Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

poetry as mentor

William Blake's watercolor of "Age teaching youth", a Romantic representation of mentorship.  via

William Blake’s watercolor of “Age teaching youth,” a Romantic representation of mentorship.

So by now everyone knows it’s National Poetry Month. And I’m also writing poetry daily, as NPM coincides w/ National Poetry WRITING Month (NaPoWriMo). It’s a very happy month for me.


Today’s poem is by a poet who has been a mentor for me in both my craft, and in his thoughts. Jack Gilbert was a gifted poet — winner of several prestigious awards, and continuing to write until he died, in his late 80s. But there are poets I love for their craft (Mark Doty always comes to mind) and poets I love for what their craft translates: what they say, not simply how they say it. Jack Gilbert was both, able to reveal what felt like the world’s great secrets in a single line.

I’m sure this is another of those life metaphors writing continues to teach me, like age — as Blake noted — offers lessons to the young who will listen. I confess I haven’t always listened to my elders, unless they were/ are poets. Gilbert, for instance, helped me come to terms with the fact that writing poetry isn’t easy for me. I’m not prolific, and I revise far more than I draft. When asked on NPR why he only published four books of poetry in 50 years, he responded: “It’s not a business with me . . . . I’m not a professional of poetry, I’m a farmer of poetry.”


I love that. The gardener in me knows just how hard it is to prepare dirt, to sow seed, to cultivate & nurture & tend. Endure the vicissitudes of weather, the vagaries of predatory insects. It’s one of the best descriptions of writing — at least for me — ever. I’m trying to live a life where poetry can be harvested, as Gilbert did.

In the meantime, I’m looking at one of the books in his collected works, a book I bought before his collected works came out. A book I’ve given away several times. A book with lines like We find out the heart only by dismantling what/ the heart knows. And We must unlearn the constellations to see the stars. Or …Our lives happen between/ the memorable. 


Here’s a poem from his final book, The Dance Most of All. 

Waking at Night

The blue river is grey at morning
and evening. There is twilight
at dawn and dusk. I lie in the dark
wondering if this quiet in me now
is a beginning or an end.



what poets do

via google

via google

I’m always trying to explain to people ‘why poetry?’ But today I found a poem that says it far better than I can, and by one of my favourite poets ~ Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

One of the fathers of the Beat Poetry movement, Ferlinghetti is better known for founding City Lights publishing company, which has published such greats as Ginsberg, Kerouac, Bukowski, Chomsky, and many more. All of which is very cool.


But Ferlinghetti’s own poetry is wonderful. I’ve always loved his work, and today’s poem is the best explanation of why I write poetry. No small dream, poetry: I want to save the world. :) I’m no Whitman, no Dickinson, no name of large renown. Only a believer in the magic space between poet & reader. Here’s Ferlinghetti, w/ his own, more articulate, explanation:

Poetry as Insurgent Art [I am signaling you through the flames] 

I am signaling you through the flames.


The North Pole is not where it used to be.

Manifest Destiny is no longer manifest.

Civilization self-destructs.

Nemesis is knocking at the door.

What are poets for, in such an age?
What is the use of poetry?

The state of the world calls out for poetry to save it.

If you would be a poet, create works capable of answering the challenge of apocalyptic times, even if this meaning sounds apocalyptic.

You are Whitman, you are Poe, you are Mark Twain, you are Emily Dickinson and Edna St. Vincent Millay, you are Neruda and Mayakovsky and Pasolini, you are an American or a non-American, you can conquer the conquerors with words….

From Poetry as Insurgent Art by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. New Directions.


day 15 of National Poetry Month



Yes, it’s tax day. But it’s also the mid-point of National Poetry Month! Whoohoo! Today, I thought I’d share with you some gems — haiku. It’s a form considered (too often) for children much of the time, as it’s easy to do. But it’s not easy to do well.

Here is one of my favourite haiku poets, Matsuo Bashō. I’m including a few by him, as I think the form is far more lovely than most Americans realise. And Bashō is the acknowledged master.


Don’t forget: poetry does help your beginner’s heart. All beauty does, but the ability to draw a word sketch of a moment? That’s a kind of meditation. Trust me…


1. A cicada shell;
it sang itself
utterly away.
~ Translated by R.H. Blyth

2. The sea darkens;
the voices of the wild ducks
are faintly white.

3. A field of cotton–
as if the moon
had flowered.
~ Translated by Robert Hass

4. A weathered skeleton
in windy fields of memory,
piercing like a knife


keeping bees…

via Tom’s Bird Feeders

One of my grandson’s earlier words was Bee! My phone wallpaper is a bee, and there are bees on my jewellery, on cups, on various elements of my life.

I love bees.

This will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me, or reads this blog. Bees are a kind of totem for me, I suppose. In the way that certain cultures have animals for individuals, animals embodying their inner traits & lives, bees embody my own values: work will win out; sunny days; the community. And don’t forget the QUEEN!


Seriously — this past week I’ve been buying & planting for bees. While my beloved readies the mason bee house he bought me as a kit this past Christmas, I’ve been augmenting the nectar plants in the garden.

Already there are coneflower & bee balm, butterfly weed & lemon balm. Various herbs, roses, clematis & cypress flower. Pass-along plants as well as butterfly & bee fodder. I supplement with some annuals (nasturtiums & borage, this year), and usually add a couple of new perennials, as well.

This year it was the biennial hollyhocks, thyme, sweet spire, heliotrope & lavender. As well as a new bee balm & a new butterfly weed.

native mason bee on flower

native mason bee on flower


We have to feed the things we love. And prepare for them as well. Work to ensure their success. It isn’t a matter of just if you love them, they will come. Certainly not true of bees! But almost as surely not true for most of the things we love & value. Friendship requires connection. And then reconnection. Listening, trading stories, compassion & forgiveness & respect. Love is no less a finicky grower. It too has cultural requirements: trust, hope, humour & insight. Plus all that friendship offers.

Previous Posts

poetry as mentor
So by now everyone knows it's National Poetry Month. And ...

posted 3:37:56pm Apr. 18, 2015 | read full post »

what poets do
I'm always trying to explain to people 'why poetry?' But today I found a poem that says it far better than I can, and by one of my favourite poets ~ Lawrence ...

posted 12:22:13pm Apr. 16, 2015 | read full post »

day 15 of National Poetry Month
Yes, it's tax day. But it's also the mid-point of National Poetry Month! Whoohoo! Today, I thought I'd share with you some gems -- haiku. It's a form ...

posted 6:57:23pm Apr. 15, 2015 | read full post »

keeping bees...
One of my grandson's earlier words was Bee! My phone wallpaper is a bee, and there are bees on my jewellery, on cups, on various elements of my ...

posted 2:59:22pm Apr. 14, 2015 | read full post »

the intersection of then and now
I've had a lot of different jobs in my life, as have many people. But I've also had several 'careers': jobs where you invest time & education to ...

posted 4:47:37pm Apr. 13, 2015 | read full post »


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