Going to Work

This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.
I know the world is bruised and bleeding, and though it is important not to ignore its pain, it is also critical to refuse to succumb to its malevolence. Like failure, chaos contains information that can lead to knowledge — even wisdom. Like art.

Toni Morrison
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A Conversation at the Gates of Hell

My recently published poem, “Conversation at the Gates of Hell,” is about a metaphorical conversation across the political/social/generational divide. “The odd friends: The young liberal and the elderly conservative” is wonderful story of an ongoing actual conversation across those divides. My key takeaway is this:

Our friendship and ability to discuss divisive topics hinges not on our differences, but on our similar approach to life. We both believe in treating others with respect. We both harbour a magnetic curiosity towards those who are different than us. I will always be a liberal. But I have learned it is not just liberals who dream of a better America. From my friendship with Richard, I have learned that Americans’ ideas on how to improve our country often take the shape of their wounds.

Meghan Beaudry

Meghan is the young liberal and wrote the article. The “conversation” takes place over several years. They are both in it for the long haul and for the conversation, not converting or defeating each.

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“Conversation at the Gates of Hell” published

Laurence Musgrove’s latest project, Texas Poetry Ballot, published my poem, Conversation at the Gates of Hell yesterday. He attracts a lot of very fine poets, mostly English professors, including several Texas Poet Laureates, present and past. It’s somewhat intimidating company. This is my third poem he’s published, so I’m getting the idea that maybe I belong there too.

It’s like going to Black Belt camp and feeling like an impostor. The following week is open to anyone and I notice I’m right where I belong.

When I read interviews with or attend presentations by more established poets, they frequently talk about projects they are working on, a collection of poems written to a specific topic or title. I have two draft chapbooks (Coyote and Lost and cancer poems) I put together from existing poems. The above poem seems like the kickoff poem from a project called Conversations at the Gates of Hell. I have earlier poem that fits in the project. It sounds like a collection I’d like to read.

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“State of the Union” published

A favorite Texas poet, Laurence Musgrove, has a new project, Texas Poetry Ballot, on the upcoming election. He’s accepted two poems of mine. The first was published today. Read State of the Union on his Website, then read the rest of them. They are very good.

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Improvisation

I’ve been playing guitar off and on since the 70s. I’ve learned enough to play electric blues and blues/rock at the amateur intermediate level, but I’ve had no success improvising beyond mixing various rhythm guitar riffs.

Recently I’ve realized I can improvise in my cooking, taking the spices from one dish with some additional spices or herbs with a different protein and a different cooking method. Then I add whatever vegetables are on hand that fit. I routinely roll cut (a Chinese technique, see Simply Ming: Roll Cutting Technique) the carrots and zucchinis in stews and sautes of European roots.

All my poems are improvisation.

With music, it’s easy to point at wrong notes. Other than bent notes, there is no close enough to get by. With daily cooking, off perfect a little is generally still quite good. My distinction between peasant cooking and high cuisine it that peasant cooking is quite tolerant of slight or even moderate changes (most ingredients can easily cut in half or doubled). High cuisine is frequently pushed to the point of breaking so off by a bit often breaks badly.

Maybe it’s perfectionism not ability that stands in my way.

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Lifesaving Poems

As Anthony Wilson tells in The most popular lifesaving poems, he pivoted his blog several years ago to the afore mentioned topic. Mary Oliver’s The Journey tops the list. They all are worth reading. Naomi Shihab Nye’s The Art of Disappearing was helpful as I was completing my Author’s Mission Statement.

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Author Mission Statement

How (And Why) to Create an Author Mission Statement is a guest column on the Writer Unboxed blog. It’s a five step process to getting clear about the goal of your writing:

  • What you write (e.g., poems, essays, novels)?
  • Who you write for (e.g., children, young adults)?
  • Why you write (e.g., money, fame)?
  • Put it together (combine the the answers).
  • Put it to work.

My mission is writing free-verse poetry for a fairly literate crowd (not necessarily literate about poetry) to show alternative views, viewpoints, and understandings. Getting paid is nice, but is not the point. Fame may be embarrassing or counter-productive (see The Art of Disappearing by Naomi Shihab Nye). Getting published where many people will read my work and are likely to get what I’m trying to get across (i.e., with open minds) is the point.

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Links to YouTube

Some but not all of my links to YouTube are being forbidden. I’ve tried logging out and trying again. Those are also forbidden. I have not found a way around this. I’ve unlinked all affected links. Hopefully, if you want to see the referenced video, there is enough context to find it on your own. Sorry.

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COVID-19: Lament and Anger

Up until recently, the only serious COVID-19 cases I knew of were friends’ relatives I had never met. That changed about a week ago. Last year a good friend, in fact our emergency contact here in Austin, took a bad fall and ended up in a nursing home a mile away. We visited every week or two until the shutdown. A week ago we learned that she had died of COVID-19. The nursing home had an outbreak that she did fine through. As the outbreak subsided, she became sick and died in a matter of days.

More details are emerging. The outbreak came after the lockdown on visitors was lifted. One family asked to take their mother to her doctor appointment instead of letting the nursing home staff do it. They signed a document saying that was all they would do. They took her to her appointment, then to lunch, then shopping. Five days later, the mother became sick and died of COVID-19. Half dozen other deaths followed. I would hope that they would be held accountable for lying and the deaths. In Texas there is a good chance they will not.

Against stupidity, the gods themselves struggle in vain.

Friedrich Schiller

We all are vulnerable. The surprise is even the gods are vulnerable (see Jeremiah 15:15-21).

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View from Above

Several decades ago, probably not long after the Blue Marble photo of the Earth from the Moon was taken in 1972, I read a Science Fiction story about the effect of that experience on astronauts. The people in the story noticed “the far look” among returnees and how their vision became more global. They hypothesized that it was the experience, not just that the astronauts were an elite. In the story they trained two as ordinary people as they thought they could safely send for the mission to the Moon. Those two also came back with “the far look”.

The article As we fight COVID-19, we should turn our gaze to space points out that has happened in reality. Those who have ventured far enough into space to see the whole planet have a broader outlook. If humanity is going to beat COVID-19, more people will have to develop that broader outlook and action.

The Summer 2020 issue of Nature Conservancy includes some amazing, beautiful aerial photos by George Steinmetz and an interview. He observes the same phenomenon in himself, seeing the planet “from bird height.” Read the interview, Capturing the Human Planet

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In It for the Long Haul

When COVID-19 first reached Austin, TX and we were asked to wear masks, most of what I saw was disposable masks. Now most places I go require masks and most of them are washable cloth masks. People expect to be wearing them for months and the cost of months of disposable masks is much greater than buying and washing cloth masks.

At first, we wore trifold paper masks I had leftover from chemo. After a month, I did buy an inexpensive cloth mask from the grocery store, but didn’t wear it long. The straps were too long, it had no nose wire, and didn’t come high enough to not need a nose wire for a good fit. A couple of safety pins fixed the straps problem, but it wasn’t enough. We bought four KN95 masks for the two of us at $10 each. They only last a month or so before getting too furry and itching our faces. I’ve placed an order for a cloth mask with Van Gogh’s Starry Night printed on it. It’s cut to not need a nose wire and has a pocket for a filter.

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