Saturday, September 29, 2007

The Four Invisible Brothers

I recently read Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. In this memoir Gilbert writes about the year she spent putting herself back together after a messy, long-drawn-out, rancorous divorce. She took a leave from her writing desk and hit the road.

The book begins with the four months Gilbert spends in Italy where she indulges in cuisine, reawakening her senses to a full life and putting back some of the weight she'd lost during the dark days. She then spends four months in India in an Ashram with her own guru. She learns to meditate, to move inward and reawaken the inner self. Finally, she spends four months in Indonesia, in Bali where she makes friends with a medicine man and learns how to fully heal herself. This last part of her journey completes a circle. When she began the journey, she was escaping from failed love. In this last part she falls in love again.

This last section was my favorite part of the book. Here Gilbert learns the "Four Brothers Meditation." According to the Balinese, each of us at birth is joined by four invisible brothers who then protect us all our lives. They are always looking out for us, even in the womb. In the womb each brother is represented by a physical property—one by the placenta, one by the amniotic fluid, another by the umbilical cord, and the fourth by the substance that covers an unborn baby's skin. These birth materials are collected by the parents, placed in a coconut shell, and buried by the front door of the family's home. The spirits of the brothers remain with the child for life. Each represents a virtue that we need to be happy and safe: intelligence, friendship, strength, and poetry. Yes, poetry.

Each of your brothers is given a name and you must call on them when you need their help. You should speak to them and consider them family members. At night they stay awake while you sleep. Their job is to protect you from nightmares and demons. If you are now saying that you have nasty nightmares, you are undoubtedly misunderstanding the nightmares. The very thing that is frightening you is really one of the brothers fighting off what would harm you.

I am going to try to get in touch with my four invisible brothers.

Gilbert is scheduled to appear on the Oprah Winfrey show Friday, October 5.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Road Signs

On my way home from Vermont last Monday, I drove along a number of rural roads and through several small towns. Because I didn't have to deal with the usual nightmare traffic, I was able to enjoy the beautiful scenery and some interesting things along the side of the road that I normally wouldn't even notice when I'm on high alert trying to make sure no one runs me off the road. Three such sights have stayed in my head.

The first was a sign outside a small white church: "If you knew that you would never fail, what would you try?" Hm, I wondered. Nothing? or Everything? Maybe it's a trick question. During the week I applied the question to poetry: If I knew that I would never write a bad poem, would I keep on writing? Again, I'm not sure of the answer. Certainly, some of the fun would be lost, the lovely fear that comes from not knowing how the poem is going to work out or if it's going to work out. And the excitement of rescuing a poem that was floundering. I think I'd miss carrying the poem around in my head all day, staying alert for the right word, the right image. If all those good poems came out good on the first try, I know I'd miss the challenge of revision. And if I didn't write any losers, how would I recognize the keepers? So maybe I've figured out my answer after all.

The second sight that has lingered was in a small Vermont town which must have a tradition of putting out scarecrows along the main road or is perhaps engaged in some kind of scarecrow art project. In either case, it was just delightful to see all kinds of fanciful scarecrows sporadically lining the street.

A deer as a scarecrow. The hunted now the hunter.

A wedding party

These aren't really the scarecrows I saw. I didn't have time to stop and take photos. The ones I've added here are available on the internet. But they will give you a sense of what I saw. My favorite scarecrow was a babe all decked out in sequins and sporting a beret. The Town Poet.

The third memorable sight was a small truck belonging to Woofi the Missionary Pup. Imagine being passed by this:

Apparently Woofi travels all over doing his good work. Where is the dog to protect me? Hm. Woofi even has his own website: Woofi the Missionary Pup. No wonder I made it home in one piece.

Thursday, September 20, 2007


I had a really nice reading last night at the Hopkins House in Haddon Township, New Jersey. Although there were only 10 in the audience, I could not have asked for a nicer, warmer, more enthusiastic audience. The whole evening made me very happy. Some readings are just more equal than others.

Hopkins House was built in 1736 and has the original floorboards. The house now serves as an arts center under the direction of the multi-talented Sandra Turner-Barnes. Behind the house is a park and a lovely lake. I had nasty traffic getting there, but it was worth the effort.

This morning I made a computer discovery. It may be old stuff to you, but just in case it isn't, I'll pass it on. If you put the name of something into Google (or another search engine) and then click the "Images" link at the top of the page, you will uncover a gallery of downloadable photos of your subject. That's how I acquired the above photo. If you put in your name, you will find every available online photo of yourself. Cool.

And then another discovery! On the same Google screen I put my name into the browser, then clicked on the "Videos" link and discovered a student reading/dramatization of my poem, "My Husband Discovers Poetry." This was done by students at the University of Toronto. They received a 93%. If I'd been their teacher, they would have received a 100% and some homemade cookies. The smile at the end is ever so perfect.

I'm rather pleased with myself as I have now also figured out how to download and save the video and post it here on the blog. Enjoy!

Monday, September 17, 2007

On the Road Again

I returned today from the Burlington Book Festival where I had a lovely time as one of seven poets reading on Sunday afternoon. This was the festival's third year but the first year with poets. The event is run by Rick Krisonak and draws hundreds of visitors over a three-day weekend. I drove up to Vermont on Saturday. It was a longish drive of 5 and a half hours and many different roads, but the scenery was magnificent. And I didn't get lost even once which is some kind of miracle. Rick arranged a dinner for the authors that night at the Marriott, so I was able to meet several of the other poets and enjoy a nice relaxing evening. The readings the next day were fun. We each had half an hour, followed by a book signing. We had very nice, responsive audiences (though not quite the 250+ that Joyce Carol Oates drew the day before!). Here are some photos to help you almost feel like you were there.

Poets Susan Elmslie from Canada and Susan Rich from Seattle, Washington at the dinner Saturday night

Poet James Hoch and children's author Barbara Lehman

A distant shot of the Waterfront Theatre, the venue for the readings

Approaching the Waterfront Theatre

The front of the Waterfront Theatre

View from a back balcony overlooking the water

Poet Major Jackson, prior to his wonderful reading

Me in a partial aura just before reading

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Bloggers: Where Do They Come From?

When I first considered starting a blog, I was afraid that I would build it and no one would come. But time has proven me wrong. According to my site meter, lots of readers have been stopping by. It's really amazing to see where they come from: other towns in NJ, Florida, Washington, Wisconsin, Michigan, Arizona, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, Massachusetts, Alabama, California, Indiana, and so on. They also come from out of the USA: Berlin, Nova Scotia, Montreal, Australia, Spain. Interesting, too, to see how they get here. Most come via some other blogger's blogroll, so clearly the blogroll enhances traffic in the blogosphere. A number have found their way here via Google searches. I've had a few visitors as a result of posting the Louise Gluck poem. A few Google searches on "voice and tone" have also brought visitors. And finally, some visitors get over here by first going to my website and using the link there. Whoever you are, wherever you are, and however you got here, I'm happy to have you here!

Another spot of good news: Ed Byrne has included me and one of my poems from the current issue of Valparaiso Poetry Review among the three nominees for another Best of the Net collection, this one from Dancz Books. The winners will have their poems appear in a print collection. Check out the poems:
Jared Carter: “Prophet Township”

Frannie Lindsay: “Walking an Old Woman into the Sea”

Diane Lockward: “Temptation by Water”
Such a lovely honor more than makes up for the rejection I received several days ago from a journal I have no record or memory of having submitted to.

Saturday, September 8, 2007


The other day I was looking out an upstairs front window and was startled to see this scene:

We are apparently growing balloons in this tree. As I was leaning out the bathroom window to take the above photo, I saw shadows moving below. Here's what I saw:

A flock of wild turkeys. Or is that a gaggle? Here's one straggler:

I love it when surprises come out of nowhere. Balloons in a tree. Turkeys walking across the front yard. In the backyard I created a nice surprise. We have a section that refuses to grow grass. The best it will do is some moss. So I decided to just accept it and try something new--a rock garden. I love it:

Several weeks ago someone on the Wompo list suggested an anthology of garden poems, each poem accompanied by a photo. Now I have my garden and my photo. Wonder if I can get a poem out of this?

Monday, September 3, 2007

Voice vs Tone: Part 2

It's time to unveil the poet's identity. Louise Gluck. When I first read "Purple Bathing Suit" in Hoagland's essay, I heard a male speaker addressing a female auditor. But then I went on to read Hoagland's analysis of the poem and was surprised to find the speaker described as "a woman watching her lover weed the garden." I wasn't sure if the auditor was spouse or lover, but I felt sure that the speaker was male. I was very curious as to why Hoagland identified the speaker as female, so I searched the internet for his email address and found one at his university. I wrote and asked what made him think the speaker was female. I wondered if he might reply that he'd heard Gluck say that that was her intention. However, he wrote back (how nice, how cool!) and candidly said that he'd made that old mistake of assuming that the speaker and the poet were the same person. And he said that since the collection had been published, he'd become aware of his error. But he also went on to say that he saw no more reason for thinking that the speaker is male than for thinking the speaker is female.

I think gender matters in this poem which is all about a relationship. I want to know who is who. And I think that there is evidence in the poem to suggest that the speaker is male, though my interpretation may reveal feminist leanings. On a superficial level, I've never seen a man in a purple bathing suit, but I've seen plenty of women in purple bathing suits. Weeding while attired in a bathing suit strikes me as a feminine thing to do. The arrogance in the voice strikes me as masculine: "You might give some thought to that mouth." And the way he speaks to her as if she is a naughty child: "How many times do I have to tell you. . . ." And the intellectual condescension in the use of unpoetic words like "notwithstanding" and "ostensibly." And the stance he takes of watching and criticizing her work without offering to help. And the blame: ". . . because you are all that's wrong with my life. . ." And the staking of his claim on her: "I claim you."

I apologize to every man I have just offended, but this voice sounds masculine to me. It also sounds full of contradiction and confusion, mixed eros and intellect. It is that complexity that makes this such a wonderful poem in spite of its seeming flatness. This is a poem that is utterly reliant on voice for its effect.

Now here's my prompt for you:
1. Go through the poem line by line. At the end of each line, write a word or phrase that describes the voice in that line. Do that for the entire poem.
2. Choose a subject for your own poem of direct address. You may but don't have to choose a person. (I chose a potato.)
3. Follow Gluck's pattern as if it were a blueprint. You must have as many stanzas as she has and you must have the same number of lines in each stanza. And your voice must shift just as her speaker's does. Your "I" must speak directly to a "You."
4. After you have written your draft, you are then free to make whatever changes you want to make. Lines may be added, deleted, or moved. Stanzas may be compressed or eliminated.
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