|with Jack Kerouac|
Just in time for the holidays:
BILL COOK, POETRY MATTERS, ON WHY POETRY MATTERS and HOW TO SURVIVE THE END-OF-YEAR HOLIDAY CHAOS.
JAMIE: The name of your blog is Poetry Matters. Why does poetry matter?
Bill: In truth, I first selected the name to remind myself that reading poetry and writing it, does matter, so that I would not simply give up. It is important, if only for my own sanity and self-expression.
I began reading poetry in junior high school. The first book of poetry that grabbed me was the overwhelmingly sentimental Listen to the Warm by Rod McKuen. After playing football or running around with my friends, I would climb a tree in the woods behind our house and read Robert Frost and Emile Dickinson. As an undergraduate I majored in English literature. I wrapped myself up in Berryman, Lowell, Plath, Ginsburg, Whitman, William Carlos Williams.
After college I went to work in warehouses, driving trucks, and finally for the Post Office. I held a romantic image, common in the early 70’s, of the laborer-writer. A bit later I entered management in the Post Office and focused on work and raising a family. Slowly, I let go of reading and writing. It did not seem to matter.
I left the Post Office and entered ministry. My graduate studies and my reading focused on theology, ethics, spirituality, and the practice of ministry. My writing became that which I do in my work: papers on theology. articles for church publications and newsletters, and eighteen years of sermons. Poetry did not seem to matter.
But slowly my love for literature and poetry returned. I rediscovered that good poetry embodies and celebrates life in ways that much theology does not. Rather than move away from what is human, poetry embraces it. It re-presents experience and places it before us in new ways. It reminds me, as one poet (I don’t remember who) said, that as I drink my coffee in the morning, I lift “a heavy spillable cup.” In a very Zen like fashion, I wake up and become fully present in the moment. The beauty and significance, even the sacredness, of the ordinary opens up on the page. And, by the way, that is good theology!
So, poetry matters. Reading it matters. Sharing it matters. I have also discovered that reading and writing poetry has improved my preaching.
JAMIE: Right now many in our community are in the middle of their busiest time of year and getting busier with a major holidays approaching. As a minister, I'm sure that your responsibilities increase at church with Christmas and New Year celebrations. In addition, you've a family and other responsibilities to juggle. Can you give us three or four tips on how to stay grounded and maintain our production and quality of poetry throughout this busy season. Or, is there a reason not to even try?
Discipline is a good thing. I read that William Stafford would get up every morning, seven days a week, at 4 AM and write until the sun came up. His goal was to write a poem a day, (The Poets Laureate Anthology, Elizabeth Hun Schmidt, ed., W.W. Norton, Inc.). I admire that intensity of practice, but don’t even come close. Maybe that is why I will never write like William Stafford.
I think we have enough pressure on us, especially in the holiday seasons, and do not need more.
If that kind of discipline feeds you, God bless and enjoy. If not, my tip/advice: relax. Step back. Perhaps a break will actually serve your muse. As someone else said, we are meant to be human beings, not human doings.
CAN WRITING CREATIVELY HEAL? SCOTT OF SOBERNUGGETS THINKS SO.
JAMIE: Scott, you a new kid on the block, linking in to Poetry Potluck for the first time last Monday. Suppose you begin by telling us how long have you been blogging and what made you start?
SCOTT: I've been blogging since March 20, 2006. I wanted to write about being sober in AA. I don't really recall what got me started blogging, but I am glad I did. I've never been one to keep a journal. I am surprised I have kept up this long. Now I can hardly imagine life without blogging in one form or another.
One of the things about blogging that holds my interest is the people I've met that online, my readers. I love exchanging ideas, getting to know folks through their blogs. I've found that blogging goes along very nicely as a part of anonymous recovery from alcoholism and drug addiction. I can share what's going on with me, remain anonymous, share with others and really just focus on the recovery message. I've met a few sober writers who've encouraged me to try my hand and now I've grown quite fond of writing prose and poetry, whether it be about recovery, or not. I love how personal blogging can be, while remaining somewhat anonymous.
SCOTT: I first tried writing creatively back in graduate school probably 1992, while living in Texas. I was heavily into drugs and alcohol at the time, and thought myself quite the poet. Some of the stuff was pretty decent, but some of it, not so much. At that time, I wrote because it felt good to me. I wrote several pieces, mainly just drug-induced "moments of creativity" I thought were quite profound at the time. I do recall that writing felt natural, gave me some release. I've only returned to creative writing recently, in the last few months. Turns out, I love it!
JAMIE: Congratulations on being selected as a Top Alcohol Abuse Blog for 2010 and on being sober and drug free since January 28, 1996. I note that a number in our community use poetry to heal from life's traumas including catastrophic physical illness, mental illness, child molestation, violent environments, and so on. I assume writing and especially poetry have played a supporting role in your healing process. Please tell us a bit about that.
SCOTT: Well, writing makes me feel good. Feeling good is important for a person who's predisposed to depression. Writing helps me express what's happening with me. I've noticed a certain calmness that comes over me while writing, a serenity. My former life of drug addiction and alcoholism was filled with chaos and insanity. So, it is very important to me to be serene, calm and spiritual in my daily life. Writing creatively helps me to achieve that spiritual calm.
Writing is also an important part of the recovery process in a 12 Step program. I've been active in AA since January 28, 1996 when I got sober. Writing down what's going on with me helps me be honest. Putting down the "facts about Scott" onto paper really helps me keep things in their proper perspective. I can then deal with my truth in a humble, productive way, instead of the old routine of just keeping things inside, blowing them out of proportion until they explode in some form of negative manifestation.
Seeing my own truths on paper provides distance between my thinking and those things about me which I've twisted and blown out of proportion. I can then take a deep breath, get honest and sort through "my stuff."
Writing creatively about recovery has been a really great way to experience sobriety and express what it means for me to be sober. It also allows me to hopefully be of help to others who struggle with various addictions. I hope to be able to more fully develop my writing skills, so that I might express myself more clearly and effectively, especially when it comes to writing about spirituality and recovery.
Our thanks to the Rev. Bill Cook and to Scott for the insights and information.
JINGLE POETRY POTLUCK, WEEK 15
STARTS TONIGHT AT 8 P.M. CENTRAL
INLINKZ WILL STAY OPEN FOR 72 HOURS.