Chant

Chant

Element:
Chants

In her book, Saved by a poem, Kim Rosen writes, “Human beings are creatures of rhythm. The fluids within our bodies pulse, our hearts throb, our breath comes in rhythmic patterns that change with our emotions.” Rosen also explains that “the rhythm, drumbeat, and breath” can “dissolve the walls between the conscious and the unconscious. To me, spring is the time of year when rhythms are at their peak. The peepers are the first to pulsate the air, and they are soon followed by the various species of returning birds, the animals appearing from their winter dens, the leaves budding and suddenly opening, the rivers flowing, and on and on. Just when I think it will never be green again here in northern Vermont, everything is green.

Rosen explains: “…rhythm in a poem is like the drumbeat under a piece of music. Just as different drumbeats cause the boundaries of the daily mind to melt, a poem has its own rhythm that changes the consciousness of the reader, listener, and speaker.” I consider chants as poems with the rhythm amped up. But it can’t be any rhythm. You might consider a limerick to have an amped up rhythm, but the particular beat of the limerick, where the stresses lie and the cadence of the beat, lends itself to humor, not seriousness (though like chanting, laughing has beneficial effects).

In the chant above, there is a very carefully laid out rhythm. Let’s go from macro to micro. There are seven stanzas in the poem, and in each stanza there are seven lines. In each line there are seven syllables, but we need to look even closer. Each line starts with an accented syllable and is followed by an unaccented syllable (this is called a trochee as opposed to an iamb, which is a set of two syllables in which the first syllable is accented, such as the word, “enough” or the phrase, “I won’t“). The trochee pattern continues throughout each line three times, and each line ends with an additional stressed syllable. Perhaps you feel that this pattern, repeated 49 times in the entire poem, is way too monotonous. Well, it’s supposed to be. It’s a chant, and a chant by definition is “a kind of singing using a small number of musical notes that are repeated many times.”

Chanting has been used for thousands of years to alter consciousness, to pass on information, and to record events. In Hawaii, the “oli” is an elaborate chant that was composed to record historical events and every day occurrences. Another use for chanting can be found in the ancient Chamorro culture of Guam when women would chant litanies at funerals. Of course, there’s the Gregorian chant, too. Many believe that chanting has a healing effect, brought on by the movement of sound waves through the body. According to Harmonic Sounds: The Association of Sound Therapy, “All matter is sound, and emits sound, although these sounds are mostly beyond our limited physical sense of hearing. Our physical bodies, therefore, are also resonant electromagnetic fields, as are our auras, both generated by the atoms of which we consist.”

What this boils down to is sound is important. Pay attention to the sounds around you, and make some beautiful sounds yourself, maybe even through a bit of chanting.

RELATED LINKS (Poems, Places, Books, Videos, Events, and Other Resources):

Bodhran – that’s my Irish drum that I took a picture of and displayed my chant on. I’m learning to play, little by little.
Check this out – you won’t believe your eyes – and ears!
Sand Vibrations with Chladni Plate

 

 

 

Spring Plowing

Although April is almost over, it doesn’t look or feel like it’s even begun yet here in northern Vermont. One sure sign it’s April, though, is Mary Jane Dickerson’s annual poetry workshop at the Jericho library. This year’s theme, History and the Poetic Imagination, has led to a variety of poetry from the 15 participants, who will have the opportunity to share their new work this evening at the Deborah Rawson library in Underhill at 6:30. I’ll be reading the poem I’ve written for it, which I include as today’s post.

POEM:
Spring Plowing

With the girls grown and he, too, gone,
she stood at the edge of the fallow field,

behind the two horses—Fetch and Freya—
looking toward their flanks. She clucked

and the team began their work, white fetlock
feathers swishing like snow in storms

finished for the season, sweeping the grass
still brittle and brown as under the single blade

plow the earth roiled, rolled up and under itself
in constant undulation of revelation

and concealment. She trod in the six-inch trench
they cut, knowing the first pass must be straight

to set the pattern for following rows, and locked
her calloused hands on the wooden handles

trying to control the jump of the blade
should it hit rock or start to veer off course.

She cooed the horses’ names, felt the sureness
of this one thing. At the end of the first furrow,

she threw the blade to its side and let the team
continue a few yards before calling: Haw!

Come round Fetch! Come round Freya girl!
and stopped them at the edge of the second pass.

She sat down then, out of shape from winter’s
indoor work. She’d been proud, once, of the farm,

of him, even of herself, but now the sharp
edge of the plow lying a few feet away,
the black rump of Fetch, and Freya’s
champagne mane, and their waiting
for a simple command, humbled her.
She studied Fetch, and snorted herself.
She had more in common with the horse–
a temper and a restlessness–than she’d ever
had with her own husband. Fetch stamped.

She stood up and put the horses in motion. She wanted
the beautiful tension of tugs between horses and plow,

plow and arms and her whole self, a balance she’d watched
him patiently create over the years as he learned

how to orchestrate the crude instrument, the creatures.
She knew what sweet rhythm could rise from this labor.

Her ankles twisted in the ruts behind the horses’ sure
plod. By the end of the second row, sweat shone

on the team’s backs and she set them up for the third
furrow before resting them, wiped her sleeve along

her own forehead. What good was it all now?
Was she wasting her time? She could leave,
follow the girls and live comfortably with one
or the other. They’d have her, probably would
be relieved if she gave up depending on rain
and sun, the cold wet mornings, wind in February,
August dust. She narrowed her eyes at the team;
they had a long way to go, and there was life
in her yet. She would make it. She’d shown the girls

how to do it, hadn’t she? She had plenty of time, years even.
Forecast for the week was good. Fetch! Freya! Come up!

ELEMENT:
Feedback

Feedback isn’t exactly an element of poetry, but it’s an important aspect of writing poetry. A tricky aspect at that. I workshopped the above poem with a small group of poets when we split in to two groups at Mary Jane’s workshop mentioned above. I also showed it to my good friend and accomplished writer and artist Nancy Hayden from The Farm Between. It was especially important to get her feedback as she has actually plowed with horses. I also received feedback from Mary Jane in a one:one conference and from another poet-friend, Patricia Fontaine.

It’s good to get feedback from 1. people you trust and respect; 2. people who know something about the topic you’re writing; 3. people who are well-versed in writing themselves, especially in the genre in which you write.

That doesn’t mean that getting feedback is easy. My heart races when I ask someone to read my poem for the first time, and I have to try hard not to get defensive when they question a decision I’ve made about the poem. But by choosing people carefully to critique my work – not people who are going to think everything I write is great – I create much better poetry.

One of the best persons I’ve received feedback from is Neil Shepard. It’s not because Neil loves everything I write. It’s because Neil takes what I write seriously and puts in a lot of thought about what I’ve written. In his feedback, he references other poems and texts for me to check out and analyzes what I’m doing even though I might not even know I’m doing it.

Getting feedback can be hard, but giving feedback can be difficult, too. There’s a way to do it so the person will listen and a way to do it so the person becomes angry and defensive and doesn’t take your advice, no matter how good it is. Two bits of feedback advice that I try to remember is 1. the writing workshop purpose is to keep the writer writing; 2. there isn’t such a thing as a bad poem, only poems that aren’t finished yet. Okay. Some poems might be a looooonnnngggg way from being finished, but chances are if the person took the time to write it down and share, there’s a nugget of something to shape into a gem.

Sometimes I share a poem when it isn’t ready to share. It’s not a good thing to do. Just because I’ve written down something on paper doesn’t make it worthy of someone else’s time. Share your poetry when you can’t take it any further by yourself and when you’re distant enough from it so that you can stand to have someone suggest changes.

Most of the poems in this blog are quick-writes and early drafts that I have subsequently changed through revision and feedback. Once I’ve emotionally distanced myself sufficiently from the initial creation, it can be fun to go back and see what I can do with it, armed with ideas and suggestions from the supportive critics that I know and trust.

RELATED LINKS (Poems, Places, Books, Videos, Events, and Other Resources):

These aren't draft horses but cute (and old) Shetland ponies. Taken on the Shetland Islands, Scotland, 2013.

These aren’t draft horses but cute (and old) Shetland ponies. Taken on the Shetland Islands, Scotland, 2013.

Fetch – Irish Mythology 

Freya – Norse Goddess 

 

 

 

 

 

St. Valentine’s Day

What else can I say? It’s been a long, cold winter.

POEM:
St. Valentine’s Day, 2015
– or, Eighteen Below and Falling

So cold for so long,
the air itself is brittle—
if you walk out the door,
you risk cracking it,
causing it to sprinkle
in tinkling shards at your feet.
The wind is busy, buffing
the world, you’d think,
to a high-gloss sheen at least.
But no, the interminable sky-wall
has a thick matte finish.
Nothing shiny or spectacular
hangs in the air. The weatherman
confirms it, announcing,
“Filtered sunlight prevails.”
Even Eros has donned
parka and mukluks.

ELEMENT:
Civilizations Converge in Modern Poetry

Eros in parka and mukluks.

Eros in parka and mukluks.

RELATED LINKS (Poems, Places, Books, Videos, Events, and Other Resources):
Eros
Mukluks and other Arctic Clothing
Sorry, but this sums up the coming couple of weeks. Not bad if you live west of the great plains.