Honoring World #Poetry Day, March 21st, with a review of Ursula K. Le Guin’s latest collection

World Poetry Day is March 21st, 2016: Celebrate Poetry Globally

To honor this day and #Women’s History Month, both, I’m reviewing and discussing some of the poems from one of my favorite poets and authors, fellow #feminist/#Buddhist Ursula K. Le Guin. Her latest collection, Late in the Day: Poems 2010-2014, is a delight.

late in the day real
Late in the Day: Poems 2010-2014, by Ursula K. Le Guin
http://www.ursulakleguin.com/Index-LateInTheDay.html

Ursula K. Le Guin is my favorite writer. No contest. In fact, I wrote a review of another poetry collection early this year, which I enjoyed enormously: https://sallyember.com/2016/01/19/homage-to-and-review-of-ursula-k-le-guins-finding-my-elegy-new-and-selected-poems/ Some of the explanations of my connection to Le Guin are repeated from that post, below.

I have enjoyed, admired, appreciated, envied and learned from her novels, novellas, short stories, essays, and poetry for over forty years. She is about my mom’s age (in her early 80s, now) and still going strong. She is my idol, my mentor, and my role model. I also found out, after reading a recent collection, that she and I share not only a love of writing, speculative fiction, feminism, social justice, pacifism and environmentalism, but also, Buddhism and meditation. Frabjous day!

Poetry is meant to be read aloud. I enjoy reading poetry aloud as if I am the poet, wondering as I hear each word, line, idea, image, stanza, what the poet was imagining and how this exact turn of phrase came to capture it. Knowing how long many poets take to conjure the precise manner in which to describe and evoke every part of their intention, I want to savor it.

I do NOT read in that artificial, almost-questioning (upturned inflection on the end of lines), drawling almost-monotone that many poetry readers make the horrible mistake of using.

No.

I read poetry aloud as if each poem is its own story, because this unique version of that story is interesting, new, and not mine. I use the line breaks and punctuation as suggestions to help me go with the poet’s flow. I smile, I laugh, I pause, I taste the words on my tongue.

Try it. You’ll like it!

In her introduction, Le Guin discusses the interdependent relationships among seemingly inanimate objects (whose apparent lack of sentience she and others challenge), places, humans, animals, life events and circumstances with eloquence and grace. As in all of her public writing and speeches, she has a way of turning things around with her verbal kaleidoscope to inspire us to see things from new perspectives with each turn. Her unique points of view become more accessible as one continues to read and ponder her body of work, which I’ve been doing for over forty years (she’s been writing for over 60).

This collection is divided into eight sections: Relations, Contemplations, Messengers, Four Lines, Works, Times, The Old Music and Envoi, but I couldn’t explain them or why some poems are in one but not another section. I was very impressed, though, with her poems about things, especially kitchen objects. Amazing.

Enough of all that explanatory stuff. You can get that elsewhere and any time. Let’s enjoy some of her poems!

I marked pages of this book with pieces of scrap paper so I’d remember which stanzas, poems, titles, lines caught my heart. Here are some, in no particular order. I sometimes annotate or explain. Find your own parts to love and for your own reasons.

Le Guin has many poems rooted (pun intended) in nature, and those in this collection follow that trend. She is also the child of two anthropologists and somewhat of a social and physical scientist herself. I love this opinion she expressed poetically and eloquently, from the introduction to this volume (excerpted from a speech she gave in May, 2014, at a conference that occurred at the University of California/Santa Cruz, “Anthropocene: Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet”), in which she explained her view of the relationship between poetry and science and why we need both:

Science describes accurately from outside, poetry describes accurately from inside. Science explicates, poetry implicates. Both celebrate what they describe. We need the languages of both science and poetry to save us from merely stockpiling endless “information” that fails to inform our ignorance or our irresponsibility.

By replacing unfounded, willful opinion, science can increase moral sensitivity; by demonstrating and performing aesthetic order or beauty, poetry can move minds to the sense of fellowship that prevents careless usage and exploitation of our fellow beings, waste and cruelty. (p. ix)

One of my favorites from this collection, Constellating, situates relationships between people as if between stars:

Constellating
Mind draws the lines between the stars
that let the Eagle and the Swan
fly vast and bright and far
above the dark before the dawn.

Between two solitary minds
as far as Deneb from Altair,
love flings the unimaginable line
that marries fire to fire.

How beautifully she depicts that intangible bond humans create to connect us which is like nothing else, yet she finds the commonality in constellations.

In The Games, Le Guin manages to indicate our views on aging and reflecting on past accomplishments in a perfect metaphor:

The Games
The crowds that cheered me when I took the Gold,
who were they then? Where are they now?
It’s queer to think about. Do they know how
you look at the hurdles, long before you’re old,
and wonder how you ever ran that race?
I’m not sorry, now all’s said and done,
to lie here by myself with nowhere to run,
in quiet, in this immense dark place.

Definition, or, Seeing the Horse is the type of poem about poetry that I usually eschew. But, one stanza from it is so perfect I have to share it, here, because it perfectly captures the limitations of poetry:

Definition, or, Seeing the Horse
from iii. Judith’s Fear of Naming
To define’s not to confine,
words can’t reach so far.
Even the poet’s line can only hold
a moment of the uncontainable.
The horse runs free.

Le Guin has written many essays, books and articles about the art and craft of writing, but never have I read or heard her convey what she feels about being a writer so well as in this poem, My Job. She lyricizes about writing’s being something she first learned as a child (“I started out as a prentice”) and is still learning. My favorite of her sentiments are these:

from My Job
Sometimes the pay is terrible.
Sometimes it’s only fairy gold.
Then again sometimes the wages
are beyond imagination and desire.
I am glad to have worked for this company.

Two poems, side-by-side in this book (which cannot be an accident), show her wonderful deployment of language and imagery: Sea Hallowe’en and Between. In all of her poems, she demonstrates her mastery of many different poetic forms: rhyming and non-rhyming, exploding into free verse and staying within those more formally ruled for meter, line length, repetition and other constraints. She calls herself a “caperer,” in her essay about her poetic choices and learning to write in various forms in her Afterword, meaning, one who moves among all forms and free verse as she wishes. She also writes here about how a form can “give” her a poem. Fascinating stuff. Love to read about her process.

From Between, I especially admire this final couplet:

A winter wind just whispers where
two winter trees stand tense and bare.

And, from Sea Hallowe’en, who can’t love this whimsical phrasing that ends each of the stanzas?

west to the tide rising,
cold, cold and wild.

a ghost on a north wind blowing
wild, wild and cold.

At best, I am a mediocre poet, despite having been published and won poetry prizes at a younger age, having written songs that were performed, and including my poetry in my science-fiction books as if written by its protagonist, Clara (http://www.sallyember.com/Spanners for more information). I make no claims to being an actual poet if Ursula K. Le Guin is an example. I yield and bow to her and many others for entertaining, informing, inspiring and enlivening us with their use of words and images.

She writes and speaks often about the rewards of writing and art and the politics and capitalism that haunt the industry. This poetry collection is ended with a speech she gave on these topics. The final lines are very moving:

I’ve had a long career as a writer, and a good one, in good company. Here at the end of it, I don’t want to watch American literature get sold down the river. We who live by writing and publishing want and should demand our fair share of the proceeds, but the name of our beautiful reward isn’t profit. its name is freedom.

Yes.

Ursula K Le Guin photo
image from her website, photo ©by Marian Wood Kolisch

Thank you, Ursula, for sharing your deep and soulful moments with us all. May your contributions to our literary and emotional landscapes always be known as blessings while you still live and after you die, and may all beings benefit.

Find these poems, this and all her other work here: http://www.ursulakleguin.com


For more information about poetic forms and World Poetry Day:

Poetry adds moments of beauty to our everyday lives, connects our emotions in unique ways, and helps people everywhere express themselves in amazing ways. Poetry of all kinds is definitely something to celebrate, so join us in looking around the world for inspiration. In honor of World Poetry Day, we (The New Rivers Press) wanted to share with you some unique global poetry styles.

Ghazal: an ancient form of poetry dating back to 700 CE in the Arab lands, and later Persia. It is fairly intricate, but contains anywhere from 5 to 15 independent couplets that create a beautiful whole, all with lines of the same length, meter, or syllable count. It is an extremely well-known form in Iran, where the 14th-century Persian writer, Hafez, published his famous ghazal collection, the Divan of Hafez. For examples of ghazals and more detailed information, visit http://poets.org or The Ghazal Page.

Haiku: arguably one of the most well-known types of international poetry forms, this form comes from ancient Japan. It consists of three short lines with five, seven, and five syllables each. The subject of a haiku was originally restricted to nature and the seasons, but that later was opened up to many different subject matters. Some of the most famous Japanese haiku writers include Basho (the “saint of haiku” in Japan), Buson, and Issa. For more in-depth history of the haiku, check out Poetry through the Ages or Encyclopedia Brittanica.

Doha: another ancient form of poetry common in India. It is a 24-syllable couplet, typically in Hindi. The lines are split unevenly, with the first line having 13 syllables and the second having 11 syllables. It was made more famous by such poets as Kabir and Nanak at the end of the 15th century and beginning of the 16th century, as well as Goswami Tulsidas, whose work, Ramcharitmanas, is still famous among Hindus across northern India. To find out more about this and many other poetry forms, explore the book A Poet’s Glossary, by Edward Hirsch.
from The New Rivers Press‘ newsletter, Riverine, Volume 3, Issue 7, http://www.newriverspress.com/

Also, the Poetry Foundation has a great website and mobile phone app that can put almost any poem and poet right into your hands any time: http://www.poetryfoundation.org They also put out Poetry Magazine and a poetry podcast.

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The #Freedom to Die without Regret: Post for #RaveReviewsBookClub #Blog #Recruitment Day

What will you do today to be able to end your life at the uncertain time of your death with as little regret as possible? The freedom to die without regret is the aim of many meditators and those with spiritual practices of other types. I have been living a better life, striving to be a better person, doing meditation practice intensively for many decades as part of my “live-and-die-without-regret” plan.

One day last fall, I walked through my neighborhood in northern California in a new direction, on streets I hadn’t walked before. There was a wide variety of landscaping, from untended dirt piles (for what purpose?) to blooming plants, featuring some very large, standing roses bushes all in a line. The dwellings ranged from assisted living, small buildings with apartments, and tinier cottages than mine to large homes and a few of what I’m sure were mansions when they were built in the early 1900s. To my eye, this “neighborhood” contained a haphazard mix of land use and varied conditions of the habitations.

mansion with ponds

Mansions’ grounds looked something like this. image from betterdecoratingbible.com

I lingered in front of the beautiful fountains and shrubbery of one of the mansions, moved on to adore two little landscaped ponds and wondered what inspired their creation. I then went to sit in the neighborhood park on this beautiful fall day.

The combination of the 70-degree temperature, the bright sun, the park’s peacefulness, the sweet-smelling breezes, the cloudless skies, my own independence and freedom (having recently been laid off), created a “perfection moment.” Into this scene walked two more people.

A girl of about four pranced in and began to play with her “papi” (a Spanish term for “father,” but is used for almost any older male relative or even one’s boyfriend or husband; he appeared to be her grandfather). Papi had carried in a large bubble wand and jar of bubble mixture. Their game involved his dipping the wand and waving it to let the bubbles flow toward her in the light breeze. She would then shriek in delight and leap, run, stretch high, crouch and kick to get the bubbles within her reach to pop them.

She buzzed around the playground, laughing and calling out, “Papi! Papi!” with joy each time she popped a rainbow bubble. He laughed with her delight and kept sending them to her. At one point, his enthusiasm and the breeze conspired to put the bubbles a bit ahead of her, coming too fast and out of her reach.

bubbles

image from http://www.designdazzle.com

Indignant and out of breath, she went over to him, stomped her foot, put her hands at her hips (in her best imitation of her mom?) and said, “Papi! Wait for me to come to you!”

“Oh, yes, of course, mi Princesa!” he replied, bowing, and did as she asked.

Satisfied, she resumed her annihilating spree with vigor.

Life sometimes is just like that: everything is beautiful, within reach, delightful, fun and able to be changed at our command. As humans, especially many who are living in relative peace, many of us live long lives, replete with splendor and abundance of all that we could possibly desire.

Yet, our lives, as any, are actually just rainbow bubbles, able to be burst at any time by another’s actions, or the breezes, or by striking an object, or just by our coming to the ends of our bubble existences: POP and life is over, royal or not.

Then, unlike a bubble, which seems to be free of self-reflection, we know we just died. Some of us die slowly, having time to contemplate our lives and deaths as we die; that’s part of our existence. A few of us have long, self-recriminating death throes that go on and on, all the way until we land in our next incarnation or experience whatever we believe is “next.”

Our death-bed remorse and self-castigations are for naught: no matter how many ways we imagine we could have done things differently, as we lay dying, it’s too late. Regrets are not what we want to be left with when we die.

Many spiritual teachers often say that the best departure any human can hope for is to die without regret. How many of us could die today without regret? Do you have that freedom?

no_regrets medallion

image from http://www.chfi.com/

Some ways to reduce regrets (add your own): Spend more time with loved ones. Finish that project. Offer apologies. Go on a vacation. Appreciate, love, thank people, repeatedly, for their presence in your lives, out loud, to their faces, and/or write thank-you letters. Give to charities. Take that chance. Share your possessions, time, other resources. Tell stories. Learn another language. Play music. Make art. Dance. Sing. Read. WRITE. Ask for others’ stories. Donate land, restore something, fix things. Organize your papers. Toss embarrassing “evidence” NOW.

If you become incapacitated, have you designated someone to have financial/legal Power of Attorney, a Health Care Power of Attorney? Do you have a Living Will that includes a declaration of intent when “heroic measures” are indicated? What about a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) order? Who knows where all these papers are located?

Who is your “executor”? That is a role EVERYONE needs to have filled, not just those with a lot of money or property.

For those left behind: Write a Will and have it witnessed and notarized. Sort through and discard things so your friends and relatives won’t have to do that. Designate who gets what, clearly.

Plan for your death: what about your body’s disposal or burial (organ donor? cremation?). Your funeral? Do you have or need to purchase a burial plot? Are your death expenses covered? What ceremonies do you want and to whom have you described them? Has the music been chosen? The guest list provided?

Something to aim for: the freedom of dying without regret. And, since we do not know the time, manner or date of our death, start NOW on that course.

What will you do today to be able to end your life at the uncertain time of your death with as little regret as possible? I encourage you to do that. And more tomorrow. That is freedom.

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Today’s post, on the theme of “Freedom,” is part of a the Rave Reviews Book Club’s July Blog Hop. Please click on this link and VOTE on my post if you like it best. Go read some others, too!

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Another Friend’s Death: Mortality in Daily Life

We #Buddhists contemplate, study, meditate on and live with #impermanence more than non-Buddhists, for the most part. We do not, therefore, feel as much surprise, shock, dismay, or indignation when relationships end, jobs evaporate, housing changes, animals and people die: that is the nature of impermanence, which we all live with every day. Mortality in daily life is commonplace.

However, that doesn’t mean we do not mourn. We feel sad, we grieve, we suffer personal or professional losses, same as anyone. We’re just not surprised. We don’t ask “why me?” or “why her?”

I lost another long-time friend, Cynthia Toth, a former housemate who is a Buddhist vajra sister this week. I say “another” because she is not the first and she will not be the last. But, she is my age. Somehow, when someone dies who is a peer, it feels “closer to home” in every way. Also, we had lived together in a Buddhist community household for almost a year, which literally brings this loss closer to my own home.

Cyn had been suffering from the aftereffects of ovarian cancer for several years and it actually surprised me that she lived as long as she did. Most with that diagnosis do not survive that long nor live as well as she did for the years they do have left. I admire Cynthia’s courage, applaud her support network and health care providers, and am glad she had that “extra” time because I know she used it well, in service and kindness to others.

This post is not an obituary for her (I am not qualified nor moved to write one), nor even an homage. More, I want to recognize our commonality: everyone dies. One way or another, “early” or after a long life, we all leave our physical bodies.

I have come close to death many times, due to accidents, illness and surgeries. At some point, that closeness will veer over the line into actuality and I, too, will die. Since I am almost 60, no one can say that I would have died “young,” regardless of when I die from now on. But, the older one gets, the “younger” every decade seems or sounds.

When we’re teenagers, being in one’s twenties seems “old” and anyone over forty seems “elderly.” Once in our twenties, we revise that to include people in their forties seeming “middle-aged” and those over sixty seeming “elderly.”

Now, sometimes people in their eighties don’t seem so old to me; dying in one’s nineties can seem “too soon” in some cases. When is anyone “ready” to die if they’re not in pain, not suffering, not alone? Even those who do suffer hang on, as if death were a consequence to be avoided.

The language we use to talk about one’s journey to death is so inappropriate, from my perspective: people talk about the dead person having “lost the battle” when death comes from cancer or other illness; many say a person has been “robbed” or had a life that has been “cut short” when the person was murdered or died from an accident. Even when someone dies of “old age” many talk about how we “lost them too soon,” as if remaining alive well into one’s 90s means we’re “found.” People talk about “cheating death,” “escaping death,” and mortality rates.

My favorite is the epidemiologist who tells us that the incidence of death has increased or decreased due to lifestyle or medicinal interventions or changes, ignoring the fact that everyone dies, which makes the incidence of death 100%, for everyone.

I am not hard-hearted: I cried when I learned of Cynthia’s death….and Russell’s and Jaye’s and Joan’s and Mary’s and Bob’s and Susan’s and Martha’s and Rinpoche’s and my father’s and my grandparents’ and Marcia’s and and and and so many others. I miss them. I wish some of them hadn’t died “so soon,” but I know some of them were suffering, which made their deaths a relief.

I cry, but I am not shocked or surprised. I celebrate their lives and am glad to have known them.

Thank you, Cynthia, for being in my life for a few years and all the ways you were of benefit to so many. I wish you well in your journey to your next incarnation. Maybe we’ll get together again some time.

Thanks, Candace Palmo, for posting this photo of Cynthia from your travels last year. Cynthia is on the left.

Cynthia and Candy 2012