Friday, February 4, 2011

To pay attention

"To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work." --Mary Oliver

I get several daily quotes via email. Often the platitudes are similar and not very interesting to me, but this one really struck a chord. Maybe it's because I've been writing poems most days since the beginning of the year and am more acutely aware of my surroundings and and my thoughts and looking at both more closely. Maybe it's because I've edited a couple of fiction manuscripts recently where the description was not handled so well; it was all too vague, too general to paint good word pictures for me.

And while I think Ms. Oliver may have intended her statement to encompass all of us human beings, I think this is particularly pertinent for those of us who are creatives, whether painters or sculptors or writers of poetry or prose. I'm coming to believe that authenticity in creation lies in the details. While the concept is important and some works are greatly enhanced by the big picture or big idea, paying attention to what we experience with the senses as well as we experience in our inner worlds and transcribing that to the page or the clay or the canvas is what it is all about.

It may well be that the most important question we can be asking ourselves as we do our creative work and as we make our way in the world is What am I paying attention to?

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Two points of view

In my 31-day poetry writing challenge, we were asked to write a poem about something in the media and then then write a poem from a different point of view. Here are my responses to a news story on Yahoo from a Florida elementary school.

Old News

Jimmy’s pint-size backpack
Held 24 new crayons, an open
Package of Gummi bears, and a worn
Navy blue sweater of his brother Todd’s.

His Winnie the Pooh lunch pail
Held a Tupperware of cold pasta—
No sauce, the way he liked it—corn chips
In a Ziploc, and slices of Fuji with the peel carefully removed.

In the left pocket of his jeans, Jimmy carried a
Wretchedly disabled GI Joe, mauled and
Mangled by Rosie, his Uncle Brad’s pit bull,
One hot afternoon last July.

Weighing down his right pocket, the loaded Smith & Wesson
He’d found under the seat of Brad’s Ford F-150
That morning when Brad stopped at the 7-11 for
A Red Bull and a lotto ticket.

Jimmy liked Thursdays at Moseley Elementary
Music circle on the library carpet
It took Ms Ellison two turns around the whispering 5-year-olds
To spot the pistol next to Jimmy’s pocket.

Brad never missed it.

Bad Night, Bad Morning

Sun through the broken blind ran a knife
Into his temple
He groaned, rolling away from the pain
And into the woman

She grunted in her sleep
Pulled the sheets over her head
He couldn’t pull her name
from the night before

Cold water helped
Back of the neck, over the eyes
Toothpaste on a finger
Already late

He left the motor running
Rang the bell, hugged his sister
Jimmy handed him the lunchbox
He hoisted the kid into the cab, belted him in

Quick stop, five minutes
Belted the boy in again
Couldn’t the kid sit still?
School grounds with two minutes to spare

Brad never missed it.