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Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

poetry, structure, and creative beginner’s heart

image

courtesy Google

Last night, discussing structure and writing with my elder son, I said I couldn’t write w/ too much structure. That writing is — for me — a discovery process. Structure, I told him, can actually kill my ideas.

Later, as  I lay in bed half-asleep, I thought about poetry. And realised that what I said was only true of prose (at least for me).  I write most easily (and possibly best) when I have the structure of a form.  Sonnet, haiku, tanka, lune ~ each draws forth the content to fill the form’s formal structure. They act like scaffolding for  my creative process.

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Kind of like using the right tools to crack lobster… :) Sure you can use your hands. But a claw cracker and tiny fork make it soooo much easier.

The more I thought about it, the more I realised: structure is a kind of mindfulness. It’s almost meditative. Certainly it’s contemplative. If I have to fit the inchoate feelings/ images/ thoughts within to a skeletal framework, it’s almost like magic — following the breath to calm. A kind of practice…

courtesy Wikipedia

courtesy Wikipedia

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I think creativity often responds beautifully to structure. But what seems like structure to one person may be torture to another (my son’s process sounded antithetical to my own), and our own methods may well not even feel like ‘structure,’ they’re so deeply internalised.

Once, at a workshop, I heard the Pulitzer prize-winning poet Henry Taylor talking about his struggle to stay a ‘working poet’ while he fought brain cancer. Taylor said he did clerihews — a form invented at the turn of the 19th century. They were all he could manage, he said. But they did the trick: helping him keep poetically nimble.

When my days are full of scullery duties, or enrapt with my grandson, and poetry seems (even for me) almost too much, I turn to haiku. Haiku are my practice, the way clerihews were Taylor’s. And it’s because of both forms’ structure that they work as practices. The form allows the mind to work on the content, not wondering about things like line breaks. At least, not so much. :)

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national poetry month logoSo today’s poem is a clerihew (even though I’ve been practicing haiku… :) ) The clerihew is for my grandson, who will (I hope!) grow up to love poetry.

Holding Trinidad Gildersleeve,

 I’m inclined to disbelieve

That paradise requires death.

It’s in my arms, and drawing breath.

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what a difference a day makes (and other ways I wish I was like my grandson)

origami Kirin, by Satoshi Kamiya courtesy Google

origami Kirin, by Satoshi Kamiya
courtesy Google

My grandson burnt his hands Sunday. Not horribly, but badly enough that he cried inconsolably for hours. Today? He’s his usual sunny self: slapping the Cheerios on the highchair tray, pulling my hair, and laughing at nothing at all.

Why can’t I be like that?  Why can’t I let go of yesterday/ last year/ some childhood nightmare? How does he DO that??

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Watching Trin, I learn as much as my doctoral studies, I swear. Obviously not ‘content’ (a word I’ve come to mistrust hugely), but critical life skills. Mostly how to be happy.  And it begins — just like the Buddha said — with letting go.

Trin has no expectations, other than what happens in the now. He’s used to being loved, I grant you. But he isn’t… attached to it, if that makes sense. When he’s burned (through no one’s fault), he cries because it’s not going away. But then? It does, and he moves on. image

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The picture at the top of the page is a  Japanese kirin, known as qilin in Chinese. It’s a mythical animal, a cloven-footed, dragon-like chimera. And it has healing properties, some say. It’s the product of innumerable foldings of paper, carefully creased to bring to life an animal that probably never existed, other than in fable & legend. And yet Satoshi Kamiya, the origami artist, could see it so clearly in his mind’s eye that he was able to create a recognisable kirin. From gold paper.

Here’s the problem for me: my brain wants to be able to create the tangible from the evanescent: bubbles from air, a poem from a dream, a meal from a wish to comfort. But the very vision that enables that creative thought also makes me subject to that Buddhist bugaboo: attachment. I become attached to my creations. I build castles (sometimes from… well, alliterative substances) that I never end up even visiting, but which still cause me grief.

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Trin can’t create a poem (yet). Nor can he envision much of what isn’t there in front of him. (To be fair, sometimes he has a hard time with what’s tangibly present!) But he also doesn’t attach to what has never been. He doesn’t worry about something that may never come to pass.

So no, he can’t imagine a kirin. But he also doesn’t fixate on the pain of a day now past. I’m not sure I have the better deal…

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in the flash of a moment

image

courtesy Google

My grandson hurt himself today. Not horribly, but bad enough that he’s been crying for two+ hours.

On a lovely spring day — temps in the lower 70s — he was on the deck w/ his folks, crawling happily around. Apparently, the threshold strip is too hot for baby hands. :( Even though I felt it later, and it seemed only very warm to me, it raised blisters on newish palms.

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This is bad enough, but remember: at 11 months old, you use your hands for EVERYTHING. Crawling, eating, holding, exploring. And blisters HURT.

So a day that began beautifully — with a hungry Trin chowing down on his brunch of eggwhite from my breakfast sandwich, Cheerios, and bananas — in the flash of an instant went to trauma.

That is, I suspect, the nature of life & Buddhism, right? Change… even when life changes (at least temporarily) for the worse. But listening to my beloved grandson sobbing his heart out, as his mommy & daddy try to soothe him? Heart-rending. I try to console myself with the idea of kintsugi, mending broken places with gold (or kisses and parental love). The idea being that damaged places can be beautiful — they make us human, make us grow.

But it still doesn’t seem very fair…

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the poetry of every day

imageIt’s easy to forget that every day holds poetry. Especially if you’re hectic: packing, moving, cleaning a new house, unpacking… Soothing a disolocated dog, holding a curious baby. Eating out of cartons while you locate the dishes and pans.

All of this can make you forget the whole point of the exercise. New house! Beautiful baby! GREAT life! Well, not really forget, but kind of lose sight of…

Watching my grandson today, as he tried to climb over the boxes that have yet to be unpacked, I remembered why I love haiku so much: it’s a verbal snapshot of a moment. Any moment will do, if you look closely. For me, it’s almost any moment I spend watching my grandson… :)image

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Tanka (at least for me) differs only in a short reflection — it’s the caption for the snapshot, if that makes sense.

So today’s poem — after a hiatus of traveling here and hectic moving! — is both snapshot and reflection: a tanka for Trin.

tanka for Trinidad

my grandson chows down
one entire banana
singing na na na
his fisted hands keep time
thump thump thump song of feeding

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