A Lovely Poetry Debut - Beth Marshall Jack

Reading Beth Marshall Jack’s lovely debut poetry collection, These Worlds Between Us, is like sitting down to a cup of tea with a wise and gentle friend. Her poems are intimate and lyrical, letting us into an interior landscape that mirrors our own fears, yearnings, joys, disappointments, and wonders.

Jack’s deep command of language and imagery allow us as readers to enter the poems easily and with confidence that what we encounter will enlighten and lift us to some greater understanding of a universal truth. In one of my favorite poems, “With a Click of My Heels,” Jack confronts loss and the helplessness one feels over the inability to make things different.

With a Click of My Heels

 

I hold your shoes and close my eyes,

the long pause of your absence

languished all afternoon.

Tissue paper stuffed in heels and purses

seemed unfamiliar.

Your seven metal hangers looked empty and sinister.

 

Somehow I must find a way back

from this empty closet and rows of elegant shoes.

I must summon the child who remembered to be brave,

like Cinderella,

or that girl from Kansas,

who recognized clues, knew slippers were the answers

to everything, a sure guarantee that one could escape

a fire, a witch, poisoned flowers,

even tragedy.

 

I stand alone, barefoot.

Jack’s imagistic language soars, sometimes eliciting an audible “oh!” as in these lines from “Compass”: “…every breath sags heavily, as I squeeze the sponge/tighter and tighter, as if stanzas were turned/inside out from me, how my body/half-turned, still expected him.” Or these lines from “Figurante”: “I am crumpled, worn out like an old ballet slipper/with ribbons bleached, once carnation pink/…Even the mirrors seem to leer/deliberate satyr teeth.

Many of her poems have mythic allusions, including the lovely “Circe,” which was awarded second prize in poetry from The Writer’s Journal.

Jack is an accomplished writer whose poetry has been honored many times over the years. This worthy collection reflects her careful attention to language, rhythm, imagery and story.

Review - Thrive, by Arianna Huffington

Arianna Huffington’s latest book, Thrive, the Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-being, Wisdom and Wonder, is the Huffington Post founder’s effort to get us all to stop and smell the roses.

Huffington decided to write this book after she collapsed from exhaustion in 2007, two years after founding the Huffington Post. She realized, she writes, “my life was out of control. In terms of traditional measures of success, which focus on money and power, I was very successful. But I was not living a successful life by any sane definition of success. I knew something had to radically change.”

Thrive offers Huffington’s advice on how to do just that, working through what she calls the three metrics of Well-being, Wisdom and Wonder. In the section on Well-being, she recounts copious research reminding us to get plenty of sleep, eat well, and slow down. Our succeed-at-any-and-all-costs culture is killing us, she says, and burnout, stress and depression have become worldwide epidemics. She recommends daily meditation, walking or some kind of daily exercise, and getting a full night’s sleep as first steps toward countering burnout.

Her sections on Wisdom and Wonder offered deeper insights into living a full and balanced life, exploring spirituality and faith, death, and the development of an inner life that allows one to really thrive. Ultimately, she reminds us that giving to others is the way to give to yourself.

Anyone who struggles with today’s constant barrage of doing more and consuming more would benefit from reading Huffington’s story of how she was forced to put down her smartphone and pay attention to her inner world instead.

(Disclosures: I have known Arianna Huffington for many years as a friend and colleague.)

Review - Anne Lamott's Help Thanks Wow

My God box

My God box

Anne Lamott’s new book, Help Thanks Wow, The Three Essential Prayers, is a sweet, moving guidebook to what Lamott considers the three most important prayers one can utter. I love Anne’s books. Her Bird by Bird has been on my bookshelves for many years, and I especially enjoyed Traveling Mercies. One doesn’t have to be religious, or even particularly spiritual, to appreciate Help Thanks Wow, as Anne mentions in the introduction. You only have to believe that something is bigger than you, and that if you ask for help and express gratitude, things will happen in your life that will make you say “wow.”

What I love about Lamott is even though she is a firm believer in Jesus, she also knows that neither she nor Christianity (or any other organized religion) has the answers. In fact, she says, no one does, and if they try to tell you they do, they’re delusional.

Anne Lamott's Help Thanks Wow

Anne Lamott's Help Thanks Wow

She had me close to tears with the first section on “Help,” because what she describes is so perfectly the human condition. We all go through difficulties, and most of us will not be spared life’s harshest experiences. But, she says, just uttering the simple entreaty, “help,” can shift things within us, can allow us to give over the suffering to something bigger than we are, and that can make all the difference in our ability to handle whatever we face.

“Most good, honest prayers remind me that I am not in charge,” she writes, “that I cannot fix anything, and that I open myself to being helped by something, some force, some friends, some something. These prayers say, ‘Dear Some Something, I don’t know what I’m doing. I can’t see where I’m going, I’m getting more lost, more afraid, more clenched. Help.’”

And then, she says, let it go.

Lamott says she has a “God box” that she puts her prayers into, then closes the lid and lets whatever universal power is out there take care of it. It could be anything, a glove box, a crayon box. I like this idea.

For my birthday last week, a dear friend gave me a lovely wooden box with the tree of life and birds carved into the top. I have made this my God box (I just mistyped God as Dog – that works, too).

I also especially believe in the second prayer, “Thanks.” Gratitude is a powerful emotion, and I can attest to its ability to shift perspective. Every day I mindfully say thanks, for everything, and more often than not something even more serendipitous or fortuitous comes into my life. 

The final prayer, “Wow,” is a wonderful expression and acknowledgement of how wondrous life is.  Look around. You will always find something, even if it’s just a tiny hummingbird flitting around a bottlebrush tree – to be amazed about. Wow.

Help Thanks Wow is a slim volume – I read it in about an hour or so – but it packs a powerful message. And with the world we have today, it’s a message many of us need to hear.


A Poem for Today - Daughter/Mother

In the orchard, beyond the creek

broken tree limbs strewn

the clouds danced above

white light from your fingers

daughter, do not cry

after during now never

memories not remembered

a coffin of memory buried

in desire, a lost child

sometimes there is hope

 

In the voice, beyond the creek

blue tree limbs strewn

the river danced above

white silence from your fingers

mother, do not cry

until now during after

memories not singing

a window of distance buried

in grief, a lost child

there is always hope

A Wedding Wish

A little over a week ago, the daughter of my dear friends Tom and Joan Bolton was married, and they asked me to speak at the wedding. I thought I'd share with you what I said.

I was so honored and delighted to be asked to speak today. Watching Laura, in fact all of our kids, grow up has been a richly satisfying experience, even through the inevitable ups and downs of adolescence. Our families spent a lot of time together when the kids were younger, and for many years did a family camping trip to Fiqueroa Mountain every spring. I have an especially fond and vivid memory of all three – Laura, Tim, and my daughter, Kendall, who is a year younger than Tim – splashing through a nearby creek, hunting for pollywogs.

As parents, we have so many hopes for our children. That they will grow up happy and whole, that they will find meaning in their lives and have opportunities to learn and express their creativity, that they will find love. I am so happy that Laura has done all of these things.

As I was thinking about what I wanted to say today, I remembered a William Butler Yeats’ poem, called “Prayer for My Daughter.” I won’t recite the whole thing, because it is long, but I want to share a few stanzas that I thought were particularly apropos to the occasion today.

In the poem, there is a raging storm outside, and Yeats is in his infant daughter’s room, gazing at her in her crib, and listening to the rain beating against the windows. In the poem he mentions a linnet, which is a small bird in the finch family. He writes:

May she be granted beauty and yet not

Beauty to make a stranger’s eye distraught,

Or hers before a looking glass, for such,

Being made beautiful overmuch,

Consider beauty a sufficient end,

Lose natural kindness and maybe

The heart-revealing intimacy

That chooses right, and never find a friend.


May she become a flourishing hidden tree

That all her thoughts may like the linnet be,

And have no business but dispensing round

Their magnanimities of sound,

Nor but in merriment begin a chase,

Nor but in merriment a quarrel.

O, may she live like some green laurel

Rooted in one dear perpetual place.


My mind, because the minds that I have loved,

The sort of beauty that I have approved,

Prosper but little, has dried up of late,

Yet knows that to be choked with hate

May well be of all evil chances chief.

If there’s no hatred in a mind

Assault and battery of the wind

Can never tear the linnet from the leaf.

We all hope our children will never be torn from the foundations we build for them, and here I will betray my own feminist leanings and say, yes, we especially want to protect our daughters from the world and its vagaries. We ardently hope they will find someone to love who cherishes them beyond their own selves, and who will be partners who allow our daughters to continue to grow and create and become the women they are meant to be. I believe Laura has found that person in Rick, and I am so happy for both of them.         

Congratulations,  and may you enjoy many wonderful years together.