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Archive for Poetry

A Quiet Passion, a Film almost about Emily Dickinson

I so wanted to love this film! There were lovely things about it. The color and composition, for instance. The actress who plays Lavinia actually looks a lot like Lavinia and the actress who plays Emily as a girl is lively and charming. I liked her better than Cynthia Nixon in the role. Keith Carradine is good as the father, but oh, the movie is Slow!

I can’t figure out why the writer and director made such choices! The Emily that emerges is bitter, disappointed in love and angry. At times, she almost looks demonic! This is not and never was Emily. Almost 2,000 poems refute this image. The movie would have us believe that Emily, rebuffed by Wadsworth, spirals into deeper depression, mirroring her shut-in mother’s. But her mother was not always a shut-in. She took to her bed after her husband’s death and suffered through a long illness, then died. In the movie, she’s actively dying the moment we first see her!

The business with Wadsworth almost certainly never happened. Emily saw him preach once. They exchanged correspondence. Emily was not shattered by the married Wadsworth’s eventual move to San Francisco. I don’t think she was madly in love with him.

Even worse is Emily’s “best friend” in the movie, especially in the first half. Clearly, the writer and director fell in love with this character. She has all the best lines early on! It’s a shame she’s a fabrication. The character existed, yes, but she was younger than Emily and there is little evidence that they ever actually met, let alone became best friends!

The movie shows us that Emily and Lavinia meet Sue after she marries Austin. In fact, Sue was Emily’s best friend! They knew each other well for six years before the marriage. Why didn’t the director focus on this friendship?

Also missing are the parties! The Dickinson girls were vivacious. They were sought after companions. One young man proposed to Emily! No sign of any of this. Lavinia was a terrific mimic and comedian, but we’d never know it from this film. Why?

Also eliminated are the last ten-to-fifteen years of Emily’s life! Where is Judge Lord? Where is the scene, well documented, in which Lavinia walks into the kitchen and finds Emily in the judge’s arms, the two kissing? Lord doesn’t even appear in the movie! Neither does Thomas Wentworth Higginson, one of the great men of letters of the era. He visited her twice, at least, and saw her face-to-face at least once. We know this because he describes her in his journal. He gives us the great description of her in her coffin, too, just before the lid is closed. But in the film, he doesn’t exist.

Austin and Sue’s children, Ned, Gilbert, Martha, never appear or are mentioned. Little Gilbert’s sudden death was the last of twin blows from which Emily never recovered (Judge Lord’s death in 1884 was the first—he died after proposing to her).

other annoying inaccuracies…There is no record that Emily was ever furious about Austin’s relationship with Mabel Loomis Todd. The two were deeply in love and when they met in the parlor, they locked the door. Unlikely that Emily ever walked in on them and read them the riot act. In fact, there is no historical evidence that Emily objected to the affair, which lasted until Austin’s death.

At Emily’s funeral…why oh why didn’t the director put her in a white casket? What an oversight! Also, the casket was not loaded into a horse-drawn hearse and driven to the cemetery. As per her request, six of the workmen employed by the Dickinsons carried her through the gardens to the cemetery. And yes, in the film she is buried in the wrong cemetery! There are two in Amherst. The real Emily lies in the other one. Sheez!

So the film gives us a mature Emily who is spurned in love, bitter, priggish, angry and judgmental—all things Emily was not. That’s disappointing. The movie reinforces a popular image of a depressed, reclusive spinster who eccentrically wrote poems and tied them into bundles. It’s maddening, really.

The movie even misses out on a great closing scene—when Lavinia discovers 1,800 poems in Emily’s room and decides she must find a way to get them published.

This film pricked me until I bled. At first, I imagined Emily being quite cross about it all, but later she visited and let me know she was laughing at the thought that she had eluded everyone once again.

Guns, Guns, Guns; Again, and Again, and Again

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Read a Friend’s Heart

Guns, Guns, Guns; Again, and Again, and Again

The fatal shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, just 100 miles north on Interstate 5 from my home base in Ashland, becomes the 45th school shooting in the United States in 2015. Like many Americans and people worldwide, I’m sickened and heartbroken by the ongoing carnage, by the inevitable, histrionic defense of the NRA and their political puppets.

As a national community, we’ll do well displaying our collective grief in the next couple of days, but we’ll remain impotent when it comes to the task of changing laws and minds that would reduce and perhaps eliminate these nightmares. Tightening gun laws worked in Australia, in Europe, but the NRA and our politicians forbid that we try something similar here. As citizens, we have ceded so much power in the last fifty years! Thomas Jefferson once prophetically said, “Govern or be governed.” We are allowing ourselves to be governed.

As I always do, I seek solace and inspiration in the fellowship of poetry. Here are two poems I love, one by Christopher Buckley, another by William Stafford.

Why I’m In Favor of a Nuclear Freeze

Because we were 18 and still wonderful in our bodies,
because Harry’s father owned a ranch and we had
nothing better to do one Saturday, we went hunting
doves among the high oaks and almost wholly quiet air . . .
Traipsing the hills and deer paths for an hour,
we were ready when the first ones swooped—
and we took them down in smoke much like the planes
in the war films of our regimented youth. Some were dead
and some knocked cold, and because he knew how
and I just couldn’t, Harry went to each of them and,
with thumb and forefinger, almost tenderly, squeezed
the last air out of their slight necks. Our jackets grew
heavy with birds and for a while we sat in the shade
thinking we were someone, talking a bit of girls—
who would “go,” who wouldn’t, how love would probably
always be beyond our reach . . . We even talking of the nuns
who terrified us with God and damnation. We both recalled
that first prize in art, the one pinned to the cork board
in front of class, was a sweet blond girl’s drawing
of the fires and coals, the tortured souls of Purgatory.
Harry said he feared eternity until he was 17, and,
if he ever had kids, the last place they would go would be
a parochial school.
On our way to the car, having forgotten
which way the safety was off or on, I accidentally discharged
my borrowed gauge, twice actually—one would have been Harry’s
head if he were behind me, the other my foot, inches to the right.
We were almost back when something moved in the raw, dry grass,
and without thinking, and on the first twitch of two tall ears,
we together blew the ever-loving-Jesus out of a jack rabbit
until we couldn’t tell fur from dust from blood . . .Harry has
a family, two children as lovely as any will ever be—
he hasn’t hunted in years . . . and that once was enough for me.
Anymore, a good day offers a moment’s praise for the lizards
daring the road I run along, or it offers a dusk in which
yellow meadowlarks scrounge fields in the gray autumn light . . .
Harry and I are friends now almost 30 years, and the last time
we had dinner, I thought about that rabbit, not the doves
which we swore we would cook and eat, but that rabbit—
why the hell had we killed it so cold-heartedly? And I saw
that it was simply because he had the guns, because we could.

~ Christopher Buckley

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Meditation (1983)

Animals full of light
walk through the forest
toward someone aiming a gun
loaded with darkness.

That’s the world: God
holding still
letting it happen again
and again and again.

–William Stafford

Newsletter #144: Winter Solstice

ROBERT MCDOWELL’S NEWSLETTER #144
adventspiral-e1323891852921
Winter Solstice Sale
December 2014
Winter Solstice Greetings and Blessings,

The days grow shorter, the nights longer. In the delicious dark, relax into the sweetness of your surprising, sullen, sad, snappy, sagacious, silly, shrill, snoozing self, and cut yourself all the slack in the world. Luna is patient; Venus is wise and forgiving. Where you fell short in 2014 is illusion; what you envision for 2015 is illusion. So, what’s real? Here, right now. This is the sum total of your life, precious. Be calm. Embrace. Serve. Live!

The moon neither laughs nor cries.
A fox curls up in its den.
The nights are so long you forget
Your name and where you were going.
Keep on. The road is familiar;
The road is haunted and intimate;
The road is where your foot falls,
You of a thousand names and faces,
You of the town and country bred,
You of promises kept and broken,
You forgetful and forgotten,
Breathe. You are here,
And now is eternal.

*

In celebration of the winter solstice, I offer a unique sale. Email me at rmcdowell@mind.net to take advantage of it.

Details: Purchase a copy of Poetry as Spiritual Practice and/or The More We Get Together: The Sexual and Spiritual Language of Love for $15.00 (each); I will sign the copies and give you a one-hour writing consultation (normally $150.00) for free.

If you want to start writing, or move along a stuck writing project in prose or poetry, this session will help. Email rmcdowell@mind.net to procure your books and set up your special free session.

*

NEW BOOK PUBLICATION

My fourth full-length collection of poetry, The World Next To This One, has been published by The Salmon in Ireland and is now available. http://www.salmonpoetry.com/details.php?ID=328&a=257 Order direct from Salmon Publishing, Orders over 20 Euro are shipped free worldwide! Please help us spread the word.

“Robert McDowell’s powerful narrative poems are among the best written over the last fifty years. His para-poems here extend the prose poem form with incisive, probing clarity and startling wit.”
–Ai, National Book Award, Poetry
May your long winter nights be delicious and cozy!
Robert
rmcdowell@mind.net
poetrymentor@mac.com
www.robertmcdowell.net
Follow me on Twitter: www.twitter.com/McDowellRobert

Read A Friend’s Heart: Blog Post

Read a Friend’s Heart
Follow me on Twitter
www.twitter.com/McDowellRobert
November 17th, 2014
Leonard and Virginia Woolf
What are men to do?

In 1920, Virginia Woolf published a brilliant story, A Society, which concludes that war and brutality are distinctly male in origin, and that the world will never know peace until men have babies and so acquire through experience reverence for all life.

My puny masculinity and gender-enlightened, awakening self agree, yet Woolf’s declaration and my agreement beg the question: what are men to do?

There is no solution in having babies. I’ve had three, or rather, I was a spectator/participant at the birth of three, and though I saved my wife’s life during the third delivery, I’ve never had any doubt that she always performed the heroic, transformative journey, not I.

Having babies, even once removed, has made me more dovish than hawkish; I do revere life more than I did before. Yet, I’m keenly and poignantly aware that I lack what Woolf required of me—a visceral, experiential connection, through giving birth, to life itself.

There is in all men a precious fragility that perversely seeks to crush what is fragile in others. Call it a motor impulse that makes an aggressive male driver suddenly yank the wheel of his Cadillac to the left so that he can squash a pelican that has wandered onto the blacktop of Highway 1 near Monterey. It’s the impulse that coaches and teachers use to shame young men for their perceived weaknesses. It’s the madness that drives the rapist and passive-aggressive abuser of children, women and men. Call it the make-war impulse. Men possess it, or are, perhaps more accurately, possessed by it, than women.

So, I ask you: what are men, and women, to do about this? I welcome your thoughts, your wisdom, your anger, your insight.

Book recommendation:
Washing the Bones: A Memoir of Love, Loss and Transformation by Katherine Ingram http://www.amazon.com/Washing-Bones-Memoir-Love-Transformation
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Consider these books for your library, reading pleasure and gifts. Share them with friends, colleagues and loved ones!

Poetry as Spiritual Practice: Reading, Writing, and Using Poetry in Your Daily Rituals, Aspirations, and Intentions and The More We Get Together: The Sexual and Spiritual Language of Love and other collections are available at my website www.robertmcdowell.net, and at www.IndieBound.org, www.amazon.com, and www.b&n.com or by request at your local bookstore.

Newsletter #139

September 2014 | Read a Friend’s Heart

Hopeless and Homeless

As I write this, four South African women will be killed by their partners. Along the interstate in Anywhere, USA, cars will pull over and release bewildered dogs in fields, then drive off. Untold incidents of elder abuse will occur. In Turkey’s refugee camps, thousands will struggle through the day, wondering if and when they’ll ever see home … or find new ones. In America’s disposable culture, women and men will exit the relationships they’re in, believing the grass is always greener somewhere else.

What can one do in a world like this?

Abide. Persevere. Meditate. Go on.

“What is there to do?” asks the spiritual supplicant. Perhaps embrace Lord Buddha’s teaching that every moment of our lives we are loved and accepted by beings seen and unseen.

Trust your purpose, that you are here for a reason, that it includes making your mark with integrity and compassion. Do your inner and outer work, then rest in stillness.

When doubt wells up in your chattering mind, lean into a tree and listen. Speak your truth to it, your dreams, your aspirations. The tree will listen and speak to you. Resume. Bring love and gratitude to everything you do, especially to those areas of your life that require forgiveness. Enter surefooted the dream of your sacred life and live.

Where is my daughter? Where is my love?

Can I ever again enter the ruin of my house?

What do the trees know? More than you.

Lean into and be lost in the psithurism

Of their language of branches, wind and leaves.

Go back to your labors. Your answers are in you.

Answer the predator with love.

Examine your heart with precision

And make right that which you’ve done wrong.

Step up. Encounter the world. Love.

Book Recommendation

Washing the Bones Book CoverWashing the Bones: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Transformation, by Katherine Ingram

Participate

Please visit my website and look around the new site, which I envision as a hub for our global, gender-enlightened community.

I ask your help to spread the word. Please share with your friends and contacts. If you enjoy the videos, please Like them at Youtube. I’m grateful! I look forward to serving and collaborating with you.

—Robert

Read & Share

Please consider reading these books. If you like them, perhaps you can share with friends and loved ones. They make appropriate gifts.

Poetry as Spiritual PracticeThe More We Get Together: The Sexual and Spiritual Language of Love, and other collections are available at my websiteIndieBound, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and by request at your local bookstore.

250 Words about Poetry As Spiritual Practice

Robert McDowell Speaking

Overview

Poetry As Spiritual Practice Book CoverPoetry and spirituality, two of the Top Ten most googled words, create when combined the most potent spiritual practice you will ever perform. All of us—Christian, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, Taoist, Animist, Atheist—seek a meaning beyond ourselves and a path that leads to peace and greater comprehension of the uncertain world we live in. By reading and writing poems and making them an essential part of daily rituals of aspirations and intentions, Poetry as Spiritual Practice guides readers on their quest to find peace, meaning and success in their lives. Though abundant materials exist on poetry and spirituality, very little actually exists that remembers how poetry is the language of devotion, the richest expression of spiritual practice. Poetry is the reverberating note, the pure sound and shape of spirit as it makes sense to us at last. Poetry in spiritual practice creates clarity; it deepens and expands one’s ongoing inquiry into the most profound mysteries.  benefits all seekers, generating greater wisdom, compassion, self-confidence, patience and love.

The Book

Poetry as Spiritual Practice includes an Introduction and four opening chapters on mentor/apprentice relationships, poetry as contemplation and communication, misconceptions about poetry, and the difference between poetry and prose. The book’s middle chapters, 5-8, introduce poetry’s building blocks (words, figurative language, rhyme and meter, stanzas). In chapters 9-17, nine traditional poetry forms are introduced and examined. The forms include haiku, sonnet, villanelle, sestina, elegy, limerick & epigram, ghazal, pantoum, and the prose poem. Chapters 18 and 19 are devoted to free verse and narrative in poetry. Each chapter includes engaging, enjoyable examples of poems and writing exercises that will help the reader create her own poems in each form. Throughout the text, readers will be guided and encouraged to include poems in their on spiritual practice. Poetry as Spiritual Practice concludes with a brief section, In Closing, an Index listing guided exercises by chapter, and a list of poems used as illustrations.