Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness

Fire in the woodstove and a thick mist wrapping the house. The mountains and the bay erased. Autumn has descended and I am grateful for what I hope will be a “season of mists and mellow fruitfulness.” Tomorrow September.

How was your summer? Busy? Too busy? You know those tasks are not over. The garden is still brimming. Some lazy early autumn hikes still to conquer.  Still, autumn usually heralds a changeover from “busy outside” to “busy inside.”

It is back to school for me, in real time the class I’m teaching began on Monday and metaphorically because once again I’m battening down the hatches to submit poetry. Yep, I’m going to return to my three poems to one prospect each week schedule. Why just this week I was lucky enough to see one my poems make it out into the world at the wonderful Thrush Poetry Journal. I’m sure to be schooled again by those hard knocks of poems passed over, but there must be a home for most of them.

Autumn is a fine time to consider our gifts. This evening, small birds are flitting from low branches to the feeder, scooping small seeds and then disappearing into the murk. I consider the series of poems that is growing steadily from my current exercise of writing two poems a week, each titled with a line from “Song of Myself.” Whitman’s great poem becoming my horn book.

Let me leave with the rest of Keats’s poem “To Autumn.” Let us celebrate our lives, most of us have reaped many more years than Keats who died at the tender age of 25. And although his name may have been writ in water, it is a water that moves us still.

To Autumn by John Keats

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,
Drows’d with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.

Where are the songs of spring? Ay, Where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

You Are Here – Art as Signpost for the Intermittently Lost

I keep a Housing Works Bookstore bookmark prominently displayed on my desk that read: YOU ARE HERE. It serves as a reminder in two important ways. First of all, when I wander through the room looking for something, it reminds me that the “you” of me is most often “here” at my desk. When I lose my direction, I can find it again by spending some time at my desk with a pencil and notebook close at hand.

The second reminder of “You are here” is to be actively present in whatever moment I find myself. I’m not in the future. I’m not in the past (thank god). I’m here, and I should attend to that. Which means that when I’m at my desk, I should be attending to my writing – not lamenting my woeful acceptance rates, not planning dinner, not mentally enumerating the ways a friend of mine is a far better poet than I am. Of course attending to my writing might involve foraging through old notebooks, revising a bedraggled draft, or even staring out the window at the cloud formations waiting for a mystical transfusion of poetry. That’s okay. Any part of the writing experience (including that open-mouthed thought fishing) is permissible at the desk.

Like many writers, I often read someone else’s work to warm up. This is an exceptionally fine way to get in the rhythm and court (but not copy) ideas. It has the added benefit of inspiration. You know – wow, I want to be able to write like that! And sometimes, an incredible piece of writing will be a signpost for some other part of your life.

Therefore, I give you “The World” by Marie Howe in her exceptionally fine book Kingdom of Ordinary Time.

The World

I couldn’t tell one song from another,
which bird said what or tow whom or for what reason.

The oak tree seemed to be writing something using very few words.
I couldn’t decide which door to open – they looked the same, or what

would happen when I did reach out and turn a knob. I thought I was safe,
standing there
but my death remembered its date:

only so many summer nights still stood before me, full moon, waning moon,
October mornings: what to make of them? which door?

I couldn’t tell which stars were which or how far away any one of them was,
or which were still burning or not – their light moving through space like a long

late train – and I’ve lived on this earth so long – 50 winters, 50 springs and summers,
and all this time stars in the sky – in daylight

when I couldn’t see them, and at night when, most nights, I didn’t look.

The helpless fluffy bunny of not writing….

This is the fluffy bunny of your psyche when you’re not writing. Why are you hurting the fluffy bunny with all this pressure?

Lately, several friends and I have been commiserating with each other about our lack of production. We should be writing. Why aren’t we writing? Each of us relates a little pile of woe that is preventing us from writing. Each of us goes home and berates ourselves because life is short and we aren’t writing. We are exhausted by how much writing we are not doing.

Tonight, I’m going to light a candle, sacrifice a metaphoric goat, and let us all off the hook. That’s right all you dawdling poets, blocked novelists, gut-twisted short story writers, I’m releasing you. For the next few days, you don’t have to write. You can surf the internet, read the latest Stephen King novel, pull weeds in your garden. Go paddle-boarding, run for five miles, shop for school clothes. Listen to your kid tell you about her new teacher, buy groceries, do the laundry. Sit and stare at the grass grow.

You’ll write again. In a few days, there will be a niggling little image you want to get down. Or maybe you’ll read a poem and you’ll think, “I should write a ghazal.” But first, let yourself not write. Let yourself off the hook, because guilt will kill your desire to put words on paper as surely as salt will sterilize the soil.

You’re welcome.