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“Beware, O wanderer, the road is walking too.”

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Traveling Alone


by Billy Collins
in “The Trouble With Poetry” 2005

At the hotel coffee shop that morning,
the waitress was wearing a pink uniform
with “Florence” written in script over her heart.

And the man who checked my bag
had a badge that said “Ben.”
Behind him was a long row of royal palms.

On the plane, two women poured drinks
from a cart they rolled down the narrow aisle –
“Debbie” and “Lynn” according to their winged tags.

And such was my company
as I arced from coast to coast,
and so I seldom spoke, and then only
of the coffee, the bag, the tiny bottles of vodka.
I said little more than “Thank you”
and “Can you take this from me, please?”

Yet I began to sense that all of them
were ready to open up,
to get to know me better, perhaps begin a friendship.

Florence looked irritated
as she shuffled from table to table,
but was she just hiding her need
to know about my early years –
the ball I would toss and catch in my hands
the times I hid behind my mother’s dress?

And was I so wrong in catching in Ben’s eyes
a glimmer of interest in my theories
and habits – my view of the Enlightenment,
my love of cards, the hours I tended to keep?

And what about Debbie and Lynn?
Did they not look eager to ask about my writing process,
my way of composing in the morning
by a window, which I would have admitted
if they had just had the courage to ask.

And strangely enough – I would have continued,
as they stopped pouring drinks
and the other passengers turned to listen –
the only emotion I ever feel, Debbie and Lynn,
is what the beaver must feel,
as he bears each stick to his hidden construction,

which creates the tranquil pond
and gives the mallards somewhere to paddle,
the pair of swans a place to conceal their young.

Writing Advice


More at: http://www.advicetowriters.com

You Can’t Learn To Write in College

You can’t learn to write in college. It’s a very bad place for writers because the teachers always
think they know more than you do—and they don’t. They have prejudices. They may like Henry James, but what if you don’t want to write like Henry James? They may like John Irving, for instance, who’s the bore of all time. A lot of the people whose work they’ve taught in the schools for the last thirty years, I can’t understand why people read them and why they are taught.

RAY BRADBURY

Self-doubt Can Be An Ally

Self-doubt can be an ally. This is because it serves as an indicator of aspiration. It reflects love, love of something we dream of doing, and desire, desire to do it. If you find yourself asking yourself (and your friends), “Am I really a writer? Am I really an artist?” chances are you are. The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.

STEVEN PRESSFIELD

 

 

You Must Read Everything

Illustration by Tina Berning
for the New York Times

You must read everything, and you must let it all the way into your life, all the way into the part of you that makes writing, and you must let every good thing in — none of this reading a few lines of so-and-so with the hope that you might write something that sounds like it.

SARAH MANGUSO

Jam


by Charles Bukowski
1920-94

That Harbor Freeway south
through the downtown
area –

I mean it can simply become
unbelievable.

last Friday evening
I was sitting there motionless
behind a wall of red tail lights
there wasn’t even first gear
movement
as masses of exhaust fumes greyed the
evening air
engines overheated
and there was the smell of a clutch
burning out
somewhere
– it seemed to come from ahead of
me –
from that long
slow rise of
freeway

where the cars were working
from first gear
to neutral
again and again
and from neutral back to first
gear.

on the radio
I heard the news of that day
at least 6
times

I was well versed
in world
affairs.

the remainder of the stations
played a thin sick
music

the classical stations
refused to come in
clearly
and when they did
it was a stale
repetition of
standard and tiresome
works.

I turned the radio
off.
a strange whirling began in my head
– it circled behind the forehead
clock-wise
went past the ears and around to the
back of the head then back
to the forehead
and around
again.

I began to wonder
is this what happens when one goes
mad?
I considered getting out of my car.
I was in the so-called fast lane.
I could see myself out there
out of my car leaning against
the freeway divider
arms folded.
then I would slide down to a sitting
position
putting my head between my
legs.
I stayed in the car
bit my tongue
turned the radio back on
willed the whirling to
stop
as I wondered
if any of the others
had to battle
against their
compulsions as I
did?

then the car ahead of
me
MOVED
a foot
2 feet 3 feet!
I shifted to first gear . . .
there was MOVEMENT!
then I was back in neutral
BUT
we had moved from 7 to ten
feet.

hearing the world news
for the 7th time
it was still all bad
but all of us listening
we could handle that too
because we knew
that there was nothing
worse
than looking at
that same license plate
that same dumb head
sticking up from behind
the headrest
in the car
ahead of you
as time dissolved
as the temperature gauge
leaned more to the right
as the gas gauge
leaned more to the left
as we wondered
whose clutch
was burning out?
we were like some
last
vast
final
dinosaur
crawling feebly home
somewhere
somehow
maybe
to
die.

The Work


© 2014
Pause
©Hemmingplay 2014

The old one-eyed poet said it is harder to
dismantle your life than to build it, but
I think it is just as difficult both ways.

I’m putting the finishing touches on the house of me.
Bolting the copper trout wind vane on the chimney,
mounting the mailbox by the road,
putting in the shrubbery and sod, laying out the welcome mat.

And doing it all never knowing if today
might be the last, or whether I have
6,200 more sunrises to enjoy, as I saw once in a dream.

It’s all just vanity, after all. I’ll pile my collection of rocks
beside the trail and someone will come along and
knock them over, not realizing what they are,
then steal a few to build their own pile.

These are not unusual worries and really
only concern me and a distressingly small circle of people.
The Nile River doesn’t care either way, Miami and
San Francisco and Shanghai are still going to flood,
people will always believe flim-flam artists,
the dinosaurs are still dead—
On the bright side, someday I’ll get to see
what they’ve been doing the last 65 million years.

This sorting and patching and filtering
feels like when you fall asleep on a hot, muggy
afternoon in a bad mood and wake up sweaty,
disoriented, not sure where – or who—you are.

The Work, though, goes on like a lazy creek.
It means to remember things, to patch torn screens,
To oil squeaky hinges of faintly remembered doors,
To somehow put a name to things and to see
What actually matters and which bits were bullshit.
(There has been a lot of the latter.)

The woman behind me on the train is coughing, reminding me
I read once that most of us die of suffocation,
Choking on our own accumulated miseries.
I can think of better ways to go.
This makes me start coughing, too.

So I’m putting the finishing touches on my life,
Essentially sewing my shroud. I’m not unhappy about this,
Mind you. I’m luckier than most, and get to do the
Necessary sifting and sorting. I have time for the Great Work.
Then it will be time to dismantle it all, brick by brick,
Board by board, while I have the strength.
I’m not panicking or being morbid, either. Just realistic.
I have the luxury to know what it is I need to do.
I’ll pack it in neatly labeled boxes and files. I’m lucky. I know that.
I get to tell my story, leave these words behind as an affidavit
And testimony in my own very ordinary voice—which will last
About as long as a certain pile of stones, I suppose. But
It’s the effort that counts. The making use of a life
To learn what one can. To leave a small mark behind.
And then to let go, and see where the current goes from here.

Ashes and Snowflakes


The challenge, it seems,
is to somehow arrange,
to slow-dance with Familiar,
but awaken with Strange.

To be like a welder
shooting showers of sparks,
birthing hot, fluid joinings,
behind a mask full of stars. Continue reading “Ashes and Snowflakes”

Ghazal*: The Water


In Mystery

I was a relentless swimmer as a child, more at home
under water, popping up only for air, wishing for gills.

In the pond’s murky realm a few feet down, the big bass, motionless,
eyes swiveling, waited for someone’s last mistake.

In the muddy shallows, the sun warmed the water most,
small things hatched, safe from mouths in the deep water.

Forests of fronds and grasses stretched toward the light,
and died, becoming the black ooze where biting things lived.

I lost it along the way, that simple way a child observes in wonder,
accepting in wisdom, the heavenly song of the world everywhere.

My job these days is to be the archeologist of my life, diving
over and over and staying down, wishing for gills and more time.

On soft summers’ nights, lovesick bullfrogs boomed at the edges.
A muskrat swam in the moonlight, wake effortlessly symmetrical.

_____________
*An attempt…. About the Ghazal form:

The ghazal is composed of a minimum of five couplets—and typically no more than fifteen—that are structurally, thematically, and emotionally autonomous. Each line of the poem must be of the same length, though meter is not imposed in English. The first couplet introduces a scheme, made up of a rhyme followed by a refrain. Subsequent couplets pick up the same scheme in the second line only, repeating the refrain and rhyming the second line with both lines of the first stanza. The final couplet usually includes the poet’s signature, referring to the author in the first or third person, and frequently including the poet’s own name or a derivation of its meaning.

Traditionally invoking melancholy, love, longing, and metaphysical questions, ghazals are often sung by Iranian, Indian, and Pakistani musicians. The form has roots in seventh-century Arabia, and gained prominence in the thirteenth- and fourteenth-century thanks to such Persian poets as Rumi and Hafiz. In the eighteenth-century, the ghazal was used by poets writing in Urdu, a mix of the medieval languages of Northern India, including Persian. Among these poets, Ghalib is the recognized master.

Burke on Writing


James Lee Burke
James Lee Burke

“Writing is like being in love. You never get better at it or learn more about it. The day you think you do is the day you lose it. Robert Frost called his work a lover’s quarrel with the world. It’s ongoing. It has neither a beginning nor an end. You don’t have to worry about learning things. The fire of one’s art burns all the impurities from the vessel that contains it.”
― James Lee Burke

So What Comes Next?


Ernest Hemingway
Ernest Hemingway

“For this, that now was coming, he had very little curiosity. For years it had obseessed him; but now it meant nothing in itself. It was strange how easy being tired enough made it.

Now he would never write the things he had saved to write until he knew enough to write them well. Well, he would not have to fail at trying to write them, either.”  

– Ernest Hemingway, “The Snows of Kilimanjaro”

I self-published a book of poetry recently.

(Technically, it’s the second book I have published, but the first was a children’s picture book designed for the iPad. I’m old-fashioned and have this prejudice that it isn’t really a book unless it is printed in ink on a page made of paper.)

Therefore, as far as I’m concerned, I published my first book.

It’s not important to anyone else, but it marks a milestone for me. There can never again be a first one, and I’m letting the feeling settle in slowly and warmly. You never forget your first one, they say.

An itch that I haven’t been able to scratch for more than 60 years has to leave me alone, now. I still feel I can get better, and there is still beauty and meaning to be explored. That is what keeps us young, after all. Always feeling there is more to learn, to do, to feel. Truly young, until we die of old age.

It has only been a couple of days, and a few copies have sold. I don’t have any expectations– oh, maybe to break even on the costs of marketing and buying author copies, perhaps. But that’s about it.

Practice. That was one reason. But for what?

Confidence. That was another. I needed to build my confidence. But again: for what?

I saw the Hemingway quote above, and all of a sudden realized what this book, and all the work over the last two and one-half years was about.

I hope I have not left it for too long. I could have another stroke and be unable to move or write, of course. That’s a thought I carry with me each day. It worries me, but I have had to learn how to move on, and into deeper places in me, in spite of that fear. I found out how to use it for motivation.

I don’t want to be caught short like Harry in “The Snows of Kilamanjaro.” But I also know that anything might happen. And I have to be ready for whatever comes. We all do, whether we like it or not.

(The story: Harry, a writer, and his wife, Helen, are stranded while on safari in Africa. A bearing burned out on their truck, and Harry is talking about the gangrene that has infected his leg when he did not apply iodine after he scratched it. As they wait for a rescue plane from Nairobi that he knows won’t arrive on time, Harry spends his time drinking and insulting Helen. Harry reviews his life, realizing that he wasted his talent through procrastination and luxury from a marriage to a wealthy woman that he doesn’t love.)

So I will press on, take care of myself as best I can. I want to sit under an apple tree in late summer for as many years as I can, and listen to them fall, wasting their sweetness. But I want to make sure I taste as many as I can.

I will keep writing, and write the things I’ve been putting off. “You pays your money and you takes your chances,” as some old friends used to say. There’s no point in waiting any longer. None of it is 2far–until it is.

Besides, I published a book! A little, self-published book of poetry. Just look at me.

Please call if the Nobel Committee tries to reach me. 🙂

New Poetry Work Published


 

For sale now on Amazon http://amzn.to/2lQnNoL
For sale now on Amazon
http://amzn.to/2lQnNoL

I’m happy to announce that Hemmingplay’s alter-ego has published a collection of poems under the title “I Came From A Place of Fireflies.” It is available on Amazon and a Kindle version is at Kindle Link. Buying the paperback version entitles that person to download the Kindle version for free.

It would not have been possible to get this far without the support of everyone here. Even when the pieces weren’t very good, you still gave encouragement. I am grateful for you all.

http://amzn.to/2lQnNoL

I Was A Horse


cropped-the-leap-into-the-unknown.jpgI woke up this morning from a dreamy grey half-sleep
with the February rain dripping off the eaves.
A memory floated by that in a previous life
I was a horse. No question.
A big, brown horse with
soft, knowing eyes. I had been abandoned
out in the high desert by someone,
but didn’t care about them at all.
I knew once how to be free,
and would just do that again. I wondered
about finding water and something to eat,
but horses don’t waste a lot of time worrying.
We’re afraid of things that move,
and afraid of things that don’t.
But we know enough to pick a
direction where it smells more like
water than not, and begin again.

Soul


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by Jim Harrison

My spirit is starving.
How can it be fed?
Not by pain in the predictable future
more the pain in the past
but understanding the invisible flower
within the flower that tells it what is,
the soul of the tree that does the same.
I don’t seem to have a true character
to discover, a man slumped on his desk
dozing at midmorning. I’m an old poet.
That’s it. Period. A three-legged goat
in mountain country. It’s easier in the woods
where you have trees to lean on. There at times
I smelled bears right behind the cabin
coming to eat sunflower seeds put out for birds.
This dawn it’s primroses, pension,
the trellis of white roses. On Easter
Jesus is Jesus. When did God enter him or us?

Published in “Dead Man’s Float,” Copper Canyon Press, 2016. 

8 Rules of Writing


It’s good to have goals.

writer

Revelations


Yes, this:

Kerouac
Kerouac

I want to work in revelations, not just spin silly tales for money. I want to fish as deep down as possible into my own subconscious in the belief that once that far down, everyone will understand because they are the same that far down.

Only One Story


Steinbeck
Steinbeck

I believe that there is one story in the world, and only one… . Humans are caught—in their lives, in their thoughts, in their hungers and ambitions, in their avarice and cruelty, and in their kindness and generosity too—in a net of good and evil… . There is no other story. A man, after he has brushed off the dust and chips of his life, will have left only the hard, clean questions: Was it good or was it evil? Have I done well—or ill?

– John Steinbeck, East of Eden

Vacation


Republishing with rewrite and reading audio added. 

IMG_2251

After 60 years of work, more or less,
I’ve decided to take a working vacation.
I’m booking a cruise and extended
train travels for the next 60 years
To go exploring along the coasts,
Poking my canoe up the inlets and rivers,
Probing the veins and wires and memories of
Some unfamiliar parts of me, and some
I’ve been missing for a while, to
See whether there’s anything
Worth saving, or maybe just toss it all out.

Continue reading “Vacation”

Deadline


c0tazuexcae4r2d

I dreamt of a place, not long ago, and the dream, unusual for me, showed even the most mundane things in vivid, sharp detail. Clothing, clouds, leaves on the ground, birds against the sky, dust motes floating.

But not at first. At first I was in the dark, walking blindly on a long journey through a wood. I only knew that something big was ahead. It was my show. I was expected.

I’m a modern man, raised on science and skepticism. But the longer I’ve lived, my ancient spirit has me lurch against things I cannot understand and I’ve had to make allowances.

Continue reading “Deadline”


jobs-quote

Solid Things


Working hands-1509

I need the grace of solid things
some days—wood, glass, stone;
I need to see below the surface,
with my other, equally blind eyes.
I need to feel for each unique song composed
and locked away long ago by water, earth and fire.
What I can conjure, sometimes,
free-floating and insubstantial as air
from the squishy gelatin
of this fragile and yielding flesh,
needs the balance of solid things
that give up their compositions
only on their own terms.
Solid things that come alive
when plucked by a humble hand.

Sanctuary


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The poet Rumi advises us to find a place

high in a nearby tree to hide our spirit.

It is so easily bruised and, when hurt,

we cannot hear what it says.

I read this and had a question–

why did I wait so long to do the work?

I didn’t know how to protect my spirit yet,

to shelter it in that old Hemlock tree there,

massive, dark, unmoving, quiet,

and happy to give my spirit sanctuary,

as though it grew all those years for

no other purpose but this.

Very Funny


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Be careful what you wish for
Because you might just get it,
And if you get it, you might
Not know what to do with it.
There’s always a catch.
Very funny, Universe.

Impossibles


Tufted Titmouse
Tufted Titmouse

Life presents so many impossibles
that some days I lose my ‘can-do’ spirit
and adopt a “can’t do it, won’t do it” sneer.
I’m then like one of those people who
Drives 53 MPH in the fast lane and
refuses to move over,
wrapped in stubborn, brittle virtue.
There’s a bird feeder outside the window,
itself a can-do attempt to
thwart the thieving squirrels.
Continue reading “Impossibles”

Come Out To The Edge


great-escapes-small-wcth23

I may look normal, but I’m not normal, whatever that means. On the outside, my life looks conventional. But this is the kind of place I live in my head.  It’s a constant battle between doing stuff I’m afraid of and running away. Out on the edge….

“You think I’m insane?” said Finnerty. Apparently he wanted more of a reaction than Paul had given him.
“You’re still in touch. I guess that’s the test.”
“Barely — barely.”
“A psychiatrist could help. There’s a good man in Albany.”
Finnerty shook his head.

“He’d pull me back into the center, and I want to stay as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can’t see from the center.” He nodded, “Big, undreamed-of things — the people on the edge see them first.”

“Spirit” For New Year’s Day


by Jim Harrison

Rumi advised me to keep my spirit
up in the branches of a tree and not peek
out too far, so I keep mine in the very tall
willows along the irrigation ditch out back,
a safe place to remain unspoiled by the filthy
culture of greed and murder of the spirit.
People forget their spirits easily suffocate
so they must keep them far up in tree
branches where they can be summoned any moment.
It’s better if you’re outside as it’s hard for spirits
to get into houses or buildings or airplanes.
In New York City I used to reach my spirit in front
of the gorilla cage in the children’s zoo in Central Park.
It wouldn’t come in the Carlyle Hotel, which
was too expensive for its last. In Chicago
it won’t come in the Drake though I can see it
out the window hovering over the surface
of Lake Michigan. The spirit above anything
else is attracted to humility. If I slept
in the streets it would be under the cardboard with me.

Vows


c0tazuexcae4r2d

I was 21 when I took the official vows,
but had really taken the important ones
some months earlier. When I proposed
on April Fools Day and she said ‘yes.’
And like two fools,
we thought that was just fine.
Turns out, nearly 50 years later, it was.

But vows are merciless things, and they don’t
tell you the whole story. You can’t listen, anyway,
with your eyes full of hunger for each other’s bodies
and your ears full of music and laughter and dreams.

It’s easy to make promises when you
don’t know all that will be asked of you,
the blood and the bone and the griefs.
You find out the truth bit by bit,
day by day. You find out
where you’re weak and where strong,
and whether you’re someone people
can count on.

But you never learn these things unless
you have solemnly vowed, and keep the promises
made in hope and ignorance.

You learn the lessons that come
only with walking a long road,
until your feet are worn as thin as paper
and the dust of the road is your new skin.
And, if you’re lucky, keeping promises
has, with much practice, become second nature.

I found all this out the hard way,
and not until I listened to a still, small voice
and started writing again.
I was asleep for 50 years, more or less,
but when I awoke, it was
to shorter days and cool nights.
And I wasn’t sure
if I was fully awake or not.

Hitting the High Notes


the_odeon_of_herodes_atticus

I write younger than I am,
but my voice cracks on the high notes now,
imagesand I don’t know how much longer I can fake it.
I wish I had a daughter, who would sit and listen,
and forgive me in the way only daughters can.

Instead, I sit with my laptop facing a bank of windows
with a view of a mountain, snow flurries in the sun.
I’m encountering many me’s, from many times,
in various stages of becoming.
It’s as though I walk into a Greek amphitheater
in Corinth, and my many selves are sitting
on the old blocks
of stone, twitching, and I point to one and say
“OK, come on down.Today’s your turn
to whine about your life.”
And we all lean in, ready to pounce,
evaluating the honesty, the growth,
knowing that one of us
will be judged next
and found wanting.

Things Before The New Year 2


Ah. What to make of the coming year? War, pestilence, famine, chaos, Donald Trump, uncertainty.

But it’s not all gloom and doom, either. A macabre old joke has it that at a certain age, any day you wake up on the top side of the dirt is a good one. Or, when someone asks how you are, you are supposed to wink and say, slyly, “Well, considering the alternative, I’m great!”

Too dark? I’m sorry. That’s not my intent and I really don’t think this way very often. But keeping it real is the real point of doing these little exercises. It keeps one focused. Pauper or king, the final destination is the same, and there’s the end of it. If you are young, you probably don’t think this way, nor should you. There’s plenty of time. Just make each day count and the final amount will be taken care of.

So why worry? We can’t see the future anyway. Hope for the best, plan for the worst. Prepare for what you can.

Feel free to ignore these: Don’t take easy paths, or indulge in cheap diversions. You’ll just end up growing donkey ears. Hone your inner steel and crave the edge, but also keep your heart open, childlike and reachable. Find things that matter, find your passion, don’t mope when things go wrong (and they will) but get up and live each day out loud.

It’s simple, really. It just takes all you have, and that’s the joy of it. 🙂

That’s a way to live, and considering the alternatives, it’s not too bad. Let the pale, creeping dampness of depression, doubt and insecurity go down the drain with the next shower. Any day can be a turning point. As Picard would say, “make it so.”

Show the way to others, love deeply and truely and never miss an opportunity to be kind.

And In A Mystery To Be


ee cummings
ee cummings

 

by ee cummings

in time of daffodils (who know
the goal of living is to grow)
forgetting why, remember how

in time of lilacs who proclaim
the aim of waking is to dream,
remember so (forgetting seem)

in time of roses (who amaze
our now and here with paradise)
forgetting if, remember yes

in time of all sweet things beyond
whatever mind may comprehend,
remember seek (forgetting find)

and in a mystery to be
(when time from time shall set us free)
forgetting me, remember me.

e.e. cummings

After IKKYU: Number 30


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by Jim Harrison

It’s difficult to imagine the conversations
between Jesus and Buddha this very moment
These androgynous blood brothers demand our imagination.
They could ask Shakespeare and Mozart to write words
and music, and perhaps a dozen others, but they’ve done so.
The vast asteroid on its way toward LA goes unmentioned.

____________

in “The Shape of the Journey,” 1998. Copper Canyon Press

Sailing To Byzantium


That is no country for old men. The young
In one another’s arms, birds in the trees,
—Those dying generations—at their song,
The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unageing intellect.
II
An aged man is but a paltry thing, 
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless 
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing 
For every tatter in its mortal dress,
Nor is there singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence;
And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium.
III 
O sages standing in God’s holy fire
As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
And be the singing-masters of my soul.
Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is; and gather me
Into the artifice of eternity.
IV 
Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.

Broom


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Jim Harrison

by Jim Harrison

To remember you’re alive
visit the cemetery of your father
at noon after you’ve made love
and are still wrapped in a mammalian
odor that you are forced to cherish.
Under each stone is someone’s inevitable
surprise, the unexpected death
of their biology that struggled hard, as it must.
Now to home without looking back,
enough is enough.
en route buy the best wine
you can afford and a dozen stiff brooms.
Have a few swallows then throw the furniture
out the window and begin sweeping.
Sweep until the walls are
bare of paint and at your feet sweep
until the floor disappears. Finish the wine
in this field of air, return to the cemetery
in evening and wind  through the stones
a slow dance of your name visible only to birds.

From: “Songs of Unreason”, 2013

Muse


Photo by Dmitry Rogozhkin
Photo by Dmitry Rogozhkin

Dreamer


dreamin'

You may say that I’m a dreamer,

And you’re not the only one.

I hope someday you’ll see that

I’m really just zoning out.

Tomorrow


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by Jim Harrison

I’m hoping to be astonished tomorrow
by I don’t know what:
not the usual undiscovered bird in the cold
snowy willows, garishly green and yellow,
and not my usual death, which I’ve done
before with Borodin’s music
used in Kismet, and angels singing
“Stranger in Paradise,” that sort of thing,
and not the thousand naked women
running a marathon in circles around me
while I swivel on a writerly chair
keeping an eye on my favorites.
What could it be, this astonishment,
but falling into a liquid mirror
to finally understand that the purpose
of earth is earth? It’s plain as night.
She’s willing to sleep with us a little while.

[from IN SEARCH OF SMALL GODS, Copper Canyon Press, 2010, $16, pb. ]

Advice to Young Writers


 

1.)  The Elements of Style (because I’m really not going to shoot you.)

2.)dorothyparkerquote

A Pause


© 2014
Pause
©Hemmingplay 2014

It has just struck me that I have left my old house
But have forgotten where the new one is.
Inconvenient.
Let me stand here for a moment,
Have a drink and pet the dog. Maybe
It would do me some good to
Listen to the sound of the big creek,
Scraping patiently along the banks
In November when the land is bare,
Not caring where it goes, or why,
Just going along according to it’s nature
Carrying secrets and dreams we toss in
Whispering its own deep ones back at us
Washing the fish and mud and secrets from here to somewhere else.
Maybe, if I listen hard enough, it will tell me
Where–or how– it is I need to be, to be more fully myself.

@Spill_words

Why Do It?


Aaaaaalllllmosssst.....
Aaaaaalllllmosssst…..

What is it that we try to do here?

These things we write are not fundamental necessities for life, after all. They are not food, water, shelter, safety, or love and belonging. And they certainly can’t do much about a parking ticket, or to cure cancer.

I’ve never entirely trusted the “I write because I must!” declaration. It seems a bit vague. Maybe a little lazy. Well, yes, there’s an element of compulsion, but we’re not mere oxen yoked to someone else’s whip, are we? There’s more.

When something wholly new emerges on a page, or screen, almost in spite of our own inadequacies, it adds a kind of magic and light to life. It becomes a small gift that quivers in the palm of the hand, a tender proof of hope. And if not specifically fundamental to survival, It becomes something important, without which the rest is less rewarding.

But we–well, I do, at least– come to this thinking that we’re just looking for butter, and bread to spread it on. Too easy.

Instead, I sit down and am reminded over and over that I am merely told to milk the cow and given a churn; to harvest the grain and fire up an oven; to churn the cream into butter, to bake the bread. There’s no other way but to take the elements and love them into something more with patience and respect.

But oh, the warm bread and melting butter is wonderful.

 

If You Meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him


 

unnamed

“There is the image of the man who imagines himself to be a prisoner in a cell. He stands at one end of this small, dark, barren room, on his toes, with arms stretched upward, hands grasping for support onto a small, barred window, the room’s only apparent source of light. If he holds on tight, straining toward the window, turning his head just so, he can see a bit of bright sunlight barely visible between the uppermost bars. This light is his only hope. He will not risk losing it. And so he continues to staring toward that bit of light, holding tightly to the bars. So committed is his effort not to lose sight of that glimmer of life-giving light, that it never occurs to him to let go and explore the darkness of the rest of the cell. So it is that he never discovers that the door at the other end of the cell is open, that he is free. He has always been free to walk out into the brightness of the day, if only he would let go. (192)”
― Sheldon B. KoppIf You Meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him: The Pilgrimage Of Psychotherapy Patients

At the Boundary


EndofSummer_posteredges copy

The nights have gone cool, the days not as warm.
Sundown slips backward,

Dawn awakes late by minutes, shivering…
Does it think we don’t notice?

The summer has been rainy, more than usual,
“Can’t complain, wouldn’t do no good,” my neighbor says.
We squint up at the sky –as if a moment of somber nods would make a difference–
Shake our heads wisely but think the same thing:
Another year has almost gone, hasn’t it?
Regrets chitter, time races faster.
We don’t dwell on it, or talk about it, but it’s in the backs of our minds.

We mark it most when the hours of darkness lengthen,
When the nights are cool.
When the sun rises behind stubborn clouds and
Fog blooms between trees, sits in the valleys,
Blankets the highways with obscurity.

We know what’s coming, near and far. It connects us
For a moment, then it’s gone, lost in thoughts of
Winter’s chores, and sins unconfessed
And the sweet, sweet days that slip through

Our fingers like the strings of a child’s balloon,
We cherish it, even as it floats away.

Everything changes. Everything must pass.There is deep contentment in that, if we take it. 

It was just after dawn, at the edge of the woods.
I stood in the hazy boundary light, breathing in the musk of damp leaves and
Pine needles, listened to critters scurrying through
The careless litter of oak and maple and locust and walnut trees,
Feeling the big pause.

The forest felt it too, and lay hushed in the mist.
The fog came last night on its little cat feet,
Conjured up from the ground and the air.
I hesitated, taking in every detail.

This moment, this place, the path ahead, hidden, but inviting,
The textures of the rough bark on the railings, the lichen and moss
On the trunks, spots of green and brown and grey and muted reds and yellows.

A great feeling welled up and tears
Ran down my cheeks unnoticed, unchecked.
I was one with the moment, joyful and melancholy,
One with the world, on the edge of the wood filled with mist and mystery,
Like any path. Any of thousands I’ve traveled. With something new up ahead.

What was is ending, as always.
Every ending is a beginning.
The place from which we start anew.

The rough bark of the railing scrapes my palm,
Grounds me in the Now,

I step onto the path, leaves crunching quietly.
“Where does the path lead this time,” I ask…the trees, I guess?

They don’t speak, but a thought whispers through the mist:

“Why don’t you find out?”

Spillwords: “What It Is Not”


It’s a rant. A rant about poetry. But I guess it hit a nerve. @Spillwords made it a featured post this morning…AND put a trigger warning on it. 🙂 That made me smile. But be warned: it might bruise your peaches.

I think you can handle it, though.  (Photo: Pat Mansell)

http://spillwords.com/what-it-is-not/

screen-shot-2016-11-01-at-8-27-47-am

 

Let’s talk “Poetry” for a moment, if you don’t mind.
Some things have been bugging me. I’ve been reading…

So many lost lusts,
So many ‘why doesn’t he love me’s’
So many sacrifices of dignity,
Continue reading “Spillwords: “What It Is Not””

In The Distant Past


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Found this morning on Writer’s Almanac. Men– if we’re completely honest–are envious of women, as a group, in some rather superficial ways, but particularly in the birthing abilities she talks about–that we will never have. It is a power that is beyond us. We know it. And you know we know it. And we know you know we know it. 

by Carrie Fountain

Things weren’t very specific
when I was in labor,

yet everything was
there, suddenly: all that

my body had known,
even things I’d only been

Continue reading “In The Distant Past”

Everybody Knows


Everybody knows that the dice are loaded
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
Everybody knows that the war is over
Everybody knows the good guys lost
Everybody knows the fight was fixed
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
That’s how it goes
Everybody knows
Everybody knows that the boat is leaking
Everybody knows that the captain lied
Everybody got this broken feeling
Like their father or their dog just died

Everybody talking to their pockets
Everybody wants a box of chocolates
And a long stem rose
Everybody knows

Continue reading “Everybody Knows”

A Street


I used to be your favorite drunk
Good for one more laugh
Then we both ran out of luck
Luck was all we ever had
You put on a uniform
To fight the Civil War
You looked so good I didn’t care
What side you’re fighting for

It wasn’t all that easy
When you up and walked away
But I’ll save that little story
For another rainy day
I know the burden’s heavy
As you wheel it through the night
Some people say it’s empty
But that don’t mean it’s light

You left me with the dishes
And a baby in the bath
You’re tight with the militias
You wear their camouflage
You always said we’re equal
So let me march with you
Just an extra in the sequel
To the old red white and blue

Baby don’t ignore me
We were smokers we were friends
Forget that tired story
Of betrayal and revenge
I see the Ghost of Culture
With numbers on his wrist
Salute some new conclusion
Which all of us have missed

I cried for you this morning
And I’ll cry for you again
But I’m not in charge of sorrow
So please don’t ask me when
There may be wine and roses
And magnums of champagne
But we’ll never no we’ll never
Ever be that drunk again

The party’s over
But I’ve landed on my feet
I’ll be standing on this corner
Where there used to be a street

–Leonard Cohen

Where There is Hope



Everywhere, “People wish to be settled,”
 Ralph Waldo Emerson reminded us, “but only insofar as we are unsettled is there any hope for us.”

I’ve been a full-time writer now for 34 years. And the one thing that I have learned is that transformation comes when I’m not in charge, when I don’t know what’s coming next, when I can’t assume I am bigger than everything around me. And the same is true in love or in moments of crisis. Suddenly, we’re back in that trishaw again and we’re bumping off the broad, well-lit streets; and we’re reminded, really, of the first law of travel and, therefore, of life: you’re only as strong as your readiness to surrender.

–Pico Iyer

Not Jesus In A Pop-Up Camper, But…


Journey
@Spill_words

It wasn’t Jesus in a popup camper, but it was alright.

Still and again, I am, in a word, astonished.
I find myself home after 50 years on the road.
Back in myself, my many selves largely combined,
I’ve endured, mainly ordinary disappointments, some worse than that.

But all that is stored in albums on the shelf.
If I had a fireplace, I’d build a fire and sit,
With a big dog I don’t have, and a cat or two,
And flip through the memories again,
Sipping brandy and smoking a pipe I don’t have,
As I quit smoking.

Continue reading “Not Jesus In A Pop-Up Camper, But…”

Trail Mix… Don’t Forget Trail Mix


emerson-ralph-waldo
Emerson

Do Not Go Where The Path May Lead, Go Instead Where There Is No Path And Leave A Trail

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

Middle Age


Brené Brown
Brené Brown

‘I think midlife is when the universe gently places her hands upon your shoulders, pulls you close, and whispers in your ear:
I’m not screwing around. It’s time. All of this pretending and performing – these coping mechanisms that you’ve developed to protect yourself from feeling inadequate and getting hurt – has to go.

Your armor is preventing you from growing into your gifts. I understand that you needed these protections when you were small. I understand that you believed your armor could help you secure all of the things you needed to feel worthy of love and belonging, but you’re still searching and you’re more lost than ever.Time is growing short. There are unexplored adventures ahead of you. You can’t live the rest of your life worried about what other people think. You were born worthy of love and belonging. Courage and daring are coursing through you. You were made to live and love with your whole heart. It’s time to show up and be seen.”

~ Brené Brown

No Visible Means of Support


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When we grow skeptical of the comfortable

And slip under the velvet ropes of fear

sliding out over darker waters,

But still afraid, that’s when we grow.

 

Three times three times three,

Nine times nine times nine,

These are the inexorable multipliers of change.

There is no way to connect the dots looking ahead.

We can only connect them by looking back

At our footsteps in the shifting sands.

 

Our timid selves, still digging their toes in the sand and calling to us,

Seem safe, but choosing safety only is always a kind of death.

But…. It looks so much better there on shore.

 

But those who stay on the shore will never know the thrill,

Out on the deep waters where there is no bottom,

Where we realize that we’re not sinking, even though

We cannot yet see a visible means of support.

Gather ‘Round Children


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Gather ’round children.
I’ve something to say,
And the chance may not come ’round again.
You may not believe me,
But someday you’ll see that
This life is a joke in the end.

Oh, don’t get me wrong,
I love it, and you, and
Wouldn’t know what I would change.
I just remember, when I was like you,
All the certainties and plans I had made.

But it’s what happened instead—
In the spaces and cracks,
Through sorrows and losses and gains—
That finally taught me, until I awoke
And the picture of me made me laugh.

I have traveled my path, for better or worse,
And looking back I must smile.
I was so serious, so certain, so utterly dumb,
I knew everything, so it seemed.
But life is nothing like what I foresaw,
The twists and the turns, the raw surprises and all.

I don’t mean to tell you
A plan that will work,
Because that is the joke, don’t you see?
There ain’t no such thing as a stone cold sure prize,
No guarantee, contract or spin.

It’s good to have goals, but remember one thing,
The pros learn to go with the flow.
We do what we do, we try as we must,
But the real point’s so easily missed,

The touch of a lover, the smell of the sea,
The taste of food cooked with love,
These things are the purpose, my foolish young fools,
The meaning, the spice, and the heart.
So have no regrets, let them go, and move on.
Let’s go now and soak up the dawn.

After all, my young friends, today is unique, and
It’s the only one like it we’ll see.

 

Courage


We all have themes we revisit over and over as writers. This is one of mine.

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Self-Editing Tips for Writers


misspell-stages

http://www.ragan.com/Main/Articles/51437.aspx

Editors read for a living. They read all day long.

Some writing lands on their desk in excellent form, but a lot of it requires serious work with the red pen. Generally, editors are happy to help their writers to develop strong narrative arcs and believable characters.

The most annoying thing, though, is when writers fall at the most basic technical writing hurdles. Editors should not spend their time replacing adverbs with strong verbs or changing from passive to active voice. The writer can and should make these edits when they do their own first edit.

Editors have limited time to spend on your drafts, and that time is expensive. Taking a little time for self-editing can impress your editor and prove your writing skills.

Here are six common problems to fix before your editor gets out the red pen:

1. Replace adverbs with strong verbs.

When you write your first draft, it’s more important to get the story out than to get every word right. Wrestling with every word can disrupt your momentum.

So, if you need to write, “Mike drove quickly back to headquarters” while you’re pouring out a scene, then go for it. Your first edit is your chance to figure out how to make it stronger: “The tires screamed on Mike’s beat-up Honda as he raced back toward headquarters.”

In your first major edit, reassess any adverbs you find. Sometimes an adverb will sing, but more often than not, you will come up with a stronger way to get your idea across when you go back and look again.

2. Fix repetitive use of initial pronouns.

This used to make my professor crazy. As a master’s student, I had a terrible habit of starting nearly every sentence with a pronoun. He did this. She did thatIt is correct. Boring.

Aim to have fewer than 30 percent of your sentences begin with a pronoun. Vary your sentence structure as much as you can; it keeps your readers’ attention and makes your writing more engaging.

3. Get rid of clichés.

Editors despise nothing more than unoriginality. Clichés, by definition, are unoriginal phrases. When writing fiction, try to come up with your own unique way to describe people or situations.

George Orwell said in his rules for writing, “Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.”

Clichés are often the result of lack of imagination or laziness and, as Orwell says, are often “merely used because they save people the trouble of inventing phrases for themselves.” Replace any clichés with your own unique phrasing to touch your reader’s imagination in a whole new way.

4. Declutter your writing by cutting redundancies.

Redundancies clutter writing by adding words but not meaning. Every word should be there for a reason. If it’s not needed, delete it.

Some redundancies are so common we don’t even notice them. How often have you heard someone talk about a “free gift”? As opposed to what the kind of gift you have to pay for? The word “free” is redundant in this case; cut it.

Or those organizations that undertake a “joint collaboration.” Unlike all those individual collaborations? The word “collaboration” means people working jointly. Cut the clutter so your editor doesn’t have to.

5. Eliminate your passive voice.

Overuse of passive voice can jump off the page to an editor as a mark of inexperience. Like adverbs and initial pronouns, sometimes you can use passive voice for a specific purpose and it will be perfect, but overuse weakens your writing.

Let’s look at an example:

Active voice: Dave kicked in the door. He hurdled the sofa, shouted a warning and then ransacked the kitchen.

Passive voice: The door was kicked in by Dave. The sofa was hurdled, a warning was shouted and then the kitchen was ransacked by him. 

In the first example, Dave is the subject; in the second example the door, sofa, warning and kitchen are the subjects. The second example is not grammatically incorrect, but it doesn’t sound right. Your verbs should refer to the doer rather than to the thing having something done to it.

6. Get rid of sticky sentences.

Sticky sentences brim with glue words—the 200 or so most common words in the English language—including: is, as, the, that, etc.

Glue words are the empty spaces in your writing that your readers have to pass through to get to the meaning. Reducing the frequency of glue words increases the clarity of your writing, which makes your editor happy.

Here’s an example:

Original: Erica needed to get the key to the car, and so she asked for the contact number of the person who was in charge of that department. (Seventeen glue words in a 27-word sentence. Glue index: 63 percent.)

Edited: Erica contacted the department head to borrow the car key. (Three glue words in a 10-word sentence. Glue index: 30 percent.)

The first sentence wobbles around searching for the point, whereas the second sentence is concise and clear, using fewer than half the words. Learn to recognize sticky sentences and rewrite them before your editor sees them.

Give your editor a break. Let her concentrate on making your story more compelling and your characters more believable. Don’t bog her down by forcing her to correct errors that you could easily have caught. You need her too much for that.

What revisions do you strive to make before you send material to your editor?

Lisa Lepki is an independent author, a staffer at ProWritingAid.com and an active member of the grammar police. This article originally appeared on The Write Life.

This article first ran on Ragan.com in Dec. 2015.

Hemmingplay

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