Write a Love Poem for Poetry Month

Here’s an essay by Garrison Keillor inviting folks to write a love poem for Poetry Month which is just around the corner in April.

Take a look at the article if for no other reason but that it is not about politics, like most newspaper articles these days seem to be. In this short piece Keillor pokes gentle fun at some well-studied poems, several of which are ones I’ve memorized. Being familiar with them makes it especially entertaining to read the references.

I also share this invitation to write a poem because it fits the main theme and goal of this blog: to offer suggestions for ways to add a little literary to life. I have experienced the benefits and enjoyed the fun of doing literary activities like writing, collecting words, memorizing poems, hosting literary events, and more, besides just reading. Reading is great, but by itself its a one-way street. Putting pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard turns your literary life into a two-way street, much healthier, much more fun.

Here’s the final paragraph of the essay.

This is what you learn during Poetry Month. You may lose the vote, fall into debt, suffer illness and remorse, feel lost in the crowd, and yet there is in language, everyday language, a source of such sweet delight that when you turn it to a good purpose, two gentle arms may reach around your neck, just as is happening to me right now, and a familiar voice speaks the words I long to hear and my heart is going like mad and yes, I say, yes I will Yes.

The “sweet delight of everyday language” is very real and is very available to any and all who would like to use and enjoy it.


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Employee Review in Verse

A fact I have never disclosed in this blog is that I am a U.S. federal government employee. The agency that employs me requires us to produce employee reviews once a year. I think this is pretty standard practice in most businesses and other sorts of organizations that hire people and pay them a wage for doing some sort of work. In my agency, these reviews have evolved over the years to becoming very carefully worded works of art, accurate and factual to be sure, but highly stylized with essential words and perspectives and voices used just so, carefully constructed to put employees in an advantageous position for promotion. Not long ago I decided to write a review of my work from the perspective of a supervisor in verse. I wrote it to carefully cover all the professional goals (we call them precepts) toward which we are supposed to strive. This review includes a few references unique to my workplace, but I think most of it is universal to all mid-level officials, enough, at least, to make sense to anybody who has held a similar sort of job, public or private sector.

Employee Review in Verse

Argyle is a useful bloke,
does all his tasks, he ain’t no joke.
An officer from head to toe,
when I say jump he starts to go.

Completely fair in all his dealings,
but circumspect with his own feelings.
Surrounds himself with folk, diverse,
with anyone he will converse.

Leadership is his main theme,
all follow him as in a dream.
He manages well within his group,
turns folks into a well-oiled troop.

Evaluates, counsels, conducts some training,
among Argyle’s staff there’s no complaining.
Delegates a lot of work,
yet labors hard, he doesn’t shirk.

Develops insights, creates solutions,
his work deserves no diminution.
Makes reasoned, effective, timely decisions,
views hastiness with mild derision.

Finishes projects: timely and cheap.
Complaints from Argyle? Not a peep.
Communicates his expectations,
to his staff he’s Mr. Human Relations.

He writes with ease he is so clever,
the smoothest docs that you’ve seen, ever.
Attends to all security matters
and yet he’s deaf to idle flatter.

Rough and ready when trouble arises,
this guy is brilliant in a crisis.
Maintains a calm and cool façade,
doesn’t crumble (ain’t that odd?)

He will adapt, he manages change,
even when what’s new is strange.
He deals with others aspirations
and maintains useful, good relations.

Influences others, oh he’s so deft.
Hesitation?  Doubt? Of these he’s bereft.
Cultivates contacts, a natural born host,
He piles it on high when it matters the most.

He speaks, he listens, proclaims the good news,
with USG policies, he’s so enthused.
He knows how to think, gather key information
and puts it together like the chief of the nation.

So really I’d like this idea to float,
Argyle’s so great, it’s time to promote.
His thinking is keen, his service, essential
he’s great, a big hunk of walking potential.

Posted in Creativity, Humor, Living Literarily, Original Poems, Uncategorized, Work, Writing | Leave a comment

Morning Greeting

Hello dearie
are you bleary
maybe cheery
on this happy morn?

Coffee brewing
eggies chewing
hope renewing
on a path well-worn?

Sun is rising
day apprising
adventures surprising
look! now being born.

Washing, dressing,
get a blessing,
no more messing
go with joy adorned.

Posted in Creativity, Living Literarily, Original Poems, Word Play | Leave a comment

Create for Lent

When we create we exercise our personhood and express our very nature as the handiwork of the Creator.

Lent is the forty day period leading to Holy Week and Pascha (Easter). Those who take advantage of Lent do certain things that have been done by generations and generations of Lent observers such as fasting from certain foods, praying, doing charitable activities, and participating in corporate worship a little more than usual. Being creative should also be on that list.

God the Creator made people in his image which means a number of different things, one of which is our inclination, our ability, and even our drive to create. While God is able to create something out of nothing, people need raw materials such as words, musical notes, paint, clay, and many other things, which they can gather together and reassemble creatively. What you create depends on who you are, what you’re drawn to, and what resources: talent, inclination, raw materials, you have at hand. For some, being creative is doing a traditional form of art such as writing, painting, sculpting, drawing, composing, performing (song, dance, drama), or one of their many technology-enabled cousins like film, television, photography, videography, and more. For other people being creative is part of their daily work: engineering, architecture, research, teaching, cooking, being an entrepreneur, and too many to list or think of all at once. In a way, all jobs include, to a greater or lesser degree, creating. Still another sort of creativity involves activities you could call hobbies, things like gardening, sewing, knitting, arts and crafts, flower arranging, cooking, home decorating, carpentry, pottery, and, again, many others. These lists are far from complete; they are only a starting point.

Take a specific opportunity, if you observe Lent, maybe then, if not, find a season or day of the week or time of the day to begin or increase your creating. If being creative is part of your daily job, recognize it for what it is and do it vigorously and reverently. Consider taking a class to improve your natural skills for doing whatever it is you do. Commit to a program of increasing your creative acts. Start small: Make it doable. Give yourself small goals (for a writer, write one sentence or brief journal entry per day) and big (write a novel). As you create you do what you were made to do, you enact the nature you were given. You walk in your Creator’s footsteps and as such, open the door to growth and healing. And in fact, the things you create become an offering to God. Creating is a task comparable to prayer, to fasting, to doing acts of charity: it will align you with God and orient you to the rest of creation.

Another thing many do in Lent is confess. Some confess their bad behavior and also their lack of good behavior.  Some confess before a confessor such as a priest, a father or mother figure, a friend, a spouse, while others confess within, in the silence of their own thoughts. To confess that you have not created, not exerted or enacted your birthright, your gift from the Creator, would be a very good start on the way to living the creative life.

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I’d Never Write…

…if I waited for the perfect thing to write about and never risked offending anyone.

I don’t know when this idea got planted in my brain but at some point I decided I shouldn’t, and didn’t want to, write personal, reflective posts in this blog. I didn’t want to be that pathetic writer wanna-be, focused inward instead of outward, writing about feelings and angst and failures instead of stories, essays, poems: legitimate writing. It has been all too easy these last few years not writing much of anything, waiting for the brilliant, the award winning, the insightful, the pithy.

I’d like to be done with this sort of self-defeating nonsense, these sorry excuses. I’ll never write anything, at least nothing of value, if I don’t knock it off and simply write. Part of writing is habit which means writing something, anything, good or bad, putting it all down, speaking with pen and paper day after day. Just writing.

Similarly, I think too much about who might read a particular bit I put on paper. What would so-and-so say if they saw this? I cap my pen by imagining what anyone, especially a relative, might think or say. I remember reading a writer advising new writers: if you’re concerned about what your family will think about what you write, you probably should be writing cook books. I like cook books (especially at supper-time) and respect cook-book writers, but that’s not what I’m aiming for.

Just back from New Zealand, where I wrote about the trip in a journal, I’m ready to get back to this blog. I’m still working on the journal/scrap book (a scrapjournal?) and will share bits (scraps) from that, along with regular writing. And if some of it is a me-fest, well, for now it’ll have to do. At least I’m writing. And if a reader isn’t happy with what I’m writing, then stop reading it.

I feel better already.

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New Zealand Bound!

Just a week after getting back at it, writing this and that on these pages, the missus and me, well, we’re going to visit New Zealand. How could we spend three years in Australia and not take a couple weeks to visit a place only a three-hour flight away? I won’t be taking my computer along which means no live blogging from Hobbiton or Mordor or any other place we happen to wander into while we’re there. But maybe, just maybe, I’ll write a bit in the journal, maybe some literary notes like how you can tell a New Zealand accent because he or she will pronounce a short e as a short i, for example, saying something like, “Please rigister at the front disk.”

See you whin I get back. Can’t wait to till you all about it.

Posted in Antipodean Adventures, Australia Sojourn, Travels | Leave a comment

Balloon-set Over Canberra

“Hey, look!”  As we were getting up from the table this morning I pointed out the window at the two hot-air balloons hovering high in the sky aways north.

“Nice,” she said as we both, after an appreciative but brief glance, cleared the breakfast dishes and continued our morning routine.

It’s always fun, a thrill, sort of, to see one or more hot-air balloons over Canberra. I’m not tired of it. But, like seeing a mob of kangaroos munching the grass in the nature park 15 minutes from our house, it’s not an unusual sight for us after nearly thirty months here.

Canberra hosts a serious, and what seems to me very active, ballooning culture (Canberra Balloon Spectacular, A Canberra balloon ride company, another Canberra balloon ride company…not bad for a city of 300,000). The sight of one in the distance, or else very near overhead, so near you can hear the whoosh! whoosh! of the flame being turned on and off, is not at all unusual.  It’s not something I would have expected of this small to medium-sized city, because there doesn’t seem enough population to support at least two companies that give rides. Also, like many capital cities I’ve lived in, this place’s culture is mostly conservative, careful, restrained.

Driving to work a little later I saw one of the balloons hovering not too far above the ground about a half mile in front of me. I don’t like seeing a balloon while I’m driving to work: I do want to watch it, but don’t want to cause an accident. I’ve wondered if Canberra has a higher rate of morning wrecks, partly because of drivers distracted by these shimmering, colorful orbs in the sky. I’ve never seen a balloon here much past 8 am and most I’ve seen are flying high not long after sunrise, about 7 am these early fall days of March.

I could only glance at the balloon I saw as I drove to work, keeping my eye on the road as I was. It only took a few glances, however, to get a sense of the awesome scene, the balloon gradually, gradually descending over the brown Australian landscape, behind the tan rolling hills with clumps of gum trees here and there. Like watching the sun rise or set and thinking nothing is happening, its movement is so slow, but then realizing it has progressed a little farther along its path, the setting balloon over the Canberran savannah blessed us with a sense of calm, of deliberation, of peace, a sweet tonic as we commuters jockeyed for position hurrying to get to wherever it was we were going.

Posted in Australia Sojourn, Autumn, Mental Health, Travels | Leave a comment

Prescribing Myself A Dose of Music

Certain songs, certain musical works, have power to heal me in surprisingly effective ways. Some songs evoke long-ago events, magically transporting me back to how I felt at that particular moment: happy, sad, energized, serene. Other times, a piece of music administers an immediate effect like a dose of medicine or a drink of alcohol. Sometimes a song or musical work provides the soundtrack to whatever I’m doing at the moment, reminding me of what I was doing when I first or repeatedly listened to it. And some music just seems like the right thing to listen to at a particular time, for example big band feels like the perfect accompaniment to a Sunday evening, whereas folk, blues, and classic rock is just right for a Saturday evening.

Just now on streaming radio I heard the first movement of a work that has long acted on me like a mental health booster shot. It’s Felix Mendelssohn’s String Octet in E-flat major, Opus 20. I loved it from the first time I heard it, not only because it’s beautiful but also for how predictably it lifts me to a higher emotional plane. I listen to it and become happy, energized, creative, and more at peace with myself and the world around me. Here is a version of it:

A You Tube Recording of the Mendelssohn String Octet

The next time a song hits you in a positive way, make a note of it. Develop a musical medicine cabinet of tuneful supplements, immediately available whenever you need them, to lift your spirit, open your mind, stir your creativity, or simply to move you up when you’re feeling down.

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I Want to Found a New National Holiday

I want to start a new national holiday. I started it in my own family when our children were young. It is called March Forth and it’s a holiday based on a pun. Today is March Fourth but pun-wise it can also be March Forth!

What’s the point of the celebration, besides being the only date in the year that punnily makes a sentence? Step out! Be bold! Do something different! Risk looking foolish doing something good, something on behalf of someone else. My holiday, (hopefully someday everyone’s holiday) will be a day for positive action. (As I write this I’m listening to Stars and Stripes Forever, of course. What else?)

When our children were little we played marches and tromped around the house on March Fourth and had a little fun on a day when, in the Northern Hemisphere at least, the weather is often gray and dismal, cold and wet. It is a way to brighten a moment just when winter is seeming over long and spring too far away. And why not celebrate this special day? Invariably when I ask someone if he or she knows why today is my favorite day of the year, which most people answer, “It’s your birthday?” and I say, “Nope, it’s the only date of the year that makes a sentence,” and then wait a few seconds for the good-natured dawning recognition of the joke, I always get a smile.

Honestly! This is an idea whose time has come. A winner. A literary holiday!  For now, until the national campaign gets underway, I’ll just keep wishing people I meet a happy March Forth on March Fourth. I’d love it if you’d do the same.

(I invite you to boldly take a peek at some other March Forth essays and Past March Fourth Greetings to our adult children and their families)

Posted in Holidays, Humor, Living Literarily, Word Play | Leave a comment

Still Time to Write

Only four or five months left in my Australian sojourn and I’ve hardly written a word about it or anything else, really. Except for the extremely formal stylized stuff I write at work, a few isolated stabs at picking up the journal again, and grocery lists, I’ve not written much these past 30 months. (The closest I came to being productive was during the first couple months of my wife’s extended stay for work back in the States. I plasti-tacked newsprint on the wall and scrawled frequently honest and maybe occasionally literate things all over those large journal pages.  Dare I transpose some of those to this blog?)

It’s not too late to write about Australia or, now that I think about it, anything else. I’ve been telling myself for some weeks now: just write something, anything, somewhere, anywhere, but until now I haven’t been listening and the journal stays unused but for phone numbers and notes on family business and to-do lists. And this blog? Well, it’s stayed blank too because I tell myself every and any thing I write here must be perfect and brilliant (an example of self-talk I shouldn’t but do studiously heed). I’ve convinced myself of this because I imagine I’ll someday use this online collection of bits and pieces I’ve written as a portfolio to help me get hired to write for X or Y or Z, or be selected for the advanced writing class I’ll be applying for at the time. As if 16 month gaps in my blog portfolio will impress future employers or educators! I think it’s time to write and let potentialities be damned.

When you move to a new place, especially if it’s in a foreign country, you marvel at all the new and fascinating and sometime weird-to-you ways of living and talking and flora and fauna and foods and driving on the wrong side and more. Then after a while you get used to it and it seems normal and, you’d think, harder to write about. I’m pretty sure that hasn’t happened to me yet, here.  After two and a half years, I still love seeing a mob of kangaroos in a field. I thrill to see two brilliant Scarlet Rosellas eating seeds from the cosmos and basil in my early fall (it’s March 3) garden. And I’m still charmed by Australian words and ways. I’m used to the place, yes, but still marvel at it everyday I’m here. Guess that clenches it: still plenty of time to write.

Posted in Australia Sojourn, Travels, Writing | Leave a comment