The Barbarians Are @ The Gate!

It appears that once again, hard-won  victories in the battle to save Mother Earth and the species that live on her are under grave attack.  Recent events in Washington and an increasing malaise among citizens are threatening to dismantle or castrate decades of  efforts to rollback and improve environmental conditions in the United States  and the world.

Whether the “gate” is clean air, clean water, safe food, species and habitat protection or sustainable energy production and waste control; the gate is under attack by big money, big government, and a deeply ingrained “what me worry” attitude among the general populace. While many people care and want to make a difference, they are overwhelmed by the size and complexity of making a stand.

In this era of “fake news”, half-truths and conflicting claims, it can be confusing and disheartening,  But if we really look, we can quickly see that things are changing every day in our environment and rarely for the better.  The “big picture” can be daunting, even discouraging, but how about focusing in on what YOU CAN see  and observe and change yourself.

When I was a child living on the Gulf Coast of southeast Texas, I would hear occasional stories about the Whooping Crane.  This was in the idle 1950’s and no one I knew ever heard the word environment or conservation, but they did feel and emotional connection to the vanishing whooping crane and would speak of their promised demise with sadness. “That’s too bad” they would say and move on to another topic. Once in a while the newspaper would comment and I would wonder what those big sad birds really looked like.  I only knew that there were less than twenty-five birds left where once there had been thousands.

In 1953, a picture of the great white birds with the red crowns and the black wingtips was pictured on a United States postage stamp and I got my first look.  I searched them out in an encyclopedia and learned that at more than four feet, they were the tallest American bird and lived an average of 22-24 years. I was hooked and a lifelong connection between me and the cranes was born.

 

Ecopoetics: A New Attitude!

 

A new way that poetry and the environment are coming together is in the modern poetic genre of  ECOPOETICS!

Ecopoetry is poetry with a strong ecological/environmental message that connects to the world and implies responsibility. It has only recently begun to be recognized as a sub-genre of English speaking poetry. Ecopoetics is different from nature poetry, in that it explores the complex connections between humans and nature.

“Nature is no longer the rustic retread of the Wordsworthian Poet. . .[it} is now a pressing political question, a question of survival?” Jay Parini, Poetry and the Environment: A Question of Survival?

The term began to be used more widely with the publication of L.Scott Bryson’s Ecopoetry: A Critical Introduction in 2002. Around the same time, the journal Ecopoetics  began using the term to include writing in general. A number of anthologies, using the ideas of ecopoetics, as founding principles began publishing including: Earth Shattering : Ecopoems edited by Neil Ashley.

In his blog Jacket 2, Jonathan Skinner, founder and editor of  Ecopoetics, and an ecopoet in his own right, described the term as being more used than discussed.stork 2  Ecopoetics, according to Skinner, is a complex term used by readers and others to explain a range of manifestations from the making and studying of “pastoral poetry or poetry of wilderness and deep ecology to poetry that confronts disasters and environmental injustices, and every social and academic definition and explanation in between.”

The Poetry Foundation defines ecopoetics as “similar to ethnopoetry in its emphasis on drawing connections between human activity, specifically the making of poems-and the environment that produces it.”  Ecopoetry came out of the increasing concerns and interests in potential environmental disasters that arose in the middle of the last century. It began as a multidisciplinary approach that  includes thinking and writing on poetics, science and theory.

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Some contemporary ecopoets include: Alice Oswald, Gary Snyder, Jack Collom and Juliana Shar. On a final note I would like to honor a forerunner of the ecopoetry movement and one of my personal favorites, Robinson Jeffers.

 

 

 

A Small, Well-Lighted Place

Unlike the nihilistic waiter in Ernest Hemingway’s short story, A Clean, Well-Lighted Place, I have never required my comfort zone (translate: my writing space) to be clean.

I don’t want it slovenly, of course, but definitely not dusted and polished. Very small settings, either out-of-doors, or with lots of light and windows, is where I get my best writing done.DSCN9311 (2)

Over the years, I have had my fair share of lovely, large offices, with beautiful old desks, loaded bookshelves, and commodious swivel chairs.  I would sit down to work and my mind would freeze.  There was too much space, air, and silence.  My psyche shriveled up and all I wanted to do was crawl under that big desk and suck my thumb.

This was a huge problem, until it dawned on me, that I wrote best in uncanny, little spaces either out-of-doors or with lots of windows.  If possible, I also preferred places where I could be immersed in my own eclectic collection of weird stuff. 

It didn’t make sense.  I was a bona-fide claustrophobic. But I was doing my best work in kitchen corners, sheds, gazebos, tents, teepees, playhouses, laundry rooms, sailboats, duck blinds and root cellars. What was going on?

It wasn’t until I did an exercise for a creativity class, that all became clear.  Part of the class was to write a description of my muse.  I tried and tried, but was not able to personify that pesky creature.  When I thought about the best, most productive and creative writing I had done, it was the place I kept describing, not the images.  Eureka! My muse wasn’t a person it was a place!blog 4

Recently I moved to the mountains of New Mexico.  There is sunlight and nature in abundance.  I have plenty of room for a big desk and lots of bookcases.  It is a clean, well-lighted place.  BUT you will find me writing away in a wee corner of my bedroom looking out at the trees from the small-paned window.  Papers are scattered, all my talismans and trinkets surround me and I can barely turn around, BUT IT’S MY SMALL, WELL-LIGHTED PLACE  AND I LOVE IT!

Diego and Me: Art and Revolution

In the living room of my childhood home in south Texas, my mother kept a painted tile table from Mexico and an ornamental stick carved with pre-Columbian figures. I would run my hands across the table and stick and feel the power of the faces cut into the wood and the smooth surfaces of the tiles. My grandmother had brought them back from a mysterious place she called “Old Mexico.” She traveled there frequently  and it became a desirable place and all things Mexican became desirable objects.

It was this “desirability” that caused me to notice the pictures in the magazine. It was in the mid-1950’s and I was eight or nine years old, when I first became aware of the great Mexican artist,  Diego Rivera. There in the magazine were the bold scenes of Rivera’s paintings and murals. Their powerful images made my fingers tingle as I recalled the carved faces and the painted tiles in my living room. The pictures caused a shift inside me.

Several years later, my Spanish teacher showed our class pictures of her trip to Mexico City. There they were again, Diego’s murals. I recognized them immediately. Broad faces, massive hands, and arms, legs and feet painted on all those buildings. Beautiful women with children on their backs, labored, rising up from the earth to reach toward heaven.

Stunned by the strength and beauty of Diego’s vision, I vowed to go and study at the faraway university.  Under the artist’s images, I would pour my soul into the vision of a world where men and women lived in simple peace and harmony. Then my teacher told us the artist had died and I wondered  where I would learn more about justice and equality for all.  I got my answer when I was least expecting it.

Raul was a classmate of mine and the brother of a friend. I had not paid much attention to him before the day we all presened projects for our seventh grade history class in the small parochial school we attended.  Raul had made a scale model of the Battle of the Alamo.  The scene was filled with  tiny Mexican soldiers, many carrying hand sewn Mexican flags of red and white and green. Little Texans to the core, we settled down to hear the familiar and stirring story of Crockett, Travis, and Bowie. But that day we learned something more.

We heard about the personal courage of the Texans, but Raul asked us to look at the event, ever so briefly, from the Mexican point of view. In his boy’s voice, he suggested that perhaps Santa Anna was not Satan, that the Mexican soldiers were also brave and believed they were fighting for their homeland, just as strongly as the Texans did.

At the end of his talk, he placed  a Texas flag and the Stars and Stripes alongside the Mexican banner over the rampart of the old mission wall. “We should all be brothers,” Raul said,”and live in peace, without war.”  No one spoke or applauded when he was finished.  We filed out for recess.

When we returned, we were all called into the lunchroom. Raul was standing at the table, his dark head hanging. Our principal spoke as he pulled back the cloth. The model of the Alamo was crushed, all the tiny Mexican flags on toothpicks were snapped into pieces. “Whoever did this must confess,” he said. No one spoke.  As far as I know, no one ever confessed, but Raul and his sister, Anita, left immediately and enrolled in public school.

Two years later, when I was in ninth grade, I ran into Raul at a school dance. He was still a serious boy with a lock  of hair that kept falling into his eyes. He asked me to dance. I don’t remember the song. We only danced once. The rest of the night we sat in the corner and talked. He told me his family was returning to Mexico.  I asked him why and he said his father, who was an artist, was having a hard time with certain things. I asked if it was about the Alamo model.

“Yes,” he said, “that and other things.” He told me his father believed that a world without war, a world of peace was what he wanted to paint and he was going back to work with some people who felt the same way.  Then he told me about art and revolution and Diego Rivera, a man his father had studied under when he was young.

“I know him,” I said. “Someday, I am going to the University of Mexico to learn more about him and his ideas.”

“Would you like to come to my sister’s birthday party?” he asked.

We had cake and Raul’s father played the guitar in the backyard. The house was filled with his father”s art. . .pure. . .strong. . .sad. It was a farewell party. The next week they slipped across the border into that mysterious land called Mexico.

I have been there many times, but I have never found Raul or a world of peace without war.

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TELEMACHUS IN A SHEEP-SKINNED COAT: Mentor-Do I Need One? Can I be One?

blog 2 imageIt’s minus fifteen degrees Fahrenheit, dark, and snowing hard in the small Colorado mountain town. Hollering Woman leaves her kids and husband at home, scrapes ice off her ancient green Plymouth and braves the treacherous roads to take her place in the dank basement of an old post office turned community college. It’s a creative writing class and Hollering Woman dreams of becoming a writer. The class signals a chance to find out.

This night, the long-haired, bearded  instructor with the Brooklyn brogue challenges the class of former drop-outs, housewives, senior citizens, and bootstrappers:  The local newspaper is seeking a reporter.  Anyone who applies for the job and is hired will receive an automatic “A” in the class.

Hollering Woman has zero newspaper experience, but she’s a grade hound. The next day she abandons her bandanna, ditches her bell-bottoms for a pair of borrowed slacks, burrows into her sheepskin coat  and waits for the newspaper to open. She is about to meet a man who will change the course of her life.

The editor, an older man in his late forties, looks more like a balding leprechaun than a young woman’s “hero”.  Barely taller than she is, with pop-bottle glasses and ink-stained fingers, he offers her a cup of coffee and invites her to sit down and tell him about herself and her experience. That takes all of fifteen minutes. Imagine her shock when she is hired as a general reporter and photographer. Hollering Woman gets the “A”, gets the job, but more importantly, gets something she didn’t even know she desperately needed.  A mentor!

Recently, Hollering Woman was ruminating on the role of mentors in her life. The list was long and included the support of family and friends, but she was especially interested in the professional writers, teachers, editors, and colleagues that had been there to help and guide her on her quest to become a writer.

Of, course, the first name on that list was the editor of the little newspaper. He saw her raw potential and took a chance. He instructed her, brought her under his wing and shared his thirty years of writing and editing expertise. He gave her the confidence and skills to go forward to the next stop. Not because he had to, but because he wanted to. Because, like all the other mentors Hollering Woman has been fortunate enough to have in her life,  he recognized it as his responsibility and pleasure. He also taught her to “pay it forward.”

The concept of mentoring is an ancient one dating from the Greek epic, The Odyssey. The wise and knowledgeable Mentor guided the young hero Telemachus through his trials and triumphs. Today, a mentor is still defined as a “wise and trusted teacher, guide and friend.”  And, while today’s mentor may not always be “wise” and they might not always advise “heros”, they are encouraging, knowledgeable, often great models and share their expertise willingly. They can make all the difference in a writer’s journey at every stage of development.

No matter where you are on your personal writing Odyssey, you need a mentor and you need to BE A MENTOR.  As writers, we never know when the smallest expression of support or information will make a difference in a writer’s life.  Whether it’s in a critique group of fellow writers, the specific advice of an editor, teaching a conference workshop, or just welcoming a new writer into your circle of writing friends and contacts; share what you know and how you know it in a spirit of friendship.  And don’t forget how beneficial the idea of “six degrees of separation” works with writers.

Just this past year, Hollering Woman reconnected with an old friend and mentor. Through his contacts, she was able to get a contract for one of her books. She returned the favor when she read and offered comment on his latest manuscript in a different genre. Mentoring can be and usually is a win-win for all involved. Say thanks to your mentors and mentor someone you know that could use some help and encouragement.

Hollering Woman is passionate about mentoring.  Please share your personal stories about the mentoring experiences you have had in your life in the comments area below.  Also thanks to the recent fellow writers who commented about mentoring on the Poet and Editors group on LinkedIn.  With that said, Hollering Woman will be shouting out to all the mentors in her life in future blogs.

As for that newspaper managing editor that changed her life all those years ago:  HC sends a GIANT SHOUT OUT AND THANK YOU TO BILL ORR-OLD SCHOOL NEWSPAPER MAN EXTRAORDINAIRE AND GREAT FRIEND!