nan lundeen

taking my own advice

grazing laying down cowI blog and write columns about writing and facilitate writing workshops. I’ve been polishing my handbook, Moo of Writing: How to Milk Your Potential, for months. The whole schmear sort of takes on a life of its own. It’s as if advice about the craft becomes what I do rather than actually writing. I’m in two critique groups, but they’ve already critiqued my handbook chapter by chapter; I haven’t brought them anything new. An agent query letter and a book proposal squirm around in my brain trying to materialize, irritating me.

So, it is with delight when I rediscover that Moo of Writing actually works.

The back of my mind carries a goal to write more poems for a collection, “Black Dirt Days,” about life on an Iowa farm where I grew up. But I was just moodling on a warm, sunny morning this week, when I hit the track for my walk. A man on a big riding mower was cutting the old football field in the center. First, I noticed the roar of the machine. It reminded me of noisy machines on the farm. Almost simultaneously, the smell of grass tickled my nose. It’s quite similar to the smell of alfalfa, which carried me on its wings straight back to hay-making time when I was a kid. As I walked, I heard a new poem in my head, line by line. I kept walking, and when I was finished, drove home, not listening to the radio, not listening to a phone message, not pouring cereal into a bowl. Instead, heading for my laptop and getting it down.

Wow! Moo of Writing really works, I thought.

Important to moodle, to get some fresh air and exercise, to let the mind lie fallow and not “try” to write. The words are there. They will come.

Have you moodled creatively? Would you like to? Please register on our site and comment. We’d love to hear from you, and we promise not to share your email address.

 

 

the moo of boo hoo

 

Dawn by Nan Lundeen
Dawn by Nan Lundeen

Silly title of this entry aside, I want to blog today about writing when you feel blue, when you’re down. It’s “when I’m weary of considerations;” it’s when “one eye is weeping/From a twig’s having lashed across it open,” as Robert Frost so brilliantly writes in his poem, “Birches.”

Last week, I wrote that when you free your creative process you will delight in the debut of stories you’ll find hidden inside.

Your stories will delight, but they may not all be happy. At times, pain or grief will surface. When that happens, should you cast those stories out because they risk bringing somebody down with you? I think not. I can’t tell you how many times Frost’s poem has brought me comfort. Frost balances the poem with the fun and risk of swinging on birches and with his choice to live. But it’s his five lines expressing the down-and-out feelings we’ve all had that I remember the best.

Consider the tenderness in Theodore Roethke’s “Elegy for Jane,” a student of his who was killed by a fall from her horse. He speaks of her: “the neckcurls, limp and damp as tendrils;/ and her quick look, the sidelong pickerel smile.”

Contemporary poet J. Stephen Rhodes shares inspired work in his book of poems, The Time I Didn’t Know What To Do Next. Some of his poems address his daughter’s suicide. I was honored to share a podium with him at a reading in Greenville, South Carolina. His work expressed the hard edge of grief tempered by grace.

I grappled for words when we laid to rest a grandbaby who never had a chance at life. It was a bitter winter’s day, and our hearts felt as cold as the sleet stinging the open grave. Some time later words came to me in the form of a poem I wrote, “Digging for Mercy,” published by The Petigru Review. I share the last stanza of that poem with you here:

 

Grace, grant us wisdom

to wrench open our hearts

lest mercy meet a closed door.

 

Brenda Ueland, a 20th-century writing guru, said, “Writing is not a performance but a generosity.”

I agree. When you include grief or pain in what you share with others, you may be giving expression to something that another person cannot. You may be giving voice to pain. And that can be healing.

What are your thoughts? We welcome your comments. Please register and share your ideas. We promise we won’t share your email address.

 

the mu of moo

grazing laying down cowThe creative process has long bragged of a tint of magic, and indeed, it sometimes does feel that way. A eureka sentence or two appears on the page or a new character shimmies into your writing space and voila! Magic, right?

Maybe, sort of. And if you want to believe that, go for it! But although wise folk have suspected as much for a long time, neuroscientists are reaffirming one of the paths to creativity—relaxation. When brain waves slow to an alpha state as opposed to a busy, busy, busy, firing-away beta state, wonderful associations emerge from our subconscious.

Like the cow, the writer ruminates. The writer takes in the fodder of life and digests it in the subconscious. There it lies waiting for release. When the writer relaxes, words flow.

Here’s something I was delighted to discover: Cows are Zen masters. They’ve been known to utter the sound that is spelled mu rather than moo.

Mu is a Zen koan. A koan is a paradox that Buddhist monks meditate on. They hope the process will lead to intuitive enlightenment. When writing, you can choose to relax and produce. Mu (or Moo) is about stepping aside so that your creative spark has a free connection to the page. It’s about staying out of your way and finding your way. Free your creativity, and you will delight in the debut of stories you’ll discover hidden inside.

Happy writing!

Nan

www.nanlundeen.com

from a column first published at femalefirst.co.uk.

 

 

do i have to wear pantyhose?

Click to watch Nan read this poem.

by: Nan Lundeen

They look down their noses and ask if I will
sit on the committee,
make a presentation,
take a job with the corporation.

And I want to know—
do I have to wear pantyhose?

They ask if I will teach a class,
speak to the congregation,
accept a most officious task,
and sit on yet another committee.

And I want to know—
do I have to wear pantyhose?

They ask if I will host the symposium,
teach the workshop,
sing for disadvantaged tots,
and sit on yet another committee.

And I want to know—
do I have to wear pantyhose?

They ask if I will witness the execution,
provide them with locution,
marry the candlestick maker in the finest clothes,
listen while the many unburden their woes.

And I want to know—
do I have to wear pantyhose?

Oh, give me your bare legged,
your grandmother in tennis shoes,
your gardener in old boots
your hikers
your wanderers
your dreamers
the barefooted—
grass and chicken shit
between their toes—
but do not,
oh, do not
give me pantyhose!

 
Buy Nan Lundeen’s powerful collection of poems about strong women who rip off their pantyhose, celebrate the “tao of me dancing round the poplar tree,” and find redemption in a little red bra at Amazon.com.

 

crate

Robert’s Dairy
Omaha, Nebraska
Misuse Punishable by Law

 
What’s the deal here?
An old, red plastic crate
announces it will not be misused
or the misuser shall go straight to
jail.
 
Maybe pay a fine, I think.
 
What is misuse of a red, plastic crate?
 
Does jurisprudence have
an opinion on red plastic crates?
What is the crate canon?
 
Let us apply reason:
the crate was meant only for milk
and other use constitutes misuse.
 
Now I’m worried and confused—
what about cream and cottage cheese?
My God, what about yogurt?
Does feta step over the line?
 
I strongly suspect
my scribbled poems
and ideas smudged on the backs of napkins
are violations.
 
That sets me to worrying
about the crate police.
Will they knock on my door
in the middle of the night armed with a warrant?
  
Do they have a right to search?
What constitutes probable cause?
I suspect being a poet
is cause enough.
 
But surely this is paranoia
and what counts
is that I have always been
kind to the crate
although once I made it carry a cactus.
 
……….Nan Lundeen
 
The poet is grateful to SCWW’s Horizons 2002 where “Crate” was named best of issue for poetry.

 

birches

Not big on religion
I’m resting in poetry.
 
When D.’s dad lay dying
she read Robert
Frost to him
 
and grand white wings answered
swinging from their
own birches.
 
……………..Nan Lundeen
 
The Poet is grateful to Yemassee where “Birches” first appeared.
 

 

companion

My little dog
keeps me company
while I brush my teeth.
Nobody else I know
will do that.
 
…….Nan Lundeen
 
The poet is grateful to Iowa Writes where “Companion” first appeared.

 

last mother

Anasazi Mother,
 
at home among
prickly pear
sagebrush
lizard
 
did you sing to Moon?
 
Anasazi Mother,
 
boulder jumble
sandy canyon
coyote yip
burr of wasp
 
did snake speak to you?
 
Anasazi Mother,
 
spires spearing dry sky
pockmarked rock
cruel sun
red rock nest
 
did you dream of cool caves?
 
Anasazi Mother,
 
some say when a new shaman’s hand
rests in a petroglyph handprint,
the shamans gone before
fill her with their spirits
 
what rock-locked wisdom do we need?
 
Anasazi Mother,
 
what knowledge lies buried
with your ancestors
under your kitchen floor?
 
Anasazi Mother,
 
when your hands failed
did you still yearn
to imprint sun-seared boulders?
when your lips burned
and your tongue swelled
did you keen at the water hole?
 
when your hearing failed
did you mourn
buzz of bee, wind stirring ricegrass?
 
when your heart failed
did you still struggle to ask Moon
why the rains no longer blessed the land
and all your children died?
 
……..Nan Lundeen
Valley of Fire, Nevada
 
The poet is grateful to The Petigru Review where “Last Mother” first appeared.

 

falling into night

day wanes
slowly in Saluda
sunlight sifts air
feathers whisper
under pale lit sky
hammock becalmed
swims butterflies
 
river over rock
river over rock
 
there
 
light fades
 
tin roof glinting
trilling chameleon tail
now you see it
now you don’t
 
river over rock
river over rock
 
woods full under half moon
sliced cleaver straight
like gram cut her pumpkin pie
this world
 
the other world
 
glimpsed like fairy feet
moon cool dips frog pond
whippoorwill song
light falling into tomorrow
 
river over rock
river over rock
 
they read the tarot
that afternoon
at Betsy’s kitchen table
two friends
 
listen
 
hear that
 
baby birds
those are baby birds
 
river over rock
river over rock
 
white half moon
pale in the gloaming
 
wings flapping
owl over road
swooping low
 
river over rock
river over rock
 
cottage side yard
meadowlike
cupped in woods
 
there
 
it falls
 
the dark
 
and the lawn
fills with fireflies
fat bright fireflies
 
blink
 
blink
 
blink
and over there
 
more
 
river over rock
river over rock
 
moon bright now against black
 
owl
moon
alone
 
but for the black bear
napping in day lilies
 
river over rock
river over rock
river over rock
river over rock
 
………………Nan Lundeen
 
The poet is grateful to the College of Charleston’s Illuminations where “falling into night” first appeared.
 

 

poetry we can understand

by: Nan Lundeen

For you, what is good poetry? Our educational system lumps poets together much as we lump music by style into jazz, blues, country. So, with poems. For instance, we have the beats, we have the lyrical, the confessional, we have the metaphysical, we have contemporary (whatever that is), and those who wouldn’t touch a poem with a sidelong glance, stick poetry into one category: unfathomable.

“I don’t get it,” they say. Well, there’s a lot to “not get” among the poets, but for me, there’s also beauty, sustenance, and nurturance for the soul.

My friend Jenny Munro recently heard North Carolina Poet Laureate Joseph Bathanti read and liked him so much she bought his book, partly because his poetry was understandable. In the past, she hadn’t cared for poetry because it baffled her.

I am a fan of understandable poets. Sharon Olds took the 2013 Pulitzer for her book, Stag’s Leap. Her work shows us that brilliant talent need not be opaque. Instead, talent can glow like a wild animal’s eyes in black woods.

Olds writes a painfully personal book about the loss of her husband of 32 years through divorce. She excels at writing about the body, yet it is adeptly woven with meaning beyond the physical, clear yet fully nuanced with layers of meaning. I looked for a line or two to quote for you so that you could see what I mean, and the brilliance became even more evident to me because I could not choose a line or two, could not even choose the title of a poem or two, because the poems are whole, of one cloth, and the book is whole, a cloth trailing love, its celebration, its blessings, its loss.

Poets who are brilliant and understandable abound, my fellow writers, and I rejoice to find them. Maxine Kumin moves me with her work’s stark beauty. Mary Oliver’s every poem astounds because she sees nature anew from her own, surprising perspective. Billy Collins presents everyday life in a simple and profound way. And Maya Angelou—who could not be uplifted by her spirit.

Some splendid poetry sticks in the brain like cockleburs used to stick to my father’s overalls. I heard Anne Sexton, one of the confessional poets of the 1960s, read at Western Michigan University. I cannot forget her lines about her daughter in which she refers to her as a stringbean. I’ve written poems for my daughter, but have never written anything to touch the immortality of Sexton’s lines about her little girl.

Writing your own stuff can lock you into a sort of groove—a lock step approach that’s difficult to break. Some days, writing feels like slogging through a bog, when what I want to do is ride up and down on a teeter-totter with a new author in a new (for me) genre.

Discovering poets that appeal to you can give you that joyful, teeter-tottering gift.

Happy writing!

Nan Lundeen

www.nanlundeen.com

this column first appeared in the SCWW Quill

the value of the herd

At an Authors & Artisans Fair yesterday at the Greenville Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, the value of community came home to me in a forceful way. Oh, yes, it was fun to read my poems to an audience–eight folks, some of whom were good friends who ran a half marathon the day before & yet struggled out of bed to come hear me read–and some folks I didn’t know. It was fun to sell a few books, but the true value of the afternoon for me was hanging out with colleagues, friends and new friends who write & who make cool stuff such as jewelry & cards & paintings. There was even a guy who hand crafts ukuleles! I value the writer within, and sometimes she needs to come out & kick up her heels with other creative folk.

about moo of writing

standing cowMy writing friends and I marvel at pasture-fed dairy cows because they relax, chew their cud, and produce as many as five gallons of milk every day. Do you feel as if you have to be uptight all the time to be productive? Gradually, I’ve learned that when I relax, creativity flows. I love the concept so much, I want to share it. I facilitate Moo of Writing workshops and wrote a handbook, which is only a cow’s eyelash away from completion, called Moo of Writing: How to Milk Your Potential. When we emulate our friends, the ruminants, creativity flows. Artwork ©Cynthia Morgan.