May 4

California Girl

Last evening I watched on public television the story of Janis Joplin.  I hadn’t intended to stay but I found myself drawn in by the story and yes, that haunting music.  Rejected even ridiculed when young—even voted somewhere – a bar maybe –“the world’s ugliest man” – Janis was like young girls everywhere.  She just wanted to be loved.

Janis was bored with small-town life in Texas and it was about this time that she started to hear the music.  She had some musician friends, some guys who took her to Austin and it was in Austin that she heard those blues.   They called to her loneliness, maybe.  She began to mimic the sound for by this time she had discovered she had a pretty powerful voice.  In time, she went to San Francisco and with her band, Janis was a hit.

She tried to go home sometimes.  Once she thought her boyfriend was coming to marry her only instead when she called him, a woman answered.  He already had a wife or girlfriend and a baby; he was not coming to marry her.  One more time the shame of not being pretty enough, not being loved enough washed over Janis.  She went back to San Francisco (when she said she was going to Austin).  She became famous.

Maybe I was fascinated with Janis’s story because in the 60’s I, too, was a “California girl.”  I was living in Southern California with my young husband, working as a secretary at Long Beach State College.  It was there that I met a vivacious young receptionist at the Information Desk who sat with me on our lunch breaks and let me hear her recite Bible verses she was memorizing.  Those words were electricity for me (as she knew they would be).  I wanted to know Jesus Christ like that.  In a few months my husband and I were baptized together.  There’s more to that story, of course.  The road was not always smooth.

But there is one memory I have of that decade that reminded me of how easy it is to be seduced by admiration, affirmation.  My husband had a buddy at work who was trying to get in the movies and he asked if I would memorize a few lines and go with him to Hollywood to meet his agent, and perform our scene for him.  I was excited to be so close to the Hollywood scene, and I dressed in a way that makes me ashamed now as I think about it.  Around this time, we watched The Graduate and I cried all the way home.  I was ashamed of myself for getting so close to the immorality of that world (and the temptation in me).

I’ve written a poem about Janis (and maybe myself a little).

CALIFORNIA GIRL

Janis, Janis, little girl, I wish I could have been there

to tell you that you were lovely just the way you were

to tell you that you were loved and that your Creator had a

wonderful purpose for your life.

But you believed a lie—

that if you yelled loud enough maybe someone

would hear your pain and love you—

“I’ll do anything you want!” you cried, moaned–

(but you didn’t want to hear about that cross).

So they used you and you used, too, to relax they say

and then one day it was too late to go home.

And the men who knew you and used you sat around

discussing you many years after you were gone

(how did you die, dear girl, they didn’t say).

A woman talked about you, too.

She said “It was like being with God.  I wish I could have been there.”

Like I said, she believed a lie.

 

May 2

Kelly has Grit

The character trait “grit” was mentioned on National Public Radio this weekend as a new way to categorize children.  Why do some survive and thrive difficult circumstances and many do not?  I thought about this when dealing with a little family problem recently.  Sometimes our best efforts (and our not so good ones) result in misunderstandings and hurt feelings.  Sometimes poetry helps.  The following poem is self-explanatory; the name is changed to protect the guilty (or innocent depending on who is reading).

How can I say this in a dignified way?

I am irritated, angry, hurt, annoyed.  How about pissed?  No, too crude.

I am provoked.

My daughter (one of them) has hurt my feelings.

In trying to help, I got caught in the crossfire.

Now she is ignoring me.

The thing is, Kelly has grit.

Kelly has survived her parents’ divorce, his death and an overseas trip cut short;

no money to help her with tuition; cars that broke down and no one there

and who knows what I don’t know?

The thing is, Kelly has grit.

She survived and thrived and persevered.

She is one gutsy lady.

I admire her.

I applaud her.

I appreciate her.

Kelly has grit.

January 29

Where I’m From

WHERE I’M FROM

George Ella Lyons is a Kentucky poet whose original “Where I’m From” poem has been incredibly successful, copied by many students and would-be poets everywhere.  I couldn’t resist adding my own version.  (Look her up–she’s wonderful.)
I am from a teetotaler and a flag waver; a drummer boy from Boston
and a Pennsylvania farm girl salty tears lonely.
I am from pen pals and he proposed before they met
and a match made with postage stamps.

I am from foot washing, camp fires, Christians called “Dunkards”
and a boy who walked me two miles home and back.
I am from a disabled vet with a broken body
and Jesus is the Great Physician.

I am from “You’re not any better but you’re just as good”
and “Don’t play with fire or you’ll get burned.”
I’m from a two-bedroom house on Sunday Street and
the Johnstown Flood which happened again.

I am from steel mills and a city bus
Saturday rides to the downtown library.
I am from a writer-dreamer with no place to write and the girl
who was told “You don’t need college, you’re just a woman.”

I am from both – the dreamer and the disappointed farm girl
The quilt-maker and the weaver of words
who weave their dreams in me.

September 11

How Did I Get Myself Into This?

So now I’m into selling my idea–introducing what it is exactly that I do, and why, and how much would I like to charge for such a service?  I’m discovering how hard this is–some days, anyway.  Actually, the hardest part is making the call to someone who does not know me.  Who am I?  If I’m lucky, I at least know someone that they know.  What do I want to do?  Journal?  Using poetry?  As soon as that word–the “p” word–is introduced, I feel the freeze.  People’s bad memories of English classes and boring verses, and tests–they all come back.  And I get the blank stare.  Actually, last week I was visiting a class of writers I helped start several years ago.  I had figured out that I shouldn’t try to push the “p” word on them, but I did use it once.  One woman — new to the class since I had been there — walked out.  Yes, picked up her notebook and walked out.  Oh, dear, How Did I Get Myself Into This?

The answer is simple.  I got into this because of the magic.  At my work in a rehab facility, I started to bring in poems.  I was going to say “modern” poems, but the first one was by a 13th Century Muslim mystic–hardly a modern poem.  But at least in the translation, it has the feel of a contemporary poet.  One woman jerked her head back as if physically hit.  The next week, she said, “That poem saved my life.”  I knew that I was onto something.  I am in this Poetry for the Journey thing because I can’t help myself.  My first eight-week session is titled “Happy and Healthy,” and indeed this is not an exaggeration.  When people allow themselves to meditate on a poem (a carefully chosen one, I might add) and talk about it leisurely, and then write about something that this conversation has generated, self-discovery often occurs.  Sometimes, it’s magic.

August 24

Where are the Caring Adults?

The title of this post was the headline of a local news article (www.pridepublishingroup.com) by the founder of the Children’s Defense Fund.  I live in urban Nashville and I have felt the frustration she writes about on behalf of poor children.  One young man she interviewed at a local high school here in Nashville said that he had been to 12 or 13 funerals of boys he had grown up with.  He himself had been homeless, forced to make it on his own.  Other teens talked of being afraid of being robbed–of violence, poverty, and trauma.  These teens have a mentor, but Ms. Edelman laments that so many children do not.  What does this have to do with poetry?  When I looked at the CDF web site, there was an article about the power of art to give such young people hope.

In an article titled Youth Works, it was reported that the neighborhood of South Berkeley, just under two miles from downtown and the University of California at Berkeley campus, is the poorest region of the city — home to nearly 500 homeless youth and hundreds of other near-homeless young adults living below the poverty level.

“Art is beyond a shadow of a doubt therapeutic and healing because for a moment you step away from anything you’re going through. It’s a chance to breathe, a chance to reset your system and bring a new reality to an otherwise blank page.”

I continue to quote: “The concept of creating art as a means of therapy and healing is not uncommon. The International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies has found a relationship between creative arts therapies and the brain, including how the brain processes traumatic events and the possibilities for reparation through art.  The American Art Therapy Association emphasizes that art therapy programs help kids build resilience and move beyond life’s hurdles, promote self-awareness, improve self-esteem and competence, develop coping and control skills and lead to a stronger future.”

This sounds a whole lot like poetry therapy.  I wonder what doors I should be knocking on and who would help me help the most vulnerable among us.

August 18

just for fun

Who knew that poetry could be so much fun?  Some very special women at the Madison Station Fifty Forward made me a published writer…well, sort of.  They continued meeting in the writing group we started together after I left them to take a “real job.”  In the spring, the lady who had taken my place as the informal leader called me.  The Wisdom Writers were publishing their first book entitled Spring Wisdom and they invited me to write something with a spring theme.  I thought of one poem whose title I could change and they thought it would fit.  They surprised me later with dinner and a page dedicating their book to me.  In the weeks to come I plan to continue learning more about the actual forms of poetic expression; I find I can remember if I actually write a poem.  But today, just for fun, I include my first published work.

Why I Don’t Spring Clean

I was going to wash the windows

but I’ve got a new book.

It came in the mail today.

Slick, shiny cover; seductive words

I just have to open and take a look

maybe the windows can wait a day.

I was going to dust the cobwebs down

but I’ve got a new book.

It came in the mail today.

August 10

A New Journey

About a year ago, I began learning about the power of using poetry to generate discussion, motivate writing, and sometimes change a life.  So I am starting a new service offering classes, workshops and retreats for people in the Nashville area.  There is much research in the general area of journal writing and poetry therapy.  Small groups of 6 to 8 people gather to read a poem, savor the beauty of the words, and slowly start to let the poem speak.  I’ve trained for this, I’m excited about it, and I hope to share the joy with others.