I write because I love the world. I am now learning to love a new world.
Instead of Minnesota’s sky-reflecting lakes, golden prairie, and the Mississippi’s locks and dams, I am living in the Blue Ridge mountains of Asheville, North Carolina,near the French Broad River’s shoal-shallow banks. I was born in Richmond, Virginia. My poems sound the way I talk, with words like “veranda, magnolia,” that made me listen to myself when I said them in St. Paul, coming out as naturally here as shrimp and grits for dinner.
My spiritual world began on a creek bank where my father fished in a tributary off the James River. He sat still as a monk, his fishing rod at attention. The line pierced the surface of the water. The worm lurked in the cool shallows. This is where the big bass fed. I learned to be quiet here. I was happy to sit near him, playing with the tin can of worms. Fifty years after his death, I consider the silence, sanctuary, and stillness of those woods and know these conditions are essential in my writing life.
In silence, solitude and stillness, I sat beside Lake Kabekona in the North Woods of Minnesota, notebook on my knee, pen in hand. Stillness invites intimacy with nature. I glanced at my pen, and there perched a red-winged dragonfly observing me. We stared each other down – my great bulk and his/her fragile being in communion.
I call this a “Mary Oliver moment.” Mary knows how to be still, knows how to invite communication with grasshoppers and fawns, knows how to: Pay Attention/ Be astonished/ Tell about it, as she writes in a section of her poem, SOMETIMES, ”Instructions for living a life.”
Kentucky poet, Wendell Berry, loves the world also. His love is tempered with angst for the future. Like Mary Oliver, he is full of instructions. This is the second verse of “How To Be A Poet,” from Given New Poems.
Breathe with unconditional breath
the unconditioned air.
Shun electric wire.
Communicate slowly. Live
a three-dimensional life;
stay away from screens.
Stay away from anything
that obscures the place it is in.
There are no un-sacred places;
There are only sacred places
And desecrated places.
In his masterful Manifesto: The Mad Farmer’s Liberation Front, from, The Country of Marriage, he reminds us of our greed and lays out a plan of protection for ourselves, and our planet:
So, friends, every day do something/that won’t compute.
Denounce the government and embrace the flag.
Ask questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millenium.
From my long-looking, silence, stillness and sanctuary in nature, I harvest my love of the world on white pages scattered with words in purple, green, or blue ink, sometimes a good dark pencil. The muse lights on my pen, and I am astonished, and tell about it again, and again. As Samuel Beckett wrote, “Words are all we have.”