Friday

Feeding One Beast While Quieting the Other



I am a poet and many poets tune into the sad feelings most people go to a Happy Hour to avoid.  We dwell in those feelings letting them bubble up in clarity to express ourselves in a poem.  Living with the pain or sadness for awhile to get to the poem is worthwhile for me, like I imagine it is for most poets.  Once I write the poem, the feelings clear, like a thundershower that is passing. This type of negativity often spurs and inspires creativity. Listening to the inner beast can be great therapy and amazing art.

Draining Creativity

As a poet, I scan the headlines and shake my head with the rest of the world sickened by more murders, rapes, child molestations and the price of oil. It is easy to stay focused in a nonproductive malaise that spreads over life like a dark cloud keeping me depressed and irritable.  We all swim in this dirty water and can’t always see how it affects us. We live on the edge of an expectation of misery waiting for the next shoe to fall as we rail about the price of those shoes.  This type of negativity can eclipse creativity. Listening to the outer beast is maddening and not so good at inspiring the best art.

It’s Not Such a Bad Bad World 

Watching the video I posted called, Bad Bad World, it dawned on me that what is amazing is the good that lives in our homes and across our world.  Despite all the horrific things that make the news, think about how amazing it is that 10,000 of you view this blog and want to support and get nourishment from poetry.  Think about how many people smile at you in a day.  How many say, “Thank You” as a matter of course?  How many times has a friend said, “Let me know if there is anything I can do?”  As the video points out, it really isn’t such a bad, bad world after all. 

How many people plant flowers in their front yard just so you will see them when you drive by?  Random act of kindness?  How many people have stopped to let you enter the door or elevator? (I know this one is sliding!) People will fight with you over a parking space, but how many people will donate to help a child dying of cancer go to Disneyland? 

How many people take time out of their busy day to tell you Happy Birthday!  If you look around and focus on the good, it is all around us.  But, the news helps us focus on what is not good so we get in the habit of not seeing the little old man making a face at the baby at the next table in the restaurant just to make her laugh.  Or, the person in my neighborhood that puts up a signs around town every spring warning people to be careful driving because there are new fawns out.

Don’t Feed the Beast

The good also spurs creativity.  It is just harder to see sometimes. Like dandelion seeds floating on the air, the good is quiet and easy, not calling attention to itself.  While the negativity kicks and screams like a spoiled brat demanding attention.  Child development experts tell us to deny the spoiled brat the attention sought to stem this behavior. Many of unwittingly give more attention to the problem by reacting to the uproar which only feeds the beast. I wonder if we all just ignored the news for awhile until they reported on the exquisite kindness in the world with at least as much frequency as they do the horrific violence if we would tame the blind rage attention the news seeks and feeds?

It is a challenge but learning to distinguish which beast is speaking may help clear the air so that we tune in to the inner beast and tune out the outer beast, clearing the way for great things to grow from our soul.

Thursday

Poet of the Week: Shaindel Beers


 Poet on Poetry's Poet of the Week-Shaindel Beers
      Shaindel Beers’ poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies. She is an instructor of English at Blue Mountain Community College and serves as Poetry Editor of Contrary (http://contrarymagazine.com). A Brief History of Time, her first full-length poetry collection, was released by Salt Publishing in 2009. She lives in Pendleton, Oregon, with the musician, Jared Pennington, and their son Liam. Find her online at http://shaindelbeers.com. 

(Shaindel Beers comes to us recommended by Robert Brewer of Writer's Digest.  If you know of anyone who would make a good Poet of the Week  please let me know!)

Poet on Poetry's Questions for Shaindel Beers

1.      What inspires you as a poet?
I’m really one of those writers where it could be anything. I’d say, first, personal experience. Something happens, and I feel like I should explore it in a poem. But my second book (which I’m still working on) is ekphrastic poetry—poetry based on artwork. And I recently wrote a poem borrowing a line from another poem, so it really could be anything.
The important thing is to always stay inspired to write. If you don’t feel driven to write, you have to make yourself do it. Give yourself assignments. Go to an art exhibit (or even look at art online) and write a poem about it. Choose random words and write a poem which uses those words. Look at a newspaper and write as if you’re the reporter covering the story, or as if you’re a person in the story. The important thing is to keep doing it. Keep showing up for work.

2.      What advice do you have for other poets?
Read all of the poetry you can. It boggles my mind when students tell me that they want to be a writer, and I ask who their favorite authors are, and they can’t name anyone. You can’t be a writer without being part of the tradition and knowing what’s gone on in the literary world before you and what’s going on in the literary world now. It would be like going to the DMV to get your driver’s license if you’d never been in a car before. You should at least be a passenger before you take the wheel yourself.
Also, write what you feel, not what you think you’re supposed to feel. Life is a mixed bag. Write about the good, the bad, the unexpected—in the same poem, about the same subject. That’s what makes poetry—and life—interesting. Everything is multi-dimensional.

3.      What prompted you to start writing poetry?
When I was in elementary school, I would read anything and everything. One of my favorite things to do was to get my mom’s literature textbooks from when she was in college off the shelf and read them. I think I liked it on one hand because it made me feel smart and grown up to be maybe eight-years-old and reading college books. Because poems were shorter, I had the attention span to understand them, whereas I don’t think I could have absorbed an adult novel at that point.
The first poem I wrote, I wrote when my cousin shot my dog. I was heartbroken, and poetry seemed the natural medium for me to turn to. 

4.      Where do you see yourself going in the future as a poet?
I’m working on my second book for Salt Publishing, which is going to be called The Children’s War. I look at drawings done by children during war-time from the 1930s to present day and write a poem about each drawing that I feel I’m supposed to write about. From the second I got the idea to do this book, I’ve just been letting the project lead me, and that feels right. I think the only thing the poet can do is keep writing and keep sending out to journals.

5.      What are your favorite poetry journals?
I’m the Poetry Editor of Contrary, http://contrarymagazine.com, so, obviously, that’s my baby. There are so many great journals out there. Poetry, Ploughshares, The Gettysburg Review, Crazyhorse, The Los Angeles Review, etc. But there are a lot of great lesser known journals both online and in print, too. Some of my friends recently started Corium, http://coriummagazine.com, and they’ve been doing a great job with that. Artistically Declined Press recently started putting out a print journal called Sententia. You really just have to look and see who’s publishing what, then decide where you think your work will fit. Nearly every college and university has a journal, and there are just as many independent journals out there. It’s a big world—explore! Discover!  


 Shaindel Beers' Poetry

Meditation on Life and Death, August 10, 2008

That day the boundary between life and death was present
but not clear. My cats had brought a mouse
onto the porch. Its tiny grey body grizzled, its paws clenched
into tight little fists. I knew it was dead.
But more than once, looking out onto the deck
I thought I saw it move, until I recognized its twitching
as the landing and taking off of flies from its body.
Their abandonment and return. That same day you
decided to keep your wife from leaving you ever again.
You called her to the house one last time, maybe
to pick up something she’d left behind, to sort out arrangements
for the children. And then, you shot her and then yourself.
That night, I shouldn’t have but listened to the 9-1-1 call.
Her cries to the dispatcher, There’s so much blood everywhere.
I’m so scared. I don’t want to die. At the end, everything
becomes a plea. I recognized the tone in my voice once,
how I was sure, sinking into anesthesia, that I wouldn’t
come out. I panicked and cried the same way,  I don’t want
to die over and over again, begging the doctor to hold
my hand until I was gone somewhere inside my own body.
What I am struggling with is this—that you could sing
a love song sweeter than any boy in the choir. You would
lean against the piano and our hearts would fall open. Now,
I know, even then, you understood more than anyone
about leaving—how every journey, no matter how planned,
we each have to go alone.   
(first published in Permafrost)
A Prayer for Angel Torres

The day I decided to leave so you couldn't call me
a bitch again or say you'd have to fuck another chick
if I did something that displeased you Angel Torres
was learning to skip. I know because you told me.
You were putting awnings on a school and the preschoolers
were outside, and you told me how most of the kids
were only managing to gallop, "But this kid, this Angel Torres,"
you said, "He's a really good skipper." You tell me these stories
to melt me. You held out your hand and said, "Here--skip
with me," but I wouldn't. Instead, I hoped for Angel Torres
that there are people who love him. I thought about his brown
eyes and his joy, skipping on that playground. I pictured
an orange sweatshirt, tiny jeans, shoes with some cartoon
character, bounding across the pavement. I mourned
for the childhood of our marriage. The skinny yelled at girl,
the beaten little boy we used to be. I thought of my mother
cowered in corners, my father knocking over furniture,
your four year-old arms spotted with cigarette burns,
your hunger locked in rooms, and how we never escape our past.
I don't know how to pray for us, but this is my prayer for Angel Torres.
(first published in Sententia)


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Monday

How Do You Find Time to Write?


To see where my time is going, I printed out a pie chart the other day.  When I put in everything I need to do in a day,  I needed a bigger pie!  It came to 30 hours a day and that was before starting the blog, working Twitter and beginning the process of rebuilding our house.  And that was cutting my sleep time to less than eight, which I need.

The only time for Twitter, Facebook and blog work is in the wee hours of the morning after I've completed my "work" and life.   (By life I mean eating dinner, taking a bath, and driving.) However, now we spend the nights looking at house plans and cutting and pasting rooms to put together our new home.  The only way to make more time for poetry is to stop sleeping all together, which I often do!

Do any of you have any good suggestions on how to find more hours in a day?  Hopefully, the house design work will end in the next few weeks and I can begin to give that time back to the life I love!  I'd love to hear your ideas on how to find more time in life! How do yall find time to write?

Note:  Notice that I did not put an apostrophe in "Yall" on purpose.  As a 5th generation Texan, let me assure you and the blue blood East Coast grammar experts that "Yall" was never supposed to be short for "You All!"  If we wanted to say "You All" we would have said "You All!" "Yall" is a word all by itself.  It means "All of You!"  It's not sexist, is inclusive and covers everyone.  It never was and never will be a contraction!  This is just one of my many pet peeves on how the rest of the world defines the South, especially Texas.