Pay Attention

a reblogged post from In Flow

In Flow with Otto

munchow_0949-072.jpgI think all creatives yearn for some kind of success, some kind of recognition for the work we do. Success is maybe not why we photograph, write, paint or travel—or whatever creative activity we do—or ought not to be. The work itself, being creative, is a reward good enough if we only let ourselves not get obsessed with the thought of success. The craving for success can actually get in the way of our creative endeavour.

Nevertheless, we do feel good when we experience some kind of success, whether it’s monetary gain or just some heartfelt feedback from a good friend. I am sure you know what I am talking about.

Success is all in our minds, though. You cannot control how the world will receive and perceive your artistic work, but you can be in command of how you feel about it yourself. If you let yourself feel good…

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Five-Phrase Fridays 2015

ICYMI: Here’s a round-up of all 19 Five-Phrase Fridays I posted in 2015. I’ll be adding the list to my blog’s Five-Phrase Fridays menu tab for reader convenience as well. Enjoy!

  1. Five-Phrase Friday (1) – hints of politics in poetry
  2. Five-Phrase Friday (2) – snippets (tippets?) of Emily Dickinson
  3. Five-Phrase Friday (3) – terms of endearment for my dog
  4. Five-Phrase Friday (4) – compound modifiers in action
  5. Five-Phrase Friday (5) – 1980s comedic cinema
  6. Five-Phrase Friday (6) – favorite Apples to Apples matchups
  7. Five-Phrase Friday (7) – funny, punny small-town slogans
  8. Five-Phrase Friday (8) – select lines from cherished poems
  9. Five-Phrase Friday (9) – Shakespeare-style insults
  10. Five-Phrase Friday (10) – Outlander‘s Frasers & Mackenzies
  11. Five-Phrase Friday (11) – Halloweenish rock band names
  12. Five-Phrase Friday (12) – phonetics of bird calls
  13. Five-Phrase Friday (13) – Emily Dickinson reprise
  14. Five-Phrase Friday (14) – depiction of a cycle of terrorism
  15. Five-Phrase Friday (15) – blessings I’m thankful for
  16. Five-Phrase Friday (16) – first and last lines from my NaNoWriMo novels
  17. Five-Phrase Friday (17) – best songs from a beloved Christmas album
  18. Five-Phrase Friday (18) – books on perfectionism (we shall overcome . . .)
  19. Five-Phrase Friday (19) – five pop culture lists of five great things

8 Postcards of Generally Positive Gratitude

I Miss You When I Blink

Lately, there seems to be a lot of fussing about how some entertainer/artist/creative person didn’t give everybody exactly what they wanted 100% of the time.

Sigh.

There’s a thing where people seem to think, well, if you put yourself (or your work) in the public eye, you should be prepared never to make a mistake or do anything that’s less than pure genius ever again. And that’s a bit much. It’s not really fair, you know?

I’m not saying we don’t all have a right to discuss people’s missteps and examine what we could all learn from them, or that we shouldn’t criticize stuff we don’t like. We do, and we should, and I will — OH YES, MATT DAMON’S PONYTAIL, I WILL — but it sure would be nice if we could also remember that all these things we pick apart are made by real people. It peeves me when I see…

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Nature Poetry by Famous Poets

Verse writing, like other writing, can greatly benefit from the poetry we read. An overview of the evolution of the Western tradition in nature poetry might be a good place to start getting to know existing nature poems and poets, along with what it’s all about.

Featured on the Academy of American Poets‘ list of notable nature poems, English writer Thomas Hardy’s poem “The Darkling Thrush” serves as a good example for its formal meter and rhyme, gradual conceptual revelation, and descriptive beauty.

As perhaps an antidote to the horrors associated with nature’s dangers, recalled to us by Shark Week and SharkFest on TV this week, Hardy’s poem offers an infusion of hope and tranquillity.

The first two stanzas establish the atmosphere of the scene. Here is the second half of stanza 1:

The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
    Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
    Had sought their household fires.

The iambic meter creates rhythm with alternating lines of tetrameter (4 iambs, or beats of one unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable) and trimeter (3 iambs), the use of simile in the second line, and the selective word choice of verbs like “scored” and “haunted” exemplify some of this poem’s treasures. Read on for more.

Exact end rhyme in a traditional ABAB pattern adds to the lyrical effect of the rhythm. The journey of the poem portrayed is one of dwelling in darkness and being surprised by a sudden “light” of sorts. The animal, a bird, serves as the source of that light.

Famous poems can inspire, are useful models to imitate, and are worth reading for the sheer pleasure of it. There are so many options for subject, form, and style with nature poetry, as with many types of writing, that the number of different accepted approaches has greatly increased over time.

Whether you choose a formal or informal style, rhymed or free verse, animals or elements as your nature subjects, you too have open access to writing nature poetry for yourself and others.

Take advantage of the outdoors and the beauty of the seasons, bring along a pen and paper, observe what comes, and try your hand at some nature verse. Celebrate your world.

song thrush, northern Europe

song thrush, northern Europe

Free to Write, or Not to Write

“To write or not to write?” may be the question, but don’t take too long to decide. Hamlet is not a good role model for time management, prioritizing, or consistently acting upon priorities.

Opportunity costs are the sacrifices we make when we choose one option over another. They are inevitable and legion, as we cannot do all things all the time. The question is: Which opportunities, every day, every hour, should we sacrifice for the sake of our cherished dreams, our consciously established goals, our deepest commitments?

Selecting essentially what to kill is as inherent in the equation as deciding what to feed. By free will, we are natural murderers and nurturers of our time. And, as the cross-genre prog rock band Rush says in their song, “Freewill,” “If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.”

The May 9, 2015, post at Live to Write, Write to Live addressed making time to write, with emphasis on conscious intention. This part really spoke to me, as I have long found time management rather challenging:

“The next time you’re tempted to say ‘yes’ to someone else’s request or make a personal choice that will infringe on your writing time, picture your writing as a small, helpless creature being led to the sacrificial altar. Look at the poor creature’s big, frightened eyes. Know that you are the one who is going to have to do the deed. How are you feeling about your choice now?”

Read the entire post here.

LiveNowDoNow_post-itViewing each choice of activity as somehow a matter of life and death gives greater weight of conscience to moments that otherwise too easily lose significance in our illusion of being blessed with an endless supply of them. True, at times, we beat ourselves up too much over things we do or fail to do, but that self-flagellation, too, is a choice, and another time waster.

Now is the time to invest in what’s important, and now, and now. . . .

Whether it’s a blog post or a novel, a poem or a dissertation, an essay or a screenplay, a journal entry or a comedy routine, a recipe or a short story, a textbook or a love note–make the time to write, and make it again, and again. Do you still feel you need a specific opportunity to motivate you?

As in April, Camp NaNoWriMo starts up again today for the month, but you could also devote August or any other month to a specific project. You could make every month Writing Month. Officially name your own project, purpose, or writing “event.”

Most important: Focus regularly on the incremental steps. Focus and re-focus. Return without guilt when you get off track, but return. Intentionally raise your awareness of the daily and hourly commitments it takes, and commit. Put one foot in front of the other, and keep moving forward to make habits from your goals. How we spend each moment adds up to how we spend our lives.

Write or don’t write. Read or don’t read. Sketch, paint, sculpt, craft, scrapbook, sing, dance, act, play, design, create–or not.

Choose, and carpe punctum.

A novelist and a photographer walk into a theater…

In service of writer-to-writer, artist-to-artist encouragement, this excerpt in particular inspired my reblogging. It contradicts the notion that daring or interesting life experiences are required to fuel good writing, and it reinforces a belief I have held that a structured environment can be the best home for beauty’s thriving:

“As Mann herself said—riffing on Flaubert—’You should have an ordinary and organized life so that you can be extraordinary and original and outrageous in your creative life.’ (Admission: I didn’t know this Flaubert quote, and, as a fiction writer with a very ordinary and organized life, found it enormously comforting.)”

the literate lens

Mann1 Outside Symphony Space

Over the three years I’ve been writing The Literate Lens, few events have screamed “blog post!” as loudly at me as the one I attended last night at Symphony Space, in which Sally Mann, the acclaimed photographer (who, by her own admission, rarely leaves her Virginia home), was in conversation with Nashville-based novelist Ann Patchett.

I’ve loved Mann’s work ever since she blazed into the headlines with her 1992 book Immediate Family—I’ve followed her since into some strange and dark territory, and knew, from the essay excerpt published in the New York Times Magazine a few weeks ago, that her new memoir Hold Still would be fascinating. I also loved Ann Patchett’s 2011 novel State of Wonder, which can roughly be described as a sort of contemporary feminist version of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. A photographer-turned-memoirist in conversation with a novelist—needless…

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Call of the Wild Poetry

A recurring motif in much of my poetry over the years has been some aspect of the natural world, involving certain species of animal and plant wildlife, wild scenes, and biological elements. My first poems focused on the usual suspects, those parts of nature nearest at hand–backyard birds, trees and grass and bodies of water, the change of seasons.

Sometimes I use this motif as a means of exploring a human principle or truth. Sometimes the gaze is more direct upon the subject, for its own sake. However the theme emerges, it always seems to find its way into my considerations (if only for a second) going into a poem, if not into the text of the poem itself.

My love of nature extends to neither dramatic extreme of tree hugging nor primal hunting. I’m not a vegetarian. I like to think I take a reasonable, balanced view of the relationship between animals–human and non-human–and between people and ecosystems. I do not seek to vilify those who mine natural resources as they have done for hundreds of years in this country, simply for doing so. I’m not much of a backpacker or camper. I tend to prefer the leisurely nature walk at the local park to other more rigorous or back-country pursuits of nature.

Lately, for various reasons, I seem to have retreated even farther inward, taking the position American poet Billy Collins shares in one of his poems, the idea of being an armchair nature lover who sometimes makes it to the window but not quite to the door. (Sadly, I couldn’t find the poem in my copies of his books. My apologies for that. Collins’ place on my recommended poets list is long held and permanent.)

The strings of my heart do tense at the pull of calls to save threatened and endangered wild animal species. I empathize with creatures in distress, and when one comes my way, putting me in a position to be the one to help, I do the best I can with the role, but I weigh it pragmatically against my other duties and the protection of my own family, especially my special-needs dog.

I acknowledge the risks that larger scale human activity often poses to living things and their ecosystems. I understand the serious need to prevent forest fires, but I also understand the need to conduct controlled burns and the fact that some tree species do not propagate without the intense heat of fire to release their seeds. I’m for sustainability, but I’m also a skeptic. I’ll be the first to admit I don’t know everything about my subjects of interest. And neither do you.

But I look at the risks as more than a one-sided proposition. There are risks in everything, in every aspect of life, whether human, animal, or vegetable. Some risks can be managed. Some are out of our control. All must be endured to be survived.

I also consider the grander scheme of nature’s own indifference to the beings in its midst. Death is a normal part of life, even painful death, and certainly predatory death. In my view, neither humans nor animals nor the environment should always come first. It’s a balancing act, to be undertaken in the existing context of our lives and the demands of undeniable society.

As for poetry, there always seems to be something I want to get to the bottom of in the wilderness, its mysteries and wonders. At times, it seems like I’m attacking the same idea over and over without reaching the sought-after insight. In other moments, I’m happy to dwell in the middle of it and let be what will. Perhaps I just can’t get enough of focusing on its fascinations, whatever should result. Exulting in these delights fills many pages of my verse.

Nature poetry is hardly a novel type, which makes it that much more difficult to make fresh than some others. I suppose it’s the challenge of this that has as much to do with my preoccupation as the subject itself does: to approach something familiar and see it again for the first time, then to extract and present the new facets for others to enjoy.

I come to it openly, trying not to force the issue. I let the motif be my guide for initial inspiration, and inhale. Then, I work to make interesting shapes from the matter. It calls, and I respond. Creation is always a partnership if not a village concern.