Friday, March 30, 2018

The Living Dead

~ Honouring our poetic ancestors ~

Elegy Before Death

There will be rose and rhododendron
    When you are dead and under ground;
Still will be heard from white syringas
    Heavy with bees, a sunny sound;

Still will the tamaracks be raining
    After the rain has ceased, and still
Will there be robins in the stubble,
    Brown sheep upon the warm green hill.

Spring will not ail nor autumn falter;
    Nothing will know that you are gone,
Saving alone some sullen plough-land
    None but yourself sets foot upon;

Saving the may-weed and the pig-weed
    Nothing will know that you are dead,–
These, and perhaps a useless wagon
    Standing beside some tumbled shed.

Oh, there will pass with your great passing
    Little of beauty not your own,–
Only the light from common water,
    Only the grace from simple stone!

– Edna St Vincent Millay (1892-1950)
from Second April (1921).

After preparing this post, it struck me that it will appear on Good Friday, when Christians around the world commemorate the suffering and death of Jesus – with the knowledge that, in a few days' time, they will celebrate the Resurrection, with all the significance of that, not only in terms of life after death but also sacrifice and atonement.

It's fair to say that Jesus lived on in a different sense as well – being remembered ever after by so many. Even non-believers know the story well.

As my spiritual path is different, I'll leave the religious discussion to others more qualified. Indeed I hadn't at first registered the fact that a poem on death – albeit with no  religious connotations – is, in a way, well-timed today.

And of course, on that first Good Friday, no-one anticipated the Resurrection. He was still being mourned as a family member, a friend, a great teacher.

I think we all understand – too well, some might feel – the sorrow of death, the longing to meet our loved ones again in a happier place, and the way they stay alive in memory.

Then there's this poem, which not only deals with a commonplace human death, but one that has not actually taken place yet (i.e. when the poem was written).

As it happens, two of my friends have died very recently. I don't know about you, but when I'm grieving I find it cathartic and strangely comforting to read poetry about death – elegies expressing other people's grief. The better the poetry, the more effective.

Edna St Vincent Millay is an old favourite of mine, and so is this "Elegy Before Death," in which she imagines a grief to come. The crux of it, of course, is in that final verse – whether the person one is thinking of has already died or not. 

I remember, many years ago, losing someone I was very much in love with to a sudden, shocking, unexpected death – and noticing, months and months later, that leaves and grasses had started shining again. So I realised I had got past the first, worst grief. Until that moment I had been living what she says in this poem's final verse, and hardly even remarked it until it altered and the world started coming back to life (and so did I).

The recent losses are not quite so devastating, but sad enough, and again I turn to this beautiful elegy to help assuage the grief.

But it's not only an elegy; it is also, and even more, a love poem. If you don't have a need or wish to deal with death just now, you can think of it that way – a measure of how important this particular person (to whom the poem is addressed) is to the poet, so that if this one person were lost, in objective reality nothing much of any importance would be altered ... and yet, for the poet, everything would be irrevocably altered and nothing could be more important.

We have featured this wonderful poet several times already at Poets United. I featured her once in "I Wish I'd Written This" with a beautiful sonnet which is also both elegaic (again, "before death") and a love poem. 

Kim Nelson, in "Classic Poetry" as well as featuring a delightful poem, gives a detailed account of Millay's life, so I won't repeat that information here.

Her poetry and letters, and books about her, are still very much available on Amazon.

Material shared in 'The Living Dead' is presented for study and review. Poems, photos and other writings and images remain the property of the copyright owners, where applicable (older poems may be out of copyright).

The photo used here, which is by Carl Van Vechten, is in The Public Domain.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Poets United Midweek Motif ~ Treasure

“If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.” — Jesus Christ

  “Bad things do happen; how I respond to them defines my character and the quality of my life. I can choose to sit in perpetual sadness, immobilized by the gravity of my loss, or I can choose to rise from the pain and treasure the most precious gift I have – life itself.”— Walter Anderson

    Midweek Motif ~ Treasure

Today you are to write about that which you treasure most in your life. It might be a moment, a person, a relationship, a dream, a pet, your family, your life, a poem or whatever you think most valuable to you.

Here’s a treasure poem for you:

The Treasure
by Rupert Brooke
When colour goes home into the eyes,
And light that shines are shut again,
With dancing girls and sweet birds’ cries
Behind the gateways of the brain;

Still Time may hold some golden space

Where I’ll unpack that scented store
Of song and flower and sky and face,
And count and touch and turn them o’er,
Musing upon them; as a mother who
Has watched her children all the rich day through
Sits, quiet-handed, in the fading light,
When children sleep, ere night.

Please share your new poem using Mr. Linky below and visit others in the spirit of the community—
(Next week Susan’s Midweek Motif will be ~ Beginnings)

Monday, March 26, 2018


This week, we are chatting with Bjorn Rudberg and Mary Grace Guevera, of dVerse Poets Pub, about the recent publication of their beautiful anthology, "Chiaroscuro". It truly is a thing of beauty, and we wanted to find out what the process of putting it together was like for them. Let's dive in.

Available here

Sherry: Hi, Bjorn and Grace. First, we must congratulate you on your beautiful anthology, Chiaroscuro. It truly is a thing of beauty! You and your team did a marvelous job.

Take us back to the beginning. When did the idea of an anthology occur to you?

Bjorn: I think the idea was there from the beginning. dVerse has published two anthologies before, but with external publishers. We wanted to have full control this time, but at the same time we were scared of the amount of work. After discussing back and forth we decided to bring in the whole team to help us with the work.

Grace:    Bjorn and I talked in 2016 about doing an Anthology, where the dVerse team would be responsible from beginning until the end.  We didn't have any experience in this, but there are several self-publishing platforms where we can explore and learn on the job. This time around, as main editors, we would have a hand in selecting, editing and publishing an Anthology by the dVerse team.

Björn: It was a joint decision, and we brought in the team and discussed how to share the workload. Each prompt was treated as a submission, and we tried to select the best poems each week instead of having a big submission event.

Grace:   This is not work by one person, but a team.   Bjorn and I have not thought of doing this project by ourselves as it can be overwhelming, as we have seen in the past.  We decided to involve the team right from the beginning so the load is lighter, so to speak.

Leaf with Dewdrops by Michelle Beauchamp

Sherry: Considering each prompt a submission sounds like a good idea. Did either of you have any idea of the amount of work involved?

Grace: We knew it will take a lot of work but we didn't realize it would take longer. It was our first time to do the editing and finally putting it altogether in a printable form.  The editing part took longer as we got in touch with the poets and they had to agree to the changes we recommended.

Björn: I agree, the amount of work involved in editing and contacting all the poets took a lot more time than we thought.

Grace:  Also we took the self-publishing route, which proved to be a learning curve for Bjorn and I.   Bjorn took a lot of time learning the CreateSpace of Amazon and it did prove to be a good platform to meet our needs.  We had poets from all over the world, and we wanted to ensure that the printed copy would be accessbile whether you are in Asia or Austrailia.    We were happy with Amazon's reach and delivery part of our printed copy.

Bjorn: I actually enjoyed learning the tricks and trade of self-publishing and as for myself I will probably use it again when I finally write my own book.

Sherry: I am blown away by the access to markets self-publishing has these days. Especially the access to Amazon. Chioroscuro can be ordered directly from Amazon here.

What was your process in putting it together?

Bjorn: Ha... we actually announced that from now on each submission will be treated as a submission for the Anthology, but still many were surprised when they were contacted. To have many small submissions instead of one giant one was a good one. We also wanted to reward the poets who are active in the community.

Leaves by Kim Russell

Grace: We decided that we didn't want a call to submissions, one time, and read like 300+ poems from several poets.   We didn't have the time to read so many poems on top of our regular weekly hostings. So we planned with the dVerse team, to select and read as we go along, week to week, with various poetry prompts.  

We announced the Anthology project last July 2016 with our 5th anniversary celebration. We stretched the timeline to over 4 to 5 months, as we selected, voted and compiled poems. Bjorn and I decided on the title, theme, and way we would arrange the poems as we started reviewing the compiled poems.  

The initial work was made easy, with the dVerse team helping with the prompts and selecting the poems. But at the end of the process, Bjorn and I made the final decision of being inclusive to those actively participating in our dVerse prompts. At the end, we invited over 100 poets to be part of our Anthology project.

Sherry: It is wonderfully inclusive! 

Grace:   The whole dVerse team helped us with the selection and finally the editing of the material.  It was important to have a different set of eyes, as it was really tiring to see the same material over and over again.  I could not anymore see where and what the changes are and needed to be.

Björn: I also want to extend a big thank to the team for the effort in the selecting and editing of the poems. Even if we wanted to leave them as close as possible to the original, we needed to format and correct typos — and confirm with the poets.  The team who helped us are:   Kim M. Russell, Victoria Slotto, Gayle Walters Rose, Lillian Hallberg, Frank Hubeny, Walter Wojtanik, Toni Spencer, De Jackson, Michelle Beauchamp and Paul John Dear.   

Sherry: You had a wonderful team! The artistic photos on the cover and throughout the book are  beautiful. Did people submit these along with their poems?

Sunflower by Michelle Beauchamp

Bjorn / Grace:   We were lucky to have in our dVerse team, not only poets, but amazing photographers as well.  We chose, for the book cover, the stunning photo from the photography collection by Paul John Dear.  The black and white photos are from Michelle Beauchamp, Kim M. Russell and Candace Kubinar.

Sherry: When it came to the selection process, was that difficult?

Bjorn / Grace: Yes, there are some outstanding poets in our group. It was definitely hard to select which poems went into the Anthology.

Some prompts proved easier to select from; sometimes we were awed by all the great entries. Sometimes it was hard.

Sherry: Were there moments when the workload seemed overwhelming and you wondered if you would ever complete the project?

Bjorn: Ha... yes, I have to say that, especially when we were in the middle of it all and we were editing. Also the formatting took a lot of time. I remember when I just had to start all over because Word simply wouldn’t do what I wanted. But I’m so grateful that Grace pushed us all. At the end it proved easy, we wanted it ready for Christmas.

Grace:    Yes, when the editing took forever, I thought it would never be finished.  But putting a deadline on the work pushes you to complete it. I told Bjorn that we need to see this project done by end of 2017, and we worked to finish it.   

Sherry: What did it feel like when you finally held the finished copy in your hands?
Bjorn: I remember when holding the first proof in my hand and seeing what a great book it would be. The color and the matte finish really made this a pleasant book to hold and to flip through, seeing and remembering all the poems and the poets. I imagine we could just get together one day and read our poems to each other.

Grace:  Sweet and very grateful for everyone's efforts in putting it together. We hope we can pull off another one in the near future.

Sherry: Congratulations to you and the team for producing a truly beautiful book! It is outstanding! I would like to commend you on the huge time commitment and effort involved in producing the anthology, as well as keeping a large community like dVerse afloat. On behalf of all of us who enjoy all of the features and prompts, and the wonderful community of dVerse, a very big thank you for a job well done!

There you have it, my friends, the amount of work that goes into putting together an anthology. With a wonderful result, in this case! Do come back and see who we talk to next. Who knows? It might be you!

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Poetry Pantry #396

Greetings, Poets.  Also, I am happy to note that now we are OFFICIALLY in the season of spring.  (In the northern hemisphere.)  I hope that it is springlike everywhere.  Spring is the season of hope and rebirth.  I took the photo above a few years ago in a local park.  Actually it was taken in April, so I know that this kind of view is not far ahead.  Ah, spring!

And speaking of hope, weren't the March For Our Lives marches inspiring?  We do need THAT kind of hope right now, I think.

Thanks for participating in the Poets United community.  If you haven't read Rosemary's Moonlight Musings this week, please check it out.  She wrote about the role of the poet in the community.  So much food for thought.  If you missed it, you missed something special.

Sumana's Midweek Motif this next week will be Treasure.  Believe me, each of you who participates here at PU is a treasure.  Smiles.  Anyway think ahead, and write a poem to share.

Monday Sherry has an interesting chat with two poets who are part of another poetry community.  You all know them, I am sure.  And I know you will enjoy this chat.

With no further delay, let's share poetry.  Link your one poem below.  Stop in and say hello in comments.  And then make the rounds visiting the poems of others who have linked.  I look forward to seeing you on the trail.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Moonlight Musings

The Role of the Poet in the Community

Do many people in your community think of you as a poet? The butcher, the baker...? I'm guessing not, and the same applies to me. I think more people saw me that way when I lived in Melbourne 20-30 years ago and was actively involved in performance, publishing, teaching, reviewing, etc. But even then, few of my immediate neighbours, or the shop assistants I saw frequently, or the parents of my kids' school friends would have had an inkling. 

That's partly because there is not much interest in poetry in the wider community. And I think it's also because most of us don't self-aggrandise but are quite shy about putting ourselves forward. When I first started getting published, my then husband, Bill Nissen, would introduce me proudly to new acquaintances with, "Rosemary's a poet". They never knew what to say, and neither did I. I and they felt embarrassed. But then, as my work gained more and more acceptance, and I became more used to the fact, I guess my energy changed as I became comfortable enough with the fact to own the label. That confidence must have shown through; anyway, all parties stopped being embarrassed and just accepted it. That is, when I accepted it about myself, so did others. 

Good luck to those who focus on being published in "prestigious" literary magazines – I have been one, and succeeding comes with some advantages. It can certainly play a part in being taken seriously by the poetry-reading community and oneself.

Another way, as we here all know, is to blog. That has us know each other's work really well, and each other through our work. It can spark real friendships and even true love, both of which Sherry documented for us recently in her farewell to "The Unknown Gnome". But it is still a finite circle, albeit a large, international one.

I always think the first impulse in making any kind of art is self-expression, and that this is closely followed by the second, which is to communicate. I have overcome my shyness about the whole thing (as if it were some shameful endeavour!) sufficiently to sometimes share poetry unsolicited when it seems relevant. For example, a friend's gift of a carefully-chosen bookmark inspired a poem in response, which I used as a "thank-you letter". 

When another friend moved house and I was unable to attend the house-warming, I sent a house blessing in the form of a poem.

I also recall my Dad (who never thought of trying to get his verses published via "literary" outlets) composing poems for family members' birthdays – the big milestones, such as my Grandpa's 80th. He would read the poem out on the occasion, just before the blowing out of the candles on the cake. These poems were always treasured by the recipients, and much appreciated too by the rest of the family, who could relate personally to what was said.

I belong to a circle called The Goddesses of Shining Light: women from a wide range of religious and spiritual affiliations, who choose to identify with the Divine Feminine and shine our light in various ways (both practical and energetic) to our community and the world. Being Goddess-centred in my personal spiritual life too, I sometimes write poems with that theme, and at times it has seemed appropriate to share them with the group. 

At first I had to silence the internal voice that said, "Who do you think you are? You're going to look conceited" – and all of that stuff, with which I'm sure we're all familiar. It was reassuring when some of the Goddesses remarked that my words were beautiful, and even more so when I was asked to read one of my poems during a particular ritual.

When my friend Yasoda was dying last week, I wrote a poem reminiscing about her life (and her dying) but didn't make it public until after she had left us. Then, I hesitated to post it to her facebook page, which her children were using to communicate with her friends about her death and memorial service. I was afraid it might cause them even more upset, telling it like it was about her decline. 

But other friends were posting tributes to her on that page, so finally I did too. I reasoned that her children had been present at some of the times I wrote about, and that the poem says as many positive as sad things about her. 

The celebrant conducting the memorial service (a mutual friend) contacted me to say that Yasoda's children would love it if I'd agree to read my poem at the service (and would I mind altering it to omit one personal detail). I was only too happy to agree to both requests, and ended up with an improved poem. 

I'm used to performing. Behind the mic, I lose all shyness and turn into an old ham! But this day (yesterday as I write) I felt quite weepy beforehand. An old friend sitting next to me put her arm around me and nestled me in, to rest my head on her shoulder. I was grateful to relax into her comfort. 

Several people shared their reminiscences of Yasoda; some musicians played and sang; we all joined in for some of her favourite songs. There must have been about 100 people there, many of whom I knew. She was greatly loved in a number of overlapping sections of our rural and small-town community. 

When I got up to read, all the years of training came to the fore and I was able to keep my voice strong, with the right intonations to bring out the meaning. When I'd finished, the celebrant picked up easily on my theme of Yasoda's generosity of spirit, and wove it into her own remarks and what others too had said. Meanwhile I quietly handed a signed and dated copy of the poem to each of Yasoda's children. They hadn't expected that, but all silently nodded their thanks. Later, after the service, people told me how much my words had moved them, and remarked on how well I'd presented the poem.

The picture from the back of the order of service

It came to me then that this is a supreme role for a poet, beyond the thrill of publication and acclaim – to be of service to one's community in ways such as this, and a witness to the lives around us. I can imagine that this was how it was in the far past. Perhaps the village poets were the commentators on local, tribal events. Perhaps they bore public witness to major turning points in people's lives.

Well, I'm not planning to hire myself out or anything! It's not about me. It's about the power of poetry to contribute to those around us. I see that I have something to offer, and that when I am moved to offer it I need not hold back. It may not always be what people feel a need for, but there is no reason to assume beforehand that it would be out of place.

I'm not the only poet in the town or the region, or even amongst the Goddesses. I'm not the only one to be inspired by particular occasions and to share the resulting words. But I had been seeing this as purely a personal matter. I finally perceive it as also being one of our roles in our communities – a way of giving service.

It's as the spirit moves one, of course. I don't mean to suggest that we have anything like a duty. I think any sense of obligation must be death to art! But when we're inspired, there are ways we can take it further and communicate, even when we don't always know how it will be received, and may never know. 

I might even contemplate the possibility of sending poems as Letters to the Editor of the local newspaper now and then! 

I wonder if some of you also do other things with your poetry besides posting it to your blogs and/or submitting it to literary publications?

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Poets United Midweek Motif ~ Colour (Color)

Color effect – Sunlight shining through stained glass onto carpet
(Nasir ol Molk Mosque located in ShirazIran)

“Clouds come floating into my life, no longer to carry rain or usher storm, but to add color to my sunset sky.”
Rabindranath Tagore
“I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don't notice it.”Alice Walker
“One should be a painter. As a writer, I feel the beauty, which is almost entirely colour, very subtle, very changeable, running over my pen, as if you poured a large jug of champagne over a hairpin.”Virginia Woolf

"ME TOO" by Annell Livingston:
"Hold the world as tenderly as a lover."

(Used with permission.)

Midweek Motif ~ Color (Colour)

Working on this prompt is brightening my world! Today, I share words from Annell Livingston who created the "Me Too" acrylic painting above:  
I have been studying color for over fifty years.  And color is like exploring a cave deep underground, the doors or passageways keep opening, just when you think you have a handle on the subject, another door opens and presents new possibilities.  We begin with the hues of color, or the names of each color, like red, yellow and blue.  The lights and darks of color, tints and shades.  The temperature of color, warm or cool.   And the intensity of color, or the brightness or dullness of color.  There is so much to explore about color and its vibrations, it is a lifetime study.
Today, I'm inviting us to question how color around us shapes our moods and how our moods influence our environments.

The Challenge:  In your brand new poem, reveal the color of a place or an event.

Angostura de Paine.jpg
Angostura de Paine, Chile. By Ricardo Hurtubia

for my sisters
Because we did not have threads
of turquoise, silver, and gold,
we could not sew a sun nor sky.
And our hands became balls of fire.
And our arms spread open like wings.

Because we had no chalk or pastels,
no toad, forest, or morning-grass slats
of paper, we had no colour
for creatures. So we squatted
and sprang, squatted and sprang.

Four young girls, plaits heavy
on our backs, our feet were beating
drums, drawing rhythms from the floor;
our mouths became woodwinds;
our tongues touched teeth and were reeds.

(Used with permission of the poet.)
First appeared in Song of Thieves 
University of Pittsburgh Press, 2003
Purple as tulips in May, mauve
into lush velvet, purple
as the stain blackberries leave
on the lips, on the hands,
the purple of ripe grapes
sunlit and warm as flesh.

Every day I will give you a color,
like a new flower in a bud vase
on your desk. Every day
I will paint you, as women
color each other with henna
on hands and on feet.

Red as henna, as cinnamon,
as coals after the fire is banked,
the cardinal in the feeder,
the roses tumbling on the arbor
their weight bending the wood
the red of the syrup I make from petals.

Orange as the perfumed fruit
hanging their globes on the glossy tree,
orange as pumpkins in the field,
orange as butterflyweed and the monarchs
who come to eat it, orange as my
cat running lithe through the high grass.

Yellow as a goat’s wise and wicked eyes,
yellow as a hill of daffodils,
yellow as dandelions by the highway,
yellow as butter and egg yolks,
yellow as a school bus stopping you,
yellow as a slicker in a downpour.
. . . . 
(Read the rest of this marvelous poem HERE.)

                          BY GEORGE ELIOT
The sky is cloudy, yellowed by the smoke. 
For view there are the houses opposite 
Cutting the sky with one long line of wall 
Like solid fog: far as the eye can stretch 
Monotony of surface & of form 
Without a break to hang a guess upon. 
No bird can make a shadow as it flies, 
For all is shadow, as in ways o'erhung 
By thickest canvass, where the golden rays 
Are clothed in hemp. No figure lingering 
Pauses to feed the hunger of the eye 
Or rest a little on the lap of life. 
All hurry on & look upon the ground, 
Or glance unmarking at the passers by 
The wheels are hurrying too, cabs, carriages 
All closed, in multiplied identity. 
The world seems one huge prison-house & court 
Where men are punished at the slightest cost, 
With lowest rate of colour, warmth & joy. 

In the Bois de Boulogne (Berthe Morisot) - Nationalmuseum - 22575.tif
In the Bois de Boulogne by Berthe Morisot (1880)

Pied Beauty 

Glory be to God for dappled things – 
   For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow; 
      For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim; 
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings; 
   Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough; 
      And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim. 

All things counter, original, spare, strange; 
   Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?) 
      With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim; 
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change: 
                                Praise him.

 Please share your new poem using Mr. Linky below and visit others in the spirit of the community—
(Next week Sumana’s Midweek Motif will be ~ Treasure)

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