noun. 1. (surveying) a point to which a foresight and backsight are taken in levelling; turning point.
"Two worlds from a change point in history," he elaborated, noting her look of puzzlement. "One stemming from one decision, another from the alternate."
Key Out of Time, Andre Alice Norton
We change or are left behind. We hear this our entire lives, change is good, change is positive. I will add that change is often difficult. Are we allowed to admit this in our culture? Well, I’m saying it. Change is sometimes hard as hell. When you feel the familiar ground shift beneath your feet, of course you’ll reach for security, for the known. That is survival.
In poetry we are already in a niche that most of the world ignores. To break it down to hobbyists and academics, to those who dabble and those who take a paycheck . . . it is only natural. That’s what we do. We compartmentalize and judge and demand that there is a pecking order. And when something shifts, we hold onto what works for us.
This is not a complaint, this is about letting go of the past. About accepting change. It is about looking forward and backward at the same time, which is supposedly an impossibility.
Millennial poets are in a different world than the rest of us. Everything is immediate. I should not have been surprised to find an ad for a new book of poetry by a young poet, nor that her book was on the shelf at a local bookstore. I intended to buy the book, but when I thumbed through it, was disappointed over the poems’ abject simplicity. I put the book back on the shelf and tumbled down the rabbit hole of questioning myself.
maybe they are good poems and I am out of sync with this new run of poetry
maybe I am being extra-critical
maybe my recent rejection is coloring my viewpoint
maybe I'm jealous of her success
I’ve slept on it. I’ve looked the poetry up online. And I’m still unmoved by these poems. But I’m not 20 and I’m not in the middle of defining myself. This poet is vibrant, totally engaged, and she is sharing her work on Instagram and Tumblr with thousands of followers who are quoting her and tattooing her words onto their bodies.
This is a change point in literature. A pivot. An awakening. At least for me.
This is the change I’m struggling with: the shift from the long development of craft to the immediacy of publication. I saw it coming when I could suddenly post my work online, when I could bypass editors and critics with my personal website. When I could self-publish.
I both feared and welcomed the change.
I welcomed the open-endedness because I believe everyone should write poetry. I don’t believe it’s for the few. l still cautioned new poets to read and study the poets that came before them, and to thoughtfully develop their craft. I have always told poets that it takes ten years to develop craft, to speak with a unique voice. I stand by that assessment and I challenge poets, myself included, to hesitate before sending a poem into the world. Give it time to grow into the best poem it can possibly be.
Be critical of your own work. Loving toward it, but critical.
I am not sure if craft matters to poets and readers as much as content anymore. If we can have hundreds of “friends” and still be lonely, if we can tell someone an awful truth and push send before we’ve considered the consequences, then of course contemporary poetry is going to be passionate and immediate and less contemplative. It is going to burst onto the page or Instagram without hesitancy.
I’m heading to the bookstore to buy that book. I’m going to read it from front to back as my husband drives us toward Oregon . . . and maybe, just maybe I’m going to appreciate what I missed the first time around. Even if I am not moved, I will listen to this particular voice, and I will give it the attention it deserves.
Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depth of your heart; confess to yourself you would have to die if you were forbidden to write.
― Rainer Maria Rilke
The World Has Need of You | Ellen Bass
everything here seems to need us . . . —Rilke
I can hardly imagine it
as I walk to the lighthouse, feeling the ancient
prayer of my arms swinging
in counterpoint to my feet.
Here I am, suspended
between the sidewalk and twilight,
the sky dimming so fast it seems alive.
What if you felt the invisible
tug between you and everything?
A boy on a bicycle rides by,
his white shirt open, flaring
behind him like wings.
It’s a hard time to be human. We know too much
and too little. Does the breeze need us?
The cliffs? The gulls?
If you’ve managed to do one good thing,
the ocean doesn’t care.
But when Newton’s apple fell toward the earth,
the earth, ever so slightly, fell
toward the apple as well.
I am writing this as our first “winter” storm rolls toward Denver. I wanted this colder weather, complained all summer and into fall about the too-high temperatures. Yesterday the high was 80 degrees. Today’s predicted high is 39.
This sudden drop in temperature reminds me of my current life, how I operate on a consistent plain until something unexpected interrupts my plans and I have to quickly adapt. Unexpected annoyances and unexpected losses, and everything in-between, have tested my ability to adapt the past several months.
There are times in my life when I’ve been near-breaking before I adapted. I fear I’ve recently also flat-out failed at adaptation.
A good example of this is this last issue of Tiger’s Eye. I have spent far too long getting it out into the world. Not out of laziness or inability; it has been a combination of events and personal set-backs. Now it is finally with our printer for the final proof, and should be ordered by the end of the month. I can live with a Christmas release. Our readers who mailed poetry so very long ago, are most likely wary they’ll ever see their work in print.
My lack of adaptation is in part a grieving. I have lost my best friend to a move neither of us anticipated. I have lost my own thread as a writer. And the work of supporting other poets became a weight I didn’t want to lift. I admit this, because the journal is finished, beautiful and nearly ready to mail to our readers. I admit it as you deserve to know that I was swimming upstream for a very long time, treading water, and I feel I’ve finally grabbed a Styrofoam ring and am paddling downstream once again. I have rejoined the living, breathing world of poetry.
Unexpectedly, my wandering in the desert of ennui has brought new people into my life, ones who understood because they too have been broken and changed by either health scares or job losses or unexpected life changes. A new friend, who I met in the most serendipitous way, makes jewelry. I have watched this woman create the most unusual and desirable pieces. That she refuses to do Etsy or eBay or any “E” commerce thrills me. She won’t get a PayPal account and she won’t accept credit cards. I absolutely love her attitude.
That attitude is also my own. We fought off the desire to make our press bigger, and we have continued printing what we want to print. Sometimes the reasons weren’t apparent to our readers, maybe we were too eclectic, a sweet sonnet next to a rangy rant. Thank God JoAn knew how to pair the poems, creating a seamless read for anyone who reads the journal from front to back. She suffered over which poems belonged next to each other, as if it was Match.com and she had to be sure they’d live happily ever after. They usually did . . .
The reality of this life, from prokaryotes to warm-blooded lumbering humans, is that nothing is static, we are in constant motion. Those of us with the ability to reason are making decisions and judgments continually. Just when we believe we’ve got it figured out, whoosh! Our work is always affected by these unexpected changes, and some of us continue writing and publishing and some of us go underground. There is no shame in going underground. But hopefully we come back up for air.
The other day my husband was driving and my mind was poetically wandering, a different name for daydreaming . . . and to our right was my dream car, a new Range Rover. But instead of the usual thought, I’ll never have one of those babies, I was washed in dread and aversion. The car was on the back of a flatbed truck, and it was nearly folded in half. I have been in accidents, I have had to give up cars due to their being beyond repair, but this was so jarring I kept looking away. I knew, just knew, that someone had just died in that car. I thought of their spouse or whoever answered the phone or the door . . . how they had plans for dinner or had tickets to see Dr. Strange that night. Maybe they had children in the car with them. I had to stop even considering that possibility, as I had passed my ability to see the entire picture without getting ill.
We are overwhelmed frequently. The tumultuous election, 20 months leading up to it, and now the hope or fear being announced on every radio and television station, every internet blog. We are a nation of beings overwhelmed by social media and speed. Those of us in big cities know the price paid for participation is high. If you hesitate, if you speed up too much to cut someone off, if you’re tweeting instead of driving, you can be folded into your car.
You can be folded into your own life.
As poets, as writers, we attempt to capture moments, we hope to stall a feeling or an image, that catch in the throat when someone tells us they don’t have time for us, that red sand spire in the desert that shouldn’t be able to sit atop a smaller rock without toppling. We are reporters of a different sort. If we have mastered our craft, we can offer an opinion within a question. Never, never should we become didactic by implying or outright saying, This is the way it is. We can speak for the collective, be a universal spokesperson only if we do so with particularity.
My apologies for the late tiger, and for any slow or lack of response on my part. The transition to part-time publishing has been painful. To those of you who know JoAn and I, and Mary Jo, you know we have high standards and have only wished to serve our poets. In the months and years ahead I hope to continue that tradition, printing our Infinities series and an occasional chapbook. But yes, the speed of life had affected my own vision, giving me a major hurtle to jump, and finally a renewed commitment to you, our poet.
We cannot tell what lies ahead, or what our lives will look like next week or next year, but we must offer our best work, our kindest words and our staunchest support to the small circle of people who populate our lives. And if we are very lucky, we may even influence others beyond our sphere with our words. In the middle of the chaos of our lives, the uncertainties, the losses, there is a certain joy in knowing other poets and readers are out there anxious for the news only we can deliver.
And that the world has need of each of us.
Each of us.
A thinking woman sleeps with monsters.
In answer to the question “Does poetry play a role in social change?,” Adrienne Rich once answered:
Yes, where poetry is liberative language, connecting the fragments within us, connecting us to others like and unlike ourselves, replenishing our desire. . . . In poetry words can say more than they mean and mean more than they say. In a time of frontal assaults both on language and on human solidarity, poetry can remind us of all we are in danger of losing—disturb us, embolden us out of resignation.
The New Yorker, Claudia Rankine, May 12, 2016
I met Adrienne Rich only briefly at a community college poetry reading, and what I saw in her eyes was pure intelligence, she didn’t miss a thing. As a writer, she also didn't miss a thing.
As I read through Rich’s newly published collected works, I recognize that Rich was not only an iconic poet, she was an iconic truth-teller. Her writing didn’t stop at the edge and fade into nothingness, she often began at the edge and purposely jumped off the poetic cliff. She said what others only thought, and possibly long before they thought it.
A friend once suggested that our poetry is basically who we are. Our prejudices, our depth or lack thereof, our worldview, all operate like a lettered fingerprint. I agreed then, and have used her insight many times while attempting to discern more about a poem or a problem or a political candidate.
To sit alone in a quiet room reading someone’s poems is to enter their worldview. To sit alone in a quiet room writing poems is to enter our own worldview.
PROSPECTIVE IMMIGRANTS PLEASE NOTE by Adrienne Rich
Either you will
go through this door
or you will not go through.
If you go through
there is always the risk
of remembering your name.
Things look at you doubly
and you must look back
and let them happen.
If you do not go through
it is possible
to live worthily
to maintain your attitudes
to hold your position
to die bravely
but much will blind you,
much will evade you,
at what cost who knows?
The door itself makes no promises.
It is only a door.
Adrienne Rich isn’t here to see the explosion of Twitter, Snapchat or Facebook, and if she were, would she participate? I very much doubt she would. But that is my idealization of a poet, wanting to keep the work separate, the poet separate from the blurriness of too easy communication.
How we use Facebook or Twitter or even the more work-oriented LinkedIn, is how we see ourselves through the lens of our worldview. No two people will see things the same. Individuals and mainstream media point out their biases by shining a light on the other side’s problems and failures. We see this especially in election cycles. Is poetry the bridge between opposite viewpoints?
IN THOSE YEARS by Adrienne Rich
In those years, people will say, we lost track
of the meaning of we, of you
we found ourselves
reduced to I
and the whole thing became
silly, ironic, terrible:
we were trying to live a personal life
and yes, that was the only life
we could bear witness to
But the great dark birds of history screamed and plunged
into our personal weather
They were headed somewhere else but their beaks and pinions drove
along the shore, through the rags of fog
where we stood, saying I
When someone develops into an artist or dancer or poet, he or she has stepped outside of the box and declared themselves different. Different because they are giving credence to something the West sometimes considers useless, our beautiful innate creativity. If a poet writes without depth, without personal hard-earned meaning, then the box is still there keeping the poet safe from censor. I believe this is one reason for the proliferation of so much uninspiring writing, the fear of being truthful and the judgement that inevitably follows truth-telling.
I have wondered how Rich handled that judgment, how she lived out loud saying and doing what she believed. Most of us do not have the ability to withstand the backlash. That she handled it her entire adult life is a profound testament to Rich’s strength of character. She didn't blame anyone else or whine about indignities. Her poems were often political, often opinionated, but written with a sensitivity that included the reader, both believer and doubter.
Reading Rich's poems now, I may not always agree with her, but I never feel diminished by her certainty. I am included in her worldview, and I am left to make up my own mind about the issues that concerned her, and continue to concern me.
“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”
― Rainer Maria Rilke
By now we have all seen and read about the senseless shootings in the Orlando club, Pulse. And on either side of this horrific tragedy, the death of a young singer and a small boy.
I have considered randomness for years now. Is there someone in charge? Are we alone? And if someone is in charge, why suffering, loss, devastation? Elie Wiesel asks this question better than anyone. I don't pretend to have answers. I'm surprised that I am still asking the questions . . .
Are you still asking the hard questions? If you are a poet, I certainly hope you are.
In a discussion with a poet earlier today, we came around to the why of writing. My original impetus was the result of asking questions, both personal and universal. I had moved from Mormonism to Orthodoxy and then out into the ambiguity of the unknown . . . for most people probably an unnerving route, but for me it felt natural.
There is no shame in leaving something that no longer fits our learned beliefs, but there is a void that must be filled. For me, poetry filled that void.
Even in seeming randomness, I ascribed meaning with my words. Poetry became about the not knowing, the open-endedness of life. The ambiguity we all fear.
We cannot come to the blank page or the unmade necklace, the untried relationship or the new job with an already-determined belief. If we do, we don't stand a chance of growing within the new situation. If we ride in, defenses down, with our full-on vulnerability present, it is scary as hell, but it is also life-giving.
Writers work with metaphor and meaning; we can give a storyline to anything that moves. . . and now we must pull back and listen. Stop talking. Stop writing. And listen. When our collective pain is too much, no one person is able to offer the succinct advice that would lessen our loss. What we are listening for is not the answer, but the question.
I fell asleep fitfully last night, images of that small boy and then of Jo Cox from the UK, who at 41 was brutally murdered on the street. Her life, like the 49 people in Pulse, taken by the hands of a ridiculous fate tied to guns and a madman.
Today, in my humble garden, I cut back roses and pulled up California poppies in anticipation of three weeks on the road. I imagined returning to the land time forgot. Last year our neighbor actually paced the sidewalk in front of our house, looking on with abject relief when he saw we had finally returned to chop down the urban jungle that was our yard. This morning, for one glorious moment, I contained the weeds. I mowed and watered and looked at my small plot of land that for a few days before the invasives take over, looked tranquil. The poppies thinned out, traditional and heirloom tomatoes finally in the ground, and the strawberries planted for next season.
This is what keeps me going when life seems futile and hope is a dry bone stuck in my throat. The concept of a tomorrow, of planting something that will grow in another season, that will fill out and offer its fruit, but not yet. I hate the waiting, I always have. But today, it was anticipation I felt as I looked at the paltry strawberry plants. Next year, and the year after . . .
I won't give in to the futility of lost hope, because there is that bit of anticipation still within. No one can take that from me, no one can convince me that randomness equals meaninglessness. I can live with the randomness, and if God is out there, I can live with that, too. I can't comprehend either fully, but I can accept both possibilities.
The big questions, the ones that keep us up at night, are usually unanswerable, at least on this plain. But I can't help myself. And you, I hope you can't stop yourself from asking the why and how and what ifs. Because if we ever stop believing in the questions, we will be lost to ourselves and to each other. And that is an answer I can't accept.
I try to apply colors like words that shape poems, like notes that shape music. Joan Miró
The half-box French easel stands in the corner of my office, drawing pad flipped to a stark white page. Waiting for gesso. Waiting for a charcoal pencil or paint. Waiting for me to show up. No different than the writer's white page I have faced most of my adult life.
We talk about the new year being "new," when in reality we bring our story forward embracing only an idea of newness; rebirth is not a winter activity, it normally belongs to the spring.
And yet . . .
Two new granddaughters.
And yet . . .
Out my window more snow and melting ice, rivulets of cold water that will freeze into thin sheets tonight. Into this bleak landscape, a riot of color, houses, trees and gardens. Joan Miró’s painting, “The Farm.” In a second painting, "The Farmer's Wife" holds one cat by a leg, another cat staring back at us, a triangle needing identification in the corner. Joan Miró, the French Surrealist painter, attempts to break through my wintry mood. Instead of poetry, I crave visual images, life that waits under the scrim of ice--I seek the passion that melts ice.
Joan Miró was a quiet man, prolific and consistent in his output. Unlike Pollack or Picasso, he was not possessed by alcohol or women, but by his art. No one's opinion was more important than his personal vision. His paintings are often considered childlike, primary-colored and flat on the canvas. Constellations, 23 gouaches, introduced the concept of a series of paintings to America. Miró was a working artist able to continually ask not only what his individual pieces meant, but what it meant to be completely open to possibility in a world that wished to define him.
A blank page or canvas means nothing if we don't fill it in. Fill it with experimentation or vision, but fill it in or we are not creators, we are dreamers. The poem not written, the painting not painted, are the ideas of creation. The idea is always more expansive than what we are capable of, and that frightens us. Once we put in the time and effort, once we honor how difficult the medium is to control, then we can claim to be poets or artists. Not before.
This winter is less about mastery, and more about mystery. The way I approach art is the way I approached writing poetry: show me how, give me the tools, then I will do it my way. There is nothing thrilling about copying anyone, poet or artist. We may do so in order to learn the craft, to understand what it feels like, but once we know, we must express what is original in us.
This winter, as I face the end of our poetry journal, as my best friend and co-partner in Tiger's Eye Press has moved, is less accessible, it is not easy to see vibrant colors or to appreciate the quiet that winter exemplifies. I have loved this quiet all of my life, but this season, it speaks less of dormancy and more of poignant endings.
Joan Miró appeared just under the ice that poetry had become. He took me to his studio, showed me brushes and turpentine-stained wood. He brought out incomplete sculptures and paintings. I could not tell if he disliked them or if they stalled in place for lack of time. We didn't say much, both of us given to bouts of silence. It was enough though, his imaginative leaps became threads of light that might lead to poetic lines, and even newly-sketched lines. I was shown that it doesn't matter what medium I'm working with, as long as I have the courage to begin . . . and the courage to complete.
"The Escape Ladder," one of 23 gouaches, The Constellations.
24 little hours.
One day we are living peacefully, the next our world has changed.
The news is filled with havoc, we cannot escape the barrage of negative information unless we unplug and live off the grid. Although I find that tempting, I am too interested in what is happening to stop watching Morning Joe five times a week.
It seemed reasonable when I started this habit, the discussions more humane that other news shows, and I did want to learn more about the presidential candidates.
But then Paris.
And then San Bernardino.
I literally spent days watching, horrified and unable to turn away.
How do we process this collective loss? The usual escape mechanisms no longer work. It has taken me weeks to come out of a melancholy fog. Even now I feel different, as if there was a before and an after. The after has left me more somber.
Now Christmas is almost here. It doesn't seem real this year, almost like a play we are putting on so as not to acknowledge how fragile the world seems. But then I am reminded that 99% of humankind is decent. Most people are not violent. Most people are compassionate.
Tonight my grandson told me I would be eaten by a dolphin and broken, but then he would pull me out and fix me. It was just what I needed to hear, I would be broken and then I would be fixed. The wisdom of a two-year old.
In times of stress, of war, of loss, poetry has been the elixir that spoke to us and for us. If we can attempt to speak of the unspeakable, we take part in the slow process of healing. Sometimes the unintentional poem is the very best writing we'll ever do. Our guard is down, we are raw, and the words fall out and onto the page.
There is nothing inside me
that won’t be cured by
grieving; but I have given
myself orders to
carry you to my death.
These are lines from my most recent poem. They are personal, but universal in that all of us know what it is to grieve, to want to stop grieving, and then to finally acknowledge that some losses are inevitably permanent. We carry our losses differently, but those of us who call ourselves poets, have a fantastic container for our grief.
What I wish for all of you this holiday season is first and foremost peace.
But then I wish you something less ethereal: sharpened pencils and TUL pens, legal pads and yellow highlighters. The latest Poet's Market and a subscription to World Literature Today. I wish you these mundane items, because I know you will use them to write beautiful things, to make people stop momentarily to watch a flock of geese skating on a frozen lake, or to hear, maybe for the first time, a woodpecker in the trees overhead. Because your words will become a catalyst for hope.
What a difference a day makes. What a difference a poem makes.
When we started discussing the possibility of no longer publishing the journal, the realization that we had been at this for 15 years seemed incomprehensible.
Our friend Edith told me that together JoAn and I had created our own planet, that Tiger's Eye was an energetic entity. When you're in something, you miss that, you are just too busy to see the bigger picture. Stepping back, I can see Edith's point. It does feel a little like having a child. There was an idea and then there was a tiger.
The tiger has always been real to us. We tried calling him "she," but he insisted he was male. You don't argue with a tiger. When we're late getting an issue out, as we are now, the tiger can be found in the corner of the room unsheathing his nails and growling loudly.
Today I am guessing the tiger is saddened by our decision to stop publishing the journal. We too are dealing with a sea change, a major loss. Small press journals are tender things, sometimes lasting one issue. Some last a few more, others turn themselves into larger publications. Our publication remained small, we never pushed into a larger market, we never pushed the tiger to be something it wasn't.
What the tiger was, was a bridge. A bridge between friends. A bridge between silence and voice. A bridge for poets to walk over into a world of acceptances and books. That is what we hoped for in the beginning, and that is unbelievably what we achieved.
To all of our poets, and in our minds and hearts you are OUR poets, we would like to say thank you for fifteen years of amazing poetry, of imaginative leaps, of true friendships. We know of no other realm where people are accepted for themselves, where ideas and thoughts, no matter how varied, are respected. The world of poetry gives voice and stature to the most timid among us. It creates community where there was none.
JoAn and Jo and myself are still here, still publishing, just not our beloved journal. We aren't saying goodbye, but asking you to stay close, to let us know what you're writing, where you're published. The tiger is still pacing back and forth, and we will follow him into the next phase of Tiger's Eye Press. We hope you'll follow too.
Icon is a line of protective motorcycle riding gear. The company also makes custom motorcycles for its ads. It is a brilliant mix of skill and creativity, everyone in their Portland, Oregon shop contributing.
The owner of Icon has taken this wabi-wabi saying as his motto.
nothing is ever
nothing is ever
What does making riding clothing and writing poetry have in common? Process.
The past few years I have discussed not writing with poets who are normally prolific. They couldn't locate their muses, felt listless about something that normally filled them with purpose. We could discuss this at-length, because I was in the same liminal place. A dry spell where the writing was buried, and it didn't feel worth digging up. I felt I didn't have anything new to say and the joy had gone out of the process.
Writing, like design or dance or building a motorcycle from scratch, is a process. The initial spark and then the getting it down, then the work of editing and refining. We can trip up at any one of these points. Most likely the one element that keeps us from being productive and successful in any venue is the concept of perfection.
If we believe our work has to be perfect to be sent out, it will never be sent out. The ideal of perfection, handed to us in childhood, is an elusive and impossible goal. To strive to be better is healthy, to improve our craft in writing is necessary, but expecting something, anything to be perfect is unrealistic, and it becomes our safe-guard against failure. If we can't do it perfectly we can't create / submit / become vulnerable to rejection, or ultimately give of ourselves.
The concept of wabi-sabi has been a part of my thinking for years, but what would it look like, feel like if I applied it to my writing life?
I am learning that it is messy. And painful. And exciting.
I am writing again. Something broke loose and the words were there waiting, and I do care again how a stanza is put together, if it reflects what I'm trying to say. I do care about publication. But I'm aware that the poems are never finished. Never perfect.
Our writing is not static, it is alive with our energy. It is the process that sustains us, enlivens us. The same creative energy that goes into designing riding gear, the same vision necessary to build a motorcycle that begins in the imagination, is the same energy that creates poetry. And like the owner of Icon, we realize that only after we’ve realized that our work can't ever be truly finished or perfected, are we free to run with it.
Or follow it.
Or play with it.
When we let go of expecting perfection, an entire world of possibilities opens.
Etiquette Question for Ascension Pilgrims
(Number One in a Series of Sentences for Diagramming)
stopping along the wooden path
that circles Sarasota Bay
at the new City of Light where
you then take root yourself
despite the mindless fear
of what is hidden
deep within the doubt
from which the lotus flowers
What would you do?
Edith A. Cheitman
from the chapbook, timeshare/Anna Maria Island
My friend died.
I don't know an easy way to say this. Someone I knew and loved, someone who I had not met in-person, but who influenced me unduly, is gone.
My first encounter with Edith Cheitman was when JoAn and I decided to publish her poems. When I contacted her, she said, Who the hell are you and why would I want to talk to you? Although she later apologized profusely, it served as a warning that she was as feisty as she was talented.
The woman was generous too, sending gifts for a move, a chunk of amber for a new baby named Amber. Most recently, a textile of a young girl with her black dog. Her generosity went far beyond the material world, she was psychically gifted and told me things about myself that were not only accurate, but responsible for saving me more than once.
I helped Edith publish a small chapbook of her poems, timeshare/Anna Maria Island, and when I printed the wrong copy of her work, she was very unhappy with me. I felt like a child who had failed her mother. Whenever we dealt with money, it did not go well. It changed the balance of our friendship, so we decided to never do business together.
Whens someone dies in America, we change them into saints, we round off their edges and make them bland. Why is that? In Orson Scott Card's Ender series, the author creates a new profession, Speaker For the Dead, someone who presides over a person's memorial, someone who tells the truth about the deceased. We would do well to be speakers for the dead, all of us, telling the truth about those we love.
Edith was smart. Her wit and her quick thinking excited me. She was a psychologist, but she was also a tarot reader, a psychic who knew things. Because she was empathic, she would find herself asking what she could do to alleviate another's pain. She purposely shopped in Walmart to compliment a young mother on her winter scarf or to tell a tired stranger she looked beautiful. Walmart was not to be made fun of; it was holy ground for Edith.
Edith was in pain. Something had gone wrong in her body. She never got a definitive answer to what that was, but she suffered to the point she wasn't sure she could endure. I am glad she's no longer in pain.
Edith trusted. I am still in awe of someone who dealt with humanity's frailties in her profession, who felt life as deeply as she did, and who still believed in the goodness of people. She should not have been as innocent as she was. I felt more jaded than she, and was continually startled that she knew my failings and still raved about the light she saw in me.
Edith was a poet. One comment she made was that poetry was the only thing in her life that remained pure. She intended to keep it that way. We often discussed the words, how they came to us easily, how they were representative of our best selves. At one point we both admitted that our lives had shifted and the the words were no longer everything. We were stunned and bereft together.
Edith's poetry was often about the common man, the person in the trenches, the working class that she identified with. The other poems, the ones that center on her search for God/god are not traditional spiritual poetry. They are more in the vein of Rilke, wrestling with a teasing God. I can tell an Edith Cheitman poem immediately, her cadence, her unique imagery, her particular craft like a swirling fingerprint. I love her poems.
When I found out that Edith had died, it was five months after. The loss of a friend exacerbated by my not knowing, not hearing. I had called her, had emailed, but knew from our last conversation that something had gone terribly wrong with her body. I wish I had flown to FL to be at her side. I will never not wish this.
There are friends that we socialize with, and there are people who transcend every expectation of friendship. We accept each other, we bolster each other up when no one else hears us, we quite literally hang onto each other. And when one of us leaves, nothing is ever the same.
What would you do?
Take root, dear Edith, take root.
In reading through chapbook contest submissions, we inevitably find several we wish we could publish. Our judges, always accomplished poets, are left with the final selection, and we reluctantly send out rejections. Contests are the mean streets of poetry, only one manuscript chosen from a rich and disparate offering.
Although Jeanine Stevens manuscript, Needle in the Sea, was not chosen as a contest winner, we held onto it, because we loved the poems. Needle in the Sea is currently at the printer, and will be released in the next few weeks. These are a few words from the poet about her chapbook:
The poems in Needle in the Sea were written over a twelve year period. Initially, I didn’t set out to write poems with an Asian influence and yet the poems seemed to find me. I have been meditating since the 1980’s and I’m drawn to the serenity and silence it brings. I’m energized by the contentment, the sparseness of many Asian poets. I have a beautiful little book, Zen Art for Meditation, (Holmes and Horioka, 1973, reissued 2000). It contains simple scenes, a boat, a mountain, someone fishing, a single blossom, accompanied by many haiku. I can easily lose myself in the images.
I want to comment on a few of the individual poems in the chapbook. “In My Dream, a Little Boat,” was written in my dream journal over twenty years ago. I also sketched the scene which lead to the poem. “Kosode,” It came from illustrations on a short-sleeved or summer kimono. “The Love Suicides,” was inspired by a production by the drama department at CSU Sacramento, which I attended twice as my granddaughter was one of the major puppeteers. The story told in “Basketmaker’s Collective,” was from a text from my college days about early Viet Nam (The Vermillion Bird).
As far as process goes, I find it works best if I write the poem when first inspired, let it rest and then go back to revise. I usually write the first draft by hand.