Posts tagged ‘poetry’

September 8, 2017

What is There to Know?

by lisa st john

There is no other system that responds to aerodynamics and fluid dynamics quite like shifting sand.

Physicists have formulae for the behavior of solids, liquids, and gases but do not have an adequate scientific description of granular motion. Granular behavior doesn’t fit neatly into a single physical theory.

 

Long Beach Island

Why do you like games so much?

Because when I’m playing Bocce or Canasta or Scrabble I know there are rules, and if I play by these rules, with a little luck there is a chance I can win. Unlike real life, where you can do everything right and still get screwed.

 

Scrabble tile lost to the bushes

Games have a science behind them. They are analytical and organized, unlike shifting sand. But the beauty of science is that just because something doesn’t fit into a neat little theory is not to say that we know nothing about it. Knowing is not the same as universal truth. Science is based on change. Did the Sun and planets all revolve around the Earth back in Ptolemy’s time? Of course not. But was it “true” (scientifically) back then? Sure.

As artist Tim Minchin says, “Science adjusts it’s views based on what’s observed/Faith is the denial of observation so that Belief can be preserved./If you show me/ That, say, homeopathy works, Then I will change my mind” (Storm).

I do not mean to discount belief. We must believe that sand moves in mysterious ways in order for us to know it as a fact. We can’t know something and not believe it. Aside from Gettier, knowledge must be justified, true AND believable. This is the logical analysis of knowledge.

Logic is important to me because without it, all we have is guesswork and belief. Logic isn’t always easy though. Take the Gambler’s Fallacy. If I throw two dice ten times and I don’t get a 7 then I am “due” to get a 7 soon, right? Wrong. The dice do not know (or remember) what the previous throws were. Every time you throw it will still be  6/36 chance that you will roll a 7. We tend to believe that we are “due” to get a 7 because it’s instinctual; it’s intuitive. Why do we believe weird things? Watch this 14 minute fun video:

Why am I going on about all of this? Because of fake news and social media and a HUGE lack of scientific, logical thought in our world today. We need sites like Snopes (no, we are not putting Robert E. Lee on the $20 bill) and Politifact (no, Katy Perry did not convince ISIS to lay down their guns) because we aren’t taught to think critically, and it’s a critical time to start.

We need knowledge.

We also need belief.

Crash Davis does not, “believe in Quantum Physics when it comes to matters of the heart,” nor should he. What does he believe in, you ask?

“Well, I believe in the soul, the cock, the pussy, the small of a woman’s back, the hangin’ curveball, high fiber, good Scotch, that the novels of Susan Sontag are self-indulgent, over-rated crap. I believe Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. I believe there oughta be a constitutional amendment outlawing AstroTurf and the designated hitter. I believe in the sweet spot, soft-core pornography, opening your presents Christmas morning rather than Christmas Eve. And I believe in long, slow, deep, soft, wet kisses that last three days” (Bull Durham).

It’s a great writing/mindfulness exercise. Rewrite Crash’s speech for yourself. I tried it. Here it is:

http://bovano.com/

I believe in double rainbows, the cock, the cunt, the wonder of the universe, the buzz of hummingbirds, real ice cream, red wine, that the poetry of my teenage years was angst-ridden garbage. I believe that Trump did “grab pussy.” I believe there should be a constitutional amendment making rape a high crime like treason and punishable by death. I believe in true love, soulmates, fuck-buddies and that only christians should celebrate Christmas. And I believe in the power of art.

What if we balanced every minute of mainstream media watching with an equal amount of poetry reading?

What if we didn’t comment on social media as much as we danced in our kitchens?

I would like to know.

 

Buy my poetry chapbook, Ponderings, HERE.

July 5, 2017

Little Things

by lisa st john

Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking.

-Marcus Aurelius

It really is all about the little things. Cigarette machines repurposed as little Art machines, for example. Art-O-Mat is part of The Cosmopolitan’s fabulous, changing Art Program. This is only one of the many wonderful things about this hotel–the only one on the strip (I believe) to have balconies. Las Vegas is opulent and ostentatious, welcoming and lonely.

The nighttime lights of this city laugh at the vast desert, but the mountains hush the neon into submission at sunrise. Oh, Duality.

 

 

Back to little things.

Here is a brief list of little but magnificent.

-campfire light in the backyard
-roses and daisies together in a vase
-watching your son live a life all his own, beautiful as his birth almost thirty-one years ago
Halo Top ice cream
-landing on your feet again
-loving your tribe and feeling the love back
-Art
-romping dogs
-just…landing

 There will be time; oh yes Mr. Eliot. This year there will be gorgeous amounts of time.

sabbatical (adj.) 1640s, “of or suitable for the Sabbath,” from Latin sabbaticus,

from Greek sabbatikos “of the Sabbath” (see Sabbath). Noun meaning “a year’s absence granted to researchers” (originally one year in seven, to university professors) is from 1934, short for sabbatical year, etc., first recorded 1886 (the thing itself is attested from 1880, at Harvard), related to sabbatical year (1590s) in Mosaic law, the seventh year, in which land was to remain untilled and debtors and slaves released.

And where is my metaphorical untilled land? Who are the debtors and slaves of my heart?

This too, I will explore. Adding to the little list: gratefulness.

 

I just landed. I’m a little rusty. It’s time to let the writing genie back in (or at least unlock the door).

 

January 22, 2017

So, I took a walk…

by lisa st john

So I was taking a walk with 500,000 of my friends the other day… .

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This is part one of several blog posts about the Women’s March.

 

Right now, it’s been less than 48 hours since I took a walk. I have a poet’s brain so I’ll give you a few fragments since it will take more than 48 hours to digest and process the beauty of January 21st 2017.

 

SHOW ME WHAT A FEMINIST LOOKS LIKE!

THIS IS WHAT A FEMINIST LOOKS LIKE!

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Beautiful men from newborns to the elderly, holding their signs, hugging their women, walking. Standing. BEING feminists.

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SHOW ME WHAT DEMOCRACY LOOKS LIKE!

THIS IS WHAT DEMOCRACY LOOKS LIKE!

 

We are here. We are here together. We are holding signs and singing, “This Land is Your Land.” We are chanting. We are smiling at each other and giving what is needed and taking what is offered. We are holding each others’ babies and wiping each others’ noses and taking each others’ pictures and laughing at this…feeling…this connection. We are here. We are safe. We are powerful.

 

SHOW ME WHAT AMERICA LOOKS LIKE!

THIS IS WHAT AMERICA LOOKS LIKE!

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Pink PussyHats. EVERYWHERE. Men in trees with rainbow flags. Three generations of women marching together. Chants of, “BLACK LIVES MATTER!” Chants of “TRANS LIVES MATTER!” People in homemade vagina outfits (not as easy as it sounds to make…). People in rainbows. People in pink pussy hats. People draped in signs and symbols. People SEEING each other. People born three months ago. People who have been alive for more than 80 years. People in wheelchairs and people in high heels. People just BEING together as human people.

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Oh, if there are gods and goddesses they were there. They blessed us all. I do not tear up at Hallmark cards or sad movies. But yesterday I wept. Today the tears of power are still falling, and I hope I never stop crying again.

Watch the speeches.

See the pictures.

These links will be old before I hit POST. But there are others. There always will be. We are here. We will not be silenced…ever…again.

December 10, 2016

More links than content, but isn’t everything connected?

by lisa st john

censorship-quotes-85

Some things happened recently that made me remember that not everything is okay. Not everyone is okay. And I am not even talking about the elections. I teach English Language Arts in high school. But really, I teach kids. I try and teach kids how to be good adults. I do not always succeed. And that knowledge hurts, because I forget sometimes. We all have choices.

But I have noticed over the years that physical pain can take me away like fucking Calgon. So thanks, Doc, for the cortisone shot in my thumb that brought me to tears. Yes, there is crap and Trump and Orwellian cabinet positions but there is also Art.

I can go an hour south and see Modigliani at the Met or Clyfford Still at MoMA. I can re-read American Gods (again) and visit Roland in his Dark Tower quest again and again.

Until they close the museums.

Until they burn the books.

orwellian

I can go hear live music like the amazing Joanna Teters and Amanda Palmer. I can go to poetry readings and workshops like Word Café, and I can even occasionally get published (thank you Chronogram).

 

Until they close the theaters and the clubs.

Until they round up the artists and intellectuals.

The fear of being helpless is dangerous. We are not weak. We are more connected to each other than any time in human history. When we feel powerless, we can go to real places and virtual places and listen to each other, and share silly cat videos and remember to smile and to see.

My mantra for today: Make Art. SEE. Join. Don’t give up. Don’t go back.

And we will not go back (to the kitchen or the closet or the back of the bus). Will we?

 

This is just a little list. There is SO MUCH MORE out there.

American Civil Liberties Union
LAMBDA Legal
Planned Parenthood
NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund
NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund
Human Rights Campaign
Human Rights Campaign

 

Look at the beautiful things going on in the world that we can ALL be a part of!

Crowdsourcing, Crowdfunding so, so many.

 

See you in D.C.

pussy                                      a new poem 

August 28, 2016

Nesting into Fall (or) those philosophy books I took out of the library were worth every late fee.

by lisa st john

“I believe you are your work. Don’t trade the stuff of your life, time, for nothing more than dollars. That’s a rotten bargain.” Rita Mae Brown

philosophy

 

Nesting is that weird thing that happens to some pregnant women towards the end of their nine-month ordeal, glow-time, happiest fatness, hemorrhoid awakening, pleasetakeitoutnow uhm, term. But teachers get it too, and it starts in August. Sadly, New York State doesn’t start school until after Labor Day (I’d much rather have June off than August) so I am getting the nesting urge a bit late this year.

I am cleaning and filling the hummingbird feeders, catching up on all laundry, emptying sand as best as I can from the car, looking for clothes that don’t show cleavage, stocking up on everything from cat food to toilet paper, and OH how I wish I could pee ahead of time. I’d save up, like, thirty pees just for September. Urinating any old time you have to go is a blessed luxury; it’s one of the best things about summer break. Truly.

Don’t believe me? Ask a teacher.

Rookie Teacher First Day Worries:
What if the kids don’t like me?
What if the kids won’t listen to me?
What if I am boring?
What if the principal comes in while I’m teaching?
What if a kid acts out or misbehaves?
What if I am no good at this?

Experienced Teacher First Day Worries:
I’m not here to make friends. Where’s the free coffee?
How do I listen to (and learn) the names of 50 kids named Megan and 80 named Tyler?
What if the kids are boring and won’t talk and just want to take tests and stuff?
I hope the principal comes in while I am teaching; I could use help with this year’s group.
Unless someone has a knife and tries to use it NO ONE is leaving this room.

I hope I can sprinkle some love of poetry on them while I teach them how to be good humans.

Empathy 101 anyone? That degree in Comparative Literature can sit in the back for now.

Goodbye long, slow mornings. Goodbye midnight (I’ll probably see you in a week or two while I reach for the insomnia pills). Goodbye drinks before five. Wait. Scratch that.

See ya’ Summer. Thanks for never really leaving me. I will tuck you in well. We’ll share some sweet dreams with Fall when she wakes up. Until then, I have some teenage minds to warp.

ponderingsYou can buy my chapbook, Ponderings, HERE at Finishing Line Press.

May 30, 2016

Some Things I Know

by lisa st john

 

I may not know the difference between a rosebush and raspberries, admittedly. But there are some things I do know.

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I know rain at an outdoor celebration staved off by kindness.
I know the universal joy of sharing a meal with the blurred line of friends and family.

I may not know why Pi can do what it does, or why ferns speak fractals and they, in turn, speak chaos.

But I know the blissful tears of the father and the harmonious tears of the mother. I know that the tenuous strands of young love spin and weave, creating the strength of an unbreakable union.

With the multitude of horrible things in this world—things I do not want to know—I am indebted to the goddess of perspective for allowing me to also see the first hummingbird of the season, and to hear the “wild rumpus” of worshipped children.

And if there is a secular word for “blessed” then please, someone tell me. Because I am.

I know pain, but also gracious healing. I know fear, but also comfort. I know the darker side of turmoil and the gentle light of peace. And right now, in this moment, I am alive with all I know.

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Ponderings is available at Finishinglinepress or you can get a signed copy from me directly 15.00. paypal.me/lisastjohn

May 1, 2016

One of Those Days

by lisa st john

Maybe it’s the rain. Maybe it’s my internal work clock (quarter four has begun). Maybe I really, honestly, thought I would get my sabbatical. Strike that last one. That would mean I no longer expect the worst in order to appreciate what I actually get. That hasn’t changed. Has it?IMG_4422

I could have gone to a writer’s retreat this weekend but I was beyond tired. I am glad I stayed home to rest but at the same time I am angry for not pushing myself.

Pushy Me versus Tired Me: A Conversation

“How are you going to be a writer AND a teacher if you can’t muster up the energy to drive four hours to Boston?”
“My hematocrit was 33! They wouldn’t let me donate blood. I must be anemic again.”
“Blah, blah, blah… .”
“I just got back from a long weekend in Cincitucky
           “Did you get any writing done?”
“No, but it was such a beautiful time—it felt so good to hang out with my son and see him thriving in his adult world and—
“Travel is good. Travel is fodder for writing.”
“Gee, thanks. I am going to Isla Mujeres the day after graduation, and to Provincetown in July, and to San Miguel de Allende in August and LBI after that and–
“What the fuck are you running from?”
“I am not running from. I’m running towards.”

Anaïs Nin said that we write to “taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.” Maybe Iraintulip2’m not ready. Maybe I’m too ready. Maybe Stephen King was correct about writing and teaching (not compatible). We’ll just have to see.

Until then, I live off the crumbs of what I can muster. A blog here, a poetry reading there, the Chronogram Word Café series, The Bard College Institute for Writing and Thinking, you know. Here and there.

  1. POETRY READING Friday, May 6, 6 pm in the Reference Room of Stone Ridge Library. Join us as Tina Barry, Patricia Carlin and Lisa St. John read from their latest works. A reception will follow the readings!
  2. TRAVEL, write, rinse, repeat… .

p.s. (Was SO PROUD to be a part of Chronogram’s Poetry Roundup. Thank you Ninraintulipa Shengold, for your fab review. My favorite line: “Ponderings debuts a nonpareil poetic voice, lithe, quirky, and fanged.” I’ve always wanted fangs.)

Snippet from a poem that doesn’t quite exist yet:

I will buy the $110.00 bra without a coupon—without even checking with Ebates. Feel the power? The dollars I

give

away don’t count somehow. This much to the students in Isla Mujeres whose mother is homeless; this much to GOFUNDME so Mrs. ___ can stay home with her husband while he dies; this much to Amanda Palmer’s latest Kickstarter because without art what’s the fucking point?

This phase is supposed to be over. Hospice therapist said so.

Ponderings is available at Finishinglinepress or you can get a signed copy from me directly 15.00. paypal.me/lisastjohn

November 29, 2015

On Teaching Poetry and/or Humans

by lisa st john

How will we get this content covered? IMG_3730How we fit these standards in? Discipline is not my job. I’m not a psychologist. I don’t have time for this. I’m not their parent. That should really be “his/her parent.” Is grammar gender-neutral now?  I don’t teach reading–I teach “fill in the blank.”

Really?

I just teach kids.

I could pretend that grammar, punctuation and spelling were my muses and that a world without run-on sentences would be paradise, but that would be a lie.

I prefer to think of teaching young people a little more about what it means to be human a much more important (and infinitely more rewarding) endeavor. Mark Twain said to never to let school get in the way of your education, and I heartily agree.

I hear eyebrows being raised. That’s okay. If I’m afraid of being questioned than what am I doing trying to teach anyone anything? OK. I will stop this mini rant for now, back to teaching poetry.

When I hear a teenager say, “I don’t like poetry” I get excited because now my goal for this class has changed—they’ve upped the ante. Dear Student: I will find the poem that reaches you. I will find a way for you to make a connection to the world through words. I will help you see the lyrics of language as powerful. And yes, dear student, your song lyrics are poems. You didn’t know that? Let’s do some analysis. Do you want to start with Led Zeppelin or Lauryn Hill?

“I wish I was the full moon shining off your Camaro’s hood.” If that isn’t poetry, Sir Eddie Vedder, I don’t know what is.

Words matter.

And I can’t think of a shorter sentence that is as important as that one.

If the evolution of a giraffe’s neck is not poetry than what is?

If the Fibonacci sequence is not art than what is? And doesn’t that analogy make Pi the magical Pied Piper of the universe? Where is the Periodic Table of Element’s chemistry recipe that makes hope? Which impasto brushstrokes of a van Gogh dance someone awake at night?
Football’s perfect catch is poetry.
Learning the Spanish word for word (palabra) is poetry.

Lesson #1 The Myth of the Hidden Meaning

There is no correct answer to what a poem “really” means in the back of some dusty teacher’s edition. You speak English. The poetry we are going to study is written in English. All good?

Lesson #2 Poetry Can Mean Whatever You Want

Uhm… no. There are correct interpretations–many of them–but there are also incorrect interpretations. Richard Wilbur’s “Death of a Toad” is not about unicorns or war or peanut butter. It’s about…you guessed it! The death of a freakin’ toad. Of course, it’s also about death and contemplation and mourning and…yeah.

I love teaching. I actually miss interacting with kids when I am away from them for too long. They have so much insight and depth. People who don’t work with teenagers probably don’t understand that, but they (the teenagers) are soulful creatures.

If I could stop sucking on the glass nipple of television (as Stephen King coined) perhaps I could write more and still grade papers and still make phone calls and still fill out the paperwork and read every single word of everything. But there is something to be said for Jessica Jones and reruns of House and counting how many times I’ve seen Armageddon (I know, I know) but Bruce Willis and Steve Buscemi are brilliant, to say nothing of Ben Affleck, animal crackers, and Liv Tyler’s tummy. Plus it has a kickin’ soundtrack. Anyway…

Are the arts and the media so far apart? You know when you fell in love with Sawyer from Lost that he was named after Tom Sawyer right? The wild mischievous boy who got everyone else into trouble?

Ah…I am bending towards transmedia, and that discussion is for another time.

I have a few different blogs here all hanging out together like a Shakespeare salad (you know, that salad where Horatio tricks Iago into thinking that Benedick really loves Juliet and Othello wants all of Gloucester’s land, and… .). Sorry about that. It’s what happens when I don’t blog often enough.

I will leave you with a somewhat stolen poem.

“Poems Stolen from the Muses of My Students: A Collage of Class Write-Around Exercises and Then Some”

Textured moments crinkle into a powdery dust (that might be a church), and she reads the quavering shadows and knows that it was all real sometimes.

Run if you will, but know the ripples move regardless; they are the travelers. Whose routine is it to sweep the monkey’s cage? Who the lion’s den? My pre-alarm clock dreams are nothing like the silhouette of your bra through sheer white soaking wet lace. But neither is my breath a true wind. Riddles in sheet music, strangers in time—we are eating the microphone instead of the sword.

So, yeah. I guess you could say, “swallow,” but would that crush your stark circadian rhythm?

Damn it Helen. If only it were that simple.

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Oh, and please don’t forget to buy my chapbook, Ponderings, at Finishing Line Press or Amazon (and if you could, an Amazon review would be wonderful. I need them).

p.s. This post was almost sabotaged. Here is the evidence: erfy

September 20, 2015

Either, Or…Or What?

by lisa st john

I don’t want bears in my neighborhood. I love bears, but I would not feed them in order to see them in my yard. It would endanger the neighbors. It is not healthy for them to eat what we humans toss at them. I would much rather have bear than deer (who carry the ticks who carry the Lyme), but I don’t feed them.Black_bear_with_salmon

So when the local police department posted a picture of a bear (big giant black bear) and reminded people to keep their garbage covered, I shared the post and reminded people not to feed the birds yet either. They have plenty to eat right now. Well, I got slammed by a psychic who had dreams last night of starving bears. Yeah. Whatever. This person hopes that some kind people will bring fish to the forest for the bears (‘cause that’s where fish live—in…trees.) So either I feed the bears or I hate the bears? Why has the either/or fallacy become so pervasive? Either I vote for Hillary or I hate women. Either I recycle or I don’t believe in global warming. When did we learn to think so shallowly?

Have we forgotten the subtleties of thought? Have we abandoned the dialectic because we cannot fathom more than one choice at a time? Or is it because we have become too quick to decide things? Apparently it is easier to decide than to investigate.

Soon I will start The Handmaid’s Tale with my students. I hope they see the relevance, the relationships, between then and now. Maybe even glean something about why good literature is timeless. Tammy Faye Bakker is Serena Joy who is (fill in the blank with your favorite anti-feminist religious right fanatic of 2015).

It’s the 21st century and Planned Parenthood is under attack; the anti-feminist movement is underway and the Equal Rights Amendment still hasn’t been passed. So, yeah. I think teaching Atwood’s most famous dystopian novel is important right now. I think more critical thinking is important right now. I hope that my students think so. I hope they realize that I don’t feed bears because I hate them.

False Dilemma-thumb-300x254-153811[1]You can still buy Ponderings HERE!

August 25, 2015

Perforated

by lisa st john

Unlike some of my sisters out there in the world, I do not choose to wear the veil that covers me. My friend calls it a “Saran Wrap” of sadness. I didn’t realize that I had it until she told me. But it’s there. It’s a veil. It’s thin and breathable but it’s there. I’m not sad all the time anymore, but I wasn’t sure I could ever say, “I’m happy” again and really mean it. Not until now.

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It has been 1,006 days since my husband, Kent, died. But it’s also been 10, 588 days since my fabulous son was born. He will be 29 years old this year, and that blows my mind. He is handsome and gentle and intelligent and successful in every sense of the word. He has a beautiful fiancée and just moved into his first (fabulous) home. I have been hanging here trying to help out and trying not to get in the way. And I think the veil got thinner.

Have they put something in my drink? Did my own kid rufi me? Or is it possible that my sadness has found a quiet spot? Their joy is contagious. Even the German Shepherd, Missy, catches it. She ran sprints around the new house yesterday, almost knocking over the yet-to-be-hung bazillion-inch television. And I swear that dog was smiling. We call her “Soul Puppy” because her love is so curative. How could I cry when a sweet little pup was licking my face? What right did I have to be mourning when I could instead take part in the supreme joy that is puppy romping?

The breeze here is warm and inviting. The sky is bluer than I ever remember. The world is lush with life and newness and bliss. Now I not only recognize it, but feel a bit of it too. The veil is thinning. So all of you joyous people out there, please remember: SHARE. Dance in the grocery store and sing while driving and laugh and laugh and laugh. Those of us with veils need it.

p.s.: Thank you artists. Thank you for making “a joyful sound” and sharing the beauty.

p.p.s: Shout out to some of my favorite artists: Kaileigh Osarczuk, Amanda Palmer, Karhu Moon, and all the laughing children of the world.

I just got this message from Finishing Line Press: “Your book will be going to print very soon. I will keep you updated on when your file leaves for the printer.” Oh yea. You can get it here.

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