How to Live Like a Poet This Year

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A new year is upon us, and it is time again to choose a word that will serve as a guide for living more intentionally throughout the next twelve months. I’ve long given up resolutions and instead dedicate each new year to a particular word or phrase to be sprinkled liberally through all facets of life. My past words have included simplicity, joy and wisdom. For me, 2023 is the year of living poetically. 

In his 1929 book, Letters to a Young Poet, Rainer Maria Rilke wrote, “If your daily life seems poor, do not blame it; blame yourself, tell yourself that you are not poet enough to call forth its riches; for to the creator there is no poverty and no poor indifferent place.” The quote always grabs me by the shoulders and shakes me into remembering that every day, every moment, is a gift filled with beauty that is mine for the taking. 

Living a poetic life requires a shift in how we move through the world, in what and how we choose to see, speak, act and think. Sitting on the cusp of a new year, we have no idea what adventures and challenges await us. Like years past, there are likely to be moments of monotony, heartache, rage and splendor. Some of us will sleepwalk through it all barely allowing it to register in our souls and reaching the end of our year, and eventually our life, wondering how we missed it. Here are ten ways to poetically call forth the riches of daily life, as Rilke so eloquently urged. 

  1. Notice the sublime. That which is sublime possesses awe-inspiring excellence, grandeur and beauty. In literature, sublimity refers to elevated language that is said to strike the listener with the mighty and irresistible power of a thunderbolt. The sublime exists in everyday moments, the quiet of the morning, the notes of a song, a juicy grape, and the hand of a friend.
  2. Stay present. In his poem, What We Need is Here, Wendall Berry wrote, “And we pray, not for a new earth or heaven, but to be quiet in heart, and in eye, clear. What we need is here.” We just need to pay attention, stay mindful and be present. 
  3. Observe nature. Poetry is often filled with images of nature’s magnificence. It seems impossible to watch a ruby-throated hummingbird or see an orange-pink sunrise and not be somehow moved. Lord Byron wrote, “by the deep Sea, and music in its roar: I love not Man the less but Nature more.”
  4. Seek solitude. Emily Dickinson was a poet who understood the benefits of being alone. In her poem There is a solitude of space, she explores the idea of being alone even amongst a sea of humanity. It is only in occasional solitude that we can sort out our thoughts and disappear into them without the influence of a noisy world.
  5. Read poetry. One of the surest ways to live more poetically is to read more poetry. Keep a book of poetry on your nightstand and read a poem every morning or evening. If you prefer to read poetry online, sign up for a poem-a-day at https://poets.org or read the Poetry Foundation’s poem of the day at https://www.poetryfoundation.org. 
  6. Write poetry. Thirty years ago I had the pleasure of meeting the late poet Robert Bly who told me he instituted the routine of writing a poem every single morning before getting out of bed, drastically changing his life for the better. In 1997, he published the book Morning Poems. I can think of nothing that would help us live more poetically than actually writing poetry.
  7. Follow your dreams. Living poetically means living deeply and fully. We are reminded of this in Mary Oliver’s poem The Summer Day. In it she poses a burning question we might constantly ask ourselves, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” 
  8. Explore your senses. We experience life through our senses ~ sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch. Poets lean into these senses to create strong images. Walt Whitman joyfully wrote, “I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear.” Maya Angelou wryly appealed to our sense of taste in The Health-Food Diner and William Carlos Williams wrote how the nose knows in Smell! Tuning into our senses will help us live more poetically.
  9. Show gratitude. In the busyness of life, we can take things for granted. In Our Prayer of Thanks, Carl Sandburg thanks God “For the gladness here where the sun is shining at evening on the weeds at the river, our prayer of thanks.” A poetic view of life increases our awe and appreciation for the simplest things in life. 
  10. Create beauty. The Cambridge Dictionary defines poetic as anything that is very beautiful or expresses emotion. Living poetically means elevating our daily life. John Keats wrote, “A thing of beauty is a joy for ever; its loveliness increases; it will never pass into nothingness.” In how we dress, keep our home, talk to our children, and treat our neighbors, we can add beauty to all we do.

    Even if we never publish, or even write, a single poem, we can live like a poet in every little thing we do from morning to night through each new day of the next twelve months. Welsh poet Dylan Thomas wrote the poetic life  “makes your toenails twinkle.” That seems like a pretty good way to step into the new year. §

The Elegance of Cats ~ a poem about simplicity

Simple As Cat
by Alicia Woodward

keep it simple
purred my cat
life is easy
when you live like that

plenty of water
and some food
a yummy treat
that tastes so good

a cozy place
to take a nap
a cushion, a basket
or a lap

a little piece
of bright red string
we don’t need
too many things

a sunny spot
here in the hall
chasing shadows
on the wall

a gentle rub
behind the ears
kisses and snuggles
make everything clear

keep it simple
purred my cat
life is easy
when you live like that §

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The Elegance (and Poetry) of Space Clearing

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

The Elegance of Little Cat Feet

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

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

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

Love Poems

Choosing a poem for February to celebrate the beauty of both love and nature seemed a simple task. Poetry books are filled with such poems, but I couldn’t find one that was just right. Most seemed too heavy, fluffy, melodramatic, insincere, tragic or callow.

Unaware of my search for the perfect poem, my husband wrote me one for Valentine’s Day. Now that’s the kind of poem I was looking for! I’m keeping such a personal gift to myself, but it inspired me to find a poem so gentle yet sturdy.

Then I came across a poem by Daniel G. Hoffman called Yours. Hoffman was a poet, critic and educator. From 1973 to 1974, he served as Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, an appointment now called Poet Laureate. His poems were often set outdoors and explored man’s connection to the natural world.

In describing Hoffman’s poems, a scholar wrote, “In them is a lifetime of careful observance, the voice rarely raised yet passionate in its precision, the man behind it enough a lover of life to have been properly critical of the way we live it.” (I must say I’m struck by how easily these words could be said of my husband.)

Hoffman wrote this poem for his wife, Elizabeth McFarland, to whom he was married for 57 years. McFarland was also a poet and poetry editor for Ladies Home Journal from 1948 until 1961 when the magazine stopped publishing verse.

The poem has four unrhymed couplets and creates strong images of relationships found in nature ~ flower scented air, mountains in the moonlight, a tree in spring, and an island in the sea.

Anyone who has loved another can surely relate to this beautiful line found in the last stanza ~ your love is the weather of my being. §

Yours by Daniel Hoffman

I am yours as the summer air at evening is
Possessed by the scent of linden blossoms,

As the snowcap gleams with light
Lent it by the brimming moon.

Without you I’d be an unleafed tree
Blasted in a bleakness with no Spring.

Your love is the weather of my being.
What is an island without the sea? ❤

Winter Morning Poem by Ogden Nash

Winter Morning Poem by Ogden Nash

Winter is the king of showmen,
Turning tree stumps into snow men
And houses into birthday cakes
And spreading sugar over lakes.
Smooth and clean and frosty white,
The world looks good enough to bite.
That’s the season to be young,
Catching snowflakes on your tongue!
Snow is snowy when it’s snowing.
I’m sorry it’s slushy when it’s going.

About the Poet ~ Frederic Ogden Nash was one of America’s most successful poets of the twentieth century. He became well-known through his work at The New Yorker and as host of a radio quiz show called Information Please.

Nash was famous for his light-hearted verse, unconventional rhymes, puns and humor. He died in 1971 at the age of 68. The US Postal Service issued a stamp featuring Nash on the centennial of his birth in 2002.

About this Poem ~ Winter Morning Poem is about the simple joy of snow. Nash uses an end rhyme scheme that makes the poem fun to read aloud. Other poetic devices in this little poem include alliteration, sensory language and a touch of irony.

While acknowledging snow can be a mess, Nash helps us regain our childlike wonder of waking up to a winter snow. Maybe this poem can remind us not to let our grown-up practicality keep us from seeing the innocent beauty in the world.

I must admit I enjoy poetry that isn’t heavy and dark or loaded with obscure vocabulary and symbolism. I hope you agree this poem is perfect for celebrating nature on a cold January day. Though it’s slushy when it’s going, don’t you love the snowy snow when it’s snowing? §

Robert Frost’s Christmas Trees

December was always the most wonderful time of the year to share holiday classics with my literature students. The words and images in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and O’Henry’s The Gift of the Magi had magical calming effects on eighth graders whose visions of sugarplum fairies were sprinkled with raging adolescent hormones.

Though sometimes panned as boring by my students, one of my favorite holiday poems is Christmas Trees by Robert Frost. I’m partial to anything written by Frost who, like me, loved writing about the simplicity of nature. How I wish I’d written this lovely line. Where the sun shines now no warmer than the moon. Sigh.

Frost wrote Christmas Trees in 1916 to address consumerism at Christmastime. (My, what he would think of it today!) The speaker in the poem is a country farmer who tells the story of being approached by a slick businessman who wants to buy the young trees in his woods to sell as Christmas trees back in the city.

The businessman offers to purchase a thousand trees for a total of thirty dollars. The farmer is wise enough to know that Christmas trees are sold in the city for a dollar, so the offer amounted to a mere three cents a tree. The reader understands the farmer loves his trees and would not likely sell them for any price. I doubt if I was tempted for a moment to sell them off their feet to go in cars and leave the slope behind the house all bare.

In the end, the farmer is writing Christmas letters to friends and thinks of giving them one of his trees. Too bad I couldn’t lay one in a letter. I can’t help wishing I could send you one, in wishing you herewith a Merry Christmas!

I hope you enjoy this free-verse poem as much as I do. It reminds me to focus on my relationships with nature and people above money and material things at Christmastime and always. §

Christmas Trees by Robert Frost

The city had withdrawn into itself
And left at last the country to the country;
When between whirls of snow not come to lie
And whirls of foliage not yet laid, there drove
A stranger to our yard, who looked the city,
Yet did in country fashion in that there
He sat and waited till he drew us out
A-buttoning coats to ask him who he was.
He proved to be the city come again
To look for something it had left behind
And could not do without and keep its Christmas.
He asked if I would sell my Christmas trees;
My woods—the young fir balsams like a place
Where houses all are churches and have spires.
I hadn’t thought of them as Christmas Trees.
I doubt if I was tempted for a moment
To sell them off their feet to go in cars
And leave the slope behind the house all bare,
Where the sun shines now no warmer than the moon.
I’d hate to have them know it if I was.
Yet more I’d hate to hold my trees except
As others hold theirs or refuse for them,
Beyond the time of profitable growth,
The trial by market everything must come to.
I dallied so much with the thought of selling.
Then whether from mistaken courtesy
And fear of seeming short of speech, or whether
From hope of hearing good of what was mine, I said,
“There aren’t enough to be worth while.”
“I could soon tell how many they would cut,
You let me look them over.”
“You could look.
But don’t expect I’m going to let you have them.”
Pasture they spring in, some in clumps too close
That lop each other of boughs, but not a few
Quite solitary and having equal boughs
All round and round. The latter he nodded “Yes” to,
Or paused to say beneath some lovelier one,
With a buyer’s moderation, “That would do.”
I thought so too, but wasn’t there to say so.
We climbed the pasture on the south, crossed over,
And came down on the north. He said, “A thousand.”
“A thousand Christmas trees!—at what apiece?”
He felt some need of softening that to me:
“A thousand trees would come to thirty dollars.”
Then I was certain I had never meant
To let him have them. Never show surprise!
But thirty dollars seemed so small beside
The extent of pasture I should strip, three cents
(For that was all they figured out apiece),
Three cents so small beside the dollar friends
I should be writing to within the hour
Would pay in cities for good trees like those,
Regular vestry-trees whole Sunday Schools
Could hang enough on to pick off enough.
A thousand Christmas trees I didn’t know I had!
Worth three cents more to give away than sell,
As may be shown by a simple calculation.
Too bad I couldn’t lay one in a letter.
I can’t help wishing I could send you one,
In wishing you herewith a Merry Christmas.