Saturday, January 31, 2009

Here's the story of how I came to be a poet.

I have always loved writing, and I always thought eventually I would do a lot of it. But I wound up doing just a little of it through the years because I was too busy raising children and teaching.

About five years ago, I read a little paperback book called Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. It knocked me in the head, and I began doing quite a bit of writing, mostly nonfiction and fiction—no inspiration to write poetry. I made a study of writing—read a number of books about writing, all of which have helped me enormously.

The one I most benefited from was On Writing by Stephen King; that surprised me, as I doubted Stephen King would have anything helpful to say about writing. So when I started teaching creative writing at my community college, King's book was one of my references. One important thing he says is that no matter what you write--fantasy, poetry, whatever--it must be true in the sense that it comes from the heart; then it will speak to truth in the reader's heart.

A year ago, just before Christmas, one of my creative writing students gave me a book of collected poems to read over the weekend: Staying Alive: Real Poems for Unreal Times. I bought myself a copy and read it during the Christmas holidays and fell in love with poetry; I discovered Mary Oliver, Billy Collins, and Gjertrud Schnackenberg there, all wonderful poets living today. I started to write a short story, and instead, it came out as a poem. Ever since, I have written many more poems than anything else.

I read a book by Mary OliverPoetry Handbook. She said don’t send out your poetry for publication submission until you’ve been writing for a while and you are doing your very best work. So I am working on that advice. I have sent poems to contests and a couple to a journal published by our county's newspapers. I have placed and even won first in some of contests, and the journal accepted my two poems. That's exciting!

One day recently when I was very discouraged about my poetry writing, I ran across a poem by Kilian McDonnell. It was “The Monks of St. John’s File in for Prayer,” in Garrison Keillor’s poetry collection Good Poems for Hard Times. It has wonderful imagery, and I looked him up in the section in the biographical sketches of the poets. He has been a Benedictine monk and priest for over fifty years. He started writing poetry when he was 75 years old. He is 88 years old now.

So I was inspired. I said to myself, I’m only 65. I can do this! Besides, Stephen King said it doesn't matter how old you are; what matters is keeping the seat of the pants on the chair and the pen on the paper.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Power of the Heart

Modern medicine shows that people can die of a broken heart. Conversely, people who are barely hanging on by a thread can will themselves to live. The heart has great power in us.

Duane Sheriff, pastor of Victory Life Church in Durant, Oklahoma, said every issue of your life—good or bad—comes from your heart.

If you hate somebody or have a problem forgiving somebody, it’s not because of that person or anything he or she does. It is because of the pinched, angry, hurt, and/or fearful condition of your heart.

If you keep getting into arguments with your husband or wife, or if you can’t stand your kids, it is because of your heart. On the other hand, if you get along with people and love your spouse and kids, that too is a result of your heart condition.

Your reaction to other people and to situations in your life are choices you make.

He took this idea further, saying we had best take care to keep our hearts cheerful and peaceful, and we can by choosing to do so. We can live in peace and harmony with other people by wanting to and choosing that lifestyle. These choices are easy if God lives there—in the heart. Your heart is the source of all your choices, all your issues. What you choose to put there determines the flow of your life.

He quoted Proverbs 4:

My son, pay attention to what I say;
listen closely to my words.

Do not let them out of your sight,
keep them within your heart;

for they are life to those who find them
and health to a man's whole body.

Above all else, guard your heart,
for it is the wellspring of life.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Wordless Wednesday

Pray for President Obama

Christianity Today has a very good article, urging us to pray for our new President. I think it's important that we do that. The Bible teaches that we should obey our leaders and pray for them, regardless of whether they are of the same beliefs we are. We all need prayer.

Personally, I have a great deal of hope for America under his leadership. I like his attitude of direct honesty. I'd love to see us get rid of so much harsh divisiveness and the hateful cynicism of the last decade or so. I voted for Obama for these reasons, after much soul-searching.

Disclaimer: I disagree with his opinions about abortion, which I consider to be out-and-out killing of a baby, no matter what the circumstances. God creates life. However! I sincerely believe that no matter what legislation is or is not accomplished regarding abortion, the only way we will get rid of it is through changing the hearts of huge numbers of people. I personally plan to work on that through our local Open Door Crisis Pregnancy Center. Also, I throw in my opinions in my English classroom lectures and reading assignments whenever I get the chance--shamelesss. You can find ways in your community.

Maybe God is doing a new thing?! He often does that, you know. Maybe hearts will turn toward God. Pray for America!