The Elegance (and Poetry) of Space Clearing

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The beautiful change in the weather energized, motivated, and inspired me to take care of two projects on my list ~ refresh our home for fall and prepare for a haiku workshop I’m teaching this weekend. I didn’t expect the separate to-do items to intermingle, but that they did.

As part of my seasonal cleaning routine, I did some space clearing. Space clearing is the art of removing stagnant, negative energy from a building. It’s not as woo-woo as it sounds. There are many techniques, but it can be as simple as opening all the windows with the intention of releasing stale, heavy air and replacing it with bright, positive energy.

After cleaning, decluttering, and opening all the windows for a couple of hours, our home was absolutely sparkling with clarity and good vibes. I felt a boost of creativity, and planning for my poetry workshop was a breeze.

Here’s a simple haiku I wrote to express the feeling ~

open window day
breeze floats in on angel wings
heart and home renewed

“And the sunsets of autumn – are they not gorgeous beyond description?
More so that the brightest dreams of poetry?
~Charles Lanman

Back-to-School Poem ~ “Sharp”

cropped-copy-of-copy-of-copy-of-copy-of-copy-of-the-simple-swan-7.pngThis poem is dedicated to our grandson, Hudson, who is excited about second grade and just a little worried about learning multiplication. 

Sharp
by Alicia Woodward

new yellow no. 2
meets metal sharpener
a tiny hand turns the crank 

simple wood and graphite   
hold lessons of the past 
and dreams of the future

an elegant invention
for a lifetime of
silvery etchings 

letters and words
facts and figures
thoughts and ideas

the other end a reminder
mistakes are expected
that’s how we learn §

“Everybody makes mistakes, that’s why they put erasers on pencils.”
~Tommy Lasorda

The Elegance of Little Cat Feet

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I think I manifested a cat. For months I’ve known one would find its way to me at just the right time. Last week, I was standing at the kitchen sink when my husband rapped on the window from the back porch and pointed to his feet. A tiny yellow kitten coyly wrapped himself around Mike’s ankles at a moment when his resistance was low. This handsome little guy (named Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice) has filled an empty space in my life. Here is the first of what’s likely to be many poems about him.

Little Cat Feet
by Alicia Woodward

Sandburg wrote this image
on my nine-year-old heart,
“The fog comes in on little cat feet”

Tiny paws now softly sink
into a chest that still longs
for poetry and beauty

They gracefully stretch
in shafts of sunlight and
pulse to a meditative purr

They delicately dance
across the wood floor and
spring to my awaiting lap

Quiet, gentle, elegant
little cat feet
and satin kitten toes 
§

The line I quoted in the first stanza of this poem is from Fog by Carl Sandburg. It was taught to me by my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Quinn, and I’ve never forgotten it.

Fog
by Carl Sandburg

The fog comes
in on little cat feet.

It sits looking over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on. §

“What greater gift than the love of a cat.” 
~ Charles Dickens

Elegant Inspiration from our Poet Laureate & the Stars

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Two different things worked together to bring elegance to my life this week ~ images from the James Webb Space Telescope and a poem by the United States’ newest Poet Laureate, Ada Limón.

The James Webb Space Telescope sent us celestial images I can only describe as poetry in motion. It’s impossible for me to fathom a 10 billion dollar satellite taking photos from one million miles away. According to NASA, the very faintest blips of light in the photos are of galaxies as they existed more than 13 billion years ago. The images confirmed for me that we are part of an incomprehensibly elegant universe.

Meanwhile, life here on planet Earth unfolded as usual. The antics of our fellow earthlings brought bad news, sad news, infuriating news, confusing news, and worrisome news. Among some good news this week was the appointment of Ada Limón as the country’s 24th Poet Laureate. Coincidentally, Limón published a poem titled Dead Stars in 2018.

In the poem, Limón contemplates what amazing creations we are. She believes that in the midst of our ordinary lives, we have the potential to do big things for each other and for our planet. You might even call it everyday elegance.

Excerpt from Dead Stars by Ada Limón ~

We point at the stars that make
Orion as we take out the trash,
the rolling containers a song of suburban thunder.

It’s almost romantic as we adjust the
waxy blue recycling bin until you say,
Man, we should really learn some new constellations.

And it’s true. We keep forgetting 
about Antilia, Centaurus, Draco,
Lacerta, Hydra, Lyra, Lynx.

But mostly we’re forgetting we’re
dead stars too, my mouth is full
of dust and I wish to reclaim the rising –

To lean in the spotlight of streetlight
with you, toward
what’s larger within us,
how we were born.

Look we’re not unspectacular things,
We’ve come this far, survived this much.

What would happen if we decided to survive more?
To love harder?

What if we stood up with our synapses and flesh and said,
No. No, to the rising tides.
Stood for the many mute mouths of the sea, of the land?

What would happen if we used our bodies to bargain
for the safety of others, for earth,
if we declared a clean night,
if we stopped being terrified,
if we launched our demands into the sky,
made ourselves so big
people could point to us with the arrows
they make in their minds

rolling their trash bins out,
after all of this is over?

I urge you to read the poem more than once and think about what our Poet Laureate is asking us to do. As we try to comprehend those spectacular photos sent to us by the James Webb Telescope, let’s consider our human potential and be inspired to shine a little brighter. §

“But mostly we’re forgetting we’re dead stars, too.” 
~Ada Limón, Dead Stars

Featured Art ~ The James Webb Space Telescope’s image of the Carina Nebula, 2022

A Summertime Poem ~ “Unplugged”

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“Unplugged”

Sit outside in dappled shade
Unplugged from tech and things man-made

Don’t fret the wifi isn’t stronger
This connection lasts much longer

Tick-tock is the sound of time
Spend some in nature and offline

Leave social media behind
Post a picture in your mind

Instead of clicking on that link
Find out what your own heart thinks

Trade television and play stations
For incredible imagination

The cloud is good for storing info
Look up, there is a fluffy hippo

Real flowers smell so sweet
Listen to the birdies tweet

Shooting stars and lightning bugs
We miss it all if we don’t unplug §

By Alicia Woodward

Featured Art ~ A Bridge Over Water Lilies, Claude Monet, 1999

Poetry for Ukraine ~ The Mirror

Mirror-Free-Download-PNGThe Mirror

The mirror has two faces
Look closely, you will see
One is vain and greedy
The other just wants peace

One is the aggressor
The bully and the cheat
One stands up for righteousness
And won’t accept defeat

Don’t question his resistance
Or the loyalty of his friends
There is strength in numbers
There’ll be justice in the end

History keeps showing us
Reflections of these faces
Nothing ever seems to change
Just the names and places

Far away there are two men
Who represent us all
Everyday’s a battle
The evil one will fall

By Alicia Woodward §

“Behavior is the mirror in which everyone shows their image.”
~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Read Alicia’s previous poems for Ukraine:
“With the Strength of Snowdrops” https://thesimpleswan.wordpress.com/2022/03/02
“War Can Turn to Peace”  https://thesimpleswan.wordpress.com/2022/03/09
“Innocence” https://thesimpleswan.wordpress.com/2022/03/16
“An Elegant Response to War” https://thesimpleswan.wordpress.com/2022/03/23
“The Sky” https://thesimpleswan.wordpress.com/2022/03/30
“Mourning Dove” https://thesimpleswan.wordpress.com/2022/04/06

The Elegance of Haiku

IMG_1045April is National Poetry Month. What a perfect chance it has been to learn more about poetry and maybe even become poets ourselves. Although it’s harder than it looks, a highly recognizable form of poetry is haiku. Originating in Japan, haiku is one of the oldest and most elegant forms of poetry.

Haikus were always a favorite of my literature students for an obvious reason – they’re short. Known for the rule of 5-7-5, a haiku consists of just three unrhymed lines. The first and third lines have five syllables, and the second line has seven syllables. You may remember tapping your pencil on your desk to count syllables. For example, the word frog has one syllable. The word silent has two.

Nature often inspires poetry, but haiku, by definition, is about nature. It can be traced back to 9th century Japan where it evolved as poetry that specifically celebrated the elegance of the natural world. Matsuo Bashō wrote one of the most famous haikus in the 1600s.

The Old Pond

An old silent pond
A frog jumps into the pond
Splash! Silence again. 

I wonder if Bashō would be surprised we’re still reading his poems 4,000 years after he penned them. Inspired to write your own haiku in celebration of National Poetry Month? Pay attention to something you find intriguing in nature, and form your thoughts about it in a simple three-line poem that follows the 5-7-5 rule.

For extra credit, consider illustrating your poem, as haikus often are. My students loved it when I brought out the cardboard box of watercolors. Their creations always made the most beautiful bulletin boards!

Poetic inspiration recently struck me early one morning when I looked outside and saw a rare flash of bright blue fly past the window. My husband and I had nearly given up attracting bluebirds to our southern Illinois backyard. After jumping for joy, I wrote this haiku.

The Birdhouse

Vacant for so long
Today a pair of bluebirds
Found their home sweet home

§

“When composing a verse let there not be a hair’s breath separating your mind from what you write; composition of a poem must be done in an instant, like a woodcutter felling a huge tree or a swordsman leaping at a dangerous enemy.”
– Matsuo Bashō

Poetry for Ukraine ~ a Haiku

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“Mourning Dove”

cooing mourning dove
iridescent wings of mauve

softly prays for peace

~Alicia Woodward

“Faith is the bird that sings when the dawn is still dark.”
~Rabindranath Tagore

Read Alicia’s previous poems for Ukraine:
“With the Strength of Snowdrops” https://thesimpleswan.wordpress.com/2022/03/02
“War Can Turn to Peace”  https://thesimpleswan.wordpress.com/2022/03/09
“Innocence” https://thesimpleswan.wordpress.com/2022/03/16
“An Elegant Response to War” https://thesimpleswan.wordpress.com/2022/03/23
“The Sky” https://thesimpleswan.wordpress.com/2022/03/30

The Elegance of National Poetry Month

IMG_1039April is the loveliest month for hopeless romantics with a penchant for all things spring. Add National Poetry Month to the calendar, and it’s enough to make this former literature teacher’s heart skip a beat.

A perfect spring day allowed me to take my classes outside to teach a poem among the birds and the bees and eighth grade hormones in full bloom. There’s nothing quite like reading poetry with young hearts inspired by dreamy talk of love and life. My teaching days are behind me now, but I will forever celebrate two of my favorite things in April – springtime and poetry.

Launched by the Academy of American Poets in 1996, National Poetry Month is a reminder of the integral role poetry plays in our culture. National Poetry Month has grown to become the largest literary celebration in the world, with tens of millions of participants of all ages marking poetry’s importance in our lives.

There’s an extensive website at poets.org that offers activities and resources so anyone can join in the celebration. Discover dozens of ways to participate in National Poetry Month and sign-up for a free Poem-a-Day. Follow thousands of events through social media with the official hashtag #NationalPoetryMonth and follow the Academy of American Poets on Twitter and Instagram @POETSorg.

The arrival of spring, along with National Poetry Month, may be just the one-two punch we all need to get through a time of unrelenting shared worries and sorrows. Poetry can help us express our emotions and fills our heads and hearts with loftier thoughts. Our country’s Poet Laureate Joy Harjo said, “Without poetry, we lose our way.”

As birds sing their springtime song and faithful flowers pop up to say hello again, poetry can remind us of the peaceful rhythm of nature and that nothing we experience is unique to the human condition.

Let words like these from William Wordsworth’s 1804 poem I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud soothe your soul and breathe elegance into your day, “For oft when on my couch I lie in vacant or in pensive mood, they flash upon that inward eye which is the bliss of solitude, and then my heart with pleasure fills, and dances with the daffodils!” §

“If you cannot be the poet, be the poem.” ~ David Carradine

Poetry for Ukraine ~ “The Sky”

IMG_1318“The Sky”

The sky belongs to the hazy moon and to the glowing sun
It wasn’t made for fighter jets, bursting bombs, or guns

That sacred space is for the birds to glide on wings and soar
It’s unnatural to be the scene of destruction, hate, or war

The place where God put rainbows, stars, and butterflies
Does not belong to greedy men and self-important lies

A peaceful sphere for passing clouds and for the gentle wind
Is best reserved for reverie and flying kites with friends

The wild blue yonder holds for us a promise up above
It’s good for prayers and wishes and hopeful thoughts of love

The heavens have watched over us since the dawn of time
When we are at our very worst and moments when we shine

The sky belongs to angels and people who can fly
For those set free from earthly woes and gravity defy §

-Alicia Woodward

Note regarding this poem’s allusion to “people who can fly” ~
The People Could Fly: American Black Folktales is the title of a book written by Virginia Hamilton in 1985. It is a collection of 24 folktales including one called The People Could Fly. In this tale, slaves sing ancient African words and magically fly away to freedom. I’d like to believe people bound by chains of oppression, illness, addiction, disease, or poverty can defy all odds and break free. Maybe strength comes in  knowing these are only earthly chains and will not last forever.

Read Alicia’s previous poems for Ukraine:
“With the Strength of Snowdrops” https://thesimpleswan.wordpress.com/2022/03/02
“War Can Turn to Peace”  https://thesimpleswan.wordpress.com/2022/03/09
“Innocence” https://thesimpleswan.wordpress.com/2022/03/16
“An Elegant Response to War” https://thesimpleswan.wordpress.com/2022/03/23

“I thank you God for this amazing day, for the leaping greenly spirits of trees, and for the blue dream of sky and for everything which is natural, which is infinite, which is yes.”
~ e. e. cummings