The Joy in Writing

Another year of writing this blog comes to an end. A colleague at work the other day commented on this practice, wondering whether I have found it to be a good discipline. I think that to be true. I don’t quite write something every week, although most weeks I do – generally alternating poetry and prose. I sort of wind my way through each week, looking for a muse in some form or the other to generate a thought, or spark an insight. It doesn’t always happen, and when that it is the case, I sit downstairs in the basement on a Saturday night and start pondering the first thing that comes to mind. Generally something comes together. Writing is funny that way: sometimes it just clicks and other times, not.

I mentioned this to another colleague the other day; we were talking about academic writing in this instance. She was asking me about a paper I gave at a conference, and I could tell her that the paper under discussion nearly wrote itself. An idea fell in my lap, and I did some research around it, but the basic form of the essay was in place and I researched to span gaps and to strengthen pillars. But at other times, I do copious research; reading and reading with a view to finding some idea to chase after. For such a paper, every paragraph is pure effort.

I think, to some degree, I have been well served by another colleague of mine, who speaks of the classroom as a workshop, inviting students to test out ideas and play around a bit – not being too anxious about piety, or fidelity, or orthodoxy in his space. They can take on those concerns when they leave his class, or not. In a way, I find this space to be something like that. Here, I sit down and write and refuse to worry about my writing passing the muster of an editor, or a publishing gate keeper of some sort. I just write for the joy in writing.

But this joy, like so many other joys, is fueled by facilities empowered by practice. I write more easily when I write often, I think. And so, when it is time to write an academic piece, I think that the time I have spent in this workshop, or gym, or studio called “stillvoicing” has prepared me to get to work. Or at least that’s what I’m imagining today. The freedom this space affords, allows me to stretch in new ways, and develop new skills that make their way into a different kind of public.

And so I write: sometimes prose and sometimes poetry. I remember hearing Leonard Cohen in a CBC interview some years ago, where he said that being a poet is a verdict not a decision, or self-declaration. I suppose that is true for writers of other genres as well. Many people write; but I’m not sure how many writers there are, or poets, or artists. But then again, I don’t know that this much matters. If writing brings some joy, or meaning, or relief, that is reason enough to write. And perhaps, from time to time, that reason translates into something worth reading.

I Become What I See

This cloud is a
masterpiece. Wisps
of white stroking a blue
canvas, evoking

breath of mother on child’s cheek

or

slip of fish with current.

So gentle these clouds
that slowly grow
with time and travel until
one day they weep into life
or perhaps rage in violence.

From my vantage point
at tiller, I cannot but
stop breathing – for a time – as
this beauty evaporates
me. Now ascending into
this scene I become
what I see:

Your breath on my cheek

a silver streak in living water.

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in skies, if not eyes…

This loss is lamented.

Conversations that might have been
are never to be, and

words that
breed hope,
feed joy, and
nurture love

have fallen by the wayside.

Weeping tarries for this time
lost. Words that might have flown

have fallen to the ground, now
buried in soil.

There they are lost to us.
We can but hope that
the earth holds them
safe in her womb, where
one day they might be born
anew when muses tap
poets, and kiss
artists, and
set stars
in skies, if not eyes…

After the Manner

Someone called me a poet
the other day,
but I don’t know: all
I feel is my
poverty, my
reticence, my
lack.

Still, I wager a
word now and then;
some wheat to the wind.

I’m not sure what
to make of those
seeds I sow, but I
know that any
omens are not my own.

At times words accost me,
and I see fire above,
and cannot but report.

I am not so much a poet,
but after the
manner of Luther,
a beggar.

Eden on Edge

Today the sky slipped me a secret.

She opined that

I will know no joy

apart from hearing

swans’ wings beating as Bach

aside from seeing

wave wrestling wave

without smelling

fresh baking kissing coffee

and tasting

salt on skin

feeling

flesh shiver at the intuition of

whirling oaks
and burning bush
and Eden on edge.

Ignite the Poem

I/ A single word can
ignite the poem, a
signal word that
plays the tongue and
stays silencing.
The poem
echoes beat of heart
mimics batting of eyelid
reflects crimson of cheek.

Ii/ The poem’s got my tongue, it
pinched it so as to
gain voice –
flaunting my sovereignty
in its bid to be blood and flesh.

III/ There is no need
to bother the muse – let
her sleep and I will feed
on the beauty of the day.
Let the muse be. I can
see a cloud parting the sky
in tenderness and terror both.
I am ignited in the knowing that
thunder is only the beginning.

Without Pause

It is best, I
think, to write
without pause; to
push pen to paper and
spill its ink before
this wand betrays
its sacred task and
mine too.

Pens cannot
sin – exactly – but
they can be lazy and
so it is mine to call
it to its task:
to summon it to its joy
to raise it up for its occasion
to rid it of its insufficiencies,
which are finally naught
but lies it
tells itself and
sometimes me
as well.

To Be in this Poem

This poem is not penned for you.
It serves but one purpose: it
stays my soul, purging it of
clutter clanging about
and wearying
me with
din.

This poem is
for my calm
my balm
but I will share it
with you if you need
a distraction, a subtraction
of all musts that
foment in your life, like
mine.

Time.

Now. Time to breathe,
just to breathe, to be
in this poem
exhaling
inhaling
me.

An Echo to be Seen and Heard

 

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This last weekend was Thanksgiving in Canada.  For many this is a time to gather together around a roast turkey and pumpkin pie.  As we planned our Thanksgiving this time year, we realized that two of our three girls would be unable to join us, and so my wife Gwenanne pondered the possibility of meeting our middle daughter N for a camping weekend.  Gwenanne and I have never camped in the fall, and thought it might be fun.  N agreed and so we asked her where we might meet.  Algonquin Park is a favoured spot but was found to be full and so N suggested Bon Echo Park.

Bon Echo Provincial Park was unknown to me, but rather important for a couple of reasons, perhaps the most important being that the massive cliffs found at the narrows found in the middle of Mazinaw Lake served as the canvas for a massive number of pictographs, created by First Nations.  It is not overly surprising that these massive cliffs became the site of these ancient and mystical works of art: the cliffs are potent and the water pounding these rocks offers both access to them and protection for them.

The park was once the site of an inn, built first for retreat for the wealthy of Methodist persuasion until the Inn was purchased by Flora McDonald Denison, whose vision was to replicate in a Canadian context a place where the philosophy of Walt Witman could find a home.  Members of the Group of Seven also found a home here, who along with others, visited this site in their quest for Canadian artistic expression in the early 20th century.  The family ran the inn until the Great Depression, at which point it was leased until fire destroyed it in 1936.   Bon Echo was made a provincial park and opened in 1965, and still today park visitors come to be inspired, moved and quieted in much the same way that those First Nation and Group of Seven artists did.

On our last day there, we rented a canoe and paddled along the cliffs, taking in the many pictographs.  Knowing their provenance, and the fact that these pictographs were often painted in places deemed spiritually potent, I attended them with a sense of expectation, which was not disappointed.  I was also deeply moved as I looked up to see cliffs formed by massive geological events encoded in the diagonal press of rock from the horizontal of water splashing in song against these same cliffs.  Here and there, cragged trees pushed out of these cliffs, marbled with tales to be read by geologists with their long game wisdom.

I took a few photos of the park in our brief sojourn there.  As is usual, these woefully underrepresent the power of the place.  Yet, I hope to explore some of these paltry photos in painting on canvas in service of my soul as I discern how to echo the heavens “declaring the glory of the Lord and the firmament proclaiming his handiwork.” (Psalm 19:1)

It was, in fact, a most fitting way to spend a thanksgiving weekend, even if the turkey we ate was soup (lovingly prepared by my wife) and the pie we ate was forfeited for a pumpkin loaf (a first time attempt on my part).  The sun illumined trees iconically.  The wind spoke to my soul.  The ground opened up, here and there, and showed divine fingerprints on our walks while bonfires at night reminded us that life is gift, pure gift indeed, and we have every reason to be thankful people.

 

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I’m Turning a Phrase

My pen tends
this word and that as
seed in need of
field – aching for a
place to land and
fertilizer to lavish it
with a just-so adverb or
participle or preposition, as the
case may be.

I’m turn a phrase like
soil in spring; I’m upending a potato
hill in autumn, pregnant with pause, as
my hoe, my pen leads my hand
away from knowing and into
Dirt: life’s cradle, death’s bed.