Posted in Book/Magazine Reviews, General Interest, Guest Writer, Life of the Spirit

Coalesce—Stories at the Center of the Human Experience

I have recently had the pleasure to begin a correspondence with the founding-editor of Coalesce, a new online journal, one that I think would be of interest to The BeZine’s readers and contributors. So I invited that editor, Erich Keyser, to share with us about Coalesce and his journey that led to it.

Connecting Through Our Stories

COALESCE is a community where people can come together by sharing their personal human story through creative nonfiction, poetry, and photo essays. We all have a personal story to tell. The way we were raised, the hardship we’ve faced, the people we’ve met, and the lessons we’ve learned. The experiences that have shaped us, good and bad, painful and joyful, challenging and rewarding. But how often do we get to share part of our story openly, feeling truly heard and understood? COALESCE is a place to be unequivocally listened to and heard, and hopefully to activate our empathy and initiate a spark of compassion and greater understanding. We never know what someone has been through. Sometimes, we aren’t even fully aware of how our own traumas and experiences have impacted us and then influence the way we see and treat others.

With our current fast-paced culture of immediacy and business, when time is money, and political perspectives equate to perceived threat, it’s hard to slow down and listen. Misinformation, misjudgments, and misunderstanding lead to fear, which prevent us from connecting with others. A global pandemic forced us to stop and listen for a brief moment in time: we could hear the birds in the city, dolphins returned to canals of Venice, people went for walks outside, had to sit with their own feelings and thoughts in their heads (scary!). Yet, there seemed to be a rush to get back to “normal” – to traffic-jammed commutes, to quick greetings of “how’s it going?” without stopping to listen for the reply. While in ways this pandemic brought us together, it also sharpened the divides and exacerbated the anxieties in our society. I think that now, even more than before, it is important for us to listen to each other.

COALESCE began about a year and a half ago when I was in the depths of a state of significant loneliness, fear, and depression. I was in self isolated quarantine in Guelph, Ontario after recently visiting my family in Pennsylvania for a short holiday trip. I was in the middle of contemplating leaving an objectively great job with steady pay and meaningful enough work. But the long hours at a desk and fast-paced business style were damaging my body and draining my soul. I was wrestling with my dad’s recent cognitive decline, which he was brushing off to old age, and that we later found out to be a tumor, which was, thankfully, successfully removed. Certain cognitive functions however won’t return – most likely due to early stages of dementia. I was missing my family and friends. And I was trying to hold together a relationship at the time, which was inevitably not going to work. I was missing and craving community and creativity, and began dreaming up all kinds of ideas, which were the beginnings of what COALESCE Community eventually became. 

I grew up in a very small, very white, very conservative town. It wasn’t until I started meeting people with different lived experiences and diverse perspectives, that I genuinely started questioning my own assumptions about others and the world. I got my B.S. in Biology and Religious Studies at Ursinus College in Pennsylvania, and essential to the Ursinus experience is a course called CIE (the Common Intellectual Experience). This required first-year seminar introduces students to much more than college level reading and writing. It broadens their academic, intellectual, and emotional horizons, engaging with books, poems, music, and plays across disciplines, worldviews, cultures, and time, and poses some of the most fundamental questions of the undergraduate experience (and arguably, our experience as human beings): What does it mean to be human? How should we live together? How do we come to know the world? What should matter to me? What will I do? I was lucky to have the late Rev. Charles Rice as my CIE professor, who was the epitome of compassion and love. He was a no-bullshit kind of man, who deeply cared for his students and their growth, and sought to know them on a deeper level. In short, he took time to listen to them and their personal human stories, cultivating greater understanding, compassion, and love which contributed to him being a champion for students and a pillar of the college and surrounding community.

This course, these questions, and Rev. Rice forever shaped me and how I oriented to the world. They guided my subsequent experiences at Ursinus, studying abroad in Tanzania, and at graduate school in Canada. They continue to inform much of how I approach my life decisions. During graduate school, and afterwards in a professional capacity, I had the privilege to work with several First Nations and Native American Tribes across Canada and the United States on a variety of environmental and conservation initiatives. Being able to bear witness to the powerful and beautiful songs, language, stories, ceremonies, and relationships that many of these people and Elders shared with each other and the land – culture and relationships which were almost destroyed through settler colonialism and residential schools – created a deeper understanding inside myself of the ways in which we are all connected. The ways in which we exist in relationship to one another and the world around us. The ways in which we all have spirit and can only thrive when we care for and nurture that spirit.

It’s easy to avoid an angry co-worker, to ignore someone experiencing homelessness on the street, to get upset with a friend or partner for something they said or did that was hurtful. It’s easy to dismiss someone with a different political or social perspective as a waste of time or unable to understand. But all these reactions lead to and perpetuate misunderstanding, fear, hostility, anger, cynicism, or apathy and indifference. When we take the time to sit with someone, get to know them on a deeper more intimate level, hear their story, what they’ve been through that has shaped them, it’s impossible to not develop a greater understanding of who they are, where they came from, and what they’re going through. Listening to understand is an intentional practice. The late Thich Nhat Hanh summed it up with profound simplicity: “Understanding and Love are not two separate things, but just one. To develop understanding, you have to practice looking at all living beings with the eyes of compassion. When you understand, you cannot help but love. And when you love, you naturally act in a way that can relieve the suffering of people.”

The Cover of Spring Equinox 2022
The first issue of Coalesce
Cover Art by Kate Sowinski ©2022

At COALESCE we want to empower people to share their story. Stories are at the center of our human experience which bring us together. Authentic and honest sharing and deep listening can help us connect with one another, cultivate greater empathy, understanding, and compassion. We currently publish a collection of human stories seasonally, one for every solstice and equinox. We try to stay connected to our contributors, follow what they’re doing, celebrate their successes and share them with the world. We are starting virtually, and in ways this is a beautiful gift as our community can reach and connect with a larger audience. The long-term vision is for COALESCE to grow into a collaborative creative community space: to hold story-telling and creative workshops, serve as a co-working space, host retreats centered on creative inquiry and expression, partner with educational institutions and other community organizations and businesses to hold space for student galleries, community talks, and so much more. Realistically, the door for ideas and people is wide open. At the center of it all is sharing our stories. For all of us. To speak our truth. To be vulnerable. To be heard. To connect. To understand. To grow closer. To heal. To love better. To see each other and the world with eyes of compassion.


©2022 Erich Keyser
All rights reserved


Erich Keyser…

…lives outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (the Traditional Territory of the Lenape Nation). His studies in Geography, Biology, and Religion have taken him across the United States to Tanzania and Canada. Erich has several years of experience working alongside Indigenous Nations in Canada and the United States on a variety of environmental and conservation projects. He is curious about human relationships with each other and the natural world, and believes in the power of deep listening and connecting through personal stories. He is currently an Adjunct Instructor at his alma mater, Ursinus College, and finds joy in playing and composing music, writing, rock climbing, hiking, mushroom coffee, and quality time with his partner and loved ones. Erich is the founder of COALESCE.

Coalesce Community
STORIES AT THE CENTER OF THE HUMAN EXPERIENCE

Coalesce Submissions

Posted in Book/Magazine Reviews, General Interest, Writing

Poetry Chef Michael Dickel brews a Mindblower, concocts ugly- allusions with beautiful- imagery on rough pleats of old political denims.

TIME OF THE POET REPUBLIC

The resistance poet in Poetry Chef Michael Dickel wields his frying spoon with that amazing verve of a militant word-master and that astounding zeal of a chronicler cum griot cum protest poet. He fries and roasts the 6th January American political gaffe into a beautiful poetry gourmet ( fusion of visual arts , graphics and poetry) as perpetuated by the tyrant and autocratic regime of Donald Trump at Capitol Hill . Archaisms and political corruption that has since plunged the once all powerful America into the status of a Banana Republichovel , a war mongering nation and a military state on record as lecturing several countries across the globe on ethos of non-violent elections, freedom of expressions , human rights and democracy . Dr.Dickel uses powerful grim visual imagery , sorry historical allusions exposing the stark nudity of a system that have thrived on punishing other nations through perpetuation…

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Posted in Book/Magazine Reviews, Peace & Justice, Poems/Poetry

“I Will Die With a Heart Full of Hope,” the Rebel Poetry of the Women of Afghanistan

پاس په كمر ولاړه ګله!
 نصيب دچايي اوبه زه درخيژومه 
O Flower that you grow on the mountain side;
The duty to water you belongs to me, but to whom would you belong?

ستا به د ګلو دوران تير شۍ
زما به پاته شۍ دزړه سوۍ داغونه
The blooming season of your beauty will pass;
But the scorched patches on my heart will always remain fresh.

Zarmina's parents at her grave. She was an poet who died after setting herself on fire. Photo by Seasmus Murphy, 2012, Courtesy  of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting
Zarmina’s parents at her grave. She was a poet who died after setting herself on fire. Photo by Seasmus Murphy, 2012, Courtesy of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting

This month The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine, published its June 2013 issue, Landays. The issue is dedicated entirely to poetry composed by and circulated among Afghan women.

After learning the story of a teenage girl, Zarmina, who was forbidden to write poems and burned herself in protest, poet and journalist Eliza Griswold and photographer and filmmaker Seamus Murphy journeyed to Afghanistan to investigate the impact of the girl’s death, as well as the role that poetry plays in the lives of contemporary Pashtuns. A year later, Griswold and Murphy returned to Afghanistan to study the effects of more than a decade of U.S. military involvement on the culture and lives of Afghan women. In the course of this work, Griswold collected a selection of landays, or two-line poems. These poems are accompanied by Murphy’s photographs from the same period and are presented in the June 2013 issue of Poetry.

My pains grow as my life dwindles,
I will die with a heart full of hope.

A report on death and love by Eliza Grizwold and Seamus Murphy, a project of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting

Griswold describes the characteristics of a landay in her introduction:

“Twenty-two syllables: nine in the first line, thirteen in the second. The poem ends with the sound “ma” or “na.” Sometimes they rhyme, but more often not. In Pashto, they lilt internally from word to word in a kind of two-line lullaby that belies the sharpness of their content, which is distinctive not only for its beauty, bawdiness, and wit, but also for the piercing ability to articulate a common truth about war, separation, homeland, grief, or love.

Landays are centuries-old custom among Afghans, traditionally passed along in the oral tradition, and passed down through generations. The topics of the landays included in the June 2013 issue run the gamut—love, marriage, war, the status of women, drones, politics, courage, nature, and the Internet. Sometimes humorous, sometimes heartbreaking, these captivating two-line poems offer unique insight into the contemporary life of the more than twenty million Pashtun women who span the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan.”

*****

About Poetry
Founded in Chicago by Harriet Monroe in 1912, Poetry is the oldest monthly devoted to verse in the English-speaking world. Monroe’s “Open Door” policy, set forth in Volume 1 of the magazine, remains the most succinct statement of Poetry’s mission: to print the best poetry written today, in whatever style, genre, or approach. The magazine established its reputation early by publishing the first important poems of T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Marianne Moore, Wallace Stevens, H.D., William Carlos Williams, Carl Sandburg, and other now-classic authors. In succeeding decades it has presented—often for the first time—works by virtually every major contemporary poet.

The entire June 2013 issue is available online as of June 3 HERE. Digital copies of the June issue of Poetry magazine, as well as a digital subscription, are also available.

The June 2013 issue of Poetry is accompanied by an exhibition at the Poetry Foundation gallery in Chicago, Shame Every Rose: Images of Afghanistan, which will feature a selection of Seamus Murphy’s photographs. The exhibition will run from June through August 2013 and is free and open to the public.

About the Poetry Foundation
The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine, is an independent literary organization committed to a vigorous presence for poetry in our culture. It exists to discover and celebrate the best poetry and to place it before the largest possible audience. The Poetry Foundation seeks to be a leader in shaping a receptive climate for poetry by developing new audiences, creating new avenues for delivery, and encouraging new kinds of poetry through innovative literary prizes and programs. For more information, please visit http://www.poetryfoundation.org.

About Everything Afghanistan
“Afghanistan’s recent history is a story of war and civil unrest. A country once prosperous now suffers from enormous poverty, a lack of skilled and educated workers, a crumbling infrastructure, and widespread land mines. It’s being heard about in the news every day but the media approaches this country from its dark side only. Here at Everything Afghanistan we try to show the world the other side of this war torn country. Despite years of bloodshed and destruction, there is still so much beauty that remains unseen.

Here we post about Afghan related things, from politics and events to its culture and traditions. This blog is against the US invasion of Afghanistan.” Amina jalalzei, a.k.a. Vicoden

About Mirman Baheer, the Ladies Literary Society
“Over 300 members of Mirman Baheer, the Ladies Literary Society, stretch across the provinces of Afghanistan. Women write and recite landai, two-line folk poems that can be funny, sexy, raging or tragic and have traditionally dealt with love and grief. For many women, these poems allow them to express themselves free of social constraints and obligations. 5 out of 100 women in Afghanistan graduate from high school, and most are married by the age of 16. This kind of expression is looked down upon in society, forcing the women writing to keep their craft a secret.” The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting

Meetings of the poetry society are held in Kabul, but with 8 out of 10 Afghanistan women residing in rural areas, many women call in to the meetings. Zarmina Shehadi was one of those callers. She lit herself on fire two years ago. Her family denies her suicide, claiming that she lit herself on fire to get warm after a bath. “She was a good girl, an uneducated girl. Our girls don’t want to go to school,” her mother said. Zarmina is the most recent of Afghanistan’s poet-martyrs.

About the Pultizer Center on Crisis Reporting
The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting is an innovative award-winning non-profit journalism organization dedicated to supporting the independent international journalism that U.S. media organizations are increasingly less able to undertake. The Center focuses on under-reported topics, promoting high-quality international reporting and creating platforms that reach broad and diverse audiences. MORE

The Pulitzer Center will present I Am the Begger of the World, a reading and film screening event, on July 30, 2013, at Culture Project in New York City and on Wednesday, July 31, 2013, at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. Farrar, Straus and Giroux will release I Am the Beggar of the World: Landays from Contemporary Afghanistan in spring 2014.

The primary narrative content for this post is courtesy of The Poetry Foundation.
Examples of Pashto Landay, A form of Afghan poetry courtesy of Everything Afghanistan
“I will die …” Landry courtesy of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting
Photo credit ~ Seamus Murphy for The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting

Video by Seamus Murphy for the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting

– compiled by Jamie Dedes

Posted in Book/Magazine Reviews, Jamie Dedes, Poems/Poetry

The Lives of Women


… For when I shut myself off the outer tick
I find myself listening to the quickening beat
of this dear planet as if it were my own heart’s clock.”
The Composition Hut, Myra Schneider in What Women Want

www-cover
In this short collection of nineteen poems  – including the ten-page narratively-driven long-poem, Caroline Norton – Myra Schneider manages to cut through our many-layered lives. Her poems often move from the intimacy of  personal experience to a broader frame of reference. The opening poems are nature-and-spirit driven and bespeak a love of and concern for environment. The second part of the collection fulfills the polemic promise of the title to present hard lives and harder times in a clear and righteous outcry.

Among the opening poems is Losing, written for her publisher. Myra starts with the unimportant lose of socks and moves on to finding what is valuable:

“a sparrowhawk perched on your gate, eyes alert
for prey, words that toadleap from imagination,
from heart – to make sure every day is a finding.”

In two poems she hints at the symmetrical beauty of mathematics, “… the square root of minus one you once grasped, dumbfounded.” A visit to the Garden is bursting with color and movement and triggers speculations …

“but what does it matter? You know too well
how the years have shrunk your future,
that the past is an ever expanding suitcase.”

… and further along in the poem she closes with …

“to your feet, to the bees still milking
flowering raspberries. You free a frog
watch it hop back to its life.”

I was riveted by the story of Paula Schneider in Crossing Point, as Paula (probably Myra’s mother-in-law) crosses with her children from Germany into Holland during World War II. This is included in the second half of Myra’s book, which comes to the business at hand: injustice as it affects women and children.

Interesting that this book came my way when I am standing by two friends whose physical and emotional frailty are much entwined with their relations with fathers and husbands or boyfriends. It’s not that things haven’t been improved since our parents’ days…at least for many of us it has. It’s not that there are no kind and enlightened men. Certainly there are. It’s not because women and society are without culpability, because they are not.

The complexity of the gender and social issues examined are clear in Myra’s long poem, Caroline Norton, about the nineteenth century writer and poet,  social reformer and unwitting feminist. Caroline came to the latter two occupations, not so much by choice as necessity. As the poem folds out, we see that the brutal husband who separated Caroline from her children (with tragic results for them), was abetted and aided by the women in his life, influenced as they were by a social context in which women and children are property with no legal rights of their own. No doubt those women were numb to the implications, threatened by the hint of change, and anxious to bolster the sense of surperiority they got out of putting this woman down.

Myra stands firm in her poetic commitment to continue the fight started with Caroline Norton, since half the world is still under siege and the other half still begs improvements. We read about the child-bride (Woman) and the woman who is stoned (Her Story). One wonders what happens to the children – boys and girls – of such women. The short story here is that: What women want is justice.

For two years, I have enjoyed Myra Schneider’s work and appreciated her commitment to encouraging others to honor their inner artist, through her books on writing, her classes, and her support of Second Light Network (England), an association of women poets over forty. I suspect that her work doesn’t have the audience it deserves. I hope the day comes when that is remedied.

The closing poem in What Women Want:

WOMEN RUNNING
by Myra Schneider, 2013, All rights reserved
posted here with Myra’s permission

after Picasso: Deux femmes courant sur la plage
Look how their large bodies leaping
from dresses fill the beach, how their breasts
swing happiness, how the mediterraneans
of sea and sky fondle their flesh. Nothing

could rein them in. The blown wildnesses
of their dark animal hair, their hands joined
and raised, shout triumph. All their senses
are roused as they hurtle towards tomorrow.

That arm laid across the horizon,
the racing legs, an unstoppable quartet, pull
me from my skin and I become one of them,
believe I’m agile enough to run a mile,

believe I’m young again, believe age
has been stamped out. No wonder, I worship
at the altar of energy, not the energy huge
with hate which revels in tearing apart,

in crushing to dust but the momentum
which carries blood to the brain, these women
across the plage, lovers as they couple,
and tugs at the future till it breaks into bloom.

What Women Want, publisher (Second Light Publications)

© 2013, essay, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved
Cover art and poetry, Myra Schneider, All rights reserved

Photo on 2012-09-19 at 20.00JAMIE DEDES ~ My worldly tags are poet and writer.  I’m in my fifth year of blogging at The Poet by Day, the journey in poem, formerly titled Musing by Moonlight.  Through the gift of poetry (mine and that of others), I enter sacred space.

Posted in Book/Magazine Reviews, Jamie Dedes, Poems/Poetry

ARTEMISpoetry

artemispoetrycoverissue9frontARTEMISpoetry, a review

by

Jamie Dedes (The Poet by Day, a journey in poem)

No matter what happens on any given day, when the latest issue of a literary magazine crosses the threshold of my home, it’s a good day. Recently I received the November issue of ARTEMISpoetry for review. That was a very good day indeed. The writing and art is by women.The reading is for everyone. I venture to say that this publication of the Second Light Network, while not well-known, is making a mark and growing an audience.

Between the covers of ARTEMISpoetry, I found a rich selection of poems, features, reviews and interviews, biography, and art.

The journal opens with an interview of the Argentinian, Ana Becciú.

“I continue writing because I need to know and to understand … the voices within us, understand the surface of the words we use every day, voices that pronounce suffering, loss, the voices of all of us lost in this present society.”

There follows an exploration on the pleasures of reading and an essay by Myra Schneider on the “mystery of the creative moment.” I enjoyed the detail in Clare Best‘s engaging feature on her project and process for Self-portrait without Breasts. The project evolved from her decision to have a prophylactic double-mastectomy and to go flat chested and not have reconstructive surgery or use prosthesis.

“Cast me and I will become what I must.”

I think the feature I most enjoyed was Judith Cair’s piece on her experience translating passages from Homer’s Odyssey.

“The act of translating is beginning to influence my own writing. Even in writing poems far removed from Ancient Greece, I realize that there is an undertow of lines from the Odyssey, which may or may not be consciously acknowledged. And sometimes I am left with such a strong impression of a particular episode that I must re-imagine it for myself.”

The main course in this delightful menu addressing the interests of poets is the poetry itself. Among the many poems enjoyed is Anne Cluysenaar’s Hearing Your Words, offered here with the permission of the publisher and poet.

HEARING YOUR WORDS
For Ruth Bidgood, reading in Aberystwyth

by Anne Cluysenaar, © 2013, All rights reserved

I used, as a child, to imagine my death, or rather
beyond it. A ship setting out, in flames, at dusk,
counteracting the planet’s roll, on the sunrise path
to a waveless far horizon lit from beneath.

This came to mind, just now, clicking on close-up
through the café window – sea meeting that sky,
distantly smooth, arching high, up above
a jumble of chimneys and roofs backlit at sundown.

I found myself catching my breath, gravity’s curve
seen through such a small frame, from here where we sit
with our cups of tea. Vastness out there, our past.
But on planets elsewhere, other seas, other lives beginning.

Later, among the books, hearing your words,
it was waves I thought of – from land we may never see
reaching across the bulge of this little earth
to break, not one the same, on familiar shores.

taken from a poem diary From Seen to Unseen and Back by Anne Cluysenaar, forthcoming from Cinnamon Press, 2014.

ARTEMISpoetry is published  twice-a-year in November and May. Members receive their copy as part of their membership. Issues are available to nonmembers. For information, link HERE.  The next submission deadline is August 31, 2013. For membership and submission information, link HERE.

© 2013, review, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved
© 2012, journal cover and art, Second Light Network, All rights reserved – Many thanks to Anne Stewart for forwarding the cover and to Myra Schneider, Dilys Wood, and Anne Cluysenaar for the poem

Photo on 2012-09-19 at 20.00JAMIE DEDES ~ My worldly tags are poet and writer. For the past five years on medical retirement due to a chronic, potentially life-threatening illness, I’ve blogged at The Poet by Day, formerly titled Musing by Moonlight. The gift of illness is the time for poetry. Through the gift of poetry (mine and that of others), I enter sacred space.

Posted in Book/Magazine Reviews, General Interest, Jamie Dedes

WINTER IS PAST

Victoria at the Palm Springs Writer's Expo March 2012
Victoria at the Palm Springs Writer’s Expo March 2012

Victoria Slotto, an Into the Bardo contributing writer, had her first novel – Winter is Past – published last year. Her second novel is in progress as well as a poetry chapbook. Victoria is a gifted writer and poet. I am proud and delighted to feature her here and honored that she has shared work on this site. She and I have much in common in terms of values and life experience. It was gratifying to see how well she incorporated important insights and ideals into the narrative flow of her novel. You will fall in love with and not soon forget her dear character, Claire. Jamie Dedes

See! The winter is past; the rains re over and gone. Flowers appear on the earth.” Song of Songs: 2:12

2940013445222_p0_v1_s260x420Enter a world where achieving inner strength and surviving the odds are possible

With a talent and voice unlike any other, Victoria C. Slotto captures the reader’s heart and mind with a tale of overcoming personal hardships and struggling with one of life’s most difficult questions, “What if…?”

What does a woman—a fearful woman—do when all she holds dear is in danger of being lost? Victoria C. Slotto’s romantic drama, Winter is Past, explores the depths of joy and sorrow women face and the paths that women find through fear.

Winter is Past explores Claire’s story, a woman with a perfect life—a husband she loves, friends, and meaningful work. As life changes around her, she shows us the strength of her spirit, as well as her belief.

Victoria C. Slotto, a former hospice nurse and a kidney transplant survivor, speaks from experience as she writes Claire’s story. But Winter is Past is not a memoir by any stretch; it is a story written by an accomplished poet and essayist.Victoria’s poems and short stories have been published in several magazines and journals since 2005.

The Plot of Winter is Past

After receiving a kidney from her best friend, Claire has a renewed delight in life. This newfound happiness is put on hold when she discovers Kathryn has cancer in her remaining kidney. To cope with a possible loss, Claire is forced to face a source of fear that has haunted her from early in life. Throughout her journey she will uncover an inner strength and survive the unthinkable. Claire’s fear is every woman’s fear. Her question is every woman’s—can she survive?

Critics Weigh In

Critics have already weighed in with reviews. Jean Davenport describes the novel as “A beautifully written and purposeful exploration of the meaning of life through love, loss and rebirth. The journey of Claire makes us all appreciate the fragile string our lives are attached to and how each event makes all worth living. A great read!”

Winter is Past was released December 2011 and is available in both print and e-book formats via most online retailers, which are listed HERE.

© 2012, 2013, photographs, Victoria C. Slotto, all rights reserved

Victoria and Dave Slotto
Victoria and Dave Slotto

Victoria C. Slotto attributes her writing influences to her spirituality, her dealings with grief and loss, and nature. Having spent twenty-eight years as a nun, Victoria left the convent but continued to work as a nurse in the fields of death and dying, Victoria has seen and experienced much. Because of her experience, Victoria is able to connect with her audience on an intimate level. She resides in Reno, Nevada, with her husband and two dogs and spends several months of the year in Palm Desert, California. Winter is Past is her first book published by Lucky Bat Books. Victoria is also an accomplished blogger, sharing her fine poetry with us HERE.

Posted in Book/Magazine Reviews, Jamie Dedes

NINE GATES: ENTERING THE MIND OF POETRY

NINE GATES: ENTERING THE MIND OF POETRY

by Jane Hirshfield (b. 1953, American) author and poet

Review by: Jamie Dedes (Musing by Moonlight)

 

An award-winning author and poet, Jane Hirshfield has published seven collections of poetry in addition to  Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry, a collection of essays. Her most recent book of poetry is Come, Thief (August 2011). In collaboration with Mariko Aratoni, Hirshfield edited and translated four volumes of poetry by women of ancient Japan.

Ms. Hirshfield is a Zen Buddhist and her practice informs her work with spiritual insight and delicate nuance.  She has said, “It is my hope that the experience of that practice underlies and informs [my poetry] as a whole. My feeling is that the paths of poetry and of meditation are closely linked – one is an attentiveness and awareness that exists in language, the other an attentiveness and awareness that exists in silence, but each is a way to attempt to penetrate experience thoroughly, to its core.” [The Poetry Foundation]

Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry (September 1998) is a series of nine essays that were written by Jane Hirshfield over a ten-year period and published or presented at poetry events.

*****

Gates are a means of exit and entrance, providing connection between the inner and the outer.  The premise of Hirshfield’s book is that the art of poetry is the gate by which we are offered  “mysterious informing.” Nine Gates is at once a primer for the reader and a manual for the writer. This is a book that is reverent of art, artist, and life. All is sacred ground.

The book begins at the beginning – the root of poetry – concentration.  “By concentration, I mean a particular state of awareness: penetrating, unified, and focused, yet also permeable and open.” As she says, this is Huxley’s “doors to perception” and James Joyce’s “epiphany.”  It is what I would call sacred space, and this focus, this concentration, “however laborious, becomes a labor of love.” In this chapter, I particularly appreciated the short discussion of voice: writers whose ear is turned to both the inner and outer have found their voice and thus are able to put their  ”unique and recognizable stamp” upon their work.

The book closes with “Writing and the Threshold Life” and a discussion of the space into which a writer withdraws, liminal space.  The writer, she tells us, becomes like the monk giving-up identity and assumptions. . “The person [in liminal state] leaves behind his or her identity and dwells in the threshold state of ambiguity, openness, and indeterminacy.” This is all rather like the person going through a ritual transitions. Only after transition to this liminal space, neither here nor there, is community wholeheartedly embraced. To see clearly and to embrace the whole without judgment, one has to be free of the standard cannon and the received wisdom.  The idea being that the creative life is one that gives up the ordinary conventions, which is the price of freedom.

Encased between the two portals of concentration and the threshold life are discussions of originality, translation (what we learn from the poetry and linguistic traditions of others), “word leaves” (images), indirection (the mind of the poet circles the poem), inward and outward looking, the shadow side of poetry (between the realms of heaven and hell), and poetry as a “vessel of remembrance.”

The book’s range is broad, using poets and their wisdom from ancient times to modern and from East to West. The essays are at once a delicate lace and a sturdy practical homespun. All is approached with respect, clarity, and intelligence. Each chapter is a gentle nudge toward more authenticity, greater truth, deeper spirituality. In her introduction, Jane Hirshfield says that because the essays were written at different times some themes and quotes are repeated and removing the repetitions proved impossible. I felt the repetitions served to reinforce. I was grateful for them. If I have any difficulty with this book, it was the conflict between not wanting to put it down and wanting to put it down to start writing in the spirit of entering the mind of poetry. A definite thumbs-up on this one.

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Essay ~ © 2011, Jamie Dedes, all rights reserved

Cover art ~  © publisher, posted under fair use

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Posted in Book/Magazine Reviews, Jamie Dedes

BROAD MARGIN

MAXINE HONG KINGSTON (b. 1940)

Chinese-American Author, Poet, Peacemaker, and Professor Emeritus of University of California at Berkeley, California, U.S.A.

Photograph courtesy of the CitySon Philosopher. Taken at Kepler’s Books, Menlo Park, California, U.S.A.

Keep this day. Save this moment;

Save each scrap of moment; write it down.

Save this moment. And this one. And this.

I Love a Broad Margin to My LifeMaxine Hong Kingston

AN EVENING WITH MAXINE HONG KINGSTON

by

Jamie Dedes

I suspect that when many of us think of Buddhist influences on American literature, the first writers we think of are the Beats, but there are also very fine contemporary writers: Maxine Hong Kingston, Lan Cao, Anne Waldman, and Charles Johnson among others. Hence, I was delighted when, as part of the two-week-long celebrations of my sixty-first birthday, the CitySon Philosopher took me to dinner at Cafe Barrone and afterward next door to Kepler’s Books – a favorite among family and friends, the local independent – to hear Maxine Hong Kingston talk about her new book, I Love a Broad Margin to My Life.

Story gives form and pleasure to the chaos that’s life. By the end of the story, we have found understanding, meaning, revelation, resolution, reconciliations. Maxine Hong Kingston

This newest book is a memoir in long poem, in effect like the old-country tradition of writing a poem on a scroll. Flowing. Organic. Seemingly endless. It was occasioned about six years ago by Ms. Kingston’s sixty-fifth birthday. When I dipped a ready toe into its rippling waters of free-verse, my own preference, I was not disappointed.

Going to author presentations is one of our nicer family traditions. Having both already read The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts, my son and I looked forward to hearing what Ms. Kingston had to say. There’s also a certain amount of local pride. Ms. Kingston was born and raised in Stanford, a university town and the next one over.  She derives from a family of Chinese immigrants with strong culturally inspired story-telling and poetry traditions. This family experience combined with some years in Hawaii and traveling to China and elsewhere enriches Ms. Kingston’s writing and lends vitality, color, and perspective to both her prose and poetry.

Am I pretty at 65?

What does old look like?

Ms. Kingston immediately addresses the  issues of aging and fears of dying, both in her book-presentation and in the book itself. She talks about being superstitious and thinking that as long as she has things to write “I keep living…” She tells the origins of the title: Thoreau. It’s a line from Walden that, she says, also hangs framed over her desk. She explains the Chinese custom of “writing poems back” and tells of her dad who would write poems to her in the margins of her books. Charming! She is now translating these for publication, though that was never her dad’s intention. Or so I would infer. She encourages us to write our own poems in the margins of her book, which certainly are wide.

Ms. Kingston stands in front of us, like a fragile little bird, reading excerpts from the book, which I delight to hear. She is ten years older than me and remembers the same key events: civil rights, women’s rights, Vietnam, Iraq … and so on. She’s lived the immigrant experience. She does indeed sound like a Buddhist. Has the Buddhist sensibility: respect for life, for silence, for present moment.

When Ms. Kingston has finished her presentation and Q & A, my son excuses himself and kindly goes to buy two copies of the book. We stand in line with others, waiting for her to sign our books. Every moment spent attending to writers, talking about books and writing, is precious…even more this one, because I am with my son and the writer happens to be one with whom I share values, gender, and the context of time. She also is a mother with one son.

Finally it is our turn: Ms. Kingston sits tiny and cheerful with pen in hand. She greets us, as cordial as she has been with each reader. She writes my name in big, bold sprawling black letters and “Joy and beauty and delight” and signs her full name,  with “Hong” in Chinese characters. In the privacy of my mind, I think: teachers do indeed come in many guises and Ms. Kingston provides an engaging example of Buddhist values in action and at work.

Finally, my son and I head for his car, for home, and for good reading, just as we so often have over the past forty years. I feel sated. As long as we have dear children, fine friends, authentic authors, and good books to read and our own stories to write, we have everything. Life is indeed full of joy, beauty, and delight. Thank you, Son! Thank you, Ms. Kingston!