The writing life doesn’t just happen when I sit at the writing desk…

“For me, the writing life doesn’t just happen when I sit at the writing desk. It is a life lived with a centering principle, and mine is this: that I will pay close attention to this world I find myself in. ‘My heart keeps open house,’ was the way the poet Theodore Roethke put it in a poem. And rendering in language what one sees through the opened windows and doors of that house is a way of bearing witness to the mystery of what it is to be alive in this world.”

—Julia Alvarez


Let Evening Come – Finding a container for grief

For all that free verse posits throwing off the chains of form, poetry is by its very nature structured. A poem is the poet’s way of making sense of her world, of creating a container that both describes and brings forth an emotion. And because the work is brief, a distillation of all that is both internal and external, poetry is often a way to share experience at events such as weddings and funerals, convocations and dedications.

Perhaps it is just that sense-making out of what can feel profoundly nonsensical that drives the poet to write frequently about two universal subjects – loss and love. If Wordsworth was right about poetry being “the spontaneous overflow of powerful emotions recollected in tranquility,” why then are we so often driven to write when we aren’t tranquil? I like to think it is our heart trying to make its way out of a thicket, so that we can find peace and know more assuredly what we know. For in upheaval, all that we once took for granted is dashed to the floor.

This weekend, a member of our community passed away, a gifted woman, an artist, and a generous soul. It wasn’t a complete surprise – she had been ill, but seemed to be healing. So when I learned of her death in Sunday’s slow dawn, I was caught off guard and could only read over the words several times trying to make sense of them, disbelieving and suddenly cold.

At the time, I thought of the Jane Kenyon’s “Let Evening Come,” a poem that rests its warm hand upon us. Yet all that day and today, I sought more words to wrap around myself. I need those containers in which to rest my emotions, stopping places along the road that we all traverse. In poetry I feel connected with others that have gone before me, who have stood looking out where I am now and moved along leaving trail markers to follow.

Let Evening Come

Let the light of late afternoon
shine through chinks in the barn, moving
up the bales as the sun moves down.

Let the cricket take up chafing
as a woman takes up her needles
and her yarn. Let evening come.

Let dew collect on the hoe abandoned
in long grass. Let the stars appear
and the moon disclose her silver horn.

Let the fox go back to its sandy den.
Let the wind die down. Let the shed
go black inside. Let evening come.

To the bottle in the ditch, to the scoop
in the oats, to air in the lung
let evening come.

Let it come, as it will, and don’t
be afraid. God does not leave us
comfortless, so let evening come.

~Jane Kenyon

Silence and everything after

Today I started turning things off. I started with the radio in the car. Oh wonderful quiet rolling along among autumn-burnished hillsides and rusty grass. Only the sound of the tires on the road, the engine thrumming. Then when I got home from work, I prepared dinner in silence, no music, no radio.

I don’t get a lot of silence at work; the room where my desk resides is a walkway and work area for many other people. My back is to the center of the room. All day long folks are traveling in and out through a door directly beside my desk. But when I work from home, I work mostly in silence. I crave it. Swim in it.

The world today is noisy on so many levels – lots of information flowing, sound following us everywhere, even outside in Alaska there is the sound of airplanes overhead, cars on a distant roadway.

And yet in silence, I can feel my muscles relax. My shoulders drop, my jaw loosens. I am suddenly more aware of the things around me when I wean myself away from adding to the din –shut off the computer at an earlier hour, rethink the radio or music as constant background companion.

Poetry is very much about silence. Silence that surrounds intentional word choices. White space that surrounds intentional distribution of words on a page. Perhaps to find the poetry, we need to honor the silence. It is where we came from and where we are all going.