Thursday, January 26, 2017

Learning to write poetry from the masters

Early morning. The sun gives the horizon a tentative kiss. I shuffle in pink moccasins to the kitchen to prepare 8 ounces of honey and lemon water to hydrate and soothe my parched soul. After a few minutes of meditation in the silver gray solitude of this new day I turn on the light to read.

I am often in the process of reading several books at once but divine dawn is reserved for poetry, or poetry related books, or inspirational reading that centers me and reminds me to be mindful of each glorious moment of my life.

This precious morning I cozied up to the following books.


The first book was Mary Oliver's new collection of essays. "Upstream." Oliver is my poetic idol. Her knowledge and experience with nature in all its beauty and destruction is unparalleled. She describes flora, fauna and experience in intimate details, images that shock and surprise the reader. And she takes those details and connects them to a larger universal connection that exists among all life whether we acknowledge it or not. She makes me gasp. She makes me pick up my pen and journal to write my own thoughts or to copy down lines from her poems or essays I don't ever want to forget. Reading Oliver is a gift I give myself, ever grateful for the magic of her thoughts and words.


The second book I read this morning is one of a pair I just discovered while perusing amazon.com. "How to Read a Poem" and "How to Write a Poem" by Tania Runyon. I was attracted to these books because they are based on Billy Collins' poem "Introduction to Poetry." Collins is one of my other favorite poets and I love the poem so I ordered the books straight away and was not disappointed. Runyon offers several facets of a poem to explore, each based on a verse from the Collins poem. She then sets the reader a series of questions to ask about a poem based on that verse and gives you several poems to practice the process. The poems are wonderful and turn the book into an annotated anthology that enlightens the reader of poetry. So far I am enjoying the first book and look forward to seeing what she has to say about writing poems. 

I love finding new books of poetry or books about poetry that inspire me and help me learn. Perhaps one day some reader or poet will open one of my books and become inspired too.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Art and Poetry as Spiritual Practice

I grew up with no religious training or spiritual practices. Holidays like Christmas and Easter were celebrated because they were fun and were reasons to bring family together for good food, laughter and card games. I didn't attend church or synagogue except for rare transitional events like weddings or funerals. I grew up fine but always with the feeling that something was missing.

Over the years I tested a few religions, tried them on to see if they fit but they required too many alterations to be the right style. I had been told so many times that religion was silly, or wrong, or so much nonsense that I just couldn't find one to suit my needs. And yet, I kept searching for a spiritual practice that would make me feel complete.

I tried yoga, tried to learn meditation and Buddhism, and even spent a weekend at an ashram with a friend to see if there was anything there that could become my spiritual practice.

Over the years yoga and meditation gave me some peace of mind and an excuse to enter the solitude and silence I so desperately require in every day. But it didn't seem enough. And then I discovered something. As a child I had a spiritual practice but didn't know that's what it was. I had poetry and nature and art. I would lie in the cool morning grass of summer and watch the clouds roll by. I would observe the plants turning green in the spring and flowers exploding in an unbelievable variety of colors and shapes. At some subconscious level I must have absorbed all of nature for being the miracle that it is. Mother Nature was my goddess but I didn't name her as such until well into midlife.

Slowly I came back to my childhood passions. First it was poetry--reading and writing poems became my expression of spirituality. A connection to emotions and thoughts that sleep beneath the heart and are difficult to recognize and arouse until I spent many quiet mornings sinking into the rhythm and meaning of poems or watching my own feelings sprawl across the white page in waves of blue or purple ink. 

In later years I discovered I still had a passion for art. I started out scrapbooking then moved on to collage, art journaling, mixed media and painting. I learned techniques through online classes, books and magazines. And finally I had a spiritual practice I could relate too.

Ultimately I needed a way to combine these two creative modes of expression. And though I'm not quite there in a consistent way I started this blog in the hopes I could develop a daily practice of art that incorporated my own poems--or lines from poems by poets I love like David Whyte, Mary Oliver and Mark Nepo.

Here are two samples of my attempts at adding my own poems to my art work.



I'm trying to develop an artistic style that will work and can be consistent so people will recognize the art as mine. I have long since refined my poetic voice and I believe it's fairly recognizable to those familiar with my work. This is definitely an ongoing project but it has become my spiritual practice and I am grateful for that.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

It's raining here in southern California and I hear that's unusual but since we just moved to the west coast a few months ago I have nothing to compare it to. So I am taking advantage of this gray Sunday to formulate my plans for blogging.

I had considered starting a whole new blog based only on poetry and calling myself the Zen Poet but that presented a few problems. First of all I would lose all the art I've posted here and second it would limit what I could include. So I've decided to stick with this blog because I can write about poetry and art and just sort of follow my heart. I hope to have more informative posts and to blog more frequently.

Today's post is about stepping out of my comfort zone in relation to art. I typically have a simple style with soft colors or neutrals and not too many layers on my pages. Doing many layers in one piece just never appealed to me. But I began taking some online courses with Mimi Bondi, an Australia based artist whose book "No Shenanigans" inspired me to get creatively uncomfortable. There are e-classes that match each chapter of the book and Mimi is an amazing teacher. Her free youtube videos are amazing and very accessible and I recommend them.



These are two new journal pages that I created with guidance and inspiration from Mimi. I'm not totally pleased with them but I am pleased with the stretch I made to work in new ways with paint and ideas. I even managed to let my fingers do the painting and get pretty messy in the process!

I encourage you all to step outside of your comfort zone and create something using new materials or techniques and if you have't made an art journal page or painted the way you did when you were a child I certainly encourage you to try it out. It's lots of fun and it makes a rainy Sunday brighter and more colorful.