mary oliver

The Poetry & Music Of Alternatives To January Gym Membership!

Today, I invite you to join my fitness protection program, and look at the poetry and music of take-care-2things we can do instead of joining the gym in January!  It’s a peculiar month isn’t it. Dark, cold and penniless and after spending too much money on the wrong things, we’ve only just sat down to enjoy the luxurious Belgian-chocolate-fudge-cake-with-chocolate-butter-ganache-and-rum-and-raisin-(double)icecream we so richly deserve, when we find ourselves being vilified (by ourselves!) for over-indulging and hasten off to the nearest gym before said chocolate cake has had time to reach our salivating lips!  That is of course if we read the newspapers, magazines, blogs, social media posts that perpetuate this kind of unhelpful, ill-timed, stress-inducing madness. My advice? Don’t buy into it. Take a bath instead.  All it is is somebody else’s idea of a reality that just mightn‘t suit us. We can be the authors of our own ambitions and stick to what we feel is right for us. It’s hard not to get sucked in though, especially when around every corner lurks a gym or a night-class or a tai-chi-for-beginners-instructor telling you YOU’RE DOING LIFE WRONG!  So today we’re putting the brakes on, and using the first month of the new year not to beat ourselves up but rather build ourselves up.

take-care-6Think about it, many of us have just spent some more time than usual with our families and despite the obvious joy and good fortune in having people to share the holiday with, we can easily lose ourselves in the chaos, we fall back into old familial roles and patterns, tension is high, old wounds and hurts get reopened that can leave us feeling a little vulnerable and maybe questioning our life choices. I’m not sure that the answers we’re looking for are on the treadmill or under the weight machine though.  We might just need to ask ourselves a few basic questions, then sit quietly and wait for the answer to come from within. Why let a magazine article or sign at the local supermarket decide our fate? If the response we hear back is in fact a date with a rowing machine then yay! join in February, but if we decide that what we really need is an evening or two with our feet up then we’ve just saved a large amount of money and extra pressure and guilt for all the sessions we know we were going to miss.

So with the help of today’s poets I’ve come up with a few alternatives to dumbbells and Divorce/girl powerdipping bars.  After weeks of socialising , one of the first things we need to do before making any resolutions or life changing decisions is to get back in touch with ourselves to re-centre. The Argentinian poet Susana Thenon in her poem Nuptial Song believes that the only way for us to truly know ourselves, to rediscover our inner voice and appreciate the wonderful person that we are, is by being happily married … to ourselves. You heard m! Because we live in such an externalised culture it’s essential that we create moments of solitude for ourselves to get to know ourselves, to seek out our souls and nourish them. But we’re so afraid to take this journey inwards. Why? Well maybe we don’t go there often enough and fear what we might find: that we’re dreadful people who’ll never be good enough? But what if we find that we’re actually alright and just as good as anyone else? And remember solitude is different from isolation. If we sit quietly with ourselves for long enough we find that we have all answers to all the questions that have been evading us for years. Nuptial Song, is a poem about paying attention to emotional pain.

Tess Gallagher then gives us a credible alternative to kick-boxing …. Hug someone!  In a take-care-4recent show about happiness, you might recall I talked about little things we can do everyday to improve our well-being and one of them was to give, especially of ourselves. Reaching out to someone in need can have enormous benefits for both the giver and the receiver.   Psychological research tells us that loneliness is as detrimental to health as smoking is and with that in mind it’s important that we make more time for people; the elderly, the marginalized, those who live alone, we don’t know who out there is struggling or how much.  And it goes both ways: reaching out to is equally as important as reaching out for, asking for help when we need it. And you know, something as simple as a hug can go along way. A hug releases hormones that lower blood pressure, slows the heart rate, what’s known as the cuddle hormone oxytosin can reduce stress and above all reduce feelings of loneliness. It’s a common thing to be asked by a homeless person for spare change but what if he/she asked for a hug? How would we deal with a request like that? Well in  The Hug, American poet Tess Gallagher responds in a way I think we would all like to think we would respond.  She’s standing on the street hugging her partner when a homeless man walks up ’can I have one of those’ he asks. The overriding theme of the poem is love and I think what Gallagher proves is that it is not limited.

take-care-7Something else we might do as we look ahead is to remember that even though the hopes we have for ourselves don’t always match up to our reality, we are far from failures. Jack Gilbert, in his poem Failing and Flying, reminds us to focus on the positive.  The first line reads Everyone forgets that Icarus also flew.  Icarus was the Greek character whose father warned him that his wings would melt if he flew too close to the sun, but he was a young man who got carried away, did what he wasn’t supposed to and ended up drowning in the sea, we remember him as the boy who failed not as the boy who flew. Failure is a tricky one, our reaction to it is to stop trying, our minds trick us into believing we can’t do things but Gilbert, no stranger to emotional pain, wants us to stop convincing ourselves we can’t succeed. To stop seeing things as all bad. He so beautifully cites the end of his own marriage as an example, even though the relationship is over, it did exist once, full with passion and promise and wonderful memories the gentleness in her
like antelope standing in the dawn mist. Gilbert, I think has a lot in common with Rilke, who we also read today, he travelled a lot, lectured to support himself, he mostly avoided fame and wrote for the love of it not to be lauded. And he uses a quote from English poet GK Chesterton which I love That anything worth doing is worth doing badly, meaning that how we do things is the way they should be done, that we are good enough, that individuality trumps excellence every-time. Finally then Gilbert goes further and trumps himself with a concluding line that we could all benefit from remembering, that we are not failing just coming to the end of a triumph. Reminds me of Samuel Beckett’s famous lines ever tried, ever failed, no matter, try again, fail again, fail better.

So look at all we can achieve instead of going to the gym in January! We can spend more time getting to know ourselves; live life more fully; question everything so we can form better opinions about ourselves and others; be more compassionate by reaching out to others; changing how we view things like failure, if we can do that maybe we can change how we look at other negatives in our lives and most of all we can come to realise that maybe things aren’t as bad as we thought they were; maybe we’re alright as we are.  We can stop being so hard on ourselves and making January gloomier than it has to be. I think when we’re forced into doing things they don’t work out as well as when we choose to do something for ourselves. So let’s take the time to think about we really want, because change, if we want it to work, takes time not added pressure.

Follow your inner moonlight; don’t hide the madness.
Ginsberg

Also on todays’ show:  Go To The Limits Of Your Longing by Rainer Maria Rilke, Some Questions You Might Ask by Mary Oliver, In Spite Of Everything, The Stars by Edward Hirsh.  Music from Atli Ovarsson, Jacob Collier, Al Martino, The Frames, Bell X1, Nina Simone, London Metropolitan Orchestra, Josh Ritter.

 

 

 

 

 

The Mountains Are Calling And I Must Go!

Today is natureall about the natural world around us, from caterpillars to columnar tree shapes, bird-bills to blizzards and snapping turtles to tornadoes; Nature’s got it all going on, it’s wondrous, it is us and it’s a recurring theme in poetry. ‘First follow nature’ Alexander Pope remarked in his Essay on Criticism; ’Am I not partly leaves and vegetable mould myself?’ asks Henry Thoreau in his part-personal book Walden about simple living.
Poets and writers are akin to spies when it comes to observing Nature, and have always drawn on her beauty, landscapes and seasons, through metaphor – to better understand ourselves and our behaviour, or to convey deep metaphysical messages and stark ecological ones, or simply to celebrate life’s 3 and a half billion years of existence!
To help us, Gary Snyder gets ecological with his observations by Frazier Creek Falls,  a meditation really on the natural world, similar to the Japanese Haiku tradition, which reduces the world to a kernel of acute observation. And as I read this, I found it to be one of those poems that demand absolute stillness, in keeping with the geology and pyramidal pines of the scene he’s describing. He creates a stunning picture of what he sees from the falls and explores the idea that we are linked to everything around us, man and nature are one ‘we are it, it sings through us’ he says. We are interconnected. And if we took the time to really consider this concept, then we could reach a more ecologically sound understanding of what it means to grow and develop as a species. If we stopped trying to control nature and began instead to work with her, life would be far less complicated.  A Zen Buddhist, who lives in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, skins his own bullfrogs and spends nights reading the constellations, Gary Snyder is a poet entrenched in the nature!

Jane Hirshfield’s Zen Buddhist training taught her two things: silence and the desire to call forward a complete attention. – Inhabiting her own experience I guess. Recalling Mary Oliver’s attention to detail and Gary Snyder’s meditations, Hirshfield finds a deeper understanding of herself in her interactions with nature. Her poem, Three Foxes By the Edge Of A Field At Twilight, reflects on how much in nature is hidden from us and what in turn we keep hidden from each other. The foxes are visible until she tries to approach, then the woods suddenly take them back. She continues walking with an acquaintance from whom she holds back some of herself. Perhaps the foxes represent the thoughts she can‘t verbalise, the ones that return to the heart, revealing something to herself and to us: that in our desire to be closer to nature we come to realise that we are closer to ourselves than we know. That old Lao Tzu proverb comes to mind ‘he who knows, does not speak. He who speaks does not know.’  The poem is from her Selected Poetry volume Each Happiness Ringed By Lions.

‘Are you bowed down in heart?’ Asks James Weldon Johnson in his poem Deep In The Quiet Wood, ‘Do you but hear the clashing discords and the din of life? Then come away, come to the peaceful wood, here bathe your soul in silence.’ Those lines are beautiful aren’t they? And they jumped out at me, reminding me of places I often go to escape, the traffic, bustling streets and … disruptive neighbours. My favourite place to recharge, is at the grounds of Ashford Castle in the village of Cong, Co. Mayo.  It’s a wonderful amenity with tranquil woods of varieties of broad-leaf, evergreen and native trees, it’s on the shores of Lough Corrib with it’s meditative crystal clear waters and there’s a school of falconry there also so if you’re lucky enough to arrive during a hawk-walk, you’ll be captivated by these amazing creatures soaring and diving, their bells jingling through the trees. American poet Wendell Berry also espouses the view that we can find solace in nature, that the spirit of the natural world can restore the human spirit. ’When despair grows in me‘, he says ’I come into the peace of wild things’ , there is somewhere we can go to relieve the anxieties of our lives, but you know sometimes even reading this poem I find myself transported and automatically relaxed. From the 1968 collection Openings, we’ll read The Peace Of Wild Things.

There’s a lot to be gained through communing with the natural world, and I suppose we shouldn’t have to try we are a part of it, we are stardust after all. This world is the house we live in, packed full of creatures and plants and natural wonders and our over-exploitation of it is unfortunate, every habitat we destroy today results in the loss of a species tomorrow – we all know this – primates, tropical orchids, numerous species of birds and fish are all at risk. But more worryingly, because they thrive on human activity, things like cockroaches and rats are the only species unaffected! So think on China & America!  All we can do is look after our own patch, make a home for nature isn’t that the tag-line?

Also on today’s show, I read Lingering Happiness by Mary Oliver, Putting In The Seed by Robert Frost and Summer Farm by Scottish poet Norman MacCaig.  Music from Ludovico Einaudi, Nils Frahm, Message To Bears, Yaruma and much more!

Journeys: Travelling within

Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.  Emerson

The idea of life as a journey is a well worn theme in poetry and it’s the focus of our show this week.  And what’s the message?  What great wisdom can we expect from our featured poets? Well, I guess it’s that life is a trip we have to take, no matter how bad the roads or the accommodation! In his poem The Journey, journeys 2American poet James Wright finds the secret to living in this world, in a quiet moment of reflection while visiting the medieval village of Anghiari.  Accepting life for what it is, its experiences and burdens but not being weighed down by them is the message he imparts to us.  ‘Step lightly all the way through your ruins’ he says.  We have a tendency to over-criticize and pick holes in every little thing we do, hold on to negativity and not let go of the baggage of the past, but Wright urges us to walk free from all of that and just be.  Be here now.

Life is is a voyage of discovery, of ourselves and others and we have nothing to fear on this journey only what we’ve conceived in our minds before we set out.  We spend so much time worrying about what might happen in the future that we’re sometimes blind to the magic that is happening around us.  Greek poet C P Cavafy prepares us for a great adventure to Ithaka, metaphorical destination and home of the legendary Greek king Odysseus.  I think Ithaka is about enjoying the pleasure of being alive – the people we meet, places we visit and knowledge we gain along the way.  Dreams and goals are important but I think the real value is gained through the process of living.

In Journey To The Interior, Margaret Atwood compares the rough Canadian landscape to the inner journey of self-discovery. Something not to be undertaken lightly as ‘only few have returned safely’ she warns.  I can completely relate.  Sometimes these inner journeys can be tough to navigate, there’s a fear of going too deep, of making discoveries you wish you hadn’t, but the reverse is also true and can lead to some self-illuminating moments.  Sometimes I find I just need the distraction away from myself though and take a journey out of my own psyche and into someone else’s … that can be illuminating too!

Mary Olivers’ recognition of the inner voice, the true authentic self is the subject of one of her best known poems The Journey, where she tells us to go out into the ‘wild night’ and find the voice that will ‘keep us company’ as we go deeper and deeper into the world. For most of us, the decisions we make are based on externals like what other people think.  We think it’s better to fit in, but you know what fitting in is?  Fitting in is resisting yourself … and resisting yourself can only lead to a life full of uncertainty, self-doubt and self-reproach.  Being honest with ourselves is risky business but big risks yield big rewards.  So take a friendly attitude towards your thoughts.  Be bold enough to live your truth, turn up the volume on your inner wisdom and in the words of (I think) Allen Ginsberg “Follow your inner moonlight; don’t hide the madness”.

Audre Lorde and Philip Levine also feature on todays show, along with music from Mick Flannery, Tom Petty and Bjork.

photo credit: http://www.trans-siberian-travel.com

#PoetryDayIRL

 

magic book

Today is Poetry Day in Ireland! What a great day to lose yourself in the rhythmic alchemy of language.  Even if you’re not into poetry, just take the time, think of a topic that interests you and search for a poem on it: Love, Twilight, Death, Happiness, Thought, Paris, History – everything can be distilled into poetry and I guarantee you’ll find a poem on every imaginable theme.  If you enjoy a sunset, the sound of the sea or the smell of rain – that makes you a poet.  Listen to your heartbeat – poetry, as I’m writing I’m watching my Willow tree bend in the April breeze – more poetry, it’s everywhere!

I started reading and writing poetry in my final year in Secondary school.  I studied all the usual suspects (mostly old angry men) but I persevered because something about the medium grabbed my attention more than anything else I was studying in those days.  I remember reading Siegfried Sassoon Base Details a sarcastic poem about the indifference to front-line soldiers displayed by their officers, and tried to recreate my own version about life in the classroom! It probably sucked, but I enjoyed the word-play and the difficult search for descriptions.  In college, I discovered Sylvia Plath, Emily Dickinson and Dorothy Parker and I was off.  Writing about myself, my feelings and desires, my heartbreak’s and fixes, everything from the ridiculous to the sublime. In later years Walt Whitman, Mary Oliver, Michael Hartnett, James Tate, Sharon Olds, Jane Hirshfield, Naomi Shihab Nye and many  many more, became my companions.  Poetry was a constant in my life, a second shadow, and it still is, almost 30yrs later!

I knocked at her doors for so long before realising she’d left a key under the pot!  That’s the thing about poetry, if you want her she’s yours, you don’t even have to ask.  If you’re lost, she’ll find you.  So don’t be put off by academics who make out that poetry is only for the lofty, the high-brow or uber intelligent.  Wrong, wrong, wrong. Instead listen to what Pablo Neruda, one of the great Latin American poets, had to say about poetry (and he knew a thing or two):

 “On our earth, before writing was invented, before the printing press was invented, poetry flourished.  That is why we know that poetry is like bread; it should be shared by all, by scholars and by peasants, by all our vast, incredible, extraordinary family of humanity”.

So, drop your guard, open a book of poetry and walk into your heart 🙂  This is one of my favourites, it’s Neruda, it’s his honest-to-goodness, wonderfully descriptive, personal poetic discovery, the moment poetry held him in her embrace. Translated by Alastair Reid from Mark Eisner’s Essential Neruda. it’s:

POETRY

And it was at that age … poetry arrived
In search of me. I don’t know, I don’t know where
It came from, from winter or a river
I don’t know how of when,
No, they weren’t voices, they were not
Words, nor silence,
But from a street it called me,
From the branches of the night,
Abruptly from the others,
Among raging fires
Or returning alone,
There it was, without a face,
And it touched me.

I didn’t know what to say, my mouth
Had no way
With names,
My eyes were blind,
Something kicked in my soul,
Fever or forgotten wings,
And I made my own way,
Deciphering that fire,
And I wrote the first, faint line,
Faint, without substance, pure
Nonsense,
Pure wisdom
Of one who knows nothing,
And suddenly I saw the heavens
Unfastened
And open,
Planets,
Palpitating plantations,
The darkness perforated,
Riddled
With arrows, fire and flowers,
The overpowering night, the universe.

And I, tiny being,
Drunk with the great starry
Void,
Likeness, image of
Mystery,
Felt myself a pure part
Of the abyss,
I wheeled with the stars.
My heart broke loose with the wind.

 

 

Photo Credit: http://science-all.com/image.php?pic=/images/magic/magic-03.jpg

 

Summer by WestWords

Our Summer show features poetry by Jane Kenyon, James Tate & Mary Oliver with music from The Gloaming, Abel Korzeniowski & Coldplay!

“But all my life–so far– I have loved best how the flowers rise …” WestWords Perfect Pair!

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All the beauty of the world can be seen on the faces of flowers.   Today is the first reasonably sunny afternoon in Ireland and the flowers of the fields are craning their chilly stems for a glimpse of that under-provided, fair-weather friend of the Irish isles. Mary Oliver articulates their beauty much better than I can.  Described by the New York Times as ‘far and away, America’s best-selling poet’, Oliver won the Pulitzer Prize For Poetry in 1984 for her fifth collection of poetry American Primitive. In 1992 she won the National Book Award for her New And Selected Poems. Influenced by both Whitman and Thoreau, Mary Oliver’s creativity, is stirred by nature and her poetry is grounded in memories of Ohio and her adopted home of New England, where she still lives.   This is:

MOCCASIN FLOWERS
By Mary Oliver

All my life,
so far,
I have loved
more than one thing,

including the mossy hooves
of dreams, including’
the spongy litter
under the tall trees.
In spring
the moccasin flowers
reach for the crackling
lick of the sun

and burn down. Sometimes,
in the shadows,
I see the hazy eyes,
the lamb-lips

of oblivion,
its deep drowse,
and I can imagine a new nothing
in the universe,

the matted leaves splitting
open, revealing
the black planks
of the stairs.

But all my life–so far–
I have loved best
how the flowers rise
and open, how

the pink lungs of their bodies
enter the fore of the world
and stand there shining
and willing–the one

thing they can do before
they shuffle forward
into the floor of darkness, they
become the trees.

The Flower Duet (feat. Anna Netrebko & Elina Garanca) – Sous le dôme épais is the famous duet for sopranos, from Léo Delibes’ opera Lakmé, first performed in Paris in 1883. The duet takes place between the characters Lakmé, and her servant Mallika, as they go to gather flowers by a river.

Love Love Love by Westwords

Westwords is written and presented by Tracy Gaughan, listen http://i.mixcloud.com/CGSaD3

Love Love Love features:

I’m Gonna Love You … Barry White

I Wouldn’t Thank You For A Valentine by Liz Lochhead & I Hope That I Don’t Fall In Love With You – Tom Waits

And They Were Both Right by Kapka Kassabova & Breaking My Heart – Aqualung

Please Can I Have A Man by Selma Hill & Love Fool – The Cardigans

Ill-Wishing Him by Dorothy Nimmo & I Never Loved You Anyway – The Corrs

Like That by Kim Addonizio & Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover – Sophie B. Hawkins

From 100 Love Sonnets LXXXIX (89) by Pablo Neruda & Shelter – Birdy

Of Love by Mary Oliver & This Love – Craig Armstrong

Only Love – Ben Howard

Enjoy the show!

Tracy