanks for sharing with us before you take this journey into your own wonderland. Enjoy and soak in inspiration for us.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, truly. For this and your comments on my poems.

      Delete
  21. Thank you, thank you, thank you! I feel as if I am bowing on the stage's edge and must make an exit. Hosting the Midweek Motif tomorrow--the one on mountains--seems like cheating for an encore. But, I am looking forward to the mountain poems, and I hope you won't be upset to see me and I hope you won't say goodbye again--I hate goodbyes! Thank you for all your excitement and good wishes. With all of your support, I feel that I should do well. I will be writing PROSE with lots of inner monologue, kind of a mix between Virginia Woolf and a children's Golden Book writer (leaning heavily on the latter). I am smiling the best of smiles in the midst of your pleasure.

    ReplyDelete
  22. Writing slowly these days.... but glad to see Susan featured at PU, thanks to Sherry, read her spiritual poems, resonating with me...answers... we all have our own for sure....important - to know what to ask.... Retreat sounds so peaceful and right thing to do for you, Susan. Great plans for new book, creative approach to life - what else to wish for? Hope you have inspiring time off PU and will share some goody with us in 2 months. Enjoy!

    ReplyDelete
  23. Beautiful words specially I swim in Love ~ Susan is such an exceptional writer Sherry, so thanks for featuring her poems and books ~ Congrats again Susan for the publications ~

    ReplyDelete