Actually, my favorite poets write poems I understand. I may not catch all the nuances, but the Pulitzer has been given to understandable poets despite the misconception on the part of some folks that all poetry is difficult. Read my column “poetry we can understand” here.
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.
this column first appeared in the SCWW Quill
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.
Can you will yourself to have great writing ideas? What’s your source of inspiration? I’ve found that good ideas meander in when they feel welcome. That means not trying hard. To provide a comfortable environment and encourage writing to flow, I practice meditation, yoga and walking outdoors with my yellow Lab, Jack.
My 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.
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Read our “green pastures for artists and writers” entry here.
We are building a community of artists and writers who practice a creative process based on relaxation. We find that deep breathing, relaxing exercise, such as yoga or walking outdoors, free writing, and meditation beckon artistic expressions in words and images from our unconscious minds onto the page. We welcome your ideas and your creative pursuits. This is a place of sharing, a place to honor ourselves and each other with offerings of the heart.
“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 phrase or a question that leads to contemplation. In writing, you relax and you work hard. Mu invites you to step aside and get out of your own way. When you stay out of your way, you find your way.”
— Nan Lundeen, Moo of Writing: How to Milk Your Potential, www.nanlundeen.com
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