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?

32 comments:

  1. This is a deeply moving post. It's making me rethink how and why I write. You can't possibly know how touched and stirred I am by your words.

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    1. No, I suppose I can't ... but I very much appreciate your saying so.

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  2. There is so much with which I can identify in your post, Rosemary, and I understand being shy when introduced as a poet. I write poems for birthdays, Christmas and other occasions, as well as the poems I wrote for my father's and mother's funerals. A poem fits neatly in a greetings card or on a postcard and say much more than a letter in fewer words. Thank you, for your insight.

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    1. Ah, I hadn't thought of the greetings card and postcard ideas. Thank you!

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  3. I LOVE these musings, Rosemary. I am sure your reading the poem at Yasoda's celebration of life was very meaningful to all who were there. A wonderful send-off. I wrote one that was read at my friend Matthew's celebration of life, and people were very moved. In Tofino, as we are small village, poetry has its place in the community, which is full of writers, artists, photographers, carvers, sculptors - a very creative community. I belong to the Clayoquot Writers Group, which is held in high esteem in the village and we often have poetry events. This April, we are hiring our first Poet Laureate, who will present poems at civic functions and raise the litrary profile in town. I am so excited about this. So I am in a town where poetry is held in high regard and it feels pretty wonderful. My location actually inspires and encourages my work. I love Kim's idea of making art cards with poems. A great idea. A wonderful column, Rosemary. I love your Musings. They are the best!

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    1. I do see why you find it such a wonderful place to live!

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  4. I loved your post. I am just still so amazed that I write anything. I post, and have even left poems around town, anonymously. I am shy, but would love to read sometime.

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    1. I love that idea, of anonymous poems left around town!

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  5. I really enjoyed this Rosemary and it has given me much food for thought. Only once did I write a birthday poem to a gardening friend...I should consider doing more of that!

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  6. I enjoyed this as well... you planted few seeds in my mind that expanded my thinking

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  7. I loved this post as well...interesting and thought provoking.
    I write poetry because as a literary means of expression I don't have to struggle with it as I do with prose.As a means of communication I find it is far more effective and pithy than prose. From personal experience poets are regarded with suspicion in the broader community (odd) so I no longer admit to being a poet ( not that I have a lot of association with the broader community anymore) As you may have guessed I am happily solitary and reclusive
    Only on very rare occasions do I like poetry being read.The idea of 'poetry slams' fills me with horror. Fortunately I found someone who feels the same about poetry being read out aloud. Kenneth Slessor says each individual reads with the
    'mind's voice '.

    The poetry I enjoy most comes from the blog poets. If I had to rely on published poets from literary journals for delight and inspiration I doubt I would poem away as much as I do.The meeting of the poetic minds from all over the globe on the poetry blogs is a 21st century phenomenon.It is exclusive in essence, in the sense that poetry is not populist, but as I am not a politically correct person or a cultural marxist, this suits me very well.

    A thank you to the committed staff and contributors to Poets United .
    I know I can speak for other poetic hermits when I say this blog has enriched my life to a great extent.I am able to communicate with like minded people I could never hope to with in real (unreal) life:)

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    1. Yes, I too have totally embraced the online poetic community these days, and find it very rewarding.

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  8. lovely post. i sometimes give poems as gifts to special people, sometimes i give them framed on coloured paper, written artifully, some doodling and glued on bits makes for well treasured gifts as recipients have told me years later.

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  9. A wonderful post Rosemary. To me blogging is communicating with like minds. I can do this enough and it keeps me in a happy space. I think I am too shy to talk about my lines with any one else outside poetry circle. But it's wonderful when you have moments like you've had in connection with your friend's passing.

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    1. It is also wonderful to have a poetry circle to communicate with! Even though we have all scribbled privately (me too, for many years, before I got brave enough to submit to journals) still I think it fills a great need when we can interact with the like-minded, particularly about something so specialised as making poems, which for most of us – let's face it – is a vocation. If I tried to have the same level of conversation with non-poets, I think their eyes would glaze over pretty fast!

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  10. i think for me, personally, the poetry scene really exploded with the advent of the internet.
    before that, it was just the books from the libraries or the few ones i bought. i wrote my words in notebooks, and there they remained, with only one reader.
    i think the internet provided one important thing, a platform for participation. suddenly i found out there were like-minded people out there, we talked poetry, trends, sometimes trash, on forums and boards. we posted poems, and criticised and praised. sometimes there were verbal sparrings, but it was okay. i submitted to ezines to see how /what my poems can do (i seldom do now). and then i created my blog and here i am still.

    i think my poetry is just that, poetry. something for someone to read, and enjoy, if they really like it. maybe it might end up in a poster on a subway train or bus, but so far no one has written to request my permission. :)

    Thank you Rosemary, for a great post, and a chance for me to ramble on.

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    1. I so enjoyed your "ramblings-on"! Thank you. A different experience from mine, and therefore fascinating. It is good to find one's poetic community (or "tribe") wherever that may be. And the internet has the advantage that one need not travel physical distances but may connect more widely than ever, all across the globe. I am one who is very glad your poetry did not remain strictly private, as I enjoy it so much.

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  11. Ah, I think sending poems as letters to the editor of local newspapers would be a great idea. People might find the concept so 'unusual' that they might read the poem depthfully rather than thinking it was just another prose letter (the kind they are used to).

    Wonderful, Rosemary, that you wrote a poem reminiscing about Yasoda's life and that you shared it at her memorial service & gave a copy of it to each of Yasoda's children. What a meaningful and thoughtful gesture.

    Recently I have not done anything with my poetry except post it. I used to periodically go to poetry readings & read one of my poems, but I haven't done this in a while. I think the idea of writing a poem FOR someone and presenting it to them in the form of a card would appeal to me. I will have to contemplate that.

    Thank you, Rosemary, for your personal and inspiring post! Food for thought indeed.

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    1. Well, posting your poetry to a blog and participating in an online community (let alone steering the ship, as you do!) is actually quite a lot to be doing with one's poetry. The other opportunities come one's way much more rarely – and in the case of deaths and wakes, that's all to the good. I don't do readings any more either, as for me it would usually mean travelling late at night on dark, winding country roads. If readings come to me, as one did recently, that's fine. But I also don't want to organise local readings myself; I did a lot of that in the past, but nowadays want to put my time and energy into other things. Blogging is a great blessing, and so is this community!

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  12. I have yet to find another use for my poetry... especially the one I write here. However tuning my language wit poetry has found it's uses in my work... it makes mundane thing like writing a concise email or giving a presentation more fun.. metaphors I use daily at work.

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    1. Oh, what an excellent benefit of the poetics, Bjorn! And as you, like Mary, are steering the ship of a poetic community, dVerse, and also being very active at "toads" as well as participating here, I'm not sure where you would find time for anything extra. (Smile.)

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  13. "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."

    A couple of years ago, a friend and I decided to do readings in our representatives and senators offices--a sit in with poetry. We had a few planning sessions, but life stuff intervened. I still think it's a good idea. Like folk songs, poets can bring their art. The arts have a larger role to play in change than we have yet imagined. (I read this Friday, but needed time to think through all the things you reminded me of. So much theatre and art--so much given and so much more needed. It feels like only a drop in the bucket. But at the very least, we keep a hum in the background of public life.)

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  14. A thoughtful and thought provoking post, Rosemary, particularly since I find that I am very sensitive to sharing my poetry, outside of my blog and poetry publications.

    I have yet to read one of my poems, publicly - and probably never will take that particular 'plunge'. Some of my poetry was published in a collaborative project with 9 other Canadian poets and I did give a copy of that to family and friends. (As you mentioned, one doesn't want to appear conceited and I think - because the book included the work of others - it felt like it was permissible to share it.)

    I have 6 personalized binders with the words: The Poetry of Wendy ... printed on the cover. (These can be ordered on line from Zazzle, if anyone is interested.) Inside I have placed plastic sleeves, so that the pages will hold up over time. These binders contain all my poetry and photography ... to what end, I cannot say. Though it does feel a bit like I am putting my poetry 'out there', is some strange way ... by making a point of leaving it behind.

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  15. I'm smiling, wondering what people around me, who run a mile from the "P" word, would say if I gifted them my poetry. The thrill of publication is fleeting because of the lack of interest in the wider community as you rightly point out. As for holding a mirror to society, I wonder how that role plays out in this age of social media. So much to think about, but I keep writing and blogging hoping it will all make sense eventually or just get lost in a cyber dustbin.

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  16. Dear Rosemary! Thank you for this moving, beautiful and insightful post.

    I especially like and relate to your observation below:
    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 view my writing (poetry and other writings) as a form of self-expression and as a gift to others. Besides blogging my drafts, I pen poems for family and friends to celebrate, and also to console in times of sadness. I'm sometimes invited to talk at schools about topics that have nothing to do with poetry, but a verse (whether mine or by another poet) always sneaks in.:)

    This form of engagement (including blogging) is more rewarding for me than waiting for somewhere else to decide, whether people should read me or not.




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  17. Thank you, Rosemary for such a moving post. You've given me an idea of gifting my poems.... Apart from blogging and sharing with fellow poets, I haven't explored much else. You've given me food for thought with this insightful write. Thank you :)

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  18. Rosemary, first of all, my condolences on the loss of your friend. I know this stirs so much emotion and sadness. Secondly, thank you for sharing so honestly what so many of us feel - that discomfort at being called a poet. I still recoil whenever anyone says that and I feel that on some level they are making fun - as if being a poet is something archaic, or just not relevant to this modern world.
    I recently started feeling more comfortable reading my poetry and have been surprised that several people have really appreciated it.
    Your writing about these things here serves to give me more courage at being myself. Perhaps not a very good poet, but a poet nevertheless. Thank you.

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  19. This beautiful, luv the community spirit aspect even if I think not for myself.
    Before my retirement I got into blogging and promised myself to deepen my gift as a hobbyist poet, so I still write as a hobby I write to express thoughts and now that I am in community online blogs I write in response to prompts, this broadens my skills and brings me many poets friends in the process

    Best wishes with your veer into poetry for the community

    much love...

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  20. Your poem affected life?! Yes, you can share your lovely poem and its great "after story" with the world... Submit now https://www.LifePoemsProject.com

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