One of my poems, “Litany” has been translated into Turkish and will appear in a small print journal in Turkey called Gard thanks to poet and translator, Şakir Özüdoğru. How cool is that? Just to know that this poem has impact and has moved another to share it with readers in his native tongue is thrilling. Much thanks to Şakir and best to him in all his artistic endeavors!
Washing my hands this morning, I thought of Noami Vincent, who was like a great aunt to me. She was my grandmother’s neighbor from the time that my grandparents (along with my mother and her siblings) moved from the country after a terrible flood that took everything they owned, to the house where they lived 50 years, where I live now.
Noami lived into her 90s, became my closest friend for many years until she passed in 2007, the same year as my father. She was a lively, seemingly impervious Cajun woman who had so many losses in her life. She was one of the strongest women I have ever known. She lost seven children. She miscarried six times and the only child that she birthed, a girl, died in childbirth. This woman saved me so many times in our great friendship. She was family to us and is dearly missed.
I looked out of the bathroom window this morning and could see her house, empty still. When she lived, her door was always open to me and to so many loved ones. She was brave, funny, stubborn and deeply faithful. Here are a couple of facts about her: she kept a bayonet in her closet to defend herself, if needed, and she traveled alone to California from Louisiana without knowing how to drive during World War II.
Noami’s story is complex. Both of her parents were deaf and mute and her mother went blind, too, after contracting diabetes. The poem below is collected in Eating the Heart First, and was written with inspiration from events in her life. She was very close to my mother, too, and I incorporated something of my mother’s narrative in it.
I will leave it at that.
I don’t want to use copyrighted images in this post, but please look at this painting, “Hands #1,” oil on canvas, 24″x24″, 2011, previously shown at Saatchi: Gallery Mess, London by Daniel Maidman that really struck me today.
Hands like flushed doves
flutter to say: dry the dishes—
sweep the floor, but never be quiet.
When she went blind, too,
we spelled goodnight and I love you tenderly,
tracing each alphabet
on the scattered leaves of her palms.
I married and she touched
my hips, spreading her hands wide
to note I was getting fat. She patted
my growing belly
but never cradled my offspring.
When the infant died,
fell like trees
in storms from her mouth.
Copyright 2012, Clare L. Martin. All rights reserved.
The monsters of a thousand years tried to demolish me. I was left in want, desolate and afraid. Friendship comes into and out of life, but I relinquish myself to love. I will never let love go, even if I am discarded. I will keep holding fast. I will keep seeking the beautiful and exquisite selves of caring humans. There is nothing that would turn me away.
Only love banishes fear; fears this precious life also summons.
I have happy news to share with you all. I have known for a few weeks but I got permission to share publicly a bit of news that I was conceived on Valentine’s Day in 1968! This explains a lot about me and my almost crippling (being facetious) romanticism. Really the fact that I was a Valentine’s Day baby makes me feel all kinds of wonderful, and I thank my mom for letting me share this with the world. She did ask me however to keep the details of the actual conception confidential. Ha!
I visited with my mother for a little while today and she read a poem to me dedicated to a deceased loved one that meant something to her. She pulled it out of a Ziploc bag that had neatly folded sheets of newspaper clippings. I asked her, “You keep obituaries in a Ziploc bag?” She said, “Yes?” I asked her to give me a moment and I found a piece of paper in my purse and jotted the poem below down. Many of my friends know that my mother is always asking me why I haven’t written any poems about her. I have cryptically, but this one is in a new vein, and she approved it.
My mother keeps obituaries
in a Ziploc bag,
neatly-folded reminders of loss.
She always reads the obituaries
first thing in the morning,
before prayers, so that if she knows
anyone, anyone she can pray
for their souls
and the hearts of survivors.
Once at 6:00 am,
as my father handed her
the just-delivered paper,
she told me that the wife
of my favorite professor and mother
of my friend Victor, had died.
I knew Barbara, a poet herself,
had breast cancer
and was close to the end.
I dressed and peeled-out
of the driveway to Dr. V.’s house.
He was shocked to see me
and just shook his head and said,
“How? How did you know so quickly?”
My mother slips a thin
piece of newspaper
out of the plastic bag and says
it has been ten years
since my firstborn’s death.
This stops me, so I pet her dog, Demitasse.
How else could I end this poem?
©2014 Clare L. Martin
What are you working on?
I am working on a second manuscript of poetry with hopes for a second book. When Eating the Heart First (Press 53, 2012) was done and out in the world, I was consumed with promotion of it and became less structured/focused in my writing time. Happily though, Acadiana Wordlab had just formed that same month and regular attendance counted for me getting writing done. The weekly sessions got me refocused and recharged. I am indebted to Jonathan Penton (Google him) for his vision and work that made this great community/activity thrive. I am the coordinator now, as Jonathan has moved onto other projects. My involvment gives me great pleasure. I give and receive. I am amazed by the wonderful writers who are growing in the Acadiana community and around our state. I have many new poems that have come out of the AW drafting sessions that will hopefully make it into the manuscript.
I have a working title for the manuscript: Broken Jesus. That title comes from a line in my poem, “Convergence,” which appeared in Louisiana Literature, but the image itself comes from a black and white photograph of a broken marble statue of Jesus on the cross at an abandoned church. Ralph J Schexnaydre, Jr. took that photo back in the 1980s. The image appeared on the cover of the first literary magazine in which my work was published, my university’s journal, The Southwestern Review.
I still have that journal issue (it came out in 1989, 25 years ago) but sadly Ralph doesn’t have the image anymore. I would have asked him to allow me to use it. I do have in my house a crucifix that was my grandmother’s and grandfather’s that is broken. A limb is missing from Jesus, and perhaps I can have someone photograph it for me down the road as the manuscript shapes up.
How does your work differ from others in its genre?
The work I am drawn to, the poetry that enlivens me is work that is finely crafted, visceral, meaningful, daring, brave, honest, sharp, and lyrical and I hope that my work is these things. I want to be a dauntless writer. I want to be writing new always: pushing myself, going deeper, going harder and reaching more deeply into you, the reader. I don’t know how else to answer this question because if I am not gripped by a poet’s language, attention to craft, willingness to rend hearts and punch guts, with an almost nameless kind of love for you at the same time, I usually put the book down.
Why do you write what you do?
I write to move other human beings with my words.
How does your writing process work?
I used to be strictly tied to typing rather than writing in longhand but since I have been a devotee of Acadiana Wordlab’s mostly pen-to-paper process, I am more attuned to my hands, albeit in a different way than typing letter by letter. This is something new and fun for me, to write out drafts in notebooks. It’s something I had truly not practiced except for note-taking since getting a typewriter, then a word processor, then a computer. The words are moving from my brain to my hands but my hands know more than my mouth does.
In my at-home practice, I usually start with a free-write. I don’t wait for inspiration but because I am a constant reader, I am inspired daily. Also, those ephemeral voices (that may become lines of poetry) are a grace to which I am sharply attuned. (It can cause problems to live so far up into your head but I manage to be grounded). A word or phrase may come to me while eating buttered grits or taking a bath, and I get up, write it down, and follow where it leads. I have rushed out of the bath naked (they’ve all seen me naked around here) and gotten on the computer to get words down. My short term memory is weakening I think. I also might need to get my bathrobe out of the closet.
Sometimes if I am driving and a line comes, I will pull over and voice-record it on my phone. But the question of writing process beyond the mechanics of actually writing is that I firmly hold that I cannot call myself a writer if I am not writing. I don’t feel I deserve that name if I am not doing it in some way, and I count many ways: letter-writing, journaling, creative writing, and emails—they qualify too, if they are creatively inspired.
For many years my only writing was letter writing and it was necessary for me to have that one person as an audience. The three friends I wrote to on a regular basis are now deceased but really I owe them deep thanks for enjoying my letters and writing back. Those correspondences saved me and my writing career, whatever that is or will be, because it kept me writing. Those friends kept me writing and encouraged my writing when my days were black pages.
*Thank you to Margaret Gibson Simon for tagging me in this fun and challenging effort to enlighten others about our ways and whys of writing. She can be read at Reflections on the Teche
I am tagging:
Participate if you like and link back here! I will link to you, if you are inclined to play along.
Be well, friends.
I used to say emphatically that “I am on a path and I do not allow much to divert me from it,” but the diversions can be good if we circle back to ourselves.
I am on a path inward through the new meditation habit I am developing. Aligned with this path is the writing path: the path that I turn to, turn inwardly toward my deepest self, to process what is in my head and to create. This divine alignment has brought me to more deeply investigate and connect to something unknowable. I have turned my heart away from my own supposed desires, and toward the Divine Whatever which is in all things.
I have been, perhaps, delusional for some time. An example of this crazy thinking is that I would think that if I made choice A, that life would become something that I thought I desired, deserved or expected. I have no clue if such choices would produce the desired results, or would have been true in any of my life choices up to this point. In reality, we can never know if we “made the right decision” until time has passed and we see ourselves and outcomes retrospectively. Sometimes the Universe/Divine Whatever gives us a heads up and we understand that we have dodged a bullet, sometimes not.
Recently I talked with a friend about some heaviness I had been experiencing. I had a fatalistic view about my situation and was very gloomy. My friend had much more optimism than I did and he said, “There are no guarantees.” This could be taken in the negative, but really he meant it and I took it in the positive sense that all my imaginings and some of my insights were not certain or final, and that perhaps what had been weighing on my heart would resolve in a beneficial way. He gave me optimism and a bit of hope. Still, I dare not hope too much and pray only for peace and divine light to be cast on this perceived darkness.
I am an all-feeling human, thank goodness, and mostly make my decisions based on heart-matters rather than using my head. But I want to be a mature adult and think through things and not rush headlong into who-knows-what, even though my enthusiasm for life and following my heart has taken me to wild and wonderful places. I think in the past year, I have learned many necessary lessons the hard way. Good lessons, and I have not backslid into unrestrained heart-following that often leaves me broken. But I do believe in trusting my own intuitive spirit in my “heart of hearts” and trusting that I am cared for by the Divine Whatever. The new adult in me is being more cautious. She is thinking, weighing and planning. She is forgiving and asking for forgiveness. These are good and reasonable things. I am finding needed balance, but more importantly, I am turning away from anxious attempts to make things happen that I perceive as the way things must be. As my friend D. says, “It is what it is.” I am letting whatever “it” is be what it *is* and letting go of my tight grasp to control.
I am on a path. I am walking it in a forward direction. I will certainly “sight-see” along the way. I am less rigid, more accepting, more peaceful and thorough it all I am stretching my heart to more openness–even after hurt, even after disappointment in other people and myself. Having the courage to open our hearts after hurt is perhaps one of our most vital lessons and elevates us as human beings.
I am more me, more grounded. And I love you, myself and this life very much. Peace.
I took an hour from my day for quiet outdoors. I gazed into the slow current of the Vermilion Bayou from the vantage point of a deck overlooking the bayou at a local park. Thin limbs floated in line with thatch and fallen leaves. Trees, on the opposite bank, were reflected in the muddy water and swayed against watery sky.
I couldn’t help thinking of my father and cried a bit. He knew this bayou well. He had fished and boated in it when he was a boy, and as an adult, he frequently he traveled it down all the way to the Vermilion Bay to get to Cypremort Point. We had a camp there for a time when my brother and I were small children.
My father almost drowned in the Vermilion. I wrote a poem about it, “Father Almost Drowning” that first appeared in Poets & Artists and is collected in Eating the Heart First. On my father’s casket, we displayed another poem I had written about his life. In the quiet moments of this exceptional spring afternoon, I thought of how much my father has done for me since his death.
I believe we are spirits in flesh. My father’s spirit has gently cautioned me at various times when I was running headlong into harmful choices or getting involved in matters that were detrimental. I truly believe our dead loved ones are protectors and guides. So, I reflected on him and his otherworldly wisdom, and gave myself over to the Divine Whatever.
I knew I was being called to water today. This morning when I was bathing, I thought of one summer weekend that we had spent at the camp at Cypremort Point. There are so many memories, but this particular memory was of a time that we went to church barefoot. It was a moment that really caused great distress for me. As I recall, our shoes were wet and muddy from play. My mother wouldn’t allow us to wear them to church. That Sunday morning, we had our baths and dressed in clean summer clothes but my mom wouldn’t let us put the dirty shoes on.
I remember looking at my bare feet as I sat in the pew feeling self-conscious and strange. I looked up insistently at my mother for some kind of calm and she whispered, “God just cares that you are clean.” I laugh at this because clean or dirty, I believe we are cared for. It was a moment that made me actually laugh out loud this morning as I was getting clean.
And I am “getting clean” in other ways. I am de-cluttering my head, cleaning the metaphorical window that offers in/out views. Even though I always have meditative moments in my bath ritual, and have sporadically used relaxation techniques and meditation techniques for years, I had not set forth to actually practice on a daily basis. Now it is a priority for me. My new steps in “getting clean” are practicing mindfulness, setting aside two-half hours for meditation, going to church when no services are being held just to sit in silence, and joining up with a group that meets for meditation.
To quiet ourselves and find the silence within, allows for changes in perspective and deeper perceptions. In these silences, images and ideas for poetry are flooding in and I have greater access to the deeper parts of myself that lend wisdom to incorporate into creative writing. It was really cool that a few weeks ago Margaret Gibson Simon (who blogs at Reflections on the Teche) led a meditation writing workshop at Acadiana Wordlab. I always long to go deeper, and I do, obviously, when I am writing and “in the zone.”
All in all, I feel energized, new, and more deeply committed to myself, my people and the Divine Whatever. I wish you peace and wellness.
P.S. I saw the trailer for David Lynch’s documentary, “Meditation, Creativity, Peace” http://meditationcreativitypeace.com/ and I really want to see it. There is a form on the website that offers anyone to send a message if you want to coordinate a screening in your hometown. I am thinking about it!
If you would like to experience something great go to http://www.meditationoasis.com/ I have been using this particular site for about a week.
So many struggles in recent months that I will not reiterate here, but the resulting choice made at my wit’s end was to go on a retreat at Casita Azul, in Grand Coteau a couple of Saturdays ago. My greatest need was silence and a soft place to hold me as I was worn out from deep, constant grief.
When I go to the Casita, which has been a place of refuge for many years now, I usually don’t set rules for myself, except that I will do as I please and only as I please. Of course my pleasure is in the self-nurture and sacred alone time and not to trash the place! This time I did set one rule for myself: No music with lyrics. I wanted all the words in my head to be my own. I only listened to ambient music or instrumental music. I wanted the intangible things in my head and heart to un-spool against lovely, liquid music.
The ten year anniversary of Adam’s death brought out anticipated grief but the intensity was unexpected. Much of my creative work has been an exploration of grief. The whole of Eating the Heart First is saturated with it. But something I learned in the past couple of weeks is that there is no bottom of grief, you can go to extreme depths and keep going.
At the Casita, I realized that no one, no other human, could go to those depths with me. What was revealed to me was that while surrender to my emotions was necessary, and the tears, too, were necessary, the only way to arise, awaken and literally stay alive was to ask the “Divine Whoever” for healing.
I have cried more in the past year than any year of my adult life. It is a good thing and I attribute it to many incredible positive things that have been happening in my life. I am more fully aware of my feelings and I honor them by not suppressing them. I had become so hard, and that is not who I want to be. The tears are sacred and I am grateful for them. I am glad to have broken open. I am opening to allow something great and divine to enter.
Since I have returned home after that short but important stay, I have begun a twice a day meditation practice. I still go to my Bathtub Refuge to thinkcrypraymeditate, but the practice I am doing as a new habit is part of a series of guided meditations that I discovered on this website. There are probably many other sites that offer good ones, but this is where I am for the moment.
I am a private person, believe it or not, but I like to share intimate moments of my own journey as inspiration. We are here to lift, love, and support each other, are we not?
Yesterday I visited Adam’s grave. I parked my car, turned the engine off, and spotted the white angel that serves as his marker. When he was buried, I remember how concerned my mother was about the upkeep of the grave. I told her it didn’t matter to me; that who Adam was as a human being was not in that grave. At the time, I did not even think I would visit his grave, but would honor his memory in my heart. But, over the past ten years I have returned many times, parked my car and trained my eye on that white angel.
I knew my mother had acquired that angel on her own, that it wasn’t part of the pre-need package deal that we set up with the funereal home years before his death. After I left the graveyard, I called my mother and asked her where she got the angel. She thought for a few minutes and told me that she had gone to Chastant Brother’s Feed Store off of Pinhook Road in Lafayette and purchased it. It is a concrete statue, small, of a cherub. My mother told me that she bought white enamel paint and painted it herself on the back patio of her house. I told her thank you for doing that because it serves a great purpose. My eyes are drawn directly to it and it is a simple yet beautiful reminder of Adam’s innocence.
Later in the day, I was reading in my bedroom. My daughter came in and asked me for a backrub. She is eighteen and has her first job. She has been working very hard and she really feels it in her back. I gave her a backrub and we shared a sweet moment together. She thanked me and hugged me for a long time. I rested my hand on her head, kissed her and told her how incredible she is. The thought came to me that I had one child in a grave and one in my arms. This thought caused a mixture of deep gratitude and sadness and resonant longing that permeated the rest of my day. But today, I am soaring. I have an angel in the afterlife and an angel here on Earth.
In June, I will lead a poetry project through the Recovery Academy* with women clients of Acadiana Outreach. What I hope to achieve in the nine sessions is to give participants, through structured, weekly creative writing workshops, tools to strengthen their ability to name thoughts and emotions and convey them artistically, and poem-making skills which may lead to positive breakthroughs and life-happenings by tapping into the resilience of the creative mind.
By offering skill-building creative writing exercises and prompts, sharing empowering literary works, and allowing for free-writing time, I hope to inspire participants to be able to create something beautiful, honest and uniquely their own through the craft of poetry. By creating a safe and nurturing atmosphere in our group sessions, I hope the participants will have the assurance to reach into their creative minds to find deeper self-awareness, keys to success, and possibly true healing.
In my own personal experience, creative writing has led me out of despair, allowed me to express joy and love in sensory, beautiful language, and come to a place where I feel honored to be me. It is my hope that participants will find their “true voices” via new creative skills that may give rise to creative problem-solving in circumstances they face in their everyday lives.
Art is vital and necessary, and creative acts are transformative. We can transform. We can rise above and live in hope. The positive effects of writing our very lives can lead one out of places of darkness. I believe that through creative writing, through the process of discovery and poetic documentation, we can find our way, recover and thrive.
“If you do not breathe through writing, if you do not cry out in writing, or sing in writing, then don’t write, because our culture has no use for it.” —Anais Nin
I am committing to this project enthusiastically to be able to interact with these women, lead them to new awareness and appreciation for poetry as a vital tool of self-expression. I am committed to the work, and have great hope for this project.
*Recovery Academy 2014 will present local poet Clare L. Martin in a series of workshops focusing on poetry as a transformative process culminating in a reading at Theatre 810, the site of “Off the Streets.” The workshops will be from 7 to 9 pm, at the Outreach facility June 2; June 9; June 16; June 23; June 30 and July 7; July 14; and July 21, all in 2014. The project will conclude with a public reading by the client-poets at Theatre 810 on July 28, 2014 hosted by Clare herself at 7 pm concluding at 9 pm.