Begin Again

Poetry laid back and played dead until this morning. I wasn’t sad or anything, only restless. ~ Alice Walker

A funny thing happened during my hiatus at the beginning of the year. I began to question my need for written poetry–for words and writing in general–until I had convinced myself that I truly didn’t need it, that it was a luxury . . . a fluffy, cloud-chasing time-consumer that distracted me from living a three-dimensional life. Poetry was to be found in the natural world around me, I rationalized, in the act of living itself. I wanted to see if I could live without the words and, instead, focus on the experience.

I say it was funny, but in reality it was rather sad. What I found–and I see this now in retrospect–was that I grew flatter and more isolated; I was living in “3-D”, but without an outlet, I was left living in my own head, trying to process my own thoughts . . .  I wasn’t reading poetry, so I wasn’t reminded that those feelings I had floating around were part of the human condition, and I wasn’t writing, so my feelings remained stuck and repressed, until, I’m convinced, they manifested themselves as illness. I grew ill–physically and mentally–and, ironically, I couldn’t even live the three-dimensional life I had so craved. I was the untethered elephant Stafford had warned us about. I had gotten “lost in the dark,” and I did not “recognize the fact” until much later.

For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,
a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break.

Poetry had laid back and played dead, I thought, but perhaps it was I who had betrayed it by shrugging away. So it was one evening in the midst of a sleepless slumber that I turned once again to poetry–not just any poetry, the very poetry I had shared here. I went back to the beginning, and I began reading, again. And perhaps here’s the funny thing . . . I began to feel better. Some things we can’t explain, they must be taken on faith, but I am convinced that some people simply need poetry–need words–to survive. Or maybe not to survive, but definitely to thrive. I shared with a friend this morning (regarding technical versus creative writing), “It’s like eating rice and beans every single day. It will sustain you, but it won’t fulfill you.” The things I had turned to in lieu of written poetry had kept me alive, but hadn’t kept me healthy. I was surviving, but I certainly wasn’t thriving. But as with anything, balance is key, and that’s what my life had been missing all along.

I know many of you found strength and solace here in these daily poetry and words posts. I know I led you to believe that I would be back sooner than now. I know many of you must have wondered what happened. I imagine one or two of you may have even felt let down by my unexplained absence. I apologize, I hope you can forgive me. I wasn’t well, but I have returned, and I am healing. I have missed poetry. I have missed you.

I may struggle to find that elusive balance for a bit. Posts may be intermittent and unpredictable, but perhaps that can be a good thing. A little spontaneity, a little surprise; I hear they can be chicken soup for the soul.

So what say you?
Shall we begin again?

Let’s.

And where exactly does one begin?

Well at the beginning, of course.

Of course.

And so it is that we return to the beginning. To the very first poem I posted here, to the very poem that first saved my life, to the very poem that saves it again.

*************

“Wild Geese” by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

“Wild Geese” by Mary Oliver, Dream Work.

************

I was just guessing
At numbers and figures
Pulling the puzzles apart
Questions of science
Science and progress
Do not speak as loud as my heart

I’m going back to the start

“The Uses of Sorrow” by Mary Oliver (and a note from Christy)

(In my sleep I dreamed this poem)

Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.

It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift.

“The Uses of Sorrow” by Mary Oliver, from Thirst, 2007. Beacon Press.

 

***

Note from Christy:

2016 was a tumultuous year. It had its share of joy, but most would agree that ’16 also had an inordinate amount of pain and loss and anxiety. It’s why I chose to leave you–for the time being–with Mary Oliver’s “The Uses of Sorrow.” My long-term readers may know that I’ve opened and closed each year with Ms. Oliver, and given the “box full of darkness” that was 2016, it felt like the right piece to close this year. We can learn from darkness. We can learn from sorrow. We can learn from grief. We may never “get over it” or “feel better,” but we can adapt. We can grow scar tissue. We can choose to be softened, to keep going. We can choose to look at darkness as a gift.

Had I not gone with Ms. Oliver, I may have chosen the following by Viktor Frankl:

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

 

Words for the Year will return in the new year after a short hiatus. Like last year, I plan to be back by April. I may post daily, or I may post on a reduced schedule, or I may just go with the flow and allow room for spontaneity. This project means so much to me, and I’m touched to know it means so much to many of you as well. (Special wave to Willene.) Sometimes you all are the bright lights that keep me going, just as these poems often keep you–us–going. “The darkness around us is deep,” to quote William Stafford in “A Ritual to Read to Each Other,” but somehow, like elephants, we hold each others’ tails and we continue to find our way. Until next time, I wish you love and light and good health. ~Christy

 

On the Future of “Words for the Year” (a note from Christy and poem from Dorianne Laux)

It’s hard to believe that at the end of this month, Words for the Year will have published a poem or quote every day for two years.

What started as a small independent project–my diary captured in poetry–has grown into an intimate community of poetry and word lovers all via word of mouth and social media sharing. And I am grateful that the poems and words I’ve shared have helped so many of you, as they have helped me, especially in times of grief, depression and darkness.

The simple truth is I had planned to end this project at the end of this year. The more complicated truth is that I cannot. Poetry will always be a part of my life; it’s my lighthouse in times of darkness, and it’s an icon of beauty and gratitude to help me better appreciate the world around me and the moments (and people) I so often take for granted. Poetry is often my voice when I am without words. Poetry in general, and certain poems and poets, save my life, often.

And what I have learned is that I am not alone in this.

I have heard from many of you over the past two years. You have shared with me the very personal ways the poems you read here have helped you and healed you. YOU represent the reason I love doing Words for the Year.

And YOU are the reason I will KEEP doing Words for the Year.

At least for one more year anyway. 😉

I do plan to take a short break at the beginning of the new year. I’ll be back no later than April 1 (in time for National Poetry Month), but probably sooner than that.

Here’s where I need your help:

While I am on break, I may occasionally (re)post some of your favorite poems. Will you please leave a comment with a favorite poem you’ve read here on Words for the Year? Or if you have a favorite that we have not posted, let me know the name of the poem and the poet (and a link if available). Or you can leave me a private message via our contact page, here. If you have feedback or ideas for the new year, please feel free to share that also. If you read only by email, you are welcome to email me: wordsfortheweekend@gmail.com .

To the poets, writers, artists, publishers and copyright holders who have allowed me (or who haven’t disallowed me) to share your work, my deep gratitude and thanks. Your work matters. You matter.

To my readers and friends, thank you for all of your support. To each of you, I dedicate a Dorianne Laux poem (one of the poems–and favorite poets–that saves my life). I originally shared it on Words on March 19, 2014.

“For the Sake of Strangers” by Dorianne Laux

No matter what the grief, its weight,
we are obliged to carry it.
We rise and gather momentum, the dull strength
that pushes us through crowds.
And then the young boy gives me directions
so avidly. A woman holds the glass door open,
waits patiently for my empty body to pass through.
All day it continues, each kindness
reaching toward another – a stranger
singing to no one as I pass on the path, trees
offering their blossoms, a retarded child
who lifts his almond eyes and smiles.
Somehow they always find me, seem even
to be waiting, determined to keep me
from myself, from the thing that calls to me
as it must have once called to them –
this temptation to step off the edge
and fall weightless, away from the world.

 “For the Sake of Strangers” by Dorianne Laux, from What We Carry, 1994. 

 

Your turn . . . What’s one (or more) of your favorite poems?  No need to answer right away. I’ll keep comments open until April.  ~ Christy

P.S. – For readers who follow our Apocalypse Love Story featuring Sam & Dave (it began on our sister site, Words for the Weekend), we have exciting news! Sam, Dave and friends will soon have their own home at The Lovely Fire. It’s under construction, but you are more than welcome to visit and sign up for future posts.