“When the Heart Waits” by Sue Monk Kidd

When The Heart WaitsWhen the Heart Waits: Spiritual Direction for Life’s Sacred Questions
By Sue Monk Kidd
ISBN-13: 978-0061144899
$10.21 Paperback

More than simply relaying Kidd’s personal journey through the mid-life experience, this engaging piece of non-fiction work takes a closer look at the art of waiting. Rather than avoiding or rushing life experiences Kidd suggests entering and experiencing changes as we are faced with them, even and especially when it is uncomfortable or painful to do so.

Kidd draws on myriad biblical parables and familiar childhood fairy tales and fables to illustrate her well-placed points. Additionally, she builds on philosophies developed by the likes of Jung, Erickson, Campbell and Eckhart and the theology of Merton, St. Teresa of Avila and Hildegard of Bingen. The book’s overarching metaphor is that of the metamorphosis of the butterfly, particularly the cocoon stage. More than any other symbol, the cocoon best illustrates the act of waiting while changing, all the while suspended in darkness – a position that requires neither foresight nor action.

In the first of four parts, Entering the Question, Kidd defines midlife as a transitional period between morning, when we develop our relationships with the outer world through ego, and afternoon, when we investigate the inner world. The midlife experience is likened to a time of reinvention and reflection. But regardless of the relative discomfort these realizations may bring, Kidd invites us to view this developmental stage not as a time of burnout, but as a summoning to enter a spiritually deeper life; a difficult choice given our compulsion to keep up with society’s accelerated pace.

In Passage of Separation, the book’s second, and perhaps most important section, Kidd introduces the idea of “diapause,” a concept she discovered while researching metamorphosis of butterflies. She learned that “…caterpillars don’t yield themselves to the cocoon at the same rate. When the moment to spin the chrysalis arrives, some of the actually resist and cling to their larval life. They put off entering the cocoon until the following spring, postponing their transformation a year or more. This state of clinging has a name; it’s called the “diapause.” There’s a natural diapause in the human journey of transformation – a time when we hold onto the self we know. It seems that at the moment of our greatest possibility, a desperate clinging rises up in us. We make a valiant attempt to “save” our old life.

Section three, Transformation, explores the question, “How do we fashion an environment in which we become stripped and stilled, in which the ego patterns of a lifetime begin to move away from the center and our innermost spiritual life is [rebuilt]?” Kidd suggests we look to God by looking within and “weaving an environment of prayer.”

The fourth and concluding section, Passage of Emergence marks the moment when the newly metamorphosed butterfly emerges from its cocoon; when the cocooned soul begins to attempt flight with new wings. Kidd advises that because this is a time of adjustment, continued patience with ourselves during this stage is crucial.

Midlife is a waiting process and features three distinct phases: separation, transformation and emergence. The life of the soul evolves and grows as we move through these three cycles and, as Kidd points out so eloquently, life is full of cocoons. “We die and are reborn again and again. By repeatedly entering the spiral of separation, transformation, and emergence, we’re brought closer each time to wholeness and the True Self.”

Because of varying perceptions on life, no book can entirely capture a midlife experience or provide a definitive guide to any developmental stage of life. Yet I found in Kidd’s writing a kindred soul and found if not answers to, at least comfort in, some of my own burning questions regarding the meaning of life. I especially appreciate Kidd’s constant reminder that both God and the Christ life are within us and her consistent reminders that revealing our True Self is neither instant nor easy. Certainly Kidd’s midlife experience is filtered by some distance and the objectiveness that arrives with writing about such an experience and I suspect that, if her experience was anything like mine is shaping up to be, there are at least a few ugly scenes that have been polished or left out of her book entirely, giving some passages a feeling of romanticism. Still, I recommend her book to anyone experiencing a developmental life-stage or any form of crisis or turmoil. More than a just a helpful guide, Kidd’s book is a worthy companion.

How I Arrived Here by Karen Neuberg

When still young, I left
the safe home of myself
and ad/ventured into
a waiting, twisting thread

of freedom
and misinformation.
The original speck of entry
opened, became my new home,
where I found

I wasn’t a total stranger
to myself. I still carried
my barriers, my fences, walls,
doors, battlements, weaponry,

armor, shields…
At first, they transported.
easily as a cloud of feathers;
but over time they turned
to stone, to ice.

What else to do
but carve and chip
and make the most
of sun and rain.

Karen Neuberg holds an MFA from The New School. Her chapbook, Detailed Still, was published by Poets Wear Prada, and her chapbook, Myself Taking Stage, is newly available from Finishing Line Press.

A Cursory Response to “Against Fogetting” edited by Carolyn Forche’

 

Against Forgetting

Against Forgetting

In the introduction to her anthology, “Against Forgetting,” Carolyn Forché writes that a poem of witness is both “an event and the trace of an event” (33), which suggests that in addition to acknowledging that an event took place, the poem is in and of itself an event. Forché also points out that while the former is rarely entered into voluntarily, the latter most certainly is. Responding to traumatic events over which the poet has little or no control through a voluntary and overt act, such as writing a poem, therefore does at least two things: it acknowledges the event (instead of denying it) and initiates a new event, one that both normalizes the initial event and allows the poet to exert some control over the event’s effects.

Siegfried Sassoon’sRepression of War Experience,” illustrates well Forché’s idea of the poem as an event. It translates the very personal space of a soldier’s mental landscape into recognizable images that bring this specific war experience into the realm of the social. The speaker’s actions, “Now light the candles” (1) and “light your pipe” (10), are as common on the battle front as they are in the living room. Likewise, familiar images like books “Standing so quiet and patient on their shelves” (18) or the garden that “waits for something that delays” (28) harken the cozy atmosphere of home, an image any reader can easily visualize (made all the more poignant by the speaker’s distance from home). Sassoon’s ability to tap into the universal experience of trying to avoid certain thinking patterns is also effectively rendered in lines like “it’s bad to think of war, / When thoughts you’ve gagged all day come back to scare you;” (5-4). The reader, like the speaker (and the moth that inhabits this poem) can all easily “blunder in / And scorch their wings” (2-3) on those gagging thoughts and find themselves “driven out to jabber among the trees” (8). The universality of these specifics can be translated to other traumatic events and could be revised to reflect the experience of a mother with postpartum depression, or a child who is abused by a parent or school-yard bully. But the poem at hand is about neither of these things. We know this from poem’s title as well as such lines as “You’d never think there was a bloody war on!” (34) and “Those whispering guns” (38) (a particularly striking juxtaposition of images). “Repression of War Experience” is a response to a specific event experienced by the poet and is in turn a specific event that is the poet’s experience. The universal language of witness allows us to appreciate another’s experience without diminishing an its distinctness and we understand that this poem is “a specific kind of event, a specific kind of trauma” (Forché 33), separate from our own.

Denise Levertrov illustrates the personal struggles of one who has lost her right arm in “Weeping Woman” by presenting it in simple language. The reader is able to breach the distance between themselves and the speaker of the poem through a series of vivid and carefully chosen specifics. “She cannot write the alphabet any more / on the kindergarten blackboard” (1-2), conveys a true sense of this injury’s debilitating effects on the woman. Being able to write the letters of the alphabet is a fundamental skill for most of us, one we often take for granted. Without it, the woman is infantilized; she has been reduced to status of a young child. The image of the kindergarten blackboard reinforces this idea while also suggesting the woman’s efficacy as a teacher, as a parent or as a vocation, has also been drastically compromised. The line “She cannot hold her baby and caress it at the same time” (6) illustrates the debilitating affects her injury has had on the tender bond between mother and child, a consequence most readers will recognize as a tragedy. Equally disturbing is the observation that the woman “cannot use a rifle” (12) so cannot bear arms to defend herself or participate in the active rejection of the oppression to which she is victim. She is helpless in a way none of us hope to experience. Finally, Levertrov brings the poem into the social context, that “place of resistance and struggle, where books are published, poems read, and protest disseminated,” by observing the complicity of Levertrov’s adopted country, the United States:

Cruel America,
When you mutilate our land and bodies,
It is your own soul you destroy
Not ours.’

firmly placing this poem in the “sphere in which claims against the political order are made in the name of justice” (31)

Forché also observes that “[b]ecause the poetry of witness marks a resistance to false attempts at unification, it will take many forms… [i]t will speak in the language of the common man or in an esoteric language of paradox or literary privilege” (46), to which Ezra Pound’s “Pisan Canto LXXIV” belongs:

The enormous tragedy of the dream in the peasant’s bent
shoulders
Manes! Manes was tanned and stuffed,
Thus Ben and la Clara a Milano

            By the heels at Milano
That maggots shd / eat the dead bullock (1-6)

exemplifies Forché’s assertion that “[e]xtremity […] demands new forms or alters older modes of poetic thought [and] also breaks forms and creates forms from these breaks” (42).

Against Forgetting” is a seminal, and moving, addition to America’s poetic cannon that preserves and brings to light poems of witness for a broader audience and includes such preeminent poets as Nemerov, Akhmatova, Hikmet and Milosz. In addition, Forché’s introduction effectively refines the definition of political poetry for poets, teachers, critics, and activists in the field. As long as there are humans, there will be acts of atrocity.  Even as I write there are seven countries listed on “Genocide Watch” that are actively exterminating people based on race or religion. As Nemerov aptly observed in “Ultima Ratio Reagan,”

The reason we do not learn from history is
Because we are not the people who learned last time.

We know that we know better than they knew,
And history will not blame us if once again
The light at the end of the tunnel is the train.

While there is much more to discover and learn about the poetry of extremity and the processes behind writing such poetry, Forché’s continues to be the conversation to which poets and critics must refer to and cite for years to come, just as these are the poems that best exemplify the poetry of extremity for the twentieth century.

Three Tanka by SuzAnne C. Cole

summer garden show
at Hampton Court Palace
drunk on color
I pass parking lot sign—
please stagger your way home

***

travel dilemma—
walk faint trails, enter dark caves
trust most strangers
or stay at Howard Johnson’s
safe with other tourists

***
young girls yearning
for status not yet theirs
pinch off fireflies’ gold
adorn grimy fingers
with circlets of light

—-
SuzAnne C. Cole writes in the Texas Hill Country. Both a juried and featured poet for Houston Poetry Fest, she’s won a Japanese haiku contest.

Leaving Garden Court by Ira Schaeffer

It was spring, when tulips
show their pretty colors
and robins make nests
for small blue eggs.
I was ten, feeling cozy
on the sofa, leafing through
Mad, when comic book violence
came alive.

Driven by another fierce defense
of some imagined line crossed,
my parents had attacked
our upstairs neighbors.
Shrieks and pounding
clashed up and down
our common hall.

Our door slammed shut.
I didn’t want to but saw
my mother’s harrowed
face and arms,
my father dripping sweat
and his panting like a dog.
There was no place to hide.

For days, a strange quiet,
my parents were like ghosts.
A letter arrived,
then the cardboard boxes.
Books and jeans were packed
along with scars and ruin.
We were moving to a smaller flat.

On the way we passed a cemetery
with branches of dark trees
hanging above rows of stones.
I pictured myself underground
My stone said something sad;
most of the letters were faded.

After we got to the new place
I thought of surprising my parents
with something funny.
I crayoned a sign, making a blue
R.I.P., black for my name and dates
and red for birds in each corner.
I held the cardboard to my chest,
stretched out on the floor—
shut my eyes and waited.

Ira Schaeffer is a poet who reads his own poems and those of professional writers in various public venues throughout Rhode Island. His poetry has been published in a variety of small presses.

Rick Mulkey’s “Ravenous” Book Launch, Hub City Book Store

Ravenous CoverOn Thursday, August 28 at 7:00 PM, the Hub City Bookshop in Spartanburg, S.C. hosted a book launch for poet Rick Mulkey’s newest collection of poems, Ravenous: New and Selected Poems. On hand to read poems from the collection and celebrate Mulkey’s fifth publication were literary friends and notable poets Tom Johnson, Angela Kelly, and Claire Bateman as well as composer Scott Robbins and award-winning fiction writer Susan Teculve. Light refreshments of soft cheese, hummus, table crackers and a variety of wines were provided for guests attending the standing-room only event.

Hub City Executive Director, Betsy Teter, offered a warm, heartfelt introduction to the evening’s event and expressed gratitude for Mulkey’s considerable contributions to Spartanburg’s literary community. In addition to writing poetry, Mulkey happens to be the director of the Converse College Creative Writing MFA program, also in Spartanburg, and participates in writing groups as well as promotes writers, publishers, and artists in the area. After a generous and deserving applause, audience members settled into their seats just as the setting sun cast an ambient glow through the plate glass window.

Mulkey took the microphone first to thank everyone for coming and explained that the evening’s guest readers had been asked to read their favorite poems from the collection. A happy challenge, according to the readers, who each admitted to having had a difficult time narrowing their choices down to just one poem.

The first of Mulkey’s literary friends to read was poet and visual artist, Tom Johnson, who read “Blind-Sided.” A discursive narrative weaving memoir-like reflections triggered by the poem’s epigraph about the only known incident of a person being hit by a meteorite, “Blind-Sided” presents scenes in which the speaker or other characters of the poem are taken unaware, or literally “Blind-Sided” by the kinds of bizarre events the universe and its inhabitants have a way of throwing at individuals. Both corporeal in its acknowledgement of the pure weirdness of being human and existential in its incorporation of heavenly bodies (such as meteorites), “Blind-Sided” is as satisfying in its lyrical story-telling when read aloud as when read silently. It’s easy to understand Tom’s choice and his flawless recitation was appreciated. As an aside, Johnson has a book of poems just out with 96 Press and an exhibit of his visual art, “A World of Readers,” is on display from September 6 through November 13 at the Pickens County Museum of Art & History in Pickens, S.C.

Next, poet and author of Voodoo for the Other Woman, Angela Kelly, read “Outlaws,” a short poem that she said appealed to her for its subject matter – moonshine. It begins “My father ran moonshine, corn whiskey, / white lightning, Devil’s Rum, from Bramwell / through Bluefield to Bland” (1-3) and contemplates how possessing an “outlaw” gene might nuance the speaker’s life. Kelly’s spunky reading suggests her appreciation for self-sufficiency and her selection provided another facet through which to view Mulkey’s style.

Poet Claire Bateman chose the poem “Music Theory,” one of Mulkey’s newer poems. In it, the persona marvels at his son’s ability to play the bass “with so much passion the framed family portraits / in the room beneath his grind against walls” (1-2) and suggests that, on his journey out of the underworld, “Orpheus didn’t look back in doubt, but in amazement, / that…one tuned string…/ could make us believe all would be right” (12-14). Bateman’s soft, lyrical voice had the added benefit of making audience members sit very still as they leaned forward and listened in anticipation.

Scott Robbins, a bit of a rule breaker, read two selection: “The Well-Tempered Clavier” and “Sontagmusick,” from Mulkey’s quartet of poems about Fanny Mendelssohn titled “The Invisible Life.” Robbins began by apologizing in advance should he start singing his selection as he previously set the entire quartet to music so remembers them as song. The first poem of the quartet, written from Fanny’s perspective, evokes a youthful confusion over what she wishes to be versus what she is expected to be: “As father said,” the poet writes, “femininity alone is becoming in a woman. / Yet this morning I woke to write a lied, and last week / finished another” (6-7).  Robbins’ second selection, and fourth section of the quartet, depicts Franny as a successful composer within the salon concert culture, or “Sontagmusick” (despite her father’s avid discouragement). This section contemplates things overlooked, including “the Prussian peasant, the exiled virtuoso, / the swallow’s cry” (6-7) and asks “What story aches behind the tongue?” (10). The entire quartet is a haunting and empathetic study into the fleeting nature of creativity and life, and as apt as Robbins’ rendition was, justice for the entire poem would be hard to capture on such occasion, causing this review to insist readers of this blog read the poem for themselves. While at it, they should explore Robbins’ compositional work of Blue Ridge A Capella.

Fifth to share their reading talent was Mulkey’s biggest fan, and wife, Susan Tekulve, who began by humorously admitting to liking Mulkey’s poems about herself most. As an act of resistance to her preferences, she chose to read “Hummingbird,” which begins “Imagine each liqueur-soaked rose as a potential love affair / on this capricious tour of blossom-scented air” (1-2) and evokes a plethora of sensuous images throughout, illustrating yet another facet of Mulkey’s poetry; and if it were not already clear to anyone who knows Rick and Susan, Teculve’s fondness for her husband and his poetry certainly came through her reading of this poem.

At last, Mulkey returned to the microphone and once again thanked his audience and literary guests before bringing denouement to the event in the very best way possible: by reading his poetry. Included in his selection where “What Superman Feared Most,” which contemplates the daily worries of the average American, “Cheese,” celebrating the working class, and “Earning a Living,” an unflinching look at mediocrity. Concluding his “set” was the deeply touching “Why I Believe in Angels,” a poem that simply has to be among Susan’s favorites.

Ravenous is described as a collection of stylistic variety and deep concerns. This reviewer would add that within these pages readers will also find empathy and irreverence, contemplation and assessment, lyric moments and engaging narrative, prompting me to wonder why you are still sitting there – go buy a copy now! In the meantime, here’s a selection of Rick Mulkey’s poems for your reading enjoyment:

Insomina, at Verse Daily

Betrayal, at Serving House Journal

Connecting the Dots  at Valparaiso Poetry Review

Bluefield Breakdown,  at The Writer’s Almanac

Ravenous: New and Selected Poem
Rick Mulkey
Serving House Books (June 24, 2014)
ISBN-13:
978-0991328147
$12.00

Available at Barnes and Noble.com

A Classification of Poets by Roy Beckemeyer

All those poets, with their delicate
faces, the rote way I relegate
their taut verses : Alluvial traces,
Marsupial purses, Tightly coiled cases.

Their animal hands, their angelic minds,
the various cants of their labored lines.
I draw from this strange sonnet’s brevity
a taxonomic range of verse levity.

Roy Beckemeyer, from Wichita, Kansas has recently published in The Midwest Quarterly, The North Dakota Quarterly, Nebo, Straylight, and The Bluest Aye. His debut collection of poetry, “Music I Once Could Dance To” is available from Coal City Press.