Mary Oliver and Inspiration

maryoliverI was never a full convert to Mary Oliver’s poetry. Heresy, I know, but I dismissed it as ‘greetings cards’ type of poetry – plenty of feel-good factor, but too obvious and too easy to read (and dismiss). Too much of a bestseller?

Was this slim volume of selected poems entitled ‘Felicity’ going to change my mind?

At first, I thought not. The questions were almost touching in their naivety and blandness.

Things take the time they take. Don’t worry. How many roads did St. Augustine follow before he became St. Augustine?

Why do people keep asking to see God’s identity papers when the darkness opening into morning is more than enough?

There are plenty of aphorisms, of the type which I thought had died out after the Enlightenment or Oscar Wilde:

All important ideas must include the trees, the mountains and the rivers.

Beauty can both shout and whisper, and still it explains nothing.

The point is, you’re you, and that’s for keeps.

But then I came across the poems about love. And there the freshness, candour, surprise and even platitudes suddenly seemed appropriate when punctuated by breathlessness. You can feel the delight and search for new ways to express an emotion which catches us unawares every single time and makes youngsters of us all.

I did think, let’s go about this slowly. This is important. This should take some really deep thought. We should take small thoughtful steps. But, bless us, we didn’t.

Are the morning kisses the sweetest/ or the evenings/ or the inbetweens?/ All I know/ is that thank you should appear/ somewhere./ So, just in case,/ I can’t find/ the perfect place – / ‘Thank you, thank you.’

Mary Oliver is best known for her close observation of nature – and you won’t find much of that in this volume, so perhaps I am being somewhat unfair to her. So perhaps not the best introduction to her work if you are new to it, but a useful source of quotations for your own poetry? What do you think, am I being unfair to a poet that is appreciated by so many who would otherwise not read much poetry?

 

Happy Conference Times Are Here Again!

Back in February 2012 I had just recently arrived in Geneva and was so busy settling everyone else into the new environment that I forgot to make myself happy. I was lonely, frustrated and feeling uninspired. But then I discovered the Geneva Writers Group and attended their biennial conference. I ‘accidentally’ attended a poetry workshop run by the wonderful Naomi Shihab Nye and suddenly the words were gushing out of me, after a twenty-year absence from poetry, and nearly as many years of not really taking writing of any kind seriously enough. The first poem was a bit gauche and hesitant, but a clear manifesto. And I haven’t stopped writing since (or only temporarily, because finding the time for it is still challenging, although far less than it used to be).

So you bet that I am excited to be attending my third Geneva Writers Conference later this month! We have some wonderful writers/publishers attending as instructors and panelists: Tessa Hadley, Jane Friedman, Carmen Bugan, Ann Hood, Liz Jensen, Shaun McCarthy, Frederick Reiken, Andrea Stuart, Susan Tiberghien, Jason Donald and Wallis Wilde Menozzi. I expect to be challenged, inspired and kicked into action. After all, who understands writers better than other writers?

Conference

Avoid Those Darned Clichés!

It’s amazing how difficult it is to stay away from clichés when writing poetry… or anything, really! As part of last week’s fabulous poetry workshop with the performance poetry guru that is Anthony Anaxagorou, we had to work on random concrete nouns and associate them with interesting adjectives. Harder than it sounds to produce a coherent poem out of it. Here is my pitiful result, which I am linking to dVerse Poets Pub and their Open Link Night. Join us there for very diverse explorations of poetry!

Indifferent sunshine taps on the bleary-eyed windows
a cat burglar in white
but fails to wake her.
She grips the eiderdown, she swallows the grumpy phlegm
lodged in her system.
And ten versatile coffees later
she waltzes with the wandering pencil
on the frisky paper.
From the pregnant bag of ideas
she selects yet another, caresses it with bloated thumb,
while a reborn supper
announces itself shyly on the dancing table.

From British South Indians website.
From British South Indians website.

We Work, We Write… And Rinse, Repeat!

Life is a house of cards. Complex and fragile, it sometimes just comes fluttering down or else you strike it with Alice-like overwhelm morphed into sour temper.

Yet at other times, the weariness is forgotten and everything seems possible. Surprisingly, Beijing (with its loud, crazy traffic and humorous, hard-working and openly curious people) had that effect on me.

Vertigo over Beijing traffic (in its calmest moments).
Vertigo over Beijing traffic (in its calmest moments).
The masters of pointless walls, which never really kept out invaders.
The masters of pointless walls, which never really kept out invaders.
Pomp and grandeur of past and present...
Pomp and grandeur of past and present…
... but it's the energy, good humour and willingness to learn of its people that I really admire.
… but it’s the energy, good humour and willingness to learn of its young people that I really admire.

I felt I could come home and tackle the long, long list of household, administrative, professional and creative tasks that I have set myself. Not just yet, though. Today I will take time to recover from jetlag and catch up with emails and blog posts. Otherwise, I may end up falling asleep just about anywhere, as is often the case in hard-working China.

P1030578

It’s not quite Friday yet, but this may well be my Friday Fun contribution for this week, as I start to get up to speed again with all of my work. Lots of reviews coming up too!

Oh, and just a whiff of Beijing smog to spoil the air on my last day there…

P1030607

So Old and Yet So New (Poetry)

This is some poetry inspired by my current re-reading of The Tale of Genji.

From ink-treasures.com
From ink-treasures.com

The brush at rest, she sweetly shed
her kanji burden in black rain.
Told it slant, but all refrain
from advice or like
on poetry’s thin frame.
Safflower and cicada shells linger on pages
but nothing compares
to the shy violet blush of
crocus beneath dried leaves.
How could I forget
the persistent folly of men
and how quickly sleeves are

dampened by the morning dew?

 

And, in the spirit of Royall Tyler’s multiple footnotes: kanji are the Chinese characters or ideograms used in Japanese (alongside the syllabic hiragana and katakana), safflower and cicada shells are nicknames used for certain ladies to whom Genji has shown some affection, while the wet sleeves are a recurring motif in all of Classical Japanese and Chinese literature and represent mourning, regret, suffering.

Don’t Believe Me? Just Watch!

It’s on every radio station I seem to switch on: Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars singing ‘Uptown Funk’. I’d heard this catchy song before, enjoyed the cheeky video, but in February it became part of the soundtrack of my life.

It was the music blaring out of the loudspeakers as my children came skiing down the slopes with shiny badges and faces to match. It was the last song on my car radio before I had my fateful meeting with a literary agent and editor. It was the song I heard just before I embarked upon a challenging training course with a difficult client. And, in each case, the outcome was as happy and snappy as the song itself. So it has become my ‘good luck token’. Think I’m all bark and no bite, all dreams and nought to back it up? Just you watch!

So it made my day to see Michelle Obama dancing to it on Ellen:

http://www.justjared.com/2015/03/12/michelle-obama-dances-to-uptown-funk-on-ellen-watch-now/

Sometimes you just need to prove them all wrong. Have a lovely weekend and don’t give up on your ambitions!

 

Friday Fun: Take to the Trees

Alongside a (slight) obsession with chateaux and libraries, you may know that I also dream of owning a treehouse. So here are some that have inspired me over the years…

Forest Hut or Gingerbread House? From Decoist.
Forest Hut or Gingerbread House? From Decoist.
Point Hotel in Washington State website.
Point Hotel in Washington State website.
Some are relatively simple, like this one from The Telegraph.
Some are relatively simple, like this one from The Telegraph.
Others can only be described as... grandiose. From The Treehouse Company Ltd.
Others can only be described as… grandiose. From The Treehouse Company Ltd.
The interiors are enticing too. Canada Farow Partnership.
The interiors are enticing too. Canada, Farrow Partnership.

We’ve come a long way from our tree-dwelling ancestors, haven’t we?

Now all I need to do is find a suitable tree…